We covet the forbidden, which is why the dark and opaque can be so alluring. Since I was very young, I was attracted to the darker side of reality, precisely because it was shrouded in such mystery. What I found after decades of digging and learning, was that the journey that was supposed to be scary and off putting, has been beautiful and enchanting.
Allow me to propose a radical idea: there is nothing evil about the dark side; it exists to contain and romance the light, and add a dimension to what would otherwise be a ‘blinding’ existence. Shadows are alcoves ripe for personal exploration. And the only guard that blocks the way is fear. But when it is overcome and even befriended, it becomes a benign sentinel and even a willing accomplice in building the story of your life.
A Hard Core Idea
I remember vividly the day when my cousin, six years older than me, first introduced me to this seemingly crazy loud chaotic music. I was twelve and in deep need of forming a unique identity. Lost in a crowd and at the same time isolated, I longed for something to call my own, a realm that could simultaneously ground me and catapult me into a land of fantasy. Metal music offered that – it was tinged with a dark tone and was infinitely complex.
Compounding the issue was something that took me a couple of decades to see. The way our society has evolved in the last century has had an isolationist impact on people, neighborhoods and communities. Teaching via storytelling and bonding with others, has been replaced by television and with that came the steady expulsion of elders as valuable members of society, a very sad fact. Working the land and understanding nature was replaced by working in factories and understanding commerce. But that is a tangent we shall not follow in this post.
Back to the memorable day my musical tastes jumped a few octaves, it was during one of many dinner parties at my house. While the adults gathered in the living room, the kids usually dispersed into the adjoining quarters. I remember entering the small room I shared with my older sister to find our cousin sitting on the edge of her bed, his eyes and mouth shut tight, fists clenched, head bouncing up and down, while wild music was spewing out of the speaker of our boom box, threatening to explode it into pieces. I was taken aback but highly intrigued.
“You like Iron Maiden?” he asked me and laughed. Of course I did not. I had no idea what it meant. It was few months later when I visited an open air market with my mom and spotted the tape at one of the stalls. She was surprised I wanted to listen to something with that on its cover. But my mom, bless her heart, has always been open minded so I got the tape. Iron Maiden proved to be too much of a jump to my virgin ears, which I ended up breaking in with the likes of Guns and Roses, Skid Row and a dash of Poison. Gradually, I grew my library of tapes to include bands like WASP, Anathema, Morbid Angel, Sepultura and so on.
The Power of Music and Live Celebration
Fast forward to last night, when on a whim I attended a Nightwish show. Now, if you’ve never heard their music, I implore you to check out the video link at the bottom of this post. They play what’s deemed an epic or symphonic metal: hard core riffs and the occasional double bass drums blended with philharmonic ambience, theatrical tricks and even boys’ choir. The vocals of the lead singer, Floor Jansen (main image above), pack as much of punch as enchantment. But the reason I went ahead to even write such a lengthy post on the experience, something I usually not do, keeping my narrative focused on concepts and life lessons rather then personal episodes, was because of a deep sense of belonging, positivity and love, yes love, I experienced while at the show, which reminded me of something essential.
There is potent magic in this music, an energy so old and primal and yet intimately connected to the earliest forms of storytelling. It is especially prevalent amongst northern European bands such as the above referenced Nightwish, Amorphis, Tiamat and my newly discovered love, Delain. Listening to it, brings me back to our origins and innocence, when myth was our religion, teaching the young and old alike to to live a good life, and the title of village superstars belonged to traveling bards.
What happened to the days when we gathered and danced around the fire after our days’ work was done, all generations celebrating another days’ passing? It is so good that the flame of those times is still alive and people are making art inspired by the old days and bringing those moments to the current times, in essence transcending time, language and culture, bringing back texture to the flattened world of homogeneity.
The harmonies and melodies evoke something that’s already there, buried in our DNA, that’s been covered by a layer of gunk and artifice. Jung tapped into that sphere, explaining that it stemmed from our ‘collective unconscious.’ It is a domain where archetypes and mythologies reside. We all have access to them. We all seem to remember.
The vibe last night was awesome. In fact, looking back now, the vibe has always been incredibly positive, at every live concert I’ve even been to. But it took taking a little distance and time off from going to live metal shows to realize it. It was similar when I left Europe. About two years after moving to the US, I began to really appreciate my cultural heritage and nuances that come with it. Last night I realized why I had fallen with metal music and the gifts it carries.
It was because of my musical journey that I came to long to understand the reasons behind our origins on this planet and beyond. Bands such as Death and Carcass helped release the static stress, Type ‘O Negative catered to my budding teenage sensuality while Tiamat and Amorphis got me curious about the legends. I tried to learn Finnish language to read Kalevala, the treasure chest of the Nordic tales.
I also learned that the horns the metal fans make to salute their musical idol are not a sinister sign of some devil invoked to rein fire on some benevolent target. It’s amazing how some people seek a way to condemn the smallest gesture because they don’t understand it. The root of the horned symbol goes back to the mythical creature whose effigy was based on that of the goat. Even in today’s yoga class, the poses are names after animals but no one makes fuss about it. When people live close to nature, they tend to observe, and as a result ‘see’ more. The essence of the animals rises to the surface and an archetype takes hold. Each animal has a range of behaviors and responses to its environment that come in concentrated form, something humans strive to emulate. This is why early tribes worshipped animals. It was so that in moments of need, they could ‘channel’ their potent powers for a specific purpose. It was also a form of medicine for those people who lacked a particular skill or propensity. For those poor of sight, a shaman would recommend a ritual to evoke the spirit of the eagle; those light on foot and fast were known for having been bestowed the gifts of the gazelle, and so on. Nothing sinister here, only a desire to connect deeper with nature and balance one’s disproportions dished by fate. Or some capricious goddess. But that came later still.
Most people who don’t listen to metal tend to judge it for being negative, loud and senseless. And I get it. When I first heard it I did not understand it. It took some deep listening and opening my mind to something new. You see, the things most metal bands sing about, at least the ones I listen to, deal with issues related to social injustice or mythology. Later when I got to play in a metal band and learn the riffs, I got to also appreciate the complexity of writing and performing the ‘chaos.’ Metal music is exceedingly difficult to compose and play. It is incredibly fast, precise and mathematical. It takes years of practice to master it. It is also healthy t the body and mind.
Besides getting some s**t of ones chest, all the clapping, screaming and jumping and jostling releases massive endorphins, not to mention the emotional release that goes with it. One particularly stressful day when nothing seemed to go correctly, I turned my usual night run into a head-banging session, beginning with my drive home, where I screamed on the top of my lungs to Chuck Schuldiner’s ‘Lack of Comprehension.’ Three minutes of that were worth an hour of therapy, another hour of R-rated ranting to a girlfriend, a handful of texts to dust off the residue, and a hot yoga class thrown in for good measure.
Music to Myths: Quest for Truth
Back in the pre-internet days, my town library was too small for the hunt I was on, incited by the music I was getting exposed to. After my aural affair with death and doom metal, it took another year before I was introduced to the musical legacy of Fields of the Nephilim and put my hands on a thick tome that spoke of the lost land of Sumer. After that, I wasn’t far from studying the Biblical Apocrypha, the Book of Enoch, tales of the fallen angels. In other words, my imagination was on fire. Most of the books I’ve been constructing, including Moonchild, broach the subjects of the old, while painting an alternative vision of what we might bring forth when we make peace with our past and learn to celebrate our roots as well as diversity, a key component to a harmonious co-existence. It is my belief that once we get curious about who we are and where we came from, our life gains a clearer direction.
We fear what we don’t understand. But when we open to welcome a force or an idea previously foreign to us, we allow a new essence to enter our awareness. It is an act that holds the power to enrich our singular perspective with an archetypal depth that can unlock previously unknown powers of our own. It beckons with a glistening gate, a distant howl, a promise of a romance out of this world.
When we embrace our darker sides, there remains nothing to fear. From the absence of fear, that impedes the free flow of energy, cut off parts are re-melded, the switched off switch back on. The body and mind achieve higher harmony as abstractions vanish and obstacles melt, opening our channels, broadening perceptions and exposing us to what previously lied obscure. The veils lift but the light remains dimmed for the spellbinding dance of chiaroscuro to commence.
Many such concepts came alive in me because of music. Some of their progenies sprouted from the wondrous ponderings of the night sky, but it was not until I discovered music that many of the threads began to weave into a tapestry of connections between the seemingly, but only seemingly, disparate parts. So, click below and have a listen. Perhaps you will not like it, but then maybe you will be as enchanted as I was and who knows, maybe you’ll even remember something you have not yet experienced in this lifetime.
VIDEO: NIGHTWISH – Ghost Love Score Live