Reviewed: January, 2021
Released: 2006, Indie / Bowling Green State University, Ohio
The number of academic studies about Heavy Metal is really quite astonishing. It seems to be the new, cool thing for academics to want to study! Generally for our Library Of Loudness section I don’t review too many academic publications; there are just too many and my gut instinct is that they are maybe a bit too dry for consumers. I don’t know of too many ‘average’ metal fans who actively seek out academic papers for their light reading! The ivory tower still remains partially impenetrable to the fan who maybe just wants to enjoy the newest Motley Crue or Metallica biography.
However over the years I have reviewed a few collections of essays, and once in a while I’ll come across a paper that not only am I interested in reading but I think, because of the topic, others might be as well. This is one of those instances.
Ike Brunner was a Professor of Communications at Wright State University located in Dayton, Ohio and is currently a freelance consultant. This university is, oddly enough, a total hub for Metal academics and the site of Metal conferences no less! It’s only three hours from Cleveland so what they say about Cleveland rocking must extend to all of Ohio. Brunner is well known in the metal academic community. He was decent enough to send me a copy of his paper, TAKEN TO THE EXTREME: HEAVY METAL COVER SONGS –THE IMPACT OF GENRE. He wrote this back in August of 2006 as part of his doctorate in Philosophy although did not send this dissertation for review. I’ve always been interested in cover tunes in Metal so this really stood out as something I wanted to read.
This paper is 184 pages long but if you strip away the references, appendices etc and get into the meat of it, it really is ‘only’ 125 pages long.
In his general research Brunner had noticed a lack of academic focus on Metal fans and listeners/fans/consumers. Most of the existing studies are about bands and genres and so on. He also had an interest in the controversial nature of Metal music. Why do people have a negative perception of Metal? Is it the music? The lyrics? The imagery? All of the above? Then he hit upon the rather clever idea of seeing if how people perceive lyrics can be influenced by the sonics of Metal. By using cover tunes do people’s perception change? I’m dumbing it down a bit but the rough idea is that, if a person hears a song and reads the lyrics, do they like (or dislike) the song more (or less) because it is performed by a Metal band?
The paper starts with an overview of how society has perceived Metal and other forms of heavy music based on several famous examples; the PMRC hearings, the Judas Priest trial, the Ozzy trial, the Dayglo Abortions trial, the Dead Kennedy’s troubles, the Columbine tragedy and more. He also includes an overview of the current state of Metal academia that has touched on this topics and some of their conclusions. All of this stuff is heavily referenced but quite familiar to those of us with an interest who have read Weinstien, Walser, Christie, Purcell and so on. Up next Brunner provides some background on a couple of similar studies and digs deeper into cover tunes.
Finally by Chapter II we get into the core of it. To explain it, it is easier to quote directly from Brunner. “However, the studies differ in their focus, as one is intended to test the effects of genre labels on perceptions of music lyrics and the other is planned to test the effects of musical genre/style on mood state.” (p. 47)
Got it? So basically, a bunch of volunteers are going to listen to music, read lyrics (Metal cover tunes) and answer a bunch of questions. Sounds like fun to me! One of the seven or so hypotheses is that lyrics that are labeled as ‘Heavy Metal’ will have more of a negative effect on peoples perception of the lyrics. I was quite curious to see if this was true or not. In the study, there were about 100 undergrad students, mostly late teens early 20’s, who got to participate. They would listen to certain songs, read certain lyrics (with and without the music) and rate their emotional responses and feelings in connections to the lyrics and music.
The results? Using the term spoiler alert’ seems rather trite when discussing an academic study. Do you really care? Are you going to read this paper? Should I tell you how it turned out and ruin the surprise’? So many questions… if you care, skip the next two paragraphs.
Brunner then spends a good chuck of the paper, revealing, interpreting and explaining the results. It is a deep, deep dive into the statistical analysis of it all, all nicely laid out in charts for easier comprehension. In the end the author admits that one of the big flaws of the study was that there were just not enough self-identified Metal fans in the sample group to provide an accurate result. Meaning, if you ask a bunch of non-Metal fans to interpret Metal lyrics you might be skewed results. You might need 50% Metal and 50% not-Metal for a good comparison, so there was room for improvement in the methodology.
I think it might be in bad form to reveal the full results but I have taken the liberty of including the concluding remarks of the study here for your enjoyment.
“In conclusion, the area of media exchange/music effects research provides ample opportunity for further study, especially in the experimental realm. This study highlights the complexity involved in individual music listening experiences and demonstrates additional means of addressing this complexity. Furthermore, with the recent public release of the Columbine killers’ diaries, public attention has again centered on forms of media entertainment such as music and videogames, as particular artists, songs and games were referenced in the entries (Associated Press, 2006). This example again shows that public scrutiny of mediated entertainment arises consistently, placing blame on the creators of such entertainment as purveyors of violence who influence adolescents with their messages. Academic research in this area will never be at a loss for material to study.” (p. 124) There you have it. Not all that shocking.
Ultimately I can’t do this study justice in my brief synopsis so for the curious, you have to read it yourself. I had a hard time rating this, it is not like a conventional book, so if you printed it on 8×11 white paper it is not much in terms of presentation, but keeping that in mind, I rated a little bit high, adjust accordingly if these things are important to you.
The ‘problem’ for lack of a better term is, how do people find and consume this type of paper? You can’t just go to your local bookstore, you have to dig a bit deeper and the cost of acquiring intellectual property from university publishers is exceedingly expensive. Accordingly, getting linked in via the internet and the authors directly may often be the only way. Regardless, you have to be a pretty die-hard metal type of nerd like me to chase this stuff down for your light reading. TAKEN TO THE EXTREME is worth a look for those curious and recommended for students of Metal and metallic academics alike.