Heavy Metal as Resistant Culture by Cody Hiestand
This term I would like to dig deeper into the cultural existence and manifestation of an area of popular culture that has been dear to me for nearly the last decade of my life. I am referring to the genre of music called heavy metal. Heavy metal is not so much a piece of popular culture as it is a sect of resistant culture that has become popularized by its diehard fans all over the world. Heavy metal is a style of music that spawned out of electric blues and rock and roll beginning with groups like King Crimson, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Since its inception it has expanded to many sub-genres such as thrash (Anthrax, Slayer, Exodus, Megadeth), black (Darkthrone, Burzum, Immortal), speed (Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead), progressive (Dream Theater, Symphony X, Dragonforce) and death metal (Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Dying Fetus) just to name a few. Heavy metal culture is often seen as a backlash to mainstream music and culture. Each sub-genre’s lyrical content is such that encourages its fans to question the government, and bring to perspective the everyday (and not so everyday) horrors and injustices in modern civilization as well as in events of history that set up for the rise of this politically corrupt society in that we all reside. The music, fans, and all other aspects of this cultural phenomenon have remained controversial since day one. There have been attempts in commercially popular bands to make heavy metal music a predictable and impotent version of it’s self.
I think if I had to choose a theory of popular culture production to relate to heavy metal, it would be the Gramsci’s theory of hegemony. It is sometimes presented in a very literal and straight forward way that makes a meaning extremely clear, but sometimes it can be presented in a figurative narrative about an event in history that may coincide with a problem in the present day that is important. That said, the listener must interpret for themselves what message the music is trying to send. My personal favorite metal band is Megadeth; formed by ex-Metallica member Dave Mustaine in 1985 it was and continues to be one of the foremost metal bands to speak out against the government and “popular” culture. A line of lyrics to one of their most popular tracks Peace Sells… But whose buying? open with “What do you mean I don’t believe in God? I talk to him everyday. What do you mean I don’t support your system? I go to court when I have to. What do you mean I can’t get to work on time? I got nothing better to do. What do you mean I don’t pay my bills? Why do you think I’m broke?” In this song Dave expresses his dissatisfaction of life in the U.S. System and how some people treat others poorly because they adhere to these ideologies that seem strange or taboo to others. Metal fans aka “Metalheads” tend to dress in a way that promotes and individualistic look with denim patched vests, leather studded jackets, and tight jeans. The men in heavy metal culture commonly sport long or shaggy haircuts, much like my own.
I think that we as a class should choose this topic because it would be extremely interesting to focus a week on something that is more of a product of the resistance of popular culture rather than something that is just popular among all people. Another reason would be to shed light on topics that perhaps the majority of the class knows very little about. Even for those of my classmates who aren’t interested in the music, they may be interested in the culture behind the music, how it came to be, and its ideologies. It could help to open the minds of others to listening for the underlying messages within heavy metal music that is telling them about something far more real than anything you might see in mainstream hip-hop, pop, and alternative rock that is being blasted all over the radios in your car, in stores and restaurants. These mainstream songs do not present their listeners with real world issues, so they are essentially blinded by false issues of pop music so that they continue to be dominated by a society entirely based off of consumption.