Fellow metalhead/filmmaker Sam Dunn set about the world in his documentary “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey” to answer the question “what makes us metalheads?” I am not sure I have an answer but I’ll give it a go. His footage shows that the love for heavy metal music transcends countries, languages, and religions. Kids identify with the aggressive sound even without understanding the words. So it’s not always about the message. It’s about the distortion. It’s about the dark, heavy, bowel-twisting, eardrum-piercing, ugly music.
Ugly you say? Yes, ugly as fuck. For example, compare songs like The Fixx’s “Saved by Zero” with Slayer’s “Chemical Warfare.” The refined nuances of the first song are soothing, almost angelic; the arrangement, divine. One feels like floating like a feather. In stark contrast, the merciless wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am pounding of the second song forms a cacophony made from destruction and chaos, at least to the untrained ear. Think of metal as a pug: damn ugly but you can’t help but love it. The only time I called my friend’s pug ugly it sneezed on my face right on cue. Now I’ll sit tight and wait on metal’s reaction to my name-calling. But I digress.
Listening to metal was an outlet to express my anti-social sentiment. Growing up in a male dominated macho culture pissed me off. I did not understand why women in general were expected to be submissive. The gender roles were clear. Men brought home the bacon (and could mistreat their wives); women had babies and took care of the household (and shut up and took it.)
To give you an idea of what it was like to be a female in Venezuela, there is a saying which usually applies to unwed married women in their mid-to-late twenties: she se quedó para vestir santos (is only good to dress saints – the statues in Catholic churches.) The jokes were usually on women. Local comedy programs portrayed them as stupid, irrational and hysterical.
Older women in an effort of pretending to bridge the gap between generations said things like “so-and-so is almost 30 and not married but that’s OK, times are different now.” But I wasn’t fooled. A woman had better found a “man to represent her” by the time she was 25 or she would elicit pity from friends and family. That however didn’t faze me. I wasn’t gonna wash some dude’s underwear until the day I died. Marriage could suck it.
But being a woman in a chauvinist society was not the only thing that wore me out. Being held at gunpoint several times did the trick too. My car got broken into many times, so were my friends’. There were nearly no international metal acts touring our country. Traffic was backed up always and everywhere (not an exaggeration). I had mediocre university professors whose purpose in academia was to flunk as many students as they could. I’d blow off steam by getting together with friends, blasting metal, singing along at the top of our lungs, getting drunk and passing out. It worked! After a headbanging escapade, we were ready to fight another day.
So if Mr. Dunn asked me why I became a metalhead, I would respond it was to drown the external voices of the status quo, to seek solace among an open-minded group of people. To vent. To escape. But why am I still a metalhead after all these years? Well, I don’t know. What I do know is that I get goose bumps when I hear a great metal song old or new. I feel renewed after hanging out with fellow metalheads at metal shows, they are the best people one could ever meet. We are part of a tribe of sorts linked by energy. To quote Diamond Head: “It’s electric!” Or something like that.