March 3, 2014

Ask a Metalhead: Is Metal Elitist?

Ask a Metalhead

Dear Steff Metal

Love your blog! I’m a younger hesher (15) and I’m trying to learn everything I can about metal, the different genres, and listen to all the “essential” albums. The thing is, any time I try to talk to other metalheads, either at shows or online, they act really superior. I get shot down for having an opinion on anything. It seems as if you can’t be a true hesher unless you’ve liked this music since you were three. Are all metalheads elitist?



Deal with it.


metal elitism meme

Sorry, that was probably not a very useful answer.

This topic has been coming up in conversation and on metal blogs a lot lately, not sure why. So I figure it’s probably time I had a little chat about it here.

What is Elitism?

Elitism is an important part of any social group. In simplistic terms, it comes about because humans automatically like to sort themselves into heirarchies, and then constantly strive to move up the heirarchy. And those at the top are trying to keep themselves there. This is called social stratification.

Any society has an elite – even communists and anarchists and other models that strive for ultimate equality. The elite come either from pre-determined societal rules (such as being born into certain families, having certain professions, or living in a certain location) or entry into the elite is earned through feats of bravery, strength or wit.

The elite in a particular society get the best resources, and often their opinions are weighted more highly in matters of politics or resource-management. Those in the elite have a greater influence or authority within the community.

This is an overly simplistic anthropological/socialogical evaluation, and is not based on philosophical views of elitism, since that is not my area of expertise, and I’m not going to pretend it is.

How does Elitism Manifest in the Metal Community?

If you view metal as a subculture, the community as a whole conforms to the rules of a society. This means, there is an elite – a class of people who have more authority based on the perception that they hold more value to the society as a whole. Since the metal community holds little interest for monetary wealth (except in its relation to how many metal t-shirts it can buy you), the markers of the metal elitists are very different:

  • Usually, they are older fans who have been in the community for longer.
  • Usually, they are deeply involved in the community on a high level, perhaps as a touring musician, a producer, a promoter, or a writer or blogger who is helping to spread the word about music.
  • Usually, they have extremely diverse tastes, not just within metal but in music in general.
  • Usually, they place a lot of emphasis on knowing a lot of trivia about a huge range of bands.
  • And usually, they will act like complete douches to younger members of the subculture.

Is This A Problem?

I don’t reckon it is. Why? Well, first of all, crying about someone being mean to you or talking down to you because you’ve never heard of The Ocean isn’t going to get rid of metal elitism. Secondly, because we’ve all been on the receiving end of someone who thinks they’re better than us for whatever reason, and the best way to deal with that shit is to either ignore it or to learn more until you’re an elitist yourself.

Metal is a fandom, and fandom is all about elitism. We’re an exclusive club. You’ve got to like metal to be a metalhead, to even want to be a metalhead. It’s not exactly something you aspire to be, you know? But we’re proud to be in this club. We’re fiercely protective of it. We’re habitually terrified it will get invaded by “the mainstream” (whatever that is) and all the awesomeness will get sucked right out of it. The elite see it as their personal responsibility to protect the subculture from that.

What’s cool about being part of a subculture is that, generally speaking, it’s possible for any member of the subculture to become part of the elite. The barriers to entry are accessible to anyone – simply being a fan, being involved, being present, will eventually get you there. You don’t have to be born into a certain family, possess impossible wealth, or have a certain skin colour in order to get major metal scene points.

So that’s rad.

You are 15, which is literally half my age. Remember that when you’re talking to other metalheads – just because we like the same music doesn’t mean we’ve going to have anything in common with a 15 year old. This may be a much larger part of your issue than perceived “elitism”.

What do you do about other metalheads being dicks to you?

  • Accept that, at age 15, you are probably going to be seen as annoying for at least 3 more years.
  • Don’t take everything so personally. Don’t assume someone is
  • Ignore them. Some people are just dicks.
  • Work on your critical discussion skills. Don’t insult other’s favourite bands/albums, as they tend to respond in kind. Focus less on talking about whether something is or is not metal, or what genre it’s in, and more on what you like/dislike about it and how it stands up against other artists/albums. Accept that taste in music is subjective.
  • Learn more. Listen to more music. Go to more shows. Eventually, you’ll just become “part of the scene” yourself.

Metal Elitist Resources

This was just my thoughts on the subject of elitism in metal music. I’d be very interested in hearing yours. Please sound off in the comments!

8 Comments on “Ask a Metalhead: Is Metal Elitist?

March 4, 2014 at 3:50 pm

You’ll find elitism in every social circle of your life, online gaming, work and your metal-head friends, what your dealing with now is the mere start of the rabbit hole.

Some elitism in my opinion is mostly people’s opinion and their desire to make others share the same opinion, in our group of head bangers (Steff included) all share very very different views on the genres of metal we each love, some are really opinionated, and will shoot you down at any mention of lets say doom metal “the drumline is too slow, yada yada yada…”

Remember opinions are like ass-holes every one has one.

You’ll discover others that share the same opinions, as for those who shot me down, I took it with a grain of salt, like Steff said don’t take it personally :)

You’ll be pressed on other forms of people expressing their leet’ness, some really force it down that they’re more metal-head than you, because they’ve been to this many concerts, they’ve groupied with band XYZ, they own this much swag… You got to ask your self, do you care?.?. Personally, I don’t, their elitism does not phase me :)

March 5, 2014 at 4:10 pm

@BarendB – is completely right. Elitism isn’t reserved for metal at all. Writing, martial arts, archaeology … everything I’ve ever done, there has always been the “cool kids”. I’ve never been one of them. It used to bother me. Now, like B says, it doesn’t. I figure, eh, like what you like. If someone disagrees with you, that’s cool. They like what they like. People are vocal about what they like – I love that. It’s like door-to-door metal band conversion. Let’s all have a 2 hour discussion about whether BM has got crap or not. I’m game! (This is why I love our friends so much, so many diverse tastes/experiences).

I used to get a bit of stick when I was younger and getting into metal, probably because I was a) a total dweeb and b) didn’t know what I was talking about. I find I see this a lot less nowadays, although that’s probably because now I am old. Still a dweeb, but maybe it’s less obvious.

March 4, 2014 at 3:14 pm

This is weird, I’m only five years older than the guy who sent the question, but I don’t recall ever meeting as so-called metal elitist. Not in face to face at least, maybe in internet. I know they exist though, but I think they are rarer than you make it look like. I went to my first Tuska when I was 16 and nobody ever said a word about my age or about the fact that I was just getting into metal.
Now that I’m 20, I have played guitar for four years, learned to growl, written album reviews for over an year and listened to shitload of metal and rock, I don’t feel like I’m better than those who are just getting to know their first metal bands. I rarely even mention those things, because I don’t feel the need to do so unless the topic of discussion is closely releated to them.

March 5, 2014 at 4:15 pm

@JypeK – Definitely on the internet! I think that’s just an internet thing, though. You have these strange encounters that would never occur in real life because social conditioning can get stripped away when you’re behind a keyboard. In real life you don’t see it as much, but I remember how hard it was to talk to other metalheads at shows, worrying about sounding like a dumbass for liking this or that.

I’ve seen a bit of this in my life (probably moreso for being a girl than for being young and dweebish), been on both sides of it, but I definitely don’t think it’s as common as people THINK it is. Most people, I find, are of the “If you like metal, you’re my friend” kind of mentality, although there will always be some good-natured ribbing about bands that some like and some think are shite. But the dude wanted some advice, so there we go :)

Dave Snell
March 4, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Really enjoyed this – agree with pretty much everything said above. Although I don’t think subcultures necessarily remove prejudices towards things such as ethnicity (see Laina Dawes book ‘What are you doing here?’ about being an African-American metalhead). Also thought an interesting take on it, if people are interested and haven’t read it already, Paul Hodkinson’s description of “Gothier than thou Syndrome” (such a cool name) in his book ‘Goth’.

To be honest I find elitists amusing. I frequently have people try to ‘out metal’ me, and find the experience entertaining. My reaction tends to be to mess with people and start making up band names.

March 5, 2014 at 4:23 pm

@Dave – you’re entirely correct, of course. Being part of a subculture does not automatically remove prejudices – humans are human, after all. Can’t undo racial/ethnic hate/bigotry/general bastardness with a few chants of “Slayeerrrrrr!” Laina’s book is a particularly good example of this. I really enjoyed the Global Metal documentary by Banger Films for some more insight into this – you had the Indian bands, who had hindu, Jew, Christian, all in the same band, and it didn’t matter that they were different because the music united them. And then the Jewish bands and the Indonesian musicians and fans, that had a lot of hatred.

There was a great post on the Your Band Sucks section of Something Awful a few years ago, about how to deal with music elitists. It always made me giggle:

Found it!

Stumbling in the Dark
March 3, 2014 at 3:47 pm

There’s a flip side to this experience – when you get to be an older metalhead, you’ll be at a show talking to some guy who’s younger than your leather jacket, and you’ll rattle off the names of a few of your favorite bands, and get a blank look. What goes around comes around.

On the more serious side, though I think it’s important to respect the work that goes into developing a huge and varied knowledge of metal (our ‘cultural capital’, if you will), I don’t think there’s any need to be a douche about it. (At least if the less knowledgeable person didn’t start it by being a douche first.) There’s always someone who knows more than I do, so I try to treat the less-experienced folks the way I’d like to be treated. A little less, “What? How do you not know this?” and a little more, “Oh, wow, you have got some great stuff to discover.”

That quibble aside, your practical advice is spot on.

March 4, 2014 at 2:31 pm

@Stumbling – I completely agree with both your points, especially the “don’t be a douche” aspect. In fact, that’s pretty good general life advice we should all try to follow.

Comments are closed.