Music by VICE

We Asked Diehard Swedish Metalheads What They Consider to be 'Metal'

WE went to the Swedish Gefle Metal Festival, spoke to some die-hards, and collected the Big Data on religion, non-metal music, and fruit.

by Theo Hagman Rogowski; photos by Hampus Andersson; translated by Melina McCormack
Aug 19 2017, 9:22am

All photos by Hampus Andersson

This article originally appeared on Noisey Germany.

I used to play in a metal band as a tender, bright-eyed teen. Back in the day, my bandmates stopped me from buying a yellow hat at the last minute because it wasn't metal. The question has never left me: What is metal and what isn't? I recently went to the Swedish Gefle Metal Festival to finally get some answers to this question. During interviews with roughly 50 participants, I discovered—among other things—that the majority of them agreed with my former bandmates: The color yellow is not metal.

By contrast, these festival goers had metal all over their faces: Roughly 66.6 percent of them sported a thick beard. I quickly realized how important and metal it is to know about, first and foremost, metal. But to also have a working understanding of metal-affiliated topics like religion, history, swords, death, dragons, and meat. If you can effectively trump another person's knowledge of these topics, you get metal cred. While this may sound reminiscent of the hipster mentality, don't be fooled—metal culture is stable, and doesn't blow like a flag in the wind and reinvent itself every Wednesday.

The occasional pissing contest of expert knowledge is also pretty metal. But generally, these festival goers are endearing nerds with a slightly daunting façade who can survive with minimal intellectual and emotional stimulation. The music almost entirely satisfies those needs, but community is just as important in metal culture.

So, I stepped into this mysterious world of smoke, beer, blood, and guttural screams. Here's what I found:

No religion is as metal as...

Satanism (34%)
Nobody is as metal as Satan. He's so often described as the driving force in so many different contexts throughout the genre that we can confidently deem him the greatest muse of all. The devil even has his own musical interval, the tritone.

Asatru/Neopaganism (30%)
For those who aren't as down with Satanism, Asatru—also known as Heathenry or Germanic Neopaganism—provides a nice alternative that perfectly aligns with conventional metal themes. After all, the Vikings were pagans, and their flowing hair, thick beards, and battle axes are unequivocally metal. Even the TV show, Vikings, was mentioned on several occasions. Amon Amarth, arguably the most well known Viking Metalers, were among the headliners at Gefle, so it's safe to say there were some modern Vikings who participated in my study.

Atheism/Non-religious (17%)
A decent percentage of participants don't want metal to be defined by ideologies that just aren't metal. After all, metal is metal and nothing else.

No animal is as metal as...

The Goat (30%)
Goats have beards and horns—and, as it turns out—are totally awesome metal singers. Eliphas Levis illustrated Baphomet as a sabbatic goat, and Aleister Crowley's Baphomet of Levi became a central figure within the cosmology of Thelema. The Church of Satan later adopted the Sigil of Baphomet as its official symbol. Based on that objective criteria, that's when the goat officially became metal. This also means that the Swedish city of Gävle, where the festival took place, is the most metal location in the country—maybe even in the entire world, too. Gävle has constructed a giant straw goat every Christmas since 1966 and arsonists usually let the whole thing go up in flames every year. Giant, flaming goats are almost too metal, Sweden.

The Wolf (22%)
The wolf came in second place, taking lead over the cat, the dachshund, and the sloth, who were all tied for third. The dog's wild ancestor isn't just popular in Viking metal and black metal—he also flees whenever he hears Creed's music, which is a pretty damn metal move.

No profession is as metal as...

Any back-breaking trade, but especially forging/welding/construction work/etc. (39%)
What's more metal than heavy machinery, fire, and grime? Some people insisted it was more metal to play metal, but everyone knows that music, much like playing golf, is a paid hobby and not a real job.

No hobby is as metal as...

Playing and/or listening to metal (37%)
See? Like I said, a hobby.

Boozing (24%)
Because every subculture enjoys getting plastered while listening to their favorite music. In this case, even metal is exceptionally unexceptional.

With the exception of metal, no genre is as metal as...


Classical music (30%)
When Beethoven composed Symphony No. 5, he birthed the oldest and most traditional metal-riff. Edvard Grieg was also pretty metal, considering he set Ibsen's play Peer Gynt to music—and that was about trolls. Additionally, classical musicians always seem to dress up like vampires from horror movies, drink red wine, and drain the life out of you by being simultaneously condescending and uninteresting. They subjugate themselves to a severe-looking ruler with an awe-inspiring stick and obsessively shred every day. Overall, high-grade metal. Strings and wind instruments like to be inserted in certain metal sub-genres and, once in a while, larger bands make the mistake of performing with an entire orchestra.

No food is as metal as...

Alcohol (100%), specifically beer (88%)
Do you see someone drinking beer? Is that person wearing camo shorts or a kilt with a black band t-shirt? Don't hesitate: Salute them with your miniature pitchfork made of French fries to identify yourself as a fellow metalhead, and then headbang away. Maybe they'll even invite you to drink with them.

Meat (63%)
Blood, death, burning. Meat is nature's metal. Even the simple act of eating is metal. As this Tumblr user explains, "Eating is so badass. I mean, you put something in a cavity where you smash it and destroy it with 32 protruding bones and then a meat tentacle pushes it into a pool of acid and after a few hours you absorb its essence and transform it into energy just wow."

No fruit is as metal as...

No fruit at all (41%)
"Even the thought of describing fruit as being metal is wrong," one pollster curtly replied when I asked which fruit was the most metal. Another one said, "Fruit has to do with God, and God is bad." Someone else retorted, "I haven't eaten any fruit since I was five years old." Maybe this staunch rejection of fruit is somehow related to the aforementioned ideological freedom? Case in point: There's such a thing as Fruitarianism.

Bananas (14%)
This year, former bandmates of the Swedish band Ghost brought forth a lawsuit against the current frontman, Papa Emeritus. The court documents reveal that these sinister-looking masked performers are actually humans like the rest of us: The defamatory points of contention range from inadequate laundry facilities to rogue bananas (one member of the crew is allergic). If bananas have the power to destroy a band's image, perhaps they also qualify as being metal.

Blood oranges (11%)
Blood is obviously metal and, as fans and musicians alike know, the "orange grip" is one of the distinguishing features of the genre.

No color is as metal as...

Black (77%)
Yeah, we all saw it coming. Even people who consider Creed heavy metal think black is the most metal color. I really only wanted to see if other colors stood a chance. Yellow, for example.

Red (12%)

Red is metal because blood is metal. Further evidence of this: The red blood pigment hemoglobin is a metalloprotein.

Yellow (<2%)
I ended up buying a black hat with red designs, back then. Per the results of my study, this was an acceptable choice. A yellow hat in and of itself wouldn't have been metal, but maybe Bathory's satanic goat could have saved it.

No politician or political party is as metal as...

None (68%)
Political parties aren't metal.

Leif Pagrotsky (9%)

When the Swedish social democrat and Minister of Culture, Leif Pagrotsky, went to see Dissection live in 2005, he became "Leffe" to his metal-loving compatriots. Since he's only about 5'3", a helpful circus artist put him on her shoulders so he could have a better view. To this day, he is an honorary member of a death metal study group in Linköping, and Leffe's legend continues to live on in Gävle.

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