Owen Coggins (Brunel University, UK)


Extreme metal music is intensely invested in questions of identity and ideology, deploying extremism in symbolism as well as sound. Part of a project concerning ambiguity, controversy and ideology in black metal, this presentation assesses intersecting identities (local, regional, national, also metal- and subgenre-related) at three London extreme metal festivals in February 2020: Finnfest, Cataleptic Rites, and Black Death Plague.

Finnfest foregrounds nationality of the Finnish bands playing, while the official ‘preparty’ gig features bands from Finland, Ireland, England and Scotland, identified with national flags behind their band logos on the event flyer. Though presented as ‘a collection of the finest Finnish death metal bands’, the line-up contains bands that represent other subgenres such as funeral doom and black metal. Cataleptic Rites is described in terms of esoteric effects on listeners as a ‘thematically curated lineup, designed to induce a trance-like catharsis. Your limbs will seize. Your mind will crumble’. Mostly black metal bands will perform, from the orthodox to the experimental fringes of the subgenre, with flyers noting which bands will play debut or exclusive UK shows. Finally, Black Death Plague is described as ‘2 days ov Black Metal Hell’ [sic], listing the bands’ nationalities and advertising that tickets have been sold to fans in thirteen countries.

Ethnographic participant observation will take place at each festival, with analysis of online discussion before and after, drawing on several years of prior fieldwork at extreme metal events in London, and extensive discourse analysis of print zines and social media groups. Given discursive conventions relating to music, transgression and the body, for instance the oppositional but approving rhetorics of mental derangement and bodily damage, the presentation will explore overlapping constructions of national/local and subcultural/musical identities in relation to wider undergrounds, and how these ideological formations relate to the experience of extreme sounds.