In the past few weeks I accomplished something I’ve been striving to do for years: I got into metal. Now a few of y’all are doubtlessly scratching your heads and wondering why I would want to do such a thing. And I’ve got a bucketful of reasons.
First of all, I’m always happy when I learn to appreciate a new genre of music (or a new author, or a new type of cinema, or a vegetable I didn’t like when I was a kid). In my humble opinion it’s more fun to enjoy things than to not enjoy them. I’m also pretty sure a willingness to try new things with an open mind is an important part of maturity, and saying “I like all kinds of music except metal and country,” is equivalent to saying “green beans are gross.” It’s fine if you don’t like green beans, but you should have some well-prepared ones before you make up you mind. And you should listen to Sugarland before you say you hate country.
Anyhoo, I’ve yet to encounter a genre that I couldn’t find some value in after some cursory digging, and it bothered me that I had a big Satan-shaped gap in my palate. I think my problem was the lack of a good entry-point, a critical tool in stylistic adventurism. Entry-points are basically the same thing as crossovers, but backwards: music that features the stylistic tics of some genre enough for you to get used to them, but not so prominently that you get bewildered and scamper off. So Daft Punk is a good entry-point for post-rave dance music and Taylor Swift is a good entry-point for country, because both write straightforward pop songs with a twist.
Problem is, not a lot of metal bands specialize in accessible pop (or the ones that do just really don’t do it for me – sorry Axl). And the ones that do tend to cross over into the province of indie-dom do it for reasons that don’t appeal to me. Mastodon’s proggy guitar leads and Moby Dick and Rasputin referencing lyrics should tug at a Decembrists fan’s heartstrings, and Sunn O)))’s droning is great for all the post-rockers out there, but this just ain’t for me:
So I was pessimistic about metal, at least until last week when, on a whim, I listened to a new leaked track (“Dark Horse”), by Converge, a quartet of Boston OG’s beloved of my angrier friends in high school. And man was I hooked: turns out mathcore (stupid word, I know), the metal-hardcore hybrid pioneered around the turn of the century by Converge and the Dillinger Escape Plan, was just what I needed. It’s a non-traditional approach – these bros specialize in brow-knitting time signatures, salvos of noise where riffs usually go, and lots and lots of screaming. But as a great man said, I dig their energy. This music evokes drama, both musical and emotional, that resonates with the part of me that likes Arcade Fire, and a particular kind of honest, righteous rage that tickles my inner punk. I think making that emotional connection with a new scene is probably more important than making a sonic one.
Just a few last notes on entering metal:
First off, a lot of people in internetland (across the Misty Mountains from the province of indie-dom) refer to metal, hardcore, and, to a much lesser extent, noise using the umbrella term “aggressive music.” Until they decide that Toby Keith and Ghostface Killah can come to the party, I think this is the stupidest handle any scene has come up with.
Secondly, I’ve noticed a very cute trend. Occasionally, Pitchfork.com (maybe you’ve heard of it) reviews some record, almost always punk or metal, and gives it a very high score by their standards, something in the high 8’s. Then they won’t make it best new music, remember it on a year-end list, or give it any sort of hype at all. I remember they did that to the Gaslight Anthem, who put out one of the best albums of last year, and did it just this week to two different metal bands, Converge (whose Axe To Fall I’ll be reviewing soon) and Baroness. I think they are most prone to give such underhanded reviews to music they’re suspicious teenagers might actually like. Now usually I’m a big Pitchfork defender, but what are they trying to pull here? I thought there were no more guilty pleasures. Oh man. That’s totally the topic for my next column.