Brown, A.R (2015) Metal genre nomenclature: etymology vs. genealogy approaches to the naming of thrash, death and black metal. In: Mind Over Metal: Metal Music and Culture from a Cross-Disciplinary Perspective, 3 - 4 December 2015, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark.


How do music genres get their names? Or rather why does one term succeed while others fade into memory? This question is especially important in relation to heavy metal, which has spawned more sub-genres than possibly any other popular music style. It is also important because definitional and classificatory discourses follow rather than precede such symbolic events. This paper will argue that the solidification of a genre name is the result of a process, involving actors, agents and institutions, whose interactions are decisive in determining how scene-based slang and argot is selected and rejected in successful genre-nomenclature: focussing on the naming of thrash, death and black metal. There are two contrasting approaches to how this process can be studied. Etymology searches for original meanings or ‘generic birthdays’, allowing before and after comparisons. Genealogy looks for evidence of ‘discursive shifts’ as one particular term proliferates at the expense of once competing others. While etymological enquiry seeks to evaluate the retrospective testimony of scene-participants, including mangers, musicians and mediators (such as radio DJs, club-owners and fanzine-writers), genealogy points to periods of terminological-repetition and inter-reference, typically to be found in the context of music journalism, from ‘zines to the metal music press. Applying these approaches to our chosen genres reveals a history of erroneous claims and counter-claims of authorship, amidst competing terms, such as speed metal, power metal, maxi-metal, metallic mayhem, black metallic death, hardcore metal, satanic metal, total thrash, thrashus maximus, speed/black metal, demonic and blood metal! What I will argue is that, like heavy metal before it, the naming of the thrash, death and black metal genres, emerges from a critical dissensus amongst music writers reacting to the ‘noise’ of new styles, largely emerging within the same post-NWOBHM period. However, unlike heavy metal, coined by US rock critics in reference to mainly British bands, the naming of thrash, death and black metal styles, is largely the work of metal music journalists writing for competitor UK hard rock ‘n’ metal magazines, notably Kerrang! and Metal Forces, often bidding more successfully to name emerging styles than US scene-based fanzines (such as Metal Mania and Metal Rendezvous), because of greater circulation. However, what is at the centre of the critical dissensus (within the consensus that coheres the ‘metal press’ as a whole) is whether such styles should be accepted as belonging to the heavy metal genre or not.

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Divisions: College of Liberal Arts
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Date Deposited: 25 Aug 2016 09:08
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