Reviewed: May 2021
Released: 2021, Lexington Books
Dr. Nelson Varas-Diaz is widely recognized as the world’s foremost expert on Latin American Metal and he has been busy since we last checked in. This month I’m reviewing two things that have his fingerprints all over them and they are connected in spirit, a book and a movie. I’m reviewing a new collection of essays that’s he edited called HEAVY METAL MUSIC IN LATIN AMERICA-PERSPECTIVES FROM THE DISTORTED SOUTH and a movie called ACTS OF RESISTANCE-HEAVY METAL MUSIC IN LATIN AMERICA. Please feel to enjoy both of them.
HEAVY METAL MUSIC IN LATIN AMERICA is a hard cover collection of academic publications about Metal in Latin America. It sports an eye-catching cover and at a generous 350+ pages this collection can only be described as dense and intense.
In their introduction the editors suggest there is a gap in academic studies of Metal in Latin America. Despite a huge increase in recent years, Latin America has been under-served. This book goes a look way in filling that gap. We are treated to no less than 15 papers/essays in this collection. My greatest challenge is trying to do justice to each of the papers and contributors. To do an in-depth analysis of each chapter would be fools errand and this review would be 15 pages long. I’m not convinced that many would read my opinion. Accordingly, as I have done in the past with these collections of papers is to do the briefest of scenarios of each topic at hand. My apologies to all the authors if I do not do justice to their fine work. I also use the terms, ‘paper’ and ‘essay’ interchangeably, and again my apologies to the authors if that is not truly the correct protocol. I’ve taken the liberty of listing the names of the chapters in the end credits of this review for easy reference instead of incorporating all of them into the body of this review.
Section I, ‘Understanding Metal in Latin America’ is essentially an in-depth ‘state-of-the-union’ address by the editors. It examines in some depth (24 pages worth) the composition, styles, history of the academic study of Metal in Latin America. It is the raison d’être of this work.
Section II, A Soundtrack For A Violent Context’ consists of four papers each about how Metal has developed under conflict situations in El Salvador, Columbia, Chile and Peru. Each essay follows a similar style, a very helpful (to me anyway) synopsis of some recent political history of each nation. Bloodshed, corruption, oppression are central themes and how the Metal scene developed in each nation. There are naturally differences to each approach Chapter 2 focuses on Brutal Death Metal in El Salvador. Chapter 4 is a case study of the populr Columbian Death Metal band Masacre. Chapter 5 perhaps breaking the mold somewhat discusses how in Peruvian Metal was not necessarily born of pure political rebellion but rather a defiant statement of individually. Accept had a song called “I Don’t Want to Be Like You’ but the author somewhat more eloquently defines the phenomena as ‘self-segregation’.
Section III is called ‘Decolonizing Local Histories Through Music. It is hard to pick favourites but I certainly thoroughly enjoyed Lozano’s case study about Heavy Metal in Havana, Cuba. I had no idea such a thing even existed. I do have several albums by many of the bands mentioned in the various chapters, but I have yet to come across a Cuban Metal band. It was very interesting how there were sanctioned and unsanctioned bands and the sanctioned bands were supported but also controlled by the government. In this four Chapter section we are treated to an overview of Metal in Uruguay. We also two examinations of Metal in Argentina. The first is a very in-depth and detailed look at polarizing figure, Ricardo Iorio of the bands V8 (likely Argentina’s first Metal band) and Hermetica. This very influential scene founder and veteran holds some transgressive political opinions that seem to have divided his considerable fan-base over the years. Chapter 9 is another look at various Argentina bands and to be honest this was one of the more challenging pieces for me to follow.
Section IV is called ‘Marginality and Cultures of Resistance’. Chapter 10 explains the role of an important historical deity called Maximon in Guatemalan culture and how Metal bands use and incorporate those legends. There is no Western equivalent that can be easily named so it was hard to wrap my head around it. Chapter 11 was a neat examination of Metal in Mexico and how regional and geographical differences in a certain part of Mexico shape the scene. This section was also was the most visually appealing with a dozen helpful pictures and charts. Chapter 12 concludes the section with an essay that can be best summarized buy it’s own title, ‘ Differences in Sociopolitical Perspectives of Brazilian and European Volkisch Metal’. Volkisch being a barbarian like figure (think Conan) central to the bands image and lyrics and it includes a case study of three bands from Brazilian and they adapt that imagery.
We conclude with Section V called ‘Liberation Through Metal Music’ which consists a pair of broader examinations of Metal in the Latin America. The first is a look at the concept of liberation through a psychological lens. This chapter was a bit harder for my puny little mind to grasp. We conclude with a look at several well-known Metal musicians from Latin America but who left to go to Europe or America to find success and how their heritage impacts who they are, what they do and how they think of themselves. This author conducted interviews with members of bands like Ayreon, Haken and Opeth among others.
I can’t begin to describe how much I learned reading this book. I am, like many westerners ignorant, in the truest sense of the term, of the history and politics of the region. What struck me was the overall sense that the vast majority of the geo-political situations in the area were so similar. In the broadest sense a pattern emerges in many countries. A corrupt government or state exists, there is a coup or rebellion or civil war ensues, blood shed follows, a new government (left-wing or right wing) rises and brutally restricts freedoms and a generation of disenchanted youth look to North America and European Metal for solace, escape or rebellion and create their own brand and style of Metal, often by incorporating local, indigenous influences. There are of course subtle differences in every story but the core is there.
Metal in Latin America was generally (not always but generally) not born as a leisure past-time by middle-class to affluent westerners with access to instruments and a strong industry infra-structure. There are certainly political bands in North America, Europe and elsewhere but there political commentary is often a sort of a simplistic take with a rather unsophisticated lashing out at whatever politician or corporation they have a grudge with that week. The emotion that inspires the political lyrics may be real and sincere enough but there is very little sense of danger because in, shall we say the Western world, a band will not get put in jailed, or beat up, tortured or even killed because they wrote a negative song about a politician. Very often in Latin America it was (or is) a very real consideration.
Therein perhaps lies of my only complaints of this collection. The depth and breadth of Metal in Latin America is incredible and yet the papers always seemed to focus on the heavier genres and political bands. Everything is political, there was very little talk about the countless Power Metal bands for example who do NOT sing about politics and rebellion and corruption but prefer to be apolitical. Reading this you might get a sense that every band in Latin America is an underground rag-tag band of freedom fighters with crappy instruments railing against an unjust system and that is simply not the case. However, that is the central theme of the book and it demonstrates how much more work could be done to look at the other styles and genres of Metal across the region.
HEAVY METAL MUSIC IN LATIN AMERICA is not light reading. This is research based, these are complex themes and topics presented by intellectual people with advanced vocabularies. That does not mean it is not interesting but it will take a concerted effort. This book was not intended to be read cover-to-cover; enthusiasts and students can dip into this to aid into their own work and research. The contributions of everyone and the good work of the editors spearheaded by the tireless efforts of Nelson Varas-Diaz, have created something indispensable to those who wish to understand the development of our beloved genre in a region that is now, only after 30+ years, finally getting it’s due.
SECTION I: UNDERSTANDING METAL MUSIC IN LATIN AMERICA
Chapter 1 Conceptualizing the Distorted South: How to Understand Metal Music and Its Scholarship in Latin America
Nelson Varas-Díaz, Daniel Nevárez Araújo, and Eliut Rivera-Segarra
SECTION II: A SOUNDTRACK FOR A VIOLENT CONTEXT
Chapter 2 Decomposición Cerebral: The Salvadoran Civil War and the Birth of Salvadoran Brutal Death Metal
Christian M. Pack
Chapter 3 Dictatorship and Metal in Chile: A Causal Relationship?
Maximiliano Sánchez Mondaca
Chapter 4 The Role of Death Metal in the Colombian Armed Conflict: The Case of the Band Masacre
Pedro Manuel Lagos Chacón
Chapter 5 Sounds of Exclusion and Seclusion: Peruvian Metal as a Model for Cultural Self-Segregation
José Ignacio López Ramírez Gastón
SECTION III: DECOLONIZING LOCAL HISTORIES THROUGH MUSIC
Chapter 6 The Metal Scene in Havana, Cuba: An Assessment of Its Cultural Development from 2007 to 2017
Miriela Fernández Lozano
Chapter 7 In the Shadow of the Dictatorship: A Historical Approach to Uruguayan Heavy Metal
María Ximena Rodríguez Molinari
Chapter 8 Metal and Politics in Argentina: A Study into the Audienceship Surrounding Ricardo Iorio
Manuela Belén Calvo
Chapter 9 America, Avenge Yourself: The Emergence of Combative Discourse and Other Recent Directions in Contemporary Argentinian Metal (An Exploration in Three Movements)
SECTION IV: MARGINALITY AND CULTURES OF RESISTANCE
Chapter 10 The Transfiguration of the Deity Maximón as a Practice of Resistance in Metal from San Pedro Sacatepéquez, San Marcos, Guatemala
Mario Efraín Castañeda Maldonado
Chapter 11 La Periferia: Marginal Contexts for Metal Music in the State of México
Alfredo Nieves Molina
Chapter 12 Differences in the Sociopolitical Perspectives of Brazilian and European Völkisch Metal
Guilherme Alfradique Klausner
SECTION V: LIBERATION THROUGH METAL MUSIC
Chapter 13 “A Scream that Makes Us Visible”: Latin American Heavy Metal Music and Liberation Psychology
Eliut Rivera-Segarra, Jeffrey W. Ramos, and Nelson Varas-Díaz
Chapter 14 Metal Migration: The Latin American Diasporic Experience in Heavy Metal
Daniel Nevárez Araújo