Heart Songs

My daughter is starting to smile at me, and it’s breaking my heart. I mean, I can claim to have seen the brutality of birth and lived to tell the tale, but seriously. Each upturned corner of the lips is accompanied by a “goo” that turns my hard metal barriers into angel food cake. If this keeps up, I’ll have to rebrand this thing “Less-Than-Metal Dad.”

I didn’t teach her how to do that, trust me. I haven’t willingly sacrificed what little metal cred I’ve got; it’s all happened naturally. Like the moment you realize you’re doing the high, squeaky baby voice is a moment you can’t go back from. My vocal register is getting so high I’m thinking of trying out for Rhapsody of Fire.

My daughter, giving a little smile.
How am I supposed to stay grimdark with this going on??

So I did what any sensible person would do when their morals and values are challenged: I made a playlist. Desperate times, and all. This is a failsafe to ensure I don’t forget my roots. “Back off, baby,” these songs say. “You may have his affections now, but WE were here first.”

Coincidentally, these songs all have the word “heart” in them. With luck, they’ll remind me of when I had metal flowing through my veins instead of all this goddamned oxytocin.

Crank Up These Heart Songs (But Not Too Loud)

“Heartwork” – Carcass
Even the band name makes me feel like a real tough guy. “This band is named after a rotting dead corpse, what’s yours, something lame like your feelings?” Carcass knows how to get to the meat of a song, and “Heartwork” is as meaty as they come. Layered with sweet riffs, dynamic drums, and raspy growling, even the melodies have the crunchiness to drown out most bedtime lullabies.

“Warheart” – Children of Bodom
From its antagonizing opening sample, Children of Bodom’s “Warheart” sets me and my daughter on a “path of rebound (???).” Okay, so lyrics aside, the combination of cymbal chokes and rumbling bass followed by furious riffing and frantic blasting makes me want to make my battle imminent. Now, I probably won’t ever go so far as to consider my child my enemy, but “Warheart” does remind me of the opposing forces at work whenever I’m struggling to change my daughter’s diaper.

Dawn of the Black Hearts – Mayhem
Okay, not a song, but this recording of a ’90s Mayhem show is the antithesis of adorable daughters. Sometimes the only way to deal with a screaming infant is to listen to something that sounds even worse. The production on this black metal bootleg is so delightfully raw it sets my teeth grinding. Compared to the shrieking china four-count before “Freezing Moon,” somehow my kid’s cries don’t seem all that bad.

“Eagleheart” – Stratovarius
When life gets me down, I can always rely on a power metal pick-me-up. Neoclassical shredding never fails to put me in a feel-good mood, which sounds perfect for a fussy baby that just won’t go to sleep. This song’s soaring chorus and beautifully simple keyboard/guitar lead can lead me out of the dark and into a bright, shining tomorrow. And considering I’m typing this at 3:30 AM, that tomorrow is only a couple hours away! Great…

“Hollow Heart” – Kalmah
Leave it to Kalmah to empty out all the mushiness from my pumper. Nothing about this song, including its swamp-slushing intro, makes me think of babies. Perfect! I’d never take my baby to a swamp; that sounds terrible. Keyboard-driven melodies mix with tight riffing and phlegmy vocals into a concoction that’s just sick. What I wouldn’t give to see Kalmah play “Hollow Heart” in the States. Actually, I might be a few sleepless nights away from a solution. Go on, baby, just try me!

“Blind at Heart” – Dark Tranquillity
Dark Tranquillity knows what’s up. Apparently I’ve got to blind myself to my daughter’s charms. Sound advice from my favorite melodic death metal band; they probably wrote this super-tight, ass kicker of a song just for my fatherly plight. You know, four years after they wrote it.

“Metal Heart” – Accept
Probably the most aptly named song name for this blog, Accept’s “Metal Heart” has the kind of old-school appeal that reminds me of my younger years. I think every metal fan went through an elitist phase, but I didn’t expect this song to make me feel so nostalgic for it. While plenty full of ’80s-era rockin’, this song at the very least reminds me of a time before baby that helped shape me into the metal man I am today.

A metal dad tries his hardest to smile, something I'm sure he hasn't done since he was a child himself.
I know it’s hard, you can do it, believe in yourself

Well the baby’s not going anywhere; she’s here to stay, all smiles and farts and that sort of thing. She mostly smiles while getting her diaper changed, so there’s a good chance she generates joy by making daddy deal with a double doody. But all the same, I never want it to stop.

I guess as long as I’ve got these songs to listen to, I can make it through just about anything. Who knew that actually listening to metal would remind me what I love most about it? If you’re ever questioning your own metalness in the midst of all your dadliness, I highly recommend it.

If you know of any other “heart songs” to add to my playlist of yearning, do let me know. The nights will only get longer.

The Mostly Metal Things About Babies

Somewhere between my fifth and sixth diaper change, I realize that raising a kid isn’t the most metal pastime. Other than the birth, which I admit was pretty goddamn metal, my daughter hasn’t done much to get my goat going. Pooping like 50 times a day isn’t really high on my list of Metal’s Greatest Hits.

But I’m not very metal myself; one look at the top of my internet browser proves that particular sentiment. And a closer look at my daughter reveals that although the act of raising a kid might not be very metal, the babies themselves are. And metal stuff, well; I kinda know how to deal with that.

Chances are your kid probably is too. So if you need a reminder of that, here you go – these are the Mostly Metal Things About Babies.

Babies can really wail.

Straight from the womb, your kid’s got a set of pipes as powerful as Bruce Dickinson’s. Indoors, outside, at three in the morning, any time is prime for warming up the ‘ol vocal cords.

Just like a really impressive vocal performance demands your attention, so too do your kid’s cries. Make sure you give him the response he deserves and repay him for such a killer, ear-splitting performance. No need to ask him for an encore; some soothing words or pats on the bottom should be more than enough thanks.

Babies are natural-born headbangers.

Sure, it may seem like that side-to-side motion means she’s looking for Mom’s boob, but you know better. Your baby’s actually performing an infantile form of headbanging. Next time you notice her moving around, put on something midtempo with a lot of groove (Pantera’s “Walk” is a great choice) and watch Baby rock out.

Just as with adult headbanging, maintaining good posture is important. Make sure you support your baby’s head to avoid whiplash and teach her proper technique.

A long-haired metalhead headbanging. His baby tries her hardest from the ground.
She’s got a lot to learn, but I think she’ll make it.

Babies are gas-powered.

Seriously. Babies emit more fumes than Rob Halford’s motorcycle. For as little as they are, they sure know how to blast ass in a way that makes even Daddy self-conscious. All that noise isn’t just for show, either; gaseous babies are prone to following up their act with a “solid encore.” So make sure she doesn’t stew in it for long.

While peeing and pooping yourself don’t seem all that metal, but it brings us to the final part…

Babies just don’t give a fuck.

In my opinion, nothing is more metal than staying true to yourself and your convictions. Babies understand this right out of the womb. No matter how much they scream, squirm, and defecate in public, babies could not care less what others think of them. And that’s metal as hell.

Be sure to praise your youngin’ when she gets really riled up. Although she’s pissed off at the world, your closeness will be a good reminder that some things are worth calming down for.

Building Toward a More Metal Future

While I’ve been learning the ropes about being a dad, my daughter’s been displaying all these metal traits under my very nose. It’s embarrassing how obvious it seems now. I guess I’m learning, but I should have seen the signs!

So the next time you’re lamenting over how un-metal your pitiful life has become, just remember: your kid is being way more metal than you all the time. So suck it up, get your pointer and pinky fingers erect, and be a good role model for her.

That’s what dads are for, right?

Decrepit Birth: The Day I Became a Dad

7 AM. My wife lies atop a raised platform, like a human sacrifice. I watch helplessly as her hands claw at her altar, her head raised to the sky as she unleashes a ragged scream.

The birthing process is just about the most brutal thing there is. More brutal than the album art for Cannibal Corpse’s entire discography. Because as grotesque as Tomb of the Mutilated or Butchered at Birth are to look at, it’s another thing entirely to see it happening right in front of you.

The gruesome album cover for Cannibal Corpse's "Butchered at Birth."
If the birthing room looks like this, just turn around slowly and leave.

7:09 AM. Blood and other wretched fluids are gushing out in torrents from her nether regions, pooling in pus-colored puddles on the floor. Amid her anguished cries, I somehow come to the grim realization: “I did this.”

Birth has all the gruesome aesthetic qualities the public generally associates with metal music: all blood and gore and growls. But no one talks about the emotional brutality involved, and how that affects a guy whose taste in extreme music should, by some strange logic, prepare him for this kind of thing.

7:13 AM. A swarm of mask-wearing women in powdery blue robes push me aside. They crowd around my wailing wife. I know the moment’s close; I can taste it hanging in the air. I hardly realize it, but I’m holding my breath.

Except metal doesn’t celebrate the mushy stuff the way other popular music does. Metal ballads usually don’t go the “luv u 4ever” route, and if does it does so at arm’s length, veiled by virtuoso guitar solos and high-pitched vocals.

7:14 AM. My wife screams in a way I only hear in my worst nightmares.

Metal simply didn’t prepare me for this.

7:15 AM. Then, from the blood and goop and assorted viscera, something emerges. A quivering, squalling mound of flesh the color of a week-old bruise is slapped against my wife’s chest. As I crane in for a closer look, it hits me: this is my baby.

It’s a collaborative effort, the creation of a child. Like making an album, maybe. I mean, you get a similar feeling of gratification at the end of it, right? Except my contributions in the nine months since have been minimal. I’ve input the equivalent of hitting the record button, that most basic of creationary functions, and left the majority of work to my wife. And now I know it’s my turn to reciprocate.

Minutes later. She’s slimy; she’s crying. She looks kind of otherworldly. Someone has severed her umbilical cord – it might have been me, but I’m not quite sure. It’s all happened so fast. It isn’t until I’m sitting down after the whole ordeal, cradling my newborn daughter in my arms, that I’m able to collect my thoughts. “I did this,” I remember. “I helped make this happen.”

Okay, so I may be cranking up the experience to an 11, but that’s artistic license for you. It works for Alice Cooper, doesn’t it? Just dial this blog post down to 6 or 7 maybe, and you’ve still got some pretty honest source material.

Still, there’s no other way to slice it – birth is brutal, man. I may not have been actually having the baby, but I got the experience. I bought my ticket and the goddamn t-shirt. And it’s a shirt I’ll be repping for the rest of my life.

A picture of a grim metalhead, looking surprised at holding his newborn.
That moment when you realize you’ve brought into the world a Daughter of Northern Darkness.

Life as a Mostly Metal Dad

Being a dad and being metal doesn’t seem like the most natural fit. I can’t think of a single metal song that captures the feeling of fatherhood. Like, as soon as James Hetfield pens a song about how much he loves his kids, Metallica’s probably run their course. Not to say that he couldn’t, it’s just not what I’d expect a Full Metal Father to do.

Sometimes I can think back to that exact moment I saw the wrinkled, purple blob that was my kid and I just start tearing up. Not very metal. Maybe if I were more than “Mostly Metal” I’d be able to keep it together. Then again, I never could commit to much more than that. I took too good of care of my black band shirts and hair; my jeans never had any rips. So this normal-ish dad thing might work out just fine.

Maybe it’ll be the same for you. If you too end up all misty-eyed at the birth of your child, you might be Mostly Metal, like me. Which means we’ve got a lot to look forward to, and we may need each other to get through the dark times.

So come on back to this blog; at the very least we can trade mixtapes. So long as we both know it’s okay to cry.

I’ll bring the tissues.