It can be almost impossible for us to feel empowered and in control when we’re in our teens. We’re at the mercy of voices that squeak and shoot from one octave to another, bodies that look and feel different all the time, that always seem too small or too big in comparison to everyone else’s. Hormonal changes makes our emotional life a constant seesaw.
We’re told that we have to start preparing for entering into the adult world of responsibility, but it’s scarcely possible to pull in the reins on our own minds and control our thoughts or even focus on anything for too long.
Puberty is typically the first time that a would-be adult begins to think about things like relief and escape. Some of the things pubescents gravitate towards to provide these things, like drugs and alcohol, are destructive and dangerous.
Sex may be good in and of itself, but is potentially disastrous for people who are too young to handle it emotionally (or financially, if pregnancy results). That rules out the first two parts of the holy triumverate that was a ’60’s credo and a ’70’s cliche, leaving us only with rock’n’roll, which many young people consider passe. Heavy Metal, however, is another matter.
It’s not too hard to see how much of Heavy Metal music caters to pubescent (and particularly male) power fantasies. Look at a cross-section of album covers: there’s massively-built Conan-esque characters dealing death, all manner of modern or ancient weaponry, supernatural beings in countless guises, and just general carnage and mayhem.
Much of the aesthetic behind typical Heavy Metal artwork seems to have been borrowed from Frank Frazetta’s old masterpieces; and this is fitting, because the pulp magazines and dime novels of decades passed nourished the fantasy life of young adolescents in much the same way that heavy music does for kids today.
Heavy Metal has, throughout its history, always caught a lot of flack for this tendency to provide escapism in the form of male machismo. Usually such criticisms were made by people who didn’t need what was being offered anyway, though; they’d deemed to put down a form of music – and, by extension, a philosophy – that hadn’t been intended for them in the first place.
A great rock band knows its audience, and the irony here is that musicians in the Heavy Metal genre often seem to show more respect for young kids than do the self-appointed moral majority who profess to want to protect them.
What many adults fail to recognize is that kids need a rich fantasy life to help them to survive the tumultuous changes that they go through en route to adulthood.
Whereas a youth of 13, in 1933, could’ve found relief and a sense of empowerment by reading about the exploits of the ever-victorious Conan the Barbarian, King Kull, and Tarzan, a teenager living in more recent decades could find those same primal male fantasies being played out in the music of bands like Danzig, Celtic Frost, Black Sabbath, and Metallica.
We can argue about the ethics behind some records, about the attitudes portrayed by the lyrics, but regardless of all these considerations there still remains that need in young kids to feel empowered in a world that typically gives them little opportunity to.