I’m standing toward the back of the crowd on the bottom floor of Studio Seven in SoDo with my roommate, Danessa and my friend, Roxanne; trying to listen to a shitty opening band patiently. My feet are killing me. A small price to pay, however, for a great black metal band that was to come next! My roommate had bought us tickets for my birthday as soon as she had heard they were coming to town, knowing I’ve been dying to see them again since I went to their concert last summer in Europe; it was such a good show, I even wrote about it in my diary. And here I was, about to see them again for the second time in one year (pumped!).
Impatiently, Danessa left to check out the bands’ merch tables located just behind us. As she was scanning the shirts and hoodies that belong to the upcoming headliner we were there to see, she noticed something strange printed on one of them: 503. On the back, was an image of army tanks. The 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion was Hitler’s most prized tank battalion used for Nazi Germany in WW2. Being a history buff, and having Jewish in her family, she brought it up to Roxanne between sets. I brushed it off as empty shock-rock that didn’t mean anything. Roxanne, however, knew of the band’s notorious racism. Apparently, they’re very open about it and were kicked out of several venues for their proclamations against Muslims and Jews. Being Polish herself, she just chooses to separate the music from the artist mentally. Danessa was visibly sickened from this information, but not because of their beliefs. But because she financially supported them expressing this to their fans, verbally and through their merchandise, supporting their cause by purchasing two tickets to their show. However, knowing it was my birthday, she pretended not to be bothered as they came on. The crowd cheered and hollered when they began their first song. I tried to be like Roxanne, and segregate my personal thoughts from the music, but I was having a hard time; my stomach was turning. As someone in front of me raised their arm forward with the sign of the horns, I thought, ‘That’s just a few fingers off from an entirely different gesture’. And that was it I was done. I hugged Roxanne goodbye as my roommate, and I left.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for racism, homophobia, and misogyny to occur in the world of heavy metal. There have been several bands over the years who have shown up in the news, Rolling Stone, and social media for exclaiming their views on white supremacy and screaming discriminatory comments toward the crowd about gays and women. And there’s been a ton of articles and similar blog posts within our metal community discussing this subject. And I’m not trying to prove a point here or to place blame. I’m only sharing my views on this matter. If you haven’t noticed, I have chosen not to mention any band or artist’s names in this blog post because it’s not about finger pointing to anyone specific, but about an issue as a whole. Plus, I don’t feel the need to bring any more attention to these bands, even negative attention because I feel they don’t even deserve that.
I got to talking to my black metal-loving friend Gemma, who also saw that band with me last summer in Europe, about the subject of racism and Nazism found in black metal, and other subgenres. She had said to me, “…art – especially performance art like music – is a relationship between the artist and the audience. I guess in that sense, it’s not even a political statement to boycott hateful bands, it’s just relationship incompatibility. Because art is important to me, I continually fall prey to “beauty is truth” trope, and, finding “truth” in the art that appeals to me, I attribute some sort of wisdom to the people who create it. I can’t get how someone can create expressions of the highest human ideals while being a total dick in regular life (I guess I’m typically American in my distaste for complexity that way). Especially when it comes to black metal. That art actually is ugly, so we shouldn’t be surprised when it comes from an ugly place, like a heart filled with hatred. I mean, [that band] has been around since the early days, they used to hang with sick fuckers who killed each other and burned churches. And I think that’s why hate’s more common in black metal than other genres. Probably there’s an elevated level of stupid in any genre that sounds aggressive and celebrates ugly, but black metal was literally invented by psychopaths, so of course they’ll attract more of the same”.
Who has the time to research every….single…metal band to determine their political stance on minority ethnicities? Many of the lyrics are so hard to understand, being pronounced with screams, most of the time I have no idea what they’re saying. Maybe the black metal I blare into my headphones while I’m doing my school studies is some really hanus shit. Or maybe it’s about buttermilk biscuits; I don’t know! I just like how it makes me feel. And so the majority of progressively minded metalheads are a Polish Roxanne; choosing to look the other way and concentrate only on the way they feel when they hear this music. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame Roxanne, and I don’t blame metalheads who choose to do that; it’s hard to let that feeling go. But for me, if I learn this about them, I can’t not let that go. This “don’t ask, don’t tell” copout may work for some people, but not me. As a child, I was raised by discrimination at home and taught by prejudice in school. I’m done with it; I’m too old and too impatient for that anymore. I just don’t get the point of being racist, especially in today’s world of international business and social media. And how do you expect to do business out of your art when you act like that? Because it is an Art of Hate, and that’s the excusable point. As soon as they get offensive, their managers may shake their fingers at them when the reporters make it viral, but then they’re touring again and back on the charts.
Hate does not have to exist against each other. The reason I love metalheads is that of how loving and accepting they are toward each other. If this comes from a place of understanding what it is like to be ostracized as metalheads, then why can’t it be that way toward others who have felt the same? And what of the metalheads that are not Caucasian or heterosexual or male or all the above? Are they not equipped to be as metal as you? Why waste this on minorities and not direct it toward disagreements of your government? Be constructive and make a difference by calling out the politicians, the injustices of the privileged, and those that dress to the nines in corruption and genocide. What do you plan to accomplish with public degradation, because it ain’t gonna progress in this world; sorry to be a newsflash. It’s 2017, not 1939, move with the times or get off the stage.
(Good lord, two heavy posts in a row. Maybe my next one should be about tofu or underwear.)