“You’re a metalhead? But… you’re so sweet!”
The first time I truly knew this was my world was at a metal club in Melbourne a few years ago. I was normally used to steeling myself when entering a club, one of my first thoughts being, “OK, how much more do I have to drink to make this music tolerable?” Instead, as the sweet tones of Pantera met my ears, the first time I’d ever heard music I actually knew and liked in a public space, I realised that I was no longer isolated; that a veritable world of metal existed beyond the couple of friends at school who shared with me a penchant for the heavier stuff. Needless to say, I drank about half as much and had at least 10 times more fun in that Australian place than I have ever experienced in Wahoo.
Metal is more than just a genre; it’s a way of life. Even, in some respects, a religion. We have our rituals (consisting mainly of drinking beer and headbanging), our clothes (band t-shirts), places of worship (metal gigs) and of course, our festivals. When you identify a fellow metalhead, there is a sense of solidarity which I can only liken to the sense of meeting someone who has the same religion as me. Despite the extremely vast spectrum of sub-genres, and the varying levels of how ‘practising’ a believer is, ultimately, this is a world united by the same thing.
Also like a religion, we’ve met our fair share of discrimination and prejudice. I don’t want to rant too much about the Grammys, where metal was only introduced as a category in 1990 and which for some reason thinks that Tenacious D merits it this year, but let’s just say its treatment of this genre as a kind of afterthought is extremely offensive. As for prejudice, someone calling our music “just noise” is almost like calling a religious text “a load of gobbledegook” just because you don’t comprehend it. You may not understand the appeal or the complexity of some of my favourite songs but that doesn’t mean they don’t have significance. Furthermore, being confused about how I listen to this music yet still on occasion like to wear flowery dresses is tantamount to saying to a homosexual, “But you don’t look gay.” You don’t have to conform to a stereotype to have a certain identity.
Metal really is an identity. Few other genres consist of so many people emblazoning their clothes, rooms and even bodies with their favourite bands. I’m currently on my year abroad in France and I have to admit that I only really felt like I belonged here when I went to my first metal gig. Despite the (at times) somewhat violent nature of the music, I guarantee you that metalheads will often be the loveliest people you will ever meet. I wonder if there is something to be said for the cathartic nature of the music; I definitely feel a lot calmer after a good old bout of some Swedish death metal.
I should also add that few other genres have such a powerful sense of humour. You may not realise that we’ll often joke about the alleged Satanic rituals and animal sacrifices at least as much as those who mock us. This is Spinal Tap, the hilarious film that parodies a 70s rock band, will forever remain a staple cult classic and bands like Alestorm, whose songs concern solely pirates, rum and ‘wenches’, is beloved by many.
As for being a woman in this male-dominated scene, there are admittedly some creeps, but more often than not the guys are quite respectful. At metal club nights, I have never felt safer as a woman around men in a club setting, probably because the music and the company are the main motivation for people to turn up, not some twisted laddish aim to ‘pull’. Even so, I accept that the genre still has a long way to go when it comes to its representation of women – I long for the day when a ‘female-fronted metal band’ is seen not only just as ‘a metal band’ but also doesn’t sexualise the singer – but then again which popular music genre doesn’t? It may be mainly a man’s world but I still feel more at home in a metal bar than I ever would in a ‘normal’ one.
To conclude, this music is my life and it’s where I belong. I hope you now understand why. Time for a pint.