Reviewed: May 2021
Released: 2021, Emerald Publishing
Black Metal is and still continues to be the most written about sub-genre of Metal, even to the point of saturation. The academic world is no less to blame for the recent glut (perhaps an unfair choice of terms) of material on the market. Emerald Publications is one of, if not the foremost publisher of Metal academia. BLACK METAL, TRAUMA, SUBJECTIVTY AND SOUND is the seventh title in the Emerald Studies in Metal Music and Culture series and again, Black Metal is the topic of the day. How come no one wants to study and write about Power Metal, Prog Metal or Doom Metal? I’m sure one day those genres will get their day in the sun.
Emerald always does a good job in terms of presentation. I like the symmetry and visual consistency of the hard cover series. This one clocks in at 227 pages and naturally is fully sourced, cited and has an index, a bibliography, guest contributors and a foreword by Rosemary Lucy Hill. There is also a list of recommended reading and a helpful glossary. There are also a handful of figured, tables and black and white photos to give it a bit of visual flair. It has everything a researcher/student could want.
BLACK METAL, TRAUMA, SUBJECTIVITY AND SOUND, with the interestingly worded sub-title of ‘Screaming The Abyss’ (not ‘in’ the Abyss) is an autoethnography. Don’t worry, I didn’t know what it meant either until Dr. Shadrack was kind enough to explain what it means. Metallic autoethnographies are quite rare. They are, in short, an attempt to study oneself in a objective manner. It is harder than it sounds because the theory suggests that no one, academic or otherwise can truly analysis themselves objectively. However, that does not mean there is no merit in trying to look inward, reflect and try to apply some methodology into the work.
Dr. Shadrack is an academic, and musician. She was a member of the short-lived British, Black Metal band Denigrata who put out one album in 2015 called MISSA DEFUNCTORUM:REQUIEM MASS IN A MINOR on the relatively new Carvetii Production record label. Dr. Shadrack assumed the persona of ‘Denigrata Herself’, providing both vocals, guitar and adding a strong visual element.
Dr. Shadrack has experienced domestic abuse and as one expect it has profoundly shaped her view and life. This trauma, combined with depression and Fibromyalgia she embarked on a cathartic journey of understanding and partial healing via the creation of Black Metal…screaming the abyss as it were. Then she decided to share her experiences and via the autoenthographical technique and a feminist lens, the result being this book. In addition Dr. Shadrack and other contributors such as Amanda Digiolia, Rosemary Lucy Hill and Rebecca Lamont-Jiggens have put together an in-depth examination of Women, gender, femininity, Black Metal.
There is a heck of a lot of analysis inside BLACK METAL, TRAUMA, SUBJECTIVITY AND SOUND so I am going to cop out and paraphrase what each key chapter is about. Chapter Two discusses women’s engagement in extreme Metal; good, bad and ugly. Chapter Three is a critical look at the history of Black Metal from a feminist perspective. Chapter Four expands on Chapter Three and discusses why women were (and are) largely absent from Black Metal. Chapter Five discusses extreme Metal connection to the occult, wolf tones and ‘the witch’ as a feminist icon. Chapter Six talk extensively about Denigrate (the band), and performance, and we wrap up with some concluding remarks and guest observations. It is all sourced, cited with lots of interesting examples and samples to digest.
This book was a bit of a tough slog. It is pretty dense, cerebral material. I also find it hard to read about other people’s suffering. It reminds me of Timo Tolkki’s 2010 book, LONLINESS OF A THOUSAND YEARS. Reading an intimate book from a person who has suffered and struggled is never a fun, light read. I feel the audience for these types of raw, character portraits is pretty small for a world famous Metal artist like Tolkki and perhaps even smaller for Dr. Shadrack. This does not mean these books are not interesting or valid but they are not a walk-in-the-park either. In addition, I’m not a musician so some of the in-depth musical theory went right over my head. Talk of chords, arpeggios, modes and tritones had my eyes glaze over but trained musicians will get it and appreciate it.
Dr. Shadrack’s book is a revealing and intimate study of trauma, recovery and redemption, the creation of extreme art and ultimately a valuable addition to the ever-growing canon of feminist literature about extreme Metal.