It’s a new year, it’s certainly not a new me, and considering that we’re entering a new decade, there are some topics within the heavy metal community and culture that need to be touched on. I’d like to address something that I personally have hinted at in previous posts, but never fully took that dive into the deep end.
In 2020, it’s not uncommon for heavy metal fans to enjoy music that exists outside of the metal-based riff formula or music that isn’t even remotely heavy at all. Countless times, I’ll be at a heavy metal show, and encounter people who enjoy goth rock, shoegaze, post-rock, alternative, synthwave, hardcore, or perhaps some even further removed things like classical or jazz. This isn’t what we’re here to talk about, because we don’t need to. Most metal fans will acknowledge those genres as “normal” within the community. That’s all well and good but hang tight for a second. You may have noticed some of my Taylor Swift entries in the “Vault Picks” before. Or perhaps we don’t hit that extreme yet, let’s start with this route; it’s pretty obvious that I’m also our signature glam metal freak, which isn’t nearly as uncommon, but has still created complaints in the past from metalloids (a term used by our very own Angelo Sasso). What I want to do is cast some understanding on how someone like me, who craves all sorts of thrash and death metal to wild extremes, can also enjoy Lady Gaga, Eminem, or other artists that couldn’t be further removed from the genre. As true as that may be, there are more similarities to what there is to get out of one of those artists to heavy metal than you think. Yes, there are other people like me, yes this isn’t an entirely foreign concept, but it’s something that I feel like nobody likes to talk about, so I’m going to do just that.
But before I touch on the Taylor Swifts of the world, let’s first establish a basis of what it is that I get out of metal and its subgenres. Heavy metal, in its truest form, isn’t much beyond a more intense and threatening version of rock ‘n roll. It’s no fucking wonder I can mix KISS and Judas Priest in the same playlist and not think that it’s a bit weird (and if you do think that’s weird, check out the SiriusXM channel Ozzy’s Boneyard). Classic rock, proto-metal, and traditional heavy metal are all about the melodies from guitar leads, the punchy and straightforward rhythms, lyrics, melodic vocal delivery, attitude, emotion, and song-based album structures. Understandably, thrash metal is a bit different. Although the melody is still important, it takes a backseat to the delivery, the attitude, the angst, and the harsher nature of the rhythms. Imagine taking a few of the things I like about traditional metal, and demands a greater push from them. Glam metal is the opposite, taking other things from traditional metal and pushing them forward. The attitude and harsh nature aren’t as important as the cleanliness, the lyrics, the melody, and the emotion. This is where ballads come in handy, as well as pop layers. And then, of course, things like death metal go to the extreme of almost completely abandoning melody, song-based structures, and lyrical clarity. This is where it’s more about a different feeling that you gain through the rhythm patterns, the atmosphere, and the vocal onslaughts. Song-to-song structure isn’t so important anymore. If I have all of that, one might ask where there would be room for anything else on my playlists.
The answer to that is simple; it doesn’t need anymore room, because it already shares a commonality with everything I mentioned. Let’s start with an easy one; Eminem. For those unfamiliar with Slim Shady, he’s a rapper that emerged out of Detroit from a poverty-stricken life and a broken family. He started making a name for himself in the later ‘90s and became the famous blonde-haired white rapper we all know by the early 2000s. Eminem has a lot in common with what I enjoy about thrash metal, crossover, and hardcore. Musically, he certainly doesn’t, but regarding the feelings that he digs up, he’s spot on. Just about everything he raps about comes from a point of attitude. His lyrics revolve around revenge, anger, life, politics, and aggression. Gee, sound familiar? Hell, he also made a song called “‘97 Bonnie & Clyde,” off of The Slim Shady LP in 1999, a fictional song about murdering his ex-girlfriend with his daughter Hayley present, trying his best to calm her. I don’t know about you, but there are death metal bands that don’t even come close to that level of gruesome. Let’s not stop at the lyrics, though, because my point here was the attitude. Eminem’s delivery and furiously-crafted beats quench the exact same thirst that Municipal Waste or Iron Reagan would for me. Tony Foresta and co. are known for fast, aggressive songs, that deliver nasty lyrics in a fuming way. That is exactly what Eminem does, and that’s how I can relate this style of rap to heavy metal. I’m not huge on rap itself, and there are few rappers that actually do it for me the way that Mr. Shady does, but the point is, it’s out there, and a lot of this style can do exactly for someone else what Megadeth might do for you. Check out NWA, Dr. Dre, Busta Rhymes, and others to get a broader idea of the picture. And if you need a gateway, remember that nu-metal is a thing, and easing your way in couldn’t be any simpler.
Next, let’s look at the glittery and bubble-gum world that artists like P!nk and Taylor Swift emerge from. This seems to be one of the most taboo out of any artist that I’ll admit to liking, so let’s get at it. In 2019, Taylor Swift released her album Lover, one that I expressed a little bit of love for inside the Vault, but far more outside. Admittedly, there’s less that I can relate to heavy metal with her, but what sits so nicely with me from her does share the same central point as heavy metal; rock ‘n roll. No, she is not in any way, shape, or form a rock artist, but let’s revisit what I enjoy about rock music:
“the melodies from guitar leads, the punchy and straightforward rhythms, lyrics, melodic vocal delivery, attitude, emotion, and song-based album structures”
Some of those seem a bit familiar? Yeah, there are no riffs, and guitar leads and attitude aren’t really there, either. But everything else is. And as I’ve stated previously, the music isn’t similar in construction, just in the feeling that it achieves.
A little side note, pop is also looked at as corny, simple, or stupid. Now wait a minute, are you telling me that rock music doesn’t base its songs on silly lyrics about love, sex, and breakups? Or perhaps that it doesn’t contain dumb corny melodies? No way! Not in my Beatles, KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, or AC/DC albums, not a chance!
The truth is, though, rock is guilty of the same things Taylor Swift or Katy Perry are guilty of. Hell, so is traditional metal. If you tell me that nothing Judas Priest, Scorpions, W.A.S.P., Stryper, or Manowar (I mean look at fucking Manowar for a second) don’t do anything that’s corny; you’re kidding me, and yourself. So let’s trash this whole idea of modern pop being too corny for us metalheads.
What we’re left with are the same fucking things I’ll look to rock ‘n roll for, presented in a different manner. The title track to Lover gives me the same feeling that Elvis Presley does in “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” Katy Perry’s song “The One That Got Away” casts the same feelings that many glam metal ballads give off, or even less ballady ones like Dokken’s classic smasher “Into The Fire.” P!nk is a whole different ballpark, as her style actually derives more from the pop-punk movement of the early 2000s. One of her earlier records Try This will sit well with far more Blink-182 fans than they’d like to admit.
That leads me to another point – pop-punk. Anymore, enjoying Green Day or Blink-182 as a metal fan isn’t really that out there anymore. Sure, some readers may give me some slack for covering Nine or Revolution Radio on a heavy metal sight. It’s not really that out of place, however, and that’s honestly a whole other article within itself. But staying on topic, if it isn’t so bad for a Morbid Angel fan to dig some Green Day, why is it such a disgrace to simply take that a step further? You can draw a connection from artists like Billy Elish or Post Malone to bands like The 1975 or Fun. Not unheard of for people to like that sum of bands at all. Now let’s draw that connection from The 1975 and Fun. to Green Day and Blink-182. Also not unheard of for people to enjoy all of those artists, right? Let’s go further. Green Day and Blink-182 fans also enjoying Bad Religion and Social Distortion. Would it be weird if someone told you they enjoyed Megadeth and Slayer, and also enjoyed Bad Religion? Probably not in the slightest. Thus, it shouldn’t be weird for any of that, and this divide is nothing but silly.
What’s the point in all of this? It goes far beyond just “hey, look at me with my variety of music.” In fact, to keep from being biased, some of the mentioned artists aren’t even ones that I enjoy, but they fit the shoe all too well. Different genres may be entirely different from one another for no purpose beyond fitting a specific taste or mood, but the big idea is that any of them can achieve the same feeling that something on the exact opposite end of the spectrum can. I could go on and on with this, and dive into folk, country, and ska, you name it. But getting some of the bigger and more obvious examples straight is enough to prove my point. I’m not saying that every Motorhead fan should also be listening to Britney Spears or Kid Cudi, but what I am saying is that nobody should look down on the idea of a Motorhead fan who does. Things like Post Malone attending Slayer’s final concert, or him doing a duet with Ozzy Osbourne are a step in the right direction, no matter how you feel about that song.