So, what is it about metal music? Most people turn their nose up at it in disgust. Even those that make it known they are the ‘love everybody’ type and have an eclectic taste in music do (or is that eclectic as long as it’s socially acceptable…?). On the other side you have an army of devoted fans that have managed to sustain an entire genre (amongst all the numerous sub-genres). The standard of musicianship is very high and despite the strict almost conservative approach of the fans and musicians, the level of creativity is also very high. It’s a type of music that has managed to develop under the radar of most mainstream press and even knowledge but then the fans are generally ultra devoted. It’s quite clear that something odd is happening here…. Something full of contradiction and intrigue.
Well, to be fair there is a quite a lot of teenage escapism going on here. Those that feel insecure or different from everyone else for whatever reason generally gravitate towards alternative lifestyles. And being a metal fan is generally a lifestyle choice. People can see this as weak and anti-social. These touchy school-kids can’t be trusted because they seem to build their life on exclusion. Sometimes these thoughts are justified by extreme action. In Europe, a few isolated cases of those wanting to live extreme lives to go with their lifestyle choice has meant that churches have been burned down and murders have been committed. Scary stuff but the reality is that these people placed themselves on the fringes of society like any criminal, it’s not the music’s fault and no significant number of crimes are connected to it.
The greatest thing for me about metal is that above all, it tries to push the boundaries and secondarily, create atmosphere that will wash over the listener and envelope them. Two of the stronger points involved with jazz music and classical respectively. Of course, the shear power and exhilaration of the music is very exciting also! Because of it’s unrefined beginning of rebelliousness and dubious aesthetics these comparisons are somewhat controversial. But who cares when, amongst others, the ‘eclectics’ focus on this controversy.
There is a lot to learn from this genre too. For example, one of the main aims of music production is to make sure all musical parts are clear and contribute to the main aim of the music, whatever that may be. One of the most legendary metal albums, ‘In the Nightside Eclipse’ by Emperor is extremely heavy. Fast, chaotic, full of noise. But the lo-fi production value and it’s shear heaviness actually produce something greater than the sum of it’s parts. Unintentional, maybe (depending on who you talk to), but this ‘bad’ production means that the music’s components are harder to find than the average professional production. This adds to the mystical element of the album as there are things going on that you don’t notice at first. It’s like a strand of something that makes sense immerging from this chaos. That’s discovery, and it gives the listener a sense of this and also a sense of the chaos being so huge that it’s incomprehensible. Pretty exciting! Also, the heaviness of the music is constant and this makes it hypnotic. The overall effect that sits on the top carries you along whilst everything else races ahead, unrelenting. Again, this increases the mystical feel and combined with the other elements, creates something dark, aggressive and almost beautiful. From chats I’ve had I’m not the only one to have fallen asleep to this album… Strange concept….
There are various examples of atmosphere creation in metal that range from the ultra fast to the ultra slow songs, various different styles of vocal (for which it is probably most famous for), different levels of production and different packages containing the physical medium that the music is kept on. Other lessons come from the musicianship. With origins arguably in simple punk, the demands of pushing the boundaries have forced the musicians to be more precise, faster and creative with their playing. Once high level of technical skill became norm, musicians looked at other ways of pushing their skill above the crowd: Understanding and taking influence from other genres, complex song structures, clever use of chords, clever use of technology and the immense range of sounds available just for the guitar. All these tools at the disposal of the musician should be realised by musicians practicing any genre. A song can be greater than just a melody, and a catchy chorus. There is no doubt that the two latter factors are vital to a good song but why stop there? OK, many metal fans are stuck in their ways and non-inclusive, and a lot of the musicians are too. They can be just as bad or even worse than the snobbery surrounding the self-confessed ‘muso’. But rise above all that and give it a chance. As a musician, it will teach you a lot and as a music fan it will continue to delight and surprise you from the raw and simple power to the more refined emotive works of art. As with many situations in life, forgetting the prejudice society has taught you will reward you no end. Do get in touch if you want me to recommend some albums/bands…..