Heavy Metal FAQ.
December 23, 2004 2:15 PM   Subscribe

Heavy Metal FAQ. (More inside.)
posted by koeselitz (61 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When I first found this thing about four years ago, I stayed up all night reading it. There are some things in it I certainly disagree with (and this is true in all the links below, as well), but, all in all, it's very interesting, especially for those of us who've always found metal intriguing but weren't part of the cognoscenti.

When I looked it up again a little while ago, I discovered it had been updated, along with its source, the Dark Legions Archive. This site is encyclopedic, focussing on death and black metal but including things on the historical view of metal, 1865 - present, and good overviews of the various metal genres. All of this is brought to you by the American Nihilist Underground Society, or A.N.U.S., courtesy of death metal d.j. Spinoza Ray Prozak.
posted by koeselitz at 2:18 PM on December 23, 2004

Summary: This FAQ explores the development of heavy metal as a musical movement through theory and ideology, the primary influences on its growth, which seeks to overcome the negative through an existential nihilism that leads to self motivated philosophies, a transformation rooted in the self-dependent mythos of the culture and its association with occultist post-moral behavioral structures. Metal as a pattern of thought is a rebellion within postmodern ideology from structured cyclicism to structuralist dynamicism, effectively extending the principles of modernism to a post relativity universe through a focus on transcendental kineticism, individual participation in postmoral experience, and chaotic mass destruction; it could be called an information systems theory approach. Similarly the revolution in music theory from metal is the extension of harmony from cyclic theatricism (wagnerianism) into melody for artistic, pure, complex experimentation. Subcultural genres such as metal are one of the few ways postmodern and existential thought enter mainstream life, as a meta-theory to politics and sociology.

*laughs hysterically*
posted by jokeefe at 2:44 PM on December 23, 2004

Yeah, I know, it's pretty hilarious. It seems to combine weird-ass pseudophilosophy with an incredibly broad knowledge of heavy metal.
posted by koeselitz at 2:52 PM on December 23, 2004

I've poked through this before, and while I'm a big fan of heavy metal, and love to see it taken seriously, this guy goes way off the rails with his pretentious blather. Popular music, (in almost any genre) is primarily defined by it's visceral emotional impact more than anything else, and this guy missesd that entirely.

*cranks "Running Free", makes devil horns*
posted by jonmc at 3:09 PM on December 23, 2004

Although, I acknowledge that this site is a clueless misrepresentation of Metal. I still maintain that those among you willing to keep an open mind and reinvestigate the genre will find plenty of pleasant surprises waiting for you. Just sayin.
posted by jonmc at 3:15 PM on December 23, 2004

posted by dong_resin at 3:28 PM on December 23, 2004

I hate to just ditto, but — yeah. What jonmc said. I've been listening to metal for so many years and still hear growth and evolution, and new surprises. (Take Opeth. Just for starters.)
posted by Wolfdog at 3:42 PM on December 23, 2004

You know...if you turn the "Dio" logo upside down, it spells "Devil".
posted by First Post at 3:48 PM on December 23, 2004

Most of the best metal is not nihilist at all. And there's at least as many varieties of heavy metal as there is punk.

Here's a mini-FAQ for the unititiated. Faster Pussycat's "Bathroom Wall," is the best evocation of the sleazy metal ife ever. The same groups cover of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" proves that the genre is not devoid of wit. Iron Maiden's "Two Minutes To Midnight" and Metallica's "For Whom The Bell Tolls" are anti-war songs that rank with rock's best. Van Halen were the Beach Boys of the 80's in that they perfectly evoked the California dream of sun, surf, endless parties and tanned female flesh. The power ballad is the modern cousin of the country weeper and it evokes heatbreak just as well at it's best, if your willing to suspend your fear of appearing unhip. Skid Row's "Slave To The Grind" is as grim a picture of a service industry work week as Elvis Costello's "Welcome To The Working Week" and Kevin Smit's Clerks. Iron Maiden vocalist Bruce Dickinson (a former Clash roadie)'s "Tatooed Millionaire" is as pointed a skewering of the showbiz side of rock as anything Nirvana ever attempted. Black Sabbath's first album kissed off the utopian nonsense of the hippie years aa eloquently as Iggy & the Stooges did. Kiss is a comic book fantasy of rock potency as brilliant as that of the Dictators. Judas Preist's midperiod work is some of the best aggressive rock produced anywhere. Motorhead's Lemmy may be the best avuncular figure rock has today. Led Zeppelin's "When The Levee Breaks" is a beautiful monument to wretched excess. Pantera personify white working class rage better than any punk band. Mountain's "Mississippi Queen" is the best use of cowbell ever.

posted by jonmc at 3:58 PM on December 23, 2004

I'm not sure how seriously I can take it as it leaves out stoner metal.
posted by euphorb at 4:10 PM on December 23, 2004

RUSH rules. Scorpions too. Oh, Thin Lizzy! And ELO!! Queen rocks. Boston kicks-ass. Not as eloquent as jonmc but I put my lighter in the air to any Doors song.
posted by alteredcarbon at 5:22 PM on December 23, 2004

The FAQ never mentions the band that gave the genre its name, Iron Butterfly. The word heavy comes from the title of one of their albums Heavy [hippie for deep] and the metal from Iron in thier name and the Led in Led Zepplin's.

Funny Ive had people tell me Led Zepplin isnt metal too!
posted by Osmanthus at 5:25 PM on December 23, 2004

good call, alteredcarbon. Lizzy are one of the most underrated bands of all time. Although I'm listening to The Band's "brown album" which surpasses the entire contemporay genre of alt.country in on fell swoop, at the moment.

But, "jailbreak" is one of the alltime best male chestbeater street outlaw songs.

On preview, steppenwolf gave the genre it's name ("heavy metal thunder") although Blue Cheer were the first Heavy Metal (as opposed to Hard Rock, two different but sympathetic genres. Me and numerous freinds have debated the differences between the two.

Led Zeppelin is hard rock, not heavy metal, love them though I do. Jimmy Page was still playing BB King and Scotty Moore riffs. Blue Cheer and Deep Purple moved into new territory by sounding like Wagner with distortion and angst.
posted by jonmc at 5:30 PM on December 23, 2004

Actually, the most important (and emotionally satisfying) recording in rock history is disc 2 of Bob Dylan's Live 1966. It's the electric set performed with the Hawks (aka the Band minus the mighty Levon Helm). Nothing can ever touch it's impact.
posted by jonmc at 5:33 PM on December 23, 2004

its, jonmc, its!
posted by interrobang at 5:45 PM on December 23, 2004

Well, there you go, jonmc goes and makes an example for me. Led Zepplin is the very definition of heavy metal, see my last post.

Interesting example of how confused people can get about histories of things close to their hearts.

We are doomed are we not?
posted by Osmanthus at 5:45 PM on December 23, 2004

Euphorb, it does mention doom metal, which I (not the most knowledgable person on metal, I admit) associate with stoner metal. Though it doesn't give much shrift to doom. At least I finally know what a blast beat is, though.
posted by kenko at 5:46 PM on December 23, 2004

Jonmc, how do you classify Blue Cheer w.r.t. heavy psych? There seems to be a pretty clear Blue Cheer influence on Comets on Fire, eg, but so far as I know the latter aren't classified as metal, generally.
posted by kenko at 5:49 PM on December 23, 2004


here's all the apostrophe's you need, interrobang.

Osmanthus, Zep were important ancestors of heavy metal, and they wrote some great heavy metal songs ("Immigrant Song" "Communicaton Breakdown" "Good Times, Bad Times", etc) but they were not heavy metal per se. Zep's main brilliance was their willingnes to try anything, their eclecticness, and their charioscuro, light/heavy contrast techniquethat their bad imitators used ad nauseam.

Black Sabbath are the definition of heavy metal, my freind. Zep are the apoethosis of hard rock.

kenko, "heavy psyche" a la Blue Cheer, Birth Control, Iron Butterfly, and even a lot of early King Crimson, was hwere metal began. It was music for the kids who couldn't take the pastoral promises of hippiedom seriously. Read this book by Martin Poppff for further elucidation.
posted by jonmc at 5:52 PM on December 23, 2004

Oh, and true heavy metal is as close to punk rock in spirit as to make no difference, despit what some would have you believe.
posted by jonmc at 5:55 PM on December 23, 2004

apostrophes, jonmc, apostrophes!
posted by interrobang at 5:57 PM on December 23, 2004

*holds interrobang in ()*
posted by jonmc at 6:03 PM on December 23, 2004

After reading all this, I have to mention that Alice Coltrane's first studio release in 26 years is pretty fun to listen to.

By the way, it's not heavy metal.
posted by kozad at 6:07 PM on December 23, 2004

(grr... must... escape... ghasp!)
posted by interrobang at 6:08 PM on December 23, 2004

Oh, and true heavy metal is as close to punk rock in spirit as to make no difference, despit what some would have you believe.

Damn straight jonmc. Extra points for mentioning Faster Pussycat too.
posted by kmartino at 6:10 PM on December 23, 2004

interrobangs right, jonmc.
posted by jewzilla at 6:10 PM on December 23, 2004

(I'm not getting pulled any further into this until I... nnnarrgh... free myself of these... mmph! *pant, pant* parentheses.)
posted by interrobang at 6:13 PM on December 23, 2004

kozad, waht I've heard of Alice coltrane is amazing, and I know it's not heavy metal. when I go on these crusades, it's just because I want metal (among other genres) to be invited to the rock and roll table as a respected member of the fraternity is all.

and kmartino, as good as Faster Pussycat were they are dwarves compared to the most underrated an misunderstood band of the 80's.

interrobang: please, please, exclamation point.... ;)
posted by jonmc at 6:15 PM on December 23, 2004 drinking blood

When drinking blood, be sure to have it chilled, or
else it will curdle (clump up and become nauseating).
It is recommended that you verify the blood is from
meat for human consumption (or, of course, DIY).

posted by gwint at 6:22 PM on December 23, 2004

jonmc: Led Zeppelin's "When The Levee Breaks" is a beautiful monument to wretched excess.

I've been spoiled on their version ever since a local blues DJ spun the Led Zepplin version next to the 1929 original Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe. Certainly, the Led Zepplin cover reveals the band's love of blues music and is excessive, which is really the big problem. It sounds like an exercise, as a platform for extended riffs by Plant and Page. With the original, the whole thing clicks and makes sense. While Plant vocally rages, Joe bridges the inevetability of the flood to the inevetable breakup of relationships. While Page and Bonham give the song an anthem-like quality, the stripped-down arangement of two acoustic guitars evokes the feeling of rain and river.

Ironically, When the Levee Breaks turns out to be one of my favorite Zepplin songs primarily because they just seem to have fun riffing off of a 12-bar blues. But when I listen to it, I just can't help but think that it is almost but not quite successful.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:29 PM on December 23, 2004

It's really obnoxious how people refer to punk rock as a legitimator for their musical tastes. (Not that this is confined to punk; a lot of folks on rec.music.progressive make the curious argument "I like X, therefore X is/is related to/is spiritually/anticipated prog".) WHO CARES if something which isn't literally punk is "punk in spirit"? (And really, who cares what's "literally punk"? Internal concern about classification is the first and surest sign of moribundity.) It's a dumb shibboleth, and fast on its way to having purely emotive import. Even when people reject it they embrace it (eg in the postscript to Simon Reynold's post classifying types of prog (skip the classification, which is basically a joke, and go straight to the PS—I'm thinking of the part where he talks about Roy Harper's Stormcock).

I don't like punk because of all those self-indulgent guitar solos on 10-plus-minute songs, like "Marquee Moon".

Anyway, early King Crimson as heavy psych is kind of hard for me to support, even though King Crimson is probably my favorite band and I'd be happy for them to receive any & all lauds: "21st Century Schizoid Man" and "Pictures of a City" (which is basically the same as 21CSM) are the only songs on their first two albums that you could classify that way, and Lizard, while having some fairly psych-y parts, isn't all that heavy. It's already 1972 by the time you get Larks' Tongues in Aspic.
posted by kenko at 6:31 PM on December 23, 2004

KJS, brothaman: I've heard both versions, and I love both for entirely different reasons, just like I love John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" and the Edison Lighthouses " Love Grows where My Rosemary Goes" for different reasons. Sounds like you do, too. That's the reason to embrace them both,. And my favorite Zep song is still "Rock And Roll," since it was improvised on the spot and is basically a tribute to Jimmy Page's rockabilly record collection, and all the goddam car commercials it's used in will never diminish it's brilliance, just like sneaker ads cat diminish the Stooges' "Search & Destroy."

It's really obnoxious how people refer to punk rock as a legitimator for their musical tastes

I agree. As much as i love punk rock, it's not the be all and end all of rock and roll. I meant that comment as a way of inviting the "punk's not dead" purists (today's equivalent of the folkies who booed Dylan for going elctric) to come on in and dig Zp's greatness. It's all good, as someone once said.

And "21st Century Schizoid man" is one of the great heavy metal tracks. As is Eddie Floyd's "Big Bird," if you listen to it right.
posted by jonmc at 6:39 PM on December 23, 2004

The FAQ never mentions the band that gave the genre its name, Iron Butterfly. The word heavy comes from the title of one of their albums Heavy [hippie for deep] and the metal from Iron in thier name and the Led in Led Zepplin's.

Um, I'm pretty sure the term "heavy metal" was first used by William S. Burroughs, and later appeared in the Steppenwolf song, Born to be Wild ("Heavy metal thunder!").

And "heavy" was Beat lingo. Probably glommed by hippies, though, like everything else.
posted by Ayn Marx at 6:46 PM on December 23, 2004

No mention of Blue Öyster Cult? What the fuck?
posted by jperkins at 6:49 PM on December 23, 2004

the eytomology of "heavy metal" is obvious if you think about it. What's more potent than "hard rock?" Add intesifiers and it's Heavy Fuckin' Metal, as my frend Raft's garage band used to say in their attempt at an anthem.

jperkins: BOC fuckin' rule. Their logo decorated my looseleaf binder througout hig school, an "Godzilla" remains one of the ultimate sludge anthems.
posted by jonmc at 6:50 PM on December 23, 2004

jonmc, there's a live version of "In the Court of the Crimson King" from, I think, 1972 (when Boz Burrell was on bass and vocals) as a 12-bar blues. RA link. Totally weird.
posted by kenko at 6:53 PM on December 23, 2004

jonmc: I frequently replay the Imaginos album while working away. Is there anything better to code to?

And, damn it! Checking the BÖC website I see that five days ago they played not 20 miles from my house and I completely missed it. My personal measure of success of this whole intraweb thing hinges on me receiving an automated email letting me know when they're playing within 100 miles of my house seven days before the event.
posted by jperkins at 7:02 PM on December 23, 2004

jperkins, your comment suggests to me another great use for an RSS feed: band concert dates. Posted when announced, not as they happen, d'oh.

jonmc: Thin Lizzy, oh man, I have loved their Live album since it came out, I think it's probably my favorite (non-Springsteen) live CD ever. That version of The Cowboy Song alone is awesome.
posted by billsaysthis at 7:22 PM on December 23, 2004

Actually, the most important (and emotionally satisfying) recording in rock history is disc 2 of Bob Dylan's Live 1966.
posted by jonmc at 8:33 PM EST on December 23

I should point out that, well, that's simply not true. The most important recording in rock history is Who's Next. And the second disc of Live 1966 might be pretty fun to listen to, and is thicker than Hawthorne's best writing as far as literary satisfaction goes (and I mean that in a good way), but the most emotionally satisfying (and my favorite in general) recording in rock history is Pavement's watery, domestic (site-specific).

Also, on your thoughts on the unity of punk and heavy metal: this is very true, to an extent. There are some ideological differences. But, on the whole, punks and metalheads should really be paying more attention to each other. One of the guys from the Beastie Boys (Adam Yauch?) pointed out that the Bad Brains "pre-empted those speedmetal motherfuckers by years." I have a feeling that, not only would most punkers like a lot of speed and thrash-metal, but most metalheads would react extremely favorably to the glorious sounds of the Bad Brains' Black Dots.
posted by koeselitz at 7:48 PM on December 23, 2004

I've lately discovered what the Europeans have been doing with metal these past couple of years, and been amazed. Especially the Finnish band Nightwish, who start with grinding metal guitars but add symphony orchestras, flute solos, the divine classically trained soprano voice of Tarja Turunen, some '80s synthesizer riffs, and stir. Amazingly, it all works. Fantastic stuff, especially their sophomore release, Oceanborn. I'd never heard anything like it before, and I haven't been as much in love with a band's music for a long time. But nobody seems to know them on this side of the pond.
posted by ramakrishna at 8:11 PM on December 23, 2004

Actually, my metalhead friends are of the opinion that most punks will become metal when they "grow up," and learn the pleasures of even heavier music. IE, Danzig after the Misfits or Henry Rollins. And Motorhead gets claimed by both, I'm told.
posted by e^2 at 8:16 PM on December 23, 2004

It's true. Punk is a lot like metal. Minus the dungeons and dragons, the guitar wankery, the big-cock bravado, the butt-less chaps, the pyrotechnics, ...

As much I do truly have a special place in my heart for the days of metal, the thread just makes me want to put my Spinal Tap DVD on.
posted by drpynchon at 8:23 PM on December 23, 2004

Agreed. Bad Brains completely rules. Speaking of punk/metal crossover, how can we not mention DRI? Rawk!
posted by dammitjim at 8:31 PM on December 23, 2004

Minus the dungeons and dragons, the guitar wankery, the big-cock bravado, the butt-less chaps, the pyrotechnics, ...

Yeah, Earth 2 just wouldn't be the same without all those high-speed solos and juvenile lyrics.
posted by kenko at 8:41 PM on December 23, 2004

Magma rules them all, man.
posted by jokeefe at 8:47 PM on December 23, 2004

posted by dhartung at 9:06 PM on December 23, 2004

and Lizard, while having some fairly psych-y parts, isn't all that heavy. --kenko

Yeah, it's kinda hard for anything with Jon Anderson's adorable pixie-like vocals to be metal. KC's album Red is pretty heavy, tho.
posted by apis mellifera at 9:08 PM on December 23, 2004

That's some pretty serious thinkin' going on there. But it looks pretty sound, cohesive and correct. Good shit!

I see now that I used to be a "media hippie," but now I'm much closer to a "true metal" state of mind, even if my music is more hard rock than metal! That makes me feel pretty good! :)

I always liked to notice that "blast beats" are really a polka or oom-pah beat played really really really fuckin' fast and loud. Tuba, lederhosen and BLOODY SCREAMING DEAAAAAAAATHH!!! Right on.
posted by zoogleplex at 10:32 PM on December 23, 2004

I read this a long time ago, but I didn't know it had been updated. Thanks.

Sure, Mr. Prozak is a quasi-Nazi apologist and strangely committed to the same kind of theorified babble as those PCers he hates so much... but anybody whose FAQ has a section on "swedish distortion" can't be all bad. He's great when he's talking about the music itself, instead of "Inversion of values in media hipness" or other such blather. His various lists are overloaded with great stuff.

He's also good enough to point to an insanely detailed musicological analysis of a Meshuggah song -- which, oddly enough, is exactly what I asked Santa for.

I'd also suggest the band Mastodon to anyone who hasn't heard them (the album Leviathan especially), and Lamb of God. The FAQ author would certainly consider the latter a "Sell Out" band since their last album was on a major label (Sony?). But they make great, ultra-heavy music, precise and punishing, without the face-paint and nursery-school Nietzsche stuff. I like that stuff too, but every once in a while, you just want metal you can flat-out enjoy without putting on your Horned Viking Helmet of Camp Appreciation. Any anyway, his (and my) beloved Slayer is on tour, and the tour is sponsored by Jaegermeister. So we know who *they* sold out to... but (to paraphrase Simon Firth) I'm not sure what they sold out from.
posted by luckywanderboy at 10:53 PM on December 23, 2004

Some argue that the music should not be taken too seriously, and that it should just be in fun, and no one should interpret anything more from the music than the music itself. One must consider, however, the great amount of privation and sacrifice undergone by many death metal musicians to make and distribute their music, and how seriously they make "artistic" and "ideological" choices about their music, plus how many of them talk about it in interviews.

no ... if i can't hear that in the music when it's being played, it isn't there ... generally when i listen to this kind of music i hear a lot of anger and nihilism ... and depending on the band, perhaps some sadness, too ... but i don't hear any uncertainty about artistic or idealogical choices, nor do i hear people singing about real life (not metaphysical), privation and sacrifice

anger's fine but i often want to hear something more emotionally complex than that ... and yeah, i want to hear something fun once in awhile from an artist

the thing about heavy metal in its extreme forms that always kind of left me out is the way it's jettisoned almost any hint of the r&b roots of rock and roll ... i'm not saying the music can't be successful without it ... metallica certainly was ... but i miss it

and all this intellectual talk about the meaning of metal ... is it just me, or did he throw in everything but kitchensinkism in that FAQ?
posted by pyramid termite at 2:22 AM on December 24, 2004

And metal is educational.

I bet only the metalheads here (and a few history buffs) know what happened in 334 BC.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:23 AM on December 24, 2004

jonmc - Twisted Sister! Definately! "You Can't Stop Rock N' Roll" is one of my favorite all time albums.

Since no one mentioned Queensryche, then allow me. Their "Operation Mindcrime" can stand toe to tow with "The Wall" and is more relevant today than ever.

"Got no love for politicians
Or that crazy scene in D.C.
It's just a power mad town
But the time is ripe for changes
There's a growing feeling
That taking a chance on a new kind of vision is due

I used to trust the media
To tell me the truth, tell us the truth
But now I've seen the payoffs
Everywhere I look
Who do you trust when everyone's a crook?

..I'm tired of all this bullshit
They keep selling me on T.V.
About the communist plan
And all the shady preachers
Begging for my cash
Swiss bank accounts while giving their
Secretaries the slam

They're all in Penthouse now
Or Playboy magazine, million dollar stories to tell
I guess Warhol wasn't wrong
Fame fifteen minutes long
Everyone's using everybody, making the sale

I used to think
That only America's way, way was right
But now the holy dollar rules everybody's lives
Gotta make a million doesn't matter who dies "

Those lyrics now sound downright scary. Probably my favorite album of all time.

I bet Radiohead members listened to Voivod growing up. I bet on it.
posted by kmartino at 6:14 AM on December 24, 2004

Jokeefe! Magma! Fuckin' awesome!
posted by kenko at 6:52 AM on December 24, 2004

Second recommendations for Mastodon, Dylan and A. Coltrane (all in the same sentence!)

I'd like to add a couple recs:

sunn0))) is a band that plays drone riff metal that becomes hypnotic in its distortion and separation from reality.

also, on the complete other side of things, the band The Fucking Champs plays instrumental 80's style metal, perfect for out with a tinge of irony and nostalgia, but mostly just awe for the awesomeness of it all. air guitar head bang with a cheek to cheek grin. song titles like "these glyphs are dusty" and "what's a little reign?" http://www.thefuckingchamps.com/sounds.html

the FAQ is a great link, thanks
posted by ism at 7:11 AM on December 24, 2004

er... rocking out, that is
posted by ism at 7:12 AM on December 24, 2004

arsis! celebration of guilt #1 album of the year :D zao's funeraal of god was pretty good, too! (minus the clean singing :) definately check out where blood and fire bring rest :D

posted by kliuless at 10:20 AM on December 24, 2004

I love metal. In fact, the last few years I think has been a bit of a metal renaissance. To me, some of the most exciting music being played in the world right now is metal.

I always liked the original link in this thread, but always took it with a grain of salt. The guys vocabulary is quite robust though...

With that said, Mastodon is a gem of US metal right now. The stuff they are doing is just completely amazing.

Black Metal is also specifically picking up a bit of steam nowadays too. Not sure why it never really caught on in America though.

There are far too many genres of metal though...
posted by punkrockrat at 3:48 PM on December 24, 2004

Black Metal is also specifically picking up a bit of steam nowadays too. Not sure why it never really caught on in America though.

Odin just doesn't go very far here, I think.
posted by kenko at 3:56 PM on December 24, 2004

You know...if you turn the "Dio" logo upside down, it spells "Devil".

Ah, but have you turned The Cult's Electric-era logo upside down?
posted by kreinsch at 3:22 PM on December 29, 2004

And as for Heavy Metal vs. Hard Rock, we could debate forever.
posted by kreinsch at 3:38 PM on December 29, 2004

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