Here is a winding, lengthy tome about my continuing musical evolution, currently defined by the darkest of all music genres, metal.
Music In the Womb
It all started in the family.
I was exposed to metal at the tender age of five or something, when I sang “Sweet Child O’ Mine” whilst my uncle played the lead guitar accompaniment. It helped a lot that the boys’ room was plastered by old-school posters of James Hetfield and the gang. My uncle’s rabble-rousing, loud band of college friends came over to our house for some beer and shredding, and he would headbang repeatedly, Slash-like curls of black hair bouncing around in sonic oblivion. The grating sound of guitars and the thumping, wild drumming fascinated me; the rest of the time it gave me associative nightmares like seeing your aunties having their brains microwaved for consumption by insane metal brothers.
I know what you’re whispering under your breath, Guns N’ Roses are metal anathema, and Metallica are sellouts, but like it or not, I have fond memories of them. We all have to start somewhere and hope our tastes progress as we delve deeper into our gore-splattered metal graves. Besides, someone trying to write a balanced history of metal would be daft to ignore the Big Four and all their commercialized ilk.
Being young, and innocent of the enormity of being cool, or anti-cool, the overtones of liking rock and metal and noise in general did not dawn on me. I had no concept of which genre I ought to listen to, or which music fad I needed to follow. Times were less stressful then: nobody faulted a kid for recalling guitar solos from Pantera and bopping to Take That at the same time. Kids are sponges too, when it comes to having their music life journeys mapped out: I sat by as my aunt played Side A and Clair Marlo; in the mornings, my paternal grandfather would play ABBA.
Schooldays started with my elderly bus driver picking me up, singing to a cassette tape of the Beatles locked and loaded. During summer vacations in the provinces, I would wake up to fighting cocks crowing at dawn and my maternal grandfather blasting the Everly Brothers. Me and my cousins then rode a pedicab to the peryahan and listened to Men Oppose on loop from the sound system. And my parents, during Sunday bonding, watched Betamax concerts of Queen.
BIIIICYCLE… BIIIICYCLE… I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike. Now tell me that’s not a kid’s song, with all the external subtext about Freddie Mercury being gay and HIV-positive firmly stowed away from Happy Music Land. The seaward land where Puff the Magic Dragon dwelt, and camp and cool and colonial and Pinoy and rap and metal and insipid love songs and Don McLean existed in one harmonious sonic vibe.
Growing up meant you began developing your likes and dislikes. Discretion and selection of what you listened to, influenced by a growing number of factors. Your ear gets trained, your music brain begins to develop. Technicalities begin influencing your listening choices: these guys make complex melodies, this songwriter has lyrics with depth. Your peer group, the inchoate needs of fitting in and standing out, begin to play bigger roles in listening preference. The common perception began to develop: if you listened to stale, manufactured pop and ballads by celebrities, you were soft, normal sheeple. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the weird kids listened to Moonpools and Caterpillars, No Doubt, Hole, Smashing Pumpkins. Those perpetuating the tough gangsta chic chose Bone-Thugs-n-Harmony and discovered Eazy-E. Those last two cliques were often denigrating of the nerdy ones like me. It’s a miracle I managed to straddle both genres, and escape from grade school and high school both with honors and the respect of budding thugs.
The advance into college, coupled with the magic of pirated music and the early precursors of torrents, enabled me to expand my musical horizons. I started getting curious about history, watching Forrest Gump and thinking about how the musical scoring was so old-school cool. Discovered a host of Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and other oldies but goodies hiding around in the home PC’s shared hard disk drive. As a computer science student, the Web was less of an arcane cesspool of data to me, but it took years before we upgraded from a dial-up connection. Nevertheless, I got by browsing the net for recommendations and music tidbits. My inclination was growing closer to hard rock, metal, emo, indie, metalcore, anything remotely noisy, depressing, anti-cool, and reflective of the liberal philosophies I now held.
However, the full, colorful extent of music was only revealed to me when we got lightning-fast (in comparison to 56kbps!) DSL. With the help of Google and uTorrent, I started gobbling up all that I felt I was missing, stunting my musical maturity. The familiar and the safe disgusted me, but so did the pretentious and narrow.
Thus I rekindled my love for metal, set ablaze by the realization of the inherent geekiness of it all. All subgenres were there for the sampling: traditional metal, black metal, death metal, industrial metal, doom metal, sludge metal, goth metal, symphonic metal, nu-metal, thrash metal, speed metal, power metal, progressive metal, folk metal, and all the merry intermarriages in between. I gained distinct preferences along the way, going from traditional and thrash to melodic death, to goth then symphonic black metal.
Metal Ten-fold Through the Deadly Black Hole
Dark, tough, Satanic, bloody, controversial, violent, chaotic, sexual… These are the Google Adwords closely associated with metal. Indeed, it is all of those things, but it is so much more, once we look past the stereotypes and break away from being too serious and anal-retentive and purist. Metal is an exclusive community, but metal is freedom. And if we want to launch bastard children of the Devil and of Afro blues, there is no more conducive, yet heated and unwelcoming place like the metal music forges. Metal is a revolt against stereotypes, until revolution itself becomes banal and stereotypical. Eventually you just learn to stick with what you like without needing to justify or defend it vigorously.
Quaint tidbits fascinate me, stories of depth, struggle, violence and strangeness that lend a more complex face to the black-clad metal hordes. Black metal stalwart Gaahl being openly homosexual, in a clique that supposedly exhibits hyper-masculine, misogynist, intolerant traits. Nergal as a licensed museum curator given a vulnerable side by his battle against cancer. The undeniable links between Neo-nazis, extreme black metal, and those darned church burnings, and how much reported in the media is fear-mongering or balanced truth. Norwegians just seem a little stir-crazy sometimes. Must be the midnight sun and the Viking bloodline. Brian May as an astrophysicist. How Rob Halford introduced homo-bondage-chic to metal with a secret snicker. The fashion! OH, THE FASHION.
Metal speaks to the geek in all of us, despite how some of us would like to appear all base and disparaging of wussy hobbies. Just count the number of metal bands whose names, album and song titles, and member aliases were all taken from JRR Tolkien’s books. Shagrat(h) and Grishna(c)kh are both appropriately Orcish names. Seriously, some of these guys write songs about the Bible (mostly the very trippy Revelations and the gory Pentateuch), and I’m not talking about the Christian metal bands, of which there are several. These adorable people are even into sci-fi: my heart goes all gooey at the mention of Shai-Hulud and Frank Herbert love. Why, I recommend that medical students start listening to Carcass (Sorry, honey, they are not actually medical students).
Yes, some of them still take the occult seriously and insist that the Necronomicon as depicted by HP Lovecraft is the Simon Necronomicon. I think it’s cute as long as they don’t try to offer me as a sacrifice to Baal or Marduk or whatever Mesopotamian deity they currently worship. My interest in all of these is purely anthropological and academic. Besides, I already abandoned the idea of a smiting, jealous Christian god; I’m not particularly inclined to follow another one.
Metal is Death, Keep It Alive!
There will always be purists who insist on redacting the shameful excerpts of rap metal and nu-metal from the authoritative CIA profile on metal. I say take the bad with the good; it makes for a much more cohesive and mature picture of metal when we face the facts as fairly as possible. Glam metal rockers are prettier than you, and might give death metal adherents an upset stomach, but they enrich the field through sheer diversity. Metalcore kiddos might be emo kids with grungier appearances and less mopey expressions, but to many young’uns crossing over from Top 20 pop, their albums serve as welcome bugles to the metal battlefield. Like me, like all of us, most of them will get older and more sophisticated and cringe at the memory of listening to Avenged Sevenfold.
Give your elders and precursors well-deserved respect, but cultivate the new breed who are out there pushing the boundaries. There is a time and place for purists: they preserve links to tradition and the past that we should all observe, but don’t cede them too much ground.
Like incestuous idiots, we metalheads will all die out from genre inbreeding; like the Galapagos tortoise, live out the rest of our sexless lives in plodding misery because of a lack of a mate. Metal possesses the vitality of a cancer cell; it divides and mutates and infects and spreads. Trying to peg it in, to make it conform to what we think is metal and good, is chemotherapy. Bands will switch subgenres, evolve or die, fans will come and go; this Darwinian natural selection ensures that only the fittest, and loudest, survive.
Local popular music still keeps on churning derivative inane pap. Variants of jersey-clad hip-hoppers surrounded by grinding babes with boobs (Titties! No contest with the titties, they’re the only saving grace of those music videos) rapping about guns they never fired and Hennessy and rides. These tough pussy guys should tear a page from Gloc-9’s measured yet rat-tat-tat targeted Filipino lyricism. Artistas-models-turned-balladeers rehashing tired, trill English songs. For Fucks’ Sake, Judy Ann Santos’s music album went PLATINUM. Heavy engineering and lipsyncing and lyrics so simplistic I’ve heard nursery rhymes that sounded better. Original Pilipino Music is a shameful misnomer.
Popular perception of metal still conforms to many stereotypes, and by large metalheads flip the finger at these narrow-minded people. We’re clannish and we don’t like growing large and mainstream and accessible… which is just… so… hipster. Think about the flipside, though: growing large means having the means to accomplish grander goals. In countries with a larger population of metalheads with purchasing power, they have proper venues with amazing sound, huge production budgets and ambitiously creative videos. Not that these bad videos aren’t entertaining.
Other countries have several-day-long music festivals with multinational bands of all colors from black to gray, attended by massive, ecstatic, eardrum-busted throngs. Sounds all glowing and hopeful, dunnit? Making them a reality won’t replace those intimate, rag-tag metal gigs held in multipurpose barangay gyms, but it widens the possibilities for metal in the Philippines.
Still a long way to go on this metal journey. Fortunately, I found myself a partner who is not only a wonderful, authoritative source on metal (working in the music industry with roots as a budding death/gothic metal drummer), but happened to resemble a young Glenn Danzig when I was drunk. I started my local metal familiarization education by listening to his bands. Admittedly we’re biased with regards to the quality of the music. My lesson plan is to intersperse my metal education with other genres. Right now I keep dreaming of a symphonic black metal rendition of Bjork’s Hyperballad. Or doom metal versions of Bon Iver’s Holocene.