The Effect of Heavy Metal Music
Musical preferences are as diverse as the people who listen to it. Different types of music have different reputations. Heavy metal music is often labeled as “negative.” Yet others find it a harmless form of music. The argument presented in this paper will show that heavy metal music poses no threat to the well-being of its listeners.
Like other types of music, such as jazz, blues, and even rap. The distinct style of heavy metal music can be grouped into three main sections (Ratliff 1). One popular style of heavy metal is death metal. Death metal has a more dark sound and eerie style than other forms of heavy metal. The music itself is fast, heavy, and loud. The images that death metal portrays are death, doom, destruction, suicide, sex, and drugs. Some see these images as harmful or having a negative effect on the listener (Halbersberg 1).
Another form of heavy metal music is speed metal. Speed metal has a more upbeat sound than death metal and is not as depressing as death metal. It is fast paced and has a hard impact The lead guitar follows a frenetic pace. This is in contrast to death metal which emphasizes rhythm guitar (Graff 3).
The last type of heavy metal music is thrast metal. The name refers to both the thrashing sound of the music and the flailing movement of its listeners. The sound is very loud and has the same tone and style of speed metal (Graff 3). These styles however, attract certain people.
The majority of people who listen to heavy metal music are suburban white males. These males range in ages between 14-24. They have a certain style of dress and way of life. They wear dark clothing with morbid images of death and destruction. This clothing can be seen to be a costume that advertises the teens’ musical preference. It is a way of getting attention. Surprisingly, even though the crowds tend to be young, adults are also seen at these concerts. One example of an adult and a parent is Dave Mullins. He likes to take his sons to see death metal shows.(Graff 1) Mullins says about death metal, “I did see one band that had a clear bag with a fetus inside it. It looked gross, but it was just a gag. When I’m watching the kids, they’re just letting off steam. When I was a kid, we used to beat people up after school. This seems better to me.” (Graff 1) Of course, not all parents agree with Mullins.
Parents want the best for their children, but sometimes their efforts are not beneficial. When parents nag their children about what they should and should not listen to, kids can become angry and depressed. This possibly can lead to drinking and drug use, and suicide. Parents can blame this behavior on the music that their kids are listening to. A group of parents formed the Parent Music Resource Center in the 80’s (Gonzales 1). Even the Vice-presidents wife, Tipper Gore, got involved. She led the center in the fight against heavy metal music. The center’s main goals were to destroy heavy metal music and all other music that had a negative message. They were effective in banning some groups from record stores and canceling some concerts. However, Tipper Gore’s mission failed to kill off heavy metal music. The Parent Music Resource Center still exists, but it is not as powerful as it once was (Gonzales 3). This group never examined whether heavy metal music could be a healthy outlet for aggrssion.
A well known psychologist from Durham, Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, said that music can influence a person’s state of mind. In her studies she found that “if people listen to music that is faster than their heart rate, such as heavy metal, it increases the heart rate. If you’re trying
to increase your energy level, it might be a good way to generate excitement.” (Freelon 1) Heavy metal music by increasing the heart rate of its listeners can be seen as a form of exercise or a physical release.
Studies have been done on the effect of heavy metal music. Roe and King, child psychiatrists at the University of Iowa examined the effects of heavy metal music on teenagers social behavior. These studies show that many teens who thought seriously about suicide and abused drugs listened to heavy metal, but they also showed no direct connection between the music and these actions.(Freelon 2) Another recent survey done by the University of Iowa reported that teenage female hard rock fans thought about suicide more often than people that listened to other types of music. However most of the females who thought about suicide were too scared of dying to try it.(Freelon 2) One positive effect of this music was that even if the teenager was feeling bad and low, listening to his or her favorite music helped him or her feel better again.(Freelon 2)
In another test, teens and their parents were surveyed to investigate the association between heavy metal music and teens’ social function. The people taking the survey were asked about current and past psychological functioning, as well as their music preferences. The results indicated that teens who preferred heavy metal music had a higher incidence of below-average school grades, school behavior problems, sexual activity, drug and alcohol use, and arrests. Despite this, it was evident that the teens’ home lives were stable with two parents, good living
conditions and sound financial status.(Took 1) Although it seems that heavy metal music was corrupting teens’ lives, there was no direct correlation between poor behavior and heavy metal music. Some listeners do not always understand what they are listening to.
One study group, Prinsky and Rosenbaum, found that many teens who listen to heavy metal music misinterpreted the lyrics. This misinterpretation was said to be due to the teens’ limited life experience and immature development. Unlike adults, who find references to sex, violence, drugs and Satan, teens tended to interpret the lyrics of their favorite songs as being about love, politics, growing up, friendship, and other appropriate subjects.
I think the genre as a whole is serious in wanting to shock people, but it also has its tongue planted in its cheek. These bands don’t do cannibalistic things, they do not worship Satan. They don’t do all the things people think they do. If you take it seriously, you’re further off the deep end than most people, I think.
In other words, the content can be discounted because it is not meant to be taken literally. On stage, groups of death metal sing about Satan, societal ills, cannibalism and sex with rotting corpses. But to fans its entertainment. “It’s good violent fun,” says Ron Holt, 26, a death metal fan. “Its like seeing Jason slash someone’s head off; it helps me release my aggressions, but it doesn’t mean i’m going to go out and do it.” (Graff 1) David Horn, from Metal Blade Records, says:
The difference between this type of music and something like gangsta rap, is that heavy metal is pretty much firmly based in fantasy…I don’t think a song about some mystical war or slaying a barbarian poses as much of a threat as far as influencing people.
In conclusion, heavy metal music, while much maligned, has not been found to seriously damage listeners’ lives. Yes, it is violent and depicts images of doom and destruction, but it should not be interpreted as a negative influence on its listeners. Teens will continue to listen to music their parents do not care for. Heavy metal music can be healthy for the mind psychologically as well as physically. When people look at heavy metal music, they should not see it as a negative influence, but as a therapeutic release for teenage energy or angst.