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Academic library stockpiles metal for future study

November 27, 2013 –

historical_music_collection_at_university_of_texas-smallDr. David Hunter is a music librarian at the University of Texas in Austin. As part of his work curating the Historical Music Recordings collection, Dr. Hunter stockpiles heavy metal for future academics to study.

Since 2007, metalheads have been sending metal albums and zines to the library as part of an attempt to inform academia further about heavy metal and the associated genres of death metal, black metal, speed metal, grindcore, doom metal and thrash.

Dr. Hunter writes on musicology and historical topics in music and has published articles in academic journals since 1985. His book, Opera and song books published in England, 1703-1726: a descriptive bibliography (1997) and articles in the Grove Music Online musical dictionary and Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart attest to his credentials as a writer.

If you want to help Dr. Hunter and the Historical Music Recordings collection at the University of Texas, send him some metal:


Dr. David Hunter
Fine Arts Library (DFA 3.200)
University of Texas Libraries (S5437)
2306 Trinity Street
Austin, TX 78712
USA

Office: (512) 495-4475
Fax: (512) 495-4490
Library: (512) 495-4481
david.hunter@mail.utexas.edu

Heavy metal study purports to identify psychological traits of metalheads

November 13, 2013 –

typical_metalheadHere’s the fundamental problem with metal: it’s outsider music. We don’t play by the socially mediated rules that control most of society.

In our society, in particular, these rules are created and enforced through self-image. Want to appear to be a good person? Follow the rules. When you step outside of that, two problems occur.

First, the rest of the herd doesn’t trust you. Second, the people around you may be drawn to you not because of what you do, but because they want no rules. Those who object to some rules join those who reject all rules.

However, this means that you’re valuable. Because you don’t obey the rules, and because rules produce resentments, people want to take what you have and use it for their own purposes.

Specifically, they’re either going to use you as an example of what goes wrong when you don’t follow the rules (subtext: follow the rules, citizen) or they’re going to try to use your “cachet of authentic rebellion” to dress up their bog-standard product so people can feel “edgy” without actually taking any risk.

From the first category, a new study purports to list psychological characteristics of metalheads:

By matching music preference to the personality traits, Professor Swami found that ‘openness to experience’ was a major factor in enjoying heavy metal.

Perhaps more surprising however, was the fact that those with a strong preference for metal were more likely to have lower self-esteem.

Metal heads also had a higher-than-average need for uniqueness, and lower-than-average levels of religiosity.

‘It is possible that this association is driven by underlying attitudes towards authority, which may include religious authorities,’ said the authors of the study.

If this study is like other scientific studies, it’s a laboratory analysis. That means that it is designed to prove a point by using factors that wouldn’t apply in the world. It anticipates an audience for this point of view, meaning that they already agree with it.

For example, this study came from giving a form to fill out to 400 people who had to listen to 10 heavy metal tracks. Usually this means people who needed money paid out by researchers.

Further, we have no idea what the questions were like. For example, a second study found that:

A separate study by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh found that lovers of heavy metal and classical music have very similar personality traits.

Unlike the Westminster University study, it found that both types tend to be creative, at ease with themselves and introverted.

If self-esteem is measured by extroversion, then introverted people won’t score highly on it.

Furthermore, The Downing/Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that smart people underestimate their abilities, a trait that could be confused with low self-esteem.

My own experience of metalheads is that, much as Black Sabbath wanted to rain darkness and horror upon the “all you need is love” hippie movement, metalheads are realists who distrust the social proposition that social propositions like pacifism, tolerance, love, individualism and buying stuff at Wal-mart will solve our problems.

Society’s social people offer us the idea of Utopia, of a world of love and trust, of peace and equality where everyone’s quirks are tolerated, but metal shows us the darker side of reality where war is our destiny, there is no peace, people are not just judged but ranked by their abilities and degree of realistic behavior, and nothing is tolerated except to be manipulated. It’s the grim realist camp.

On the other hand, metal posits an “other side” to these realizations. When one accepts the nature of reality, one no longer must put up with the obligatory praising of everyone and approval of everything. If metal is a literary character, it’s Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy (as well as his eventual wife, Elizabeth Bennett, who notes in one poignant scene that neither of them perform — a metaphor for act toward social approval — for others).

For these reasons, I wouldn’t get worked up about this study. It’s not nonsense, merely a selective sampling and interpretation. For all we know, they found 400 college students and took out the 20 Slipknot fans and asked them if they saw themselves as winners, would rather be at a party than home with a whole pizza, how often they go to church and whether they consider themselves individuals or “just one of the sheep.” It’s pretty easy to provoke the response you want under such conditions.

On the other hand, this second study unleashes interesting possibilities. Metalheads are like classical fans, and both groups tend to be “creative, at ease with themselves and introverted”? This is more like the reality I’ve experienced.

The article also gently hints that there may be a bit of detail-obsessiveness and tendency toward over-analytical approaches in fans of both genres, name-checking metal’s tendency to subdivide into genres.

Unlike the other study, this Scottish study — which used a broader range of data — found that indie rock fans, not metalheads, lacked self-esteem.

Interview: Nelson Varas Díaz

November 7, 2013 –

nelson-varas_dias

As part of our ongoing look at metal in academia, we speak with Professor Nelson Varas Díaz, who teaches at the University of Puerto Rico and is one of the sponsors of the upcoming “Heavy Metal Music and the Communal Experience” academic conference.

The upcoming conference will attempt to define “community” in heavy metal and has uncovered some interesting starting points. If nothing else, it shows the broadening of academic interests in metal. For more examples, read Professor Varas Díaz’s description of his research and its practical applications below. Where academia once focused on metal as a narrow field, it is now an inter-disciplinary study used to apply that knowledge back to other specialized fields.

We were fortunate to get a few moments via email with Professor Varas Díaz to discuss the conference, his research, his past and most importantly, his views of and participation in heavy metal as both art form and community.

Are you a metalhead? If so, what got you into metal, and what keeps you into it? What type(s) of metal do you like?

I listen to metal music constantly. I am always looking for something new that helps push boundaries of what I listen to within the genre and that continues to surprise me. I listen to metal music across the spectrum… everything from traditional, thrash, death, and progressive metal.

I think that, like most of the people I have met that enjoy metal music, social alienation was an important part of getting into this style of music. I will be the first to recognize that as a young man I felt very much isolated from traditional institutions. It seemed like one had to give up something of oneself to be part of the group, and metal music did not ask that of me. I know this sounds cliché… but at that young age it was very much my reality. There are many other reasons why people become interested in metal music… but that was mine.

Being part of a metal community in Puerto Rico, in the late 80s and early 90s was exciting, and I felt that I could be myself there. Of course, now I can see that process with some years of experience under my belt and recognize it for what it was with strengths and limitations. I am always very careful not to romanticize these experiences, as metal communities can also expect you to mold to certain standards (i.e. dress codes, behavior codes). It is a matter of learning to live within this apparent contradiction between individuality/collectiveness.

I like to think that I have “returned” to the metal community in Puerto Rico as a product of our study with its local scene. The study has been ongoing for the past two years and the first four publications on the project will come out in 2014 as book chapters and papers in peer-reviewed journals. Metal in general keeps me intellectually and emotionally engaged.

You’ve come up with a stumper here: how does metal define community? Is there more than one metal community?

That is an important question… I think people who are engaged in metal music throw the word “community” around as if we were all talking about the same thing. That is understandable because the concept is so frequently used that we don’t take the time to explore its implications.

As a researcher, my instinct tells me to take two steps back and explore the idea in all its potential complexities. A conversation with individuals from different settings will immediately show you how metal communities can be very different depending on their context, and still feel part of a larger metal community throughout the world. So yes… I believe we should always refer to metal communities in recognition of the plurality of experiences that are encompassed in the process of being part of a collective group. But that is not enough… and complexity always shows its face in this discussion.

Some example of this complexity include the role of the market in developing communities that are not organic, gender dynamics within communities, LGBTT issues, just to name a few areas that are currently being addressed by metal scholars working with the concept of community. Academically, concepts like tribes, emotional communities, functional communities, geographical communities, border communities, and scenes are used to describe the idea that we are connected. Some of these concepts overlap, while others include very different criteria for what constitutes a community.

I hope that the conference will allow us to continue a discussion on how we are connected, while also recognizing the complexities that we still need to address in order to have a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.

What do you hope to achieve with this conference? Who is coming? Is it open to lay people (non-academics) such as fans, bands, zines, labels and promoters?

I hope that the conference allows attendants to continue a discussion that began in the Heavy Metal and Popular Culture Conference that took place in Ohio in 2013. That was a simply amazing event that pushed the field of Metal Studies to new heights.

We will have visiting scholars from the UK, the US, and Brazil. These include: Keith Kahn-Harris (University of London, UK), Niall William Richard Scott (University of Central Lancashire, UK), Deena Weinstein (DePaul University, USA), Karl Spracklen (Leeds Metropolitan University,UK), Jeremy Wayne Wallach (Bowling Green State University, USA), Amber Clifford-Napoleone (University of Central Missouri, USA), Brian A. Hickam (Benedictine University, USA), Cláudia Souza Nunes de Azevedo (Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, BR), and myself (University of Puerto Rico, PR).

The conference is free of charge and will be streamed over the Internet for those that can’t make it to Puerto Rico (more details soon on our facebook page). I am sure that non-academics will be an important part of the event and that the local metal scene will support this venture. In fact, the Puerto Rico Metal Alliance and Thrash Corner Records will be cosponsoring the event. These are two historically important institutions in Puerto Rico’s metal scene.

We will also have a concert with local artists Organic, Ortiz and Dantesco (more details soon).

What do you think the study of metal has to offer academia at large?

Heavy Metal Studies has a lot to offer academia. The one thing that I think people in academia are surprised to see is that we engage in areas that are truly interdisciplinary. As a social psychologist, I have shared panels with philosophers, musicologists and musicians while we address metal as a subject of interest. I have had to expand my field of inquiry to converse with others. That is something that is severely lacking in academia. Most people are stuck in their fields and have a hard time letting go. I welcome that experience and hope it helps other academic settings see it as a possibility. This year I have a presentation on metal music in a local psychology conference. My presentation is entitled “Letting go of psychology” as a testament to how engaging in metal studies has required me to change how I think about and approach these subjects.

Do you think the study of metal has picked up lately? Why, if so?

I think there are several reasons. First, we must recognize the work of pioneers in the field like Deena Weintein and Robert Walser. Those books set the stage, at least from my perspective, for the growing number of academic endeavors in the field. Second, more recent books published by Keith Kahn Harris on extreme metal and Jeremy Wallach, Harris Berger and Paul Greene on the global aspects of metal have pushed these reflections even further.

Also, the continuing number of conferences that have been organized played a vital role in strengthening metal studies. Take for example the Heavy Fundamentalisms conference organized by Niall Scott and Rob Fisher for Interdisciplinary.net and the Heavy Metal and Popular Culture Conference organized by Jeremy Wallach, Cláudia Souza Nunes de Azevedo, Amber Clifford-Napoleone, Matthew A. Donahue, Brian Hickam, and Esther Clinton at Bowling Green University. Those were excellent conferences that have yielded great discussions (and upcoming publications) that have strengthened the field.

In terms of organization, the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS) has played a vital role in promoting metal studies. Also, the new journal Metal Music Studies edited by Karl Spracklen will help strengthen the field in terms of publications. I am part of the editorial board of the journal and am really excited about where it will lead. These are just some examples of individuals that are collectively working very hard to promote metal music studies through different mechanisms. They are joined by so many others that systematically engage in research with little support and resources.

Can you describe your own studies, both in metal and outside of it, and what you think they have contributed to academic knowledge?

Most of my research outside of metal music is related to social stigmatization and health. It has focused on developing strategies to train health professionals to address the needs of marginalized populations without letting prejudice influence social interactions. Now you will say… what does that have to do with metal music? Well, I frequently use heavy metal lyrics to discuss how social stigmatization influences people’s lives. So metal music found a way into my classroom long before I engaged in metal studies. After attending the Heavy Fundamentalisms Conference in 2010 I decided to engage heavily in metal studies as a central area of study and focus on the Caribbean region where literature on the subject is scarce.

My current project aims to explore the development of Puerto Rico’s metal while focusing on the social, historical and cultural factors that have helped shape it. My team is composed by Eliut Rivera, Sigrid Mendoza, and Osvaldo Gonzalez who are graduate students. The study has a mixed methods approach using ethnographic observation, qualitative interviews, and quantitative questionnaires to documents our subjects of interest. We are using these findings to complete a documentary on the local scene, which should be out in early 2014. You can follow our progress through our facebook page entitled Puerto Rico Heavy Metal Studies. Our first data-gathering trip to the Dominican Republic will be in 2014, to continue expanding our study to other Caribbean scenes.

“Heavy Metal and the Communal Experience” announces speakers

October 14, 2013 –

heavy_metal_and_the_communal_experienceWe mentioned the “Heavy Metal and the Communal Experience” conference which will take place in San Juan, Puerto Rico on March 5, 2014. This conference aims to define community in metal and explore its boundaries.

As part of our ongoing exploration of academia in metal, this conference offers a topic that many of us have wondered about in the past. How does metal balance its radical individualism with its radical sense of community, and of a post-individual humanity, which sets it apart from all other genres philosophically?

Some years ago a friend mentioned how death metal unnerved her because the bands attempted to play in unison with each other or at least in complement with each other instead of trying to push the boundaries of how chaotic they could get. Like church music or higher math, metal is about order, and it imposes this through forcing twisted fragments of power chords into phrases that address each other like a dialogue in the music. This outlook could explain how metal views community.

The conference will attract a number of luminaries from the metal academic circuit, including:

  • Keith Kahn-Harris
    University of London, UK
  • Niall William Richard Scott
    University of Central Lancashire, UK
  • Deena Weinstein
    DePaul University, USA
  • Karl Spracklen
    Leeds Metropolitan University, UK
  • Jeremy Wayne Wallach
    Bowling Green State University, USA
  • Amber Clifford
    University of Central Missouri, USA
  • Brian A. Hickam
    Benedictine University, USA
  • Cláudia Souza Nunes de Azevedo
    Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, BR
  • Nelson Varas Díaz
    Universidad de Puerto Rico, PR

“Heavy Metal Music and the Communal Experience” academic conference launches in Puerto Rico

October 12, 2013 –

heavy_metal_and_the_communal_experienceWe use the term “metal community” on a regular basis, but it’s unclear to many what this includes. What is the metal community? Is it defined by boundaries, or a shared ideal?

A conference of academics is meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on March 5, 2014 to analyze this issue by presenting papers and having open discussions on the topic. Hosted by UPR professor and metalhead Nelson Varas Díaz, the conference aims to attract scholars from the Latin America, Europe and the United States.

One of the major themes is one that metalheads have brushed over for years, namely the conflict between individualism and group identity in metal. Both are strong, but individuals finds expression through group identity in metal, seemingly a paradox. In addition, the conference will explore the communal experience in metal and how it can be analyzed.

For more information, haunt the “Heavy Metal Music and the Communal Experience – Academic Conference” page on Facebook or contact Professor Díaz at nvaras@mac.com

Metal Music Studies call for papers for first issue (October 2014)

October 11, 2013 –

metal_music_studies-issue_1-october_2014The journal Metal Music Studies has issued a call for papers for its first issue, which will be published in October of 2014. The journal focuses on multidisciplinary research and theory in metal music.

Edited by the inimitable Dr. Karl Spracklen, whose hand can be seen in much of the recent research and theory regarding heavy metal, the journal is a production of the International Society for Metal Music Studies, one of academia’s leading investigative teams on the topic of metal.

For more information, visit the International Society for Metal Music Studies Facebook page or the Metal Music Studies journal profile at Intellect books.

This call for papers asks for submissions that are “original papers on metal music” and, in classic heavy metal style, imposes few additional limitations. The CFP adds “the journal will accept and commission shorter pieces from those involved in the metal music industry: journalists, label owners and other industry insiders, managers, musicians and fans.”

For the full text of the call for papers, see the attached PDF file.

Ancient Modernism: An Exhibition of Letter Art and Illustration in Heavy Metal and Beyond

September 2, 2013 –

ancient_modernismNoted black metal logo designer Christophe Szpajdel is featured in an upcoming exhibit in New Zealand of metal and other illustrators and the logos and embellishments they create.

The exhibit will run simultaneously in Auckland at Nature: Art + Design and in Wellington at The Rogue & Vagabond from September 28 – October 15, 2013, and will feature Szpajdel as well as four New Zealand-based designers.

As underground metal expands its reach and influence, events like Ancient Modernism: An Exhibition of Letter Art and Illustration in Heavy Metal and Beyond will contribute further to understanding the meaning beneath the menacing imagery and sonically terrorizing music.

Heavy metal saved my life

September 1, 2013 –

rabbi_darby_leigh-heavy_metalHow many of you feel that metal music saved your life?

When I was suffering through high school — boring assignments, ludicrously uptight authority figures, absurdly judgmental peers, and crushing ignorance about the world and myself — heavy metal indeed saved my life.

It had several methods that saved me. The first was that it let me escape into a mood that was bigger than my everyday concerns. This helped me establish values, center myself and see day by day stuff in context. The second was that it gave me a sense of belonging to something bigger than myself, which both freed me from the judgments of others and my own tendencies toward self-obsession. Finally, it was a gateway into history and literature, philosophy and art. It was a more exciting entry point to those disciplines than the rote ancient material taught in school.

From others I have heard similar stories. When your parents are dysfunctional, heavy metal is like a window into a much wider world beyond where things can make sense even if they don’t right now. When instability is all around you, “metal never bends” or “true metal it is, or no metal at all” are not just comforting ideas but mission statements.

To some, however, heavy metal has a different mission: it states it’s OK to be different. Witness the words of this heavy metal Rabbi:

Growing up as a Jewish teen in Manhattan, he was drawn to listening to heavy metal bands. Leigh’s body found joy in the chords and musical vibration that emanated from the emphasis on bass and percussion. He also found community and faith when he attended concerts.

“I found God in a mosh pit,” said Leigh, who attended his first concert, a Twisted Sister performance in New York, when he 14. “Heavy metal saved my life. The experience of growing up deaf in the hearing world means that you grow up as a minority. So many of us have the experience growing up where we feel like we don’t fit in, or we don’t fully belong.

“I found in heavy metal a music and a culture that supported individuality and rejection of the social norm. I found a culture that said, ‘you don’t have to be like that. You’re not. It’s OK to be different, it’s OK to be you. And guess what? There’s a whole army of metal heads out here like you, that are “freaks” and don’t fit into normal society.’ And the celebration of that and the outlet for anger and frustration as a teenage adolescent male just totally resonated with me.

Not surprisingly, Leigh has been known to write his sermons while listening to heavy metal.

That commotion you hear is our entire staff converting to Judaism. Leigh has an interesting view of metal, in that it is acceptance for those who don’t fit into society.

Others take it even farther, and see metal as a rejection of society itself. Or rather, the tendency of society to make rules to protect the herd, at the expense of those who actually know something.

If you let social forces predominate in any situation, you’ll get the usual feel-good stuff that we hear in most rock ‘n’ roll music. If you are antisocial and untamed like a metalhead, you get instead a different kind of morality, based on results and passion instead of obedience.

Recently, Erik Danielsson of Watain took some flak for his views on black metal:

If you want to be in a black metal band, you take yourself as an adversary of society, because that’s what black metal is.

An adversary of society. Society means both civilization, and people socialization with each other as a form of civilization order. It refers to the social groups set up that keep a society together.

Historically, black metal has opposed the socialization process. It stands against the “we can all get along” viewpoint, endorses enmity and Darwinistic predation, detests a morality of protecting the weaker and makes itself almost impossible to listen to with bad production and extreme elements. Black metal is antisocial because it sees socializing as an illness.

Traditionally, the genre has identified with the demonic to explain its rejection of social feelings:

Black metal music is music that, in essence, is diabolical and has diabolical energies…we’re talking about the wild, the untamed, ferocious, predatory aspect of it, the tribe within this music.

Perhaps it isn’t as simple as heavy metal validating non-conformity. Perhaps it does that and goes a step further by pointing out that conformity itself, as part of socializing, is what makes our society so unbearable.

Think about everything you know in this life. A new idea, band or place comes about. Few know about it and it’s great. Then others discover it. Soon it accommodates them, and it changes. What made it great is lost.

For all the time that people spend on politics, philosophy, religion and art, it’s possible that the key to the human problem is simpler than we thought. It could be in how we form societies itself, and this explains why no matter what we do we have the same problems.

Even more exciting is the possibility that heavy metal holds the answer: be less social, and less conformist, and more focused on the “wild, the untamed, ferocious, predatory aspect” of our nature instead of our civilized, let’s-all-get-along social training.

Underground Never Dies! by Andrés Padilla to be released by Doomentia Records

August 15, 2013 –

underground_never_dies-andres_padillaUnderground Never Dies!, a book about the underground metal explosion of the 1990s, will address the complex interweaving of bands, fans, zines, promoters, DJs, artists and labels that fostered the underground metal movement and allowed it to expand with maximum flexibility.

The book will include tons of fanzines from all over the world, plus a huge selection of underground flyers, so the book will be not only a narrative of the history of underground metal, but also a massive and interesting menu of diverse viewpoints for all those Death Metal devotes.

Doomentia Press will release/publish/distribute Underground Never Dies!, which will be released with a compilation 12″LP including some of the finest acts exhumed from the 80s, such as Slaughter Lord (Aus), Mutilated (Fra), Incubus (Florida, US), Poison (Ger), Exmortis (US), Fatal (US), Armoros (Can), Mental Decay (Dk), Funeral Nation (US) and Insanity (US) among others. Gatefold format ! Limited to 500 copies. CD + Tape version will include bonus tracks.

The cover art will be done by Mark Riddick. Introductions come from by Ian Christe (Bazillion Points), Chris Reifert (Autopsy), Erik Danielsson (Watain) and Alan Moses (Glorious Times). This celebration of the underground will attempt to make sense of the fertile but chaotic years of its origins.

The origins of music

August 11, 2013 –

This article is a counterpoint to Jon Wild’s
Social functions of heavy metal music
.

the_origins_of_musicThe question of why humans invented music—and continue to be enthralled by it—has long puzzled scholars. While some, including Charles Darwin, have guessed it grew out of a courtship ritual, recent research has focused on its ability to strengthen bonds within a community. Think military marches, or fight songs at a football game.

I disagree. In my view, music is a cognitive hack. It taps into a number of different pre-existing ways that our brain uses to interact with and make sense of the external world, not least our inherent hard wiring for pattern recognition and the (evolutionarily useful) enjoyment of discovery, surprise and invention.

Steven Pinker calls it “auditory cheesecake, an exquisite confection crafted to tickle the sensitive spots of at least six of our mental faculties.” Its ability to harmonize a social group is secondary, or at least in historical terms probably came after the psychological/cognitive side of things. Music’s social functions aren’t the reason for our having music in the first place, but are consequent to its tangible nature and the internal responses it produces in us.

Musicians do well [supposedly] in the evolutionary stakes, not just because music works for humans like feathers do for a peacock: ostentation/display of a purely secondary characteristic that doesn’t really do anything by itself, but communicates “I have so much spare resources to expend I can put effort into this pointless shit and still be walking around in one piece — I must be a worthy mate!”, but more-so because a sensitivity for music demonstrates a mind that’s strong at apprehending pattern and detail; kind of like success in sport demonstrates physical fitness.

Sociological explanations of music almost always confuse causation and correlation, not to mention that the research methods often sound a bit phoned-in; check out this from the study mentioned in the above linked article:

112 adults recruited online filled out a series of surveys. One measured their “need to belong,” asking them to agree or disagree with such statements as “If other people don’t seem to accept me, I don’t let it bother me.” A second measured their emotional reactivity by assessing their agreement with such statements as “I get upset easily.”

A third survey measured their emotional and physical reactions to music. The researchers found their response to music has a “unique predictor” of the need to belong, above and beyond their general emotionality. In short, those who reported a greater need to belong also tended to have more intense involvement with music.”

I don’t doubt the findings (although it’s not unknown for academics to fake research to get the conclusion they want), but I wouldn’t be willing to base a theory of music’s origin on them. This case may boil down to a question of origins within the individual versus the social functions that allowed society to tolerate music. In other words, origins versus utility.

The information seems to paint a pretty narrow picture of music and of certain types of people. Yes, some music is part of a social experience, but some however is a very private pleasure. Many great musicians spend a great deal of their time introverted and happily practicing by themselves, something that simply wouldn’t make sense if this study’s conclusions were more broadly evident.

In a similar way, sociological studies of metal have always missed the mark, because they view the social as primary, rather than seeing that people might listen to a certain type music for, ye know, the music. For some sorts of music — the kind where the actual music doesn’t matter beyond a few simple features (e.g. 4/4 kick drum accent on every beat, easy melody, interchangeable lyrics about partying, sex etc) — the social experience is undoubtedly about all there is to it.

For something like metal, which takes a bit of effort to construct and to get into it’s a different story. In these case people usually get into the music because certain melodic shapes, harmonies, disharmonies, timbres, trigger off a kind of deep rooted psychological semiotics, coupled with some semi-learnt information on musical forms – and the feelings and ideas that these together help communicate appeals to them. The music symbolizes some emotion or idea that they find meaningful.

While that is closest to the idea of social harmonization as proposed by this article, it’s also entirely different in that there is not a central social force causing people to harmonize to it. Rather, there’s an offering, like a flower with bright colors, and bees of their own volition come to take its message (pollen) along with its appeal (nectar).

Looking at some of the most obvious descriptions we tend to attach to metal music: ‘assertive’, ‘violent’, ‘primitive’… Perhaps these descriptors aren’t really all that arbitrary or socially-defined; rather the music really does hearken back to things you could fairly associate with those descriptions.

Imagine the sounds of primates screaming at each other as they bite and tear shreds off one another, the din of battle, etc. These impressions embedded somewhere inside our psychology from generations past are brought to the forefront by metal. If rock ‘n roll is the rhythm of sex, then metal is the rhythm of battle, of running, of methodically tracking then pounding the skulls in of prey.

Add this to the cognitive ‘cheesecake’ delight that music is designed to excite, then metal becomes that feeling of a fight well fought, of victory, of dinner time after a successful hunt, and all the resulting endorphin rushes that all these things would’ve induced in our ancestors. Which takes me back to the cognitive hack: metal sounds like life, but turned up to 11.