Traditionally, heavy metal and other violent music genres have been portrayed negatively by the media and viewed negatively by the public. Tragedies such as homicide, suicide, and even school shootings are blamed on the effects of heavy metal. To some degree, this is understandable. Some heavy metal bands, such as Slipknot or Mudvayne, wear demonic masks while they perform. Some heavy metal bands, such as Disturbed and Korn, incorporate odd, malicious vocal sounds into their music. Some heavy metal bands, such as blessthefall and Underoath, incorporate screaming into their vocals, often referred to as “dirty vocals”. These factors are just a sample of the reasons why heavy metal is demonized in the public eye. Despite these common viewpoints, millions of people around the world still listen to heavy metal. While it may not immediately seem like it, heavy metal is a very positive influence in the lives of many listeners. Heavy metal has a more positive impact on its listeners, rather than the typically perceived negative impact because it brings out positive emotions, brings people together, and it is simply another music genre, as well as having lyrics with strong messages. The typically perceived negative impact is caused by misinterpretation of correlations between metal and violence.
For many fans, listening to heavy metal evokes positive and powerful emotions such as happiness and calmness. Charley Baker, a researcher on the effects of listening to metal music, recalled talking to various metal fans at a concert about the effects of metal, with a general response that metal keeps people alive, stops them from being depressed, and gives them an outlet for negative emotions (Ro). According to these interviewees, heavy metal counteracts the negative emotions and prevents them from growing and overtaking the listeners. It provides an outlet for negative emotions that lurk inside the dark sides of the minds of the listeners, in the form of adrenaline and other positive emotions. An Australian study that measured the emotions of subjects who listened to heavy metal found that fans “experienced a wide range of positive emotions including power, joy, peace, and wonder” (Thompson, 1). Fans of the heavy metal genre were empowered by the music, and positive emotions were evoked as a result of listening to the genre. To many people, this may not initially seem like correct results. But, the same study recorded that listeners who were not fans of heavy metal had “uniformly negative experiences, including tension, anger and fear” (Thompson, 1). People who are not fans of the genre generally have more negative perceptions of the music, leading to the common misconception that heavy metal causes negative emotions in fans. Fans, on the contrary, have positive emotional responses to listening to heavy metal as opposed to non-fans, explaining the large difference in viewpoints about the genre. In another experiment on the effects of listening to heavy metal, metal fans were subjected to a sixteen minute period of stress and then given the choice to listen to aggressive music or sit in silence for ten minutes. The results of the study indicated that the aggressive music relaxed the subjects just as much as sitting in silence (Sharman). The author of the article noted that the participants used heavy music as a method to “enhance their happiness, immerse themselves in feelings of love, and enhance their well-being” (Cruz). Heavy metal music, while it may not appear calming from the outside, provides comfort to its fans and allows them to reduce stress. Heavy metal evokes positive emotions from its listeners by reducing stress and emitting feelings such as joy and peace.
The lyrics of heavy metal music also communicate positive messages in the form of spreading positive emotional impact and awareness about societal issues. Bands such as System of a Down and Five Finger Death Punch add political messages to their music in an attempt to spread change throughout the world, if not just point out the problems in society. The band members of System of a Down share their antiwar views with the line “Why don’t presidents fight the war? / Why do they always send the poor?” (32-33), in their song “B.Y.O.B.”. The band intends to share their belief that government diplomatic greed is unnecessary and that if a country wants to go to war, that the leaders should go and fight instead of drafting the poor. The fast tempo, in combination with powerful and screaming vocals, show the band’s dedication and passion about their message. The band attempts to spread positive change around the world by using heavy metal as a medium to distribute their message. Another song by System of a Down, entitled “Prison Song”, focuses on the flaws in the American prison and justice system, particularly in the form of drug offenses. The song is directed towards the United States, saying “Minor drug offenders fill your prisons, you do not even flinch / All our taxes paying for your wars against the new non-rich,” (20-21). In more concise terms, prisons are mostly filled with people who have minor drug offenses on their records rather than being filled by a majority of burglars, murders, and other major crimes. The purpose of the song is to spread awareness of the flawed prison system in America, in addition to the faults of the war on drugs. A song entitled “A Song to Stifle Imperial Progression” by The Used also tackles flaws in American society, discussing the flaws in American diplomatic relations. Going as far as to tell the United States that “by declaring war on terror [it] declares war on [it]self,” the band attempts to show the hypocrisy of the United States in that by trying to create peace, it simply creates more war (The Used, 5). The song itself incorporates screaming in addition to other traditional characteristics of metal music, showing once again that the genre of metal simply acts as a medium to display messages. It allows the artists to flaunt their anger about certain problems in society, and spread the message to their fans in order to promote a better world, in terms of politics and global affairs. In addition to positive political messages, heavy metal lyrics provide positive emotional support for people. In the Mudvayne song “Dig”, the lyrics encourage the listener to be themselves and not let other people “bury [them] underneath” a faux personality (Mudvayne, 8). The song is a great example of a song where despite the fact that the song is filled with scream singing and heavy cursing, it still strives to provide a positive message to the listener. A similar song entitled “Jekyll and Hyde” by Five Finger Death Punch discusses depicts a man who just wants to “live his...life” but is unable to do so as “there’s a demon inside” him (Five Finger Death Punch, 2-4). The song reaches out to listeners who face inner turmoil while maintaining a positive appearance on the outside, and ventures to make the listener empathize with the artist in order to make the listener feel better about their predicament, as they are not the only one experiencing it. Heavy metal lyrics, while they may seem evil and demonic from the outside, spread positive messages when they are properly interpreted.
Heavy metal music also brings its fans together by promoting social relationships through the music itself or at concerts. A large presence at many heavy metal concerts is the mosh pit, which is essentially an area at a concert where fans will jump and and down and collide with each other, either in a stationary or circular direction. From the outside, these mosh pits look dangerous and undesirable. However, to some people, such as the aforementioned Charley Baker, they provide a sense of security and protection in that people are surrounded by others just like them. Baker is quoted as saying that she has “never felt more protected than in a mosh pit,” as she is surrounded by people just as passionate about the band and music at the concert as she is. The heavy metal concerts provide a sense of unification and happiness to the fans attending, which promotes happiness and positivity in the attendees’ lives. Another example of this unity is in the hand symbols used in the stands and crowds at these concerts. The “sign of the horns”, the most commonly seen gesture at concerts, involves keeping a fist but with the index and pinky fingers up. This gesture is considered to be a demonic symbol, but in reality it acts as a unification agent for fans of metal music. It provides a method to display passion and acts as a form of salute from one heavy metal, or maybe just rock and roll fan, to another. Heavy metal, just as any other music genre, will “often provide a basis for the initial bond, and often help to maintain the relationship” (Gentile, 157). Heavy metal music can act as the basis for relationships, in addition to helping to keep the relationship healthy. Metal fans can become friends through their love of the genre either by discussing it when they first start talking, or even if they have met at a concert. Metal can enhance and maintain the relationships, as it provides fans with concerts that they can go to with friends to keep relationships strong, in addition to acting as a conversation starter to keep friends talking. Especially when metal bands release new music, fans will talk more about it to each other, which is beneficial to the listeners in that it helps build and maintain relationships and beneficial to the artists as the conversations that arise can act as advertisement. The connection between music and social relationships provides a positive experience to heavy metal listeners, giving them enhanced relationships with others and general social contentedness.
People generally view heavy metal as a “demonic” or “evil” genre, and link it to various crimes such as homicide, suicide, and even school shootings. However, many of these beliefs are based on sensationalized articles and false assumptions. The most common misconception about heavy metal is that the dark lyrics and heavy music cause teens to become alienated, commit crimes, and become troubled because of their enjoyment of the genre. However, the correlation between these two is reversed, with “white adolescents who are troubled or at risk gravitating strongly toward the style of music that provides the most support for their view of the world and meets their particular needs: namely, heavy metal” (Gentile, 162). Rather than heavy metal causing problems in its fans, the problems facing teenagers prompt them to gravitate to the genre. For example, for many listeners, heavy metal “replaces or invokes the presence of absent peers in order to relieve feelings of loneliness,” rather than causing it (Gentile, 157). The argument that heavy metal has negative effects also has flaws in the effects that are present in listeners. For example, many people would believe that listening classical music would provide more calmness than heavy metal. However, a Polish study conducted an experiment in which they studied the effects of a Mozart sonata and an Iron Maiden song, and found that there were no physiological differences between listening to the classical music versus the heavy metal music (Kalinowska, 19). The study supports the idea that heavy metal is just another music genre, and does not negatively affect people more than any other music genre. However, despite this connection between the effects of heavy metal and classical music, sensationalized articles remain present in an attempt to attract a larger audience. Many tragedies, the largest of which being the Columbine Highschool massacre, have had heavy metal perceived as a motive in the perpetrators’ plans. These articles utilize the dark lyrics and other elements of heavy metal music to demonize it and attempt to spread a negative viewpoint of the genre. However, these articles fail to take into account the “Millions of heavy metal...fans [who] spend hours with their chosen music genres and never threaten others or themselves. Moreover, most researchers concerned with the causes of suicide and violence point to a broad array of risk factors unrelated to popular culture (e.g., depression, access to guns, substance abuse, etc.)” (Gentile, 165). They simply use the fact that a tragedy has taken place to link it with heavy metal and further their own interests, harming the reputation of the genre for their personal gain. While the media and other sources demonize the genre of heavy metal, in reality it is a healthy music genre that can have the same effects as any other genre. These outlets focus on the small percentage of heavy metal listeners who commit crimes, and blame heavy metal as the sole problem, which would not be further from the truth.
Heavy metal is a genre that seems to be repeatedly misinterpreted for what it is. It is viewed as a negative impact on the lives of children, and is falsely linked to tragedies such as homicides and suicides. This is not the case, however. Heavy metal has a positive impact on its listeners through the beneficial messages in lyrics, the strong and powerful emotions that are evoked, and the social benefits of listening to the genre. In addition to some heavy metal lyrics providing political views and proclaiming the problems present in society, the genre itself demonstrates a problem with the media in society. The sensationalized articles that run rampant around the internet and social media cause harm to the reputation of the genre just to provide a story that more people will be interested in reading. The genre displays the flaws in the media system in America in that rather than reporting facts and other large issues in society, the media simply reports on what will get the largest audience drawn to their business. The media should not be linking tragedies to unaffiliated issues in order to increase their popularity, they should be reporting on the tragedy itself and reporting more pertinent news. The intro to the music video for the System of a Down song, “Sugar,” describes the issue well. It depicts a newscaster saying, “I wish I could tell you more pertinent news, but we’re on a ratings system here. And the key factor is: sensationalism.” The media depicts heavy metal as the opposite of what it is: A fantastic music genre that provides happiness and motivation to millions of people worldwide.