We connect the angst engineering students face with the raw aggression of metal.
Engineers, in my many years of interacting with the race, seem to love metal. It seems like a coincidence, or just a statistical inevitability, given how many engineering colleges in India exist, and how many people end up going to them. Is it though? I’ve never met a single former engineering college student who hasn’t, at some point, shared a deep kinship with the form. It becomes slightly more important given how, in the past month, we’ve had a new song released by Meshuggah as well as Metallica, who’ve put out the first single from their forthcoming album, called ‘Hardwired’, which is being touted as a departure from their descent into comical irrelevance, a ‘return to form’.
Metallica, in particular, seem to appeal to the aspiring engineer’s sensibility a bit too much. Again, this is anecdotal, but they seem to connect with the relentless aggression of the music, singing along to James Hetfield’s adolescent, over-enunciated words of disenchantment. For some real life examples, any given metal gig will have at least a sizable percentage of kids in the crowd (dressed in black band T-shirts, with long, scruffy hair that’s never seen the business end of a shampoo bottle) bouncing along to the music, worrying at the same time about their mechanical engineering viva next week. It’s just something that happens. A pub that makes the mistake of playing ‘Turn the Page’ or ‘Unforgiven’ will see dozens of former students singing along with broken hearts and sozzled nostalgia.
For so many, the aggression of metal serves as a welcome antidote to the routine of college life
The pub-friendly songs act as a gateway of sorts, opening up a whole new world of metal for them. It’s how they discover Iron Maiden, then Megadeth, then Slayer and Pantera, then Death, then Children of Bodom and Cradle of Filth, then Lamb of God and Meshuggah, then Gojira and Sikth. Then the black metal bands. Then the doom metal bands. Then the Indian bands: say, Bhayanak Maut or Undying Inc. or Krytpos. It may be an urban legend, but I’ve heard of these mammoth internal shared servers at every IIT or DCE or something, where you can find literally every single metal song recorded. The collection stretches into thousands of TBs of illegally downloaded data, accumulated by generations of pissed off students (and managed, presumably, by the computer science toppers).
There’s a reason, I think. Despite my casual contempt for the form, metal as a genre seems to incite a strong sense of community and brotherhood. It’s music for the outcasts and the weirdoes, the kids who didn’t quite fit in and now have an unarticulated sense of resentment bubbling inside. The kids who sometimes lack the rudimentary social/communication skills to form real life connections and meaningful relationships beyond the bare minimum. Metal reaches out to them, and makes them feel complete and useful.
It’s admittedly a lazy stereotype, but you know the kind of talking about: Fuzzy moustache, maybe a patchy beard that hasn’t quite reached puberty the way the rest of the body has. Thick glasses. Striped dad-shirts; trousers, not jeans. Or cargo shorts. A wardrobe picked by their parents, who get a post-dinner phone call each day without fail. Fashionably late in keeping up with fashion trends.
Either hair that’s curly and unkempt, or slickly oiled. Fretting over the mid-terms months in advance. Petrified of getting ragged. Forever a curious expression on their faces. Best friends with their hostel roommates. Smelling faintly of aam ka achaar. Active on a thousand different forums online. Love playing cricket — worshipped Sachin and now Virat. Maybe some drool leaking out from the side of their mouths. Get unreasonably drunk after two beers; often closet potheads buying local ganja in the kilos. Engineering students because that’s the only life they’ve been taught to believe exists, with plans of an MBA after. Subliminally forced into their career choices by their families, but entirely oblivious to it. Exquisite personalities that have been buried under years of conditioning. It’s a harsh exaggeration, but that’s sort of the point.
The fundamental angst tends to build up steadily over time, once the cognitive dissonance sets in: The fierce belief that this is the way forward contrasted against the muffled realisation that maybe my skills are better utilised elsewhere.
That’s where metal comes in. The aggression and the physicality of the music – distorted guitars; nihilist poetry shouted or growled, not sung coyly; drums that evoke a sense of violence – has a direct, synesthetic union with youthful angst. It’s why college festivals have so many sub-par bands covering the Three M’s of Indian metal: Metallica, Megadeth, and Maiden. It’s why our society even allows for moshpits, judgement-free zones of violent self-expression and catharsis.
Really, there’s an anti-heroism to the sound and culture which is just so easy to internalise – it’s the physical manifestation of the realisation that, yes – of course – no shit – there does exist an alternative route into the real world. That dated tropes passed down over generations need not apply today.
That “I”, a talented, tormented youth stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time, have a future which doesn’t have to follow the rote-path dictated by family, friends, and teachers. I can have my own start-up in a few years, or maybe study writing or filmmaking, or pick up the guitar and write a song like ‘Sutta’. Maybe (just maybe) I can even have a girlfriend. Or maybe I can just be a really good engineer because I love it, not because I’m supposed to be one. Metal, like, say, punk has been for countless non-engineering students including this writer, becomes aspirational then.
We can hope for an open, progressive education system in India, and, who knows, maybe one day it will happen. But that, at the moment, is a distant dream. What we need in the meanwhile, then, are coping mechanisms. For all its misgivings (to these ears), it’s great that metal can be that outlet for so many.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Akhil Sood
Cover photo credit: CannibalCorpse by Chris Buresh