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Defining metal culture

Defining metal culture
October 09, 2006, 02:37:53 PM
This won't be an easy thread.

In order to understand why metalheads don’t like to see non-metalheads wearing metal shirts, it’s first necessary to understand the nature of the metal community.

Within the metal scene, there are known, if unspoken rules that govern T-shirts. Let’s say you’re going to see Slayer. Within the regular rock scene, it’s sometimes frowned upon to wear the T-shirt of the band you’re going to see. Not in metal. You can certainly wear a Slayer shirt to a Slayer show – the older it is, the better, of course. If you’re wearing a shirt from their 1986 tour, you’re marking yourself as hardcore. This might actually gain you respect within the crowd. Buying a T-shirt on your way in the door, and immediately putting it on, is kinda lame, though. You have other options, too. I’ll list them in descending order of metal-ness. First, you can prove yourself a master of arcana, by wearing a T-shirt promoting, say, Grip Inc., which is one of drummer Dave Lombardo’s solo projects. If you don’t want to do that, you can wear a T-shirt advertising some other metal band, thus demonstrating allegiance to metal in general. If you’re going to do this, you can gain status by endorsing an obscure but well-regarded band, like Eyehategod or Enslaved. Finally, the lowest thing you can do is wear a shirt that’s not in any way related to metal – one that advertises beer, or the pizza place you drive for when you’re not at shows, or whatever. Most metalheads would say this demonstrates an insufficient commitment to the music.

Listeners who grew up in the indie rock scene should make sure to note the total lack of irony. Metal’s greatest virtue is that it’s an irony-free zone. This doesn’t mean it’s humorless – metalheads can laugh at themselves, and at their favorite bands. Manowar is a perfect example of this. But within the metal community, wearing a band’s T-shirt implies that you actually like that band.


Metal is a folk music. It unites a community, expresses that community’s values to itself and represents them to the outside world, and it passes those values and core philosophical concepts on to successive generations of metalheads. Because of this, metal builds canons, and who’s locked out is almost more important than who gets in. Once you’re in, though, you’re in for life, and there’s a direct link between the huge stars and the acts coming up from the underground. In Joe Carducci’s Rock and the Pop Narcotic, he explained it like this:

“The metal underground is far better connected to the metal mainstream because like black and country forms, it is isolated by pop programmers which tends to internally integrate the genre’s scope.”

Once your band’s been cast into the ghetto of Headbanger’s Ball, you discover all kinds of commonalities with acts you might otherwise have ignored, or scorned. Successful metal bands take up-and-comers on the road with them, even when they may not seem, to non-metalhead observers, like an ideal fit – Carducci provided the example of Van Halen hiring Alice In Chains as their opening act, but Mötley Crüe took Anthrax and Megadeth on the road, and Ozzy brought Metallica out on their first major national tour. And speaking of Ozzy, the Ozzfest has done this kind of midwifing on a massive scale for the last ten years. The 2004 Ozzfest lineup featured Lamb Of God, Slayer, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath – three distinct generations of musicians, all supporting one another.

No different from hip-hop, reggae or rai, metal is the voice of a minority. The metal audience is primarily white and working-class men, though the music’s popularity among Latinos is growing rapidly, both through immigration and cultural assimilation. Guys who fix cars or load trucks or stock store shelves for a living need a soundtrack to their lives. They need a music that explains their place in the world to them, even if it’s not good news they’re getting. Metal is psychological armor, a bulwark between metalheads and a hostile world. This is why classic metal songs typically address one of a few major topics: the hero’s journey, the brotherhood of metal, a cathartic poetry of violence, or a particularly class-conscious politics. Yes, metal had a burst of hedonism in the mid to late 1980s, but the bands that abandoned metal’s core values in order to become good-time party acts generally attracted a non-metal audience. Again we return to Rock And The Pop Narcotic, in which Carducci writes,

“The teen male metal audience makes an important distinction between party bands and serious bands. Serious metal bands cede very little to the social world (girls, sex, partying). They detail the arena, as it were; the world one makes his way through, fate, the void – you know, big cool boyish things. Black Sabbath, Rush, Metallica, Alice In Chains are quintessential serious bands; Rolling Stones, Van Halen, Kiss, Aerosmith are party bands.”

The metal bands that climbed the charts in the late 1980s – Bon Jovi, Skid Row, Warrant, Winger, etc. – did so largely by turning their backs on the subject matter detailed in the songs of Black Sabbath and Metallica, and instead chronicling love and loss like every other pop act. The only song I can think of from any of these acts that seems, in retrospect, like an angsty male-oriented metal anthem is Skid Row’s “18 & Life,” and even that’s closer in spirit to the teen-tragedy subgenre of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll – it’s more “Teen Angel” than “Fade To Black.”

In Harris Berger’s book Metal, Rock and Jazz: Perception and the Phenomenology Of Musical Experience, he discusses the fan’s search for guidance through music, but he doesn’t quite get where he starts out to go. Berger asserts, in my view incorrectly, that the politics of metal are primarily inadvertent. He writes that

“While the mostly working-class death metal fans are largely apolitical and could be in no way understood as standard-bearers for class consciousness, they are also sharply aware of the frustrations that everyday life brings to working people.”

Later in the book, he writes,

“In a world with little hope for social change, in a world where class is occluded, the liberating emotional exploration of death metal performances serves genuine needs. And it is not merely the case that metal offers short-term emotional utility at the expense of a long-term obfuscation of class consciousness; anything that helps to liberate the individual might turn out to have progressive consequences.” - well-meaning blogger

The idealogy of the music is very romantic which means it is a praise of imagination, emotion and fantasy. Another central theme heavy metal obsessed apon is chaos which involves mental illness, confusion, war, hell demons and what not. Bands go at this theme to find excitement within it or deep personal and emotional involvement or it can be the band reflecting on the human condition from the outside. Finally, the prime reason of its controversy is its anti-Jeudo Christian imagery and themes like Satan, hell and evil. Like written earlier, metal bands make songs about evil because it goes back to chaos. Also, Jeudo-Chrisitanity is the very foundation of Western civilization and making negative (or anti) songs about it means it is the ultimate rebellion. She further explains why they make songs about evil to question society what is really profane. Yes, but there are still bands who use satanic imagery simply as a gimmick to look rebellious or simply just having fun being offensive. There are some themes of hedonism themes (sex, drugs, rock & roll etc) as praise or sometimes negative criticism. And some metal bands do start bands to blow off teen angst just like any other type of rock music. But the difference is, heavy metal is against the idea of rebellion to be cool and hip. So, understand there is more to heavy metal music than the old, tired "kill your mother/rape your dog" stereotypes. - Another People's Dictionary

See, the problem with heavy metal is that it does not lend itself well to Left-Wing causes. Libertarian causes are okay, but Lefty, wuss causes don't translate well.

I mean, as soon as some 'metal' band takes on a Lefty cause they look like idiots.

So, all they really have left is Fun, Oppression a la Libertarian sentiments, Racist subculture crap or Folklore.

Is this why metal r000lz so completely? - sharper hipper blogger


TK: Heavy metal is a philosophy and a way of life. Heavy metals states that there are a lot of harsh realities in the world and the way to deal with them is to confront them. Through facing these brutal truths we can triumph over them. Every heavy metal song has gruff vocals that represent the harshness of life and the exultant guitar solo represents triumph over adversity. - athlete

Re: Defining metal culture
October 09, 2006, 03:08:20 PM
They started talking about their teenage years as fans of heavy metal and were surprised at the similarities between their experiences. This resulted in the exhibition "God Bless the Children of the Beast" at Tensta konsthall in the fall of '98.

Here heavy metal was presented from an anthropological perspective with an ironic twist. The species Heavy Metal Fan is described as a singularly exotic people whose culture must be explained and accounted for scientifically. This practice of selection and classification is by tradition the method of the museum. The role model for this particular exhibition was Naturhistoriska museet in Stockholm from which a salt pile was conceptually transported to the exhibition in Tensta and, of course, took on a completely different meaning in light of heavy metal's flirt with drugs.

"God Bless the Children of the Beast" also includes another theme that has more to do with being a teenager on the countryside than with the heavy metal culture itself. This aspect of the exhibition seems to examine the quest for the substance that nurtures the dream of freedom, leaving that small town existence far behind - about longing for something "heavier". Maybe this energy was channeled through the pains and persistence it took to make cool covers for heavy metal cassettes, or turn the volume up on that amplifier, to learn all the texts by heart, or know all the names of all the band members and all the minute details of their personal lives?

At any rate, in "God Bless the Children of the Beast" Johan Zetterquist and Marc Swanson not only visualize what seems characteristic for every fan of heavy metal but that which is fundamental for every teen; to belong to a group, a community, to have a navigation map. The heavy metal phenomenon lives up to all these criteria and more; music, lifestyle, fashion, geographic places, and to top it off there is even a relationship to satanic powers. And if none of this exists in Värmland, New Hampshire or some other remote corner of the world, well, then you just have to make sure you make it happen yourself. Rock on. - artfags

I agree with that assessment, though something in the comment strikes a chord within my conception of the metal community: many authors of metal albums are more "artists" than "musicians," even though most would vehemently deny it. Metal music is far more dedicated to creating an atmosphere, an encompassing experience, than any other genre of music, save possibly classical. The trance music experience rivals the totality of heavy metal's, but relies greatly on environmental conditions to reinforce it, such as a club setting. (This is not to say metal is not just as social as trance music! But that's another diatribe.)

While many metal bands proudly exalt themes of death and destruction, there exists in metal a higher eschelon of artists, whose lyrical messages are profoundly positive. The motivation for the traditional thrill bands--such as Cannibal Corpse, Necrophagist, Cattle Decapitation, or even Slayer, who, as their names surely reveal, dwell upon the aforementioned widely-held-to-be-unpleasant topics--to promote such themes is a rebellion against the status quo, as already stated by lexis2praxis. It is also the exploitation of a niche market, and thrives in its cult atmosphere, consciously promoting its own limited popularity. This attempt at withholding knowledge of what's fashionable from those outside of a given subculture is common, especially among adolescent groups, who are often the targets of much corporate advertising in the newly-corporately-endorsed metal market.

The transcendent metal bands, though, that expound independence, clarity, perseverance, and above all, philosophical enlightenment, are the truly interesting pieces of the puzzle here. - blog geek munching on foreskin

1958: Link Wray's ``Rumble,'' first instrumental censored from radio

1964: William Burroughs' ``Nova Express'': first use of the term ``heavy metal''?

1968: Steppenwolf's ``Born to Be Wild'': ``heavy-metal thunder''

1968: San Francisco's Blue Cheer hits Top 40 with heavy-metal cover of ``Summertime Blues''

1968: Beatles vow to be louder than the Who with ``Helter Skelter''; song later inspires Charles Manson

1968: Iron Butterfly's 17-minute ``In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida''

1970: Black Sabbath debuts
- dieting journalists starve brain

Walser further elaborates that a power chord "is a musical interval of a perfect fourth or fifth on a heavily amplified and distorted electric guitar," which can be percussive and rhythmic or indefinitely sustained. It's a complex sound, "made up of resultant tones and overtones, constantly renewed and energized by feedback . . . the power chord seems simple and crude, but it is dependent upon sophisticated technology, precise tuning, and skillful control. Its overdriven sound evokes excess and transgression but also stability, permanence, and harmony." Technology also made feasible a heavy bottom by amplifying bass drums and heavier bass guitar.
Walser dissects the anatomy of a power chord, which is the frequency that is the difference between the frequencies of the main tones, which are often lower than the guitar can normally produce. Power chords produce powerful signals below the actual pitches being sent to the amplifier, while at the same time, distortion produces a more complex waveform that produces higher harmonics. Sustain, distortion, and the resultant heavy tones are crucial the heavy metal's sound. Understanding the seven modes of music that were borrowed from the ancient Greek theoretical system with scales named after cities and ethnic groups will help to make sense of the differences in genres also. Most pop songs are Ionian or Mixolydian, while heavy metal is Aeolian or Dorian, and thrash is Phrygian or Locrian. Deep Purple's famous beginning "Smoke On The Water" riff is in Aeolian, or blues mode. In Ionian it sounds like a Pat Boone cover; in Phrygian it sounds like Megadeth. Walser doesn't use classical harmonic theory to make claims that heavy metal is highbrow. But rather it's necessary to study the music, which in reality is often quite complex, and rooted in classical.

Using the analytical tools of mode, harmony, timbre, rhythm, melody and solos, Walser deconstructs Van Halen's "Runnin' With the Devil," and later discusses the virtuosity of the ground-breaking classical influences in Ritchie Blackmore, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads and Yngwie Malmsteen. Malmsteen processes Paganini, Bach, Beethoven and Vivaldi, and produces some astounding technical guitarwork. His unrivaled ego reaches Spinal Tap proportions, as he claims he isn't playing heavy metal, as no one else is worthy to be compared to him. Walser admits that virtuosity and individuality such as Malmsteen's, with his rigid regimen of solitary practice, can lead little room for communal music making. In the end, Mangosteen's music suffers for it, as it becomes boring and doesn't evolve, because it's all flash over feel and speed over songs. But there remains a small niche for this sort of avant-garde, mainly instrumental metal, with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani being the most well known proponents.
Yet what could have been a creative watershed was squandered, arguably, by the distractions created by increasingly serious transgressions. Numerous church burnings started cropping up, and Varg Vikernes was arrested as one of the original suspects. Stave churches were the main target because of their easily burned wooden structures, and their symbol of Christianity being forced upon Scandinavia. Many were built soon after the arrival of Christianity in Norway around 1000 C.E. Meanwhile, Per Yngve "Dead" Ohlin, vocalist for Mayhem, shot himself in the head with a shotgun. Drama reached a peak when Bard "Faust" Eithun, former drummer for Emperor, randomly stabbed a gay stranger to death, and Varg Vikernes stabbed his former friend Euronymous to death. For about 130 pages, the book abandons any information about the music, and exhaustively interviews nearly everyone in the scene about the crimes and murders. It's maddeningly confusing when it switches between the participants' real names and their pseudonyms. In the end, the overall impression is that despite Norway being a very affluent country with a stable social democratic system, there are still plenty of stupid, disaffected youth. The handful of people mentioned above espoused a very childish, wrongheaded idea of Satanism and paganism that revealed a lack of education and understanding of the history of either area. Simen Midgaard, founder of the Oslo branch of the Ordo Templi Orientis, the occult order of Aleister Crowly in 1984 (and resigned in 1993), addressed their conflicting ideas of Medieval style Satanism with a heathen worldview:

    I don't think they understand very much, in general! Satan is a Judeo-Christian person, and if they are going to get rid of Judeo-Christianity, they will have to get rid of Satan as well... He is a sort of Trotsky in the revolution, when it comes down to it. Satan is useful in the Christian world. It's a point to consider, because it's logical -- if you are going to be consequently anti-Christian, then is Satan just a mediating figure?

It seems that the Protestant Norwegian State Church was chosen simply by default, for the lack of any other obvious targets. It's a fairly liberal church, hardly as intrusive as Christian Fundamentalism is in the United States in national politics and individual civil liberties. Only 2-3% of the Norwegian population are actually involved in regular church services. While Varg Vikernes's rantings often veered into racism and fascism, few people even in the black metal scene shared those views. Pal Mathieson, a Christian writer on theological issues for Morgenbladet was confident that Satanism would not last, or at least evolve into something else, because "Destruction doesn't give anything back. It kind of wears itself out, because what do you get back from thinking or being like that?"

Mathieson may be right. A number of black metal bands like Enslaved and Einherjar have completely abandoned Satanism to focus solely towards atavism. They explore Nordic heathen cosmology such as the folklore of the Oskorei, and Odinic deathcult that believed an army of dead swoops down and occasionally whisks away unlucky people. Even Vikernes is studying up on Norse gods and tribal practices in prison, when he's not trying to cultivate a Charles Manson-like persona. Those who remain Satanists are more like Ihsahn of Emperor, who's ideas are less childish and more in line with LaVey's brand, and more like a Byronic aesthete. some goof

"Death Metal Tonality and the Act of Listening" by Harris M. Berger. Popular Music 18 (2):161-179. 1999.
        This paper suggests that musical perception is a kind of social practice and explores the sonic experiences of death metal musicians in Akron, Ohio as a case study.  Grounded in Anthony Giddens's practice theory, the paper shows how the musician's perception of tonality is actively achieved, and, at the same time, profoundly informed by their larger social contexts.  Building on Edmund Husserl's phenomenology, tonality is depicted as an outcome of the listener's organization of the living present in sound perception.  The paper concludes by suggesting the relevance of perceptual practice for political issues in popular music studies.

Re: Defining metal culture
October 09, 2006, 03:40:08 PM
Parallels in the Incorporation of Classical Music Into Rock and Heavy Metal

Further, in reaction to the "peace and love" hippie culture of the 1960s, heavy metal developed as a counterculture, where light is supplanted by darkness, and the happy ending of pop is replaced by the naked reality that things do not always work out in this world. Whilst fans claim that the medium of darkness is not the message, critics have accused the genre of glorifying the negative aspects of reality.

The appropriation of classical music by heavy metal typically includes the influence of Bach and Paganini rather than Mozart or Franz Liszt. Though Deep Purple/Rainbow guitarist Ritchie Blackmore had been experimenting with musical figurations borrowed from classical music since the early 1970s, Edward Van Halen's solo cadenza "Eruption" (released on Van Halen's first album in 1978) marks an important moment in the development of virtuosity in metal. Following Van Halen, the "classical" influence in metal guitar during the 1980s actually looked to the early eigtheenth century for its model of speed and technique. Indeed, the late Baroque era of western art music was ... frequently interpreted through a gothic lens. For example, "Mr. Crowley," (1981) by Ozzy Osbourne and guitarist Randy Rhoads, uses both a pipe organ-like synthesizer and Baroque-inspired guitar solos to create a particular mood for Osbourne's lyrics on the legendary occultist Aleister Crowley. Like many other metal guitarists in the 1980s, Rhoads quite earnestly took up the "learned" study of musical theory and helped to solidify the minor industry of guitar pedagogy magazines (such as Guitar for the Practicing Musician) that grew up during the decade. - addled academics

My questions are:

1. Can we establish a culture for heavy metal? It seems to me we can, although it isn't a static one. It has been in the process of being born for three decades, and has slowly gotten more explicit about its values.

2. If this culture exists, can we use it to designate some bands important and others hangers-on? The hangers-on by definition imitate, but don't "get it," and we wouldn't want to incorporate their random opinions into our study.

3. Could heavy metal's recent decline be a result of having lost touch with its culture?

4. If there are parallels to other artistic movements, do these have something philosophical to suggest to our society?

Re: Defining metal culture
October 10, 2006, 03:38:30 PM
None of the brave metal warriors want to help define metal culture... well, so be it.

Re: Defining metal culture
October 10, 2006, 06:57:17 PM
What to say ?

You made a perfect definition for Metal as you, and other specialist, was seing it ?

I never, in my life, asked me so much question about it.

For me, Metal is a Romantic Art, the same as some peotry can be, or Romantic classical music can be, or as anything else...

It's not, for me, a culture, but more a part of one. A modern romantic art.

Re: Defining metal culture
October 10, 2006, 07:16:30 PM
Perhaps metal's greatest role could have been in overcoming culture-distortion and recapturing heritage; to do this, however, it would have to transcend itself.

After a boat was used to cross a stream, would a man proceed to carry it with him on the opposite shore?

...On the other hand, perhaps it could remain steadfast, and continue to act, as it has, in the form of a portal of sorts. Such a balancing act would require a greater unstandering of its own function, however. Using such a rubric, it may be possible to assess which bands did indeed blaze a path in the right direction.

Re: Defining metal culture
October 11, 2006, 12:15:13 PM
Maybe Heavy Metal is sort of a ''bomb''. We can use it to destroy the ''wall'' of the modern culture, but in the process, it would make itself blow...

If we act toward greater action, greater music, etc., we will go toward poetry more than toward metal lyrics, we will go toward ancient theater more than toward metal gig, and finally, we will go toward classical music more than metal music...

Re: Defining metal culture
October 12, 2006, 01:16:23 AM
Maybe Heavy Metal is sort of a ''bomb''. We can use it to destroy the ''wall'' of the modern culture, but in the process, it would make itself blow...

If we act toward greater action, greater music, etc., we will go toward poetry more than toward metal lyrics, we will go toward ancient theater more than toward metal gig, and finally, we will go toward classical music more than metal music...

Classical? Classical, Romantic, Baroque or what?

Classical was a movement focused on making it easy to listen to and available to the rising middle class.

In that sense perhaps Metal is already more "classical".

Re: Defining metal culture
October 12, 2006, 09:29:25 AM
Classical, the whole genre from medieval to modern classical music. I put medieval since we don't really know how the music of ancient grece was...

Re: Defining metal culture
October 14, 2006, 10:56:21 PM
you should know by now if someone says classical they will be talking about the combined genres unless they state otherwise (or you take it for a course)

Re: Defining metal culture
October 17, 2006, 10:23:33 PM
Metal Culture :

generally extremist

psychologically damaged( with refusal to admit)

interest in other fringe subjests / arts

drugs (primarily alcohol, with marijuana a close second, followed by heroin. coke, speed , k, etc)



bravery and honesty (you can almost hear the power metal choruses with this)

and other stuff : beer, sex, satan, militray history, cultures, magic, alternative lifestyles,racism, nationalism, fast rough cars, blah blah blah

not to mention : egos. elitist point of views
and anal retentive attention to metal detail

Re: Defining metal culture
October 18, 2006, 05:42:44 AM
Heavy metal culture is dead. I suspected it for awhile and from the responses I've gotten on this board confirmed it. Only posers and crowdists are left. Whatever hessian culture was is exclusively for archivists and historians to discuss.

The brightest and the best minds have no more spirit or hope inside. The true spirit of heavy metal has worth still, only on an individual level. It is still a formidible weapon for personal use, a great antidote to materialism and cultural decay happening in mainstream life.

I think most of us who listen to it would be considered mentally ill by psychiatric community: schizoid/schizotypal personalities, antisocial personality, obsessive compulsive disorder, narcissicm, manic depression, overeating. Only soulless crowdism individuals would use alcohol or drugs.

Re: Defining metal culture
October 19, 2006, 10:59:45 PM
Society's decay ---agreed
materialist/ capiltalist causes -- agreed
heavy metal culture dead - NO WAY !!!!

yeah its harder to find real metal heads now.....and all our cultural ietms are now a fad.........but the fact remains............there's some real fukin brillinat young metal kids out there (as musicians and conossiuers)...its just that they are ususlaly outnumbered hundred to one by the mall/chain wallet /core crowd......

plus what of the old school guard (which i guess includes you....mr. rwja..but i dunno u ....and me) who were a part of a rather different scene from the late eighties to late 90's............

so there is hope

you were right quick on that...o Hessian

yeah...these mind altering substances are soo bad...and you are straight edger hessian (i didnt even know there was such a thing)...dude each to his own poison.....

dude, i got into metal beacuse it clicked on a level nothing else ever did..........

and you can go all "aheemm...haw..humm" and snobbish but the fact remains...
the pedestrian hobbies and cultural aspects of metal that i have so naively and honestlt listed are very much a reality

maybe you have transcended all this but i havent and niether have my heroes.........
for eg: 80 -90 % of the musicians that actually make the music you are usually orgasming over

i'd rather have metal as a part of the ordinary man's culture  then as a part of a arsitrocratic culture (we already have western classical to cater to that particular anus)

Re: Defining metal culture
October 20, 2006, 05:08:35 AM
Shit, I was just messing around. Of course metal culture will not die. A multicultural, materialistic, Judeochristian dominated society needs to have a true dark potent force like metal to oppose it. You have to really be a stubborn steadfast fuck to deny there are not many talented young white men continuing in the hessian tradition and playing some kick ass metal. And I'm relatively young, just 21 years of age myself. ROCK ON MY METAL BRETHREN!  ;)


Re: Defining metal culture
October 20, 2006, 05:15:22 AM
None of the brave metal warriors want to help define metal culture... well, so be it.

That image says what words cannot.