Heaviness in Metal Music Production: Investigating Complexities through Practice

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Metal music culture has been examined from numerous perspectives that highlight the specifics of local scenes and the global commonalities that apply to most (or all) metal. Scene conventions, expressions of fandom and musical characteristics may differ for metal music emanating from various parts of the world, but, for the majority of listeners, one element unites them all: metal is supposed to be ‘heavy’. Although it is generally acknowledged that metal has been on a constant quest for greater heaviness since its inception (see, e.g., Berger 1999 and Berger & Fales 2005; Turner 2009; Smialek 2015; Williams 2015; Mynett 2017; Herbst 2018; Thomas & King 2019), heaviness can take various forms within and outside of the music itself, and importantly, is still a relatively little-understood quality.

This presentation is based on a three-year funded research project (www.himmp.net) that investigates how perceptual heaviness in recorded form can be achieved in metal music production. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate the various technical and aesthetic complexities of producing heaviness in recorded metal through a combination of systematic musical analysis informed by relevant literature (e.g., Turner 2009; Vento 2009; Thomas 2015; Williams 2015; Mynett 2017; Herbst & Mynett 2021a, 2021b, 2023) and the practical experience of writing, recording and producing a metal song, building on the flourishing field of the art of record production (Frith & Zagorski-Thomas 2012; Zagorski-Thomas et al. 2020).

Firstly, the presentation introduces and discusses the musical features of heaviness that result from the interaction of musical composition/arrangement, performance practices and performances themselves. Significantly though, the creation of heaviness is drastically shaped by production decisions that add an aesthetic, or even social, component to the equation. To understand the real-life complexities of producing heaviness, we worked with metal musicians playing in known bands like Cradle of Filth or My Dying Bride to compose and record a 6-minute-long metal song that moves through various metal subgenres and requires multiple production adjustments for technical and aesthetic reasons. In contrast to a standard musicological approach that can only compare finished, released songs, our experimental design using a practice-led research methodology (see Smith & Dean 2009; Nelson 2013; Dogantan-Dack 2015) allows for greater attention to detail, comparability and the opportunity for the audience to experience first-hand the impact of production decisions.

The analysis will not only be based on our own professional experience as metal music producers and that of our collaborating musicians. The centre of the three-year research project is to document and compare how leading metal producers produce our original track. Although the data collection phase will not be fully completed at the time of presentation, our work-in-progress observations will already feed into the analysis of the complexities and methodologies surrounding the production of heaviness.
Period7 Jun 2022
Event titleHeavy Metal Music in the Global South: Multiregional perspectives: International Society for Metal Music Studies 5th Biennial Research Conference
Event typeConference
Conference number5
LocationMexico, MexicoShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational