[A guest opinion piece by Chris Donaghue. – AC]
It’s so hard to say what makes music heavy. Music that is really meaningful, or intense is ‘heavy,’ like “Mother” by John Lennon, or “Myxamatosis” by Radiohead.
But normally heavy refers to bashing loudness, for that most people think that the many offshoots of heavy metal, like grindcore are what heavy is. And then there is the guy in Chuck Klosterman’s novel Downtown Owl, who doesn’t get music, and asks, ‘How can music be heavy? It’s just air.’
Well music can be heavy, it just is. It’s been said that it is so hard to explain music because it’s so easy to understand. Well any kind of heavy can be the right answer. I have a go to song when I want to hear a ‘song’ that is really heavy: “In The Meantime,” by Helmet. There is heavier music than that, but after a certain point I can’t hear a song anymore. Heavier than that all I can tell is if the drummer is using a heavy crash as a ride.
But as far as pure wall of noise goes, I say the heaviest song is “Weasels Ripped My Flesh,” by Frank Zappa. It’s so heavy I can hardly believe it even exists, let alone that Frankie enjoyed playing it. But then Zappa also wrote “Civilisation, ” which is the most complicated piece of music there is, I believe. I think he did these things, just to have been the one to have done them.
The only other piece of music that I know of that is in this league is the album “Kristallnacht,” by John Zorn. Though only parts of this album are as heavy, or maybe heavier than ‘Weasels…’ Wikipedia describes it as ‘ranging from fairly conventional roots music to extreme near-industrial chaos…’ Though I can’t tell you which songs cause I only listened to it once, but the parts with the breaking glass sounded heaviest to me. I’m going to guess that was ‘Never Again,’ because that song contains a warning in the liner notes :
“Caution: “Never Again” contains high frequency extremes at the limits of human hearing & beyond, which may cause nausea, headache & ringing in the ears. Prolonged or repeated listening is not advisable as it may result in temporary or permament ear damage. – The Composer. “
Strangely, both of these pieces of music were recorded live. Maybe because it would be impossible to play this heavy more than once? I don’t know. But the heaviest things I have ever heard were live: Sonic Youth opening for Neil Young, or maybe the middle of “Like a Hurricane”, that Neil did in Barrie, in ’96, for the “Year of the Horse” tour.
“Sedan Delivery, ” from that show is on that live album, and “Like a Hurricane” is in the movie by Jim Jarmusch, but the middle section of the song was replaced by a 1976 version. Which is really cool, but not that heavy. To hear what an aural metaphor for a hurricane sounds like, you’d have to listen to one of his 90 or so other live albums: “Arc.” Those bits are within the half hour of noise he released from the tour with Sonic Youth, which you could also describe as ‘extreme near-industrial chaos…’ Or a bit like an arc welder.
I also used to live across the street from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and they get really heavy at the end of songs. My roomates hated it but I loved it. I may have heard Yanqui U.X.O. recorded. Their practices sound just like their albums.
All of the heaviest music I have heard was live, or recorded live. I think that might be because playing like that is really difficult, and one performance ever is sometimes going to be the most you can get out of other musicians.
What do you think is the heaviest song? And if you haven’t listened to “Weasels Ripped My Flesh, ” you should, because if you know anything heavier, I’d be surprised.