The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton

The Mountain Goats have a knack for writing the odd standout song for which you can feel an emotional connection more intense than any other band is capable of evoking. To single out a few I’d pick No Children, Golden Boy, This Year, and Dance Music (and it’s very probable there are more that have yet to really hit me) – but the one that’s affected me most recently is The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton.

The best ever death metal band out of Denton
were a couple of guys
who’d been friends since grade school
one was named Cyrus
the other was Jeff
and they practiced twice a week in Jeff’s bedroom

The best ever death metal band out of Denton
never settled on a name
but the top three contenders
after weeks of debate
were “Satan’s Fingers” and “The Killers” and “The Hospital Bombers”

Jeff and Cyrus believed in their hearts
they were headed for stage lights and Learjets and fortune and fame
so in script that made prominent use of a pentagram
they stenciled their drumheads and guitars with their names

This was how Cyrus got sent to the school
where they told him he’d never be famous
and this was why Jeff
in the letters he’d write to his friend
helped develop a plan to get even

When you punish a person for dreaming his dream
don’t expect him to thank or forgive you
the best ever death metal band out of Denton
will in time both outpace and outlive you

Hail Satan
Hail Satan, tonight
Hail Satan
Hail, hail

You can picture this band, straight off. You probably knew them; they were probably in your classes at school, and maybe you were friends with them or maybe you kept them at a distance. But either way, in those first couple of verses, John Darnielle perfectly describes how laughably ambitious they were in their completely derivative attempt at being famous – did you ever hear of a 2-man death metal band? You immediately know their music was terrible.

I don’t know where Denton is offhand, but I imagine it’s pretty suburban just like my secondary school, where the metal fans grouped into one safe conglomerate (the band it most reminded me of weren’t death metal at all, but were as unremarkable as the band in Darnielle’s song last time I checked; now I believe they’re a fairly successful stoner-rock band, after a fair few lineup rotations). Although I’m not so clued-in as to the denominations of metal, I’m fairly sure that the pentagram of the second verse provides a link between any metal styles, and most Mountain Goats listeners would agree that distinctions in this field aren’t particularly useful.

So Darnielle sounds sardonic and almost pompous for these first two verses, at the same time establishing a familiarity most of his listeners will recognise. Whether or not The Killers chose their name from the band’s top three we may never know. But surely the Hospital Bombers is more of an anarcho-punk styling? Ill-advised.

But Jeff and Cyrus have not been created by Darnielle merely to be mocked; their sustained ridiculousness throughout the first three verses merely goes to make the final verse so utterly powerful that it has been bringing me to tears for the past few weeks. I think I’ve been going through a rather emotional stage recently and I think that that contributes to it, but music has been emotionally affecting me a LOT lately and rarely so profoundly as in this song.

The fourth verse turns the song on its head so seamlessly (with the grace of the most perfect sonnet turn) that it still sort of takes me by surprise. I tend to express stubborn distaste for any sort of sloganeering or moralistic doctrine in songwriting  (outside of perhaps Kimya Dawson and Andrew Jackson Jihad) but I make an exception for Darnielle simply because this is the best piece of dogmatic songwriting I’ve ever heard, because it’s subtle and so undeniably true. Once again:

when you punish a person for dreaming his dream

don’t expect him to thank or forgive you

I don’t think I’ve ever agreed with anything so strongly. In spite of how much Darnielle’s rhetoric diminishes any artistic vision of Jeff and Cyrus, he reconciles his prejudices with his philosophy in one deft swoop, recognising that no matter how ridiculous, derivative, and unfeasible a person’s goals are, if they are harmless, they are in no way less important than your own, and something in his delivery makes it clear that this fundamentally humanist belief is more irrefutably true than anything else you can believe. By using the example of a product of a middle-class upbringing prone to ignorance, the experience is levelled with that of the typical Mountain Goats listener (I’m assuming?) and made to appear at once extreme and completely logical. Darnielle is aware of the experiences and shortcomings of his audience.

By the end he’s singing along with Jeff and Cyrus in complete earnest, and you can’t help but totally get behind the “hail Satan” message, no matter how vapid the sentiment would have appeared in the hands of the best ever death metal band in Denton. Why should what they believe be any less true or important than what you, with your such similar but crucially different experiences, believe?

The song affects me so much because I so often forget the truth of what I’ve just written. I’m so prone to being derisive and arrogant, and for a moment Darnielle’s song allows me to recognise my conceits, to equate myself with my fellow human, to realise in the most beautiful way how little I differ from my neighbours, and to remember the unique and precious nature of what each of us believe.

It’s sung with enough power to change the minds of parents or teachers like those who derail Jeff and Cyrus’ dreams, to remind us all of equality. And of course of how unstoppably brilliant our dreams can be.

Hail Satan.

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About decemberembers

I've noticed that all of my music-obsessed friends have completely different approaches to music in the digital age, and I'm writing this blog as an attempt to raise questions about what you experience when listening to music. It's also partly a response to a majority of music journalism which, stylistically and ethically, I find problematic. I'm trying to avoid being prescriptive and will encourage open-mindedness. :)
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3 Responses to The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton

  1. I hadn’t heard this song before or known of it till i noticed part of the line you had statused “will in time both outpace and outlive you” which just clung to me for a moment. Then it sort of made sense why after i realised it was a Mountain Goats lyric. It’s strange how sometimes i feel like MG songs are intentionally constructed to be some sort of subliminal stimuli, albums and albums of them having a fleeting effect on memory and then resurfacing to colonise all emotional resources.

    What i liked about that line in particular was how menacing it was, though it felt construed through the eyes of young broken dreams (in delivery it sounds like some self-righteous threat of a child which perhaps no one would take very seriously) and notions of finding puerile revenge against big ideas of a world that is against you, where no one can be considered equal or given the rights to freedom of expression and having to falter to the ignorance of others to realise what is essentially the remarkable capacity to seek out desire. I feel like by reiterating these ideas that have long past, John is sort of underlining (to himself mostly) how over time, though these dreams may have been forgotten, punished and broken, they are still remembered as “once forgotten” therefore still important, still deserving of the respect they should have been given then, and another reason to create another Darnielle-esque piece of total and utter contempt for other people that will indeed outlive them.

  2. fyeahandroidtomato says:

    Your post really affected me deeply. I love this song and I never totally understood why. Reading your analysis allowed me to conceptually understand my deep emotional response. Thank you.

  3. fyeahandroidtomato says:

    Reblogged this on fyeahandroidtomato and commented:
    Check out this post. I don’t usually do the re-blog thing but I think this is worth reading.

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