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”…

Album Review: Power Trip – Nightmare Logic

At first listen, Power Trip’s Nightmare Logic sounds for all the world like your typical thrash throwback — a pandering, nostalgia-laden love-letter to a decades-saturated genre. So why the fuck am I enjoying it so much?

It proudly wears common thrash trappings like whammy bar-wankery, retro reverb, time-twisting tempo changes, and syncopated percussive punching ripped right from Ride the Lightning and other damned-obvious source material. And after multiple listens, I still can’t pinpoint any effort Power Trip has made to modernize what they’re doing on Nightmare Logic. Therefore, I have to conclude that this Texas quintet has written an honest-to-God goddamned good thrash album.

Album art for Power Trip's Nightmare Logic.

“Soul Sacrifice” riffs with Exodus-esque enthusiasm before breaking into a Slayer-like sprint. “Executioner’s Tax” rolls like thunder toward a passage of Ulrich-ian tom pounding, building up tension to return to a lightning-crack chorus. “Waiting Around to Die” — with its palm-muted to open-note picking pattern and hazy production — could fit right at home on So Far, So Good… So What! (and even fits better, if you remember that “502” exists). It’s all stuff we’ve heard before, but even Power Trip’s previous effort, 2013’s Manifest Decimation, didn’t get it this right.

What Nightmare Logic does so well is harness the infectious energy — the no-nonsense, fluff-free, often-imitated intensity — of the primordial Big Four and Co. and injects it full to bursting into nine solid songs.

Aside from a few lo-fi, analog-sounding synth intros and outros, there’s barely a wasted second on the entire thing. Each song flows seamlessly between vicious verses, killer choruses, headbanging bridges, and dynamic breaks. Certain riffs occasionally get milked (the outro of “If Not Us Then Who” comes to mind), but it never takes too much of our time before we’re tearing into another track. Even the tacked-on second-verse solos — their inclusion more a regretful courtesy to the genre than anything truly noteworthy — serve the higher purpose of stoking the reignited flames and keeping the old-school metal momentum going. Strange, then, that for all their efforts in recreating the past, Power Trip’s tunes are so good at moving us relentlessly forward.

Above all, the thing that would sell any Bay Area ‘banger on Nightmare Logic (and Power Trip as a whole) is the vocalist. We’ve endured thrash singers for years, we know what to expect: sharp, rapid barks, accenting the attack of the guitars. And although lyrically it’s nothing special, Riley Gale’s vocal delivery would have stood out even in ‘85. His brazen hardcore howls, occasionally dragging deliciously behind the beat, are pulled off with charisma and confidence. He’s not carrying the band by any means, but he’s a hurricane force to be sure.

Power Trip does seem to favor their 75-85 BPM backbeat-banger riffs, but given the nostalgic context these sections never feel out of place — they’re practically made to be played live and get the circle pit brewin’. I can perfectly picture the bridge from “Firing Squad” eliciting the kind of impromptu mosh pit camaraderie that makes you sling an arm around the slippery, sweaty shoulder of the hesher next to you — and him to you — and headbang in unison until both your goddamn heads rattle off.

Nightmare Logic doesn’t surge with unrestrained electricity, or seek to impress us with phenomenal fret- or feet-work (the drummer doesn’t have a double bass pedal). Power Trip wears their influences on their sleeves, and they don’t spend a second trying to convince us they’re anything more than what they are. Instead, Nightmare Logic hits hard and plunges deep, an IV needle pumping us full of magical, time-traveling fluid, miraculously bringing what was once thought dead back to life. This concise, carefully executed package is the real deal.

If you’ve ever argued over whether Metallica or Megadeth was the better band, I can’t imagine you not liking Nightmare Logic.

Support Power Trip and buy Nightmare Logic in the link located above.

Album art for Zeal & Ardor's Devil Is Fine.

Album review: Zeal & Ardor – Devil is Fine

Experimental metal has led us into some creative, quirky, and even downright weird territories. Whenever new genres get wrangled together, boundaries often get pushed in the process. But occasionally, a new idea so far out there comes along, we can’t help but get swept away in its promise of something new.

Devil Is Fine, the first release from New York-based Zeal & Ardor via MVKA Music, takes the two disparate genres of black metal and African American slave spirituals and unifies them under a single banner. Against all odds, Zeal & Ardor aims for the kind of bold genre mashup typically heard in viral parody internet videos, but Devil Is Fine offers such startling authenticity that it stands out as the real deal. Admittedly, some concessions were made to make all the parts work together nicely, but the parts that do work are pulled off so elegantly I can’t help but forgive its shortcomings.

Manuel Gagneux, Zeal & Ardor’s sole composer and instrumentalist, had the daunting task of pulling off this bizarre combination, not just musically but conceptually, too — part of his vision was to sonically express the idea of African slaves rebelling by singing praises to Satan instead of God. And I’m thrilled to say achieves it. His soulful gospel croon on the album’s haunting title track rattles the mic against the rhythmic clank of slave’s chains and a muffled tremolo riff. By contrast, his voice on “Children’s Summon” reverberates in a pseudo-satanic liturgy, which is then overwhelmed by a bluesy chorus of vocal layering that’s heavy with southern soul. Gagneux’s production wizardry smartly attempts to recreate the fuzzy historic sound of both slave-era America and early black metal. It’s a touch that anyone who’s done his homework would know, but one I appreciate nonetheless because they just work so damn well together. The album’s satanic-blues theme is best represented in “What Is A Killer Like You Gonna Do Here?”, an upbeat blues tune driven by a simple yet deceptively catchy riff. But it’s the calm-as-murder lyrical delivery (and the morbid words themselves) that makes this track stand out. Oh, and his scream is pretty damn good, too.

Although Zeal & Ardor delivers an entrancing sound, at just over 22 minutes Devil Is Fine is not a meaty release. Of the album’s nine songs, three of them are electronica instrumentals — they’re strangely out of place, which is puzzling considering the rest of the album’s strong sense of identity. And while the well-blended compositions for the other six songs are indeed brilliant, I ultimately found them a little lacking. “Children’s Summon” transitions back and forth from furious melodeath riffing to the aforementioned chanting, which only stands out because it’s in the context of a 3-minute song. Meanwhile, “Blood in the River”, a bombastic, pounding track that ranks among the album’s best seems like a bridge between two other parts that simply don’t exist. Even the title track, an uplifting, ethereal piece that sets the tone for the album seems to build toward a powerful, perhaps even spiritual release… except that release never comes, and the track ends much on the same note it began. I wouldn’t dare accuse Gagneux of already straining his concept to its creative limits, unable to sustain itself for longer than a few precious minutes, but the six legitimate songs are criminally short. Gagneux is like a serpent, tempting us with a poisoned apple that’s just beyond our reach but looks so, so sweet.

I don’t consider us metalheads immune to innovation or novelty, which makes assigning a rating to this release a tad difficult. There’s certainly a greater argument for just what constitutes a “song,” but this isn’t the time nor place for it. In spite of all that, I think Devil Is Fine already qualifies as one of 2017’s essential metal releases purely for its innovative leap into new waters. In fact, I’ll go one leap further and name it an essential piece of modern music, because even if it’s not quite there yet in terms of fully-fleshed-out songs, as a concept and sound Devil Is Fine is impressively executed.

One thing is for sure: whether Zeal & Ardor fizzles out after this release or they mature into something truly spectacular, you’d damn well better believe I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears on them.