Anthropologist Underground

Anthropologist Underground
October 13
I'm Terrie Torgersen Peterson. I hold a BA in Anthropology from the University of Wyoming. I've done archeological field work at Haluzta in Israel, San Juan River cliff dwellings in the American Southwest, and in the Big Horn Canyon in Wyoming. I'm currently a writer and stay-home mom to two gorgeous, laughing children. I enjoy exploring the intersection of science and culture and my own life as ethnography. I also write for and You can email me: anthropologistunderground [at] gmail [dot] com.


APRIL 8, 2010 3:58PM

(sub)Culture Shock! Part V

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I apologize for not getting this posted earlier. The problem with this type of research is that I keep getting distracted by listening to various bands.  Previous posts in this series: IIIIIIIV Note that some links below may Not be Safe For Work...

So what about the metal music?  It's incredibly stylistically diverse.  Since I don't typically listen to metal music, I don't know what makes a "good" metal band.  I know what I like and don't like, but I'm totally unqualified to assess the quality of a representative of this genre.  Here are some interview questions about the music itself. 

AU: I know that 'metal' is a big tent...

Member of the Metal Tribe

I think a more appropriate statement would be 'rock' is a big tent. Metal is such an amorphous term nowadays.  Specifically for [my band]... [one band member] & I have done a lot of songwriting where it's a deliberate take on old school pre-glam metal - music today that would just be considered hard rock.  A few of our newer songs are even branching out into thrash and sludge worlds (I even said at practice: let's write a Kyuss song).  Now that we have a new drummer our main pop/punk touchstone is gone and I see things going that way more. Have you ever listened to the Queens of the Stone Age album "Songs For The Deaf"?  That'd be a good thing to check out.  It blends a lot of worlds and a lot of important peopTSle.  I've always been reluctant to slap the metal tag on my band personally.  We're influenced by the old school metal and punk guys (Black Sabbath!  Motorhead!  The Stooges! TSOL!  Kyuss!) but when *I* think metal I think of ridiculous technical guitar playing and dudes singing in falsetto about Dungeons & Dragons stuff.  It's a catch-all term so it's so hard to figure out. I'd be interested to see what YOU say after the show.

(I thought the show was effing awe.some. I'll elaborate in a future post.)

Killyosaur suggests reading this source to get an overview of the sub-genere "black metal."

AU: What are the characteristics of a "good" metal band?

Member of the Metal Tribe:

Oh wow.  That's a loaded question.  I'm not going to touch that one very much since everyone has their own idea.  I like swagger!  If a band (live) is doing what they do and they obviously like it and own it then it's great.  However for every good band out there, there are at least 15 bad ones.  They are usually easy to spot.  Pot leaf/camo/Pantera worship (I refuse to get into this whole Pantera/Dimebag issue) is kind of what I use as my bad band bellweathers.  Real technical guitar players that couldn't actually play anything worthwhile?  I'm a pretty crappy guitar player but I have enough sense to understand that fretboard wizardry a good song does not make... but when well done can be great.  I'm so used to being able to sniff out bad ones (and look for some extra z's in the name!) that sometimes I forget the good ones.  It's like anything else; can you tell the band is with it and about what they do; or are they just a bunch of kids/manchildren with guitars making scatological music or singing about dead babies/serial killers/vampires/whateverthehellisthecoolviolent thing right now. There was also a crappy emo music boom there for a while, but that seems to have died out.  Emo(not real emo, the stuff that came up later that called itself emo) was a bit shameless with how much they stole from hair metal.

I will now give you an example of a great band or two that you could definitely consider metal, if only in the retro/throwback sense:

The Sword.
also:  Priestess

Now:  For technical guitar wizardry and that real traditional sense of shredding and METAL and dungeons & dragons and all that ridiculous crap here's a good AND a bad:

Good:  Coheed & Cambria
Bad:  Dragonforce [agreed...these guys remind me of simpering effing Rush]

and no, I'm not going to show my work.  People might disagree, but that's how I'm calling it.  If you haven't already - the penultimate metal band of the modern era (like... say post-grunge, part of the whole metal/rock revival) would be:

Mastodon.  They are the best.

Like I said earlier, this is such a bizarre subject, it's all visceral.  I think when you really boil it down it's sort of an evolution thing.  The bands I cared about growing up, and that my peers listened to growing up, have affected what we play today.  So the genre grows.  The internet made a lot of strange bedfellows.  Like you can tell that I grew up near Detroit.  There is a certain sound (MC5, The Stooges) from the 60's and 70's that came out of the midwest.  I also listened to a lot of Motown growing up in riding in the car; so I really don't like to be without a rock solid beat.  I also was in my prime music phase when grunge and college rock were the hallmarks of cool and I latched onto that (but got bored with the moping).


The last show I went to that included a subset of metal fans was in El Paso, Texas headlining the Melvins (who I adore; It was in a smoke-free venue and the crowd was quite mellow even though the music was not.

BTW: [My husband, D] thinks that if you really want to study metal culture you need to dive in and go to Denver for the Mayhem festival

He said most of the bands really suck (e.g. Korn) but there is one he likes (3 Inches of Blood). Even so, metal culture will be in full glory for you to observe. He also suggested OzFest but this year they are not touring, doing only one show in TX.

Also, Slayer is the alpha and omega of metal for D. I don't think they were mentioned in your blog post. All others (and there are others he REALLY likes) stand in line behind them.

Dog says:

How much energy they had on stage.  They did something that was AMAZING on stage.   They’ve got a lot of hype going on.  There is a lot of buzz about the band in the different sources of media that cater to metalheads.  How secretive the lead singer is.  It normally isn’t dependant on how “Good” the music is.  How much entertainment do you get from watching the band perform. 


I’ve watched some classic’s play, and found myself wanting more, and wondering why there are people that like this kind of performance.  Slayer is one of these bands.  All the guitar players did was walk Right to Left, Left to Right on stage and throw their long hair around.  It was a very stale show in my opinion, yet all the fans loved it.  I blame it on the fact that the band was before my time.


The newer bands are getting more crunch out of their equipment, and they are incorporating a larger stage presence.  Mudvayne and Slipknot are two metal bands that come to mind who are incorporating fun theatrics into their shows.  Not only are they wearing heavy make-up and or masks, they are climbing all over the stage, taunting the audience, and strapping the drummer and his drum set down and moving them in circles, and rotating them sideways during a drum solo while not missing a beat.  If you are going to try and make it as a metal band nowdays, you have some VERY LARGE shoes to fill.

Note the controversy about the band Slayer....  It's obviously difficulty to quantify subjective musical attributes. As with many personal preferences, it speaks to the fact that what you like is "good" for you, and may not be good for everyone. Hooray for diversity!

Unfortunately, although there is diversity among fans as well as stylistic diversity among bands, there appears to be very little diversity among band members.  They tend to be white d00ds. 

AU: Where are the metal girls? Why aren't there more girl-fronted or all-girl metal bands?


I can't figure out the lack of female bands..I'm clueless on that one.

Also, I said most of the women would be young... I may be totally off on that. Esp at a gig like Mayhem I bet there would be all ages; certainly more 40+ folks than at a indie/alt rock concert. 


Killyosaur: (Killyosaur mentioned the lack of African-American band members, something that--I'm chagrined--wasn't even on my radar.)


As to the lack of women fronted bands, I'm not absolutely certain. I think some of the possible answers in your post seemed plausible, that it is the nature of the music, and possibly the culture. There are, as far as I know, virtually no black metal bands that are all women, or fronted by women, it is possible that metal has a stigma for being a men only music genre, I don't really know. [...]

Definitely a lack of african american, but also note that there is a style of metal known as "Black" Metal as in the color not the race, which is distinctly devoid of Female fronted, or all women bands. These bands tend to heavily lean on Satanism as a religion and being, to a certain extent, pro-evil. They largely started in Norway.



The true metal heads think that these bands are inherently weak.  I enjoy the variety girl-fronted bands offer.  Something different to listen to.  Some of those gals can achieve vocal effects that rival even the most serious screams from their male counterparts.  I’d love to see more female involvement.  The other aspect you should take into consideration is the marketing aspect.  How many attractive women can let loose the cookie monster?  How many attractive women want to even try?  I believe that there are quite a few that meet these requirements, they just don’t want to pursue that career path.  They’ve been brought up to pursue other paths.


One final source, my Awesome Girlfriend, has a hypothesis about the lack of diversity among metal band members.  She believes that girls and various ethnic minorities already have great music of their own that is superior to metal, so they have no incentive to explore the metal genre. 


Next up: the concert review, In which I summarize my ethnographic fieldwork. 

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music, metal, ethnography, culture

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