Metal Music in the Federal Republic of Germany in the 1980s and 1990s
: Record Production, Industry, and Heritage

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

This commentary and the associated portfolio of publications examine the two formative decades of metal music in the Federal Republic of Germany in the 1980s and 1990s from a production perspective. A multi-methodical and mixed-data research design is used, combining qualitative interviews and document and music analyses. The scope is narrowed to three areas: 1) the sonic signatures of German metal compared to foreign productions (mainly from the UK and USA); 2) the business and recording infrastructure of German metal production; 3) the heritage and cultural preservation of recorded metal music in Germany.

Re 1) The research proposes that German metal has a sonic, yet vaguely defined, signature, given the complexity of such an attribution. Apart from the detailed nuances that distinguish German metal from other parts of the world, further musical factors like the individual styles of bands and genre conventions are shown to play a significant role. Through interviews, it is demonstrated that even producers who have been instrumental in the first three decades of German metal find it challenging to define a German metal signature and differ in their views. As to what influences the perception and discourse of place or culture-specific sounds, they highlight further contextual aspects potentially more significant than auditory perception, such as imagined communities, myths, symbols, and historically developed stereotypes.

Re 2) The research examines the production landscape of early (West) German metal music. It proposes that common depictions in journalistic media fall short, limiting German metal history to a few independent record companies (Noise, Steamhammer, Nuclear Blast, Century Media) and producers (e.g., Harris Johns). The publications portfolio confirms a significant contribution of these actors, but for early metal to flourish, the development relied on a more extensive network of record companies, distributors, managers, and recordists. It is shown that German subcultural rock and metal production was historically disadvantaged against the dominant Anglo-American markets. However, as the research demonstrates, the scene’s persistence and community-oriented ethos eventually advanced Germany to a considerable production location for German and foreign metal bands.

Re 3) The research reflects on the need to preserve the heritage of metal music as part of German national culture. It examines the tendency that music producers and studio owners do not consider artefacts used or created when producing a record worthy of heritage, believing these mainly serve the nostalgic interests of those involved in the process. According to them, what should be preserved is the released record as the most relevant contribution to metal culture. That is why recordists have taken on audio preservation, which is typically the responsibility of record companies, to prevent cultural artefacts from being lost. The research wishes to draw attention to the risk of losing audio and other material artefacts from the genre’s production, aiming to stimulate reflection and encourage preservative action.
Date of Award22 Nov 2024
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMonty Adkins (Main Supervisor) & Bryn Harrison (Co-Supervisor)

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