Friday, 7 March 2014

The Metal Years

I was wary of heavy metal for a number of years, deciding without any real reason that I didn’t like it. I did, however, have a red vinyl 7” of Iron Maiden’s Number Of The Beast, but that was pretty much as far as my venture into the world of heavy rock went. I’m not sure what the catalyst was, but from about 15 I became more interested in the genre.  My cousin John had numerous early Kiss and Whitesnake records in his collection, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple entered my consciousness through him too. But for some reason, I think it was actually Marillion who may have triggered my heavy rock gene. Strange, as Marillion weren’t a metal band or even that heavy.

It’s probably fair to say it was the imagery of Marillion that I found intriguing. Kayleigh had been a huge hit and introduced me to the band’s music. Once lured, I became fascinated by the artwork on Marillion’s record covers. Prog-rock and concept albums had passed me by up to that point; ‘Misplaced Childhood’, Marillion’s third album, was my first experience of this oft-maligned sub-genre. It wasn’t something I pursued in great depth, but maybe it made me realise guitar solos were nothing to be scared of.

I remember when The Final Countdown by Swedish hair-metal band Europe reached number one in the UK charts. To this day I can’t figure out how that ever became such a big hit, and at the time I thought it was awful.
Then Def Leppard and Bon Jovi released records that sold zillions and I found myself *gasp* playing air guitar! I bought a denim jacket. I bought a real guitar and started to teach myself how to play it. Badly[1]. My hair grew gradually longer. I started scouring second hand record shops for Saxon records!

It wasn’t all bad though. When Guns ‘n’ Roses released Sweet Child o’ Mine and subsequently ‘Appetite For Destruction’[2], I discovered there was another type of rock audience out there. The leather-clad, smelly, bearded biker brigade (which wasn’t just a stereotype, they really did – and probably still do – exist) that frequented metal circles were not those raving about this new, younger breed of rockers. I remember Ian Bousted, a mate from college, introducing me to the likes of Skid Row and Dogs d’Amour, where the styles and fashions of the band members defied that stereotype. Sure, the hair was still long and the occasional pair of leather trousers may have made an appearance, but Spinal Tap they were not.I remained a bit of a metal head for a few years, though it was a part-time thing. Indie music came along and stole my heart, but I still flirted with the rock crowd for a bit. My nadir of this period has to be when I was talked into taking Andrew, a mutual friend of me and Ian, to a Tigertailz show in Exeter. He needed a lift and had somehow got a press pass to get backstage and take some pictures after the show. The band was, rather predictably, terrible. A shame because when we met them afterwards they were really accommodating and seemed genuinely nice guys.

I became quite embarrassed of my liking for rock and metal from college onwards, keeping much of it secret. Of course, it was fine to love Led Zep, early Black Sabbath, Hendrix, even AC/DC, but Saxon, Whitesnake, Maiden et al were off limits. Even liking Metallica was questionable. Over time though, I’ve become comfortable with my taste and refuse to pretend I like something just because it’s cool, or hate something just because it’s not[3].  In fact, I rate Metallica’s Master of Puppets and Ride the Lightning as two of my all-time top ‘heavy’ albums.

So, fast forward to 2014: I’m still not a big metal fan per se, but I do dabble now and again when the mood takes me. It’s also worth remembering how rock was changed for good when grunge and so-called ‘alternative’ music shook things up in the early 90s. Heavy does not necessarily imply ‘metal’ these days. If I do listen to ‘metal’ now, other than Metallica, Motorhead, etc, it’s probably going to be something towards the more extreme end of the scale. I’m rather partial to a bit of Napalm Death, and more recently have discovered Sunn O))), an experimental drone/doom metal duo who I find fascinating. Likewise, a Japanese band called Boris, who I am seriously into right now, whose roots are in doom metal, but who are waaaay beyond categorisation. This experimental side of the genre is in fact proving to be a bit of a revelation to me. It appeals to my dark, reclusive side and actually makes me feel better if I’ve been having a bad time. It also freaks the kids out somewhat, which is not necessarily a bad thing…


[1] I succeeded at this – I still play guitar badly with remarkable proficiency.
[2] If I’m being really honest here, that album is still an absolute belter, even though Axl Rose has subsequently  proven himself to be a twat of the very highest order.
[3] For the record though, spandex trousers – as worn by the likes of Biff Byford of Saxon and many of his peers – are not cool, never were cool and never will be cool; I hate them.

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