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


The course aims to be as multidisciplinary as possible, encouraging 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 PhD candidate Paolo Ribaldini, University of Helsinki, whose research topic is HM music, and whose educational background involves classical and popular music practice, musicology, philosophy, and philosophy of music.

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

  • Dr Esa Lilja (University of Helsinki), recognised as a key authority in the field of HM studies;
  • 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 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;
  • Two more guest lecturers will be announced in the upcoming months.


The students will 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. The students will also achieve competences in music theory, sociology of music, music semiotics and cultural studies. 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’ below.

Weeks 1–2: Early Heavy Metal. Development of the genre in the United Kingdom and the United States in the 1970s. Introduction to the musical characteristics and the subculture that developed around the music.

Weeks 2–3: HM in the 1980s. The ‘golden age’. Fragmentation of traditional HM into diversified subgenres; reasons and consequences. Relationship between the HM subculture and mainstream culture.

Week 3: HM in the 1990s and 2000s. National ‘schools’ of HM, with a particular focus on Finland (also, Sweden, Germany, Norway, Italy, etc.). Future prospects of the genre. Conclusion.

NOTE: the course is updated and enhanced from the 2019 programme in accordance with the students' feedback.


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.