What Listening to “Dark” Music Has Taught Me About Life

“Take the time just to listen, when the voices screaming are much too loud.”


Avenged Sevenfold,
Buried Alive


Recently, Metallica has made its way into mainstream culture, thanks to a Stranger Things episode, which featured their iconic song Master of Puppets


While it was nice to see the song finally get the widespread recognition it deserves, it did feel weird in a way — it was that “I loved it before it was cool” kind of thing.


I’ve been a Metallica fan since I was 10 or 11. In fact, the very first guitar solo I ever learned when I was a kid was James Hetfield’s solo in Master of Puppets


Most of my friends were puzzled by my taste in music, while my parents disapproved it as “lagu orang gila“, or crazy people’s music. 


For most people I knew, anything heavy like rock and metal was scary. Even the mere word “metal” was connoted with the genre black metal (which I don’t listen to) — and I’d be labelled as a satanist.


But looking back, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for my love for “dark” or “scary” music. So here are just a few reflections I’ve had so far:





You don’t have to fit in. According to a study done by Dr. Stuart Cadwallader, it’s no coincidence that intelligent people tend to listen to rock and metal music — in fact, love for this genre is even linked to having high IQ. Most intelligent people tend to feel that they are outsiders in society, hence why they resonate with the themes of alienation and not fitting in, which are prevalent in rock and metal music. 


That’s the wonderful thing about these types of music. Rather than conforming to the pressures of how other people would want you to be and think, you can find comfort in knowing that you’re not the only one who feels out of place. As Pink Floyd puts it in their song Brain Damage, “If your head explodes with dark forebodings too, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.” In this so-called dark music, you can find that pat on the shoulder and the voice that tells you to simply be who you are.


And from an artist’s perspective, being on the outside of the norm is how you get to voice out about things that have value, that are actually worth talking about — that perhaps, you wouldn’t find them being discussed in generic or mainstream media. To quote Mark Twain, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reflect.”





Understand before you judge.  For pretty much all of the artists I listen to that try to look scary or write about dark things, their appearances are just a gimmick. It is often the media that makes ridiculously exaggerated claims about such artists, saying that they sacrifice babies and drink blood, and what not. 


I like the story of how Black Sabbath, for instance, was once approached by an actual satanic cult to join their service. When the band told them that their dark lyrics were just a joke, the cult threatened to put a curse on them. And that’s the reason why the band started regularly wearing crosses around their necks. 


Alice Cooper, for all his creepy theatrics, is a devout Christian.


There is one artist that does scare me sometimes, though, and that is Marilyn Manson. But even then, he deliberately created his persona as a symbol of fear, to criticize the hypocrisies in society. As he said, “I created a fake world because I didn’t like the one I was living in.” 


When I looked past his appearances and paid attention to his content, I was amazed by how articulate and well-read he is. It doesn’t surprise me that he was working towards a journalism degree in college before his music career took off.


The song mOBSCENE, for instance, criticizes how society treats women as sex objects. It’s inspired by an old saying attributed to Oscar Wilde, that women are meant to be obscene, not heard.


The Nobodies discusses the distorted, one-dimensional media reports made regarding the Columbine shooting, a tragedy which Manson was wrongly blamed for. The song attempts to understand what was going on in the perpetrators’ minds. It takes inspiration from John Lennon’s murder, as his assassin Mark David Chapman stated that he did it to be famous, to turn himself “into something other than a nobody.” And as Manson himself remarked about the Columbine tragedy, “I wouldn’t say a single word to (the Columbine community). I would listen to what they have to say. And that’s what no one did.”


In my personal life, I’ve always had a rule for myself where I’d give it at least a few months before I can form an opinion about anybody. It’s super-easy to let first impressions rule how you see and interact with other people. But if you were to just store such ideas in your head and give it time, and even get to know these people personally, you’d realize that they are like worlds unto themselves — that everyone has a unique story in them.





Have a love for learning. I can honestly say that my love for learning different types of knowledge can be credited to the music I listen to. If it weren’t for Metallica, I would likely not have much of an interest in literature. One of the first books I remember actually finishing was Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, which their song One is based on. And of course, I wouldn’t have read other great books too, like Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls (which inspired the song of the same name), and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (which inspired Welcome Home). 


If it weren’t for Rage Against the Machine, I wouldn’t have had an awareness about political matters. They may be a very angry band, but that’s because they want you to wake up and realize that politics affect every single one of us. Their songs have tackled topics such as police brutality, racism, modern imperialism, wealth inequality, corruption — and in a nutshell, just how messed politics generally are. Generously quoting lines from literature in their songs, the band is a hallmark example of how aggression can be put to good use when you have the knowledge — because as they sing in Freedom, “Anger is a gift.” Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that the guitarist Tom Morello even has an honor’s degree in social sciences from Harvard. 


If it weren’t for Iron Maiden, I wouldn’t have had the realization that history is so much more than remembering facts and names. Thanks to their cinematic songs, I saw that history has a larger impact on us than we tend to realize — and learning it can be a lot of fun, too. The more you study history, the more you realize that life can truly be stranger than fiction. 

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