Metal music immediately invites this image of head-banging, black-wearing punks and goths. People who know the local Hot Topic employees by name, with large gauges and ever-changing hair colors. However, it turns out that metalheads come in all forms, and it can be a lot harder to spot them than you might imagine.
For starters, metal music has tons of subgenres, all with their own followings and focuses. There is dwarven metal, based on the dwarves from “The Lord of the Rings,” with bands like Windrose, or Viking metal, based on Norse myths and legends like Brothers of Metal or Tyr.
Subgenres can be from different mythologies, cultures, tones, topics and instruments. Crusader metal is a thing and so is negative wizard metal, Nintendocore and Shakespeare metal. Just the sheer variety of metal music means metalheads can be people who still play on a Nintendo 64, quote “Hamlet” by heart, or cosplay on the weekends, among many, many other things.
One such unexpected metalhead in UNLV’s very own Honors College and history professor Heather Lusty. Lusty was the first to say, “There are dozens of subgenres of metal, so there’s really something for everyone.”
Her personal favorite bands right now are “Amorphis, Dimmu Borgir, Insomnium, Kreator, Lost Society, Lacuna Coil and Eluveitie. They have very little in common, but all have unique aspects that I love for one reason or another.” A lot of her bands are from Europe, as this professor, raised on Bon Jovi and The Rolling Stones, is adamant that that is where “the real music is.”
Her other favorite metal bands are those that talk more about politics and cultural issues, even incorporating music videos by metal bands in her class curriculum sometimes.
“I still love Rammstein too,” Lusty said. “They’re really leaning into politics and contemporary immigration and climate issues, and I’m excited that they holed up in a French farmhouse during quarantine and recorded another album even though they just put one out.”
If Lusty could tell someone unsure about metal music anything, it would be that “Most metal music is much more substantive than pop” other than Beyonce who is “exempt from my criticism.” She went on about how metal music “deals with real-life issues and struggles about identity, belonging, faith, abuse. To me, metal really showcases the human experience.”
Somewhere behind all the heavy guitar and blaring vocals, there is often a lot of thought, intention and artistry that goes into many metal songs. It may be about axe-swinging or war cries instead of clubbing or dancing, but metal music has this ability to deeply and intensely explore topics that other genres really do not in the same way.
A great example is Powerwolf, which is a German power metal band that often pokes fun at church history and culture as well as mythical beings like vampires, werewolves and demons that came out of the Middle Ages. Sometimes their songs are just fun, but they are always brimming over with irony, thoughtfulness, and deeper points about religion, human freedom or hypocrisy.
Their song “Conquistadores” is a great example of this. Not only is the melody epic to do dishes to, but it commentates on the hypocrisy of Christian colonization and how the Catholic church empowered the conquistadors to rape, pillage and steal from the New World. Or, it could just be an awesome song to listen to while folding your clothes, that too.
That is the amazing thing about metal music. It is epic, unexpected, thoughtful, varied and this endless buffet of interesting ideas, unique sounds and empowering melodies. There really is not a stereotypical metalhead type, even if Hot Topic made you think otherwise. It is not for everyone, but if you have never explored the world of metal, take this as your sign to see what is out there. You might be surprised by what sticks with you.