Death metal really is just 'harmless fun', study finds

Death metal featuring lyrics about murder and cannibalism doesn't desensitise fans to real-life violence, a new study has found.

Researchers in Australia found the music actually brings joy to fans of the genre, even more so than more traditional pop music fare.

Participants in the Macquarie University study listened to two very different songs while being shown violent imagery - Pharrell's hit song 'Happy' and a track called 'Eaten' by Swedish death metal band Bloodbath.

'Happy' is breezy pop song that topped charts worldwide in 2014 after featuring on the soundtrack to children's film Despicable Me 2. 'Eaten', in contrast, begins with the lyric "I've had one desire since I was born / To see my body ripped and torn", vocalist Peter Tagtgren screaming his "only wish is to be eaten".

"It is suggested that long-term exposure to violent media may decrease sensitivity to depictions of violence," the researchers wrote in the study, published in journal Open Science.

"However, it is unknown whether persistent exposure to music with violent themes affects implicit violent imagery processing."

They found death metal fans reacted the same to violent imagery as people who listen to tamer fare.

Researcher Prof Bill Thompson said it should be reassuring to parents that death metal won't desensitise their children to real-life violence.

"I didn't personally write them, but I would be frankly astounded if anyone listened to that song and then felt a desire to be eaten by a cannibal," he told BBC News.

Death metal fans had no trouble distinguishing art and entertainment from reality, he said, and even found it joyful and empowering to listen to.

"Fans derived positive emotional experiences from the music... I think that to listen to this music and to transform it into an empowering, beautiful experience - that's an amazing thing."

The band told BBC News the lyrics were "harmless fun" and the "aural version of an 80s horror film".

"The majority of death metal fans are intelligent, thoughtful people who just have a passion for the music," said Bloodbath member Nick Holmes.