Sa Ugoy ng Musika feature #2: Heavy Metal Thunder!
by aLfie vera mella
[published in Filipino Journal, Nov. 5-20, 2008 issue]
“I like smoke and lightning / Heavy metal thunder / Racin' with the wind / And the feelin' that I'm under…”—Steppenwolf, “Born to Be Wild” (Steppenwolf, 1968)
Some people insist that we should not classify music into genres. They say that music is simply either good music or bad music. I don’t agree with them. That’s a shallow way to treat a very diverse form of art. It’s like saying that living things are only either plants or animals, or that animals are simply either good animals or bad animals; when in fact, animals may be classified into vertebrates and invertebrates, and then vertebrates into birds, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. As humans, who are endowed with a complex brain that can perform countless complicated functions and processes, we can do better than that. Music deserves a better treatment.
In its original sense, taxonomy referred to the classifying of living organisms. However, the term is now used in a wider sense; it now refers to “a classification of things, as well as to the principles underlying such a classification.” Thus the existence of a practice known as Music Taxonomy, or Music Genre Classification.
To an ordinary listener, any song which features distorted guitars and heavy drum poundings is simply plain old noisy Rock music. The real music enthusiast, however, cares about genres and respects all kinds of music. The label Rock music is insufficient to her, because it is generic and too broad. S/he would opt for the more specific, subgenres that include Progressive Rock, Punk Rock, New Wave, Alternative Rock, Metal, and Grunge. To her, no genre or song is better than another, regardless how simple or complex its structure is. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” is as good a musical composition as Simple Plan’s “When I’m Gone.”
The Use of Demonic Imageries
“I don’t like Heavy Metal. It’s just noise. It’s the Devil’s music!”
That is a stupid and unfair thing to say about Metal music or any other type of music for that matter.
First, you cannot equate music with noise, simply because they are the exact opposites of each other. Whereas
noise is a nonharmonious group of sounds that has no recognizable pattern or structure, music is an expression of ideas and emotions in significant forms that use elements like rhythm, melody, and harmony. Therefore, any song—no matter how loud, fast, aggressive, or distorted-sounding—remains a musical composition, because it uses musical elements and follows certain musical structures.
Second, the use of words and imageries commonly associated with evil is not a reason to dismiss the music of Metal bands as a work of the Devil. The use of demonic imageries in Music—usually for artistic, satiric, shock, and commercial effect—should not be surprising, because it is common also in other forms of art, like Literature, Painting, and Films. Persecuting music like this is like going back to the 1600s, when narrow-minded and self-righteous leaders burn books and people with radical ideas, claiming them to be works of Satan.
The Birth of Metal Music
Metal is a genre of Rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in England and the United States. It is rooted in Blues Rock and Psychedelic Rock of the mid-’60s and in Garage Rock and Folk Rock of the early ’60s. It features a thick, massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and overall loudness.
Metal music is so maligned and persecuted, and a lot of people continue to misunderstand it just because it is usually loud and intense, with lyrics and imageries commonly delving on sex, death, violence, and the occult. Although, many Metal bands also use themes of love, romantic tragedy, fantasy literature, and sociopolitical commentary.
In the ’80s, Glam/Pop Metal—less abrasive and more melodic, band members often sported long teased-up hair and wore dazzling clothes: Van Halen (“Jump”), Bon Jovi (“You Give Love a Bad Name”), Guns N’ Roses (“Sweet Child o’ Mine”);
Thrash Metal—faster tempo, more-distorted guitar sounds, and darker-themed lyrics: Metallica (“Seek and Destroy”), Megadeth (“Symphony of Destruction”), Slayer (“Angel of Death”);
In the ’90s, Funk Metal—with elements of Funk and Rap: Primus (“Jerry Was a Race Car Driver”), Infectious Grooves ("Punk It Up"), and Rage Against the Machine (“Killing in the Name”);
Nu Metal—with elements of Hip-hop, Techno, and Grunge: Korn (“Counterfeit”) and Linkin Park (“In the End”);
And in the ’00s, Retro Metal—contemporary bands whose music has been described as “realistic simulation of ’70s Glam and ’80s Metal”: The Darkness (“I Believe in a Thing called Love”) and Wolfmother (“Woman”).
In every decade, there emerge young and new bands whose music and style may be classified as Metal; therefore, although associated with particular decades, this genre and any other genre for that matter is now considered a timeless form of music. Furthermore, a number of Metal bands originating from the ’70s and ’80s and many surviving members of bands long disbanded continue to make similar styles of music, either as solo artists or in collaboration with other musicians.
Even if we can classify artists and music into genres, still we cannot confine them rigidly in a particular classification, simply because artists can always experiment and try other styles and incorporate new elements in their music, resulting in fusion or crossovers and newer subgenres of music. Therefore, music taxonomy is only an attempt to organize music. It helps music enthusiasts diversify their musical taste and refine their music-listening skills, enhancing their listening pleasure.