Latin American Progressive Metal and the Coloniality of Being

Nelson Varas-Díaz

Dr. Nelson Varas-Díaz is a Professor of social-community psychology at Florida International University’s Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies. His work related to metal music addresses issues of community formation, linkages between culture and music, and metal music as a decolonial strategy in Latin America. His work has been published in multiple journals, including Metal Music Studies, International Journal of Community Music, and the Journal of Community Psychology, among others. He coedited the books “Heavy Metal Music and the Communal Experience” (2016), “Heavy Metal in Argentina: In Black We Are Seen” (2020), and “Heavy Metal in Latin America: Perspectives from the Distorted South” (2021). He authored the book “Decolonial Metal Music in Latin America” which was published by Intellect in 2021. He produced and/or directed the award-winning documentaries “The Distorted Island: Heavy Metal and Community in Puerto Rico,” “The Metal Islands: Culture, History and Politics in Caribbean Metal Music,” “Songs of Injustice: Heavy Metal Music in Latin America,” and “Acts of Resistance: Heavy Metal Music in Latin America. His films have received 75 sets of laurels from international film festivals. He is one of the editors of the Metal Music Studies journal published by Intellect. He currently directs the “Heavy Metal Studies – Latin America” group which researches metal in the Caribbean, Central and South America.

Progressive metal music is simultaneously hard to define and easy to identify. Although mostly known for its odd time signatures, complex and imaginative lyrical content, extensive song duration, and pushing the boundaries of what some consider normalcy in music, clear definitions of this musical genre seem elusive in the published literature. As if to add to this complexity, research on progressive metal music should address how this growing list of definitory characteristics can be expanded when the musical genre is consumed, transformed, and produces in regions of the Global South. In this presentation I will discuss how progressive metal music in Latin America has used the complexities embedded in this musical genre (related to instrumentation, song structure and lyrical content) to challenge coloniality, or the ongoing legacy of colonialism in the region. Using as examples progressive metal bands from Chile, Mexico and Puerto Rico I will argue that progressive metal in the region allows musicians and listeners to challenge what Nelson Maldonado Torres has termed the coloniality of being, and therefore affirm their humanity through everyday lived experiences while facing oppressive practices that aim to deny it from them. I will focus on three important dimensions of progressive metal music (i.e. emotion, song structure, and narrative) as ways of challenging colonial worldviews that have aimed to deprive Latin Americans of their place in the world. Finally, I will explore how these considerations should transform the manner in which progressive metal music is defined and conceptualized.