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Purcell, Natalie
Death Metal Music: The Passion And Politics Of A Subculture (Book Review)
February 2012
Released: 2003, McFarland & Company
Rating: 4.0/5
Reviewer: JP

For some reason academia seems entranced, hypnotized even, by extreme Metal. There are more academic studies and books about Death and Black Metal than any other sub-genre. I suppose the most obvious reason is that do to the nature of the music it holds more interest for people who like to try to understand, categorize, compartmentalize and analyze things. That’s OK because these books are all very interesting, including Natalie Purcell’s DEATH METAL MUSIC.

Subtitled, The Passion and Politics Of A Subculture, Purcell’s work is one of the better books. First published in 2003 by McFarland, this 234-page work was written during her Political Science days at Seton Hall University, located in New Jersey. I’ve often said these types of academic investigations into Metal have limited use or interest to the ‘average’ Metalhead. However, if you are a student of Metal this is certainly worth reading.

Purcell says in her intro, “…the book investigates the demographic trends, attitudes, philosophical beliefs, ethical systems and behavioural patterns with the scene.” (p. 1) That sums it up nicely. She continues to say, “ With it’s depictions of extreme violence, gore and seemingly all that is antisocial, the Death Metal community proves an intense microcosm for the sub-cultural phenomena and lends insights into the psychological and social functions of forbidden or illicit forms of entertainment.” (p. 1) Quite a mouthful but quite astute in relation to my opening comments of this review, Academics like to try to ‘figure out’ extreme Metal. Sometimes it is hard to wrap your head around how ‘seemingly’ normal kids have an attraction to dark culture.

Purcell’s sources of info are interviews with many respected and credible Death Metal dudes; King Fowley (Deceased), Jogn Gallagher (Dying Fetus), Peter Helmkamp (Anglecorpse), John Longstreth (Origin), Kyle Severn (Incantation) Karl Sanders (Nile), Killjoy and several more. She also interviews many journalists, DJ’s, fans and industry people in the American scene so her source material is very strong. Appendix C is a copy of the survey that her participants filled out, which you might have fun skimming through and thinking about some of the questions. I did!

This is not the forum for an extensive analysis of Purcell’s theories and findings from her work but she does say that as she studied more and more she felt drawn to the Death Metal scene and even though she was initially a fan she became more and more entrenched in the scene, making friends and so on. Her conclusions are palatable and even-handed. She does a good job at maintaining some sense of academic neutrality neither condemning nor condoning the various facets of the sub-culture, but merely explaining.

DEATH METAL MUSIC is an interesting study, a good over and analysis of Death Metal and recommended to those who wish to learn more about an academic perspective of the genre.
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