Friday, July 18, 2008

(insert secret devil salute here)

Back in high school, I was Mr. Heavy Metal (although I didn't capitalize it back then). I had the hair (at its longest, it went to within a few inches of my waist), a closet full of heavy metal teeshirts (which fit in with the uniform, of jeans and a denim jacket), a collection of cds with scary-looking covers, and I regularly drank the blood of goats.

(just kidding on that last one...or am I?)

This was in the eighties, when heavy metal moved from being a much-ridiculed form of music from the fringe to being a much-ridiculed form of music with mass popularity. Tons of people wanted to be heavy metal. They were fairly easy to spot. Short hair...or, more accurately, hair that just hit their collar last week...was one clue. Another was the giant backpatch on the back of their brand new Levi jacket. A third was an unholy love for glam/hair metal. If you liked Poison, Ratt, Bon Jovi, or someone like that, there was a 97% chance that you were a wanna-be. If you pretended look stoned, you were a wanna be.

I could go on, but this is already reading like a stoner version of Jeff Foxworthy.

For many of the new bands, the influx of glam/hair involved choreographed stage moves...weirder and weirder spandex pants...super-teased hair sharpened into potentially lethal heavier than a drag night...bad sing-along concert segments. The list goes on. Obviously, this meant that metal was becoming silly and in need of serious change.

I remember the first time I heard speed/ was Metallica's Ride the Lightning, before it ever hit big. It was faster, louder, more aggressive than anything else I'd ever heard. I've often lamented about how I will never be able to let my students, many of whom have been listening to the band all their lives, really know how revolutionary Metallica sounded at the time. They provided a new template for being heavy.

All of a sudden, after Metallica hit big, any new band had to be heavier. That meant playing louder, faster, heavier. I remember one local band, where the guitar player, in an attempt to be heavy, ran his guitar signal through five separate distortion was the aural equivalent of burning magnesium, and it sounded dreadful. Another band decided that everyone in the band had to sound heavy...they all had to have "thump" in their sound...the result being that the drums, bass, and guitar all fought for the same few eq frequencies. Too many singers decided to just start shouting.

Eventually, the model for becoming heavy was no longer glam, no longer had become the cookie monster. Once I heard Cannibal Corpse, I knew the game was up. No one could play faster...their notes blurred together. No one could scream more...the singer's voice sounded like he was snoring (albeit angrily). And, to boot, their songs were usually less than two minutes long. Where could heavy metal go from there? By just stressing screaming and noise at the expense of complexity or innovation, metal was once again turning silly.

This didn't stop heavy metal bands from trying to be heavier. It did, however, make me very bored with heavy metal and sent me running for other options.

Lately, I have been very conflicted about heavy metal. Ozzfest sounded like they'd be great shows, but they were balanced out by the pure disgustification I felt by Meet the Osbournes. For every hint of respectability metal crept up upon, it was balanced by another cookie monster screamer.

Personally, I think metal has been pretty stagnant for over a decade. While I am all for heaviness, the abandonment of melody and singing never really seemed like a forward step. But you need some real hook, something very cool, something unique to make metal interesting for me.

So, BBC has a story about a 62 year old Capuchin monk's heavy metal band. The video is really interesting. I'm not sure, however, if it's cool or silly.

How do you interpret screaming monks?


smokeyb4 said...

Are you intentionally trying to get me to comment? Semms like it.

Two options: try understanding vocals in extreme metal as simply another insturment versus being a carrier of melody. If/when one does such a thing, the rumbling mass adds another layer of tone that contributes to the whole. Seeing an assortment of death metal bands at Howards convinced me of such a thing.

Two: listen to far more metal (and apparently my end-of-year album assessments have gone by the wayside). Metal is quite diverse and quite vibrant. Even metal that gets critiqued in its own realm (such as latest efforts from bands like Soilwork, In Flames or Cradle of Filth) holds merit beyond what you seem to be giving metal credit for. Whether it be hybrids like Haggard, Orphaned Land, Eluvetie, or Ephel Duarth to the return of standbies like Testament (or even new Crue isn't all bad), there are far more areas of metal that exist beyond death vocals. Sure, you might not be as involved in the scene as some, but c'mon, heavy can be tapped into in a vairety of ways. Discover doom metal or stoner rock or folk metal or the resurgence of thrash or the last decade of Scandanavian bands. Lots of styles and lots of diversity that you should become aware of (before chucking metal aside).

smokeyb4 said...

seems - damn typing