I recently promised a young friend that I would search out legal-to-download free mp3s in his favorite genres of music, which include heavy metal, nu-metal, Christian metal, and death metal. I learned this week that a genre exists called Christian death metal.
I listen to music across a very broad palette of sounds and moods. A great deal of what I like gets the rubric 'experimental music', although I find that term non-descriptive, as the genres in question are so well-established as niche genres that real experimentation rarely occurs. I think it is safe to say, however, that I listen to perhaps a larger quota of atonal, microtonal, and irregular sounds than do some folks. I'm not one of those "noise snobs", because I love melody and classical and pop and folks and other of the traditional forms. I'm certainly not some kind of mythical musical modernist, because I am far less interested in the flavor of the week than in the aural experience. My last.fm on a given day can feature minimalist music, early recorder and lute music, twelve tone music, electronica down-tempo, dark ambient music, a church carillon, a classical guitarist, lots and lots of odd netlable stuff, a folk singer, the 1980s Manchester sound, the Ramones, and French cathedral organ music. I love last.fm because so many artists are available on its site whom I might never buy otherwise but love to hear.
Still in all, count me as "down for intriguing and sometimes difficult sounds".
Yet my aural tour this week of nu metal and death metal led me down aural and lyrical pathways I found not entirely congenial. In my teen days, I listened to a great deal of hard rock and heavy metal. I still will once in a while fire up something in that vein. There's a lot of good rock out there--it's become a staple niche thing, like blues for suburbanites.
I don't really mind the dark-spun cotton candy theatrics that go with much of this music. A little against-the-grain lyrical flourish is de rigeur for this kind of music. Folks, particularly folks who are (like me) of a *a certain age* tend to come unglued about nothing. For example, in the world of 2009, anyone with brains enough not to attend tea parties would see Black Sabbath lyrics as metaphoric expressions about life's challenges, rather like a Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode. But in my youth, older people worried about the music's dark religious imagery. So these things always go--people, left wing or right wing, hep or hot or cool or square, are always literal about the metaphoric and metaphorical about what should be literal. I don't mind if the music has a dark slant.
Still: when I watched a youtube of one very popular nu-metal band, the live track started out with the lead singer hurling expletives at the audience to ask if the audience wanted a particularly negative song title. Then the band, who seemed to be a cast of thousands, began to play the song at a pace rather like a 160 beats per minute techno sound. 2 of the throng of band members began to gyrate, sans instruments, as if they were psychopathic serial cereal eaters, while the lead singer recited atonally a lot of things that sounded pretty foreboding, though the words were barely decipherable. The tune was, shall we say, a little more insistent than melodic. After a few moments, I moved on to greener pastures. The music was too harsh for me.
I am nothing if not dogged. Having decided to fulfill my promise to find legal-and-free mp3s in the metal genre, I turned my attention to this curious thing called "Christan metal". I had not listened to Christian Metal since I was 19 or so, when The Resurrection Band, a melodic group of Jesus People from the Chicago area, used to put out soaring, jam-band melodic metal. I am here to report that the world has changed a bit since then.
Now there are Christian metal bands who use all the martyrdom metaphors in their lyrics and play speed metal, death metal, nu-metal or other fast, loud genres. Unlike "contemporary Christian music", that odd form of recycled Brill Building pop with "cheer up feel the love/streaming from Heaven above" music, this music did not bear the stamp of being something that old people feel kids ought to love because it's good for them. I never knew that so many Scandinavian bands exist in this genre, nor that this entire genre of bands was so entrenched and established.
In some ways, this is refreshing, because the Word Publishing Company form of music, with its love/dove/God above trite lyrics, surely lost the persuasion of more folks as to the desirability of faith than ever a heavy metal riff did. I remember when the contemporary Christian movement focused on young, likable stars like Amy Grant and Twila Paris who wrote sweet but not too annoying calls to faith. Now, though, the movement seems determined to destroy every church hymn in pursuit of songs like the one in which the congregation sings "God is my Friend" twenty times or so to an annoyingly predictable pop melody. It's enough to make one long for plainsong. Let's mark my survey form as preferring the stark and sometimes death-aware 18th and 19th century sacred harp hymns to the cheery, chin-up even-Richard-Carpenter-would-not-be-this-s
On one level, therefore, the Christian metal songs impressed me, in that they did not feel like sales pitches for one narrow take on faith, nor did they feel like teasers to get one to visit Christian bookshops and buy anti-scientific bumper-stickers in which the ICTHYS fish flips its tail at Charles Darwin.
I found a lot of free things to download at last.fm. I was disappointed that I could not find any Christian rock netlabels, as I love Creative Commons netlabel sharing the most, but I was pleased that last.fm has a goodish few free, legal downloads. I listened to a number of them, and even liked a few of the songs quite well. A goodish number more were just like the secular nu-metal, only with different lyrics.
I listen to a lot of rock even yet, although when I go for a more metal sound I am more inclined to choose the progressive ambient metal of instrumentalists Saxon Shore than Metallica or Slipknot. Still, I come to the following conclusions:
a. although I am fine with atonal music, I prefer it to be atonal in ways I find congenial;
b. anyone can rock out equally well with any lyrical content:
c. the Eurovision song contest should be won every year by a metal band:
d. there should be hundreds of Christian rock netlabels; and
last, but not least, when i finish a session of trying out Christian metal bands, I head immediately to the most melodic, atmospheric, pad-pleasant ambient music I can find. Like the heroine in the movie "Big", I have been 13, and it was hard enough the first time.
I suppose I am truly post-rock.