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The Psychology Of Metal Music

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Let me start by saying that I like Metal music a lot. Something about the sound draws me in. I recognize that the lyrics are nearly all the antithesis of Objectvist views (with certain exceptions, of course), but I generally don't listen to the songs for their lyrics. The anger that it projects seems to relieve anger and stress that I would feel should I not listen to it.

That being said, I am an extremely happy person. I love life in its entirety and am almost always smiling and laughing. Aks anyone who knows me; I am probably one of the most fun-loving and high-spirited people they know.

This seems to lead to a contradiction. I am a happy person, yet I listen to some of the most unhappy music there is. I have great appreciation for melody, and the rock bands that are heavy on melodies are some of my favorites. But I strongly dislike any other type of music, especially rap, country, pop, etc. I fully subscribe to Objectivism and love Romantic art, especially painings and sculptures. I visited the college I will attend (the University of Saint Francis art major) the other day and was utterly disgusted by the scores of depressing, unhappy, and downright ugly artworks. There was only one that I liked: a vibrantly bright painting of a pheonix rising from its egg in a bed of fire. I am looking forward to improving the gallery when I attend the school.

Now, back to the music. Is it a contradiction that I am an Objectivist, yet like non-Objectivist music? Or is it simply a psychological matter and not a philosophical one? Like I said, it does not negatively affect me, it is just the only sound that attracts me.

If this issue has been addressed elsewhere, please redirect me. Any thoughts and insights are welcome.

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I say you're good. You like it so listen to it. As far as I see it, if people go about changing things they enjoy (in refference to movies, music, art) just to "fit the mold" of their philosophy....I don't know, that just seems stupid to me. You like it so rock on.

P.S. -- I'm a huge AC/DC fan and although I consider it pretty objective others might not....screw them. It's my life right? :confused: --

Edited by TomL to remove unnecessary quoting of entire previous post

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The same thing happened to me and rap music and grunge. I fully "suscribed" to Objectivism, but I would find myself changing the radio station or poping in a cd that I knew to be imoral. I would try to rationalize it later by saying that either there are some positive things about it, or that self expression, not honesty, it really the only standard to art, or that the "beat" is really all that matters. I think that the key is that in music, one is attracted first to the melody (not at all unlike being physically attracted to a beautiful woman). However, because we are not simply animals driven by pleasure, we look to the message behind it. I found that the more I listened to destructive music, the more those songs became controlling of my behavior. If you look at my "woman" analogy, just dating a girl because she is pretty will bring you unhappiness in the long run. If, on the other hand, you wait for a woman who is both to you ( afirming of your vaules and attractive) , your life will be much more enriched and happy. As much as metal may be appealing to you guys, I think that, if you are honest with yourselves, it doesn't bring you lasting happiness, just momentary and evasive peace.

PS - Have you heard of Rush? I like them a lot!

Edited by softwareNerd

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It's topics like this that make one wonder if objectivists aren't terribly different from religious fundamentalists....

Right music to go with the philosophy, right art, right movies, right TV, probably right dressing, right eating, yadda yadda. It start to sound like Southern Baptists complaining of the Devil's rock & roll. Or Plato complaining of whatever style of music he didn't like.

You know, once you are talking about there being a certain right kind of music, or art, or whatever, things have gotten rather totalitarian.

Philosophy is supposed to free you to live more fully, not give you a bunch of new chains to worry about.

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Since you seem to post here regularly, I'm sure you've met or heard of Objectivists who like Beethoven more than Rachmaninoff, or who like much of the Beatles' oeuvre, or who don't like Rush, yada yada....I've met some without looking too hard.

I interned at an ARI conference a few summers ago. Some fellow interns and I played the Who's "Live at Leeds" while we manned the information booth. We didn't scour past articles to make sure that Miss Rand approved of late '60's British rock, and nobody there condemned our musical selection, regardless of their own opinions. In fact, one of the speakers mentioned that he liked the Who as well.

But even if a bunch of Who-hating Objectivists had voiced their displeasure, so what? We love the album and it made the already enjoyable experience that much more fun.

What's strange is that you seem to think that Objectivists don't have different artistic favorites. What's even stranger is that none of the above posts (save yours) mention anything implying totalitarianism, Plato, chains, or conformity to religious fundamentalism.

I do see in the above posts that some people wonder whether their sense of life has caught up with their acceptance of a philosophy. That's a reasonable question, isn't it? I certainly don't see a "philosopher-king" or Jerry Falwell commanding us to abandon independent judgment.

Edited by TomL to remove unnecessary quoting of entire previous post

Edited by TomL

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Yeah well I still 2Pac and Eminem, although I hate when Em disses Bush in his music, he's been hanging out on the left coast too much lately.

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You all need to read Romantic Manifesto if you haven't already. There have been a couple of threads in the last month also where the judgement of art has been discussed.

Art can be appreciated not just for its subject matter, but also for the skill with which its concepts are recreated by the artist. For example, Ayn Rand read and enjoyed Dostoevsky -- arguably one of the most nihilistic writers since the invention of the pen. While his ideas she found deplorable, she admired him for his skill with which he elicited emotions from his reader.

I listen to heavy metal; it is my favorite genre and has been since I first discovered it. Today, I find Symphony X to be my favorite, because they have both a wonderful sense of life in the stories of most of their songs, and skill in that every member of the band is a virtuoso and the composition is very effective at conveying the intended emotion. I also enjoy Iced Earth, especially their most recent effort The Glorious Burden, which is a very patriotic album: freedom loving and respectful of the people who died to provide our freedom -- but their earlier subject matter, though dark, also shows a tremendous amount of skill in both instrumentation and composition.

Another band I enjoy with a mostly positive sense of life is Kamelot, or at least the one album of them I have. I would like to get more from them.

Dave Mustaine of Megadeth is very nihilistic, but very skilled at what he does and I can't help but enjoy his compositions. I have and enjoy every Megadeth album on a regular basis, and do not feel that the nihilism of the lyrics has any lasting effect on me.

Its OK to appreciate artists for their skill, even if they have the wrong ideas, because the skill itself is manifested in the achievement of a goal. The only thing is one must not confuse this appreciation of skill for the appreciation of the ideas, and one must not allow others to presume that because you like Megadeth, that you agree with Dave Mustaine's philosophy.

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First off, I like music. And I do like popular music, including jazz and pop.

But I find much of the so-called music called "metal" and its similar forms of abject noise to be beyond appalling. It's nothing I can't resolve, however, by pressing the station button on my car radio or switching it off.

I personally find it insulting as a musician hobbyist that anyone dares call the noise put forth by Metallica, Megadeth, Kiss, and others like them "music."

As far as "psychology" I find that such "music" strongly favors death and is anti-sense-of-life. It's no wonder many brainwashed young people like this noise- perhaps it gives then a sense of relief from the misery of their daily "lives."

My take. ;)

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You all need to read Romantic Manifesto if you haven't already.  There have been a couple of threads in the last month also where the judgement of art has been discussed.

Art can be appreciated not just for its subject matter, but also for the skill with which its concepts are recreated by the artist.  For example, Ayn Rand read and enjoyed Dostoevsky -- arguably one of the most nihilistic writers since the invention of the pen.  While his ideas she found deplorable, she admired him for his skill with which he elicited emotions from his reader.

It's beyond obvious you and I did not read the same Romantic Manifesto. I recall that Rand criticized what appeared to be Dostoevsky's seemingly negative sense of life, but admired his strong sense of morality, as well as his sense of the distinctions between good and bad.

Its OK to appreciate artists for their skill, even if they have the wrong ideas, because the skill itself is manifested in the achievement of a goal.  The only thing is one must not confuse this appreciation of skill for the appreciation of the ideas, and one must not allow others to presume that because you like Megadeth, that you agree with Dave Mustaine's philosophy.

See my previous post of what I think of Megadeth and their abject noise.

It's crap. All of it.

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I like Dostoevksy, for his superb mastery of plot structure and for his merciless dissection of the phsychology of evil, even though his philosophy and his sense of life are almost diametrically opposed to mine...

Romantic Manifesto pb. 43

The part of RM most relevant to this topic is Chapter 4, dealing with relationship between art and cognition and touching on music specifically. Basically, all forms of art except music deal with entities and work in the same manner as the normal epistemological process of man: one perceives the piece of art through sight and/or touch, and then the brain processes the information to reach the abstraction the artist intended, and then feel an emotion in grasping it.

Music does not work that way, but rather the reverse. In hearing music, one feels the emotion first -- musical tones reach the subconscious directly, without a stop-over in the conscious mind. One can then go backwards episetmologically, through introspection, to discover the causes of it if one wishes to.

Music cannot tell a story, it cannot deal with concretes, it cannot convey a specific existential phenomenon, such as a peaceful countryside or a stormy sea.  The theme of a composition entitled "Spring Song" is not spring, but the emotions which spring evoked in the composer.  Even concepts which, intellectually, belong to a complex level of abstraction, such as "peace", "revolution", "religion", are too specific, too concrete to be expressed in music.  All that music can do with such themes is convey the emotions of serenity, or defiance, or exaltation.

Romantic Manifesto pb. 52

So, a nihilistic song lyric does not necessarily mean that the notes one hears and the melody of the music itself will make one feel "nihilistic". All that a nihilistic song can do is make one grasp that the composer is either depressed, angry, flipppant, or any other range of emotions that could come from nihilism -- but it can't make you feel any of those emotions unless it crosses your own sense of life, and then you will feel it to the extent that it does so. I grasp far more emotions in Megadeth than I feel myself, but there is some cross over.

The most important part here is that it is the music which conveys the emotional content, not the lyrics.

The biggest part of my cross-over with Megadeth is the emotion of "eagerness" conveyed through the speed and crispness of the notes. I, too, am eager. Not for the same things as Dave Mustaine, but we share at least that much -- and that is all I get from it. It is this sense of eagerness that is pervasive throughout the kinds of metal which I personally enjoy. The faster, the better. ;) Personally, I do not like Metallica (post 1990) or any of Kiss. In fact I do even consider Kiss to be heavy metal.

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I also enjoy Iced Earth, especially their most recent effort The Glorious Burden, which is a very patriotic album: freedom loving and respectful of the people who died to provide our freedom -- but their earlier subject matter, though dark, also shows a tremendous amount of skill in both instrumentation and composition.

I thought Iced Earth had disbanded (because the lead singer left). The last album I purchased was "Horror Show" which I very much enjoyed. I'll have to check them out again.

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Music cannot tell a story, it cannot deal with concretes, it cannot convey a specific existential phenomenon, such as a peaceful countryside or a stormy sea.  The theme of a composition entitled "Spring Song" is not spring, but the emotions which spring evoked in the composer.  Even concepts which, intellectually, belong to a complex level of abstraction, such as "peace", "revolution", "religion", are too specific, too concrete to be expressed in music.  All that music can do with such themes is convey the emotions of serenity, or defiance, or exaltation.

The key here is music.

So what does the noise of a Megadeth "composition" convey?

To me it conveys noise, noise, and more noise. I can't stand noise.

No thanks, I'd rather listen to real music, not a bunch of hippies blasting noise and banging on drums like a bunch of savages.

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So what does the noise of a Megadeth "composition" convey?

To me it conveys noise, noise, and more noise.  I can't stand noise.

No thanks, I'd rather listen to real music, not a bunch of hippies blasting noise and banging on drums like a bunch of savages.

I have no problem with your dissatisfaction with Megadeth, that's fine. But I've found it accurate that people who consider metal "noise" do so because to them that's what it sounds like. In order to appreciate metal, one needs a very careful ear and a brain that can distinguish very small, very short notes. When the listener does not have this capacity, the notes all blend together into "noise", like static on a TV.

Part of the pleasure in listening to metal is in the focus one needs in order to discern what is going on musically. Compare to listening to POP/dance music, which requires no focus whatsoever to hear and process 100% of the intended notes.

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I like guitar music a lot, and I think that a very large percentage of great guitarists play Hard Rock or some flavor of metal. Sure there are hacks in these genres, just like every other. I happen to find Tool to be incredibly boring and repetitive. Slayer seems the same way to me.

But even though the sense of life is generally negative, the technical talents of the good bands make the experience worthwhile.

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I like guitar music a lot, and I think that a very large percentage of great guitarists play Hard Rock or some flavor of metal. Sure there are hacks in these genres, just like every other. I happen to find Tool to be incredibly boring and repetitive. Slayer seems the same way to me.

But even though the sense of life is generally negative, the technical talents of the good bands make the experience worthwhile.

Technical ability and content, I agree, are the standards of art. Content far outweighs technical ability, however. Jay - Z (for example), raps about pretty shallow,hedonistic, and racist/sexist themes, but can be admired for his lyrical ability and creativity . He is also is into business; recently becoming CEO of Rocafella. 50 Cent, on the other hand, has some technical ability, but the violence and sexist themes protrayed in his music far outweighs any ability he has. Popular music is usually always a mixed bag.

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I usually only read this forum, but I had to pitch in when I read this thread.

First, I found after studying Rand (esp. Romantic Manifesto) that Objectivism explained why I liked the music I already liked. I haven't found much music I like which doesn't fit well in Objectivism. (This phenomena has occured in other aspects of my life--for example, now I know why I feel like an airport is a temple and why I never was awestruck by the Grand Canyon but wanted to build a bridge over it)

Second, I have a cousin who is in a "Noise" band. The Noise movement has become significant--he went on a national tour and is being payed to take his group to Sweden. In light of Romantic Manifesto, I think this Noise is essentially immoral--it breaks down your integration, destroys the use of your mind while you listen to it, etc. I think it should be called anti-music. My cousin said they create this music to protest the poor political and economical state of the country, but I believe the effect of this music would work in the opposite way that it was intended if many people began listening to it.

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Objectivists tend to be people with strong opinions. There's nothing totalitarian about that. In fact, a "totalitarian" mentality is one that has no opinion, besides that which it is ordered to have.

I would also like to point out that the original poster rightly labeled his inquiry "The Psychology Of Metal Music" (emphasis added), not "The Philosophy Of Metal Music." Given the profound psychological impact art can have on an individual, this is a perfectly legitimate object for introspection and discussion.

Also, to say "a fundamentalist Christian holds X opinion, and an Objectivist holds X opinion, therefore Objectivism and Christianity are philosophically indistinguishable," is to commit a grave logical fallacy.

I don't personally like metal music much more than Pastor Joe down the street, but I have much different reasons, and I certainly don't like his Gospel Choir + Fiddle Quartet any better!

My personal experience with Metal music is that it creates a psychological state similar to being pounded repeatedly in the head with a stick. But music has to be viewed as a subjective art, until an objective basis for interpretation is found.

_The Romantic Manifesto_ will probably help you understand the aesthetics of music better, and also the articles by Helmholtz referenced by Rand therein.

It's topics like this that make one wonder if objectivists aren't terribly different from religious fundamentalists....

Right music to go with the philosophy, right art, right movies, right TV, probably right dressing, right eating, yadda yadda.  It start to sound like Southern Baptists complaining of the Devil's rock & roll.  Or Plato complaining of whatever style of music he didn't like.

You know, once you are talking about there being a certain right kind of music, or art, or whatever, things have gotten rather totalitarian.

Philosophy is supposed to free you to live more fully, not give you a bunch of new chains to worry about.

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Let me get to the crux of yor questions and see if I can lead you somewhere devoid of my personal opinions of your examples. Please forgive the length of what I say, and try to take it all in. It's something I spent years trying to figure out, and may not quite be there, but let me take a stab. You asked:

Is it a contradiction that I am an Objectivist, yet like non-Objectivist music? Or is it simply a psychological matter and not a philosophical one?

There is no "Objectivist" or "non-Objectivist" music. Music is sound organized in time - that's it. Composition is the artful craft of writing music.

Rand loved her "tiddlywink" music, and praised Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky passages, but that's not an endorsement, only a preference. As she stated in RM, music reaches the emotions first, the reverse of the cognitive process one uses to judge a painting or novel. Your only choices when listening to music are a positive, life-affirming response or a negative one that results from a dulling of your senses. And it's rarely easy to make that assessment at first. When you learn to listen, really actively listen, to what you're hearing, it gets easier.

If one uses music as a drug, though, your judgement of how it works in your life never sharpens. For those people, music either reinforces their mood, or they use it to escape from a mood. If one is particularly frustrated after a day of getting poked and prodded by life's slings and arrows, that person might blow off some steam with System of a Down; another person might pour some wine and relax to some Sarah Maclachlan. I think this is an inappropriate and damaging way to integrate music into your life, though. Does your music control you, or inspire you?

Another point about there being no "Objectivist" music: Music (tones produced by a musical instrument or voice) has no political, philosophical, or religious affiliation - only words set to music do. Does four-part harmony mean it's a Protestant Hymn? Only if the sung words are about Jesus. A hymn's melodic and harmonic structure could be imitated, then arranged for a brass quintet - is it a hymn now? It's an original composition, titled "Opus 24", and has no words; only one's association and familiarity with the traditional "sound" of hymns makes one think it might indeed be a hymn ... but it's not.

With this in mind, you can enjoy a choral Mass (awesome live); the funk vamps in hip-hop; the masculine punch of a tight, chunky guitar riff; the traffic-battling rush of drum'n'bass; the playfulness of improvised jazz; the sonic cartoons of a sophisticated Zappa guitar solo; the tempting sensuality of a greasy trip-hop beat ... the list could go on and on.

So where would the contradicitions lie?

- If you're extolling the values and virtues of capitalism while singing (with passion and sincerety) the lyrics of Rage Against the Machine.

- You desire the happiness of a sophisticated and well-lived existence, but try to reinforce it with music that appeals to baser urges.

Another contradiction could lie in what you may be supporting beyond the music. After all, (most) pop music is a commodity endorsed by its performers. What they preach and what they practice could be destructive, if their entire "act" is aimed, not at creating awareness or uplifting people, but in dragging them down into the mud. It sucks to like a song and not buy the CD, but doing so anyway is one of those little moral compromises can corrode your philosophical armor. Whatever you like, there are 50 others doing the same thing, but may be saying something completely different. (Have you heard of "Christian Death Metal"?) Just like what you buy at the grocery store, your dollars at the record store support more than musicians. (No, this is not an excuse for stealing from P2P networks ... but I digress.)

Music by itself speaks directly to your sense of life, and if integrated properly, it allows you to celebrate the acheivement and ecstacy you can have in your life. Music, to the simple appreciator or the most prolific composer, is spiritual - not mystical - food. Not to go too far with an analogy, but how nutritious is your musical food? Is it all burgers and Pepsi, or filet mignon and Chablis?

Your music - whatever you choose for your life - does not have a genre, an costume, a style, a particular harmonic language, or set of voice-leading rules. It does not allow you to believe that a major chord is "happy" and a minor chord is "sad", or that Shostakovich is better for you than Zamfir, Master of the Pan-Flute.

It moves you positively; it affects the best parts of yourself, and in some meaningful way allows you to say "Yes! This is what I am!"

If this isn't what you feel when you listen to your music, or if the music you choose brings you any sense of (dare I say?) guilt about how it speaks to your sense of life: Check your premises, and find something else to listen to.

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First off, I like music.  And I do like popular music, including jazz and pop.

But I find much of the so-called music called "metal" and its similar forms of abject noise to be beyond appalling.  It's nothing I can't resolve, however, by pressing the station button on my car radio or switching it off.

I personally find it insulting as a musician hobbyist that anyone dares call the noise put forth by Metallica, Megadeth, Kiss, and others like them "music."

As far as "psychology" I find that such "music" strongly favors death and is anti-sense-of-life.  It's no wonder many brainwashed young people like this noise- perhaps it gives then a sense of relief from the misery of their daily "lives."

My take. :thumbsup:

I am in general agreement with this viewpoint too. However, I do have moments where I find myself enjoying "an animal moment" in certain visceral forms of rock music. I like 60s rock, because it is pretty clean, unadulterated, and sounds like it could be performed in my garage. Give me a song with a great bass player doing something innovative and complex, and I'll enjoy it to the exclusion of the lyrics. I own some Japanese 'metal' albums where this is true. But I find myself evading two issues: the sense of life, and the destructiveness (loud rock music is destructive to hearing). As such, I limit my intake of really loud music to a few minutes a month.

I find that another interesting phenomena is going on with my tastes in music. Back in '74, Barry White was on the radio a lot. It was a very bad time of my life, so the memory association with the two songs that constantly were on the radio at the time was unpleasant. But this past year, I've been "returning to my roots", collecting all the music I remember when I was younger. And recently, I listened to those two Barry White songs, and realized that there is nothing wrong with the lyrics. He's singing about how much he loves a girl--not bemoaning a taboo love, but exhaulting in the joy of love that's wholesome. I've comepletely turned around my opinion of those songs, replacing the bad emotional memories with my objective understanding of their merit.

I listen to a lot of classical, jazz and new age music as well. I like "ethereal"-sounding music. I also listen to a lot of music coming out of Japan. But I'm finding that it is also fun to turn back the clock and listen to Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Youngbloods, Tommy James & the Shondels, Three Dog Night, Tom Jones, Blood, Sweat & Tears and other popular 60s bands. Some of that stuff, when it was new, seemed so "dirty" to me at the time. Now it seems tame and nearly wholesome by today's standards.

I knew a kid who listened to acid rock. Then a relative of mine introduced him to Objectivism. He stopped listening to acid rock and became interested in classical music after that. Just an interesting anecdote.

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I have the DVD edition of Symphony and Metallica, which was basically the joint project between the San Fransisco Symphony and Metallica and was conducted by Michael Kamen. In part of the extras it is noted by Kamen how complex/brilliant parts of Metallica's music are. The early influence of Cliff Burton (original bassist who died in a car crash) shows through in this music.

I guess what I am saying is that it is a shame to write off something like the genre of metal as all "noise", when there are clearly musicians within the genre who are very very talented and capable of creating thoughtful/complex pieces of music. While I am certainly not a diehard metalhead, I do enjoy bits and pieces, especially earlier Metallica and I often find it inspires me.

I write this while listening to Vivaldi .. :confused:

Edited by Cbaoth

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. The anger that it projects seems to relieve anger and stress that I would feel should I not listen to it.

This is the real problem, not the actual music. You are emotionally unbalanced and seem to use this music as a way to avoid dealing with it on the fundamental level.

Would you still listen to this kind of music if you were a truly happy man, with no hidden anger or stress waiting to be unleashed?

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I personally find it insulting as a musician hobbyist that anyone dares call the noise put forth by Metallica, Megadeth, Kiss, and others like them "music."

... I find that such "music" strongly favors death and is anti-sense-of-life.

I have to disagree with you here, Yes. I believe you are offering contradictory assessments of metal music. If metal music is noise, then how can it convey an anti-life sense of life, or death? Noise is noise. I don't think it can convey a negative sense of life. Perhaps you are focusing too much on the meaning of some metal lyrics to the exclusion of the actual music in general.

The fact is that the metal bands you named create music. Not noise. Their songs, for the most part, contain (simple) rhythms, (short, repetitive) melodies, (fast) tempos, and lyrics (though the singing at times can be lacking a melody).

It's alright if you don't enjoy metal music. It's not for everyone. But I don't think you can prove that metal music is "noise" for people who "favor death."

I certainly hope you can't prove that, because I like a lot of songs by the bands you named. And I would be very stunned to realize that I listen to noise and have a negative sense of life.

Edited by MisterSwig

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Compare to listening to POP/dance music, which requires no focus whatsoever to hear and process 100% of the intended notes.

Sheer nonsense.

The fact that, in other forms of music, you do not have to try to sift through the noisiness of Metal, contributes greatly to the enjoyment of the music.

I view sifting through noise to be a needless chore, and, thus, an impediment upon my pursuit of happiness. Hardly qualifies as an intellectual exercise of any order.

Edited by Yes

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I certainly hope you can't prove that, because I like a lot of songs by the bands you named. And I would be very stunned to realize that I listen to noise and have a negative sense of life.

The combination of lyrics and noise is meant to cause discomfort. The lyrics are in concert with the noise, often portraying despair, death, misery, powerlessness, and the like.

It's insulting that bands like Megadeth, Metallica, and others like them call themselves musicians. I simply hate this noise. How dare they try to stand on the same pedestal as Rachmaninoff, Wagner, and Tchaikovsky!

It's worse than Andy Warhol calling his "creations" art.

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