We’ve occasionally written about the correlation between metal music fandom and various mental changes (often positive). More recently, University of Saskatchewan student Anna Nouhl Kuhlmann recently performed a study that lends credence to anecdotal stories of metal music resolving anxiety issues. Kuhlmann notably decided to focus on female fans, claiming that “A lot of the research I’ve found focuses on men…”, and that she “…wanted to show that metal music can have positive results for female fans, even though it has such negative stereotypes about it.” I personally doubt the results would be substantially different if the study had a different gender focus, at least based on my own personal experience of finding the genre less stressful than, for instance, mainstream pop. I’d also like to see the actual publications associated with this study, as it presumably would provide more details on her approach and findings that would definitely be of interest to our readers.
The weaknesses of the San Francisco Bay Area “metal scene” have been in full display this October. The anticipated California Deathfest was thrown into disarray when death metal band DISMA was kicked out for political reasons – namely due to a past musical project of vocalist Craig Pillard (INCANTATION) which utilized imagery of the Third Reich. Besides the headliners of AUTOPSY and IMMOLATION, and a few less notable exceptions, this left the lineup of the “metal” nights filled with the grind/crust/punk mixture that is popular among a less discerning crowd. This suggested to outside observers that the interests of the promoters lay more with political agendas and popularity contests, than appreciation of metal music.
It was with interest that I heard of the “Legion of Steel Metalfest & Conference”, held over the course of four days this week and consisting of a “metal market”, “academic conferences” about heavy metal, and two night of music featuring most notably San Francisco death/speed metal stalwarts INSANITY, rock/heavy/speed metal band STONE VENGEANCE, and punks FANG, bands who never quite “made it” but who have been doggedly performing since at least the 80s. Only able to attend one night, I chose the night headlined by INSANITY, and showed up around 1PM to catch part of the conference, speculating that it might be some sinister affair where effete academics plot how to force their agenda on innocent hessians, but also open to more positive possibilities.
Missing the first three presentations, I arrived for “Becoming Death Itself: What Heavy Metal Offers Biblical Scholarship” presented by Charlotte Naylor Davis, of Great Britain. Her short presentation focused on the lyrics of METALLICA’s “Creeping Death”. Most interestingly, she pointed out that METALLICA presents the biblical story of an vengeful tribal god killing first-born children as a celebration of the power of death, and invites the audience to assume the role of the Angel of Death during the chanting climax of the song. This embrace of what is unpalatable or uncomfortable in “polite society” is part of what makes metal music powerful, and sets it apart from the happy illusions of most popular entertainment. Ms. Davis was a knowledgeable and enthusiastic presenter and I was disappointed the topic was not continued for longer.
Next was Mr. Shamma Boyarin of the University of Victoria, who first talked about Israeli “oriental metal” band ORPHANED LAND, who utilize the imagery of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. My ears perked when he mentioned how metal bands freely use themes from many different religious and occult practices, but in “obeisance to none”; i.e aesthetically, not dogmatically (paging Fred Nietzsche!). However, Mr. Boyarin chose to switch tack and talk about how ORPHANED LAND’s music was “breaking down barriers” between the religions and cultures of the Middle East, which seems to be a happy fantasy, if even desirable at all. Next was discussed an Indonesian band, MANRABUKKA, whose lyrics delve heavily into the Koran. A passage of the Koran, quoted by the band (Surat Al-Kafirun, “The Unbelievers”): “I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship… For you is your religion, and for me is my religion”, evoked the religion-rejecting lyricism of bands like MORBID ANGEL and DEICIDE, but also that such advice is poorly-followed in those areas of the world torn by dogmatic conflicts. However Mr. Boyarin somehow brought the conclusion back around to “breaking down barriers”. I would recommend developing some new conclusions and exploring these interesting ideas further!
Next was Addison Herron-Wheeler of Naropa University, who read passages from her book “Wicked Woman: Women in Metal From the 1960s to Now”. The cynics among us may sigh in expectation of the women-as-oppressed-victims narrative that is popular these days, but as her reading mainly dealt with the singer of the 60s occult pop-rock band Coven, musically far distant from metal, I zoned out during this portion and can’t report much. If women in metal are going to be discussed as a separate topic, the most deserving individual may be the fascinating Lori Bravo of NUCLEAR DEATH, who has hitherto been mostly ignored.
Next was a presentation by Dolev Zaharony of Israel. Mr. Zaharony discussed the history of metal music in Israel and how the government/media, ever-paranoid and faced with the difficult task of molding the mixed population of young Israel into a single culture, filtered out all references to heavy metal, and one assumes much else. Mr. Zaharony spoke as one who had been passionate about metal since his teens and had lived through many phases of metal culture in Israel, as well as been a musician. This presentation was enjoyable as he spoke informatively, without any attempt to politicize.
Finally was a viewing of clips from the documentary “Distorted Island”, which focuses on the heavy metal scene of Puerto Rico. This was at times interesting and at times irritating when the documentary attempted to impose narratives on the music, for example highlighting a band because they are all female (though the music sounded pretty awful), and thus an example of triumph against the sexist metal scene. This method is currently trendy in musical documentaries, and one of the many problems with it is that filmmakers end up focusing on mediocre bands at the expense of excellent ones, if the mediocre bands better fit the narrative.
This is a problem common to analyses of metal which prioritize social aspects over the music itself: they lose sight of the reason why the social scene arose in the first place – to celebrate and appreciate the MUSIC, its power and its ethos. Once any other element of the culture is made primary, the goal is lost and the music will become merely an accessory, and necessarily devolve in quality. This same effect can be seen with the hipsters who use metal aesthetic to dress up boring indie-rock, to the collectors who obsess over obscure releases that were forgotten due to their middling quality.
In the spirit of culling the mediocre, Charlotte Naylor Davis and Dolev Zaharony were the only two I witnessed whose presentations passed the bar of quality, knowledge, and true enthusiasm; as well as being free of political propaganda. I would recommend them for any future conferences. Note however the limited sampling which I was able to attend; there may have been other hidden gems.
Researchers have found that heavy metal fans tend to be systemic thinkers, leading to the supposition that systemic thinkers like heavy metal because its structure, themes or musicality rewards those who think on a systemic level. As one summary read:
Participants were then subjected to 50 short pieces of music spanning 26 different styles, and asked to give each a rating between one and 10.
People who scored highly on empathy were more likely to be drawn to R&B, soft rock and folk.
In contrast those who score more highly on systemising tended to like music by heavy metal bands and more complex, avant-garde jazz.
In other words, people who think at an empathic level reward music which is emotional on its surface, but those who think structurally and broadly like metal fans tend to only feel rewarded when the emotion emerges from the conflicts within the music itself, more like “set/setting” than adding some minor notes to a melody or dramatic vocals.
As research finds many ways further into metal, the conclusion becomes clear that people like metal for different reasons than other mainstream music. While metal academia itself has not raised this point directly, this research and other recent revelations about the mentality of metal suggest that direction is a rewarding area of study.
In contrast to previous studies showing that aggressive music boosted aggressive responses, a new study shows that instead heavy metal channels aggression into inspiration. While this goes against appearance by making it appear that one can “fight fire with fire,” it makes sense that the expression of a sensation will reduce that sensation and leave the logic behind the emotion.
One article summarized the situation through statements from the researchers:
“We found the music regulated sadness and enhanced positive emotions,” Ms Sharman said.
“When experiencing anger, extreme music fans liked to listen to music that could match their anger.
“The music helped them explore the full gamut of emotion they felt, but also left them feeling more active and inspired.
“Results showed levels of hostility, irritability and stress decreased after music was introduced, and the most significant change reported was the level of inspiration they felt.”
In other words, people who are stressed out, when they listen to aggressive music, discover the reasons for those emotions and feel inspired in turning to address them. This viewpoint seems consistent with the attraction of heavy metal for high-intensity personalities who are often very effective at what they do, but equally appalled by what is around them.
Perhaps this will not lead to blasting of heavy metal in shopping malls, since this effect only works with those who are already feeling stress, anger and aggression. The music helps them channel and understand those emotions, which is consistent with how books and other forms of music solidify wild impressions into clear calls to action.
This may be the coolest job title ever: Heavy Metal Consultant. Vocalist Bruce Corbitt, of Rigor Mortis and Warbeast fame, has been appointed by the Texas Musicians Museum as its expert on all things heavy metal. The Museum, which is awaiting construction of its new facility at 222 E. Irving Blvd in Irving/Dallas metroplex, issued the following statement:
The Texas Musicians Museum is proud to announce that the talented Texas musician Bruce Corbitt will be assisting us as our Heavy Metal consultant.
Since the early/mid eighties, vocalist Bruce Corbitt has been in the midst of creating Texas Metal music that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. From his days in the legendary Rigor Mortis to his current band Warbeast, he has truly given us his all and made his mark on the history of Texas music. The self-titled debut Rigor Mortis album was inducted into the Decibel Magazine “Metal Album Hall Of Fame” in 2013. Both Warbeast full-length albums “Krush The Enemy” and “Destroy” have also received end-of-the-year honors by numerous metal magazines and metal news websites. Bruce also has the distinguished honor of being the only vocalist to win a Dallas Observer Award in the category for “Best Metal Band” with two different bands… twice with Rigor Mortis and once with Warbeast.
Corbitt sent out a request to all metal fans for Texas Metal Memorabilia and contact information as follows:
My first step is assembling my own panel of Texas Metal Legends and Gurus. To help me make sure we do this the way it should be done. I am very familiar with the history of Texas Metal since the beginning. But I obviously don’t know the entire history of every region as good as I do D/FW. So I have already reached out to many Texas Metal historians that I want to be part of this team/panel. Such as Jason McMaster, John Perez, Rick Perry, Rodney Dunsmore, Carcass John Fossum… and I will reach out to more for other areas. Between us all… we will brainstorm and come up with the best gameplan to do this the way it should be done.
The Museum itself will be 8,500 square feet and it will have an outdoor event area that can also have live music. Yes we will have some Texas Metal bands playing on some of these events too.
Ok… so obviously one of our main goals is to start collecting actual donations for the museum itself. So we will be starting a huge Texas Metal Memorabilia hunt for the bands and musicians that we want to include. I’m sure that I will be listing the bands as musicians soon enough that we want to induct into the museum… but it is common sense to many of you who some our legendary Texas Metal Bands are… but just to name a few Pantera, Rigor Mortis, Helstar, WatchTower, Devastation, Absu, Big Iron, Drowning Pool, The Sword, Gammacide, Deadhorse, Angkor Wat, Aska, Warlock, Militia, Solitude Aeturnus, Prophecy, Sedition, Devourment, Rotting Corpse and we are just getting started on the possibilities.
So for now… until we get further along and I make more announcements. If you have anything like historic Texas Metal memorabilia… or any ideas for bands or musicians you think should be included, or any other suggestions you think would be beneficial to our cause…
please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This now gives Texas two metal archives for the history and theory behind heavy metal and associated genres. The other, to which users of this site have been mailing metal artifacts for over eight years, is at the University of Texas at Austin:
Dr. David Hunter
Music Librarian and Curator, Historical Music Recordings Collection
Fine Arts Library (DFA 3.200)
University of Texas Libraries
1 University Station (S5437)
Austin, TX 78712
Office: (512) 495-4475
Fax: (512) 495-4490
Library: (512) 495-4481
It is great to see metal ignored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and accepted by these independent but reputable authorities who are studying metal through its personalities and source documents like recordings, flyers, zines, letters and posters.
If you do not assert the truth, idiots come in and talk endlessly about their vision of it, which other idiots accept as truth, and soon a circle jerk starts where just about everyone thinks the lie is the truth. This is what happened to writing about black metal.
As the genre attempts to recapture itself from the theorists who will convert it into an esoteric sub-field of either Marxism or economics, new books emerge such as the Black Metal Theory (BMT) series advanced by the same people behind the symposium Hideous Gnosis. The latest from that group, Floating Tomb: Black Metal Theory, collects writings published on BMT “focusing on mysticism, a domain of thought and experience with deep connections both to the black metal genre and to theory (as theoria, vision, contemplation). More than a topic for BMT, the mystical is here explored in terms of the continuous intersection between black metal and theory, the ‘floating tomb’ wherein black metal is elevated into the intellectual and visionary experience that it already is.”
The Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University will host the The Electric Guitar in Popular Culture conference on March 27-28, 2015. The conference will examine the study of electric guitar and its effects on popular culture, but also look at how it has changed music itself.
Matt Donahue, conference organizer, issued the following statement: “The Electric Guitar in Popular Culture aims to examine the roles of the electric guitar in cultures throughout the world. It is intended to serve as a space for academics, professionals, hobbyists and fans to engage in dialogue about topics related to the electric guitar and its cultural influence.”
The conference organizers also suggested topics that might be of interest and solicited papers on these topics. Interested parties should send a 300 word abstract describing your individual presentation to email@example.com with “The Electric Guitar in Popular Culture” in the subject line. Questions for analysis include:
- How has the electric guitar altered music and the lives of musicians throughout its history?
- How has the electric guitar impacted local music scenes in northwest Ohio and those throughout the world?
- Have changing representations of the guitar in popular culture impacted aspiring musicians?
- How have advances in technology impacted the production of electric guitars for both producers and consumers?
- How have various cultures and perspectives surrounding the electric guitar shifted over time?
Additional topics for consideration include:
- Representations in Popular Culture
- Globalization of the Electric Guitar
- Current Trends & Artists
- Ohio Guitar Shows
- Guitar Collecting
- Album Artwork
- Guitar Magazines & Publications
- Guitar Manufacturing
- The Guitar and Education
- Race/Ethnicity and the Electric Guitar
- Gender/Sexuality and the Guitar
- Fender vs. Gibson
- Guitar As Icon
- The Guitar in Video Games and Toys
- Genres & Associated Artists
Deadline for submissions is Sunday, December 21, 2014.
The University of Victoria English Department and the Heavy Metal department at the University of Victoria invite paper submissions for their upcoming conference, Tribe & Rite: A Heavy Metal Student Conference. The conference will be held at the University of Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada on November 8-9, 2014.
According to the organizers, “Metal culture celebrates the wild, the grotesque, and the forbidden. We invite papers on these themes from across the humanities, social sciences, fine arts, and related disciplines. Papers can draw on lyrics, musical technique, aesthetics (music, fashion, album art), innovations in metal, regional and historical metal movements, and more.”
The organizers suggest the following possible topics:
- The makings and markers of a metalhead
- Metal as genre, subculture, counterculture, or tribe
- Rites and rituals of regional/historical metal movements
- The transformation of metal by academia and vice versa
- Generational differences in metal
- The influence of metal on other cultural movements (e.g. punk, hippy), and vice versa
- Comparison of metal with other cultural movements
- Comparison of subcultures within metal (e.g. the radical politics of crust, the Satanism, neo-paganism, and occultism of black metal)
- The future and fate of metal
- Inclusive and exclusive behavior among metalheads
- The relationship between metal music and memorabilia
Submissions must be send in Microsoft Word format to firstname.lastname@example.org by October 3, 2014. For more information, see the Tribe & Rite: A Heavy Metal Student Conference homepage.
Image from The Musical Autist.
The International Journal of Community Music recently released its June 2014 issue which focuses on heavy metal through writings by the heavy metal studies academic community which explore heavy metal and its social effects in many different forms.
Centered around the concept of “community music,” the journal investigates interactions between music and the surrounding community, but peers most deeply into how music can be a voice for events, values or changes in a community. Its general list of topics includes:
- Music and informal educational settings
- Music in areas of conflict and former conflict
- Music and the youth service
- Music in prisons and probation services
- Music in health settings / Music and cultural policy
- Music and Life-long learning
- Genres and musical styles e.g. music-making of all kinds and all styles, listening, music technology
- Philosophy of Community Music
- Music, faith and spirituality
The “heavy metal special” issue concentrates its analysis on some of the more controversial areas of the interaction between heavy metal and culture. The topics of these essays seem ready to dig into the type of conflict that would make a good basis for a shredding album of brutally intense music.
International Journal of Community Music June 2014 issue contains the following contents:
- Raising the horns: Heavy metal communities and community heavy metal music
Authors: Gabby Riches And Karl Spracklen
- Kami semua headbangers: Heavy metal as multiethnic community builder in Penang Island, Malaysia
Authors: Marco Ferrarese
- Reconceptualizing hard rock and metal fans as a group: Imaginary community
Authors: Rosemary Lucy Hill
- ‘Ons is saam’ – Afrikaans metal and rebuilding whiteness in the Rainbow Nation
Authors: Catherine Hoad
- Metal made me who I am: Seven adult men reflect on their engagement with metal music during adolescence
Authors: Michelle Hines And Katrina Skewes McFerran
- Mapping the underground: An ethnographic cartography of the Leeds extreme metal scene
Authors: Gabby Riches And Brett Lashua
- On your knees and pray! The role of religion in the development of a metal scene in the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico
Authors: Nelson Varas-Díaz And Eliut Rivera-Segarra And Sigrid Mendoza And Osvaldo González-Sepúlveda
- Hamburgers of Devastation: The pleasures and politics of heavy metal cooking
Authors: Michelle Phillipov
- ‘The Black Sheep of the Family’: Bogans, borders and New Zealand society
Authors: Dave Snell
The journal can be purchased at this location.
The Popular Culture Association (PCA) announced the theme for its upcoming meeting on April 1-4, 2015 as “how heavy metal culture relates to cinema.” The PCA issued a call for papers on this topic so that aspiring heavy metal studies scholars can submit writings in advance of the conference.
Held in New Orleans, the conference will allow participants a chance to present papers and network with others in the fields of heavy metal studies and popular culture studies. The PCA accepts a broad range of topics: “Papers on individual films, metal (sub)genres or individual bands are all welcome, as are more theoretical musings on the interrelationship between cinema and metal.” It gives the following sample topic areas:
- how heavy metal is (ab)used in feature films
- how documentary films create, expand, and discuss a sense of group identity
- how cinematic traditions are used in heavy metal culture.
If interested in submitting a paper, please send a 300-word abstract by October 15, 2014 to Gerd.Bayer@fau.de. The official call for papers notice can be found here.