Thursday, 27 August 2009

Highway to... Heaven?

Life was tough as a teenage Christian metal fan. That is, a Christian who was also a fan of metal, not a fan of Christian metal - although they must've had it really hard, as the scene at the time pretty much consisted of Stryper, four gay ponies in spandex wasp outfits.

Not that I cared what anyone else thought of me (anyone who's seen my photo album can attest to that), especially not small-minded middle-class baptists. They could tut-tut all they liked at my Sunday best - Faith No More and Pantera t-shirts (a favourite all-over print featured both the words "Cowboys from Hell" and, tucked away on the side, subversive messages like "Sex"). But, like every good metal fan, I just loved to be hated.

But I did worry about what God thought. Say, when I settled down to pray, having spent the last hour screaming along to Nine Inch Nails: "God is dead /and no-one cares /if there is a Hell /I'll see you there". I used to wonder, if this really is the devil's music, and I have to give it up for Him, well... what if I can't? And so I've spent half my life convinced that I'm going to Hell, and not reveling in it the way a Slayer fan should.

Today's metal fans needn't worry - they can have their crucifix-shaped cake and eat it (although they should worry about indulging in such sacrilegious foodstuffs). Some of the best bands are God-botherers - Underoath, As I Lay Dying, Norma Jean - and they're as aggressive and uncompromising as the Satanists. In a scene still dominated by people who aren't keen on organised religion, being badge-wearing born-agains is the ultimate rebellion. A niche within a niche that defies all expectations, and guarantees that even your fellow Kerrang! readers will hate you? A metaller's dream.

Texan metalcore outfit Oh, Sleeper are leading the charge. Their debut "When I Am God" became my new favourite album long before I learned of its spritual undertones. (This might sound stoopid, given its title, but the use of religious imagery in metal is usually blasphemous.) The sing/scream style of Micah (good biblical name) Kinard gives voice to an inner turmoil, a spiritual struggle within, and makes the fairly hymn-book lyrics sound totally badass: "So when Hell is at the gates /who will stand and meet the waves /and take the fight to their graves /to end the dark campaign?" They're clever too - just check out Kinard's explanation of the broken pentagram symbol that adorns the cover of their new concept album "Son of the Morning" here. Smart.

Not so smart is Brian "Head" Welch. He dropped out of nu metal goons Korn to do a whole shitload of crystal meth, and then dropped the drugs for God. His music is a straight splicing of his former band and Marilyn Manson, his lyrics the worst kind of "walk in my shoes" testimonial, and his only real gift to the world is this unintentionally hilarious interview (taster: "So in my head I was like, 'OK, I'm going to accept Christ in front of everybody right now and I'm gonna go home and snort drugs until I don't wanna do 'em anymore'... ")

Both Welch and Oh, Sleeper headlined Tomfest 2009, the only festival I seriously considered this year. But I only found out about it the day before it started, and flights to Washington state, US, were on the pricey side. The line-up featured over 130 of the brightest and best underground metal acts (and "Head"), and they were all Christians. No doubt it would've been hard to get a drink and I would've had to take my own laughing gas, but even so, I'm sure it would've kicked Ozzfest and the Warped tours asses (but without using the a-word).

So does that mean you can now worship both God and heavy metal? Hell yeah!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Ambition: The Drive of your Wife

Anyone who knows me knows that my wife wears the trousers in our relationship - while I sit around in my pants.

So today, while she was on a conference call with the director of a multi-national corporation, I was leafing through some magazines and contemplating me/her (and by extension men/women) and our differing ambitions. In my pants.

First up: GQ, which I felt like a fraud even buying, endowed as it is with desires that I couldn't dream of hoping of aspiring to. However, the cover story titled "Lie. Cheat. Steal: Why we'll do anything to get to the top" had a profound effect on me, albeit in a different way to most of the urban sophisticats who read it. The message I took away from this "guide to ambition" was a quote from the associate editor's dad: "you cannot fake hunger".

It's obvious, but also liberating - because, while I've been aware of my lack of ambition for years, I've never allowed myself to be... OK with it. I've felt like the underdog in the ultimate dork-umentary The King of Kong, who sets out to beat a Donkey Kong high score that had remained uncontested for over 20 years. His wife says, "he was smart, he was an athlete, he was talented - and for whatever reason he could never get those to fit." Sure, I'm no athlete, but I too am lacking something - focus, self-belief, the readiness to risk failure... some essential component of the drive to succeed.

So I'm destined to play second-fiddle to a smart, talented woman who has way more drive than me. And that's OK too. The G2 in today's Guardian features excerpts of interviews from Harper's Bazaar with sickeningly successful power couples, but ones in which the woman is the star. The other halves of the likes of Helen Mirren and Vivienne Westwood pay tributes like "the thing that turns me on... is talent", "she has a remarkable capacity for focus... she knows what she wants, and insists on making progress" and (bless you, David Bailey), "shit, there's something special about this one". Of course, all the women happen to be beautiful - depending on how you feel about wor Viv or civil rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti (good hair for her pixie-like frame, but still...). But what attracted these men, who are no slouches themselves, to these women is their talent and ambition - precisely the kind of attributes that would make insecure buffoons like Silvio Berlusconi shit their tiny, tiger-print pants.

Hmmmm, back to pants. I, for one, am going to sit right here in my drawers and bask in my own laziness, and the reflected glow of the most talented, driven, destined-for-greatness woman in the world. And you all thought I was gay...

[Illustration: when I can be bothered]