Eric Smialek

Eric Smialek is a doctoral student in musicology at McGill University where he studies extreme metal by combining the study of fan discourses with close music analysis. Eric holds a doctoral fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and has recently been elected as IASPM-Canada’s graduate student representative.



"How Does Metal Mean? Ways that Musicology Can Contribute to Metal Studies"

“At last! A book about heavy metal as music” (Whiteley, preface to Cope 2010). From this opening exclamation in Sheila Whiteley’s preface to Andrew Cope’s recent history of Black Sabbath, one can immediately sense the extent to which musicological studies on metal are scarce. Such books have only appeared in the last few years (Pillsbury 2007, Lilja 2009) and to date no abstracts on metal topics have been accepted at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society. Sociologist Keith Kahn-Harris has identified “the relative paucity of detailed musicological analyses on metal” as “undoubtedly the most critical weakness in metal studies as it stands” (2011). He warns that “without some widely accepted vocabulary” for discussing metal’s musical details, the emerging field of metal studies is in danger of being founded on the assumption that everyone agrees on what metal sounds like.

In response to this warning and Kahn-Harris’ implicit challenge to musicologists, I will present three examples of my own musicological work on metal that show how musicological analysis can uncover conventions in metal and be applied to broader aspects of cultural meaning. I begin by demonstrating how elaborate fretboard patterns in Meshuggah’s guitar writing contradict the band’s denials of compositional “calculation” and claims to spontaneity, hinting at their university-town background. I then proceed to show how extreme metal vocalists manipulate vowel shapes, pitch inflections, and expressive timbres to communicate intensity and power. Finally, I show how brief instrumental gestures with culturally-specific connotations combine to create musical momentum and climax.

My Speakers Sessions

Saturday, March 24

9:00am EDT