The metal-academic connection goes mainstream

keith_kahn-harrisThe pace of recognition for metal studies in academia accelerates with an article in the Wall Street Journal. This article covers The Heavy Metal and Popular Culture International Conference which occurred at Bowling Green State University.

In academic circles the movement to grant recognition to heavy metal and to study it has gained momentum recently with the launch of a heavy metal journal, the International Society for Metal Music Studies forming, classical musicians reaching out to metal ones, political recognition of heavy metal as a subculture, and at least one highly talented professor using heavy metal to teach literature. The article points out that from 2000-2011, 224 academic papers were written on metal, with 63 scholarly articles written last year.

“You have to keep that 16-year-old mentality,” said Todd Evans, a former member of GWAR and participant in the Bowling Green State University conference. At the same time, these academics or “metallectuals” as the article dubs them, are attempting to discern more of the meaning behind this intense and powerful subgenre. We who have advocated Hessian Studies for almost two decades are glad to see this welcome development and hope there’s more to come.

Photo Credit: Keith Kahn-Harris, by Eva Roca for the Wall Street Journal.

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Robots play their first metal gigs

robotThe robotic cover band Compressorhead recently played their first ever shows in Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, and Melbourne. Their mission statement is to overtake the world of meatbag (human) metal. These metal purists cover Motorhead and Led Zeppelin more precise than some of their human cover band counterparts.

Compressorhead consists of the guitarist Fingers with 78 hydraulic actuated appendages, bassist Bones, and four-armed drummer Stickboy.

According to their website there are no more shows on their schedule, but the novelty of this band will most likely continue. I would personally like to see them play some Nocturnus songs.

Perhaps we can envision a day when lackluster cover bands are replaced by robots.

 

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 04-15-13

toxic_holocaust-from_the_ashesToxic Holocaust – From the Ashes of Nuclear Destruction: This is not bad music, but it’s an imitation of something in the rearview mirror, which is hard enough without a tendency to combine the worst aspects of several genres. The songs are chaotic like American thrash, but then like German speed metal, they’re very chanty with lots of chorus activity and not much deviation from that rhythm and the chord progression that carries it. In fact, this was the kind of music that back in the 1980s, drove people to Metallica and Slayer for more of a musical experience. Most of what you get with Toxic Holocaust is like a suburban rap album, which is to say that you hear the vocals and pick up their rhythm, and then there’s distracting stuff going on in the background. Whatever the chorus is gets hammered in your brain because it repeats again and again (and again, and again). Riffs are very similar, and derive from identifiable archetypes in classic speed metal songs. Like most of those bands in the 1980s, it’s hard to construct an argument against this. It isn’t musically incompetent, and it’s roughly of the same style, and it’s definitely metally as opposed to the alt-indie-nu crowd. However, really the question is what’s missing, and we can’t spot it because neither it nor an analogue is there. This band lacks purpose. Songs are there to be like other songs, not to express something unique. While nostalgia is neat and all, this puts Toxic Holocaust in the same camp as the big pop bands, who are just making songs to sound like other successful songs, be catchy and make people dance.

soen-cognitiveSoen – Cognitive: Somehow, people say they’re doing what they’re afraid they’re not doing. Soen is nu-progressive metal, which means that it’s basically a very vocals-intense, “passionate” form of indie rock — think post-1990s style drama-intense male vocalist nonsense — with occasional metal riffs. If you don’t mind the discount Morrisey style vocals, you will not be immediately set off by this album, but the grim fact is that this style of music is easy to produce and bands are a dime a dozen. These “deep” vocals end up sounding more like someone belting out over-emphatic drama, mainly because once you strip aside the technique, there’s little actual variation. The metal riffs can be surprisingly good but not original. It’s amazing how people have been making this style of music for decades and yet it doesn’t occur to each generation that maybe, just maybe, this stuff isn’t as new and revolutionary as it claims. If you like regular rock music, and want it to have more soul-searching vocals that override the other form factors, as in Coldplay, you’ll really dig this. If you’re looking for metal, you’ll end up fast-forwarding between the metal riffs and have a 2.3 minute album here.

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Arsaidh – Roots: another black metal/post-black metal hybrid. What is it? A mixture of techniques, with no purpose. It’s not bad except that since none of it connects to a greater organization scheme than designing a song based on template, it all has the same intensity and emotional level, which makes it a tedious drone. Again, look at any part: it’s well done. Zoom out, look at the whole: who cares? It’s like a fractal made of one giant circle in that anywhere you look, the end result is pointing back to the start. Nothing is learned between inception and conclusion. It’s oddly evocation of this disassociative time because it approximates the mental state of someone who is watching life go on by and realizes it’s all the same stuff, but has no energy to do better, so joins in emulation and hopes to not be noticed. Did you ever read Vaclav Havel’s “Power of the Powerless”? It’s easy to put up some token sign of assimilation, like a state slogan or an indie-metal album, and to fit in. That way, you expend almost no energy and yet are not subject to standing out and having to face criticism for having gone your own way.

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Buckshot Facelift – Elder’s Rasp: From the newer school of grindcore, which combines the frenetic and ecclectic nature of bands like Brutal Truth with the “grab bag of anything goes riffs” and tendency toward distraction rather than continuity that is a hallmark of tech-deth and other metalcore-influenced styles, Buckshot Facelift create a faithful exploration of this style. Fast and chaotic, it shifts riffs regularly and with intensity, but could use a bit more variation in the tempo shift department. Riff composition uses techniques from the last 40 years of metal, punk and rock, with a tendency toward shifts between rock and punk riffs before drifting into metal to work up tension for a change. Vocals are like a chihuahua on methamphetamine that is reading a letter to the editor from a grandmother abandoned at the bottom of a deep well by her ungrateful children. If this subgenre appeals to you, this band is better than average but middle-of-the-road stylistically.

aeon-aeons_blackAeon – Aeons Black: Sounding like later Deicide with influences from the mid-paced death metal of the last decade, Aeon creates some compelling rhythms and uses a heavy NYDM influence through harmonic guitar squeals and repetitive downstroke rhythms. The result is “heavy,” but melody is used only as an effect, and the album is assembled of many similar pieces that lacking a gestalt, flow together into catchy wall paper. The result is thankfully somewhat death metal, but has a newer metal influence, and through its lack of focus, combines different forms and styles into one giant approximation that has no really distinct point of view. It’s like a xerox of a xerox of a photograph of Silly Putty(tm) imprint of the original. While it isn’t incompetent, and has some moments of inspired musicality, it has no content that it manages to express and so it feels like a disorganized detour into the late 1990s, perhaps death metal being used to make an infomercial. I can see the juice machines, instant waffle makers, hair braders, etc. now, because that’s what this album feels like: the shelves of a death metal store, arranged in no particular order, as you walk past and then go out the door, not having found anything worthy of permanent acquisition.

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Sophicide – Perdition of the Sublime: The modern style of metal throws a whole bunch of metal styles into a salad shooter and gives it a spin. What tumbles out is properly called metalcore because its songs are in the “variety show” form of late hardcore, but its riffs come from random metal genres. Sophicide does a better job of it than most by using rhythm to arrange riffs in roughly verse-chorus positions, meaning that you can easily follow what’s going on without much mental stress. However, the result is like most later hardcore designed around the concept of having lots of options that are incompatible with one another. They think this makes you avoid boredom, but because there’s no plan, each song devolves to the lowest common denominator. As a result, there’s not much listening to be had here unless you really fanatically love metalcore. This band is more interesting than your average metalcore, but still conveys that basic antipathy to organized expression that comes from confused times, and doesn’t help us resolve that confusion. In fact, the tendency of the listener here is to pay less attention the less organized the music gets, which is why people who hear metalcore frequently are unable to express an opinion about it. “It was there,” is all they can say, and in this style, that’s all we’re left with.

tormented-death_awaitsTormented – Death Awaits: In 1992, the average death metal fan would walk 30 miles through the snow uphill both ways to hear a new Swedish death metal album. Sometime in the 2000s, Daniel Ekeroth made a handy video about how to get the Swedish guitar sound, and at least 4,096 hipster bands suddenly became Entombed-worship acts. The problem is that they don’t understand why Entombed did what Entombed did, so they’re imitating the appearance of Entombed and then injecting their own motivations into the art. Unforunately for them, their motivations are often what hipster bands want, which is ironic acclaim and something to brag about as they make coffees at the day job. Tormented is a perfect case in point. It’s competent, the riffs are gently melodic at times, and songs hold together thanks to a riff-chorus assembly with transitional riffs worked in. The problem is that these riffs express nothing, so they’re based on existing forms in a “pick one from column A, one from column B, one from column C” approach. This misses the point of death metal, which is to stich riffs together so that they tell a story that expands as the song goes on, then revert to a simplest possible reduction. What is revealed at the center of this music is an obsession with repetitive catchy vocals, and hard rock style relatively immobile riffs, instead of the soaring tremolo architectures that made Swedish death metal great. On the surface, this is pure Swede-worship; underneath, it has more in common with Wolfmother than Entombed.

agrimonia-rites_of_separationAgrimonia – Rites of Separation: It’s time we admit that post-metal is not metal, but new age metal. Or rather, it’s new age rock that wants to be metal so it can be “rebellious.” Officially rebellious, that is, so that if anyone claims they’re worshipping Satan or extremists, they can point to their soft juicy fruity core of new age everybody-kumbaya-happy. Post-metal not only takes influences from the new age movement and its desire for gentle ambience with some kind of quasi-spiritualist uplifting feeling that makes us feel like our rotting industrial dystopia encloses a paradise of personal emotional balance, positive thinking, etc. This music is like Sonic Youth throwing in some metal riffs and then droning on a note or two, with “bizarre” song structures that are actually very much in the verse-chorus with transitions style of post-punk bands. Nothing is badly done but the music has no soul. Its essence is in tossing out anything it thinks you might like, with no relationship between those parts. Thus it’s like hearing a conversation on the subway, where you pick up on juicy phrases and the rest is hubbub which fades into the ratcheting clack of the passing tracks.

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Unburied – Murder 101: Despite the prevalence of death metal vocals, these songs song more like old hardcore with a metal influence. They are extremely simple, with often only two riffs per song which repeat while vocals rant and bass pounds out a catchy rhythm. The rhythms behind these riffs are simple but compelling, and the riffs despite being digestible draw in the listener with a sense of an asymmetrical response in formation. Comparisons to a punchier version of old Master, Mortician or even Psychomancer would be appropriate. While the music is compelling in a very primitive sense, it requires a patience for things which do not change over prolonged periods of time, and a love for the gore-grind tendency to mash a rhythm down into its essence and then use its persistence as a source of power.

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Altaar – Altaar: The first track of this album presents bass-driven slow droning doom metal which is carefully put together and, while simple and somewhat predictable in terms of chord progressions, nonetheless establishes and nurtures a dark mood. After that, some kind of late model hardcore/post-metal hybrid emerges, which features predictable ranty vocals and sessile riffs. At that point, most people tune out because they’ve heard this exact same stuff from a million bands, which explains why bands like it: it’s easy to produce, thus makes for high turnover of albums, more happy fans, more sales, etc. Ideally popular music is like this because you can hire a dozen people out of the back of any bar or pool hall, channel them into a studio, and have them pump out as much of it as you can sell. This style of music rewards obedience, because you have to learn music and then memorize what others have been doing and then imitate it. That makes for something that isn’t musically bad, but has nothing to distinguish it, and because it’s not about anything, it conveys no sense of experience other than standing there listening to the random riffs.

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Helvete: A Journal of Black Metal Theory

helvete-a_journal_of_black_metal_theoryAs part of the burgeoning movement to understand metal and how it relates to the world, comes the first issue of Helvete: A Journal of Black Metal Theory. Although the title of the publication may imply that it is a technical analysis of black metal composition, this is not the case. As the back cover states, “Not to be confused with metal studies, music criticism, ethnography, or sociology, Black Metal Theory is a speculative and creative endeavor, one which seeks ways of thinking that count as Black Metal events — and indeed, to see how Black Metal might count as thinking.”

The book consists of about a half dozen short essays in a contemporary writing style, with full sourcing, complemented by some photographs of black metal musicians and landscapes. Subjects covered in the book range from suicide, ecocide, self-discovery, and more. Rather than treating black metal as both the beginning and end point of the book, it is instead the launching ground for exploration of how black metal’s spirit can find meaning in a cold and modernist world. The flaw in this is that some essays form a rather tenuous link to black metal, often distorted by what the authors want black metal to be, rather than what it actually is.

Of note for exploring this style is the essay by David Prescott-Steed with the admittedly disarming title of “Frostbite on my Feet: Representations of Walking in Black Metal Visual Culture”

Walking can be understood as a transitional practice whereby a person steps into, and through, a complex set of spatial and cognitive relationships. An example of such a theory of walking can be seen in the act of stepping through the doorway of a Gothic Cathedral (Notre Dame, for instance). Entering the westwork has long held physical and religious significance for Catholic devotees, symbolising one’s departure from a world in which a conceived God is incomprehensible and indeterminable (a transcendental space) into a space of communion with that God (an immanental space). Each step into the vast and ornate interior space of the nave, and beyond, comprises a transitional ritual that puts the walker in dialogue with the sacred.

The link to black metal given:

Truncated by the public’s engagement with the spectacle of Black Metal, the less exotic practice of walking nonetheless remains an important practice within the genre.Its significance can be seen in two recent documentaries on Black Metal: Vice Broadcasting System (VBS)’s True Norwegian Black Metal and Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell’s Until the Light Takes Us. In the first instance, Gaahl (the documentary’s leading figure and the former frontman of Gorgoroth) insists that the film crew join him on a long trek into the Norwegian tundra. The hike draws our attention to the meaningfulness of the journey and speaks to the aura of solitude and endurance, of a confrontation with the unknown and human potential. Gaahl enforces: “I become what never fails, following the footsteps behind me.” In Until the Light Takes Us, slow-motion footage of Darkthrone’s Fenriz walking along a snowy forest path seems to evoke similar notions of the shadows of former selves seeking an obscured locus of self-authenticity. Both examples illustrate the capacity of walking to communicate a deeply planted Black Metal aesthetic.

This is indicative of the book’s tendency to have a coherent and intelligent view to convey in the essay, but have the given connection to black metal be suspect. A better idea would be to focus on the music, rather than aesthetics. (What’s more solitary than Transilvanian Hunger? Reference this instead.)

Other questionable choices include analyzing the compositions of Wolves in the Throne Room as being the last gasp of nature in an increasingly concrete world, the apparently transcendent lyrics of a band calling itself Make a Change…Kill Yourself, and how a slashed black t-shirt stuck to a wall is representative of “Ornament and crime (Hvis Lyset Tar Oss)”.

These flaws aside, the content of these essays can be interesting in itself, such as the idea that portable music represents a shield between us and a decaying word; where black metal heralds its deconstruction and the triumph of the wilderness, praise of the physical action of exploration, and how all worthwhile knowledge is achieved through struggle.

For people (like this author), who were hoping for a measured and academic analysis of black metal’s original music, meaning, and spirit, you will probably be disappointed. However, if one views the book as a collection of reasonably intelligent contemporary writers exploring unpopular subjects in the shadow of an often misunderstood genre, you will perhaps find something of interest.

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Gifted children find comfort in heavy metal

heavy_metal_a_comfort_to_the_bright_childAs reported by The Telegraph and other news sources of quality, “intelligent teenagers often listen to heavy metal music to cope with the pressures associated with being talented,” according to new research.

The original research from the University of Warwick surveyed 1,067 students for their attitudes about family, school, leisure time and media. They found that students who ranked metal above other genres tended to have “lower self-esteem and ideas about themselves.”

Following up on that, the researchers interviewed gifted students to find their attitudes about heavy metal. These gifted students identified heavy metal as a source of catharsis and the release of pressures associated with school. More than a third of the top 5% of students in the UK rated heavy metal as their favorite type of music.

The study suggests that people listen to heavy metal because they are under pressure from what they perceive of daily life. As the researcher in charge of the study stated, “Perhaps the pressures associated with being gifted and talented can be temporarily forgotten with the aid of music. As one student suggests, perhaps gifted people may experience more pressure than their peers and they use the music to purge this negativity.”

This contradicts the notion that heavy metal causes the anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and other behaviors with which it is associated. Furthermore, it implies these behaviors may be the result of higher intelligence people attempting to integrate with our modern world and its declining social standards. Most likely, the research suggests, these are not problems but rational responses to the world around, and are the product of not a lower mindset but a higher one.

As another article pointed out, heavy metal is “a favoured music of 11-19 year olds with lower self-esteem than their peers” but that the “youngsters said they could connect with metal’s ‘politics’.” In other words, this is in response to the world itself and not the internal makeup of these people.

It could just be that if you notice enough of reality, heavy metal is the only music and corresponding sociocultural identity which can make sense out of what a smarter child can perceive.

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Does metal cause violence, or violence cause metal?

the_heavy_moments_in_lifeWe recently had a mass stabbing here in Texas. Whenever we have a mass shooting anywhere in the world, I brace for the inevitable: they’re going to blame heavy metal.

They did it with Columbine. They tried it with a dozen others, blaming metal and/or industrial, even if the music wasn’t really “metal” at all. Since the 1980s, when Judas Priest got sued over supposedly backward-masked lyrics exhorting fans to kill themselves, it has been a common media trope to blame heavy metal for suicide, violence and self-harm.

A writer over at ScienceAlert asks the vital question of whether metal causes violence, or is caused by violence, in the context of an article on metal and self-harm.

First, the article points out that most people grasp the right meaning of song lyrics only 28% of the time on a four-song test, which puts us 3% ahead of guessing randomly. Even backward masking doesn’t seem to make a discernible impression.

The article dissipates a bit after that, attacking opera as likely to inspire suicide, and sort of missing the point there. Opera is about the heavy topics in life, lost lovers and regaining honor and other intense life-decisional topics, much like metal is.

In fact, if metal has a relationship to violence, it’s as neither cause of or caused by, but “aware of,” because metal is for realists who don’t deny the dark side of life as well as the light. If that was spurred on by early exposure to violence, horror, sadness or a lack of parental love, so be it — we all have to “wake up” sometime and face reality.

Fortunately, psychological research shows that they needn’t have bothered. Teenage metal fans are also more likely than most to suffer neglectful parents. That’s a much more credible explanation of why they’re drawn to both self-harming and a musical subculture that expresses their disaffection with mainstream society that has failed them.

From the article, it sounds like metalheads are just those who awaken a bit earlier. Opera fans tend to be in their 40s-80s and are aware of all that life entails, including those “heavy” decisions and heavy moments like saying goodbye to others or choosing aggression over passively accepting fate. But somehow, we never hear the media reasonably discussing this idea after a school shooting.

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Interview: Karl Spracklen of the International Society of Metal Music Studies

karl_spracklen-international_society_for_metal_music_studiesAcademic acceptance of metal accelerates through conferences dedicated to studying metal, professors teaching about heavy metal, investigations of links between heavy metal and religion, and the launch of an international journal for studying metal.

While the metal community may not have found a position on this change as of yet, the very fact of its existence is startling to those of us who experienced metal in the 1980s or 1990s, when society viewed us as outcasts of a likely deranged, intoxicated, criminal and Satanic nature. From the censorship battles of the 1980s, when the Parent’s Music Resource Center (PMRC) attempted to prevent younger people from acquiring metal in record stores and tried to legislate a requirement for lyrical content warning stickers on metal records, to the 1990s bourgeois bohemians wrinkling upper lips at the impolitic and feral nature of metal, society hasn’t liked us.

Luckily, academics don’t see it that way and have forged ahead with metal study, coinciding with a massive “hipness” of metal in the mainstream press and hipster underground. Metalheads might find this interesting because academic study can balance out what social pressures amplify.

We are fortunate to have Dr. Karl Spracklen, Professor of Leisure Studies at Leeds Beckett University, here to tell us more about his projects, the International Society for Metal Music Studies, its conference, and its journal.

Why study heavy metal?

Heavy metal is an important part of modern culture and everyday life, so studying heavy metal enables us to understand both of those things. For me, the interesting thing about heavy metal is the tension between metal’s strong sense of being part of a non-mainstream subculture, and metal’s place in the industry of modern pop and rock music. That’s because I’m essentially a sociologist. Other heavy metal scholars might be interested in the way the music is constructed, or the meaning behind song lyrics, or the history of the scene, or the use of heavy metal as a philosophy or ideology of life. Heavy metal is just a subject field, a lens, through which we can think about problems in other academic disciplines.

You’ve created Metal Music Studies to in part serve as “a bridge between the Academy and the wider genre of metal music writing.” What is the wider genre of metal music writing?

People like you — we want the journal to be read and used by journalists and writers who are fans and critics of heavy metal. We want people from outside the university system, non-academics, to read the academic papers but also get involved in writing articles for the journal themselves. There will be a separate section in the journal for shorter pieces that are not written in the standard, academic style: articles that are more polemical, or articles that respond to key issues in the metal scene,

Do you think academia has been hostile to metal in the past, or simply seen it as being part of the amorphous cloud of “rock” without an identity of its own?

I think there have been academics who have been very dismissive of heavy metal in the past, people who have seen the music as serving no good purpose in everyday life. I think for many of these critics, their own prejudices and tastes have got in the way: metal has always had that blue-collar association, and some cultural academics still can’t bring themselves to acknowledge the diversity and depth of the genre. There are also some academics who think heavy metal is a great evil, and we still see some papers written that claim metal fans are more likely to be criminals and so on. This is just bad science, but every time someone publishes these crude generalisations the press picks up the story. This journal is the journal of the International Society for Metal Music Studies. This learned society is partly for academics who have a professional interest in metal, but also those in the industry who want to be a part of Metal Music Studies, including musicians and journalists, and fans. You should join up. When you do, you will get a subscription to the journal. And all your readers should join! (Advert over.)

You’re taking an inter-disciplinary approach as opposed to a pure musicological one. What are the advantages of this approach, and does metal uniquely require them?

Inter-disciplinarity is the only way you can create a subject field such as metal music studies. If all you do is focus on one discipline you miss half the interest, half the story, and half the explanation. Just think about how and why death metal appeared on the scene in the 1980s. Part of it was technological, such as the practice of certain producers and studios; part of it was musicological, such as the evolution of certain vocal styles, riffs and beats; and part of it was social, a reaction by bands and fans against the mainstream metal of the day. Heavy metal is not unique in requiring inter-disciplinarity to explore it: sport and leisure are other possible subjects of this kind of work, and there are many others.

When you speak of the journal publishing “high-quality, world-class research, theory,” what do you mean by “theory”?

When we mention theory we are suggesting we will publish academic papers that develop new theories about heavy metal, or that use heavy metal to develop new theories in their parent disciplines. A lot of academic work is research (investigating stuff), but not all of it, and we’d like to see papers on theory as well as papers based on new research.

What sort of topics would one research in metal? Does this include statistical approaches?

There are hundreds of possible research topics in metal! In Metal Music Studies, we will be interested in research about the music itself, the industry, the fans, the spaces, the lyrics, the metal media, metal in wider society, metal in different countries, genres, philosophies, histories, ideologies, the politics of metal, metal events, metal and globalisation, just to list a few obvious research topics that come to mind. My own academic interest in heavy metal is the local extreme metal scene in the north of England, elitism in black metal and the ways in which the Norwegian BM scene of the early 1990s has been mythologised.

How important do you think it is to study the history of metal? Does this include the context in which these musicians formulated their music?

The history of metal is a crucial part of metal music studies — and yes, this is musicological history as well as social or cultural history.

Do you think it is appropriate to view metal as a form of deliberate and purposeful art, or more as an entertainment product which reflects community attitudes?

Heavy metal is both of those things, sometimes at the same time, but not always. That’s the reason why it is an interesting subject of study. People in the scene, musicians and fans, talk about heavy metal being something artistically important and culturally authentic, something that stands against everything we dislike about mainstream pop music. But so much of heavy metal is part of that mainstream, and even death and black metal are shaped by the forces of commerce.

What, in your view, is the dividing line between “metal” and “rock”?

Metal is one louder. Actually, there isn’t a clear dividing line, and for many people I think there is a smooth transition. For the purposes of the journal, we will allow histories of rock music as they shed light on metal’s evolution. We will probably also allow in scene studies where there is a connection between rock and metal fans, in the same way we will publish research on the intersections between metal and punk, or metal and goth music.

Do you personally listen to heavy metal? Does study of metal require enjoying metal, and/or does enjoying metal lend anything to the study?

Yes, I listen to a lot of heavy metal, mainly black metal and doom, and local bands from the north of England. I try to get out to gigs when something comes around worth travelling for: the last gig I was at was Enslaved in Manchester, England, with the mighty Winterfylleth in support. I think being a metalhead myself allows me to understand the nuances of the scene, its history and the music. I think that makes my research have a certain depth to it. But I do think it’s quite possible to do research on heavy metal and not personally like it.

Many people view metal fans as people who are social outcasts who are unlikely to pursue education. Why do you think metal fans are so alienated? Do you think your research will bridge this gulf as well?

I think that stereotype about the average metal fans is out-dated. I think metal fans tend to be very intelligent people, and that’s why they are drawn to the music. I’m hoping the journal and the International Society for Metal Music Studies will prove that there are metal fans who are able to articulate their passion for the music while remaining critical and measured.

Are there any sources in the metal community who are doing what you are doing?

None that I know about.

Who are your forebears in this field? What is the history of academic involvement in metal?

Robert Walser and Deena Weinstein were the key academics who first proved that heavy metal was worthy of serious academic study. Keith Kahn-Harris has been important in championing the field.

Prof. Martin Jacobsen is teaching an English class at WTAMU about metal lyrics, and Prof. Josef Hanson is teaching a metal musicological course at University of Rochester. Are you aware of these? How would this type of activity fit in with what you’re doing, and vice-versa?

I wasn’t aware of these, but I’m not surprised. I use metal in my own classes on the sociology of leisure.

Can you tell us more about the upcoming journal, including when it will be available, and what sorts of things to expect in it?

The new journal’s first issue will be out at the end of 2014. The content of the journal will demonstrate the range of metal music studies, so an ideal issue would include perhaps some of the following (these are just ideas, and this is not an actual list of contents):

  • research published by a range of established names, early career researchers and those from parent disciplines;
  • research on the performance and production of metal;
  • research on the analysis of metal lyrics;
  • research on new sub-genres and fandom;
  • research on the evolution of heavy metal from rock music;
  • ethnographic research on a metal scene in Kenya;
  • research on the aesthetics of metal;
  • research on the social psychology of death metal growling;
  • and smaller pieces discussing whether black metal is dead or alive, written by a print journalist and a blogger.
  • The bulk of the content will be original research and theory papers (6-10k size), alongside smaller articles/opinion pieces (1-3k) devoted to discussion of metal by ‘serious’ non-academics (journalists, fans and industry insiders).
  • There will also be book reviews.

How does one join the ISMMS?

At the moment ISMMS does not have membership, as it is not yet set up officially and legally with the authorities in the States. Amber Clifford is the Treasurer so her email contact should be used for anyone who wants to join the Society. When the paperwork is finalised membership details will be confirmed via the ISMMS web-site, the Metpol mailing list, the ISMMS Facebook page and other channels.

Do you accept submissions from people who are not academics, merely metalheads or metal journalists?

The journal will accept submissions from independent scholars and non-academics, and the society will accept such people as members. There will be a separate section in the journal for shorter papers that will allow non-academics to contribute, but there is nothing to stop independent scholars submitting full papers – all full papers will be subject to peer review against the usual standards of academic writing. We want to encourage such contributions.

What can a metal band do to make it easier for them to be studied? Is there a place, for example, where well-known metal bands can sign up to be part of a study, or to put their stamp of approval on the project?

There isn’t a place where metal bands can sign up to be part of research studies — sounds like a great idea, actually! In terms of endorsements, we are hoping some high-profile musicians and band will sign up to the Society and support its aims, and maybe even write in the journal.

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The relationship between black metal, ambient and neoclassical music

nordic_dark_ambient_neoclassical_black_metalIn the mainstream press, black metal has a reputation for being solely misanthropic, heavily distorted anthems of aggression and despair that are defined by their primitive minimalism.

While this may hold true for the majority of contemporary bands, this view overlooks the foundational bands of the genre, who possessed a deft sense of melody and the focus to create longer compositions that allowed for more introspection.

Just as black metal musicians created a more minimalistic form of death metal, some were able to apply the same approach to the ambient and neoclassical genres, crafting tracks that through the use of repetition, stirring melodies, and tonal variation reveal the genre’s primal elegance without need of layers of distortion.

Given the news that Neptune Towers is being released on vinyl and Burzum is releasing an album comprised entirely of electronic music, now seems a fitting time to investigate this interesting subgenre and how it arose from black metal in several instances.

Burzum

Favoring simple but expansive compositions, contemplative melodies soar over mild arpeggios; in addition to a few tracks of industrial nihilistic deconstruction. Through the utilization of modern technology, Burzum makes narrative and meditative music that like its inspiration Tolkien, takes the participant on an internal journey to another realm.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BajdtSD0eWk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30lt14WQ1w0

Neptune Towers

A side project of Darkthrone‘s Fenriz, in Neptune Towers haunting melodies glide over dark drones while otherworldly noises color the backdrop. Evocative tracks signal the coming to Earth of a yet-unknown alien species or perhaps the future evolution of humanity, the soundtrack to the future.


Beherit

This band fuses its earlier black metal style with the industrial, pop, and ambient genres, featuring melodies that would not be out of place on a metal album, but pairs them with repetitive trance-like drums, synths, and found sounds that coalesce into epic moments before fading away like the rays of a burned out sun. Fans of multiple genres should appreciate this one.


Ildjarn

Elegant and skillfully composed tracks celebrating the beauty of nature in their simplicity reveal a greater depth of expression than would be possible with over-produced tracks. Just as he did with black metal, Ildjarn with compatriot Nidhogg reduces neoclassical music to its most basic form and builds from it an enchanting structure.


Lord Wind

A side project of Graveland, with Lord Wind martial drumming and heroic melodies bring to mind the battles of old, while synths and choruses expand the project’s horizons, providing reach to contrast with the grounded and earthy rhythms. Well-crafted neoclassic folk music, this is the further continuation of Graveland‘s second stage.


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Hessian Studies becomes real: hate-crime protection for metalheads

heavy_metal_subcultureAccording to UPI, the police in Manchester, UK have decided to extend hate crime protection to “subcultures such as punk rockers, Goths and heavy metal fans.”

This is the realization of one aspect of Hessian Studies, the concept dreamed up during the PC early 1990s to give the metal subculture the same respect, study and attention given to other cultures. Recent years have seen acceptance of metal as a religion, as a disability and as a topic for academic study.

Now, with recognition of metal as a sub-culture becoming formalized, metal faces both the greatest success and greatest risk of its 40-year lifespan. The success is that mainstream society has adopted it and legitimized its viewpoint; the danger is that modern society will project its own viewpoint onto metal as a pre-requisite to adopting it. As we all know, the easiest way to accept something strange is to make it into a version of the same old stuff we see everyday, like Chinese Take-Out and Italian Microwave Dinners.

“We are able to officially recognize that people who wish to express their alternative subculture identity freely should not have to tolerate hate crime — something that many people have to endure on a daily basis,” said Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan.

Apparently, this act was spurred by the assaults on Sophie Lancaster, a 20-year-old Goth who was attacked as she walked through a park and never regained consciousness. As a result, the courts and police are expanding the list of protected groups from “religion, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation” to also include subculture status such as that experienced by metallers, punkers and Goths.

Hessian Studies, a movement begun in 1994 and thriving throughout the 1990s, hoped to achieve this kind of recognition for metal and acceptance of its validity as a subculture. Apparently, the dream is coming true.

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Death Metal Underground podcast 04-03-13

death_metal_underground-podcastDeathMetal.org continues its exploration of radio with a podcast of death metal, dark ambient and fragments of literature. This format allows all of us to see the music we enjoy in the context of the ideas which inspired it.

Clandestine DJ Rob Jones brings you the esoteric undercurrents of doom metal, death metal and black metal in a show that also exports its philosophical examinations of life, existence and nothingness.

This niche radio show exists to glorify the best of metal, with an emphasis on newer material but not a limitation of it, which means that you will often hear new possibilities in the past as well as the present.

If you miss the days when death metal was a Wild West that kept itself weird, paranoid and uncivilized, you will appreciate this detour outside of acceptable society into the thoughts most people fear in the small hours of the night.

The playlist for this week’s show is:

  • Necrophobic – The Nocturnal Silence
  • Extracts from The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot (read by Eliot himself)
  • A Transilvanian Funeral – Cold Blood and Darkness
  • Sergei Prokofiev – Night (from Scythian Suite)


Metal music has from its very beginning existed as music outside the normal narrative of popular culture. Refusing to conform to the saccharine hippy outlook of 60s rock, or later the cheap sloganeering of punk, it existed even outside of the officially sanctioned definitions of ‘outsider’ music. It eschewed both post-modern self-irony and the pre-packaged emotions of pop to create a music that was both assertive and esoteric at the same time.

Peak metal genres, death and black metal, essentially grew up in a parallel cultural atmosphere to what was gracing the covers of Rolling Stone and NME magazines or playing on MTV – a culture that only made sense to the initiated and the dedicated, and spoke a language of death, danger and intolerance for the posers who would water down metal’s intensity.

Metal first came in from this wilderness as music that was only an echo of its surface sound. Bands playing loud, distorted guitar rock with a stand-offish attitude were taken up by the media and the public as relatively accessible versions of what had previously been denied either by them or to them by Darwinian means. It had little of the substance of metal but claimed its name.

Metal had been co-opted by people who had neither the heart nor the stomach to understand it, who parodied its most obvious components and fed back into the general perception of what metal was without any idea of what it had been up to that point. Shortly, bands who had been underground stalwarts were picked up by major labels looking for the next profitable act, and together duly proceeded to water down their sound to fit more closely the rock paradigm that suited the market and reinforced the conception of metal created by the co-opters.

Where metal had once ignored how people dismissed it as mindless brutish music, to privately develop its own distinct and even elegant musical language, it now embraced its stereotype, and turned into an angry flavour of the same musical clichés all pop music is based on. Where once it dismissed the crowd, it now was overwhelmed by it.

Whilst its popularity may have soared, hollowed out, the quality of metal went into a nearly two decade-long decline.

  • Dead Congregation – Martyrdom
  • Supuration – Consumate
  • Cosmic Atrophy – Shattering of Terrestrial Reality


Perhaps as an inevitable consequence of generational power shifts, academia is now taking seriously this music that two and three decades ago a diffuse bunch of young people held out to insist was both unique and powerful. Metal seems to be once again coming in from its wilderness, this time however it is being assessed on its own terms. Rather than sanitising or absorbing it into the broader cultural milieu, people from outside of metal are trying to understand it, and discovering the surprising quality of work that can be discovered when one scratches beneath the mainstream-encrusted surface.

It perhaps says something for the morbidity of metal art that it has become a sort of study piece – a museum-worthy curio to sit around chin-scratching and taking notes on. Near-extinct – or, at least, no longer threatening.

The new-found seriousness about metal may prove to be a healthy dose of self-confidence for a much misunderstood genre, too long equated with aggro-rock and/or blamed for any number of society’s problems. Yet still, it remains to be seen whether metal will be creatively spurred by this new-found level of acceptance and recapture anything like the long-gone glory days of the genre.

The dry, sanitary air of academia may not suit it as much as an atmosphere of evaporated sweat, grave miasma and dried blood. For as strong as metal is artistically, it is nonetheless still an art that emphasises outward action over introversion. The capricious nature of inspiration means that art is something that must be lived, not theorised and examined in microscopic detail. Sometimes this means that inspiration comes once in one big unself-conscious outpouring, and then afterwards simply never surfaces again.

  • Candlemass – A Sorcerer’s Pledge
  • Disma – Lost in the Burial Fog

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