This post will be a light one, as most of my waking—and non-waking—hours are now occupied by a very small person who emerged from my wife recently. This very small person falls asleep when I play a certain type of music at a low volume, which got me thinking.
What makes a thing or circumstance “metal?” I’m not referring to metal in the material sense, but in the cultural and aesthetic sense. “Metal” as in “Slayer,” not “metal” as in “aluminum.” It’s a tough question I often amuse myself with, but it does have some relevance to my work as I wait to collect data.
The target audience for my game project is adult tabletop gamers, and I’ve observed a significant overlap between the tabletop gamer/metalhead communities of practice. I think it has something to do with an affinity for dragons and medieval imagery, but that’s conjecture on my part. I’m a very enthusiastic but somewhat peripheral participant in both areas.
I’ve found difficulty identifying the exact criteria used to determine if something is metal, but it’s fairly easy to reach consensus as to what is or is not metal. It would be easy to say it’s a subjective assessment, but this doesn’t appear to be the case. The criteria are difficult to pin down, but there’s a high degree of intersubjectivity here nonetheless. This is what intrigues me.
“Metalness” is a valuable—if not strictly necessary—aesthetic attribute to a large potential audience segment for my work. Ian Christe’s “Sound of the Beast” is a good primer on metal music and culture. Sam Dunn has done some work on metal as a cultural force and musical form, constructing a handy “heavy metal family tree” and several documentaries:
Aquarist Sid defined it rather succinctly: “Metal is black. Metal is contrast.” He elaborated that contrariness is an important aspect of a thing’s metalness. Volunteer coordinator Becca noted the importance of pain, while her husband cited common elements like death, depression, long hair, distorted guitars, double bass drum work and “long Scandinavian winters.”
What do you think? How would you define metal, musically and aesthetically? Can you give an example? What purpose do metal and its meanings serve to the audience(s)?