The "Non"-Conformist Metalhead

Have you ever heard anyone say this?:

"I'm so metal, I shit steel!"
or this?
"I'm so metal, I shit studs!"
Or perhaps my favorite,

"I'm so metal I listen to troo underground metal like Lamb of God, Slipknot and Disturbed."

Perhaps you have seen individuals dressed mostly in black wearing a studded belt, faded t-shirt with some obscure (or not so obscure) band, tattoos, with dyed tresses?

Would it be safe to naturally assume such individuals listen to or partake in the metal or even rock culture? I would even say that the metal/rock culture decrees a certain 'look' to ascertain that such individuals are practically wearing a name tag stating 'Hello my name is___, and I'm into metal."

(Mind you, I said assuming. I suppose it could be interpreted as stereotyping)

I also believe that these individuals wouldn't be caught dead at, say, a Lil Wayne concert? And, on the flip side, I'm sure you would not witness a Timberland/BabyPhat donning, gold chain swinging, corn rowed person at a Cradle of Filth show, yes?

(Hopefully no one is at that show-but that's just my opinion. Sorry to the CoF fans out there)

I know many a folk who proudly explain to me why they are non-conformist and give me a 25 page dissertation on their reasons. And you know what I usually say?

"YOU LOSE! GOOD DAY SIR!" (*cue dramatic finger pointing)

...I really don't. But I should. Usually I listen to the self fulfilling dribble while in my mind I make my own list of reasons why this is absolute bullshit.

I rarely meet anyone who are non-conformist in the true sense of the word. That doesn't make them better or worse. Of course they never know that they are.

I'm not saying I'm innocent. Far from it. When Pokemon was huge in my youth, I flocked to see the show, movies and even got a gold plated Mew Two card complete with a pokeball stand from Mc. Donald's in my happy meal. Didn't you?

But most people generally have a 'follow the flock' mentally because to be outside of the flock is considered bad.

When examining the metal culture there are three main facts that remain true. Metal is male dominated. It is mostly straight and inherently white. Again, not a problem.

The issue is for the people outside of that.

The female metal head.

The gay metal head.

The non-white metal head. (Not only blacks, but Asians, Latinos, etc)

All minorities who have been persecuted in one way or another.

I received an email from Micheal Zinkowski, a lecturer at UNC Greensboro, who is writing a paper related to this topic called "Discarding Macho Posturing, Maintaining Sonic Devastation: Disidentification in Extreme Metal Subculture." I read the bit that he presented and was amazed because he illustrates exactly what I wanted to say in this post but couldn't find the right way to put it. Thankfully, he does:

"...The majority of the metal community remains white, straight, and male, who by and large live normative lives and whose identities are hegemonically powerful already. Rallying against the powers that be while refusing to acknowledge the inherent privilege already granted to many of its members leaves metal looking like a space of contradiction. Within this contradiction women, people of color, and queer folks may and do situate themselves as metal fans in order to access and reshape the power the genre promises, sonically and hegemonically."

"How do those in the extreme metal community who are not white, male, cis-gendered, straight, or able-bodied negotiate their identities within and against an individualist culture that effectively re-presents and re-affirms Western normative standards of masculinity, whiteness and heteronormativity and simultaneously performs as a counterpublic? How can the minoritarian subject claim a metal identity, thus “be metal,” without completely conforming to majoritarian standards of identity formation enacted by the metal community?"

The metal community is, lets be honest, a boys club. The controversial issues in metal generally focus around the female, gay, or ethnic presence in metal that is scene as the 'un norm'. How can a community that prides itself on being different alienate those who flock to it for that reason? Or even, abide by such rules as what the listener should wear/look like.
The individuality in this scene should be celebrated-not scorned.
(Again, not everyone does but many do)

I believe the answer is because metal was intended for one audience only. But now that globally its this huge subculture-it cannot be restrained to the normalcy that it once was contained by.

What that means is that all types of people are now enjoying metal music and are not necessarily bowing to its creed of what metal looks like, acts like, or even performs like.

I believe I've said something to the similar effect in a different post. Metal is already a minority so the community really doesn't have a choice to be picky in who is included or not.

(Thank you Mr. Zinkowski for letting me use your words/thoughts.)


Oxymoron said…
Wow... You have so succinctly and wonderfully worded something that has been bothering me for suuuuccchhh a long time. I'm a black girl who is into the alternative scene. And I feel no need to dress and prove how 'alternative' I am. I get people who sort of fit into the generic view of normal (acting, thinking and liking what is expected of them etc) that are confused by me and how different I am. I get that. But when people who are part of a subculture that celebrates and encourages individuality and realises the diverse nature of people look at you strangely then it's like, 'Wtf??' you know?

But it just made me realise that there is always some sort of criteria. For any group or subculture. And if you don't fit those, then *shrugs*

You should read an article on 'Mookychick' about black goths. I think you'll enjoy it :)
Dare Devil said…
That is why I prefer to see Heavy Metal as a form of music that allows you to ’rock it out’. The way you dress, the way how you cut your hair, your weight, the colour of your skin, your gender, all this and everything else is unimportant, imho. Either you enjoy the music and allow others to enjoy it as well, or – please excuse my Manowar reference – you should ‘leave the hall’.

I understand that this sounds a bit simplistic, but that is the way I see it. I mean, I would probably also look a bit surprised if I saw a black girl at a Heavy Metal gig, but this would be something *I* would have to deal with *myself*.
Kelly said…
I'm not entirely sure you (and the author of the other article) have got it right. You may have, but I would propose an alternate theory: That the genre itself is already a minority, and to see a minority within the minority is that much more surprising. Throw in the fact that minorities are generally presented with their own minority culture as a way of being different, and even fewer minorities are involved in metal because they've already found an easy way to be different. In other words, it's just really rare, and it's interesting to see a minority into metal simply because it's very rare.

Also, I don't think you can lump Hispanics in with other minorities on this one. There are plenty of Hispanic metal bands. Possibly Asians, too. Blacks in particular are rare in metal, and women as well (the latter is easily explained by the masculine values of the genre).
@Kelly-I understand what you are saying about lumping Latinos and Asians together as they are seen a little bit more 'normal'. However, the top metal bands in the scene may feature a band that has one or two (either latino or asian) members but the rest of the band is white/male and therefore it is normal and even acceptable for their success.
Whereas, an all Asian or Latino band will go very far and may be the buzz band of the moment but are never regarded as at the 'top'.
Not saying that minorities in metal are victims-its just the way it is.
As for the first part of your comment, can you maybe elaborate. I'm going to answer but I want you to explain your point more before I respond.
Your comments are always thought provoking.
VSM said…
It might be self-explanatory, but this post is ofcourse only true when considering USA. In Japan or South America if you're a white metal head, you're the minority. These are very vital scenes that can exist very well without white metal heads (just to avoid any angry comments, might be true about African metal scene as well, but I really don't know about that). Metal can't be talked about as a world-wide phenomenon where a white guy is the norm.

The post doesn't fit to Europe either as being a woman into metal isn't anything odd at least in the most parts of the continent.

That which is true, is that metal is conformist and exclusive. And these two things go hand in hand. Metal is a minority identity (or rather a counter identity) and a minority can't survive unless it keeps itself from being assimilated into majority. If anybody can be metal (and I'm mainly talking about the image) then nobody can be metal. It can be discussed what are the aspects that make metal what it is, but it is undeniable that anybody who wants to be accepted needs to embrace those aspects. And there definitely isn't any one set of rules. If there were there couldn't be for example christian metal. Despised for sure but they have found their niche.

It is easy to say "don't judge a book by it's cover" but in reality who doesn't? If you see a white guy with shaved head and a swastika shirt the first thing coming to your mind is a no-brainer. It's the same with metal: if you think you are metal you can show it to everybody else or don't. If you choose not to, don't be suprised if nobody thinks you are metal.

Metal needs to be picky. Not necessarily towards race, gender or sexuality. Not everyone into metal is my brother, and not every one of my brothers are into metal.
@VSM-You know, truthfully, I had never thought of a white metal head in Japan/South America. This topic may need a part two for obvious reasons-to go more in depth.
I mean within the subculture of metal, its a huge thing globally. There are millions of people into metal-even if metal heads would rather not admit it.

What I really mean is that individualism rarily exist. I'm not knocking down the metal identity (look wise)but I am questioning its exclusivity and why it may or may not be superficial.

You make a great point at the end,
"Not everyone into metal is my brother, and not every one of my brothers are into metal."
In future post I will try to be more conscious of both sides of the issue as I realize I may come off as biased at times.
Bottom line is that I want to learn from people like you who visit this blog with a different perspective and I want you to hopefully learn from mine.
Anyways, great comment VSM.
Kelly said…
I'm not sure what you wanted me to clarify, but I'll guess. I'll just make up the numbers here, but I'm guessing maybe 4% of all people are metalheads (more like 1 or 2% if they're people I would want to claim as metalheads). And only about 8% of Americans are black. So, 8% of 4% is like .32%. So simply by mathematical chance, black metalheads are an extremely rare phenomenon. Add that with my other factor (black people already have ready-made counter-cultures where non-blacks are less accepted, like hip-hop/rap/reggae/whatever else) and it becomes even more rare.

I'd really like to latch on to the Latino issue, because there are quite a few all-Latin bands. They rarely get much success outside of South America, but metal is pretty big down there (comparatively). Does Brazilian count as Latino? If so, there's Sarcofago and Sepultura, just right off the top of my head, and I know Brazil is pretty big for metal.
VSM said…

I have to admit that I don't see anything wrong with exclusivity or could understand
why anybody would want to or even could question that. Mainly because without exclusivity metal as we know it would not exist. I understand if somebody decides not to care about exclusiveness but you really can't take that away from any group identity (as a bold
guess I would say that nobody re-invents metal identity but rather copies it). Yasuyuki of Abigail is Japanese, Caller of the Storm of Blasphemy is black and Big Boss of Root is homosexual. No doubt about it that they are all pretty damn metal without negotiating their identities.

Kelly has a good (although obvious) point about what are the odds of meeting a black metalhead in USA. The probability viewpoint doesn't however answer the most interesting question for me about this blog, which would be for example: why is there so many metal fans in Norway but so few in Jamaica? And vice versa why is there so many reggae fans in Jamaica but so few in Norway?
Mexican guy said…
Hi, just found this blog, it's cool. Here in Mexico metalheads are a minority in small cities, in bigger cities there are more alternative people, but one thing about Latin metalheads it's that we only focus on the music, some dress like metalheads, some others don't, some are white, most of us don't, some are nerds, dumbass, womanizers, laid-backs, whatever, it's just about the music.
606thecliff said…
I think this thing bullcrap, because in heavy metal it doesn't matter if your gay. For instance, Rob Halford of Judas Priest is called the Metal God and he's gay. Metal is also a worldwide movement and the majority of metalheads accept people of how they are. Though the majority are white, but that doesn't matter, I know some black metalheads. Hell this is even metalheads in the Middle East now and in Asia. Too me it doesnt matter what color a person is. Metal is a genre of open mindedness for the most part.
Anonymous said…
I've found that the metal scene tends to be split between those who are very closed minded and all about being "troo" and those that view being a metalhead as an equalizer of sorts that trumps everything else.
Kraas said…
"You don't need no leather! No spikes or jingling chains! All you need is the energy and the FIRE in your veins!"

Yes, Iron Savior can be cheesy as hell, but I love those guys.

That basically sums up my thoughts on Metal: it's not about fitting a certain physical mold, it's about being free and doing what you really want to do. Also, not being inclusive, to me, seems really counterproductive, as I can count on one hand the number of people I know that like Heavy Metal. In any case it would be incredibly stupid for me to question someone who loved Metal, and who happens to not to be white, male, and straight like myself.
VSM said…

You can definitely deny any molds but the molds actually are what helps us to recognize something as something. Carrying on the idea of everybody just doing what they want could lead to that Britney Spears being called metal music. Metal is a music genre with it's borders. You can definitely twist them around but you can't get rid of them without losing the concept itself. Same goes for the youth culture that has been born around the music.

You should definitely come to the Nordic countries, here there are so many metalheads that we have to stack them up so they don't take all the space.
Kraas said…
I was thinking more about social/racial molds than stylistic molds. Musically there are definitely boundaries to the genre, and boundaries within it (you can love Doom Metal but just not care for Death Metal, etc.).
@Anon-"I've found that the metal scene tends to be split between those who are very closed minded and all about being "troo" and those that view being a metalhead as an equalizer of sorts that trumps everything else."
Nailed it on the head. This sort of reflects the dissuscion between VSM and Kraas
@Kelly- The Latino issue-my mistake. Thanks for pointing that out. That was a really broad statement.
Soylent Ape said…
I think the whole metal "image" was a bit of an outgrowth of the tightness of the early metal culture. There was once a very strong sense of community within the metal subculture (let's approximate late 70s-early 80s, before metal exploded in popularity). The leather/biker/nickel stud/long hair look took on a prominence as part of the metalhead "identity". This, I believe, was a way to both identify other fellow metal travelers snd also create an air of exclusivity, much the way members of certain social clubs and fraternal orders wear garish items of clothing or utilize secret gestures/handshakes. Couple that with the fact that most early American fans of metal were straight Caucasian males, it may have further limited metal's appeal to women, ethnic minorities and LGBT people--intentionally or otherwise.

Some old habits die hard and "living metal" is still important to many. Still, metal is becoming more inclusive after all these years. Beyond wearing some of my favorite tour shirts from Maiden, Carcass, etc, I don't look or act very metal. Yet, when I go to see a concert, I am part of the tribe.
 ¨.HEGG.¨ said…
"I'm so metal I listen to troo underground metal like Lamb of God, Slipknot and Disturbed."

that cracked me the fuck up! oh jesus christ my ribs XD
 ¨.HEGG.¨ said…
you're a smart girl..just sayin

Popular Posts