Connecting Metal to Culture: by Mika Elovaara and Bryan Bardine

Connecting Metal to Culture: by Mika Elovaara and Bryan Bardine

Metal Studies may be absent from most curricula, but the 15 scholars in this essay collection offer methods to analyze what to many appears to be sonic madness.

Connecting Metal to Culture: by Mika Elovaara and Bryan Bardine

3 / 5

Metal Studies may be absent from most curricula, but the 15 scholars in this essay collection offer methods to analyze what to many appears to be sonic madness. Alex Skolnick observes how both academia and Metal attract non-conformists. However, in such a “haven,” crowds expect familiar rhythms. Among Metalheads, the bookish would be belittled; at a conference, the studious would likely don a suit rather than a Slayer T-shirt. The “unity in disparity” shown in Connecting Metal to Culture animates the presentation of learned articles akin to a playlist, spanning many rock genres, current and classic.

As with a compilation album, many tones and registers emerge. Given the comparative paucity of academic investigation in this field, this essay collection builds on new research, Diversity reigns. Prejudice against Metal endures, but its role in global culture gains visibility in documentaries and local scenes. Demonstrating its range, nearly a thousand respondents to an online survey enrich the data gathered.

Cultural contexts broaden the variety of explorations. Elovaara scans his native Finland and finds “folk” in lyrical, theatrical, musical, and thematic elements. Even a Eurovision winner enters. Using online databases, Elovaara tallies that a clear majority of Finnish fans regard international success for a band with pride, even if the fan may not like a certain band very much. Pride in Metal reinforces national identity. Blue-and-white shirts in the colors of the flag stand out in a dark-clad crowd. Furthermore, many bands choose to sing in the native language, no matter where they tour.

There’s a Finnish commercial that advertises cough drops through the setup of a Metal singer seeking relief as his band plays in the snow. Brad Klypchak might archive this among his collection of kitsch. Pat Boone, Progressive Insurance, Aerosmith, “American Idol” and Broadway shows exemplify the range of references investigated. Still, one wishes that proofreading would have caught the “Idol”
contestant who “exudes his past training of clear annunciation,” unless he’s the Angel Gabriel.

Four Puerto Rican psychologists diagnose masculine roles, “female gender transgressions” and the significance of instruments, and how they are wielded, by women-dominated bands. The quartet acclaims the space opened up within the Metal counterculture to subvert traditional expectations. When a woman plays drums or commands a seven-string guitar, a challenge to a stereotype emerges.

Political diversity follows gender empowerment. André Epp looks beyond Black and Death into other subgenres. Epp charts from Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” (1970) onward a lineage of protest and dissent. Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Metal presents defiance against many regimes.

In more fictional instances, Gothic literature provides a congenial niche for Metal. Jeremy Wallach and Esther Clinton conceive of a listener as “an empowered medial subject, aggrieved but not defenseless, neither subaltern victim nor dominating victor, someone attuned to both the horror and the allure of power.” As this excerpt exemplifies, contributors write in the language of the contemporary academy, itself a vehicle for conformity. This may keep the collection of essays from the broader audience, as may the editorial decision to append degree abbreviations to its contributors. Academic convention usually prefers to keep these identifiers in a short list following endnote documentation. Elovaara and co-editor Bryan Bardine may be promoting credentials to gain respect.

Speaking of conformity, C.C. Hendricks examines “headbanging heritage.” Metal counterculture mirrors that of the Beats. Rebellion, political commentary, satire, outcast communities and performance establish links between the two countercultures. Marginal communities gain a purpose.

This common bond invigorates many Metal fans and bands worldwide. Documentary films portray an increasingly cosmopolitan identification. For Gerd Bayer, this aligns with parallel shifts within post-colonial writing, which sought to advance past the role of “subaltern victim” mentioned above. Groups as famous as Iron Maiden or as popular as Sepultura appear on camera, as well as innovations such as China’s Tang Dynasty, Germany’s Kreator and the festival in rural Wacken where they appear.

Bayer allots much of his word count to critical theory, but details of actual documentaries manage to surface. One predicament contributors share is how to balance the recital of research in their larger areas of study with the attention needed to open up the Metal cultures enough to examine them closely. This balance eludes many academics. Yet their successors may build on these foundations.

The final entries return to narrower pursuits. Kevin Ebert reasons that while Ace Frehley of KISS may claim he is entirely self-taught, nearly all Metal guitarists who recite the old saw that they never had lessons or formal training tend to stretch the truth. Given the abundant aids available for decades, aspiring musicians since the 1970s enjoy pedagogical material as well as lessons, however informal.

Two professors of English share their own instructional expertise. Paul Petrovic enables his composition students to reject stereotypes and to expand their reception of Metal as a culture. Bardine teaches his Honors course by integrating scholarly perspectives, lyrical close readings, cinematic representations and finally a field trip to a concert—albeit one close by in Dayton, Ohio.

The editors return for an encore. They question some of the assumptions made by Deena Weinstein, one of the first to treat this subject from a theoretical perspective. The editors from their “participant observation” over the past decade conclude that Metal fans do not live their lives out as fans due to “little positive attention” being granted them. Instead, Elovaara and Bardine concur that the energy emanated, and deepened when attending concerts, elevates the fans akin to their counterparts at a football game or soccer match. Communal solidarity strengthens, and intimate emotions emanate.

This collection, while uneven given the disparate backgrounds and predilections of each contributor, offers a thoughtful fan of Metal, as well as those outside this base curious about the resonance of the genre across borders and cultures, a place to begin their own attentive scrutiny of a worthy music.

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