Musings on metal and its evolving demography


I was born in Manhattan in 1975. My family moved to Yonkers, just north of the Bronx, in 1978. Growing up, we were the only non-whites in our neighborhood. The majority of the residents here were Italian and Polish.

I never thought much about race until I was almost a teenager. I’d always heard things said about us – being Indian – and other minorities in general, but it really didn’t bother me. We kept to ourselves, had few friends and lived generally quiet lives.

Sometimes, people would threaten me or my siblings in public. They didn’t tend to do that when my parents were around. One Halloween, when I was around 11, someone used shaving cream to write “Go Home Gandhi” on our van in giant letters that took up a whole side.

My parents are from Trinidad. Its a small island in the Caribbean. There’s a large Indian population there. Trinidad, Guyana and Surinam were colonized by the British around the same time. Its the birthplace of Calypso and Soca music. The steel-drum was invented there.

So, anyway, growing up, I immersed myself in video games and reading. I was a fantasy fan, and I was a big science nerd. I think they’ve evolved to become geeks in the here-and-now. I didn’t listen to any adventurous music. I was mostly exposed to what was on the radio – 80s pop music, R&B, rap (we didn’t call it hip-hop back then) and freestyle.

Around 1990 or 1991, my younger brother and his friend introduced me to metal, quite by accident. I used to drive them to school and play things like Mariah Carey or Ice Cube when on the road. They used to beg me to play their tapes instead – which I generally didn’t do.

Over time, I gave in – in the interest of being fair to everyone. That was my introduction to Metallica, Guns & Roses and Grim Reaper. I didn’t even realize that over time, through repetition and just hanging out with them, that my musical tastes were expanding.

Fast forward a year and I had bought my 1st metal album – Metallica’s black album. That was followed by Anthrax’s Sound of White Noise, Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power, Sepultura’s Chaos AD and a bunch of other albums (lots of Testament, some Dio, Annihilator… I can’t even remember it all).

Something changed though, when I bought Reign in Blood. For one thing, it was the first time I heard the word “Satan” in an actual album. I remember the intertwined cold feeling and exhilaration that I felt. The music was also harsher and faster than the other thrash albums I owned – something that really left an impression on me. It was a turning point for me. The sound was going in the direction of something that I’d been after since truly embracing metal.

In 1992, I heard Martyr from Fear Factory on Seton Hall’s college radio station – WSOU. It was the heaviest thing I’d ever heard at the time. I loved it. I didn’t catch FF’s name, and could barely describe the music to my brother and our friends. The growling vocals (Burton C. Bell described them as “dry lung” in the insert that came with the cassette – remember those?) were something completely new to me.

It was months until I heard the song again – and this time with everyone in the car! I immediately noted the name and that week I hunted down Soul of a New Machine from Sam Goody. It was everything I hoped for.

I remember saying to people that heavy metal just wasn’t heavy enough for me, many times, during my late teens. FF changed all that. They introduced the concept of death metal to me. I was in love, and still am to this day.

I discovered WSOU’s weekly late-night death metal show, Monday Night Mayhem. The two DJs that I listened to religiously were Wayne Pighini and then Kim Burke. I hope that they’ve gone on to good things and are still interested in and involved in metal, somewhere. Through them, I discovered so many of my favorite bands. Chief among them was Carcass, and then later on other heavy, but not-specifically-metal acts, like Brutal Truth (holy crap, its like FF and Carcass at the same time! – my first time hearing growling and hyper-shrieking from the same band) and Godflesh.

My brother’s friend and a bunch of others that we knew became involved in the local metal scene. They started bands and played around lower Westchester. We went to shows in the NYC and NJ area. Whenever we went anywhere, I hunted down cassettes (and then later, CDs) of local bands and local ‘zines.

It was a fantastic time. The early 90s produced most of the music that shaped my taste in metal. I got pretty fanatical and completely stopped listening to the commercial radio and watching MTV because I felt that the music that I wanted to hear was simply not included in their formats. To this day, I still barely watch TV or listen to radio – its mostly news now, and then MP3’s.

There was a period of several years where my belief was that “death is the only true metal”. I was so obsessed with it that I couldn’t even get enjoyment out of other types of metal anymore, like thrash or even Iron Maiden. Over time, that stopped though. There was a point where a deluge of death metal bands emerged who were hard to tell from each other, and whose lyrical content was mostly the same. I think this helped to make me look elsewhere and appreciate other types of music more. Nowadays, I’m about as likely to throw on jazz, goth or noise as I am death or grind.

I never really got into black metal. Some bands – like Samael – I love. The majority of what I heard in the 90s and early 2000s did nothing for me, but that might change, as black metal has gone in a hundred different directions, like death.

Ok. I’ve babbled about myself enough. I’ll do more of that later. There’s a whole empty blog to fill.

I was going to write something about alienation and being an outsider growing up, and about how metal sings to that and once it gets in your skin, it becomes part of your identity. Of course, that’s all subjective. I’m sure there are people whose experiences are the opposite of that and places where its the dominant musical style.

So, instead, I’ll stop now and just say that I think there’s a need to capture the thoughts and experiences of metalheads from our time so that in the future, people have an idea of what it was like now. There’s a big racial divide in places. There’s a gigantic gender bias. There’s also an emergent blending of different cultural influences and experimentations with metal, and a growing number of women entering the fold. But like I said, we’ve got a whole empty blog to fill.


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