I'm an open minded person, a don't knock it till you try it kinda' girl. So when my college bestie confessed to A) being a high school metalhead and B) owning two tickets to see his favorite childhood scream team, Agalloch
, I couldn't think of a reason not to be his +1. Except, of course, that A) I'm a huge softie, B) metal music freakin' terrifies me, and C) I hate being yelled at, even for the sake of art. Like seriously hate being yelled at. Now, of course, with NYC being a cesspool of the mentally unhinged and perennially entitled, one does have to suffer the occasional outburst on the Subway. But signing away a night of my life to be screeched at? I dithered. He said he'd cover the cost. I countered that I'd get to pick where we went after, no arguments.
"This band's really melodic. They're like, really well respected on the scene," my friend explained.
Apparently, Agalloch has cultivated a culty cool. One of their tapes only exists in 200 or so copies. You can check it out for hundreds of dollars on eBay, if you're bored or so inclined.
"We don't have to stay the whole time." Score.
We get there and the crowd is about what you picture, lots of black band teeshirts with gothic-like logos, lots of long, vaguely unkempt hair. A monotone drum beat is audible from the lobby; they're in between bands.
"I know you must feel uncomfortable," my friend said compassionately, eyeing my frilly top and cowboy boots. I didn't, actually. I'd take a crowd of Hot Topic and skull-print over Abercombie and Fitch-ville any day.
My friend wasn't a fan of the opening band act, so we wandered downstairs, where the usual metal login' suspects were getting their fill at the watering hole. (No Mojitos, read a stern sign.) I began grilling him; my dancey, fun, pun-lovin' friend, about his past as a headbanger.
What I've never understood, I guess, is what's so stirring about being yelled at; how you can emotionally engage with such purposely abrasive sounds. "It's the drama," he told me. And sure, drama is art and art is dramatized life. Operas resort to tragedies of wretched excess, pop music is an over-dose on sunshine, horror films prod your most primal fears.
"So it's just a release of anger?" I asked. "The equivalent of punching your pillow instead of a person?"
"I don't see it as angry. Sure, most of these people are, you know, social outcasts. But they're not unhappy. I was a totally happy metalhead."
That, to me, was unbelievable, having long associated the screeching sounds of black metal with thunderstorm rage.
As the opener came to a close, we donned our ear plugs, which was sort of amusing to me. Kind of the equivalent of wearing sunglasses at a too-bright technicolor movie theatre? But hey, like I said, I'm an open-minded kid and also I'd just run out of Advil.
Over a loud tone, the band emerged, one musician at a time. They assumed a wide stance and the concert hall descended into a frenzy of booming drums. The lead singer half-screamed in a falsetto; I gulped. Popular opinion begged to differ, as the crowd erupted.
A few tracks in, my friend hollered into my ear, "This is their 20 minute song about Faust," supporting his argument that this was a heady, intellectual group of musicians, not the pissed off violent rabble-rousers they're so often caricatured as. I could intellectualize everything my friend had told me, and it all added up to me unfairly dismissing a genre that was capable of really galvanizing people. But still, the music was just too harsh and dry for my indie-rock palette. It was so... angular, perhaps?
I get the idea of catharsis through music, particularly feeling like you're part of a "scene" of people who get your music, and therefore, probably get you. I tried on the emo-kid gimmick for size, back in the day, and while it only stuck for a couple of months, it felt like an easy way to escape the preppy buttoned up Top 40-croonin' kids at school. As I looked around at a crowd of people ranging from 20 to 50, I wondered how many times Agollach had been a soundtrack to their worst moments the way weepier boys-with-guitars were to mine.
We stared down at the audience, a mass of heads below us. As they descended and ascended to the music, it almost looked like they were bowing down, like I was in the midst of a drum-and-bass-heavy church ceremony. Which, in a way, maybe I was.
Ultimately, the concert ended up being a reminder to me of how freakin' powerful music is. Cause when you're not one of the people being swept away, you respond from a comfortable distance of awe at the scene around you. That guy in the front row, with his head in between the speakers? Sounds too difficult for me to swallow were as powerful, meaningful, and true as anything to him.
So, will I be donning an obscure Swedish band tee-shirt and head banging with the best of them? Absolutely not. Nor will I probably ever buy an Agollach album on iTunes. Being screamed at still makes me anxious. But as a music lover, how can I not be blown away at the sheer exhilirating capacity of music to turn anger into art and people into artists?
Oh, and yes, we ended up leaving early.