1- Unlimited Semiosis: An Unending Chain of Associations in Extreme Metal - Eric Smialek, McGill University
This presentation traces common aesthetic threads that influence fans’ perceptions of meaning within two extreme-metal subgenres: death metal and black metal. Beginning with two corpus analyses of album reviews and lyrics, I present a semi-automated counting system for discovering which adjectives occur most often in amateur reviews of recordings as well as which uncommon English words appear frequently in lyrics. In addition to some surprises that raise questions about outlier features, a clearer picture emerges of the genres’ most important aesthetic distinctions. I argue that, in different ways, black metal and death metal draw heavily on nineteenth-century notions of the sublime. Citing examples of album artwork taken from nineteenth-century paintings by Caspar David Friedrich and John Martin as well as woodcut engravings from centuries earlier, I elaborate on ways that these sources of inspiration variously inform distinctions between “raw” and “symphonic” subdivisions of black metal as well as the genre’s affiliations with social Darwinism. Finally, I demonstrate how even seemingly incidental texts such as t-shirts, band fonts, and logos participate within these symbolic systems of meaning, allowing fans to quickly recognize aesthetic distinctions in their daily encounters with music merchandise.