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Multi­discipli­nary & Innovative Courses


2017 – Heavy Metal Music in Contemporary History and Society


Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies, University of Helsinki


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Paolo Ribaldini

Heavy Metal Music in Contemporary History and Society

Target students

The course aims to be as multidisciplinary as possible, encouraging collaboration between students from different academic backgrounds. The ideal candidates are advanced Bachelor’s or Master’s students of musical practice, musicology, social studies, semiotics, cultural studies, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, language studies, gender studies and pedagogy.

Familiarity with music theory is considered an asset, but is not mandatory. The teaching methods involve team-working within the class, so that single disciplinary gaps can be amended by cooperation. The course will be divided into groups of 4–6 students at the beginning of the course, so that the groups will have a broad range of competences.

Part of the course work includes giving a presentation, so a certain familiarity with the use of the English language is recommended.


This course explores the development of the popular music style of Heavy Metal. The primary focus will be on the musical elements of the genre, its historical features and its relation to contemporary Western society. The final part of the course will focus on Finland, where HM is particularly successful and characterises musical culture more than in other European or non-European countries.

Learning objectives

The students will appreciate the importance of heavy metal music in Western musical culture, its historical development and the characteristics of the subculture related to the music. This subculture is particularly strong in Finland, and Finnish HM is recognised worldwide as a key manifestation of this musical style. The students will also achieve competences in music theory, sociology of music, music semiotics and cultural studies. Furthermore, the course gives them a solid basis to critically understand popular music genres other than HM.

Course format and teaching methods

Lectures, multimedia material (musical examples, films, documentaries), workshop/seminar activities, group discussions. Classes take place five days a week, from Monday to Friday.

During the lectures (provisionally 9.00–11.00), the teacher discusses the history of HM and its interaction with society and other fields of culture. The teaching methods are:

  • Reading and commenting on course material (e.g. books, articles), or commenting on previously assigned readings.
  • Viewing/listening and commenting on multimedia material.
  • Class discussion.

After the lunch break, the course continues with workshop/seminar activities focused on group work (provisionally at 12.00–14.00). This includes:

  • Analysis of readings and audio/video examples about specific topics proposed by the teacher. The group work results in writings or slide presentations to be discussed in front of the class. Assignments outside the classes are meant to be worked on mainly in teams.
  • Seminar meetings with musicians or experts in the field of HM studies (see ‘Lecturers and teachers’).
  • Screening of the documentary movie series “The Pioneers of LA Hard Rock & Metal” and “The LA Metal scene explodes”, kindly provided by Mr Bob Nalbandian.
  • Once/twice (max.): attendance in the evening at a medium/major HM concert. This is subject to events taking place in Helsinki at the time and on the ticket price (roughly €15–30).

Means and criteria of assessment

Exam at the end of the course.
Group work.

The number of credits is counted as follows:

  • 4 hrs of classes x 5 days/week x 3 weeks = 60 hrs
  • about 2 hrs of individual/group work outside classes x 5 days/week x 3 weeks = 30 hrs
  • preliminary readings and final essay = about 45 hrs
    TOTAL = 135 hrs (5 ETCS, if 1 ECTS = 27 hrs work)

Guest Lecturers

Prof. Deena Weinstein (Lecture via Skype)
Tarja Turunen (Lecture will probably take place via Skype. This will be confirmed later.)
Mr. Douglas Blair Lucek (Guitarist from W.A.S.P.)
Dr. Toni-Matti Karjalainen
Dr. Esa Lilja
MA Kristian Wahlström
MA Susanna Mesiä

Course Schedule

Location: City Centre Campus

Monday August 7, 2017   Arrival in Helsinki

Tuesday August 8, 2017  HSS Opening ceremony & Welcome Party (afternoon)

Wednesday August 9, 2017
Practicalities, course introduction
Summary of contents and methodology (a scientific approach to heavy metal)
Purposes of the course
Teacher’s introduction
Instructions for the readings and individual work
Students’ round of presentations

Thursday August 10, 2017
Before heavy metal
The historical and socio-cultural setting at the origins of Heavy Metal music
‘Hard rock’ or ‘heavy metal’?
The decline of the hippie sub-culture and the political changes at the end of the 1960s

The first steps of heavy metal and its extra-musical main characteristics
Rise of the HM sub-culture
Pessimistic and critical attitude towards politics and humanity
Working-class, masculinity, and anti-patriarchy
Interest in sci-fi, mythology, and occultism

Friday August 11, 2017
The musical influences of early heavy metal
Led Zeppelin: blues and jazz influences
Deep Purple: classical influences in heavy metal music

Monday August 14, 2017
Elements of musical novelty: power-chords and multiple soloists
Black Sabbath: power-chord harmony in HM
Judas Priest: dual twin guitars and the role of the soloist
Sci-fi, occultism and other borderline extra-musical references

Changes and division in 1980s heavy metal
Political and social changes in USA and Europe
Development of TV as a musical mass media: birth of MTV in 1981
Fragmentation of the genre in the 1980s into different sub-genres:

  • classic HM
  • extreme metal
  • pop metal
  • (NWOBHM)

Tuesday August 15, 2017
Musical characteristics, similarities to and differences from traditional HM
The influence of punk music
Social and political involvement

USA: the San Francisco Bay Area and the East Coast (Metallica, Megadeth, Exodus, Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, Overkill, Slayer, Death Angel, Testament, etc.)
German-area thrash: Sodom, Destruction, Kreator, Coroner
Other geographical areas: Britain (Onslaught, Sabbat), Brazil (Sepultura)

Group work

Wednesday August 16, 2017
Other forms of extreme metal
Black metal, its areas of development and crime problems within the scene
Death and doom metal

Group work

Thursday August 17, 2017
Classic HM and New Wave of British HM
Old band from the 1970s continue their careers
NWOBHM, its brief life span and its legacy: what it was about
Neoclassical metal and guitar heroes: Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen, etc.

Friday August 18, 2017
Pop metal (AOR)
Consequences on the commercial appeal of heavy metal; heavy as mainstream music
Pop metal as expression of the consumerist culture of the 1980s
In USA: Whitesnake, Journey, Poison, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Guns’n’Roses, etc.
In Europe: Europe, Gary Moore, Def Leppard, etc.
Attacks from politics and media, e.g. the PMRC etc.

Monday August 21, 2017
The 1990s and temporary decline
Further diversification of the three main sub-genres
Rise of Grunge (polemical attitude towards the music industry) and temporary decline of some genres of heavy metal
Crossovers, e.g. nu metal
The many forms of extreme metal: Black metal, its areas of development and crime problems within the scene; Death and doom metal

Tuesday August 22, 2017
The 2000s and 2010s. Splitting into national scenes and traditions
Decline of music industry, changing recording processes and distribution channels
Is contemporary HM an expression of contemporary society?
The future of heavy metal
Metal and academia

Wednesday August 23, 2017
Metal in Finland
Origins and development
Economically successful bands: Stratovarius, HIM, Children of Bodom, Nightwish
Other internationally recognized Finnish acts: Sonata Arctica, Insomnium, Finntroll, Ensiferum, Tarot, and many others.

Thursday 24, 2017
Final wrap-up

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