Heavy Metal and Hard Rock: Music, History, Society and Culture

Helsinki Summer School 2020 was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kindly note that Helsinki Summer School 2021 will not be arranged due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


The course aims to multi-disciplinarity, and encourages collaboration between students from different academic backgrounds. The ideal candidates are advanced Bachelor’s or Master’s students of musical practice, musicology, social studies, semiotics, cultural studies, anthropology, philosophy, psychology, language studies, gender studies and pedagogy.

Familiarity with music theory is considered an asset, but is not mandatory.


This course explores the development of the popular music style of Heavy Metal. The primary focus will be on the musical elements of the genre, then on its historical features and its relation to contemporary Western society. A number of lectures will be devoted to HM in Finland, where this genre is particularly successful and characterises musical culture more than in other European or non-European countries.


The course is given by PhL Paolo Ribaldini, University of Helsinki, whose research topic is HM music, and whose educational background involves classical and popular music practices, musicology, philosophy, and philosophy of music.

Guest lecturers will engage the participants with specific topics. Confirmed guest lecturers:

  • PhD candidate MA Kristian Wahlström, music teacher at the Pop/Jazz Conservatory and Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in Helsinki;
  • Dr Toni-Matti Karjalainen, lecturer at Aalto University and currently researching on cultural narratives and branding-related aspects of HM music in Finland and abroad;
  • Dr. Kimi Kärki, adjunct professor at the University of Turku, whose several publications investigate heavy metal music from the point of view of cultural heritage;
  • Dr Susanna Mesiä, senior lecturer in pop/jazz singing and pedagogy at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences;
  • Mr Douglas Blair, guitarist of W.A.S.P. and himself a scholar in the field of Heavy Metal music business.

One or two more guest-lecturers will be confirmed during the spring 2020.


The students will achieve competences in music theory, sociology of music, music semiotics and cultural studies. The students will also appreciate the importance of heavy metal music in Western musical culture, its historical development and the characteristics of the subculture related to the music. This subculture is particularly strong in Finland, and Finnish HM is recognised worldwide as a key manifestation of this musical style. Furthermore, the course gives them a solid basis to critically understand popular music genres other than HM.


Lectures, multimedia material (musical examples, films, documentaries), workshop/seminar activities, group discussions. Classes take place five days a week, from Monday to Friday.

During the lectures (provisionally 9.00–11.00), the teacher discusses the history of HM and its interaction with society and other fields of culture. The teaching methods are:

  • Reading and commenting on course material (e.g., books, articles), or commenting on previously assigned readings.
  • Viewing/listening and commenting on multimedia material.
  • Class discussion.

After the lunch break, the course continues with regular classes, seminar activities or guest lectures (provisionally at 12.00–14.00). These include:

  • Analysis of readings and audio/video examples about specific topics proposed by the teacher.
  • Seminar meetings with musicians or experts in the field of HM studies (see ‘Lecturers and teachers’).
  • Screening of the documentary film series 'The Pioneers of LA Hard Rock & Metal' and 'The LA Metal Scene Explodes', kindly provided by Mr Bob Nalbandian.
  • Once/twice (max.): attendance in the evening at a medium/major HM concert. This is subject to events taking place in Helsinki at the time and on the ticket price (roughly €15–30).

Note: students who are interested in giving a presentation themselves can agree on a topic with the coordinator before the beginning of the course. The presentation should be approx. 20–30 minutes long, preferably about the student's field of expertise on a topic of heavy metal music.


Grading scale:
5 = excellent
4 = very good
3 = good
2 = average
1 = poor
0 = fail

Final grades will be assessed by a written exam on the last day of the course. Active participation in classes and discussions will also be highly considered.


City Centre Campus

Lectures take place in the morning, followed by workshops/seminars/group work after the lunch break. For further information, see ‘Course format and teaching methods’ above.

Preliminary Course Schedule

Wed 5 Aug
Course introduction
Summary of contents and methodology
Teacher’s introduction
Instructions for the readings and individual work

Thu 6 Aug
Before heavy metal

The historical and socio-cultural setting at the origins of Heavy Metal music
‘Hard rock’ or ‘heavy metal’?
The decline of the hippie sub-culture and the political changes at the end of the 1960s
The first steps of heavy metal and its extra- musical main characteristics
Rise of the HM sub-culture
Pessimistic and critical attitude towards politics and humanity
Working-class, masculinity, and anti-patriarchy Interest in sci-fi, mythology, and occultism
Readings: Weinstein, Heavy Metal, pp. 11-21. Lilja, Theory and Analysis…, pp. 20-39. Walser, Running with the Devil, pp. 1-11. Gannon, “Adorno…”

Fri 7 Aug
The musical influences of early heavy metal

Led Zeppelin: blues and jazz influences
Deep Purple: classical influences in heavy metal music
GUEST-LECTURE: Kristian Wahlström (University of Helsinki) on groove, rhythmic concepts in heavy metal and teaching music through heavy metal repertoire
Readings: Walser pp. 57-93.

Mon 10 Aug
Elements of musical novelty: power-chords and multiple soloists

Black Sabbath: power-chord harmony in HM Judas Priest: dual twin guitars and the role of the soloist
Sci-fi, occultism and other borderline extra-musical references
Readings: Lilja, Theory and Harmony… pp. 210-213.Wahlström, “The Groove of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal”.

Tue 11 Aug
Changes and division in 1980s heavy metal

Political and social changes in USA and Europe Development of TV as a musical mass media: birth of MTV in 1981
Fragmentation of the genre in the 1980s into different sub-genres: classic HM, extreme metal, pop metal, (NWOBHM)
Thrash metal
Musical characteristics, similarities to and differences from traditional HM
The influence of punk music Social and political involvement
USA: the San Francisco Bay Area and the East Coast (Metallica, Megadeth, Exodus, Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, Overkill, Slayer, Death Angel, Testament, etc.)
German-area thrash: Sodom, Destruction, Kreator, Coroner
Other geographical areas: Britain (Onslaught,
Sabbat), Brazil (Sepultura)

Wed 12 Aug
Classic HM and New Wave of British HM
Old band from the 1970s continue their careers NWOBHM, its brief life span and its legacy: what it was about
Neoclassical metal and guitar heroes: Van Halen,
Randy Rhoads, Yngwie Malmsteen, etc.
Screening of the documentary film series 'The Pioneers of LA Hard Rock & Metal' and 'The LA Metal Scene Explodes', kindly provided by Mr Bob Nalbandian.

Thu 13 Aug
Pop metal (AOR)
Consequences on the commercial appeal of heavy metal; heavy as mainstream music
Pop metal as expression of the consumerist culture of the 1980s
In USA: Whitesnake, Journey, Poison, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Guns’n’Roses, etc.
In Europe: Europe, Gary Moore, Def Leppard, etc.
Attacks from politics and media, e.g. the PMRC
Screening of the documentary film series 'The Pioneers of LA Hard Rock & Metal' and 'The LA Metal Scene Explodes', kindly provided by Mr Bob Nalbandian.

Fri 14 Aug
The 1990s and temporary decline
Further diversification of the three main sub-genres Rise of Grunge (polemical attitude towards the music industry) and temporary decline of some genres of heavy metal
Crossovers, e.g. nu metal
The many forms of extreme metal: Black metal, its areas of development and crime problems within the scene; Death and doom metal
Other forms of extreme metal
Black metal, its areas of development and crime problems within the scene
Death and doom metal
GUEST-LECTURE: Dr. Toni-Matti Karjalainen (Aalto University, Helsinki) on the business and brand- creative side of Finnish heavy metal
Readings: Sipilä

Mon 17 Aug
The 2000s and 2010s. Splitting into national scenes and traditions
Decline of music industry, changing recording processes and distribution channels
Is contemporary HM an expression of contemporary society?
The future of heavy metal
Metal and academia
GUEST-LECTURE: Dr. Kimi Kärki (University of Turku)

Tue 18 Aug
Metal in Finland
Origins and development
Economically successful bands: Stratovarius, HIM, Children of Bodom, Nightwish
Other internationally recognized Finnish acts: Sonata Arctica, Insomnium, Finntroll, Ensiferum, Tarot, and many others.
Screening of the documentary The Metal Syndrome, about contemporary artists of the Finnish heavy metal scene
GUEST-LECTURE: Douglas Blair Lucek (lead guitarist in W.A.S.P.) about the methods of making records, tour schedules, and surviving in the industry nowadays

Wed 19 Aug
Questions, preparation towards the final exam, further activities planned in according to the needs of the class
GUEST-LECTURE: Heidi Parviainen and Erkka Korhonen (Dark Sarah & Raskasta Joulua) to be confirmed

Thu 20 Aug
Exam; course assessment
Final wrap-up; Q&A; Final greetings


The primary readings are EXCERPTS from the following texts:

  • Christe, Ian. 2004. Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, It Books.
  • Cope, Andrew L. 2010. Black Sabbath and the Rise of Heavy Metal Music, Ashgate.
  • Kahn-Harris, Keith. 2007. Extreme Metal, Berg Publishers.
  • Lilja, Esa. 2009. Theory and analysis of classic heavy metal harmony, IAML Finland, Helsinki.
  • Walser, Robert. 1993. Running with the Devil. Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music, University Press of New England.
  • Weinstein, Deena. 2000. Heavy Metal: The music and its culture, Da Capo Press.

Other examples of possible readings are full texts or excerpts from the following:

  • Arnett, Jon. 1996. Metalheads: Heavy Metal Music and Adolescent Alienation, Westview Press.
  • Baugh, Bruce. 1993. ‘Prolegomena to any Aesthetics of Rock Music’, in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 51/1, 23–29.
  • Bicknell, Jeanette. 2005. ‘Just a Song? Exploring the Aesthetics of Popular Song Performance’, in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 63/3, 261–70.
  • Davies, Stephen. 1999. ‘Rock versus Classical Music’, in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 57/2, 193–204.
  • Frith, Simon. 1983. Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure, and the Politics of Rock, Constable, London.
  • Gannon, Thomas. 1998. ‘Theodor Adorno and Heavy Metal’, http://incolor.inetnebr.com/tgannon/hm.html
  • Middleton, Richard. 1990. Studying Popular Music. Oxford University Press, Buckingham.
  • Straw, Will. 1990. ‘Characterizing Rock Music Culture: the Case of Heavy Metal’, in On record: rock, pop, and the written word, Eds. S. Frith and A. Goodwin, Pantheon Books, New York, 97–110.

These are examples, and the list does not necessarily reflect the actual readings.

Most reading materials can be given to the students (in digital format) in time before the beginning of the course as preliminary readings. Some material is given during the course.

Students are warmly encouraged to read the assigned material before the beginning of the course.