Tag Archive: International Society for the Study of Metal Music (ISMMS


Header_DenigrataA Lecturer in Popular Music at a British Higher Education institution, Denigrata Herself is undertaking her PhD in women in extreme metal. She is also the front woman/guitarist in Denigrata, an experimental black metal collective. Denigrata have coined the term noir concrête for their music, meaning the avant-garde dark noise initiated by Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen finds a different rhizomatic existence within their contemporary black metal performance space.

Denigrata Herself is a gender theorist whose research and publications to date focus on body performativity, reclamation of female space, tattooing, graphic novels, death metal and black metal. She is part of the International Society for the Study of Metal Music (ISMMS) and sits on various academic and equal rights boards in the UK.

For over a decade she was a lead guitarist in British death metal bands, she was signed to and worked for various independent record labels and now devotes her time to lecturing, researching and performing. She is choir master for her departmental chamber choir and presents annual post-modern renderings of canonical classical pieces with her choir, a string quartet, a contemporary band and Ableton performers.

Denigrata Herself – All for Love: Creativity and Emotional Investment in the Composition Process

July 2015

Is it possible to fall in love with the music you make? This is a question I regularly ask myself. Is it purely a solipsistic endeavour, all bound and tied with arrogance and self-proclamation or is this kind of deep engagement necessary in order to produce work of any serious quality? Anyone musician who feels what they do, and when I say feel, I mean feels an impact that strikes right at the heart of who you are, will understand what I mean. Yet it is very difficult to articulate because music contains an enigma, as the Structural Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss suggests,

Since music is a language with some meaning at least for the immense majority of humankind, although only a tiny minority of people are capable of formulating a meaning in it, and since it is the only language with the contradictory attributes of being at once intelligible and untranslatable, the musical creator is a being comparable to the gods, and music itself the supreme mystery of the science of humanity, a mystery that all the various disciplines come up against and which holds the key to their progress. (http://www.quoteland.com/author/Claude-Levi-Strauss-Quotes/1397/)

He states some pretty significant, albeit lofty sentiments here but knowing whether he is correct or not is another matter. Gauging content is no easy task and surely a vast degree of that decision making process is subjective. Is Lévi-Strauss suggesting that all composers/musicians are comparable to gods or merely some of them…

Social media seems to rather like attempting to compare the lyrical content for example, of say Led Zeppelin against that of Nikki Minaj, suggesting of course that the latter holds little to no true musical qualities against that of former. However, how can we compare the two when their aims are so vastly different? The subjective experience of Plant cannot be compared of Minaj because they are different people with different pressures and experiences so to my mind, regardless of whether you actually like them or not, it is simply irrelevant to attempt this type of comparison. It’s like comparing apples and oranges, fruitless…or something…

However if all artists can fall in love with their creativity, then why wouldn’t they? You could never accuse Kanye for example, for having no passion in his music even if he has a particular disregard or inattentiveness to Queen? And I’m not entirely convinced it is actually the job of the listener to deride or castigate those they simply find no value in, when it is clear that others do.

To be clear, I am only talking of the music. I am not talking about ideological positions or label interests or fiscal incentives. All of these are very separate and problematic issues and muddy the creative engagement, skew the intent and pull things into different realms.

To cut back all of the crap and to solely focus on the musical engagement only, seems to be something that should be the main impetus, but gets side-lined. Whether you are famous or not, whether you are signed, touring, whatever, when it comes down to the substantia of why you write and perform music, it should be because you are in love with it. When you play your music, it should fill every single sense in your body, mind and soul with fire, your entire being should feel like the gods themselves are coursing through your veins and in that singular performance moment, there is nothing else. There is only the music.

I have just finished in the studio with Denigrata and this is exactly how I feel. When I pick up my guitar, I feel the power of the distortion sparking through the ends of my fingers, I feel the scream explode through my body and blast down the mic and I know, as a musician, there is nowhere else I’d rather be. On stage, with Denigrata.

There is a special bond with the people you make music with and it’s something that being a singular artist in previous incarnations, I missed terribly. The members of Denigrata are astonishing, intuitive musicians. They are phenomenal human beings and they know what they’re doing. I trust them. This creates the foundations of creativity because if you don’t trust someone, you will never be able to let your creativity out. We create vistas of beauty and destruction, coexisting in the void that shakes the foundations of reality and mirrors the pain of existence. Lévi-Strauss goes on to suggest,

The musical emotion springs precisely from the fact that at each moment the composer withholds or adds more or less than the listener anticipates on the basis of a pattern that he thinks he can guess, but that he is incapable of wholly divining. If the composer withholds more than we anticipate, we experience a delicious falling sensation; we feel we have been torn from a stable point on the musical ladder and thrust into the void. When the composer withholds less, the opposite occurs: they force us to perform gymnastic exercises more skillful than our own. (http://www.quoteland.com/author/Claude-Levi-Strauss-Quotes/1397/)

And this is exactly the point – attention and connection. If you pay attention and connect with music, then you have discovered something extraordinary, something so special that nobody can take away. The crucible of creativity gives us everything we could ever need and so I urge you, if you feel that creative pulse, that drum beat in the pit of your stomach, listen to it, obey it and let it consume you until it is done. As Bukowski says, ‘when it is truly time, and if you have been chosen, it will do it by itself and it will keep on doing it until you die or it dies in you. There is no other way and there never was.’ (http://www.rebellesociety.com/2012/10/22/writing-lab-advice-from-charles-bukowski/)

Comments are welcome. Denigrata Herself can be contacted at denigrataherself@horizonvumusic.com


Header_DenigrataA Lecturer in Popular Music at a British Higher Education institution, Denigrata Herself is undertaking her PhD in women in extreme metal. She is also the front woman/guitarist in Denigrata, an experimental black metal collective. Denigrata have coined the term noir concrête for their music, meaning the avant-garde dark noise initiated by Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen finds a different rhizomatic existence within their contemporary black metal performance space.

Denigrata Herself is a gender theorist whose research and publications to date focus on body performativity, reclamation of female space, tattooing, graphic novels, death metal and black metal. She is part of the International Society for the Study of Metal Music (ISMMS) and sits on various academic and equal rights boards in the UK.

For over a decade she was a lead guitarist in British death metal bands, she was signed to and worked for various independent record labels and now devotes her time to lecturing, researching and performing. She is choir master for her departmental chamber choir and presents annual post-modern renderings of canonical classical pieces with her choir, a string quartet, a contemporary band and Ableton performers.

Denigrata Herself – Reflections from the Recording Studio

Sorry for my absence of late, Denigrata have been in the recording studio and whilst this process historically has not been something I have enjoyed, this time has been completely different. We opted for Initiate Audio and Media, based in the East Midlands, UK which has Neil Hudson, an incredible engineer and musician, at its helm. As such, he has made the recording process more of an opportunity, rather than a laborious task.

However, because our set up is different from a great many bands, I think we underestimated how much longer the process would take because of it. Having no drummer may seem like it would make recording easier, but because of the sheer amount of files we use, it has actually meant we have been encouraged to really focus on every single tiny aspect of our music.

It would be easy to categorise this as annoying or perhaps, cavalier regarding attention to detail because some people enjoy this process, others don’t. I am most certainly in the ‘don’t’ category, or at least I was. Perhaps I used to think about it as time = money and so to spend a long time in the studio simply meant racking up a huge bill which wasn’t at all preferable. But what this particular recording process has done has been enlightening.

Through using Ableton, it has meant that every single sound, timbre, texture and time signature has been accessible, put in stasis if you like, in order for us to carefully analyse its inclusion and function. This has meant a different engagement with our music as well as how it will be recorded.

The usual is there, guitar and bass tracking, laying the keys and vocals and whilst I’m used to recording guitars, this is the first time I have recorded any vocals. The morning I was due in the studio, I was quite anxious as I genuinely didn’t know what to expect, from me or the process. I hadn’t warmed up particularly (not something I would recommend!) but got straight into it as soon as I got there.

After various fuck ups, laughing fits and minor alterations, I nailed all the tracks and before I knew it, my day was done and it was time to sit back and listen to what had been captured. I can honestly say I sat there in complete shock! I couldn’t believe it was me! I heard evil, terrifying screamed vocal lines and from someone who sings opera and choral music during my teaching, this absolutely blew my mind!

Having only heard myself at practice and only vaguely at gigs, I was not really able to obtain any objectivity on my ‘sound’ and articulation but hearing this back now, I am able to do so. Having spent so long singing expected gendered songs, vocal lines, soprano tessituras, I was unprepared for the way my vocals for Denigrata would alter my own perception, not only of gender roles but of capabilities. I think well if I can do it, anyone can. I have often held extreme metal vocalists (mostly men) in high regard, thinking that it must be exhausting; it must ravage your vocal chords and be very hard to maintain; naively I was worried I didn’t have what it takes. However, perhaps because of how much I enjoy being a vocalist, this has helped my evolution and commitment to making the sound I have in my head. I suppose in those terms, it’s no different from finding a guitar distortion that meets the sound you want to use. But unlike a guitar pedal or head, you can’t just fix your settings, doing the vocals requires something more.

In order for me to do this, I have to feel. I need to feel the darkness in my soul in order for that sound to come out. It is a cathartic process as well as terrifying. Staring straight at your own fears and being willing to bare your soul is a scary prospect. That being said, I hadn’t thought it would be as empowering as it is. When I scream my vocal lines, I find it almost transcendent. I know this may sound daft, but it’s true. I don’t know if other extreme metal vocalists experience something similar or not, but being able to scream out all the pain, the misery and sorrow is a very valuable gift that I am deeply thankful for.

Needless to say I am very excited to hear the final cut of the album! As H.P. Lovecraft wrote, ‘madness rides the star winds’ and it is time we join them.

Comments are welcome. Denigrata Herself can be contacted at denigrataherself@horizonvumusic.com


Header_DenigrataA Lecturer in Popular Music at a British Higher Education institution, Denigrata Herself is undertaking her PhD in women in extreme metal. She is also the front woman/guitarist in Denigrata, an experimental black metal collective. Denigrata have coined the term noir concrête for their music, meaning the avant-garde dark noise initiated by Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen finds a different rhizomatic existence within their contemporary black metal performance space.

Denigrata Herself is a gender theorist whose research and publications to date focus on body performativity, reclamation of female space, tattooing, graphic novels, death metal and black metal. She is part of the International Society for the Study of Metal Music (ISMMS) and sits on various academic and equal rights boards in the UK.

For over a decade she was a lead guitarist in British death metal bands, she was signed to and worked for various independent record labels and now devotes her time to lecturing, researching and performing. She is choir master for her departmental chamber choir and presents annual post-modern renderings of canonical classical pieces with her choir, a string quartet, a contemporary band and Ableton performers.

18 November 2014
Metal and Cultural Impact Conference, Dayton, Ohio November 6-8 2014

I have just returned from the University of Dayton, Ohio where I delivered a paper from my PhD at the Metal and Cultural Impact Conference, organised by Bryan Bardine, PhD. The reason why I want to blog about this experience is because it has raised a number of very interesting engagements.

Firstly I was incredibly proud to be part of this. Metal studies is an emerging paradigm that engages with musicology as well as philosophy and anyone involved in popular music pedagogy will know the significance of the relationship between these ideas. It also creates a space where philosophy can be taught at undergraduate level in the form of cultural theory and it provides valuable tools for analytical engagement.

As my PhD has developed based on my ten years in the metal industry as a guitarist, it wasn’t until I gave a paper at the University of York back in April this year that I realised the significance of my own subjective experience. Taking the same paper to Dayton, I found that the metal scholastic community wanted to hear what I had to say.

There is nothing quite like a metal conference. I have presented at plenty of conferences before, from feminist ones to graphic novels, popular music and film but metal conferences offer a different experience – it is not an imagined community, but a real one. Well, as much as we can consider anything to be real given that I hold to the concept that there is no objective reality!

However I found myself surrounded by scholars of a like mind in terms of our affinity and love of metal but also our philosophical engagements. We come from far flung corners of the globe in many cases but our desire to critically engage with the music in its form, structure and function provides another level through which to understand metal.

As I said in my previous blog, metal heads are the outsiders and this is an ambiguous position to exist within. We, all at varying points, have discovered our own problems with the structure and juridical law of the symbolic order and as such have actively chosen a form of subjective construction outside of this model. We therefore see the subject-substance as self-producing rather than hegemonically constructed and honestly, this is a beautiful thing.

Various philosophical positions suggest that this is not actually possible, Žižek, Lacan and Butler for example; however I refute this for the following reasons. Certain grand theory positions suggest that the subject cannot become a subject until it is an active member of the hegemony, meaning a subject a priori is empty. This may well be the case for those happily existing within the symbolic order but for those who recognise the falsity of the system, we make a decision to exist extra-hegemonically if you will. Once on the outside, we have the opportunity to construct ourselves however we see fit thus enacting autonomy over our aesthetics, occupied space and ideological positions. We re-encode the self to be something workable for us and as Keats quite rightly pointed out ‘that which is creative, must create itself’. And that is what we do, we create ourselves. That is not to say anything like authenticity is claimed, because I do not believe in such a concept but what I am saying is that the subject-in-process occurs more effectively outside of the hegemony and that honest moments of totality, of self-recognition can only happen extra-hegemonically because you are free of the imposition of the symbolic order.

The reason why this connects with metal is because metal has always been the outsider, the sociocultural music form that exists on the periphery and it is just as well that it does. From that vantage point, it can critique the symbolic order and embody the Dadaist aesthetic of ‘Art as Resistance’. So we see an affinity between those on the outside of the symbolic order and creative forms that also occupy a similar position.

The significance of the self in relation to these ideas means that when the self becomes a collective, moments of Hegelian totality can occur, in other words moments of realisation of who we are and what that means. Our ability to produce, create and critique are valuable functioning parts of the subject-self and its associated substance.

So when I met with the other metal scholars at the Dayton conference, I recognised in myself my role within the collective, my subjective within the Absolute Meta-Subject, to quote Hegel. Not only did I hear some very interesting papers and research, I met other metal fans and scholars who, like me, have felt this area of popular music worthy of theoretical engagement. And what a life affirming moment of totality it was. All areas of metal were covered and the intersections of class, race and sexuality were not shied away from, they were met head on with solid academic rigour.

A wonderful end to the conference was a gig in the evening where Alex Skolnick from Testament, who also gave a paper, got up on stage and ripped through War Pigs by Sabbath. Some musicians from these bands (Forces of Nature, Lick the Blade, Engines of Chaos), came to the conference too. What I particularly loved about the collision of academia and the metal community in Dayton is how welcoming and open minded everyone was. I was treated like family and that means something, it is significant.

So one of the main conceptual notions I identify is that of affinity and this functions in a number of ways. It is not just affinity of music taste or philosophical positions; the affinity appears to function as a totalising experience, where everyone is on the same page and there are no immediately jarring boundaries of separation that we experience within the symbolic order. Perhaps because of the nature of the conference and the nature of the Dayton metal scene, any racism, classism or sexism just wasn’t present and I cannot tell you what a genuinely liberating experience this was. A space is created and maintained where people are able to be themselves, and regardless of however clichéd this sounds, it is deeply significant.

In a society where the subject-self is manipulated, interpellated and reconstructed to suit hegemonic structures and agendas, I found a space where, through the shared love and affinity with metal, freedom was acknowledged and performed. In this day and age, that is a precious and rare thing indeed.

Comments are welcome. Denigrata Herself can be contacted at denigrataherself@horizonvumusic.com


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