Archive for January, 2015

This was a blog of random musings comparing genres of horror fiction and the like to the variety of genres in heavy metal music (two of my biggest passions), which was originally posted on J. Ellington Ashtons inaugural Virtual Readers Convention, JEAPalooza. I meant to title it as something a little more inspired than Horror and Metal, but hell, that name pretty much sums it up so I’m sticking with it.

HORROR AND METAL

Since I so often make reference to this, either in interviews or general conversation, or just about anywhere whenever the two subjects intersect, I figured I would write something which is a little more of a detailed exploration of the statement.

I am a massive aficionado of both horror and heavy metal, but this doesn’t essentially apply just to my writing, more of a study of how two often misunderstood (or maligned, take your pick) genres in their various fields can be entwined. Personally I often write to a soundtrack of different varieties of metal music; I am often inspired by it both lyrically and musically, and it often works to set out a scene or aid in pacing, or to trigger the right emotion and amplify an assortment of aspects in a certain story. I frequently infiltrate my work with references of a metal nature and often make mention that what I write is a melange of grindhouse splatterpunk and old school classic horror all driven by heavy metal, but that in itself is only skimming the surface in what I mean by the fiction genre and the music genre being so closely aligned, they may as well be brothers from another mother.

Firstly, horror is a massive multifaceted beast. There are so many different styles, types, offshoots and combinations of material which comes under the giant umbrella that is horror, that it is more than a mere genre, it is an enormous extended family breeding a multitude of horrific little subgenre offspring. The question regarding what horror is to different people, comes up so prevalently, and depending on a person’s perspective, personal choice, beliefs or notions, one could ask it of ten random individuals on the street and still walk away with ten entirely different answers.

So too with heavy metal. While it might be a little easier to try and pigeonhole than horror itself, in that most laypersons might define metal music as loud and raucous with lots of electric guitars and drums, the musical genre is much more than that, with the consideration that just like horror fiction, it is a huge family of subgenres, some of which are so far removed in sound that it is almost inconceivable to acknowledge that they all belong to the one genre. Both horror and metal are also constantly being further broken down into subgenres of subgenres, often to the point where it becomes ludicrous, though from an author’s point of view where you might be writing in some far out deviated branch of horror that has essentially spawned its own name, well you might be the only exponent of it. That should make your Amazon ranking look impressive when you’re sitting at number one constantly with your Cryptozombivamptrollpunk or what have you.

Anyway, let’s break it down a little. You can’t mention horror without thinking classic horror. The old chestnuts, the timeless pieces, old school horror done right; dark, scary, not necessarily needing to be overly violent or graphic to remain frightening, but horrific nonetheless. (After all, what is horror if not horrific? Without an element of the horrific or horrendous to it, then it isn’t really horror after all).

So what then is the heavy metal counterpart to that most dignified and enduring style of horror fiction? Naturally, classic metal itself, the original heavy metal. Where the genre finds its roots. If classic horror was a band it would be Black Sabbath. Feel free to argue and say Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, any other name from this era might slip in more easily, but in terms of imagery and profound impact on everything that followed suit, none are more appropriate than Sabbath. Horror and metal going hand in hand, see where I’m going with this?

We can then move on through the evolution of metal music itself to the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) which can be equated to the crop of supreme horror writers of English descent. I’m talking James Herbert, Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker, Mark Morris and so forth, and while granted, they are all very different in their styles, for the purposes of these ruminations they are aligned with the Iron Maidens and Judas Priests. Prolific, traditional, high quality and widely revered.

How about hair and glam metal? Lots of party tunes, drugs, sex, rock and roll and life lived to excess? Goes hand in hand with the eighties heyday of slasher and pulp horror. A whole lot of cautionary tales to be discovered in all of that. The eighties exploded with a massive proliferation of pulp horror fiction paperbacks and that decade was rife with glammed up schlocky bands with big hair and even bigger voices as well. Coincidence? Well, yeah, but you get the picture.

Then there is thrash metal. While there is plenty of fun, frivolity and partying in some of these exponents, there were also lyrical explorations of a political nature, concentration and focuses on natural disasters, impending doom, end of days scenarios and social concerns. Nature and environmental horror, either brought on by humanity or natural forces, step up. Thrash metal has your bases covered.

From uptempo, speedy and aggressive, much like some horrific hellstorm of epic proportions or plague of mutant creatures, which thrash metal might be synonymous with, we can shift to something completely different. The slow trudging crawl of doom metal. Sounds akin to the likes of Poe and Lovecraft. Claustrophobic, dark, despairing and dragging one towards something ominous and inevitable. Technically, Lovecraft could slot in just about anywhere in terms of metal comparisons, since bands and acts from all continuums of the genres have been widely influenced by his work (Metallica, Electric Wizard, Mercyful Fate, Innsmouth, Morbid Angel, I could go on for a while here), but in likening his writing style to anything, there is nothing better suited than the bleak heaviness of doom metal.

Gothic metal? Gothic horror. That was too easy. Tales of the supernatural and paranormal, romantic overtures, magic elements, dark and brooding, yet epic subject matter told on a grand scale slide perfectly in right here, whether it be fiction or music. Of course, the entire notion of vampires and other legendary creatures of horror lore fit within the Gothic scheme of things, and they too segue between horror and metal with ease. Poe and Lovecraft belong here too of course, but then again, they are genre jumpers the pair of them, able to straddle just about the entire spectrum of metal and horror. Play any single of album from the back catalogue of Cradle of Filth and there are some grand Gothic horror stories right there in the narrative of any particular song. That particular band might have roots in another genre, but for me they pen some great Gothic horror with their interpretation of metal.

There are no rules which state that horror has to stick to being straightforward horror either and as a result, often it doesn’t. With the ever expanding break down of genres and splicing of genres, not just within the spectrum of horror, but spreading outside of it to other styles, we consequently end up with horror being married to other things in increasingly twisted unions. While this is certainly the case in metal music as well, this eerie blending of things which shouldn’t breed so well together, yet do, I’ll just focus on one aspect of it. For example horror wed with sci-fi. Enter industrial metal.

Here is the meld of horror (metal) with the sci-fi (industrial). Heavy chugging riffs, pounding rhythm sections twisted into amalgamations with electronica and cold clinical synthesised sounds, programming and unnerving sounds to replicate futuristic wastelands or space age technology. Harsh climates and horrific situations set in times far beyond the present. Visions of the future when shit just might go completely pear shaped. Looking for a suitable playlist to soundtrack your bleak epic horror riddled with hi-tech facets where moments of brutal bloodshed or mind numbing fear are surrounded by alien beings and universes not yet explored? Ministry, Aborym, Deathstars, Dodheimsgard, Godflesh; they might just be the kinds of bands you’d be looking for to accentuate things.

There are many many more facets and subgenres of both horror and metal, but rather than go through the whole lot of them and turn this into a fifty page thesis, I will wrap it up with a comparison of what is both my favourite types of horror to write and my principal metal passions. It will probably come as no big surprise to discover that just as all the rest of the genres have their uncanny parallels, what I love to write and read in horror is mirrored in the music I love best.

At the beginning of this concoction of ramblings, I made mention of the fact that I primarily write splatterpunk. Extreme horror. Grindhouse. This is visceral, violent, occasionally confrontational material, not exactly for the faint of heart. I’m inspired by the legendary Richard Laymon, I love Ed Lee, Bryan Smith, Brian Keene, Shaun Hutson, Bentley Little. Jack Ketchum. There’s unrelenting brutality in their work, harrowing violence, sexual content, perversity and hordes of things to throw a shock into the system, but not at the expense of a good storyline and not without some impact and often, a profound message to be conveyed.

With that said, the heavy metal counterparts for such sanguinary literary excursions should probably be pretty self-explanatory, but for the benefit of those who don’t follow heavy metal with as fervent a passion as me, I’ll go ahead and delve into it.

Extreme horror finds its musical equivalent in extreme metal, and there are no more extreme genres than death metal and black metal. It almost goes without saying that the former with unremitting bludgeoning instrumentation and often subterranean vocal stylings issuing grotesque lyrical content which runs the gamut through ultra-violent dismemberments, mutilations, murders, cannibalism, perverse sexuality, undead fiends, bestial creations and serial killers to all kinds of other cheerful fare, and the latter with occasionally satanic imagery and references, equally violent and sexual subject matter, rituals, dark magic and occult themes, misanthropy and other hate fuelled work driven by cold slices of tremolo riffing, blastbeat drums and abrasive vocals are just about the perfect musical complement for that splatterpunk branch of the horror tree. Again, investigate some of the lyrical content beyond any shock value, depravity or musical horror and there are cautionary tales and messages to be relayed.

Admittedly, I could probably write an entire post revolving solely around all the comparisons between extreme metal and horror, and justifying the statement that metal and horror go hand in hand through that alone, but in the interests in keeping all the likenings relatively uniform in length I will leave it at that for now, and perhaps revisit it at a later day in greater depth.

I know I missed out on plenty; literary horror, monster/creature horror, hauntings and paranormal, YA horror, body horror and many many more, but rest assured, they each have a metal genre complement. Maybe some time down the track, I will touch upon all of those and more as well. For now, I’ll conclude this and let you mull over my semi-coherent ramblings. Feel free to agree or disagree, or even dissect your choice of music relative to what you write.

I’m off to write some splatterpunk to a soundtrack of Mayhem.

-Jim Goforth