– Pranav Rajiv, B.Com T&T
‘Standing in the rain, with his head hung low,
Couldn’t get a ticket, it was a sold out show.
Heard the roar of the crowd, he could picture the scene,
Put his ear to the wall, and like a distant scream,
He heard one guitar,
*cue a massive sounding guitar riff that defined generations to come*
Just blew him away…’
[Foreigner – Juke Box Hero]
That one song was one of the few that changed my life from mainstream radio pop to the brutal, skull smashing, bone crushing, chaotic adrenaline and rage fuelled frenzy it is today. (It isn’t really, but that’s the stereotypical preconception almost everyone seems to have about metalheads. Metal is most certainly not about a group of guys screaming their lungs out, with nonsensical lyrics and profanities and Satan worship. In fact, not all metal is about growling and screaming. And metal also has extremely deep and meaningful lyrics. That being said, metal is also more aggressive and intense than other forms of music and the lyrics are more than often based on controversial topics such as violence, war, philosophy, urban decadence, fantasy, history, addiction, gore, torture, religion, politics, literature, death or even hedonism.)
How it all began: A personal narrative
It had all started 7 years ago for me. My dad, lucky enough to be in his youth in the 80s, was everything a mother didn’t want her son to be. Rules are meant to be broken, right? Right. Being the archetypal poster boy for heavy metal music, he used to do everything considered wrong by society. Lucky enough to live through the 80s, well because, come on! It was the 80s, for heaven’s sake! Who didn’t want to live during the so called ”golden age of rock ‘n’ roll and heavy metal”?
But anyway, without further ado, let me get to the part where it started for me. Now, since my father was a huge fan of this beautiful, yet crude and violently themed genre of music, it’s safe to say that I was brought up on classic rock and metal, albeit I didn’t really understand it until I was 12 or so. But when I did finally understand it, I went nuts. I mean, it’s difficult to explain that connection you feel. That was the first time I heard classic bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. My father, being the egotistic connoisseur that he was, had well over 500 original cassettes and tapes of many such bands and a pretty darn good sound system to go with that. The way the distorted guitars belted out solo after solo, the rhythmic beating away of the drums, the blues and psychedelic inspired bass lines and keyboard notes were what got to me first. It was different, it was bold, and it was everything I ever wanted out of music. (Which I’ve come to realise in later years after giving a fair amount of listening time to most of the genres music has to offer us.)
Then came the big guns: Iron-freaking-Maiden. Find me a musician who doesn’t worship them; find me a guitarist or a drummer or a vocalist who doesn’t revere them, right up there with God. Find me anyone who calls himself, even remotely, a fan of metal who hasn’t heard of them. Find me, I ask, for you shall find none. The first song I heard by them was called, ‘Powerslave’, the title track off their mega influential 1984 album of the same name. And boy, that got me hooked for life. The mind blowing guitar licks, the operatic vocals, the heavy dual distorted guitar tone, the lightning fast solos, all of that sounded indescribably majestic. What more could I ask for? For now, and for two years I readily gobbled up everything the heavy metal industry had to offer me. From blues/psychedelic inspired hard rock (The Doors) to New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM – Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, WASP), I had heard almost every single band’s music in that genre.
But just when the thought of it getting dry entered by mind, I discovered my love: a whole new sub-genre of metal; a whole level of mind-blowing technicality and precision: Extreme metal. Interestingly, the first extreme metal song I heard was this song called ‘Hades’ by a Finnish melodic death metal band Kalmah. Little did I know that after diligently listening to every sub genre metal had to offer me, I would finally settle on melodic death metal to be one of my favourite sub genres. The first time I heard that song, I didn’t quite understand the vocals or the lyrics. The gruff growled vocals were different from what I had heard before. But I loved that! The intensity of the music, the fast paced beats, just getting faster and faster, inching towards a supernova explosion in the bridge section of the song, well, you could say that that was my first eargasm. And that was just the prelude for the ear shattering guitar solo, with the guitarist’s fingers moving all over the fretboard, touching exotic scales, which rips you apart into a thousand pieces and yet, leaves you wanting for more.
But I was still a newcomer in the metal scene, so to say. I hardly knew anything about the various sub genres, let alone bands and songs. It was something I was looking forward to. Never have I been more curious and excited about something in my life. It’s akin to exploring an endless ocean, not knowing what to expect, not knowing what you will find. The only unquestionable and indubitable assurance is that you will certainly enjoy what you come across and you will yearn for more. An insatiable thirst to absorb all that you can. Tirelessly, one can just go and on, wading into the unfathomably deep ocean that is metal.
And so it grew, the addiction to extreme metal. I wanted more brutal, faster music. I started going to local gigs, and it helped so much. Let me tell you, there is nothing more satisfying to a metalhead than discovering new music. And the talent on display, holy cow! Watching these guys shred on stage just made me fall more in love with them. And this also served as the fuel for my quest to learn how to play the drums. I agree, guitarists look the coolest on stage but there’s just something about drums that just captures me, brings me in closer: an escape from reality of sorts, when no troubles bother me, not a care in the world.
There’s just me and my drum kit in front me, waiting submissively to take a hell of a beating from me. Being right there in front of everyone, on a pedestal, with thousands of frenzied people, all dressed in black, shouting and screaming your name, each and every one of them just wanting to see you do what you do best. All of them wanting to be where you are, all of them wanting just a part of you to keep with them forever. Nothing drives musicians to produce music more than their fans. That’s one of the many things metal has over the other more popular genres of music. Their technical proficiency, their skill, is just out of the world. Most musicians have been playing instruments of their choice and are extremely talented along with a high level of proficiency, to be able to play such complex and technically demanding music at very high speeds (a lot of extreme metal is played at speeds of 320 beats per minute or even higher).
Another aspect of metal is that the musicians always write their own music (including the lyrics, harmonies, rhythm, melodies and the like) which keeps it real as opposed to the auto tuned fake music of today’s popular mainstream genres like pop. Nothing comes easy; being a musician is essentially choosing a very dark tunnel with a small ray of light at the end of it. But that’s what these musicians love doing!
I just want them to get what they deserve. Going to local shows helped me understand this. Apart from playing football and gaming, this was all I used to do. This, incidentally, also helped me get acquainted with a lot of musicians and metalheads alike. Now I can proudly boast of having over 500 friends in the international and local metal scenes, including both musicians and metalheads. And not just any musicians, haha! Let me put it this way, if my friend list became public, there would be a LOT of people turning green with envy. I make it a point to regularly talk to them and find out how they are doing and what’s next for them, musically. The difficult part is trying to remain professional with them, but occasionally there would be outbursts of the fanboy in me.
The Sub Genres
As I expanded into the world of extreme metal, I came across various other sub genres such as death metal (Death, Cannibal Corpse), brutal death metal (Suffocation), technical death metal (Obscura), black metal (Mayhem), progressive death metal (Beyond Creation), deathcore (All Shall Perish), grindcore (Napalm Death), and a variety of fusion genres. But out of all these, the ones I particularly like are death metal, technical death metal, progressive death metal and deathcore.
Now, I know the term ‘death metal’ itself sounds disturbing and terror inducing, but one shouldn’t be put off just by the name. That’s the same as judging a book by its cover, right? For all you know, the bands could be condemning what you thought they were promoting. Never judge the music on the basis of album covers or song titles. Most extreme metal bands intend their lyrics and album covers and song titles to be taken tongue-in-cheek or even for shock value, to create their own identity, you know? Different from everyone else in the herd. In most cases, this shouldn’t be taken seriously (Though there are bands with extremely vulgar and offensive lyrics, and there are people stupid and naive enough to do what the lyrics say and actually go kill someone). Death metal basically consists of a lot of heavy riffing and downtuned guitar sound, double bass drumming and guttural growled vocals. Technical death metal and progressive death metal, are on another level entirely. With influences ranging from jazz to classical, all elements such as jazz, blues, folk and classical are incorporated into the music. Complex time signatures and unusual song structures are the norm in these genres. I usually don’t have the patience required to listen to progressive rock or progressive metal, but give me progressive fused with another genre, any genre for that matter, and I’ll lap it up like a hungry pig! Case in point: progressive death metal. Often, it takes multiple listens to uncover new layers and rhythmic patterns in such complex music. I listen to tech death songs several times, focusing on a different instrument every time. But now, after listening to tech death for nearly 3 years, I can figure out the vocals and various subtle interludes and layers in a single listen.
Metal Community and Me
As for the global metal community, it is divided and biased, filled with hypocrites and bigots. Since genres like metalcore and deathcore are fusion genres (metalcore – metal+hardcore; deathcore – death metal+hardcore), they receive an insane amount of hate from many metalheads, who label them as ‘fake metal’ and such. If you listen to bands which come under these genres, you are labelled a ‘poser’ and the so called ‘true metalheads’ just take a dump on your opinion. I mean, why can’t we all just listen to what we want and shut up, instead of shoving our opinion down others’ throats. Makes me sick, really! But that’s just a group of elitist stuck-up metalheads. Most metalheads are open minded enough to appreciate any music and the thought, the hardwork, the emotion put into it.
”Metal confronts what we’d rather ignore.
Metal celebrates what we’d often deny.
Metal indulges in what we fear the most.
And that’s why, metal will always be a culture of the outsiders!”
When these words were uttered by Sam Dunn during the ending of the
metal documentary, ‘Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey’, I could feel the
hair on the back of my neck stand up. A concert is where I feel most
at home. Or a gathering of fellow metalheads. I feel like I belong
there, like a lost animal reunited with his herd. A place where I can be
myself; where I can headbang my brains out; where I can wear gory
shirts with offensive words and whatnot, and not receive shocked and
weird stares from people; where all everyone cares about is support,