Last Updated on February 18, 2023
This is a column originally published by Lights Go Out zine.
When I was a teenager I was all about the fey breathy vocals, silly wide trousers and jangly indistinct guitars of what was then know as ‘indie’ (but has long since become ‘mainy’). Oh how I mocked the dumb thunky musical nothingness of Heavy Metal. All that hair? No thanks, I wanted, well, ‘all that hair’ of Madchester bands.
Being into indie music in the nineties was like being a part of a mass many-headed dictatorship, a collective fascism where you weren’t allowed to like any band unless a set number of your mates had already agreed that the hair was big enough, the beats were dancy enough and most importantly that the group in question hadn’t enjoyed any significant commercial success.
We were happy enough. We knew where we were, which is more than most teens can say about anything. We were yet to experience the touch of a loving woman, but we felt sure that playing in bands that mimicked our baggy heroes would solve that issue. Actually my first proper snog came from a groupie – the only time in history a lass has chosen the bassist of a band as the object of her affections, despite the singer and guitarist both clearly being very available indeed. But that’s a story for another time, possibly a time in the past. I’m quite repetitive in my ramblings.
A few things happened that shook my belief in slouchy backbeats and riffs clearly nicked from 60s psychedelic bands. The first event was the other three members of my band being bright and intelligent enough to go to university. I lumbered into a pre-nursing course at the local college, and more importantly accidentally fell into a punk rock band. This is significant because if at the time I thought metal was dumb I thought punk was amoebic. Then a very nice (and often very drunk) lad called Jonny on the college bus gave me a mix tape that opened with ‘Suspect Device’ by Stiff Little Fingers. My world changed that very second. “I want to be in a band that makes music like that” slurred Jonny. ” So do I,” I replied, while trying to discourage Jonny’s friend Barry from setting fire to my trousers. If ‘Then’ made me want to play music ‘Suspect Device’ made me want to be a part of music.
|Taking a zine moment
while setting up my old shop.
A few years later I discovered that punk was not what I thought it was at all, this happened when a mate in a fellow band called ‘Wolfe Retard’ (possibly not the name on his birth certificate) told me some overweight bloke called Mike had given him a few boxes of unsold compilation CDs from his DIY record label. ‘Cute’ thought I (in an uncharacteristically patronising moment) and politely accepted copies of Fat Wreck volumes 3 to 7. My world changed again.
Punk wasn’t leather jackets and gobbing; it was dudes like me singing about things that really mattered. Playing the songs with punch, passion and zero pretension.
Years of playing in crap venues to confused regulars passed. I slept in vans, on cigarette pocked carpets and I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had. I opened a record shop with one of these friends and I was exposed to many divergent types of music that I had never previously heard and I learned a ton of good music that I had never even considered listening to. And that’s when the heavy metal happened.
I heard the epic sweeping majesty of Red Sparrowes and Isis, the cascading sonic waterfall of tracks like ‘March into the sea’ by P E L I C A N and the tight canter of The Sword. Heavy Metal wasn’t all leather jackets and bad body odour; it was brilliantly intelligent arrangement and the sometimes glacial grinding power of bands like Sunn O))).
There’s a wealth of astonishing heavy metal in this world, if you just clear your mind of preconceptions you might find you really love it
I still love ‘Then’.