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February 11, 2012

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In the throes of death metal to die for

I frequently use the space in this column to implore Shanghai Daily readers to put away their trepidations and feel more comfortable attending concert events across fair Shanghai. Breaking through the walls of ignorance and shining the light on trends in music, venues, individual artists and albums is a tool, since familiarity helps build understanding and potentially, affection.

This will not be one of those columns.

The more I tell readers about the rock show on February 14 at Mao Livehouse, the less likely many people will be interested in going.

Yet it's for those very same reasons people are clamoring for this show, which will likely sell out the large club even with most tickets going for 360 yuan (US$57) and some for 800 yuan.

The show features one of the most buzzed-about heavy metal bands in the world: Lamb of God. They'll be with formidable openers in their own right in Opeth from Sweden.

Performers will be expressing the deepest rage from the darkest corners of their imagination, put to the doom-like tunes of ear-shredding guitars played loud to the point of being close to unbearable. The audience will be stuffed onto the floor, vibrating violently like molecules of water close to boil; passive bystanders will likely be pushed to the back and side of the carnage.

In short, its going to be a blast, and if things go well, people will be leaving Mao Livehouse with a smile on their face.

And that's because heavy metal, especially the "death metal" variety propagated by bands like "Lamb of God" and "Opeth," wades into a tricky area of art that is difficult to describe due to the challenging nature of what it is trying to present.

As an example, let's take "Lamb of God"'s most famous song, "Redneck," which was nominated for Best Metal Performance at the 2007 Grammy Awards. The song, which was written by Lamb Of God guitarist Mark Morton as a castigation of the band's singer, Randy Blythe, can pithily be described as brutal. The drums come at a rapid but off-kilter tempo, only slowing down so Blythe can spew, growl and yell the lyrics like a brawler throwing haymakers.

The guitars don't play a straight melody, and instead slice down at the listener.

The last adjective that can be used to describe the song is "pleasant" though many listeners feel that way after listening to the song. Why? Because like people who challenge themselves with the spiciest of foods, who watch avant-garde cinema, or who play extreme sports, some people require a high amount of tension in their entertainment.

Death metal is the extreme on the tension spectrum of music, daring listeners to like it, glaring at people who might not be committed to the music to ward them off. That tension might make the music uninviting, but to its hardcore fans, it helps build a rock solid community.

That community will be coming out in full force when two of their hottest entertainers come to Shanghai for the first time. If that's you, great. All others should stay far away.


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