The Importance of Being Metal


A friend and I started to talk on music. We talked on the beauty behind new genres we found. Talks of new music led to old. We came back to a common heritage, a genre we loved and never forgot: Metal.

What was the reward in the furious grapple of gravelly voice burned hard over a rhythm beat in the double bass of a built up drum kit? How did guitar distorted rougher than ocean waves and racing bass beats do to endear anyone to metal? Metal held something to us that avant-garde indie oddities, post-rock empty swelling melodies, and sweet soft folk serenades never did. Buried beneath harsh beat on harsh beat was sincerity.

What is the importance of being Metal? What does a genre that cannot reach coffee shops, elevators, or common rooms clutch tight to sustain itself? This inglorious genre does not garner half the fame and money as most of its friends and contemporaries.

Yet, – like a musical Zeus – it mates and pro-creates sound on sound so often that an onslaught of bastard sub-genre progeny come clan on clan to offer homage to the blood of Mother Metal. That coagulated blood begat Mastodon’s erratic prog rock crock full of half-baked stoner storylines. Those furious fingered guitarists, overcompensating instrumentalists, beat life into the heart of Boris’s gargantuan wall of sound. The sludge and mud of Metal’s greasy thick stereos formed hard into Iron Maiden. The furnace of lyrics bloated with battle shaped Metallica.

Check out the Map of Metal if you have not already!
(Taken from the fantastic Map of Metal website)

Metal’s family tree has grown so wide you’d think they were Irish-Catholic denying prophylactics. The roots and branches broke into ice cold Nordic lands, tapping deep into Viking lore. Branches touched Japan’s peaks, crawled a place into China’s ancient scrawled history, and pushes ever onward. All of the woodwork comes back to bear on the stump they came from, to bicker. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most Metal of them all?

Sincerity was what gave Metal that special spark. Earnest love for the deep sludge, the battered rhythms, and the battle-born lyrics made it all possible. More than that, it made Metal exceptional. How a songs sounds will come down to the ear of the beholder. Believing in the value of those subjective sounds means a lot in any genre. But for me, nothing goes beyond glory so hard as Metal.

Indie rock styles – fueled by Arcade Fires – go to NPR. Pop anthems populate the VMA’s, with Rap and Country earning awards at their own shoes. Hipster heartlands buy out tickets to Broken Bells and St Vincent. In recent years one of Metal’s big breaks was a documentary on the once popular but quickly obscured band Anvil. Anvil’s picture of unrequited love to a not-so-friendly audience played out a lot of scenes. But Anvil’s poor popularity meant nothing in the face of their earnest efforts, and that earned them their return to fame.

(Anvil the band, courtesy of their website)
(Anvil the band, courtesy of their website)

Metal’s prize possession is that sincerity in all that does. Metal is the band trying to make it big off obscure reference to wordy fantasy unworthy of literary snobbery. Metal is the group of poorly maintained people staking their lives to speak on orcs and emotions. Metal is not the fusion jazz group earning accolades. Metal is not the careless Punk band beating social statements out of the streets of Brooklyn. Metal probably cares too much, and in a time where folks have gotten pretty debonair, that’s cool.

So even though I met and know all sorts of genres, even though my love for other music may supersede it, Metal’s something I want to keep up with. I want to keep watching as the odd branches born from Iron Maidens, Slayers, Blind Guardians, Black Sabbaths, and Dream Theaters contort out to conquer new lands. I want to catch the next power balled beating to death high fantasy tropes, blanketing emotional cries in ugly gore. I want to plunge headlong again into the mosh pit that never ends. I might not put it at the top of playlists, and I might not end up with hair long and black as the shirts that I wear, but I will always recognize the importance of being Metal.

~Austin R Ryan

Special thanks to Devon Bealke for introducing me to the wondrous world of Metal!

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New Nostalgia


My roommate recently started on an Outkast spree. “Hey Ya” blares on through the speakers and across the room. Reveling in the nostalgia feels glorious. Memories of riding back on the bus from public school in 2003, kids asking the driver to turn up the radio, come flooding back.

It would take endless effort to separate the song from childhood. The same goes with “Ms. Jackson” and “Roses.” I would spend the article space writing a love letter to Outkast and exonerating the good things of the late nineties and early thousands, if I were sure I really loved any of it.

Nostalgia works like a pair of rose-tinted glasses. Something slips them over my eyes whenever I glance at “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers. I loved the song once, do I still love it now? Is my mind caught as much in the music as it is in the past? “Mr. Brightside” remains buried with Outkast and all the old Kanye while modern favorites sit in all my playlists.

After all that time, can any sound penetrate the raw wall of nostalgia laced over each beat? There is no complete way of knowing. If the enjoyment feels sincere, run with it. No one needs another reason than nostalgia. For all the obfuscating it may do, I would not abandon nostalgia. I’d rather the past flow like honey, than sting like a bee.

    Rose colored air waves

But each moment of remembrance that made an old song feel so much stronger came to me from the radio. Billboard still got a few in one hundred in my head. Bands formed up vast waterways of sound. Labels became seas opening and genres oceans.

The radio made Somethings float to the top and gloss the surface of sound in every car. The radio formed up rivers of hit songs that we would trace back out to the oceans and seas. I got older and made it out to the ocean more often. I swam to the bottom to pick pearls up from the seafloor. Getting through the radio-pop gloss at the top made it worthwhile.

It seemed to work that way even for my non-musical friends. The most nerve wracking moments came in pooling up the jewels everyone gathered from the deep sea. We got to be explorers breaking through the surface trying to measure our successes using the ears of others.

When the water left my ears those old glossy songs on the surface sounded better then I remembered. The notes rang with radio intervals. Colorful personalities played it out to me. Sitting there, the radio brought plate by plate of commuter music. The rose colored air waves made it age like wine but it still felt less classy than a natty. The pleasure was guilty to the bone.

The radio brought the songs it beat to death back to life in vivid color.

    Radio is dead. Long live radio!

This image is from Broadcasting World's article: "ONLINE, DON'T MIRROR OFFLINE RADIO INDUSTRY"

Now radio dwindles and old seas grow into oceans. Everybody has a fond memory, and that reverie will create nostalgic ecstasies. With so many more bands, fan groupings, and new scenes I wonder how nostalgia will come of age.

Will kids ditch radio but stick with the top 100s? Perhaps radio will never die, not even faint, ever revived and kept alive to dish musical entrees out of large label kitchens. The kids might socialize it quicker, torrenting CD’s, speeding through discographies to keep friendly. Hit songs might not live long, and maybe memory will no longer wrap easy around the ears of a full generation.

It could all stay the same, just put in a different with new tools just used the exact same. Soundcloud and Google made it useful to scoop seaweed off the surface of the deepest oceans.

It would not work to try and divine nostalgia’s next line. But when dealing with the horizon you should make some stretches. To me it seems that something new might come through. With so much changed, media so rearranged, one true pop king might find harder to reign. Instead warlords come claiming teen scenes in scattered out places. The nostalgia of Orlando will not sound the same to kids from Kansas City riding high on the new Killers.

Bastion’s Soundtrack


Supergiant Games recently came out with a new game called Transistor. If you enjoy music you should really know about their last project, Bastion. Supergiant creates games that feel catered to the soundtrack behind the action.

Few other studios, whether they create movies, shows or games, put the same love into their soundtracks. Supergiant set themselves apart by putting music at the core of their story, almost like the videogame version of an opera. With transistor now out in stores, take some time with me to remember how Bastion’s soundtrack did something truly unique.

Click this link to catch my latest WVAU article, and read about why few soundtracks measure up to Bastion’s.

Songs for Tough Times


Dealing with stressful finals? Having trouble with a wave of deadlines? Got a problem with the divine entities bestowing upon you forbidden knowledge? Check out a few song recommendations that will straighten out those rough patches in your life!

Click here to read my newest article for WVAU

 

~Austin R Ryan

Light and Heavy


 

Light and Heavy

 

            Another song detailing the deep inner pain of the singer comes up on shuffle. Another quivering voice metes messages out for my ear by belt and whisper. Music, and really any art form, carries some crazy burdens. Folks cannot go wandering around screaming half mad about anger issues, social tissues eschewed apart, and every heavy hang up. Yet every inch of perplexing shit piles up bit by bit until the break in the middle of the back hits. Cathartic expression’s a good way to keep depression away.

In the mix of shuffling it all up, all of the on the cusp emotionally rough trod singers come bubbling up with their baggage in hand. Within all that blight something like Flight of The Conchords and Weird Al will stick out sore as the one thumb that a hammer flight of the concordsnever hit. Humor hits like a brick through a small town store window in a landscape formed up far and wide in emotional anthems. Still, when my patterns withstand I return to that endless hectic mesh of messy emotional land. For maybe a month I flirt with The Lonely Island, but in no time the light of the raw fleshed out fury of Modest Mouse, Florence + The Machine, and Cold War Kids pull my moth self right back into old ways. I cannot say a word on the way you feel. My tiny bubble in the big blue sea tells me most folk don’t stick to songs formed of pure parody. The pieces may fall into a difference puzzle for others.

Satire taken straight does not always stick but playing endless on problems weighing tons turns un-fun. When a band lets everything go and manages at a mix of heavy and light, that’s what gets me. Interest pins me flat when the tune carries a bit of contrast. That humor has a draw that pulls back and a press that does not lay me out against sea beds.

Man Man made themselves a favorite of mine with an endless interplay of dark and goofy. Tracks told stories outright absurd and wretched but carried with a playful wit. Haute Tropique chimes open a spread of plodding xylophone strokes. The slow trumpets blare in with the bouncy piano beat. The singer, Honus Honus, twists the half demented half happy tune into the tale of a creative cannibal. The song oozes the angst of the mad man, as Honus Honus clambers out a shaky chorus. “I comb my hair! I brush my teeth! I eat my peas like a good boy’s supposed to”. Each odd act comes laced with layers of dark humor. “The fireman’s an ashtray The DJ spins as fan blades”. Dark humor serves a nice departure from some of the over-dramas.

 

 

It is not always about twisting humor and horror together. Mother Mother plots playful lyrics out on waves of feeling backed by cute indie dance beats. A song called The Stand reads like a day at the therapist’s office mixed with the chatty gossip of a grade school playground. Sickeningly sweet high pitched female vocalists ring questions in on echoes. The protagonist smooths out each answer with odd blends of sophistry, faux philosophy, and anxiety. “Tell me your fears” the voices casually ask. The guitar strings out a simple progression and the drum pats out a light rhythm in the background. “Okay, it’s everyone here” the man responds, “Yeah, and all of their peers, and all of their pets, and their chandeliers, and their cigarettes. I haven’t smoked in years!” All the while the drums build with each question until a pleasant mesh of synthesized songs explodes out into a chorus endemic with anxiety.

“I can hardly stand the sight of it all,

I can hardly stand the sound of it all,

I can hardly stand the taste of it all,

I can hardly stand the smell of it all”

Yet it sounds fun, playful, light and brimming with inane humor the whole way through. The songs sound like such a treat. I am constantly pounding deep media into the banks of my brain. When I take a trip to see something silly it floats so light I hardly want to take hold of it. Something feels reassuring about ending up in the middle where humor and heartache intersect.

~Austin R Ryan