Heavy metal misunderstood

  • Opinion
  • Monday, 01 Jul 2013

The demonisation of a musical genre shows just how easy it is to fear and hate something one does not comprehend.

WHEN I was growing up, older religious types used to bombard me with cautionary messages on the dangers of heavy metal music.

“Heavy metal is evil! It’s about sex and drugs and devil worship and suicide!” they told me and other kids my age.

I escaped the bonfires of cassette tapes that my seniors had to face, nor was I exposed to endless conspiracy theories about backmas­king, but there was no shortage of anti-heavy metal propaganda spewed in my direction.

In my child’s mind, I was also a little bothered by some of these bands.

Not that I listened to the music, but more because their posters looked like they were made for horror movies.

If they looked evil, they had to be evil, right?

I drifted through secondary school listening to whatever was on the radio until a cousin passed on two CDs stuffed with Van Halen and Guns N’ Roses.

The moment I played them, it was like seeing a supernova in my mind; a Big Bang of shredders wailing through the cosmos with comets of drums.

And that turned me on to metal even as Malaysian radio was pum­ping up alternative rock: Creed, Nickelback, ugh.

From hair metal I discovered 80s glam and all the others like thrash and speed, new wave of British heavy metal, progressive, power, folk, Viking (no kidding) and so on.

Not everybody agreed with it. An ex called it “just noise”. Some friends said it was for kids (“We grew out of it”). And some thought you were a baby killer just because you were listening to it.

Beyond the church, there were also times when state authorities appeared to want to crack down on some sort of counter-culture they didn’t seem to understand.

There were waves of banning long hair in the early 1990s and 10 years later, a ludicrous investigation into the “gig” phenomenon. Don’t laugh!

Yet, metal has roots in classical music: Bach, Wagner, Paganini and other greats served as major influences for some of the first metal bands, and it was through heavy metal that I developed an appreciation for classical music.

In university, I switched between vinyls of Mendelssohn and Black Sabbath. I would never live in a world where metal and only metal existed; sorry, Metalocalypse (“blacker than the blackest black times infinity!”).

There’s something about angry, dissonant riffs, the pump-up of energy and its release, which comes out especially if you’ve got Judas Priest on, pushing 140kph on the highway.

Metal picks up on things that other genres stay away from.

For example, Avantasia dealt with the misuse of religion. Dream Thea­ter touched on alcoholism. Black Sabbath criticised nuclear war. Haggard sang about the Vatican’s persecution of Galileo Galilei, for his insistence that the earth orbited the sun and not the other way around.

Many from Iron Maiden to Blind Guardian to Iced Earth used literature as a starting point. Heck, you even have a dinosaur-themed one for kids called Hevisaurus.

I don’t deny that there are some bands out there that dedicate themselves to Satanism, sex, drugs and other night-time delights. Some confuse me, like Cannibal Corpse’s ultra-violent lyrics, which their members say is not about actual killing but are just horror stories in music.

But many bands’ willingness to tackle dark and sometimes depressing topics head-on in less socially acceptable terms has led it to be­­come society’s punching bag.

There hasn’t been a major crackdown on metalheads recently. Times have changed and the genre doesn’t have the same following as it used to, though you can still see fans rejoicing when another joins them.

It may not seem relevant to bring it up now, but to me, it’s important that we understand and appreciate that just ’cos something is different and loud and brash, it doesn’t mean it’s evil or means you harm.

Because that’s what metal essentially is. It’s a brotherhood (with some sisters) who release with a good headbanging at a proper mosh, and can talk about their favourite bands and styles without worry.

Unless of course, you listen to Dragonforce (a band I loathe to admit loving).

> Avid power metalhead Patrick Lee hasn’t gone for a good gig in a while. If you know of any, let him know at patrick.lee@thestar.com.my.

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