At a loss for something to say? Or: I’m against.

I wondered recently how I could have developed that certain weariness which has kept me from blogging for quite some time now. Plenty of work and health issues seemed an inappropriate excuse for my receding into a week-long intellectual standstill. Finally I realised that the obstacle is such: I am not convinced any more of the relevance of what I’ve got to say, and insecure as to which audience I intend to reach.

Blogs on the versatile topic of music exhibit an undeniable tendency to focus on their creators’ particular likes and dislikes. Their preferences form the basis of texts that reveal but the opinion of a writer on a certain band, concert or happening. Since all of us are characterised by a huge amount of preferences and antipathies, stating these is not exactly relevant and can – in the most extreme of all cases – equal the publishing of a book on eating roast potatoes.

This line of thought brought me to the concluding questions whether or not what I post into the eternal orbit of the world wide web is of interest or relevance to anyone, and how I can make it so. Reflecting on the articles I have posted for the last two years I realised that those writings read most often and appreciated by the highest number of readers incorporate political issues or a certain socio-critical background. In fact, the top five articles attracting the most readers in 2014 included “Classical Bolts and Metal Thunder” (on the intriguing correspondence of Heavy Metal and classical music), “Metal and Politics” (introducing the German club Conne Island, which strives for political youth culture) as well as “The Rise of American Censorship” (handling Dee Snider’s unique vindication of Heavy Metal lyrics).

Why on earth do we feel the need to raise the topic of Heavy Metal onto a near-conservative, intellectual level? Why do we think we need to make Metal comprehensible and attractive for those who feel repulsed by it? Why, in short, do we strive to convince the critical?

When Black Sabbath wore make-up and crosses and evoked witchery in 1970, the general public reacted with rejection, while the young generation with enthusiasm absorbed the appeal of the forbidden and new. In 1985, Dee Snider drafted an entire speech for the purpose of steamrollering a committee of worried parents devised by the Washington Wives. In 2016, there is no need to fight for Heavy Metal. Hard music is not anymore blamed spectacularly for massacres and other personal tragedies. Parents do not appear to feel any inclination to raid their kids’ rooms for satanic records or pictures of pentagrams, goats’ heads and topless beauties. The Parental Advisory label has become a mere shadow of the once so dire warnings, a sign we notice only marginally, if at all. The shock of four decades ago has passed. The 21st century human is so used to gore, splatter, sex and strong language that a little more of any of them makes no difference to his tough mind. In consequence, there has been no noticeable public struggle for the acceptance of Heavy Metal simply as a type of music that does not necessarily breed evil since Dimebag Abbott’s tragic demise in 2008, the following publication of William Grim’s spiteful obituary and the respective replies from the Metal world.

What, then, do we have to prove? Who do we need to convince that Heavy Metal is not a dangerous debaucher created by the ape-like, uneducated and filthy scum of society?

I argue that this struggle, if indeed we choose to argue our case at all, is a personal instead of a public fight. It is not the politicians, the schools or the priests we strive to convert – it is, first and foremost, those whom we love and about whose opinion we care.

Why, I wondered, do I publish posts in favour of Heavy Metal, arguing my case throughout the web? I do because I feel the urge to share. I want to give free reign to my thoughts and emotions, spread my knowledge, entertain, educate and amuse. I want to establish a certain contact to a circle of those who love the music I adore to help me question our beliefs, interests, prejudice, the flatness of contemporary desires, and re-establish a small amount of passion for music. The too-much-of-everything shaping the modern world – easy access to information and goods, liberal freedom, and relative tolerance for many preferences – renders music ever more something we simply like instead of needing it like the air we breathe. The contemporary consumer is superficial in a very passionless way, and the accumulated crap of roughly a decade of free online publishing has rendered the majority of readers and listeners unpretentious followers. It is astounding how many of those I asked for the music they preferred indeed replied: “Oh, I actually listen to everything…”, and how many still celebrate any new pop song that sounds very much like the previous hit.

Despite the majority’s alleged liking for everything, I have quite often experienced conversations that ran thus: “I listen to Heavy Metal.” – “You’re kidding! You like that stuff?” The reply blends awe with disbelief and, not seldom, disapproval. Strangely enough, most people manage to have a very distinct and utterly firm attitude towards Heavy Metal, even if they have never so much as listened to a single record. Like Jazz in the 1920s, Heavy Metal was condemned by the conservative elite not long after its supposed birth. It appears to be the last bastion of taboo music, and I want to know exactly why.

This is where YOU come into focus. For the task ahead, the challenge I have set to myself, I need your help. If I want to discover more about the secret fear of Heavy Metal and devise a clearer picture exceeding the limited scope of my personal experience, I need to find out how others respond to music. Who of you loves Heavy Metal? And who has, like me, suffered more or less from the refusal of others? Whose parents, friends or acquaintances have sniggered about a favourite song of yours? Do your experiences favour my hypothesis that Metal is rejected by most people for fear and worry?

If I want to keep this blog alive on a meaningful level, I depend on you sharing your thoughts with me. What is your opinion? What do your friends, partners, parents make of Heavy Metal? I’d also appreciate really much if those who utterly dislike Heavy Metal could do me the favour of explaining why exactly this is. I’d love to read your comments!

The last thought I want to add to this way too long and perhaps rather tiring cascade refers to a promise I made at the end of my previous post. I hinted I might write about females on- and offstage, yet after thoroughly skimming the web for opinions and struggling to make up my own I was forced to conclude that the topic in question is hopelessly outdated. Neither do I feel discriminated against as a woman in the Heavy Metal world, nor do I claim there should be more women onstage. The balance of male and female musicians and fans is simply irrelevant for the joy I gain from listening to what these bands produce. I therefore apologise for skirting a potentially relevant but mainly boring topic.

Let me know what you make of it. Cheers!

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Headbanging, Hugs and Hyperfemininity

Living near Berlin entails the obvious benefit of always being just one step away from the next heavy event. Life made an offer and I took it: Scar Symmetry came to the capital! My tickets were bought faster than you can say ‘Metalhead’, even though the Swedish act was merely the guest band accompanying Epica from the Netherlands and the Swiss Folk Metal band Eluveitie on their European Enigma tour.

I had the pleasure to experience a band I adore, no matter how short their show. Scar Symmetry played an agreeable set in a very enthusiastic manner – sadly enough in front of what could hardly be called a crowd. I and my-boyfriend-the-Metalhead enjoyed every second of their concert, heads banging, singing along at the top of our battered voices. The band’s performance was like weekends: great, long awaited, and way too short. For a band of their renown, skill and experience, Scar Symmetry’s touring as support band seemed far too tiny, too modest a role. They, however, appeared to have preserved a down-to-earth attitude. Their set done, the band mingled with the crowd. I took my chance and asked Lars Palmqvist for a photo. He gave me a hug and we squeezed on a photo with my boyfriend and Roberth Karlsson. The result is simply cool and I got it printed to adorn my living room, reminding my every day of how good it feels to have some Metal in my life.

SS+PM

 

Eluveitie played an energetic concert including songs sung in Swiss German (To tell you the truth, I expected this to sound hilarious, then was impressed.) and sing-along parts. I would not call myself a fan of Eluveitie, but they are inventive songwriters who play with obvious zest, rendering their show worth a visit. Epica, the concert’s main act, then made a dramatic entrance, followed by a show built around the figure of their singer Simone Simons. It was neither Eluveitie’s Swiss singing nor Epica’s keyboard-style grandeur which intrigued me most, though, but the composition of and atmosphere among the audience.

Firstly, the audience appeared tame to me who is experienced in Machine Head and Skindred concerts with hairy hardliners turning their dreadlocks into whips and beer cans into missiles. With the folk calm and peaceful, moshing and jumping were no option and headbanging was rare. It was easy to simply stand among the crowd doing nothing and not even be touched by anyone. Secondly, the concert stood out by the powerful presence of women of every age and making. My comparably meagre concert experience had made me expect an underrepresentation of my sex, but perhaps the fact that both Eluveitie and Epica include female members attracted an exceptional audience.

Female Heavy Metal musicians are rare. I wonder, why. And are female fans of Heavy Music equally rare? I’d like to delve deeper into this intriguing issue in my next post, before hopefully returning to the promising topic of heavy lyrics.

The Calm Before No Storm

For those of you who visit my blog once in a while nothing new has been presented for quite some time. I am very sorry about my long-time absence from the keypad due to an ill health and loads of work, and I miss the writing. However, I will not stop posting altogether, not yet, and not while there is still something to say.

1980s Metalhead...

1980s Metalhead…

I would also like to encourage you, the readers of this special interest blog, to comment! While I am happy about any Likes that my posts are awarded, I am also interested in your opinions beyond the simple thumbs-up: What do you think about the bands, songs and lyrics mentioned? Are you fascinated by a band or a style that my blog is still lacking? Would you like me to research certain musicians or genres? Should I introduce a newcomer you are fond of? Is there anything you like or dislike about my posts?

I am interested in the views of the metalheads behind those computer screens all around the globe. Your heads are full to bursting with thoughts. Why not share some?

Seduction of the Masses – Heavy Metal Onstage

More than any other group of fans, most Metalheads share thoughts of unity. Those who enjoy heavy music appear to feel as part of a larger community, united with their fellows not only by their taste but by the outside reception of that same taste as well. They might swap records, wear their metallic uniforms, meet at concerts and bang their heads in unison. Even if you are not into the community that much (as me, living in a place mostly filled with the elderly and having nothing you could call a Metal scene, plus me being a rather unobstrusive metalhead), you are part of the crowd. At least this is how I feel.

Apart from contacts via the web, concerts and festivals are the events that bring us all together. There is a hum of excitement all around the site where a Metal concert will take place. Hours before the event goes off, masses of grinning long-haired youths dressed in black, hordes of bald men in bandshirts, children with Metallica written across their chests and gothic-styled beauties roam the streets.

I have only been to three Metal concerts yet and I loved the atmosphere. My first concert ever, starring Machine Head, Slipknot and Children of Bodom on their Black Crusade tour, took place in Berlin.The Velodrom was packed and we had already screamed ourselves hoarse when the first headliner left the stage. I will never forget the ache in my shoulders the following morning.

Two years later, I saw Machine Head again, this time in Dresden’s location Alter Schlachthof. I wholeheartedly recommend this place: it is small, which creates a special acoustic and a really great atmosphere. The headliner was supported by DevilDriver, who really got the crowd burning.

The last concert I had the pleasure to witness was Skindred’s 2014 show in Leipzig’s Conne Island. A cosy and tiny club, the Island was quickly filled and allowed a brutal sound. Maplerun, Soil and Skindred kept us jumping and screaming and waving our fists and shirts over our heads until we were completely exhausted and devoid of our voices.

I have been wondering about how Metal concerts create such a special atmosphere, and why everyone suddenly becomes part of a whole, united in sweaty, growling bundles of hair and shirts and devil horns. Apart from the community thought I have already adressed, I suspect some psycho-social cause. Heavy Metal musicians seem to seduce the masses easily: it is a typical gesture, an invitation to sing along or a front man’s cheering for the moshpit that builds the spirit of a Metal event. Just take Slipknot’s famous Jump the fuck up-performance: in the middle of their song “Spit it out”, vocalist Corey Taylor instructs his maggots (which is how Slipknot affectionately call their fans) to crouch down on the floor. Usually, a member of the band walks through the crowd to make sure everyone is squatted down. When the song goes on, Taylor inserts into his lyrics the line “Jump the fuck up!”, at which the crowd jumps up in one movement and the moshpit rushes on. I have never experienced anything that bound me more to those metalheads next to me. We were one, strangely enough.

Slipknot do it over and over again. Watch “Spit it out” (from “Slipknot”, 1999) , this time at Rock in Rio in 2011:

 

Benji Webbe of Skindred calls this unity and atmosphere “the power of Heavy Metal” and his concert performance strongly resembles Queen’s legendary “Radio Gaga”. Freddy Mercury used to encourage their fans to clap along as the band did with numerous supernumeraries in their music video. Want to compare?

Skindred’s “Nobody” (from the 2002 album “Babylon”):

Get gripped by Queen’s “Radio Gaga” (from “The Works”, 1984) live at Wembley in 1985:

Festivals might do the same with fans, but actually I have never visited one. Frankly speaking, festivals ask for traits and preferences quite opposing to me: I don’t drink, I can’t stand to be filthy and I am convinced that sleeping in a tent is the most uncomfortable way of resting, outbalanced perhaps only by sleeping on bare ground without shelter in a thunderstorm.

In spite of the many unpleasant side-effects of live Metal – ringing ears, aching backs, broken noses, wet clothes, damaged glasses, tired faces – it seems to draw us right towards it. The seduction of the masses is a phenomenon as old as mankind. There are quite a lot historical situations that may serve as proof for that human beings tend to be manipulated easily. If ever you have read Patrick Süskind’s novel “Das Parfum” (“Perfume”, 1985), you can perhaps understand why Grenouille’s might always reminds me of heaving crowds in front of stages: shortly before his execution, he waves a tissue with some drops of the scent of humans, collected and brewed from the essences of many beautiful women. Thus, he enchants the crowd and escapes death. A certain enchantment and the reactions of several hundred people to the action of a single man on a stage is what live Heavy Metal is for me.

The murderer Grenouille’s success is a strange thing to see:

A great result of this particular unity permeating Metal concerts is that fans act with much more respect, care and thoughtfulness than people do in many other realms of social life. You will never see someone trampled on in a moshpit, rather the strict rule is to help up those who have fallen as quickly as you can. My experience has shown that this rule is tightly obeyed, that metalheads generally give a hand if necessary, protect those who are rather delicate, and usually make room for the tiny (like me).

If you want to try out this kind of seduction, just take a dose of live Heavy Metal – but take care: you might become addicted.

Of Taste and Suppression – Afterthoughts

Since I posted my first outburst of private history, I have been wondering about why parents actually want to keep their children away from Heavy Metal so urgently. This is hard to answer even in my personal case. I guess my parents never wanted me to change in order to be cool or fashionable, if it wasn’t really me behind the mask. I understand that perfectly. I think my mother was afraid that I might dress in black only, turn radical and change personally. I didn’t.

However, I suppose that many a parent’s concerns are of a different nature. Drug abuse, violence, bitter thoughts, hatred for the world, depression, suicide, affinity towards weapons, self-mutilation, occult rituals, misanthropy, early sex, older friends, rape, alcoholism, leather, chains and spikes – there is hardly any controversial topic which has NOT been associated with Metal, its underground scene and respective musicians. Since there is no evidence behind most accusations, Heavy Metal carries its black reputation undeservedly. The music is not the source of trouble. It is not a catalyst for misfortune, and no cause for evil character traits in its admirers. As human beings tend to do, parents attribute too much significance to what others say – be it the media, schools or fellow carers – instead of asking their youngsters themselves. If we see danger in Heavy Metal, we have to see danger in virtually every instance of popular culture, in every kind of modern music, art, literature and film. Do we?

Personally, I am inclined to believe that other kinds of culture might be harmful. Just take all those chart song video clips revealing so much naked skin and bearing testimony to that what youngsters should naturally do is party. Has it ever occurred to the anxious parents that their girls and boys might be even more distressed by what society demands of them – which is being sexy to the point of bodily perfection, being rich, thin, long-legged, trendy, up-to-date with regard to every tiny technical gadget, and sexually acrobatic? Heavy Metal might include lyrical violence, aggressive vocals and brutal noise, but Heavy Metal never dictates, never enthrones unachievable ideals and never excludes a single person for what they are. Heavy Metal can provide a great, versatile community and be home to those who feel an outsider in the mainstream world. Heavy Metal embraces the young and the old, the fat and the slender, the grim and the tender-hearted, the show-off and the mouse. This might sound like Metal was the solution to all our problems, but this is not what I want to express. Heavy Metal, as every other kind of music, can become part of its listeners, can be a source of comfort and courage. Why then should we attempt to talk our children out of a music that belongs to them?

By the way: even if we try, we cannot succeed. A headbanger stays a headbanger, whatever may come.

Personal Histories: Of Taste and Suppression

Ronnie James Dio, godfather of Heavy Metal horns

Ronnie James Dio, godfather of Heavy Metal horns

You may have noticed that my excursions about music history are much more objective than my passion for Metal might justify. I like to stick to the facts, extract as many details from my memory as possible and provide you with ample anecdotes. Yet today, I will tell you some things personal, for the simple reason that there would be no blog of mine without my indestructible enthusiasm for Heavy Metal or my inner urge to share it with you. If you don’t care, I won’t blame you. There are too many blogs out there filled to bursting with subjectivity.

As far as my memories go back, I have always felt drawn towards music. One of the first things I was conscious of possessing was a gaudy children’s radio. My sister and I used to dance a lot, like all children inherently do, I suppose. My parents, perhaps unconsiously, encouraged me, because we listened to music virtually everywhere: in the car, while eating or cooking, or while taking a sauna. We all adored Queen, and actually still do. As soon as I was able to comprehend some English, I could not help but memorising all the lyrics I came across, and today I can still sing along with most Queen songs. I also grew up with the German bands Silly and Karat, with Mike Oldfield and classical music. My mother introduced me to the impressionist magic of Claude Débussy, as well as Bettina Wegner’s chansons, Chopin, Ravel, Vivaldi. My father played Neil Diamond songs for us. We discovered the music of Tracy Chapman together, and got into Jazz and Dixie with The Top Dog Brass Band. Annual visits of Dresden’s Dixieland Festival were family trips, and sometimes still are.

I was presented with many different styles of music – but I had to discover Metal all by myself. I had already found out that there was a tendency for harder music in me, always having especially relished the most heavy, resonant, bassy songs of Queen and other Rock bands.

I was thirteen when I saw Rammstein for the first time. MTV played their song “Amerika” and I was amazed by much more than just the video: In this music there was an incredible power, a sense of threat, a seduction of the masses. Industrial Rock had caught me in its fangs. A classmate of mine, whom I happened to hear talking to a friend about “Amerika”, provided me with “Reise, Reise”, the full Rammstein album from 2004. This was the beginning of both my career as a Metalhead and my fruitful music-swapping-relationship with the headbanger who would later become my boyfriend.

I rapidly became obsessed, but I had to carry out this obsession in secret. My parents never strictly forbade hard music, yet I feared discussion, snide comments and incomprehension. I already had some experience: I used to listen to some Punk music which my mother and sister disliked, and which also promoted my mother to question my clothing, my attitudes towards Punk culture and the fact that Punk albums rotated more often in my player than any other records during that time. She feared I might listen to Punk and adhere to uniform dressing in order to please others, because Punk was quite fashionable back then, or in order to be just different. However, I was never much of a rebel, and I certainly never played music just for the sake of annoying or alarming my family.

Controversial and political:

I hardly dared step into the light back then also because of Till Lindemann’s controversial lyrics. Don’t misunderstand me: I love these lyrics! They are forceful, poetic, each one a precious piece of extravagant yet brute grandeur. I listened to “Reise, Reise” so often that I could soon recite every single line by heart. For the first time I was completely crazy for music. And I was lucky, too: My father was introduced to some Rammstein songs by a colleague, and when I finally stepped into the open, he was quite interested. I caught my sister with some of the choir samples on “Reise, Reise”. I caught my mother, God knows how. It is hard to retrace this development after so many years, but by now my entire family enjoys Rammstein.

 

Aged fifteen, I set ears on Machine Head. The above-mentioned headbanger played some of their songs to me. This is how I came across “Supercharger” (2001). Machine Head fans from the early days complained about the band’s change in style that occurred with this record. To me, however, the album will stay something special and wonderful forever, because it was the first Machine Head record I couldn’t stop listening to. Still I was regularly using headphones. Although my family was already used to hearing pounding bass from my room once in a while, and refrained from trying to intervene, I did not want to disturb them. Up to today, they cannot find their way into Heavy Metal, or understand in the slightest why the hell I have fallen for this music of all genres.

Infectious:

 

I want to plead for tolerance. Children and adolescents can suffer immensely, if adults – and especially parents – try to twist them into a different shape than they really are. I have encountered much scepticism, I have argued heatedly, and debated whether Metal uniformity affected my personality (it obviously doesn’t, since I don’t even look particularly ‘metal’…). This was one of the more complex experiences of my adolescence. Particularly those in the act of growing up deserve some openness. I don’t aim to advise you to be careless. Parents should indeed take an interest in their offspring’s musical taste, especially when there is some controversy, lyrics considered inadequate, or a dubious scene. These mouths are made for talking, and first impressions are not necessarily true. With respect to all people, we might be well advised to accept that taste comes in a broad range. De gustibus non disputandum est.