How Heavy Metal Is Keeping Us Sane

How Heavy Metal Is Keeping Us Sane

Dark and disturbing, the music is honest about human nature
By James Parker

To see a world without heavy metal, an unmetalled world, simply rotate your cranium a few degrees to the right or left. Perhaps you are in Starbucks, where it is time for your Iced Caramel Macchiato. Not a single unnameable beast assaults you as you make your way to the counter. Rounding the display of merchandise, you are neither hexed by depression nor dragged to hell in the arms of a she-demon. You place your order, quite failing to bellow with psychic agony. There is no heavy metal anywhere.

Or is there? For as you wait, drink in hand, at the condiment bar, in the usual muttering press of sugar-grabbers and milk-seekers, you feel a tremendous agitation. You feel, in fact, fleetingly homicidal. Who are these people? Why are they taking so long? If only you could smite them all …

“We seem to move on a thin crust,” warned Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough,

which may at any moment be rent by the subterranean forces slumbering below. From time to time a hollow murmur underground or a sudden spirt of flame into the air tells of what is going on beneath our feet.

Though written in 1922, this is metalspeak, pure and simple. The venerable mythographer was presaging not only the basso quakes and pyro-blasts that have long been a staple of the larger metal shows, but the metal mind-set itself. Since its invention (to which we will return in a moment), heavy metal has been the popular music most ardently devoted to Frazer’s underground magma pools, and most grandly expressive of their inevitable eruption. Metal’s commerce with the lower realm has been extravagant, ridiculous, and covered in glory. The sleeper parched of his dreams, or purged of his nightmares, goes swiftly bonkers: without fantasy there is no reality. It might be argued—indeed, it will be argued, by me, right now—that heavy metal has kept us sane.

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