As the school year is winding down and students are cramming for their final exams, it is time to reflect upon the lessons learned through a heavy metal curriculum. What’s that? Learning from heavy metal? Yes, kids, it is actually possible to learn something valuable from listening to heavy metal music! Since its inception, “normal” society has deemed the metal genre as something designated for outsiders, undesirables, and in essence, the scum of the earth. Traditional society cannot (or will not) look beyond the volume, the cover art and band imagery; and simply judge the genre on its outward appearance. And shame on their prejudices for keeping them ignorant, for, if they dug just below the surface, they might be surprised by how intelligent and important metal can be. Here are but a few examples of how metal music can be integrated into a high school (or college) curriculum by subject area.
1. LANGUAGE ARTS – Without question, metal music has a greater appreciation for the various subjects within the Language Arts category than any other, permeating such classes as Literature, Creative Writing, Mythology, and Vocabulary. Let’s explore a sampling of each.
a. Literature: While mainstream media seemed completely ignorant to the literacy of metal bands before (or since) the release of Mastodon’s 2004 album “Leviathan” (based on Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”), the band was not the first to be inspired by works of literature. Iron Maiden basically wrote the book on literature-inspired metal, offering such intelli-tunes as ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ (based on a 1798 poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge), ‘To Tame a Land’ (from the 1965 Frank Herbert novel “Dune”), ‘Lord of the Flies’ (based on the eponymous 1954 William Golding novel), and ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’ (from an 1841 Edgar Allan Poe short story). Speaking of Poe, most of the songs on German metal band Grave Digger’s 2001 album “The Grave Digger” are based on or inspired by the man’s works. The band’s previous album, 1999’s “Excalibur” was a conceptual album about the lore of King Arthur and his knights. One could easily create a class set around the metal inspiration of King Arthur alone, citing such bands as Morgana Lefay, Blitzkrieg, Amorphis, Blind Guardian, Ayreon, Cradle of Filth, Fates Warning, the aforementioned Iron Maiden, and Jag Panzer, just to name a few. And since they were just noted, Jag Panzer gave us a taste of Shakespeare in 2000 with a conceptual album entitled “Thane to the Throne” based on “MacBeth”. In 1992, Running Wild unveiled the 11-minute ‘Treasure Island,’ based on the Robert Lewis Stevenson book. Elsewhere, Deceased released a tune called ‘The Hanging Soldier’ on the 2000 album “Supernatural Addiction” based on the Ambrose Bierce short story ‘An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge’, and Fear Factory’s 1998 “Obsolete” album was inspired by a combination of Orwell’s “1984”, Huxley’s “Brave New World”, and Ira Levin’s “The Boys From Brazil”. And to bring things full circle, in 2006, Ahab also visited the “Moby Dick” theme with its album “The Call of the Wretched Sea”.
b. Mythology: Tightly related to the Literature category, Greek Mythology is seen in many of the above-mentioned artists, like Iron Maiden’s ‘Flight of Icarus’, Grave Digger’s 2012 album “Clash of the Gods”, Manowar’s ‘Achilles, Agony and Ecstasy in Eight Parts’ (based on Homer’s “The Iliad”), and Virgin Steele’s epics “The House of Atreus Part I & II”, and Symphony X’s “The Odyssey”. Moving around to other metal subgenres, mythology is also presented in various Scandinavian, British, and Russian folk metal bands, black metal bands; notable are Amorphis and Korpiklaani who, on more than one occasion, have recorded songs based on Finnish folklore book “Kalevala”. And even American death metal band Nile frequently pays homage to Egyptian mythology!
c. Creative Writing: For this topic, we look to original conceptual albums, which are essentially short stories in music form. Examples of creative writing in metal include Queensrÿche’s “Operation: mindcrime”, Iron Maiden’s “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”, Edge of Sanity’s “Crimson”, Angra’s “Temple of Shadows”, Dio’s “Magica”, Evergrey’s “In Search of Truth”, and various works from King Diamond, Iced Earth, Cradle of Filth, Avantasia, and Ayreon. The concept album could very well be its own subgenre of metal, given the number of bands that have explored that avenue.
d. Vocabulary: One cannot listen to any metal band and not stumble across a word or three they have never encountered before. When I was in high school, I never heard the word “subterfuge” before Vio-Lence used it as a song title. But the two bands that consistently challenged (and expanded) everyone’s vocabulary were Carcass and Tourniquet. Carcass went the clinical route, offering complex verbiage for things easily explained. For example, one song is entitled ‘Swarming Vulgar Mass of Infected Virulency’; a “normal” person would simply call it ‘acne’. Tourniquet, similarly, used sophisticated terminology to blend the physical and spiritual realms. The title of its 1992 album, “Pathogenic Ocular Dissonance” is a verbose synonym for color blindness, and the band defines it as ignorance to God’s wisdom. Lyrics from both bands, especially their earlier recordings will no doubt help anyone ace the SAT exam.
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