Metal, Extreme Music and the Holocaust

deadline for submissions: 
October 2, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
University of Leeds
contact email: 

Call for Papers: Metal, Extreme Music and the Holocaust EXTENDED DEADLINE: 2 OCTOBER
University of Leeds 12 December 2016

Dr Matthew Boswell, University of Leeds, author of Holocaust Impiety
Dr Keith Kahn-Harris, author of Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge
Dr Nicholas Terry, University of Exeter, Holocaust historian and ex-editor of Terrorizer

2016 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Slayer’s Reign in Blood. Often voted the greatest thrash album ever, it took metal to new lyrical and musical limits, helping to pave the way for other bands to push even further at sonic and ethical boundaries. Since then, extreme metal has found ever new ways of assaulting the senses and imagination, continuing to be fascinated with death and evil.

This whole process began when Tom Araya barked out the word ‘Auschwitz’ – the first word of the first song on the album: ‘Angel of Death’.

This opening song of the founding text of extreme metal laid the groundwork for a recurring interest in the Holocaust in the metal scene over the three decades since. The Holocaust has often featured as a subject of its lyrics. It has repeatedly been referred to in descriptions of its sound. And it has formed part of accusations and warnings against bands who flirt with and sometimes outright endorse far-right and neo-Nazi politics.

Even with those bands – the vast majority on the scene – who do not engage in such politics, their interest in the Holocaust has frequently been seen as exploitative at best. But many metal lyricists and musicians claim that they are providing a ‘history lesson’, and many teenagers’ first acquaintance with such figures as Josef Mengele and Reinhard Heydrich surely come from Slayer. Indeed, metal has served to spread knowledge of the Holocaust far beyond the continent in which it occurred, to bands based in such places as Singapore, Pakistan and Peru.

It is high time, therefore, that the tangled relationship of metal and the Holocaust be unpicked and examined. The University of Leeds will be hosting a day event to start to make sense of the significance of the Holocaust in metal. This symposium is not organised as a celebration of metal, nor as an attack on it, but as a serious engagement with a difficult topic which will reward investigation. We will address the problems as well as the possibilities that come from metal taking on the Holocaust.

The symposium will also provide the opportunity to discuss the place of the Holocaust in other forms of extreme music. Industrial and punk bands had already started to produce songs on this subject by the late 1970s. What comparisons or links can be drawn between them?

We invite papers of 20 minutes that address this topic. The questions could include but are not limited to the following:

  • What part has metal played in transmitting knowledge of or interest in the Holocaust?
  • What place does this particular subject have within the subculture? Is it one of many horrors that its fans wish to face up to, or does it have a particular significance for them?
  • Can metal provide history lessons?
  • How has the understanding and presentation of the Holocaust by metal bands and fans been influenced by:
    • politics (including those of the far right)?
    • religious and anti-religious positions?
    • interest in Nordic and Germanic culture and themes?
  • Does metal offer ways of approaching the Holocaust from which other cultural forms can learn, e.g.
    • its tendency to avoid moralising?
    • its concentration on feelings rather than contemplation?
  • How do other kinds of extreme music compare to metal's approach?
  • What links are there between the interest of punk, post-punk and industrial music in the Holocaust and that shown by metal?
  • Is the approach taken by these forms of music best characterised as ‘holocaust impiety’?
  • Is it possible to be ‘reflexively anti-reflexive’ about the Holocaust?

Send abstracts of 150-250 words plus a short bio note to Dominic Williams ( by 2 October 2016.