Sunday, September 26, 2010

Metalheadism - What does it mean?

     I love music. I love listening to, analyzing, feeling, and enjoying every facet of a good song. And as a musician, I love to turn the amp toward the crowd, giving them a look into myself and personality by the notes I play and rhythms I conceive. I love rhythm, chording, structure and phrasing, and subsequently connecting with the listener and evoking emotion with a given piece of music.
     Like most people, there is most likely a type that draws you -- one style or genre or instrument that raises chill bumps on the back of your neck. You probably realize it when you're listening to certain track, and right after the rockin' second chorus you might simply mutter to yourself, "Hell yeah." Pay attention - what genre are you enjoying then? Rock, pop, hip hop, jazz, or Barney and Friends?
     We have our favorite genres, but what is a genre, really? Is it simply a distinct tonality and organization of sounds and voices in rhythmic coherence? If that's true, then what about how we interpret attitude and emotion from these sounds? As we listen, we draw upon years of past experiences to analyze and interpret the airborne vibrations we call sound. Then we recognize a beat and melody, call it music, and then place a personal worth in that music based on our current mindset and long-sculpted opinions on what we consider valuable.
     It is because of this difference in values we place in aspects of music that breeds so many unique instruments and styles of music. In hip hop, the bass is king and rhythmic expression is irreplaceable. In R&B, emotional and smooth and tight female vocals are worshipped. In jazz, loose lead playing styles and quiet rhythms form the basis of what it means to be cool. Pop, however, is kinda hard to pinpoint; there are many different characteristics of pop, as what's "pop-ular" can be a variety of things touching on many different styles. Rock is all about guitars, fist pumping and an edgy attitude.  Metal, rock's rebellious, angry little brother, is about communicating angst through rough and violent and chaotic sounds rooted in heavily distorted guitar tones.
     Metal, to me, is the one style that pervades all in the chill-bump factor. And as a guitarist, I constantly search for that one riff, the perfect riff dressed in the perfect tone -- not too fizzy, but with just the right amount of overdrive, a tight, beefy bottom-end, a juicy mid-range and highs that are never too bright and harsh. The riff is changing, never redundant, progressive, and voicing wild dynamics with exotic chords interrupted with the rhythmic, low-end chugging of palm-mutes that bring cognizance to an otherwise chaotic, angry mess.
But why is this pleasing to me? Why does one style of music mean so much to me, yet be meaningless or even annoying to others?
     Obviously, one's personality and, as previously mentioned, one's background has a lot to do with how we interpret what we hear. For metal music and its followers, sometimes referred to as "metalheads," it's acceptable to mention that angry music is probably most enjoyed by an angry person. This may be true, but I have not been personally angry at anything for years -- probably not since high school -- the time when everyone is upset at the world and trying to find his or her place in it. Even so, I can't help but enjoy the livid, thick tones layered by percussive and often incomprehensible screams. It's a rush. When specific variables fall into place in a metal song, my heart rate increases, my eyebrows furrow, and my head involuntarily nods in groove. I'll surely mutter to myself, "Hell yeah," at the big-ass break down right after that mind-numbing guitar solo (I'm thinking the bridge in Metallica's Master of Puppets). And as much as I love that, why does my girlfriend not give a shit?
     Though emotional, music isn't flatly connected with or labeled with a specific emotion. If that were true, and music was so black and white, we would simply label the genres as such. Just as there are many other styles of music that deal in anger, none of them are as appealing to me as metal. Rap, for example, is very angry. The attitude behind gangster rap is that of "I hate the world for what it's done to me on the streets, the oppression, and now I'm speaking out with my middle finger pointed at those in authority." Similarly, while many metal tunes carry the same message, it still doesn't do it for me. Therefore, it's not necessarily the message either.
     So then, what does it mean to be a metalhead?
     For myself, I believe what flips my cookie is tonality. The message I want to say comes in the form of the instruments, sounds and notes I choose, which make up an emotional message -- not a literal or lyrical one. As mentioned previously, I am not an angry person, yet the most relevant substance I aspire to create comes in the form of full-on, head-banging goodness. And I still can't say why. I still am not entirely sure why I focus on finding that perfect riff every time I pick up my guitar. I just want what comes out of my speakers to sound cool -- to me and nobody else.


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