It is a convenient escape hatch for many metal bands to say that they are not politically motivated or that they hold no interest in political happenings. On initial reading, this opinion seems something you can identify with; after all, who can not be repulsed by the cyclical and depressing nature of global news? Stay out of reach of coverage for a few months and, assuming you have a reasonable grasp of history, you would be, or rather would not be, surprised at how little has changed on the ground in the broader sense. Today’s seeds were sown many years ago, but if you, in all your gullible exuberance, were a keen witness to that seeding process then, can you help being disenchanted with the predictability of your surroundings in the now?
Life itself is politics on a scaled-down level and our transactions occur on a limited platform, with a constant tug, shove, and positioning for leverage involved in mostly everything we do, whether consciously or otherwise. But even so, if escapism is all that metal bands imply by claiming apolitical pardon, then I could entirely empathize with their stance. I understand which place themes of an escapist mentality come from; when the soil of the soul is too barren for fertile thought to take seed, the soul has to take wing and find a home in more favourable settings. Metal has a rich and redoubtable history in this respect, and one that should never be subject to misinterpretation.
But I don’t believe that this is all that metal bands insinuate. I think what many of them truly mean is that they are wary of approaching topics that might gather them unwanted attention, topics that still retain the odor of social stigma. People are surprisingly well-attuned to the bandwidth of tolerance in the zeitgeist of the present, and they know how to push underlying cultural cysts just enough without risking great and painful inflammation. Metal bands are no exception to this wiliness; they pretend a risqué exterior, speaking of things that, though still on the fringe of acceptable discourse, are in a continuous motion inward and towards a center waiting to domesticate and absorb it into its edgeless fold.
So, issues can be talked of in a general sense, and if said issues have majority support, then they can even be isolated and dissected to their marrow. Why? Because most human beings are cowards in the mind, and seek strength in numbers just like their primate forebears still do. If a subject has the force of mass moral rectitude behind it, then it can be safely discussed not only as a testament to one’s commitment to the common good but also, on an egoistic level, as a tribute to one’s misappropriated sense of courage. Be a rebel but make sure you swim with the current and you’ll be sure to find a dinghy alongside to haul you up and give you a free ride.
I would like to believe that metal is meta-existence, meaning that it talks about the things concerned with living itself, in all its glorious and unglorious shades. It describes these things, it assumes an observational stature, and then posits a commentary on them, unbiased or not. What I would not like to see is metal espousing corrective action one way or the other, in the way that, say, punk music does. The latter, unfortunately, is a fool’s dream because a zen-like state of equanimity is impossible when you let personal biases enter calculations. Come to think of it, such a state of equanimity is undesirable anyway; human beings are intensely emotional creatures and the art they make can’t be expected to be sincere and beautiful if it is cleansed of the passions that drive them, passions that have their source in the external world.
But these passions are undeniably attritional and warlike in sound and demeanour, both attributes indispensable in some quantity or other to what we call metal. I should like to hear dispute to the contrary, and if there isn’t, it should be blatantly obvious that these values automatically exclude the cowardice of sentiment by popular mandate described above. In my experience, metal worth listening to automatically gravitates towards a non-populist perspective on life, a perspective that is not decided at the polls or through consensus or indeed by rounding up support but instead is developed independently by outsider minds scattered across time and space , as their private meditation on existence.
This is the reason why metal is described elsewhere on these pages as an introverted expression of the self. That we find things we can relate to in the music despite our many differences is a testament to the universality of human thought, but these common things have to originate in isolation, with honesty, and in the absence of external coercion. When they come about in such a manner, they automatically carry with them not only ironclad conviction but also a tolerance for opposing views and for an exchange of ideas.