A Legacy of Metal

You know, I haven’t written about Judas Priest in a while. *Chaos laughs hysterically*

As an experiment, I’ve been listening to Judas Priest non-stop for the last week or so. In my car, on my computer, and when I go to sleep, it’s just Priest Priest Priest. I know, you’re wondering just how this is any different than my usual musical preferences. But this time I’m doing it for science: I’m opting to find out if there are any subliminal messages in Judas Priest’s music. If there are, I follow them like a brain-dead capitalist zombie; if not… I get to listen to Judas Priest!

I’m doing this because of the documentary I talked about the other day. Upon first glance, the trashy mid-western kids featured on the Dream Deceivers documentary might seem like dopey idiots or typical metalheads. But it then becomes clear that Judas Priest was the one inspiring facet of their very hum-drum lives. A source of inspiration in their childhoods filled with alcoholic, abusive parents — parents who also become evangelical Christian zealots during fits of personal guilt. What’s so frightening is that some of these parents tried to extend their emotionally unbalanced abuses towards Judas Priest.

Metal, like a lot of other contemporary musical subcultures, was initially conceived as a message of empowerment within a downtrodden generation. A generation of people growing up in a bleak environment, whom felt robbed of a sense of salvation in the modern world. Musically, it resounds as a developed and inspired sense of personal empowerment, creating a fervent belief in one’s own ability to overcome and supersede this negative environment.

Metal seems to originate in gloomy industrial England, with bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. One of the poignant moments of the Dream Deceivers video is when guitarist Glenn Tipton talks about how as schoolboys in his hometown, every day on the way to and from school they had to go by the ore-smelting plants. Every day, there was this horrible taste of burning ore and smelted metal going through their lungs, a smell he still remembers. It became this symbol of their drive to leave that life behind. Indeed, other English guys like Def Leppard have talked about how their musical career ambitions came largely from fear of falling into a life of mediocre industrial labor. Metal actually comes from this horribly depressing background of industrial drudgery, and indicates a rare sense of salvation within it. Even if everyone with the wish to escape cannot fulfill it, metal still resounds as the artistic exaggeration of the drive to leave that world behind, to escape it.

So that’s the appeal I find in metal. It functions as an inspired escape route, and yet not as one of self-loathing, but as one that transmits willpower. I make fun of cowardly music like Indie Rock and Wampire Weekend because their lives sound so positively devoid of struggle or despair. They’re some rich-kid brainiacs who never were and never will be discriminated against (unless I have something to do with it, a haha!).Not that there’s anything wrong with that I guess… but their music is only going to appeal to that demographic.

Actually, if you look at most genres of music, they develop as this method of escapism. Blues, jazz, Motown soul and R&B, traditional country, punk, hip-hop and rap — they’re all symptoms of a depressed demographic that sees music as a medium of their ambition and a way to advance through society’s ranks. But more importantly, it can allow a person to leave their economic depression behind them. Most will not, but it is the voice of that desire. And isn’t the music itself bringing some of that escape to the downtrodden?

Indeed, there is something inborn and divine with great artists, something like virtue which is neither hereditary nor teachable. Music is mostly a celebration by and of the musician, right? A genius is their own reward, blah blah blah. A brilliant artist is a manifestation of the human psyche’s cosmic potentiality — the collective unconscious. So, in some sense, the artist imagines things for other people — he/she is their imagination manifest. The downtrodden of the same depressed socio-economic classes are not all gifted with the same drives, the same musical propensities.

Typically, after a generation or two, the message of a genre usually changes. These days, metal, rap and country music have largely become depressed, violent or blatant. In fact, the budding nihilism of the mid-90s and our modern music scenes imbued with cynical self-hatred make Judas Priest’s metal iconography fluffy and upbeat in retrospect.

So, I can reasonably conclude that instead of yearning to get wasted or feeling suicidal, hearing Judas Priest every day has actually made me happier and more productive (and not to mention I feel like I’m in a motorcycle gang from the ’70s)! In fact, Judas Priest is dangerous because it makes you feel too good about yourself. Isn’t that what Tipper Gore and all those sinister church and soccer moms were really afraid of?

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~ by chaosrexmachinae on April 18, 2008.

8 Responses to “A Legacy of Metal”

  1. this was really well-written and brought up a lot of good points. I like that you misspelled the cowards’ name haha. but you do have to give them credit, they are a band that actually sounds undepressed and HAPPY and while they sing about quirky brainiac stuff, there’s no self-obsessed navel gazing. it’s easy and fun to make fun of VW, but I still have some love for them and the anomaly they are in a genre where every other band might as well be called the Sads.

    oh btw, I took your advice and picked up Killing is my Business. fucking excellent thrash rocks my poseur ass! marty friedman fucking OWNS and dave mustaine makes james hetfield sound like daniel johnston. thanks for the tip, next time you see me I’ll be wearing sweatpants with patches

  2. …aaaaaaaaand like a moron I totally overlook that it was chris poland and not marty friedman that was in the band on that album. also according to the liner notes mustaine did most of the solos. which are sweet.

  3. Hey, thanks for the kind words!

    And haha, yes that album totally slays. It’s all punked and thrashed out and has so much venomous attitude. Supposedly they spent half of the budget on drugs and had to engineer it themselves to save money. Ah, such venerable characters!

    I would say that Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? and Rust in Peace are definitely their best albums. I mean the solos on those somehow destroy the first album, as hard as that is to believe. They’re just so much more coherent and structured and there are trade-offs with Poland and Friedman, who are probably superior lead guitarists to Dave Mustaine, as inspired and great as he is. And the closing song, “My Last Words” on Peace Sells is one of my favorite ‘Deth songs ever… That solo and then the closing choruses…makes me a pale like a princess every time!

    Incidentally, when me band finally records its much-awaited, shredding, thrashin’, mind-numbingly serious business-like demo, it’s gonna include an old-school Megadeth cover from Killing is My Business on it. Bam!

  4. I too would like to tip my hat to a good post… Here I was all depressed on a Monday morning at the drudgery of life, and yet much like metal to those old English factory boys, you have empowered me to mentally escape to more satisfying lands. Thanks!

  5. Hey nice to see you around here, Lyz! I am trying to think of a genre that suitably encompasses rebelling against the sea of misery known as rainy Mondays in an office…

  6. You, chaos, are a genre unto yourself that is perfectly suited for said situation.

  7. Yeah, marginalized groups have used music/art to escape, or cope with disadvantageous socioeconomic conditions…definitely. But methinks that one of the main reasons they are inspired to create/promote their work is because they are so underrepresented in culture. They promote their subaltern voice against the cultural dominant, the hegemonic power structure that threatens to render them invisible.

    When I think of the ‘language of resistance’ that you find in Rap for instance, it seems funny that it has become a way for anyone to become famous, or rich. It initially existed as something that had no marketable qualities, and was purely expressive.

    I think that the reason Indie Rock is so unpallatable (along with ‘post-punk, and anything that ends in “core”) is that it is usually made by (young) people who are struggling with themselves being the cultural dominant in their society. In response, they assume the part of some marginalized group that they enter by choice; such as vegans, straight-edge, skinny kids with bad posture, ect. And they try to speak from that soapbox. Not to mention that they themselves are begging for acceptance/recognition within their ‘chosen’ demographic, so their art is unforgivably cookie-cutter, and kitschy.

    Sorry to go on a tear, nice post anyway. Also, you probably get this alot, but is your cat the orginal “I can has cheezburger” cat?

  8. Hey there Phil(E) — the more Ayn Randroids here @ CRM, the merrier (NOT)! Also, did you notice that your reply was about 5 (+365) days after the prior one? Is someone a little trigger-happy with the reply prompt?

    I’m glad you brought up some salient points about rap and indie rock. Maybe you should write a book about it? It would surely be a big hit with music moguls who are making cash-moneyz off of these cowardly trends.

    Just kidding, nobody will read it (just like this blog! Ahahahaha….). But do you think that these… Indie-Rock, scenester-type kids really are the current cultural dominant? Or if so, will they be as such for long?

    And no! For the last time — this blog’s feline muse is not that turkey from “I can haz cheezburger”! Tho, he is profesh model in his own right, k? Thnx 4 noticing. Will FWD fan-mailz.

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