By Peter Salvatore Matthews
When you see me with headphones, I’m enjoying my guiltiest pleasure right in front of you.
The music you listened to at ages 19 and 20 imprints in your mind and influences you. I will always be under the influence of cheesy European songs about dragons. The death of my teenage years were a golden age for power metal. High notes, catchy choruses about heroes and evil kings, album covers with greased up Conanish muscle men – you could try to convince your parents that it wasn’t a record of gay bar anthems, but you left them wondering. Just in case.
This was not what the kids were into, not the strange hip thing. This was the music of misfit kids who spend their lunchtimes in shadowed classrooms playing Dungeons and Dragons, the awkward and growing who lope rather than walk, the Igors looking for a romantic Frankenstein to serve and never finding her (they’ve imagined that first conversation a million times but only their own lines because they’re not sure how girls talk).
The music is their muscle bound demon slaying opposite.
This is American band Manowar. Ah, when all Vikings were strippers.
So what are these bands? Have I heard of them?
Rhapsody of Fire are four Italian men in velvet who write entire fantasy novels of lyrics. They have an album about unicorns. Oh and they did several songs with Christopher Lee. You know, Saruman. Their guitarist Luca Turilli made a music video where he blows up the moon using a sword. Not for any reason. The song is about elves.
Blind Guardian began as an evil band called Lucifer’s Heritage, then they started making songs about Lord of the Rings. Something about fantasy mutates normal bands into power metal. Now the songs educate people about their favourite novels, using actual quotes in the lyrics.
Christopher Lee. Yep. At age 90, he wanted the world to know he was descended from Charlemagne … and he told us in metal album form. In one music video, his backup vocalist air guitars on a sword. See a pattern?
There is a type of power metal called Extreme Metal. Only one band exists under this genre: DragonForce. Their members are from all over the world and consider the hands-free beer holders they bring onstage to be a musical instrument. They use song titles such as Die by the Sword and Power of the Ninja Sword. Cracked.com once counted all the times certain words appear on their second album:
There’s one other theme in power metal. Every song is about winning something. A battle, a riddle … okay, mainly battles. It’s a refuge for the downtrodden. It’s natural to hear this music and feel like an angered god.
Power metal has some of the most talented vocalists in music. Certain melodies become more famous than the bands, like that Lost Horizon song whose name doesn’t matter.
Then there’s Babymetal. They’re not power metal, but they are geek metal. Three Japanese schoolgirls formed a band and made face melters out of topics like chocolate and waking up for school. They have deadly loyal fans. Members exchange gifts and offer out of towners a place to stay. Unlike most metal, there’s an even number of male and female fans. Local Babymetal club member David told me in a message, “one fan for example lost his passport in England and the fan club found it and tracked him down and returned it to him safely so he could make his flight.”
“they are … the most intense fans of any group I have come across.”
A similar band called Ladybaby has grown around Australian transvestite wrestler Ladybeard, who is famous in Japan.
I make light, but this music has saved lives. No, it did more. It’s possible to do more. Say you have a loping Igor, clinically depressed, who regularly lays on their bed unable to move. They’re smart and unhappy. One day logic will show them that there are less reasons to live than to die. Then, while they’re rustling through the knife drawer and deciding whether or not to run a bath first, the chorus comes into their ears. It’s an electric shock of power chords. It lifts them, it passes a rush from the band to the creation to the fan.
Then, when the music erases everything around them and they’re alone with the meaning of the universe or whatever this is, say the lyrics narrate the experience. Say it’s from Blind Guardian’s 15-minute epic And Then There Was Silence:
Like a leaf in an icy world/ Memories will fade/ Misty tales and poems lost/ All the bliss and beauty will be gone … Raise my hands and praise the day/ Break the spell show me the way/ In decay
There it is. They can imagine life going on. Just for now, there can be pain and hope all at once. Maybe it’s worth a try. They shut the drawer and for a long time they stand there, not even thinking.
Okay, that’s a life saved. Every great band hears that cliche compliment – “You saved my life, man.” One more person out of seven billion gets to live all their years.
David the fan said “there is a common theme of people on the brink of suicide or in very dark places in their lives having been saved by [Babymetal’s] music and outgoing attitudes.”
This is only the start of the process.
Say this Igor grows into their body and they are the ugly duckling of your class, the hideous kid who turned out hot, one of the adults who end up in bands. They find encouragement because the world wants to see their face now. They don’t even need looks. Being funny is often enough in the adult world, and funny people know pain because their mind can create painkillers. So they remember that song and wonder if they can do what the band did the moment their lives went on. They still play D&D, they still have their nerd friends, they create.
Nerdy hobbies are an Illuminati among famous artists. Almost all of them do something that teenagers try to hide. James Franco, Trey Parker, Steven Spielberg, Stephen Colbert, Mike Myers, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, Matt Groening, Elon Musk, porn star Sasha Grey, all D&D fans. Vin Diesel’s latest movie, The Last Witch Hunter, was based on one of his characters. Deadpool writers Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan have a podcast where they fantasy roleplay with their comedian friends. Then there’s the Community episodes (creator Dan Harmon plays too – he drops clues in his other project, Rick and Morty).
Kanye West, Terry Crews, Robin Williams – all huge anime fans. Hulk Hogan is mad about Pokemon.
Power metal will always have Christopher Lee. Iron Maiden doesn’t count because then we have to let in half of Hollywood including Justin Bieber.
Igors created your culture, they wrote and designed all your favourites. Your phone, TV shows, everything you look up to is just that Photogenic Metal Guy meme in idea form.