Welcome to our column, Point/Counterpoint, where we prove to the rest of the Internet that we are smarter and more correcter than anyone else in Internet music land. We know these dudes who run a metal site called MetalSucks that people seem to like, so we challenged them to an editorial cagematch. The rules were simple: two blogs enter, one blog leaves. This week's topic: Metal. Can it go TOO far? Below is our point that absolutely, yes, it can. You can read MetalSucks' blasphemous response right here.
When I was a wee lad, I discovered the cathartic power of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden and I longed for more. My own search through fanzines and European metal mags led me to W.A.S.P., Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth. But still my hunger for heaviness could not be quenched.
I reached out to friends, who reached out to friends. One of my buddies, Shawn Crow, with whom I would comb record stores throughout Maryland in search of metal gold while he tracked down classic rock albums, excitedly told me his contacts had informed him that three of the heaviest bands in the world were Motörhead, Rainbow, and the Rods. So I picked up Motörhead’s Iron Fist, which was a good start, Rainbow Rising, which I also grabbed, was a great album, but hardly ear-bleeding and some crappy blues-metal disc by the Rods was a misstep entirely.
Then on a trip to Joe’s Record Paradise in Aspen Hill, I found a seven-inch by Venom of “Welcome to Hell.” The store owner agreed to play it for me and my jaw dropped. At the time, it seemed like a dare, an invitation, an affirmation that if I were to enter the fold, there was no turning back. At first, I refused to accept the invitation and left. I felt that Venom was beyond my threshold. But I couldn’t get the music out of my mind and returned to the store later that day to buy the full Welcome to Hell album. Later, I realized the band’s Satanic image was mere shtick, but at the time, it seemed real and it was, indeed, a point of no return. It wasn’t long before I was listening to early Voivod, Hellhammer, Sodom, Destruction, Artillery and Mercyful Fate, whose frontman King Diamond was the only artist I could find who gloated in interviews that he was a true Satanist. This gave me pause. I was not a religious kid, but I knew that evil existed and I didn’t want to tempt fate – just in case. I didn’t hesitate for long, however, and discovered a bounty of metallic thrills in the albums Melissa and Don’t Break the Oath as well as King Diamond’s first two solo records.
The point of no return.
The first album that actually made me consider abandoning my support of a band was Slayer’s Reign in Blood. I found out about the speed freaks early after reading a review of their debut album Show No Mercy in Heavy Metal magazine that read, “Slayer will make hardcore punks reach for the Geritol.” I quickly picked up the album and its follow-up, Hell Awaits, but when a flyer inside the vinyl sleeve fell out inviting me to join the band’s fanclub, I realized the organization was called the Slaytanic Wehrmacht. Anyone who knows anything about war history knows the Wehrmacht was the name for the German Militia (army, navy, and air force) between 1935 and 1945. Were Slayer a neo-Nazi band? I wondered.
My concern grew stronger when the band released the legendary Reign in Blood, which featured, “Angel of Death,” not only one of the best thrash metal songs ever written, but one explicitly about the war atrocities of Nazi butcher Josef Mengele. When I read interviews with the band and discovered that the song was not meant to glorify war atrocities, but merely depict them in a narrative style, I continue to pledge my support for Slayer – especially after I learned that vocalist Tom Araya is of Chilean descent and were he in Poland, Romania, Germany, or any of the other countries Germany dominated in World War II, he would have been sent to a concentration camp just like my Jewish ancestors.
When considering whether metal can be too extreme, it’s important to realize that metal’s evolution has relied on musicians taking what previous had done and upping the ante. Lyrically, Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast” was once considered extreme but it’s a cakewalk compared to Morbid Angel’s “God of Emptiness.” That said, for me there are some subjects that shouldn’t be fucked with. Racism and anti-Semitism is where I draw the line, and if you’re so “extreme” as to support the hatred or genocide of a specific group, then there’s not enough room in hell for both of us. I won’t mention the names of the bands who fit this description because I don’t want to give them props. They know who they are and they can all eat a bullet.
Death metal and goregrind bands that advocate extreme acts of violence also make me queasy. When I first heard Cannibal Corpse’s “Fucked With a Knife,” “Entrails Ripped From a Virgin’s Cunt,” and “Stripped, Raped and Strangled,” I questioned whether I could remain loyal to a band that seemed to have serious issues with women, despite how musically explosive they were. Again, further research led me (correctly or incorrectly) to the belief that former vocalist Chris Barnes was merely method acting, taking on the guise of a serial killer to commit the most heinous acts he could imagine, but that he harbored no hatred of women.
Calm down, Cannibal Corpse.
Then, we come to actual perpetrators of violent crime. That’s a tough one and again, it – like everything else -- is a matter of personal boundaries. If you’ve killed someone and don’t have a valid defense, your band is off my playlist. Yet, I remain a fan of some Norwegian artists who were involved in church burnings – maybe because many of them did their time and are now open to fans of all denominations and creeds (or so they say). There are clearly some Christian metalheads who won’t give Darkthrone or Watain the time of day – and rightly so since the bands blaspheme that which the devout hold sacred. But what would metal be if it didn’t push buttons?
Whether metal can be too extreme is really up to the individual, both in terms of lyrical and sonic content. For me, yes, metal can go too far lyrically, but not sonically. That doesn’t give all politically correct extremists a free pass. If something sounds good, I’ll listen to it, whether it’s as soft and delicate as the Cocteau Twins or as fast and dissonant as Napalm Death’s Scum. That said, I don’t find most super-extremists enjoyable, whether it’s Lymphatic Phlegm or Cliteater (though some of these outfits have a certain sick humor value, and you gotta love some of their cover art).
In the final analysis, extremism is in the ear of the beholder and fans will dictate whether they support or oppose of the exploits, music and messages of various bands from various genres. In the end, if enough people think something is too extreme, it will probably go away. And if it doesn’t, all you have to do is listen to something else.
MetalSucks doesn't agree with us and probably thinks all the churches should be burned down in the name of metal. Read their overly extreme response here.