My favourite heavy metal song? Ah well, more of that later. My 23 year old son is a massive metal music fan. Yet he’s the nicest, politest lad around. Shy too. But his fashion of choice is black. Often with classic skulls, mentions of death and emblazoned names of bands that are often themselves shocking.
The music is loud (extremely loud), often frightening and hard to hear any of the lyrics and features images of death, horror, violence and hostility to all around. Yet it is loved by millions. Why?
Franklin has written about metal and heavy music for over ten years. He is a contributor to music and pop culture website The Quietus and is a huge life long fan.
I asked my son to take a look at the book. His comments were ‘ Good use of obscure bands, interesting guest speakers, clear passion for the the subject and neatly laid out’. Crumbs I thought not one expletive I’d better read further!
Many might consider metal heads (as they often referred to) as ignorant, uneducated and frightening. But looking deeper into the sources for the rise of heavy metal, its bands and what the lyrics really say (beyond the shouting noise that is often overpowering) maybe there is more to challenge our preconceptions.
Early on we hear that one of my favourite authors Elif Shafak likes to write while listening to ‘dark, loud, aggressive, Scandinavian metal bands.’ She said this might surprise her readers yes she’s right!
Then there is the discussion about the differences between football managers Arsene Wenger and Jurgen Klopp and the influence of music. Klopp is apparently a heavy metal fan seeing Wenger more as conducting his players as an orchestra passing to each other (my son may agree with this too as an Arsenal fan) rather than Klopp wanting a more loud attack and eleven players in overwhelming waves. No wonder Liverpool top the Premier League this year!
There are also the connections with literature, art, poetry and film genres.
Science fiction features amongst bands – particularly the album covers and I was particularly struck and informed (again) by my son that the band Sabaton (their drum kit is a tank) had written a song which includes the poem by Luis McNiece ‘In Flanders Fields’. Many bands including Iron Maiden and the interesting lead singer Bruce Dickinson (a trained pilot who flies the band around) evoke images of war and if you study the lyrics there is much in them in which they not only celebrate the heroes of war (pilots and soldiers) but have done young fans a huge educational boost by retelling history around many battles over the years.
Only recently the BBC featured the lead singer Corey Taylor from American band Slipknot on ‘Tracks of my Years’ on Radio 4 and you can watch an small intimate gig of theirs on iplayer. It’s loud and of course if you’re unfamiliar with Slipknot they are the group who wear masks. Often disturbing and shocking masks. A reminder that there are some great photos in the book.
Franklin explores the psychology of heavy metal. Does it in itself evoke violence because of its nature? Or is an outlet for fans who may have issues around their lives and can scream them out amongst like minded people whilst having a great time at a concert?
I’m not sure I am any nearer the answer after reading the book. But I was interested to find out more about the people (mainly men I have to say) that bring this music alive. A lot of the in depth analysis of certain albums was lost on me but this will certainly appeal to many fans of heavy metal. For book groups – well! I’m not sure it’s going to appeal at all. But then if you have a son (or daughter) hides themselves away in the dark and blasts out Black Sabbath/Metallica or Pantera give it a whirl and see what all the loud fuss is about.
Oh my favourite song – Alestorm’s ‘Keelhauled’. Give it a listen!
Philipa Coughlan 3/1*
HEAVY-how metal changes the way we see the world by Dan Franklin
978-1-47213-105-8 Little, Brown Book Group Constable Hardback March 2020