Metal is a category of music that developed in the late 60s. It originated from the rock and blues music (Kahn-Harris, 2007). This music is identified by fast and powerful rhythms. It also uses electric and often distorted guitar, which is regarded as an important driving force. Many styles and sub genres of metal music have emerged over the last fifty years.
The metal music is still regarded as music. However, due to its bellicose sound and ‘darker’ themes such as black T-shirt and the fashion style adored by fans, head banging, the lyrical themes, and the general aloofness to popularity, the music has come to be largely considered as an evil culture. This is the case especially in conservative and authoritarian societies such as the Middle East and North Africa.
Most of the musicians when interviewed defend the Heavy Metal music by saying all music is a culture. Therefore, the debate has been on which between content or theme is more salient. It is necessary to note that Metal is quite broad as a style of music, with a variety of topics being addressed in the music.
Issues surrounding the culture of Heavy Metal culture
Some bands are solely interested in fantasy. Other new bands that have emerged are now addressing national heritage or even religion. However, the majority of the Metal bands tend to show interest in historical aspects as a source of inspiration. The bigger question is whether people including fans view it as a message. Some scholars argue that the fans are mainly kids who just want to flow with the rhythm and do not care much about the message.
However, there has been a growing call asking Metal musicians to beware of what they sing about since music has some inadvertent influence on the listener and several teenage suicides has been attributed to the influence that Metal music has on the victims. Even metal fans would not contemplate the idea of Islamic metal. However, there is an underground movement of the metal culture in these countries that largely continues to remain discreet.
Unconventional music in the Middle East is mainly political (Levine, 2009). In the Middle East, this metal culture provides a prospective model for popular resistance.
Those who observe the metal culture in the Middle East, and who are mainly radicals, seeking to create a different system that forms up an open and democratic culture right from the ground to the top. This without a doubt puts these radicals against the interests of both the political, commercial, and religious elites in their countries. In the Arab world, metal is largely associated with Satanism.
Commentators in the media industry have claimed there is a connection between the rise of satanic ideas (Metal Culture) and the Zionist enemy. Supporters of metal culture in the Middle East, where regimes have been known to crackdown on dissidents, have little chance of overcoming the repression from key stakeholders in society. The only viable way that offers survival is hibernation or rather to remain to operate in secret (Phillipov, 2012).
In the western societies, the metal culture consoles those who feel alienated from society. It highlights rebellion, celebrates individual pride, it gives a sense of belonging to introverts and allows followers to vent anger and frustrations that might else be overwhelming.
Metal scenes cultural codes and symbols can be said to have certain proximity to the Christian symbols. This makes it unfamiliar to predominantly Muslim societies (Hecker, 2005). However, the culture has also challenged Christian beliefs. The culture employs some anti-Christian iconography symbols to represent a rebellion, perhaps against then moral chains that Christianity inflicts on the self-determined gratification of individual needs and thoughts.
This culture goes further to use ‘symbols of evil’ extensively in its culture. These symbols include: depiction of the devil; the inverted cross- which is borrowed from the execution of Saint Peter who was crucified with his head down as a sign of scorning Christianity; and the number 666 which signifies the impending apocalypse in the Book of Revelation.
Other symbols are elements of pagan customs such as the Pentagram, Thor’s Hammer, and overt sexual illustrations and a variety of human and animal skulls. In all societies, the metal culture has adopted different symbols. For example, in the west, anti Christian symbols have been used. If the symbols are transferred to a Muslim context, they are likely to lose meaning.
Therefore, the metal followers in the Middle East have attempted to pick symbols that are anti Islam, even though they have been quite unsuccessful (Wageningen, 2007). The symbols are supposed to have defiance connotations. Metal followers in Israel wanted to use the Star of David, but given it is not easy to distort, they picked the inverted cross.
The Black Metal movement is mainly dominated by Scandinavian bands. It is very disdainful of Christianity and uses symbols that allude to pre-Christian pagan codes. In the Scandinavia, these symbols are usually symbols of deities from ancient Scandinavian mythology.
These symbols have been accepted by Islamic followers of Heavy Metal culture. Perhaps this explains the rise in popularity of Scandinavian Bands in some Muslim countries such as Turkey. It is interesting to note that these symbols have had a lot of confusion and misunderstandings with them arising from the politicization. In some Middle Eastern countries, social analysts often confuse the Hexagram and the Pentagram (LeVine, 2008).
In North Africa’s Morocco, the pentagram is recognized national emblem and appears on the national flag. For Muslims in Morocco, the Pentagram is seen to represent the five pillars of Islam. Further, the public media in Morocco inaccurately associate the Star of David with the Heavy Metal culture.
Band members in Acrassicauda, which is the Iraqi’s only heavy-metal band, has had to put up a spirited fight to survive. The group was formed in 2001. Its formation was influenced by Metallica and Slayer among others. After its formation, there were immediate threats from conservatives who regarded their music satanic- the band could not play in public and the mere practices became very risky (Jonze, 2008).
They had to run away and would later seek asylum in Syria- a more tolerant society. In Iraq, the first Heavy Metal female musician is largely known, but her identity still remains a secret. In all her photos, she is always smeared with layers of paint thus rendering her anonymous.
Although raised in a Muslim home which she says was not strict, her parents were later killed by a Muslim suicide bomber during the war. This motivated her to rebel against her Muslim colleagues, producing such controversial albums as one titled “Burn the Fucking Koran”.
Despite their apparent popularity, most Heavy Metal Bands do not perform in public places. They operate underground mainly using Facebook and the internet to communicate with their fans (Kelly, 2012). Even fans sometimes find it hard to express their support. Simple acts such as the tattoo will lead to an arrest for satanic acts. Support for metal in some of these countries is punishable by law.
However, not all Muslim countries detest the Heavy Metal culture. Morocco allows artists to use Heavy Metal music. Muslim countries in the Middle East that are more tolerant to Heavy Metal culture include Turkey, UAE, Syria, and Jordan. Other countries such as Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia have been very hostile towards this culture. Israel, although not a Muslim state, has allowed some freedom to heavy metal musicians.
Israel is also home to Orphaned Land, and the Heavy Metal band credited as the pioneer of Middle Eastern Metal. The Orphaned Band is an interesting reference to some of the advantages that come with The Heavy Metal culture. The band is particularly known not to be overtly political. It has used music to turn perceived foes into friends and have consistently collaborated with Arab and Muslim musicians.
Their fame transcended political rivalry as was seen when an Iranian magazine featured the band on the front cover. Their music is also done in English, Arabic, and Hebrew are thus appealing to a large audience in the Middle East. On their Facebook page, fans are from all over the Middle East including more than ten thousand fans from Turkey.
From the discussion, it is clear that Heavy Metal music and culture have gained some popularity. However, they are yet to be fully accepted into the society. It is only prudent for supporters of this culture operate with caution given the dangers they face from these societies. However, it is also important that the Middle-Eastern societies begin to be more tolerant towards supporters of Heavy Music since it is clear the music has some advantages such as creating harmony between Jews and Muslims.
Hecker, P. (2005). Heavy Metal in a Muslim context. Retrieved from: http://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl
Jonze, S (Executive Producer). (2008). Heavy Metal Baghdad [DVD]. Vice Films
Kahn-Harris, K. (2007). Extreme metal: Music and culture on the edge. Oxford [u.a.: Berg.
Kelly, K. (2012). When Black Metal’s Anti-Religious Message Gets Turned on Islam. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/07/when-black-metals-anti-religious-message-gets-turned-on-islam/259680/
LeVine, M. (2008). Heavy metal Islam: Rock, resistance, and the struggle for the soul of Islam. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Levine, M. (2009). Heavy Metal Muslims: the Rise of a Post-Islamist Public Sphere. Retrieved from: http://www.international.ucla.edu
Phillipov, M. (2012). Death metal and music criticism: Analysis at the limits. Lanham, Md: Lexington Books.
Wageningen, M. (2007). Cultural Heritage and History in the Metal Scene. Retrieved from http://edepot.wur.nl