Tag Archives: feminism

A Model For Feminist Extreme Metal

Reinventing the Steel: A three-part discussion of how extreme metal could reinvigorate itself through explicit ideological engagement with feminism

3) A Model For Feminist Extreme Metal

It’s telling that this final article on metal, patriarchy and feminism has taken me much longer to write than the ones before it. Where those were engaged in critiquing the metal scene as I see it, this one involves proposing a way to change things, a far harder task. I’m hesitant to suggest any kind of definitive answer to the problems within metal, but I’m fairly certain the solution isn’t for us to feel personal guilt over problematic lyrics, and shy away from the genre as a result. It’s OK to listen to those lyrics if we admit there’s a problem with them, rather than getting defensive about how metal bands don’t actually kill women. More helpful than avoiding the problem, or trying to justify the status quo, are active attempts to create an alternative narrative- a model of feminist extreme metal.

I hope that my previous posts on heavy metal subculture and its links to patriarchy have demonstrated that there is a serious problem, in this subculture and more widely, of women being denied representation and treated with horrific violence, metaphorical and literal. I’d argue that feminism- which I understand as a movement to improve the lot of marginalised people, including but not limited to women, by demolishing patriarchal power structures- is the most suitable ideological trend to remedy this situation. It’s always easy to find people who balk at even the mention of the name, however. And not just the internet-dwelling Men’s Rights “activists” who will loudly insist that forty-odd years of limited progress toward gender equality have turned the tables and created a “misandric”, matriarchal society: plenty of girls and women, from the playground to the editorial pages, are reluctant to explicitly identify as feminist. (To be fair, there’s a world of difference between those who are hesitant to criticise patriarchy, and the many women of colour who feel excluded by high-profile feminist movements that tend to ignore their specific concerns and focus only on the issues of white, middle-class women. I can hardly blame those women who feel this brand of feminism doesn’t speak for them, and instead prefer titles such as womanist, or no label at all.)

While there has been an increased media focus lately on the myriad ways feminism’s goals have yet to be achieved, there remains a perception that we somehow have moved beyond the need for a women’s movement. Those feminist arguments that do receive serious mainstream attention are very often individually-focused, aiming at getting a few women into leading roles in the capitalist hierarchy. Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” brand of feminism is the most prominent example of the neutered rhetoric that talks of female empowerment without critiquing patriarchy as a system1.

If feminism was truly irrelevant or unnecessary in today’s “post-feminist” world, its opponents would not spend any time attempting to discredit or disparage its ideals and practitioners. If it were as silly or “irrational” as is claimed, they would simply ignore it, instead of expending energy trying to counter it. But feminism continues to invite ridicule, disdain and rebuttals (as well as attempts at co-option) because it poses a very real, existential threat to patriarchal systems of power. Its radical critique of patriarchy as a system propping up massive inequality is threatening to the people who benefit from that structural inequality. What could be more dangerous to patriarchal power than an ideology that repudiates its very structural underpinning?

Make no mistake, feminism is still a dirty word for far too many. Student Jinan Younis, for example, was recently hounded by online abuse from boys, simply for daring to start a feminist society at her school2. This is merely one example of the relentless threats women face for expressing feminist viewpoints, or even for just existing in online space3. The hostility is not limited to internet harassment from those who lack social status and therefore lash out at those with less than them, in an attempt to feel powerful. UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s dismissive attitude toward female MPs is well documented- for example, shutting down Green MP Caroline Lucas’ questioning about the continued presence of the Sun newspaper, with its prominent nude modelling pictures, on Parliament news stands. Whatever your feelings on the No More Page 3 campaign against nude modelling in “family” newspapers, the dismissive response toward the concerns of women by the leader of a modern, supposedly enlightened nation should be extremely concerning. And outside of nations with at least the façade of a commitment to gender equality, official responses to feminist activism are marked with outright hostility, rather than smug indifference. The Pussy Riot case in Russia shows the extent to which dictatorial leaders and massively powerful religious authorities, who logically should feel secure in their absolute dominance of social life, will crack down on any feminist challenge.

For metal bands to explicitly align with feminism, then, would be a radical act in of itself, one that might restore some genuine counter-culture credentials to an increasingly apolitical art form.


What would feminist metal consist of?

A feminist approach to extreme metal would start with the organisation of bands and shows. It’s important to have more groups with female members in central roles – there are already plenty of bands entirely made up of dudes. And not only women, but people of colour and LGBT people as well; all of these groups are massively under-represented because they fall outside the genre’s white, male, straight, cissexual norm. Intersectional feminism ought to mean centralising not only female voices, but also those of women (and men) of colour, as well as trans people and/or gender-non-conformists. In addition, there needs to be an effort to make shows more welcoming to these groups. I’ve heard too many stories from female friends about sensing an unwelcoming atmosphere, or even outright hostility, at metal and punk shows. When race enters the mix, this feeling only increases. Laina Dawes highlights this in What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal: “sexual and racial stereotyping and threats of physical harm can limit the participation of black women fans. (…) Some of the women I talked to… were fearful of being at the receiving end of racial slurs or getting physically attacked”4. It’s on us white, male, straight metal fans to make sure shows are inclusive and welcoming to people who might not fit the stereotypical image of a metalhead.

As well as demographics, the themes and content of metal could be adjusted to accompany feminist consciousness. In the Post-Zeitgeist blog piece “Extremity in Metal”, the author offers a potential model for reconfiguring the “extreme” aspect of metal: “To me, true shock, true extremity should deeply unseat more than an individual’s taste or stomach. In fact, I would argue that it is not necessary for extremity or shock to be negative”5. Simply by presenting alternatives to established discourses, intersectionalist feminism welded to metal extremity could potentially shock listeners into questioning the patriarchal organisation of the genre. Wouldn’t metal with explicitly feminist lyrics and presentation- that reflected reality by including the perspectives of women, LGBT persons and people of colour- rekindle a sense of the danger metal once possessed?

By itself, this inclusion wouldn’t immediately demolish the music’s patriarchal structure. But by channelling the experiences and voices of people outside the genre’s white, straight, male norm, it would at least present something different to what we’ve heard before. Who knows what new and exciting approaches to metal we might be missing out on by not giving equal representation to female, LGBT and PoC perspectives?


Forced Gender Re-imagining

At this point, it might be helpful to take an example of an existing metal song, and imagine how it could be reconfigured to reflect intersectional feminist concerns. The aforementioned Post-Zeitgeist post discusses an apt candidate in Cattle Decapitation’s “Forced Gender Reassignment”, which gained minor notoriety last year for its video, deemed gruesome enough to be banned from Youtube and other video-sharing sites. The song’s lyrics and their accompanying visuals depict violent retribution committed against fundamentalist Christians. The victims in question are forcibly put through gender reassignment surgery by “a stereotyped sadomasochistic, implied homosexual”, presumably as a punishment for religious bigotry. The implication is that this is a horrific fate for religious fundamentalists, because of their misogyny, cissexism and adherence to the strictly defined gender roles their religion helps the patriarchal system to prop up. But the reassignment-as-punishment device leaves the assumption of a rigid gender binary unchallenged- it is taken as read that the victims have been gender-switched simply because their anatomy has been forcibly altered. The song’s lyrics ultimately “suggests that gender is merely biological, which we all know by now it is not”, and thus “merely reinforce rather than transcend or properly critique sexual stereotypes”6. In the same way that Cattle Decapitation rely on well-worn metal hostility to organised religion (however well-justified), they ultimately fail in their attempt to shock the audience because they are still working within conventional notions of gender. “Forced Gender Reassignment” ends up being nowhere near as transgressive as it wants to be, no matter how gory its video. But it would be entirely possible to write a song with the exact same title that explicitly incorporated feminist/queer gender theory, while still remaining true to the established characteristics of death metal.

Imagine a baby assigned one of two binary genders at birth, who grows up wishing to be on the other side of that divide, or even outside it entirely. Imagine an intersex baby with ambiguous genitalia, forcibly assigned a specific gender and operated on by doctors in an attempt to get it to conform to that gender. Imagine the pain and strife that could result if this gender identity does not fit the child’s preference, if they would have wished to exist outside the gender binary, an opportunity denied them before they were even truly conscious. Imagine the dysmorphia that trans, intersex and/or gender non-binary people often feel when forced into an inappropriate gender identity- a visceral body horror that one cannot escape from. Is this not a creatively fertile area for exploration, one that allows for emotional expression in a recognisably metal way, but that hasn’t been overdone?

It wouldn’t be necessary to focus on the negative side to be shocking here, either. As the Post-Zeitgeist piece asks of “Forced Gender Reassignment”: “Why was it not possible for the creators of the video to create a beautiful version of forced gender reassignment among consenting peers? What about representing fluidity, transformation and possibility as key shock tactics(?)”7 Showing the positive potential of gender fluidity would certainly be as shocking as revealing the injustices faced by trans and/or non-binary people, maybe even more so.

An entire metal concept album constructed around these issues wouldn’t be at all implausible. A central narrator’s rage and frustration at the rigid gender binary and the position within it they were forced into, their own body dysmorphia, or the discrimination and horrific violence faced by trans and non-binary people, would all make ripe fodder for extreme, aggressive music. If you wanted to uplift and inspire listeners, as well as make them angry, you could also highlight the empowerment this character finds in discovering a gender identity and expression that’s not recognised in the mainstream but is still “right” for them. What part of that isn’t metal?

Of course, if this hypothetical album were to speak from a place of experience and authenticity, it would have to be written by a trans and/or gender non-binary person. Simply finding someone interested in bringing their perspective to a project like this would not be easy: as poor as women’s representation is within metal, it’s an even worse situation for trans people. About the only trans musician with a relatively high profile in underground metal that I’m currently aware of is Cretin and Repulsion guitarist Marissa Martinez, for example.8 Yet a project like this would be ideal for bringing attention to both queer theory and trans and/or non-binary musicians, who might end up as role models for young metal fans questioning their own place within the gender binary. This isn’t to say that trans musicians in metal have to sing only about gender issues or feminism, of course. They would, however, be more qualified to talk about certain issues surrounding the gender binary than the cisgendered. Metal music would be greatly enriched by representing the perspectives of people who have traditionally not had a voice within the genre, especially if these would help challenge those areas where the music has reinforced patriarchal assumptions.


Nobody Knows If Nobody Sees

For a political, social or musical movement to have any effect, people need to know about it. And often, spreading awareness means getting coverage in mainstream media. Even in an age where social media networks make it easier than ever for people to get informed without relying on print and television news, it’s still necessary to get that coverage if you want to reach the widest audience possible. Given that, I’m not all that optimistic that feminist metal would get much play in dead-tree media, whether that be major newspapers or specialist monthly publications. Ideologies that pose a significant challenge to existing social norms will not get taken seriously in corporate-owned titles. Even in metal magazines with an ostensible counter-culture slant, socio-political discussion is scarcely to be seen, especially if it would critique the genre’s patriarchal structure. You could make a hypothetical comparison here with riot grrl, the early 90s wave of female-led punk bands affiliated with third-wave feminism. The limited mainstream attention paid to bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile or Huggy Bear was mostly negative, misinterpreting pro-women stances as anti-men (for further examples of this false dichotomy, see any mainstream report on any feminist movement, ever). The impact of the movement on wider punk circles was limited in scope- and given that punk has historically given at least token support to feminism in a way that metal hasn’t, there’s little reason to suspect a similar movement within metal would be any more influential.

But it’s important not to be too negative here. Riot grrl might have influenced only a relatively small amount of bands worldwide, but for those who did adopt its DIY attitude, explicit political involvement and activism, it offered a model for how to carve out a space for women in an increasingly macho punk scene; how to create a subculture within a subculture. A similar movement within metal, expanded to incorporate the input of people of colour and LGBT persons, could achieve something similar: perhaps not changing the world, but making a small part of it safer and more comfortable for those who’ve been excluded from it up to now.

It’s probably unlikely to expect feminist metal to make much headway in the mainstream, or even to alter the structure of metal subculture all that much. Any change it did effect would be gradual, limited at least initially to small local scenes. But that doesn’t mean introducing intersectional feminist perspectives into extreme music isn’t worth doing. If it makes things more comfortable for fans who don’t happen to be straight white dudes, or inspires even one person to start a band who wouldn’t have if they hadn’t seen people like themselves playing metal, it’ll be worth it.



1 For an excellent deconstruction of Sandberg’s “faux-feminism”, see bell hooks’ article “Dig Deep: Beyond Lean In”. http://thefeministwire.com/2013/10/17973/

2 “What happened when I started a feminist society at school”, The Guardian, June 20th 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/education/mortarboard/2013/jun/20/why-i-started-a-feminist-society

3 Further discussion of the nature of online sexism and misogyny can be found in Laurie Penny’s Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet, quoted in the previous post in this series.

4 Laina Dawes, What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal, 26. Expect a post dedicated to this book in the near future.

5 “Extremity in Metal: a Buddhist’s Perspective”, Post-Zeitgeist, 13th November 2012. http://post-zeitgeist.blogspot.jp/2012/11/extremity-in-metal-buddhists-perspective.html

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Coincidentally, Martinez’ Cretin bandmate is none other than Matthew Widener, the musician behind Liberteer, who I discussed in the first part of this series. For an excellent interview with Martinez about her transition and musical influences, see here: http://www.invisibleoranges.com/2011/01/interview-marissa-martinez-cretin/

Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses

Reinventing the Steel: A three-part discussion of how extreme metal could reinvigorate itself through explicit ideological engagement with feminism

Part 1: Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses

If you’d asked a metalhead thirty years ago about the chances of their music gaining critical acceptance in the mainstream, they’d probably have laughed in your face. But especially in the last five years or so, more and more media outlets have started paying serious attention to the genre. Pitchfork and other music sites are profiling underground metal in monthly or weekly columns, and amongst their general reviews. The UK’s NME magazine recently ran a retrospective on the history of black metal. Norwegian cultural diplomats are reportedly receiving instruction on that very history- once controversial for its connections to church burnings and murders, black metal is now officially recognised as one of the country’s cultural exports1. This attention hasn’t necessarily resulted in heavy bands swarming the pop charts, but at certain publications at least, metal is no longer considered a joke among “serious” reviewers.

Perhaps because of this increased critical acceptance, however, heavy metal no longer seems to conjure the same fear and panic in mainstream media and moral majority types that it did in the 1980s. The irony is that as the subgenres of death metal, black metal and grindcore have created ever more “extreme” aural templates, metal seems to inspire less and less opposition among religious and political leaders. 80’s bands like Judas Priest and Venom can sound tame compared to the extremity on offer today, yet they inspired greater moral panic among parents, priests and politicians than say, Eric Danielsson’s endorsement of terrorist acts in the name of his band Watain2.

This is only really true in a European and American context, of course. As Invisible Oranges’ recent series of articles on metal in Africa reports, Middle Eastern metalheads still regularly face police harassment and accusations of Satanism. Their subculture is apparently still sufficiently threatening to religious and political authorities to lead to repression3. But in an increasingly secular Western world, metal no longer shocks the way it used to.

It’s probably a good thing that our society has grown up enough to no longer be shocked by metal’s anti-religious, anti-establishment themes. If metal is still largely seen as music for outsiders and weirdos, at least it’s no longer considered actively dangerous. But isn’t part of metal’s draw the hostility it provokes in authority figures? The sense of belonging to a countercultural movement opposed to the bland trappings of (post-) modernity, that offers real power in its ability to shock and frighten? Extremity is pretty much the genre’s raison d’etre: “In its earliest stages, metal takes the extremity of rebellion further than either rock or punk and weds it to the grotesque, the bizarre and the violent. Metal is not content with a two fingered salute(;) it frequently seeks to alienate, indeed it seeks coherence in alienation”4. Alienating mainstream society with extremity, and finding common purpose with those who can appreciate that extremity, is at the core of the metal identity. Many metalheads, fans and musicians alike, lament a seeming loss of purpose and direction now that the music inspires more indifference than indignation. If we care about metal for its potential to offer a real alternative to dominant cultural and media norms, this is an important issue. For me at least, the important questions are these: why has metal lost its ability to shock? And what can it do to regain a sense of danger?

Satan is boring: metal’s diminishing returns

Heavy metal emerged in a specific cultural context. Amidst the hippy-dippy trappings of the 60s summer of love, a dark potency was brewing. Influenced by the same blues music as more established rock artists, bands like Black Sabbath differentiated themselves from your Creams and your Beatles through a willingness to tackle “dark” subjects that pop music had never really dealt with before, as much as their “heavier”, distorted guitar sound. Satanic imagery (“Black Sabbath”), the horrors of war (“War Pigs”) drug abuse (“Hand of Doom”) and depressed, pessimistic attitudes (“Paranoid”); these were genuinely shocking at the time, for their novelty as well as their opposition to prevailing cultural norms. Dark themes were reflected in doomy, minor-key riffs, although early metal’s tethering to the blues and 60s psychedelia meant there was still room for good-time rocking out as well.

If you mine any vein of inspiration for over 40 years, though, creative exhaustion is inevitable. The mere presence of dark and disturbing themes is no longer enough on its own to shock and unsettle. This is down to overexposure, but also changing social circumstances. The prevailing political mood in an age of economic downturn is one of cynicism, pessimism and distrust of authority. By entering the mainstream, the anti-authoritarian attitude underpinning metal has been co-opted. The gradual collapse in the West of the traditional religious basis for moral order means that Satanic or anti-religious themes, while still encountering resistance in certain quarters, are no longer perceived as a direct affront to the fabric of society.

Internal aspects of metal subculture have also contributed to this stagnation. The fantastical, horror-based trappings of certain bands’ music and lyrics inspired fear in the past, but especially these days they are also easy to dismiss as juvenile. Just as horror movies were held responsible for moral decay in the 80s heyday of “video nasties” but now mostly face indifference, gory lyrics, cover art and stage presentation are largely written off as the immature obsessions of individual horror nerds, not an existential threat to the fabric of society.

There is also the issue of a certain traditionalism within metal subcultures, rooted in a desire to remain true to the spirit and intentions of the genre’s forbears. It’s certainly admirable to want to maintain a continuity with those who came before you, to share a connection with a worldwide movement of musicians and fans through the use of shared symbols, themes and musical approaches. This sense of a common purpose, a mutual appreciation for what metal can offer, is part of the camaraderie that, somewhat paradoxically, is very strong in a movement with a highly individualist credo. But this can often manifest in a resistance to innovation within the movement. A certain subset of fans express distaste or even hostility toward bands that step outside narrow parameters of what it means to be truly “metal”, particularly in heated internet debates. It’s easy to understand the disdain for ill-conceived attempts to cross over with other genres for largely commercial reasons; nu-metal is the obvious example here. But this often results in hostility towards any change in a band’s sound over time, or towards musicians bringing in outside influences that could re-energise the genre creatively.

This might explain the popularity of decidedly retro-oriented metal from the mid-2000s onwards. In particular, mid-80s thrash was a common reference point for many bands; the best, such as Municipal Waste, updated a vintage sound for a modern era and injected a burst of energy and self-consciously goofy humour that was hard not to enjoy. But while all metal subgenres have relied on inspiration from earlier bands, it is difficult to identify a contemporary movement that represents as large an innovation as, say, early 90s black metal. It’s easy to get the sense that, rather than welcoming a metal scene with room for both traditional and innovative sounds, some metalheads would be happier if all bands endlessly reformulated past classics.

An entry on the Post-Zeitgeist blog identifies the problem with this unthinking adherence to reproducing the “brutal” sounds of past bands we enjoy: “if there is a problem with extremity, it is due to an absence of reflection. Unreflexive extremity is essentially a form of violence, a string of actions with accelerating intensity occurring regardless of the context (people, environment, society) which it is situated”5. If we don’t temper extremity with reflection, we endlessly repeat a cycle of aural violence.

The most stinging rebuke to this backwards-looking tendency comes from one of the very bands which pioneered death metal in the first place. On Carcass’ 2013 comeback album Surgical Steel, vocalist Jeff Walker articulates contempt for this lack of imagination and adherence to increasingly empty genre rehashing in “Non-Compliance to ASTM F 899-12 Standard”:

Artistically moribund/ Soulless ghosts of the underground/ By the past you are bound”… The cycle of death exhausted, well and truly played/ A terminal malaise that you so feverishly savour”.

Towards a politically engaged heavy music

So what’s the solution to this malaise? How can metal reaffirm its status as a countercultural movement, and become dangerous and vital again? I believe the answer is the creation of heavy music that exhibits the kind of reflective, thoughtful relationship with extremity mentioned in the Post-Zeitgeist piece. Specifically, where extremity is directly employed alongside explicit political goals and ideological vision, to present a genuine alternative to the sociopolitical dominance of neoliberal modernity, rather than a retreat into anti-social nihilism.

Very often within metal subcultures (and the wider world), people can be dismissive toward the idea of explicitly political music. This ties in to a general political apathy among both young and old, the idea that it’s all boring and doesn’t really relate to our everyday lives. Specific complaints in relation to politicised music are that artistic vision is compromised by adherence to ideology, that stilted, empty sloganeering is often the result of an attempt at consciousness. Sometimes, of course, this is true. But the assertion that politics and political music doesn’t relate to everyday life is a false one. As the slogan goes, the personal is the political; and conversely, the political is personal. I would argue that political topics in music are far more relevant than cartoon gore or self-isolating occultism, and have greater potential to revitalise the genre.

The criticism of politicised music also ignores the numerous sterling examples of politically engaged metal bands and songs, which can provide audiences with intellectual fuel as well as headbanging material. In particular, two of last year’s best metal albums- Liberteer’s Better to Die on Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees and Panopticon’s Kentucky– offer a demonstration of the transcendental and inspirational possibilities of politically engaged metal. Upon release, similarities were drawn between the albums due to their use of traditional instruments (banjo, mandolin, horns etc) and weaving of non-metal musical forms into their tapestries: Liberteer blends short and sweet grindcore with Communist propaganda and marching music to create a flowing metal symphony, while Panopticon melds the seemingly incompatible genres of black metal and Appalachian bluegrass into a stirring evocation of rural Americana.

The two releases differ significantly in their approach to political engagement, however. Liberteer is more direct and polemical, seeking to inspire listeners toward armed revolution and anarchist forms of co-operation and organisation. Some sloganeering is present (just look at the title), but there is also room to dissect radical ideas such as the nature of power itself (“It Is the Secret Curse of Power That It Becomes Fatal”). The album’s music itself was also specifically designed with political goals in mind. In an interview with Pitchfork, the band’s creative mastermind and sole performer Matt Widener discussed how he sought to subvert the nihilistic attitude of much grindcore, and create a positive-minded alternative, through the music itself:

‘Take the typical socio-political grindcore album, and what do you hear? Pure rage, heaps of alienation. At best, it can rally the young. I remember being a teenager and driven to mosh purely by brutal riffs. But to me anarchy isn’t about anger or alienation; it’s an optimistic and humane idea, so using typical grindcore riffs didn’t make sense. That’s why half the album is written in major keys, which are never used in grind. If you’re describing an autopsy or dwelling on dire socio-political topics, you’re trying to offend, shock. But when you’re trying to rally, to inspire? I think it makes me realize that even the most political of grind bands don’t have an answer to any of the problems they present. They’re only trying to throttle people into awareness. Liberteer is poised to come afterward. Like: “Hey, there’s hope, let’s talk about how it might look if we chose a different way.”‘6

Kentucky, by comparison, is less overt. It reveals its politics most clearly in the old folk songs it covers, standards of the workers’ movements in the early 20th century. Serving a similar purpose are the samples throughout the record that illustrate the history of coal mining in the titular state; the most affecting of these is an extended recording of an elderly miner discussing the conditions of exploitation and abuse that led him into the workers’ movement and political organisation, in order to achieve the lofty goal of a pay raise to 8 cents an hour.

The overall scope of the album is a historical examination of the effect that the coal industry has had- not just on workers’ lives, but on the environment around them. It’s a welcome reminder that areas of the American South considered “redneck” and unfailingly conservative have roots in a not-so-distant past of radicalism and working class solidarity. It’s an intimate, detailed portrait of one specific site of political and ideological engagement, tied to an explicit evocation of time and place. Where Liberteer is strident and polemical, Panopticon is introspective and discursive. Both approaches have much to recommend them, and they demonstrate the wide variety of possibilities within the category of “politicised music”. It need not mean directly penning a musical manifesto for revolution- it can be enough just to let a specific political issue inform your lyrics or theme.

Not all metal has to aspire to a deeper meaning than making you want to wreck someone’s shit in the mosh pit. Sometimes it’s exhausting to listen to music that demands you work your brain at the same time as banging your head; sometimes the aural equivalent of a gory horror film is all that will suffice. And there’s nothing wrong with bands who dedicate themselves solely to creating the music they want to listen to. But if more bands were presenting music related to real life concerns, with informed passion and political acuity behind it, it could help to reignite metal as a cultural force presenting a real challenge to mainstream culture.

Aren’t there already a lot of heavy bands with political lyrics and anti-establishment attitudes?, you might ask. Certainly. But I would argue that, although metal champions rebellion against the status quo, the underlying structure of its music and subcultures is closely connected to the dominant patriarchal paradigms of wider culture and society. Until we understand and begin to challenge these connections, it can’t serve as a site for resistance against the mainstream. In the following posts on this theme, I want to examine metal’s relation to patriarchal power, and posit an ideology that could reconfigure heavy music to effectively oppose that power: intersectional feminism.


1 “Norway to Train Diplomats in Black Metal”, Wired, 9th June 2011. http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2011-06/09/norway-diplomats-black-metal

2“I totally encourage any kind of terrorist acts committed in the name of Watain, absolutely, that’s the way rock and roll works”. Watain interview, Metal Blast, August 2012. http://www.metalblast.net/2012/08/watain-interview/

4 “Extremity in Metal: a Buddhist’s Perspective”, Post-Zeitgeist, 13th November 2012. http://post-zeitgeist.blogspot.jp/2012/11/extremity-in-metal-buddhists-perspective.html

5“Extremity in Metal”, Post-Zeitgeist.

6 Brandon Stosuy. Interview with Liberteer’s Matthew Widener, Show No Mercy, February 22nd 2012. http://pitchfork.com/features/show-no-mercy/8777-build-no-system/