The biggest reason for loving heavy metal is the music itself. No other genre of music gives me the same pleasure and satisfaction that metal does, in almost all of its myriad forms.
I also love the fact that since its birth in the 70s thanks to Black Sabbath and Co., it has refused to meekly go away or die. In spite of the dislike, suspicion and downright hatred from some quarters, it has survived, re-invented itself a hundred times or more and keeps coming back for more. Some of the more ignorant sections of society dismiss the music simply as noise, refusing to elaborate further, thinking that this sweeping statement is sufficient. The fact remains however, whether these people like it or not, that metal demonstrates some of most technical, thought-provoking and beautiful music in the world. Oh, and it’s also extreme and brutal as hell much of the time too!
Out of this negativity however, comes one of the very best things about this genre of music: solidarity and togetherness.
Naturally there are exceptions to the rule and the scene has its posers, try-hards and downright idiots. The difference is that, in my experience, these people are in a massive minority and generally frequent the more ‘trendy’ or ‘current’ sub-genres at any given time.
In the main, metalheads are a very inclusive bunch, bordering on a family. A very large one maybe, but a family nonetheless. One look around at the beginning of a metal festival like Bloodstock and all you can see are groups of people erecting tents, sharing a beer, renewing old acquaintances and all chatting about who they are looking forward to seeing on the stage that weekend. It’s like the rest of the world is a million miles away.
Then there’s Progpower Europe. I travelled to Baarlo in The Netherlands alone in 2010, the lure of seeing Shadow Gallery on stage too big to worry about finding a travelling companion. It was a great decision and within a couple of hours of arriving, I was sitting in the courtyard of the hostel sharing a beer with people of all nationalities, all united in their absolute love for music. I plan to write a blog specifically on this special festival in the coming weeks but suffice to say, it is no exaggeration to refer to the attendees and venue staff as a family. This was proven beyond doubt towards the end of last year’s festival when, through tragedy, the Progpower family came together to support each other in one of the most wonderful shows of unity I have ever experienced.
How many of us have stood in a queue outside a venue, all donned in our finest black and favourite t-shirts and been subjected to the stares of everyone else as they wander past? I was never really that bothered by all the stares, but the fact that I was surrounded by like-minded people, I felt more comfortable and even welcomed the looks I got. ‘Stare’ I thought, ‘but the chances are that we’re going to have a much more fun evening than you!’
And then there’s the fact that I am part of a social media group which has the word ‘family’ in the title. I’ve never met any of these people in the flesh but we have come together through our love for music and speaking for myself, I value the friendship that has developed.
But it is not just limited to the fans. Unlike many other genres of music where it’s all security, sunglasses and aloof musicians, the metal world is different. Prior to the show, it is not unheard of to see the bands in a local pub or wandering around the local area. Depending on the venue, the tour bus will often be parked right outside with the musicians and support staff moving to and from, occasionally getting spotted by an eagle-eyed fan and accosted for autographs or a photo. I know because I tend to be one of them!
After the show, it is often the norm for the bands to mingle with the thinning crowd. The security staff will be shouting for the fans to leave the venue but are generally ignored as their heroes walk amongst them, clearing their own equipment or just engaging in conversation with those that have turned out to support the band, be it a summer weekend or a wet Wednesday in February.
Someone very wise once suggested that it was a bad idea to meet your heroes. On second thought, I don’t think this person was that wise after all because I have been lucky enough to meet many of my ‘heroes’ within the music world and almost without exception, they have been friendly, warm and engaging. The majority of the time, they are just grateful to you for taking an interest in their band and want to talk as much as possible about their musical visions.
Even before I started writing for Powerplay, the attitude of the musicians was positive. Meeting Evergrey in the foyer at Bloodstock in 2004 as they were selling their own merchandise was a highlight. Full of smiles and laughter, it is a moment that will remain special to me forever. Then there was the time I bumped into Herman Li of Dragonforce at a gig in London. He was not participating, simply there to enjoy good music and be one of the fans. He signed autographs and joked with us for some time. Or the occasion when I happened to be walking past the venue only to see the guys from Children Of Bodom sneak out of a side door. Despite arguably being the hottest property in metal at the time, they didn’t mind being accosted and were happy to sign my ticket and chat.
With the increase in social media, there are now other outlets for metal bands and their fans to interact. In the prog world in particular, it is not uncommon for the artists to pop up and join in discussions on various forums whilst other artists are active with their fans on twitter and Facebook. I know that the bigger music stars in the pop world frequent Twitter too, but how often do they actually engage in conversations with their fans?
I absolutely love the fact that the metal genre is a community and that it is a two-way street between the fans and the musicians. I think that’s why I remain interested and enthused to the level that I am and will continue to be for many years to come.