Opinion: Metal Music Made Me A Better, Happier Person

It was the creative jungle I could explore and discover on my own, the castle on the hillside where untold adventures awaited the worthy challenger and the abandoned space station at the final frontier.

By Markus Tan

April 27 2018

To say that I love Heavy Metal would be a somewhat accurate statement of the titular genre and all its sub genres. There are plenty of aspects that I love about Metal music in general. The exaggerated concepts of impending doom and sheer terror, the unrelenting sonic assault of instruments supported by the pounding blast beats of the kick drums to the unabashed gait the music presented itself to the listener.

Heavy Metal spawned from Rock music in the 1960’s. Prior to that, the Heavy Metal subculture did not truly have a face. Contemporaries from the era, such as Led Zeppelin and Cream, touched on specific elements in their music such as pounding drums and distorted guitars. However, Black Sabbath was the first band to combine pounding drums, distorted guitars and banshee like screams in their self-titled album Black Sabbath. Ever since the release of that seminal album, Black Sabbath unknowingly spearheaded a new wave of bands that would borrow plenty of their influences and motifs to create something similar, but different. Till this very day, many bands from even outside of Metal praise Black Sabbath in influencing them in their song construction and overall confidence.

Due to its rather extreme nature, it is of no surprise that the genre has plenty of brickbats hurled at. A general complaint about the genre are the subliminal messages that tell people to kill themselves. In the 1990’s, Judas Priest encountered a lawsuit from parents following the suicide of 2 teenagers. In that period, the media sensationalised the negative aspects Heavy Metal, saying it was angry, counterculture music that sung praise about the Devil. Parents contributed by burning Heavy Metal CDs and vinyl to protect the children from the evils.

However, as a young lad, I never once had any notion of worshipping the Devil or burning churches. As someone who was unsure of his identity and sense of worth, Metal gave me something to look forward to. Similar to how many find inspiration and solace in the arts, Metal music was the oasis to my parched senses of my youth. It was the creative jungle I could explore and discover on my own, the castle on the hillside where untold adventures awaited the worthy challenger and the abandoned space station at the final frontier. Bands like Metallica, Megadeth and In Flames provided me with those landscapes where I was free to explore and discover the meaning behind songs.

Metal music never shone away from real issues such as war, mental illness and events that has happened throughout history. Bands like Slayer and Iron Maiden sang about the atrocities of war and events throughout history with songs like Angel of Death, a tale about the Nazi physician Josef Mengele. Raining in Blood, which told a story about Man’s internal struggle to do good. Run to the Hills talks about white imperialism and 2 Minutes to Midnight talks about the symbolic Doomsday clock devised by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Despite each song having a different timbre to them, the running theme that can be interpreted from each of them could be about the plight of the man and the struggle the downtrodden face.

Back in the early 00’s, I used to frequent the Borders bookstore at Wheelock Place for 3 reasons; you could browse books without being hurried, their super plush sofas and the ability to sample the CDs for as long as you liked without requiring a purchase.

Perfect for the student on a budget!

Like all teens at that time, I was a metaphoric sponge. In the manner of speaking that I was very impressionable to everything. And to me, the flagship Borders Bookstore was the fortress of solace that I could spend some quality time by myself amongst likeminded folk. It was at the “alternative” section of the CD section and I remember looking through without paying much attention, like most teenagers. Out of the corner of my eye, I chanced upon the album that would open the doors into Metal: Cryptic Writings by Megadeth.

I must give credit to a secondary school friend for embarking on a journey discovering different Heavy Metal bands. I remembered him lending me his copy of Master of Puppets and after plugging that into my Sony Walkman, I was awe struck with the intensity and feeling of doom. At that point of time, my musical diet merely consisted of Top 40 hits without much direction. Apart from being a relatively mellow individual with no real outlook on my general direction in life, credit has to be given to that friend for introducing that brand of music to me!

From a technical perspective, it gave me a musical vocabulary that allowed for a larger degree of self-expression in my music. It inspired me to start learning an instrument, which helped me keep myself busy with learning songs instead of whittling my youth away. I picked up the guitar at first to attract the opposite sex for my personal gain.

As a listener, it allowed me a form of escapism to cope with my anxiety and self-esteem issues I had during my teen years. Having been a victim of bullying throughout my primary and secondary school days only intensified my low confidence and feelings of dread going to school. It was then that Heavy Metal taught me that the world is a pretty terrible place to be in, so why not spend some time in our world for a while? Even though some would say that bullying was part and parcel of growing up, bullying is not something that should be seen as a rite of passage.

Why people would subject themselves to an unnecessary evil that will cause anxiety and stress is something beyond me.

It is true that Metal music draws inspiration from the Occult, contributing to its exclusive status. Bands like Behemoth, Dark Funeral, Marduk and Morbid Angel only contributed to the stereotypes of the dark and brooding individual with malicious intent. I grew up Catholic both in my house and in school and as a result, my household was a very traditional establishment, which meant Sunday church and on public holidays. Heavy Metal was deemed the Devil’s music and it was something that my mom constantly drilled into my head. My folks are thankfully more easy going with my music choices in recent times, but in hindsight, I guess they were just looking out for me and ensuring that I stayed on the straight path.

During the Chinese New Year period, I was having dinner and drinks at an old friend’s place with a small group of close friends. Considering how we spent the better part of our childhood in the same primary and secondary schools, the conversations were free flowing and unrestrained in nature.

Midway between discussions of football, applying for BTO and about our current girlfriends, I asked if they were listening to anything new recently. The overall response was typical, ranging from variants of “too busy to watch concerts/nothing to watch/too expensive”. One friend, C, noted that he went to the Incubus concert recently and thoroughly enjoyed it. Seeing an opportunity to wax lyrical about one of my favourite bands, I asked C about the setlist Incubus played and about if they played any of their more intense songs from their S.C.I.E.N.C.E or Fungus Amongus albums.

What happens next is a recollection of the conversation between me and my friend C, Singlish included:

Me: Wasted (sic) they didn’t play any of their older, heavier songs

C: Yeah, but their older stuff, harder to listen to la

M: In what way is it hard to listen?

C: It’s a bit harsh on the ears la, reminds me of metal

M: Isn’t that a good thing?

C: No la, siao!

Judging from his intense reaction, C is right. Considered by many to be loud, brash and Satanic, Heavy Metal music hasn’t shaken off its outsider status to the public. A quick Google image search will reveal grandiose images of men wearing leather studded jackets and a plethora of sneering skeletons, demons and band logos that flips the bird on clean aesthetics. The same friends at the gathering mentioned that Metal music in general sounded Satanic, intense, and noisy amongst other adjectives.

However, I would say that it's because of these very reasons that made me love Metal music. It was not made with the intent to sell albums or to become famous; it was made to express the discontent of the common man amongst other themes. That is what gives Metal its exclusive, albeit outsider status to the public; you either got with the programme, or you did not. It gave a voice and a safe space to a 14 year old me who had little to no direction of what he would do with himself in his moment of existential crisis.

In short, I am not here to convince you that Metal music will be the cure to your ailments nor am I saying that you have to get into it. It proved to be a splendid outlet for me to express my doubts and inner turmoil whilst bettering my confidence as a teenager that I believe translated well into my adult life. So if you are looking to explore a different genre of music with a visceral experience, give the "Metal" section of Spotify a try perhaps.