Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Metal Fans: A Field Guide

I've devised a sort of field guide to help you identify what kind of person you're dealing with as pertains to the topic of metal, and to help you navigate music conversations that may arise with said individuals. I've broken down specific classes into larger groups, based on how much or how little they are likely to know about metal.

And before you ask, all these "catchphrases" I used are in fact based very closely on things I've heard myself on several different occasions.

Metal Knowledge: None

Name: The Evangelist
Catchphrase: "Heavy metal [or "rock and roll" in extreme cases] is the devil's music!"
Favorite Bands: Bill Gaither, J.D. Sumner and The Stamps, anybody over 60 years old who frequently appears on the Grand Ole Opry.
Favorite Activities: Going to church, eating at Bob Evans, telling people that they are going to hell.
Metal Bio: This is likely a person who has virtually no exposure to metal at all. Their pastor may have shown them a short video about Mötley Crüe, and the remainder of their metal knowledge is extrapolated from that and contrasted against Bible verses. I know it sounds like I'm picking on religious people here, but the fact is this particular type behavior rarely occurs outside of fundamentalist Christian circles. At least, that's the case here in the USA.
What To Do: Never engage The Evangelist in a discussion about music. You cannot and will not change his mind about anything, so it's a waste of your time.

Name: The Naysayer
Catchphrase: "I hate metal, it's just a bunch of stupid screaming"
Favorite Bands: Depending on setting, usually some form of pop, rap, or country.
Favorite Activities: Telling you that your music sucks and that you are stupid for liking it.
Metal Bio: They've heard about 3 or 4 metal songs in their life, and those didn't appeal to them. Now they have decided to categorically dismiss an entire genre of music and its followers as being stupid and pointless. If you were thinking that such behavior sounds pretty self-important, you'd be right.
What To Do: Plug in your headphones and walk away.

Metal Knowledge: Extremely Low

Name: The 99 Percent
Catchphrase: "Oh, you know, I like pretty much everything."
Favorite Bands: Katy Perry, Nickelback, and The Eagles
Favorite Activities: Pretending to be open minded and to have a vast amount of experience with music when they actually know virtually nothing about the subject because they only listen to what gets played on popular radio stations.
Metal Bio: Like the name implies, this can be almost anybody. The vast majority of people, when asked what music they like, will give this response. What they actually mean is that they have no real opinions about music, so whatever happens to be on the radio at this moment is their favorite song. The same principle often applies to their favorite movies, their favorite books, and to most aspects of their life in general. There is a reason why it seems like everybody is into [insert super popular new thing here], and that reason is that The 99 Percent all are. In the course of all these fun new trends, an occasional tidbit of metal will burble up, so usually these people have at least heard a few Metallica songs or something.
What To Do: Just behave normally, since these people are far too common to avoid. It's probably not worth starting a deep discussion about music unless you really care what 94.1 The Rock has been playing this week.

Name: The Fogey
Catchphrase: "I miss the [60s/70s/80s/90s] when we had real music."
Favorite Bands: The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, or Pearl Jam depending on the decade they named.
Favorite Activities: Reminiscing about how everything in the entire world was better when they were 20 years old, and pointing out to anybody younger than them how inferior new stuff is. Naturally they ignore the fact that people their parents' age are saying the same things to them, because, you know, their  15 minutes in the sun really were the peak of human civilization.
Metal Bio: There's a little hope here that the speaker may be an old metalhead who was really into Judas Priest back in the day. Often they were not, but it's hard to say until they actually start naming the bands that defined their youth.
What To Do: If you like newer metal, just shrug and move on. If you like older metal, wait and see what bands they start talking about (and make no mistake, they WILL start dropping names with minimal prompting) before you make up your mind whether to stay or go.

Metal Knowledge: Low

Name: The Scourge
Catchphrase: "I'm, like, totally the biggest metalhead I know."
Favorite Bands: Shinedown, Godsmack, and (for some reason) Dying Fetus
Favorite Activities: Claiming to be a massive metal fan and name-dropping Dying Fetus to make you think they're for real before pulling the old bait-and-switch, sucking you into a conversation about *ahem* other music.
Metal Bio: The Scourge has actually encountered a couple of real metal bands, and that is what makes them so dangerous in the wild. You let your typical guard down and open up for a real conversation about metal, only to be punched in the kidneys by a fistful of hard rock. Admittedly this stage is almost a requirement for transition into a true metalhead, but relatively few ever complete that transformation.
What To Do: Be very careful to have them define "metal" for you before committing to a music discussion. From there make a decision of whether or not this is a selection you can work with, and engage or flee accordingly. If you accidentally get drawn in before realizing it's a trap, I'd suggest nodding politely and changing the subject as quickly as possible (unless you're the type to just punch somebody and run away, because technically that works too). To all the guys out there looking for a metal girlfriend, be extra wary, because these individuals are frequently female.

Name: The Crybaby
Catchphrase: "I really like metal and screamo bands. They know what it's like to be misunderstood."
Favorite Bands: Bullet For My Valentine, Trivium, Atreyu, My Chemical Romance, Avenged Sevenfold
Favorite Activities: Applying black makeup, listening to shitty music about how mean people are, and whining about how hard his middle-class suburban life is (which of course his parents just don't understand).
Metal Bio: For some, teen angst pulls in a dark direction. Fortunately, before those individuals can get to anywhere genuinely dark or dangerous, they are caught by the fuzzy societal safety net woven by Tim Burton, Hot Topic, and Victory Records. Since this net tends to reside in relatively close proximity to the metal world, there will naturally be some bleed-through around the edges, exposing these individuals to some bits and pieces of appropriately marketed metal. This net keeps them safe, but because they believe that they've really plumbed the depths of human suffering, it also makes them pretty obnoxious.
What To Do: Step 1, control your impulse to vomit. Step 2, fight off the urge to hit them in the face and tell them to stop being a whiney little bitch. Step 3, quickly make your way to the mall exit.

Name: The Meathead
Catchphrase: "Yeah, metal is awesome. I'm just into anything that's heavy, it gets me pumped and makes me want to kick somebody's ass!"
Favorite Bands: All That Remains, Bury Your Dead, and anything commonly played at UFC events.
Favorite Activities: Working out, wearing tight shirts, smashing beer cans on their foreheads, talking about how tough they are, and trying to impress college girls with their machismo.
Metal Bio: These guys like to look tough, act tough, and talk tough. So naturally they can't go around bragging about how they can bench 250 lbs. and how they have a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, only to get in the car and crank up an Air Supply cd. They need music as tough and aggressive as they are, so they often turn to the testosterone-laden world of -core bands. This plants them firmly on the fringes of the "real" metal world, and it prompts them to want to talk about their tough and awesome bands with you.
What To Do: Just try to extract yourself from the "this guy is an idiot but he wants to talk to me about music" situation as delicately as possible. Remember, it's very important to him to prove that he's a badass, so unless you also spend 10 hours a week in the gym, try not to get too confrontational.

Metal Knowledge: Average

Name: The YouTuber
Catchphrase: "This is real music, not stupid Justin Bieber crap."
Favorite Bands: Amon Amarth, Skeletonwitch, and a disconcertingly high number of other bands you enjoy.
Favorite Activities: Watching metal videos on YouTube, asserting his own awesomeness by pointing out that said videos are much better than Justin Bieber, and assuming that anybody who dislikes their bands of choice or who finds them annoying just needs to go back to their Katy Perry videos.
Metal Bio: The YouTuber typically seems to know a reasonable amount about metal music, and often has pretty good taste. His annoying behavior, though, makes you wish he didn't. After all, if he liked something else instead, maybe you wouldn't have to encounter his inane comments 50 times a day. This type of metal fan is usually only found online. The same strain of self-satisfaction can sometimes be detected when he is away from his computer, but it is only in the anonymity of the internet that he feels truly free to be his obnoxious self, free from consequences.
What To Do: If you encounter them online, it's usually best to just ignore them. If you can tell quite clearly that a person you meet in real life is one of these individuals, feel free to tell them to shut the hell up about Justin Bieber already. We get it, he's crappy and you hate him, now move on. Since The YouTuber is a cowardly creature by nature, there is little danger of a serious conflict if you do this, and perhaps you will scare some reasonable behavior into this otherwise perfectly fine metalhead. Alternatively, if you can just steer clear of his closeted Biebersexuality (what else could cause this kind of obsession with a singer he doesn't even like?) then you can have a perfectly good conversation about bands you both enjoy, and you may even come away with a worthwhile suggestion or two to check out when you get home.

Name: The Taxonomist
Catchphrase: "That's not black metal you dumbass. That's technical ambient progressive
avant-garde symphonic gothic dark metal."
Favorite Bands: Emperor, Arcturus, Bathory, Dissection (for some reason these guys really seem to go for specially-labeled niches of black metal).
Favorite Activities: Breaking down metal into an absurd pile of arbitrary sub-sub-sub-genres, and lashing out at anybody who does not stick to his strict rules for classification.
Metal Bio: This is somebody whose interest in metal often seems to be based on feeling intelligent rather than on really enjoying the music. Of course there are constant debates in the metal world about how many sub-genres is too many, and this guy falls at the extreme high end of the spectrum. Oddly, though he may spend a great deal of time correcting other people, this activity is often a mask with which he can hide the holes in his own metal knowledge. Still, a pretty reasonable amount of familiarity is needed to engage in this activity.
What To Do: After cracking through the initial shell of arrogance (during which process he will likely make a concerted effort to make you feel intellectually inferior), you can engage in any number of spirited debates about metal bands with him. Many of these will center around what label to give a band and why, but they can still be interesting and you may find yourself learning something in the process.

Name: The Metal Fan
Catchphrase: "Hey, nice shirt. I saw them in Toronto last year."
Favorite Bands: Dimmu Borgir, In Flames, Cannibal Corpse, and one band you'll be embarrassed to admit you've never actually heard.
Favorite Activities: Listening to metal, watching horror movies, going to concerts, sharing music with like-minded individuals.
Metal Bio: This is the ideal "normal" metalhead. Yes, they are out there, and in reality they are fairly common in the metal world. Often they know and like many bands that are more extreme than their favorites, but they're comfortable enough to just like what they like without worrying too much about their metal street cred. Music stores and metal shows are usually the best places to meet these people, since they spend plenty of time at those locations. They often wear metal shirts, and if you do the same then often conversations will begin with some variation of the above catchphrase.
What To Do: Just have a natural, normal conversation about the music you both like, and enjoy the opportunity to have a give and take in terms of potentially interesting bands. Also, many of these people will often listen to some non-metal music too, so don't be afraid to ask.

Metal Knowledge: High

Name: The Facesmasher
Catchphrase: "Me and my friends from school have a brutal death metal band. We're called [Insert Nineteen Syllables That Describe Chopping You Up And Eating Your Guts]."
Favorite Bands: Suffocation, Devourment, Abominable Putridity, and Gutteral Secrete
Favorite Activities: Going to death metal shows, playing death metal with his friends, being br00tal, and hating weaker forms of metal.
Metal Bio: Often somebody who got into extreme metal at a relatively young age, by the time he reaches highschool, The Facesmasher has grown bored with run-of-the-mill heaviness and now constantly delves deeper into the most brutal death metal he can find. Brutal, you may have noticed, is a pretty popular word with this crowd. While his current musical obsession may seem pretty narrow, he has plumbed the depths in his chosen field to an extent that few ever do.
What To Do: If you like death metal, engage and enjoy. If not, you'll probably run out of things to say pretty fast, so just keep that in mind.

Name: The Metal Hipster
Catchphrase: "I don't listen to death metal, it's too mainstream."
Favorite Bands: Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room, Alcest, Sunn O))), and several bands you've never heard of and will forget the names of 5 minutes later.
Favorite Activities: Discussing philosophy and politics while half drunk on PBR, wearing non-prescription black-rimmed glasses and tight jeans, trying to seem smarter than they are by talking about obscure bands you don't give a crap about, and being "ironic" in the vaguest possible sense of the word.
Metal Bio: Make no mistake, as douchey and obnoxious as these tools are, they do know their stuff. In fact, the extensive time and effort they've put into researching extremely obscure ambient black metal and drone bands gives them much more extensive knowledge than you in that area, which is one of the ways they justify their sense of self-importance. Metal fandom is purely an intellectual fad for them, though, so don't expect much passion or an appreciation for the attitude and energy represented by, say, thrash metal.
What To Do: Unless you have a high tolerance for self-satisfied pseudo-intellectualism, I'd suggest avoiding anything beyond the most minimal interaction with these guys. If, however, you are interested in learning about the area of their musical expertise and are not averse to doing a little ego stroking, they can be a bountiful source of information on the topic.

Name: The Gatekeeper
Catchphrase: "Yeah, sure. I can recommend some good metal bands for you to listen to."
Favorite Bands: A few you like (so you know you can trust him) and a bunch you've never heard of (so you know you can learn from him).
Favorite Activities: Listening to metal, searching for new music, shepherding new recruits into metal.
Metal Bio: The Gatekeeper has been listening to metal for a long time, and he is an extremely valuable companion on your own metal journey. Ideally this is what The Metal Fan will become if he spends long enough actively expanding his metal knowledge. Years of growing and learning about the genre and all its nooks and crannies have equipped The Gatekeeper to help new metalheads find their way into his world, and he is only too happy to oblige. Some people find their way deep into metal on their own but most require such a guide. Also, keep in mind that The Gatekeeper can and will continue to learn over time, meaning that many who fall into this category are at different levels of expertise or specialize more in certain areas.
What To Do: Talk to him, talk about what you like, be honest about what you don't know, and ask for help finding other bands that you'll likely enjoy. Chances are, he can give you a lot of material to work with if you just ask.

Metal Knowledge: Way Higher Than You 

Name: The Master
Catchphrase: "Sorry, I don't think I listen to the right kind of music to help you."
Favorite Bands: A bunch of stuff you don't know and wouldn't like.
Favorite Activities: Learning about metal
Metal Bio: The Master is a bit of an odd classification, because it functions relative to you rather than the other way around. Typically, this is somebody who would fall into the Gatekeeper category, but who sees in you so little knowledge or genuine interest in becoming a real Metal Fan that he believes there is no reason to make the effort. A good example would be if you are a Meathead who asks for music suggestions, and it is obvious to him that the range of your interest in metal will not expand beyond your current sphere.
What To Do: There's not really much you can do. If you hear this phrase, it basically means that he sees you as a lost cause and he is declining to engage with you.

Anything obvious I missed? Let me know in the comments.


  1. Nice! I think you pretty much covered it. I especially like your observations about the Youtuber and how anonymity makes his obnoxiousness possible.

  2. I got a kick out of this post as well. Very entertaining. We have all run across these people before.