For some time now, my husband has been playing death metal music and exposing and explaining the nuances of the genre to me; I would say from the very beginning of our dating days, circa 1999.
Back then, I was in high school and mostly still listening to grunge, punk, and new wave bands, having been exposed to Metallica’s black album as my only form of understanding anything metal. I didn’t know it at the time but my husband was slowly bringing me over to the dark side.
During my high school days, I thought my listening and dressing to the style of new wave was pretty heavy and foreboding–(I mean really, what’s heavier than a pair of steel-toe Doc Martens, black skinny pants, and Joy Division shirts?)
I had never ever ever heard of death metal, let alone the other sub-genres or qualifiers of metal music like the terms thrash, technical death, doom, black, grindcore, etc.
When I started dating my to-be-ten-years-later-husband, we most definitely got together because of our interests in music and art. Our whole relationship began from music. My job was to impart punk, ska, grunge and 80’s music to him and his part was to impart everything metal, jazz, and experimental to me. It was a relationship that to this day is still extremely interesting.
So why do I bring it up? Well because I doubt I would have even considered thinking of death metal in any sense unless I met my husband years ago. Having over 10 years to figure out the differences with musical descriptions and technical terms for death metal, I’ve come to actually like it.
I still remember when Vish (that’s my husband) played Carcass’ Heartwork album for me one night after school. I HATED it. I was completely weirded out that he would like listening to music where all you could hear was shrieking and incoherent gutteral screaming over loud drums and fast guitar riffs. I remember, and he’s pointed this out numerous times, how much we argued about how I thought it wasn’t real music. My 17-year-old brain couldn’t wrap around it. It actually wasn’t until after college that I could appreciate it and even like it. I realized what had changed about the music’s meaning for me or, more specifically, what changed about me. Having recently read about music and identity-making in my Anthropology of Music and Art class, a quote by anthropologist Simon Frith struck me:
“Music constructs our sense of identity through direct experiences, it offers the body, time and sociability, experiences which enable us to place ourselves in imaginative cultural narratives.”
What changed for me after college was my sense of identity, which, as Frith believed, is always mobile. After college my mother passed away. The experience made me listen to music differently. Music was always a mode of expression and relaxation for me. In my midst of grieving, I gravitated towards the deep-down timbres and bass sounds of death. Surprisingly, death metal spoke deeply to my sense of injustice and it allowed me to be an active agent in my future outlook on life.
I am not an expert on death metal music and I can’t say that I am insane fan of the genre either as it’s a style of music I am still learning and listening to, day after day. I do appreciate it, and in a lot of ways, it’s left me some intriguing questions and insights. It’s also for this reason that I’ve chosen to study it. Though there is some scholarly literature on death metal today, I know that only a few years ago, it was still quite an unexplored genre. As a woman, my biggest questions are related to gender in the death metal scene. I wonder why there is a lack of women as fans and producers of the genre. As this blog continues, I hope to research more on this topic and place my findings here for discussion. I think it would be interesting to learn how the few women in the scene, like Karen Crisis from Crisis or Dawn Crosby from Detente/Fear of God broke through the mold and what their inspirations and influences were.