Metalheads are easily impressed. The hook of Heavy Metal music on the surface level is the same spectacle that captures the attention of fans of other pop music, i.e. what the artist is wearing in their photo-shoot, what big statement they made in the press, how catchy the first melody of the first song on the record is, so on. On that level, how hard, fast and/or technical a metal band plays serves the same purpose as the new outfit worn by Lady Gaga. Different language, same argumentation.
Most Heavy Metal listeners aren't musicians themselves. I suspect an unquantifiable section of them are failed guitarists, but even so, failed for a reason. It's depressing to see how bands with little meaning to their music are often revered by metalheads as not only important but more important than pop music because they employ technical trickery that impresses the musical illiterate. Nearly everything metal music does on an aesthetic and compositional level is a more technically dense version of what more tame popular music does, only with the conceit that the added chops and technicality can only exist because they serve a higher purpose. Like many sophist arguments, underneath the hood this is a circular argument "Of course my metal is profound, otherwise why would it be so complicated sounding?"
Density doesn't equal complexity and complexity doesn't equal nuance. The more tech-heavy modern metal gets, the less it seems to have anything to say emotionally and the palette in which to say it becomes more and more monochromatic via dictates of loudness wars sound design. Instead modern metal is increasingly base, the basic idea is how most to augment the linear sexuality of the riff, the mechanised sadist thrust of sixteenths over double-bass. Slow metal, fast metal, noodly wanky prog metal and anthemic chorus-laden pop metal, all with the same values, all peaking over the red, all loudly cracking speakers in a simple triangle room. Speaker left, lonely guy, speaker right.
When humans are trying to describe reality, they do so in simple terms, simple stories that make sense, semi-realist fantasies that capture the generalized shape of something deeply confusing to make it safe, to domesticate it. Conspiracy theorists look at geopolitical happenings that are so infinitely complex to unravel and they offer simpler, safer constructs to explain away that feeling of dread inherent in gazing inside an endless machine: the Jews did it. The New World Order. I don't blame conspiracy theorists for reaching that caveman-structural end to their paranoia because 'simple solutions' is an ancient reflex. It got us where we are. It is inherent in the belief in basic language. In the adoration of grammar, as Nietzsche said, we may find the strongest suggestion that the populous is not finished with the concept of God.
Humans like simple things. If you can't explain it simply, it doesn't exist. The curious thing with the fantasies of these simple solutions is that once humans present them in the culture and if they achieve traction and enter the public subconscious, they inform the endlessly complex structures on which they are commenting on. This means that although the Jews are not controlling the world, after widespread conspiracy theorizing as to the opposite, there absolutely must be now influential (or self-considered influential) Jews that are stepping up to that fantasy, they're trying to control the world. They're trying to turn a fantasy into reality because a fantasy is simpler and safer. This effect is the same on all levels. Take how human beings explain away the complex interpersonal interactions between lovers in the model of 'women are from Venus, men from Mars'. Ludicrous as such dualism may be, after it has penetrated the public subconscious, there are now men who are trying to be extra Martian and women so unbearably and artificially pink that it becomes an aggressive, sadistic tactic. God does not exist but we have invented him and look how people flock to deities of all stripes and colors, they cannot all be right, can they? What if they're all right in the simple terms of their simple life story, though? What if the lowest-entry personality cult member is achieving the exact same grace that high-echelon Christians are? What if the biggest pull to simple structure is psychic safety?
Likewise, Heavy Metal music, a complex cultural and artistic phenomenon, has suffered decades of attempted simplifying, its rough edges sanded down for public consumption. Every new metal genre name is a wound in this sense, it is a further codification of what needs no more. And exactly because these tags and genre codes gain traction with the consumer public, this feeds back into the making of metal music on the primary level. Musicians are not trying to make unpredictable, chaotic art that may solidify as it itself desires, they're trying to make "thrash metal". "True death metal". "Orthodox black metal". They're channeling nothing more profound than their own surface expectations. They know beforehand what this music is supposed to be and they're trying to fit their inspiration in a predetermined mold. Modern heavy metal, as all modern art suffers from these expectations-coming-to-life. The more mainstream the metal strand, the clearer the ravages of this feedback loop: it has become what was infuriatingly the cliché outsider view of it was for decades: obnoxiously loud without nuance, subtlety and higher meaning. Deafening, pummeling walls of distortion that decorate either low angst or desire for fucking. It wasn't always so, but once humanity has fantasized a simple solution, outliers will subconsciously feel the pull to cater to the expectation, to belong, to exist.
Humans like simple solutions. They like structure and order. These things are safe, they mean we will not die today. But safety isn't exciting. Exactly because we know we will die someday, we also have a deep pull towards senselessness and chaos. The killing reverie of art is a homage to lust and death. We try to hide it and we pretty it up when we can no longer hide it but a very basic reason we celebrate art-making and art-experiencing is because it is startling to remember we know nothing and we're soon going to be not of this world. Nearing the gates of unfathomable delirium, from the first time ancient man banged a piece of wood and danced around a fire so high it could touch the black stars. Now that's exciting.
Art achieves holistic grace in that it is magic that tempers the forces of life but stands in awe against the uncontrollable chaos of death. It must grace both Apollo and Dionysus, otherwise it's not very good as art. If it's too structured, it becomes a (mainstream) video-game: put in specific data, get other, fancier but completely systematic data at the output, predictable as is may be pleasing. Most of modern metal is a video-game in this way: the consumer knows exactly what they're going to get for what they put in before they press play. Of course, humans cannot help being humans and even in the most predictable modernized vacuous metal records there are elements of chaotic death-reverie, startling jolts, no matter how brief and underachieved that remind of that other aspect of art, the dark reflection in the mirror pool: for you to live you must die a little.
Metalheads are easily impressed and they're self-conscious and of low self-esteem. They celebrate the tamest, the most video-game aspects of their beloved music in public conversation. How hard this band plays, how ripping the sound design of this band is, how many beats per minute this drummer can achieve, how many notes in this solo, how much this song sounds like that other song. Or even most insidiously, how sad this song makes one, how deep this band is, how far out the atmosphere of this record. Yet these things are expected, they knew they'd get that before they pressed play. What they got was pleasing melody, conservative, safe structure and a relatively good time. Metalheads often dress up those experiences common with any popular music fan throughout the world as something higher, more important, hidden behind the Heavy Metal ghost, the power of hi-gain distortion and double bass.
If someone is getting more out of their art than this, they must be startled, fundamentally shocked by it, even years after first contact. They struggle with words when called to explain the deepest core of what art does to them and most importantly, when pressed to find these words, they non-standard, they weird, like poetry perhaps. They moved to introspection because of art, they alter themselves in their ingress?
For most music listeners around the world there just isn't enough time and inclination for this. Metalheads aren't any different. The spectacle of art is a tyranny of safety. Much of our identity is defined by what we consume and we are listlessly reminded that our prime directive is to seek comfort and safety in things and services. The information of this way of life on art is captured on our syntax and grammar, subject, verb, object, a God a desire and a product.
Perhaps you've noticed that although I'm talking about music which means the most for me on this blog, I don't reach for hyperbole often. Aside from considerations of taste that inform my writing approach, there's a deeper reason for this. Frenzied praise common to most music reviews (and at the altera pars, cynical deconstruction) I believe are reflexes of self-obfuscation. They focus the reading on the supposedly valiant feats/grave evils the music is impacting on its own, cutting out the perception and life experience of the writer. This is the way to market to one and all. What I am trying to do with this blog is not to domesticate the art in this way, it is to connect disparate personal experiences, aesthetic charges semi-inherent in the form and reaching theory into a whole that is more exuberant and startling in its chaotic non-clarity than any riff or song on itself can accomplish in its disconnected safety. There's nothing to be impressed with in the guts of metal as a music, just melodies harmonies and rhythm like all before and after it and I tire of those that try so far to convince otherwise, to build a simple but grandiose metal machine to hide their persons behind. The parts of a music, the melodies, harmonies and rhythm are put together by people and they who listen to it are people too. To understand the true beauty of art in all its horror and grace is to understand them foremost.