What’s the most metal word of all time? Blood? Pain? Death? Guitar solo? (Ok, that’s a phrase.) In a beautiful application of Big Data, one physicist-turned-data-scientist tried to determine the “metalness” of various words by comparing their use in the genre’s lyrics with everyday English.
It’s definitely more of an experiment than bulletproof science, but the results could be useful for aspiring metal stars who’ve misplaced their thesaurus. As New York magazine's Science of Us notes, the project comes from data science blogger Degenerate State, who scraped DarkLyrics.com (the self-described “largest metal lyrics archive on the web”) to create a dataset of lyrics to 222,623 songs from 7364 bands. Degenerate State then compared the frequency of words in these lyrics with the Brown Corpus, a collection of pre-1961 documents across various genres, to figure out how common certain words are in metal lyrics relative to their use in everyday English. (Both extremely rare and extremely common words were excluded.)
The “most metal” words were found to be burn, cries, veins, and eternity, while the least metal words were particularly, indicated, secretary, and committee. Bureaucracy, it seems, is the opposite of metal. (The full list of most- and least-metal words can be seen here.)
This isn’t the final word on metal and language, of course—for one thing, it doesn’t account for the possibility that certain words are favored above everyday English for their use as lyrics generally, not just metal lyrics. Shorter, punchier words with more emotional impact seem more likely to appear in songs than in everyday speech. Plenty of love songs use the word “burn,” for example, and they’re not talking about churches. As Degenerate State notes, “A better measure of what constitutes ‘Metalness’ would have been a comparison with lyrics of other genres, unfortunately I don't have any of these to hand.”
The experiment did yield some other nuggets, including the band with the most swear words, at least in Degenerate State’s database (Five Finger Death Punch) and the most complex wordplay (Pig Destroyer). Longer words also seem to be less metal—although again, this might have more to do with their suitability for lyrics in general rather than this particular genre.
Of course, metal doesn’t rely on lyrics alone. (There’s also all that shredding.) And can silence alone be metal? As Open Culture noted, metal band Dead Territory recently tried to find out, by playing avant-garde composer John Cage’s famed piece 4’33 (four minutes and 33 seconds of silence). The biggest hint, aside from the long hair and brief warm-up, is the mild head-banging that occurs while the band members listen to nothing at all. You can watch below.
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