Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chairperson

Cherise Pollard Ph. D.

Committee Member

Tim Dougherty Ph. D.

Committee Member

Tim Ray Ph. D.


The first half of the 20th century is one characterized by the fatigue of war, as World War I came to a close, the rising tension that would eventually explode into World War II overwhelmed the aesthetics of art and culture. Poets and musicians have responded to this anxiety through their art. Where modernist poets’ work responded to the stresses of living through such trying times, musicians across the genre of heavy metal have responded to a continuing atmosphere of western conflict, from nuclear proliferation and the civilization ending threat of the Cold War, to the Vietnam and Korean Wars, and the conflict in the Middle East. Additionally, the industrial and technological shifts that would take place across the century changed the speed and cultural orientation of western society, which many artists have struggled to accept. This common unrest informs numerous points of contact between these genres, with heavy metal echoing modernists through a proletarian, rebellious image and high modernists through the composition of their lyrical and instrumental work, the romance with mythological allusion in the content of their art, and an often direct and multi-faceted response to socio-political discord. These reactions to cultural and political strife strongly inform each of these artforms, causing heavy metal artists, particularly those working under the genre umbrella of “extreme metal”, to engage in a similar cultural ecosystem as high modernists, despite the distinction made between them by certain traditionalist forces in scholarship. In spite of this canonical differentiation, the similarities between these genres demonstrate the potential of low and popular cultural to engage with historical and cross-cultural material. Additionally, these points of contact draw attention to the socially and academically enriching properties of extreme metal, while also reminding us of both movement’s problematic elements.