WHEN University of Newcastle Professor Simon Springer advertised PhD funding to study heavy metal music last week on his Geography Anarchist website he anticipated one or two applicants.
As a lifetime metal devotee, he should never have underestimated the passion for "the devil's music". After British heavy metal magazine Kerrang published a story about the PhD it went viral around the world and Springer was inundated with applications.
"My impression of why there's been so much interest is because it's almost seen as a polar opposite of perhaps what academia represents," Springer says.
"People look at academia as a form of high culture, if you will. Something that's refined and very serious, whereas there's a theory about heavy metal that it's a low-brow form of culture and not very serious and something that's not very refined.
"Those types of stereotypes are what this kind of work is trying to break down in some ways, to look at heavy metal as a serious subject for academic inquiry, the same as any other cultural form be it literature or film."
The Canadian-born Springer sang in metal band Fueled By Ignorance in the '90s and released two records before he followed an academic career. Springer has previously worked at the National University of Singapore, the University of Otago and University of Victoria in Canada, before becoming a Professor of Human Geography and Director of the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies in Newcastle last summer.
The PhD Springer has proposed is not merely a study of heavy metal. You won't be wearing a black Slayer t-shirt and headbanging to Metallica or Black Sabbath all day.
The PhD involves an investigation into the geography of heavy metal and would potentially explore how local culture affects scenes around the world. Springer says metal and other genres, despite the internet, maintain many regional characteristics.
"An example would be Amon Amarth, a Swedish viking metal band," he says. "They have been quite successful over a number of years and their lyrical themes and musical signatures are very much rooted in old Swedish culture and ideas of this viking heritage.
"People look at that with a certain sense of authenticity, whereas if you had a viking metal band from Italy or Colombia it mightn't be taken as seriously.
"Another example would be New Zealand band Alien Weaponry and they've incorporated Maori culture into the music they're doing, using the haka."
Springer has PhD funding for either one international or two Australian students valued at $27,596 per year, starting in 2020.
Those PhDs could be awarded to students wanting to study Springer's other fields of research in the geographies of homelessness, veganism and unschooling, but due to the sheer interest the musical aspect has attracted, he says it would be hard to ignore the metal heads.
Applications close on August 15.