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!

The Opening Act


The eclectic and violently energetic Man Man chose to tour with a much more toned down and rhythmic Murder By Death. The Black Cat packed to capacity and not a person had more than an inch of air between them and the next fan. While gradually accepting every time I inhaled I would suck in a sour mixture of foreign breath and various cindery smogs. The bands did no share too many features. Man Man distorts the sound of a 1950’s dance hall into a bizarre cavalcade of toxic talk and jilted gibberish. Murder By Death cleanly constructs cinematic climaxes, weaving a western folk tune in with a web of modern stories. A soft rock and a punk rock band were not playing together, but they were different enough that everyone there either seemed eager for Man Man or Murder By Death, not both. It got me wondering what made them tour together, and how much it means to tour with another band.

A live show can tell you a lot about a band’s health, lifespan, direction, influences, and so on, but one show provides just one isolated incident. To get an honest idea of what “live” means in the context of one band requires devotion, time, and money. But it takes a few clicks and a search to find out who tours with whom, and in many ways that simple fact provides more answers than how the band behaves on stage.

It turns out you cannot underestimate how much it means when bands build a bond. Man Man toured with Modest Mouse (a similarly strange band inflated with violent volta centered vocals) back in 2007 and now members of each band formed Mister Heavenly. Two bands can tour then rapidly forget about it. Kiss and Rush toured back when Neil Peart just joined Rush, and neither band become integral to the other, but when two bands strike a chord on tour it can jumpstart careers and change genres. My Morning Jacket brought Dr. Dog into a new world of popularity and success by selecting the burgeoning band as their opener. The Mars Volta got their start setting the stage for The Red Hot Chili Peppers, despite The Mars Volta sounding quite unlike any other band out there, let alone The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Mars Volta’s guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez occasionally played guitar for The Chili Peppers, perhaps leading the two bands to tour together.

Every instance above gives a glance into a part of a musical artist perhaps completely invisible otherwise. Omar’s involvement with The Red Hot Chili peppers and The Mars Volta demonstrates his prolific and splayed nature as a musician. Perhaps Man Man’s tour with Murder by Death demonstrates the conviction to tone both bands share. When a band like My Morning Jacket brings a band out of obscurity, perhaps it foreshadows forays into publishing and labels. And when Coheed and Cambria chose to tour with Between the Buried and Me and Russian Circles it might have gone a long way towards defining progressive metal as a genre, by amalgamating acts too weird for metal and too harsh for progressive rock. The next time your favorite band plays, be sure to get there early. The opener might mean more than the show.


~Austin R Ryan