Cannibal Corpse
Photo: Frank Hoensch (Getty Images)

Before people starting shifting the blame onto video games, violence among teenagers used to be blamed on metal music. Fretting parents assumed that if you listened to music with aggressively violent lyrics you would inevitably act aggressively violent. Over the years, numerous studies have proven this thinking to be flawed. But, recently, psychologist William Forde Thompson has begun to question why people enjoy aggressive sub-genres like death metal in the first place. His new report on the subject includes some surprising discoveries.

According to a summary of the study in Scientific American, Thompson surveyed 48 self-described death metal fans and 97 non-fans. He employed a number of psychological tests to measure their general empathy level as well as their openness to experience, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism. He then had them listen to some samples of death metal music, including songs like “Slowly We Rot” by Obituary, “Waiting for the Screams” by Autopsy, and “Hammer Smashed Face” by Cannibal Corpse. What Thompson found was that fans of death metal reported experiencing feelings of “empowerment, joy, peace, and transcendence” while listening to the music rather than the expected feelings of anger or tension.

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Non-fans were actually the ones left feeling angry, with one such participant describing the music as sounding like “messed-up teenagers making throaty, irritating noises about how bad their lives are.” While Thompson is willing to admit that a study that relies on self-reporting is far from conclusive, he does think this sharp divide between fans and non-fans is part of the appeal of death metal. Heavy metal fans like to feel like non-conformists, and if the brutal lyrics and pounding blast beats keep mainstream music fans at a distance, so much the better.

You can read a full breakdown of Thompson’s report here.