My sixteen-year-old son comes into the kitchen to see what I’m cooking for dinner and says: “Mom, “Inhumane Harvest” by Cannibal Corpse is such a good song. So is “Stabwound” by Necrophagist.”
This is like a poke in the ribs as he waits for my reaction. Sometimes he starts these conversations with, “Mom, guess what metal I’m listening to today?” He waits while I try to imagine it and take a guess. “Puking Maggots” by Blood Puddle?”
“No. Mom! “Lesions of a Different Kind” by Undeath.” He tells Alexa to play it, and a static droning comes over the speaker. I roll my eyes and tell Alexa to stop.
His father and I are nature-loving, birdwatching kinds of people who appreciate John Prine and Brandi Carlile. So, my son does not get his love for hardcore metal from us. But he’s been a dedicated listener for several years. I’ve witnessed his listening evolution that started with Metallica and other bands he now sees as mainstream, easy-listening metal. He went on through phases of folk, progressive, pirate, and Viking metal subgenres to arrive where he is now, listening to what he feels is quality heavy metal: the extreme hard-core variety with names like death metal, black metal, and goregrind. This ‘music’ sounds like white noise. There are instruments and voice, but it melds into a blurred shriek, at least to my ears. My son, though, feels this extreme metal is the most exciting and thrilling to listen to since, he says, “it hits harder and therefore can be more emotional.”
In the 1970s, when metal was becoming a new thing, lyrics and performances often included a large dose of aggression and machismo steeped in showmanship and brute force. Metal’s distorted, loud extended guitar solos and competing vocalists seem to have been conceived on shock value and rage. Album covers, songs and performances are centered around images of ghouls, the occult, gore and other grisly, dark themes.
Am I worried that some of my son’s favorite bands of the moment are Two Hundred Stab Wounds, Malignant Altar, and Acid Bath?
No. Not even a little.
My kid’s genuinely a nice person who makes friends wherever he goes. His musical interests extend far beyond metal and include artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Lorde. He’s the lone vegetarian in the family, a staunch defender of LBGTQ rights, a jazz band performer, a fantastic writer, and a theater lover. All that, and he really digs metal, particularly the dark, raging kind.
Karl Spracklen, Professor of Sociology of Music, Leisure, and Culture at Leeds Beckett University, studies music counterculture. Spracklen says of heavy metal: “… it’s counter-cultural, against the mainstream, angry at alienation. It’s a space for rebels of all kinds.” Penny Brazier, a freelance writer, who’s covered heavy metal, has likened the enjoyment of the genre to the kind of thrill-seeking that lead people to horror movies. She says: “We love to be scared, and there’s a certain power in sharing freaky things that will either disgust or delight our friends and family. From there, we can form our own band of weirdos who share the thrill and revel in our commonality.”
My son and I talk about what specifically draws him to metal. He explains it as some kind of emotional outlet channeled through “sonic maximalism.” His words. “It’s pure chaos,” he says. “A cry of primal anger.” When I ask if he’s angry, he says no. He just likes the sound of destruction. He thinks that the super harsh, white noise mixes and hostile guitar tones are cool. I ask if he ever went to a concert, would he get in the mosh pit? “No, not for the first show anyway. But I think it would be a concert filled with people having a really good time.”
I ask why he likes to tell me the metal band names and songs. “It’s goofy,” he says. “It’s odd that these bands keep naming their songs after medical emergencies or whatever. And it’s funny to tell you the names because you’re my mom. But at the same time, “Tow Rope Around the Throat” by Two Hundred Stab Wounds is a really good song.”
Does he ever worry what I’ll think? “No,” he says, “because we have very good trust.”
Yes, we do. And I respect my son’s deep love of heavy metal. People are interesting in their complexities. Diversity makes for a richer human tapestry and the world would be a terribly lifeless place without it.
My son recently sent me an Instagram post by the lead singer of Cannibal Corpse, George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher, who’s pictured with his wife and two teenage kids, all with silly grins, looking in every way like a typical family, except for the bunny ears on their heads.