August 8, 2006

Metal for the masses

As most of my friends know, I'm a total metal head. I've been listening to heavy metal and other forms of extreme music since I was 13 years old. If it's loud, dark, and thrashy, I'm there. And I’ve also been known to join a mosh pit or two.

Surprised? Even a bit disappointed? Well, you shouldn't be.

Heavy metal is a much misunderstood and maligned genre that allows for the expression of aggressive, raw and alternative forms music. It also allows for the expression of unconventional and even taboo subject matter as well. Metal often addresses social issues that other genres don't dare touch: violence and cruelty, the existence of evil, the problem of religion, the paranormal and occult, drug use, alienation, existentialism, apocalyptic visions and the horrors of war.

While often criticized as being supportive of these darker themes (which some bands undeniably are), metal acts often provide a window to the world in which the uglier elements are brought out and exposed. Some people go to horror movies or read the latest news headlines, others crank the metal.

One band that epitomizes the best and worst that heavy metal has to offer is Slayer. These guys have been around for nearly a quarter of a century and have conceded nothing in terms of their ability to churn out extreme music. Lyrically and musically, they’re everything you’d expect from a metal band—-including frequent (and often juvenille and hypocritical) references to the occult.

Thus it was with some anticipation that I picked up their latest CD. It has been 14 years since the original line-up, Tom Araya (bass guitar and vocals), Kerry King (guitars), Jeff Hanneman (guitars) and Dave Lombardo, have put out an album. And it would appear that this time around Slayer have some serious axes to grind.

Slayer has chosen to direct their ire at the two things they most love to hate: religion and war. Given the current geopolitical situation, they have lots to complain about—and there’s plenty of ugliness to unveil. Their new CD, titled “Christ Illusion,” targets the warped aspects of religion and its role as the instigator of current global conflicts.

Slayer explicitly attacks the culture war between the two competing religions, Christianity and Islam. The opening track, “Flesh Storm,” declares:
It's all just psychotic devotion
Manipulated with no discretion
Warfare knows no compassion
Thrives with no evolution
Unstable minds exacerbate
Unrest in peace...only the fallen have won
Because the fallen can't run
My vision's not obscure
For war there is no cure
So here the only law
Is men killing men
For Someone else's cause...
Another track, "Eyes of the Insane," engages in the subjective perspective of a soldier suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

And in the anti-religion track, “Cult,” Araya sings:
Oppression is the holy war
In God I Distrust...Is war and greed the Master's plan?
The bible's where it all began
Its propaganda sells despair
And spreads the virus everywhere
Religion Is hate
Religion Is fear
Religion is war...
Today, very few artists have the audacity to express their anger and frustration in this way. Perhaps it was possible back in the 1960’s with the rise of the anti-war and folk movement, but that kind of naive approach would wear thin today. We’re far too cynical and even defeatist to think about putting flowers in the nozzles of rifles.

That’s where metal comes in. It’s cathartic, sincere and hard-line. Metal artists can thematically deal with the ravages of war and the perverseness of religion while sneering at their critics or those who would dismiss them out of hand.

It’s metal for the masses.


Armchair Anarchist said...

I've been following your blog for a while now, and this post compelled me to drop a comment. It's excellent to see someone post up a serious and well worded defense of metal music as having the potential to deal with themes that others won't dare to touch - as a fellow fan, I salute you, sir!

I've often thought that marginalised genres of art often have greater freedom to deal with issues that the mainstream avoids - and that may explain my parallel love of good science fiction. I ran a few posts comparing science fiction and rock music a little while ago; although the underlying premise differs from your post here, you might find them intriguing.

Michael Anissimov said...

I also listen to metal:

Cradle of Filth, Gehenna, Behemoth, Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Bal-Sagoth, Dimmu Borgir, Zao, Kittie, Slipknot, Carnal Forge...

George said...

Thanks for you comments, guys. It's good to see some fellow metal heads come out of the woodwork.

Michael, it looks like you're into the extreme stuff. I've also been listening to the new Cannibal Corpse. Interesting that you listed Kittie; they're from my hometown and a good friend of mine engineered their debut album.

My current metal playlist includes: High On Fire (strong recommendation), Strapping Young Lad, Boris (Japanese lo-fi hard-rock/metal), Sepultura, Arch Enemy, Entombed, Opeth, and Callenish Circle.

That said, the most important (and my favourite) metal act around today imo is Meshuggah.