The Allure of Heavy Metal
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
-- William Blake, nineteenth-century English artist, poet, and mystic
Passion paralyzes good taste, and makes its victim accept with rapture what a man in his senses would either laugh at or turn from with disgust.
-- Thomas Mann, Death in Venice
The song analysis outlined in Chapter 3 indicates that heavy metal songs are overwhelmingly dominated by themes and moods that express the ugly and unhappy side of life. The world according to heavy metal is nasty, brutish, dangerous, corrupt. Nothing escapes this taint, not even sex and love. Moreover, there is no prospect, no hope even, that things will ever be any better. The lonely and courageous individual can resist and defy the forces of oppression that dominate the world, but he will never overthrow them, and he is likely to be crushed by them sooner rather than later.
These grim lyrical themes are reinforced by the music. The drums pound thunderously, the bass guitar rumbles like the growl of an angry beast, the lead guitar races madly as it piles dozens of notes into each measure, the vocalist shouts, screams, and roars with rage and agony. The combination of these sounds gives the music an apocalyptic quality. Even if you could not understand a word of the lyrics (and sometimes you cannot), the message would be clear: Things are falling apart, the center is disintegrating, mere anarchy is being loosed upon the world.
To the unbeliever, the nonmetalhead, the appeal of such music may be difficult to understand. What pleasure could there be in listening to music that is so gloomy and angry? People listen to music for the purpose of enjoyment, presumably. So what enjoyment could anyone find in listening to music that is deliberately abrasive and grinding, with lyrics that are relentlessly pessimistic? A number of valid answers could be offered to this question, because individual metalheads listen to heavy metal for different reasons and because most of them have more than one reason for listening to it. I'll be offering answers throughout this book, in relation to various aspects of their socialization. First, however, we will hear from