Metal and Musicology w/ Lewis Kennedy

by | Mar 6, 2021 | MMS 101

METAL AND MUSICOLOGY  

Lewis Kennedy 

 

Metal music studies is an academic field that draws upon and engages a variety of disciplines and methodologies, including musicology (incorporating music theory, ethnomusicology, composition, performance, production, reception, etc.). As a musicologist studying metal, I focus on music as the locus of meaning for metal culture. In other words, I consider music as the site in which the myriad elements of metal culture are drawn together, codified, and contested. Broadly understood, ‘music’ need not be limited to a purely sonic artefact (a track, for instance). Instead, we might conceive music as encompassing all those things related to the artefact. Some of these so-called ‘extramusical’ features we study are the artwork and liner notes included in vinyl and CD releases (paratext), the audiovisual elements of music videos (iconography, narrative, modes of performance), and the reviews and interviews surrounding an artist or artefact (discourse). By interpreting these interrelated elements together – as they are often experienced by everyone from metal fans to detractors – we (might) better understand how it is they relate to one another. 

An area of study I find particularly fascinating is genre and its various functions in metal music culture. One way fans (and scholars) use genre is as a mode of classification to situate artists and artefacts within the diverse array of music called metal. It is, for example, how we can interpret dissimilar bands like Trivium and Bongripper as part of the same music culture. Genre taxonomies like Sam Dunn’s ‘Heavy Metal Family Tree’ (HMFT), first published in 2005, attempt to map this diversity by illustrating connections between metal genre categories and representative artists; but generic relationships are rarely simple. In 2015, Dunn updated the HMFT in a series of Lock Horns debates on BANGERTV’s YouTube channel and in the process highlighted some of metal’s generic complexities. Following the commercial success and critical acclaim garnered by releases from bands like Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall during the mid-noughties, the metalcore genre became synonymous with elements of composition and performance espoused by bands in the New Wave of American Heavy Metal (NWOAHM). Acknowledging this shift, Dunn replaces most of the bands in his original metalcore category with those from the old NWOAHM category, while bands like Suicidal Tendencies and Cro-Mags (previously metalcore) are repositioned as crossover. These related adjustments underscore two important points: (1) since metal genres are interrelated, changes in one genre affect others, and (2) the way we construct and view genres can change over time, leading us to reconsider how metal genres (and artists and artefacts) relate to one another. Since genre classification is never complete, this form of genre discourse in part both sustains and is sustained by metal music. Combining analysis of discourse with that of specific musical artefacts allows us to uncover (and participate in) some of the means by which we structure our experience of metal music culture. 

 

Songs to keep in your ear 

 

Further reading/viewing 

The BANGERTV episode of Lock Horns on metalcore can be found 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
Black Metal in Turkey w/ Douglas Mattsson

Black Metal in Turkey w/ Douglas Mattsson

BLACK METAL IN TURKEY  Douglas Mattsson  “Black metal? We don’t have that in Turkey.” - The middle aged Turkish academic sitting across from me in a restaurant in Istanbul is not the first to have expressed surprise, even disbelief, when I told him about my topic of research. Although literature...

read more