"some music was meant to stay underground..."


I Hear Metal Everywhere: Other Styles Viewed Through A Headbanger's Prism

Photo of Megadeth

Band Photo: Megadeth (?)

I can tell you exactly when my love of music began. It was the fall of 1987 and my friend, Nathan, had brought over a new cassette that he promised would blow my mind. It took somewhere around five seconds, but from the first time I heard Axl Rose's air-raid-siren scream that opens Guns N Roses' "Welcome To The Jungle," I knew I was to be a metalhead for life.

Shortly after that, nearly every penny I could spare went toward the latest works by the likes of Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and their ilk. Then, as college and the Grunge Era hit simultaneously, I found my musical tastes expanding into alt-rock ranging from the likes of Nirvana and Alice In Chains to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Primus. In my junior year of college, I discovered the Beatles, with their total disregard for genre limitations.

From then on, there wasn't a single genre of music that I wasn't willing to at least take a chance on. Still, even as those musical horizons have widened, I still tend to view things through the prism of metal.

Several years ago, for example, I found myself in a jazz phase, which meant getting my hands on every bit of Louis Armstrong I could find. One of my favorite finds was "The Great Summit," which has Armstrong and his band, the All-Stars joining forces with piano player and songwriter extraordinaire Duke Ellington. The disc opens, appropriately enough, with a tune called "Duke's Place."

Jazz being jazz, everyone gets to take a solo, but the one that always makes the hairs on my neck stand up is Barney Bigard's clarinet part, because the first time I heard it, I said out loud: "Holy shit, that could be a Dave Mustaine guitar solo." Take a listen to how Bigard suddenly leaps up an octave as the solo starts, and then takes his time descending and tell me that doesn't remind you of Mustaine on "In My Darkest Hour," among other places. Or maybe it's just me.

I can definitely tell you that metal prepared me in another way for the discovery of Armstrong and his music. If it weren't for Motorhead's Lemmy Kilmister easing the way, so to speak, with vocals that sounded like he swallowed sandpaper, I doubt that I would've been able to develop a love for Armstrong's even harsher, more gravelly singing style. Every time someone tells me that a metal guy "can't sing" because of his harsh, growly vocals, I throw on some Armstrong to show folks that that really isn't the case.

The jazz phase was followed up by a roots rock one. Even those early records are surprisingly metal, if you can open yourself up to hear it.

It's not too far, for example, from Chuck Berry to Angus Young, both in terms of stage presence and in song structure.

That said, the one that really got to me was a clip of Jerry Lee Lewis banging his head like a wild man while playing "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" on the Steve Allen Show. Then, there's that "chugging" pattern in the solo that - tuned a little lower - could come right out of an Anthrax song. And that guy went on to spend most of his career playing COUNTRY music. But, before you go thinking that country's the least "metal" music there is ...

Obviously Hank Williams III has successfully crossed the divide between country and metal by offering up 3-hour "half-and-half" shows that delve deep into both realms. For that matter, his father, Hank Junior was known to consort with the likes of Lynrd Skynrd and Eddie Van Halen.

Could you really find anything metal about Hank Williams Sr.? Ask anyone who's heard George Thorogood's rocked-up version of "Move It On Over." For that matter, Hank's "Angel Of Death" is a damn sight scarier in its own way than the Slayer tune of the same name.

All that metal in country comes before we consider Johnny Cash and his late-career covers of Danzig, Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails...

Like I said earlier, your mileage may vary. But, as it says in the title, I hear metal everywhere -- even where most people probably wouldn't.

EdgeoftheWorld's avatar

Todd Wels is a professional journalist living in Grants Pass, OR.

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