MMS101: Decoloniality w/ Nelson Varas-Diaz

by | May 1, 2021 | MMS 101


Nelson Varas-Díaz


“You want to make it sound like it came from a Latin American being,” said Luis, the lead singer of the Mexican band Acrania, as he explained why he integrated the trumpet and salsa arrangements into his death/thrash metal band. That encounter echoed many other experiences in my ethnographic work that evidenced metal’s transformation in the region. This transformation was not only related to its sound, but also to the regionalization of its lyrical content and visual dimensions. This transformation, I argue in my work, is not fortuitous. It has the very specific purpose of  challenging the long-lasting effects of colonialism in the region; it is decolonial metal.


The colonial experience in Latin America is ongoing. Even after multiple countries achieved independence from XV century colonialism, the devaluation of local people, their knowledges, experiences, and worldviews continues today. This devaluation of the local has been used to justify foreign extractivism of natural resources, the extermination of local indigenous people, the establishment of dictatorships with external support, and the implementation of crude neoliberal practices, just to name a few examples. Based on Latin American theoretical work on decoloniality, I argue that metal music in the region engages in “extreme decolonial dialogues” to make people aware, and actively challenge, the long-lasting effects of colonialism.


I define these “extreme decolonial dialogues” as invitations, ones particularly interested in promoting transformation, made through metal music to engage in critical reflections about oppressive practices faced by Latin American communities in light of coloniality. I have termed these experiences as dialogues in order to highlight the interaction between those who are informed about coloniality and those who are yet to, or sometimes refuse to, comprehend it. These dialogues are an exchange of information between equals and not one defined by a didactic top-down approach. They are decolonial precisely because metal bands participate in dialogues that are concerned with the historical process of oppression faced by the region, stemming from XV century colonialism and its lingering effects into the present day. Finally, these dialogues are extreme because they are perceived as threatening to those unfamiliar to metal aesthetics/sounds and they address issues related to death, violence, and oppression, which tend to worry unfamiliar listeners in the region; this includes politicians and the media. These dialogues address issues of extremity (e.g. violence, murder, political repression) that some people in the region would rather soon forget.


I have explored metal music’s role in this decolonial endeavor through documentary films and academic publications. This dual approach has allowed me to engage in discussions on metal music’s role in the Caribbean and Latin America regions with audiences in both academic and non-academic settings. If you are interested in this type of work, visit our FB page “Heavy Metal Studies Latin America” – In the meantime, here are some recommendations on what to read, watch and listen to.


Songs to keep in your ear:


Further reading

  • Varas-Díaz N, Nevárez Araújo D, Rivera-Segarra E. Conceptualizing the Distorted South: How to Understand Metal Music and its Scholarship in Latin America. In: Varas-Díaz N, Nevárez Araújo D, Rivera-Segarra E, editors. Heavy Metal Music in Latin America: Perspectives from the Distorted South. London: Lexington Books; 2020. p. 7–36.
  •  Watch the book presentation for Heavy Metal Music in Latin America: Perspectives from the Distorted South here.
  • Varas-Díaz N. Decolonial Metal Music in Latin America. London, UK: Intellect; 2021.
    à You can purchase this book here.


Further viewing:

  • Watch Acts of Resistance: Heavy Metal Music in Latin America here.
  • Watch Songs of Injustice: Heavy Metal Music in Latin America here.








Recent posts

Election for ISMMS Executive Board Positions

The positions of Chair and Ordinary Member on the ISMMS Executive Board will become available in January 2022, at the end of the current terms of Dr Bryan Bardine (Chair) and Dr Gabby Riches (Ordinary Member). We seek candidates to stand for each position in an election of the ISMMS membership, to...

read more

IASPM-US 2022 Call For Proposals

On behalf of IASPM-US, please check out the call for the 2022 conference, and consider sending in a proposal. Horns up!   IASPM-US 2022 Conference: Grooves and Movements May 26-May 28, 2022 Ann Arbor/Detroit Michigan Dates and Place: The International Association for the Study of Popular...

read more

Glocal Metal w/ Didier Goossens

Glocal metal   Didier Goossens    Not long after the first metal music studies, attention arose for its ways of production, distribution and consumption across the globe, with significant attention for non-Anglo American/European contexts. This became theorized as the global metal...

read more
Multilingual Metal w/ Riitta-Liisa Valijärvi 

Multilingual Metal w/ Riitta-Liisa Valijärvi 

Multilingual Metal   Riitta-Liisa Valijärvi  Heavy metal is often sung in English. This is a global language, the use of which can increase sales and reach wider audiences. Yet, many bands choose to write lyrics and sing in other languages. We explored this choice in an edited volume...

read more