Sunday, June 10, 2012

Metal week: How I Learnt To Stop Worrying And Love Heavy Metal, Sort Of.

If this was going to happen – it should have happened years ago. Decades ago.

I mean, I'm a fantasy and science-fiction-reading role-player of a certain age, for Gaia's sake. By rights, I should have cut my musical teeth – like most of my gamer friends - on thrash, or at least G'nR. Or even Extreme. Should I have been shuffling around moodily, dressed in black and declaring 'We are the noise marines?'

But I spent my Games Workshop years listening to the decidely un-rockist Pet Shop Boys rather than Metallica. After further re-education by the NME at university, I believed that the years between Ace of Spades and Teen Spirit were a dead end of Neanderthalia in spandex.

An friend was able to reconcile me to 70's hard rock – Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple but I couldn't press on beyond Lemmy. Alright, Back In Black, at a push.

I distrusted metal's lack of restraint, its commitment to excess in music and – at least rhetorically- in lifestyle. It was a caricature of maleness. It was in love with death. It took ten minutes to say something punk could say in two.

It wasn't just the music: the iconography of skulls, sex, soldiers and steroids didn't work for a morbidly religious teen who didn't need any more unpleasant visual metaphors in his life, thank you very much. And bar one ill-advised flirtation with an Iron Maiden t-shirt, I've always been a mod rather than a rocker in sartorial terms.

What happened to change this?

Appropriately enough, in the beginning there was Ozzy. The Best of Black Sabbath found its way into my record collection some time in the mid Noughties. And stuck out like a sore thumb – at least initially.

I didn't like Dio and thought Tony Iommi took too many solos, but I loved the riffs and the jazz-inflected drumming. And Ozzy didn't go AIEEEEEEEEEE! or URGGGGGGG!, he sang his own peculiar blues, shrill and baleful. Sabbath might have been hamming it up something rotten, but there's a strange, paradoxically sincere intensity to their best songs of universal or personal catastophe.

Having established a small redoubt, a … oh why not … a lonely fortress of metal … in my record collection, things stayed that way for quite some time. But Sabbath had planted a seed – which under the right conditions – moving to Birmingham, official Home of Metal, say would ripen in blackened soil.

That's another thing about the genre – the cliches of writing about it are almost impossible to resist. We'll put my powers of trope-avoidance to the test in the next week as we accept the self-imposed gauntlet of writing A Week Of Metal (thunder booms, lightening strikes, lamentations of the lost, thunk of head on desk in shame)

I'll be looking at some of the bands that have belatedly reconciled me to The Metal like Baroness, Comets On Fire, Sunn O))), The Sword and Wolves In The Throne Room. I'll be reviewing Terroriser magazine with an eye to how metal culture perceives (and writes about) itself.

If I'm feeling particularly brave I'll tell you why I still don't really like Metallica.

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