With #KillTheKing, Heavy Metal Is Having Its #MeToo Moment
We spoke to the women behind a growing movement against misogyny and rape culture within the high-decibel music scene, and asked: can metal change?
Cover image by Lia Kantrowitz
During a festival held at Stockholm venue Södra Teatern last month, oft-controversial black thrashers Destroyer 666 took aim at #MeToo, the global movement against sexual violence and misogyny that’s become a powerful agent of societal change. To be more precise, the band directed their ire at #KilltheKing, a #MeToo-inspired campaign launched by a trio of women-led Swedish organizations to combat harassment, abuse, and misogyny in their local metal scene. Destroyer 666 had been singled out in #KilltheKing’s initial statement of intent as an example of the toxic masculinity that pervades the metal scene as a whole, something that triggered frontman Keith “K.K. Warslut” Destroyer’s temper once he and his bandmates hit the stage in the movement’s hometown. Swedish newspaper StockholmDirekt were the first to report on what happened next, and provided Noisey with an English translation of their account.
According to StockholmDirekt, the burly frontman went off on both the movement and the women themselves, yelling into the mic that, “Some women in this country have a problem with us. I know what they need. Hard dick! Fuck these political cunt suckers. This song is dedicated to the cunts in Kill the King.”
After StockholmDirekt’s report was published, Södra Teatern publicly apologized, and denounced the band's remarks; according to the booking agent there, the gig was not booked by the venue itself, but via a local promoter with ties to Destroyer 666—who, according to Johanna Carlberg, chief of communication at Södra Teatern, will not be welcomed back to play again in the future. Noisey reached out to the band’s label, Season of Mist, for comment, but have yet to receive a response as of press time.
Since then, Destroyer 666 have been kicked off a March 16 show at San Francisco’s DNA Lounge, where they’d been scheduled to open for Swedish black metallers Watain on their ongoing North American tour. As Brooklyn Vegan reports, the show was pulled after organizers caught wind of the Stockholm incident; following that development, the show was moved to another venue at Watain’s request so the two touring partners could play together as planned. Destroyer 666’s Facebook statement on the matter was customarily combative, ending with a succinct, “Fuck them all! No surrender!”
As the Destroyer 666 drama continues to play out (and will invariably continue to percolate as the tour progresses across the States to its final date at NYC’s Gramercy Theatre on March 31) the women thrust into the center of the firestorm have remained sanguine, and resolute.
“It came in no way as a surprise that Destroyer 666 made complete fools out of themselves like this,” Emelie Draper, a spokesperson for Swedish anti-racist group Heavy Metal Against Racism and co-organizer of #KilltheKing told StockholmDirekt following the band’s vile outburst. “It is a shame they make such mediocre music that they need to fill out their sets with crying over our existence. However, this can be seen as an evidence on why #killtheking is around and will continue to be around, and that our message has reached out.”
When I called another #KilltheKing organizer, Emmy Sjöström of the Heavy Metal Action Night festival series, at home in Stockholm a week later, she explained why they’d brought up Destroyer 666 in the first place, citing the band as a sort of avatar for everything their nascent movement is fighting against.
“We mentioned Destroyer 666 in the initial text because they are just a clear example,” she told me via Skype. “KK puking all other everybody, especially women, and having him play Stockholm and obviously the uprising, he knows we exist and we’ve bugged him enough to take time from his gig to bash us. He’s really just doing the things that we’re calling him out for, and digging his own grave for us.”
Sjöström is not alone in this battle. She’s joined by a crew of other Swedish metalhead women from Dear Darkness, a feminist metal Instagram community, and Draper’s comrades in Heavy Metal Against Racism, a group that fights against racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia via social media and real-world organizing. According to Sjöström, the women were inspired by the rise of Sweden’s #MeToo movement, and saw parallels between those discussions and in what they’d experienced as lifelong metal fans and members of the Swedish metal community. Others have joined them, too; metal journalist Sofia Bergström shared her own experiences with metal misogyny in an editorial for Swedish daily newspaper Aftonbladet, citing #KilltheKing as her inspiration to speak out, and 1, 381 people signed the original #KilltheKing petition.
“The #metoo revolution grew very big in Sweden very fast, with numerous petitions in several areas,” Dear Darkness spokesperson Frida Calderon explains. “Women within the music business founded their own petition, and we tapped into that and set out our own petition for the hard rock and metal scene—as this scene is always marginalized in general and for women and nonbinary people in particular. There is a strong culture of silence, and we needed to lift the lid off and let the women finally speak.”
“We were like, this has happened to us as well in the metal community,” Sjöström tells me. “We should start our own uprising, because it’s really bad. We’re sick and tired as hell of it, so let’s kill the king. So we launched the uprising, telling people now is the time to end this male dominance; now is the time to starting treating women and nonbinary individuals as equals. Enough is enough. Kill the king.”
In January 2018, they made their move.
They posted a #KilltheKing manifesto on social media on January 11, calling out bands like Destroyer 666, Pentagram, and Venom Inc in the process. It attracted immediate attention, and Sjöström says that the initial reaction they saw was very positive, with a lot of women and nonbinary people reaching out to thank them for taking initiative and speaking up about endemic issues. Though they dealt with some social media backlash (“People on Facebook that don’t even have their name or face showing, telling us we are silly bitches and stay at home, all that regular bullshit, but we just delete and ignore it,” Sjöström laughs) and angry responses from misogynist metal fans who resented the women for speaking up or saw their favorite bands names in survivor testimonies, the amount of positive attention they received inspired them to push further, and expand #KilltheKing outside of their hometown into its own global, metal-specific movement.
They’ve moving fast, too. While Heavy Metal Action Night and Heavy Metal Against Racism will continue to fight beneath the banner of #KilltheKing and the three groups are working in solidarity with one another, Dear Darkness have recently splintered off into a new project. A recent post on the Dear Darkness page announced the creation of a new hashtag, a new name, and a new campaign: #MetalToo.
“The #metoo and #killltheking movement must continue to include all people—all genders, all nationalities, all countries,” the post reads. “We must unite across borders, women, nonbinary, and men, to work for an equal hard rock and metal scene together. A scene where we can all share the love for the music on equal and safe terms, as a team. It’s the music that unites us, and it’s the music that should hold us together.”
As part of this next phase of awareness-raising, #MetalToo has been collecting stories from women around the world about the ways that sexual violence, harassment, gatekeeping, and misogyny have affected their lives as metal fans. These anonymous testimonies are highlighted on the Dear Darkness Instagram page, and include a number of sickening sexual assaults allegedly committed by band members and other metal fans alike. Aftonbladet has also printed over 20 of the testimonies #MetalToo had collected, as well as a rallying cry from the group itself.
“One of the things we did was start a secret Facebook group for women and nonbinary people, a safe space where you can share your story—tell us what happened to you and have other people, women, and non-men just listen and support you,” Sjöström says. “The stories that have come up in the group are horrifying; stories of violence, rape, sexual assault. It happens at every festival in Sweden; every show, something has happened that should not have happened ever to anyone. Reading these stories– and for me, having first-hand experience—it tears you apart, because people don’t take you seriously. ‘Ah, come on, you’re in Sweden for Chrissakes. Nothing ever happens in Sweden.’ Yes, it does.”
According to Sjöström, the chilly Scandinavian country’s reputation for gender equality, social welfare, high living standards, and overall happiness can often serve as a smokescreen, obscuring the very real issues lurking beneath all the fawning press, clean energy, and cheeky, Trump-trolling Twitter posts.
“Sweden is seen as an equal country, and in theory, that might be so, but not in real life,” she says. “In the metal community, we always have to prove our worth, more than any dude has had to do anywhere, anytime. We are getting sick and tired of it. We just want to be a part of the scene on the same terms as everybody else. We want to go to shows, we want to get drunk, you know? We love the music just as much as any dude does. We just want to be a part of it on equal terms.”
“We have always known these attitudes permeate our entire global society and the metal scene is not an exception to that, especially since it’s a male-dominated community,” Calderon adds. “Swedish people have a long history of speaking up against injustice, and that is what have led us this far. The women in the generations before ours demanded paid parental care, birth control, childcare, and free abortions, and have been a huge part in founding the society we have today. We knew we had to do this.”
The name for the original campaign, #KilltheKing, was coined by Heavy Metal Against Racism. When I speak with another of the group’s spokespeople, Banesa Martinez, a longtime metal DJ, she emphasizes the intersectional nature of the movement’s rebellion, and the way structural racism filters down into the metal community via mainstream Swedish society.
“[These problems are] ranging from employment issues, segregation, racial profiling and medical care, and are issues that will be talked about even more in the coming months since we have an established racist party that is gaining more political ground,” she explains, referencing an anti-immigration nationalist party, the Sweden Democrats, who will participate in the country’s next general election on September 9, 2018. The party was founded in 1988 by a SS veteran, a neo-Nazi, and a racist skinhead.
Martinez goes on to note the ways that Sweden’s feminist-friendly image often glosses over the social issues so integral to #KilltheKing’s fight. “The main targets are Muslims but the number of hate crimes have increased in Sweden, [with] attacks on homes for asylum seekers and synagogues,” she says. “Organizations working with issues related to domestic violence don’t get enough government funding, and we are still struggling with unjust treatment of rape victims in our courts. Female homicide victims by a man she already knows, in her home, are still high by Swedish standards. The matter of getting gender confirmation surgery takes years to be approved, if you even get approved.”
Growing up, she remembers seeing Nazis openly in attendance at black metal shows; when she was older, she confronted them face-to-face, and was “beaten down at a festival by a group of confrontative local racists, all wearing steel-toe boots.” For Martinez (and for all of the women involved), this fight is clearly a personal one.
Calderon says that the three groups came together on their own, and quickly formed a bond around their shared mission as well as their shared experiences growing up as girls and then young women in the Swedish metal world. All three women Noisey spoke with remember getting into metal as preteens, but feeling like they were never fully accepted despite their passionate love for the music itself; they were often punished for their refusal to conform to expected feminine gender roles, derided as “groupies” or challenged to prove their metal knowledge.
“Growing up as a girl on a small Baltic island in a typical middle class community, I basically had to hide my music preferences to be somewhat accepted,” Calderon remembers. “I was considered a tomboy, and was afraid that my musical preference added to that image, as growing up as a girl means that my utmost mission was to please the patriarchal structures of being cute, pleasing, attractive and adaptable. It wasn’t “girly” enough to wear big heavy metal band t-shirts, Dr Martens boots and no makeup – and that was not popular amongst the boys, to say the least. Today I’d say that the metal scene is not even to be considered a subculture anymore, but a huge global music community; I’d hope this has made it easier for non-males to feel comfortable in their music preference, but instead the sexism and fixation on appearance is much more obvious.”
So what’s next for #MetalToo? Global domination, preferably. That’s the coalition’s goal, anyway, and they’ve already laid the groundwork to launch #KilltheKing chapters in different countries. Calderon encourages those interested in joining #KilltheKing to get involved via the hashtag, by signing the coalition’s petitions, by sharing personal stories (anonymity is guaranteed), and by forming their own local groups to continue the fight against heavy metal sexism, misogyny, and sexual violence.
“The spirit of the uprising was clear—to share the stories, support each other, and truly find out that it’s not our individual choices or faults, but that there is a structural problem hailing from the destructive male gender role, and how it affects its surrounding in so many levels of our lives,” Martinez says. “That tries its best hold us back, oppress and diminish through social structures, societies’ rigid rules and terms, and the norms that control the way we perceive ourselves and those around us. When the first stories started to pour into #KilltheKing, we weren't so surprised about the horrid experiences that were shared—but about the magnitude, the number of people sharing similar stories, and some that chose to share the name of the predators and their bands/venues had been one of many other victims. That made us all work even harder and more focused on the path we had chosen.”
“A lot of women have reached out to us from outside of Sweden, saying, ‘Fuck, we need this too!’” Sjöström adds. It sounds as though an increasing number of women and nonbinary metalheads have reached that same boiling point that preceded Sjöström and her Swedish metal sisters’ foray into activism.
“When you’ve been a part of the scene for over 10 years, all that stuff that happens to you just builds up and you think, ‘Is this the way I should be treated? Do I want to live my life this way?’ I just got more angry,” she explains. “I saw all the sexism and misogyny within the scene and people were accepting it, because, ‘That’s the way it is, don’t care about it.’ Well, I have to care about it, because it’s my life. I got really pissed off, and I found other women who were also really pissed off, and now we are pissed off together!
“Metal has always been about going against the grain,” Sjöström concludes. “If you look at what happens around the world, it’s this toxic masculinity taking over everywhere, racism and misogyny everywhere. It is metal’s place to stand up against that. If you want to be metal and anti-establishment, you should not just play into that role of being this ‘alpha male.’ You should fucking go with us, because this is obviously something that is provocative to people, and metal is supposed to be provocative. In that sense, we are doing everything right.”
Kim Kelly is an editor at Noisey; follow her on Twitter.