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Fly Away, Like An Eagle

February 22, 2011

If there’s anything more ridiculed in the world of music critic land than progressive rock, it has to be heavy metal. After all, what’s there not to mock? Ridiculous costumes combined with over the top stage theatrics, not to mention outlandish and often immoral lyrical content and repetitive song structures – yes metal has it all.

This is of course, in contrast to the lyrical genius, musical innovations and general conscientious attitude within the vast majority of rock music.

Yes, I just paid out Van Halen.

Sarcasm aside, there’s no pre-requisite for intelligent lyrics or musical genius in rock music – after all, AC/DC have proven that the same formula can work many many times if you’re good enough at it. And it’s unfair to pay out Van Halen as lyrically or musically inept; they’re hardly geniuses but definitely interesting and good songwriters at that.

Yet the amount of times I’ve heard Joni Mitchell or Bob Dylan praised for their excellent lyrics and topic matters is suprisingly contradictory given the hatorade that most heavy metal music receives. Admittedly the acts of the pioneers of metal can have hardly helped – the long keyboard and guitar battles in Deep Purple, Robert Plant asking “do you remember laughter” amongst other improvisations during Stairway, and Ozzy biting the head off a bat all set a precedent and a stereotype.

Funnily enough, despite the increased ferocity and aggression within metal over the years – for instance, compare Iron Maiden’s debut to Metallica’s Kill Em All (originally titled Metal Up Your Ass – the second greatest disused title, behind Don’t Be A Faggot by the Beastie Boys, which was unfortunately replaced by the otherwise excellent Licensed to Ill), the antics have never since reached the same proportion as they did during the seventies. Sure Metallica and Megadeth were constantly drunk and high, but compared to Keith Moon throwing a television out of a window or blowing up a toilet?

If anything, I’d argue metal represents a maturity of music – sure there are the stereotypes of the aggressive, angsty, conspiracy-theorist nerdy male who totally digs metal because it’s so hardcore, but aren’t there stereotypes for every type of music? Albums such as the almost perfect Rust In Peace deal with a variety of themes, from terrorism and religious warfare within Northern Ireland, to the perils of drug abuse [prevalent within many rock and metal songs, I’m aware], concerns over global warming and particularly nuclear war. Other albums, particularly Iron Maiden’s, take considerable influence from the occult, taking the lead of Black Sabbath. Hell, Judas Priest sing about a giant robotic superhero coming to save mankind. Profound? Perhaps not. Cool? Fuck yes.

It’s a paladin riding a dragon motorcycle with razor wheels over lava for fuck’s sake.

Whether some people consider it overly aggressive or not, there’s no denying metal’s technical prowess either – even bands like Metallica who don’t really have the best musicians play seriously fast and difficult music. The irony is that because many metal musicians take their music so seriously, they’re consequently ridiculed by the music media due to their tendency to actually care about what they’re producing. After all, it’s only right to take pride and exercise proper work etiquette in your music when it’s deemed acceptable. Metal’s entire history has been a battle with the musical (and not to mention political) mainstream, and they’ve made huge gains in the last thirty years.

Yes, the music can be repetitive, in style and as well as musicianship, not to mention sometimes ridiculous lyrics and even more ridiculous singing – I still am nowhere near appreciating growling vocals. But everything I just said could also apply to rock, and well any kind of music. No matter how complex or well regarded music is, if it doesn’t progress it does become stale – I can personally find a lot of jazz music uninspiring in the same way I would find mediocre rock or metal music uninteresting.

Iron Maiden play an extract of Winston Churchill’s declaration of war before their concerts. If that’s not cool I don’t know what is.

Not all metal music is good, but that’s the point. It’s just another genre, fully deserving of critical appraisal and recognition for both its positives and negatives, based on merit, not on stereotypes.


From → Music

One Comment
  1. Van Halen = guitar gods

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