interviuri rock

On How Metal Became Racist

On How Metal Became Racist
BANDS : Editorial

Heavy metal didn't become racist (nor did it become islamophobic, homophobic or any such thing), I just didn't want to pick right from the title on some colleagues that I once respected.

I've known MetalSucks since its early days and up until recently I considered myself a fan. Under the heading “Best rock webzine (besides Metalfan)” in my personal file on Metalfan, one can still find the link that takes him (or her) to the site founded by the Vince Neilstein — Axl Rosenberg duo. For naming their online magazine Metal Sucks, Vince and Axl still have my respect, by the way. Irony is a sign of intelligence, as we all know, self-irony all the more so.

MetalSucks raised the bar for metal journalism, that's a fact, I'm not going to deny it. On the other hand, what MetalSucks is doing lately is slightly disgusting. Maybe they've been doing it for a long time, but I've caught up with it pretty late, around the time when they started taking shots at Ted Nugent and Gene Simmons, accusing them of various thought crimes. It didn't bother me though. Ted and Gene belong to an older generation, they like to shoot their mouths off, they are not what you would call educated people, and they don't pretend to be. Not to mention that Ted and Gene probably shit and piss on MetalSucks. I was however bothered — to put it mildly — by the recent bullying of Myrkur, by the ignorant and ill-willed On the Myrkur / Muslim Issue op-ed. And not just because I like Myrkur, but because I dislike ideological policing. Especially when it's done to metal music. As for Myrkur, her career could in principle be destroyed by these imbeciles, but I don't think this will happen.

What Myrkur said in the interview that raised “the collective eyebrow” of the MetalSucks-guys doesn't really matter. Nor will I discuss the fact that “islamophobia” is a highly problematic term, or that the phenomenon it usually refers to differs, in some significant points, from racism. What matters here is the desire of some metal journalists to catch up with the mainstream media, specifically with its penchant for witch hunts. Other than that, it would be a thing to be applauded.

Of course there are racists among metal musicians (and metal fans). And homophobes. And islamophobes. Just as there are racists (homophobes, islamophobes etc.) among  jazz, country and rockabilly musicians. But why should that matter? I know, the question as such sounds shocking these days. There was however a time when the political opinions of rock musicians mattered little. Who exactly gave a damn in the eighties about Madonna's opinions on Ronald Reagan or Biff Byford's opinions on Margaret Thatcher? Nobody. Not even Bono's deep thoughts on world peace did count for much back in those days. Yes, they were innocent times, the eighties.

So what changed? To put it simply, the way we look at rock musicians. It's a change that was made possible by some deeper running political and cultural transformations. As Robert Christgau put it, sometimes during the sixties rock n' roll started to metamorphose into rock music. Rock n' rollers ceased to be regarded as entertainers and started to be looked at as artist. Nay, not artists, Artists. The turning point was of course the release of the Beatles' epochal Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Now we are at the end (?) of this cultural process (that recently ran into another, namely the advent of the internet with its social networks.)

On the other hand, up until recently the status of artists was reserved only for a chosen few. Morover, heavy metal, as it emerged in the seventies, can be to some extent regarded as a reaction to this process. In a world where the number of prophets such as John Lennon and Bob Dylan was ever growing, Ozzy was just a poor loser from Birmingham not at all different from the working class kinds he was singing for. And he sang about Sabbaths and other such occult bullshit. Venom sang about Satan. Kiss sang about fucking. What did it all mean? Nothing, of course. Stuff kids could relate to, because it spoke to their frustrations. Anti-establishment stuff at its purest. That was the point of Priests' breaking the law, that's the point of every disembowelment in every death metal song, and of most of the demons we hear about in black metal songs. Unlike punk, heavy metal was never overtly politicized. The point was to shock, yes, but in a rather naive and adolescentine manner.

For all these reasons it doesn't make much sense to look for offensive stuff in heavy metal songs. Not because you won't find it, but because it's much too easy to find it. If you absolutely want to, that is. There are good chances that feminists with delicate souls will stumble upon something inappropriate in a song called Fucked with a Knife. One could easily write a white supremacist anthem simply by reshuffling some Manowar lyrics. And so on, and so forth.

But we metal fans don't do this. That's the whole point, that's why we call ourselves metal fans. We take metal seriously enough to know that it shouldn't be taken seriously. We like it the way it is, we don't want it to reflect the social struggles of the day. As to the antics of such self-appointed ideological guardians as those MetalSucks-guys, we laugh at them. But we don't forgive them. Because they don't have the excuse of not knowing what they're talking about. It's not the first time moralists are attacking heavy metal, but until recently the attacks came from the outside. Now for the first time they are coming from the inside. 

(Explicitly neonazi metal is of course another matter. My colleague Coro recently wrote a piece about NSBM and there is not much to add. These bands and groups are marginal and the worst thing one can do is to create a moral panic around them. It only draws unnecessary attention. To “normalize” these bands would also be a mistake, but such a danger doesn't really exist, except maybe in Hungary, where in the last few years the line between patriotic heavy metal — a Hungarian oddity in itself — and so-called “national rock” became regrettably blurred. The latter of course refers to rock / metal music with a straightforward far-right political message.)

Just as Led Zeppelin never turned anybody into a follower of Aleister Crowley, Amalie Bruun will never turn anybody into an “islamophobe”. This would remain true even if she were an “islamophobe”.  (But she isn't of course, in no meaningful sense of the word.) There most certainly are among metal musicians a few who would like to be considered public intellectuals. Not many though. Their impact on the public is however largely exaggerated by an overanxious part of the press. The number of people interested in what Corey Taylor has to say about American politics — or anything, actually — is negligible compared to the number of Slipknot and Stone Sour fans. There are smart and educated people among heavy metal musicians, of course there are, but they usually keep their opinions to themselves. Those who do like to hear themselves speak rarely have something to say. You can hear in bars more sophisticated political discourses than the rantings of Henry Rollins. (To be fair, compared to Roger Waters, brother Henry is a genius.) But that's not the problem. The real problem is the cynical game of the media that assigns to rock musician an authority they don't have, only to castigate them for not rising to the expectations of a position they never asked for.

Americans now have a president who talks like David Lee Roth, and they seem to expect of every musician (of everybody who says anything publicly, actually) to speak like Obama. Needles to say, the two phenomena are not unrelated. Suspicions are running high, vigilance is getting cheaper by the day. Traditional rock journalism is dying, people are adapting, fighting for survival. By politicizing rock music journalists are just trying to stay relevant. We might not like this, but it doesn't make much sense to fight against it. At least as far as mainstream rock is concerned. But maybe for metal it's not too late. There's not much we can do, I know, but at least let's hit that unlike button on MetalSucks. Let's not be bothered by the fact that heavy metal is not mainstream enough, that the hipster elite doesn't take it seriously enough. Let's be glad about it. Let's forget about this idea that there are “our” musicians and “their” musicians, whoever “we” might be. Whatever Tom Araya thinks about Trump, regardless of the fact we agree with him or not, we can still hate him together for the next Slayer album. We don't even have to wait for it to come out. To put it simply, let's fight a little for our right to party.
   October 12, 2017  | 2 Comments  | 2752 Views « BACK

Comment on: On How Metal Became Racist

  • Sunt niste mici detalii in privinta carora "I beg to differ" - de pilda, pentru urmatorul album Slayer, daca e sa injuram pe cineva, acela e Kerry King; multe trupe si texte depasesc statutul "adolescentin"; Obama avea un discurs la randul lui, il mai ajutau prompterele si PR-istii, dar lipsa lui de substanta mi se pare evidenta; s. a. c. a. m. (si alte cateva aspecte minore). Dar, per total, te felicit calduros pentru articolul asta. Chiar aveam impresia ca toata lumea a luat-o razna definitiv. Cat despre metalsucks, nici nu mai pot sa-l deschid, ma enervez de la primele comentarii ale lui Axl.

    1. Posted by Paul Slayer | 16 Octombrie 2017 01:15
  • *"un discurs slab la randul lui".

    2. Posted by Paul Slayer | 16 Octombrie 2017 01:15
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