Academic journal article Current Musicology

Metal in Three Modes of Enmity: Political, Musical, Cosmic

Academic journal article Current Musicology

Metal in Three Modes of Enmity: Political, Musical, Cosmic

Article excerpt

Gerd Bayer ed. 2009. Heavy Metal Music in Britain. Surrey, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Steve Waksman. 2009. This Ain't the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Nicola Masciandaro ed. 2010. Hideous Gnosis: Black Metal Theory Sympoisum 1. Charleston: CreateSpace.

Scholarship on metal always seems a little bewildered or put on the defensive by the genre's profoundly adversarial nature. Metal certainly opposes something, and to a large extent is defined by this opposition rather than by any obvious message of its own, but what exactly does it oppose? Certain political values? Certain kinds of music? Certain religions? Or does it represent a vague opposition to "things in general;" is it the music of rebellion without a cause? The short answer, judging by the academic treatments under review here as well as earlier attempts to censor it, is that it opposes whatever its interpreters want it to. Thus its critics site accusations of racism, sexism, and homophobia, while supporters praise its supposed opposition to capitalism, strict gender roles, and even the concept of order itself. Many of these metal partisans, especially those whose primary concern is the rehabilitation of an art form often perceived as ethically problematic, spend so much time explaining away its disturbing features that they ignore the possibility that disturbance is precisely the point. Even those who do recognize disturbance as a fundamental aim of metal and call attention to the specific forms that that disturbance takes, such as expressions of animosity toward certain groups of people, often fail to explain why listeners are attracted to these sounds. That the appeal doesn't lie only in bigotry is clear from the growing number of fans who come from the very groups that have been the most stigmatized in metal--women, ethnic minorities, religiously observant people, and queer women and men.

The following essay will not fully explain either the genre's lust for enmity in all forms or the perverse attraction that this spirit of antagonism holds for fans, but it will at least review current scholarly thought on these subjects and suggest some possible avenues for future exploration. I will provide a brief overview of the scholarship that first legitimized the study of metal and consider three recent books that each turn the notion of metal's enmity toward other things into an analytical methodology; that is, they attempt to define it by what it is not and by what it opposes. The books cast metal in opposition to certain political values, kinds of music, and religious/philosophical worldviews. Out of our discussion--imbued with the recognition that metal exists only in opposition, enmity, and negativity toward something else--will emerge a sense of the elusiveness of this art form as a subject of inquiry and the difficulty of finding a methodological approach that fully captures its strangeness, darkness, and hostility toward analysis.

Metal's transmission from the stage to the page began with lurid biographies and autobiographies of performers, which continue to be churned out by both mainstream and, increasingly, vanity presses. Like other popular music genres, it entered the academy under the aegis of sociology rather than musicology, since the validation of a set of sounds as music worthy of study cannot occur until the people who create and consume them are taken seriously. The early work of sociologists Donna Gaines and Deena Weinstein in Teenage Wasteland: Suburbia's Dead End Kids (1991) and Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology (1991) thus painted a sympathetic portrait of the typical disaffected, middle-to-lower class, white teenage male fan who had so alarmed adult elites that in 1985 a bipartisan committee founded the infamous Parents Music Resource Center in an attempt to censor metal (as well as hip hop and some pop) for their supposedly damaging effect on the morals of American youth. …

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