Metal Health? 

The kids are still all right but not if you believe the stupid stereotypes of the stupid music aimed at them.

I've hated the new Papa Roach and Korn albums in an indistinct but deeply felt way for weeks now, and I've been trying to find the exact words to say just how much I can't stand them. Fortunately, others have done a better job describing both bands' major flaws.

In a recent interview, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Anthony Kiedis, with uncharacteristic elder-statesman wrath, said of Roach/Korn nü metal, "Even when I was 14, I didn't have such one-dimensional angst." And Spin's Chuck Klosterman wrote a definitive quasi-dis of Korn in his 2001 memoir Fargo Rock City: "The lovable jackasses in Korn absolutely fascinate me: They are the first band that I can honestly say I don't 'get' and the band appeals to an audience almost entirely composed of aggressive, confused males. Quite frankly, Korn has no relationship whatsoever to the people who invented their art form." But the most penetrating statement apropos of both bands was made by literary critic John Leonard, whose early-'90s dismissal of Bret Easton Ellis' novels seems more than apt here: "It's taken most of us most of our lives, and several momentous occasions, ever to feel as bad for 15 minutes as these kids had apparently felt since Pampers."

Now, before you make a quick judgment and claim that I obviously dislike metal as a genre, I should say that I'm more pro-metal than I care to admit, and I bet you are too. Who among you does not love Led Zeppelin? Who among you has not purchased Appetite For Destruction on vinyl, tape, CD, and then CD again after you lost it that one crazy night when you were home for Thanksgiving break? How many of you have spent significant time in any bar on a Saturday without hearing "You Shook Me All Night Long" on the jukebox and smiling in appreciation at the lines "She told me to come/But I was already there"?

Bands from Judas Priest to Queens of the Stone Age have shown that metal can be an addictive, if silly, renewable resource for rock-and-roll Kix er, kicks. This music taps into the basic desire for speed, power, and volume that draws lots of boys to rock-and-roll -- and football and BMX races and premature ejaculation -- in the first place. At its best, metal hits you in the balls like an errant football, and, yeah, it's like a smack to the nuts because metal is mainly a boy thing: Not one single member of any band who had a record on Spin's recent "Top 40 Metal Albums Of All Time," with the possible exception of Dave Mustaine, was a woman.

But the good metal on Spin's list was almost always fun. (Slayer is, of course, the exception that proves this rule.) Even on something as scary as Appetite or as dreary as Alice in Chains' Dirt, you can sing along to the choruses. And groups like KISS and Mötley Crüe never once took themselves seriously, which made their pleasures even more shamelessly enjoyable. Metal's thrilling brainlessness is now a rite of passage.

Years down the line, though, something has gone horribly wrong in the heavy-metal shop: Bands such as Korn and Papa Roach have suddenly decided that they have Something To Say. They have become The Voice Of The Young Generation, and we'd better listen up.

Korn makes this task difficult because their new record is so aggressively unlistenable that I almost respect it. Throughout my numerous forays into Untouchables, I kept thinking, Maybe this is how Steve Allen felt when he first heard Little Richard! And while Korn occasionally indulges in the glossolalia that possessed Richard at his most demonic, they sound a lot more like a gruesome three-way between Marilyn Manson, Napalm Death, and the Thompson Twins, only not as good or as fun to watch. Lead singer Jonathan Davis howls very serious lyrics about how awful it is to be young (and, presumably, a Korn fan), and the band rarely stoops to melodies or hooks or deviations from their low-register grind that might explain the record's double-platinum success to grown-ups.

Papa Roach is easier to take, and they too are aiming for the youth market. But in contrast to Untouchables' cover illustration of hollow-eyed preadolescents in various states of molestation or defeat, Lovehatetragedy shows a baby with headphones on flinging the devil sign. Papa Roach approximates "fun" more than Korn does, but though their songs are more radio-friendly, they never let you forget that they have Something To Say, even if the social dilemmas they deplore make no sense at all. After too many listens, the meaning of the metaphor "life is a bullet" from the song of the same name remains a deep, abiding puzzle to me, and the koan "Born with nothing/Die with everything" is nearly Zen in its circularity. The bonus Pixies cover only adds to Papa Roach's status as the thinking man's idiot-metal poets.

This is the stuff the kids listen to these days, and I say it's hazardous to America. Not because it's so bad, but because it is bad in such a way that it makes it easier for adults to stereotype kids who listen to this music as burnouts or would-be assassins. It's taken me too long to realize that bad taste in music does not make you a bad person, but the monochromatic, miserable picture of adolescence these bands create encourages a two-dimensional image of kids as fountains of pain and woe that simply isn't true.

As a high school teacher, I deal with young adults on a daily basis, and not one of them is as cookie-cutter boring or pathetic as the collective audience both bands seem to speak for. Some kids may love Korn, but they also love poetry and art too. Their lives are not as horrifying as these bands want them, and us, to believe (though, in some cases, it certainly isn't great either). The music is hateful, but the kids who buy it need love and compassion and understanding more than anything else. Does this mean that metal needs to escape its black and solipsistic little closet? Definitely. How it will do so is anyone's guess. Maybe the members of Papa Roach and Korn and their audience are just sensitive thugs who all need hugs. And after they get them, everyone can evolve and leave the reactionary, self-pitying bullshit on Untouchables and Lovehatetragedy behind.

Addison Engelking is a high school English teacher and frequent contributor to the Flyer's music section.

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