"Seek not the good in external things. Seek it in thyself." - Epictetus

Metal found me – and took me on an unusual path

I’ve been a metalhead for 20 years now, and whenever I ask others how they discovered the genre, I usually hear one of two stories: Either they grew up with the music, or they discovered it later in life, but regardless, they mostly heard the classics first. A delineation of the pioneers and the greats probably isn’t necessary, but for any non-metalheads reading this, I’m talking about bands like Black Sabbath, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Pantera, Judas Priest, Slayer, Dio, and Motorhead. With most people I’ve talked to, their metal discovery and subsequent journey seemed to follow a similar pattern.

My path was a bit different. I can say that I first discovered metal, in the technical sense, at the age of 13. At the time, I was living in New Jersey and using a big, chunky Dell computer that ran an ancient operating system called Windows Me (short for ‘Millennium Edition’). I was using dial-up internet, Ask Jeeves was my search engine of choice, and I spent my time learning basic HTML code and waiting hours to download a single episode of Dragon Ball Z. I started frequenting a now-defunct website called TV Tome, where I would follow various anime shows, and I made a few online friends. That led me to transition with them to a series of do-it-yourself forums collectively called ProBoards. (I checked and, at the time of writing, it still exists!)

I made one friend on these forums in particular who was very much into nu metal. I didn’t know what on earth he was talking about at the time, so he told me to think of it as “very hard rock.” He would often talk about bands like Linkin Park, Deftones, and Adema, and lament the fact that no one else shared his interest. I was later introduced to another forum-goer who was absolutely fanatical about Iron Maiden. At the time, my interests lay in anime, manga, and fantasy novels, and I neither knew nor cared what these people were talking about. The following year, that would change.

By the time I was 14, I had moved elsewhere in New Jersey – northward, back to my hometown. There I made my first close friend. We got along very well, bonding over our shared interest in comic books and artwork. Eventually, he started name-dropping Slipknot and Mudvayne. “What?” I asked, utterly confused and only vaguely interested. “Yeah,” he said. “They’re bands. It’s nu metal.” “Ah.” I remembered that term from my online friend, but he had never mentioned those particular bands. The subject would not arise again until a few weeks later, when I met my friend’s older brother. I don’t exactly remember now whether it was the friend or the brother who put the headphones over my ears, but they said, “Here. It’s Slipknot. Listen to this.”

Because it came as an absolute culture shock to me at the time, I can’t remember exactly which song it was that I heard, but I’m ninety-nine percent sure it was “Eyeless,” off their self-titled album. Suffice it to say I was blown away. I had never heard anything that sounded remotely like that. I was struck by how loud and wild it sounded to me, it had a rhythm that I immediately latched onto – at a time when I could barely comprehend what rhythm was (I didn’t spend my childhood listening to much music by choice) – and I was also a little bit uncertain. It wasn’t that I disliked it (quite the opposite), it was that it was so new to me and my mind was reeling, trying to process what I was experiencing. He also played a Mudvayne song for me right afterward, but I don’t remember anything about it. I think I was still so focused on the Slipknot song, trying to figure out what the hell that was.

Days later, another close friend of mine – may he rest in peace – was beginning his own journey. “Oh, you’ve never heard System of a Down before?” he asked eagerly. I’ll never forget that day. Together we went to a pizza place/internet cafĂ©, and for the first time ever I discovered this thing called Limewire. Also, I used one of the webcams there to take my first-ever “selfie” (I still hate that word), and put it up on my new MySpace page. Before long, my friend’s little AAA battery-powered Coby mp3 player had songs on it from System of a Down, Slipknot, Linkin Park, and a few other artists (I think there was an Otep song on there, and something by Kittie as well). I listened to several songs by multiple artists that day, and it was at that point that I decided – I was a fan of Slipknot and Linkin Park.

You may think that, so far, this is not too unusual of a path for someone discovering metal in the early 2000s. Of course nu metal would be the first thing I hear, it was dominating back then. Just give it time, the path soon takes a weird turn. Anyway, at this point, I knew what I wanted (more metal!) and how to get it – at the local library, of all places. I started borrowing CDs from there – amongst my first picks were Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory and Meteora, Slipknot’s self-titled and Vol. 3 (which I think had just come out at the time), and a couple metalcore jams – though I didn’t know it at the time; namely, Shadows Fall’s The War Within and Killswitch Engage’s The End of Heartache. (Note: At this point I had already heard Killswitch on MySpace – remember those little music players on people’s profiles?) I also picked up Headbangers Ball Vol. 2, a compilation album.

I was spinning these albums day and night, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was listening to a metal radio station I had just found – 89.5 WSOU, a college radio station broadcast from Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. It had a bit of a weak signal, but it was worth it to hear “Dragula” by Rob Zombie and “The Beautiful People” by Marilyn Manson for the very first time. I was officially engrossed in metal at this point, and though I couldn’t yet discern genre differences, my taste was mostly dominated by nu metal and metalcore. Before long, that would change.

To this day I’m not sure which came first, but I heard Satyricon’s “Fuel for Hatred” and Cradle of Filth’s “Gilded Cunt,” both around the same time. The former, from Headbangers Ball Vol. 2, and the latter, downloaded from a little place called Limewire. The very next song I heard was “Medusa and Hemlock,” also by Cradle. Then I heard something by Dimmu Borgir. Several weeks later, I had learned that these bands and songs were examples of “extreme metal,” and at the time, I thought it was all something called “black metal” (even though, apart from Satyricon, I had not discovered true black metal quite yet). This led to me finding black metal’s gutteral, gore-obsessed neighbor, death metal. Cannibal Corpse. Dying Fetus. Deicide. Holy shit!

My mind was exploding with dopamine on a daily basis as I delved more deeply into the most brutal, extreme sounding metal I could get my hands on. Before long, a friend bought me my first physical metal albums at an FYE in a local mall. I remember exactly what I grabbed: Nymphetamine and Thornography by Cradle. The Scars of Redemption by Deicide. Dechristianize by Vital Remains. Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia and Godless Savage Garden by Dimmu Borgir. And another compilation album called Headbangers Ball: The Revenge. You’d best believe I was blasting it in this (non-metalhead) friend’s car, driving him crazy.

You see, this is where my path took a more unique turn. I had gone from entry-level nu metal and popular metalcore right into starter pack ‘extreme metal’ and Satanic death metal. Not one to sit back and be satisfied with just a few new artists, it was only a matter of a week or two afterward that I finally sank my teeth into genuine black metal. Immortal, Emperor, Mayhem, Bathory, and even a few lesser-known artists like Urgehal and Melechesh. Around this time I bought my second band shirt ever – Dark Funeral (the first had been Linkin Park, one year prior).

But here’s the thing: I skipped right over all the classics. By this time, I had heard a couple of Pantera songs (I remember “Psycho Holiday” was my first from them). I had heard a few Metallica songs. I probably heard a Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden song already without even knowing it at the time. But I had not, by choice, delved into the old greats, simply because I thought it was “old” and “less extreme” than this other, seemingly more awesome thing that I had discovered. Typical teenage way of thinking. And I had not yet become a metal connoisseur; I simply wanted whatever I thought was the most extreme and brutal and punishing.

Whenever I thought I had hit a boundary, I wanted to break it and go even further. I spotted other metalheads wearing Dark Funeral and Emperor shirts, so I decided to delve into the underground of the underground, and picked up a shirt for the black metal band Typhus; on the back it read, “Fuck Your God.” I loved that it got such a rise out of people; at this point I was living to be extreme, to incite and to provoke. I didn’t yet have the mature understandings of both music and my religion (Satanism) that I would gain when I transitioned into my 20s. All I knew was that this all felt like a giant middle finger to Christianity, to the status quo, and to the nowhere-dead-end town I felt trapped in, and I loved the feelings all that evoked within me.

I wouldn’t actually sit down and properly listen to classic heavy metal until my mid-20s, once I had calmed down a bit and begun truly appreciating metal – black metal included – for the music itself, rather than try and use music to give myself some sense of identity or feeling of rebellion. I had put my adolescence behind me and become a mature, more sophisticated lover of metal. So I continued to explore all the black metal I could find – a friend of mine was amazed at the time by the sheer amount of the genre I had in my iTunes library; I introduced him to Xasthur and Anaal Nathrakh, amongst so many, many others. But I was also sitting down and exploring, with attentive enthusiasm, albums from Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Slayer, and Pantera.

When I had turned 20, I moved to Chicago to live with a roommate. Prior to this, I was living in a very uncomfortable situation, having just gotten out of a homeless shelter and now living in a studio apartment with my mother; it was basically a converted motel room with no windows and a cockroach infestation. I was more than happy to leave those horrible living conditions behind, and I finally had my own room – my own private space to decorate with band posters, something I had missed out on during my teenage years. More importantly, I had my own time and space to explore music to my heart’s content, and I really did explore. I started using Last.fm, I checked out Metal Archives for the very first time, and I discovered bands that would grow to become absolute favorites (Agalloch and Lacuna Coil, amongst others).

I may not have had the path that so many of my fellow metalheads seemed to have taken – with ‘extreme metal’ being the very last thing they were exposed to, after all the other subgenres; in some cases, they never discovered or delved into black or death metal at all. For me, I’m glad that my journey played out the way that it did. I can be a bit stubborn or overly cautious when it comes to trying new things, and I don’t know that I would have felt the urge to listen to black metal if I had not discovered it unintentionally at a younger age, and if it had not left such an enormous impression upon me.

These days I listen to just about everything. Sure, there are some genres and artists that I simply cannot get into (I will never be a fan of Ghost, Rammstein, or Korn, and I do not apologize for it). But I listen to everything from black metal to sludge metal to folk metal to deathcore. I sometimes listen to classical music. Hell, I’ll even listen to the occasional pop punk or rap. Since 2019, I’ve run a reaction channel on YouTube, and being introduced to so much more music (in metal and beyond), it has certainly helped stoke the fire that was first ignited at the impressionable age of 14. Since then, I haven’t looked back.

The Devils In Your Details - Revised Introduction 4/21/23

 The article that follows is the Introduction section of my upcoming book, The Devils In Your Details. This is a revised version. More chapters and excerpts are coming soon.


     The most noteworthy thing about this book may be the unexceptional status of its author. Unlike writers who publish self-aggrandizing verbiage and trust in their fame to draw in readers, I’m neither a rock star nor a celebrity. I don’t hold any degrees in psychology or philosophy. I fully expect this book to be self-published and selling in numbers that fall short of the double digits. That one positive review you might see online would likely be written by one of my friends.

     There’s a simple aphorism, however, that merits this book’s existence: Writers write. In fact, when they don’t write, they get up to all sorts of self-destructive distractions. On the other hand, the reason behind this book is rooted in the outgrowth of a previous project I was involved with – a YouTube channel. Though the channel primarily focused on reactions to – and reviews of – metal and other music, somewhere along the way I began to discuss the meanings of the songs I would analyze, and that led to musings about life and how best to live it.

     Eventually, a few people commented with suggestions that I write a self-help book. Personally, I’ve always taken issue with that terminology; as the late great George Carlin once said, “If you’re looking for self-help, why would you read a book written by somebody else? That’s not self-help – that’s help.” And yet, proper nomenclature aside, I took the advice to heart.

     Ultimately, I wanted to craft something deeper than a simple “help” book. I wanted it to be equal parts advice and introspection. I knew that the latter of those two things must be driven by a certain humility, which I must demonstrate by admitting that even as I seek to advise and inspire others, I still have so much more to learn, as well.

     I realized that I had a multitude of philosophical thoughts and feelings on life and this world we live in, which I wanted to condense into something comprehensive; something centered around my personal outlook, yet with enough objectivity to balance the anecdotal and the tangential with the rational and the relatable. I wanted to write a book that would provide someone reading it with an actionable understanding of the world and society, albeit filtered through my own lens of moderate life experience and background.

     I believe that there are two ways in which we process the passage of time in relation to our own wellbeing: we strive continuously to better ourselves and our lives, or we go passively through the motions, only ever engaging in what’s fleeting, easy, and gratifying. I’d like to embody the first example – and I sometimes do – but I fall victim to the habits of the second all too often. We all do. Those two ways of being, after all, do not represent a dichotomy, and we operate in either category at various moments in our lives. But damn it, we would like to strive to do and be better, wouldn’t we? Actually, many would answer that question with a resounding, “no,” or perhaps they would outwardly say “yes,” but it would be a lie.

     We live in a time where people generally want what’s easy and temporary, rather than what’s difficult and lasting. People of power, wealth, and influence have long since caught on to this chink in the armor of human nature, and have capitalized on it with ensorcelling methods, particularly the apparatus of social media. This was yet another motivating factor in my decision to write this book. I want to properly elucidate how and why striving for a better life and a better self is so important, and I’m asking you to take that journey, page by page, with me. If you’ll forgive a bit of autobiographical self-indulgence, you’ll find that it’s tempered with demure introspection, humor, and insight that can be of benefit to myself as much as anyone else.

     From Carl Jung to comic books, Satanism to ‘Seitanism,’ and moral relativism to mimosas, I take no offense if this book is seen as a back-alley, discount version of your favorite New York Times bestseller, yet if it also proves to be a veritable bible for the alternative, countercultural layman, then my work will have proven to be of some consequence. It all comes down to what my words mean to you. I know what they mean to me – at least, I think I do. Somehow, I often find that when I put my views down on paper, I discover things about myself to which I was previously ignorant. That’s a large part of what this book is about: taking full accountability for oneself. Personal identity is a burgeoning efflorescence; a garden never quite fully cultivated, as there is always another seedling waiting to be hatched.

     If this abundance of words seems intimidating – or, for that matter, pretentious – rest assured that I never set out to write something bogged down by lecturing, riddled with personal agendas, or defined by self-righteous finger wagging. I want the views and ideas that follow to be challenged with careful reflection and consideration, counterbalanced by the personal views and understandings of each individual reader, and concluding with the affirmation that I’m not perfect and I don’t have all the answers. Like all of us, I’m just muddling through.

     I don’t want to sell you my version of life, nor would I want to encourage anyone to emulate my views or behavior just for the hell of it. Align yourself with what you read here only if it makes sense to you, and just as importantly, continue to press on even when some of my statements or opinions raise your hackles or set you on the backs of your heels. Question and examine that resistance, there might be some important lessons behind that feeling.

     Even as I write this, I have to address the possibility that, rather than be caught up in a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions, you may still be wondering why you should feel or contemplate anything in regard to what I have to say. Bereft of college degrees, lofty titles, or endorsement quotes on this book’s back cover, it’s easy to dismiss the words I put forward here. We’ve been trained to believe that celebrity, academia, and politics are the primary parameters within which knowledge and wisdom ought to be espoused in written form. Yet many members of each of these categories may be cloistered by their own myopia, unable to see beyond the blinders of their own cliques and echo chambers.

     Let’s not forget that for every Keith Richards, Richard Branson, Richard Dawkins, Obama, or Oprah, there’s someone out there with a name and face you don’t know who has a story to tell. It might be the homeless veteran on the street corner asking for change, or the man quietly birdwatching in the park. It could be the captain on your flight, or the woman cutting your hair. It could be the person you see looking back at you in the mirror, and that’s probably the best place to start. Everyone has a backstory, but few have the ability to tell it to a broad audience.

     Well, I’m no entrepreneur or television personality. I’ve been a pedestrian and a passerby; a peasant with an empty wallet, a sense of style, and strength of character, and I also just happen to be a writer. Why not direct such a talent toward a singular goal that has benefits not only for my own personal evolution, but that of others?

     So, I’m going to tell my story. If there’s some rule barring autobiographers who don’t fit a certain economic bracket, I’m breaking it. If the follower count on my social media platforms doesn’t justify my worth in the eyes of people who count such things on an imaginary abacus and sit in judgment, tough shit.

     As I swivel about in my office chair, looking in turns at my cat for moral support and my posters of Lemmy Kilmister and Cristina Scabbia for inspiration, I find myself recalling a moment that underscores the very point I was trying to make.

     It happened back in 2007. I was waiting for a bus on Union Valley Road, in the town of West Milford, New Jersey. The bus shelter I sat in was small and innocuous, and it was a Saturday, so one could expect it to be frequented by bored teenagers en route to the local mall, and older New York transplants ready to begin their commute to work. It was rainy and rather late in the day, so it was occupied by neither. I myself was on the way to visit some friends back in my hometown.

     Within minutes, a highly eccentric looking older man approached, having exited the nearby doughnut shop with his coffee in one hand. In his other was one of the most interesting canes I had ever seen. Its handle was shaped and painted to look like the head of some kind of bird, and there was some kind of floral print on its staff. The whole thing was colored a rich cherry mahogany. The man wasn’t so much leaning on it for support as he was letting the beak of the bird head rest on his wrist, so that the cane swung pendulously as he made his way to the bus shelter to sit down.

     Of the man’s physical appearance I don’t remember much, other than mid-length white hair and a bedraggled beard, and clothing that seemed new and well cared for. He also wore glasses with thick rims and yellow-tinted lenses; they rather reminded me of something Jeff Goldblum would have rocked back in the 90s. You can imagine how unexpected this all might seem in the “downtown” area of a middle-class New Jersey exurb at one o’clock in the afternoon, especially when he looked nothing like the average person you’d see in such a place at any time of day.

     I do recall that he wore a backpack adorned with various stickers and patches that seemed to represent a collection of travel souvenirs, bearing the names of different cities, states, countries, and attractions. I remember seeing Georgia, Montana, Niagara Falls, some kind of national park that seemed to be in a country below the equator (Los something or other), and some other place that I knew at the time was in the UK but which I now no longer remember. There were plenty of others that also evade my memory.

     After a few sips of coffee, he set the backpack on the ground at his feet, pulled from its main compartment a book whose name eludes me (though the hardcover tome was old, thick, and weatherworn), and began reading. He spared not so much as a glance in the direction of the eighteen-year-old goth/metalhead staring at him with total bemusement. I myself looked anything but average at the time, with my hair dyed white with silver-tipped bangs, black eyeliner, and large black-and-red pants inlaid with chains and studs. I chalk it up to my ego at the time, but looking back, I think I was insulted that, for once, I wasn’t the center of shock and attention.

     Eventually, bus 197 arrived and I boarded. As I took my seat and glanced out the window, I came to a surprising realization: the old man hadn’t gotten on the bus. That was the last I saw of him, as he continued to read his book while the only bus in town took off to its next destination. Somehow, that made him even more mysterious and fascinating in my mind. Why would such a man, clearly an out-of-towner, enter a bus shelter with no intent of going anywhere? Especially someone as clearly well traveled as his backpack indicated? Perhaps he was merely looking for someplace to sit and read, and the bus shelter provided the only reprieve from the spritzing rain. That seems the most likely explanation, yet as I sat aboard the 197 on the way to the next town, I don’t think I considered it. I was too intrigued by how starkly different that man had seemed, at a time when I respected and admired eccentricity and exceptionalism. (I still do.)

     Through the onset of gathering clouds and the beating of raindrops against the bus window, one thing pierced the overcast backdrop to my journey and became abundantly clear: that man had stories to tell.

     As do I.

     I want this to be more than the culmination of my travels and experiences, however. I want this to provide the impetus for your own journeys – particularly your internal ones; those that take place in the psyche and the spirit. I want to set you on a path where you feel glory, not shame, in looking into a mirror and spending a few moments admiring the contours of your face or the luster of your hair. Where you are self-confident enough to cast aside your machismo in the face of a hurtful situation and muster the courage to tell a person they hurt your feelings. Where you stand with a collective only when you know why and for what purpose, rather than because you’ve been told it’s “correct” or that everyone else is doing it.

     A path where you use one hand to welcome and embrace someone who treats you with love and encouragement, yet reserve your other, to be raised in firm opposition when people seek to assault your mental and spiritual wellness, or compound your insecurities with admonishments or backhanded compliments. Where picking yourself up when you fall is a frequent and welcomed responsibility, not a desperate last resort associated with being at rock bottom. Where you replace poor self-esteem with unconditional self-love, not thinly veiled narcissism.

     Yes, the prose can get a bit grandiose at times. Again, I will err on the side of relatability, not pomposity. I won’t make the case for any self or life improvement “just because.” I’ll provide real stories, examples, and fair and balanced rationales as to why it’s so important. This book isn’t intended to be dogmatic, but rather, pragmatic. The idea that life is something that one can immediately and extraordinarily rewrite and reshape is one rooted in romanticization and hubris. The idea that one can take steps to make substantial and valuable differences in one’s life is, on the other hand, practical.

     I can assure you that I hold myself to my own set of high standards, and any personal advice that follows will reflect those values. This also means that I’ll be dispensing with any impropriety when it comes to my personal stories and accounts. So, while everything I have to say here will be as honest and committed to memory as I can make it, the names of people will be changed in order to protect their privacy.

     As reassurance for anyone with doubts, I’ll detail my interactions with such people in a way that aims to communicate life lessons and nuggets of wisdom, not to tarnish reputations, drag folks from my past through the mud, or resurrect petty vendettas that were put to bed long ago. It’s my intent that any stories shared in this book prove truthful and constructive, not malicious or libelous, and it’s my sincerest hope that any shades of subjectivity that may color such anecdotes are seen for what they are, and not cast in a negative light by anyone reading this who might take umbrage with certain portrayals or characterizations.

     And of course, not all of my stories will be summaries of bad circumstances, bad people, or bad things. It just so happens that I believe a bad time reinforces personal growth, whereas a few too many good times navigate circuitously around such growth. This isn’t always the case, but wherever lessons were learned and moments of development were seized and valued, there are stories to be told. Even in dark times. After all, any writer worth his salt knows that conflict makes for good stories, and this holds just as true for non-fiction.

     There will, however, be a great deal of space given over to positive and life-building experiences, and to tie it all together, a conclusion reached as to why the good, bad, and morally gray all play a role in shaping and informing who we are, and how coming to terms with these things can send us on a destiny run toward who we have the potential to be.

     You may know about the Chinese military treatise The Art of War. Unlike its author Sun Tzu, I’m only a writer and not a fighter, but I’m here to tell you that self-empowerment is an art of its very own, much as is writing itself. Artists bear the exhilarating burden of being both Dr. Frankenstein and the monster. We create and recreate new versions of ourselves each time we take steps to grow and evolve, but we often grapple with the very personal demons that we ourselves contrive. The silver lining to this hard truth is that we have the potential to control, and – if necessary – rein in the versions of ourselves that we create. We can revel in the beast we unleash from within, or, as the doctor did in the story of Frankenstein, we can retreat into Mont Blanc out of shame and fear, unwilling to accept our true selves. Both the power and the burden lie simultaneously within us.

     I’ll conclude by stating that it’s my purest and paramount hope that people read this book, despite the obscurity of its author. It’s my understanding that the value of life must not solely be expressed in quantities of money, popularity, or influence, but rather, fundamental understanding, knowledge, wisdom, and feeling. Discussion of life should include those voices that exist on the margins of main stages and bright spotlights, and on the side streets and alleys, where perhaps names and accomplishments are less widely known, but are sometimes equally significant to those in the top one percent of society.

     The steps to strength and success, after all, are built neither in lofty towers of wealth and greed, nor in bitter basements where visions are never shared, feelings are never expressed, and ideals are never strived for. As with most things in life, the tone of empowerment is struck not on polarized ends of a spectrum, but somewhere in between.

     You must ask yourself, however, if you prefer the illusion of power, or the true power that dwells within oneself, waiting to be stirred up in a hurricane-like fury and brought to the surface, made manifest in all its fearsome glory. If you’re searching for the former, you may set this book aside and resume your addiction to the fickle, inconsequential chump change offered by social media. If you seek the latter, keep on reading.

     To borrow and utterly alter a quote from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, “We ought to seek happiness in tranquility, but never, ever avoid ambition.”