Subgenres Vulgar Display of Passion: Chapter 13

metal subgenres

“The term ‘Heavy Metal’ is now used to designate a great variety of musical practices and ideological stances.  Moreover, metal has contributed to the development of many discursive ‘fusions’: metal influenced pop, rock, rap, funk, and so on.” (Walser, 1993, p. 28)

Heavy metal has consistently been a prolific genre because there are few musical rules that must be followed, besides being “heavy” (Weinstein, 1991, p. 7).  Countless interpretations of “heavy” have been realized, and rather than being phased out or supplanted by new, trendy mainstream musical styles, heavy metal has persisted and become immeasurably fragmented (Weinstein, 1991).  The subculture that has solidified around the music over the years has encouraged the production of these diverse subgenres, which have also created their own complex sets of codes and operating parameters (Weinstein, 1991).  Analyzing these rules, qualities and commonalities between the “astonishing variety” of musical subgenres within heavy metal is a daunting task indeed, and for a non-metal fan, many of the defining attributes of a particular subgenre may be completely unrecognizable (Christenson & Roberts, 1998, p. 73).

The myriad variations of heavy metal music have been spawned through geographic and temporal differences, personalities of the musicians or the lead composer, these artists’ influences and intentions, advancement of recording technologies and the ability for self-actualization (Weinstein, 1991).  The development of these unique sounds reflects not only the personal attitudes and talents of the band members, but also acts as a vital marketing tool in that the sound becomes “a commercial identification and an aural logo” (Weinstein, 1991, p. 78).  Weinstein (1991) additionally states that intelligent study of heavy metal subgenres implores an “awareness of these and other distinctions within the [music and] audience, as well as a realization that these differences may be more or less significant” to the music (p. 96).  Subgenres have emerged and have often been named after their own particular styles or content specialties.  For instance, Purcell (2003) describes “Death” metal as,

“Usually fast, low, powerful, intense and played very loudly… [with] speedy, chaotic guitar riffs, hyper double-bass blast beats, which mimic the sound of a machine gun firing, …rapid shifts from low and slow to fast and blast… deep, repetitive tunes with resounding and spooky guitars, … [and] guttural growling, screeching, screaming, [and] grungy sorts of manipulations of the throat and stomach…  In general, death metal music is very extreme.” (p. 9-10)

Clearly, there are certain musical components that will include or exclude a particular sound or image from a heavy metal subgenre.  There are also musical and lyrical attributes that overlap between subgenres that cause much debate whether or not a band would belong to a particular subgenre.  Without going into specific details about each style, it should be noted that heavy metal subgenres can include, and are certainly not limited to; Thrash, Death, Doom, Black Metal, White Metal, Grindcore, Hardcore, Metalcore, Nu-Metal, Progressive, Deathgroove, Sludge, Crust, Stoner Metal, Math Metal, Gothic, Folk, or even “Sick Porno Gore Grind” (Sharpe-Young, 2008, p. 341, p.457).  Regional distinctions comprised of a number of similar sounding bands are also quite apparent as evidenced by the massively influential Florida Death Metal scene, Melodic Swedish Thrash community, or highly controversial Norwegian Black Metal movement (Sharpe-Young, 2008).  Lyrical content, album art, and aspects of live concert performances including style of dress and stage props (or lack thereof) are also subgenre delineation characteristics, which play into audience responses and the overall following of the subgenre.

Weinstein (1991) reveals that adherence to particular musical subgenres and the resulting membership of those subcultures “are not only contexts of appreciation, but also of the creation of a way of life, including a certain style” (p. 97).  Each musical subculture creates styles and activities that “become living art homologous with musical form” that are capable of articulating the innermost beliefs of individuals and can even result in musical “intoxication” (Weinstein, 1991, p. 98).  Members of the subculture are united on the basis of these subgenre specifics, resulting in identification between members to one another, and to outsiders.  The subcultures are comprised of fans that are loyal followers to the artists, music, lyrics, artwork, and concert activities that bind these devotees on the “basis of a visible and unique community that nurtures an inner spirit and set of experiences” (Weinstein, 1991, p. 121).  Extreme and esoteric genres like grindcore or black metal especially provide “a family… an identity group, a place to fit in without having to conform to standards of perfection or ideal beauty [or] intelligence” (Purcell p.114).  Regardless of the amount of derision cast down from non-believers, metal continues to thrive and expand.  In fact, this disparagement of the music and its enthusiasts has been a defining attribute of the culture.


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