Why I stopped listening to Phil Collins and learned to love metal

I’ve been down this rabbit hole for a month now. When I started this experiment, I thought it would be easy – listen to ten records; hate them all; write up a scathing review of the experience; never listen to heavy metal ever again.

Things haven’t turned out as planned.

I can’t stop listening to heavy metal.

How the fuck has this happened?

Spin back one month and I was just your average forty-year-old heavy metal philistine. I liked Pink Floyd and Genesis and Queen and all that other stuff my metalhead acquaintances would no doubt describe as ‘a pile of fucking shit’. Ask me a month ago for the name of a heavy metal song and I would have probably said Helter Skelter by the Beatles.

But not now. Ask me the name of a heavy metal song today and I’ll say Altar Of Sacrifice. I’ll say The Number Of The Beast. I’ll say Walk With Me In Hell or People = Shit or Necrophobic or Aesthetics Of Hate.

And then I’ll fire up Lamb Of God’s Sacrament… and I’ll enjoy it.

Heavy metal’s changed me, man.

It started off predictably enough. Black Sabbath’s Paranoid bored me to tears; Judas Priest’s British Steel failed to make an impression; The Number Of The Beast was, well, an Iron Maiden album… blah blah blah. This would be easy. I’d be back listening to Phil Collins in no time. Article written, invoice enclosed, job done.

I looked down at my list. Next up, something called Reign In Blood.

“JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!” I roared, tearing the headphones from my unsuspecting ears. “What the hell was that? Is it all like this? This isn’t music! You can’t hear the words! This is just… fucking noise!”

WARNING: Sudden exposure to heavy metal may make you start talking like your granddad.

Reign In Blood wasn’t the first time I would be taken unawares by a violent burst of shouting. After a brief diversion into Master Of Puppets territory, I arrived on the rocky shores of Vulgar Display Of Power. I nearly had a bloody heart attack when Phil Anselmo screamed ‘FUCKING HOSTI-I-I-I-I-I-I-ILE!’ directly into my brain without any prior warning.

‘Heavy metal bands like to lull you into a false sense of security,’ I wearily wrote in my notes.

That was certainly the case with Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse. With song titles that sounded like they belonged on a 1970s prog rock album, I initially had high hopes that this might be more ‘my thing’. Those hopes were quickly dashed by a bellowing, rasping Norwegian goblin, sounding for all the world like Alice Cooper with laryngitis being strangled in a tin bath in Hell.

‘Could this get any worse?’ I wrote. ‘Surely not?’

And then I listened to Slipknot’s Iowa. It could indeed get worse. A lot worse. I would later describe Slipknot on Facebook as a ‘fucking disgrace’.

So, seven albums in and I was proving myself correct. I had been right all along to give this genre the cold shoulder it quite clearly deserved. Well done me. I would soon be done with this monstrous cacophony and celebrate with a nice cup of cocoa and a Last Of The Summer Wine marathon on Gold.

I put Sacrament by Lamb of God on. Rolling my eyes as the lead singer invited me to walk with him in hell, I took comfort in the knowledge that I only had three more albums to get through after this rubbish.

Walk With Me In Hell faded away and Again We Rise began. ‘RI-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-SE!’ the singer roared, nearly making me jump out of my fucking skin (again).

“Wait a minute,” I said to myself. “Wasn’t there another album where one of these buggers screams the word ‘rise’?” I thumbed through my notes. “Ah yes, Pantera. I wonder what their ‘rise’ is like compared to this Lamb Of God bloke’s ‘rise’? I bet it’s not half as rise-y as his rise.”

So I put Vulgar Display Of Power on again for a laff, and a funny thing happened.

“Well that’s a surprise,” I thought to myself, as the likes of Mouth For War, Fucking Hostile and the aforementioned Rise pounded like sledgehammers into my head. “These guys don’t sound so bad now I’ve listened to that fucking Slipknot shi … oh, hold on a minute.”

Had I inadvertently stumbled across something? If an album made in 1992 didn’t sound so bad now I’d listened to something infinitely worse from 2001, what would an album from, say, 1986 sound like? As an experiment, I put Reign In Blood back on.

“I’ll tell you what, lads,” I said to Slayer. “You lot know your fucking onions. You should try listening to that In The Nightside Eclipse crap or – God forbid – Iowa.”

Curious to see if this was a one-off, I followed up Reign In Blood with a second outing for Master Of Puppets. Again, what I had previously dismissed as ‘ghastly’ in my notes now sounded like an unadulterated masterpiece compared to the gibbering goblin man and the boiler-suit brigade.

Jesus, was I starting to… appreciate this stuff?

Holy shit. I had to know – was I appreciating this music on its own merits, or was I appreciating it simply because it wasn’t quite as terrible as something that was far, far worse?

There was only one way to find out. First I listened to Slipknot again… and then I listened to everything else.

Three weeks later and my waking hours are consumed by heavy metal. Where before I would spend my mornings watching shitty TV phone-in shows and the afternoons listening to shitty radio phone-in shows, I now sit day after day, headphones on, metal screaming in my ears, my brains turning to mush under a mighty musical onslaught.

Slipknot was the key. After the absolutely fucking appalling Iowa I went back to the beginning of my list and started again. While I was still left largely unmoved by British Steel and Paranoid, Number Of The Beast quickly became a firm favourite. Reign In Blood, Master Of Puppets and Vulgar Display Of Power all began to give up their dirty little secrets as I listened to them over and over again. I developed an unexpected fondness for Sacrament, playing the opening to Again We Rise far more than was probably healthy. I even finally succumbed to the charms of the Goblin King, starting to see method behind the madness of In The Nightside Eclipse. Machine Head’s The Blackening was a harder sell, admittedly, but I came round eventually.

I started to become obsessed with this music. Was I suffering from some sort of Stockholm syndrome? The second week in and now miles behind on writing the article, I decided to do a compare and contrast. I would put some of my favourite albums up against my list of metal albums.

Four minutes into Pink Floyd’s The Wall I got bored and stuck Sacrament back on. Phil Collins’s No Jacket Required left me cold, wondering why he wasn’t shouting at the top of his lungs about blood sacrifices. Rubber Soul could get fucked next to Master Of Puppets. Sorry, the Beatles, but you shouldn’t have bothered.

Then I started to break away from ‘My Precious’ (as I had begun to refer to my list). I listened to every Iron Maiden studio album in a row; it left wondering how the hell I’d got to the age of 40 without ever listening to such a magnificent body of work before. I listened to the collected works of Slayer and Lamb Of God and Judas Priest and Black Sabbath and Pantera. I didn’t love everything, of course, but considering I hadn’t expected to love, well, anything, I was stunned to discover just how much of it floated my boat.

Like a drug, I started to consume more and more. A friend suggested I check out Carcass. “Shit, why not?” I said to myself cheerfully. I was too far gone to put up any resistance. Bring it on! Bring on Carcass and Motörhead and Sepultura and Avenged Sevenfold and Megadeth and Testament. Bring ‘em on! BRING ‘EM ALL ON!

I didn’t want to stop. I knew that my next assignment would take me away from the music I was now craving on a daily basis. I couldn’t bring myself to do what needed to be done. Days turned into weeks. Demands for the article fell on deaf ears.

Of course they were deaf. I’d blasted them to smithereens with heavy fucking metal.

Finally, reluctantly, I forced myself to end the madness. A month after the experiment began, I knew I needed to move on before I ended up living a Gollum-like existence, crouched in a corner of a darkened room with a pentagram scrawled in blood on the wall, hissing at shadows, my precious list clutched tightly in my wizened claw. A creature of the night with only Korn for company.

If that had happened, the wife would have killed me.

So here we are. I’ve seen the error of my ways. No longer will I dismiss heavy metal as rubbish that isn’t fit to lick the Bee Gees’ white leather loafers. I’ve finally embraced the dark side and thrown my Phil Collins collection in the bin. To my utter amazement, I stared into the abyss and bloody-well liked what I saw down there. I liked it so much that I jumped in – devil’s horns aloft – and screamed ‘RI-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-ISE!’ at the top of my lungs.

I’m one of you now. Feed me your music, children of a forsaken god. Feed me it ALL.

Well, apart from Slipknot’s stuff.