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Few forms of music elicit such strong reactions as does heavy metal. Embraced by millions of fans, it has also attracted a chorus of critics, who have denounced it as a corrupter of youth—even blamed it for tragedies like the murders at Columbine. Deena Weinstein argues that these fears stem from a deep misunderstanding of the energetic, rebellious culture of metal, which Few forms of music elicit such strong reactions as does heavy metal. Embraced by millions of fans, it has also attracted a chorus of critics, who have denounced it as a corrupter of youth—even blamed it for tragedies like the murders at Columbine. Deena Weinstein argues that these fears stem from a deep misunderstanding of the energetic, rebellious culture of metal, which she analyzes, explains, and defends. She interprets all aspects of the metal world—the music and its makers, its fans, its dress code, its lyrics—and in the process unravels the myths, misconceptions, and truths about an irreverent subculture that has endured and evolved for twenty years.


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Few forms of music elicit such strong reactions as does heavy metal. Embraced by millions of fans, it has also attracted a chorus of critics, who have denounced it as a corrupter of youth—even blamed it for tragedies like the murders at Columbine. Deena Weinstein argues that these fears stem from a deep misunderstanding of the energetic, rebellious culture of metal, which Few forms of music elicit such strong reactions as does heavy metal. Embraced by millions of fans, it has also attracted a chorus of critics, who have denounced it as a corrupter of youth—even blamed it for tragedies like the murders at Columbine. Deena Weinstein argues that these fears stem from a deep misunderstanding of the energetic, rebellious culture of metal, which she analyzes, explains, and defends. She interprets all aspects of the metal world—the music and its makers, its fans, its dress code, its lyrics—and in the process unravels the myths, misconceptions, and truths about an irreverent subculture that has endured and evolved for twenty years.

30 review for Heavy Metal: The Music and Its Culture

  1. 4 out of 5

    Aurélien Thomas

    It's not new: ever since its emergence heavy metal music (or rather metal music at large, for this is what is discussed here) has been the object of many controversies, denounced, and victim of prejudices that would have been funny were it not for some legislators trying to censor it. Deena Weinstein, a professor of sociology, tackles here the music and its followers head on, to try and give outsiders a serious and accurate picture of such a misunderstood musical genre. Here's not an history of It's not new: ever since its emergence heavy metal music (or rather metal music at large, for this is what is discussed here) has been the object of many controversies, denounced, and victim of prejudices that would have been funny were it not for some legislators trying to censor it. Deena Weinstein, a professor of sociology, tackles here the music and its followers head on, to try and give outsiders a serious and accurate picture of such a misunderstood musical genre. Here's not an history of metal music, then, but a 'social description'. Now, first published in 1991, such description is obviously not innocent: glam metal exploded on MTV the whole previous decade, thrash is slowly emerging, and, above all, we are then barely 5-6 years after the PMRC hearing and its political agenda tried to discredit and legislate the whole scene. It's indeed the whole point of this book, what the author asks right from the start: 'What are we making a public issue about?' As a sociologist, she adopts a purely academical approach by focusing on a triad: artists, audience, medias. It may sound basic and dry, but as a metalhead myself I couldn't but be impressed by how accurate her whole analysis was. She is indeed far from being a clueless armchair intellectual, and it shows in how engaging she is all along. She displays a serious knowledge of a scene which is quite difficult to grasp for the noninitiate; and the way she sails through it all, steering the reader smoothly by being enlightening while debunking all the silly labellings (death-obsessed, Satanists, sexual perverts, blah blah blah...) is a feat to be reckoned. She acknowledges the complexity and skilful musicianship required to play such a style. She, above all, nails fascinating points when it comes to describe its main features. For instance, putting metal's emergence back into the socio-economical context of the 70s, both in the UK and in the US, she gives interesting insights explaining not only its main demographics (young white males, blue collars) but the reasons behind its core characteristics. Metal indeed was then more than a response to society at large, it was also both a reaction and an offshoot of the prevalent counterculture of the time that is, the hippie movement: to hell with love and flower power! Hail to a new music that would be both Dionysian and Chaotic. Particularly interesting (to me in any case) was her discussion of the mass media in regards to its relationship with the music. As I said, this was first published in 1991, and every metalhead will know such period to be crucial: not only commercial glam was decaying, but underground thrash was emerging. MTV, here, makes for a case in point, that I found highly relevant not only to metal but music at large. Deena Weinstein is here blunt, yet so right: 'Mass commercial media have no respect whatever for the content or form of a cultural object or for the critical standards of a specialised audience. For the mass commercial media, music is a product and a commodity, and the audience is merely an aggregate of listeners to be sold or delivered to sponsors. The mass media will produce and play what their managers believe will get them the largest or most profitable audience.' And indeed, so was it with glam. Commercial mass media had surely put it on the map (glam made MTV) but, being driven by profits, such success will cost the music a massive price: these media would, in turn, format the music so as to suit their own interests. The consequences would be two fold: by constantly broadcasting the same type of repetitive, uncreative, formatted music over and over they overkilled the genre they were displaying while, on the other hand, many metalheads would find such dumping down and commercialisation such a betrayal of metal core roots that they would go underground, where thrash will emerge. Three decades later, glam, who had enjoyed the support of commercial mass media, is deader than dead; whereas thrash has richly evolved and fragmented into a multitude of extreme subgenres, still making the wealth of the metal scene. Such analysis is therefore fascinating because, although we are talking here about metal, it applies in fact to any genre the mass medias put their claws on: turn on any musical channel, watch the cr.p being on display, and if you have some wit about you then get the point... As for me, an extreme metal fan, I like to ponder on a question she dares to push when it comes to the birth of thrash: 'Without the exaggerating and reinforcing effects of the medias, would the split [with glam] have been so pronounced?' Absolutely engrossing! So... To conclude, what of the PMRC and its mediatic circus, then? She doesn't spare her view: 'lyrics were interpreted in a maximally incompetent way, logical fallacies were committed, and the distortions were tirelessly repeated and taken up by the media without reflections.' You bet! Now, the PMRC may have relatively failed in its endeavours, but aren't the baloneys it entertained about metal music still prevalent? Well, like or not, metal remains 'the beast that refuses to die', and if you are curious as to know why, let alone understand what heavy metal really is all about, then this book is the perfect read. Enjoy!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Interesting read, but too dated for my taste. Sure, it's great if you want to know about metal's earliest history, but so many things have developed since this book was published in 1990. Because of this the read became a bit of a dread after the first half. Probably also because heavy metal is one of the types of metal I never really liked much.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lyle Raymond

    A thorough survey of the genre for those not looking to celebrate, but to understand. A little dated in its assessment of metal as homophobic, but otherwise very insightful.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Clayton

    An interesting, if outdated, sociological perspective into the genre.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kaija Ozola

    As somebody once told me, a must-read for everyone who's into the metal. Well, you don't get much information about the recent events (to be clear - you don't get anything about that), but as a book that leads into the beginnings of metal music, it is perfect. Stories about classics are great and give you a vast amount of information.

  6. 4 out of 5

    J.

    all I can really say about it is, it's extremely dated but was probably pretty unique at the time it was written

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jody Mena

    This book is really helpful in answering the question 'Just what is heavy metal?' by breaking down the structure of the relationship between the bands and the fans, (and the media in between) and analyzing it through the sociological lense. Most of those who don't enjoy heavy metal think it's nothing but noise and screaming and black leather and silver spikes, and potheads with long hair and grungy clothes. And while it is all that, it's so much more, and by couching the concept in an intellectu This book is really helpful in answering the question 'Just what is heavy metal?' by breaking down the structure of the relationship between the bands and the fans, (and the media in between) and analyzing it through the sociological lense. Most of those who don't enjoy heavy metal think it's nothing but noise and screaming and black leather and silver spikes, and potheads with long hair and grungy clothes. And while it is all that, it's so much more, and by couching the concept in an intellectual and scientifically disected plane, this book allows everyone, fan or not, to analyze the subject objectively. So I particularly recommend it those who don't understand the appeal of heavy metal - if you can't understand it emotionally, this might help explain it to you on an intellectual level. Though it's a bit dated now, this book still provides some really meaningful insight into the roots of heavy metal, how to identify it and understanding what makes it so popular and prolific. I found it particularly interesting to read about how the failure of the hippie movement was the natural cause of the heavy metal movement - like a snapped rubber band, the ideology of love and peace rebounded, and in the backlash gave rise within a disappointed and disillusioned youth culture to an ideology of power and rage. That it was a logical evolution from blues, folk music and acid rock seems obvious once you think about it, but this book really lays it out in a straight line for you. Take the time to read this book when you get a chance. Even if you don't come to appreciate heavy metal, it will give you insight into the motivations behind others that do, so you will never again have to wonder 'what's the appeal?'

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Kriste

    I bought this book at a local charity shop before leaving on holiday and it was really worth it. The best part is how she has managed to look at heavy metal and its sub-culture from an entirely sociological perspective avoiding all the normal prejudices. I learn't a lot about myself and why I started listening to metal in the first place and why it has remained consistently important to me. It was published in 1992 and therefore doesn't feature all of the bad influnces that came into metal in th I bought this book at a local charity shop before leaving on holiday and it was really worth it. The best part is how she has managed to look at heavy metal and its sub-culture from an entirely sociological perspective avoiding all the normal prejudices. I learn't a lot about myself and why I started listening to metal in the first place and why it has remained consistently important to me. It was published in 1992 and therefore doesn't feature all of the bad influnces that came into metal in the 1990s (rap, techno, industrial etc etc) which does the heart good. If you have any interest in understanding metal, whether you like the music or not, then this book is essential reading. LONG LIVE THE LOUD!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    If you've ever wondered what a college thesis on the societal impact of heavy metal music was then this is your book. If, however, you prefer your heavy metal like I do: loud, obnoxious, and mostly dumb. Or at the very least fun. Then don't bother picking up this book. This book is almost Spinal Tap-ish in it's attempts to impart the larger cultural impact of, say, Dio on society. A long, slow read that could have been summed in in two words, "Devil horns."

  10. 4 out of 5

    K

    Not very useful. Weinstein's opus is another early academic work on HM, and thus deserves some credit, but she decontextualizes the lyrical matter from the music, performance, and subcultural aspects, thereby relegating her discussion to theoretical irrelevance. She also makes a large number of mistakes, for one claiming to be a fan of the music, in terms of band timelines, song titles, general influences, etc.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    A particularly enjoyable section in this serious, sociological examination of heavy metal is the segment describing conservative attempts to censor lyrics through organizations like the PMRC. There's nothing particularly imaginative about the insights the author has about heavy metal culture, but the book is satisfying nonetheless, and admirable for its restraint.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Erkan Saka

    Probably one of the best in the field. Some parts are ethnographic. It covers until mid 1990s. Of course, another study needed what happened after that but clues are already given in the last chapter...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    I read this for her Sociology of Rock Music class, probably in 1998. Weinstein was by far my favorite professor at DePaul. This book will probably seem fairly dry to anyone looking for a typical heavy metal read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Deena Weinstein is a genius.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sabrina Reis

    21

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    What's there to say? If you love Metallica and Slayer as well as Sabbath and Zeppelin, this is the book for you. Please don't be one of those people who ignores the classics!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alejo

    A great study of the early years and the shock in 80's.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jedi-Timelord

  19. 5 out of 5

    Adrien Begrand

  20. 4 out of 5

    Justin

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nik

  22. 5 out of 5

    Joel

  23. 5 out of 5

    N

  24. 4 out of 5

    David Bramall

  25. 5 out of 5

    Zach

  26. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Finnell

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tom Shapira

  28. 4 out of 5

    Toli

  29. 5 out of 5

    TR

  30. 4 out of 5

    Benito Jr.

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