This post is inspired by an evening spent in the Spirit Store in Dundalk. My friends and I were attending a show consisting of local bands, all three of which varied in volume levels. The first act had a beautifully delicate sound, the second was slightly louder but still in the “delicate” ballpark. The third were not in the same country as delicate. The third band of the night were the loudest by a distance and I was moved to write myself a note on my phone.
The note said this: There was a window in my life for loud bands. A window which was open just enough for some extremely loud bands to sneak in. That window is welded shut now, in an abandoned house on an uninhabitable island off the coast of yesterdayland.
I made some other unintelligible notes to myself that I won’t share with you. You don’t need to know my shopping list. But that statement alone made me think about the loudest bands, the angriest bands that I like. The ones that, now, I feel shouldn’t be played in the day time. The ones where when I hear them now I think “oof that’s aggressive”. The ones that remind me of when the window was open and life was simple. The ones that made no sense to me but at the same time made all the sense in the world. Metallica were one of those bands.
I wondered if a young Metallica had been on stage that night, would I have reacted the same as I did with this young band in the Store? Would I have started writing notes to myself? Notes like: These guys have way too much energy for me… That drummer looks like an asshole? Actually, no matter what time in life I see Metallica I’ll always write a note saying the drummer is an asshole.
Asshole drummer aside, I was a huge Metallica fan when I was young and full of zip. My school days were made up of a soundtrack consisting of basically anything loud but primarily Green Day, Pearl Jam and Metallica. A standard mix for any teenager with “issues”.
There were a lot of very angry young men bands that I listened to when I was in school. I listened to Korn a little. I listened to Limp Bizkit a lot – and no I’m not in the least bit ashamed of myself. A lot of times when listening to bands of their ilk I found myself thinking “wow, and I thought I had problems”. Meaning, they were singing about things and exploring themes that were way beyond the level of teen angst that I was having. So I kept my distance, I didn’t need them, someone else needed that kind of therapy.
I’ve been thinking about how Metallica fit in to the music I like. I don’t listen to any other traditional heavy metal bands, in fact I balk at the concept of heavy metal music. Not Iron Maiden or Megadeath or any of them. Like hip-hop and R’n’B, there’s a world and a culture that goes along with that style of music that doesn’t agree with me, plus there are physical reasons why I could never be a fully fledged member of the metal community.
For example: headbanging.
OK, so we’re not talking about number 2 in the definitions of headbanging which I never knew was an actual thing that happens. We’re talking number 1, the violent rhythmic shaking of the head by fans of heavy metal music. Like the definition says, this is a violent act. My neck has never been able to withstand more than 4 seconds of headbanging. I used to try to compensate for my neck by bending from my back but then I looked like one of those pendulum birds furiously dipping its beak for water.
So headbanging was out for physical reasons. Aesthetically too, headbanging was a non starter, my face would give me away. My face isn’t made for headbanging, I look dumb. When I break out the pendulum headbanging, my head has an awfully long way to travel to complete one bang. When I begin my downward trajectory my face resembles that of a terrified rollarcoaster rider who is just creeping over the top of the highest point of the ride and can see their death in front of them as they begin to pick up pace. I’m either smiling and laughing or grimacing in pain, neither of which are the required attitude. Maybe that’s why so many metal fans have long hair? To cover up the lunatic faces people make when they do this.
The mosh pit terrifies me too. There is no way on earth I could enjoy the act of smashing into other people. I’m not a fan of bumping into people at the best of times never mind at the velocity needed to be a legitimate mosh. Plus I just want to watch the band, I don’t want to get hammered to the ground by someone who has a blatant disregard for human safety and hygiene… I’m assuming this person smells…maybe that’s harsh.
Yet, in spite of my physical difficulties with heavy metal music I was still a huge Metallica fan. Why? It goes beyond my belief that a good song is a good song whatever the genre because I loved all of it. Everything they did I gobbled up. When I think back on my school mix, the other two bands I mentioned make sense. Green Day were singing songs about what my life was like, Pearl Jam were…I dunno, they were Pearl Jam. But Metallica? Songs about returning from war with no arms or legs? Songs about starting fights with people just because they wanted to? Songs about puppet masters twisting my mind and smashing my dreams? Why?
The best I can figure is that it was loud, it was fast and it said F-you to anyone who didn’t understand. Best of all, it made absolutely no sense. There was little to no danger of hearing a Metallica song and having a human emotional reaction to it other than to feel the urge to, but ultimately fail to, pendulum bang. I really hope pendulum bang isn’t some weird sex thing… hold on let me check… nope, I’m safe.
In research for this post I have been listening to a lot of their music. My walks with my dog have quickened in pace the past few days. There are songs that I hear and my goodness they sound great, others, maybe not so much. I started with their earliest stuff which was, even back in school, the hardest for me to get into. They were the purest heavy metal albums of their catalogue.
I once had a conversation about the band with someone who was in a real live metal band that toured around Europe and played really big shows (so he told me anyway). I asked him which Metallica album he thought was their best. I had my own internal countdown of album by quality and I was sure I was correct. He said Kill ‘Em All was their best album. Oh don’t worry, I immediately called bullshit. That album was pure heavy metal he said and every album after that became more and more mainstream, more like a rock band. He also told me they were considering replacing one of the members of his own band because they had gotten their hair cut too short. I then started a mild version of definition 2 headbanging and left him to his thoughts.
From the metal horses mouth though, I did not like the metal version of Metallica. The more mainstream they got, the more like a rock band they became, the shorter their hair got, the more I liked them. They were still completely obscene and mildly offensive but at least they were more presentable! I couldn’t understand the uproar when they cut their hair. Who cares what length the hair of a rocker is?? To me the music got better when their hair got shorter! Load was the album the band released with their new image of short hair and eyeliner.
In exact opposition to my metal friend, I found each album got better as they went along. The Black album was their most successful and featured ‘Enter Sandman’ which I’m reliably informed has been played on guitar by absolutely everyone who has owned one. Load came next and Reload followed on before the bands second bassist left and before they became the least popular people in the world when they tried to bring down Napster. Load was the high water mark for me. Reload dipped slightly in quality and then on St. Anger, the band’s next collection of original material, the quality dropped like a busted balloon tied to a brick.
I began to distance myself from the band as I got older. I no longer told people that there were three big bands anymore. There were new sounds I was listening to now, much more emotional and oh so much more depressing. Metallica were put on the shelf. Much like the toys in Toy Story 3, when I went off to college I left them behind for the next kid with issues to blast away their feelings with.