The Misconceptions Behind “Heavy Music”

By Andrew Fader

     Family gatherings are always alienating for me. I like to dress a certain way. A good amount of black, band tees that may or may not have some images or words that might cause a second glance. I’m not someone who follows trends or fads. I’m just trying to be an individual, something that is always preached towards kids, teenagers, and young adults. But in the end most people decide to “go with the flow.” That’s never been me.

    The same applies with my musical taste. It is quite eclectic. I’m not a one trick pony. I’m particular about the hip-hop I listen to. I love old school and current hardcore punk. Pop punk is on repeat often as well. Indie, singer/songwriter, progressive metal. You name it. But at these family gatherings I’m often asked, “So, what does your t-shirt mean?” Hesitantly I respond, “It’s a band”, hoping the interrogation ends there. If not, it continues into a back and forth where I have to explain that the shirt is of a metal/hardcore punk band. They reply, “Oh, so it’s screamo/emo music?” Yes, some of the bands I listen to do have screamed vocals, but the act of screaming doesn’t make a category of music. And the term “emo” to describe a genre of music doesn’t make sense either. Isn’t all music supposed to be emotional?  Knowing that these two terms are woefully inaccurate I want to get out of the conversation as quickly possible and say, “Sure”, and walk away.

    You see, there is a stereotype that people who listen to heavy, dense, and abrasive music all have the same qualities; being angry at the world, portraying themselves as violent meatheads that beat each other up in a mosh pit, or have a “don’t give a shit” attitude. Yes, individuals like this do exist, but a large majority of the community that surrounds heavy music are some of the most down to earth, accepting, and inclusive people around. Those who do listen to heavy and distortion-filled music break the misconception some may have about the subculture.

    In fact, many of the heavier bands I listen to are extremely introspective via the lyrics and songwriting. Converge, an immensely influential hardcore punk band, that originated in the Worcester area, write extremely poignant songs about failed relationships, the drawbacks of touring, and self-reflection. The same can be said for the band Deftones, one of the more widely known metal bands mentioned in this piece. Their vocalist, Chino Moreno, is a wordsmith, and able to craft intentionally ambiguous lyrics that are, as Time has stated, “suggesting emotions rather than announcing them”. Buddy Nielson, the vocalist for the band Senses Fail has recently spoken about how he has struggled with his own sexual identity for most of his life. He is an immensely outspoken individual in support for gay and transsexual rights. Not exactly something most people would expect from the metal and punk scene is it?

Buddy Nielsen from Senses Fail

Heavy music isn’t braindead and generic like a lot of people think (although there are bands in these genres (and every genre) that are quite guilty of being unoriginal and vapid). Heaviness doesn’t always equate to anger or violence. Sure, the distorted guitars, odd time signatures, and dense songs may appear to convey those themes. However, if you open your mind and expand your taste you might find music that you can relate to on a deeper level. There is a complexity in both punk and hardcore metal that, in this writer’s opinion, is unrivaled right now.

It is also worth mentioning that many of these bands are on smaller labels or completely independent, meaning they most likely work a 9-5 job that helps pay for studio time and for other factors in the music business. I believe there is something admirable about creating music knowing that it won’t pay the bills. It shows that those who wish to make art will do it for themselves, not for fame. Hopefully, in a few years’ time, when someone asks me about a band tee I’m wearing, they’ll be curious enough to want to know more about the band, rather than just lump me into a preconceived notion of a subculture.