Death’s Metal Maiden: The Portrayal of the Grotesque Female Body on Extreme Metal Album Covers

I’m taking a much-needed break from writing my actual thesis and instead looking at the art produced for extreme metal music albums. In this way, I feel like I’m paying homage to my first love in academia: art history.

I recently came upon an interesting CFP on my blog feed from the University of Winchester. This upcoming summer, they are holding a conference on Death, Art, and Anatomy and put out a call for papers on any research having to do with the following topics:

  • Death and art
  • Anatomy and death
  • Anatomy and art
  • History of anatomy
  • History of death
  • Religion and anatomy
  • Religion and death
  • Medieval and early modern death beliefs and practices

It got me thinking, and I started to explore the idea of how some extreme metal album art could be an extension of the medieval concept of grotesque realism.

So I began reading and discovered previous research making this claim by author and Professor Karen Bettez Halnon. In her paper, Heavy Metal Carnival and Dis-alienation, she examines the use of grotesque realism in performance, lyrical construction, and the appearance of bands like Gwar, Slipknot, and Cradle of Filth. Although these bands are not all categorically extreme metal, it made me think about controversial extreme metal cover art that has been produced in the past few decades.

Referencing philosopher and critic Mikhail Bakhtin, Halnon defines grotesque realism in relation to her study as a form of “heavy metal carnival,” whereby the noise of commercialism is dismantled and transgressed by heavy metal’s ability to challenge societal norms of conduct, dress, taste, morality and civility (Halnon, 2006). What this encompasses is a fandom and culture that encourages the obscene and bizarre, disassociating it from general musical audiences that would favor more socially-accepted styles of popular music, visual art and fashion.

As an example, she cites the band Gwar, who spray their “slaves” (the audience) with red-colored water (symbolic of blood) and other bodily fluids, effectively enacting a spectacle of grotesque through fantastic and fictional displays of human dismemberment, torture and beheadings. On its most base level, this spectacle transgresses the limitations of real and fantasy for participating fans. Like Halnon believes, “the display signifies the creative life-death-rebirth-cycle”. (Halnon, 2006)

GwarWithin the paper, Halnon echos Bahktin’s own definition of grotesque realism as:

“Eating, drinking, defecation, and other elimination (sweating, blowing of the nose, sneezing), as well as copulation, pregnancy, dismemberment, swallowing up by another body—all these acts are performed on the confines of the body and the outer world, or on the confines of the old and new body. . . . The grotesque image displays not only the outward but also the inner features of the body: blood, bowels, heart and other organs. Its outward and inward features are often emerged into one.” ([1936] 1984: 317–18)

Does this not sound like extreme metal to you? Hanlon goes on in her paper to talk about inversion within the heavy metal carnival. What really caught my attention was the following:

“The carnival-grotesque is not only exposing the deep (hidden, vile, disgusting), interior aspects of anatomy but also what is spurned, spoiled, stained and hidden in the body politic. Inverting the ordinary devaluation, invisibility, or “symbolic annihilation” of those positioned at the bottom of (social) hierarchies (Larry Gross quoted in Gamson 1998:22)”

These two statements mark further evidence of the grotesque for lyrics constructed by extreme metal bands like Carcass, Cannibal Corpse, or Deicide. However controversial the works of these bands and bands like them can be construed, it made me curious to explore the imagery depicted on albums of this nature.

Furthermore, I wondered if the often violent and horrific covers of extreme metal albums were indeed an extension of both the medieval grotesque and heavy metal carnival, then what research, if any, was being conducted specific to the treatment of women, so often depicted in controversial images flagging the albums.

If I decide to write a paper for this conference, I think it will broadly speak to the use of grotesque imagery on extreme metal albums as a form of intentional aesthetic and then move more specifically to the depiction of women, particularly the thematic imagery of Death and Women on covers.

\m/ –Hail Metal– \m/

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Heavy Metal Studies and Gender

MeralandGenderLast week, an article was published over at No Clean Singing that caught my eye. The article,A Metal Gender Study is a follow-up post by cultural anthropologist David Mollica who put a call out through No Clean Singing last March to recruit participants for his study about gender and metal.

Since Mollica’s research is very much aligned with my own work with regard to gender, I thought I’d share my thoughts on his article in hopes of opening a discourse about how gender has been examined in the past as well as how the perspective of women conducting the research themselves can offer different insights than previous studies done by men.

We_Can_Do_It!First off, though Mollica’s writing is aimed at the general audience in the blog post, I wondered about several aspects of his study. For one, he writes:

“…I ended up interviewing 6 women and 5 men, making this the first study of its kind that I know of to have equal gender representation.”

Since I’ve had to research a lot of literature on this topic, I found this statement to be  misleading and, with no sources cited, I also question the depth of his actual research. In the last decade or so, though statistics may have not shown an exact and equal ratio of men and women on studies like Mollica’s; the fact is there has been research done with women and men regarding the subject of gender and metal.

One example is the research done by scholars Leigh Krenske and Jim McKay entitled,Hard and Heavy: Gender and Power in a Heavy Metal Music Subculture“, in which gendered structures of power in a specific music club within the heavy metal subculture in Brisbane, Australia were studied. In this study a total of 10 participants were interviewed, 6 women and 4 men.

Additionally, in my own research, I have referenced academics such as Sonia Vasan from the University of Texas, whose dissertation,Women’s Participation in Death Metal Music was extremely influential on much of my ethnographic approach. Likewise, Sarah Kitteringham from University of Calgary has written and interviewed a variety of women from the Canadian Extreme Metal Music Scene, authoring her findings in her thesis, Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses.  There are other scholars from around the globe – Rosemary Hill, Gabrielle Riches, Jasmine Shadrack, Laina Dawes, Pauwke Berkers, Julian Schaap, and Keith Kahn-Harris – who have written about women in and around metal music. This also assumes one has referenced older and staple academic works written by Arnett, Walser, Wallach, Hickam, Purcell, Pillipov and Weinstein which mention and address different aspects of gender in metal. I’m sure I’m forgetting more.

KarynCrisisOn top of the lack of reference and context (which in Mollica’s defense, was probably due to not wanting to sound too academic on a commercial website), I thought the sample size of 6 and 5 to be small. In my own research, I interviewed – either in-person or electronically – around 80 participants from the NY area alone. If not for the cut-off period instituted by the IRB, there would have been many more – something I will probably use for a follow-up paper.

In addition, I’m left wondering about other aspects such as the demographics of his interviewees–Where was this study conducted? How old were his interviewees? What were their ethnicities? What were their educational backgrounds/careers?

Mollica points to conducting inductive research, assessing patterns as they arise. While this is a valid form of research, asking and answering such demographic questions is integral to finding out the patterns among his participants.

For example, in my study, I found that many of my online participants (which were women only) identified with Caucasian or Hispanic backgrounds. Asians, Native Americans, and African Americans had the lowest representative numbers. This becomes an important part of understanding identity construction, especially within an area like the NY tri-state region which is considered to be quite diverse.

Moreover, the women in my study (of which 72 were surveyed online) identified with the following stats: 18% between 18-24 years of age, 56% between 25-34 years in age, 18% between 35-44 years in age, 5% between 45-54 years in age and finally and most surprisingly 3% between 65-74 years in age. Considering age demographics is one way to reveal listening reasons. One can infer the musical styles that would have been around during the participants’ birth years for each age group and what may have been influential as well as what they were moving both away from and towards.

Also interesting – and not surprising – were the differences in our observations of women participating and producing within the scene. Mollica writes,

“Another thing that was mentioned was the stereotypically feminine tendency to herd up, move in groups, and sometimes stand on the periphery of the action.”

Though his interviewees mention this as fact, I and many of my participants witnessed otherwise – at least as the NY-area goes. Interestingly, many of the local extreme metal shows I attended had women attending by themselves. Perhaps this was due to the age of the women I noticed attending; they were often older and more mature, in their late 20’s and on, whereas younger adult women attended in groups, both mixed and unmixed. But, there are reasons outside of metal for this, and men are shown to move with their friends as well.

He also talks about authenticity within the metal scene, mentioning the similarities with geek culture and the acceptance of women within that subculture. I agree with his point and would add that this “burden of proof” placed on women to show their true fandom and authenticity elicits a form of tokenism, whereby they become objects which are judged and criticized. Schaap and Berkers work, “Grunting Alone? Online Gender Inequality in Extreme Metal Music”, explains this tokenism within extreme metal scenes, further supporting how sexism is widespread and cultivated throughout the subculture.

Finally, on Mollica’s last section, “What’s the Point?”, he writes:

Overall, most metalheads are probably not sexists who don’t want women in their “club”, as some other research has concluded. The reality is probably more that we bring our ideas about the world to heavy metal when we make ourselves part of the group.

I think I’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. For starters, this might be the case for the particular region of Mollica’s study. Since I’m not sure where that was, all I can offer are my own insights and experiences as a woman from the NY tri-state area. Most of the women I met with and interviewed felt that the extreme metal scene in NY was an arena that could be both restrictive and open in its acceptance of women as consumers and producers. Though many women felt established and included with the community, they also cited the difficulties in getting there.

My interviewees cited that their acceptance within the subculture did not eradicate the constant “testing” of their authenticity once there, whether it was being tested as a musician, fan, music journalist, or critic. Many women felt that this openness and acceptance also changed regionally, often telling me that once they were outside of urban and diverse areas like NY, they were more likely to experience sexism, racism and violence at shows.

castrator1In addition, the construction of the lyrical content does not offer many avenues for the dismantling of misogynist and sexist content. I can only think of NY’s Castrator as an example of a band that has turned traditional death metal lyrical content on its head.

With that, I leave you with a quote from one of my anonymous participants:

“Heavy and Extreme Metal still have a long way to go”

Castrator and Cannibal Corpse – A Love Story

CCandCastratorMashupSo as I finish up my thesis chapter devoted to the women of Castrator, I thought it would be nice to preface my section to the chapter with some lyrical comparisons from both Castrator and Cannibal Corpse songs, since really, each band has a way of textually inter-playing with each other.

In addition, Castrator’s decidedly feminist content make for some interesting call and response dialogue with Cannibal Corpse. The fact that Castrator can transgress the inherently masculine domain that is death metal, makes for an alluring discourse. Looking at the lyrics below, I’ve paired Castastor’s song Emasculator with CC’s Stripped, Raped and Strangled to offer a re-imagined version had the power shifted from the rapist to the victim. In my mind, I call it Emasculated Rapist and if I were any kind of musician, I’d find a way to actually cut and mix the two songs.

They think they know who I am
All they know is I love to kill
Face down, dead on the ground
Find me before another is found

Vigilante women on the loose 
Instruments of vengeance
Balance Restorers
The hunter will be hunted
Spirits of their victims rejoice
No longer will they endure

I come alive in the darkness
Left murdered and nameless
Dead, unburied and rotten
Half eaten by insects

Tightly she holds the blade
With which the rapist will be raped

She was so beautiful
I had to kill her

Tied her up and taped her mouth shut
Couldn’t scream, raped violently
Rope tight, around her throat
Her body twitches as she chokes
Strangulation caused her death
Just like all the others
Raped before and after death
Stripped, raped, tortured

Castration
Of the rapist!
Emasculation
Take his weapon!
Castration
Crush and cut the balls!
Emasculation
Oriectomy!

They’re all dead, they’re all dead
They’re all dead, by strangulation

I come alive in the darkness
Left murdered and nameless
Dead, unburied, and rotten
Half eaten by insects

It felt so good to kill

Castration
Of the rapist!
Emasculation
Take his weapon!
Castration
Crush and cut the balls!
Emasculation
Oriectomy!

I took their lives away
Seven dead, lying rotten
Unburied victims
Their naked bodies putrefy

Strangulation caused her death
Just like all the others
Raped before and after death
Stripped, raped, tortured

Form a line of prisoners
Led up one by one
Leaving genital parts behind
Penile amputation
Remove the weapon
From the offender

Album Review: Karyn Crisis’ Gospel of the Witches – Salem’s Wounds

I was asked to write an album review over at MetalRiot.com of an inspiring musician I’ve mentioned on this blog in the past – Karyn Crisis! Her band is Gospel of the Witches. Below is a copy of the text that you can find over at Metal Riot.

Enjoy!

Review: Karyn Crisis – Gospel of the Witches (2015)

As most loyal fans of Crisis will find—Gospel of the Witches is a departure from the core metal/death sound of their 90’s heyday. But that’s to be expected. Away from the East Coast metal scene after the Crisis break-up, Karyn travelled to California to learn more about her experiences with the incorporeal, having had countless episodes of what could best be described as “encounters with the supernatural” during her childhood and onward.

In between self-discovery and music-making with a brief stint in husband Davide Tiso’s band Ephel Duath, we find a new Karyn, grounded in her abilities to communicate with her own spirit guide and with humanity through the medium of music. Ever the creative soul, she’s crafted and pursued leatherworks, paintings, and mediumship and come back full circle to music.

From metalinjection.com

From metalinjection.com

Gospel of the Witches’ debut album, Salem’s Wounds, is Karyn’s latest mesmerizing project with husband Davide Tiso of Ephel Duath and Bob Vigna from Immolation on guitar, Ross Dolan, also from Immolation, on bass and backing vocals, and Charlie Schmid from Vaura on drums. Each member brings a range of experience to the table.

To me, the first significant song is the opening track, aptly-titled Omphalos, which becomes just that – an object of power, positioned to propel the listener on a journey of arcane reflexivity. Karyn’s “I am no one, I am nothing, I am nowhere,” juxtaposed with “I am everything, I am everywhere, I am everyone,” starts with clean vocals and quickly metamorphosizes into a growled delivery layered atop Ross Dolan’s own deathly vocals and sets both the tone and expectations high with a powerful intro to the album. Its subtle ascending vocal tempo creates an escalating mood, a musical ascension of sorts. Short, simple and leading; it directs the listener right into the second song, The Alchemist, in which the theme of being an acolyte learning the ways of the occult arises from both the composition of Karyn’s music and lyrical content that points heavily towards mysticism and transmutation – “I am no longer the dust and lifeless, waiting to be swept away…” and “…I hear those words, kept unsaid, and I walk in the world of the living and the dead.” A little more than halfway through the song, we hear a bit of the old Crisis as Karyn alternates styles with bits of clean and heavier vocals with Dolan backing the choruses.

And so begins our journey, alongside Karyn, towards self-discovery. In a Lovecraftian way, we learn of ritualism and guidance from both Ancient Ways and Aradia, where verses become chants foretelling haunting revelations of mankind existing as only a small part of the greater world. The driving melodies lead the ear to witness the rites in progress. Karyn’s lyrics paint a haunting, yet enlightening, revelation of liberation. Aradia, itself, is used interchangeably for “Gospel of the Witches,” featured as part of the title of the original book or religious text, from which the band’s name most likely originates. Its also the name of a person in the book, allegedly the daughter of Diana, Queen of the Witches and Lucifer, portrayed as a sun god. In 1899, it later caused quite a stir and came to be a major influence on the modern Wiccan belief system. It details rites and beliefs of a sect of Italian witches, which is intriguing considering that Karyn’s husband lives in Italy, and she, herself, spent several years living there with him.

Its interesting to me to note that Gospel of the Witches has a pronounced gothic tinge to their overall sound. With both Dolan and Vigna from Immolation on board, I had expected to hear a composition replete with shredding guitar and complex death metal composition, tempered by Davide’s somewhat lyrical guitar-work and pacing. Instead, we’re indulged with a surprising side of Immolation’s palette that moves in a more gothic-rock direction and has Karyn, at times, invoking early Switchblade Symphony with her vocals instead of Dawn Crosby or even her own previous works.

As two halves of a greater whole, the songs Mother and Father are a nice compliment to each other. They’re a payment of respect to the progenitors of the universe and not just the parents that gave birth to us-though one can interpret its multilayered meanings to differing conclusions. With Mother in particular, the lyrics really resonated with me as I lost my own mother to disease when I was 23, so I took the lyrics of “Mother, I can feel your flesh burning, Mother, I can smell your sacrifice” as both profound and cathartic, with a call-and-response relationship built in. However, what Karyn is doing here is relating Aradia’s story, her origins, the depth of her beginnings. In contrast, the song Father radiates a more anchored feeling than what Mother produces. Its potent lyrical structuring with repetitive chants like “I am” followed by words such as invictus sets forth a dominant tone of invocation making it read like Delphic verses in the night. What we can infer here is Aradia’s conversation with her own Father, stating her known identity; she is aware of her origins and unconquerable spirit.

In many places throughout the album, Karyn layers her voice with Dolan’s, creating an interplay that harkens to a singer possessed. This maniacal effect plays with our aural assumptions of what is masculine and feminine, giving equal play to both genders and allowing them to become one. What results is a ritualistic profoundness similar to an altered state of consciousness. We become active listeners in her tale of the first witch.

Perhaps the one song that really brings this concept home for me is Goddess of Light. In particular, the part where Karyn sings, “Bear witness to my eternal rebirth”. Through a quick perusal of the definition of the Goddess Light deity that Karyn refers to, its possible to interpret the song as an homage to the divine feminine. What also struck me about this reference to the Goddess of Light was how it ties into my own conversations with my mother-in-law, who is a Hindu. An equivalent deity to the Goddess of Light, tales of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi relate a story of The Churning of the Ocean in which her disappearance from the world leads to darkness and chaos overtaking the earth with asuras (spirits) taking over. After much work and perseverance between the other deities and humans, Lakshmi returns, overturning the demons and making the world safe once again. Karyn’s music alludes to this kind of ethereal world-building.

With a surprising change in tone, at least in its intro, we hear The Secret, the tenth song on the album. It opens with a spacier introduction bordering on lounge-like beats. Her lyrics, “if you don’t go within, you go without,“ seem to sum up her inner discoveries and confessions. There’s a subtle extended invitation to join the dark with her, making it feel as though you’re witness to something beyond the sacred. However, the lyrical play on words could also reference Buddhist Zen ideas of self-discovery and self-evident truths contrasted with a activities of people looking for external signs of faith as a validation or sign of reprieve from their life’s troubles through pseudo-spirituality and mysticism, or people who superficially claim to practice “black magic” or “witchcraft” without knowledge of the traditions, lore and history of what they’ve appropriated.

Compositionally, I was surprised by the relative simplicity of the music compared to her earlier works, as fans who go in expecting anything resembling Crisis aren’t going to find what they’re looking for instrumentally here. Immolation fans will frankly be shocked. There’s nothing inherently wrong with musicians of Immolation’s background coming together to produce music of this type, but it should almost come with a warning for certain types of fans who may be more close-minded or fixed in their ideas of musical expression and range and are put off by change.

In many ways, what Karyn has done here is exactly the opposite of the progression Carl McCoy underwent when transitioning from Fields of the Nephilim to simply, Nephilim. His was a journey from atmospheric and gothic rock to gothic-influenced death metal, also steeped in mysticism. Hers has been a journey from metal to atmospheric, metal-influenced gothic music – with a movement from introspection and to the occult.

With Salem’s Wounds, we’re once again sharing in her confession with a leading gothic rock melody. There’s an abject feeling listening to her use of “hallelujah“, conveying an inversion of Christian traditions. Her repetition of the word “samsara”, the reincarnation cycle, reminds me of Hindu myths and how the religion at one point, and still to a degree today, was considered pagan to western Christian hegemony. It’s through these intentional nuances of lyrical construction that Karyn imparts a spiritual epiphany. If the NBC tv-series Constantine stays afloat next season, this should be on the series soundtrack.

I’ve had an advance copy of the album for about a week now, and ultimately, I had to listen to it twice before I began to realize its full thaumaturgic intentions. As each song unfolds, Karyn’s ability to build a world very different from what we’ve known of Crisis emerges. The same can be said of Vigna and Dolan’s parts here – maybe even more so. I, myself. had to shed my preconceived notions of a possible death metal album because of Dolan and Vigna’s involvement. What we see, instead, is not a brutal, in-your-face assault of Karyn’s previous politics, but the mature, cultivated cosmos of a world that she’s been quietly exploring for decades. As a personal project for Karyn, it’s evident that her spiritual and existential experiences are grounded in her musical composition, paralleling her growth as an artist and medium. It goes with the tone she’s set for the entirety of the album.

By the end of this album, the listener is left with a somber and dirge-like atmosphere, prepping the ear to trade in what’s it known from its physical life for a second helping of spiritual self-discovery. In a manner common to all things esoteric, the album’s chants and dark, meandering atmosphere leaves the listener with a feeling of transition, waiting for something “more”. Whether that “more” is in the form of an actual visitation, only Karyn Crisis can tell us.

Full Track listing:

  1. Omphalos (2:00)
  2. Alchemist (6:28)
  3. Ancient Ways (4:34)
  4. Aradia (3:42)
  5. Mother (6:05)
  6. Father (4:54)
  7. Goddess of Light (4:00)
  8. Howl At The Moon (5:45)
  9. Pillars (3:16)
  10. The Secret (3:32)
  11. Salem’s Wounds (4:48)
  12. The Sword and The Stone (4:05)
  13. The Ascent (5:22)
  14. White Willow (2:24)

Conferencing the Extreme Metal Way…

Just a quick update on my recent academic excursions. My thesis was accepted for presentation at two conferences and I presented on them in the last two weeks. I talked about my on-going research on Women in NY’s Extreme Metal Music Scene.

*Banner from MACI website

*Banner from MACI website

The first presentation was at the North East Popular Culture Association conference (NEPCA) in Providence where I was happy to sit on the panel titled “Music and Dance in Popular Culture”, with Professor Jeff Cain from Sacred Heart University as the moderator. I was joined by students Bethany Fagan-Good from SUNY Brockport who presented her paper on “Erick Hawkins Aesthetic: Finding the Dancer” and Matthew Scully from Tufts who presented on “Chester Himes and Frantz Fanon on Blues: Toward a New Humanism”. Each paper was interesting and I was glad to get my feet wet, so to speak, with conference presenting. As an aside, if you’ve read my blog before, I’m pretty enchanted by Fanon’s work, so much so, that I wrote a paper about his inspiration on Fela Kuti and Afrobeat and the correlation with how both Afrobeat and Norwegian Black Metal arose out of the same political and religious oppression. Just sayin’.

In any case, it’s been sometime since I’ve presented or talked in front of an audience. My tenure at Columbia University began in 2012 and because of my new role in Acquisitions, I’ve haven’t had the luxury of teaching classes like I did when I worked at the Met. There’s actually a lot of cross departmental work I miss from my old days there, including providing reference, teaching classes, and cataloging (believe or not!). My current position is more about management, finance, and making sure items are getting ordered and received in a timely matter!

Me at MACI conference

Me at MACI conference

The second conference I presented at was the Metal and Cultural Impact conference (MACI) which took place at the University of Dayton in Ohio. This by far, was one of my most enlightening and engaging conference experiences. I met so many metal music scholars whose work was not only inspiring but fascinating, not to mention I was getting to meet scholars whose work I reference in my own thesis. The topics presented were captivating.

Some highlights included the presentations from the scholars below:

Kevin Ebert – “But that doest help me on Guitar!–Unraveling the Myth of the Self-taught Metal Guitarist
Dr. Imke von Heldon – “The Pagan Reunion Awaits: The Construction of Cultural Identity in Norwegian Metal Music
Dr. Ross Hagen – “Pay no Attention to the Man Behind the … Ritualism and Depersonalization in Underground Extreme Metal Music”
Dr. Carl Sederholm – “Answering Cthulhu’s Call: Exploring Lovercraftian Cosmicism in Extreme Metal
Dr. Jasmine H. Shadrack – “Femme-Liminale: Corporeal Performativity in Death Metal
Megan McCarty – “Aesthetics of the Brutal: The Voice, Listening Practices and Affect in Extreme
Alex Skolnick – “Louder Education with Alex Skolnick

The conference started on Thursday (11/6) and unfortunately I was unable to see the presentations on Thursday as my flight was rescheduled. This was upsetting because with my new obsession with all things gender-related, I missed out on keynote speaker Amber Clifford-Napoleone’s presentation on “Queer Metal Matters: Metal, Sexuality, and the Future“. Fortunately, I did get to speak with her the next day, which helped to alleviate my guilt of missing her keynote address as well as school me on some interesting aspects of queer theory.

Also of great note was getting to see the provocatively creative exhibition by librarian and metal scholar, Brian Hickam. I was happy to meet both Brian and his colleague Elizabeth as they’re both Librarians! Really..I’m sure you can feel my excitement. Brian curated the exhibition titled, “Masked Performance: Facepaint, Head Coverings, and Masks in 21st Century Popular Culture”. He spoke about his experience with metal as both an avid fan and scholar and how he inevitably drew parallels with the use of masks in culture and in heavy metal music.

I also made some new friends, especially Laina Dawes, who also presented on the Women and Metal panel. I’ve mentioned her before on this blog when I brought up reading her book, “What are you Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal“.  She discussed the rampant violence towards women and women of color in the extreme metal scene through her presentation entitled, “The Music or the Message? How to Love Music that Doesn’t Love You Back“.

All in all, we even got some help from two metal scholars when our rental car wouldn’t start! Thanks Jamie and Kevin!

Hopefully, the future of metal music studies will see an increase of scholars bringing relevant issues to light within both the metal community and mainstream society. Attending this conference helped to validate my ever evolving interest with metal music, gender, and anthropology. So to my fellow metal colleagues–Keep up the great work!

Finally–A video taping of me presenting at MACI. My husband taped it with his cell phone and we uploaded it to Youtube with hopes of disseminating my research. It’s not the best sound recording quality but it helped me reflect on honing my presenting skills.
Thanks & Enjoy!

Part 1 of 3

Part 2 of 3

Part 3 of 3

Gallhammer and Heavy Metal Singing

Gallhammer2If I haven’t officially mentioned it before, I’ll do it now. I’ve been pretty interested in this band called Gallhammer. I’ve featured a picture of them in the post before this one about Heavy Metal – Women and Perception.

They are a three piece all-female metal band from Japan, though I’ve just read that they are now a duo of just bass and drums. Described as sludgy blackened doom with a bit of crust from their Wikipedia page, I’ve found their overall sound appealing in a muculent doomy kind of way.  In other words, I really like their sound.

The duo consists of bassist-vocalist Vivian Slaughter and drummer Risa Reaper though they were formally a trio with guitarist Mika Penetrator. They got their start in the early 2000’s and after playing a couple of shows and releasing a couple of demos, they were signed onto Peaceville Records by none other than on the recommendation of Darkthrone.

As noted from their Wiki page they were highly influenced by bands like Napalm Death, Carcass, Morbid Angel, and Joy Division — all bands I love and have all seen except for Joy Division (RIP Ian Curtis).

I got my hands on their second studio album released in 2007 entitled Ill Innocence. Favorite songs from the album are At The Onset of the Age of Despair, Blind My Eyes, and Delirious Dreamer, though almost all the songs on the album do not disappoint.

Of particular note was the song Blind My Eyes – I found the exchange between Vivian’s death vocals and Mika’s almost prepubescent girlish squeals to be a provocative call and response type of interchange. It’s no secret that I would love to be able to sing like this. Though it’s not done with Gallhammer, I haven’t seen many female vocalists who can cleanly transition from dry death vocals to regular vocals. It’s probably due to the complexities involved with reaching such a range. Another interesting tidbit is that Vivian Slaughter is married to Maniac from Mayhem, who also guest sings on a later album.

Which brings me to mention another talent – Melissa Cross.  If you haven’t heard of her before, you should definitely look her up. She’s a voice teacher living in NYC and is responsible for some of the best screamers in Heavy Metal. She’s released a DVD guide called The Zen of Screaming: Vocal Instruction for a New Breed and has recently expanded upon it with The Zen of Screaming 2. Featured artists include Shadows Fall, God Forbid, Lamb of God, Randy Blythe, All That Remains, Angela Gossow, and H2O. Check out Cross’s clip from YouTube with Angela Gossow’s lesson and interview.

It’s quite fascinating to see the ways in which singers train their voice and it was especially interesting to see how both Cross and Gossow comment on how fans misconstrue male vocalists and their ability to “pull through” and not lose their voice. Cross laughed and said she’s seen many a male vocalist loose their voice and even shred their throats from singing improperly.

All in all – a very informative DVD for those interested in learning how to sing metal vocals with variety and little chance of shedding one’s throat.

Anthropology Reading Journal Series

Anthropology Reading Journal Series
II. 09/12/2011: Ethnography and/as Culture I 

As part of a critical reading journal for my graduate Ethnology class, I’ve decided to start documenting my responses to assigned readings in this blog.

It’s my hope that this will serve as an exercise to both develop my scholarly writing as well as to virtually document my time as a graduate student in pursuit of a second masters degree. As a librarian, I find that going back to school has enabled me to keep my mind engaged with some of the same concerns my patrons are experiencing.  

With that said, here are the first week’s worth of readings surrounding ethnography and culture. As a newbie, I found the readings to be overall enlightening. They helped to give me a historical framework for the discipline of anthropology and writing that I hadn’t encountered before.

Following are definitions from Dictionary.com

1. ethnography – (noun) a branch of anthropology dealing with the scientific description of individual cultures.

2. culture – (noun)

-the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits,etc.
that which is excellent in the arts,manners,etc.
a particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or period :Greek culture.
development or improvement of the mind by education or training.
the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.

Reading #1: Clifford, James. 1980. “Fieldwork, Reciprocity, and the Making of Ethnographic Texts.” Man 15(3):518-532. 

The main topic of Clifford’s article, “Fieldwork, Reciprocity, and the Making of Ethnographic Texts”, is that of participant observation, a key process that involves the ethnographer not merely observing or watching his subject, but actively engaging with the subject, his environment and activities. It’s considered a key component for developing ethnography.

Clifford cleverly uses the work of the missionary anthropologist Maurice Leenhardt, whose ethnographic research took place in New Caledonia during the early 20th century as a way to explain one mode of creating ethnography.

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