I’ve already written up the Decibel Magazine Tour at Showbox, with its dream team of a lineup: Carcass, Black Dahlia Murder, Gorguts, Noisem, and Bastard Feast. It was, as I expected, a concert I will talk about for years to come. I did not expect it to justify the existence of heavy metal. But it did. So I’m going to talk about it some more now.
What got me thinking was an exchange between ticket-takers as we entered the venue. One of them said, “Have a good time,” to the person in front of me, then turned to the other and added, “I always feel weird saying that at metal shows.” When he took my ticket I told him, “I’m going to have a lot of fun.” Why should it seem weird to have a good time at a metal show?
As a middle class mom firmly planted in middle age, I just don’t connect with a lot of heavy metal marginalia. Satanic imagery, attitudes of bitterness and anguish, violent posturing, they all just seem so … cute. Like snarling puppies. I know that a lot of metalheads are very sincere about this stuff, and I’m sure that at some adolescent point in my life I was all about the angst, too.
But nowadays, I’m just about the music. I can’t take any of the rest of it seriously. The solemn-faced folk in the circle pit stomping around while ignoring the emoting on stage crack me up. Watching singers writhe and grimace can be entertaining, but I appreciate it as theater without needing to actually believe in their anger or pain. After all, they are probably thinking about breath control. And we know the drummer is thinking about numbers.
I’ve read many blog posts about how metal is a healthy outlet for rage and violent impulses. Maybe it is. Music of all kinds can be a lot of things to different people.
Aggressive, ugly, brutal, vitriolic, putrid, vile, poisonous, skull-crushing, punishing, pummeling – all kinds of violence-invoking words are used to describe the music. I use those, too. But just as common, and more accurate, are words like intense, technical, melodic, atmospheric, challenging, dynamic, virtuosic, energetic, powerful, uncompromising, and (yes, really) beautiful. The word you don’t often hear used, but that most describes my feelings about heavy metal is “fun.”
At the Decibel concert last weekend, I found myself laughing out loud during the first two acts. The music was just so … delightful. It was so much more fun than the serious, dramatic faces on stage and around me would lead one to believe. (Of course, if I was opening for Carcass, I’d be sweating bullets and arranging my guts in pretty patterns on the stage floor.) But really, how could fans be stern when the guitars are so fast and the changes are so sudden? When a screeching black metal howl suddenly dives into an abysmal death growl, isn’t it the same stomach-flipping thrill as a rollercoaster descent?
The Black Dahlia Murder agrees that metal is fun. In headphones, their music fits right in with all the other black/tech/death/grind bands. Better than many, not as good as some, but without a lyric sheet or visual imagery to guide you, there is no indication that their approach to heavy metal is different from their peers.
But their videos are goofier than Red Fang’s and their black-robed band photos are tongue in cheek. Live, the robes are replaced by a heartburn-tattooed belly. Their shows throw back to the big-haired 80s when metal was supposed be fun – like sex and drinking – except this time around the music’s really good, too.
There’s no reason to take my word for it when you can hear it from Jeff Walker himself. I quote*
You know, you can’t really make a living at this. But we keep making this music and coming around and playing it for you motherfuckers, and do you know why? Because it’s really fun.
Now who wants to argue with Carcass?
*as heard through a thick English accent at 11:30 pm after several beers and remembered by me several days later, i.e. probably not entirely accurate