Grease and Grit, Blood and Steel: 'Metal Rules the Globe'

Image from Metal Rules.com

Metal Rules the Globe does a heartening job of dismantling myths and legitimizing the artistic and social significance of the genre.

Metal Rules The Globe: Heavy Metal Music around the World

Publisher: Duke University Press
Length: 392 pages
Author: Jeremy Wallach, Harris M. Berger, Paul D. Greene, Editors
Price: $26.95
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2011-12

Some fans hate it when metal is put under the microscope, and that's perfectly understandable. Metal is grease and grit, blood and steel, and academic texts on metal frequently render its reverberating heart into a jargon-heavy dehydrated husk. You can capture metal's visceral passion and thunderous atmosphere with a bit of lyricism, but academic tomes aren't known for their poetic brogue. That said, such criticisms miss the point. Because the metal community is utterly fascinating, and viewing it through the erudite lens of the social sciences gives it the intellectual respect it deserves.

Metal Rules the Globe is a collection of 14 essays that look into various aspects of the global metal scene, with a keen eye set on the genre’s cultural specificities. It covers the globalization of metal; issues around gender, identity and extremist ideologies; the music industry; and small-scene case studies. The book explores how fans find culturally specific meaning in metal's sonic attributes, construct identities via their relationship with metal, and critique economic and social injustices.

Beginning with an introduction from editors Jeremy Wallach, Harris M. Berger, and Paul D. Greene--who provide a great overview of the metal scene, and define its dynamics--it's straight into the thrust of the book’s argument with Deena Weinstein's essay, ‘The Globalization of Metal’. Weinstein links the disaffection of youth with the allure of the metal genre in historical and contemporary terms. She posits a class-driven theory to explain the spread of metal throughout the globe--i.e., metal is inherently the music of the proletariat.

Issues around gender and masculinity are discussed in Cynthia P. Wong's contribution, ‘A Dream Return to Tang Dynasty: Masculinity, Male Camaraderie, and Chinese Heavy Metal in the 1990s’. This provides some much-needed historic context around Chinese metal, a wave of which has arisen in the last few years.

Jeremy Wallach's ‘Unleashed in the East: Metal Music, Masculinity, and “Malayness” in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore’, explores a more open metal scene. (At least in terms of perceptibility, there's no doubt those scenes continue to deal with harassment and censorship.) Wallach reveals how those metal communities--already famed for their ferocious extreme metal--respond to economic, political and religious pressures, and express aversion to the mass-consumerism of the West.

There's a wealth of fascinating information to discover throughout Metal Rules the Globe, particularly that related to local scenes and the sub-cultural appropriation of metal. Kei Kawano and Shuhei Hosokawa's ‘Thunder in the Far East: The Heavy Metal Industry in '90s Japan’ explains the importance of Japan as a market for many acts who have found little success in their own countries. It also reflects just how Japanese metal fans gauge the worth of metal bands from overseas.

Paul D. Greene's contribution on Nepal's metal scene looks at the aesthetic importance of metal, and its transgressive promise. Idelber Avelar's essay on Brazilian thrasher Sepultura serves as a (not exactly saccharine) love letter to the band's reintroduction of its Brazilian nationality into its work. The book’s final three essays deal with small local scenes in Malta, Slovenia and Rapanui. These draw attention to the personal significance of metal at its most sub-cultural level--and the cost of transgressing social norms in traditional communities.

Transgression is, of course, one of the prime reasons for metal's popularity, and one of its most enjoyable characteristics--to a point. Part four of Metal Rules the Globe deals with metal's transgressive themes and capital being used in more insidious and invidious ways. Sharon Hochhauser's ‘The Marketing of Anglo-Identity in the North American Hatecore Metal Industry’ looks at the history and ideology of white supremacist punk and metal, and their intersection in the hatecore scene. It's an unnerving portrayal of all that is good about metal (grassroots networks, DIY ethics etc) being harnessed by those with entirely more hateful agendas, and it dovetails nicely with Ross Hagen's contribution on the most visibly controversial side of metal: black metal.

Hagan's analysis, from the perspective of both performer and fan of the scene, eschews the luridness of black metal in favor of more somber examinations. His explanation of the core musical accoutrements of black metal is perfect. (If your interest is piqued by this, Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind's Lords of Chaos makes for a more comprehensive, albeit controversial, work.)

Any work that examines metal's cultural importance is to be welcomed. There's no doubt metal is a maligned form of expression, and Metal Rules the Globe does a heartening job of dismantling myths and legitimizing the artistic and social significance of the genre. As you'd expect from an academic text, not every contribution is reader-friendly, especially if you're unfamiliar with the terminology. However, if one essay doesn't suit, a distinctly different one is sure to follow. Irrespective of the complexity of the analysis, there's a very clear sense that the work has been written by fans of metal.

Metal Rules the Globe illustrates how metal fans have utilized the genre to conceptualize and manage the difficulties in their own lives. But more importantly, it highlights how fans have found solace in the heart of metal. If you're a fan of musicology, sociology, anthropology or ethnographic discourse, then Metal Rules the Globe is well worth exploring. It underscores just why metal is such a crucial medium of support and nourishment for millions of fans. It's a fascinating insight into how metal constructs different notions of identity around the world, yet reinforces those all-important commonalities we share as fans.


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