Good afternoon, evening, morning, whatever time of day it is where you are right now. I’m going to take a break from the usual light tone of my Q and A column and be serious for a moment. This week marks 33 years since rock music was forced to defend itself in a Senate hearing, and I figured that with what is going on today with metal, it’s time to revisit that for a moment and make some comparisons and see where we all stand. I recognize that not everyone will agree with what I say and I’m fine with that. It’s not a crime to disagree, but it is a crime to not consider what the dissent is about and to react without thinking. So… Grab a beer, this is really fucking long. Comments welcome, ‘natch.
Metal has never been a dull genre of music. You have to give it that much. From its earliest origins it has drawn the ire and fury of people who believe that it poses a threat to their beliefs, their faith, or even their way of life.
I’m a child of the 80’s who got into metal just before Tipper Gore started making waves about it. As the wife of Senator (and later, Vice President) Al Gore, she, along with other prominent wives of politicians and Reagan cabinet members, formed the Parents Music Resource Center. The PMRC was far more insidious than history tells it. They are regarded as somewhat of a joke now, but back then it was serious business. They created a hostile climate full of misinformation about metal and underground music as a whole. Concerts were protested. Punk and hardcore shows were frequently and violently shut down by the police acting on the Reefer Madness-like hysteria over what this music was doing to kids. Metal fans were portrayed as violent, drug and alcohol fueled, Satan-worshipping homicidal degenerates. Naturally, we played into those fears with an irony so pure that some critics, especially the far right Christians and the “think about the chiiiiildren” liberals took us seriously. It’s what metalheads do. It felt great to raise our collective middle finger to the Washington Wives, but the PMRC was looking right past our flippant trolling. They were looking at legislation designed to censor music by imposing a ratings system.
These women were married to powerful government officials who held hearings and made laws. They could (and did) exert pressure on record labels to censor artists and push them to have lyrical content changed or removed. Not so publicly, they were taking information from fundamentalist Christian churches and passing it along to law enforcement, who would then use it to profile kids who liked heavy music and link them to drugs, underage drinking, antisocial behavior, and Satanism. Some of these ministries claimed the Star of David is a Satanic symbol, or that the peace symbol is actually an inverted cross with the arms broken downward which is intended to show a broken and defeated Christianity. Kinda makes me like the peace symbol even more than I already do.
I was subjected to many of these fine works of literature myself as a young lad. I had family members who attended churches like those mentioned, and I was given many books and pamphlets that explained to me why all rock music going back to the 1950’s was evil and sent straight from the pit of Hell. They told me how Little Richard was evil because he was gay, and his music was meant to turn people gay. I learned from these books that his signature WOOOOOO was not merely a cry of excitement, but rather it was the sound a gay man makes when he is anally penetrated. For the record, that’s not true and the first time I took it in the shitter and said WOOOOOO like Little Richard my partner pulled out and asked me what the fuck I was doing.
The PMRC was more than just a bunch of bored wives with a cause du jour. They had power and they had the ears of the federal government, which they used to bully record labels and artists for years. We all remember Dee Snider, John Denver, and Frank Zappa testifying before the Senate and rebuking the very notion that music should be censored or rated by law, but that was not the end of the PMRC. That didn’t come until the end of the 1990’s, and they won.
Since the early 1990’s we have had “Tipper Stickers” on all music media that circulates through the Recording Industry Association of America. You know, the lovely group that likes to sue single moms for thousands of dollars for downloading a Britney Spears song? Yeah, that RIAA. This encompasses all major labels and subsidiaries. PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT LYRICS, which some bands thought were a badge of honor, were implemented in the 90’s. These stickers only served to limit distribution in major retailers and chain stores. It’s not as relevant in the digital age but it did impact sales during the 90’s and early 00’s, which led to labels forcing content creators to alter lyrics and artwork. The most notorious of this being the Wal-Mart version of Nirvana’s In Utero, which contains the track Waif Me. The song is, as we know, Rape Me. The irony is that if Nirvana released that song today, they would be getting flak for that title not from right wingers but from feminists who would argue that the title trivializes sexual violence.
Really bad things happen to art when the government decides to start censoring content and pushing creators, no matter what the medium. In the US, Dead Kennedys were charged with a crime and put on trial. The West Memphis 3 were convicted of murdering three children based solely on their taste in clothing and music. In Poland, right now, Behemoth is facing prosecution because of an image they used on a T-shirt.
Most of us agree that this is bad, right? The history of established institutions of power cracking down on metal or any form of artistic expression is something all creators should oppose on principle, regardless of whether or not it’s offensive or even hateful, correct?
Where does this tie in with the kerfuffle between AntiFa and Taake?
Both parties are guilty of the same type of self-aggrandizing behavior. They are choosing weaker targets to use their statements against. AntiFa are twisting the arms of music venues and promoters, and Taake are using their art to foist discontent and animosity between folks who are already being stepped on by governments and powerful institutions. AntiFa are not the PMRC, and Taake are not free speech crusaders who are threatened by a big bad government censor.
AntiFa are comprised of decentralized groups of activists who believe in direct action and at times necessary violence to curb rising tides of Nazi and fascist expression. Full disclosure, I am thoroughly down with punching Nazis. Just make sure the people you’re punching are actual Nazis. Be certain that they are actual fascists who spout and preach fascism, especially the Richard Spencer types who dress like preppy business majors and try to use a polite approach to serve their message of hate and genocide to disaffected white folks who are struggling with their role in a changing society.
When AntiFa targets metal bands, fans, and shows, it usually doesn’t work out too well for them or their message. Metalheads have turned viscerally against AntiFa. Just look at any comment section on a MetalSucks post about Taake these days. 90% of the comments are against AntiFa, and not because metalheads are fascists or Nazi sympathizers. It’s because AntiFa are mischaracterizing metal and threatening a form of music we love. They position themselves as the censor; the ones coming to shut things down. It makes it very easy to say “See? AntiFa are the REAL fascists”. It’s hard to argue against that when they’re not attacking actual Nazis. This makes a lot of fans apathetic and unsupportive of Anti-fascist efforts and it causes a “cry wolf” effect. Sorry to break it to you AntiFa peeps, but not every band from Norway that wears corpse paint are Nazis and if you folks are going to make any headway among the metal community you need to start understanding this.
The reason they’re picking on metal bands and fans? I suspect it’s because for all their efforts, they can’t shut up the alt-Right and they can’t shut down every college campus when someone they despise is invited to speak. Music venues are softer targets. They don’t want the drama and they’d rather cancel a gig in light of a threat than to risk liability should something happen. Congratulations, AntiFa. You’re pissing off and bumming out a community of music fans that have for years been targeted and attacked for the music and culture they are a part of, in many cases the only culture that ever accepted them, which is not inherently fascist.
Let’s not let shocky edgelords off the hook either. Look, Hoest- yes, I’m addressing you directly and asking honestly with zero snark– what did you think was going to happen? You said in your recent statement about the now-cancelled tour that black metal was supposed to elicit negative emotions and feelings. Why are you surprised that the things you’ve done and said over the years have, in fact, elicited said negative reaction? What did you expect? Did you think that people would just feel unsettled by your visual displays and your lyrics and then just be like, okay, cool, rock on? Did it not occur to you that at least some people would be angered enough to actually do something about that negative feeling that you elicited?
Personally speaking, I am tired of artists taking a lower road. It’s easy to piss off people who are already pissed on. Why, as you claim, piss off Germans by reminding them of their worst era, to what end? Why bash Islam when you must be aware of the deep divisions in Europe between Muslims and non-Muslims and the deepening reactionary treatment of Muslims by right wing extremists? I mean, it’s not enough that there are a bunch of people who look at Varg Vikernes as some sort of folk hero, maybe you want a little of that audience too without going all in on the crazy shit he spouts? What was the deal with someone in your organization telling the abuse victims of your opening tour act (Young and In the Way) to keep their allegations off the internet? What exactly are you challenging by engaging in and validating total dickbag behavior? Do you want to just watch shit burn? If that’s the case, why be surprised when the flaming bag of dogshit ends up on your doorstep?
Wouldn’t it be more edgy and subversive and counterculture to use your art against the established power bases than to lend your voice to situations where people are victimized by that power structure? I don’t support shutting your shows down but I wouldn’t really want to attend one. Misanthropy is such a late teen-early 20’s thing and if you haven’t grown past it by 30, you’re wasting your life. But hey, I digress and I am aware that this is just my opinion. Lots of people hate other people. It’s really easy to do that.
Before metal fans nail these wannabe agent provocateurs to an inverted cross and make heroes of them, let’s not forget that there’s a well-documented history of bigotry, racism, and Naziism in black metal. There’s an entire subgenre of NSBM, and these aren’t groups that write lyrics about how horrible World War 2 was. These are groups that push ethnic cleansing and final solutions for those they deem inferior, and they have lots of fans who aren’t Nazis who say “Hey, I just like the music, I’m not into the whole genocide thing”as if you can possibly be neutral on that matter. Here’s a hint- you can’t. A swastika is not a fence you can sit on. That is what leads folks who are not as familiar with metal subgenres to make false associations. Don’t enable actual Nazis and fascists, and don’t tolerate that because the music has a good hook.
I don’t think that governments should be censoring free expression at all and I don’t think AntiFa has that kind of government-sized power. I also think that artists can do better when it comes to creating provocative content which actually attacks entities further up the food chain. Otherwise it’s just being edgy for its own sake and that’s just hollow and empty.
Everyone involved here has work to do. Artists should be a little more thoughtful. You’re not breaking any new ground by using your music and art to stir up discontent and hate among the lower classes of civil society. Start throwing those punches upwards. Metalheads, don’t start getting comfy with the idea that fascists are somehow better or more tolerant. Right wing fascists will use government force to ban our music and put us in jail for playing it live. They hate us way more than AntiFa ever could. Fascists and Nazis will absolutely try to destroy us if they ever had the chance, and remember- right wingers and neo-liberals did wage war on metal 30 years ago. Don’t forget that.
Metal fans are notoriously stubborn. We do not like being told what to do, what to think, what we can wear or say or express. I’m as left wing and social-justice oriented as many of the folks who side with AntiFa, but don’t come at me saying I’m a Nazi because I have a Mjolnir tattoo because fuck right the fuck off. Thor has nothing to do with fascism and neither do I. The metal world embraced my fat queer ass long before mainstream society did and I will never forget that. If you make us out to be your enemy, then your enemy we shall be, but I don’t want that.
I want us all to do better. I want artists to use their voice and their art, especially their subversive art, in a way that doesn’t punch down, and I want those who oppose fascism to understand the commonalities they have with us. The real enemy is .0001% of folks espousing fascism who should definitely be punched, but for fuck’s sake, when you go to a metal show and hear feet stomping, think mosh pits, not goose steps.
Matti Frost Contributing Writer Guy
Matti Frost is the singer/songwriter for Frost Giant. He is also a wizard. Okay, maybe not a wizard, but he did once have sex with a dude who kinda looked like Hagrid who might have said something about his wand and working magic.