The Meaning of Metal

Description of Research

 

Heavy metal, or simply ”metal” as it is more commonly called, was once a marginal genre of music and its subculture a marginal scene in the global music industry. In the 21st century, metal music seems to have become a global cultural phenomenon, an important form of cultural export, and even a source of national pride in some countries.  In addition to the numerous metal bands that are unquestionably successful in the album charts worldwide, there are many other forms of evidence of the diffusion of metal subculture to global society. On the one hand, there are the numerous festivals of metal music worldwide, the wide range of metal artists’ concerts on the schedules of rock clubs around the world, and the metal tourists from Japan, Central Europe and North America, for example, who travel to remote places like Scandinavia simply because some Scandinavian metal bands never tour elsewhere. On the other hand, there is the plethora of metal merchandise sold in Hot Topic (an American franchise specialized in selling metal, punk and Goth clothes and accessories) at malls around the US, the fairly recent customer competition at Spencer’s Gifts – another nationwide franchise in the US – the main prize of which was a trip to Finland to meet HIM, or the likes of the two people we met randomly in North Carolina – an Argentine young man and an American sales assistant – both of whom had started to study Finnish on their own, so that they could understand the lyrics of their favorite Finnish metal bands who sing in Finnish. Clearly, the significance and meaning of metal seems to be more than simply spending time listening to music. The culture surrounding the music seems to touch people in more ways than one, no matter where they are from; besides the ever-important role it plays in self-expression, participation in metal culture includes active concert attendance, cultural tourism, fashion and self-education, among others.

 

Even though metal music and metal subculture have been part of the diverse range of culture for over 30 years, research on Metal or research discussing Metal even partially has been very limited. While the meaning and influences of metal have been the subject of numerous studies in which metal fans and artists alike are often categorized as a homogenous group (see e.g. Hall Hansen & Hansen, 1995; Weinstein, 2000) and which often hypothesize and conclude  the meaning and influences of metal music to produce and encourage behavior that is detrimental to both the minds of the individual participants and also the society as a whole, a thorough study of who the people participating in metal culture either as fans, artists or cultural producers are and what metal music means to those participants has not been conducted. There are numerous scholarly articles and monographs examining several aspects of metal as a subculture in various parts of the world, including such exotic places as Bali and Thailand, but an extensive study of metal culture and its participants with no intention to categorize them, but rather analyze, explain, and describe their diversity, has not been conducted. 

 

Considering the extent and significance of metal as part of contemporary global culture, it is important to conduct a study that will investigate the meaning of metal to its participants worldwide. Such a study is important for many reasons. On the one hand, it is important because the general public traditionally superficially misinterpret the meaning of Metal, and therefore some commonly held prejudices regarding both Metal bands and fans still persist in the minds of the masses regardless of the positive aspects of Metal that are often obvious to the participants in Metal culture. To the untrained eye, the culture of Metal seems to only conjure images of black and gloomy appearance, defiance, violence, and aggression, while those who are part of the scene often highlight the fact that the lyrics and melodies are the only places where real aggression is tangible in Metal, that fans treat each other with utmost respect even in the whirlwind of the moshpit and, like good horror fiction or a thriller movie, participation in metal culture allows the participants to experience a whole range of emotions in one show in a safe way. On the other hand, it will be equally important to document the reasons why something that seems so extreme and threatening on the surface is, in fact, an important part of some nation’s (e.g. Finland) cultural identity and a source of national pride which is exported successfully worldwide, and a cultural phenomenon that seems to promote unity and loyalty to an increasing global fan base of youth and grown-ups alike.

 

Because post-doc studies on metal music and on metal culture have been rather few and narrowly focused, and because the preliminary motivation for research has often been to study a sociological problem, this study will bring significant new insights and results to the study of metal as part of contemporary culture. This research plan presents the outline of a large study on the meaning of metal. Between summer 2008 and summer 2011, we will gather data on who the people participating in metal culture globally are, what metal music and culture mean to the fans and other participants of the culture, and what the participation in the culture means to them. There are two main elements of the empirical research: ¹a study of the fans, and ²a study of the artists and other participants who produce the culture of metal.

  

Considering the extent of global metal culture and the apparently redefined social status of metal in Finland, the topic of this research project is not only interesting but also important. Upon the completion of this study, the results could benefit both the scientific community and the public; we expect the results of this research project to explain contemporary metal culture and phenomenon to both a lay audience and the academe.

 

 

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