Still from AFI's "White Offerings" music video, with vocalist Davey Havok looking deeply into the camera.

Gorgonna’s Playlist, Vol. I: AFI, Power Trip, The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)

It was only a matter of time before all the lullabies and nursery rhymes gave way to actual music.

Gorgonna’s going through a daily state of self-discovery. Along with picking up favorite food preferences, vexing behaviors to challenge us with, and other assorted yet endearing quirks, she has acquired an affinity for songs from Mommy and Daddy’s music libraries. I’m thinking that, since both the wife and I are music lovers (albeit on different, often opposing sonic spectrums), this isn’t going to be a rare occurrence. And naturally, I saw the inevitable outcome of making a recurring series out of it. So here we are.

Presenting Gorgonna’s Playlist: Vol. 1.

AFI – “White Offerings”

Currently, this is far and away Gorgonna’s favorite song. She requests it every time we get in the car, so much so it’s become synonymous with on-the-road travel.  I have to keep the CD in my car and have had to download it to my phone — just for the anywhere, anytime flexibility. She was first subjected to its emo/rock programming via a Sunday afternoon of repeated YouTube viewings — I think she likes the song as much, if not more so, for the enthused rock-out session I perform for her whenever it plays.

I’ve only recently developed a deep appreciation for AFI . I’d listen to a few tracks here and there during high school (what should have been my angsty golden years with them, I know), but they’ve largely been off my radar until now. I can attribute this excellent podcast for my current adoration (both for the podcast’s hosts and for their journey through the band’s discography), but it’s really the timeless quality of AFI’s music that has (ahem) ignited my passion for their songs. It does become a bit tiresome to play “White Offerings” every time we hit the road, but we follow it up with other favorite Blood Album tracks to keep things fresh for my sake.

Status: An Appealing Audio Offering

Power Trip – “Soul Sacrifice”

It seems so counter-intuitive, the way Gorgonna “happened” to like this song. This is metal, a style of music that wants to dominate, to make other genres bend the knee and swear fealty. More than that, it’s thrash — not exactly one of the more accessible subgenres. It’s noisy. But leave it to vocalist Riley Gale’s endlessly appealing charisma and delivery to win over the tykes as well as the die-hards. Gorgonna loves mimicking the opening “WAH!” and more deathly “Owwww!” that occur throughout the song; next thing you know, we’ll be enacting our own gang chants on “Firing Squad.”

My love for “Pow’ Trip” is well-documented. That Gorgonna mirrors even a fraction of the enthusiasm I feel toward this song in particular makes me a very proud papa indeed.

Status: Diaper Thrash

Ylvis – “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)”

Surely you remember the YouTube sensation that swept the world in — what was it, 2011? 2013? The one that had suburban grandmas, tech-illiterate uncles, and junior high schoolers all in a tizzy? Allow me to refresh your memory with a few of the lyrics:

“Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!
Gering-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!
Gering-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding!”

Who could forget?

I’ll be honest — we bought the book-version of the song long before Gorgonna began turning paper pages, even going so far as to inscribe it with the first “Merry Christmas from Mommy and Daddy!” By then it had acquired too much sentiment to simply hide away, and so her exposure to it was assured; “The Fox” will forever go down in the Annals of History as the first “song” she ever liked. Although, to this day, Gorgonna has only seen the video a single time (at our house, anyway; I can’t vouch for the grandmas). But you only need to have heard the song a couple times to have its melodies entrenched in your deepest cranial pits forever.

At the very least, repeating the gibberish that makes up the majority of the song’s lyrics was (and still probably is) a serviceable way to distract Gorgonna from flipping out at the dinner table or on the diaper-changing pad.

Status: Situationally and Functionally Tolerable

Sweet Release: Corpus Christii, Havukruunu, Pyramaze,Wolfbrigade (4/23 – 4/29)

A week’s worth of exciting releases — that’s what I’m gonna try to encapsulate with Sweet Release. Although I liked the format of digging into a single upcoming offering, the fact is — THERE’S TOO MUCH COMING OUT. I just can’t highlight all the releases I want to cover, so I’m cramming them all together for one great big excitement dump that I can clear with a single wipe. God, what a gross analogy. Being a dad hasn’t changed my sense of humor one bit.

Corpus Christii – Delusion (4/28/17)

One thing that first attracted me to black metal was its stark alien sound in comparison to other general types of metal — its eerieness punctuated by inhuman screams and cries. But what I’m finding more interesting these days is when the vocals sound distinctly human, but an incredibly impassioned one. And in that respect, Corpus Christii is firing on all cylinders.

“The Curse Within Time” isn’t just tinged with that zeal — it sounds drenched in it. The vocalist sounds like he’s belching fire from a combusting ribcage, snarling his words louder and louder as the flames rise around him. The rest of the music is just as captivating, shifting between a tasteful, head-nodding main riff and full-bore blasting.

Havukruunu – Kelle Surut Soi (4/29/17)

Mature, melodic, and utterly triumphant — that is what “KVainovalkeat” is by Finnish pagan black metal band Havukruunu. The track opens up with a frenzied melody like wind whipping through a ravine, a clarion call that leads to a full-blown avalanche of blast-beat aggression.

Five-and-a-half minutes seems to be on the short side for songs by bands I like these days, but Havukruunu tightly packs a storm into a snowball, an ice-cold projectile that grows and grows over time. By the time I reached the end with a Borknagar-esque bridge, I was already frozen on the spot in awe of what Havukruunu was able to accomplish.

You know the aftermath of the Liu Kang/Sub Zero fight in Mortal Kombat? That’s how I feel after listening to “Vainovalkeat,” and I can only imagine what the rest of Kelle Surut Soi will to do me.

Pyramaze – Contingent (4/28/17)

I feel like Pyramaze is one of the very last power metal bands I can give a complete shit about. And not just because what they’re doing is so vastly different from the tropes of that genre, but also because my history with them is so strong. They are my band. Their major lineup change from 2015’s Disciples of the Sun — one of my AOTYs — put them even further from the traditional power metal path with former-producer-now-guitarist/songwriter Jacob Hanson manning the helm, and Contingent seems to have stayed that particular course.

The few singles I’ve heard sound solid, with more of what I’ve always loved about Jonah Weingarten’s heart-wrenching piano melodies and Morten Gade Sorenson’s bombastic, arresting drumming. Only now those are under the guidance of the new blood, and they couldn’t be moving into smoother waters. Hopefully the album’s name isn’t a Final Fantasy-type thing, and that Contingent isn’t critical to their future success, as I feel the next era in Pyramaze’s career is only just getting going.

Wolfbrigade – Run with the Hunted (4/28/17)

Give me all your metal and punk and no one gets hurt. Hand it all over — no, put Wolfbrigade on top. I haven’t been jamming on “Warsaw Speedwolf” for over a month to have you holding out on me now. That’s it — not nice-and-easy-like, I want it fast and rude. This is crust, not crumpets.

Now that the release of Run with the Hunted, these d-beating Swedes’ 9,000th album (give or take a few thousand), is within my hungering sights, I’m positively ravening for more.

Is Metal Bad for Kids?

You could say I listen to a lot of metal, and you’d be right. You could also say metal is indisputably the most awful sound on the planet Earth, and how dare I subject my precious daughter to that auditory filth, to which I say: have you heard the noises a baby can make at 1 AM? They’re downright Luciferian.

The controversy over what parents should let kids see and hear is as old as time itself, like bickering over whether Metallica or Megadeth is the better band. (It’s Megadeth, duh.) Although I’ve taken care these past nineteen months to limit Gorgonna’s exposure to my abhorrent taste in music, I’ve often wondered… is metal actually bad for kids?

Is metal bad for kids? A long-haired, metal dad ponders this idea, which appears over his head in the form of upside-down crosses and pentagrams, skulls, and melee weapons.
Ah, metal’s five essential lyrical themes.

As mostly metal parents, we’re in a unique spot from most of our peers. We don’t happen to flip on a metal song on the radio — metal is the type of music we actively seek out. When the time comes to “shake our sillies out” and “do the hokey pokey,” we’d rather “hammer smashed face.” But the more extreme the metal — the more our goats get got — the more we should to ask ourselves if all that riffing and growling is really in our kids’ best interests.

I’ve begun seeing parenting as a compromise between the person you want to be and the person you want to be for your kids.

I know, I know — metal is life, and anyone who says otherwise is an untr00 poseur. But I’ve begun seeing parenting as a compromise between the person you want to be and the person you want to be for your kids. And the person I want to be for Gorgonna knows his favorite music probably sounds like trashcan murder monsters.

So I did what any diligent parent would do: I used the Google. And wouldn’t you know it — I dredged up quite a few articles exploring this very subject. Pediatric psychological studies, baby community forums — I scrutinized these like a music critic on a sophomore album. And like album reviews, I wanted to read up on many different opinions before I decided whether I bought their belief or not.

I’d like to share with you my findings. But here’s your disclaimer, your parental advisory sticker: I’m not a child psychology authority. (Obviously). I did a minuscule amount of research that would any true scholar cringe, and I mostly did just enough to satisfy my own curiosity. But I am a parent who loves his daughter dearly and wants to raise her right. Assuming you are/do too, you should be able to figure out how much metal you’re willing to impose upon your kid.

Is metal bad for kids? Some sources say yes.

Metal Music is Bad!

Surprise, surprise — lots of Official Smart People™ think metal is no good for kids. Clearly, I want metal to be a good influence, but I tried my best to absorb the information here with the appropriate amount of concern.

A 2009 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics linked heavy metal listening in adolescents to all sorts of stuff like suicide, depression, and risky behavior. Young headbangers were also found to have lower grades and more problems with school authority. Granted, this data was gathered from many other studies for kids ranging from 8 to 16 — the report didn’t have anything to say about toddlers. And I should mention these show correlations, not cause and effect scenarios. Still, those are serious claims that no parent, mostly metal or otherwise, should easily ignore.

If anything, the last thing I want as a result of Gorgonna jamming on some of my more brutal tunes is to repeat their lyrics verbatim before a crowded family dinner. Food for thought.

Dogpiling on top of that, an article from PBS says “music with inappropriate lyrical content should be avoided.”

Okay, so no yucky lyrics in your metal. Got it. Now, you’re probably tempted into thinking bands with unintelligible cookie monster grunts get a free pass. Sorry to disappoint, but these guys did their homework.

Another article, this one from popular all-things-baby website BabyCenter, a developmental psychologist straight-up said, yes, listening to negative lyrics or “angry” music was harmful for kids aged 5 to 8. However, he believes that had less to do with the lyrics and more to do with the music itself. He referenced a study where a group of kids who listened to heavy metal with Christian lyrics were just as angry as the group who listened to heavy metal with violent lyrics.

The psychologist also states children as old as 8 months could “discern ‘angry’ musical tones,” which I’m inclined to believe. And although I doubt the author would know blackened sludge from brutal death, I’ll concede that most metal doesn’t sound… nice.

PBS suggested avoiding music with “strident tone quality” — harsh or dissonant, from what I gathered. They use thrash metal as an example of a type of music that doesn’t change tones often enough to be interesting for kids. (Um, does PBS know “Good Mourning/Black Friday” exists? Wait, it gets pretty thrashy by the end, doesn’t it? Damn, maybe they’re onto something.)

My take on the developmental psychologist. I dug up his study, which was unsourced in his article on BabyCenter, and found the data was from 1991. The study wasn’t talking about children but college undergraduates. I still mostly accept his findings, but that’s just a bit of fact-checking for you. Do what thou wilt with that.

But the dissonance thing makes sense to me. Metal and dissonance go together like spikes on black leather (seriously, just listen to the latest from Ulcerate and tell me you don’t find that kind of hot noise compelling). But dissonance makes metal sound so delightfully spooky because the sounds themselves may remind our lizard brains of some primal fear. So a song that lays on the dissonance thick might be triggering a basic fight-or-flight response in us. Since I don’t want Gorgonna to do either of those things when we listen to my latest slamz, maybe I’d best not play that kind of music for her. (Sorry, Ulcerate.)

Is metal bad for kids? Some say not so much!

Metal Music is Okay!

Metal fans love their metal. Is it any wonder that metal fans who are also parents do too? You know where I stand on the matter, but I found plenty of other like-minded mommas and poppas defending metal’s merits.

A forum thread on BabyCenter had hesher parents sharing war stories of how they played metal for their younglings, revealing that hey, the kids turned out all right. There was even a recurring argument of whether Avenged Sevenfold is considered “heavy metal” or not. You can’t fake that kind of authenticity.

The most encouraging came from Wired’s Mr. Know It All, who states there is “exactly zero evidence that one kind of music helps cognitive development more than any other.” Now, I’m not sure what kind of background he has (he is, after all, an animated cartoon man), so I don’t quite know what to do with the information. I’ll admit I’m more surprised at his recommendation of hiding album art over the music itself, but whatever — I’ll mark it as a victory. Bring on the Avenged Sevenfold! (Hey, Hail to the King was not that bad.)

Then again, none of the articles I found outright said metal was good for kids. The closest we get is with PBS, where a childhood music specialist stated, “there is no bad type of music.” Sounds like a green light, doesn’t it? Well, the specialist goes on to say, “it’s harder to find appropriate music in some styles than others.” Yeah… I get the sense PBS would judge you for playing anything harder than Kenny G, but at least they’re willing to let you dream, eh?

Hey, this is supposed to be the good section! What gives? If you’re feeling a little bummed out, I feel you. But! PBS also says, “kids’ CDs that are geared toward children are not necessarily very healthy music for children to be listening to… they are often poorly produced, sung by children singing as if they are adults, and in major keys only.” They recommend a mix of music genres to give kiddies variety, a playlist made up of their songs and your songs.

See? Kids could use a little minor key mayhem after all. Suck it, Kidz Bop.

Verdict: ?!?!!!?!?!

If you must have one takeaway from all this, I suggest this: do what feel right to you.

Gorgonna is older now, and she’s becoming more and more her own person. Listening to music can, and probably should, be a collaborative effort, as the PBS article suggested. Besides, as much as the Literature major in me desperately wants to find empirical evidence on all matters related to parenting, I gotta respect the input from my fellow parents. They’re the ones duking it out in the trenches just like me. People say parenting is hard, but we’re living it, man. If their kids go to sleep more often to “Enter Sandman” than “Rock-a-Bye Baby,” who am I to judge?

I have no shortage of father-daughter activities I can while away the hours with, but pulverizing my child’s eardrums with the latest from Phantom Winter may not be the healthiest. Because that’s really what this blog is all about — raising a healthy, happy kid. If that means yet another compromise, so be it.

Look, all I know is I was listening to “Blackened” by Metallica in the car last week, and every time I’d restart the song over from the beginning, Gorgonna would peep “more” from her car seat. If that isn’t an endorsement at some level that metal might have a chance in our family playlist, I don’t know what is.

Now if only I could replicate the same reaction for “Holy Wars”…