The music genre of heavy metal, known colloquially as metal, is increasingly becoming the object of study and analysis. Now, England’s New College Nottingham has introduced the Heavy Metal Music Performance degree, which will prepare them for careers in the music industry.
Students enrolled in the degree program will learn the history of metal, from past censorship issues to major events and achievements. They will also study metal genealogy (or the lineage of bands and subgenres), metal’s relationship with philosophy and religion, composing the music, and learning the ins and outs of the music business, with an emphasis on the metal/hard rock side of things.
Course lecturer Liam Maloy spent seven months putting the course together. He remarked, “In the past, heavy metal has not been taken seriously and is seen as lacking academic credibility when compared with other genres such as jazz and classical music. But that’s just a cultural construction.”
Nottingham is a major music hub in England, with a particularly strong focus on metal. The annual Download Festival there attracts an average of 75,000 rock and heavy metal fans per year. Metal record label Earache Records was also founded there in 1985. Also, Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson, who led the music movement known as The New Wave of British Heavy Metal (“NWOBHM”), hails from that city.
This is, however, not the first time that metal has been observed from an academic standpoint. In a 2007 study, University of Warwick psychologist Stuart Cadwallader found that many intelligent teenagers and young adults increasingly turn to heavy metal, above other musical genres. He presented his findings to a British Psychological Society conference in York after research that surveyed 1,057 members of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth. He also held an online discussion involving 19 students in the academy, 17 of whom were metal fans.
Cadwallader said, “Participants [in the study] said they appreciated the complex and sometimes social or political themes of metal more than perhaps the average pop song. There is a perception of gifted and talented students being into classical music, but I think that is an inaccurate stereotype.”
Metal was also the subject of a February 7 study this year by a group of physicists from Cornell University. That project’s goal was to determine how humans behave in extreme social conditions, including riots and organized protests and demonstrations. The focus, in particular, however, was on the collective behavior of more energized, panicked crowds. Since scientists couldn’t exactly start a riot for the purpose of research, they used mosh pits at metal shows as the basis of their study.
For those not acquainted with metal culture, mosh pits are highly-energized sections of a crowd at concerts, in which participants push and slam into one another, often in a circular motion. It is considered a form of aggressive dancing connected primarily with metal, hard rock, and hardcore.
Researchers found that traditional mosh pits were highly unpredictable and random as far as movement was concerned, while circle pits (where participants moshed in a more circular motion) had a sense of order and regulation; computer simulations were able to reproduce circle pits based on that orderliness. Researchers hope the work will lead to a better understanding of “crowd mentality.”
However, metal’s associations with academia have taken plenty of flak from detractors. Chris McGovern, chairman for the Campaign for Real Education, remarked, “I’m not against metal, I just don’t think it will impress an employer to find that a youngster has a degree in heavy metal. It could become a ‘disqualification.'”
Metal Music Blog writer m/ecca wrote, however, that while “people with this degree may be discriminated against in the job market, the real target market for this degree are people who possess the passion for the heavy metal genre. Many of the best musicians in the genre do in fact have a strong musical education background. Don’t write off this degree upon your first glance.”
Maloy concluded, “Here in Nottingham, we wanted to offer something special that reflects our city’s culture and employment opportunities. Metal is an extremely technical genre of music, and the study of its culture and context is a rising academic theme, so we’re very excited to be at the forefront of its integration with education.”
Photo: Thrash metal band Slayer performs at a show. Wikipedia