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The politics of metal

BY KIRSTEN JACOBSEN | OCTOBER 27, 2010 7:15 AM

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Burned out on robocalls? Looking to drown out those incessant political ads on TV? Sick of hearing so many talking points it makes your ears bleed? Well, have I got the election season remedy for you — and it even comes with a soundtrack.

If listeners dig beneath the growls and noise, heavy-metal music is suffused with some poignant thoughts on politics. It offers both commentary and a heaping dose of discontent with the status quo. And though the relentless, crushing sound may require acclimation, no doubt some will find it less oppressive than, say, a libertarian finds the Federal Reserve.

Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not always about what you hear — it’s about what’s being said through music that counts.

“Lyrics with social or political themes present their messages literally; their reform-oriented agendas are both more overt and more easily digested by the respectable masses,” sociopolitical activist Natalie Purcell writes in Death Metal Music: The Passion and Politics of a Subculture. “On a deeper level, such challenges to tradition promote questioning and reassessment of personal and cultural values.”

Metal bands’ politics fall all along the ideological spectrum. The anarchical Belgian group Leng Tch’e blends into leftist metal band Gojira, with Californian four-piece Belay My Last holding the ideological middle. Virginian heavy-metal group Lamb of God has a conservative bent, and the Californian death-core band All Shall Perish resides on the far right. Las Vegas-based Molotov Solution hangs back, admonishing politics of all stripes.

But the bands themselves aren’t immune from political posturing. In 1995, then-Kansas Sen. Bob Dole addressed Congress, bemoaning death-metal band Cannibal Corpse’s undermining of “our character as a nation.”

Just a year later, the same band — along with several rap groups — were excoriated as one of the country’s 20 most-offensive musical acts. In 1999, then-Vice President Al Gore and the Senate Judiciary Committee pressed America’s entertainment industry to clean up its act, labeling metal musicians “purveyors of violence.” Certainly a handful of disgraced politicians can sympathize with these types of character assassination.

Left-leaning four-piece Beneath the Massacre would likely have responded to Dole like this: “We fear what we can’t understand; deny, what we cannot bear, comprehend, and respect.” (They’re Canadian, but apparently they understand the breadth of the First Amendment better than some politicians.)

So in light of our dismal political environment, I am proposing some changes to the current slate of candidates. Instead of attempting to sway the voting public with politicians who we only lambaste, pursuing policies we only disdain, I’m offering some alternatives.

For governor, I nominate Woe of Tyrants — the tried and true fomenter of democracy at its finest. Senator, naturally, will be hard-core outfit Plebian Grandstand. The Second District representative will be the Faceless, in order to be heard, not seen. As for attorney general, it’s only appropriate that death-metal band Pig Destroyer fill the position (don’t let the name fool you; the members will uphold the rule of law to the best of their abilities).

Finally, Cattle Decapitation, a staunchly pro-PETA, pro-animalian band, will fill the state secretary of Agriculture position (hope Iowans like salad). Melechesh will be our diplomatic envoy to the Middle East; I’ll replace the U.N. with, well, United Nations.

As my tongue-in-cheek nominations illustrate, current affairs will continue to play an integral role in the metal genre — even once election season hell has thankfully passed.


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