Heavy and dark music, since its inception by Black Sabbath, has forever been getting a bad rap.
Maybe it’s the ear splitting guitars, the screamed vocals or the pounding drums that is the cause of this. No one wants to see his or her kids go deaf from listening to music, and certainly heavy and dark music is usually louder than the music found on pop radio.
But is it just the decibel level that gets so many people worked up about the darker side of music? Obviously, this isn’t the only reason, or even a valid reason for condemning dark music. A kid can just as easily go deaf listening to Avril Lavigne as they can to Pantera. It’s simply a matter of volume control. Where, then, does dark music get its bad reputation?
Social conservatives often attack dark music because it represents a threat to normal, accepted values. For instance, Marilyn Manson attacks what he sees as the dogmatic structure of the Christian religion and the sway it holds in society. He does so in a very outlandish manner by declaring himself the Antichrist, dressing up in risqu/ costumes and making loud music.
As long as Manson’s music is out there it offers an alternative viewpoint to accepted values, in this case Christian values. Some people view this as a threat, so in turn they attack the music and the performer. These attacks often involve labeling the music and the performer as immoral, weird and even evil. And, obviously parents don’t want their kids listening to an evil person because it will be a bad influence.
It isn’t only for this reason that dark music has gotten a bad rap over the years. It just so happens that sometimes a listener of dark music will be an unstable person who commits some sort of horrendous crime. It is easy for a social conservative, who wants to see his or her values stay intact, to blame the music for the crime. It might be said that certain tendencies found in the music, such as violence, suicide, and hate, pushed the unstable person over the edge and ultimately contributed to the commitment of the crime.
What is often neglected in these cases is that both the unstable person and those blaming the music for the crime take the lyrics and message of the music out of context.
Often, dark music appears to have violent and hateful sentiments, but upon closer examination these sentiments may be dismissed, used as a metaphor or totally misread. And most of the time the critics of dark music forget to mention the cases where people have found hope and release in this music. To be fair, these cases happen just as often, if not more than the cases the critics use to make their points.
Dark music presents itself in a way that is much different from mainstream music. The members of Slipknot wear gory, and some might say, graphic costumes. Mushroomhead and Mudvayne perform in gruesome get-ups. Maynard James Keenan of Tool sometimes performs with his face painted while wearing women’s underwear. One can look at these costumes as simply shock tactics used to incite the crowd, or as a means of valuable artistic expression. Perhaps, as is the case with Slipknot, the bands wear these costumes to protect their private lives and keep the music simply about the music and not about looks. (This last point is debatable.)
The critics focus simply on the violence or strangeness of the costumes, believing they represent immoral values. This, as has been shown, is not as cut and dry as they would like it to be.
Critics also latch onto the images the band presents on their merchandise. Slayer’s last album featured a bleeding bible with nails through it. For most, this is a shocking image indeed, but one that embodies the philosophy of Slayer that rejects the values of Christianity. These images are not just there for shock value as many critics contest, but also to make a statement.
Dark music has long been misunderstood. The heaviness of the music certainly contributes to this fact, but also the ignorance of the critics who listen to it. They simply take the actions and lyrics of dark bands at face value and don’t attempt to see the artistic validity behind such music. This has led to Ozzy Osbourne being blamed for suicides, to Pantera being mistaken for racists, to Marilyn Manson being blamed for the Columbine tragedy. All these assertions are made without knowledge of the music.
Dark music is here to stay. It provides many people with a safe outlet to challenge and analyze the traditional standards of a society. Dark music, being turned off by said standards looks elsewhere for its inspiration. This inspiration is found in the darker side of life that manifests itself in ways that seem strange and threatening to the mainstream.
Dark music and the lifestyles that go along with it (i.e. the gothic) don’t deserve the bad rap they get. Perhaps a better target for critics would be mainstream music, but that’s another article.