“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
What does your fellow metalhead think about when you’re both listening to Dreamer Deceiver? Do emotions have a common currency, or is each individual defined and coloured by his own private experiences, thus responding accordingly to the musical stimuli he receives? Can a common consensus for what constitutes good and true heavy metal ever be arrived at from the cesspit of relativism? Does a note, a bend, a trill or a vibrato have inherent value of itself, or is it a mere accessory to embellish a good time? Are certain minds more capable of discerning the substantial from the frivolous, and is this a quality that can be learned and honed over time through appropriate exposure, or is it something more innate and congenital to constitutions of a particular inclination?
Materialistic neurology and brain science reveals many marvels that can enhance our understanding of how music affects perception. Input -> Assimilation -> Processing -> Output. Simple enough. We are all formed from a similar biological, structural make-up, but only to a certain extent, beyond which we dive into a murky world of infinitely fine-tuned, individual calibrations, albeit entirely physical ones. Further still, however, lies the even more fiercely private realm of memories and how our very own CPUs interpret sensory inputs by leveraging and interleaving them against this pre-existing data repository. For all the exponential progress in technology of the last 30 or so years, devising an accurate enough algorithm for generating this non-binary “multivalency” and building a unified, fully-functioning model of the human brain still seems laughably out of our reach.
So if we cannot arrive at a universal measure of how we perceive and respond to what we’re experiencing, more specifically hearing as is the case here, how do we decide what is good heavy metal? Are we to lay supine and play dead to the barbs and arrows of modern-day uncritical, all-accepting inclusivity? Consider djent and Slipknot as humble offerings at the fount of subjectivity? How are we to construct a uniform framework that suits, at present, our limited understanding, yet explains why so many of us feel so strongly about certain things? How do we explain the sense of unmooring from the constraints of time and space that we experience when we listen to great heavy metal?
We band together, that’s how. Not just by way of the music we listen to, for that is a treacherous path to take in this day and age, but more importantly through the convictions and values we share as human beings. We adopt a top-down approach towards understanding each other and the music we claim to like. We leave how we came to be who we are for future generations to understand, and we accept or reject each other on the strict grounds that we stand on today. Through honest interaction amongst ourselves and an evaluation of personal cause-effect, maybe we can learn a little more about why we feel the way we do and why so many others might not.