Metal (music) studies: What’s in a name?

The field we are working in is commonly referred to as metal studies or metal music studies. I prefer the second because it makes clear it is research on a music culture, and in this way avoids already possible questions on the subject of research. Recently, Heather Savigny and Julian Schaap reminded us of  ‘putting the “studies” back into metal music studies’.1 In their critique, they demand more methodological rigour and more reflexivety in questions of epistemology. In this short post, I want to take up this point and throw in some questions from the point of view of a trained cultural historian.

My preferred name of our discourse is metal music studies. It contains three words. ‘Metal’, which is rather obvious (not mentioning the broad debates on the definition of metal) and names the subject of research. ‘Music’, the second element, is significant due to the fact that it tells non-insiders that we examine a popular music culture, i.e. heavy metal music. ‘Studies’, the third and the one which Savigny and Schaap problematized rightly, is the crucial one. It points out that this is an independent academic field.

From the point of view of a trained historian, the current state of the art is still characterized by a lack of historical awareness and of historic depth. There are books and conferences, which have the word ‘history’ in their titles.2 However, so far the history and cultural history of metal have been written by scholars ouside history as a discipline. On the one hand, this is good think because it sets history on the agenda of our discourse.

On the other hand, however, ‘putting the “studies” back into metal music studies’ consequently would also mean to take much more seriously the expertise of trained historians. Their expertise and knowledge of reading and examining sources, of historiography as a form narratology, and finally their knowledege of the broad contexts of the global history of the second half of the 20th century is key to writing a history of metal with more rigour. My upcoming book will not fix this issue but I address these questions.3


  1. See H. Savigny and J. Schaap (2018), ‘Putting the  “studies” back into metal music studies’, Metal Music Studies, 4:3, pp. 549–557, doi: 10.1386/mms.4.3.549_1. 

  2. See, L. Meller (2018), Iron Maiden: A journey through history, Curitiba: Appris; also, see the call for paper for the conference ‘Somewhere in Time: A Conference on Metal and History’, Victoria, BC, 23 to 25 August 2019, at: https://www.facebook.com/download/1138331633226652/Somewhere%20in%20Time%20CFP%20.pdf?hash=AcpU2f1kwval0Th3. Accessed 8 March 2019. 

  3. P. Pichler (2019), Metal music and sonic knowledge in Europe: A cultural history, Bingley: Emerald Publishers, forthcoming. 

Between scholarliness and fandom: on distance and closeness, objectivity and subjectivity in Metal Music Studies

In my last post, I reflected on the identities of Metal scholars, in terms of the transgressive potential of Metal Music Studies, as an academic discourse. This discourse is constitutively interdisciplinary and breaks disciplinary boundaries. I stressed that this situation of  an emerging filed of study requires its scholars to work self-reflexively. We have to construct our subject and our ‘Metal scholar-identities’ between and often in conflict to traditional disciplines.

These conflicts make the emergence of our field a deeply ambivalent and ambiguous process. On the one hand, we need to employ the theoretical approaches of ‘conservative’ academic fields (in my case again the theories of cultural history) to find our own subject and areas of research; on the other hand, at least in the long run, we have to build our own ‘toolbox’ of theories, at least of own theoretical approaches which fit our interests of research.

This ambivalence of an emerging field of scholarship is the reason why we should put a strong focus on theorizing in our work. Of course, there is theoretical work in Metal Music Studies1 but most of it follows modes of thinking which try to adapt successful and established theories from other fields on Metal music. However, our discourse as an emerging field ought to find its own theoretical tools – at least in a long-term perspective.

In this respect, I want to put forward the hypothesis, or to be more precisely, the hypothetic thought that the identitary situation of most Metal scholars is an important source of reflection, maybe even of theorizing; or at least, a point from which to start theoretical self-reflection. Most Metal scholars are both: ‘Metalheads’ and academic researchers and/or teachers. In their hearts and in their heads, there are, usually, both identities which regularly come into conflict.

Why do they come in conflict? This identitary situation is very ambiguous: we have to find a balance between scholarliness and fandom, between closeness and distance to our subject of research. We have to find identitary ways  to balance the fan’s subjectivity and the scholar’s objectivity. I think, this situation – as complicated, conflictuous, ambivalent and even paradoxical it may be – actually favours theoretical progress in our discourse.

This situation forces us to find theoretical and formal language to express the newly found balance between the fan and the scholar. In most cases, this new formal vocabulary to describe our own transgression from subjective interest to ‘objectified’ scholarly work is nothing else than a theory.2 In a nutshell, the identitary situation of scholars in Metal research drives them to formalize their language; thus, what we ought to do is not to come up with brand new or unprecedented abstract vocabulary but just try to find  formal language which suits our reflection and thoughts; vocabularies which create the Metal Music Studies scholars inside us.


  1. Cf. Stephen Hudsons blog ‘Metal In Theory. Sourcebook for Scholarship on Heavy Music’ at: http://metalintheory.com/about-metalintheory-com/, retrieved 9.7.2017; also, cf. the distinct and own discourse of a blog and journal of ‘Black Metal Theory’ at: http://blackmetaltheory.blogspot.co.at/, retrieved 9.7.2017; another fine example is this article: Martin Morris, Extreme Heavy Metal Music and Critical Theory, in: The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory  90, 4 (2015), pp. 285-303 

  2. For instance, again the example of ‘Black Metal Theory’ can be seen from this angle; again, cf. http://blackmetaltheory.blogspot.co.at/, retrieved 9.7.2017