Cheese in Heavy Metal (November 2003)
The Metal Cheese Factory
by His Metalness, Lörd €nÿgmä Dräcö
of Metal Heretics, Valiant Defender of Musical Nobility, Steel-Hearted
Brother of Metal
1 like cheese in taste or
smell. 2 (infml
esp US) of poor quality; cheap: The
decor looks pretty cheesy.
I have often read stuff in reviews like:
"Manowar is cheesier than a
"Rhapsody milks the living
be-cheeses out of cheesy fantasy."
Labelling bands like Manowar, Rhapsody,
Luca Turilli, Avantasia,
and White Skull as
"cheesy" has become, methinks, a cheesy cliche in itself.
When push comes to shove, I surmise that most self-styled musical
elitists would be hard-pressed to define what exactly they mean by
"cheesy". Here are some of the answers that are typically
given, along with some of my comments:
lyrics that are inspired by cliched fantasy
lyrics about noble warriors, blood-red skies and
Although fantasy literature is certainly not
everybody's preferred genre, fantasy need not be inherently cheesy. Rhapsody
(an obvious target) constructed a sprawling fantasy landscape in the
Emerald Sword Saga. They
"Along the river of bloody tears
the mighty steel shining in my hands
we march and honor our brothers
victims of Kron's evil plan"
Whilst it would probably be stretching the truth to
say that this will revolutionize world literature (in fact, it would
be downright lying), it is nonetheless in keeping with tales and
legends that have fascinated humans since the dawn of our mystical
and mythical awareness. Greek, Nordic and Teutonic mythology,
Christian hagiography, Celtic folklore and oriental paganism all
tell of events that are, in essence, often not so far removed from
what Rhapsody sings about. Even JRR Tolkien's epic Lord
of the Rings, voted Book of the Century, was often little
more than a soulful synthesis of pagan mythologies! Many of us can
relate to the struggles (body and soul, real and metaphorical) of
these legendary heroes. I dare anybody to not be moved by Summoning's
fantasy lyrics and music! Besides, people should lighten up, for
crying out loud; music is entertainment!
"They wanna keep us down
But they can't last
When we get up we're gonna kick your ass
Gonna keep on burnin'
We always will
Other bands play Manowar kill"
Humility is certainly not many metal bands' forte,
but there is nothing inherently wrong with blowing your own horn if
it is warranted. Manowar is,
afterall, officially certified as the loudest band in the world,
they have some of the craziest and most dedicated fans, the band has
survived and thrived for more than two turbulent decades and the
four kings have thus far not once let their fans down! The same can
be said for a number of other metal bands. A band that lives what it
preaches, however far removed that may be from your own ideals,
should at least be respected.
"The wonder of
my heart was blind, but now I see
I know the power and the glory of
I took a breath and now I'm free
I feel the glory of the
I have read reviews which criticized Stratovarius
and Sonata Arctica for being
excessively happy and cheesy. The presumption being, presumably,
that metal is supposed to be a genre that thrives on wanton death
and destruction. As soon as you see the silver lining around the
thunder clouds in your life, you're making "happy metal".
Music makes me happy. Being with my friends, my family and my
girlfriend makes me happy. Playing with my baby nephew makes me
happy. If your humanity has been so corroded that all these normal
events in a person's life seem cheesy and superficial, then I
recommend you seek professional help to get that dusty and cobwebbed
soul of yours restored to a sunnier disposition. Ihsahn (mastermind
behind Emperor) said in the
book Lords of Chaos that a
lot of people think that black metal is about walking around with a
grim face all the time, yet he is a person who does laugh and
Turilli and many other power metal bands are undeniably
guilty of pompous music with huge choruses. Once again, though,
these bands are often unfairly labelled cheesy as a result of that.
Opera is considered high culture, yet I see very little intrinsic
differences between Mozart's Der
Vogelfänger, Wagner's Der
Ring der Nibelungen and Verdi's Aida
on the one hand, and Manowar's "Defender" and "The
Crown and the Ring", any Rhapsody opus and Blind Guardian's Nightfall
in Middle-Earth and Imaginations
from the Other Side albums (all of them works often scorned
for being "too pompous" and "musically bloated")
on the other. In fact, the two genres (opera and metal) are very
often closely related both in subject matter and musical expression.
It is no wonder then that many metal bands have brought in trained
opera singers (like Nightwish,Therion)
and classical instrumentation (like Therion,
or have released an album with the word "opera" in the
title (like Avantasia, Blind
Guardian, Edguy). Manowar
even performed Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" and a tribute to
Wagner on their most recent album, proving once again the strong
connection between opera and metal. What some call pompous, others
call majestic. What some call fluffy and insubstantial, others call
well-composed and catchy. Why is it that Mozart (that quintessential
pop-classical one-man hit factory) is considered to be one of the
greatest composers of all time, whilst Rhapsody
and Blind Guardian are said
to be cheesy ("of poor quality, cheap" according to the
Of course, numerous other reasons could be given of
why Manowar, Rhapsody
and HammerFall are
supposedly cheesy, but the above should suffice to indicate that many
of these are unfair, bigoted and unreasonable. (Please note that
I am entitled to unabashedly and inoffensively call any of the
aforementioned bands cheesy because I am a graduate of the Manowar
School of True MetalTM, and cheese is a term of
endearment when we use it...).
Now as to what I consider the real cheese because they are
minimum-effort, cheap, lowbrow, lazy and lousy techniques:
Some bands like Cradle
of Filth take themselves with a pinch of salt when they
lavish their (pseudo-)controversial lyrical fare (and latest T-shirt
range) upon the world. You might not necessarily like either
their image or their music, but at least they're having fun doing
what they do. Other bands however seem to be somewhat more
hell-bent on being "scary", "evil",
"grim" and "demonic". Take Enthroned
for example. Although Enthroned
has written some pretty good music over the years, their lyrics are
often laughable caricatures of mediaeval satanism that qualify them
for the self-parody band of the moment:
"It's time for
you to join our crusade to murder the filthy Christian tribe,
support the extermination of the weak humankind".
Man, I'm really trembling in my pants now! Nothing,
nevermind how evil-sounding, beats the title track of Black
Sabbath's debut album for sheer intensity, effect and
atmosphere, which just goes to prove that a lot of black and death
metal bands miss the point when they search for ever more vulgar and
vile lyrics. Serious black metal bands that have successfully
avoided becoming parodies of themselves are Emperor
and Ulver. Many others
have become corpse-painted clowns (but shhhh... don't tell them,
they might come to rip your head off and sell your soul to satan!).
There is of course nothing wrong with being heavy if
you're a metal band. However, just cranking up the heaviness without
upping your songwriting is a cheap way to achieve a pseudo-metal
effect -- sort of like a plastic version of true metal, gold-plated
jewellery instead of the 24 carat real thing. The other day I read a
definition in a German mini-encyclopedia that "heavy
metal is a genre of rock music that pushes 'hard' guitar solos into
the foreground". Perhaps this concise definition is not
completely inclusive of all forms of metal, but it does hint at the
fact that to be a metal musician one needs to have at least some
skill. These days a lot of musicians hide behind heavy gimmicks
(vomited vocals, power chords, down-tuning) that try to mask the
fact that the musicians are unable to evoke any passion, feeling,
atmosphere or awe in the listener. If you fall for it, the joke's on
My advice for all cheese-haters out there is to
brighten up, take life with a pinch of salt, put on your furskins and
go conquer some foreign shores (or your neighbour's fridge). Smile,
and say cheese!
One Man's Cheese Is Another Man's Genius
People are too obsessed with image or with how they are perceived by
others and we are all to some degree guilty of this. Some people are too
uptight, so when they see a band having fun with whatever their gimmick
might be, they condemn it immediately. When preparing to write about
cheese in metal, I first thought I 'd have no problem citing some
examples of what is cheesy. But after thinking it through, I found it
harder to justify why something is actually cheesy. Below are the three
big cheese elements that came to mind followed by questioning why it is
1. Satan & Metal
If a band's gimmick is pentagrams, upside-down crosses, and lyrics all
about Satan, does this make the band cheese masters? This gimmick sold a
lot of bands in the 80's and Venom perhaps wrote the book on this form of
"cheese". But is this image cheesy? Is singing about Satan
cheesy? When I was younger I thought that this stuff was actually evil.
As I've gotten older I often find this amusing, not
"scary". Sometimes I think it's immature. For example,
lyrically simple songs like "Kill The Christians" by Deicide
is hardly thought provoking...even though I admit to liking Deicide's
music. In a recent interview with Glen Benton on Thrash of the Titans
#5, Glen himself said something to the effect of when kids come up to
him and yell "fuck god, kill the Christians" even he thinks to
himself "grow up!!!" If a band wants to be evil or anti-god,
there are much better, tactful, and more intelligent ways to do so.
Singing about the devil is not in and of itself cheesy. Depending on how
it's done it can be done intelligently or immaturely just to try and
shock simpletons (be they religious simpletons, or teenaged simpletons
only liking it because it's "sick and evil"). So when you see
a dude with a spiked club, a painted white face, and an inverted
crucifix hanging about his neck leering at you from the pages of a
magazine...I guess we should realize that this is a gimmick and is their way of outwardly
expressing their ideals in a way to attract the most attention possible.
I don't think that it's cheesy, just overdone.
Dragons, Wizards, Kings, Castles...and metal
A lot of people bash bands who write about fantasy topics. Some
bands have in fact taken notice so they will have their next album be
about a historical event or about some sci-fi story because that is seen
lately as being more serious. If a band likes fantasy stories, then what
is wrong with writing a concept album about a magical sword that is wielded
by warrior who frees the world from it's evil enslavers? Like
Satan in metal, fantasy elements in metal are not cheesy when they are
done properly. Often the music itself that accompanies fantasy lyrics is called
cheesy because it is pompous with epic choirs, huge choruses, and often
with symphonic orchestration. Calling those musical elements cheesy is
just another way of saying you don't like it. Just because you don't
like something or don't get it does not make it cheese.
The Glam Image
One thing that gets called cheesy are bands that strongly represent their
period...especially if that period involved big hair and cross dressing!
What is cool in metal right now may very well be seen as incredibly cheesy
in another 20 years. So when a 15yr old kid is shown pictures of 80's
metallers in spandex and with high hair, they automatically think "cheese!"
and will insult the band based on image alone. Like fashion, musical
styles are also cyclic. So perhaps in another 10 years it will be cool
again? As long as the music remains metal, I don't care what someone
looks like...and neither does any real metal fan that I've met.
Most true fans appreciate the music and don't look just for image or shock
So to some it up, what most people call cheese is just "shit
they don't like". Like a wise man once said, "your stuff is
shit, but my shit is stuff!"
Cheese of Metal
There is no such thing as cheese in metal and I will tell you why.
The term 'cheese' has no discernable definition. I have asked many
people in public and private to define what is cheesy. The vast majority
are unable to provide a definition, not examples, a definition. Those
who do provide a definition have widely varied to subjective comments
about things they do not like about a band. Some say image is cheesy
some say music is cheesy, some say both.
Where does the term come from. Does it have any legitimacy? Another
synonym for 'cheesy' is 'corny'. Why is food associated with subjective
negativity about music? Apparently some people feel that cheese 'stinks'
as in has an unpleasant odor. Any person who has eaten any sort of
cheese besides Kraft Singles realizes that 99% of cheese does NOT smell.
Corn doesn't smell either. Again smell is subjective. Some folks might
like the smell of cheese, some might not. The whole odor of food analogy
to describe music (an audio experience) is so completely useless it has
So having determined that the term cheese as a viable adjective has
little or no value we go to our next point. However, let us assume that
we accept briefly for a moment that there is some vague and nebulous,
generic, description of 'cheese' (eg, it's stinky) that everyone agrees
on. The adjective cheesy has fallen into pop lexicon as a broad
statement of 'anything I don't like', usually used in a derogatory
A person definition of what is negative or undesirable (stinky) in
music will be unique to that individual. One person may feel that a song
about a dragon is good and another may think it is bad. There has never
been any broad consensus on what defines these negative characteristics
in music. Some people tend to focus on image more than music and might
suggest for example that, "Leather pants are cheesy". A fan of
leather will obviously disagree.
For example, I personally think that bands like Sepultura who rub mud
on themselves and prance around semi-naked in the rainforest with the
local natives, singing about peace, love and saving the environment are
incredibly 'cheesy'. I can find a dozen people who agree and a dozen who
disagree. Consequently the definition of 'cheesy' is invalid and
In conclusion, an undefined and subjective term (cheese) a used as an
insult (that's cheesy) that is applied differently in every situation by
each individual, has no capability to accurately describe metal music
and therefore does not really exist.
So next time some person say's 'That's so cheesy' in a derogatory
fashion ask them what they mean and why. Challenge the insecure
individual (who feels the needs to use a random and vague insult) to
develop an informed and articulate opinion instead of just throwing
insults at something they don't understand and therefore don't like.
DEBBIE DOES METAL: FEMININE FROMAGE
By Lord of the Wasteland
As easy a target as 80's metal is for cheese, I have to pin down one
subgroup in particular for going above and beyond the call of
cheesiness: women in metal. Now don't think I'm a misogynist for writing
about this because no one can deny the fact that the majority of women
(and some men, for that matter) who were playing metal in the 80's
looked like cheap sluts. Lee Aaron, Lita Ford, Vixen and Wendy O.
Williams were the most prominent female figures of the era and their
choice of clothing, makeup and hair wouldn't find them out of place
twirling on a brass pole on a small stage with guys throwing money at
Lee Aaron's video for the song "Metal Queen" is a prime
example. In it, she is seen as a mighty metal warrior clad only in a
snake, bra and loincloth while chained or wielding a sword. She is all
pouty-lipped and nubile while crowing on about "coming like
thunder". It's no wonder Lee wants to forget her tawdry metal past
now that she's a 40+ year old jazz chanteuse!
Lita Ford was just as guilty as Lee Aaron for flaunting her goods.
Her album covers featured her in ridiculous amounts of makeup, fishnets
and skintight leather pants with hair so high it was in another
atmosphere. Her videos showed Lita could play a double-necked guitar and
pull solos like nobody's business. In reality, she was nothing more than
a product of "image consultants" who wanted to change her
bubblegum image of a teenage rocker with The Runaways to that of a
"tough rock chick".
What was probably the biggest crime committed towards the women's
movement was a four-piece band of women who called themselves Vixen.
They were a subpar band at best, but they managed to sell a gazillion
albums because they wore next to nothing and mastered the whole
"look at how trampy we are" shtick. Seeing Janet Gardner
prance around with her gigantic bleach blonde hair, in her high-heeled
leather boots, fishnets and bustier could perk up anyone's interest…as
long as you didn't listen to their music.
Vixen's partner in crime was Wendy O. Williams, a former porn actress
and stripper, who was thrust upon the metal world thanks to Kiss' Gene
Simmons attempt at producing other acts on the side. Williams had a
bleach blonde Mohawk and would often appear on stage topless (but with
electrical tape covering her nipples to maintain her credibility) or in
full bondage gear while running a chainsaw through the body of a car.
While rock in the 1990s saw the rise of the angry young woman (Alanis
Morissette, Liz Phair) or the poetic coffeehouse granola girl (Lisa Loeb,
Jewel), the female side of metal has mostly gone missing in action.
While there are females in metal today, such as Tarja from Nightwish,
Angela from Arch Enemy, Cristina from Lacuna Coil, or Kimberly from
Sinergy, you won't find any of them wearing spandex or seductively
licking their guitar necks. Gone are the days when an album cover could
be a curious boy's substitute for a stroke magazine or a music video for
a skin flick. Thankfully, today's metal queens have more to talk about
than "coming like thunder" or who can out-skank the other!