Tag Archives: Music

Metal, Satan, and Society

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There’s no point to this post really…just writing down some thoughts

Humans love to hate. Hide it, deny it, try to suppress it–you can’t change it. People fear what they don’t understand, and hate what they fear. On an inconsequential level, consider the phrase “I hate spiders.” Most people don’t hate spiders, just have a little understandable arachnophobia, and are as a result afraid of the creepers. There is an unvarying seed of fear of the unknown in everyone, and fear naturally leads to anger and hate.

Metal gets a lot of hate from many, though not all, mainstream listeners. It’s a highly misunderstood genre, and it gets an unfair reputation. In this case, ignorance is to blame; most metal haters have never listened to good metal before.

Need some proof? I was recently approached by a reasonably nice person who had apparently googled a band who’s shirt I wore. He asked in a genuinely friendly and not at all insulting tone, “you realize your music is trash, right?” A while later, outside of the earlier context, I showed the unsuspecting victim a few songs, starting from Iron Maiden, moving to Pantera, and finally Metallica. His reaction to all three was that it’s pretty good, just not the style he enjoys the most. The latter two are certainly metal, but without being told that, he had to judge the music itself instead of regurgitate his prejudice for the title of the genre, which clearly impacted his opinion heavily.

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Metal has been given countless titles such as “pure satanic cyanide” on TV and in other media, and that has ignited a deep-set hatred towards the genre. Everything that’s new and unheard of is resented at first, due to the natural fear of the unknown, but metal has an outstanding amount of haters. The small but significant number of radical satanic bands like Gorgoroth and Behemoth don’t help at all either; they only reinforce the paranoia with their skinned goat heads, self-proclaimed satanism, genuinely evil lyrics, and disturbingly obscene violence on and off the stage. Watch Gaahl of Gorgoroth swirl his wine for minutes after being asked about the meaning of his music before darkly proclaiming “…Satan.” Watch Varg Vikernes of Burzum explain why he burned down churches and how he killed Euronymous of Mayhem. It’s not easy to watch at all. A lot of it is just for the show, though its hard to tell sometimes how serious they are when they have nothing to gain or lose. But the fear this creates is understandable, to say the least.

However, to defend all the extreme black metal fans out there who are not radical psychopath serial killers, consider this: yes, the subjects in the lyrics and the presentation of the bands can be a few steps too far, but that does not apply the people who enjoy it. People watch equally horrible things in horror movies and no one says a negative word about it. People who watch slasher movies aren’t necessarily murderers or even just psychopaths; likewise, people who listen to satanic metal aren’t necessarily radical satanists.

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Black metal, just like any other type of metal, is a release of anger and violence in a way that causes no harm. People may blame criminal acts on music, but that is rarely a case–even when the people behind the music, such as Varg Vikernes and Euronymous, may be responsible for horrendous crimes. Judas Priest was blamed for the suicide of two teens in 1985; the teens were intoxicated at the time and led fairly fucked up lives as it is, but accusations of the band placing subliminal messages in their music and preaching it into their minds through a kind of musical hypnosis was apparently considered a more probable cause for their deaths than a normal suicide. The case was eventually dismissed since there was no evidence that these “subliminals” were even possible and because the courtroom was not an ideal location for a debate on the unknown properties of the human subconscious.

More infamously, the self-proclaimed Antichrist Superstar himself, Marylin Manson, was held accountable for the tragedy of the 1999 Columbine shooting. The 13 resulting deaths were attributed in part to the negative influence of violent video games and the music the killers had listened to rather than their own highly unstable psychological state, though the claimed links were never proven. Manson is also widely disliked for his criticism of societal norms and particularly religion, which he thoroughly despises. His villainous reputation is largely due to his views on religion, to which he replied with the now-famous quote, “If they think an artist can destroy their faith, then their faith is rather fragile”–for which he was naturally labeled as a satanist abomination once more.

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On the topic of Satanism, that’s another subject that gets a bad rap with little justification. There is radical theistic satanism involving animal or even human sacrifices and obsessive worship of the devil as a supernatural being, and no shit, that’s concerning. But more common, non-theistic LaVeyan Satanism, in theory at least, is not nearly as terrible. It’s actually a fairly reasonable religion as far as religions go, with decent and surprisingly modern philosophies. Legitimate satanists mostly don’t believe in a supreme being at all. Satan is rather a symbol or an idea representing freedom, individuality, and spontaneity–much like Daoism in East Asia, which has been preaching similar philosophies for thousands of years and could not get close to the nasty reputation of satanism. The idea of LaVeyan satanism is to realize that humanity is a very small part of the universe and to accept humans’ place in the animal kingdom, as well as the impossibility of complete harmony and the acceptance of chaos and suffering as a part of life–a lot like Buddhism as well if you consider it that way. The idea that all Satanists worship false idols, make underground sacrifices and perform cult-like rituals is largely just hysterical media-fueled bigoted paranoia. You probably wouldn’t recognize Satanists in normal daily life, because they are just people. Doesn’t sound all that scary anymore, does it?

Regardless, in metal Satan is power, individuality, and an utter rejection of norms. To mainstream audiences, the rampant and uncontrolled chaos of metal shows, the intensely distorted noise, and the offensive and outrageously fucked up lyrics seem to trump the sophistication and musicality that can be discovered under the coarse outer shell. Perhaps it’s for the best that the majority of people are deterred by the first beat–Lemmy said that when rock n roll becomes respectable, its no longer rock n roll, so it can be said that when metal becomes mainstream, it is no longer metal. But to someone who isn’t bothered by the harshness, metal can be so much more than just a genre. The same lyrics that disgust many people appeal to the audiences that need it the most. To fans, the community is a union of outcasts and anyone who can appreciate their music. The symbol of Satan has been an element of metal from its invention with the first true metal song, and will continue to follow the genre wherever it goes, keeping metal extreme and focused on the audience it was invented for and far from the mainstream hit machines.

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Why Lemmy is still the God of Rock N Roll

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There are few bands that represent the rock n roll spirit more accurately than Motörhead, and it’s not hard to see why. But it can be hard for the casual listener to understand just what the big deal about was; after all, he’s not the best bassist in the world and his voice isn’t all that outstanding either. While all that is undeniable, there are some factors in play that are not usually considered, but were nonetheless important contributors to his rise to fame.

To see this, consider his past. Lemmy started out as Jimmy Hendrix’s roadie (see: We Are The Road Crew) and took advantage of the time to learn guitar. After a short time in a couple psychedelic rock bands in England, he joined Hawkwind as a singer and bassist. Hawkwind was where Lemmy’s unique playing style originated: he was a guitar player and had never touched a bass before, but one show the bassist didn’t show up and Lemmy volunteered to give it a shot. He picked up a bass and learned it on stage. He played it with no respect whatsoever for how it was intended to be played; unlike a respectable bass player, Lemmy plays multi-string chords with outrageous amounts of distortion, just like a guitar, and the result is a unique playing style unlike anyone else’s:

He was kicked out of Hawkwind soon after due to his uncontrollable drug use and formed Bastard, which was later named after the last song he recorded with Hawkwind, Motörhead. It was with Motörhead that he got significant mainstream success, and acquired some of the traits that he is now remembered by, such as his raspy voice, and near-superhuman tolerance for alcohol.

Exactly how Lemmy became the legend he is today is subjective though. Motörhead made great music, which was helpful. Part of it was his unmatched bass style for sure, complimented by his unusual voice and mic position. What sets Lemmy apart from other musicians is that he kept it up for so long. In addition, drinking reportedly over a fifth of whiskey with multiple shots of speed (crack cocaine mixed in heroin, FYI) every single day got him a bit of a reputation. His alcoholism was so extreme it was difficult to interview him after his current hangover passed but before he was working on the next one, and when his manager wanted him to get a blood transfer so he wouldn’t drop dead, he was denied and told that his blood was so toxic it would kill someone. Despite all this, he managed to live to 70 and died of cancer before anything else, performing live just two weeks before his death. He did what he wanted all his life until he absolutely could not anymore, and that, if nothing else, earned him a place among the stars of metal and rock n’ roll alike.

Lemmy’s reputation is not a result of being the best singer or bassist the world has seen. His legacy was carved not because of how well he did what he did, but that everything he did he did in his own unique way and however the hell he wanted, from the drinks to the mic position, and despite living fast all his life he just refused to slow down until the end.

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Elvis may be the king, but Lemmy was the god of rock n’ roll.

The Unlikely Origins of the Metal Battle Jacket

Battle jackets and vests are now a very common sight at metal shows, or even just on the street. They are an iconic and instantly recognizable aspect of rock n roll culture. However, how they were invented is, surprisingly, not common knowledge. Even people who have them may be surprised that they have more of a story than just looking cool.

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Battle jackets were initially invented in WW2, when Air Force pilots would decorate their flight jackets with squadron insignia patches, and later pop culture icons. After the war ended, many pilots got into motorcycling for the excitement and speed. They kept their flight jackets to use as motorcycle jackets, since they offered protection against crashes, but sometimes sawed the sleeves off, as they could be restricting.

They continued to decorate their jackets with logos of clubs, gangs, and rapidly developing subcultures as they began to evolve in the 50s. Since paint flakes off of leather easily under rigorous use, they began to sew patches onto their jackets instead. Sewing denim is a lot easier and faster than leather, so denim jackets were used as well alongside leather.

These clubs and gangs did not usually get along, which caused them to be affiliated with street fights, mass brawls, extreme devotion to their club, and a violent appearance to the general public. Take the two most widespread British subcultures for example: the rockers with their Triumphs and Harley-Davidsons and gangster attitudes naturally opposed the mods with their hideous Italian scooters and an alarming obsession with lights and mirrors.

As the 60s arrived and rock n roll made its mainstream breakthrough, it fit the picture perfectly. There were two very different types of music-inspired jackets that came together to spark the rise of the modern battle jacket.

The first was that the gangsters found the rebelliousness of the new genre and it defying societal norms appealing, leading them to decorate their jackets with the bands’ logos and album art. The other was the Woodstock era hippie culture, who had a radically different ideology but with surprisingly similar motivations: mostly, free self-expression and defying the expected norms.

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The two branches came together as the hippie music era dawned into a new wave of rock n roll: the various genres and subgenres of the 70s. Classic rock, punk, and heavy metal appeared almost out of nowhere, and as a result of the sudden change a lot of the new bands kept the fashion, which was naturally copied by the fans.

Punks were the first non-gangster group who started customizing their jackets with band logos, and they were quick to invent the addition of metal studs to their outfit as well. The existence of modern metal jackets is largely the unintentional consequences of punk fashion in the late 70s–an influence that some metalheads try to forget.

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There are two people who brought denim and leather, respectively, over from the punks to heavy metal. Judas Priest is one of the greatest metal bands of all time, but next to the sound, they also invented a now-classic new look by bringing head-to-toe leather into the genre. Rob Halford’s signature move of riding a motorcycle onto the stage may also have something to do with it. The denim was brought over by none other than Lemmy, who smashed his way into metal somewhat unintentionally and very drunkenly toward the end of the 70s.

With battle jackets in punk and metal, it inevitably seeped into the middle ground, traditional hard rock, as well, and eventually covered the entire musical spectrum of rock n roll. Design aspects from specific genres mixed into one. Modern battle jackets are common among any genre related to rock n roll, from grunge to black metal.

Making your own won’t take too long either–just get a cheap denim jacket, optionally hack the sleeves off, and sew patches on in whatever order you get them in.

The 10 Most Influential People In Metal

This was by no means an easy list to make, given the sheer number of incredibly influential people who participated in raising the metal scene to its full height and making it what it is today. But out of all of the metal legends who formed the genre, there are few that stand out from the crowd. This list only considers musicians, as they are the ones who get the attention, but in reality the fans are by far the most important people in any genre; none of the people on this list would be here without their fans. However, they are hardly a single person, so they didn’t make it on here.

#10: Corey Taylor

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Corey Taylor is known for being the vocalist of the notorious alt/thrash outfit Slipknot, which brought thrash through to the new millennium and kept it going strong. In an era where alt/nu metal and extreme ‘core subgenres are the only sufficiently popular styles of metal, Slipknot covers the scarce middle ground of the two extremes, drawing influences from both but spitting out something that isn’t quite either. The main push behind the band is Corey’s reckless and explosively angry personality, which can make him difficult to work with, but, combined with a powerful vocal performance and a relentless creative drive makes him a monster on stage and in the studio.

#9: Dimebag Darrel

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Pantera’s presence in the metal scene can’t be denied, and they had a significant influence on many different metal subgenres. Their guitarist Dimebag is, next to Phil Anselmo, the main force behind the band as well as the inspiration for many younger bands. His nearly superhuman Van Halen-like shredding style, combined with the tragic nature of his death–shot down playing live on the anniversary of John Lennon’s murder–only added to his influence and success.

#8: Randy Blythe

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Burn the Priest, more commonly known by their slightly less intense moniker Lamb of God, is one of the most popular, as well as influential, extreme metal bands, largely thanks to Randy’s inhuman vocal abilities. It’s hard enough to scream with simple vocal fry consistently without sustaining permanent vocal damage, not to mention growl as well and keep doing it for decades. Randy was never even taught to do it; he says it all started as a cookie monster joke. What sets him apart from all the others though is that he is able to replicate almost the exact sound from the studio at his live shows, even while crowd-surfing.

#7: Bruce Dickinson

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Bruce is an author, broadcaster, airline pilot, and solo artist, but it’s his work as the lead singer of Iron Maiden that places him here. Maiden’s sound isn’t exactly the heaviest it gets, but their classic two-guitar harmonies and galloping beats influenced more than onw generation of fans, and some very successful bands including Queensryche, Disturbed, and even Megadeth. Their mainstream success and powerful stage presence can be all credited to one factor: Bruce. Needless to say, his nearly superhuman vocal range, impressive vocal power, and instantly recognizable voice make him a legend of rock n roll and metal alike.

#5 and 6: Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield

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These two are difficult to separate, as they co-founded Metallica and both stayed with it until today. James’s lyrics and classic stage presence dominate any performance they have, and his unique down-picking style and dynamic voice land him rightfully with the title of the first thrasher. As for Lars, love him or hate him, you can’t deny his place among the legends of metal. Metallica had a rough start with Kill Em All and some dirty issues during the black album, but the founding duo managed to stick together for some 40 years, and the result certainly paid off.

#4: Tony Iommi:

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Black Sabbath can be said to have invented metal as we know it, and their influence can’t be understated. While Ozzy is for sure part of the legend that started it all, Tony Iommi was there from the start too, and shouldn’t be overlooked. His riffs loom huge over the genre, but how they came to be is even more interesting: Tony lost the tips of two of his fingers at a sheet metal factory, but instead of giving up guitar, he built his own prosthetics out of melted plastic and invented light gauge strings so he could keep playing. The plastic fingers, combined with tuned down strings and a bass amp gave him the unusual tone that Sabbath is now known for.

#3: Dave Mustaine:

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As Metallica’s ex-lead guitarist and Megadeth’s founder, singer, and guitarist, Dave was there from the start of the thrash metal genre and saw it through its most popular years. In Metallica, some of his songs appeared Metallica’s iconic debut album Kill Em All, even though he was kicked out due to some intense alcohol-induced incidents some time before the album was released. In Megadeth, he continued lead guitar but also picked up rhythm, and after some trouble finding a singer, took up the mic himself. He was in two of the most influential thrash bands and some of the most popular metal bands of all time, putting him right in the center of thrash as well as the entire metal scene, from ’81 until today.

#2: Rob Halford:

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Having been in metal for nearly 50 years and fronting the classic heavy metal band Judas Priest, its safe to say that if anyone, Rob Halford has earned the title of Metal God. Judas Priest invented both the sound and the look of heavy metal– Halford is rightfully credited with introducing studded leather to metal, and Priest is one of the first true heavy metal bands. Their sound, which incorporated traditional heavy metal, thrash, and a touch of glam, was the inspiration for countless bands to follow. It was all made possible by Halford’s near-superhuman 4+ octave vocal range, commanding stage presence, and an incredible drive to create entirely new styles unlike anything in existence at the time.

#1: Ozzy Osbourne:

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As lead singer of Black Sabbath and later a solo artist, it’s not difficult to see why the Prince of Darkness made this list. Black Sabbath is easily the greatest influence on early metal, and quite possibly the first actual metal band the world saw. While Ozzy’s slightly more gruesome antics, such as “accidentally” chomping a live bat’s head off on stage, can be a little revolting, his work with Black Sabbath and Randy Rhoads easily makes up for the, um, incidents along the way. All in all, no one person could possibly change metal more than the one who invented it.

The 5 Bands That Shaped Early Metal

Some genres seem to appear out of nowhere, but others can be traced to very specific roots, artists and dates. The latter type predictably causes some controversy as to what is actually a new genre, and what is just a fancy twist on the old one. Metal is one of these; it comes directly from hard rock and rock n roll, but it’s exact beginnings are a little fuzzy. It’s come such a long way since then though that it is hardly recognizable as one genre anymore; modern ‘core is hardly comparable to the 70s glam swagger that started it all. But when it comes to finding the very first metal bands, there are a few that come to mind.

Obviously, there are much more; these are just the most influential. Metal would not have been possible without dozens of other bands in the 60s and 70s, but these are the bands that kickstarted the genre and made the rest possible.

Van Halen:

VH is credited with inventing glam metal, understandably. However, their influence didn’t stop there. Eddie’s brilliant solos invented and/or revolutionized many styles used extensively in later metal subgenres, such as two-handed tapping, whammy dives, pinch harmonics, pinch harmonics combined with whammy dives…you get the idea.

Led Zeppelin:

Led Zep is not exactly a metal band. Their most well-known song, Stairway to Heaven, may be a lot of things but it is hardly metal, and their bluesy hard rock sound was not at all unusual at the time. However, as the 70s progressed, their sound only grew heavier, eventually heavy enough to inspire future metal bands and possibly to be considered metal themselves. The definition of metal music has changed over the decades, but in the mid-70s, Led Zep fit the picture.

Deep Purple:

British prog/psychedelic hard rock outfit Deep Purple seemed like an unlikely band to kick off a genre like heavy metal, but here they are. Their sound may have been bluesy or psychedelic at times, but at the end of the day it was heavy as well, and at the time that stood out. Their unusually heavy guitars are what earned them their place by Led Zep and Black Sabbath in what is now known as the “unholy trinity” of British proto-metal.

Motorhead:

You probably weren’t expecting to find Motorhead on this list. They called themselves rock n roll, and for a while that worked out. They lived the rockstar life like no one else–leather, whiskey, and amps cranked to 11. They never cared what the world thought; they just played their music regardless of what people called it. But given their sound from the very beginning, it was no surprise that people started calling them metal as soon as the word had a meaning in music, and while their sound remained relatively stable, the labels changed from hard rock to heavy metal to early thrash metal. While the accuracy of those labels is debatable, Motorhead remains one of the most underrated and overlooked bands to influence the beginnings of metal to this day.

Black Sabbath:

Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne. Sabbath is the first band to be considered actual metal, and their influence is beyond measure. The song “Black Sabbath” is credited with inventing all of metal and while one song couldn’t possibly start such a diverse genre singlehandedly, it’s album, ironically also called Black Sabbath, was the first album to be considered legitimate metal. Some of their other songs, such as Iron Man, Paranoid, War Pigs, and Children of the Grave, together were where it all began, followed up by Crazy Train and other songs by Ozzy and his new guitarist Randy Rhoads. The band’s influence on the future of metal is unmatched by all of the others combined.