Darkness in Sound: My Musical Journey

My parents forced me to take piano lessons when I was eight, and that’s kind of where it all started.

As a very young child, I didn’t really think much of music. Never listened to the radio except passively; didn’t own any tapes or records. It simply wasn’t a part of my life. My sister played a little bit of piano, and I enjoyed listening to her play, but I never had thoughts of playing myself.

Then I started piano lessons, and I only practiced because my piano teacher would give me candy if I did well. It turns out I was pretty good at picking it up, and even though we soon left for another country and I had to change teachers, I remember that within a year I had gone from knowing absolutely nothing to playing short, basic pieces of music.

Since piano lessons usually revolve around classical compositions, that soon became the kind of music I wanted to listen to. My father had a deep interest in classical music as well (though not exclusively), and I started listening more closely to the tapes he’d play in the car, hearing the way in which the instruments played with and against each other, making the most beautiful sounds.

I soon began to build my classical music collection, and even started writing my own compositions in the style of Mozart and Beethoven. I adored Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique symphony (still do, in fact), and I would listen to his Romeo and Juliet overture every night before bed.

And for many years, this rich and historical world of classical music was my world. I because, to be honest, a classical music snob, and more or less refused to listen to anything with a drumbeat. I learned to play bass guitar, but only because it was easy and complimented the school orchestra (we had no double-bassists). But as I grew into my depression, I began to feel that, as beautiful as this classical music was, it no longer aligned with my emotions, my feelings. Too much of it was joyful, too much was in a major key. It wasn’t dark enough.

I remember vividly the moment everything changed. One of the seniors at school was trying to put together a band, and asked me if I’d be his bassist. He gave me a tape with three songs on it: Black Night by Deep Purple; 1979 by Smashing Pumpkins; and Sabbra Cadabra by Black Sabbath. In the end I never played in his band, but I listened to that tape endlessly, mesmerized by the undulating rhythms and the playability of the music.

I soon started collecting music, creating my own mix tapes and playlists, and over a short few years discovered that heavy metal—particularly the darker, gothic genres—could fill the void that classical music couldn’t. I fell in love with Marilyn Manson, Metallica and Iron Maiden, and from there expanded to Slipknot, and Dream Theater, and Sonata Arctica. Every song about depression, every minor chord, told me that the despair I felt wasn’t unique, that I wasn’t alone in the world. And unlike the composers who had been dead for centuries, these were people who were (for the most part) alive today, who understood my suffering in the modern world.

And while I still listen to, and appreciate, classical music, my true love has become metal, and all things dark and gothic. From Opeth’s Blackwater Park to Anathema’s A Fine Day to Exit (possibly the most depressing album I’ve ever listened to), these bands are with me now and forever, and have formed my very personality as I grew up through my late teens and into early adulthood.

I could never abandon my classical beginnings, and indeed some of the musicianship I appreciate in heavy metal can be traced to classical roots, but I am, and shall always remain, a metalhead.

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