First Impressions of Heavy Metal

When I think of Heavy Metal really not much beyond the usual stereotypes comes to mind. Rather than being a unique genre of its own, Heavy Metal is more part of a group of things that I’ve decided—probably unfairly—that I don’t like. Rock and Punk also fall into this category, with the lines differentiating them almost seeming to blur. The particular stereotypes that come to mind when I consider Heavy Metal are high volume, incomprehensible lyrics and darkness.

The most immediate thing that comes to mind when I consider Heavy Metal is loudness. If you’ve ever attended a Heavy Metal concert or listened to the music loudly, you will know what I mean when I say that you can quite literally feel Heavy Metal music. The loudness that is heard and felt usually seems to be generated from multiple instruments and assisted by an amplifier. These instruments include various types of guitars and drums as well as the voice of the singer. Unlike other genres of music where the singer may gradually crescendo and get louder, volume changes in Heavy Metal can be quite sudden and drastic. Heavy Metal artist make these volume shifts through the use of screams and growls. Sometimes these screams and growls only briefly interrupt the song while other times they are the song. The loudness of the singer’s screams and growls as well as the instruments make volume one of the most distinguishing characteristics of Heavy Metal music.

Incomprehensible lyrics usually accompany the volume that characterizes Heavy Metal. In Heavy Metal almost everything seems distorted. This includes the voice of the artist. Distortion is taken to different extremes in different songs, but regardless of its extent, distortion seems to be a common theme among many songs. The purpose behind distortion of the artist voice confuses me quite a bit. Distorting a voice to the point of incomprehensibility negates the importance of the lyrics because they cannot be understood. However the lyrics are what makes a song “authentic”—a quality valued in Heavy Metal. Additionally, lyrics take a long time to write and often have special meaning to the writer that he or she is trying to share with an audience. Considering this, how could one distort such a vital part of a song? I do not know the answer to this conundrum, but nonetheless incomprehensible lyrics are another stereotypical characteristic of Heavy Metal music.

A final element that comes to mind when I think of Heavy Metal music is darkness. I use the word darkness to characterize Heavy Metal to be intentionally vague. I mean darkness in multiple senses including color and theme. First, dark colors seem to dominate Heavy Metal paraphernalia. Black clothes are often worn by performers and audience members, the color black is prominent on album covers, band t-shirts are always black, etc. For me, this one of the aspects of Heavy Metal where the lines separate it from Punk music for example seem to blur. When I consider punk music dark clothing is also one of the first things that comes to mind. In addition to dark paraphernalia, the themes of Heavy Metal music are also dark in nature. Heavy Metal music is a far cry from happiness and sunshiny in terms of theme. Often the music deal with darker issues such as death, power, rebellion, and hell. The inherent darkness associated with Heavy Metal music is a final characteristic that comes to mind when I consider the genre and its music.

Heavy Metal has never had any great appeal to me thus my knowledge on the genre and its music is very limited. Despite this, a few stereotypes do come to mind when I consider Heavy Metal. These include, loudness, incomprehensible lyrics and darkness. While I can’t speak as to whether these stereotypes are justified when considering the genre as a whole, I can say that they seem to hold true for the few Heavy Metal song that I have heard.

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