Okay, so a couple of folks have asked me to write something about how I got into heavy metal. Well, let me start by saying it wasn’t easy to do, being trapped in the bowels of the Midwest. Furthermore I’m only 30, which means I was way too young to get caught up in the ’80s glory days of tape trading (I was 8 years old when Nihilist released their first demo, about 4 when Death released theirs) and too old to have had the internet readily available to me at a young age (we did however, have some sweet Apple computers at school that you could play Oregon Trail on). There were very few outlets for discovering metal available to someone growing up when and where I did. I think it started with classic rock. It might not have been easy to catch an underground metal show in central Iowa, but it was easy to turn on the radio and hear Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, Steppenwolf, Kiss, etc… the building blocks of heavy metal. I always gravitated towards the heavier side of classic rock, so metal was a natural progression.
And I discovered metal through MTV. This might sound like a completely ridiculous notion now, but back then MTV actually had something to do with music and didn’t constantly show programs about knocked up trailer park dwellers, morbidly obese high schoolers who want to be dancers and cheerleaders only to fail miserably, and more sexually confused 20-somethings than you can shake a stick at (take that how you will). It was Metallica’s video for “One” that hit me like a sledgehammer to the skull. I caught it while randomly flipping channels one day after school. It was one of those moments of “This is the music I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear.”. The dynamics, the guitar tone, the machine-gun drums, everything about that song was perfect. It blew all the hair metal MTV had been playing at the time out of the water. Metallica weren’t a bunch of preening tarts like Poison, they were genuine bad asses with a dark, heavy sound that matched their black-clad image. Of course, it was all downhill from there…
Yes, MTV once showed actual music videos and Metallica seemed to usher in a flood of metal clips to the channel, before long you could see the likes of Megadeth, Danzig, Primus, COC and White Zombie on the regular. During the day. I know this might sound completely bizarre to younger folk, but trust me, it happened. So not only did you see some of the best mainstream metal had to offer, you could also stay up late on Saturday nights and catch Headbanger’s Ball for a dose of Iron Maiden, Accept, Exodus, Slayer, Pantera, Machine Head Sepultura, Morbid Angel and Entombed. In spite of being hosted by the somewhat goofy Rikki Rachtman and occasionally forcing us to endure the likes of Mr. Big, Headbanger’s Ball exposed me to a wide array of metal. Considering that watching the Ball was my Saturday night ritual during my pre-teen and early teenage years (before we discovered the wonders of drinking, smoking and not getting laid), it’s a damn shame to see what MTV has become.
I just mentioned Entombed and Morbid Angel, but I feel I should note here that when I first heard death and black metal, I didn’t particularly care for them. Thrash and more traditional styles of metal were my genres of choice, and my main issue with the more extreme forms of metal was the vocals. I was used to Hetfield, Arraya, Mustaine, Danzig, Halford, Dickinson and assorted other frontmen who barked and snarled or soared like air-raid sirens but still managed to somehow sound tuneful, so I wasn’t quite ready for Cookie Monster growls and banshee shrieks. Later on, death and black metal would become the staples of my metallic tastes, but I wasn’t quite there yet.
Besides Music Television, there was the printed page. The seed had been planted by videos, and I began devouring magazines like Rip, Circus and Metal Edge in order to find out more about the bands I was seeing on the tube. I cut out pictures of the bands I liked and plastered the walls of my room and school locker with them, which proved to be quite controversial at a Catholic school (my friends referred to it as “the Satan locker”). I also took to drawing crude pictures over the faces of the bands I considered false (Def Leppard was always a prime target). In retrospect, this was undoubtedly where my interest in metal journalism started, although I didn’t realize it at the time. It would be many, many years before I would write my first review or interview.
Ah yes, Catholic school. The Catholic grade school I went to was a bit on the weird side. Some days they enforced the dress code and some days they didn’t. So, that meant some days it was okay for me to wear my Danzig/Megadeth/Metallica shirts and camo shorts, other days it wasn’t. Some days they cared that I was reading the latest issues of Guitar World and Rip Magazine during free reading time, other days they didn’t. These mixed signals didn’t really do much for my already non-existent faith in the teachings of Catholicism. If they were this goddamn wishy-washy in their approach to discipline, who knows what other beliefs and rules they might secretly waiver on. Metal, combined with my experiences in the Catholic school system helped give me the strength to realize that I was an atheist at a very young age. Glenn Danzig, Dave Mustaine and James Hetfield were my pantheon, there was just no room for some ancient wackjob that got himself crucified or some supposedly omniscient creator that had nothing better to do than worry about whether or not his chosen people were eating crustaceans. I didn’t need a heavenly “big brother” watching over me to know right from wrong, and listening to metal somehow helped me come around to this realization.
Don’t even get me started on Catholic high school. Let’s just say if I didn’t have my small yet amazing circle of friends and copies of Rust in Peace and Far Beyond Driven, I probably would have bought a fucking rocket launcher.
I haven’t even gotten to my voracious album purchasing yet. I started with cassettes and worked my way up to CDs, which was easy to do since the local mall housed three record stores and a Best Buy across the street. I might not have had access to the cliché “cool independent shop”, but I still had quite a selection before me. Before I was old enough to have a job, I asked my mom to stop giving me a weekly allowance and just let me pick out a CD each week. When I did finally get a job, I started sinking most of my money into new music. I purchased albums by all the above mentioned bands, not to mention the harder side of so-called grunge and alternative rock, such as Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. Back then I didn’t discriminate, and besides, I think we all know that Soundgarden and AiC were metal bands in spite of whatever hip categories they were getting placed in by critics. I liked what I liked and made no apologies, which still holds true today… except for maybe some of the terrible nu metal albums I bought. Hey, we all make mistakes.
As I got older, I finally began to appreciate black metal, death metal, doom and grindcore. For some reason it seems like the older I get, the heavier, filthier and gnarlier I like my music. I guess you could say I’m doing the opposite of “mellowing with age”. Nowadays, I like everything from Iron Maiden to Nocturnal Graves to SunnO))). Once again I don’t discriminate and I make no apologies for what I like, even an ill-advised and extremely un-kvlt metalcore phase. In that respect, things have come full circle for me. At thirty, I don’t feel like I need to like or not like certain things in order to be cool; in other words, I’m not an elitist asshole. It is all part and parcel of growing and evolving as a listener and appreciater of all things metal. There is merit and enjoyment to be found in every subgenre, as long as you’re willing to approach things with an open mind and put your bullshit guard down. I’m sure there are some people out there that find me unqualified to write about metal because I didn’t come out of the womb throwing devil horns and screaming the lyrics to “Reign in Blood”. But you know what? Fuck ‘em.
… To be continued?