Male guitarists who spend hours a day practising extreme metal licks and riffs only do so to impress other men, a recent study concluded.

Researchers in the US, Canada and Poland wanted to find out why dudes would bother figuring out how to play tunes like ‘Through the Fire and the Flames’ and less commercial material like this, considering women generally just aren’t that into it. 

“There are two main competing hypotheses for the function of music: sexual selection or byproduct of the complexity of the human brain,” they wrote in their paper, published in Evolutionary Behavioral Science.

Extreme metal is “heavily male-biased” they said, not just amongst creators but also fans. 

“One of the best predictors of the number of extreme metal musicians in a given country is the number of males ages 15–24,” and “according to Spotify data, ‘progressive deathcore’ was the genre that had the lowest representation of female listeners”.

This makes it “unlikely that extreme metal musicians are primarily trying to increase their mating success through their music.”

One of the songs cited in the study. Warning: it sucks.

But complexity exists in other genres that appeal to both sexes, so that would appear to rule out the second theory.  

“It could be that men engage in this genre mainly for status-seeking purposes: to intimidate other males with their technical skills and speed and thus gain social status.”

The experiment

To find out for sure, they recruited hundreds of metalheads with the intention of asking them about their listening and playing habits. Unfortunately, most of them were incapable of completing the survey or had answers so extreme as to be useless.

They ended up with 44 progressive metal, neoclassical metal, thrash metal, death metal and black metal guitarists, all experts in “sweep-picking, string-skipping, and tapping, as well as the use of dissonant-sounding diatonic modes and unconventional scales”. 

The survey found “perceptions of fast playing speeds positively predicted enjoyment of feeling superior to other same-sex guitar players”. In other words, a “male-male signalling arms race of musical virtuosity”. 

Calling it a ‘race’ is apt, with metal getting faster and heavier in the 50 years since Black Sabbath first played the devil’s interval.

“Such an arms race may be operating in other very specialised or niche domains such as in extreme solo sports, videogaming, and day-trading crypto-currencies.”

Vanquish foes, hear the lamentations of their women

Previous studies have found extreme metal fans typically have lower self-esteem than others.

“Perhaps men who play this genre are interested in a greater ability to attract mates, but given their likely lower level of self-esteem, have concluded that gaining status from impressing other males is more feasible, and perhaps by doing this it will indirectly someday lead to an enhanced ability to attract mates, even if it is mainly short-term mating opportunities with female metal fans.”

Meanwhile, those who spend more time working out chords seem to be more into impressing the opposite sex.

“Playing chords quickly is simpler to do, relatively speaking,” the study states – good news for Oasis fans?