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When I was young I liked metal music a lot. I listened Iron Maiden, Metallica and dozen other bands. As I grew older my interest in that music declined until completely faded out.

Recently I listened to some metal songs I used to like in my teens and suddenly I realized that my distaste to this music is rooted not in the "style" of the music itself but probably because of the heavily exploited theme of evil (violence, chaos, destruction...) in most of the songs. There are, of course, some bands and some songs that do not use the theme of evil but as far as I can see this exception only proves the rule. Just look at the names of popular bands - Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax...

So here is the question - is there any kind of research on why evil themes are so attractive to the creators of such kind of music? Is it happening because of something inherent to this genre, something that's naturally evoked by the signature or structural features of that's musical genre? And I can see that theme of bravery, heroism or great achievements might fit to this genre but this is not what's usually happening.

Oh, and it doesn't have to be a research, any good thought or article on this matter is fine too.

This is a pure curiosity question, I am sorry for grammar errors (English is not my native) and possibly looking naive or making unjustified generalizations - by no means I am an expert in music.

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  • I think if you dislike metal for the lyrics, you're probably listening to the wrong metal or reading too much into it. In general I don't think metal is really lyrically focused. Obviously you're not going to be able to understand the vocals hardly ever. Or if it seems like they're trying too hard to be "evil", that's just their gimmick falling flat on you. Maybe listen to some instrumental metal or something. Or find something with different lyrics. They're not all about being evil, really. – max pleaner Mar 20 '16 at 12:57
  • There is probably an argument for evil being a theme in most modern music, or even music in general. This might be especially true if you focus on the 70s and 80s when there was a lof of global worries as highlighted in the answer by @Ariser. Negativity in general is a strong theme for lots of popular music, especially that favoured by those in their pubescent years when emotions are raw. I am sure if you looked back at the subjects of classical music war a dead would feature broadly their too. – TafT Jul 8 '16 at 12:10
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    You should try listening to Manowar if not already tried. They are great and not really evil. – Sarge Borsch Dec 23 '16 at 18:06
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Your question can't be answered within few sentences. And it can't be answered by single persons alone. But I dare to write my share here, because I was and still am into several flavours of Metal including DM. And it was a significant part of my cultural development.

First I want to share some general opinions for which I do not have any proof whatsoever. Then I'll try to explain my personal perception.

I guess we have to go back into history. Metal is an offspring of Hard Rock or rock music in general. Emerging music styles frequently are a way for their fans to differentiate or even isolate themselves from the mainstream. And music mainstream often is a pars pro toto for a whole society.

IMO as the influence between musicians and their fans is bidirectional and often immediate, the bands bring up the style and content that allow the fans to use the music for their identification.

While Hard Rock turned against the philistinism and social conventions Metal had to part company at least partially, to make its own point.

Now I'll change to my personal view. Born in the middle of 70ies I grew up during the apex of cold war. I grew up in a country which many strategists predicted to be the first tactical nuclear battlefield when the cold war once turned hot. Surrounded by a heavily industrialized economy environmental pollution was omnipresent and the doomsday clock was on three before 12.

My whole youth was infused by dystopies. While I clearly percieved the menace, I could watch the ones in power just go on as they ever did, apparently ignoring all threats and dangers they piled up on the surface of the planet.

There was no positive imagination of the future one could easily grasp in the 80ies. So my mood as a teenager was clearly dystopic.

As it comes with teenage it is not easy to utter such perceptions and to live with while considering the very own existence somehow futile and powerless.

One method of coping with dystopic and isolating feelings is to suck up similar views. This can be music, books or movies.

For me it were the various flavours of Metal which provided a high percentage of social crticism and dystopic depiction wrapped in rough language and sound able to support that mood I was forced into. I guess many of my friends felt similarily.

If you look closer to the lyrics, you can observe that many deal with great problems of mankind and apply heavy criticism on it. I did not expect the music to change the world, but I felt good listening to it when it confirmed my view on the world in political and social perspectives.

This made the music more earnest to me than the average popmusic lovesong and eventually more valuable.

So my resumee is: Apparently evil lyrics in Metal and especially Death Metal are based on the sociocritic attitude of the genre. This was fostered by the bad future in the 80ies.

  • Great explanation, thank you. I guess this also explains why one might start feeling distaste to that kind of music - it criticizes the society we live in, but it doesn't offer the better alternative, on the contrary - it offers the worst: chaos, anarchy and death as opposed to the "moderate" and somewhat restrained evil of the modern "democracy". – Alex Jan 31 '16 at 1:03
  • @Alex Sometimes even being able to express the fact that there is a problem can be an important step psychologically... like the way people say "Hi, my name is... and I'm an alcoholic" at AA meetings. – user16 Jan 31 '16 at 9:30
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Try a counterexample and see for yourself!

There is research indicating that the music makes listeners inspired and calmer.

  • Hahaha! Awesome! Unfortunately, it is not a mainstream, is it? :) – Alex Jan 31 '16 at 20:19
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Alex there are many different genres of music and within each genre there are various popular themes that the lyrics revolve around.

I personally have my own preferences for certain genres and themes that I enjoy and seek out to listen to and learn to perform and write in. I know folks who enjoy other types of music than I do. I suppose everyone has a different background, a different view on life, different set of experiences, different social circles that they hang with and all of these things influence what type of music and lyrical themes speak to them on a personal level.

The reason these bands you describe are successful in building a fan base and selling out their shows, is that there is an audience for the type of music they create and perform. You alluded to the likelihood that these musicians made a conscious decision to write songs about subject matters that you don't personally feel compelled to immerse yourself in.

Since the "Death Metal" genre is not the type of music I choose or prefer to listen to, I cannot personally tell you why some folks do prefer that type music. The ones best qualified to answer that question would be those that do enjoy or prefer or perform the type music your question is about.

What I can say is there is a large fan base for many of the bands you mentioned and others like them. Music is entertainment for most of us and provides an escape from reality, a release of emotional tension and for some, an adrenaline rush.

There have been many popular movies featuring mass murderers and depicting gruesome killings. There are many popular movies about evil forces from the spiritual realm. I don't believe it's fair to categorize the folks who watch those type movies as inherently evil people. Perhaps they just enjoy being taken on an emotional journey into fear or excitement.

The best way to discover the answer to your question is to go to a concert featuring the type music you are wondering about. Talk to the fans. Talk to the musicians. Keep an open mind and try to truly understand what they tell you. You might be quite surprised and enlightened.

EDIT: Wheat Williams referenced a documentary about the subject which may shed some light on your question if you want to watch it. I have not seen it. But Wheat Provided this link to a promo and description Metal: A Headbanger's Journey

  • Also answered below to Ariser. My question was not about the fans who I not (and never wanted to) judge, besides I was also one of the fans before. It is more about why lyrics in this genre revolves around the theme of darkness. I think Ariser's answer pretty much covers it, in short: because of historical context this music originated in, the perceived dystopian look of the future. – Alex Jan 31 '16 at 1:11
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The replies to this question above have been heartfelt, and provide the "insider" perspective; metal fans can tell you what the music means to them. There has been some social science research on heavy metal music fans: an excellent first step would be to read Deena Weinstein's Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology.

In brief, she analyzes the themes of heavy metal as a "code" that works to present a coherent world view shared by metal bands and fans. The basic principles of this code are a fatalistic world view dominated by a vision of a chaotic world in which suffering and pain are the dominant experience. Hedonism provides a brief escape, but, in the end, everything ends in chaos and disorder. She reads this code as the "curdling" of the hopeful anti-authoritarianism of the 1960s hippie and psychedelic subcultures. Her book catalogues the metal code, looking at lyrics, dress, imagery, and music, and she does detailed readings of individual songs.

I'm pretty sure a pdf has been bootlegged online.

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Music presents a mood. Like any good art, music should make you think or feel what the creator of the art wants you to think or feel. It is a way to share thought or emotion. Blues when you're sad, Disco and R&B when you want to dance, Pop when you want to feel good, and Metal when you want to break stuff. :o)

Metal, first and foremost, is about aggression. Much the same way Punk is an attitude, so, too, is Metal. We all have a dark side, and Metal calls to that. So, it's only logical that most Metal songs are about violence and destruction. However, some of them are just about being a teenager, which was the target market back when Metal started breaking through. Take "Heading Out To The Highway" by Judas Priest for example. Not a violent song, more of a song of rebellion. "Livin' After Midnight"; same thing. "Sweet Leaf" by Sabbath? Not even close to violent. The polar opposite, in fact.

So, as you can see, not all Metal is violent. However, at it's core it's a call to arms for its fans. It's the voice of a disenfranchised generation who are angry. You know when you're at a Metal show and the singer yells something and the fans yell it back? Gene Simmons of Kiss once referred to that as "Scream therapy". And he's right. Metal is a way to get out your aggressions so you don't keep them pent up inside.

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To understand this you have to be a person that has never heard heavily distorted guitar before. In ages that The Who was loud and teenagers depriving music distortion was sound from hell. The clipped guitar signal sings polyphonic to humans ear. Doesn't organs sound scary when played multiple adjacent notes at once? Bands like Black Sabbath and others you quote made use of it and made it an part of their music.

Anyway it is hard to make fast playing and minor harmonies not sad or angry. And if you do why to use metal tones then?

As bonus: Marty Mc Fly threats using Van Halen's music https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMPM0-k40G8

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My personal opinion is that it has to do with levels of stimulation.

Metal tones provide high levels of auditory stimulation, that's pretty much the nature of distorted electric guitars. It seems logical then that people who seek this kind of high stimulation experience will also be attracted to other high stimulation experiences.

Negative emotions tend to be more dominating than positive emotions, hence feelings of anger, depression, foreboding, etc., all provide a stronger emotional stimulation than happy emotions, so it's really not surprising to me that you often find these high stimulation emotions together with high stimulation sounds. This also explains Power Metal, which is a genre that is pretty much thematically safe, but still provides a very high emotional stimulation (it's EPIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!).

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