Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Mark Spicer

Committee Members

L. Poundie Burstein

Jonathan Pieslak

Guy Capuzzo

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Music


heavy metal, groove, rhythm and meter, odd meters, backbeat, entrainment


This dissertation explores the relationship between the metric practices of heavy metal and the elements and processes of the musical quality known as “groove.” Although heavy metal is not often expressly associated with groove per se, it occupies a historical position within the stylistic milieu for which groove music has established the primary, referential conditions. In order to uncover this connection, then, I begin with an analysis of groove in relation to established groove-music styles, defining it as an embodied and encultured knowledge of a set of cognitive, social, kinetic, aesthetic, and musical behaviors extending in practice from African-American popular-music styles of (mostly) the twentieth century and continuing into the present. Groove operates around a series of interactive musical cues that act to initiate and regulate an aesthetic sensibility characterized by musical dialogue, antiphonal musical structures, and a heightened, consonant mutual awareness among performers and audiences. Moreover, through an active physical entrainment and participatory kinesthetic knowledge of groove structures—such as the backbeat motive, the consonant weight profile of the basic rock beat, stylistically consistent uses of metric dissonance, and the collective negotiations of an isochronous beat and metric grid—participants, including musicians and listeners, define and signify upon the most important metric features of particular grooves at any given time. I conclude that, because metal musicians are often concerned with generating a consonant emotional and physical relation between themselves, the music, and its audiences, and because they do so in ways that are demonstrably responsive to groove structures, they are fundamentally connected with groove as defined. Complicating this relationship is that metal artists as often signify upon the metric practices associated with groove styles as confirm them. More specifically, I argue, they appropriate certain facets of groove, while deviating from one or more of these facets in order to create a relation between the listener and the sounding music that is often characterized by its fans and critics as transgressive. This complication can be witnessed when viewing the multiple and sometimes drastic physical responses exhibited by listeners. Heavy metal’s metric deviations in the domains of groove arguably form a stylistic signifier for metal music as a whole and help define the parameters for experimentation in “extreme” genres of metal, such as grindcore, doom, black, and varieties of progressive metal. This “extremfication” is a process that can be described, following Ronald Bogue (2003), as moving from quantitative to qualitative modes of expression. This dissertation concludes with an analysis of four heavy metal tracks that occupy a mediating position within this process. These tracks, while they exhibit deference to the consonant values of groove aesthetics and groove structures, also use these parameters and the bodily affordances they provide as bases for a multiplicity of metric and kinesthetic responses to their musical unfolding.

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