Sólstafir — photo by Gediminas Bartuška
(In this post Andy Synn voices his opinion about the most important unifying factor in all great metal.)
Ok, so, hyperbolic title aside, this is an issue I’ve been thinking about for some time.
The question of why.
Why I love the sound and fury of metal. Why I love certain bands and not others. Why I love this genre, over any other. What it is, beneath all the noise and chaos and bloody-minded catharsis, that truly connects with me.
In many ways it’s something instinctive. Or at least it feels that way. Sometimes it seems like there’s no rhyme or reason behind it. Yet it’s also something that seems ripe for analysis and self-reflection. Something that says just as much about me as it does about metal.
So, in pseudo-analytical fashion, I’ve been attempting to identify some sort of underlying factor that contributes to my love of metal as a whole. Something that explains my love of the genre in its varying forms, from the live performance to the recorded art, and something which explains why it stimulates me not only to wax lyrical about the genre here at NCS but also to create lyrically in two bands of my own.
And that something is simple.
More than anything else passion is what truly unites the bands I love. From Alcest to Arsis, from Heaven Shall Burn to High on Fire, from Satyricon to Sólstafir, passion is the key, passion is the spark. It fuels the desire and stokes the fires of creativity at the heart of the music that inspires me.
It is something shared, yet paradoxically comes in many forms. Maybe not all bands feel the same fiery passion for their lyrics as others, yet the passion for performance, for playing, for creation, for that connection with an audience, all stem from the same underlying source.
Some bands are fuelled by this passion to have long and storied careers. Others burn through it quickly and move on to other arenas where their passion continues to drive them. Some bands constantly reconfigure themselves to maintain their edge, while others choose to step back from the limelight for a time, returning with renewed focus and vigour.
Passion is perhaps the most basic, yet most vital, element to the music I love. Manufactured pop stars and their ilk may have made a business out of faking a connection and providing a simplified, watered-down version of real emotion, but it’s hard to deny the cathartic effect of a truly visceral scream, one that comes right from the heart, right from the soul.
Passion is the reason that a raging death vocal (Misery Index) or a blackened snarl (Kampfar) can convey the same intensity and emotion as a furious hardcore bark (Earth Crisis) or soaring clean vocal (Communic) – or even no vocal at all (Scale The Summit)!
Passion is the reason I can listen to songs in languages I don’t know – “Die Last Der Erinnerung”, “Natt Utover Havet”, “Tróndur Í Gøtu” – and still be captivated by the emotion being expressed and the story being told.
Passion, or the lack thereof, is also at the root of why so many fans fall out of love with certain artists, or never even make that connection in the first place.
Sure it’s great to see Metallica still putting on a big show for their audience, and you know that the band do still appreciate it, but at this point it’s a hobby and a (much loved) job for them. It seems to me that they’re not driven by passion anymore, and while you can definitely say they’ve earned the right to rest easy after their years at the top of the mountain, the cooling of this passion certainly explains why many of their fans, for better or for worse, simply don’t feel that connection to them anymore.
Similarly you can also tell pretty easily when a “mainstream” metal band truly feels passionate about the music, and when they’re in it for the chance money and fame. As popular as they might have become, I don’t doubt that Trivium still feel a genuine love for metal – something made all the more obvious by their continued support of other, more underground acts, as well as their multiple side-projects. I can’t really say the same about some of the other “big” metal acts though.
Passion is, ultimately, the unifying force behind all the bands I love, from the most extreme (Anaal Nathrakh) to the most melodic (Amorphis), manifesting equally in ridiculous bombast (Fleshgod Apocalypse) and beautiful restraint (Junius).
Passion can push bands to stretch their creative boundaries – consider the multiple styles portrayed throughout Devin Townsend’s career, or the organic progression of Enslaved – or it can focus them on a signature sound – look no further than the unwavering stomp of Suffocation or the necrotic blizzard of Horna – which they defend to their dying breath.
It comes in many forms, from pain (Life of Agony) and loss (Swallow The Sun), to malice (Aborted) and misanthropy (Shining). It can drive bands to blasphemy (Marduk) or to belief (Extol), and unites the Christian and the atheist, the pagan and the Satanist, under one banner.
As much as the distorted guitar and the shattering of cymbals, passion is the fundamental foundation of the metal genre. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.