Wasler, Robert – RUNNING WITH THE DEVIL: Power, Gender and Madness in Heavy Metal Music (Book Review)

Spread the metal:

Reviewed: December 2001
Released: 1993, Wesleyan University Press
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: JP


Another early academic take on metal that doesn’t pull any punches. An intriguing read.

I really enjoy academic studies for two reasons. One: It is interesting to read an outsiders perception of metal presented in an intelligent fashion but perhaps more importantly, Two, these works add legitimacy the genre. It is an acknowledgment of the existence of metal by the mainstream and that they have noticed that there is something worth writing about beyond the useless unauthorized biographies published to capitalize economically on a particular bands popularity.

Wasler’s book published in 1993 is about 220 pages of small text. There are very few photos but much like Weinsteins book Heavy Metal, has excellent notations, bibliography, appendices and so on. The cover is a little dull with an old photo of 80’s Van Halen that looks like he took it with his Polaroid at the show.

Wasler is a professor of musicology at the Dartmouth college and holds a PhD in music from the University of Minnesota. His main focus is the music. Wasler includes a number of tabulatures in his text explaining a number of features, which in all honesty were lost in me. The main thrust of his arguments are however that Metal music and classical music are very closely aligned. Hence the argument by critics that metal is “bad” music is simply untrue, using the assumption that classical music is “good”. A very interesting and I believe valid point. Looks at the dozens of metal songs that are covers of classical music tunes. It works! Wasler makes a good point in his text about Weinsteins book. He suggests as a sociologist she doesn’t discuss “the music” in her book. A fair enough comment.

Wasler also touches on may of the points of the metal culture, media, influences, gender and a number of other topics in a fairly chronological order. Wasler writes in a much less emotional style than Weinstein therefore his book comes off as being more authoritative but at the same time more…well…boring. Analyzing Malmsteen and Rhoads solos almost note for note can get a little dry, for me. Waslers book is certainly the more academic of the two but lacks the enthusiasm of Weinstein.

Overall a great book, it is very articulate, intelligent and well written. Chapter 5 is likely my favorite, Can I play With Madness? Mysticism, horror and post-modern politics. Being a Political Science student, metal fan and keen observer of media and metal I found Waslers points very interesting. His detailed analysis of the way certain sounds in certain songs represent certain modern ideals (eg. “Electric Eye”, by Judas Priest) to be very insightful, he puts to academic words the emotion I feel about certain songs without having the music theory to explain why certain notes just work to impart “feel”, “vibe” “groove” or whatever you want to call it.

A highly recommended read for the serious metalhead who wants to know why the music we worship is the way that it is.

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Format Reviewed:
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Pages: 220