Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Dark Matters: Mapping Science Fiction on the Extreme Metal Continuum

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Dark Matters: Mapping Science Fiction on the Extreme Metal Continuum

Article excerpt

The rock genre called metal is more generally associated with high-volume sounds, juvenile posturing, and in-your-face costuming than with science fiction. While Metal Studies1 has already emerged as a transdisciplinary field of enquiry aimed at illuminating the genre as far more complex and ambiguous as is commonly accepted, metal music itself has continued to be identified thematically with a cache of specific lyrical, iconographic, and performative parameters. Religiousness and anti-religiousness, with particular emphasis on the occult and Satanism, have been staples of all generations of metal artists. Although the genre has been often charged with political naivety, many bands, particularly those gravitating towards the punk and hard-core scenes, have been vehemently ideological. The storytelling mainstays include destruction, depression, extreme states of mind, and warfare. Fantasy and horror have provided steady inspiration in the form of demons, vampires, zombies, or high-fantasy heroes, who have become topical nexuses for entire sub-genres (power metal, as represented by Manowar or Blind Guardian) or mini-scenes (the unnamed grouping of U. S. death metal bands with a proclivity for zombies, including Mortician or Autopsy). Zombies have also been a thematic bridge to torture, gore, decomposition, and scatology, with bands such as early Carcass or Cannibal Corpse taking the qualifier "fantasy violence" to entirely new levels. Little of this seems to be science-fictional, not to mention science fiction, but links and interweavings between metal music and science fiction do exist.

In an attempt to disarm the glib rejections of the genre resulting from its unfortunate image, Robert Walser has suggested that various forms of metal's negativity can be more productively interpreted as "dissatisfaction with dominant identities and institutions" (xvii). From this point of view, metal not only challenges the normative tastes and subjectivities of the middle class but also engages in a more systematic economic and political contestation. At the same time, however, and especially since Walser's book appeared, a number of metal sub-genres have become successfully imbricated with the hegemonic architectures of market economy and its ideologies. Elsewhere, a significant contingent of metal artists also perpetuates patriarchal and heteronormative constructions of gender and sexuality which, in many countries, positions them in an unexpected alignment with conservative power structures.

This dialectical relationship between its potentiality as an active tool of subversion and its status as a product of neoliberal market frameworks is something that metal shares with science fiction, even if this affinity may account for little of the interest in science-fictional themes numerous metal artists have demonstrated. Interestingly, the preoccupation with science-fictionality has been far more prominent in less extreme, and thus more commercial, varieties of metal; it has also often been as an extension of the thematics present in the musical continuum from which heavy metal emerged, such as progressive and psychedelic rock (Hawkind, Magma, Pink Floyd) and heavier rock'n'roll and hard rock (Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Rush). The most important sf-inflected heavy metal albums include Iron Maiden's Somewhere in Time (1984); (2) Queensryche's concept album Operation: Mindcrime (1998), envisioning a near-future dystopian America, controlled by an underground cult; and Ayreon's two Universal Migrator albums (2000), describing the colonization of Mars and further stellar voyages. Other science fiction literary inspirations include Gamma Ray's Somewhere out in Space (1998), a loose concept album about cosmic invasions inspired by elements of Wells's The War of the Worlds and Clarke's Childhood's End; Steel Prophet's Dark Hallucinations (1999), which draws heavily on Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451; and Manticora's Hyperion (2002) based on Dan Simmons' eponymous book, although with character and place names changed to avoid copyright problems. …

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