We don’t need no high-cost, high-brow, heavy metal education

Is a degree in heavy metal music rifftastic or a rip-off?

They’re signing up as we speak for a two-year degree course in heavy metal music (believed to be the first of its kind), which begins in September in a college in Nottingham. Two years seems a bit excessive. For a modest fee (and expenses) I could get those two years down to five seconds: “Wear black, play loud, sing about death.” Class dismissed.

Ignoring the fact that metalheads willing to pay £5,750 a year in course fees might be better off spending the money on personal hygiene products and learning basic social skills, commentators are focusing on this “academisation” of heavy metal because the received wisdom is that metal is rock’n’roll at its dumbest. Which is kind of the point. Who wants a musical world full of Thom Yorkes?

The degree organisers are loftily talking up the course by using terms such as “culture” and “context”. They point out that you can study music at Oxford, Cambridge or any other university, but that this “genre” degree is unique.

"Heavy metal is an extremely technical genre of music and its study is a rising academic theme," they say. Metal is "seriously studied in conservatoires in Helsinki", has classical music roots, and leading axe-men such as Joe Satriani incorporate the works of Paganini in their oeuvre.

Indeed. But that Helsinki University academic treatise, Characteristics of Heavy Metal Chord Structures – Their Acoustic and Modal Construction , is about as interesting as a 10-minute metal drum solo. As for Satriani using Paganini, big swinging Stratocaster – The Beach Boys have used Bach.

The metal degree is there mainly because the people behind it feel the genre lacks academic credibility compared with jazz and classical music.

First of all, you can’t put Megadeth up against Miles Davis (that’s like comparing and contrasting Jedward and Tom Waits). And if metal isn’t taken seriously, it’s because half the time it comes across as more choreographed than an all-in wrestling match and makes your average panto look like Ibsen. There’s more hair and make-up on show at an average metal gig than then at a Girls Aloud performance.

Apart from writing essays and giving presentations about the history of heavy metal (for the love of God!), students who go on to the second year will be shoved out to play some gigs as part of their course requirement. Whereas some students are sent into obscure, draughty rooms and given dead animals or dead bodies to practice on, heavy metal degree students will be giving it the “Hello Cleveland!” in order to earn course credits – an appalling vista.

The bigger issue here is that you simply can’t teach rock’n’roll. You can learn about contracts, publishing, management and all the other ancillary stuff, but peering at chord progressions and writing essays on “riffs” is the last thing you should do if you want to rock. And before someone says “but Adele went to the Brit school”, Adele would have happened anyway, and what about all of her classmates who never made it?

A degree in heavy metal music? A passport to a job in Burger King more like.

Update - Tuesday, May 21, 2013, 12:00

Brian Boyd replies:

Thank you for taking the time to post all your comments. The article – as is sometimes the case with the weekly Revolver column – was a facetious, tongue-in-cheek opinion (granted, not quite of Spinal Tap calibre) of plans to introduce a degree course in Heavy Metal music in these recessionary times. I believe that should have been apparent from the very first paragraph. And further references to wrestling, panto, hair, make-up and Burger King (notwithstanding the juxtaposition of Ibsen and Jedward) should have reinforced the humorous, ironic and self-parodying nature of the article. Characteristics which one hopes will always have a place in rock music.