Why Metal Matters by Marnina Herrmann

Posted: April 20, 2009 by Maximum Mike in The Rocking Chair Blog
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I have been thinking a lot about metal lately. And not just in the “OMG Tony Kakko is so hot (loud shriek followed by giggle)!” kind of way, but in a more academic way. Ask most musicologists or “serious” musicians and they will scoff at the thought of metal being important. My university, for example, has a huge music department. They teach instruments I have never heard of. They have classes in every minute subgenera known to man, but heavy metal is no where in sight. I am not sure what makes dancehall more significant in their minds than metal, but time and time again metal is marginalized by the serious music community.

I don’t care to get into a long discussion about why people’s excuses for writing-off metal suck. That is another discussion altogether and one that I am personally bored of. In actual fact I don’t really want to talk about metal in terms of music, but rather in terms of a cultural movement. That is not to say that the music itself is not significant. It is. On a personal level metal is the soundtrack to my life (with the occasional foray into other stuff, I mean nothing can replace Shakira when you want to get in some good hip shimmies). Plus the music is central to the Heavy Metal culture. Yet, music is just sound waves after all and its importance lies not so much in what we hear but what we get from it.

According to sociologist Deena Weinstein metal has persisted longer than most genres of rock music because of the growth of the metal community and its “subculture of alienation.” While I do agree that metal has bread a somewhat exclusive community, I would argue that of all musical fringe genres metal is probably the least exclusionary and it is for that reason that it has persisted longer than most genres of rock. metal-heads are defined by their interaction with the music and music scene. While fashion and specific personas have a roll in the metal community they are not as central as they are in the punk, hip-hop or goth communities. With metal as long as you show you are truly devoted to the music you are legit. The trends that come along with the music are ever-changing and honestly not that significant. Outsiders often associate specific characteristics with metal-heads but anyone who has ever been to a metal concert can vouch for the fact that these stereotypes are largely untrue. At every metal concert I have been to the typical wardrobe of the audience is jeans (and not ripped ones) and a T-shirt. Run into one of these people on the street and you would probably never guess what music was pulsating through their iPod earbuds. Waiting in line outside the concert venue people are laid back, friendly and happy to discuss the band’s newest single, upcoming concerts and other music news. It is only when the lights go down, the band comes out and the music starts playing that people’s inner metal-head surfaces.

Metal is an extremely energetic, empowering genre. Despite all the doom and gloom associated with it, it truly does make people happy. In talking about heavy metal in his book “Fargo Rock City” Chuck Klosterman says, “since the mood of the music tends to be more persuasive than the actual lyrics- and since the words to most rock songs are almost impossible to understand- kids are forced to interpret heavy metal any way they can.” Later on in the book he says, “what music “means” is almost completely dependent on the people who sell it and on the people who buy it, not on the people who make it.” While many people, the musicians especially, would call his theory crazy, I think it is completely true. In 1968 French literary critic Roland Barthes wrote an essay entitled “Death of the Author.” His argument is that literature (and this can be applied to all art) has many different layers and interpretations. The author’s interpretation is just one idea and it is no more correct than anyone else’s interpretation. Barthes ideas are by no means radical. The Yale School of deconstructionist critics have similar views towards literature. If this is so, and I believe it is, on a large scale metal is of no more or less importance than any other cultural form. To an individual though, metal can be the world. As they say, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

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