ⓘ Heavy metal subculture


ⓘ Heavy metal subculture

Fans of heavy metal music have created their own subculture which encompasses more than just appreciation of the style of music. Fans affirm their membership in the subculture or scene by attending metal concerts – an activity seen as central to the subculture, buying albums, in some cases growing their hair long, wearing jackets or vests most often denim adorned with band patches and often studs and most recently, by contributing to metal publications.

Some critics and musicians have suggested that the subculture is largely intolerant to other musical genres. The metal scene, like the rock scene in general, is associated with alcohol, tobacco and drug use as well as riding motorcycles and having a lot of tattoos. While there are songs that celebrate drinking, smoking/dipping, drug use, gambling, having tattoos and partying, there are also many songs that warn about the dangers of alcohol, tobacco, gambling, tattoo and drug addictions. The metal fan base was traditionally white and male in the 1970s, but since the 1980s, more female fans have developed an interest in the style, also the popularity and interest has grown among African Americans and other groups recently.


1. Nomenclature

Heavy metal fans go by a number of different names, including metalhead, headbanger, hesher, mosher and heavy, with the term thrasher being used only for fans of thrash metal music, which began to differentiate itself from other varieties of metal in the late 80s. These vary with time and regional divisions, but "headbanger" and "metalhead" are universally accepted to refer to fans or the subculture itself.


2. Subculture

Heavy metal fans have created a "subculture of alienation" with its own standards for achieving authenticity within the group. Deena Weinstein’s book Heavy Metal: The Music And Its Culture argues that heavy metal" …has persisted far longer than most genres of rock music” due to the growth of an intense" subculture which identified with the music”. Metal fans formed an" exclusionary youth community” which was "distinctive and marginalized from the mainstream” society. The heavy metal scene developed a strongly masculine" community with shared values, norms, and behaviors”. A" code of authenticity” is central to the heavy metal subculture; this code requires bands to have a" disinterest in commercial appeal” and radio hits as well as a refusal to" sell out”. The metal code also includes" opposition to established authority, and separateness from the rest of society”. Fans expect that the metal" …vocation N.W.A came out rapping about this world where you walk out of your house and you get shot." At this point, Rose argues that "It was just so clear what stupid little white-boy poseurs we were."

Christian metal bands are sometimes criticized within metal circles in a similar light. Some extreme metal adherents argue that Christian bands adherence to the Christian church is an indicator as membership in an established authority, which renders Christian bands as "posers" and a contradiction to heavy metals purpose. Some proponents argue personal faith in right hand path beliefs should not be tolerated within metal. A small number of Norwegian black metal bands have threatened violence towards Christian artists or believers, as demonstrated in the early 1990s through occasional church burnings throughout Scandinavia.


3. Social aspects

Gestures and movements

At concerts, in place of typical dancing, metal fans are more likely to mosh and headbang ⁠a movement in which the head is shaken up and down in time with the music.

Fans from the heavy metal culture often make the corna hand gesture formed by a fist with the index and little fingers extended, known as the" devil’s horns”, the "metal fist" and other similar descriptors. This gesture was popularised by Black Sabbath and Dios vocalist Ronnie James Dio, who died in 2010.

Alcohol and drug use

The heavy metal scene is associated with alcohol and drug use. While there are heavy metal songs which celebrate alcohol or drug use, there are many songs which warn about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse and addiction, "Master of Puppets", by Metallica and "Beyond the Realms of Death" by Judas Priest.


4. Intolerance to other music

On a 1985 edition of Australian music television show Countdown, music critic Molly Meldrum spoke about intolerance to other music within the subculture, observing "sections who just love heavy metal, and they actually dont like anything else." Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, a guest on the program, readily concurred with Meldrums view, and opined that his comments were "very true". Directly addressing the resistance to alternate genres seen among certain heavy metal fans, Mercury asserted: "thats their problem".

Interviewed in 2011, Sepultura frontman Derrick Green said: "I find that a lot of people can be very closed minded – they want to listen to metal and nothing else, but Im not like that. I like doing metal music and having a heavy style, but I dont like to put myself in such a box and be trapped in it." Also that year, Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante admitted that hardened members of the heavy metal subculture "are not the most open-minded people when it comes to music."

Ultimate Guitar reported in 2013 that thrash metal fans had directed "hate" towards Megadeth for venturing into more rock-oriented musical territory on that years Super Collider album. Singer Dave Mustaine stated that their hostility was informed by an unwillingness to accept other genres and had "nothing to do with Megadeth or the greatness of the band and its music"; he also argued that the labelling of music fans contributed to their inability to appreciate other types of music. That same year Opeth frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt also alleged that most members of the subculture are resistant to the musical evolution of artists within the metal genre, stating that it "doesnt seem to be that important" to those listeners. He added: "I think most metal fans just want their Happy Meals served to them. They dont really want to know about what theyre getting. For a while, I thought metal was a more open-minded thing but I was wrong."

Journalists have written about the dismissive attitude of many metal fans. MetalReviews.com published a 2004 article entitled "The True, Real Metalhead: A Selective Intellect Or A Narrow-Minded Bastard?", wherein the writer confessed to being "truly bothered by the narrow-mindedness of a lot of opinions changed."

Despite widespread lack of appreciation of other music genres, some fans and musicians can profess a deep devotion to genres that often have nothing to do with metal music. For instance, Fenriz of Darkthrone is also known to be a techno DJ, and Metallicas Kirk Hammett is seen wearing a t-shirt of post-punk band The Sisters of Mercy in the music video for "Wherever I May Roam". Ted Kirkpatrick, Tourniquet band leader is a "great admirer of the classical masters".

Some metal fans are also fond of punk rock, most notably the hardcore punk scene which helped inspired the extreme metal subgenres and even fusion genres such as, crossover thrash, grindcore and the New York hardcore scene. Though it has been rumored that punks and metalheads had a bitter rivalry and feud in the past.

The term metal elitist is sometimes used by heavy metal fans and musicians to differentiate members of the subculture who display insulated, exclusionary or rigidly conservative attitudes from ostensibly more open-minded ones. Elitist attitudes are particularly associated with fans and musicians of the black metal subgenre. Characteristics described as distinguishing metal elitists or "nerds" from other fans of metal music include "constant one-upping," "endless pedantry" and hesitancy to "go against the metal orthodoxy." While the term "metal elitism" is usually used pejoratively, elitism is occasionally defended by members of the subculture as a means of keeping the metal genre insulated, in order to prevent it from selling out.


5. Attire

Another aspect of heavy metal culture is its fashion. Like the metal music, these fashions have changed over the decades, while keeping some core elements. Typically, the heavy metal fashions of the late 1970s – 1980s comprised tight blue jeans or drill pants, motorcycle boots or hi-top sneakers and black t-shirts, worn with a sleeveless kutte of denim or leather emblazoned with woven patches and button pins from heavy metal bands. Sometimes, a denim vest, emblazoned with album art "knits" cloth patches would be worn over a long-sleeved leather jacket. As with other musical subcultures of the era, such as punks, this jacket and its emblems and logos helped the wearer to announce their interests. Metal fans often wear t-shirts with the emblem of bands.

Around the mid-2000s, a renaissance of younger audiences became interested in 1980s metal, and the rise of newer bands embracing older fashion ideals led to a more 1980s-esque style of dress. Some of the new audience are young, urban hipsters who had "previously fetishized metal from a distance".


6. International variations

Heavy metal fans can be found in virtually every country in the world. Even in some of the more orthodox Muslim countries of the Arab World a tiny metal culture exists, though judicial and religious authorities do not always tolerate it. In 2003, more than a dozen members and fans of Moroccan heavy metal bands were imprisoned for "undermining the Muslim faith." Heavy metal fans in many Arab countries have formed metal cultures, with movements such as Taqwacore.


7. Examples in fiction

Heavy metal subculture appears in works of fiction, mostly adult cartoons, and 1980s and 1990s live action movies.

  • The French-Canadian cartoon My Dad the Rock Star, created by Gene Simmons, featured the father, Rock Zilla, having a family belonging to the rocker/metalhead subculture. His son, William aka Willy is the main protagonist as well, but has trouble fitting in with his peers and family since he wants to live a more normal lifestyle.
  • In the Happy Tree Friends episode entitled "In a Jam", the characters Cuddles, Lumpy, Russell, Handy, and Sniffles are in a rock and roll/heavy metal band. In that episode, they also have a stereotypical metalhead/rocker attitude such as being rude to people auditioning to be in the band, being careless, and even having some hand gestures that belong to the subculture.
  • In an episode of Family Guy entitled "Saving Private Brian", Chris Griffin gets inspired by Marilyn Manson to become part of the heavy metal subculture and is mouthy to Lois and Peter, while they, of course, dont like it.
  • In one episode of SpongeBob SquarePants entitled "Krabby Road", Plankton makes a rock and roll/heavy metal band called "Plankton and the Patty Stealers" and gets SpongeBob, Patrick, and Squidward to be a part of it.
  • The titular characters of Mike Judges animated show Beavis and Butt-Head are among the most notorious examples of heavy metal subculture in fiction, being fond of bands representative of, or marginally associated to, the style such as Metallica and AC/DC, whose logos emblazon the T-shirts of the protagonists respectively. They also exhibit stereotypical metalhead behavior such as headbanging to songs they like, singing guitar riffs in response to good things happening to them, and deeming glam metal bands as "wussy". However, in a subversion of the stereotype that members of the heavy metal subculture are intolerant towards other styles of music, the duo are very responsive to hip hop music due to them finding it to be just as authentic.
  • Bill & Teds Excellent Adventure is also a well-known example of heavy metal subculture in fiction, in which the titular characters are time travelers driven by the desire of keeping their band together.
  • The characters, Johnny Klebitz, Jim Fitzgerald, Clay Simons, Terry Thorpe, Patrick McReary, and Brucie Kibbutz, from Grand Theft Auto IV and its episodes are all metalheads.
  • The 2009 video game Brutal Legend is set in a world inspired by heavy metal music, and features characters voiced, and visually inspired, by Jack Black, Rob Halford, Lemmy Kilmister, Lita Ford, and Ozzy Osbourne.
  • Metalocalypse, TV show that aired from August 6, 2006 to October 27, 2013, features fictional death metal band Dethklok.
  • The Disney XD sitcom Im in the Band featured a teenaged boy named Trip who was the lead guitarist of a heavy metal/rock and roll band called "Iron Weasel"; the show also focused on heavy metal subculture in high school.
  • The Death Metal Epic is a series of comic novels by the writer Dean Swinford. The books tell the story of a death metal guitarist from Florida and is set in the early 1990s, a timeframe in which the genre thrived in the location.
  • The film and Saturday Night Live program, Waynes World is another good example of the heavy metal subculture in fiction.