Thoughts on the Blues/Metal therapeutic Connection

I've been a fan of the blues for a long time, but I've been a fan of hard rock for even longer, and if you follow hard rock to it's ultimate conclusion you of course end up listening to a bit of metal as well. I'm not a hardcore metal head and I never really was. The time when I was really into metal has passed, but I still have a lot of respect for this genre and find some of tremendously exciting bands within it all the time. I think one of the reasons I've retained my respect for metal over the years in spite of shifting musical tastes is that I see a very direct connection between that genre and blues actually... a very therapeutic one.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think absolutely all music is therapeutic in that it seems to speak more directly to our soul than just about any other artistic format. There's something unique to the genre's of blues and metal though that links them together though, and I think in a way, explains a bit about how rock and roll has developed over the years.

Music is very emotion based, but I don't think every genre can get the same gut wrenching outpouring of heartache that comes from a classic blues number. Take a listen to Freddie King's "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" for a good example. When performed correctly, these kinds of songs are just complete eruptions of emotion, and that's really what blues is all about: putting as much soul and emotion into every note as possible so the audience feels it too. That was one of major attractions of blues for me when I first started to really get into it and it remains one of the reasons that I find artists like B.B. King, Buddy Guy and the afore mentioned Freddie King, absolutely mind blowing.

Now take a listen to bands like Anthrax, Metallica, Pantera or Motorhead (you can substitute names like Slipknot, Korn or Static X if you like, but personally I prefer the bands I mentioned). The raw fury embodied by their music is the same kind of emotional outpouring, but instead of heartache, it's often rage, angst and frustration that is released instead. When I was really getting into metal, that was the attraction, I wanted music that I could just let go of all my frustrations and anger. If you've ever been to a good metal show then you have probably experienced this type of release first hand in the form of moshing (I know I have and had bruises to prove it... good times all around). The same thing that makes a great blues musician is part of what makes a great metal band. If a group just cannot capture that fury and anger and translate it to the audience then they just don't it for me.

Both genres are very therapeutic, like primal scream therapy, and that is part of what makes each so powerful. In this way, blues and metal are linked together by their emotional releases, despite the genres themselves having gone off In very different musical stylistic directions.

Obviously a key turning point exists in the music of Led Zeppelin (they're the link between the two), and is why they are often considered the grandfathers of heavy metal. Songs like "Since I've Been Loving You", especially the live version, are a good example of why. Here's a song that is very blues based, but has the emotional output pushed to the extreme giving it a bit of an edge that blues doesn't always have otherwise. The touch of anger is there, but not entirely aggressive yet. When I started thinking about this therapeutic connection between blues and metal, Led Zeppelin was of course a key band to look at, but I don't think they're the only one.

Instead I think it was more just a subtle transition with bands picking up the heavily distorted guitars they liked and adapting that outpouring of emotion from blues, applying it instead to anger instead of heartache, or perhaps transitioning heartache directly to anger as sadness and anger often go hand in hand. The story is actually a lot more complex than that when looking at modern metal though, which also takes a lot from hardcore punk to create thrash. To digress slightly, I think metal is one of the more interesting lineages of rock history to trace because it' obviously has it's base in the music of Black Sabbath, which took the mysticism of Zeppelin and the psychedelic era along with the outpouring emotion of blues, the heavy sound of Cream and plenty of dark imagery to create something new. Punk though, would come from an equally hard hitting place with bands like the Stooges being very prominent, but it's not the same place that Led Zeppelin was coming from (perhaps why there was a rift between punk and Zeppelin). Later metal though, takes the Zeppelin influenced Black Sabbath base and recombines it with punk again...two seemingly incompatible halves to create a unique and very hard hitting whole... crazy.

Anyways, that's a very vague and simplified version of how things progressed, but I still think it's pretty easy to see a direct line between metal and the blues, which is nothing new, but perhaps gives an idea to where this therapeutic connection comes from. Also, I don't mean to trivialize the emotional content of other musical genres. As like I said, emotion is a major part of all music, and is why music as a whole is so therapeutic. Particularly the genres of metal and blues though seem to really revel in the primal release of emotion though... an outpouring with one groaning in heartache and the other screaming in rage.

It's an interesting connection that says a lot of about musical genres, how they developed over the years and progression from one to the next. I'm not going to claim that everyone will find this nearly as fascinating as I do, but who knows. Both definitely have there therapeutic side though, each playing a major role in what makes these genres so powerful and why so many enjoy listening to them.

Well, maybe the next time you're listening to some Metallica you'll hear a touch of B.B. King's influence or hear the slight bit of anger that underpins music of the blues.


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