Washington Think Tank with W.: What makes metal music scary?


Greetings, sewer urchins. The most unholy of all seasons is upon us! It’s that time of the year when Americans embrace the darkness lurking within their blackened suburbanite souls and allow the festering wickedness to boil to the surface. That time of the year when all good and pure things are corrupted in the name of sexy costumes. That special season when we give our spawn buckets shaped like skulls and severed heads and tell them to play cruel tricks on those who don’t reward their gluttonous desires. That spooky time when we carve open the flesh of living things and shape them into ghoulish forms illuminated from within like hellish specters. That mystical holiday when we open portals into the abyss through our television sets and indulge in the most macabre forms of art on the eve of Samhain. It’s almost Halloween! Let the dead rise from their graves and stalk the living once again! Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young!

Today’s Question: What makes metal music scary?

Friends, I love Halloween. I have fond memories of trick-or-treating with my family (always wearing a coat over my costume because we typically got our first snow right before Halloween) and of going to fall festivals with my friends. Even the most conservative people can find something to enjoy about the season, even if it is just the colorful displays of death and decay in the leaves of their trees. However, something interesting often happens around Halloween. Our innate desire to embrace the frightful is often enhanced as a cultural norm. Those who don’t typically fare in the darker arts as we metalheads do will find themselves indulging in horror movies or “scary” music. Why? There’s something raw and primal about tapping into your fears. There’s a release of endorphins as you embrace the animal instinct of fight or flight. It can be thrilling to be terrified.

We metal fans should know this more than most as we often willingly force ourselves to confront the confounding and face something frightening. I’ve previously written about bands that legitimately scare me. See the exhibits below.

Exhibit A: Ævangelist

Exhibit B: The Body

Exhibit C: Stalaggh

Today, however, I’m more interested in understanding WHY we find certain bands to be frightening. Each of the aforementioned bands touches my primal fear instinct in a different way. AEvangelist are masters of overwhelming your senses, leaving you in confounding bewilderment. An inability to correlate your perceptions with your surroundings can be utterly terrifying; we desire normalcy and predictability. Omen Ex Simulacra is predictable only in how alien and otherworldly it consistently sounds. The Body are frightening because of their disconcerting proximity to humanity (perhaps they linger in the “Uncanny Valley”). “Empty Hearth” appears to be the sound of a religious experience gone horribly awry, as though something welcome was invited into the human experience but supplanted by a truly sinister entity. Lastly, Stalaggh are the audible tone of human suffering. We lament and fear pain, so a band that willingly captures and embraces that agony provides a stark enemy to our survival instincts. All three bands are shocking in their own right, but to my mortal ears, each disarms you in a unique and unholy way.

So tell me, what frightens you? What bands can you only withstand for so long, and more importantly, why? Sound off in the comments below.

Don’t know what the Washington Think Tank is? This is a weekly column where your former President poses a pressing question and allows the top minds at the Toilet ov Hell to investigate his query.

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