Oct 022010

I had a difficult experience last night. The evening started with tequila shots and continued with margaritas. The excuse to get soaked in the juice of the agave was an annual get-together of all the people I work with, which usually turns into a blow-out. Last night was no exception. The only difference is that this time, I didn’t require hospitalization by the end of the night. This morning is a different story. I’ll be calling 911 as soon as I get this post finished.

Before I reached the point of no return and was still able to carry on a conversation (otherwise known as “authentic frontier gibberish”), I started talking about music with someone I’ve known since the last geologic epoch. He’s never listened to extreme metal, and his mental image of metal appears to have stopped evolving somewhere around the high point of Def Leppard’s career.

I’m not sure he and I have ever talked about music, but in any case, he didn’t know about my addiction to the kind of music we cover on this site. He asked me to name a few bands, and I tried to come up with some of the most popular ones, hoping one would ring a bell (I mentioned Slayer, Lamb of God, and Mastodon), but the names meant nothing to him. He persisted — he was genuinely interested in trying to understand what the music sounds like and why I like it.

Now put yourselves in my shoes and imagine the challenge of trying to answer that question. I assume it’s akin to explaining “blue” to a person who’s been blind from birth, or maybe trying to explain Brutal Truth to a metalhead who doesn’t get the attraction of grind — and attempting to do those things while being about two and a half  sheets to the wind.   (more after the jump, including a new Brutal Truth video . . .)

Where to start? The first mental problem I ran into (in addition to the usual ones) was deciding which kind of sub-genre to describe. To an uninitiated outsider, death metal and melodic death metal and metal core and black metal and progressive metal and viking metal (and so on) would probably all just sound like an indistinguishable mass of noise. But to you and me, there are significant differences, and you could never hope to capture all that variety with some high-level generalization.

But that’s what I tried to do. And it was just embarrassingly pathetic. I was stunned at my inability to come up with any kind of description that made any sense. I stammered about blast beats and double-kicks and speed. I tried to explain what “downtuned guitar” means. I attempted to describe guttural growling and black-metal rasping and hardcore howling and metalcore shrieking.

The more I went on, the more concerned he looked. It was as if I’d started speaking in tongues. When I tried to explain that a lot of the music was also catchy and “melodic”, I think his eyes crossed briefly.

Eventually I just stopped. He said he couldn’t really imagine what the music sounded like, and he asked me why I liked it. Given the kind of ridiculous descriptions I had given, that was a logical question. And of course it gob-smacked me all over again.

I floundered around, talking about the high energy and the physical force and the capacity of the music to drive all other thoughts out of your head — and then I gave up again and ordered another margarita. I don’t remember where the conversation went after that.

I have the same feeling of inarticulate stupidity when I try to explain, even to metalheads, the attraction of grindcore. To me, grind takes most of the inexplicable things I like about extreme metal and just pushes them further out — and makes them even more inexplicable. Grind isn’t my favorite kind of metal, and I don’t listen to it every day, but when I just want to lose my mind in a maelstrom of energy and sound, grind is usually where I go.

This just-released video of Brutal Truth performing “Sugar Daddy” live in Japan last December lights me up like a Roman Candle. Don’t ask me why. It’s inexplicable. I also can’t explain why Kevin Sharp prefaced the song by reciting a nursery rhyme (Humpty Dumpty) or why he tried to eat the mic later in the song. Some things just can’t be explained.

What would you say if someone who knew nothing about metal asked you to explain it, or to explain why you like it? What gateway band would you recommend to such a person? (I recommended Mastodon to my friend; he will undoubtedly take my recommendation with a grain of salt.)

  14 Responses to “THE BRUTAL TRUTH IS . . . INEXPLICABLE”

  1. Well, Niek has a “How To Listen To Death Metal” posting over at DMB, but I suppose that only works for experienced metalheads, not metal virgins. For the purpose of easing someone into metal, I suppose you could go with the classics, and not just the usual staples of Metallica, Megadeth, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, etc.

    But with the goal of easing someone into more extreme breeds of metal – even if just to give them an idea of what it’s about – I’m not so sure it’s as easy to find a gateway band for someone who isn’t into metal. Opeth might be doable, starting with some of their proggy material. Grind bands are probably not the kinds to push onto people with little to no metal in their veins.

    I don’t know, I guess you’re facing the metal equivalent of learning to walk before you can run, or something like that. I’m not sure you can accurately describe the sound of these bands or their appeal to someone without some appreciation for some of their peers.

    • I agree with everything you said. I’ve found that starting chronologically from sometime around Black Sabbath and moving forward in time with newer styles can help the person to understand the progression. I’ve tried this technique on a couple people in surprisingly similar situations, but we didn’t get much further than the 80’s and thrash. One person made it past there and I figured the next most logical choice was to introduce death metal via Deicide and Cannibal Corpse (I think it’s safe to say that they are the fathers of death metal?). Anyway, you can guess how long that lasted.

      But this also begs the question – have you guys ever actually turned someone on to metal? I mean my friends and I are always showing each other new bands but we all always liked metal. I’m talking about someone who actually doesn’t realize what the genre has to offer.

      • Well, I got my ex-GF/fiancee (many years ago) into some metal. She actually even learned to like GWAR; me and my buddy/roommate would actually do a capella versions of some of their songs, often with amusing results. Lately, I’ve kinda gotten my best friend into metal again. Apart from giving her my spare copy of Death Magnetic, I lent her Cradle Of Filth, Orphaned Land and made a CD with some various stuff on it. btw, she seemed to like Martriden as well. Still, they were both leaning towards metal anyway, so there’s a difference.

        Getting someone into metal takes time. Remember how you got into metal in the first place? There’s a transition period involved and it builds over time. Much of my early exposure was actually because of my mom, who had a lot of different stuff. But it was a friend playing …And Justice For All that provided the flash point needed to ignite the inner metalhead.

      • I’ve never been able convert anyone who didn’t already like some metal or hard rock at least. Though through the years I’ve had multiple trainees who through long term daily exposure to my listening preferences have started getting into heavier stuff.

        I do think Niek’s How to Listen to Death Metal articles may be good for at least getting those who don’t listen to metal to see that extreme metals are much more than just noise aswell as helping “graduate” those who may aready listen to some type of metal or hard rock.

        As for Islander’s co-worker who seems to have stalled at Def Leppard’s high point, maybe the second or third Mudvayne albums as a gateway? I know they aren’t extreme but I think they tie rock and metal together pretty well with just enough heaviness to make you hungry for more.

        • Mudvayne is a good idea. I was also thinking about bands like Disturbed and A Perfect Circle. But I’m even out of touch with which bands are popular in hard rock these days.

    • @ElvisShotJFK: Opeth would be a good choice for a gateway band. Niek’s posts on “How To Listen To Death Metal” are excellent (they’re here: http://deathmetalbaboon.com/how-to-listen-to-death-metal-1-2). But you’re right that they presuppose some familiarity with metal. My friend did know punk music, and I tried to use that as a reference point about the energy and the speed and the in-your-face-attitude of extreme metal, but that’s still just an analogy.

      @Dan: I’ve tried to turn people onto metal, and so far it hasn’t worked (or at least not yet). I do think you have to ease people into it if they’re really metal virgins, which is why I’m always interested in people’s ideas about gateway bands.

  2. Tequila is the root of all evil. I hope you feel better soon and that epic hangover goes quietly. Speaking of hangovers, I watched The Hangover last night. It was pretty funny, but not as great as what I had read about it. My wife, on the other hand did not like it and has no appreciation for that kind of comedy. This was sort of the same situation you had last nigh. How do you explain to someone who has no appreciation for an art form why exactly that you like it so much. It’s like trying to explain what colors are to someone who only sees black and white. It’s very frustrating.

    On the other hand, I have had a couple of long conversations with my mother,(normally to pass the time whilst driving to the airport in Austin) about metal, but that is just because she knows that I really love it and keeps the conversation going because she cares that I care. She hates metal, but will let me ramble on and sound interested.

    My wife has a project to do for her website design class so she is going to build a metal website describing all the different genres. It will be interesting to see the reaction from some of the bands I have helped her picked out when her teacher (a non-metalhead) reads the descriptions.

    • Thanks for your condolences. I’m thinking about having tequila for lunch. Hair of the dog, agave-style.
      Austin: small fucking world, since that’s where I grew up, and I still have family there.
      It would be very cool to see your wife’s web-site design. Is she going to put it up on the web? If so, you should give us the link if/when it goes live.

  3. Well, if you ask me the best department to start is still Melodic Death Metal, but the easier, more melodic stuff. I found In Flames’ instrumental tracks to be highly effective. I fed them to my mom once (she likes Joe Satriani and rock, but she also likes to listen to some of today’s pop (not the über commercial crap)) and she actually liked it a lot. Loved the melodies and the harmonic dual guitars. I then gave her a track with Anders Friden singing (growling actually) and that’s where I lost her. Still, if you build that up slowly. And perhaps start with some non-growling bands and then some partly-clean-partly-growling bands I do think it should be possible to make people at least understand, perhaps even convert them. Make them see it’s primarily about the music (who can’t appreciate melodic music right?), not about the vocals (at least at first, as that’s how I got into it). That’s the basic phylosophy I stuck to when writing that “How to Like Metal” thing.

  4. This was an interesting article….

    For me, personally, the movement towards death/grind seems incredibly natural, if viewed in retrospect. I started off listening to Boston in junior high school then some light punk and nu-metal in high school. When I got to college, I worked in a cafeteria with a rather angry 30 something guitarist from Florida. He was always eager to dole out condemnations of whatever popular music people happened to be listening to (particularly Disturbed and Marilyn Manson). Finally, I got sick of being bitched at and went to a local indie record store and bought the most interesting looking metal album I could find–Falkenbach, which was, as many have previously mentioned, melodic…and folk. Anyway, the point is, as I progressively started to listen to heavier and heavier music, I found that what I’d found exhilarating three months ago was now somewhat stale.

    So, when I try to explain why I like grind/death, I find I have to rely on that progression of light radio rock to nu metal to melodic metal to heavier and heavier music.

    I find that there are two aspects that I simultaneously love about brutal music…It’s exhilarating (like driving fast) and yet oddly transcendental (like fighting/sparring with a well matched opponent).

    That didn’t help one bit, did it?

    • You’re too humble — that helped a lot. Your own progression was much like mine — gradual steps into heavier and harder music over time, and with each step, the music I listened to before began to seem dull by comparison. That’s exactly what happened to me. And maybe what that means is that it won’t work to ask a metal tyro to dive right into the deep water and expect them to come up with a smile on their face.

      I like your explanation of the appeal of death/grind, too — exhilarating and oddly transcendental. Works for me!

      • Hahaha! I live in Japan. I think it’s starting to wear off….

        The only other thing I can really compare it to is fighting. Not street fighting, but more like sparring.

        I’m not an avid martial artist, but I’ve always found getting in a ring and just letting go (oh god, I sound like Tyler Durden) has the same effect as good death/grind.

        I’m not advocating violence, but I do enjoy getting the shit kicked out of me.

        Wait…that’s not what I meant!

        • I think you’ve just described the appeal of the mosh pit. Grind is like a full-bore mosh pit happening inside your brain. Of course, it’s even better if it’s happening in the physical world at the same time.

          • The sad thing is: I never even thought about it like that.

            I live in a hicktown, but once I’m a real city, I’ll make sure to experience more moshing.

            And “Grind is like a full-bore mosh pit happening inside your brain.” made me laugh. Awesome!

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