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!

Weil die Masse Rassen hasst

Quite contrary to that paralyzing idleness most of us are afflicted by in the fields of politics and economy, humankind appears wide awake when talk turns towards issues of race. Unable to accept that the only label we all need to give ourselves reads ‘human being’, a sadly large number of the globe’s inhabitants obviously perceives differences and gaps too broad to overcome between themselves and ‘the Other’. Upon hearing the term racism most of us tend to think immediately of the centuries-old struggle of white-against-black, but these conflicts are only the famous iceberg’s tip. Even in the world of the 21st century minorities are persecuted, racist humour enjoys a generous if secret popularity, in comparably wealthy countries refugees are shamefully deserted, and the Turkish government refuses to grant the Armenians the favour of naming the 1915 mass killings of their ancestors genocide. Metal music, topical heavyweight since the 1970s, has been less afraid of calling a spade a spade than many a political party. Social injustice, abuse and racism, far from being hushed up or dressed in euphemistic metaphors, have inspired various Metallic lyrics since the 1980s.

In 1992, the American Groove Metal band Pantera – well-known for their blunt outspokenness and metaphorical listener confusion – artfully criticised the handling of racial issues in the United States of America. “No Good (Attack the Radical)” (from “Vulgar Display of Power”, 1992) carries a greater message than hinted at in the title. The musicians break the States’ racial problem down to these lines:

Race, pride, prejudice
Black man, white man
No stand
Live in the past
We make it last
A hated mass
No solution
Mind pollution
For revolution
Drawing ever on past experiences and shutting their eyes to an internationalised world, Pantera’s home country turns into “this land of fools”. Considering the state our world is currently in finding proof that Anselmo had a point already back in the nineties is not hard; we are still miles away from having adapted to and accepted the need to live with this far from new, globalised situation.

Colour of skin colour and eye shape are not the only ignition spark for racial quarrel, though. While in many parts of the world communities have already started to overcome skin colour prejudice, a seemingly insurmountable mistrust between religious and cultural (sub-) groups persists. Take as an example the Sinti or Romani, a dispersed people of Northern Indian origin, scattered over the whole of Europe and various other countries. The term traditionally attached to them is ‘Gypsies’, politically correct or not, and similar to the Jews countless Romani died during the Nazi regime’s genocide of the Second World War. Today, the Romani are characterised a diaspora, forever foreign in whichever country they choose to live.

Zoltán “Zoli” Farkas, frontman of the Hungarian Groove Metal band Ektomorf, was born a Romani. The band was founded in 1994, yet three records and long years of excessive touring passed by until Ektomorf signed with Nuclear Blast and went international with “I scream up to the Sky” (2002). It is claimed that the band took so long to become internationally famous simply because of racial prejudice. In any case Farkas struggles with his cultural belonging, and he probably would not do so if the world had accepted him easily. “Gypsy” (from “Destroy”, 2004) reveals his anger at those who pulled faces at him when he was a child, those people who tried to break him and who “where never honest”, even when they were supposed to be his friends. Standing on stage today with a band that tours the world, Farkas declares: “Now I am a man. I don’t deny myself. No, I don’t feel shame. It’s me, Gypsy.”

And sure enough, in the course of nine albums the singer must have somehow come to terms with his past: Romani music is beautifully woven into many of Ektomorf’s harsh metal blasts. Their most various album, according to my personal judgement, is “Outcast” (2007), including instruments exotic to the dulled ear. Try “Ambush in the Night”, “Red I”, “Who can I trust?”, or “Chamunda”.

 

There are few fine German language Metal bands. One of them, however, sports a frontman who uses four different languages within one record: Austrian Metal band Artas unites German, English, French and Spanish lyrics. Founded in 2006, the band won the Metalchamp Competition of the Viennese Metalcamp Festival, and since then delighted their newly won audience with two records of groundshaking force and astounding lyrical quality. Against their generation’s racism Artas have created the ultimate remedy: the song “Rassenhass” features their 2011 record “Riotology” and speaks frankly of the human forgetfulness regarding former disasters of racial prosecution:

(my translation in brackets, errors possible)

Die missbrauchte Wissenschaft (Abused sciences)
Diente Satansplan (served satanic plans)
Das Bewerten von Rassen ist inhuman (rating races is inhumane)
Medizin gibt kein Recht, wer ist gut und wer ist schlecht (medicine doesn’t give the right to say who is good and who is bad)
Falsche Expertisen, ja, Verbrechen wurden nachgewiesen (wrong expertises, crimes were proved)
Die Anleitung zum Massenmord (instructions for mass murder)
Viele wurden auch vertrieben (many have been exiled)
Ramadan und Chanukka (ramadan and chanukka)
Zigeuner und ein Schwulenpaar (Gypsies and a gay couple)
Tief in den Köpfen steckt Wut (deep in the heads there is fury)
Sie alle folgen blind dem Rassenwahn. (they all follow blindly the racial delusion)

 

Artas argue that any one of us carries all colours of this world inside them, yet if we ignore this truth we can but become fascist. They conclude: “Weil die Masse Rassen hasst, hasst du sie auch und weil du hasst, ist Liebe stets für dich verloren. Zum Rassenhassen auserkoren.“ (Because the masses hate the races, you hate them as well, and since you hate love for you is forever lost. Made for hating races.) There is more to the problem than race, however. The musicians include further categories of (perceived) minorities who have to endure taunt and abuse, such as homosexuals, Jews, and Gypsies.

Heavy Metal pleads for tolerance perhaps because its musicians tend to have more experience in being regarded with distrust, animosity and incomprehension than fellow musicians playing other genres. It is the immense variety of different people we find in the world that can be distressing, since it is probable that we do not understand the way ‘the Other’ behaves, is educated and socialised. Differences frighten us because we cannot comprehend their sources, but if we lived without this variety, Phil Anselmo predicts, the following would happen:

If one man
Had one home
In one world
Held live alone without variety
Full of anxiety
No one to point at, question
Or even talk to — in his private grave
No matter what color
He wouldn’t be saved from hell
He dwells
A closed mind playing the part of prison cells

(“No Good (Attack the Radical)”)

Colours don’t matter.

As the War Machine keeps turning…

There are two societal fields in which most of us remain almost muzzled and our hands are tied: economy and politics. We might be allowed to vote, to buy and sell as we see fit, and to line up for rallies against everything we dislike – but in essence we are powerless when greater forces decide the fates of our nations. The generation of Black Sabbath were heirs to their forefathers’ swoon. Having grown up in the post-war depression marked by lack and loss as much as by restart and stoical strength, Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward soon turned a critical eye on the subject of war and political cowardice. Their second album “Paranoid” (1970) features songs such as “War Pigs”, “Iron Man” and “Electric Funeral”, haunting reminders of the havoc humans are capable of wreaking.

Make love, not war: Iommi and Osbourne making peace in 1973

Make love, not war: Iommi and Osbourne making peace in 1973

Faceless Generals are compared to witches and deathly sorcerers in “War Pigs”. They are accused of having poisoned the masses’ minds, whereas politicians, blinded by power, “[make] war just for fun” and “[treat] people just like pawns in chess”. Wars are fought by and on the backs of common people, yet not by those who pull the greater political strings – nothing about this perception has changed since Ozzy claimed that “Politicians hide themselves away, they only started the war. Why should they go out to fight? They leave that all to the poor.” Finally, characteristic Black Sabbath manner of course demands the introduction of the threat of Judgement Day, with “Satan [who] laughing spreads his wings” as every political wrongdoer’s eternal host.

Less unambiguous but equally gloomy a message is contained in the lyrics of “Iron Man”. When dealing with lyrics, behind every corner lurks the danger of interpretation. However, this step sometimes must be taken for the sake of understanding the words in a song as more than random expressions. What if Iron Man, who “was turned to steel” and plans vengeance because “nobody wants him” is understood to be a soldier after war? “Has he lost his mind? Can he see or is he blind? Can he walk at all, or if he moves will he fall? Is he alive or dead? Has he thoughts within his head? We’ll just pass him there, why should we even care?”, Ozzy sings. Similarly, Iron Man could be a greater metaphor for war itself, leaden, unwanted, vindictive, and randomly chasing any group of victims. I am Iron Man.

In “Electric Funeral”, Black Sabbath finally turn towards the hysteric threat of atomic war, again deploying religious metaphors linked to occultism. The burning globe resembles “electric funeral pyre”, and during its expiration it’s the “supernatural king” of atomic power who takes mother earth under his wing, accompanied by Hell’s angels.

At a time when war had ceased to be part of people’s daily worries, politics, economy and society opened up various new vistas of critique for the eager musician.The Metallic nineties brought recollections of revolution, hints at global pollution, and a general sense of being lost in a world too big and too fast for us. An outright pessimistic view of our world was put into lyrics by Machine Head on their record “Supercharger” in 2001. The “Blank Generation”, this is us, confronted with the ills of progress, regress, excess.

Machine Head in the Nineties: the Supercharger cover

Machine Head in the Nineties: the Supercharger cover

Robb Flynn sings that “they say we been going down and going down, been traveling on the road to nowhere.” He describes how when growing up he slowly realised that the world was worse than she seemed, and her way could only lead downwards. (Note: I am aware that the narrator in these lyrics is not necessarily Robert Flynn, but I point-blank refuse to employ artificial academic terms such as lyrical persona in this blog!) Corruption, greed, hate and pain, which “we learned to see” and, perhaps, to accept as normal, put an end to mankind’s innocence. Machine Head’s toast to this lost innocence is a toast to the generation of the blank, and it reads thus:

So here’s to our collagen lips and saline tits
To our growth hormones and antibiotics
To the Hollywood world we made out of Barbie doll hearts
After we melted them down so we could make our new start
Here’s to a generation scared and always wondering why
Instead of playing doctor, we play shoot each other and die
Instead of ring around the Rosie, we play hide from Mommy
‘Cause Mommy’s been drinking again and we don’t want to get beat
Even with all our tattoos and all our cheap thrills
There’s still a hole inside of us that may not ever get filled
So we give back a little bit of what the world’s given us
Giving back a bit of never giving a fuck
Here’s to the justice never dealt, to innocent, proven guilty
Here’s to bad cops turning cheeks when real cops are on the street
Here’s to the rat-tat-n-tat of gun shots, and your life is shattered
Here’s to “Gimme me your cash or your brains is gettin’ splattered”
Here’s to mad cow disease and all that yummy MSG
Here’s to Mickey d’s serving all those mutant chick-a-dees
This is a toast to celebrate the end of our innocence
This is a toast to celebrate how
We’ve become desensitized
If life is to grow
Some life must die

Are we the “Blank Generation”? Convince yourself.
There is truth in these words. Enough truth to suggest that, lyrically, Heavy Metal is far from dumb and evil…

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.

Hardcore Youngsters and Heavy Metal Veterans

Metalheads - The New Generation (Source: flickr)

Metalheads – The New Generation (Source: flickr)

When I count the Metal bands filling my shelf with their records, I find just a handful of albums made by what musical extremists call “true” Metal musicians, or at least traditional Heavy Metal bands. Black Sabbath are among them, Twisted Sister, Metallica, and some more. Among my collection, the number of those bands who have been attacking ears and stages from the late eighties onwards is infinitely higher. Though I am completely satisfied with this constellation, it is inclined to encounter incomprehension and critique in many other Heavy Metal fans. These fans have sometimes been entitled Heavy Metal veterans by eloquent authors, and some of them tend to abuse online forums to denunciate younger Metalheads for preferring Slipknot and Caliban over Slayer and Mötley Crüe. On browsing music platforms of any kind, you might encounter contributors arguing heatedly and in a very disrespectful way about what actually IS Heavy Metal and why ONE type of Metal is better than the OTHER. I could enumerate thousands of Metallic band names, and each of these would fall into one of these fan-made categories: Heavy Metal or “un-Metal”. Veterans judge about youngsters (and I count myself among these), their disrespect or ignorance of classical Heavy Metal bands and simultaneous fascination for the New Wave of American Heavy Metal in all its facettes. I have been wondering how this disparity between lovers of the same kind of music comes to be, and why the credo of “Live and let live” does not survive in the otherwise extraordinarily tolerant Metal environment.

We do not simply decide which music we prefer. There are countless stamps impressed upon us and our musical interest in every realm and period of our lives: the political situation of our adolescent years, social regulations, fashionable items and subcultures, accessibility of hard music as well as the tolerance of family and friends determine what we listen to, and how. The devotion of Heavy Metal veterans to those primal bands who have born and raised Metal, defined and nurtured subgenres and defended their music against the rest of the world, is doubtless and comprehensible. Legends such as Black Sabbath have not only introduced a wholly new kind of music to the eager listener, but also never beat about the bush when it came to their critical view of the current political and social situation.

Classical Heavy Metal has accompanied, criticised and reviewed World War Two, the Cold War, Vietnam, gang violence, racial discrimination, censorship, radicalism of all kinds, conservatism, socialism, capitalism, sexism and intolerance. Countless historical and contemporary events have found their way into Heavy Metal, and the veterans of this music were in need of a voice as well as an outlet for all their pent-up frustration and insecurity. Today’s adolescent Metalhead generation, however, has been born and raised in completely different a sociopolitical situation. In most parts of Europe, revolution is not necessary for the time being, because any gender and race can live in relative peace, wealth and wellbeing. Thus the new Heavy Metal’s spirit is not revolutionary either. Parents do not shout at their children for listening to Rock music and Heavy Metal anymore, because this type of music is just not frowned upon as much in 2014 as was the case in 1980. Heavy Metal is much less depicted as the ultimate source of destruction and doom. We may still be the young and wild, but we do not have to fight for it. Perhaps it is just this which makes our bond to classical Heavy Metal so much weaker. Despite all the comfort of our current secure world, however, I detect a potential for verbal and mental aggression both in Metalheads and musicians. There is as much energy in Metal as there ever was.

Forever outstanding: Black Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral” (from “Paranoid”, 1970) voices concern about the prospect of atomic wars:

 

Fashion comes as fashion goes. Heavy Metal veterans should actually be old enough to have arrived at this wise conclusion. Heavy Metal long since would have been dead if no one had attempted to develop it. It is the Neo-Thrash bands who have re-erected Heavy Metal when it tumbled, and the musicians heralding the New Wave of American Heavy Metal have upheld the flag of heavy music at a time when the veterans of Heavy Metal were still wondering how on earth their Imperium could have collapsed. Nowadays we enjoy the great advantage to access the whole plurality of substyles: Metal giants declared dead have risen again, newcomers of every kind satisfy any possible taste. We are presented with a vast choice, and above all, we are free to choose, politically unrestricted and socially (albeit barely, at times) tolerated. Wouldn’t it be foolish to the point of senselessness if just now that we enjoy so much freedom we are unfit to live and listen peacefully side by side, regardless of individual taste?

Ragga-Metal-Punk-Hip-Hop, but still critical: Skindred’s “Killing me” (from “Roots Rock Riot”, 2008):

 

I can but advise you once again to keep your ears open and stay curious, because you never know what you might find.

Classical Bolts and Metal Thunder – A Clash of Elements?

Among the countless different music styles in the world hardly two seem to be more unlike than Heavy Metal and classical music. At first glance this might be true, Metal exhibiting brute musical violence, whereas classical works appear much subtler. If you take a second look, however, both music styles share more traits than our traditional cultural point of view would suggest. Heavy Metal music does not only rely on classical structures of rhythm, melody and composition, but also draws inspiration and influence from its conservative counterpart.

Since the middle of the 18th century, classical music has employed the sonata form most beautifully. This large-scale musical structure consists of three main parts: the ‘exposition’ presents themes and harmonies, followed by their elaboration and contrasting in the second phase called ‘development’. The last part is named ‘recapitulation’ and leads into a harmonic resolution. Such three-part structures are indeed not only widely used in classical composition but in Heavy Metal songwriting as well. American Melodic Death Metal band Becoming the Archetype is well-known for their theatrical sound and complex classical song structures. The band’s 2011 album “Celestial Completion” features a three-part opus by the name of “Requiem Aeternam”, which follows the exact same sonata pattern that innumerable classical composers have designed for centuries.

Heavy Metal has also enthusiastically indulged in another characteristic classical phenomenon, the tritone. Called ‘Diabolus in Musica’, this musical interval is composed of three adjacent whole tones. The structure causes harmonic and melodic dissonance and thereby avoids traditional tonality. Although the tritone was used for creating contrast, classical composers grew to reject it as a most unstable and dangerous interval which is hard to play and sing. Due to its ‘evil’ sound, the tritone was soon associated symbolically with the devil, and is frequently referred to as ‘Satan in music’. Like classical composition, Heavy Metal employs the Diabolus in Musica for the sake of creating dissonance, utilising the resulting contrast to rebel and provoke. However, the use of the classical tritone bestows negative associations upon the Heavy Metal scene. The Diabolus in Musica once again supports the connecting of a musical style with witchcraft, demons, the occult and death.

In discussions about Heavy Metal similarities with classical music, one pioneering composer of the 18th century constantly emerges: Richard Wagner reformed the orchestra by adding extra basses, tubas, and an octabass to achieve an even deeper pitch. His late style introduced revolutionary ideas to the musical world, especially with regard to harmony and the melodic processes around the leitmotif. Wagner explored the limits of the traditional tonal system and paved the way for 20th century atonality. Considering that the composer controversially ascertained the extremes of his contemporary music, it is small wonder that many of today’s Heavy Metal musicians claim that Richard Wagner is one of their grandest influences. Indeed, Wagner’s martial rhythms frequently seem to appear in Rammstein songs. Joey DeMaio of Manowar not only calls Wagner “the father of Heavy Metal”, but also pays “tribute to the Master”: Manowar’s 2005 DVD “The Absolute Power” displays a concert in the presence of an entire orchestra. As a foreplay to the band’s song “King of Kings” the orchestra musicians intone Wagner’s prelude to Act III of “Lohengrin”, before giving free reign to Manowar.

RichardWagner1

Richard Wagner – The Father of Heavy Metal?

Further Metal bands have recognised classical music’s potential for becoming heavy. In 1999 famous Thrash Metal giant Metallica recorded their live album “S&M” (short for “Symphony and Metallica”) at Berkeley Community Theatre. The band performed their songs with additional sound contributed by The San Francisco Symphony orchestra, and with noteworthy success.

Heavy Metal and classical music appear to go hand in hand musically. There is a tendency towards the pompous and theatrical, the dramatic and the great in both genres. You find no less virtuosity in a Van Halen guitar solo than in Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue”. The theatrical grandeur in the world’s most famous tenor voices mirrors Rob Halford’s (Judas Priest) and Freddy Mercury’s (Queen) outstanding falsett singing. If musicians of both styles share tastes, traits and techniques, a likely conclusion would be that respective listeners resemble each other as well.

Between 2005 and 2008, Professor Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh has conducted extensive research in the field of applied psychology of music. The psychology expert and amateur musician explored how personality and musical taste are connected. He compared listener personalities from all over the world and obtained astonishing results: the Metalhead and the lover of classical works share many significant personality traits. Both are creative, at ease with themselves and at times introvert. These listeners handle music obsessively, prefer theatrical shows and feel comfortable with numerous subgenres. North emphasises a shared “love of the grandiose”. As cited by Jane Collingwood for Psych Central, he claims that “the general public has held a stereotype of Heavy Metal fans being suicidally depressed and being a danger to themselves and society in general, but they are quite delicate things.” Professor North suggests that musical taste transcends national boundaries. A Metalhead will always be more similar to a fellow fan from a different continent than to a different listener from his home country.

Perfect evidence for both North’s study results and suggested Heavy Metal and classical music similarities is Carpe Noctem, an aspiring young ‘String Metal’ band. The five German students Friedrich Busch (violin), Cornelius Wagner (cello), Martin Streicher (cello), Sascha Dobschal (e-bass) and Daniel Cebulla (drums) have been educated in classical music and instruments since early childhood, which has distinctly affected their later musical preferences. However, their music collections unite Antonio Vivaldi with Rammstein, Johann Sebastian Bach with System of a Down. Inevitably, both genres have an impact on the band’s musical creation. “Classical music is where we originate, but Metal is what we move towards”, says violinist Friedrich Busch. It was the musicians’ aim to create music no one has ever heard before. Classical roots develop into a metallic flower without losing their traditional sound.

By inventing a style they call ‘String Metal’, Carpe Noctem have created music hitherto unheard of. They compose according to classical rules and employ typical harmonies and rhythms. The band arranges classical string compositions with metallic undertones and additional drums and e-bass. Initially experimenting with cover versions of Metal songs on their first record “op. 1: Obscuritas”, the band developed techniques of adapting Metal songs for the strings – and grew addicted: “Listening to any music, I regularly catch myself pondering how best to adapt it”, cellist Martin Streicher admits, laughing.

For Carpe Noctem, Heavy Metal and classical music are inseparably interwoven. Friedrich Busch claims that “there is hardly any aspect Metal and classical composition do not have in common, even though people are not aware of that.” Metal songs were composed in a similar manner, yet with different and fewer instruments and less complexity due to the smaller instrumentation. “You can take any classical work and make it more metal, and this works the other way round as well”, Busch states. He believes that the essential aim when performing classical and Heavy Metal music is the same: “It’s most important that you are convinced, and your musical expression convinces your audience.” Carpe Noctem manage this balance perfectly. I once experienced them on stage during a student festival. They created the sound and feeling of a heavy concert while their instruments were an exceptional sight on a Metal stage.

Carpe Noctem onstage – String Metal at its Best

Carpe Noctem onstage – String Metal at its Best

Having moved among the Metal and classical scene for the past years, Busch and Streicher wholeheartedly agree to Adrian North’s study results: “You meet the same kind of creative people both in the orchestra and in Metal concerts”, Friedrich Busch explains, and considers himself and his bandmates fitting the pattern perfectly. These analogies between Heavy Metal and classical listener personalities might be unconscious reasons for the band’s choice with regard to guest singers, who originate mostly from the Metal sector. However, Carpe Noctem do not commit themselves to Metal voices only: “Every voice is suitable if it fits our ideas”, says Martin Streicher. If they had free choice, Trivium singer Matthew Heafy or Metallica’s James Hetfield were a good match, the musicians state, laughing.

Carpe Noctem’s exciting new Metal has already attracted attention among classical musicians and experts. During the last two years the band was invited to compose the entire music for the drama adaption “Supertroja Wonderland” of renowned Jena theatre, and given the opportunity to cooperate with the youth orchestra of Jena. Encouraged by their mentor and conductor Martin Lentz, Carpe Noctem re-wrote several of their songs for orchestral amplification and performed a number of highly successful concerts with the orchestra of their youth in Germany and Denmark.

Carpe Noctem are living proof that a fusion of Heavy Metal and classical music is not only natural and smooth, but also opens up new vistas of creativity and composition. The band plans to record their new album over the summer and release at the latest in early 2015. Until then, longtime fans and curious explorers can enjoy their current record “op. 2: Allegro con fuoco” (2012), join concerts and check the Carpe Noctem homepage.

Music can surprise you anew every time you listen to it – the fusion of seemingly opposing musical styles is a chance. Accepting that these styles are bonded by an enormous amount of shared qualities and similarly characterised admirers, open-minded listeners may encounter new, fascinating worlds of music. “After all, Vivaldi did pretty much the same during his lifetime as we do today”, muses Friedrich Busch. If you like Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, why not give Carpe Noctem’s String Metal a chance? You never know what you might win.

Carpe Noctem

Carpe Noctem – A Storm to Come…

 

 


 

Sources

Picture Richard Wagner: Taken by Franz Hanfstaengl in Munich, 1971 (wikimedia commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Richard_Wagner#mediaviewer/File:RichardWagner.jpg)

Picture Carpe Noctem: Taken by Christian Zepter

 

Manowar (Joey DeMaio): “King of Kings.” In: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxQCHZdAXkA

 

Derbyshire, David. “Take note: Fans of heavy metal and classical music have a lot in common, study finds.” In: Daily Maily Online, 2008.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1052606/Take-note-Fans-heavy-metal-classical-music-lot-common-study-finds.html

 

Collingwood, Jane. “Preferred Music Style is Tied to Personality.” In: Psych Central, 2008.

http://psychcentral.com/lib/preferred-music-style-is-tied-to-personality/0001438

 

Carpe Noctem Homepage: http://www.carpenoctemband.de/index.php?type=news

 

Interview partners

Friedrich Busch and Martin Streicher, Carpe Noctem

 

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.