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Metal Music Research: Primary Sources

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are firsthand documents or items related to the subject you are studying. In heavy metal studies, primary sources can include interviews, newspaper accounts, autobiographies, fanzines (fan-made magazines), ephemera (like flyers, posters, ticket stubs), or even the music itself, depending on the angle of research. After you have done background research (see Home) and explored some Scholarly Sources, your research should include at least some analysis of primary sources. 

A note on research with magazines: While PHSC subscribes to many databases, few include specialized popular music magazines, with the notable exception of Rolling Stone. Most magazines, some of which are profiled below, are not available for free online browsing (ie, behind a paywall). Often however, the websites will feature searchable archives. For specific articles from the history of rock journalism, visit the database Rock's Back Pages. Full text results require a subscription, which PHSC does not currently have. However, the database is still useful as a finding aid, and the full-text may be available via Interlibrary Loan. Check with your librarian for more information. 


SEND BACK MY STAMPS! Metal History Through Fanzines

"SEND BACK MY STAMPS! is a site dedicated to reproducing interviews and ephemera from Fanzines produced in the early days of the (heavy/death/thrash/black etc.) metal underground. This era was notable for its pre-internet production of DIY media, that followed the punk tradition born out of the 80s, and gave life and communication to a disparate, global fan base within the then nascent thrash/death/black/grind underground." - from the website

The Internet Archive is a great place to find older band websites, magazines, podcasts, and all manner of ephemera related to heavy metal. Try searches for "heavy metal" and "metal magazine" and have fun exploring!

UCLA LSC Heavy Metal Archive

"The Collection of Heavy Metal Music Material (Collection 2269) is a group of books, documentary films, sound recordings, magazines, and archival material which includes biographies and autobiographies of members of Kiss, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Megadeth, Black Sabbath, Twisted Sister, lamb of god, Anthrax, and others" - from the website 

NOTE: Collection is not digitized, but a finding aid is available.

The Smoking Gun - Backstage

A unique collection of backstage riders, presented to promoters by every touring act, which detail specifications on stage design, sound systems, lighting, as well as an artist's wish list--from travel and billing to dressing room accommodations and meals. A fascinating look behind the scenes of touring life. 



Autobiographies are works written about a particular person by the person themself. These sources can be excellent ways to learn the stories of metal artists in their own words. 


Periodicals are some of the best primary sources to use for heavy metal music research. Newspapers may contain accounts of performances, interviews, discussions with fans, or descriptions of important events related to heavy metal music history. Below are links to a few of the best databases to search for newspaper articles.


Magazine cover


"Kerrang! is a British weekly magazine devoted to rock and metal music, currently published by Wasted Talent. It was first published on 6 June 1981 as a one-off supplement in the Sounds newspaper." - From Wikipedia

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Metal Forces

"Launched in the UK during the summer of 1983, Metal Forces quickly established itself internationally as one of the most influential publications in the promotion of heavy metal and hard rock. Totally independent, the ground-breaking magazine championed the early careers of artists like Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, Pantera and Sepultura – bands who at the time were virtually ignored by the mainstream rock press – and although Metal Forces was never a thrash publication per se, its coverage of the genre was unrivalled during the 1980s." - From the website

Magazine cover

Metal Hammer

"Metal Hammer (sometimes written MetalHammer) is a monthly heavy metal and rock music magazine, published in the United Kingdom by Future and in several other countries by different publishers. Metal Hammer articles feature both mainstream bands and more unusual acts from the whole spectrum of heavy metal music." - from Wikipedia

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Rolling Stone

"Rolling Stone is an American monthly magazine that focuses on popular culture... It was first known for its coverage of rock music and for political reporting by Hunter S. Thompson." - from Wikipedia

Full text available 08/09/1990 - present in Academic Search Complete

Magazine cover


"Decibel Magazine is the world’s foremost heavy metal authority. Based in Philadelphia, PA, we have never deviated from our original mission of exploring the past, present and future of extreme music. Since our debut issue (October 2004), Decibel has exhibited an insatiable curiosity for all things heavy, covering both the underground and mainstream with painstaking obsession and irreverent humor." - From the website