It’s not every day you read about Anglo-Swedish death metal supergroup Bloodbath on the BBC news website. But the band’s music has been used to help prove that metalheads may be decent folk after all…Here’s Rushonrock’s Rich Holmes with his take on this all-new revelation.
“Death metal fans are nice people”.
Well, according to Professor Bill Thompson, of Australia’s Macquarie University it is.
And reassuringly, we’re “not going to go out and hurt someone”, according to the Prof. in an article published by the BBC last week.
Professor Thompson’s study – which appeared in the Royal Society journal Open Science – measured psychological responses to Bloodbath’s Eaten, compared to Pharrell Williams’ Happy – suggested that death metal fans were no less desensitised to violence than ‘normals’ (as we call them) are.
And Professor Thompson even went on to say that the death metal fans experienced ‘joy and empowerment’ when experiencing their favourite music.
But we knew all of this already, right?
Drawing on personal experience, I know plenty of people who are into Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation and Gorerotted who refrain from feasting on human flesh or running around the streets with a chainsaw.
And I’ve seldom seen any violence (save for the good natured version seen in the pit) in more than two decades of attending death metal shows. I was once kicked in the jaw by a stagediver at a Sick Of It All gig. But that was an accident. And SOIA are a hardcore band anyway.
In contrast, I saw the bliss of the early UK dance scene infected, by the mid-90s, by unwelcome macho posturing, fuelled by cheap cocaine rather than MDMA. A place where rival dealers competed for turf, often arguing rather forcefully in the toilets, while a 19-year-old, 10-stone version of me was cowering at the urinal trying to take a leak.
I digress, but the point is that I’ve never felt like I’ve had to watch my back at a metal show (my jaw, perhaps).
What I have experienced over more than 25 years as a metalhead is a sense of camaraderie, of brotherhood and sisterhood, that draws people together from across ethnic, cultural and geographical divides in celebration of the riff, the blastbeat and the death grunt.
Extreme metal seems to be a universal language, which is understood from the favelas of Brazil to the fjords of Norway, to the sweltering backstreets of Singapore. I’ve hung out with fans and bands from Utah, Toronto, Peru, Oslo, Transylvania (the guy’s name was Vlad, we bonded over Floridian deathsters Atheist) – and even Sunderland – at gigs and festivals over the years. Intelligent, kind, funny people, the lot of them.
Maybe that paints too rosy a picture. There are nasty, hateful individuals in all walks of life. However I’d rather spill someone’s pint at Damnation Festival than in a Yates’s pub on a Friday night.
What resonated with me the most about Professor Johnson’s comments, however, was his reference to ‘joy and empowerment’.
A colleague once asked me why I liked extreme metal so much. She ‘got’ Nirvana, say, but the apocalyptic barrage of Anaal Nathrakh or the blood-spattered masterworks of Dismember didn’t quite do it for her. She wasn’t critical or condescending, she acknowledged the exceptional musicianship of many of the bands I like (I didn’t play her any Hellhammer), but she couldn’t grasp why something so ferocious and ‘evil’ sounding would appeal to me.
My response? I explained that extreme metal seems to tap into something primal, that when you are listening to certain bands, it’s like mainlining adrenaline. A cathartic experience that takes you out of the hum drum of daily existence and makes you feel like you’ve conquered the stars. Power coursing through your veins, etc etc.
She didn’t run away or call for help, and even seemed to understand what I was talking about.
I desperately wanted to show her how I skingasmed* to the synchronised opening riff/double kick of Carcass’s Corporal Jigsore Quandary, how I got goosepumps whenever Deicide’s Lunatic Of God’s Creation burst into life. But I was in the office.
Plenty of you will have had the same conversations with your Ed Sheeran. Coldplay or indeed, Pharrell-loving workmates. They might get it. They might not. But at least the next time they see you out wearing an Entrails or Angelcorpse t-shirt, you can refer them to:
Implicit violent imagery processing among fans and non-fans of music with violent themes by Yanan Sun, Xuejing Lu, Mark Williams and William Forde Thompson
…if they seem a little unnerved.
*It’s a thing, look it up.
Pictured: Cattle Decapitation. I interviewed their vocalist Travis Ryan about the Anthropocene extincition while he was sucking a lolly pop and raving about the great Italian restaurant he’d just discovered in my native Newcastle. Bloody nice bloke.