How to Appreciate Metal: A Four-Step Guide

Step One: Admit the world- and worry-obliterating limitations of indie rock, Top 40 and basically everything else.

Boss getting you down? Spouse (or partner) ripping you a new one? Fido pissing in the house? Friend forgetting to pay you the $20 that you loaned him (or her) last Friday night? Is your anger making you feel powerless? It's time to take all that aggression and release it by listening to something more destructive than Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend" song.

Go to your local music store and pick up a copy of Black Sabbath's Greatest Hits; it's the first step down the ladder of metal appreciation. As Tony Iommi's guitar plays like a "velocitised speedfreak," lean your head back and enjoy the ride. It's 72:28 minutes of pure metal bliss. Thundering guitars, grueling rhythms, angelic lyrics. It's like speeding down Dallas North Tollway with your eyes closed. It's a symphony that will take you to a magical place where fairies wear boots and corporate politicians are exposed for the maggots that they are.

After you've absorbed the Godfathers of Rock, immerse yourself in the classics to further your appreciation: Anthrax, Armored Saint, Artillery; Dio, Exodus, Iron Maiden; Judas Priest, Kreator, Megadeth; Mercyful Fate, Metallica (pre-black album), Motorhead; Overkill, Pantera, Sacred Reich; Sepultura, Slayer and Testament are just some of the bands waiting to pulverize your mind.

Fast tempos, power chords, fingers ascending and descending the chromatic scale. Complexity infuses the riffs. "Shredding" is what the guitar slingers call it. Fiery solos and double bass drumming are key signatures of a sound that personifies aggression. Denunciatory language with a few derogatory terms sprinkled through the lyrics gives voice to the voiceless.

Step Two: There's a metal band out there for everyone. Find yours.

No one knows how heavy metal started. Some say it's a nightmare birthed in the darkest pit of the Abyss, while others claim it's a response to corruption. It's one part blues with a dash of classical and a fucking mountain of attitude.

Heavy metal, though, isn't just for delinquents, outlaws and rebels. Intelligent teenagers also listen to metal to cope with being talented. Stuart Cadwallader, a psychologist at the University of Warwick, claims: "They appreciate the complex and sometimes political themes of heavy metal music more than perhaps the average pop song." One student participant says, "It helps me with stress. It's the general thrashiness of it."

But, more important, metal tells a story. It's a narrative that unfolds like an Arthurian legend or a Shakespearian masterpiece. The music progresses through the elements of any good story: conflict, rising action, climax, resolution. Iron Maiden, for instance, chronicles the adventures of Eddie, a shifter who represents each album's theme. Dio weaves a tale of a demon named Murray who befriends the lead singer and, eventually, shares secrets of the netherworld. In The Puppet Master, good ol' King Diamond loses his love and awakens strapped to a hospital bed just as The Puppet Master leans forward to cut out the king's eyes.

Despite First Baptist Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress' warnings, metal isn't just a bunch of people screaming "Hail Satan!" as guitars of fire bleed flames all over the stage. The music is much more diverse, melodic and soulful than most church hymns. Guys like Ronnie James Dio, Peter Ratajczyk and Maynard James Keenan make angels weep and the heavens cry, while Amy Lee, Otep Shamaya and Cristina Scabbia make demons drown in cold water as the metal vixens dominate the stage.

And more than a dozen different metal subgenres are currently in circulation: Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal, Power Metal, Black Metal, Doom Metal, Death Metal, Technical Death Metal, Melodic Death Metal, Progressive Metal, Groove Metal, Folk Metal, Funk Metal, Viking Metal, Nu Metal, Redneck Metal, Symphonic Metal, Speed Metal, Alternative Metal, Avant-Grande Metal, Christmas Metal, Glam Metal, Horror Metal, Industrial Metal, Sludge Metal, Stoner Metal, Gothic Metal, Minimalist Metal, Survivalist Metal, Metalcore, Deathcore and Neoclassical are just some of the choices awaiting you.

"But the Lord is my shepherd," you say, hugging your Bible close. "This music is just too dark, too passionate. And is that an f-bomb I hear? Did he just say 'goddamn'? Good lord, I don't like those words."

Never fear, true believer. Jesus loves metal, too. (What do you think they were playing when the lonely carpenter trashed the temple? It sure as hell wasn't "Amazing Grace.") And Christian metal is exploding across CBN airwaves, setting off several pacemakers in the process. Bands such as Mortification, Moonlight, Immortal Souls, Crimson Thorn and Ceremonial Sacred are playing aggressive music yet singing a pacifist's words; talk about yin and yang meltdown. These musicians are harnessing the same Dionysian power that Cannibal Corpse, Warbeast and Slayer evoke underneath a pentagram on a nightly basis.

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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.

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