The death of the heavy metal hero

As the people who created the music we love reach the end of their lifespans, we are left to ponder: will we ever see their like again? There are aspects of their lives and careers that are part of the lore we grew up embracing as metalheads, our own private mythologies populated with metal heroes and events to rival any from past pantheons. Their origins and incipient struggles, convergences with other associates, the period of their flowering, conflicts, vendettas and the new legends birthed thereon, the loss of creative inspiration and, for the fortunate few, late-career renaissances, all these and more were signposts by which we navigated a large and meaningful portion of the world. And while these people may have been strangers to us, it isn’t inconceivable that unbeknownst to them they played a hand in shaping our lives also. After all, the energy we’ve invested into the music they made is bound to manifest itself in some form or another, and who among us hasn’t sensed this in the way we perceive the world and our reactions to the accidents it subjects us to? Heavy metal has been the soundtrack to our lives for so long that it is easy at times to overlook the fact that the very manner in which we think has been influenced by it, too. We might think ourselves fully-formed this hour and day, but nevertheless we were someone else a long time ago. The crucible in which this lump of clay was then given form was indeed made of heavy metal.

I regard the passing of these giants as the death of heavy metal’s conscience. While they were around, as past their prime or as “compromised” as they may have had become, they were a living link to a time when the genre was pure and creatively unfettered, a voice of authority, a lodestone of gravitas that demanded your complete attention even when you disagreed with what they had to say. No doubt a cult of personality grew up around these attributes, much as it does around any figure of magnetic potential, but what I allude to instead is the force of personality they possessed, the kind that acts through achievements and the awareness and confidence it breeds, but also because of whatever intangibles conspire to create a unique and powerful individual. This quality is irreplaceable, and as much as the genre mines the past for inspiration, time unfortunately moves in only one direction, collecting along the way the detritus of the present while polluting the lessons of the past.

That present being what it is, it is impossible to see a new generation of like figures emerging to inspire young metalheads ten years from now. This is why every death in heavy metal – and they occur with depressing frequency now – leaves a palpably heaving void in the discourse around the genre. Once the last relevant progenitor goes, the gates will be thrown open to the opinion-shapers who even now are busy stripping the totems of yesteryear of their aura and installing in their place hollow proxies lacking all virtue other than adhering to the trending party line. The dedicated metalhead of the future, if such an organism could exist in the unfavorable climate of the time, will have the unenviable task of seeing back through ever-denser revisionist overlay to get at the kernel of what this music means.

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