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My senior Project paper ojn heavy metal 
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Post My senior Project paper ojn heavy metal

ok. i wanted to include this for you all to read. it has to do with the controversies of heavy metal, and i wanted to share it with you to get your opinions.

There have been many controversies about the heavy metal culture ever since

the first Heavy Metal songs hit their audience in the 1970’s. Mainly, these

controversies have been about ethical and aesthetical issues. In one of the

most well-known controversies on heavy metal culture, two young heavy

metal fans at Columbine High school killed 13 people, wounded several

more, and subsequently committed suicide. In the aftermath of the

Columbine massacre the artist Marilyn Manson suddenly got into the cross

fire kindled by the media, since he supposedly seemed to have had noticeable

influence on the two metal fans at some point. For a number of reasons he

certainly was not to blame for the (insane) incident at Columbine High, but

one thing still remains unsettled: Is there a connection between Heavy Metal

and unethical behaviour? In the following I will focus on the question stated

above, also exploring the important role of the aesthetics associated with

Heavy Metal culture/music and the possible influence on its audience. One

might ask whether there is any connection between ethics and aesthetics at

all. One is about the good and the bad in some sense, and the other is about

what constitutes beauty and ugliness. At first sight the two seem to be

unrelated. This view is called autonomism. As there are a number of reasons

to regard autonomism as doubtful, the first part of this paper will focus on

exactly this complex of problems concernig autonomism. Thereafter I will

look at the moralist view as it is put forward by Berys Gaut, who claims that

an unethical content will always result in an aesthetic flaw, and discuss why

this theory cannot be true concerning Heavy Metal. In the last part of the

paper I will show why the position called immoralism (or contextualism) is

the preferable theory.

Philosophers, such as Monroe Beardsley have claimed that there is no reason

to propose any real connection between the good and the beautiful, or

generally speaking: there is no connection between ethics and aesthetics.

The claim is that it literally makes no sense to attempt the establishment of a

relation between the two concepts, because the two are fundamentally

different1. This claim is called autonomism, and indicates that no content of

any artwork can make any difference to any artworks' aesthetic value.

However, this view is, at best, irrelevant, but since autonomism has been

popular to defend, it is necessary to show why the theory does not hold.

Autonomism holds that the ethical content of an artwork is irrelevant to the

aesthetic value of the work, but what we are concerned with here, is works of

art (music to be specific), where the ethical content is highly relevant. To

reject autonomism, it has to be made clear how ethical content can be

relevant for the value of this type of artwork. It is quite often the case that we

evaluate works of art partly according to its ethical proposals. We praise

some works of art for their ability to illustrate the goodness in humans for

instance. Therefore the notion that the ethical content in such works of art is

irrelevant will be wrong in such cases. Certainly there will be other cases in

which the ethical content is highly irrelevant for the aesthetic evaluation of an

artwork. But for this paper's purpose it is indeed important to notice that there

actually are cases in which the ethical content is pertinent/relevant for the

aesthetic value of certain works of art – such as for music.

One way to do this is to imagine a piece of music, where the ethical content

is normally considered to be relevant, like the song Noose by the band

Sentenced for example, without any ethical content. Obviously, it is a song

about committing suicide, which is - for obvious reasons – socially

considered a bad and irreversibly desperate act, and therefore often stays a

concealed topic within society. Imagine if Noose kept its sound but changed

the content – the lyrics of the song - and the song changed into something

absolutely irrelevant to any ethical evaluation, would this simultaneously

change the aesthetic value of the work? Claiming that the aesthetic value

actually changes, I will, in the following, elaborate on the important role of

musical composition and thereby show why autonomism needs to be rejected

in regard to the instant case.

During the last decades there has been quite a lot of controversy surrounding

the Heavy Metal culture. The prevalent concern has been the suicidal acts

commited by some young Heavy Metal fans. Some people claimed that the

music, as well as musicians are to blame for such tragedies. What is claimed

here is that there is a direct connection between such tragedies and the

content of the music. Some would perhaps propose that specific content

(unethical in this case) can in some way corrupt the audience. Whether this is

true or not, it may seem irrelevant for the discussion presented above.

However, there is a connection between the debate about the controversies

and the value-relation that should be given attention at this point. The claim

that musicians can be the ones to blame for another persons suicide, can be

formulated in terms of the reverse relation between the ethical content and

the aesthetic value. If a work of art proposes immoral behaviour, its content

is ethically flawed, thus (in the moralist view) aesthetically flawed, and in its

effect can convince people to behave in a certain manner. But claiming this is

to suggest even more than moralism. Holders of this position will have to

claim at least the possibility of some works of art, being able to cause a

change in a person’s beliefs, specifically about ethical matters.

Berys Gaut, who is one of the well known experts in the debate about the

relation between ethics and the aesthetics, put forward a model for analysing,

and in the end reconstructing the theme in his work Art, Emotions and Ethics

from 2007. The first thing to consider is whether the relation between ethics

and aesthetics is invariant or complex2. If it is invariant, it means that the

relation cannot change, no matter which artwork is evaluated. That is, if one

is convinced that an ethical flaw necessarily results in an aesthetic flaw, then

the relation is invariant. To argue that the relation is complex, is to claim that

the relation can vary, meaning that an ethical flaw in a work of art can in

some cases result in an aesthetic merit, but not necessarily in all cases.

The next thing to consider is whether the value-relation of ethics and

aesthetics is symmetric or inverted. An invariant symmetric relation means

that, in all cases, an ethical flaw will result in an aesthetic flaw. If the relation

is inverted, however, it means that an ethical flaw will result in an aesthetic

merit. For obvious reasons, such a position has never been noticably

promoted. All theories that suggest a complex relation between ethics and

aesthetics will propose that the relation is symmetric in some cases, while

inverted in others.

In order to have a plausible theory that proposes an inverted relation, it has to

be complex rather than invariant. This position is often called immoralism (or

contextualism in Gaut's terminology). If one holds that the relation is

invariant and symmetric, it will be a variant of what is normally called

moralism (or ethicism in Gaut's terminology).

Symmetric Moralism / ethicism Immoralism /


Inverted Extreme immoralism Immoralism /


This certainly raises the question why anyone should be a moralist? A

moralist is committed to say that any ethical flaw within any work of art, will

necessarily result in that work being also aesthetically flawed. This does not

mean that a work is really bad, just because it contains an ethical flaw in its

content. It is aesthetically flawed, in so far as it is ethically flawed. So a song

about suicide can still be considered good, but, it could never qualify to

appear as “aesthetically perfect”. Gaut however proposes that the use of what

he calls “pro tanto principles” can justify the moralist view. This means that

thinking in terms of a work of art which is aesthetically flawed - in so far as it

contains an ethical demerit - will allow the moralist to acknowledge that the

aesthetic value of a piece of music, can depend on an ethical flaw in its

content. This seems to make moralism an attractive position to hold, but there

remains one problem, which appears unsolved. The theory still implicates

that any work of art which contains an ethical demerit is aesthetically flawed.

This generates the result that artworks, and in this case lyrics about suicide

will consequently be valued lower than lyrics on the pleasant sides of life – at

least as long as we will solely consider the aesthetic value to the extent of

ethical content. The following section will focus on a (more) preferable

alternative theory, especially in regard of Heavy Metal culture.

Noise and the Aesthetics of Heavy Metal

Before focusing on immoralism (contextualism) it will be reasonable to

examine some important points about the aesthetics of Heavy Metal music

and its aesthetic perception. Since it is impossible to make a throughout

analysis of the aesthetics of Heavy Metal, I will settle with the most

important point, namely the use of noise in the composition. One of the most

significant theories on the use of noise in music has been put forward by

Theodore Gracyk, in Rythm and Noise (1996). Although he wrote his work

on the aesthetics of Rock music, most of it can easily be transferred to the

aesthetics of Heavy Metal, without any significant difficulties.

What we call noise can be divided into three categories:

1) Any sound that interacts with human communication

2) Any sound that disturbs humans

3) Any sound at a volume that can damage the listener physiologically

Noise in the first category will not be dealt with at this time, since it allows

every sound any human might ever hear, to be noise, and if all sounds are

considered noise we cannot distinguish noise from other types of sound, and

therefore,the discourse would change into a general discourse on sound rather

than noise.

The second category is more interesting for the paper's purpose. What is

often referred to as noise, are sounds that disturb us, and this is also what

some people think of Heavy Metal, for exactly that very reason. In fact, most

Heavy Metal music is composed with the intention to disturb the listener.

What some people, who do not like to listen to the rough sound of Heavy

Metal music, point at, is the feeling that it is hard to focus on other things,

while listening to an ‘infernal racket’, such as referred to Heavy Metal music,

playing in the background. Recognizing that the intention of Heavy Metal

music is to disturb the listener, it becomes obvious at this point that this

intention is overall fulfilled.

Concerning the third category of noise it is a well known fact that most

Heavy Metal fans listen to music at a high volume, that could supposedly be

loud enough to damage their hearing. It is quite often the case that the music

is recorded at a rather high volume, which makes a difference in most cases.

The reason for this can be found in exploring how the electric guitar works.

What we hear, when we hear the sound of an electric guitar, is not the sound

of the strings vibrating. Magnets are place underneath the strings (these are

called pick-ups) through which an electrical current is flowing. The vibration

of the strings then is causing the above mentioned disturbance through this

electrical current, which is also what the audience listens to through the

speakers, along with harmonic overtones. In order to get the desired sound

out of this process, it will in some cases be necessary to amplify the sound,

because some sounds will not be audible at a lower volume. The reasons for

the high-volume recording process are obvious at this point, but what does

this have to do with the Heavy Metal audience listening to the music on a

rather high volume in their own living-rooms too? In order to notice single

parts of the music, it can be necessary to play the music rather loud. Often,

Heavy Metal-bands are composed of four instruments (some even more), all

playing fast in some cases, and when they are recorded at such a high

volume, it might be hard to notice all elements of the music at the same time.

At a low volume it is mostly the bass that drops into the background. Of

course there are exceptions like the band Mötorhead, where the bass is

constantly the most noticeable instrument. This is partly due to the special

role the bass plays in a band like Mötorhead, where it takes over the role that

would normally be performed by the lead guitar. It is of course possible to

find more examples where the bass is noticeable, while not filling the role of

the lead guitar. However, this shows that the listeners could miss out on a lot

of details and good sounds if they do not pump up the volume on their


What does this say now about Heavy Metal music and the audience's

culture/way of listening to it? Obviously, there are good reasons for applying

the word noise to Heavy Metal, but it does not necessarily mean a bad thing.

In fact it can help enhancing the meaning of the music, which will be

explored on the example of the analyses of two songs by the Finnish Metal

band Sentenced.

Shouting out in Misery

One thing that has not been mentioned yet is the important role of vocals in

Heavy Metal music. It is true that not all vocals you will find in Heavy Metal

are special in some way, instead there are various types of vocals used in

different songs. Some remind the listener of screaming, some offer a very

rough sound, and even others sing in a way that is far from what people

normally call singing. The reason for this variety of vocal-types has to do

with the variety of sound played by different Metal bands. Certain vocaltypes

are more soothing for certain music-styles. If a song is slow and

melancholic it would seem inauthentic if the vocals were like Madonna's in

Material Girl for example. It would at least be hard taking it seriously, as in

the case of watching the film Spaceballs (which actually does not have the

intention to be taken seriously) since it is supposed to be a parody on the cult

film “Star Wars”. Even though Star Wars is fiction, and most of it impossible

in reality, it is still more trustworthy as a story than Spaceballs. This

important point will be reconsidered in the remaining paper.

As it has been shown, it is an aesthetic merit if the vocals match with the

overall sound of the music. An aggressive song about mass murder for

example, will be more trustworthy if the vocals are as aggressive as the

theme of the song, and perhaps sounding “evil”. Thence the vocals, the music

as well as the lyrical content should be connected in a trustworthy way, in

order to receive, the best result regarding the aesthetic value of the work. Any

disharmony between these three elements will be problematic for any piece

of music, unless the point is to make something that corresponds to what

Spaceballs is to Star Wars, namely a parody. Parodies are not necessarily

aesthetically unfortunate, or even aesthetically worse than the work it is

supposed to be a parody of. The aesthetic value in many cases depends on the

ability to make the audience “believe” in its concern. This does not mean that

the audience should believe it to be the actual reality, but believe in it solely

for the purpose of the aesthetic experience. The best films are often those

who make the audience believe to see reality. A horror film that actually

makes people scared is better crafted than one that does not.

A big part of what can be called the ethical content of a piece of music is the

lyrics. At least it is easier to deal with the meaning of the lyrical words, than

merely dealing with sound, even though it can be claimed that the music in

itself (without the lyrics) has a meaning that can, to a certain extent, be

formulated in words. I agree with this view, but it is nearly impossible to say

what a specific piece of music is about, without having any lyrics, since

almost everyone could have their own individual beliefs about the meaning

of the music. To not dwell in this debate, it is necessary to strictly focus on

the ethical content of music in reference to its lyrics. One of the examples I

will focus on is the song Noose from the Finnish Metal band Sentenced. The

song was released in 1996 on the album called Down. As the title of the song

might reveal, Noose is about committing suicide by hanging oneself. The

story in the song is quite similar to the poem of Novalis Hymnen an die

Nacht. The protagonist in Noose is depressed because his loved-one has

taken her own life, by hanging herself. Up until her suicide her life had been

depressing, and she decided to end it all by taking the rope. The grief ends up

to be too overwhelming and, he starts excessive drinking and in the end

decides to take his own life: “I'll take the rope just like you, and where ever

you are I'll be too”. In this song it seems like suicide is presented as a

preferable solution to the narrator's grief, which is – without major

controversies – unethical in the way that suicide should not be promoted as a

way of solving personal problems. Obviously, it is very common to condemn

persons who are telling others to end their own lives just because it seems to

them that they are not able to overcome their sadness otherwise. But what

makes the case of Noose different is the fact that firstly it is a fictional story,

and secondly the writers of the song do not consider suicide a good ethical

action. However, this does not show that it is a piece of music, in which the

(un)ethical content is actually an aesthetic merit. As mentioned above, the

discussion on the matter has mainly been focusing on the composition – this

is not enough though to defend immoralism (contextualism). One of the best

defences for immoralism can be found in Matthew Kieran's article

‘Forbidden Knowledge: the challenge of immoralism’ in Art and Morality

from 2002. He calls his position cognitive immoralism, which proposes that

unethical art, or art portraying unethical behaviour, will make people

understand certain things about the world, which would otherwise remain

invisible. One of the examples he uses is bullying. He says that the only way

to know what it is like to be a bully is to either be the bully or understand the

bully. But how can we come to understand a bully, without being one? A

possible method might be a film that portrays the behaviour from the bully's

perspective – assuming the film is made in a good manner in order to make

the audience understand the bully's motivation for the unethical behaviour.

What those works of art do, is to award the audience with something

cognitive. When we are confronted with this type of art, we achieve, what

Kieran calls imaginative experience. It is a sort of indirect information about

a certain aspect of the world. Looking at the information through another

perspective than one's own, it will contribute to a greater understanding of

the whole. This is, of course not a necessary condition to understand the

world, but it is a sufficient condition. This means that when a person listens

to a song like Noose, it might be possible for that person to learn what it is

like, to be in such a mental-state where suicide seems like a good solution. If

a work of art can teach us something about the world, it will, on this point

have an aesthetic merit above a work from which we cannot learn anything.

This position has been criticized by Gaut, namely in the point which says that

what will be learned from such imaginative experiences does not correspond

to the content of the work. Noose is a song about killing yourself, because of

a lost loved one, but we also learn how it feels to be in that mental-state.

There is, in Gaut's view, no direct connection between the apparent content of

the song, and what is learned, because we are not actually learning that

hanging ourselves is a good idea. Gaut is right about this, but he seems to

miss an important point. It is not important that what we learn is exactly the

same as what is proposed in the lyrics of a song, but that we learn something

about what it is like to be in the mental-state that has been described.

Enjoying the Misery

An often stated question is how and why one can enjoy listening to songs

about suicide, murder, alcohol- and drug-abuse etc. The answer is not as

straight-forward as one might think. The easy way out of this discussion is to

make a statement about the difference in peoples taste in music, but that

would disqualify any attempt to continue this debate, and in the end, when

analysed sufficiently, people tend to be absolutists about this issue. Most

music-lovers would agree on the fact that “good music” is to be used about

certain pieces of music that live up to some criteria. But these criteria

obviously may differ from person to person.

It would not surprise anyone, if people claimed that they like music about the

bad and difficult things in life, without any further explanation. It is exactly

the explanation we are looking for. So how do we explain the enjoyment of

hearing about the darker sides of life? This is where the issue becomes tough

to deal with, but I will give an explanation in two ways. Firstly, one may

argue that it is purely the aesthetic excellence that makes one listen to a song

about suicide, if it lives up to the criteria about a certain connection between

the music, vocals and lyrics as described above. But this alone will not give a

sufficient reason why anyone would want to listen to the misery of another

person's life. What it shows, is that anyone who claims this, will only say that

they like to listen to music that lives up to their criteria for good music. This

means we would have to assume that persons who like music would like to

listen to the music they like personally, whatever kind of music it might be,

and that the music happens to be about the miseries of life, is a coincidence.

Another quite different approach has been offered in the article ‘Fade to

Black: Absurdity, Suicide and the Downward Spiral’ by Justin Donhauser

and Kimberly A. Blessing in Metallica and Philosophy from 2007. As it is

stated in the article, James Hetfield said in an interview in 1991 that in the

process of writing the song Fade to Black, he was quite depressed and he

used the artistic process as a sort of therapy3. In the end it would make him

feel better. Therefore I claim that this is true, not just for the composer and

performer, but also for the audience. That obviously shows that music is not

only used to enjoy the good sound, but is also used as a way of dealing with

one's emotional problems. Many Heavy Metal fans therefore tend to argue

that they do not increase their aggressiveness, but rather calm down by

channelling their bad vibes and moods out of their minds through the

aggressiveness of the rough sound of Heavy Metal music. The music

functions as a kind of catharsis then. If one feels depressed, it can be soothing

to listen to songs about life being nothing but misery. But this is a claim that

is difficult to proof and justify sufficiently and will therefore not be relevant

in this analysis.

Likewise there exists the opinion that listening to depressive music actually

makes people depressed or even more depressed as they already are.,. This is

incorrect: for one thing there are certainly listeners who are not depressed

when they listen to melancholic sounds. Further more it is noticeable that

those people who are depressed already listen to the music for exactly this

reason - it has a soothing effect on them and their mood, they just feel less

alone with their emotions. This still leaves the possibility for other reasons to

like music about suicide, without having the intention to end one's own life.

This is important since – as has been shown - there can be several reasons

why some people like aggressive music, other than being aggressive

themselves. In the end, it is possible to enjoy the misery of others, even if the

person feeling depressed or angry within the song may be a fictional

character just like it is possible for people to like films in which fictional

characters are killed.

It may at first seem like the issues addressed in this paper, are not directly

dealing with the problem of the suicides committed by Heavy Metal fans, and

the artists being blamed for it as a consequence. However, there is a clear

connection here. To claim that an artist carries the responsibility for another

persons suicide, because that person may have liked the works of exactly that

artist, also carries the accusation that the artist actually made the fan commit

suicide. This is false. Firstly, to say that unethical behaviour is the

consequence of listening to certain songs is to say that it can work in such a

way, that it changes persons’ ethical beliefs, or has the ability to make a

person more depressed, and eventually depressed enough to want their own

death. This is rather unlikely. The majority of musicians certainly compose

music without the intention to make people commit murder or suicide. If a

Sentenced fan for example feels the urge to hang him- or herself after

listening to Noose, there is no proof that the music was actually causing this

deadly urge, but rather the listener's own mind and psyche. Such an

accusation would appear highly irrational, furthermore even wrong, since that

would mean that there should be far more suicides committed. Therefore it is

plausible to notice that it takes more than imaginative experience – as

described by Kieran – to completely change a person’s beliefs.

As I have argued above, there are good reasons to regard a version of

immoralism (contextualism) as the correct theory. This consequently means

that unethical content in a piece of art does not make art as such less

valuable. Of course there is a difference between what “good” art is, and

what is good for, especially young people to be exposed to. There is a reason

why certain films are rated as inappropriate for children to watch, but can the

same be said to apply to music? In most cases, it will take a lot of time to get

to know what a song is really about, and not just what the lyrics tell. Music is

never as direct as a film, also due to the lack of visuals in the music. Another

difference is that parents do not forbid young children to watch horror films

because they are afraid of them committing suicide. They do it because they

want to prevent them from having nightmares, or behaving like the people

they see in the film. It is hard to see what people do by hearing a song. Music

is not telling people how to behave, but a story about life → that's a matter of

everyone's personal opinion, try to stay more general and less absolute.

The opinions and theories that have been expressed and described throughout

this paper have disproved the view that Heavy Metal music was aesthetically

unattractive or even bad. Furthermore it has been shown that the notion of

Heavy Metal being ethically suspicious – in the way that the music leads

people, either through lyrics or sound, to behave unethically – is false. How

can anything that is aesthetically good, be ethically bad, in the sense that the

work of art should never have been made, or even that it “brings evil to the

world”? As far as I am concerned and as the described theories have proofed

it does not lead to more evil in the world, than by listening to Madonna's

Material Girl.

If anyone by default regards Heavy Metal as worthless or even bad for the

world or our society, the suspicion lies close to assume that they never took

the time to find out what the music really is about: Heavy Metal is not just

music which breaks the silence. It is also music that demands attention; it

openly disturbs people by opening new horizons in regard to life's

misfortunes. Nonetheless, the music's aesthetics as well as its transmitted

ethics are not able to push the audience into bad or even deadly behaviour

They made our planet
a bloody waste
something sour
is all we taste
poison clouds
in ruptured skies
they enjoy progress
while your children die

Wed May 25, 2011 6:33 pm
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Post Re: My senior Project paper ojn heavy metal

What is music, ethics and beauty? You haven't defined them. I think there's an assumption in your paper that ethics, aesthetics and behaviour are somehow constant and absolute when in my reality they are 3 elephants on roller skates connected by elastic bands heading in different directions... and I'm not sure 2 of those elephants even exist. Isn't behaviour a long-term strategy to maximise pleasure and minimise pain, even if it means suffering loss of short-term pleasure and enduring short-term pain to do so? If so then ethics and aesthetics are smoke screens we put up to convince ourselves we have free will.

The kid killed 13 kids with a gun, the pilot killed 60,000 with his nuclear bomb, al Qaeda killed 3,000 with an aeroplane, the US/UK alliance killed 100,000 civilians in Iraq. Some killings were legal to one side and illegal to the other. The laws came out the ethics. The ethics change from group to group and within groups with time and fashion. Is it wrong to kill? Apparently not if someone in authority gives you permission.

Did 'music' help these people kill? Did the religious hymns, prayer chanting, the military marching bands, the turn-your-brain-off dance music of the nightclubs on a Saturday night, play their part in their final behaviour? If so, what characteristics of the music contributed? The assumption that because Heavy Metal is loud and wild and aggressive it can make you kill, but so can the national anthem, and so can mind-numbing entertainment music because it stops you thinking for yourself and questioning what you are told to do and so can the dulcet tones of the drill Sergeant during your basic training. So what is music, and is underground music different? You paper doesn't make a distinction.

Gloom and Doom is dead. Long live Gloom and Doom

Mon Sep 05, 2011 3:08 pm
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