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Research asks: Why do people like heavy metal?

It’s the age-old question: Why do people love heavy metal?

In particular, psychologists are trying to determine why people like death metal, that deep, aggressive, angular, loud, sharp music that would burn and burst the ear drums of others.

“Fretting parents assumed that if you listened to music with aggressively violent lyrics, you would inevitably act aggressively violent,” the AV Club reports. “Over the years, numerous studies have proven this thinking to be flawed.”

However, as is true of all good things, new research is questioning whether there’s some validity to this assumption.

Psychologist William Forde Thompson has a new report, published in Scientific American,  that found that among 48 metal-heads and 97 non-fans, “fans of death metal reported experiencing feelings of ‘empowerment, joy, peace and transcendence’ while listening to the music rather than the expected feelings of anger or tension” that some believed was rooted in loud, aggressive music.

People who didn’t enjoy or welcome the loud music were more inclined to feel angry or uneasy, including at least one person who described the music as “ sounding like ‘messed-up teenagers making throaty, irritating noises about how bad their lives are,’” the study said. This underscores that there’s a sharp divide between those who like to throw up the devil horns and head bang and those who’d rather listen to something a little calmer, nicer and less aggressive.

“While Thompson is willing to admit that a study that relies on self-reporting is far from conclusive, he does think this sharp divide between fans and non-fans is part of the appeal of death metal,” the article says. “Heavy metal fans like to feel like non-conformists, and if the brutal lyrics and pounding blast beats keep mainstream music fans at a distance, so much the better.”

Put another way: “The ubiquitous stereotype of death metal fans — fans of music that contains violent themes and explicitly violent lyrics — (is) that they are angry people with violent tendencies… What we are finding is that that they are not angry people. They’re not enjoying anger when they listen to the music, but they are in fact experiencing a range of positive emotions.”

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

Amber Healy has 523 posts and counting. See all posts by Amber Healy

One thought on “Research asks: Why do people like heavy metal?

  • There’s the theory people like loud music in general because it goes back to prehistoric days when early humans felt the adrenaline rush of the roar of wild animals while hunting


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