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Heavy metal: pimply, prole, putrid, unchic, unsophisticated, anti-intellectual (but impossibly pretentious), dismal, abysmal, terrible, horrible and stupid music, barely music at all . . . music made by slack-jawed, alpaca-haired, bulbous-inseamed imbeciles in jackboots and leather and chrome for slack-jawed, alpaca-haired, downy-mustachioed imbeciles in cheap, too large t-shirts with pictures of comic book Armageddon ironed on the front . . .  —Robert Duncan, music critic (1989:36)

Vala he is that's what you said
Then your oath's been sworn in vain
Freely you came and
You freely shall depart
Never trust the northern winds
Never turn your back on friends —Blind Guardian, "Nightfall" (1998)

The sonic dimension of heavy metal music can be defined by extremes: heavy, distorted, and technically impressive electric guitar; loud, frantic double bass drumming; prominent bass; and growled, snarled, or virtuoso vocals. Its fans consist predominately of greasy-haired, black-T-shirt-clad, marijuana-smoking, blue-collar, male teens who wouldn't know a literary masterpiece if it were propping up their beer fridge. How, then, did the works of J. R. R. Tolkien permeate this subculture? Why is it that thousands of metal fans worldwide see Tolkien's works as synonymous with the ideology of heavy metal, when Tolkien would have abhorred the music and its fans?

To understand this phenomenon it is necessary to know something about heavy metal. The genre solidified from the rock scene in the early '70s with bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Judas Priest. This was also the era when science fiction and fantasy boomed—thanks to Tolkien, Star Wars, and Dungeons & Dragons—and the two subcultures attracted a similar fan base (Trafford and Pluskowski 2007:60). Heavy metal can be broken down into several subgenres, each with its own separate history and each bringing something important to the metal cacophony: death metal, thrash metal, power metal, black metal, grindcore, nu-metal, folk metal, Harry Potter metal. Many metal fans—metalheads, as they are commonly known—enjoy a range of bands from several different subgenres but focus their attention on one or two subgenres in particular.

Heavy Metal: The Music and Its Culture

Running with the Devil: Power, Gender and Madness in Heavy Metal Music



Stephanie Green lives in New Zealand with her cantankerous drummer husband and a cupboard full of swords. By day she transcribes braille and produces large-print and audio books for the blind, and by night you'll find her tearing up the mosh pit at her local heavy metal bar.
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