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/

Advertisements

Summer Work Never Ends when You’re Metal Thirsty

In case you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to – it’s been a couple of things, but the most exciting thing this summer is the fact that I’ve got about 56 pages of my master thesis on women in EMM written, that’s excluding all the appendices–Woo hoo!

Metal researchIn addition, the folks over at the Society of Ethnomuiscology’s Student Union Blog were gracious enough to allow me to post about my experience with academia, motherhood, librarianship, and metal. Check it out!

Moreover,  I just finished writing a book review for Choice Magazine and I’m now in the midst of writing another review for ARLISNA on John Sharp’s Works of Game:On the Aesthetics of Games and Art. Which, by the way, I totally recommend as summer reading!

worksofgameLastly, I’ve been lucky enough to see Gospel of the Witches twice this year! I’ve made a handful of good friends through the academic metal route and the experience has really imparted some enlightening insights for me.

With that said, here’s a couple of pics from the GoTW show at Blackthorn21, July 10, 2015. It really was a great show and unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to get pictures of the other bands–all female fronted too, like The Missing and Earthbound!

Finally, it was super cool to finally see Alekhine’s Gun, since I’ve heard so much about Jessica Pimentel’s engaging metal  performances, but of course, I didn’t get any pictures, so here’s a link to some photos of the event from Skullnbones.com

Enjoy!

Archiving, Librarianship, and Art

So the other day I was digging through old papers and found this antiquated gem–it’s basically the opener to an essay I submitted that eventually got me the grant to gain my archives certificate while I was studying Library Science at Pratt Institute, back in 2006. Sadly, my archives certificate is gathering dust, as my career has moved onto more acquisitions-based duties. However, I can say without a doubt that the skills I’ve gained with archival practice have stayed with me, especially through my ongoing collecting of heavy metal music ephemera. Upon re-reading this section of my essay, I got nostalgic and a bit weepy if I really admit, that yes, this was a great reminder of why I wanted to study archives and be a librarian.

During my undergraduate years, I was a double major in Art (Drawing & Painting) and Art History (Medieval Art & Architecture). Being an art student gave me an easy way to transition into librarianship. I was in the slide library at my school on most days researching for art assignments anyway! And, I recall becoming heavily-influenced with visual resources and their influence on poets, writers, musicians and painters. The strong impact of an image on the brain was something I could never ignore. The visual image, as created by an artist, arises as part expression, part dreams realized. It’s probably why I didn’t hesitate to use John Constantine in my opening quote below. There’s something beyond our comprehension in art that sparks the wonder that amazes the human brain. Finding and preserving that experience is part of what motivates me in my daily work.

So read on below and hopefully enjoy one of my earliest essays that steered me towards my first passion of librarianship.

“One thing I’ve learned. You can know anything. It’s all there. You just have to find it.”
John Constantine, in SANDMAN #3: “Dream a Little Dream of Me

From the beginning, my thoughts on archival study and librarianship were tied with the needs of both knowing and preserving. As a child, I had been enamored of the adventures and mysteries of history. Learning to unlock secrets of the past, the feel of something old, traveling through places I could never go, somehow traveling through time and correlating experiences with the past had all been wonders to me. Now, as an adult, I find myself pursuing an extension of that youthful bewilderment and want. I have come to believe Constantine’s quote of being able to know anything because the answers to the glamours of history are all somewhere out there, waiting to be found. The unwrapping of the past and the thrill of discovery have been strong attractions to my curious mind. I found that in my first two semesters in the SILS program at Pratt, I have been able to learn the new and various ways in which to access this knowledge, these secrets. With formal education came a need to further my opportunities with exposure to great minds. I wanted to learn more and to know that that information would last through the future, that there was not a time limit on intellectual value.

To me, nothing could have grounded this need for exploring and preserving more than the passing of my mother last summer. Previously, it had not truly struck me just how much I would come to treasure not only the memories of our life together, but also the physical remnants of everything that I had shared with her. Unfortunately, there is very little of the physical left to remind me of her greatness, perhaps a necklace or other such jewelry, some photos, and myself – the most physical thing I have remaining to remember her by.

Instead of allowing the sense of loss to sadden me, I found a way to foster this need to remember and preserve. I found the key through educating myself and others. It wasn’t long after my enrollment at Pratt Institute that I came to understand the truth of my goal of gaining a Master’s degree. I wanted, and still want, to preserve information and help to disseminate its distilled knowledge to others. It has become a desire to both educate and inform the community of the importance of knowledge and its preservation.

I’ve found that almost all people innately collect. But why? Is it an effort to remember; to retell or to learn? What becomes so special about preserving the past? The value is subjective. It lies in the experience and knowledge gained through the act of preservation. By preserving and caring about our past, we gain insights into how to care for our future. We learn to be advocates of enduring values, both physical and intellectual. It is my hope that, by the end of this program, I will have the skills necessary to aid in the preservation of history, and show people that they can know anything, that they just need to search hard enough and experience the joy of discovery.

Needless to say, I became a recipient of the Archives Certificate program grant at Pratt and had the wonderful opportunity of working with the Othmer Library’s archival materials (see pictures above) housed within the Brooklyn Historical Society building in Brooklyn Heights. It was really an influential time in my budding career and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

And for those interested, here’s the link to the finding aid I helped revised during my work at The Brooklyn Historical Society:

Art Making – “Inspiration” is the Word of the Day

I’ve been marinating some ideas for getting creative again. It’s been awhile since I’ve painted or created anything remotely artistic. I’ve been too mired in academia and while that’s ok, lately I’ve been needing some sort of expressive outlet.

It goes without saying that creating and having music play in the background goes hand in hand for me. I used to paint with both music and a glass of something alcoholic to add to the ambiance. I can’t say that I’ve done that at all recently, especially after having my daughter, I’m not sure I can even recall the last time I just let go artistically.

So I think another project I have on the burner is to start getting myself to create a piece of art each week, whether it’s a doodle here or there, or something more substantial. My newest idea involves working collaborating with a friend(s) on a zine. I’m still not sure if I want to do something more along the lines of an informative and artistic zine or just an artist book. Either way, it’s already got my mind stimulated with ideas. I also want to explore my hand at book arts as I have some bindery tools gathering dust in my basement. Being around books all day isn’t the only inspiration. I’ve started a Pinterest account and it’s both awe inspiring and amazing to see all the things people pin when you search book arts as a keyword.

Some subjects and themes of inspiration for drawing/illustrating/painting are:
dia de los muertos
pop surrealism
skulls
sheet music
women musicians
musical instruments
fairy tales

Some artists who inspire me:
Camille Rose Garcia
Alex Gross
Zak Smith
Audrey Kawasaki
Natalia Fabia

But where does one find the time outside full-time work, full-time school, and full-time mothering to be creative? I haven’t an answer to this yet and I’m hoping it doesn’t hold me back from creating.