Globalization’s most unlikely export? Heavy metal. This extremely loud, extremely epic musical genre includes famous acts like Metallica, Pantera, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, and countless local bands headbanging away in sweaty rock clubs the world over.
The average U.S. consumer is wearing or using about four leather products at any given time — in their pockets, on their feet, or around their waist. Yet heavy metal devotees often wear leather from head to toe.
Now, the signature “leather and chains” ensemble that’s been associated with heavy metal music for decades is popping up in unlikely places around the world, from Chile in South America to Botswana in Africa. Indonesia has a massive heavy metal scene, where even the president Joko Widodo has been known to sport Metallica and Napalm Death T-shirts.
A series of articles in The Wall Street Journal charts the rise of heavy metal scenes around the globe, even calling it “the unlikely soundtrack of globalization.”
“When economic development happens, metal scenes appear. They’re like mushrooms after the rain,” said Roy Doron, an African history professor at Winston-Salem State University.
The music is even offering some music labels a solution to flatlining album sales in the U.S. market. According to The Wall Street Journal, Nuclear Blast Records, one of the top indie labels in heavy metal music, saw global album sales rise by more than 250,000 units in 2015. And because Nuclear Blast bet big on metal bands with global appeal, it’s one of the few music labels expanding right now, doubling its payroll and opening offices in Germany and Brazil.
Not only are legacy metal bands like Iron Maiden now playing more international shows, but local metal bands are earning huge followings in places like Botswana. After the end of apartheid in South Africa, the heavy metal scene in Botswana blew up. The Journal recently covered the Metal Mania Fest 2016 in Ghanzi, Botswana, where hundreds of leather-clad metal fans with names like Vulture Thrust and Demon gathered to headbang together.
Around the globe, metal bands are fusing the hardcore, screaming vocals and epic guitar work of metal music with their own musical traditions. Japanese girl group Babymetal has become world famous for its viral blend of Western-style metal with Japanese pop music.
No matter where it’s growing, metal fans are united by a common goal: sticking it to the man.
“Metal fans are joined by a common sense of cultural dissent,” says Texas AandM music professor Harris Berger.