Heavy Metal Rituals and the Civilising Process

Gary Sinclair, Dublin Institute of Technology

Document Type Conference Paper

Sinclair, G. (2010) ‘Heavy metal rituals and the civilising process’, Can I Play with Madenss? Metal, Dissonance, Madness and Alienation. Prague 8th November, 2010.

This paper was subsequently published in

Sinclair, G. (2011). Heavy metal rituals and the civilising process. In C.A Mc Kinnon, N. Scott & K. Sollee (eds.), Can I Play with Madness? Metal, Dissonance, Madness and Alienation (pp. 93-100). Inter-Disciplinary Press. Retrieved March 23, 2011, from http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/publishing/id-press/ebooks/can-i-play-with-madness/.


Following an empirical qualitative study which incorporated semi-structured depth interviews and participant observation it was found that heavy metal fans in Ireland use heavy metal music in a similar fashion. Initial data suggests that the heavy metal fans are drawn to the excitement of the music because of their anger towards the repetitiveness and routinisation of popular music and their own everyday lives and social relationships. The music provides a cathartic release for the fans. The live event is a unique structure where fighting and violence can occur in what is seen as a „controlled de-controlling of emotions‟. This is subject to external controls such as the pace of the music, security, and internal controls with the unwritten code of behaviour facilitating the survival of the mosh pit. It is argued that the distinctive configuration of the heavy metal ritual does not represent an example of a de-civilising process but is indicative of a more complex progression which Wouters refers to as „informalisation‟. This research is unique in that no previous study has examined the consumption of heavy metal music from a figurational perspective and it opens up a new framework for examining music subcultures.