Unlike many metalheads, I got into metal quite late. Most people I know were listening to metal in some form from when they were quite young, whether that was Motorhead or Iron Maiden, or KISS – and kinda grew up with it. Not me! While I liked metal (when I heard it, being in a relatively musically impoverished situation in a rural Australian town), I never got into it until I was 15 or so. And also unlike most people I know, my “gateway band” was Pungent Stench.
Yep, I dived in right at the fucking brutal, deep end – and never went back. When I was young, most of my friends’ older brothers were metalheads – and even though I was intensely curious, and loved what I heard them play loudly through closed doors, I never was able to hang out with them and immerse myself. Call it a combination of friends into pop or alt rock, politics, and just the plain old weirdness of going “hey, I’m gonna go hang out with your 17-year-old bro for a while cos that music is ace…”.
The result of all of this is that later in life I had to work my way back through the classics, and I find myself discovering bands old and new nearly every day – usually by being introduced through someone else. So, I went from death metal back through to the roots of metal, discovering and rediscovering connections, genres, bands, labels, and (for want of a better word) “personnel”.
But that’s not to say that I haven’t been dealing with the music industry in some way for a long time. I recall that in something like 1994 (I was 14), I stage managed a Regurgitator show before they were very big. That’s one of the massive benefits of being part of music-oriented youth groups like The Push, with which I was involved for something like three or four years. The opportunities you get are absolutely incredible.
Back to the story, eh?
Perhaps it’s a result of my lateness to the genre, and relying on people to furnish me with information and the opportunity to hear bands for so long, that I find myself with an insatiable desire to get more of it. More, more, more, more, more. I could (and do!) listen to metal geeks go on about bands, releases, productions, and genres, for hours and days on end and I never get bored. It fascinates me. I could never be described as a metal geek, as much as I hope one day to be as knowledgeable about it as even half of the people I know.
Metal is so big, it has so many subgenres and tweaks and varieties. For me it’s kind of like standing at the base of a mountain that grows every hour and wondering how much of it you’ll get to explore before your life runs out. Because you know that the mountain will just keep growing, that you’ll never get to explore every nook and cranny to the extent you want to.
Which is perhaps a slightly odd position for the editor of a metal magazine to be in: at once enormously innocent and ignorant, and yet sponge-like and immersed in it constantly. Very occasionally one sits down and goes “wow, is this really where I ought to be? Surely I don’t know enough….”. Of course, you never can. Because the real point is feeling the metal.
Any metalhead will tell you that you don’t find metal: it finds you. It gets under your skin, eats through your flesh, and runs through your veins. You don’t discover metal when you’re young and then grow out of it. You can’t grow out of it, because it becomes part of you, and in some ways becomes the reason for your existence, or at least it helps you continue to exist.
Once it’s in your blood, that’s it: you give yourself over to it in entirety. Of course, everybody has diverse taste – I still like, and listen to, a huge variety of music, from Shostakovich to Hektic. However, not everybody really feels metal with such a sincere intensity that, for me, seeing someone stuck to one genre of metal is very much like just being a poseur. (Yes, I have my favourite subgenres like anyone else, but it’s not like I listen to them exclusively.)
It’s impossible to describe what I mean by ‘feeling the metal’. But I guess the closest I’d get is that you have metal releases that move you to tears – literally – either because it’s so good, or so powerful, or so moving, or so beautifully constructed, or so perfectly reflects your life; then there are tracks that force you to sit and do absolutely nothing else but listen to them, to the exclusion of even thought; there are tracks that make you sing, that make you thrust your fist in the air, that you want to fuck to, or smash things to, or run around and be a total nutcase to. Metal is like life: it throws everything at you, sometimes all at once.
Manowar (yes, I’m a fan, sue me) put it reasonably well. I’m sure others have too, but right now I’m listening to their album Louder than Hell, so it’s easy for me to plonk it in:
We are the true believers
It’s our turn to show the world
In the fire of heavy metal we were burned
It’s more than our religion, it’s the only way to live…
Once you feel the metal so deeply, there is no backing out. You can feel other music deeply, too – many people describe the effects of classical music giving them goosebumps or whatever – but I’d argue that it’s not to the same depth, to the same extent.
It’s a massive journey… one that never ends til the day you die. At least, in my case, that’s true. And perhaps that’s why I do what I do: because the passion for it will never end. The day it does is the day I will cease to exist.