Backward Messages

The straight story on influences that turn teens violent.

Beth Winegarner

Beth Winegarner
SAN FRANCISCO, California, United States
March 05
At Backward Messages, Beth Winegarner gives you the straight story on all the influences you’ve been told will turn your teen violent: the occult, violent video games, heavy-metal music, and more. Winegarner is a San Francisco author, journalist, and mom writing a book for parents on the most controversial teen influences and why they’re a healthy part of growing up.

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APRIL 23, 2012 4:38PM

Want to grow a headbanger or a heavy-metal band? This map will show you the best climates.

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This map shows concentrations of metal bands per capita around the world. (Click for larger version.)

This awesome map (sourced mainly from has been circulating on the Internet for the past few months, but it wasn’t until recently that someone put it into context. Richard Florida, a writer for the Atlantic and a researcher for Rentfrow, had this to say about the places were metal bands (and fans) might congregate:

Several psychological studies link heavy metal to personality types that are drawn to “intense and rebellious” music (which includes rock and alternative as well as heavy metal). …

My own research with Rentfrow and others shows that intense music preferences (including preferences for heavy metal music) are geographically strongest in the upper plains states of Montana, Wyoming, and Nebraska as well as New Mexico, Nevada and Missouri in the United States. The study also found preferences for heavy metal strongest in states with large proportions of white residents.

Although the map doesn’t have a state-by-state breakdown for metal fans (alas), his descriptions of the plains states in particular match closely with other parts of the world with high concentrations of metal bands, particularly Scandinavia. Heck, even Canada has more metal bands than the US, and if any part of North America is most like Montana, Wyoming, and Nebraska, it’s Canada.

So, what does this tell us about metal fans that can help us understand why they like the music so much? As mentioned, headbangers tend to be more on the intense side of the personality spectrum — something Jeffrey Jensen Arnett discussed in his groundbreaking book Metalheads. We can also speculate that kids who grow up in parts of the world with extreme weather are probably stuck indoors more — giving them fewer physical outlets for that intense, rebellious feeling. They can channel that energy into any number of things, but listening to metal is one outlet. Making it is another, and as we can see from the maps, the more extreme the weather (in the developed world), the more likely folks are to play this music.

But don’t just take it from me. Recently, a metalhead in Wisconsin (not a plains state, but not far from it) urged people to tune in to heavy metal’s finer qualities. In it, he describes the point of all that screaming so many people find unlistenable — even disturbing — as well as the relentless pace of the music.

Though the origins of screaming have been mostly lost to the ages, it was perhaps popularized by the aptly nicknamed Screamin’ Jay Hawkins of “I Put a Spell on You” fame. Other blues artists adopted the technique both for volume and emotional reasons. These justifications persist today for many bands that use harsh vocals; just as a singer such as Christina Aguilera may use crescendos to emphasize strong emotion and feeling in lyrics, metal vocalists may utilize screaming. This is not true in all cases, as screaming has largely become the norm in aggressive music styles. Still, aside from expressing emotion, screaming has another use: vocal instrumentation.

Screaming, when used as an instrument, reinforces or complicates rhythms in music. Perhaps the vocalist screams to match percussion strikes, bass lines or rhythm guitar playing, or perhaps the vocalist’s cadence further adds to the chaotic cornucopia of rhythms that populate intense, heavy music.

Whatever the application, listeners can think of screaming as a kind of loud poetry.

What do you think, metal fans? Do certain parts of the globe lend themselves more to headbanging? Do certain types of people tend to live in those places, or is it the geography that makes the metalhead?

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