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Music as Transgression: Masking and Sonic Abjection in Norwegian Black Metal

Steinken, Woodrow (2018) Music as Transgression: Masking and Sonic Abjection in Norwegian Black Metal. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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In the late 1980s, the Second Wave of black metal was founded in Norway by the band Mayhem. This heavy metal scene was populated by bands such as Emperor, Darkthrone, Burzum, Gorgoroth, and Satyricon. These bands performed chaotic music, often setting lyrics with themes of Satanism, anti-Christianity, murder, rape, and torture. Extremely fast or slow tempos, unusual song structures, distortion, and lo-fi sound quality distinguished the scene stylistically from other European and American heavy metals. The individuals who created this music did so under the disguise of masks: pseudonyms and corpsepaint, a makeup style that makes one look like a corpse. Members of black metal bands also engaged in extremely violent and criminal activities, including burning churches, murdering strangers and friends for various reasons, and committing suicide.
This thesis explores the connections between the music and the transgressions of this music subculture, with masking at the intersection between the two. Masking in black metal leads to the creation of a new persona, the “black metal double.” This double is the splitting of subjectivity between personal and public personas that black metal musicians enable through masking. The space between the two personas of the black metal musician is navigated by the voice. The black metal scream that splits and fuses the subjectivities also signifies the bodily and emotional pain of this process.
This bifurcated existence predicates an alternate, abject mode of being for black metal performers. Masking becomes a theoretical means for living two lives: one as private citizens and the other as black metal musicians who transgress criminal and musical limits. This abjection, however, is politicized and aestheticized in the acts of music and crime. The masked lives of these black metal musicians often represent dead beings, and it is through this performance of non-existence that political impossibilities and abjections become possible and lived. By collapsing the boundaries between abjection and subjection, as well as musical and non-musical life, black metal musicians create new spaces of political and cultural meaning-making through masking.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Steinken, Woodrowwjs40@pitt.eduwjs40
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairRoot,
Committee MemberCassaro,
Committee MemberBloechl,
Date: 14 June 2018
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 28 March 2018
Approval Date: 14 June 2018
Submission Date: 2 April 2018
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 82
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Music
Degree: MA - Master of Arts
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: black metal, masking, abjection, transgression
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2018 14:28
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2018 14:28


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