Metalosophy

21 October 2014. Filed under category General Philosophy, Music - Heavy Metal.

I had been reading a piece on “Introduction to Metal Music and Culture” at http://www.deathmetal.org/faq/ which muses on the genres’ origin and meaning.  It is very expansive and probably only for the most deeply devout metallist (that is to say it is bloody long, but well written all the same).  However, it made me start to wonder where I fit into heavy metal, mainly from a philosophical, even ideological, perspective.

Not many would dispute that Black Sabbath was the beginning of heavy metal as a new genre of music.  There had been hints at elements of it earlier but those four working class lads in Birmingham became the catalyst for a new musical form.  My understanding is that Black Sabbath consciously intended their music to be “darker” than that of the prevailing flower power movement; made possible in no small part due to Tony Iommi’s need to relearn how he played guitar after losing the tips of two fingers in an industrial accident.  The band adopted the concept of being a horror movie in musical form, aided by Geezer Butler’s interest in the occult which influenced the lyrics.  However, it is notable that he later abandoned occultism as there was plenty of doom and gloom in the real world to draw from.

Black Sabbath were outsiders and heavy metal is considered “anti-establishment”, but did they really care about being controversial?  I suspect they were just interested in making music after realizing they were onto something new.  Nothing I have read about the early years of Black Sabbath suggests they had a burning desire to be rebellious per se.  The commentary on metal culture implies that one has to be driven to be distinguished from the “norm”.

Of course, in a wider picture, who was more controversial?  Elvis, The Beatles, Black Sabbath, Slayer or Madonna?  On that basis I don’t think metal is or should be synonymous with controversy.

That is the bit I am interested in because, in most respects, I am pretty “normal”.  While I certainly started off happy to be part of the black t-shirt/long hair brigade I just kind of grew out of it as other parts of my life moved on.  So can I call myself a metalhead?  That is the question.

Another related consideration about “how metal is metal?” that genuinely intrigues me is the different paths that bands can choose to take these days.  In the old days (and some would argue the way it should be) a band worked its ass off to find success.  It toured relentlessly, road tested material (at least in the early days of a band) and lived in a van for most of the year.  By natural selection and a bit of luck it might pay off; they win the proverbial lottery and become rock stars – gods among men.  That type of ethos still exists but the payoff just isn’t there because the opportunities to make a living wage from music are scarce nowadays.

Monsterworks is another type of band – where we have day jobs and most definitely do not “suffer for our art” the same way a touring/starving band does.  It has turned out that way because a long time ago I came to the subconscious realisation that I did not want to die on the street, having poured my heart and soul into a band that just never made it.  These days we read time and again of musicians leaving, even successful bands, to “get a real job”, often after they have spent the best part of their youth chasing the dream.  Call me unimaginative or risk-averse, but I never wanted to face that crisis point.  So, I have a good job, earn a living wage and can afford to finance the musical side of my life without much compromise – except not having the chance to tour the world, because working 9 to 5 with a family to feed does not grant the time required for that.

Am I less “metal” for being sensible?  Hmm.  I like to think of metal people as smart, well informed and tolerant; quite far from the clichéd meathead the general public associate with metal music.  So that is my crowd and metal to me comes from a genuine connection with the music, completely divorced from image, attitude or anything else peripheral.

So there.

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