Friday, July 25, 2008

A Metal Primer: Blacker than the Blackest Black, Times Infinity

What's the most embarrassing album you own?

For most of you, I'd bet on some early pop crap you bought on a lark as a kid. Backstreet Boys, LFO, something of that nature. If you asked that question to my parents, it'd have to be Jermaine Jackson's Jermaine, which I found while flipping through their joint record collection once. Both of them deny ever purchasing it, but it's there, which meant that, at one point in their lives, my parents thought that buying the third- or fourth-most talented (depending on your opinion of LaToya) Jackson kid would somehow enrich their lives, musically. I've never let them live that down.

My most embarrassing album trumps all of yours by a wide margin. I am the longtime owner of Blind Guardian's Nightfall in Middle Earth. This is a concept album about J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. Only it's not about the coherent, somewhat familiar story we all watched on the big screen a few years back. This album is based around the Silmarillion, which is Tolkein's attempt to create a detailed backstory for his fictional universe.

Nightfall in Middle Earth is based on a HISTORY TEXTBOOK for a FICTIONAL UNIVERSE. I own this album. I've never read the book. I bet that copy of Pop by N'Sync doesn't look so bad now, does it?

Welcome to the Lovecraftian horror that is my taste in music. What can I say? I loves me some metal.

Metal is, out of all the major genres, perhaps the most misunderstood. Now, I am by no means an expert on the subject, but I am a pretentious know-it-all who can bullshit with the best of them. To that end, I've decided to provide all of you with a quick primer on metal music.

Like all good musical genres, metal is as much about the music's subject matter as it is the actual sound. Metal covers a wide variety of topics, but it's very important to understand what is and is not metal.

Death is very metal. Many metal songs revolve around the concept of death, or someone dying, or how life is pointless and we all should die--this is basically a very tiresome concept in the realm of metal. Go to a Metallica concert and request, say "Kill 'Em All", and they'll probably play it, but with kind of a jaundiced ennui. Death is old hat to the experienced metalhead.

To this end, Murder, Suicide, and occasionally Arson are all metal. Burglary, Kidnapping, Tax Evasion, and Treason are not metal. Murder and suicide are prickly topics in the metal community, primarily as a result of one Norweigian black metal band called Mayhem.

Now, Mayhem is not a band I listen do. Doesn't do it for me, and besides, their story is really all you need to know. At one point in the band's history, they employed guitarist Oystein Aarseth (known as Euronymous) and vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin (known as Dead). Bear with me on the names.

According to the rest of the band (keep in mind that this is a group of people who gave themselves names like "Necrobutcher" and "Hellhammer"), Dead was a bit of a weird guy. He would bury his clothes in the ground prior to concerts, and dig them up so they'd have the "smell of the grave" still on them. Upon finding a dead bird by the road one day, he put it in a jar and would smell the jar onstage, so he could "sing with the smell of death in his nostrils".

You can see how he got his name.

Did I mention that I don't listen to this band? Just wanted to reiterate it.

Dead was melancholic, humorless, and depressed, so it should come as very little surprise that, in a woodland cabin that the band shared, he committed suicide with a shotgun. This would be about 1991 or so. He was discovered by his friend and bandmate, Euronymous.

What would you do in this situation, after freaking out? I'd like to think you'd call the police or something of that nature. I don't know whether or not Euronymous freaked out, but he did not call the police. He went to a local shop, purchased a disposable camera, arranged certain items around Dead's...well, dead body, and took several photographs of it. One of these photographs was later used for the cover of the Mayhem album Dawn of the Black Hearts.

Rumors surfaced that the band had made a stew out of Dead's brain, and had constructed necklaces out of of his skull fragments. The band vehemently denied the first accusation. Brain stew! Ridiculous and offensive. Brain stew? What kind of freaks do you think you're dealing with here?

The second part was entirely true.

Euronymous, incidentally, was later stabbed to death by fellow band member Varg Vikernes, otherwise known as "Count Grishnack". Vikernes claimed that most of the 26 stab wounds in Euronymous' body were not his fault. The stab wound right in the middle of Euronymous' forehead was entirely his fault, however, and Vikernes remains in jail to this day.

So yes. Murder, Suicide, Depression, Darkness, etc., etc.---all metal.

War is also very metal, perhaps because it combines all those things you've read about above. What's interesting is that the further in the past the war is, the more metal it is. For example:

The Iraq War is not metal at all, but The War of the Roses is.

The Vietnam War is only a little bit metal, while The Punic Wars are incredibly metal.

The cutoff point, I think, is World War I, which is very metal. World War II is not metal. Perhaps that's because World War II contained Genocide, which is surprisingly not metal, whereas World War I involved Trench Warfare--very, very metal.

You could probably say that The Past is, in general, metal, while The Present is variable. The Future is almost never metal, unless it involves Post-Apocalyptic Situations or Historical Anachronisms. Take Star Wars, which is not metal in and of itself. If Luke Skywalker was a Viking and had used a Battleaxe, Star Wars would probably be the most metal movie in existence. This would be despite Luke riding in Spaceships (not metal).

Vikings are probably the epitome of metal. There is nothing that is not metal about Vikings. Think about it: you have essentially nihilistic medieval warriors, raiding and fighting for the hell of it, dressed in wolf/bearskin, covered in blood, and wielding all kinds of nasty pain instruments. That's metal as fuck.

My brother (who is in a metal band of his own, The Arkham White) loaned me a CD once by Amon Amarth, called With Oden On Our Side. The first song was a rocking tune that described a viking raid on a village. Awesome stuff. Great for pumping yourself up before sports.

The second song was about a viking raid on a village. OK. Maybe it's part of a triptych?

Once I got to the fifth song, which dealt with the heretofore-unexplored territory of a village, raided by vikings, I kind of realized that the whole album was going in one very basic direction. But at least none of the members have murdered one another.

Makeup is not metal. By extension, Hair Metal is not metal. Wearing Paint that Makes You Look Like a Corpse is very metal, just keep the spray out of your hair, wuss.

Faeries are not metal. Elves are actually very metal, as are Dwarves, Orcs, Trolls, Goblins, Wizards, and most assorted fantasy concepts that don't seem too feminine.

Religion in and of itself is not metal. Aspects of religion are totally metal. Jesus is not metal, but Crucifixtion is incredibly metal. God is not metal, but Satan has his own branch of metal.
Concept albums are very metal, but the concept needs to be Obscure, Socially Awkward, and Repellent to Women. Kamelot's Epica is a concept album about Faust. We've already mentioned Nightfall in Middle Earth. Queensryche's Operation Mindcrime "tells a story of a young man, Nikki, awoken from a coma suddenly remembering work done as a political assassin, then falling in love with a nun, mixing around with heroin, seeking help, then being ordered to assassinate his love", and oh God, just kill me now.

Nu-metal is not metal, and it's just embarrassing.

This is metal, though it is equally as embarrassing:

Running through the forest behind your parent's house whilst wearing a wizard hat and carrying a torch in broad fucking daylight is, unfortunately, metal.

Really, it's just a lot easier these days for me to listen to funk. Funk is not metal, but Sex, Dancing, Getting Up, Getting Down, and Booty Shaking are all funky.

James Brown is both metal and funky. Let's end this with a little bit of the Godfather of Soul, in his prime, to make you forget about vikings and Dead and whatever.


greg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
greg said...

Mostly accurate, however:
1. Jesus is fucking metal -

2. WWII is also metal - see: Sabaton.

Jamie said...

I love your taste in music, Joseph, as it gives me endless material.

And damn, Greg. I was about to be ALL over the 'Jesus is Metal' Penny Arcade merch. WTF.

Posts like this make me miss you, Joe, which is totally not metal I guess, but I'm not very metal, and that's ok.