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Miscellaneous - Heavy Metal

  by Jon Rogers

published: 6 / 9 / 2010

Miscellaneous - Heavy Metal


Jon Rogers in his 'Hitting the Right Note' column writes of his love/hate relationship with heavy metal

"Do you listen to any modern music?" asked my teenage nephew in all innocence after I’d tried to give him a Reduced Shakespeare style account of the development of popular music since the blues. Modern music for him turned out to be a liking for heavy rock/metal. Oh dear. And I have started to compile my very own ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ series for him in an attempt to ween him off the horrendous music genre that is heavy metal. But is it really that awful and does it just get a bad press from elitist music journalists (much like myself) who turn their noses up at loud rock ‘n’ roll? Firstly I should perhaps cleanse myself of my sins first. I was a teenage heavy metal fan, although I think I preferred the term heavy rock. Metal to me implied rather too much spandex, poodle perms and Marshall amps that went up to 11. I liked bands like prog rockers Rush, perennial favourites Motorhead and every teenage boy's heroes AC/DC – and a whole load of others as well like Iron Maiden. So the accusation of hypocrisy is going to stick. But that got me thinking is heavy metal simply a rite (sic) of passage for a lot of teenage boys... Those that aren’t drawn to the limelight and candyfloss pop acts like JLS or Girls Aloud, search out something else – like heavy metal – before maturing and moving on. Heavy metal – arguably stuck in its own adolescent fantasies and preoccupations with girls, guitars and good times – appeals directly to that demographic of adolescent boys preoccupied with... girls, guitars and good times. The heroes of heavy metal appeal to this directly either in songs like Van Halen’s ‘Hot for Teacher’ or indirectly by living out teenage fantasies of a carefree existence where they don’t have to worry themselves with anything more taxing than where they left their guitar strings and in which the groupies are plentiful. Adolescent boys are going to be drawn to that before they ditch it and perhaps start searching for something a little more meaningful and says something more about their own lives than "LET’S RAWK ALL NIGHT LONG, DUDES... YEAH!" Yes, there’s an awful lot wrong with heavy metal. Musically, it’s nothing that exciting. As AC/DC put it, it was nothing more than “high voltage rock ‘n’ roll” and how long has rock ‘n’ roll been around? It’s invariably played by middle aged men who suffer from stunted emotional maturity who seem to want to live out some carefree existence and have an endless supply of groupies servicing their every sexual desire. And whether the band are singing about girls, rock ‘n’ roll or cars most songs are pretty much the same. A 4/4 rhythm starts a verse-chorus pattern that will be repeated before the middle 8 – complete with overly flash, ostentatious guitar solo which is performed at lightning speed (as if speed is somehow equal to competence, so the faster you play the better you are??) before reverting to the verse-chorus pattern once more and a repeated refrain of the main line of the chorus to the end. Hmmm... you're hardly going to win an award for innovation there. But let’s not miss the elephant in the room. Most heavy metal bands have a problem with women. They don’t seem to like them very much and seem to think that women are just there for one thing... and it isn’t making their tea every evening. Let’s face most seem to have views of women that would perhaps be more appropriate for the Neolithic age. When AC/DC aren’t saluting those about to rock they seem preoccupied with sleeping with women. There’s ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ about a plump prostitute, ‘The Jack’ about singer Bon Scott’s first case of the clap and “the dirty little bitch” that gave it to him. Not forgetting the oh so subtle ‘Giving the Dog a Bone’ which doesn’t have anything to do with our lovely canine companions. But those Aussie rockers are certainly not alone in their denigration of the fairer sex and just about any band you can think of pretty much hold some rather unsavoury views on women. That said misogyny isn’t the preserve of the heavy rocker. Singer Ian Curtis from the much lauded post-punk band Joy Division didn’t view women too favourably either. Then there is all that silly ‘let’s play at dressing up’ that is involved too – especially so if you’re one of those stupid sub-genre of bands like Merciful Fate that has a fixation with the dark lord, Satan... [Ok, stop sniggering at the back] If you’re not from Los Angeles and don’t fancy tight spandex, a sleeveless top and a light perm then you could always rummage around in the dressing up box, nick some of Mum’s make up and pretend that you worship the devil (or some such twaddle) and also pretend that you’ve read the writings of Aleister Crowley. [To be fair, Black Sabbath were never into that black magick stuff at all and Ozzy Osbourne once famously said that the only black magic they were into came in a chocolate box.] Yeah, yeah, yeah... make the sign of the devil’s horns, draw a pentagram and make out you’re drinking goat’s blood whilst you slaughter some vestal virgin... And don’t forget to RAWK out at the same time. Oh pur-lease. So knocking heavy metal is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, you just can’t miss. It’s just so easy to do and the whole genre is riddled with clichés. But if that is simply the end of the story then why is it that some of it is utterly superb? It’s got to be said that Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’ is probably one of my favourite songs ever written in any genre. That opening powerhouse riff gets me every time. And you can’t really go too wrong either with the likes of ‘(We are) The Road Crew’, ‘Bomber’, ‘Overkill’, ‘No Class’... And Metallica’s first album is still impressive despite some flaws as it contains ‘The Four Horsemen’, ‘No Remorse’ and ‘Seek and Destroy’. Similarly the early Black Sabbath albums are fantastic. If you can’t appreciate ‘Paranoid’ then clearly you have a hearing problem. It’s one simple riff but completely mesmerising. Then there are the rock gods Led Zeppelin (perhaps arguably only on the edges of heavy metal). It’s perhaps a fair bet that most heavy rock guitarists have at some stage worked out Jimmy Page’s solo on ‘Stairway to Heaven’. And I have a well hidden liking for a spot of speed metal too. Napalm Death, Slayer and the likes of Extreme Noise Terror. But shhh... keep that to yourselves. It’s fast, furious and cuts out any extraneous fluff. Everything that isn’t necessary is jettisoned and cranked out at a furious pace. Listening to something like ‘Christ Illusion’ just turns everything upside down and assaults your ears from the start and never lets up. It’s brutal. So there might be an awful lot wrong with the genre and most of it really is quite, quite terrible but when it’s good, it’s great... so perhaps my nephew isn’t so wrong after all. LET’s RAWK!!

Visitor Comments:-
352 Posted By: Myshkin, London on 18 Sep 2010
It's a brave person that admits to being partial to a spot of HM. Personally, it's terrible stuff - mainly for the reasons you state - but then we all have musical skeletons in the closet. I rather like the odd bit of Prefab Sprout...

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