Metal is metal, not a grab-bag of other clichés
Not for the first time I find myself reading a cringingly bad article from the Irish press about metal. This one is entitled Alt, Nu, Funk, Rap: there are many colours in the heavy metal rainbow and it ran in the Irish Times yesterday.
Ireland’s a frustrating country in which to be a metalhead. On the one hand, it’s the land that produced latter-day genre ambassadors Primordial and cool-as-fuck proto-metallers Thin Lizzy. On the other, metal in Ireland is stuck between a mass-culture slavishly obsessed with low-grade British TV and an arts/intelligentsia scene more interested in brushing up its phony posh Hiberno-English accent and patronising 3rd rate continental post-modern knock offs. Metal is a poorly-supported fringe genre; too morbid for popular culture and too loud and unpretentious to fit in with ‘sophisticated’ culture.
Because of this, as great as many Irish metallers are, the Irish metal scene is infected with a section of people with an attitude that is both happy to accept and produce novelty trash, and is simultaneously chronically under-confident about being a metaller – berating anyone who to takes it seriously. “Sure it’s only a bit of craic.”
Other than sneering at it, Irish Journalists and other arbiters of public opinion rarely take notice of metal unless they want to leech some of its credibility; an act that apparently doesn’t require any research beyond wheeling out a few tired anecdotes about barely relevant 50s/60s bands.
It’s no coincidence that today metal is growing fastest in countries with oppressive regimes, notably Iran and China. For all its genre- splitting, commercialisation and in-fighting, metal remains, in the broader socio-political field,a transgressive form of music signifying individuality and defiance of authority.
Last month leading Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei released the first single off his “avant-garde heavy metal” album. With lyrics railing against censorship and human rights abuses in China, it’s as potent – in a political way – as the opening chords of You Really Got Me must have sounded in 1964.
Sorry pal, but metal is not some nice, cuddly, inclusive sausage-fest, where everyone can listen to whatever flavour they like and we all finish off holding hands in a circle, smiling dumbly to the sound of “Kumbaya.” It is not about giving your parents the finger and escaping the oppression of society to go live in a vegan organic farm where everyone lives by love, tolerance and inclusivity.
Some of the best metal has been made by people with beliefs considered unacceptable in polite society. Metal isn’t a rejection of authority; it’s a rejection of the idea that society is the answer to our problems. Metal says: we can’t all get along. To a metaller, a greater ill than an extreme and unfriendly ideology is a wimpy attempt to pretend that the reality is more sanitary than it actually is.
Sadly for this, much of the metal he cites as counter-examples either doesn’t exist, or is of such painfully low quality as to be of no significance. Like many a media forgery, he has used one example of something — despite it getting nowhere in the genre — as an example of a “trend.” There is of course a healthy scene in Israel, but I suspect Israeli Jews would be more annoyed than flattered to read themselves being used as examples of un-metal sounding metal.
Even worse, like a salesman after a three-martini lunch, he’s trying the old trick of making metal palatable to us by claiming that it’s something we already recognize and accept. Citing ‘alt’ ‘rap’ and ‘funk’ as leading genres of metal shows almost no awareness of what defines metal and makes no account for it as anything other than an interchangeable synonym for rock. But that’s what he wants — he fears that metal might be something by itself and for itself, beyond the control of the society and social thinking he so slavishly obeys.
Whether the writer likes it or not (perhaps that should be ‘whether he knows it or not’, given the extent of investigation done appears to be sub-Wikipedia?) metal is not about fitting into a trendy political creed, but about exploring the dangerous, the feral and the ugly for the sake of transcending moralism and understanding the world as it is, not as it should be according to any given utopian outlook.