I’ve been a metalhead for a long time and while I listen to a lot of music, goth and metal have always been my “go-to,” choice regarding musical genres. Within the genre of metal, there are a ton of sub-genres, some of my favorite subgenres are;
- Heavy metal
- Hair metal
- Thrash metal
- Death metal
- Black metal
- Goth metal
- Depressive black metal
- Blackened death metal
- Melodic death metal
- Melodic black metal
- Gothic black metal
- Symphonic black metal
- Industrial metal
I am also not someone stuck in my youth, listening only to music I grew up on, I love modern metal and the direction it’s taken and how it has progressed. I’ve been a metalhead since around 1990 and in 34 years (as of 2022) I have seen countless shows, heard bands and genres rise (and some fall), and experienced metal at its height and most obscure. I listen to metal music from each era including the present and it feels like every day I find some new band or project that blows me away.
That all aside, the one question I often get is, “How can someone like you (ie. a Lord and Psychotherapist) be into metal?” The answer is multifaceted and multidimensional, to be honest, I’ve contemplated the “why,” of it a great deal and I’ve learned a lot about what drew me to metal music and keeps me a metalhead. The answers might surprise you…
- Camaraderie – Metalheads love talking music and finding new bands through people they meet, this is one of the reasons the battle vest is made and worn. If you get knocked down in a pit while moshing, people will pick you up and hug you. The heavy metal brotherhood is definitely a thing you will find…
- Expression of emotion – When most think of metal they think of anger, but every emotion is expressed in metal music. Anger, sadness, joy, lust, longing… if you find yourself feeling a certain way, I can lead you to a song that expresses and encapsulates what you’re feeling or going through.
- Masculinity expression – In a day and age where masculinity becomes toxic or distorted in a way that is destructive, metal offers a means to express masculinity in a positive way (moshing, jamming, head banging, etcetera). There is even plenty of room for women in metal, as women too are free to express a more masculine and even a feminine side in metal.
- International – Most genres and people who listen to them stick to one maybe two countries, hence people into pop often stick with the country’s pop stars where they live, and maybe add J or K pop to the mix. Metalheads will scour the earth to find some new metal to listen to. I can’t tell you how often I found a new band I loved and couldn’t pronounce the name of the band.
- The metalhead culture and subculture – Each branch of metal has its own culture attached to it, but overall metal has its own culture. Battle vests, spiked bracers, band shirts, concerts, moshing, supporting bands locally, and big-name international bands, it’s fairly expansive. Older metalheads and disabled metalheads are more than welcome in the culture, often being treated like everyone else instead of singling them out or ostracising them. Often you’ll see people in wheelchairs being lifted into the air to crow surf and the like… it is truly a beautiful thing.
- Diversity – No genre of music I have ever found, is as diverse or accepting as metal. Most of the biggest names in metal have people of color in them; Slash from guns n roses, body count, Slayer, Oceano, Zeal and Ardor, etc… There are Jews, Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Satanists, Pagans; people of all ages and genders; the disabled; gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight… everyone and anyone is welcomed into metal and to find or carve out their niche.
I hear and combat a lot of people pushing stereotypes of metalheads that just aren’t true as well, I’ve heard;
- Metalheads aren’t intelligent – Some of the smartest people in the world are metalheads, as are many of the bands in metal music. I know doctors, lawyers, scientists, computer programmers, engineers, etc… who are all proud metalheads.
- Metal is just noise – This is especially the opinion of those who have zero training or skill in music of any kind. Most often this opinion is carried by people who like music created wholly by computers and not actual instruments. In the end, regardless of who has this opinion, opinions are like posteriors, everyone has one and they mostly stink.
- Metal has a racism problem – In every genre of music you’ll find a small racist niche, even hip hop and it’s a universal problem, not just a metal problem. 99% of metal and metalheads, do not care about your race, gender, sexual preference, age, social standings, or how much money you have or don’t have, all they care about is that you’re a metalhead (and not a poser lol).
- Metal isn’t art – Metal is as much art as anything. Art elicits an emotional and contemplative response and so does metal, sometimes art is offensive and subversive, and so is metal. Metal can be very raw and unrefined, but it can also be clean and incredibly technical, much like art in a fine art gallery.
- Metalheads are violent and destructive – For every one person who has ever been hurt at a metal concert, 20 or more have been hurt or killed at a hip hop concert, but metal gets the stigma of being violent, while hip hop is accepted by the mainstream. In fact, most metalheads would protect women if they were being harassed at a show, would stop a fight, and would stop people from being robbed… most are rather noble. While moshing might seem violent, it is actually an expression of respect, as anyone knocked down or hurt is helped up, hugged, and cared for.
Metalheads are often the most misunderstood individuals in society, as is the genre itself and the culture it has spawned over the nearly fifty years it has existed. It is because of the black sheep stigma put onto metalheads, that they often stick together and shun mainstream society, replacing it with metal culture and their fellow brethren. Some manage to keep their life in the metal culture and their professional/everyday lives in balance, while others sometimes struggle.
Me, personally, I dress fairly normally in my everyday attire due to my work and obligations, but in my musical foray and attending concerts, I dress in my more comfortable attire, my more metal attire. I am a part of society but have always felt apart from mainstream society as well, yet I’ve never felt unwelcomed or separate from metal culture. If someone who didn’t know me saw me on the street, they’d think I’m a stereotypical preppy dad type, if they saw me at a concert or in my natural metalhead aesthetic, they would think the complete opposite.
Some people decorate their houses as an homage to metal, some adorn their cars with bumper stickers, some wear jewelry, and some get tattoos of their favorite bands, but all in all, it is up to the individual metalhead how to express their love of metal. The beauty of metal is in its diversity, in which each individual metalhead is their own person with their own likes, dislikes, style, and so on.
Just like any grouping of people, some metalheads drink, do drugs, and/or smoke, while others do not, so this stereotype is also a bunk one. You could literally apply this stereotype to any group, but people in an attempt to smear metalheads place it upon them all too often because they don’t understand us. I am a testament myself, as I don’t smoke, do drugs, or drink alcohol!
You will also not find more supportive fans, as metalheads buy merchandise (tee shirts, posters, flags, and patches) and are well-known to buy CDs and vinyl records even in our digital download and free streaming music era. This is especially crucial for bands that are underground and unsigned, whereas fans buying merch and music helps to keep the lights on. Fans of metal have a vested interest in their favorite genres and bands and this sometimes leads to gatekeeping and elitism, which is a double-edged sword, both keeping metal pure, but also keeping innovation, as well as new fans, away from the genre.
The metalhead life is one of culture, aesthetics, music, and brotherhood and is something that transcends any differences people may have. Truly being a metalhead is a lifestyle born of music and fandom that to outsiders may seem strange, but to metalheads feels like home.