Death Metal Underground

Call for contributions to a new edited volume Black Shabbes: Jews & Metal edited by Shamma Boyarin and Keith Kahn-Harris

May 20, 2014 –

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When the guitarist Marty Friedman auditioned for Megadeth, singer Dave Mustaine loved his playing but told his manager to get Friedman to change his name because Jews were ‘not metal’

Can Jews ‘be metal’?

Certainly, crude stereotypes of the Jewish male – weak, bookish, awkward, hypochondriac – and crude stereotypes of the metal male – sexually promiscuous, loud and tough – seem to be in conflict. Yet not only do these stereotypes hide the considerable diversity amongst both Jews and metallers (to say nothing of their gendered nature), there is a significant history of Jewish involvement in metal culture.

Jews have featured prominently in significant numbers of prominent metal bands, including Kiss, Anthrax, Biohazard, Death and Guns N Roses. Moreover, in at least some cases, the Jewish backgrounds of metal musicians has impacted on their careers, as in the networks of communal and family support that Anvil drew on during their long commercial decline. Further, there have also been metal bands that have drawn on Jewish sources and themes, including Israeli acts such as Orphaned Land and Salem and a number of more obscure artists in the US.

Yet whilst there has been a more than nominal Jewish involvement in metal, the significance and impact of this involvement is much less clear. What might looking at metal through a Jewish lens and Jewishness through a metal lens bring to light? A sustained consideration of the relationship between Jews and metal will illuminate this hidden history while at the same time raising wider issues in the nature of Jewish and metal identity and culture.

We invite contributions from academics, critics, writers musicians and others, for a volume dedicated to explore the connection between metal and Jews from a number of different perspectives. We welcome both non-fiction and fiction.

Themes can include:

  • The history of the Jewish presence in metal.
  • The use of Jewish themes in metal
  • Israeli metal scenes
  • The relationship between Satanism, anti-Semitism and Judaism as explored in metal
  • Anti-semitism within metal scenes
  • Reading/hearing metal through a Jewish lens – is a Jewish metal criticism possible?
  • Jewish community attitudes to metal

Please submit abstracts of 200-250 words (by September 30 2014), and inquiries to:

Shamma Boyarin sboyarin@uvic.ca
Keith Kahn-Harris keith@kahn-harris.org

Does metal have a finite lifespan?

November 29, 2013 –

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Keith Kahn-Harris, a metal academic whose work in metal academia has been covered here and elsewhere, writes that metal may be suffocating under the weight of its own success:

Metal today is in crisis. Metal’s crisis doesn’t feel like a crisis. In fact it sometimes feels like quite the reverse. This is a crisis in which most are unaware that there is a crisis – and that is the crisis. The crisis is one of abundance.

He goes own to elaborate on how this is a sort of entropy where the proliferation of options has created a form of paralysis. “Almost everything that I ever wanted in metal now exists,” he writes, showing us that perhaps the glory years of a genre are during its time of struggling for recognition. What happens when it becomes fully recognized?

For Kahn-Harris, much of the glow is gone. He ties it to the ease of availability of music and information through the internet, but in my experience, it’s more likely tied to the expansion of metal as a market. When it’s new and fringe, metal is outside of the world of social oversight, including socialization and markets, public morals and most laws.

But as metal succeeds, it becomes a commodity and thus, information about it will proliferate. Today it’s the internet, but in yesteryears it was radio, magazines, and label propaganda in your local record store. To my mind, the internet isn’t anything new, even if it’s slightly more efficient (although with the surfeit of information, this advantage diminishes).

While this abundance has fulfilled my metal dreams, it has been accompanied by a strange sense of deflation. To some extent this is because dreams fulfilled are almost always disappointing. There are also good reasons why abundance does not necessarily satisfy. The ease of finding what was once obscure takes away the pleasures of anticipation, of discovery, of searching things out. The fact that metal music is no longer found exclusively in physical media removes much of that precious ‘aura’ that can accompany physical art objects. Demo tapes were exciting and mysterious objects because one had to ‘work’ to track them down…Today, there isn’t much frisson to googling something and finding it. Stripped of the aura, rare and obscure metal recordings become much more mundane.

Kahn-Harris’ article is engaging and thoughtful and worth reading for any who have wondered why metal seems so stagnant of late. Sure, there’s more bands than ever before, and they’re all technically competent (this is new, quite frankly) but so few of them have anything interesting to convey. All their work is in the packaging, at the surface, in style and not substance. Artistically, metal is dead. What’s the usual culprit?

An unusual source offers a parallel critique of a similar situation in software companies:

Here’s the problem that ends up killing company after company. All successful software companies had, as their dominant personality, a leader who nurtured programmers. But no company can keep such a leader forever. Either he cashes out, or he brings in management types who end up driving him out, or he changes and becomes a management type himself. One way or another, marketers get control.

Did metal run out of leaders, and get taken over by marketers? Or is this natural entropy, where there are so many options that none can compete on substance? Or is it, as is the way of things, that once something gets popular it gets dumbed down for the crowd? Commendations to Kahn-Harris for introducing this germaine and insightful topic.

“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