By Jin-yeong Yi
“Art, in its highest expression, explains our existence to us, both the particularities of the artist’s own time and the universals of all time, or at least of all human history. It transcends transience and therefore reconciles us to the most fundamental condition of our existence.”
—Theodore Dalrymple, Our Culture, What’s Left Of It
People seem to think that fans of heavy metal listen to it mainly to look tough or to offend their parents. In other words, they seem to think that the fans listen to metal for other people, not themselves. While I definitely suspect that there is truth to this, I think the actual reasons for listening to metal are far more complex.
Then again, fans of heavy metal listen to it for different reasons, and different combinations thereof, so I can only really speak for myself (assuming that I have an accurate understanding of the neural activity going on in my brain).
For me, the shock value and the rest are a bonus. I would still listen to heavy metal, especially death metal and black metal, if I were to spend the rest of my life on a desert island. Even if there was nothing to be stressed or angry about, I’d still subject myself to the vicious onslaught of Cryptopsy, Suffocation, Immolation, and Dismember. Even if there was no one to frighten or disturb, I’d still enter the twisted worlds of Godflesh, Infester, Beherit, and Demoncy. Even if there was no one to shock or offend, I’d still revel in the blasphemous hymns of Profanatica, Deicide, Necrophobic, and Hypocrisy. Even if there was no one to confound, I’d still immerse myself in the abstract aural labyrinths of Atheist, Demilich, and Gorguts. Even if there was no one to dazzle, I’d still mesmerize myself with the majestic grandeur of Summoning, Enslaved, and Sacramentum.
I listen to metal primarily because of what it does for me. The buzz saw guitars, the machine gun percussion, and the demonic vocals are pleasing to my ears, perhaps in a semi-masochistic way. It gives me a kind of experience that no other musical genre–including classical music–can give me. It gives musical expression to the dark side of the experience of being human, namely fear, alienation, hatred, and emptiness, as well as to a desire and determination to not only endure these things, but also transcend them. Metal helps to keep me grounded in reality (or at least what I perceive to be reality), and gives expression to my view that “real” life is not a fairy tale, but rather a nightmare that I can either make the best of or escape altogether.
By tackling ugliness, darkness, and death head-on, metal for me simultaneously and paradoxically affirms the antitheses of those things with a unique language of sublime beauty and savage brutality. Perhaps that is why I feel most alive when listening to it.