Kalyan Chavali


Op-Ed: Myths about Metal

Iron Maiden in Las Vegas, February 28, 2016. Photo courtesy of Iron Maiden.
Iron Maiden in Las Vegas, Feb. 28, 2016. Photo courtesy of Iron Maiden.

What image does Heavy metal music paint in your brain? Is it the growling vocals and ultra high distortion guitar? Is it the gross and scary album covers? Bonus points if you said yes to both! For the best or the worst, these images are being associated to metal music of today. What’s appalling is the fact that such impressions prevent people from getting into metal music at all. I may not be able change that, but I may clear up some misconceptions.

Metal is a relatively new kind of music, taking birth with bands like Black Sabbath in UK. It is heavily influenced by the hard rock music of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin in the 70’s. Heavy metal music seemed to correlate to the economic decline and adverse conditions in the UK at the time. Like many rock and punk albums, this music seemed to be the voice of an anti-establishment, giving voice to the disenfranchised youth of the time. The emotion of protest in the music carried over to the next generations, improving and influencing the bands to come.

And that’s all there is to it. While many mainstream songs and albums try to portray many different emotions, heavy metal music was designed to portray a select few: anger, protest, despair and sorrow among others. That explains a lot of growling, distortion and other heavy elements in it. Until 1985-90, not many metal bands even considered growling for vocals. There were fantastic singers like Bruce Dickinson, James Hetfield etc., who sang and still sing in plain vocals. The point is to put emotion in the faces of listeners and they did fine without the growling. Growling isn’t bad either as it will help cement the emotion and get you into the feel.

A myth about metal in general is that it is barbaric and cruel. Nothing could be further from the truth. It takes incredible talent to make metal music in the first place and many musicians are highly intelligent writing complex themes in their songs. Listen to Metallica’s “One” or Iron Maiden’s “Infinite Dreams” for example. Most lyrics in metal songs are surprisingly complex and require a bit of intelligence to fully appreciate them. Also contrary to the popular belief metal music actually makes listeners calm and happy. The sheer energy in the songs is immense and listening to them is kind of an exercise. It excites people but also makes them focus their anger and depression on the songs making the songs an outlet for these emotions.

A lot of people think metal music is anti-religion (especially Christianity). There are some bands that sing about Satan and perpetuate general evil but that’s just literal and the actual message is different. Like I have said earlier most metal bands seem to be anti-establishment. When religion becomes the establishment they tend to sing against it. So if in a song you hear praises for Satan, it actually means praises for freedom and independent thought.

Metal music is different from mainstream music, obviously. But that difference comes in many forms. For starters, metal musicians seem to put their heart and soul in making a song. Incredible talent in playing the guitar, bass and drums is often not enough for making a great song. Many songs feature complex compositions, different time signatures, over the top vocals and great music from instruments. I can quote thousands of songs as example but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the readers. Many metal bands have been great influences for people to learn and appreciate music, spawning more metal bands. Arguably the best metal band ever, Iron Maiden is said to be an influence of Metallica, Slipknot, Slayer, Lady Gaga among countless other bands and musicians.

Finally, Metal music is immensely diverse, consisting hundreds of sub-genres – each with a set of creative bands and loyal fans. What started as a heavier version of hard rock later branched out into death, thrash, black, nu and many other sub-genres. Any form of music combined with metal still remains metal and that is an essential quality to this amazingly electrifying genre of music. Anyone who wants to widen their musical horizons should definitely try metal.