“Music is a fine thing, but metal lasts.” It was the first thing he had said to me that I did not agree with wholeheartedly. Metal rusts, I thought, music lasts forever. Time will eventually prove one of us right. —Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind. 2007
Metal. Music. Twin titans shaped by man, one taken from the earth, the other taken from ourselves. Kvothe, the protagonist of The Name of the Wind, struggles to crown one of them most significant in his life.
Metal music has often been overlooked when it comes to musical appreciation, which is disheartening because its quality contends with the greatest. People judge it harshly because the image that renders itself in their brain when “metal music” appears in a sentence is a bunch of long-haired dudes (of doubtless dubious demeanor) screaming into a microphone while slamming on whatever instrument they’re playing.
But this would merely be seeing metal, not seeking to understand. Metal, by nature, is already a complex and confusing creation. Born from an alchemical mix of genres, metal draws the power of rock and displays it with classical music’s virtuosity. It thrums with energy, called from an electric guitar’s chord or drummed directly into you. The epitome of this energy is the solo, a moment or two or more when the metal musician demonstrates their mettle. These solos form the main bones holding metal as a genre together. All else stems from its composers.
Metal thrives in diversity. It borrows from other musical styles, evolves. Within its expansive sub-genres is a niche for any listener. Fast and flaming power metal. Stirring and swelling symphonic metal. Haunting and atmospheric gothic metal. Lively and natural folk metal. Foreboding and demanding doom metal. Many others, in which other people are better versed.
Further curiosities, such as acapella metal, Christmas metal, movie soundtracks, 80s homages, metal disco, candid pop covers, collaborations between metal stars, rap fusions, or hilarious parody metal also find homes. Even within the community, complaints arise for metal which is too poppy. For the critics outside, who express displeasure over metal’s darker roots, Christian metal refutes. A whole sub-genre of pirate metal exists. And if that wasn’t bad-ass enough, pirate metal for dogs was invented so your canine companion can share the magic with you.
With its vast array of styles, metal has music for any mood. Using slow ballads, metal speaks to the heart, pulling strings of love or loss. Faster songs charge excitement. Sometimes all you need is something a little goofy. Sometimes all you need is the music.
Music is the conveying of emotions; metal overflows with them. Sometimes as a scream. Sometimes as a caress. Sometimes as a cry. Sometimes as a story. Metal is keen in its understanding that music is a fine story-telling medium. It is why metal draws so much inspiration from stories or even makes its own.
Literary works serve as the basis for many metal songs—Shakespeare, Thoreau, Poe, Tolkien, Cervantes, Leroux, many other fantasy works, folktales, and myths. Diving into a lexical sea doubtlessly enhances their songs’ lyrics. While some choose to be simple and sweet, others are lovingly crafted into stylish brilliance. History’s depths are also plumbed for brave tales, names on the wind, and fears of wise men. Any lover of the arts should find something worthwhile in metal music’s tracks—lovers of authenticity, too.
Musicians create music to entertain, but metal seems to me to be more heartfelt. Their songs align with their passions. They speak universal truths, delve into deep emotions, discover a moment. Despite metal’s epic nature, a personableness permeates it. Every singer, every player lets their emotions flow, makes the music alive. The heart of the musician’s reaches for yours, lets you in to speak your own truth, emotion, moment.
Not everyone will connect. The intensity or screams (better called gutturals or harsh vocals) can be disturbing. Issues with the clarity of the lyrics also arise. The songs’ five-minute average length isn’t one for the faint hearted. The content can sometimes be dark and depressing. Maybe something else entirely will dissuade a listener.
Metal doesn’t mind. Metal takes its time wooing its listener. It builds and grows, shifts as it explores complexity. Metal adores questioning as much as understanding, knowing that many will question and fail to understand it. Still, metal remains true. Metal seeks the single soul whose carefully tended spark will full blaze under metal’s intimate ministrations.
Perhaps a spark will light on you. Perhaps not. It is not my intention to convert people to metalheads. I do not expect people to open even four portals to the metal world, available within these words. But even if there isn’t appreciation, if there is an attempt at understanding, that would make for something truly and worthily lasting.