When I started looking into the research about heavy metal and mental health, I found all kinds of other things that were related more broadly to metal and psychology, as well as a few ‘less relevant’ things such as the fact that sharks like heavy metal, as do plants. This part of the site looks at some of the broader research around psychology, culture and heavy metal. Just like the mental health bit, it is not a comprehensive review, but contains a collection of articles and researcher profiles that you might want to check out. I’m not an expert in this area, so have probably missed stuff out – please do let me know if there’s something you think should be in here.
Heavy Metal Studies
The heavy metal studies geeks among you may already be aware that there are actually a few journals devoted completely to heavy metal, such as Metal Music Studies, the Journal of the International Society of Metal Music Studies. There’s too many contributors and themes in the articles published by this journal to mention them all, but take a look a the links to the articles for all sorts from sociology, musicology and educational perspectives. A metalhead researcher called Niall Scott is involved with this journal, and he has a pretty cool research profile including this book about the community experience of heavy metal. There’s this book as well on a similar theme but focussed on young people by Paula Rowe, who has written a lot about youth metal identities. Niall and others were involved in the organisation of the world’s first Heavy Metal Congress in 2019. This covered a lot of international metal research and cultural perspectives on heavy metal throughout the world (there’s a nice little summary video of it here). It also featured this cool documentary about the metal scene in Syria, which isn’t research but is worth a watch.
Karl Spracklen has also written about heavy metal studies and why they are important and is a co-founder and the editor of the Metal Music Studies journal. He has written extensively with colleagues on heavy metal and culture, as his research profile here shows.
Owen Coggins, who works for the music therapy organisation Nordoff Robbins has recently published this excellent paper on some of the social history of why metal music may have incorrectly received a negative reputation, using the example of drone metal to illustrate his points.
Lyrics and Rhythms
Some research analyses themes in heavy metal lyrics and what they could mean from a variety of perspectives. There was a recent conference on this in 2018 that featured many practitioners in the field of metal and linguistics across a range of cultures. Although obviously this has now happened, the programme is worth a look at as it also contains a few good references for the multilingual metal enthusiasts among you.
David Angeler is a researcher who looks at how ideas from heavy metal can be applied to other areas as diverse as ecology and education, he has also written about how metal lyrics and rhythms relate to the reported experience of various mental health difficulties.
This study looks at what happens to metal musicians when they perform. It’s all about the ‘flow’ (dude…) , which is basically how awareness of what you are doing and your actions themselves come together when you perform music. Interestingly, in metal they found a role for negative emotions in enhancing the flow.
Gender and Heavy Metal
Some people have suggested that there is gender inequality in the heavy metal music scene, which is traditionally male dominated in terms of both fans and performers. So, for example, this article looks at the possible oppression of women and the idea that the metal scene may reinforce gender stereotypes, and this one is about how women in metal may have to adhere to ‘male values’ in metal culture (a similar study specifically about death metal is here). But, like with a lot of research things, not everyone agrees with each other and there are entire books written on this topic, such as this one. Some key people to look at who write about this stuff include: Julian Schaap and Pauwke Berkers who often collaborate and have recently published a book on gender and metal, Amanda DiGioia and Rosemary Hill who has also published a different book on gender and metal (so lots of potential reading if you are interested in this topic)
For a general discussion on moshing with a feminist perspective on mosh pits take a look at this from Gabrielle Riches. I also found this book on gender and sexuality in heavy metal from a queer perspective.
Dabbling in the Dark Arts
For those with more specialist interests there is always the stuff in the restricted section (and if you don’t get that reference go and watch/read Harry Potter, like now…). I came across quite a few bits of research and reflections that focus specifically on black metal and some of the darker themes in both black and heavy metal more generally. There’s even a specialist journal of black metal theory called Helvete: A Journal of Black Metal Theory which is worth a look at if you like that sort of thing. Or, there’s also this book Mors Mystica: Black Metal Theory Symposium, which is about black metal and mystical death. Sticking with the death theme, researcher Selim Yavuz wrote a whole PhD thesis on ‘depressive suicidal black metal music’, which you can take a look at here.
Jasmine Shadrack is another UK researcher who looks at black metal, trauma feminism and the role of performing as a metal musician from her own perspective as a former front woman in a black metal band (how cool is that?). Check out her autoethnographic work here, with tons of mental health stuff in there.
From a somewhat different perspective, there are also a collection of studies that look at the cognitive and biological effects of listening to heavy metal. So, here we have some big science words but for those who want it, here are some links to studies or reviews about metal and…..Schematic Information Processing (a way of remembering stuff), Psychoneuroimmunology (how your brain and immune system respond to music), Metabolic Processes (digestion) and Autonomic Responses (in this case, heart beat changes from loud to soft music).
So there you have it….quite a journey covering everything from suicide, culture, heart beats, ecology and gender studies! Heavy metal research is as diverse as the music itself.