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The Appeal of Heavy Metal, Part II

metal2Editor’s Note: About a month ago, TDMB somehow got onto the front page of Reddit. That translated into a tremendous amount of traffic and emails from folks wanting to subscribe to our newsletters. One of those folks was Sean Nelson, who asked the very reasonable question of why we haven’t covered metal. 

I asked Sean to write a piece explaining why he liked the genre, which he did. I then suggested a piece expanding on his thoughts. The idea is that many older people — included those that count themselves as open-minded — have trouble with metal.  The first part of  Sean’s submission posted last week. Here is the second.

(Photo: Andrew King)

Sean Nelson

In 1985 politicians, Tipper Gore and Susan Baker founded the Parents Music Resource Centre (PMRC) and led the first organized effort to censor heavy metal music. They wrongly accused many heavy metal artists of promoting violence, suicide, the occult and substance abuse. Music is an art and art is open to interpretation, while many of these dark themes are often present in metal music, they could easily represent something entirely different. The PMCR sought to find and censor any dangerous or suggesting themes in music but succeeded mainly in misinterpreting metaphors. One publicized example of this was the case against Dee Snider, vocalist of the 1980s glam metal band Twisted Sister. Snider was accused of expressing themes of sadomasochism, bondage and rape in the song ‘Under The Blade’ which was written about Twisted Sister’s guitarist, Eddie Ojeda’s throat operation. Snider stated during his hearing that “Songs allow a person to put their own imagination, experiences and dreams into the lyrics, people can interpret it in many ways. Miss Gore was looking for sadomasochism and bondage and she found it, someone looking for surgical references would have found it as well”

He effectively disproved the PMCR’s claims and expressed his anger at the PMCR for disregarding the right to freedom of speech. After the trial many were left wondering if the members of the PMCR are foul minded or simply assume all metal lyrics have hidden, dark, and evil meanings. Religious activists often protested at heavy metal concerts and led movements to stamp out metal which they believed to be a vessel for satanic worship and the occult targeting children. Some metal bands such as the British band, Venom, openly expressed that they believed in Satanism and were Satanists themselves. However, I cannot help but notice how famous these statements made them. Stating that they were Satanists was most likely a publicity stunt and a repetition of the ongoing battle in the world of metal to be more extreme and evil than the band before them. I still feel it’s a harmless form of entertainment. People are attracted to music that suits their personality or their mood. Some people experience more sentiment than others and so are drawn to metal music’s aggressive style as an outlet for their emotions, not a fuel for them.

Metal music is about empowerment, the ability to stand up and shout how you feel and express your views. For this reason it also attracts people who feel downtrodden and broken. It shows them that they shouldn’t be afraid to express themselves and release their emotions and encourages them to be strong. People who are in such a painful state that they are considering suicide often do so because they feel helpless. Musicologist, Robert Walser said “The most powerful predictor of whether someone will commit suicide is the feeling of helplessness, nobody listens to heavy metal to feel helpless, they listen to metal to feel powerful”. Metal bands have a tendency to explore themes on suicide. If a troubled youth hears a metal song about suicide instead of encouraging them to ‘do it’ as many assume it will, it may serve as a comfort. It shows them that they are not alone and that other people are going through the same things that they are. Many devoted fans of metal express how they feel that metal saved their lives by helping them through difficult times.

Unfortunately people associated with metal have caused crimes and acts of violence against humanity. No where is this more prevalent than in Norway. Norway is famous for many thing such as it’s fascination with trolls, seafood, and especially black metal. Black metal is an extreme metal subgenre that often deals with subjects such as Satanism, death and anti-Christian views. It has developed a strong following which many identify as a cult. Musicians in black metal bands often sought to enforce their anti-Christian beliefs by committing acts as barbarous as burning down many of Norway’s most historic and architecturally beautiful churches. There have also been murders committed by black metal musicians, often the victim has been a fellow musician or even a band mate. One widely publicized incident was the suicide of Per Yngve Ohlin, the vocalist for the black metal band Mayhem. When his body was discovered by a fellow band member, before calling the police Ohlin’s band mate took a picture of Ohlin’s corpse which was used by the band as bootleg cover art. Pieces of Ohlin’s skull were also made into necklaces and shared among Mayhem’s remaining members.

Despite the morbid developments of black metal, metal in general remains harmless. To its fans it is more than just music, to many it’s a lifestyle. Metal is not casual music, it deals with serious themes and serious issues that should not be taken lightly. Fans of metal are often fans for life. “It’s a lifestyle music” Said Rob Zombie “Most people are like “’Yeah I like it for a week but then I lose interest‘” but metal fans love it forever”. Metal music is a very two-sided subject. It is either hated and feared or loved and obsessed over. For this reason it will forever be an underground genre and culture. Metal is not evil or dangerous, it is an amazing, passionate, huge, diverse sub culture and form of entertainment. It involves an immense amount of skill. It inspires people to begin playing instruments and to form bands, it gives people hope and teaches them to be strong, to stand up for what they believe in. It gives its fans a sense of unity against the world. Sam Dunn, anthropologist and metal enthusiast, said it best “Metal confronts what we’d rather ignore. It celebrates what we often deny. It indulges in what we fear most. And that’s why metal will always be a culture of outsiders.” He then goes on to say “If metal doesn’t give you that overwhelming surge of power that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, you might never get it, and you know what? That’s okay… we’re doing just fine without you.”

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What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


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David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.