The Metal genre has been around for a little more than half a century and has received more flak and criticism from various quarters of the society. Arguments against the music genre have been repeated over the years ranging from, ‘oh, they’re a bunch of talentless hacks’ to ‘goodness gracious, they’re devil worshippers!’ Let’s straighten a few things out. What these musicians, female and male, do on stage with the mic isn’t a walk in the park and the lyrics carry a lot more meaning than your average, run of the mill, pop song.
Metal finds its roots in the Memphis Blues school of blues music, using a heavier sound and distortion. Eddie Cochran and Jeff Beck continued with the sound and tuned it before Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple really took it forward. Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath was more or less the creator of the ‘heavy metal’ genre which is derived from the phrase ‘heavy metal thunder’ used by Steppenwolf in their classic, ‘Born to be Wild’. Forced to play power chords with a guitar tuned down, the heavier riffs, combined with Ozzy Osbourne’s dark lyrics created the direction that heavy metal and to some extent the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden would go on to take.
Yes, Metal is loud. Tends to happen with distorted guitars, intricate drumming and deep, trenching basslines. Add to them the vigorous vocals that most metal singers have and you a cocktail that might not be the easiest to listen to. But no, they are not talentless. Rob Halford, lead singer of Judas Priest had a vocal range of 8 octaves at his peak (Listen to Painkiller, which demonstrates this to great effect. It’s a metal classic too for anyone who wants to explore), a range matched by only the very best of the opera singers. Other singers like James Hetfield of Metallica fame and Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden have developed their own style ranging from guttural to a rather operatic approach in which the Iron Maiden specialises. The death and black metal scene too is inherently complex. The ‘growling’ that they partake in over the course of a 4 minute song is an art itself, not to mention highly taxing on the throat (it’s true, I could only manage 20 seconds of Cannibal Corpse’s ‘Make them Suffer’). Metal, like most other music has high levels of complexity and its various sub genres, of which there are many, are intertwined with certain basic elements retained and other elements from other types. There exists a genre of Viking-folk metal, so it can’t really exist in isolation.
Do metal bands have violent lyrics? Yes. Do they promote violence? The correlation has found scant empirical proof. (Read Adam Rafalovich and Andrea Schenider’s essay ‘Metal Music as the Politics of Youth Culture’). Slayer, one of the most influential and commercially successful thrash metal bands has been consistently vilified for its use of violent themes that push the limits of what is politically correct. Slayer’s ‘Angel of Death’ speaks of the horrors at Auschwitz and the experiments conducted by the ‘Angel of Death’ Josef Mengele. People have argued that Slayer glorifies the Holocaust, which is absurd because not once do they speak of it in glowing terms, but rather they create a dark, bloody and gory scene to put forward a scene to the listener to show the gross violations of human rights that shouldn’t ever happen again. On the other hand, Twisted Sister’s ‘We’re Not Going to Take It’ is clearly a humorous dig at the rigid schooling system that stifles free thought and could be considered an anti-establishment call, which isn’t wrong at all considering the fact that protest is a widely accepted form of voicing your discontent. Metal has also been an easy target for those who think that the lyrics promote suicidal tendencies. Judas Priest and Ozzy Ozbourne were at the centre of two trials relating to suicide where fans were alleged to have committed suicide after listening to subliminal messages in the song ‘Heroes End’ by Priest and the lyrics of Suicide Solution by Black Sabbath. Neither of the songs promotes suicide. Subliminal messages are tantamount to alleging that Judas Priest somehow managed to hypnotise two specific drunk and high fans to go to a school playground and take their lives. Some arguments run were based on quotes by Jimi Hendrix who said that music can hypnotise people when they’re at their weakest. I really don’t know how that argument runs. It’s like saying playing FIFA makes you a better footballer (Aakarsh being a case in point that such a scenario can never happen).
Finally, the accusation that metal, especially black and death metal are satanic and promote devil worship. That’s quite fallacious. Most of the bands that fall under this genre delve into pagan and heathen philosophy and are believers in that outlook to life. More so bands like Belphegor and Behemoth who derive influence from Kabbalah and other Bacchian cults. Just because it’s a different outlook towards life, religion and society and it might not fit in or goes against certain norms does not make it devil worship. Rather, an overarching theme that exists throughout their music is a reverence for the sacred feminine. Some do however have Luciferian themes, but if you consider the biblical stories and their interpretations, then Lucifer and his buddies were cast out for teaching humans to think freely. Thus, Satanism and Luciferanism is more of a movement that promotes free thought and rejects the orthodox and suffocating dogma that is enforced by Christianity. It creates an opposition to the established norms, questioning their legitimacy. The wording may not be the most tasteful, but it is their way of fighting back against yours of suppression by Church policy.
Metal isn’t just a bunch of people screaming their lungs out on stage. Metal in all its genres is a tool to push boundaries that the state and society place. It’s a place where you can question what is right and wrong and you can vent without being politically correct. Metal and the musicians who are part of the movement wouldn’t be who they are if they couldn’t talk about things that make others uncomfortable. As Dave Mustaine put it well in “Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?”, “Whaddya mean I ain’t kind? Just not your kind.”