Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Heavy Metal for Dummies Part 1: The Basics

Disclaimer: As this is not a Wikipedia entry, do not expect citations for everything I write. Furthermore, there are many things mentioned which are based on general consensus, and some things which are my opinion, based on either observation or personal research. Being as such, everything in here is debatable to some degree. For this reason, anyone that argues in the comment section the validity of an opinion on the basis of "whether this (band/genre) is truly (genre/adjective)" or "what right to I have to say (insert statement) because I wasn't really there" or " (insert anyone here including myself) is a poser because of (any reason whatsoever)" will have their comment removed. I make no claim of being the authority on the subject, but then again, no one really is, or ever will be. This is not a comprehensive history or dictionary of heavy metal, as such a book would be impossible to write anyway, as no one with a bibliographical background and handy with a typewriter was around when most of the things mentioned in here occurred. No hard feelings, but elitism and postulation will defeat the purpose for which this series of notes is intended. Thank you for your understanding.


Out of all the possible types of listeners there could be for music like heavy metal, most fall into a few easy-to-spot categories: people who like metal, people who are actually into metal, and people who truly know metal. As time goes on, if enough interest remains or if it intensifies, a person usually transitions into the next category from the previous one with the proper support. For those that are in the first category and wish to step into the second, but don't have any clue on how and have no friends that share in their musical tastes, I write this guide. As for everyone else, read for kicks if you were tagged or have found it on your own, I don't care.. :)

What is Heavy Metal?

Well, it obviously isn't something on the periodic table of elements, at least not in this context, and it is a type of music. What it is exactly cannot be defined as it constantly evolves, which is ironic considering that a large portion of it's fans are conservative in nature and loathe change. What can be said is that it basically came from rock and roll, developing into it's own separate as artists began experimenting with over-driven amplifiers and distortion effects pedals. This separation began in earnest sometime in the mid to late 1960's, as artists like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Leslie West, Toni Iommi, and Ritchie Blackmore really began to make prominent use of such sounds. Many psychedelic rock and blues rock bands such as The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Mountain, Deep Purple and Iron Butterfly set early standards for both heavy metal and hard rock, but it was the British band Black Sabbath that delivered what many agree was the first definitive work of heavy metal. Combining the heavy-handed nature of American blues with a darker lyrical bent, a foreboding sound played in minor chords and using European folk melodies intertwined with the ensemble playing of their peers, Black Sabbath created a style of music that was quite scary for it's time. This sense of dread and the implication of weight and force would be what typified heavy metal at the time, and is mostly upon what all further developments in the style would be based.

How Did the Name "Heavy Metal" Form?

A much more difficult question to answer, because of the many conflicting viewpoints on who developed what first and whether they were "truly" this or that to begin with. What can be generally agreed upon is that heavy metal and hard rock were somewhat synonymous throughout the 1970's, as many bands playing what would later be categorized as heavy metal were recognized as hard rock during the time their music was first received by the public. The term "heavy metal" began to emerge as the genre descriptor for the music mainly as the adjectives used for the music itself by critics, and as it was found in lyrics or titles (good examples of both instances are the aforementioned Jimi Hendrix and the band Steppenwolf, respectively). After a time, like many things do, the name just stuck, even though some bands from that period hit with the term in retrospect have rejected it (like Motorhead, for example).

How Did Heavy Metal Develop?

Early bands playing this style were still heavily rooted in the blues, as evidenced by work from Black Sabbath and Bloodrock. Older bands previously associated with psychedelic rock like Iron Butterfly and Deep Purple slowly "came over the fence" into more metallic sounds as their early careers wore on. Bands coming after Black Sabbath started to dispense with the blues influences altogether by incorporating flashy guitar work and theatrical vocals more akin to progressive rock (another influence on early heavy metal). Bands such as Uriah Heep, and early Queen all displayed these qualities, while bands like Rainbow and Judas Priest used them in combination with an increased sense of urgency. Other early groups like Motorhead fused a harder sound with the sensibilities of biker culture and the punk rock movement, giving an increase of speed that would be a major influence on future bands. By the late 1970's and early 1980's, an underground movement of British bands following in these early acts' footsteps would solidify a standard sound for heavy metal that remains to this day, and they would be looked upon as the "new wave of British heavy metal" or "N.W.O.B.H.M." by fans and critics. Beyond this point, the genre would only splinter into a multitude of sub-genres, as bands from regions all over the world would struggle to create unique niches for themselves so their music would be heard by fans all over. Some such sub-genres would become major developments in the style, while others would be relegated to subculture phenomena, and that's where it stands today.

Closing Statement

That about raps it up for this installment. Next installment we'll discuss the "golden era" of the 1980's, it's sub-genres, and "the fall" of heavy metal in the 1990's (it didn't really fall, but that's what MTV wants you to believe). Cheers!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Years manifest 2011

there may be a lot of bad, but all clouds have a silver lining...

Well, another year goes by, and life goes on for those still living. The economy flounders and more people than ever stay at home, relying on the internet and social sites like Facebook to stay in touch. I don't remember the last time I had an actual phone conversation with a friend. Video Games have become a part of mainstream culture, as have fringe groups like Vampire Freaks and Furries, they are the new "Goths" and "Punks", while those previous groups have become more of a regular demographic than a subculture, like they were ten years ago. Everything from the aforementioned video games to movies and children's shows now has fan fiction and even porn to go along with it. Everything inevitably becomes a franchise or at least a trilogy, and every new movie not based on a comic, game, or TV series is actually just a remake of a film from several decades ago, sometimes under a different title, since nobody reads enough books to base high-grossing films on them anymore.

Metal, my favorite music type, has become fashionable again, only with the suffix of "core" attached to it's most popular type, because "Metalcore" sounds much heavier than just saying "Heavy Metal", while anything popular that isn't Metal contains more samples and auto-tune than the Hip-Hop of the last decade. Everything is digital now, even books apparently (for those who still read them), and everything from Televisions to disc players now requires superfluous internet connectivity because the manufacturers replace physical components that last for years with "firmware" that can corrupt and become outdated when new features we don't use becomes available to us. There is a lowercase "i" before everything now, even products not made by Apple, and people have replaced their memories and sense of accountability with portable devices that do it for them but cost an entire month's salary to buy.

So while we all live "Second Lives" online, or "WoW" ourselves into oblivion slaying orcs and raiding virtual dungeons, our children learn more about World War II from a video game and create their own language of abbreviations to fill the void of vocabulary they have from not attending school that won't even accept assignments written by hand because teachers are too lazy to actually read the writing. Private Business and their executives/C.E.O.s have more control over the way we live than our own government, whom is paid by them to be quiet. They are the new Nobles and we the new Peasants. Our presidents just make promises to get elected, regardless of political party, and dilute or remove them once in office to maintain the deteriorating status quot. Not everyone can be a entertainer, athlete, or computer programmer, and not everyone wants to be doctors, lawyers, cops, and firefighters, yet there is not enough opportunity to make a claim to the American Dream because manufacturing, agriculture, and trade vocations (e.g. Carpentry) are all but dead to any natural born citizens because illegal or outsourced labor is more cost-effective. Hackers are the new Burglars and bank Robbers, because it's easier to see someone's browser cookies than mug them on the street corner, and if the world doesn't end in 2012, 4Chan will end it instead on "5/19/13", with sheer concentrated nerd rage. If the matrix is already here, I want my damned red pill already.

Now more than ever, I find the things that matter most are the small things, the things all this technology and warp-speed impulsiveness seem to make most people forget: a home-cooked meal, a nice time spent with family and loved ones (in person, not over a web-chat), a nice walk, or just an hour of listening to a favorite album of music (not a playlist). There is so much culture, art, and beauty in just the ordinary world as we know it that all these ephemeral distractions we replace them with seem empty in comparison. Granted, seeing them requires actually leaving the cocoons we have made of our wired homes, and actually using the muscles and bones we have been given to actually work towards obtaining them (no mouse clicks). Even just a bicycle ride or mile-long walk has more life in it than anything one could download. Even if one cannot walk, there is still much more reward in having a room filled with friends, enjoying each other's company, than an AOL chatroom or InvisionFree forum board. For those who love role playing, are into furries, vampires, dragons, or whatever, try an actual tabletop game like Vampire the Masquerade or Dungeons & Dragons, as they allow imaginative possibilities way beyond any computer game programmer's abilities.

All this anonymity and double-life leading facilitated by telecommunication has made the Human Experience less Human, and as more and more people try to escape their own doomed existence by becoming an alien, a man/fox/whatever, or a high-elf upon a winged steed, I become more aware of who and what I really am, and I revel in it. Even if this world is coming to an end, which I doubt, I will live for the people I love, and with the utmost honor and integrity, stand to defend them and enjoy their presence in my life for as long as they choose to grace me with it. For all of you internet contacts that only know me as an anonymous name and avatar on a screen, making the random intelligent - or unintelligible - remark on your Facebook wall or dA profile, I welcome you to step just a bit closer to me as a friend or even just an acquaintance , because all of us only get equal to what we give, and if you don't like what you get in exchange for what you give, you can whisk me away with just a few mouse clicks (God knows I've perma-banned some idiots online in my day). For everyone else already counted as friends, find some happiness in this new year, and hopefully we can all share a drink soon!!