Choose carefully the music you listen to. Pay attention to how you feel when you are listening. Some music can carry evil and destructive messages. Do not listen to music that encourages immorality or glorifies violence through its lyrics, beat, or intensity. Do not listen to music that uses vulgar or offensive language or promotes evil practices. Such music can dull your spiritual sensitivity. [For the Strength of Youth]
When I was a young girl–what we today would call a “tween” but back then was just “girl”– we had one evening a gentleman over at our house whose reason for being there I don’t recall. It seems to me, in retrospect, that he was probably trying to sell my mother something, but I can’t imagine what it would have been because this is what I do remember about the evening: At one point he asked me what kind of music I liked to listen to. I said I liked the Beatles. (This was the early ‘80s, incidentally—I wouldn’t want you to make wildly inaccurate inferences about my age based on this one anecdote.) This guy who was maybe a salesguy, maybe not, informed me that if you played Beatles songs backwards, you could hear subliminal messages about drugs and other unsavory things that the band put on there to corrupt the youth of the day, or something. I remember thinking, “Why would anyone play a record backwards?” and “I’m still going to listen to the Beatles.” Maybe-Salesguy then went on to give us examples of other bands whose songs said stuff about drugs and sex and Satanism when played backwards. He even borrowed our turntable and played some of my older sister’s records backwards to show us how very common this sort of thing was. I don’t remember what sinister message was behind Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” but suffice it to say it was apparently not just a harmless ditty about strength in solidarity. Who knew?
As I got older I heard other urban legends about “backward masking.” It was quite the thing for a while. Most of the rumors had to do with bands secretly worshiping Satan. Or not so secretly. A lot of artists chose to play into the Satanist image for kicks and giggles. There was that episode of “CHiP’s” where Ponch and Jon had to come to the rescue of a rising rock star played by Donny Most whose breakout single was a tune called “Devil Take Me” and he dressed in a crazy KISS-style jumpsuit and makeup and someone was trying to kill him with his own stage pyrotechnics. What any of this had to do with the highway, I don’t recall, but I think they may have even found a clue to the villain’s identity by playing Donny Most’s most recent musical tracks backwards. Or maybe I’m mixing up storylines from two different lame-ass cop shows of the era. I don’t know. The point is that subliminal-devil-messages-in-rock-music was a very popular and widespread rumor, if not terribly accurate or even realistic.  When I was in middle school I had some friends who were into the heavy metal and they swore that you could hear some freaky stuff when you played Ozzy Osbourne backwards. Again I thought, “Who plays records backwards?” but at the same time, I didn’t disbelieve them. I didn’t listen to heavy metal myself. It was a little too loud for my taste, and frankly, those guys kind of scared me. I mean, one look at those Iron Maiden album covers and it didn’t seem too much of a stretch that such people would like me to start worshiping the devil. (Seriously, have you ever looked at an Iron Maiden album? Creepy!)
Meanwhile, in a galaxy far away, my future eternal companion was growing his hair long and cutting his teeth on the bands I’d deemed too rough for my genteel ears—Metallica, Anthrax, and yes, Iron Maiden. ::shudder:: No Motley Crue because Motley Crue was for [men of dubious manliness]. I don’t reckon he played any of these guys backwards because he probably didn’t have anything on vinyl. (Brother J is a few years younger than I—as he likes to point out, he was in kindergarten in the ‘80s.) He just liked the music. However, at some point during his high school years, he had a religious awakening and, having already cut his hair, decided that he needed to get rid of all his heavy metal albums because he didn’t think it was the right kind of music for a disciple of Christ to be listening to. (Well, would you invite Jesus over to listen to Black Sabbath? Would you?) Soon he would serve a mission and decide that he wasn’t ever going to watch The Simpsons again either. I think the no-Simpsons resolution only lasted a week or so post-mission, but as of the time he married me, he had not reintroduced any heavy metal into his musical diet.
However, when my husband was finishing graduate school—several years and a couple and a half kids into our marriage—he was listening to his internet radio station one day and he heard a song that kindled some nostalgia for his musically misspent youth. It was Manowar’s “Warriors of the World,” and although it sounded like it belonged in the late ‘80s, it was actually recorded in our current century. Brother J was so charmed by these gentlemen’s earnest head-banging ways that he was sucked back into the world he’d forsaken for righteousness’s sake—the metal universe. \m/ [Cue triumphant guitar lick]
That Manowar album was only the beginning. He kept discovering new and more awesome metal bands—whole genres of metal he didn’t know existed—and he was…I’m sorry there’s not a more masculine word for it, but he was just so delighted. It was like a part of him had come alive again. As a teenager his enthusiasm for the gospel made him go a bit overboard when he purged his music collection, but now his re-born enthusiasm for metal was taking an evangelistic bent. He loved it so much, he just had to share it. Mostly with me. “You have to listen to this. It’s awesome.” And I confess that initially I was just humoring him, because that’s what wives do. I was not and had not ever been a “metal” kind of gal. I had also become fogey-ish before my time. I didn’t understand the music the young people were into these days. But I listened to Brother J’s new music because he was so excited about it, and eventually I had to admit that he was right. It was awesome. Undeniably, it rocked, but more than that, it was vibrant and earnest. Completely over the top, but at the same time, totally sincere. The theme of “Warriors of the World” is “fighting for metal that is true.” Which sounds like a joke, but these guys play it straight. Because someone’s got to, damn it. If they don’t fight for true metal, who will? To paraphrase a better music journalist than I, the best metal should leave you wondering if these people are serious–because there’s just no point in doing this crap half-way. No guts, no glory. You have to respect that. Well, I have to.
There are so many different kinds of metal. Tolkien metal. Viking metal. Scottish pirate metal. Japanese folklore metal. Unfortunately, the limitations of this post prevent me from exploring all the nuances of the genre. I can only give you a rough sampling of metal that is true.
There’s Blind Guardian, the German metal band that was a pioneer in power metal. Their earlier work is more speed and thrash metal, but they eventually moved toward a more prog-metal sound, incorporating orchestral arrangements and layered backing vocals (a la Queen). They wrote a concept album based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion (Night Falls on Middle Earth).  They also wrote the most badass song about Peter Pan ever.
The first metal concert Brother J dragged me to was Nightwish, the symphonic metal band from Finland, whose primary songwriter is heavily influenced by film music and fantasy novels. Originally they were fronted by a classically trained lyric soprano with a three-octave range, but by the time we saw them they had dumped her prima donna can in favor of a pop-style vocalist.  I had some trepidation. I was, by this time, quite old. (Thirty-six.) Much too old, I thought, to be going to metal concerts. I was a mom, for Pete’s sake. But it meant a lot to my husband, so I put on my fingerless gloves and my gun necklace and my bad eyeliner and I went, and IT WAS AWESOME.  The highpoint of the evening was when they sang “7 Days to the Wolves,” a song about wolves coming to devour the village. Perhaps you did not fully grasp the import of what I just told you. The song is about wolves coming to eat us. It doesn’t get any more hardcore than that.
A lot of metal singers don’t sing so much as growl—a vocal style I’m not particularly fond of, but occasionally it just works. For example, the folk metal band Eluveitie (of Switzerland), features a growling vocalist but also a violin and a badass chick playing the hurdy-gurdy. I reiterate: Hurdy. Gurdy. There are two kinds of people in this world—those who listen to the following and think, “Well, gosh, that sounds just awful,” and those who think, “Is that a hurdy-gurdy? I HAVE BEEN TRANSFORMED.”
For some reason many of the best metal bands come from Europe, especially the Scandinavian countries.  Say what you will about those godless socialists, but they could head-bang the crap out of other countries. (Maybe because all that family leave and vacation gives them time to develop their craft?) However, one American-grown epic metal band that we enjoy is Iced Earth, who wrote a suite of songs about the Battle of Gettysburg.  It doesn’t just rock. It educates.
My mother-in-law does not approve of my husband’s taste in music. She thinks it’s quite irresponsible of him to expose the children to such coarseness and raucousness. I don’t know. When my younger son was 15 months old, he used to clamor for System of a Down’s “B.Y.O.B.” the way other kids beg for Barney. Maybe that’s not right. (Or maybe it’s so wrong it’s right.) When my older son was four, he used to go to sleep every night listening to the soothing sounds of Rhapsody of Fire, an Italian band that sings epic songs centered in high fantasy and the everlasting battle between good and evil. My son was inspired to write his own heavy metal song, which he had the foresight to sing into a portable recording device, and thus we were able to preserve it in our iTunes folder for posterity. The song is called “Blood to the Death,” and much of it is unintelligible (owing to the underdeveloped verbal skills of four-year-olds), but I can tell you that it involves Vikings and cheetahs, as well as “fruits of the spirit” (he went to a Christian pre-school), and it borrows heavily from this song. (And yes, that is Christopher Lee narrating. Christopher Lee, like my son, has excellent taste in metal.)
Speaking of Rhapsody of Fire, when my husband had an unexpected windfall a couple years ago, he decided to splurge on VIP tickets for us to see Rhapsody of Fire. So when we were hanging out with the band after the concert, we were discussing –well, my husband and the Rhapsody guys were discussing, I was mainly just listening because I’m painfully awkward in social situations—the local metal scene, and my husband was saying that unfortunately most Portland metalheads seem to be into the black metal, and one of the guys said something to the effect that he didn’t like black metal, that it was too dark, that there was something almost “evil” about it—whereas he and his bandmates tried to do stuff that was more positive. And I was like, “Preach it, Rhapsody dude. [\m/]” Well, I didn’t actually say it, but I think my supportive nod implied it.
I like to think our family only listens to the ennobling sort of metal, but I’m well aware there are others who would disagree—and not just old spoilsports like my MIL.  What I find awesome and life-affirming they might find dark and evil. They might find it drives away the spirit. I confess there are some artists that my husband and teenage daughter like that I don’t care for. They might make me do the Marge Simpson growl, but mostly because I’m uncomfortable and not because I’m convinced they’re being spiritually corrupted. Because if there’s one thing my late-in-life metal immersion has taught me, it’s this:
Iron Maiden is actually kind of awesome.
 I did have a big crush on Paul McCartney, despite the fact that he was 29 years older than me. But he was younger then than I am now, which kind of freaks me out.
 Ponch knew about it. Where were you?
 1980. He’s not that much younger.
 They’ve also done some hardcore covers, including this gem. (Trigger warning: Clowns.)
 For a sampling of Tarja Turunen’s vocal stylings, listen to this.
 Those items were only mine because Brother J bought them for me. I did not have them lying around the house. Well, now I do, of course. I’ve never been good at putting on eyeliner, though. At least now I have an excuse for wearing it like that.
 Fun fact: Finland is often called the metal capital of the world.
 Guitarist and chief songwriter Jon Schaffer says, “My passions are studying history and current events, and in consequence, standing against, and exposing, tyranny.” And good for him.
 My MIL is actually a lovely person, and a lot less old-seeming than my own parents. She just doesn’t like metal. No one’s perfect.