(x-posted fom Live Journal)
I was listening to some Dissection today. Storm of the Light's Bane. This got me thinking. Modern metal is contradictory and liminal. It is an 'outsider' music/culture that is mainstream - metalheads like to cultivate this badass, elite, oppressed attitude but everyone's listened to a Maiden or Sabbath song at least once in their lives. Metal is coarse, grotesque and transcendental. But this article isn't about the music itself, which you can go hear on lastfm or the back pages of this site (download, people!)
Modern metal culture (thenceforth referred to as 'metal') is a safe space for kids labeled 'geeks' and 'freaks' to assert themselves with a set of 'given' rules - the foremost of which is not giving a shit what people think. It is also an answer to the postmodern while questioning the modern- and the premodern. It's also become a space for immigrant men, particularly from Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, to assert a space for themselves.
While hip hop, punk and goth negotiate the dominant paradigm by being explicitly racialized, gendered, exoticized and classed, non-NSBM metal seeks to move away from this. Black metal doesn't mean God Forbid (who are thrash). Female-fronted bands are only noted as such if they're in a certain florid genre (Nightwish, Sirenia). It also embraces neurodiversity. ADHD? Try speed metal. Depressed? Doom metal's for you. Bipolar? How about melodic death? Metal defines itself as a brotherhood by being individualistic within an tacit collectivism, instead of pussyfooting around and singing Kumbayah.
The most empowering thing about metal is its rage against the 'geek' idea. Intelligence is strength. Knowledge is power. Dreams are strength and power. Depression can be strength. You become stronger than the jocks - you are stronger than the brute-force jocks. Because you can see change- you are change, and you can assert yourself. Revenge of the nerds, but as the nerds take their revenge they become more than nerds.
While there is a 'metal way of dress' it is not enforced the way 'goth' is. Again - as contradictory - it is 'more metal' to wear a suit and tie than wear a metal shirt and be unemployed. Within metal's defined liminality, charged with power, we make manifest our internal power. Playing Dungeons and Dragons isn't just accepted here, dragons and swords become symbols of strength and virility. Verbal intelligence is respected, like mathematical is in the engineering world. There is a different social order, almost tribal. It is deeply emotional, yet controlled. Unrestrained, Romantic-era emotion is 'emo', but the deep melancholy expressed in black-doom metal, the fury in death metal, the romance in gothic metal is the essence of what it is because it is brought together with strength, purpose and art. Experiencing this together in a concert is what creates the metal brotherhood.
There is in metal society a refreshing honesty and an attitude of continual, Nietzschean self-improvement - of change and vitality - rather than mindless acceptance. Metalheads regularly challenge each other as 'posers'. But does that matter, in the end? Does being fat, gay or straight matter? Metal is about perhaps the illusory core of humanity. Hip hop and punk rock are postmodern, but metal's attitude is pre-modern. In that way, hip hop espouses an agnostic humanism, while metal espouses a heathen humanism.
Metal culture also accepts what others call 'escapism'. It's accepted to read science fiction and comic books. Metal is comic book music, look at the song 'Iron Man'. At the same time, metal doesn't promote escapism for escapism's sake, or intellectualism for intellectualism's sake. It is deeply Teutonic in its practicality, roundly deriding pure escapists as 'losers'. Metal is not for the body, but for the mind, and the spirit lost to the body, yet reasserted in moshing and crowd-surfing. It is rock and roll stripped of its germinal mating-dance. Not sex in the back of a car, but harnessing that force Tantrically and using it to reassert the renewed self.