A Lifetime in Heavy Metal

With my birthday having passed not so long ago, I found myself performing an old ritual that I seem to do every time another year gets added to the total, which is wonder what I was doing ten years ago.

Ten years ago, I was sixteen, studying to get my learner’s permit, entering my junior year of high school, watching David Robinson hoist his first championship trophy, was about to be involved in my first serious relationship, and was spending a disproportionate amount of time despising the music that was so prominent that summer. It had been an entire eight weeks of Matchbox 20, LFO (dear god, I still hate that song,) and a whole host of other garbage that the major labels wanted me to like. I was still defiantly listening to all the old grunge and classic rock hat I had accumulated. Even as a younger man, I could recognize the beginning of the end of palatable mainstream music when Soundgarden disbanded after “Down on the Upside.” I hoarded all the good music I could and cherished it.

So that led me to my next thought, which was how did I get here? How did I become so entangled in heavy metal? What attracted me to this violent genre of brutal imagery and unwarranted larger than life personalities?

I had an early start into an appreciative form of music listening. My brother was seven years older than me, and we shared a room for much of my upbringing. So I was only perhaps ten of eleven when he began bringing home the early works of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. We had both been raised by my parents to be rock and roll fans; the folk music of the sixties had been largely ignored by both my mother and father, as they instead stuck to the central rock gods: Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Cream, the Who, Alice Cooper, The Guess Who, the Doobie Brothers, and a legion of other similar awe-inspiring names. (I believe to this day that my dad is the only man on earth who owned only one Peter Frampton album, and it was not “Frampton Comes Alive.”) So rock and roll and I got along on fine terms.

I can remember fondly sitting next to my brother, both of us adorning headphones, hearing the catchy, winding riff of a song like “My Wave.” It was from here that my love for metal began to blossom. This was also where my brother and I began to grow musically apart. We got to a point where we could agree on albums but not necessarily on songs, particularly on “Superunknown.” I couldn’t get enough of “Mailman,” he loved the artistry of “Like Suicide.” I heard “4th of July” and was blown away; he was bored. This is where we spread from each other. As he looked for music that was more complex, more artistic, and showcased more musicianship, I thirsted for more music that was dirty, simple and fast. He listened to Rush and Pink Floyd while I collected Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. Then it happened.

The Black Album. Love it or hate it, the Black Album was one of the focal points for my turning into a metal fan. Released in 1991, singles like “Enter Sandman” had become radio anchors; you couldn’t scan the dial without running into it or something like it. When “Sad But True” was the marquis single of 1993, I was only ten, but I began to see the musical possibilities before me. I loved that song (I still do. There, I said it.) It was heavy, driving and unforgiving. There was a whole world of music that I saw I had not yet explored.

I didn’t get my feet wet very quickly. AC/DC was my infatuation for a long time, as I could see the blending of the classic rock style I was heeled in and the devil-may-care metal attitude I was reaching out toward. Still, my next seminal moment in metal, and the one that irreversibly turned me toward metal, came in 1995, when “More Human Than Human” was a smash hit single. For me as a twelve year old, this was it; the perfect song. Loud, pulsing, angry, unintelligible. My brother hated it. I know Rob Zombie has done a good deal to cause debate amongst horror fans, but I’m telling you – between 1992 and 2002, this man could musically do no wrong. I will still stop for “More Human Than Human” no matter where I am or what I’m doing. “AstroCreep 2000” is still one of my top ten favorite albums.

By the time I heard singles like “Bulls on Parade,” or “Closer” or “Superbeast” there was no going back for me. When Soundgarden shut down operations in April of 1997, I knew that a chapter of my musical life was closed. Often fondly remembered, but I knew that I could no longer count on grunge to supply me with the music I wanted.

I’m not sure why I went metal when my brother didn’t. Some of it was the cathartic nature of it all. I just liked music that was brash and loud for the sake of being loud. But it didn’t stem from deep-seated need to lash out against my parents. On the contrary, my parents respected my and my brother’s musical leanings, even if they didn’t understand them. I think my mom and dad may have gotten some shit from their folks when rock hit it big, and my parents didn’t want to be like their parents. I wasn’t especially rebellious, nor were my awkward teen years filled with angst. I just wanted to listen to metal, watch science fiction and play football.

It wouldn’t be until my early college years, working in radio and learning more about music, that I truly began to spread my metal wings (how “Flight of Icarus” of me,) and realize the correlation between blues and classic rock and heavy metal (this also led me to acquire a taste for old-school rap, but that’s another story.) That was the point at which I expanded into a whole host of gateway bands; Anthrax, Iron Maiden, Slayer, Dead Kennedys, Public Enemy, Soilwork, all names that my appreciation for expanded in my college days.

But it was that period, a stretch of a few summers, between 1992 and 1996, when I warped between just another classic rock fan, and a metal fan salivating for music that was harder, heavier, faster, uglier, and the most unforgiving.

What about all of you? Why metal? When metal? For that matter, why and when horror movies? I look forward to you all taking a trip down memory lane.

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