PC couplet

A mental allergy, a social alchemy
A non-event into controversy

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What makes metal not heavy?

I like heavy rock music but metal has never struck me as heavy. Metal fans are usually outraged or dumbfounded by this, so I’m attempting to articulate my reasoning.

  1. Halloween/B-slasher movie crap–in band names, album names, logos and artwork, song names, and lyrics–is just silly, and it seems like almost all metal bands use it profusely:
    1. Satanism, vampires, goth stuff, etc.
    2. Gore imagery
    3. Themes of sexual deviance
    4. Latin or pseudo-Latin
    5. Norse or pseudo-Norse
    6. Themes that are clearly trying to be edgy or highlight one’s edginess
    7. All the above seems designed to frighten people, but who is actually frightened by any of this? Old ladies? Simply the fact that it’s so obviously trying to be frightening makes it lame and ineffective.
  2. Metal vocals are usually impossible to take seriously:
    1. Cookie monster-style
    2. Pterodactyl-style
    3. Both of the above tend to amount to a grown man trying to do an impression of a typical Hollywood interpretation of what a demon sounds like, which means juvenile stupidity is built into these kinds of metal vocals at every level
    4. When metal vocals don’t use either cookie monster- or pterodactyl-style, they often use this kind of over-exerted hyper-masculine style that I find really fake and postured, like a guy who uses steroids to look tough but is actually weak and in poor health (and for whatever reason this style of metal vocals always sounds auto-tuned!)
  3. Metal drumming might be technically difficult, but the effect is typically boring:
    1. Hammering away 16th notes on the double bass pedal doesn’t add any oomph to the music, it just makes it sound like your car’s got a flat tire
    2. Sometimes when it’s fast it sounds like very precise punk drumming, which then sounds out of place because now I’m expecting “Screw the system” and instead getting “Screw dead nuns in the middle of a pentagram, domicilus matreamus basementus, with, like, lots of blood and guts and dead babies everywhere and stuff”
  4. Metal guitar riffs usually aren’t heavy. Sometimes it’s because…
    1. They sound like electrified baroque harpsichord music
    2. They stay in one key/tempo the whole time
    3. They only use the flat fifth, perfect fourth, minor third, and major second over and over again
    4. They sound like pinball machines
    5. They are too wall-of-sound or too complex to discern clearly
    6. They are too repetitive and become mind-numbing
    7. They lack dynamics or pauses
  5. Keyboards (ugh):
    1. A wash of “choir”, “strings”, or “synth” effects, makes music smoother and less heavy because it removes contrast. A song can be heavy if only a few parts of the song have keyboard in them, but the heavy parts will never have keyboard in them
    2. Using an actual harpsichord effect is just ridiculous

Heavy music hits you in the chest, knocks you back a bit. Metal mostly seems like an attempt to be spooky or abrasive, and usually not a successful one. The fact that it’s trying so hard makes it even more of a failure.

Now, I know someone is going to say “What about [this unusual sub-genre of metal I care about]? You’ve never heard of it, so you don’t even know what you’re talking about and therefore you shouldn’t be writing anything about metal! Metal is way more diverse than you’d realize, if you ever listened to anything other than, like, Metallica!”

Well, send me a representative example of that sub-genre and I’ll either show how it already maps to one or more of the bulleted items above, or I’ll add new bullets to accommodate it, or it’ll turn out that there actually is one heavy sub-genre of metal, which doesn’t affect my point about metal in general.

In fact, if anyone can find examples of metal you think is heavy and also avoids all the traps listed above, I’m interested in listening to it.

Spoilers don’t spoil anything

You know what’s a spoiler? Bad acting. Bad writing. A boom mic dropping into frame. Someone in the back of the movie theater who won’t stop yelling into his cell phone. Knowing the plot in advance is not a spoiler. Tell me the plot in advance! I’ll go read it online if I can! Maybe it will save me 12 bucks, or maybe it will let me focus on other aspects of the movie: the aspects I care about.

Thoughts on giving advice

Recently I watched a person ask for advice and then, one by one, shoot down the various reasonable, actionable, easy-to-follow suggestions that well over a dozen people gave him. Most of the advice-seeker’s arguments for why he couldn’t follow some piece of advice or another sounded like lame excuses. In the middle of all this, one of the people who had given a suggestion got exasperated and said he couldn’t understand why anyone kept giving this guy advice.

Giving advice seems to be an activity many people are attracted to, regardless whether they receive feedback indicating their advice was followed or even seriously considered. It’s a phenomenon that powers much of the internet! I don’t know why that phenomenon of advice-giving exists, but here are some of my guesses:

  • It makes us feel like we are experts at something.
  • It shows others that we are helpful and therefore worthy of the space we take up.
  • Requests for advice present a kind of puzzle, and the problem-solving muscles in our minds enjoy hammering away at puzzles. (Each excuse for why a piece of advice can’t be followed presents a follow-up puzzle!)
  • We imagine we are turning a sort of dharmic wheel; good advice can be extremely valuable, so by our giving it to someone for free the universe (or maybe even the advice-seeker himself in some cosmic way) now owes us a reward.
  • It scratches an obsessive compulsive itch to put things to order.

It also seems strange that someone would ask for advice and then give every indication that he isn’t open to anyone’s suggestions. Here too I have my guesses for why this happens:

  • The request for advice is really a request for validation; the person actually wants to hear “Don’t worry, the way you’re doing it right now is just fine. You shouldn’t actually change after all.”
  • Each suggestion presents a kind of puzzle; solving it means finding a way it can’t be followed. The problem-solving muscles in the advice-seeker’s mind enjoy hammering away at all the little puzzles people are giving him.
  • The advice-seeker intuitively knows what the right course of action is to resolve the situation he’s in, but for whatever reason (fear, laziness, etc.) does not want to take it. So he asks for advice as a way to prove to himself he is taking steps toward resolving his situation. Then when the advice starts to pour in, he shoots it down so that he won’t actually have to take any steps whatsoever–but it will feel like he at least tried.

These two sets of biases–those of the advice-seeker and those of the advice-givers–complement each other, creating a feedback loop. That is where the phenomenon gets its power.

(This of course doesn’t mean all requests for advice are fraudulent or that giving advice is necessarily a waste of time.)