Heavy Metal: The Soundtrack to Your Existence

By Jin-yeong Yi

Bill Harrison - Urban decay

“The trick in my situation was that there was no trick, no matter what the movies tell you–
No rules, no secret mantra, no road map.
It wasn’t about how smart or how good you were.
It was chaos and luck, and anyone who thought different was a fool.
All you could do was to hang on madly, as long and hard as you could.”

—Max Payne, Max Payne

I got into heavy metal in the middle of high school, when a friend and avid metalhead introduced me to Metallica. At that time, I was still a Christian, so I made a point of staying away from any “Satanic” bands, particularly Slayer, which my friend was a devotee of (to the point of carving the band’s name into his arm). I remember the days in which my choices of metal songs to play on the guitar were limited to bands that weren’t “Satanic” or anti-Christian (or at least not overtly so), such as Children of Bodom, Dream Theater, Kalmah, and Megadeth. I also listened to the Christian metal bands Extol and Lengsel. No Burzum, Darkthrone, Deicide, Dissection, Emperor, Gorgoroth, Mayhem, Morbid Angel, or Slayer for me–no siree, Bob.

As I would find out before long, heavy metal is really not the kind of genre in which one can afford to be constrained by taboo. It’s like trying to avoid all of the religious composers in classical music (from Bach to Rachmaninoff)–there’s just too much to miss out on. This I came to understand very well when I discovered bands like Asphyx, Atheist, Beherit, Demoncy, Enslaved, Gorguts, Hypocrisy, Immolation, Necrophobic, Profanatica, Sacramentum, and Therion, as well as the other bands I mentioned. Even in high school, sparing listens to such taboo music, whether it was an occasional dose of Venom’s “Black Metal” or Dissection’s “Crimson Towers,” were a guilty pleasure of mine.

I avoided such music not only because it was “evil,” but also because I thought it was depressing. My friend, who suffered from bipolar disorder, denied that there was any correlation between his depression and the aural hellfire he immersed himself in day after day. I wasn’t at all convinced. I was sure that he was in denial, and that he’d be better off health-wise if he stopped listening.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that heavy metal doesn’t so much surrender to or glorify the dark side of existence as acknowledge it, face it, grapple with it, and, in a way, redeem it. Heavy metal is music that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. Where classical music embraces suffering and beauty, heavy metal embraces suffering, beauty, and ugliness. One would be hard-pressed to find a more fitting soundtrack for the grim and hideous realities of life, the hellish abomination that is the prison of the real. Heavy metal may be obsessed about the dark side of existence, but rather than driving one to an early death, it grants one the strength to cling onto life, to persist and endure in this world–out of sheer defiance, if nothing else.

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