If my art was a heavy metal subgenre, which one would it be? My admiration for heavy metal music led me to do some digging.
I remember my transition to heavy metal in the mid-’90s as not so heavy. Ashamedly, I listened to hair metal bands before descending into grunge and later on much darker music in the 00’s. Nu metal and progressive metal was my gateway to death metal. Oddly, my music taste has become less dark, depending on my mood. I enjoy the technical ingenuity of classical music, especially the darker classical music.
Creating art and problem solving have their soundtracks depending on my mood: The more stressed or irritable I am, the darker and louder my music becomes. I found that alternating Rammstein and Dawn of Demise have a remarkably calming effect on me and helps me focus my mind. They make great yoga playlists. During moments of calm, I crave Classic Rock, Progressive Metal, and Black Light Burns. When I’m sad, I prefer Bush or Bob Dylan.
So, where does my art style fit? Firstly I have to dissect my style to figure out what genre it can be categorized as follows:
- My subject matter is always organic: plants, animals, insects, or the human form (mostly body parts).
- I love soft blending.
- Definite lines fade away at some point.
- My work is not highly saturated with a vivid colour palette.
- I gravitate towards graphite pencils.
- I use oil paint as a soft, thin, and blended water colour-like medium.
- My themes are based on spirituality, melancholy, and macabre.
- I use different textured paper or canvas: smooth paper and sometimes a roughly textured canvas.
- My portraits always seem to end up with slightly larger eyes and a very somber expression.
If I had to sift through the heavy metal sub-genres, I could try to draw a comparison between the music and my artistic style. Let’s start where heavy metal was first named Heavy Metal: Black Sabbath, the frontrunner for extreme metal. Sure, they don’t sound anything like thrash metal, death metal, or grindcore, but they paved the way for these sub-genres to develop, and many of those bands agree that Sabbath were the ones who were named Heavy Metal for the first time.
From there on, bands wanted to go darker, scarier, more sinister, and shock rock came into being with Alice Cooper (and the infamous chicken incident on stage). Then came a different type of darkness: Iron Maiden, which paved the way for thrash metal bands like Metallica and Slayer. Metal started to split into so many subgenres: shock rock turned to glam rock, which in turn became pop-like with hair metal bands like Poison, Motley Crue, Guns’ n Roses, and even Def Leppard went that route. This type of music was lighter, commercial, and very radio-friendly, heavily laden with power ballads.
Tired of all the lighthearted music, punk rock bands started forming, with faster beats, angrier lyrics, and bold statements. In the meantime, heavy metal was not giving up on their signature sounds and went darker with bands such as Lamb Of God. Interest was slowly waning in this type of music, and thus grunge was born with Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Nirvana. The music was loud and punchy, but the lyrics slowed down and showcased angst and suffering.
Heavy metal seemed to become the outcast of society but soon gained momentum with Progressive metal. Prog metal, also known as technical metal, doesn’t seem too dark at first, but the compositions seem to evolve the longer you listen. It’s an amplified guitar-driven fusion of progressive rock and heavy metal, making the sound aggressive and more experimental or even pseudo-classical. It has a contained hostility to it, but also profound wretchedness. The technical dexterity of prog musicians is astounding, and it is quite noticeable that most of them come from classically trained backgrounds: Tool, Mastodon, Dream Theater, Gojira, etc. Soon after prog, nu-metal made its appearance and combined all that is heavy with other genres such as hip hop, funk, grunge, and alternative rock. I got into the metal scene with bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, Deftones, Incubus, Slipknot, Chevelle, and many more.
On the other side, Extreme Metal was forging its way through the world with Black Metal, Doom Metal, Death Metal, Norwegian Death Metal (which deserves a sub-genre), the beast of heaviness: grindcore. In Black Metal, the music is faster, “thrashier,” the lyrics are demonic, and the makeup corpse-inspired. With bands like Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, and Cannibal Corpse, the music seems theatrical: operatic vocals are sometimes incorporated with animalistic growls that give you goosebumps.
Doom metal is darker with a sense of dread and funeral-inspired, especially with names like Pallbearer, Mournful Congregation, and My Dying Bride. Death metal’s characteristic is the deep, guttural growls that you can barely make out. It’s all about destruction, doom, and gloom: Arch Enemy, In Flames, Amon Amarth, and my latest crush: Dawn of Demise. Norwegian death metal bands such as Gorgoroth, Enslaved, Darkthrone, and Mayhem, take the darkness of death metal and turns it into Vantablack. Although I love the darkness of death metal, at times, it sounds the same: a sea of dark ink that consumes you.
Then there is grindcore: it’s unnerving, uncomfortable, and beyond violence and today’s answer to shock rock: Napalm Death, Pig Destroyer, Dying Fetus, and Chelsea Grin (cautionary note: this music is not for the faint-hearted and should not be listened to if you have a weak constitution).
Back to art: My art is dark and creepy at times, but not too dark or too scary. It still has some light and whimsy to it. My art is not made to shock, disgust, or scare the bejesus out of you. It is made to make you think: how will life continue when we (humans) keep destroying, plundering, and abusing nature as well ourselves. What is suffering, and how does it physically look. Suppose I draw or paint something that’s decomposing. In that case, it has layers, complexity, and melancholy to it, like a heartbreaking violin playing a single middle C and blending into the resounding finality of a low E on a four-string double bass. It would seem that this makes my art alternative, with progressive overtures.
Light upon first glance, but the longer you look at them, the darker they become thematically. They seem to have contained aggression and profound wretchedness at the same time. The usage of lines start rhythmically; repeated patterns are used. But as the artwork progresses, the familiar lines and blending change give a completely different texture. I use various techniques on different artworks: some are softer and more fluid in texture, and others are harsh and highly contrasted. But it doesn’t evolve into something else. I stick to the idea, theme, and image I want to capture. I might decide to add a few embellishments as I create: such as extra eyes, smoke, branches, or even change the proportions a bit. So my art isn’t strictly prog metal. There are hints of black metal, but without the corpse paint and demonic eyes.
”If I stand around and watch then drown in a pool of gray
When we dive in I can surely say there’s feud with force
Am I in your way? Please knock me down. Can I help you in?
When I’m not around let us all be found in certain ways.”