A Taxonomy of Extremity: How Heavy Is That Album?


Heavy. A word as ubiquitous and meaningless as epic in the modern parlance of extreme music fandom. Although the term at one time held significance and sway as the clarion call of rebellious youth and blue-collar, down-tuned gloomy rock, overuse and the shifting sands of genre definition have since rendered it neutered. There’s a reason fans roll their eyes whenever bands claim that their next album will be their “heaviest;” it’s a promise as empty and capricious as political claims made during the primaries. Enough is enough! It’s time for us to take back our word! We need to make heavy heavy again! To this end, I’d like to propose a new rating system to evaluate the heaviness of a particular record. Behold the new Taxonomy of Extremity.

The difficulty in the use of heavy is the nigh-infinite permutations to which it has been applied. To some, “heavy” is synonymous with “blastbeat.” An album is only as heavy as the BPMs and one-footed blasts that drive it. Polymeters? Get that garbage outta my face. I just want to get heavy with Revenge!

To others, heaviness is all about alchemical conjurings to summon otherworldly riffs from the atonal netherscape. To these acolytes, dissonance is the temple and Luc Lemay is the high priest. Bow before the altar of Gorguts and cast down the acolytes of power chords!

To others, groove is king, and only albums that plumb depths as low as the great tectonic crevasses that sunder the ocean’s floor in twain are fit to bear the title heavy. For these fans, downtuned riffs and rumbling bass with strings that sound like a bridge being tossed about in a gale wind are all that matter. Though groove can come in many forms, it is perhaps its heaviest when lurking within the murky pelagic layers of the death metal ocean.

Others may conjecture that only the slow, primal crawl of a primitive doom assault is worthy of heavy. The groove kids may respect the bass, but they do not worship it. They do not know true heaviness, and the blessing of the Weedian is forever denied then. Low and slow: this is the essence of heavy.

Last, others may argue that heaviness lies not in sound but in image and word. To these penitents, the somber, vulnerable angst of a broken heart and a melancholy lilt will forever outweigh the gravity of a downtuned guitar string. Truly, there is nothing heavier than the burden of human suffering, so perhaps albums that express it best are the closest to purity of heaviness.

How is this possible? Are all of the fans correct and reveling in their own relative truth? No. Clearly our genre’s current paradigm of heaviness is in direct contradiction to the law of noncontradiction. All possibilities cannot be simultaneously true, so we must find one single absolute to guide our community into the future.

Friends, after much careful research, I’d like to propose a single Taxonomy of Extremity to quantify heaviness, one whose hierarchy is well-known to all of us; indeed, we each have gathered our own empirical evidence that lends credence to the theory. My proposed metric: we measure heaviness by the length of time it takes a normie to tell you to “turn that crap off.”

We’ve all been in this situation (or fantasized about it while stroking our war metal vinyl records if we’re the type without friends). You’re driving your Nissan Sentra down the street, jamming some black metal on your way to give a friend a lift to the airport. As you pull up to your friend’s loft, you decide to gamble and don’t reduce the volume. Your friend gets in and immediately looks distressed. You pretend not to notice the pained expression (similar to the bloating caused by gas face) and ride it out, asking your friend how their day is going. Minutes pass. Finally, in a bout of agony, your friend belts out, “Dammit, Dubs, turn this garbage off!” Only made it through three tracks? Pretty heavy!

The length of time a normie takes to tell you to change your music is indirectly proportional to the heaviness of the album. The heavier the record, the shorter the time of endurance. Based on this premise, I’ve designed the following rating system and stratification by which we should now review all records.

0/5 Uncomfortable Normies


A 0 out of 5 rating reflects an utter dearth of heaviness. Flowery Euro metal and orchestral goth rock bands easily fall into this category, along with Clear Channel radio rock and Earache‘s current roster. If your friend responds to your music with, “Oh, is this Nightwish? I like her operatic voice!” you clearly aren’t listening to sufficiently heavy jams. Records that not only do not get vetoed but are in fact enjoyed earn a heaviness rating of 0/5.

1/5 Uncomfortable Normies


This rating is applied when the normie can stand the entire album but would prefer you choose something else afterward. This often occurs if the normie has a bit of a background with classic rock or went through a rebellious teenage phase; classic metal bands such as Iron Maiden or the odd nu metal throwback like Trapt will typically get a pass. Essentially, this rating applies if the structure and writing of your album are sufficiently similar to a Lady Gaga record. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it also means the album isn’t particularly heavy.

2/5 Uncomfortable Normies


Now we’re moving into the 5-6 song range. At this level of heaviness, a normie won’t be able to withstand the full force of an entire album, but half a record may work. If you’re playing thrash metal, classic speed metal with higher BPMs, or some lighter doom metal, you’ll likely see the normie grow more and more agitated as the album progresses. However, they’ll try to be polite as long as they can on account of the fact that you totally had their back that night in undergrad when they got hammered at Chimy’s and tried to start a fight with the captain of the rugby team over a fantasy football score. Yah, that nostalgia will carry you half an album.

3/5 Uncomfortable Normies


Now we’re getting into the realm of extreme metal. Think back to the last time you tried to play some death metal, even something as mild as Cannibal Corpse, for a normie? How long did they make it during the Barnes era? Three tracks? Yep, sounds about right. The heaviness rating typically transfers over the halfway point when the clean vocals disappear. Normies can’t stand screamy music, so most things that aren’t metalcore that eschew normal singing will be vetoed in roughly fifteen minutes.

4/5 Uncomfortable Normies


A 4/5 heaviness rating is typically reserved for music that can only be withstood for a single track. One brutal death metal song (or three grindcore tracks clocking in at the length of a regular song), and your passenger will be asking you things like, “How the hell do you listen to this? Do you hate me? Is this because I burnt dinner last night? Are you breaking up with me?”

As an aside, music at a 4/5 heaviness is PERFECT if you really want to lose some dead weight in your friend circle. I guarantee that blaring some Phobia while acting as the DD will ensure that you’ll never be given that job again, or even be asked to go out to Buffalo Wild Wings for the Thursday Night 50-cent wing special. Score!

5/5 Uncomfortable Normies


Intriguingly, the highest heaviness rating, a perfect 5/5, is reserved for music that transcends the traditional norms of metal. The closer to noise, the less tolerable the sound becomes. I guarantee a normie will be unable to withstand even an entire track of something like WOLD or PKWST. Hell, you probably can’t make it through a single noise track on a typical day. And if you can, you certainly have zero friends to annoy. In that way, only the bitterest of shut-ins and perverts will ever know true heaviness. The rest of us must dream.

There you have it. The definitive new ranking system for heaviness. Don’t agree? Try it out for yourself. Pick a non-inoculated normie and just test how quickly they yell at you and sever your relationship. Report back here with your field results.

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