Man, I see the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.
– Fight Club
A type of music. An elitist cult. A dangerous den of negativity and hatred. Heavy metal has been called all of those things.
But what if it is some amalgamation of them all?
An identity that simultaneously has a huge following of millions of passionate fans all over the world, and at the same time is completely unknown to just as many millions.
An identity considered by its adherents to be the greatest in the world, yet considered by many others to be offensive, uncultured, and even dangerous.
Nevertheless, a culture such as heavy metal is one that our society needs…even more than it realizes.
From the gray-skied industrial wasteland of late-1960’s Birmingham, an environment seemingly unfit for human beings, a new sound was born. Much of the popular culture at the time was the hippie, flower-power movement—free love, world peace, free drugs. “Imagine.”
On paper, it may have sounded too good to be true. Except in Birmingham, and so many other places all over the world, it simply wasn’t, and never could be. It still isn’t.
A brave group of musicians decided to buck the trend. World peace, free love—all idealistic fantasy and so much claptrap. The real world was heavy metal factories, schoolyard brawls, family members dying of industrial pollution, and nightmares about that dusty old book with the pentagram on the cover that you decided to read from one night with your friends…and wished you hadn’t.
This was the world that Black Sabbath chose to expose to the unsuspecting mainstream.
Then, as now, reaction was muted. Let’s pretend it doesn’t exist; we all know that’s outside of our comfort zone. People don't really listen to that, do they?
But when the movement grew too large to ignore, the mainstream negativity lashed out and tried to choke off the music, the culture, the identity with its distinctive devil horns.
First there came the protests, fueled by fears of a Satanic epidemic among fans.
Then there came the high-profile lawsuits, and accusations of suicide, even murder.
Then there came the unparalleled Congressional censorship hearings, resulting in the now ubiquitous Parental Advisory labels.
Even now, after decades of history and a flowering of new ways to express the heavy metal identity, it is still greeted in the mainstream with a dismissive yawn. Heavy metal groups are largely unrepresented in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Precious few are able to crack the top 40. And even true legends pass away (more of them every year, sadly), without the pomp and circumstance, the front-page commemorative magazine editions, and six-hour primetime funeral spectacles attended by heads of state.
And society ignores this at its peril.
Because inside mankind, a war is raging between light and dark, between heaven and hell, between good and evil, and most of us are dancing right around the middle line between the two and trying not to hate ourselves for it.
Because without being able to indulge that other, politically incorrect side of our nature, without being able to keep that 15-year-old inside of you alive, where are we headed?
If, every once in a while, you don’t get the chance to just put on black leather, put your devil horns in the air, and just go nuts and scream, until your throat is killing you the next day and your head is still ringing from the amplifiers…how else are you going to do it?
Because if it wasn’t for this heavy metal identity, its bereft followers would resort to other, much more sinister means of indulgence.
Heavy metal is saving society…from itself. In a culture of excess, of struggle, of sheeple, of decay…there is a sound that rejects it all. There is a sound that says, “This is mine.” There is a sound that says, “I reject this world as it is handed to me, with these fake friends, this hopeless job, and the disgusting, fake, mainstream garbage that passes for music.” There is a sound of discovery that lets you say, “no” to the haters.
Because, from the late 1960s until today and far into the future, heavy metal is music of hope.
And hope is something that our society has in short supply.
So the next time you see some folks with long hair, clad in black and red, go ahead and smile and flash them the devil horns. For through this music, they are embracing the struggle within us all…and winning.