When an artist does something controversial (and very, very stupid), they shouldn’t be surprised when it comes back to bite them in the ass. The past month in metal has mostly been consumed by increasing pushback against Norwegian black metal band Taake, in part because of an incident when vocalist Hoest performed with a swastika painted on his chest, and in part because of a history of nationalistic and Islamophobic language from the band. As a result, they had a handful of shows in North America canceled, and after increased outcry, the band canceled their entire tour after issuing a statement with the usual, “but we’re not really Nazis, honest!” excuses, as well as plenty of finger-pointing at “left-wing agitators.”
There seems to be a similar kind of thing happening with Australian band Destroyer 666, who have a North American tour planned with Watain. After San Francisco’s DNA Lounge discovered the misogynist statements by D666 about how women making #metoo statements just needed, and I quote, “some hard cock,” they decided that band didn’t need to play their venue, and so there was an attempt to keep the show, but without Destroyer 666 on the bill. Instead of finding a way to make that work, Watain simply rebooked at a different venue, and in turn DNA Lounge were called “Cucks,” and you know how this plays out.
The comments section of the BrooklynVegan article reporting the Watain/Destroyer 666 story more or less ended up like I expected it, with people using phrases like “Commie witchhunter.” And it’s annoying, because it basically doesn’t contradict DNA Lounge’s sarcastic statement about how “metalheads are a simple, gentle folk who merely want to enjoy their growled sexist and racist diatribes in peace!” There aren’t enough “ughs” in the world for me to drop here right now.
I think there are three important things that need to be said right now. 1. Free speech doesn’t guarantee the right to be paid, just to not be prosecuted. 2. If a business doesn’t want Nazis, racists, misogynists or otherwise hateful pieces of garbage among their clientele, that’s their prerogative. As long as we live in a capitalist society (resurgent talk of “late capitalism” aside), that remains a preferred way for many people to deal with toxic elements of society. (And if venues don’t want to cancel the show, they don’t have to—but bands who do stupid things shouldn’t be surprised when it does happen.) And 3. I’m really tired of letting trolls speak for metal on the whole.
A lot of metalheads are trolls. This much we can all agree on. But they don’t speak for the rest of us, and the fact that they continue to suck up all of the air in the room is a bit annoying. I know I’m not helping matters by talking about it, but I think it’s important to take a step back and clarify that, no, metalheads are not by and large Nazis or far-right agitators. In fact, the vast majority of metalheads probably don’t even give a shit about Taake or Destroyer 666. I’m not saying they’re all great human beings, or that we’re not flawed or whatever. And with a band like Metallica—not just one of the most successful metal bands of all time, but simply one of the most successful bands of all time—you’re going to find some Trump supporters among their fans. It’s inevitable. This is America. No need to sugarcoat it. But so much attention is given to the worst among us, it’s a little bit like Trump rallies being given the majority of the airtime on cable news. It paints a picture that’s distorted at best.
It’s not that metal breeds shitty ideologies. That’s a lazy argument that goes back to the whole “video games lead to violence” chestnut, which apparently keeps on being dusted off. It’s that people who harbor those shitty ideologies find something attractive in metal. For many of us, the intensity and aggression and darkness is an appealing aesthetic because of cathartic or artistic reasons. Or, like when people watch the Big Air competition during the Winter Olympics, because it’s highly entertaining to see people pushing their physical limits. Some of the best musicians in the world are in metal bands, and listening to them run wild is a dazzling thing to behold.
But sure, that darkness and intensity can sometimes attract people who find something different in it, and it appeals to their alienation and isolation, which are often the same conditions that lead to people becoming white nationalists. So when DNA Lounge clowns on metalheads by saying they’re a “simple, gentle folk,” they’re certainly touching upon a truth in some form, but it speaks to a fringe element. Metal isn’t isolated in having assholes among its ranks (anyone want to go back and look at all the Nazi punk bands that sprung up in the ’80s?), but it is unique in that the trolls and edgelords among us continue to defend its bad behavior—or even make it marketable. Let’s not forget, Richard Spencer’s music of choice wasn’t Burzum, it was Depeche Mode.
Much as is often the case in matters of politics, the most obnoxious people are always the loudest. Reasonable people don’t necessarily feel the need to scream in someone’s face about how they’re wrong, or to smear ideology in someone else’s face. But that’s what trolls do, and trolls by and large live to antagonize. In fact, just last month, a really weird right-wing metal meme began circulating. It’s not worth publishing here, but basically it looked like a typical metal festival lineup, only all the bands have been the subject of some racist controversy or other, from Burzum to Deathspell Omega and even, yes, Taake.
Now, I suppose the idea was to “trigger” the “snowflakes” or whatever, but most of us metal fans on the left just found this confusing. Like, sure, haha, it’s so funny that Phil Anselmo and Disma and Taake and Inquisition and all these other bands that have said or done racist things are on this fake festival lineup, I guess? And we’re supposed to be upset by this thing that doesn’t exist? OK cool. But also, why is Sunn O))) on the lineup? The drone-metal group whose founding member Stephen O’Malley released a limited edition album with the intent of donating money to charity after the terror attacks in France in 2015. That band? OK dudes.
I rarely get upset over this kind of trolling, simply because it’s provocation done without any real clear message or power behind it. In this case, it’s also just really poorly done. And ultimately, I don’t get that upset about those same racist (or at least highly problematic) bands because they exist within metal, but they don’t represent the rest of us. Similarly, when Young and In the Way disbanded after accusations of sexual assault, some asshat using the name “JohnnyReb” decided to leave a comment on this here site talking about weak women and cucks and some other Cernovich bullshit that I have no time for. But this isn’t MetalSucks and the inmates don’t run the asylum, so it’s been deleted. It might be an unspoken rule, but there’s a no-hateful-idiots-allowed policy here.
Because metal is founded upon being a genre of outsiders, it’ll inevitably bring some assholes into the tent. But I’ve also found it to be a community that’s brought me a lot of comfort and camaraderie. And this will shock nobody who spends a lot of time with metal, but it’s a community that’s essentially just made up of a bunch of nerds who love heavy music and have formed some tight bonds on the basis of that music. I’ve made a lot of good friends through a shared love of metal, and they hate trolls and fascists just as much as I do. Furthermore, I can think of no album more anticipated in metal this year (at least among my own circle of metalhead friends and peers) than the new album by YOB. A band whose website is literally Yobislove.com. A band whose frontman makes praying hands between songs and whose shows often result in emotional hugs between audience members. Yeah, I’m extremely excited to hear some new music from a profoundly powerful doom metal band that takes a spiritual, even compassionate view of music as a method of healing. I’m 100 percent here for that sweaty group hug, because I want music to move me emotionally and feel good and be open. That’s the best thing that music can be.
I’ll be honest here, I’d love to see a festival that included YOB, Sleep (who played a benefit show for victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting), Napalm Death, Summoning, Kreator, Power Trip, Woe, Thou, Panopticon, Liberteer, ANCST, Feminazgul, Dawn Ray’d, Fucked and Bound, Primal Rite, and, sure, Sunn O))). Not because it would trigger those on the right, but because it would simply be a kickass festival of great bands. But if anyone wanted to come with an open mind and maybe be willing to consider some alternate viewpoints without any hostility, well then that would be even better.
The best metal tracks of March 2018
Therapy – “Failure”
I don’t always get a chance to discuss the strength of the heavy music scene in Treble’s hometown of San Diego, but there’s never been a better time than right now. While death metal and crossover thrash groups like Cave Bastard and Pissed Regardless have been making some inroads with national publications, on a more DIY level, hardcore quartet Therapy has set the bar pretty high. Featuring former members of the great, underrated Age of Collapse, Therapy steps away from that group’s more exploratory take on crust punk for an ultra-heavy, Discharge and His Hero is Gone style hardcore explosion on their new cassette demo release, which kicks off with “Failure,” a 90-second burst of brilliantly bruising mayhem. This is a band worth watching from this corner of the country. Just make sure not to blink, or you might miss their minute-long throwdowns.[from Demo, out now; self-released]
CHAOS ECHOES – “Embodied by Perfidious Curls in the Innervated Flux…”
I can’t help but feel a certain affection for metal bands that give their songs absurdly long, pretentious titles, as that’s almost more hostile than simply evoking Satan all the time (and on that note, that means that Keiji Haino is way more metal than anyone). But France’s CHAOS ECHOES aren’t here for being pretentious—not exactly. Their avant garde style of death metal, which fucks with rhythm and time signature and explodes with an almost overwhelming darkness, is reminiscent of the likes of Portal and Gorguts, two bands that have helped bring death metal into weird, arty territory. And their Bandcamp page quotes jazz great Wayne Shorter, which suggests their influences span well beyond metal itself. The first track on their new album Mouvement bellows, booms, jerks, comes to abrupt stops and continues to throttle and halt until the listener feels whiplash coming on. This is intense stuff, but the musicianship behind it makes it more accessible than the pinch-harmonic squeal of your average djent band. This is cerebral and strange, but it fucking rocks, too.[from Mouvement, out now; Nuclear War Now!]
Skeletal Remains – “Seismic Abyss”
I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re in the midst of a death metal renaissance, because that’s just not very metal. But a lot of it right now is exquisite, and much of the best of it is coming straight out of California. To say this is a new thing might be unfair to Skeletal Remains, however, who formed back in 2011 and already have two excellent full-lengths under their belts. “Seismic Abyss,” the first track released from their upcoming third album, shows that their brutal instincts are only sharpening with time, and that they’ve got the menace and murk to keep laying down a continuously-improving sound. “Seismic Abyss” is old-school in its sensibilities (or “old skull,” as the band puts it), which doesn’t mean it sounds old, just that it adheres to the straightforward blasts of relentless beat blasting, lightning solos and—this is the important part—rock solid songwriting. Too many bands layer on the riffs without seeking a resolution or any semblance of melody or hooks. Skeletal Remains make room for all these elements, and yet they don’t skimp on the beastly guitar work. It’s enough to give me a bit of state pride, to be honest.[from Devouring Mortality, out April 13; Dark Descent]
Pharoah Overlord – “Maailmanlopun ateriana”
Disclaimer: Pharoah Overlord might not, technically, be metal. They’re more of a hypnotic, psychedelic krautrock band, featuring members of Faust and Circle, which are amazing bands, even if they’re not metal bands per se. However, it also features Antti Boman from Demilich, so it’s essentially death-krautrock. It’s an odd mixture, admittedly, balancing synth-laden psychedelia with death metal growls, but once the distortion kicks in and ”Maailmanlopun ateriana” begins to attain some volume and girth, it sounds a lot more like metal than it began. Frankly, Pharoah Overlord (who have a pretty ample discography that warrants exploring) only recently stepped toward the metal realm, as Boman is a new addition to the group. Nonetheless, the Finnish/German group are making some exquisitely weird sounds right now, and while this might not make a lot of sense on paper, it’s pure euphoria for your ears.[from Zero, out ; Ektro/Hydra Head]
Ails – “The Echoes Waned”
The emergence of Ails should be a welcome sound for fans of celebrated but long dormant California black metal band Ludicra. Two of that band’s members, vocalist Laurie Shanaman and guitarist Christy Cather, form the core of Ails, along with members of 2084, Abrupt and Phantom Limbs, and god damn they’re amazing. The juxtaposition of clean-sung vocals against horrific shrieks adds an immediately fascinating tone here, showcasing a duality and penchant for nuance that sets this post-hardcore-inspired style of black metal apart from the bulk of pentagram-wearers these days. And while “The Echoes Waned” sounds strong from the beginning, it only grows more powerful over the course of its six and a half minutes, consistently adding new, interesting elements to its roaring assault, from a breathtaking arpeggio section to a surprising false-end with acoustic guitars—only to explode back into a full-strength outro for its proper conclusion. It’s the most exciting black metal track I’ve heard in this still-young year yet, and no doubt their debut will be a thrilling high-point for metal in 2018.[from The Unraveling, out April 20; The Flenser]
Piece by Piece
The best metal albums of the past month:
Arkheth‘s 12 Winter Moons Comes the Witches Brew: If you’d never heard of Arkheth until now, you’re not alone. They’ve released three albums in 10 years, one of them a double, but much of their catalog has flown under the radar. With 12 Winter Moons, the Australian one-man experimental metal outfit is in prime position to break through to a larger audience on the strength of the strange, melodic and disorienting sounds throughout. It’s an avant garde metal record that’s a lot of fun to listen to, in large part because of the heavy use of saxophone in every song. I’m telling you, this is the year of sax metal, and nothing’s changing my mind. Even if you’re skeptical on that front, check this album out. It’s outstanding. (Transcending Obscurity)
The Atlas Moth‘s Coma Noir: I’ll be the first to admit that The Atlas Moth is one of those bands that I tend to forget about for a few years at a time, only to find myself caught off guard by how much I enjoy their music every time they release a new album. I mean, I shouldn’t be—they’re an exceptional band that always returns with something innovative and interesting, and Coma Noir is no exception. Recorded with Sanford Parker, Coma Noir sharpens all of the band’s edges while retaining the psychedelic atmosphere they’ve successfully cultivated over the past decade. It’s captivating stuff. That shouldn’t be a surprise, but I guess that’s on me. (Prosthetic)
Keiji Haino and SUMAC‘s American Dollar Bill…: Despite the presence of SUMAC, this isn’t really a metal album, but it’s loud and intense enough to make that distinction sort of irrelevant. American Dollar Bill comprises five lengthy tracks with seemingly longer titles, ranging from intense noise rock to free-form noise to atmospheric post-rock. And yeah, it’s really fucking heavy. Whether or not it’s metal? Well, that’s an eye-of-the-beholder kind of matter, but give it an hour of your time to let it take you somewhere. It’s worth it. (Thrill Jockey)
Ilsa‘s Corpse Fortress: Ilsa’s sludge is slow and painful, not unlike that of Indian or Eyehategod or Thou, or any number of bands that have perfected the art of agony. Yet Ilsa also has a pretty sharp knack for hooks, however painful their riffs might be. On some level, sure, there’s some familiarity to what they do. But when what you do is this good, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. (Relapse)