Fallow Heart: Hardcore (Sur)Realities

Because every day’s a mosh pit… of human emotions

You remember that time when your music was the balance sheet of your character? Sure, loads of us remain haunted by that system’s dynamics on through hoary ol’ adulthood [holler, metal Chad!] but adolescence is a time in particular when our preferences act almost like a sieve through which we attempt to clarify our identities. As I recall it, my friends and I were autonomic bloody-minded badasses who were cruelly forced by an idiot god to rely on our moms to purchase our Coroner back patches for us (and also to sew them onto our jackets). Jesus, can you imagine where we’d all currently be without our maternal network endeavoring to subsidize our precious musical perversions?

I’d generally assumed that it was the norm for folks to suffer a deep-seated pang of impropriety when stopping to consider other wayward musical scapes. For me, coloring outside the lines was unquestionably verboten. Fuck that, I knew the rules! My friends and I closely monitored one another’s musical diets; we were absolute protectionists and only a few outliers were permissible. Scott Ian said that Fishbone were acceptable, ergo, it was ostensibly cool to listen to Truth and Soul with impunity, but no Chili Peppers or Boss Tones shenanigans, thank you very much, you poser. Cro-Mags came up again and again in special thanks lists (Dark Angel, Holy Terror, Nuclear Assault), so those assholes were kosher by default. But for most anything else… well, you knew that contingencies lurked about your immediate line of sight but you simply refused to unshutter the blinds and take a gander at their shape. Better not to know. You didn’t want to be staring down the barrel of a ‘friendly’ intervention or worse, osterization. It was like expulsing ceviche, (and/or any food that ended in a vowel,) to the farthest periphery of your ken because you’re a ‘quick service guy.’ You tacitly chose to go uneducated. It was supercool.

But then one day, by no fault of your own you fall in with a different crowd (#parentsdivorce #suburbs). These new cats would abide no D.R.I. output post-Dealing With It (an opinion made abundantly plain when you show up to school in your aromatically carcinogenic 4 of a Kind T-shirt that you just got for your birthday). No Samhain was to be tolerated aside from the debut. Voivod was fine—oh sweet Jesus, what a relief!—but even an ironic appreciation of Iron Maiden was off the table. By the by; are we as a nation entirely out of our ‘ironic metal’ phase? Have we closed our ‘I only like this because I think it’s f-ing stupid’ chapter? It’s been a minute since I’ve spied a barrista with a handlebar moustache in a Metal Church shirt… Where was I? Oh, yeah; you desperately want these idiots to accept you, partially because you’re stuck with them for the time being and partially because you don’t want to get your lunch chucked out of the bus every morning like metal Chad.

Next thing you know, you’re positively bathing in GBH and Dead Kennedys—yeah, you’re right, Jello; societal yokes totally drool. I guess… suck it, metal Chad? You keep your mouth shut about how the Germs are quite obviously total shit. You discover Minor Threat and Verbal Abuse—hey, some of this is pretty good!—and, before you know it, you’re a double agent of sorts. More hardcore than thou at school or when you’re sneaking out of your weekend-Pop’s place to meet your bros, while earnestly living as if there’s ‘no life till leather’ and preparing care packages for metal Chad back at your mom’s. Oh, that sweet hit of Forbidden behind closed doors!

You fantasize of a détente . You picture that you’re the one who could secure it even as you recognize that you are a function of the yawning schism. You refused to be honest from the get-go. You kept your mouth determinedly shut about who you really are and all owing to garden-variety cowardice. Charlatan! Mountebank! You need a righteously angry, focused guidance counselor to straighten you out. You need brutal, unyielding truth. You need to properly digest the sermons preached by principled hardcore zealots like Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits in order to take a principled stand for yourself and for metal.

I’ve often wondered after the individual chassis that form the tectonic framework of hardcore and heavy metal. I’m not talking time signatures or dynamics here. I’m talking intention. What primarily differentiates those two frameworks? The intention of an artist is everything; meaning everything from what happenstances moved them to vocalize the specific animus of the work in question, the belief in their ability to adequately express that animus,—ergo, the ultimate effectiveness of the work itself—the choice of medium for that animus and so on. The peculiar intentions of Battalion of Saints and of Blind Guardian are without doubt, wildly disparate. But from where did those disparate intentions hatch?

Hardcore at its best is a wild-eyed, ascetic monk that cannot tell a lie. It’s wonderfully frank and unsympathetic to the concept of subterfuge. It arrives intent on fixing shit, landing somewhere between a teetotaling Charles Bukowski and an immoderately-caffeinated Tony Robbins. Heavy metal’s far more variegated but generally tends to train its sights on filigree and semiotics as well as on ol’ fashioned woolgathering. Its soul is one of wonder, encapsulated in odd slants of light and enigmatic passageways. Its intent—at least partially—is to incite that wonder within its acolytes. This explains to a degree why metal’s always been saddled with stigma. Can there really exist time enough to daydream in a voraciously capitalistic system? Shouldn’t we just suck in our guts, stop with the Hieronymus Bosch and fucking elves shit and start feeding into the market like good soldiers?

I remember hearing an interview with Dax Riggs on NPR shortly after the release of his Deadboy & the Elephantmen debut had dropped. I’d been a diehard Riggs fan since When the Kite String Pops and was appalled to hear him describe his former outfit Acid Bath as a “hardcore” band. Such blatant dishonesty and cowardice! What? Did Dax really think that significantly less Deadboy… units would shift because NPR listeners were informed of the fact that he’d once fronted a (gulp) metal band? Would that have been the Rubicon the blue-noses simply wouldn’t cross? Well, my brother Mr. Riggs may have presumed as much and he may have even been correct. Who knows?

do know that I was certainly trepidatious in the same way for a solid year or so with far less on the line. I’m fairly certain that Riggs felt that the “heavy metal” tag would result in his personal brand and work at the time being undervalued and even infantilized. Why? Because metal’s for dreamers and hardcore’s for realists. And fuck dreaming and fuck hope, right? Isn’t it cooler to accept our collective fates, punch in to a job that’s eating us alive and later blast My War from the speakers of our ratty Acuras while lobbing beer bottles at the dumpster behind the Shop N’ Save? I mean, that’s reality. Not Blind Guardian’s effete yarns about gnomes and non-primary colors. Accept your limitations and maybe every now and again indulge in one too many $3 domestics at the pub before taking a solid swing at some Stella Artois-swigging prick who just can’t seem to clamp his fucking hole. You and me and everyone we know are swept up in a mindless cycle and it doesn’t matter what the fuck we wish for. ‘Wish’ is the sigh of the bat as it utterly fails to connect with the baseball. So clock in. Clock out. Shut up. Repeat.

The problem is: that’s not what hardcore taught me. Punk and hardcore never preached defeatism; not to me. They exhorted me to speak truth. They insisted that I look banality right in its stupid-ass corporate logo and to keep my bloodied fists up. You’ve got to protect yourself, ladies and gentlemen; you’ve got to tighten up your core in preparation for the maw of quotidian experience which endeavors to throttle you and dull the vibrance of your passions. Hardcore may have (largely) painted a black-and-white world for me but it studded that world with doorways and never discouraged me from seeking out the potentially technicolored territories that lay on the other side of them.

Stand up for yourself. Stand up for your brothers and sisters. Stand up for friggin’ Chad. Your intention and your integrity literally means everything; we’re all guardians in this arena, blind and otherwise, shepherding our most absurd dreams into tangibility.

I’ll retreat now into the shadows to let you argue in peace about the definition of the words ‘literal,’ ‘everything’ and—why the hell not?—‘Chad.’

“Brother – I’ll always look out for you
if I feel it back
Sister – we’ll brave the outside world
off the beaten track”

– Sick of it All, “Us vs. Them”

“A metal heart is hard to tear apart
Heed the call”

– Hammerfall, “Hammerfall”