Heavy metal subculture

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A man wearing clothing typically associated with heavy metal and displaying the "metal horns" gesture Metal's not dead.jpg
A man wearing clothing typically associated with heavy metal and displaying the "metal horns" gesture

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 leather jackets and t-shirts with band names and logos and most recently, by contributing to metal publications. [1]

Heavy metal is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the United Kingdom. With roots in blues rock, psychedelic rock, and acid rock, the bands that created heavy metal developed a thick, massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos, emphatic beats, and overall loudness. The genre's lyrics and performance styles are sometimes associated with aggression and machismo.

Subculture group of people within a culture that differentiates themselves from the larger culture to which they belong

A subculture is a group of people within a culture that differentiates itself from the parent culture to which it belongs, often maintaining some of its founding principles. Subcultures develop their own norms and values regarding cultural, political and sexual matters. Subcultures are part of society while keeping their specific characteristics intact. Examples of subcultures include hippies, goths and bikers. The concept of subcultures was developed in sociology and cultural studies. Subcultures differ from countercultures.


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 fanbase was traditionally white and male in the 1970s, but since the 1980s, more female fans have developed an interest in the style, while popularity and interest continue to grow among African Americans and other groups[ citation needed ].

Tattoo placement of ink into human skin, permanently or semi-permanently

A tattoo is a form of body modification where a design is made by inserting ink, dyes and pigments, either indelible or temporary, into the dermis layer of the skin to change the pigment. The art of making tattoos is tattooing.

African Americans are an ethnic group of Americans with total or partial ancestry from any of the black racial groups of Africa. The term typically refers to descendants of enslaved black people who are from the United States.


Heavy metal fans go by a number of different names, including metalhead, [2] headbanger, [3] hesher, mosher and heavy, with the term thrasher [4] being used only for fans of thrash metal music, which began to differentiate itself from other varieties of metal in the late 80's. These vary with time and regional divisions, but "headbanger" and "metalhead" are universally accepted to refer to fans or the subculture itself.

Thrash metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music characterized by its overall aggression and often fast tempo. The songs usually use fast percussive beats and low-register guitar riffs, overlaid with shredding-style lead guitar work. The lyrical subject matter often deals with criticisms of The Establishment, and at times shares a disdain for Christian dogma resembling that of their black metal counterparts. The language is typically quite direct and denunciatory, an approach borrowed from hardcore punk.


Heavy metal fans have created a "subculture of alienation" with its own standards for achieving authenticity within the group. [5] 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. [6] 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”. [6] The metal code also includes “opposition to established authority, and separateness from the rest of society”. Fans expect that the metal “…vocation [for performers] includes total devotion to the music and deep loyalty to the youth subculture that grew up around it…”; a metal performer must be an “idealized representative of the subculture”. [6]

Deena Weinstein is a professor of sociology at DePaul University whose research focuses on popular culture. She is particularly well known for her research on heavy metal music, as she has published two books on the genre: Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology (1991) and Heavy Metal: The Music and Its Culture (2009). Because of her research on heavy metal, Weinstein was featured in the 2005 documentary Metal: A Headbanger's Journey and the later Metal Evolution.

While the audience for metal is mainly “white, male, lower/middle class youth,” this group is “…tolerant of those outside its core demographic base who follow its codes of dress, appearance, and behavior”. [6] The activities in the metal subculture include the ritual of attending concerts, buying albums, and most recently, contributing to metal websites. Attending concerts affirms the solidarity of the subculture, as it is one of the ritual activities by which fans celebrate their music. [7] Metal magazines help the members of the subculture to connect, find information and evaluations of bands and albums, and “express their solidarity”. [7] The long hair, leather jackets, and band patches of heavy metal fashion help to encourage a sense of identification within the subculture. However, Weinstein notes that not all metal fans are “visible members” of the heavy metal subculture. Some metal fans may have short hair and dress in regular clothes.

Heavy metal fashion

Heavy metal fashion is the style of dress, body modification, make-up, hairstyle, and so on, taken on by fans of heavy metal, or, as they are often called, metalheads or headbangers. While the style has changed from the 1970s to the 2010s, certain key elements have remained constant, such as black clothes, long hair and leather jackets. In the 1980s, some bands began wearing spandex. Other attire includes denim or leather vests or jackets with band patches and logos, t-shirts with band names, and spiked wristbands.


In the musical subcultures of heavy metal and punk, authenticity is a core value. The term poseur (or poser) is used to describe "a person who habitually pretends to be something he/she is not," [8] as in, adopting the appearance and clothing style of the metal scene without truly understanding the culture and its music. In a 1993 profile of heavy metal fans' "subculture of alienation," the author noted that the scene classified some members as "poseurs," that is, heavy metal performers or fans who pretended to be part of the subculture, but who were deemed to lack authenticity and sincerity. [9] Jeffrey Arnett's 1996 book Metalheads: Heavy Metal Music and Adolescent Alienation argues that the heavy metal subculture classifies members into two categories by giving "...acceptance as an authentic metalhead or rejection as a fake, a poseur." [10]

Punk rock is a rock music genre that emerged in the mid-1970s in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. Rooted in 1960s garage rock and other forms of what is now known as "proto-punk" music, punk rock bands rejected perceived excesses of mainstream 1970s rock. They typically produced short, fast-paced songs with hard-edged melodies and singing styles, stripped-down instrumentation, and often political, anti-establishment lyrics. Punk embraces a DIY ethic; many bands self-produce recordings and distribute them through independent record labels.

Authenticity (philosophy) concept in psychology and philosophy

Authenticity is a concept in psychology as well as existentialist philosophy and aesthetics. In existentialism, authenticity is the degree to which an individual's actions are congruent with their beliefs and desires, despite external pressures; the conscious self is seen as coming to terms with being in a material world and with encountering external forces, pressures, and influences which are very different from, and other than, itself. A lack of authenticity is considered in existentialism to be bad faith. The call of authenticity resonates with the famous instruction by the Oracle of Delphi, “Know thyself.” But authenticity extends this message: "Don’t merely know thyself – be thyself."

Heavy metal fans began using the term "sell out" in the 1980s to refer to bands who turned their heavy metal sound into radio-friendly rock music (e.g., glam metal). In metal, a sell out is "...someone dishonest who adopted the most rigorous pose, or identity-affirming lifestyle and opinions". The metal bands that earned this epithet are those "... who adopt the visible aspects of the orthodoxy (sound, images) without contributing to the underlying belief system." [11]

Ron Quintana's article on "Metallica['s] Early History" argues that when Metallica was trying to find a place in the L.A. metal scene in the early 1980s, "American hard-rock scene was dominated by highly coiffed, smoothly-polished bands such as Styx, Journey, and REO Speedwagon." He claims that this made it hard for Metallica to "...play their [heavy] music and win over a crowd in a land where poseurs ruled and anything fast and heavy was ignored." [12] In David Rocher's 1999 interview with Damian Montgomery, the frontman of Ritual Carnage, he praised Montgomery as "...an authentic, no-frills, poseur-bashing, nun-devouring kind of gentleman, an enthusiastic metalhead truly in love with the lifestyle he preaches... and unquestionably practises. [13]

In 2002, "[m]etal guru Josh Wood" claimed that the "credibility of heavy metal" in North America is being destroyed by the genre's demotion to "...horror movie soundtracks, wrestling events and, worst of all, the so-called 'Mall Core' groups like Limp Bizkit." Wood claims that the "...true [metal] devotee’s path to metaldom is perilous and fraught with poseurs." [14] In an article on metal/hard rock frontman Axl Rose, entitled "Ex–‘White-Boy Poseur", Rose admitted that he has had "...time to reflect on heavy-metal posturing" of the last few decades. He notes that “We thought we were so badass...[until] 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." [15]

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 metal's purpose. [16] Some proponents argue personal faith in right hand path beliefs should not be tolerated within metal. [17] A small number of Norwegian black metal bands have threatened violence (and, in extremely rare instances, exhibited it) towards Christian artists or believers, as demonstrated in the early 1990s through occasional church burnings throughout Scandinavia. [16] [18]

Social aspects

Gestures and movements

Death metal band Asphyx headbanging during a performance. AsphyxBand.jpg
Death metal band Asphyx headbanging during a performance.

At concerts, in place of typical dancing, metal fans are more likely to mosh; [19] headbang, a movement in which the head is shaken up and down in time with the music [20] and do air guitar, in which the fan pretends to play a lead guitar solo [ citation needed ].

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. [21] This gesture was popularised by Black Sabbath and Dio's vocalist Ronnie James Dio, who died in 2010.

Alcohol and drug use

The heavy metal scene is associated with alcohol and drug use. [22] While there are heavy metal songs which celebrate alcohol or drug use (e.g., "Sweet Leaf" by Black Sabbath, which is about marijuana), there are many songs which warn about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse and addiction, "Master of Puppets", by Metallica [which is about how drug abusers can end up being controlled by the drugs they use] and "Beyond the Realms of Death" by Judas Priest. its important.

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 don't like anything else." [23] Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, a guest on the program, readily concurred with Meldrum's view, and opined that his comments were "very true". Directly addressing the resistance to alternate genres seen among certain heavy metal fans, Mercury asserted: "that's their problem". [23]

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 I'm not like that. I like doing metal music and having a heavy style, but I don't like to put myself in such a box and be trapped in it." [24] 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." [25]

Ultimate Guitar reported in 2013 that thrash metal fans had directed "hate" towards Megadeth for venturing into more rock-oriented musical territory on that year's 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. [26] 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 "doesn't seem to be that important" to those listeners. He added: "I think most metal fans just want their Happy Meals served to them. They don't really want to know about what they're getting. For a while, I thought metal was a more open-minded thing but I was wrong." [27]

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 [his] metal brothers and sisters". [28] Critic Ryan Howe, in a 2013 piece for Sound and Motion magazine, penned an open letter to British metal fans, many of whom had expressed disgust about Avenged Sevenfold – whose music they deemed too light to qualify as metal – being booked to headline the 2014 instalment of popular metal event the Download Festival. Howe described the detractors as "narrow minded" and challenged them to attend the Avenged Sevenfold set and "be prepared to have [their] opinions changed." [29]

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, [30] and Metallica's 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". [31] Ted Kirkpatrick, Tourniquet band leader is a "great admirer of the classical masters". [32]

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. [33] [34] [35] Elitist attitudes are particularly associated with fans and musicians of the black metal subgenre. [36] 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." [37] 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. [38]


Rob Halford of Judas Priest wearing studded leather jacket PriestScorpionsNEC 017 Halford.jpg
Rob Halford of Judas Priest wearing studded leather jacket
A man wearing a denim jacket with band patches and artwork of heavy metal bands including Metallica, Guns N' Roses, Iron Maiden, Slipknot and Led Zeppelin HeavyMetalJckt.jpg
A man wearing a denim jacket with band patches and artwork of heavy metal bands including Metallica, Guns N' Roses, Iron Maiden, Slipknot and Led Zeppelin

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". [39]

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.

Examples in Fiction

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

Related Research Articles

Punk subculture Anti-establishment culture

The punk subculture includes a diverse array of ideologies, fashion, and other forms of expression, visual art, dance, literature and film. It is largely characterised by anti-establishment views and the promotion of individual freedom, and is centred on a loud, aggressive genre of rock music called punk rock. Its adherents are referred to as "punks".

The new wave of British heavy metal was a nationwide musical movement that started in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s and achieved international attention by the early 1980s. Journalist Geoff Barton coined the term in a May 1979 issue of the British music newspaper Sounds to describe the emergence of new heavy metal bands in the mid to late 1970s, during the period of punk rock's decline and the dominance of new wave music.

Christian metal, also known as white metal, Jesus metal or heavenly metal, is a form of heavy metal music usually defined by its message using song lyrics as well as the dedication of the band members to Christianity. Christian metal is typically performed by professed Christians principally for Christians who listen to heavy metal music and often produced and distributed through various Christian networks.

Alternative metal is a rock music fusion genre that infuses heavy metal with influences from alternative rock and other genres not normally associated with metal. Alternative metal bands are often characterized by heavily downtuned, mid-paced guitar riffs, a mixture of accessible melodic vocals and harsh vocals and sometimes unconventional sounds within other heavy metal styles. The term has been in use since the 1980s, although it came into prominence in the 1990s.

Gothic metal is a fusion genre combining the heaviness of heavy metal with the dark atmospheres of gothic rock. The music of gothic metal is diverse with bands known to adopt the gothic approach to different styles of heavy metal music. The genre originated during the early 1990s in the United Kingdom originally as an outgrowth of death-doom, a fusion of death metal and doom metal. Lyrics are generally dark and introspective with inspiration from gothic fiction as well as personal experiences.

Cut-off modified and decorated jacket worn in biker, metal and punk subcultures

A cut-off, battle jacket, battle vest or kutte in heavy metal subcultures, is a type of vest or jacket which originated in the biker subculture and later found popularity in punk and various heavy metal subcultures. Biker, metal and punk subcultures differ in how the garment is prepared, what decorations are applied, and how this is done.

Korean rock is rock music from South Korea. It has roots in American rock, which was imported to South Korea by U.S. soldiers fighting in the Korean War and stationing in U.S. military base in South Korea after the war. Around the U.S. military base, local musicians could have opportunities to learn American rock music and perform it on the stage for U.S. soldiers. As the result, many Korean rock bands, called Vocal Band or Group Sound, could start their musical career in 1960s. Under the military administration in 1970s, rock music and its subculture were classified as a depraved youth culture and restricted. After the Korean Fifth Republic, the censorship policies under military government had been abolished and rock music became a mainstream genre in South Korea until end of 1980s. Today, rock music is not a main genre in the music market in South Korea, but it still occupies a big portion of music consumption in South Korea.


A poseur is someone who poses for effect, or behaves affectedly, who affects a particular attitude, character or manner to impress others, or who pretends to belong to a particular group. A poseur may be a person who pretends to be what he or she is not or an insincere person; they may have a flair for drama or behave as if they are onstage in daily life. "Poseuse", the feminine version of the word, is sometimes used.

Scot McFadyen Canadian film director and producer

Scot McFadyen is a Canadian film director, producer and music supervisor whose work focuses on the subculture of heavy metal. He co-owns Toronto-based production company Banger Films with Sam Dunn.

African heavy metal refers to the heavy metal music scene in Africa, particularly in Eastern African countries such as Kenya) and Uganda, Western African and Southern African countries including Namibia, Zambia, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Angola, Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. It also extends into North African nations such as Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia, although bands in the North African region associate themselves more closely with the MENA region in terms of cultural and social consistencies. In South Africa, particular regional scenes are found in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth. There is also emerging scenes in Gabon, Nigeria, Cape Verde, Ghana and Togo with Iron Sliver, 1 Last Autograph, Krad, Dark Suburb and Arka'n leading their respective scenes.

Heavy metal bass

Heavy metal bass is the use of the bass guitar in the rock music genres of heavy metal and hard rock. The bassist is part of the rhythm section in a heavy metal band, along with the drummer, rhythm guitarist and, in some bands, a keyboard player. The prominent role of the bass is key to the metal sound, and the interplay of bass and distorted electric guitar is a central element of metal. The bass guitar provides the low-end sound crucial to making the music "heavy". The bass plays a "... more important role in heavy metal than in any other genre of rock."

Heavy metal guitar

Heavy metal guitar is the use of highly-amplified electric guitar in heavy metal. Heavy metal guitar playing is rooted in the guitar playing styles developed in 1960s-era blues rock and psychedelic rock, and it uses a massive sound, characterized by highly amplified distortion, extended guitar solos and overall loudness. The electric guitar and the sonic power that it projects through amplification has historically been the key element in heavy metal. The heavy metal guitar sound comes from a combined use of high volumes and heavy distortion.

Heavy metal lyrics

Heavy metal lyrics are the words used in songs by heavy metal artists. Given that there are many genres of heavy metal, it is difficult to make generalizations about the lyrics and lyrical themes. In 1989, two metal scholars wrote that heavy metal lyrics concentrate "on dark and depressing subject matter to an extent hitherto unprecedented" in any form of popular music. Jeffrey Arnett states that metal songs are "overwhelmingly dominated" by "ugly and unhappy" themes which express "no hope" for the future. Deena Weinstein has proposed one way to analyze metal song themes is loosely grouping them into two categories: the Dionysian theme, which celebrates "sex, drugs and rock and roll", partying, and enjoyment of life and the Chaotic theme, which involves dark subjects such as Hell, injustice, mayhem, carnage and death. Not all metal genres fall into Weinstein's two theme model; for example power metal's lyrical themes often focus on fantasy and mythology, camaraderie and hope, personal struggles and emotions, among other themes. Another exception is pop metal bands, which replaced "gloom and doom" themes with "positive, upbeat" songs about romantic love and relationships, part of their goal of appealing more to female listeners. In metal overall, the small number of metal songs about relationships are typically about unions that have "gone sour" long ago.

Biker metal is a fusion genre that combines elements of punk rock, heavy metal, rock and roll and blues, that was pioneered in the late-1970s to early-1980s in England and the United States, by Motörhead, Plasmatics, Anti-Nowhere League and Girlschool.


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