Kahn-Harris, Keith – Extreme Metal: Music And Culture On The Edge (Book Review)

Spread the metal:

Reviewed: February 2012
Released: 2007, Berg Publishers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: JP


One of the most respected and critically acclaimed studies of extreme Metal

I\’ve owned this book for quite a while but I hesitated to write a review for the Library Of Loudness due to the academic nature of the work. However a combination of wanting to be complete in our efforts to review every Metal book ever written, and to give further, well-deserved exposure to this excellent work, I decided to put down a few thoughts.

First published in 2007 by the Berg group, this 194 page hardcover had it\’s origins over 10 years ago. EXTREME METAL is an expansion of Kahn-Harris\’ 2001 PhD thesis; \”Transgression and Mundanity: The Global Extreme Metal Scene\”. As with many academic works it is a bit dry, but that does not necessarily mean dull, in fact I found it fascinating. If extended analysis of modes of sonic transgression and critical perspectives of unreflexivity in the scene are your thing, welcome aboard. It reads like a textbook with tons of references, a bibliography and discography so you can expand your own base of knowledge. There are a couple dozen photos to liven things up. It\’s a bit unfortunate that Kahn-Harris choose the same title as McIver\’s book published seven years earlier.

EXTREME METAL is meticulously researched and fortunately Kahn-Harris is by his own admission a Metal fan. Other academic works such as those by Weinstein and Wasler, while decent were flawed by their lack of experience in the scene. Kahn-Harris is a fan but he is professional enough to ensure his work doesn\’t descend into mere praise.

No dark corner is left unexplored in his quest to expose extreme metal to the harsh, unblinking light of academia; from defining the scene, analyzing cultural capital to discussing reflexivity and modernity, not to mention politics, gender, religion and more. The scope of his work is magnificent and EXTREME METAL is destined to be the pioneering and definitive study of the topic.

The book is not without it\’s flaws however. There are a few technical errors in the text, minor trivia things that don\’t detract from the overall impact. I would have liked Kahn-Harris to develop and expand his theories about the accumulation and assignment of cultural capital in the extreme metal community . He also contradicts himself about the importance of transgression in extreme metal, and consistently overestimates the influence of grunge and punk rock on Heavy Metal, but that\’s really the stuff for the lecture room.

Kahn-Harris\’ greatest mistake comes very early on in the book, in his introduction no less. The author says (paraphrased) that grunge killed metal and then grunge and punk continued to influence the Metal that survived. Even casual Metal fans know this to be categorically untrue. I was shocked the author held this absurd, naive and outdated belief! I was so taken aback by his false assertion that I almost stopped reading the book in disgust. Instantly, in the space of a few paragraphs, his credibility as a knowledgeable author went out the window.

I kept reading partly because I had paid good money for the book and partly I wanted to see what else he had got wrong. I\’m glad I persisted because EXTREME METAL is a fantastic work but I must admit it took me a while to reconcile how, an obviously intelligent individual got almost everything else about Metal \’right\’ except the one critical fact. If you do pick this up, just skip page 1 & 2 of the introduction and you\’ll be fine.

The glaring error aside this book is the ultimate and definitive examination of extreme metal. If I was in charge it would be mandatory reading in all schools!

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Technical Details:
Format Reviewed:
Publisher: Berg Publishing
Pages: 194