Tag Archives: Black Sabbath

Researchers study people who like heavy metal, discover they’re not so bad after all!

Windhand onstage. Photo by Flickr user Metal Chris.

A new study led by University of Westminster psychologist Viren Swami puts metalheads under the microscope again — and finds, refreshingly, some surprising results. I’m reluctant to analyze it much because the full study is paywalled, but the jist is that they took more than 400 Brits and had them listen to “clips of 10 tracks of contemporary heavy metal,” asked them what they thought of the music, and then gave them a questionnaire meant to test them for the “Big Five” personality traits: Extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness to new experiences.

There are a few additional details in this (unnecessarily sexist) writeup from Pacific Standard, including the fact that the study included 219 women and 195 men. Here’s their quick-and-dirty explanation of the findings:

Matching music preference to the Big Five personality traits, Swami was not surprised to find “openness to experience” was associated with enjoyment of heavy metal. People who embrace the new and different tend to be “drawn to forms of music that are intense, engaging and challenging,” he notes, “of which heavy metal is but one example.”

Those with a strong preference for metal “were also more likely to have lower self-esteem,” the researchers write. They speculate this style of music “allows for a purge of negative feelings,” producing a catharsis that may “help boost self-worth.”

Appreciation for metal was also associated with a higher-than-average need for uniqueness, and lower-than-average levels of religiosity. “It is possible that this association is driven by underlying attitudes towards authority, which may include religious authorities,” they write.

Trying to draw correlations between personality traits and musical preferences — particularly when studying people who are outside of that musical culture — is tricky business. I would loosely agree with the suggestion that people who are more open to new experiences would be into extreme music, but it could also be said that people who prefer things to be very structured and regimented would like metal, because the genre — prog and “math metal” in particular — offer that kind of structure. Likewise, it’s a safe guess to say that folks with lower self-esteem might be drawn to metal because its lyrics often offer messages of catharsis and empowerment. But the culture, as well as the music, offers a support network for misfits, and that can’t be ignored.

Lastly, the topic of metal and religiosity is a sticky one (and one I touch on briefly in The Columbine Effect; does it have to do with attitudes toward authority, as the researcher suggests? Others have theorized that people who belong to one of the dominant faiths are less likely to be tolerant of metal because of how the culture and iconography toys with religious criticism, pagan and Satanic themes, and blasphemy. But then again, there’s the argument that metal is a kind of religion.

It’s tough to say what the value of studies like this are. To overcome the stigma and biases against heavy metal and its fans? Others — such as filmmaker Sam Dunn — are arguably more effective. I’d rather see a deep, longitudinal study of longtime metal fans, starting when they picked up their first Black Sabbath or Metallica CD and following them until they’re in nursing homes. I’m happy that studies show not all metalheads are delinquents, but you don’t need a study for that. Just talk to fans.

Exactly how many kids has heavy metal sent to Hell?

Recently, someone calling themselves “April and Wayne Show” (it’s not clear whether that’s the name of a couple of the name of their show) began posting videos to YouTube purporting to expose metal bands as “Satanic Illuminati.” Although the dictionary says “illuminati” means “those who are enlightened,” many people colloquially use the term to refer to something cult-like.

As I’ve said before, while some metal bands use anti-Christian symbolism as a theater prop, very few are actually Satanic. Still, some people look at these bands and see nothing else. At first, it seems like April and Wayne Show’s videos might seem tongue-in-cheek, but the tone comes across as fairly serious and straightforward. Which means we’ve got some debunking to do.

Some of their claims include:

“Metal destroys the lives of many youth and leads millions of souls to Hell.”
“Metal has caused many youth to turn to drugs, become rebellious, and become sexually promiscuous (including bisexuality).”
“Metal promotes self-destruction (including suicide). Rock music gets millions of youth to experiment with drugs.”
“Metal artists have sold their souls to the devil and Satan uses metal bands to lead millions of souls to Hell.”
“Metal … promotes witchcraft and Satanism, demonic possession and rage, violence, blasphemy …”

Note that all of this is presented without a single shred of evidence. There’s no science backing their claims about drugs, sexuality, or even suicide. To say nothing of their more spiritual claims. Sure, it’s hard to prove whether “millions of souls” have gone to Hell, or that Satan’s using the music to lead them there, but you could at least try.

Let’s assume for the moment that these teens get to Hell by committing suicide. Roughly 4,400 teens a year succeed in killing themselves. Even if every single teen who committed suicide since 1970 — the year proto-metal band Black Sabbath released its first album — and we assume that every teen who commits suicide a) did so because of metal, and b) went to Hell because of it, it comes to 184,800. Unfortunately, that’s a lot of kids, but it’s by no means “millions.”

They go on:

“Metal artists are under demonic control during performances. These demons not only control artists’ performances, but enhances (sic) their skill.” (Quotes from artists ensue.)

Their example is a drummer they describe as “faceless,” who plays with his eyes closed (how does he have eyes if he doesn’t have a face?), but somehow plays perfectly, as shown in the video. Have these people never heard of dubbing? Or, you know, muscle memory? Many skilled musicians can play with eyes closed; it has nothing to do with demons. Also, since when are demons good at performing music?

Then there’s a narrative from a “regional bride of Satan,” named “Elaine,” who claims that numerous musicians told her that they sold their souls to the Devil, and that she attended “numerous ceremonies” in recording studios to place “Satanic blessings” on the music recorded there. And that the demons appeared on the records, especially in the “backmasked messages.”

I think it’s worth saying that we probably shouldn’t trust a woman who believes she was married to Satan. Even if you get beyond the idea that Satan is a real being who can get married, it’s not like such a marriage would be legally recognized anywhere. At this point, it’s safe to assume that “Elaine” was imagining or hallucinating pretty much everything she claims. The red herring is the “backmasked messages” comment, considering that the metal bands accused of backmasking messages were exonerated in court, after it was found that the “subliminal messages” were imagined, not intentional.

Part 2 of the video series gets into the idea of a “secret society.” “What secret society?” “The Illuminati!” — mostly old, rich guys. Who, as we know, are serious and hardcore metalheads:

I won’t go through the whole thing line-by-line, but needless to say these videos are not worth trusting. I hope parents who come across them while searching for information about their kids’ interests don’t give them too much credence. If anyone has questions about what they’re seeing in these videos, please ask in comments.

Or, if you see something in one of these videos you’d like to debunk, please do. Cite your sources!

The war against metal is still alive — in some minds

Did Rick Santorum declare war on heavy metal? No — but a hoax is making people think so. Santorum photo by Gage Skidmore.

These days, it can be doggedly difficult to tell truth from fiction. When some of the best news broadcasting comes from Comedy Central, and political candidates say things that seem straight out of The Onion, it takes a sharp eye to know what you’re seeing.

Last week, Tyranny of Tradition posted “Rick Santorum Declares War on Heavy Metal.” Tyranny of Tradition, written by Keith Spillett, is was created “in the hopes of working out some internal questions I have been struggling with in a public way so that those who wrestle with the same questions can have the opportunity to gain deeper insights to their meanings,” Spillett wrote. “There will be some inconsistencies, oversimplifications and illogical arguments in the posts ahead.”

But most people didn’t know that when they read the following:

“If you listen to the radio today, many of these brand new, so-called heavy metal music bands like Black Sabbath, Venom, The WASP and Iron Maiden use satanic imagery to corrupt the minds of young people,” announced Santorum at a 10,000 dollar a plate sock-hop in Valdosta, Georgia on Thursday.

Santorum’s popularity in the polls has grown substantially since he began speaking out against metal and its assault on traditional values. He has spent much of the past week in the Midwest encouraging young people to stay away from metal artists and listen to performers like Michael W. Smith and Pat Boone. In a recent Gallup Poll, 87 percent of Republican voters think that the biggest problem in America today is “the demented bloodlust of teenagers caused entirely by heavy metal music.”

Many blog commenters got the joke right away: “1984 called, they want their controversial topic back,” one quipped. But many others fell for it, believing that the conservative Santorum was reviving the PMRC’s crusade against metal — in fact, against the same metal bands (WASP, Venom) that stuck in Tipper Gore’s craw in 1985.

Apparently, the post went viral on Facebook and Twitter, with many metal fans outraged to be facing the same old moral panic.

What’s interesting to me is that a hoax like this can get so far before people catch on. It means a few things: one, that metalheads’ perception of Republicans is that they’re stuck in the past, ill-informed, and ready to go on the warpath against teen culture. Two, that the spectre of what the PMRC did in the 1980s has not completely gone away, even nearly 30 years later. And three, that the culture of heavy metal has not yet made peace with the dominant culture — and likely never will.

Heavy-metal fan wins disability benefits for his “addiction” to music

Swedish metal fan Roger Tullgren says his love of heavy metal is a disability. The government employment service agreed, paying part of his wages.

Forty-two-year-old Roger Tullgren is like many other heavy-metal fans his age. He discovered the genre at the tender age of 5, when his brother brought home a Black Sabbath album. He’s been hooked ever since, and continues to listen to the music daily and dress in the heavy-metal uniform: long hair, band t-shirts, silver and leather jewelry, piercings, and so on.

Unlike other fans, Tullgren says his love of heavy metal interferes with his day-to-day functioning and qualifies as a disability. He spent 10 years and visited three different psychologists before finally establishing his case. Recently, he filed paperwork with the government employment service near Hässleholm, Sweden, where he lives. They have agreed to pay a portion of his wages while he works part-time as a dishwasher in a restaurant.

Meanwhile, his boss says it’s OK for Tullgren to listen to music while he works — as long as it isn’t too loud and doesn’t interfere with customers’ enjoyment of their meals.

The ageing rocker claims to have attended almost three hundred shows last year, often skipping work in the process.

Eventually his last employer tired of his absences and Tullgren was left jobless and reliant on welfare handouts.

But his sessions with the occupational psychologists led to a solution of sorts: Tullgren signed a piece of paper on which his heavy metal lifestyle was classified as a disability, an assessment that entitles him to a wage supplement from the job centre.

“I signed a form saying: ‘Roger feels compelled to show his heavy metal style. This puts him in a difficult situation on the labour market. Therefore he needs extra financial help’. So now I can turn up at a job interview dressed in my normal clothes and just hand the interviewers this piece of paper,” he said.

“Some might say that I should grow up and learn to listen to other types of music but I can’t. Heavy metal is my lifestyle,” he said.

I’m not going to comment on whether I think Tullgren’s approach is legitimate. As far as I’m concerned, that’s between him, his therapist, the Swedish government, and his boss. But it does speak to a certain aspect of heavy-metal fandom. For many people, especially the most dedicated, this is more than a form of entertainment. It’s more, even, than a hobby. It’s a lifestyle, a tribe, even a religion.

Given those parameters, it’s easy enough to compare participation in heavy metal culture to participation in any other culture: the Amish, Hasidism, Islam. It would be discriminatory for an employer to force someone from one of these groups to change the way he or she dresses or appears while on the job. For example, Hani Khan is suing Abercrombie & Fitch after they asked her — a stockroom worker — to stop wearing her hijab. Meanwhile, the International Weightlifting Federation recently changed its dress code so Muslim women can compete. Likewise, businesses are required to provide allowances for religious practices. Would attending heavy-metal shows qualify?

So when is it a “lifestyle choice,” and when is it one’s culture and creed? That’s a fine line to draw. What isn’t clear to me is why Tullgren went after a disability clearance rather than look at it as a fight for workplace equality. What do you think Tullgren should do?