Let me preface this by saying that what follows is an adaptation of an article I wrote in my first year of university; some eighteen months or so before I joined this site. Obviously here my audience is a lot different, so a lot of the original text was redundant, but the thrust is the same. You can read the original here.
‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be noise”; and there was noise – by God there was noise.’
Okay, so I’ve taken some liberties with Bible scripture there, but it’s true: noise is all around us. Some noises are obviously more annoying than others: the neighbour’s yappy little mutt barking at six o’clock in the morning; alarm clocks; whistling; that beeping noise when your phone is sitting too close to your speakers; ringtones; snoring – and that’s just my personal list – but of any type of sound, music is the most frequent point of contention. Rockers don’t like r n’ b, rappers don’t like cheese, and well, no one really likes country, do they?
But what the majority of people unite against is the heavier genres – metal; hardcore; punk; screamo – they have little or no tolerance for it. Now I’m the first to admit that one of the essentials of these much maligned and dismissed genres is exactly this aforementioned component: ‘noise’. The guitars are loud and distorted; the bass is dirty and shakes the very floor on which you stand; the drums thunder away in complicated and often polyrhythmic patterns, and the vocalists scream, roar and growl like a pack of wolves on acid.
Perhaps this attitude is understandable then – noise is annoying. I for one used to have exactly the same attitude towards metal and its associates that many people I speak to now have. I didn’t get why the ‘singers’ couldn’t just sing – I couldn’t decipher what on earth they were saying, let alone enjoy the harsh tones and throaty exuberance. I also couldn’t comprehend anything but 4/4 – why the time signature would change suddenly halfway through a song was beyond me. I felt that there was too much going on at once, and that there was no discernible ‘tune’ to enjoy.
All of these are fair comments. It takes a trained ear to appreciate the discordant tones of pg.99, the unparalleled ferocity of Converge or the pure unadulterated technicality of The Dillinger Escape Plan, and a unique mindset to actually enjoy it. But distinct problems come from the preconceptions around the people who listen to this so-called ‘dark’ music. It is a widely accepted, yet largely ridiculous stereotype that such people are constantly depressed, harbour unyielding anger towards everyone and everything, worship Satan, and most hurtful – that they are quite unintelligent.
It’s easy to see from where these stereotypes stem. Kids (and it generally is the young) who listen to metal often have low self-esteem, are quiet, and usually wear a lot of black. But are these two descriptions the same thing?
Abso-fucking-luteley not. Unfortunately, these days music is as much about what you look like as about the sound – but it shouldn’t be about image, and you certainly shouldn’t have to dress or not dress a certain way to fit in. It is hard enough being accepted when you are a teenager as it is – spots, awkward social graces, body odour and all – without being ostracised because your music. We all know though, at some base level, it is. The disdain we have ’round these parts for ‘scene’ culture – huge side sweeps, flat peaks and ball-crushingly tight jeans – is not hidden even a little bit, but you have to admit there is definitely a ‘look’. We’ve all rocked a black band t-shirt in our time, and most of my casul trousers are denim.
A study published in March 2007 showed that, in a survey of members of the now closed (nice one, Cameron) National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (a body of 120,000 students which represented the top 5% of academic achievement), heavy metal came out as the favoured genre among the highest percentage of members, far outstripping its more popular contemporaries like indie and r ‘n’ b.
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense – gone are the days of spandex one-pieces and songs about the four horsemen of the apocalypse (for the most part) – modern metal concerns itself with composition rather than conceitedness. Hardcore pioneers Botch were notoriously un-‘cool’; their white gym socks and ankle biting jeans clearly on display as they threw themselves around the stage, not a four-four time signature in sight. Tool change meter forty-seven times in the song “Schism“, and the number of syllables per line in the lyrics to “Lateralus” correspond to the arrangement of the numbers of the Fibonacci sequence. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that, well; you need to be at least half way to being exactly that to understand these highly intelligent concepts.
Politics, too, has long had a place in the punk scene. Swedish hardcore outfit Refused’s left-wing views are legendary amongst their still legion fans, and they often referred to their own political manifesto, the ‘Refused Party Program’. This was far from a gimmick – the band’s lyrics covered topics like homophobia, animal rights, the press and the futility of representative democracy. They also stressed the importance of ‘new noise’ – the notion that packaging revolutionary lyrics in mainstream music was futile, and would achieve nothing against the establishment.
Metal itself has always been the music of the underdog; the outcast – and it is not secret that academic intelligence and social ostracism go hand in hand. How often in high school did you see the bespectacled boffin get spit-balls to the back of the head for putting their hand up in class? A culture on the fringe of society where you can hide behind long hair and alternative clothing is suddenly much more attractive than the mainstream circles of good-looking hip-hop superstars and pop royalty – especially if it actively embraces intelligence.
Taking an outsider’s point of view, it is easy to see from where the wariness stems. Many religions, Christianity and Islam in particular, are very outspoken against what they perceive to be ‘the devil’s music’. While the age-old images of rock horns and pentagrams are synonymous with metal in particular, these are largely just aesthetic symbolism. Although black metal purposefully enflames the religious for its own amusement/gain, it should be noted that there are in fact a huge number of Christians who play and listen to metal and its associated genres. The Chariot, Norma Jean, Underøath, Zao – just a few of the heavy Christian bands who use their music not to preach, but simply to glorify their God. Of course, many in the Church disapprove, but aren’t they just moving with the times?
The religious fuddy-duddies may blow hot air and scowl with contempt, at least they are for the most part harmless. There are much more dangerous threats to the shy metal-heads, and hardcore kids. Rivalry has always been a problem in youth culture for as long as anyone has been keeping track, but certain groups take it that step too far. To be physically and verbally abused for the way you dress seems absolutely ridiculous to most people, but it happens. A month before I originally published this article, two teenagers were given life sentences for the brutal murder of Sophie Lancaster, a twenty year-old woman from Bacup in Lancashire. She and her boyfriend Robert Maltby, who survived the attack, were walking home through a park late one night last summer when a group of five youths viciously assaulted the pair – first Mr. Maltby, and then Sophie as she cradled his unconscious body in her lap. When paramedics arrived, they initially had difficulty telling what sex she was, so badly injured was her face. She slipped into a coma from which her family was told she would never wake up, and after thirteen days her life support machine was switched off. Her boyfriend, although on the road to recovery, has been left with no recollection of the attack. Even he spent two weeks in a coma and said of the assault: “before this, I was settled into a life quite independent. Now I have regressed to being something similar to a child.”
These disgusting pieces of dog shit are Ryan Herbert, who was 16 at the time, and Brendan Harris, who was 15. I also feel it’s worth naming and shaming the other three; brothers Joseph, 17, and Danny Hulme, 16, who were jailed for five years and ten months, and Daniel Mallett, 17, who got four years and four months after admitted grievous bodily harm on Robert.
May they fucking rot.
A little more recently, twenty-two year old John Owen was left with a broken eye socket, a broken nose, a broken wrist, smashed teeth and serious bruising after an attack by six young men in Rochdale, Kent, in March. “I vividly remember them laughing as they kicked me,” he said when interviewed later, “I could have been dead for all they knew, but they continued to kick me.”
The reason for these attacks? Were they random acts of violence, the likes of which seem to be on the increase? Well, yes, but it’s more than that. Sophie was a goth – she had dreadlocks, wore a lot of black and had piercings. John, similarly, has described himself as a ‘mosher’, and listens to The Black Dahlia Murder. These people were targeted because of the way they dress, and by association the music to which they listen. I’m not saying that they were in any way perfect, but surely they didn’t deserve what they got?
Undoubtedly we are all guilty of our prejudices – but to feel that much hatred for someone you don’t even know takes a special kind of animal. A lot of us do clearly mark ourselves out, so are we asking for it? Would it be easier to dress ‘normally’ and avoid the almost bestial hostility we draw to ourselves?
Once again, abso-fucking-luteley not – not in my opinion anyway. How many people are targeted because of race or sexual preference? Because of political belief or religious leaning? How many are attacked completeley at fucking random?
I’m not even sure where I’m going with this now – I’m sure I’m preaching to the crowd – so I’m going to stop rambling. I’ll just leave you with this example of our community rallying together – something fuck knows we don’t do enough – around the death of Sophie. In 2009, Bloodstock festival renamed its second stage after her, a tradition it carried on last year and I hope it will continue to do this year. I think it was a popular decision, no?
I like to think that we’re not a bunch of animals, our taste in weird dancing and body modification aside, but next time you get the urge to hit some annoying kid with a side-sweep covering his face and 8″ gauges, just remember this – this is how it starts. They’ll undoubtedly grow out of it, so just have a little patience.