For most of you, I'd bet on some early sugarpop you bought on a lark as a kid. Backstreet Boys, LFO, something of that nature. That’s fine -- we’ve all been there. If you asked that question to my parents, it'd have to be Jermaine Jackson's Jermaine, which I found while flipping through their joint record collection once. Both of them deny ever purchasing it, but it's there, which meant that, at one point in their lives, my parents thought that buying the third- or fourth-most talented (depending on your opinion of LaToya, and anyways, there is a big dropoff after Janet) Jackson kid would somehow enrich their lives, musically. I've never let them live that down.
My most embarrassing album trumps all of yours by a wide margin. I am the longtime owner of Blind Guardian's Nightfall in Middle Earth. This is a concept album about J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. Only it's not about the coherent, somewhat familiar story we all watched on the big screen a few years back. This album is based around the Silmarillion, which is Tolkein's attempt to create a detailed backstory for Middle Earth.
Nightfall in Middle Earth is based on a HISTORY TEXTBOOK for a FICTIONAL UNIVERSE. I own this album. I've never read the book. I bet that copy of Pop by N'Sync doesn't look so bad now, does it?
Welcome to Metal. As Nathan Explosion would (and often does) say in Metalocalpyse, this would be considered “brutal”.
You’re going to require at least a rudimentary understanding of metal in order to really appreciate Metalocalypse, and though I’m by no means an expert, I have to believe that ownership of the aforementioned album and several others like it actually did some good in my life.. Like all good musical genres, metal is as much about the music's subject matter as it is the actual sound. Metal covers a wide variety of topics, but it's very important to understand what is and is not metal.
Death is very metal. Death is primarily important to Death Metal, but it’s probably accurate to say that death is the basic underpinning of most metal, unless you’re going into some weird concept album* territory.
*We’ll talk about concept albums later. Dethklok made an entire album about music specifically for fish. It’s very, very metal.
To this end, Murder, Suicide, and occasionally Arson are all metal. Burglary, Kidnapping, Tax Evasion, and Treason are not metal. Murder and suicide are topics that have, on occasion, bled over from metal lyrics to the bands themselves, most notably in the case of a band called Mayhem.
At one point in the band's history, they employed guitarist Oystein Aarseth (known as Euronymous) and vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin (known as Dead). Bear with me on the names. According to the rest of the band (keep in mind that this is a group of people who gave themselves names like "Necrobutcher" and "Hellhammer"), Dead was a bit of a weird guy. He would bury his clothes in the ground prior to concerts, and dig them up so they'd have the "smell of the grave" still on them. Upon finding a dead bird by the road one day, he put it in a jar and would smell the jar onstage, so he could "sing with the smell of death in his nostrils".
Dead was melancholic, humorless, and depressed, so it should come as very little surprise that, in a woodland cabin that the band shared, he committed suicide with a shotgun. This would be about 1991 or so. He was discovered by his friend and bandmate, Euronymous.
What would you do in this situation, after freaking out? I'd like to think you'd call the police or something of that nature. I don't know whether or not Euronymous freaked out, but he did not call the police. He went to a local shop, purchased a disposable camera, arranged certain items around Dead's...well, dead body, and took several photographs of it. One of these photographs was later used for the cover of the Mayhem album Dawn of the Black Hearts. Metalocalypse actually makes a direct reference to this in the very first scene of the series. In their case, the man on the cover is actually a chef of theirs. Their employees tend to die a lot, although this hasn’t quite cost the band the Undying Loyalty (metal) of those they employ.
Rumors surfaced that the band had made a stew out of Dead's brain, and had constructed necklaces out of of his skull fragments. The band vehemently denied the first accusation. Brain stew! Ridiculous and offensive. Brain stew? What kind of freaks do you think you're dealing with here?
The second part was entirely true.
Euronymous, incidentally, was later stabbed to death by fellow band member Varg Vikernes, otherwise known as "Count Grishnack". Vikernes claimed that most of the 26 stab wounds in Euronymous' body were not his fault. The stab wound right in the middle of Euronymous' forehead was entirely his fault, however, and Vikernes only got out of jail for that one in 2009.
So yes. Murder, Suicide, Depression, Darkness, etc., etc.---all metal.
War is also very metal, perhaps because it combines all those things you've read about above. What's interesting is that the further in the past the war is, the more metal it is. For example:
The Iraq War is not metal at all, but The War of the Roses is. Roses themselves are not metal.
The Vietnam War is only a little bit metal, while The Punic Wars are incredibly metal.
The cutoff point, I think, is World War I, which is very metal. World War II is more not metal than metal. It’s a Minority of Metal. Perhaps that's because World War II did not have nearly as much Trench Warfare as did World War I, and trench warfare is unbearably metal.
You could probably say that The Past is, in general, metal, while The Present is variable. The Future is almost never metal, unless it involves Post-Apocalyptic Situations or Historical Anachronisms. Take Star Wars, which is not metal in and of itself. If Luke Skywalker was a Viking and had used a Battleaxe, Star Wars would probably be the most metal movie in existence. This would be despite Luke riding in Spaceships (not metal).
Vikings are probably the epitome of metal, right next to death. There is nothing that is not metal about Vikings. Think about it: you have essentially nihilistic medieval warriors, raiding and fighting for the hell of it, dressed in wolf/bearskin, covered in blood, and wielding all kinds of nasty pain instruments. That's metal as fuck.
My brother (who was in his share of metal bands, most recently a defunct outfit called The Arkham White) loaned me a CD once by Amon Amarth, called With Oden On Our Side. The first song was a rocking tune that described a viking raid on a village. Awesome stuff. Great for pumping yourself up before sports.
The second song was about a viking raid on a village. OK. Maybe it's part of a triptych?
Once I got to the fifth song, which dealt with the heretofore-unexplored territory of a village, raided by vikings, I kind of realized that the whole album was going in one very basic direction. But at least none of the members have murdered one another.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the video for Dethklok’s “Thunderhorse”, which you may have tried and failed to beat on Guitar Hero once or twice. I’ll concede some level of uncertainty as to what kind of warrior Nathan Explosion represents in “Thunderhorse”, but he’s wearing a horned helmet, so that’s good enough. At very least, he’s supposed to be Conan, who is both similar to our view of Vikings and very metal in and of itself. He systematically murders the other members of his band using a variety of Medieval Weapons (metal, even the wooden ones), then rests on an Uncomfortable-Looking Throne (metal) while his horse rides off into Space (debatably metal for the most part, but the horse is On Fire, so in this case, it’s metal).
Makeup is not metal. By extension, Hair Metal is not metal. Keep the spray out of your hair, you wuss. Paint that Makes You Look Like a Corpse is technically not makeup, so it’s very metal. You can see the difference in the career of Pickles the drummer -- when he was in his first band, Snakes n’ Barrels, he wore makeup and was not metal. Pickles wears corpse paint as a member of Dethklok, and it is very metal.
Faeries are not metal unless somehow corrupted or mutated. Elves are actually very metal, as are Dwarves, Orcs, Trolls, Goblins, Wizards, and most assorted fantasy concepts that don't seem too feminine.
Religion in and of itself is not metal. Aspects of religion are totally metal. Jesus would not be metal save for the fact that he was Crucified, which is incredibly metal. The Christian God* is not metal, as William Murderface discovers later on in the series, but Pagan Gods vary. Thor is metal. Bast is probably not metal, probably because Cats are not metal (Dogs can be metal, but Wolves are always metal). Cthulhu is definitely metal. Satan has his own branch of metal.
*We’re talking New Testament here. The Old Testament God, and really the Old Testament in general are very metal.
Concept albums are very metal, but the concept needs to be Obscure, Socially Awkward, and Repellent to Women. Kamelot's Epica is a concept album about Faust. We've already mentioned Nightfall in Middle Earth. Queensryche's Operation Mindcrime "tells a story of a young man, Nikki, awoken from a coma suddenly remembering work done as a political assassin, then falling in love with a nun, mixing around with heroin, seeking help, then being ordered to assassinate his love", and oh God, just kill me now.
Nu-metal is not metal. It's just embarrassing.
Running through the forest behind your parent's house whilst wearing a wizard hat and carrying a torch in broad fucking daylight is, unfortunately, metal. It is also embarrassing.
The tipping point* here is quality. Immortal isn’t what I’d call a good band, and “Call of the Wintermoon” is very clearly not a good song, so they can’t overcome their own absurdity. Dethklok, despite being a cartoon band, is actually quite a good one. Their songs rock very hard, and though they’re basically a parody of metal, one could argue that metal is a parody of itself. You could put any Dethklok song and both of Dethklok’s official albums next to any actual metal band’s output, and you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference.
*Malcolm Gladwell is not metal.
Dethklok is so good, in fact, that they have the ability to actually redefine what is and is not metal. Coffee is definitely not metal, but add a Dethklok jingle, a concert in the Arctic, and a few thousand fans crushed, mangled, and scalded to death, and look what happens: a thing that was not metal becomes metal. It would be a Beautiful Thing, if beautiful things were metal (they are not).
Joe DeMartino is a Connecticut-based writer who grew up wanting to be Ted Williams, but you would not BELIEVE how hard it is to hit a baseball, so he gave that up because he writes words OK. He talks about exploding suns, video games, karaoke, and other cool shit at his blog. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweeted at @thetoycannon. He writes about sports elsewhere. The sports sells better.