Like music? Try metal!

Snehal Choudhury, Staff Writer

It’s nearing finals week again, typically characterized by students—often running on Dunkin’ and very little sleep—scrambling to relearn a boatload of class material they might’ve forgotten during the semester and fighting to keep their GPA intact. And not to mention finalizing move-out and summer plans. Simply put, stress levels on campus are at an all-time high. Some people diffuse their stress by working out. Others fall down the TikTok rabbit hole. Or, if you’re like me, you pop in headphones and just vibe to music.

Many people find solace in pop or rap, but not me—I must confess that I am a metalhead. Along with hard rock, I got hooked late in my high school career after spelunking through YouTube and finding metal songs by accident. Now, in college, my metal repertoire has expanded.

However, I feel weird admitting this because while there is a sizable community of loyal metalheads, that’s generally the last kind of music most people want to listen to. A 2018 survey of people from 18 countries found that 64% and 57% of respondents preferred listening to pop and rock, respectively, while only 19% preferred metal. Whether it’s online or in real life, there are plenty of people who insist that metal is absolutely despicable.

A common complaint is that metal just consists of ear-shredding, fast-paced, distorted guitar riffs and guttural screams, making the lyrics impossible to understand and unpalatable for the average listener. Unlike melodic pop songs that often have a predictable structure and lyrical earworms, metal songs don’t usually follow that format. 

However, this is intentional. Metal is inherently rebellious, opposing the musical status quo. This includes utilizing unconventional song structures, long song lengths, fast and aggressive instrumentals, extra sounds and darker subject matter. While that can be a turnoff for some, pushing the boundaries is what makes metal so alluring to fans. If you think about it, this unorthodox approach to music is an art form of its own.

Unlike many other genres, vocals and lyrics don’t always take center stage. The interplay between guitars, drums and other instruments greatly contributes to the listening experience. When listening to metal, think about the sheer ingenuity and effort it took to coordinate these instruments to create complex, stimulating and memorable riffs—it requires skilled musicianship. For example, the band Tool played one of their songs to the rhythm of the Fibonacci sequence. If you listen closely, you can detect a melody behind all the drums and heavy guitars playing at an odd key. Sure, it doesn’t sound like sunshine, but it’s still an incredible form of music.

Plus, there are many metal subgenres, such as heavy or thrash metal. Contrary to popular belief, not all metal is built the same. Progressive and alternative metals are examples that can have more comforting instrumentals and more melodic vocals—listen to Tool, Opeth and Chevelle. Or try listening to more popular metal groups such as Metallica or Iron Maiden, since they are better suited to the public’s musical tastes.

Other misconceptions about the metal genre include that it is reserved for angsty youth or that listening to it makes people more angry and violent. However, the metal fan base is diverse—they are not all “loners” or “social deviants.” While some take umbrage at the seemingly inappropriate subject matters covered by metal (i.e., political and social issues, death, gore, destruction, etc.), how is it any worse than pop songs that often include references to sex or partying? Additionally, metal deals with challenging emotions like sadness, anger and betrayal; these are universal, visceral emotions everyone experiences, making metal a lot more relatable than you may think. Furthermore, one study indicated that metal music does not desensitize individuals to violence. Research has also found that it can help metalheads emotionally regulate and process difficult feelings like anger. For many people, it can be incredibly beneficial.

For me, metal is therapeutic. Whether I feel sad, burnt-out or angry, the headbanging music and screaming vocals help me contend with these feelings. Metal even diminishes my daily stress and recharges me, akin to a warm bubble bath in my brain. In high school, being myself made me somewhat of an outsider and to survive the social landscape, I had to pretend—shattering any self-confidence I’d had. Listening to metal helped me realize how unapologetically genuine it was, empowering me to do the same. Along with my supportive college friends, metal gave back the confidence I’d lost in high school.

To clarify, I’m not asking you to convert to metalhead status—perhaps the next time you listen to music, maybe you can sprinkle in a metal song or two. If you still don’t think metal is worth a listen, that’s okay, but hopefully, I showed you the beauty of this oft-misunderstood art form.