First and foremost, let me get a few things out of the way. We might not have the same definition of metal elitism. And that’s fine. One of the beautiful things about metal culture is that it’s not beholden to corporate control – meaning each fan has the opportunity (and responsibility) to define heavy metal for themselves. And this definition will more than likely change and expand the longer you’re a fan.
Before we go any further – let’s set some definitions so we’re all on the same page, and know what I’m speaking about when I use a term.
- Heavy Metal – (noun) A type of highly amplified, harsh sounding rock-based music with a strong beat and a heavy emphasis on bass. Characteristically uses violent or fantastic imagery.
- Metal Fan – (noun) A person who enjoys listening to Heavy Metal
- Metalhead – (noun) A metal fan who completely immerses themselves in the heavy metal culture and lifestyle. Also referred to as a “lifer”.
- Metal Purist/Elitist – (noun) A metalhead who will heavily criticize bands (and social aspects of) metal culture that do not meet their personal definitions of what is acceptable. Opinions are often based on popular opinions within the greater metal culture.
- Asshole – (noun) An irritating or contemptible person.
- Poser – (noun) A person who pretends to be something they’re not, for the express purpose of impressing other people.
- Corporate Music Industry – (noun) A group of assholes who happen to have money, and are in the business of selling music and related memorabilia. See Poser and Asshole.
So, what’s the real difference between a metal fan and a metalhead?
OK so, you’re welcome to disagree with me on this. You’d be incorrect, but it’s a free country so go for it. As a metalhead who’s immersed himself in the music and the culture for 20+ years, I’ve come to use the term “metalhead” to refer to a very specific group of people.
Now there’s nothing wrong with simply being a fan – the majority of heavy metal listeners and cultural participants are. Quite the opposite, being a metal fan is a very good thing, as I’m sure any metal fan will tell you.
But for a small percentage of people within heavy metal culture, being a fan is simply not enough. You cross a line and immerse yourself in the music, and in turn the culture. Metal finds it’s way into nearly every aspect of your life. It can be a blurry line to cross, and generally speaking the only person who can really say whether you’re a metal fan or a metalhead is yourself.
What sets heavy metal culture apart from other sub-cultures? First and foremost the music. Without heavy metal, there are no metal fans and there are no metalheads. Secondly, the insular nature of the culture. Because of it’s purposeful lack of marketable mass appeal – heavy metal is a music that is sustained by the participants in the culture. The more a person immerses themselves in the culture, the more they do to support it and keep it going.
So, by definition, a metalhead would be more integral to the metal community and culture simply because they do more and participate more in the culture. There’s actually a sociological term for this phenomenon, it’s called mundane sub-cultural capital. Mundane sub-cultural capital is accumulated by participation in the subculture itself. It’s intangible and difficult to earn – but with it comes credibility. There’s one other type of sub-cultural capital, but as it does not apply to this particular topic we will not be discussing it.
A little history lesson for your bitch ass.
Context breeds clarity, And the main purpose of this writing is to clarify a few things. So, on to the history books. For those readers too young to remember, there was a genre of metal that was 100% music industry created and maintained. We call it “Hair Metal.” And for a period of time, it helped make metal the most popular form of music on the planet. But because it was so strictly defined and never deviated from the industry formula, it defined it’s own mortality and died off. The killing stroke was with the rise of the new industry clone – Grunge. With the advent of grunge, metal was declared dead. And hair metal (and therefore “popular metal”) really was dead.
So who kept metal going when mainstream culture announced it was dead? Oh wait, the metalheads. The elitists. The Purists. The people who knew that the industry couldn’t destroy what it didn’t create, and are directly responsible for you being able to listen to real metal that has artistic integrity and is unbeholden to corporate bureaucracy.
So, what does all of this mean?
By defining what a metal elitist/purist is, we’re better able to see just who someone is really attacking when they make an all-encompassing claim like, “Metal Elitism is out of control” or, “Fuck Metal Elitists.” By making claims like this, all you’re really doing is insulting the people who have, through participation, helped make it possible for you to listen to, play, and enjoy the music you love without corporate music industry intervention. In other words, they’re keeping out the real assholes.
A common mistake people make is confusing the term “metal elitist” with the more accurate “asshole metal fan”. An asshole metal fan, for the purpose of this article, is an asshole who happens to like heavy metal. Seems simple enough. We’ve all met one or read one of their comments on the internet. In fact, I believe these people are the intended targets of public criticism of “metal elitists.” I hate to be the one to break the news, but there are assholes in every walk of life. Including metal culture. That’s just an inevitable fact of life.
Now, can a metal elitist be an asshole? Sure. And when presented with an unsubstantiated or uneducated statement about heavy metal, there’s a very good chance the metal elitist in question might come across like an asshole. But you know what? If you tell an expert on classical music that a particular song comes from the Baroque period, and it doesn’t, they will most likely correct you and come across as an asshole. So you might not like it, but chances are they’re right. This leaves you, really, with two options. You can either a) suck it up and learn your shit or b) whine about it on the internet and get people to throw you a pity party because someone disagreed with you.
Which brings me to another point – not everyone who challenges your metal knowledge or integrity is an asshole. This has been a part of metal culture for a long time. Everyone who’s been around the block knows that when someone in the metal community challenges you, the proper thing to do is make an educated response defending your interests and musical taste. At face value this might seem like a cruel thing to do, but there’s a purpose to it. If you’re wearing a band shirt, or have a patch from a band on your jacket, or you’re talking about a band like you’re knowledgeable about them – you better know what you’re fucking talking about. Band t-shirts and other memorabilia are the universal means of communicating participation in the metal culture. If you’re wearing a band shirt, and you can’t even defend what you like about them to a person, you might want to ask yourself if you really like them. If you are able to make a solid argument for what you like about the band and why, the person will always back down. It’s literally an ongoing rite of passage within the metal community. And it’s a fool-proof way to weed out anyone not dedicated to the music. As such, once you’ve made your argument defending your personal taste you’ve gained a fair amount of sub-cultural capital, and in turn credibility. That’s just how it works.
And when you lay it out like that, anyone who’s been active in the metal scene for any significant amount of time will certainly agree that it’s a good thing. Or at very least, a necessary evil. Does it get annoying? Sure. You know what’s more annoying? Posers and try-hards who are only there because they think it makes them “cool” or see it as a way to piss off their parents, but in reality barely like the music.
OK, I think that’s enough on this particular topic. In closing, if you have a problem with assholes who happen to like metal – join the fucking club. We all hate them. It doesn’t make you special, and you’re not making some groundbreaking observation that’s going to revolutionize the genre. You’re just a self entitled little shit who wants attention and got their feelings hurt. And if you hate true metal elitism, you can fuck right off and suck a chode.
Tune in next time to find out why metal sub-genres are one of the most important things in modern metal, and why not liking them makes you a fucking loser who’s completely wrong.