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Why Heavy Metal Is Awesome

Seeing recently reunited '80s Sub Pop doom mongers St. Vitus stomp all over a rowdy New York City crowd this past weekend reminded me why I love metal. It's just so defiantly uncool. The audience was full of men and women wearing t-shirts decorated with skulls and demons and gothic lettering and banging their heads in skull-shaking bliss. The band's frontman, Scott "Wino" Weinrich, wore a black leather vest and sang in low snarl about "white stallions" and "purple dragons." Impressively bearded guitarist Dave Chandler summoned sludgy riffs and slicing solos. The rhythm section of bassist Mark Adams (in a sweet vintage Alice Cooper shirt) and drummer Henry Vasquez rumbled menacingly along. Being at the show was like living in a comic book. It was awesome.

The thing is, I spend a lot, maybe most, of my music-listening time on indie and mainstream rock. I love them both, but sometimes get tired with the former's tendency towards jaded hipness and the latter's popularity jones. In their own ways, both genres kowtow. Sweeten the hook. Sour the chorus. Wear tight clothes.

Of course, metal has its hang-ups too--but with a band like St. Vitus, which never came close to sniffing mainstream success during its original '80s incarnation, there's never the sense that things are being dialed back for cool or ratcheted up for mass acceptance. The music--think Black Sabbath slowed down and dunked in motor oil--never concedes to anything other than itself. It is completely and utterly comfortable in its outsider status. And even though I had more beer spilled on me than I'd like, and my ears were ringing for a solid 36 hours afterwards, the show had a purity of intent that's rare in rock 'n' roll.

What's your take on metal? Jams for stoners or last bastion of integrity? What music do you turn to when you get tired of everything else? Let me know in the comments section.

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