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What is Heavy Metal Subculture?

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson, you will learn about the music, history, mentality and appearance of the heavy metal subculture. Following the lesson will be a brief quiz to test your knowledge.

What Is Heavy Metal?

Rock. Cacophonous beats. Ear-piercing tunes. Amplitude distortion. Long electric guitar solos. Loud. These are some common words and phrases associated with heavy metal music. Heavy metal music is a genre of harsh-sounding rock music that places emphasis on excessive drum and guitar instrumentals, and raging vocals. Heavy metal, also referred to as black metal and death metal, emerged in the 1960s and 70s in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Some of the first heavy metal bands were Led Zeppelin (also considered a hard rock band), Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Often the lyrics and vocals of these bands are dark and angry, which mirrors the loud and discordant harmony of their music.

Many claim that Black Sabbath, an English band from Birmingham, UK, was the first heavy metal band. Their lead singer (far right) was Ozzy Osbourne.
Black Sabbath

Heavy Metal Subculture

One can draw the conclusion that the heavy metal subculture is a group of people who love heavy metal music and attend heavy metal concerts. While this is a large component of the subculture, it is not the entirety of it. The heavy metal subculture can be characterized by love of heavy metal music, disinterest in materiality, and opposition to authority. In addition, people in this subculture tend to focus on individualism and resent the limited options for growth in the working middle class. This is predominately a male subculture, but there are female heavy metal fans as well.

Common nicknames for people in this subculture are 'metal head' and 'headbanger,' the former for obvious reasons and the latter due to head banging being the dance move (if you can call it that) of choice at heavy metal concerts. Another common nickname is 'thrasher' due to heavy metal's well known rapid beat.

Heavy metal/death metal band, Asphyx, head banging during a performance.
Heavy metal/death metal band, Asphyx, head banging during a performance.

History and Mentality of the Heavy Metal Subculture

The British heavy metal band, Black Sabbath, rose out of Birmingham in the UK in the 1970s when the economy was beginning to slow and unemployment was on the rise. Birmingham was a middle-class factory town. The message of Black Sabbath was one of anger and dissatisfaction with the dead ends of factory life, and the limited opportunities for the middle class to rise above. Black Sabbath gave a voice to the youth of the 70s that felt disempowered and deprived of economic opportunity and growth. The heavy metal bands that followed Black Sabbath typically also conveyed a dark, angry, and anti-establishment message.

Heavy metal could be called protest music, often challenging the wrongs of politics, the economy and society. There has been some concern of substance abuse amongst the thrill-seeking and delinquents amongst the heavy metal subculture. In these cases, the use of drugs, like marijuana, heroin and ecstasy, could be used as vehicles to escape the anger and aggravation with the system.

Subculture Appearance

Long and straggly hair on men, leather jackets, band patches, band graphic tees, black clothing, chains, spiked wristbands and neck chokers. These are some generalized physical qualities and fashion styles of the heavy metal subculture.

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