There was an article in the Times about a ten days or so ago (I actually linked to it here, but you can read it here) about a chronically unemployed guy who found solace and resolve via multiple, high-volume airings of Slayer's 1986 watershed opus, Reign in Blood. The brutal stealth and aggression of Slayer provided him with the catalytic clarity and emotional kick-in-the-ass to steer him through the lean times. For all of heavy metal's deservedly maligned traits, not even its most erudite detractors can make a credible argument against the genre's gift for channelling tension. At its angry, blackened core, heavy metal is the embodiment of catharsis. This is no accident.
As a lifelong fan of metal, I totally related to the sentiment (although unlike that writer, I was well aware of metal's functionality as a stress-reliever). After I was laid off from MTV News Online back in the balmy summer of 2007, I too gave my always-simmering tinnitus a worrying jolt with several sessions of high octane thrash. That all said, in terms of Slayer, I was a little late to the table. During that band's heyday, I'd already sworn allegiance to their peers in Metallica and Anthrax (to say nothing of their spiritual forefathers in the almightily infernal Venom). I'd heard Hell Awaits and Show No Mercy and appreciated them, but something was missing for me. Then, like everyone else, I heard Reign in Blood and it all clicked. When the band locks into the crushing stomp of that staccato middle-eight in "Raining Blood" (basically 2:10 - 2:38), if you're not grinning maniacally with a neck sore from headbanging, you should probably just go buy yourself a Joni Mitchell album and open a bottle of Valium, because you're clearly beyond metal's help.
In any case, I had a moment similar to that Times contributor's just yesterday. To put it plainly, I'm a bit stressed out these days. The money's spreading pretty thin, and the bills keep coming. I'm breaking even at best. I'm incredibly grateful to be working again, but I'm still on a one-year contract, after which I'll have to take another 100 days off, and August will be here before I know it. As I raced through midtown to meet my father for an after-work drink (he too being stretched financially), I heard from my wife that our little son had been diagnosed with a touch of Scarlet Fever. Shaken by that news and zonked after a full day of work, I sat down with my dad for a quick beer (to talk about -- what else? -- our respective struggles) then said a quick goodbye to race back home to my sick little boy. After leaving my dad, I stepped out into the grey chill of the early evening and slipped on my headphones. Without hesitation, I dialed up some Slayer to speed my mission.
My album of choice was Slayer's lesser-celebrated covers disc from 1996, Undisputed Attitude. Yes, it's true -- cover albums are usually dubious endeavors. For every keeper (Pin-Ups by Bowie) there are myriad stinkers (Thank You by Duran Duran being the most reviled). This album, however, finds Slayer taking on lots of the punk and hardcore bands from my youth, notably D.I., Minor Threat, T.S.O.L., D.R.I. and even The Stooges. For the most part, the boys do the originals justice, beefing up the production with oomphy metal heaviosity. I'm particularly fond of their bashes through the oeuvre of Minor Threat. With all speed, I felt the empowering adrenaline rush necessary to plough through midtown's herd of human cattle to get home to my waiting little family, handily resisting the urge to swing my elbows into the path of oncoming suits blabbing obliviously into their bluetooths.
My problems aren't at all unique, and I'm sure I'll get through them. But if you too are feeling a bit frazzled when your life is plagued by disorder and demand, might I echo the Times contributor's recommendation. Why not treat yourself to some Slayer? You'll thank me later.