Distant calling and the musical soul

A feeling, more a sense of awe-struck bewilderment, that I have never been able to shake off while listening to some of my favorite metal is just how can such an abrasive form of music be at times so innocent and absent of guile. The people who made this music often lived rough lives; frequently their opinions did not dovetail neatly with our own, to the point where there now has arisen a concerted movement to shame and blacklist them. And yet through their music, they revealed what I can only think of as the soul in its purest element. It is not conceivable for me to imagine that at that precise point of expression, the forces framing that expression could have been capable of malice, however vehement the mode of expression itself may have been. How we respond to music may be fiercely subjective, but the fact that music can elicit a spontaneous and visceral reaction in the listener implies that a mirror image, the one original, true cause, of that reaction must have necessarily existed to a lesser or greater degree once in the music’s creator also. I know what I feel, when I listen to metal, to be happily lacking in all ulterior, materialistic motive, therefore he who created this music must have partaken in that same selfless communion at one time, too, however diluted his subsequent endeavors may have become.

Mark Shelton once said that love of life gives us metal and so it has remained ever since. Beauty, at its fount, always springs from the noblest that humankind has to offer. An ugly soul cannot make beautiful things, because it has lost the ability to truly marvel at the magic of existence. Levity and bitterness are handed out in a relatively proportionate manner to all lives, even though the latter because of its inherent intensity always seems to weigh down far more oppressively on us than light-winged happiness. The difference, however, between the good and the ugly soul is to what extent each allows the bitterness to overwhelm and mar that which still holds promise and good cheer.

In metal, I catch a glimpse of that embattled soul still striving to break through life’s troubles to breathe freely once more, like how it must have before experience assumed graver undercurrents. Not rarely have I found myself overwhelmed with emotion in the middle of a song, not because the band obsequiously tugged at the heart strings like a common mendicant, but because real beauty, found in the unlikeliest of circumstances though it may be, above all else always wants to communicate and make itself be known. In that moment of rapturous congress, I can suspend all peripheral judgement and soak in the realization that a thing so precious can even exist, becoming in itself an unceasing cause for celebration and a spur to continue putting one foot in front of the other.

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1 Response to Distant calling and the musical soul

  1. Gord says:

    Well said! I often have to remind people to try to separate the art from the artist. These days, it seems that people are more and more incapable of such distinction though, sadly. The frustrating part is that fans (and I use that term loosely, because in reality, the people I’m referring to are not what I consider to be true fans of music) demand ever increasing access to artist’s personal lives, yet if (when) a musician says something they don’t like, they immediately and almost gleefully call for exile, or execution, without trial. As you said, the people creating this type of music are usually troubled in some way or another, and it should come as no surprise to anyone when skeletons are unearthed. Personally, I don’t want to know much, if anything at all, about my favorite musicians! It was so much better back in the day when all you knew about a musician was the information that was given in an album’s liner notes. The mystery of it all made it so much more interesting! Truly, the more you know about someone, the more likely you are to be disappointed in them.

    And regarding the beauty we see in metal, I think that the profundity of it lies in fact that experiencing it is not something that is achievable by the layman. It takes years to become fluent in the language of metal, it’s akin to deciphering a code, or archaic texts, in real time. We are able to translate and hear incredibly beautiful and moving pieces of music where the uninitiated only hear ugly, offensive noise. And of course, given metal’s current “cool” status in the mainstream, that is the reason for the incredible glut of facile, easy to digest “metal” floating around. It’s Dr. Seuss for the children, for those with only the slightest grasp of metal’s proud and complex language. Joe Sixpack delights in it, while those of us with a deep understanding of metal’s depth cannot stomach such drivel. While I despise metal’s popularity these days, I do take some solace in knowing that the underground will always remain underground, and inaccessible to the neophytes.

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