I confess to being squeamish about writing about myself, but Lowell in his wisdom decided that we should do a week on musical preferences, so allow me to inaugurate that week with my thoughts on music.
Throughout my childhood and early high-school years I thought that I simply didn’t like music. Music caused me to become restless and unhappy. There was only so much shallowness and simplicity that I could take. There were a few artists (mostly Contemporary Christian) that I would listen to because I found them funny or catchy, but I more often than not my happiness was injured by music rather than aided. I occasionally found well written worship songs able to grip my heart, but I was (and still am) somewhat uncomfortable with worship music for casual listening. When I am worshiping, I want to be all there. Worship music as background just seems wrong.
What I didn’t know was that I was simply lacking musical perspective. I hadn’t been introduced to the music I didn’t know I needed. One day in high school, while I was going through a Tolkien-craze (Ok, I’ll be honest, it never ended) I stumbled across a video about Fingolfin, who was one of my personal heroes at the time (translation for non nerds: The baddest most awesome elf to ever walk the face of Middle Earth). I turned the sound off, because I didn’t like music anyway, and watched a slideshow. When it was nearly done, I turned up the music for a brief second and my life changed forever.
Music must fill three very specific purposes for me. Plato divided the soul into three parts: the logic, the spirit, and the appetite. C.S. Lewis described these as the head, the chest, and the belly. By sheer coincidence, my three uses of music fits the categories.
The first purpose is that music must edify my mind. If a song does not give me something to chew on, some piece of the great body of truth, I cannot stomach it for long. This is what occasionally disgusts me about what parades as Christian music: often it paints a distorted image of reality (this is not fair, there are many Christian artists that do not do this, but offenders you know who you are). When I first heard Nightwish’s song “Planet Hell” it struck me that this song grasps a slice of reality that my musical library had no accounting for.
The second purpose of my music is to supplement my emotions. I find that in everyday life, my default state is chill. When I hear mellow music, it lulls me deeper into emotional nothingness, a place I hate. My music, then, serves to stimulate the emotions I need at any given time. When I need raw inspiring power, I may listen to Turisas, when I am feeling cynical, I need to inject some Blind Guardian to remind me that the good is worth pursuing.
Finally, I use music to train my mind and emotion to overcome my instincts. Instincts of the soul are like instincts of the body: they are only useful if carefully trained. How will I know that in a time of crisis I will stick to what is true? It can’t hurt if music, the language of my soul, drives my every thought toward righteousness. Therefore I listen to music that promotes the virtues I want to be my default. I listen to songs of courage, of righteousness, of justice, etc.
This is why I find myself drawn to obscure corners of heavy metal: It is in power metal that I find noble stories and ideas pondered alongside emotional power. The intense emotion of a choir belting out battle cries is coupled with lyrical quality that considers all of reality, from love to hate, peace to war, victory to defeat. It’s just an added bonus that power metal appeals to the nerd in me. Where else can you hear a song about the theft of the Silmarils or of the Battle of Gallipoli?
If I had to describe my musical tastes in tangible terms, then, I love the philosophy and general awesomeness of Blind Guardian (check them out, seriously, there’s nothing like them), the battle-roars and historical focus of Sabaton (there’s a song for every battle in WWII you’ve never heard of, and the music is more interesting than your history textbook). To communicate the less triumphant, but nonetheless important parts of life, I turn to Nightwish, Within Temptation and Sonata Artica. The fallenness of the world is important to grapple with. But for the joy that comes from being a Christian and access to the truth I listen to Southern Gospel (yes, one of these things does not belong here) and a various selection of metal hymns and ballads from Turisas to Hammerfall and Rhapsody of Fire.
So yes, I probably overthink my music, but my life has dramatically improved through the wonderful music that this kind of thinking has helped me discover. Seriously, go through your musical library and consider why you listen to what you do. It will give you a window into what makes you tick as a person and maybe help you reconsider your life.
NOTE: I have provided several links to examples of songs that illustrate the point I am making. The links all lead to Youtube clips. I own all of the songs I have linked to, but you don’t, so please consider purchasing instead of bookmarking if you like what you hear.