The metal community is not the most well-regarded genre of music in the mainstream world. But that’s how most of us like it. Metal isn’t supposed to be for everyone— it’s outsider music. I’ve written previously about how metal has slowly receded from popular culture, and I’ve also been a fierce critic of the close-mindedness and elitism within the community. I criticize because I care, and I seek to cultivate a more perfect union amongst the civil war of sub-genre based exclusivity.
In spite of all of my issues with many modern conventions of the heavy metal scene, it’s still my tribe. I’m going to defend it to outsiders and “normals” who have no connection to the culture and it’s inner workings or history. Since its early days, metal has been one of the go-to scapegoats and punching bags for self-proclaimed moral authorities and demonized by the buttoned-up, puritanical silent majority. The excesses and exploits of the ’80s hair metal era didn’t do much to dissuade these characterizations, but a lot has changed since the ’80s. We have evolved, but unfortunately the public perception has not followed. I wanted to dispel some of the myths that are usually associated with metal and it’s fans.
Metalheads are dumb.
Even though I love Beavis and Butthead, shows and films like that have had a big hand in projecting a stereotype about metalheads that’s difficult to avoid. While I’m sure there are plenty of Mountain Dew fueled, headbanging simpletons out there, it is certainly not representative of the typical metal fan. The truth is most metalheads are nerds, and we don’t generally associate nerds with being dumb. Metal fans are obsessive, and they pick apart every detail of the music they consume: from the instrumentation to the album production, and even the album artwork.
Unlike most other genres of music, a significant portion of metal fans are musicians themselves. This allows for the biggest metal bands like Metallica to have musically dense and progressive playing that would probably not be accepted in other genres. Even though it’s catchy as hell, a song like “Master of Puppets” provides layers of complexity that is as stimulating intellectually as it is viscerally. Even though the typical Rob Zombie or Godsmack fan might not be a Harvard grad, metal has allowed brilliantly musical bands like Lamb of God and Dream Theater to ascend to magnificent heights.
Metalheads are violent and angry.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “You listen to metal? Is that the ’Kill your mother. Rape your dog’ music?” I can understand how this perception builds if you aren’t a metal fan, and you hear about bands like Cannibal Corpse with songs entitled, “Stripped, Raped, and Strangled” in conjunction with the zombified, horrorific imagery the band portrays. Sonically and visually, it’s extreme. For some reason though, metal bands are viewed by the mainstream as being literal with these expressions, and yet few think the Night of the Living Dead trilogy creator, George A. Romero, or the Resident Evil video game creator, Shinji Mikami, are literally promoting or endorsing horrific violence.
But metal is no different than these works; it’s fantasy. Most of metal’s fanbase stems from an environment of suburban security. It’s a vicarious flirtation with dark subject matter, not dissimilar from the type of audio tourism experienced by young white America’s infatuation with gangster rap in the ’80s and ’90s. Many in the mainstream will point to the activity of violent moshing as a reflection of the predominant mindset of the metal fan, but those in the know understand that counterintuitively, moshing is a cathartic release of negative emotion in a positive way. By headbanging, and slamming around in the pit, fans release much of their pent up frustration through an outlet most people just don’t have. A recent Australian scientific study provides some evidence of this.
Metal is only for white people.
I may be speaking from an autobiographical vantage point, being mixed race, and being in God Forbid, one of the first and only predominantly black bands (shout-out to our token white bassist, John Outcalt) that achieved significant status in the metal scene. I could give a list of singular, important black metal musicians like Tosin Abasi from Animals As Leaders, Lajon Witherspoon from Sevendust, or Mike Smith and Terrance Hobbs from Suffocation, but that is missing the point. It really isn’t a black and white issue. It’s bigger than that.
If you get a chance to check out the full film for the above trailer, Global Metal, you will see another intriguing metal documentary from Banger Films (Metal: A Headbangers’s Journey, Metal Evolution) that shows the true multi-cultural diversity of metal fans around the world throughout many parts of Asia including India, China, Indonesia, as well as the Middle East, Central and South America. In God Forbid’s heyday, race seemed to be at the center of our public narrative, but it appears to be less and less novel for non-white musicians to be involved in the modern scene. Calling back to what I said before, metalheads are nerds; they just want good music, regardless of the race of who’s making it.
All metalheads are leather-clad long hairs.
I know there are plenty of diehard metalheads who walk, talk, sleep, eat, and breathe heavy metal 24/7. To them, metal is not just something to listen to; it’s a lifestyle and a philosophy. Long hair, tattoos, denim, leather, bullet belts, and spikes might seem like a Halloween shopping list, but some abide by these tropes in their daily lives. Although it may have been in the ’80s, it should be known that this is currently not the norm, at least in America. When I was coming up in the mid ’90s, you had a generation of hardcore kids who happened to love metal, and bands like Darkest Hour and Black Dahlia Murder made some undeniably metal music without feeling the need to fit the common metal archetypal aesthetic. These days the average fan going to a Slayer concert or Mayhem Festival is a male between the ages of 18-45 (Sorry ladies, but it’s certainly a sausage fest). These guys have professional jobs, families, and often don’t fit the look of a stereotypical metalhead. It doesn’t mean they aren’t just as passionate as the guy who looks like a Sons of Anarchy extra. Heavy metal lies in your heart, not in your outward appearance.
Metalheads are drunks.
Actually, I can’t really argue this one. Metalheads do like to get really fucked up. But then again, so does everyone else. Half of the hip hop songs out there are about drinking, from Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” to Three Six Mafia’s “Sippin’ On Some Syrup” to Beenie Man’s “Drinking Rum and Red Bull”. I don’t even listen to country music, but I know the fans get hammered on the reg, and the artists talk about drinking a lot in their songs. I just googled “country song drinking”, and Luke Bryan’s “Drink A Beer” came up. Damn song has 13.5 million views on YouTube. If I had to listen to country music regularly, I’m pretty sure I would have a drinking problem too.