Folks who know me already realize I’m a huge metal head. I cut my teeth on Sabbath and Iron Butterfly, saw everybody from Iron Maiden to Anthrax to Faith No More in high school, played bass in a short-lived metal band, and have continued to love the metal well past the age benighted souls might have suggested I outgrow the tendency.
Here’s the thing about heavy metal: it’s good for you. It makes you smarter. It energizes and empowers. It relieves stress. Beyond those generalities, my experience as a solopreneur and general kicker of ass has taught me five ways metal is the best possible genre for empowerment and self-actualization available.
1. The Lyrics
Yes, most heavy metal lyrics boil down to “sex sure is nifty,” “loud music is fun,” or “wow, i really enjoy behaving irresponsibly.” Vapid lyrics are part of every genre. But at its best, metal can be downright inspiring:
- When I turn all my hate to productive, I don’t find it hard to impress.
- We all face our fears in the world, we all hold our place in the universe
- The keys are in your hands. Realize you are the sole creator of your own master plan
- Stand and fight. Live by your heart. Always one more try.
- You will know my name
2. Power Music
Speaking of power chords…
Tory Amos once covered The Cure’s romantic anthem “Love Song.” This is one of the 1990s’ most talented vocalists and pianists singing a heartfelt song about being in love with somebody who loves you back. The tones, pacing and vocals make you want to run to something more uplifting, like maybe Sylvia Plaith.
The band Finntroll has a song about trolls smashing peoples’ heads with hammers. This is not an uplifting topic, but the music makes you want to run outside and bench press a rhino.
3. They Go Larger Than Life
Though exceptions abound, pop stars tend to skew towards approachable. Country stars go for folksy. Rap stars try to seem like that guy at the bar even the bouncer is afraid of. But they all aim for an image that’s human and within the spectrum of normal.
Metal stars go BIG.
Big hair. Big attitudes. Big stacks of speakers. Big pyrotechnics. Big after-show antics. Big rap sheets. They live larger than life and invite you along for the ride.
In many ways, this mirrors why I don’t like much literary fiction. Much of it, though well-written, tells the story of small, sad, ordinary people doing small, sad, ordinary things. I want to read about awesome people making awesome things more awesome.
So it is with music. Awesom, epic characters blasting me with weapons-grade riffs vs. the musical equivalent of an apologetic invitation to tea? That’s not a choice. It’s a trick question.
4. The Right Message at the Right Time
So many genres of music have the “My romantic experience came to an end I didn’t like. Life is terrible and I feel so very, very bad about it” song.
Only metal has the “My romantic experience came to an end I didn’t like. That hurt my feelings so I’m going to mock the people who hurt me” song. Jimmy Buffet is the only artist in the world outside the metal genre with a deep catalog of “Screw it. I’m gonna sit here and do my thing for a while until I feel better” pieces.
The poets who write metal lyrics are statistically brighter than (most) other musicians. They have an audience with a wider tolerance for variety. That means the messages are narrower, weirder, more specific. No matter what your mood is, there’s a metal song to match it.
5. Metal is Utterly Unapologetic
Metal as a culture takes zero prisoners and makes zero apologies for their act. Back in the 1990s, a group called the PMRC decided they’d had enough of explicit and unwholesome metal lyrics. They bothered congress and created a database of song lyrics before the Internet made that easy. Any parent could write in and receive copies so they could monitor the music their kids listened to without…you know…enagaging meaningfully with their children.
While the record companies crafted “Explicit Lyrics” stickers and pop artists wrung their hands on daytime talk shows, Anthrax and WASP dedicated songs to the PMRC on their next albums. Meanwhile, Guns & Roses added a custom lyrics advisory sticker to their Use Your Illusion CDs that encouraged those worried about cussing to visit the New Age section.
And Dee Snyder of Twisted Sister testified.
This conversation comes up periodically, and every time another metal band stands up and says something humorously dismissive about parents who would rather study song lyrics than explore their relationship with their children. You can’t go wrong with having the same attitude about your detractors.
Sure, you can point to songs in other genres that accomplish some of these things, but I invite my readers who aren’t already riding the Crazy Train to Kick Ass Town to give metal another try. Seriously, it’s that good.