Saturday, February 13, 2010

Breaking Down the Walls of My Fortress of Hatred: Accepting Metal Music, Part 1

I hate puns more than I hate Metal, so I thought this was appropriateI hate Metal as a musical genre. Several intellectuals, talented musicians, and musical analysts have tried to convince me of its merits, but I have remained steadfast in my disgust.

Every time I hear a tolerably mild Metal song, it usually draws me in with a sweet melodic intro and then follows it by screaming at me. If I was offered the choice between listening to an hour of Metal or an hour of nails scraping across a chalkboard, I might choose the latter. Listening to Metal makes angry, and I often suddenly find myself wanting to punch the nearest adorable baby in the face or dropkick a sweet-natured puppy.

Okay, some of my opinions do in fact contain a minimal amount of rationality. That throaty, obnoxious scream-singing makes me cringe. The theoretical appeal of this husky, testosterone-rich growling to the visceral anger and inner darkness inherent to humanity seems too forced and false to me. The lyrics are usually weak and simplistic. It’s hard to use language as an art form when you’re spending most of your time yelling and snarling. Unfortunately, I tend to be a bit of a lyrical snob, and I have been known to immediately pass judgment when I hear lines about “getting out” rhymed with “scream and shout.”

I also don’t appreciate how Metal seems narrowly focused on how hard and how fast someone can pound on an electric guitar, and all other instruments be damned. This narrow view leads to a single degree of freedom with which to explore sound, and the solution is to pass an overly digitized note through multiple electrical effects. After the notes have been as distorted as possible, creating this muted grainy sound that might have come out of a voice reproduction computer from the 90’s, I lose track of the melody, and from there it’s a downhill spiral to my total denial that the resulting noise is music.

So when you sum up the irrational with the almost rational, my feelings of hatred against Metal can be suffocating.

Unfortunately [or fortunately], my significant other loves the stuff.

In the last few months Matt has gone out of his way to fulfill an unprecedented number of requests that I have made of him, and I felt that it was only fair for me to open my heart and mind to his long-time love of Metal. I hoped that maybe, after a few months of concentrated effort, I could listen to him play his guitar without breaking the nearest piece of furniture.

So the deal we made was this: I would allow him to make me one CD of ten songs every two weeks. I would listen to this CD in my car during my daily 10-minute commute to the park-and-ride. I left the specifics to his judgment, but warned him to choose carefully.

I have been documenting my reactions with as much level-headedness as I can manage. I do not deny my ignorance of not only Metal, but music in general, and this has helped to expand my patience and understanding. I hope to periodically chronicle my impressions of this personal struggle in no particular order. I hope that it will be interesting to some of you, but I don’t kid myself. Perhaps you’ll enjoy my angry rants, or maybe you can’t wait to see them stifled and humbled. Maybe you love or respect Metal (and if you do I’m proud of you for reading this far without leaving an angry comment typed in all caps) and you’re interested in the opinions of a converted hater. Or perhaps you also hate the stuff,  and are rooting for me to stay strong. Either way, here it is.

Mix #1: A Sampling of 90’s Metallica

Matt decided to start me out with Metallica because of its obvious importance to the genre as well as its reputability with even the most musically ignorant. I agreed that it was important for me to be at least slightly familiar with Metallica so that I wouldn’t sound like an idiot if caught in the wrong crowd.

I think that his decision to follow a band-by- band route was a better choice than a historical development. During the 90’s, Metallica simplified and streamlined their music to appeal to a broader audience, abandoning its obscenely fast tempos for an almost modern-rock appeal. This gentling of their nature, Matt hoped, would warm me to the band so that I could branch backwards towards their heavier 80’s and then proceed forward towards their exploratory 00’s. After establishing a foundation, he would progress me through the next influential Metal band, constructing the picture one layer at a time.

The track list is as follows: “The Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters” from the Black Album, a cover of Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” from Garage Inc, “Until It Sleeps”, “King Nothing,” and “Hero of the Day” from Load, “I Disappear” from the Mission: Impossible II soundtrack, and finally “Fuel”, “The Memory Remains,” and “The Unforgiven II'” from ReLoad.

It was easy enough for me to find what I didn’t like right away. I’m perfectly accepting of James Hetfield’s voice when he isn’t digging up phlegm or ending every other line with “eeeehyah!” tacked onto the final word, but those moments were rare. I really despised “Fuel” and the “The Memory Remains” because of their lack of variation beyond palming the same note repeatedly, and “I Disappear” only became tolerable by comparison.

But the much harder part for me was learning to respect and recognize what was there, and that is what I want to focus on.

I liked the melodic intros, and I think the lack of them is partly why the aforementioned songs lost some points. I liked “The Unforgiven II” more than I liked “The Unforgiven” I, purely because the song was more melodically rich, and I could enjoy full chords or maybe even sing along. I had moments where I even appreciated a few subtleties in the lines of “Until it Sleeps” and “Nothing Else Matters” once I learned to ignore how frequently the titles were repeated during the song. While I don’t love speedy guitar solos, I respect them, and these were good quality. I also respect the drum-work, though it conflicts strongly with bitterness from trying to replicate them while playing the Drums for Metallica songs on Rockband.

After my third listen-through I became struck by some interesting developments. I found that the recognition of songs alone increased their appeal (for instance, I randomly heard “I Disappear”  at a friend’s house and subconsciously almost liked it before I realized what I was doing). I also began to realize that the guitar riffs subtly appealed to my basic instincts. After scorning “King Nothing,” I found myself actually bobbing my head or tapping my fingers a little bit on my second listen-through.

As soon as I started reflecting on the quality differences between Metallica songs, I realized that it was already too late; I had already acquiesced to the idea that not all of it jumbles together in a huge indistinguishable pile of crap.

It’s only a matter of time until grudging appreciate becomes real appreciation…or is it? Tune in next time!