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Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge Paperback – December 1, 2006
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This fascinating book... provides real insights into the margins of our culture. Times Higher Education Supplement Sharp, engaging, and staggeringly comprehensive. Extreme Metal is a must-read for metal fans and anyone interested in the study of popular music and subcultural politics in a globalizing age. -- Sam Dunn, Co-Director, Metal: A Headbanger's Journey Although its a thorough work of sociological research, looking at how scenes work differently in different countries, as well as what unites them, delving into the close-knit interactions and often isolationist perspectives that accommodate each other so uniquely and much more, anyone involved in the metal scene can recognise their own relationship with extreme metal in the book, as well as understand the bigger picture. Neuro/Vision Extra: Extreme Metal As the first book-length academic study of extreme metal music and culture, Kahn-Harris's Extreme Metal is an important - and overdue - contribution to scholarship in this field. Perfect Beat
About the Author
Dr. Keith Kahn-Harris is an independent scholar, an associate lecturer at the Open University, an associate at the Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths College and a founder of the Centre for New Jewish Thought. His website is www.kahn-harris.org.
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Overall, I would suggest this book to lifelong Hessians, music critics, and people who regularly watch documentaries or read dissertations.
The theoretical argument has to do with the dialectic of the mundane and the transgressive. Transgression is defined as "...the embrace of carnality, allowing humans to 'lose themselves' in the 'totality' -- the infinity of death. Ironically, only through losing themselves in the totality can humans experience 'sovereignty' over their being, escaping everyday utilitarian considerations. Transgression both dissolves and affirms being." (29) Clearly extreme metal attracts listeners and scene participants on the basis of the attraction of transgression.
But Kahn-Harris also pays attention to the mundane world of the scene, the work involved not only in producing the music, but producing fanzines and other key activities. After surveying the scenes in the U.K., Sweden, the U.S., and Israel, he presents his argument, based on Bordieu's concept of cultural capital. He uses the extension of Bordieu to subcultural capital, and analyzes the extreme metal scene in terms of competition for capital:
"Mundane subcultural capital is accrued through a commitment to the collective. In contrast, transgressive subcultural capital is claimed through a radical individualism, through displaying uniqueness and a lack of attachment to the scene. Indeed, transgressive subcultural capital can be claimed through a critique of the scene itself and, by implication, of mundane subcultural capital." (127)
He should know, having been a writer for the U.K.-based "Terrorizer," a metal publication, a position which gave him access to the musicians, a prime location from which to study the global scene. Kahn-Harris proudly maintains that "Terrorizer" introduced a higher critical standard to the scene than had prevailed before its arrival.
So the basic insight, which rings true, is that there is a conservative aspect to the most seemingly radical subculture, with participants defending its principles against perceived attacks. And innovation challenges the conventions, which in turn gives rise to new conventions, and on and on in a spiral.
The other theoretical contribution is the concept of "reflexive anti-reflexivity," which is deployed in an analysis of the reactionary politics of some black metal. The argument, supported by evidence from both interviews and written material, is that for the most part the reactionary politics (pro-national socialist, racist, anti-Semitic, sexist, homophobic) is not naive but rather knowingly ironic, daring critics to act naively outraged while "it's really just a joke." Kahn-Harris is not buying this stance as a justification for the reactionary politics, which is commendable.
In closing, I should mention that the author was attracted to death metal, and that's how he got involved in the music. My interest, in contrast, is in black metal. From what I've heard and seen, death metal doesn't interest me in the slightest. This is a bias of the author's, clearly reflected in his treatment of how U.K. death metal fans find much of black metal to be over-the-top funny. There is no parallel treatment of how the over-the-top gore, guts and death of death metal might be found funny.
As I explore such bands as Wolves In Throne Room and Blut Aus Nord, progressive black metal bands from the U.S. and France respectively, I salute Keith Kahn-Harris for his political intervention and his cultural analysis.
(verified library loan)