Metal Heads: Heavy Metal Music and Adolescent Alienation

By Jeffrey Jensen Arnett | Go to book overview

3
What Is This Thing Called Heavy Metal?

Technology is ideology.

-- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

[Art involves the] imitation of an action, [which arouses] pity and fear [and then] effects the proper purgation of these emotions. . . . But to produce this effect by the mere spectacle, and dependent on extraneous aids, is a less artistic method.

-- Aristotle, Poetics

Our whole world is living through a century of spiritual illness, which could not but give rise to a similar ubiquitous illness in art.

-- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, twentieth-century Russian novelist

In order to understand metalheads and the heavy metal subculture, some familiarity with heavy metal songs is essential. In this chapter I provide a brief history of the genre, describe typical characteristics of the songs, and present numerous lyrical examples. Let me say from the outset, however, that to get the full effect of heavy metal music you have to listen to it, not just read a description of it. In particular, you have to listen to it in a live setting, at its loudest and most cacophonic, with metalheads banging their heads, pumping their fists, and slamdancing all around you. For those of you who cannot quite imagine yourselves undertaking such an enterprise, this chapter will at least give you a general idea of the characteristics of heavy metal songs.

Before beginning I should make it clear what kinds of songs I am defining as heavy metal, because there is much debate among metalheads as to which songs and groups do and do not qualify. For those who define the term strictly, heavy metal includes only bands that have a harsh, dark sound and perform songs mainly with themes of alienation and anger. For those who define the term more loosely, heavy metal includes not only these bands but also bands that have a brighter, lighter sound and whose songs concern mainly boy-girl and hedonistic themes -- sex, angry love, lost love, desired love, partying, and more sex. For the purposes of

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