Sound of Metal: Telling the story of a musician through the bands' t-shirts.

Posted by Jean T. Noir on

Sound of Metal, a story of Ruben and a story of all that he has lost.

Suddenly silence, no noise. Not a sound. Not the hum of the coffee machine, not the hiss of the Juicers as you go about your morning rituals.

An inexplicable and sudden tragedy radically revolutionizes the entire existence of Ruben (Riz Ahmed), drummer and one half of the metal duo Backgammon; Ruben discovers that he has almost completely lost his hearing, and there is little chance he will be able to keep what little ability to hear he has left.

For Ruben this is like a death sentence. Deprived of the founding pivot of his existence, music, the essential glue that binds his girlfriend Lou, the second half of the Metal duo, to him is also missing.

The new reality, in fact, forces the two to abandon the Cv and the concert tour they were embarking on, leading Ruben to fall back on a community of deaf-mutes while Lou returns to his own wealthy family.

"Sound of Metal", an Amazon production directed by Darius Marder and with a strongly autobiographical subject by Derek Cianfrance, is a full-length film that throws us into a largely unexplored 80s/90s punk and hardcore scene whose bands are little known. The moments of the film are marked in an unusual and original way, extraordinarily contextual to the topic of this blog: the t-shirts.

Below is a roundup of the most iconic t-shirts featured in the movie.

Ruben is a recovering drug addict

Sound of Metal - Ruben is a recovering drug addict - Hoodie Youth of Today "Positive Outlook"

Hoodie Youth of Today "Positive Outlook"

Ruben is wearing the Youth of Today "Positive Outlook" hoodie when it is revealed that he is a former drug addict, shortly before he lost his hearing.

This detail is very peculiar, considering that Youth of Today is one of the so-called straight edge (abbreviated as sXe) bands: one of the most well-known vegan groups in the hardcore community, whose formation dates back to 1985 in Danbury, Connecticut. Finding out that Ruben is not only struggling with sudden hearing loss, but also with addiction issues gives more weight to the placement of this sweatshirt at this particular moment in the film.

Ruben meets Joe for the first time

Sound of Metal - Ruben meet Joe - Rudimentary Peni T shirt

T-Shirt Rudimentary Peni

Deafness has just set in, Ruben begins to realize that his life will never be the same. Lou introduces him to Jo (Paul Raci) in the rural self-managed deaf recovery community.

Here Ruben is wearing a Rudimentary Peni t-shirt; the album is 1988's Cacophony. At this moment, Ruben is distraught, experiencing a series of conflicting feelings of hatred towards his girlfriend who abandoned him, hatred towards the community, and rejection of his own condition.

For those unfamiliar with 1980s British anarcho-punk bands, Rudimentary Peni is an abrasive and macabre band led by guitarist and lyricist Nick Blinko, who has helped shape the world of punk, hardcore and even metal over the past 40 years with his semi-autobiographical lyrics dealing with times ranging from British and foreign politics to the psychological problems Blinko has faced throughout his life, including his schizoaffective disorder. In this sense, one notices symmetries between Ruben's confused behavior and the life conduct of band leader Nick Blinko.

Lou sends Ruben to therapy

Sound of Metal - Lou sends Ruben to therapy - Motörhead T shirt

T-Shirt Motörhead

At this moment in the film it is Lou (Olivia Cooke) who is wearing an interesting shirt. The moment is when Lou persuades Ruben that he needs to undergo therapy to come to terms with his deafness and rehabilitate himself for a normal future.

The t-shirt is an Arabic version of the iconic "England" t-shirt by Motörhead. Many variations of this t-shirt have been made over the years, this one is very unique as the band's name is in Arabic but the lyrics "England" are in English.

The parallel between the t-shirt worn and the moment in the film is unclear. It could simply be a tribute to bassist, singer and cultural icon, Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister who passed away a few years ago and was a member of one of the most influential bands of all time.

Ruben is a volunteer in Diane's class.

Sound of Metal -Ruben is a volunteer in Diane's class - Gism T shirt

T-Shirt GISM

Ruben works as a volunteer in Diane's (Lauren Ridloff) classroom, assisting the teacher in conducting music-related recreational activities. At this point in the film, there is a stark contrast between the well-behaved students in their school uniforms and the disheveled, down-and-out drummer wearing a pair of boots, ripped jeans, and an old, faded, threadbare shirt.

GISM in fact stands for everything from Guerrilla Incendiary Sabotage Mutineer to God In The Schizoid Mind to Grand Imperialism Social Murder, they have remained one of the most controversial bands in the international punk, hardcore and metal scene.

Ruben's image at the time and the parallel with GISM, a punk and hardcore band formed in Tokyo in 1981 is quite evident. Certainly the feeling of contrast between Ruben's emotional state and that of the students is very tangible.

Ruben prepares for surgery

Sound of Metal - Ruben prepares you to surgery - Einstürzende Neubauten T shirt

T-Shirt Einstrürzende Neubauten

Considering what's happening to Ruben at this point in the film, Einstrürzende Neubauten's Collapsing New Builds makes absolute sense here.

Ruben is about to undergo surgery for a cochlear implant (which creates a tinny, distorted, unnatural sound), which again is a great way to describe the music of the band whose T-shirt was chosen.

The German experimental music group Einstrürzende Neubauten, has been a staple of the industrial and noise genres since its formation in West Berlin in 1980. The group's sounds are perfectly symmetrical with Ruben's new reality, made of metallic, distorted and disturbing sounds: unconventional soundscapes made with instruments mostly made with industrial tools are the new sound carpet on which Ruben's life will unfold.

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