CNN recently referred to Birmingham as ‘the unlikely birthplace of heavy metal’. The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is hosting an exhibition entitled Home of Metal (until 25 September).
All the gnarly-mouthed, guitar-thrashing kings of metal hail from the Black Country: Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Napalm Death. Walsall boy Noddy Holder, lead singer of semi-metal band Slade, thinks it is because, in the Sixties, many Black Country men worked in sheet metal. ‘The pounding of machinery contributed to the atmosphere of what became metal,’ he says.
As for that distinctive wail, Holder says it’s down to the ‘smoke and soot’ that makes the Black Country black. ‘That must have given rise to our style of singing. It’s part of clearing your throat.’
The proletarian, industrial origins of metal explains why metropolitan trendsetters remain so sniffy about it. They love punk, with its art-school sensibilities, and rap, which they view as exotic and edgy. But heavy metal? Nah, too blokey and grunting. The only yoof tribe that is consistently ridiculed is the heavy metal fan, laughed off as a loner with odour issues or feared as a school shooter in the making.
These rock snobs seem blissfully unaware that it is precisely their disdain for metal that makes it attractive to kids who want to shun the mainstream. At a time when former punks have gone square and colonised newspaper comment pages, and politicians proudly profess to have rappers on their iPods, metal is the last remaining rebellious form of rock.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated September 24, 2011