Those of you with an academic or philosophical bent may have taken special note of, and may have a special interest in, the fact that at this site I am trying to form a preliminary body of what we can call Metal with Meaning theory. I am formally trying, in other words, to explore and define exactly what constitutes Metal with Meaning. What is it, exactly? Can it have a formal definition?
And as you have seen, I have, indeed, formulated and assigned it a definition:
Metal with Meaning is heavy metal music that stimulates heart, mind, or both.
In so defining, I am trying to draw out, to coax into existence, a kind of heavy metal that in some measure doesn't even exist yet--at least not in anything remotely approaching a large or diverse scale. It simply does not yet so exist, in society, the general musical community, or even in the universe of metal, itself.
So we're off on a voyage of exploration, akin in its way to that of the great seafaring men of old.
Better crack out your life preserver!
As artists, we must have room for subtlety and sophistication in lyrical and thematic outlook, if we wish it. Thus, Metal with Meaning need not be didactic, or intended to overtly instruct; nor must it necessarily contain or embody a definite point-of-view. The simple human acts of wonder and reflection, even if unresolved or inconclusive, can represent Metal with Meaning.
If one aspires to produce Metal with Meaning according to our second definition, that of metal that is a force for good in the world by assisting or cheering, in other words by helping people, then the music must ultimately, in some way, express or resolve itself in a manner lyrically or musically that inspires, assists, or cheers. In other words, if your metal cause reflection, thinking, or learning, but does not concretely or directly help someone with a problem, it would hew to our first definition, not our second.
Moreover, the elements that ultimately garner a classification of Metal with Meaning do not necessarily have to occur over the course of one song, or even one album. We have to provide for the fact that as artists, and human beings, our lyrics and music changes as we change; as we grow and develop as people. Perhaps, for example, a given artist does not really begin producing metal with the elements of meaning until their third album. But suppose that once they do begin producing it, it exists and continues on to one degree or another throughout the rest of their work; their subsequent albums. In such a case, it would be appropriate to examine the totality of their work, to determine if it meets the Metal with Meaning standard.
This standard, you see, cannot be some kind of caricature or loosely-applied designation. Serious artists producing serious art cannot necessarily be immediately pigeonholed into a particular box. That would not be fair to their art, or to their development as human beings. They would not want it, and neither do we. The purpose of The Metal with Meaning Project is to help produce a roster of musicians and bands, indeed a movement, that is a force for good in this world. It is not part of our purpose to constrain, restrict, or rein-in the artistic development and expression of artists.
(It is part of our mandate and mission to encourage Metal with Meaning artists to continue producing Metal with Meaning, and to encourage non-Metal with Meaning artists to begin making it!)
Some Metal with Meaning artists, then, will be more overt or more punctual in their Metal with Meaning orientation than others; in the case of certain artists, they will need time to coax this kind of material out of themselves, probably in proportion with their own personal character development, increasing knowledge of the world, growth in personal maturity, and increase in moral or spiritual outlook or belief.
(Of course, if the development of an artist ultimately takes them far afield from producing art that inspires, assists, or cheers, they are no longer producing Metal with Meaning.)
A thematic and visual staple of Heavy metal music over its lifetime is that of violence, aggression, or mayhem, and we see this readily in Christian heavy metal.
For example, if someone writes a metal tune that is dark in musical tone, and violent in lyrical imagery, but is so in the name of "glorifying God," or some other perceived desideratum, would that be what we want Metal with Meaning to be? Violent images, concepts, band names, song titles, lyrics, company names ("full armor of god," "godsoldiers," "war of ages," "vengeance rising," "warmachine," etc.) that are used in Metal with Meaning may spring as much from the metal tradition as the Christian tradition! However, we must remember that the Christian churches themselves have renounced the violence of past Christian efforts, such as the Crusades, etc. Theist members, then, might take care not to let either their metal sensibility or their Christian zeal get the better of them when composing!
If we're serious about using heavy metal as a genuinely positive medium, whether informed by religion or not, we'd better start thinking about these kinds of issues, so we don't inadvertently dilute or taint what can otherwise be a positive message of peace, hope, and love. Additionally, were this form of metal to really gain widespread popularity across all social sectors, media commentators and others would flag the seeming inconsistencies.
Am I trampling the sacrosanct? Hasn't heavy metal from its inception revolved around, or been animated by, a militaristic thematic? What about the Kiss Army?
Yes, metal in general has so revolved--but we in the Metal with Meaning Project are not working in a general metal milieu--we are working in the distinct milieu of Metal with Meaning. Working in this socio-musical environment we are not proscribed from using militaristic themes and images, but let's not do it as a kneejerk lyrical action, but only if genuinely appropriate. As lyricists we're working with words and language, and thankfully most languages, certainly English, provide a power and scope that can auspiciously inform any writing endeavor. Thus, we should be penning lyrics of the highest order and meaning.
As asserted above: as a lyricist, your lyrics may consist of reflections or ruminations on a topic, whether life, society, people, economics, the nature of existence, or questions of creation or a creating force, without necessarily coming to any conclusions. Or perhaps your conclusions are negative: existence is inherently unfair; people are inherently selfish; whatever. Your music and lyrics might even be "dark." Providing the meaning is there, however, that's ok, even desirable, if it reflects your particular musical or lyrical style. This is heavy metal, after all!
In other words, Metal with Meaning can even be metal that simply provokes thought and reflection, which are meaningful activities, with or without a positive conclusion. If, additionally, the lyrics concomitantly come from, or tend toward, a place of love, if there is some kind of loving orientation in the individual thinking these thoughts or doing this reflection, then that particular metal music would fall under both categories.
State of Intention
Why might metal that simply provokes thought and reflection, without a positive conclusion, be considered Metal with Meaning?
1.) Because thought and reflection are meaningful activities, so music that engenders them is presumed positive, and 2.) because the standard for Metal with Meaning includes the state of mind and intentionality, or state of intention, of the lyricist.
For a hypothetical example: it's not the fault of the individual penning lyrics if they feel forced to conclude, after a process of genuine and substantial thought and angst, that our human existence is fundamentally bad; especially if the lyricist is of a basically loving orientation, and they were rooting for a better conclusion! (Some people are quite philosophically-minded, and will follow their conclusions where ever they lead, providing those conclusions have been strictly drawn, even if the place they lead was not where the thinker thought they'd end up, nor where they wanted to be.).
The reason this discussion is important is because we don't want an overly-simplistic or constraining definition of Heavy Metal with Meaning. We want to ensure that artists, especially those with a positive social, spiritual, or simply human impulse are not wrongly excluded from Metal with Meaning simply because of a conclusion they feel compelled to draw about this or that area of life. In other words, for example, if their lyrics thoughtfully examine the idea or fact of existence, but ultimately express the conclusion that existence is bad, those lyrics can still be considered Metal with Meaning.
~ Creating Metal that Stimulates Heart or Mind ~
METAL WITH MEANING PROJECT