Heavy Metal is just another word for Nursery Rhyme
“Say your prayers little one, don’t forget my son to include everyone. I tuck you in, warm within, keep you free from sin; ‘Til the sandman he comes…”
With lyrics as “scary”as any of the actual nursery rhymes we sing to our children, Metallica’s Enter Sandman instantly became a modern day classic because the subject of the lyrics are about something that many of us could relate to. I recently discovered that (singer, guitarist and principle lyricist) James Hetfield was making reference to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), commonly known as cot (or crib) death. At the time of writing, James was still seven years away from having his own children, but seeing that much of the topics he writes about show his “social consciousness” it really didn’t come as a surprise to me.
Religion and Heavy Metal
“Hang on a second…” I hear you say, “I thought heavy metal was all about worshipping the Devil, promoting violence, aggression and crime, suggesting that suicide is cool, and is bad for children…” Well I hate to burst your bubble, but most heavy metal is not actually about any of those things. Even the most famous (or should that be infamous) heavy metal song held up as being the archetypical and evidential proof that the genre is all about “loving Satan” is not about that at all. In fact, like the aforementioned Enter Sandman, Iron Maiden’s classic The Number of The Beast is no more scarier or satanic than most of the nursery rhymes we have all grown up with and will continue to sing to our children for years to come.
And interestingly enough, the song begins with a spoken work prose with lines paraphrased from the Biblical Book of Revelation, 12:12 and 13:18.
“Woe to you, oh earth and sea, for the Devil sends the beast with wrath. Because he knows the time is short, let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the beast. For it is a human number. Its number is six hundred and sixty six.”
And although I’m not going to make this a theological debate, just like the true meaning and origins behind many of the nursery rhymes that I question as to whether I should be singing or reciting the words to our children, I am also at a loss as to why you would even read from the “kid friendly” My First Bible Stories books. I mean, come on people; don’t kids have enough on their plate with growing up and developing to throw the “Fear of God”in them and teach them that one day He could send another flood, bring on the Ten Plagues of Egypt, or even kick them out of the place that they live, just for eating an apple (and our boys LOVE apples…)
Music for the Lonely
For much of my teenage life, although I was surrounded by many neighbourhood and school friends, I really lived most of it as a loner. I had a brother who, being almost five years older rejected his little brother most of the time; which 15-year-old wants to play the same things as a 10-year-old? I had friends who had something I didn’t have; cousins who lived not far away and a family get-together was very commonplace for them. I lost many of my primary school friends when moving into high school as they were placed into the B stream while I was place into the A class, and it wasn’t until later in high school that the different “grades” started mingling again.
There were many times when I was left out activities. I really wanted to play Rugby League as my out-of-school sport, but both my parents were against it. As a result, Saturday mornings and early afternoons during Footy Season were very quiet for me. Coming from a non-religious family, with the absence of Sunday morning scriptures and church for us, that halved the amount of kids that were left for me to play with; those that hadn’t already already jumped in the car to go visit the relatives.
A History Lesson in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal
I got into hard rock as an extension of the rock based pop music I had grown up with. Like most of the world I had Michael Jackson’s Thriller (look another scary song) and although he is seen as an R&B artist, that album with that famous guitar solo on Beat It by Eddie Van Halen plus other six-string theatrics by the rock band Toto’s Steve Lukather, there was a great stepping stone for those from the pop background to “jump” (excuse the pun) on the Van Halen and (later) Bon Jovi band-wagon (again, the pun).
Listening to those to bands lead to other hard rock bands joining my record collection; Kiss, Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Poison, Heart, Europe, Cinderella, Whitesnake, Aerosmith, WInger, Guns N’ Roses, Extreme, Warrant, Skid Row and even Australia’s own AC/DC, Choirboys, Noiseworks and Roxus who shared their sounds with those American bands more so than the pub-rock sound we were used to from local acts. Some of those bands were household names based on their sickly-sweet power ballads that raced up the mainstream charts, but many of them produced some heavier sounds as their careers progressed, and with their own evolution of music, so to mine evolved.
Although I loved the thousands of love based songs – Bon Jovi’s I’ll Be There For You or Extreme’s More Than Words – and “sexually driven” songs – Poison’s Unskinny Bop or Warrant’s Cherry Pie – it was the songs that hard the darker themes that I really feel in love with. Guns N’ Roses, Warrant and Skid Row were setting up lyrical themes that would soon be common place within the Grunge, Post-Grunge and Alternative Rock genres. And those musical styles would ultimately kill off the Glam Rock style of many of the bands I mentioned. But the heavier and harder bands like (The Big Four) Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer were already there.
Back to that Social Consciousness
Although to the outsiders heavy metal was turning the youth into angry satanists on the brink of mass murder or solitary suicide, for many like me, we knew that this form of music was a voice of reason, a friend on a cold dark night, and the basis for further reading and self-education. Amongst fans, Iron Maiden are not only famous for naming their songs after famous movies and novels that have inspired the band members to write their mini-masterpieces paying homage to the writers of such mega-masterpieces, but they are also known for writing about major wars and individual battles from both the modern history of warfare to those that are mostly tales from antiquity.
Warfare, or to be honest, the horrors of war is well entrenched within the songs of The Big Four and the many bands that followed in their footsteps. War is never glorified. War is never lifted up as being something that is greater than what war actually is; a bloody and violent act, with conflict that does more to damage relations between the belligerent parties than it does to stop their conflict. In short, what most heavy metal bands are doing is the same thing that beauty pageant contestants do when answering their final question; they are simply seeking World Peace.
From Metallica’s brilliant masterpiece One (which is one of my favourite songs), Megadeth’s Set The World Afire, Slayer’s Chemical Warfare through to virtually all the songs from Iron Maiden’s album A Matter of Life and Death (often thought to be a concept album about the horror of war), these bands have shown that war isn’t about happiness, flowers in the hair and rainbows. War is about death, destruction and the ugly underbelly of the human psyche.
What Heavy Metal has taught me, and how it has made me a better person
Although they started off as a “cock rock” band, Skid Row produced a much heavier follow up to their debut album which was more Heavy Metal than its Hard Rock predecessor. The album had songs about the evils of drug abuse, the failing of politicians, and the harrowing story of child abuse in the classic In a Darkened Room. My favourite all time band Tool also have had songs about forced sodomy, child abuse and rape. Bands like Korn, Nirvana, Pearl Jam ventured further in the dark world of child abuse and Aerosmith with their hit Janie’s Got a Gun brought it to a much wider audience.
Although again it is often erroneously accused of being satanic because of its imagery, Metallica’s Master of Puppets is also about the dangers of drug abuse. It is something that I have never gotten into my head. Why do so many people who listen to this music take drugs. The signs are there to be seen about how bad it is for you. But then again, Pop Music, R&B, Rap and even Adult Contemporary artists and fans alike are also affected by drug abuse, so it isn’t something that is exclusive of this genre of music. And often, it’s not a want of drugs, but a want of personal freedom… Now where have I heard that before?
Look, here’s the thing as I see it. Many of the band members in these hard and heavy bands came from households that were riddled with violent behavior from their parents, some due to drug and alcohol abuse, some just due to the cycle of abuse I mentioned in a previous blog. And unless you want to have a child that feels they need to go out and join a band like this, be a better parent to your child. Sure I don’t care if either of my sons want to follow in my footsteps and enjoy Heavy Metal for how I see it; talented musicians playing complex rhythms and technically advanced chords progressions, hard and heavy music that is both beautiful to listen to, and angry enough so that I don’t have to be angry myself.
You see, I get what they are saying. I get the whole drugs are bad, child abuse is bad, loneliness is bad, war is bad and suicide is not the solution (yes Ozzy Osborne, the irony was not lost on me). I know that for many of the artists the songs are about their own childhood. I know the songs are acts of aggression towards those who didn’t believe they were being abused. I know the songs often act as their own personal therapy and that they hope to inspire listeners to repair their own lives by moving on, forgiving and forgetting.
And I know because of this that listening to Heavy Metal has not only made me a better person, but it has made me a better father. I just hope my kids never have to write about the horror of their own childhood. I am doing everything I can to prevent that.
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