Category Archives: Wyrdness Abounds

Were Megadeth Trolled at the Grammys?

 

There was plenty of the weird and wonderful at the Grammys this year, but one of the oddest moments surely has to be this. Megadeth, on their twelfth visit to the Grammys, finally won the coveted Best Metal Performance award. As they made their way to the stage, they were accompanied by the riff from that most famous of Megadeth songs, Master of Puppets. Yep, no, that’s right, it’s a Metallica song.

Now for literally any other band in the universe, it might not have been so crazy, but of course, Dave Mustaine used to be in Metallica, doncha know. He was kicked out in 1983, causing some rather bad blood for many years. Do the organisers of the Grammys not know this? I just can’t get my head around the mindset of whoever chose that particular track, from that particular band. Were they trying to piss Mustaine off?

Megadave actually took the whole thing in very good humour, giving the camera a bit of air guitar as he marched towards the stage. In a follow up tweet (and man, this guy likes to tweet!), he said You can’t blame them for not being able to play Megadeth.‘ OK, but Metallica? I mean, if they needed a generic metal theme but the organisers weren’t comfortable playing the band they were awarding (which is madness, sheer madness) then for goodness’ sake, pick any other band than Metallica.

The good thing is, while fans are super pissed off, the band seem not to be, and Mustaine told Billboard …you’ve just won a Grammy and you’re going to worry about some house band doing a cover song in the background?‘ Good man.

What do you think? Deliberate troll or organisational cock up? Let us know in the comments. Watch the award being presented below.

Metallica gain new member after Grammy Awards?

Is it possible that, in the aftermath of their storming performance of Moth Into Flame at this year’s Grammys, that Lady Gaga will become the fifth member of Metallica?

According to several news sources, including Vulture and Rolling Stone, Lars Ulrich has been gushing about the collaboration between Metallica and pop singer (and dyed-in-the-wool Metalhead) Lady Gaga.  Although there were some technical problems, namely James Hetfield‘s mic apparently not being plugged in, that marred the performance.

If you haven’t seen it, here’s a “fixed” version:

Pretty good, eh?  Seems like we weren’t the only ones to think so.  As they walked offstage, Gaga apparently suggested to the band that “this is just too good to leave“.  An assertion that Lars agreed with, but he says he knew it was going to work from the outset:

“It was totally in her wheelhouse… The only question was at what level it was going to work. We did one run-through. The way her and James’ voices worked, it gelled so well together we all kind of stood there like, “Huh?” It was really fucking next-level.”

That impression was confirmed during their rehearsal time.  Going by what Lars was saying during various interviews, Lady Gaga might well have been invited to join Metallica on a more permanent basis:

“As you spend 72 hours with somebody, and there’s this connection and this intimacy, part of it is that maybe you don’t want it to end.  When these moments work, you always leave them open to re-connection.  Obviously, we’re not sitting in a recording studio today writing songs for a record or anything. I think that our weekend together was so seamless and so authentic and such a natural fit that the idea of revisiting this at some point down the road (is a good one)”.

Quoting from the interview with Rolling Stone:

“[She is the] quintessential perfect fifth member of this band.  Her voice, her attitude, her outlook on everything is so awesome.  [The performance] was so effortless and organic and she just has the spirit of hard rock and metal flowing through her veins.

It comes really easy for her. There’s nothing contrived; she just has this super warm, easy energy.  We already started fast-forwarding to the next chapter when we can do more of this. It’s not one of those “20 lawyers, strategists and managers trying to force two people from two different worlds to figure out how to spend four minutes together on a national telecast”.

Of any of these undertakings, this is about as organic and authentic as there’s ever been one. We’re just getting started.”

It’s certainly interesting.  Personally, I hope they end up in the studio together.  Any collaboration will be much more listenable than Lulu (which many of us have managed to block from our memories!), since Gaga writes decent pop songs and (as mentioned earlier) is a known Metalhead.  OK, the Metal Taliban will HATE even the IDEA that this may well happen.  Then again, they’ve hated Metallica since the early 90s, so neither myself nor the vast majority of the planet really don’t give a flying one about their opinions.

So… is it going to happen, or is the Danish stixman just winding everyone up?  Personally, I hope he isn’t.  She’s certainly got the pipes for it and the musical taste.  Fingers, as far as I’m concerned, are firmly crossed.

Who are The Next Generation Of Metal Festival Headliners?

The first generation have all-but retired. The second generation are taking their curtain calls. Some of the third generation are at least starting on the encores. So what (and more to the point, who) comes next?

Carl fondles his crystal ball…

Black Sabbath have retired from touring. So have Mötley Crüe. Iron Maiden are cutting back on the huge, globe-straddling jaunts. AC/DC are a shadow of their former selves and have almost become a tribute band, thanks to the treatment of Brian Johnson. Judas Priest must be starting to wind down now, as must Alice Cooper. Even Metallica, the newly re-united Guns N’ Roses, Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson will be counting their remaining time on the road in years, rather than decades.

The same goes for Kiss, even though Gene Simmons will probably be working on a plan to sell even more of the legacy of “the hottest band in the world” before even he has to call it a day.

These are the things that, apparently, keep various media pundits, so called “fans” and mega-festival promoters awake at night.

Those of us who are keeping our eyes and ears open to those outside the stables of the likes of BMG, Universal, Sony and Geffen have seen the future, and it has a much rosier, healthier complexion than the doom-mongers would have us believe.

Allow me to guide you along an admittedly mostly subjective path, in no particular order other than the meanderings of my own mind:

Rammstein

The German technometal pioneers have got a massive, pyrotechnic-filled stage show, a charismatic frontman in Till Lindemann and they’ve certainly got the songs. Anyone who has been to any sort of Metal night in the past decade or so has heard the likes of Du Hast, Feuer Frei or Links 234 pounding out of the speakers and at the very least seen the mosh pit that forms as the dancefloor fills. The friction inside the band that almost broke them up a few years ago seems to have gone away.  Having seen them at Sonisphere in 2010, headlining the second stage, it wouldn’t be too much of an ask for them to take the logical next step and grab the glory of Main Stage Headliners.

Nightwish

To headline a festival, you need a band with a HUGE, bombastic sound and charisma to spare. The most important thing, though, is the songs. Tuomas Holopainen’s Symphonic Metal crew have all of those by the truckload. In Floor Jansen, they have someone who can literally sing anything from Death Metal to Opera, hitting all points in between and a truly commanding stage presence. As Gemma Lawler of British upstarts, Dakesis rightly said, “she’s a goddess”. The male side of the vocals being provided by Finnish Metal stalwart and Tarot founder, Marco Hietala certainly doesn’t hurt. Neither does the sheer quality and strength-in-depth of the band’s back catalogue and musicianship.

Avenged Sevenfold

Abandoning their Emo/-core roots and showing they can play and write songs that will burrow into your head and stay there (which, in this case isn’t a bad thing) has done A7x no end of favours. Their turning point was, most likely, the City Of Evil album. That’s the one where M Shadows actually start to sing, rather than scream. Guitar solos became more prevalent and the sheer melody was accentuated.

Like Metallica and even Def Leppard before them, disaster didn’t kill them. Even though Rick Allen “only” lost an arm and both Cliff and Rev lost their lives, all three bands were tempered by the fires, when lesser bands would have crumbled or at the very least, like Slipknot, when faced with the death of Paul Grey, lost their momentum.

As Mabh’s review from their recent UK trek showed, A7x have certainly got the chops to headline an arena tour. If they can do that, they’ve certainly got what it takes to headline the likes of Download.

They’ve even got a pre-made nickname in A7x.

Alter Bridge

It’s very tough to argue with a pedigree like Alter Bridge’s. Not only do they have Myles Kennedy, who could sing the phone book and make it interesting, they’ve also got Mark Tremonti on guitar. His own solo material is good stuff, and earns its plaudits with very good reason, but when he works with Slash’s vocalist of choice, it’s all over bar the shouting.

They’ve certainly got the songs. Anastasia, for instance. That one’s a festival closer by any and all measures. It’s not the only one in their arsenal, either. Whenever they release an album, it makes the annual top ten lists every time.

As I said, you really can’t argue.

Prophets Of Rage

Here’s another one that is almost impossible to argue with. Surprisingly, it’s the only “supergroup” on the list. Even more surprisingly, these guys have only released an EP so far.

Who are they?

You all remember Rage Against The Machine, right? Definite festival headliners. Replace Zak De La Rocha with Public Enemy’s Chuck D and DJ Lord and Cypress Hill’s B-Real, light the blue touchpaper with the current political climate in the US, UK and all around Europe and stand well back.

OK, like most supergroups, they may not have the longevity of the likes of Rammstein, Nightwish, Alter Bridge and A7x, but while they’re around, if you were in a band, would YOU like to try and follow THEM onto the Main Stage at a festival?

So that’s the immediate future sorted out. Come back next week and we’ll take a look even deeper into the future and take a look at the bands who may well take over in the decades to come…

Classic One-Shot: Alice Cooper, Poison

This song takes me right back to The Wendy House at Leeds University; a riot of black eyeliner and chokers, nu-rocks and spikes, intermingled with the odd ruffle and the occasional bit of black lace (not the band, thank goodness). The Wendy House was an ‘alternative’ night, in that it veered somewhat from the mainstream path, whilst still being accessible to the average Joe. There was a cyper-punk room for the hardcore, but the flashing lights and neon colours verged on epilepsy inducing, so I usually remained in the main room, surrounded by the other stomping, sweaty punters.

The DJ’s choices wandered from Nine Inch Nails to Faith No More, Rammstein to The Cult, and the playlist was only predictable in one regard: there were always a few songs that got played every month. Poison was one of them, and it was always at that particularly drunk stage of the night, when screeching into your friends’ faces that I LOVE THIS SONG IMA DANCE NOW becomes completely appropriate behaviour.

The track hails from the end of the eighties, and retains that sense of drama and glamour that was prevalent throughout the decade. At the cusp of the nineties, Cooper avoided the stagnation that seemed to be occurring to other bands and genres, and released a raw, sexually charged song that has somehow aged very well.

The video came in for some stick, thanks to topless shots of Rana Kennedy, so there are two versions of the video, and the one mainly played is the slightly censored version. It would be easy to accuse Cooper of misogyny for using a topless model to promote his song, but I think that’s a bit lazy. If you really listen to the song, it’s about a woman using her sexuality to literally enslave a man; I think she’s pretty empowered! In an interview with Max Music TV in 2012, Cooper said he wanted to sing about something that happens to everyone: loving someone who you know is no good for you. It’s a universal theme, and combined with the songwriting talents of Desmond Child (Kiss I Was Made for Lovin’ You; Bon Jovi You Give Love a Bad Name etc) an anthem was created.

That long drawn out opening note with the touch of feedback, that launches into the simple but oh-so-catchy guitar hook; it’s so familiar to me now that it’s almost like a comfort blanket. And if having a song redolent with themes of bondage and cruelty as my comfort blanket makes me weird, well so be it.

Classic One-Shot: Iron Maiden, The Trooper

EMI, 1983

I love that feeling when you’re just pottering about, and an absolute belter comes on the radio and you have to stop what you’re doing, or at least incorporate some head bopping into your task. Even one of these happenstances a day can cheer me right up.

Today’s metal moment came courtesy of Iron Maiden, via Planet Rock (other rock stations are available) which I was sneakily listening to while doing some exceedingly tedious reports. It’s a few seconds before I realise my eyes have glazed over and my fingernails are tapping out the guitar riff on the curve of the mouse.

I’d love to say this track takes me back to 1983, but the truth is I was a wee bit too small to remember this song the first time around, and I probably came to Maiden about 1990, via an old cassette tape of Killers which I, ahem, borrowed from my parents’ collection. In awe at tracks like The Ides of March and Murders in the Rue Morgue, I soon sought out more, and The Trooper was one of those songs that has stuck with me from that point onwards.

There probably aren’t too many songs based on 19th century battles, certainly outside the folk genre, anyway. It’s a real skill that Maiden have, to take a pretty controversial topic and turn it into a killer (pun intended) tune with some of the catchiest hooks known to man. This particular offering comes from bassist Steve Harris, who took inspiration from the Tennyson poem The Charge of the Light Brigade. The video for the track had footage of the 1936 Errol Flynn film of the same name, which the BBC found ‘too violent’; how the world has changed in 34 years!

The Battle of Balaclava was a bloody and desperate affair, and as the lyrics state ‘on this battlefield, no one wins’. There were almost equal casualties on both sides. Without getting political, there is some clear resonation with current events if you dig deep, another sign of a great, well-crafted song.

And those guitar harmonies… so beautiful! This track is a four-minute oasis in a rather busy day that leaves me smiling for a good while after. Let me share that joy right now…

 

Who Are The Metal Taliban?

I recently joined a couple of Metal forums, to see if anything had changed in the years since I last had the time to use them.  It seems that they have, and not necessarily for the better.  The experience shows a lot of what is wrong with the Metal scene at the moment, and has been for about the last ten years or so.  Actually nearer 20.  That problem is fracturing of the fanbase, caused by elitism.

What do I mean by that?

It’s in the title: The Metal Taliban.

They seem to think they have the right to decide what is Metal, and what isn’t.  If it’s not Metal, it is derided and so are it’s fans.

They are the reason the live scene as a whole is struggling and why Metal will not be able to reach the heights it did in the late 80’s.  The Metal Taliban have decreed that if it doesn’t have Cookie Monster vocals, it’s not Metal.  If it doesn’t sound as if it was recorded inside a biscuit tin, it’s not Metal.  If more than three people like it, it’s not Metal.

That’s bollocks.  Are these people saying that Ronnie James Dio wasn’t Metal?  Are they saying Simon Hall, Dave Mustaine, Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson, Jorn Lande and Ozzy Osbourne aren’t Metal?  They’ll also tell you, with that air of smug superiority they all seem to have, that anything “-core” isn’t Metal.  I’m here to tell you that it is.  It ALL is.  Just because you don’t like it doesn’t give you the right to decide it’s not Metal.

So what, I hear you ask, is Metal?  It’s very simple.  Far simpler than The Metal Taliban would have you believe.  It’s a more aggressive, louder, faster offshoot of Blues.  That’s all you need in terms of a definition.  Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Judas Priest, Dimmu Borgir, Bring Me The Horizon, Black Veil Brides are ALL Metal.  Why?  Offshoot of Blues.  Blues-y chord progressions with lyrics with meaning (sometimes stories).  That is Heavy Metal.  That is what it all boils down to.  -core is what happens when Hardcore (which is really Punk cross pollinated with Thrash) cross pollinates with… well… Thrash.

The list goes on, but they are all formed by another form of music cross pollinating with Heavy Metal.  That makes them ALL Metal.  Don’t like that?  Tell it to someone who gives a flying one.  That, dear friends, is the crux of it; “Like”.  There are people (The aforementioned Metal Taliban) who decide that they like Metal.  They then decide that if they don’t like it, it’s not Metal.  They’re like the “troo kvlt” Black Metal kids (and they usually are kids).  Blinkered fools who want to be seen as “special”.  Just like the hipsters they so despise.  That’s actually what they are, though.  Hipsters in Metal band shirts.

Just like all hipsters, they should be laughed at, generally derided, possibly pitied for being so narrow-minded, but ultimately discounted and ignored.

When the whole Metal family can do that, we may just regain the position we had 30 years ago.

WWRS welcomes Powerzone and Pyratebeard

When I first got into Metal back in the late 1980’s, way before The Wyrd Ways Rock Show was even thought of, it was very much a community.  There were always people in pubs, bars, clubs and even on the street who would, if you got talking to them (which was very easy to do if you were wearing The Uniform), recommend bands you’d never heard of, and you would do the same.

During the 90’s and into the 2000’s, something happened to change all that.  Now, instead of welcoming the new kids, the older generation would deride their tastes.  In turn, the new kids would sneer at the older bands.  Not sure what caused this fracturing, but it’s hard not to look in the direction of the music press.  Add to that, the loss of the likes of Tommy Vance‘s Friday Rock Show and Alan Freeman‘s Saturday Night Rock Show on Radio 1 and the web forums that sprung up.

This was the environment that The Wyrd Ways Rock Show was born into.  When I tried, in the early days, to suggest collaborations, I was roundly ignored or it was suggested I merge and give up the WWRS name.

That wasn’t going to happen.

Things change, though, and the pendulum swings back.  Not so long ago, The Wyrd Ways Rock Show began a collaboration with Calderdale‘s Metal Ashes Of Phoenix. This means that listeners across the world can more easily hear the excellent spread of Metal and Rock James plays every Friday (and hear him spoil it all by talking absolute bollocks in the gaps).

Just today, things got better for The Wyrd Ways Rock Show’s mission to bring you the best Metal and shows on the planet.  We have joined forces with The Gentleman Of Metal, himself, Dani and his Powerzone! show.  Alongside Dani, comes his own friend and collaborator, the man only known as Pyratebeard

Join us.

There is strength in numbers, and we are growing.

Top Ten Judas Priest albums

10: Turbo

Much maligned (most unfairly in my opinion), this one is still one of Priest‘s biggest selling albums.  The change in sound from the more Trad Heavy Metal sound of the previous few albums happened as a reaction to the mid-80’s trend towards incorporating synth pop influences, as pioneered by ZZ Top.  Despite that, the title track is one of my personal favourite songs and has remained in Priest‘s live set.

 

9: Stained Class

This was the album that started the evolution towards Priest becoming the quintessential Heavy Metal band.  Producer Dennis MacKay streamlined Priest‘s songwriting, filtering out most of the Prog to create a tighter, meaner, more direct sound.  Stained Class also spawned Beyond The Realms Of Death and Exciter, as well as the controversial Spooky Tooth cover, Better By You, Better Than Me.

 

8: Jugulator

Even though Rob Halford had left the band somewhat acrimoniously, Priest made a solid attempt to carry on where Painkiller left off.  This was an angry band with a new singer in Tim “Ripper” Owens who could snarl as well as scream.  This may count as sacrilegious, but Ripper‘s version of Green Manlishi (with the Two-Pronged Crown), which can be found as a bonus track on Demolition, has a creeping menace to it that not even The Metal God himself could match.

This one is a grossly underrated album, that is worth re-evaluating purely on the strength of the last two songs: Bullet Train and the truly epic Cathedral Spires.

 

7: Sad Wings Of Destiny

Priest’s second album, the follow-up to 1974’s Rocka Rolla could probably be called the band’s first Heavy Metal album.  The centrepiece is the monumental Victim Of Changes, which set the stamp of what Judas Priest would be for the next six years, before everything changed for British Steel.  The Progginess was still strongly evident, but so were the riffs, solos and stratospheric vocals that became their trademark later on.  As well as Victim… this one is probably best known for The Ripper and Tyrant.

 

6: Defenders Of The Faith

Defenders… was the last of the three absolute classic albums Priest recorded in the 80’s, that pretty much set the standard the rest of their albums are judged by.  In terms of style, it didn’t really veer much from the path laid down by it’s predecessor, Screaming For Vengeance, which is why it’s not higher up in this countdown.

That said, it’s got another one of my favourite Priest songs on it, in the shape of The Sentinel.  It also contains Freewheel Burning, and Eat Me Alive, which is a masterclass in the art of lyrical innuendo and the double entendre, and earned them the ire of a certain Tipper Gore.

 

5: Redeemer Of Souls

After the bitty let-down that was Nostrodamus, Judas Priest needed to get their act back together, especially with the retirement of original member and mainstay, KK Downing.  To be absolutely honest, they played it safe.  Thing is, this is Judas Priest, one of the greatest Heavy Metal bands ever to walk the Earth, so their version of “playing it safe” puts them head and shoulders above most other bands.  This is a bloody good Judas Priest album, with very few weak links.  That’s why it’s sitting at Number 5.

Remember though, that this album was never supposed to happen.  The original plan was that Priest would do one more tour (named “Epitaph”, for obvious reasons), then would hang it up.  Substitute guitarist, Richie Faulkner (who had also worked with the late, great Sir Christopher Lee on his second Charlemagne album) changed all that.  Infused by new energy, they went back into the studio and recorded the album that righted the ship.

 

4: Angel Of Retribution

Arguably Priest‘s most important album, for them at least.  After the acrimonious split in the early 90’s, this was the album that brought Rob Halford back into the fold.

It was like he’d never been away.  The lessons Halford had learned from Fight and his own solo material were folded back into Judas Priest and they were all the better for it.

 

3: Screaming For Vengeance

The term “classic album” is bandied around far too much.  Judas Priest, though, got into a little bit of a habit of producing “classic” albums.  This is one of them.

The album kicks off with The Hellion, which leads into another all-time favourite of mine, and a mainstay of the band’s live set: Electric Eye.  This album also features Bloodstone, You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ and Devil’s Child.

Then there’s the title track, Screaming For Vengeance, itself.  In the old days of vinyl and cassette, that one kicked off side 2, and… well.  That’s why it’s in the Top 3.

 

2: British Steel

If any album deserved the accolade of being called “all killer, no filler”, it’s this one.  If not for the next album on the list, this would have been unassailable at the top.  There is not one single even slightly below par moment on this entire album.  Even the recording of the album has passed into legend in a way that only an album by a British band can… most notably due to the story behind the sound effects on Metal Gods.

It’s also got Grinder, Livin’ After Midnight, Rapid Fire and the song that is to Judas Priest as Paranoid is to Black Sabbath, Breaking The Law.

The only thing that stops British Steel being Priest‘s greatest album (the genius of the Breaking The Law video isn’t allowed into it) is that it doesn’t have a certain song as it’s title track…

 

1: Painkiller

It was never going to be anything else, really, was it?  As soon as British Steel came in second, this one was obviously the top.

None other than Sy Keeler, singer with Onslaught, agrees with me that this album sums up what Heavy Metal is all about. It was Rob Halford‘s original swansong with the band, and by the gods he went out on top. As with British Steel, this album has no weak links. A quick scan down the tracklisting shows up Hell Patrol, Night Crawler, Between The Hammer and The Anvil and Touch Of Evil. There’s also All Guns Blazing and One Shot At Glory.

Generally, that would be enough to bring it nose-to-nose with British Steel, but then you bring the title track onto the field, and the war is over. Kicking off with new boy (at the time) Scott Travis, formerly of Racer-X absolutely hammering his drumkit into the floor, Painkiller doesn’t let up for a second.

That’s why it’s Judas Priest‘s best album (so far), and possibly the greatest Heavy Metal album ever recorded.

Starr comes out against Pay-To-Play

Former Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr, famously described by John Lennon as being “not even the best drummer in The Beatles“, has come out against venue owners, promoters and managers who expect up-and-coming bands to pay to get on the bill with bigger bands.

In an interview in Bloomberg Businessweek, when asked about young bands face trying to get on tours with bigger bands, Starr stated:

“I go crazy, because if you want to open for a well-known band you have to pay; management makes you pay. Who is giving back? I did a Ringo tour once and had a local band at every gig open for us just to give them exposure. Nobody is helping anybody.”

He went on to express his anger about the way certain music streaming services treat artists citing an example of someone receiving a royalty check for just $5 when their music had picked up 12 million streaming listens.

Good to know that someone of the stature of Ringo Starr, one of the architects of modern music, is so against the way up-and-coming musicians are being treated by the industry.  He also stated he will do everything he can to help grassroots bands.  “Buy-ons” probably explain a lot of the bizarre touring bills that have been doing the rounds.  This sort of thing does no-one except whoever is receiving the “buy-on” money any favours.  It leaves the buyer out of pocket, needing to sell more merch to break even as well as not gaining many new fans.  Let’s have it right; if they’re too different to the rest of the bill, the audience are turned off and head for the bar.  That leaves them playing to a dwindling audience, and may even get them bad reviews from any media present, which again leads to a loss of audience.  I’ve seen this happen, and it’s turned me off bands who I probably would have come to love if I’d been introduced to them on a more appropriate bill.

So … what do you think?  Are buy-ons and pay-to-play a necessary evil to get your foot on the ladder, or are they just there to rip the bands off and stuff the pockets of unscrupulous venue owners, promoters and managers?

Let me know in the comments or on the Facebook page.

Phil Anselmo, Robb Flynn, Racism and Metal: does it matter if musicians are racist?

If you have an interest in Metal, you’ve more than likely by now seen, or at least heard about, the video showing Phil Anselmo’s actions at Dimebash last week:

You may also have seen Robb Flynn of Machine Head’s response video posted a few days later:

In the first video, Anselmo shouts “white power” accompanied by what is widely believed to be a “sieg heil” salute. In Flynn’s video, he points out that this is by no means the first time that Phil Anselmo has said or done something so inappropriate and that this latest incident is the straw that’s broken the camel’s back; Robb Flynn has had enough of Anselmo’s bullshit and bullying persona, and vows to never perform a Pantera song ever again.

Now this issue has seen tempers flare on opposing sides. We have fans of Phil Anselmo defending him saying that people shouldn’t be so sensitive, his personal actions are separate from his music and, even if he is a racist, Metal is all about being “extreme” and “offensive” and so you’re not really “Metal” if you have a problem with him. On the other hand, we have people more sympathetic to Robb Flynn’s view of things who declare that racism has no place in Metal and that, just because he’s very famous and popular, Anselmo’s actions should not be simply brushed under the carpet and ignored. Like Flynn, I’ve seen several other Metal fans, writers, DJs, etc. say they are now “done” with Anselmo and are boycotting Pantera, Superjoint Ritual, Down and any other band or project he’s been involved with. To be perfectly honest, while I am very sympathetic to Robb Flynn’s take on things, I can, to a degree, see where both sides are coming from here.

First of all, I am not going to debate whether or not Phil Anselmo is a racist. I don’t know if he said what he said with any element of seriousness or malice, I don’t know if he is genuinely prejudiced against people of other races and ethnicities, and I am not sufficiently experienced in racial politics (privileged white bloke speaking here) to discuss the ins and outs of what it actually means to be a racist. What is clear, however, is that regardless of intent, Anselmo’s actions were idiotic, divisive and exclusionary; even if he isn’t racist, he certainly appears to be one in this video. Moreover, even if he was “joking”, the language and symbols used here are so historically offensive that such excuses are irrelevant. Not that I’m in the business of telling people what they can or cannot make jokes about; I’m just saying that, when you attempt (poorly) to inject humour into a subject that is so hurtful to so many people on such a deep, fundamental level, don’t be surprised if not many people are laughing along with you.

The point is that the use of such language and symbols, regardless of context, will ALWAYS alienate a lot of people; to suggest otherwise is to misunderstand or ignore their historical context. But, what about the protestation (which many on Facebook, Twitter, etc. have voiced) that to criticise Anselmo for this is racist against white people? Why, they cry, is it ok for black people to say “black power”, but not ok for white people to say “white power”? Robb Flynn mentions in his video that to compare the two phrases implies a gross ignorance of (quite recent) history. “Black power” is used to fight oppression whereas “white power” is used to promote it. And yes, there have been racially-motivated crimes against white people, but to suggest that it’s anywhere near the level of persecution suffered by black people is preposterously moronic.

Essentially, dismissing the use of racist language and gestures as something that’s no big deal suggests a distinct lack of empathy. A lot of people treat the Metal community as if it’s just them and a few of their mates; everyone looks the same, acts the same and has the same opinions and attitudes about everything, so there’s no need to worry about offending or excluding anyone ever. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have been a Metal fan since my mid-teens, nearly 15 years now, and the Rock/Metal community is by far the most beautifully diverse group of people I have ever known; I have met people of countless nationalities, genders, races, sexualities, religions and socio-political backgrounds. The idea that none of them should have a problem with Anselmo’s actions is ridiculous; maybe you don’t find it offensive, but what about black, Asian, or Hispanic Metal fans? Maybe, for example, there’s a bunch of kids right now in India, Peru or Tunisia who have recently got into metal, are excited about maybe starting a band of their own, and then they see this video of Phil Anselmo: how do you expect they would react? Do you think they’d just laugh it off as a joke? Maybe they would, but what’s more likely is that they’d get the impression that Metal is not meant for them; it’s made by white people, for white people.

This of course is just not true, and you don’t even need to dig that deep to see that Metal is enjoyed by all kinds of people. Black Sabbath, Metallica, Dio, Slayer, Guns N’ Roses, X-Japan, Sepultura, Suffocation, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Dream Theater, Rage Against the Machine, KorRn, Orphaned Land, Deftones, ChthoniC, Lacuna Coil, Opeth, System of a Down, Dragonforce, Skindred, God Forbid, Killswitch Engage: all big-name Metal bands that have had members who don’t conform to the W.A.S.P./Aryan ideal, and there are countless more besides. If the point of Metal was to freely spout racist bile, then you can wave goodbye to these bands ever existing. Metal is of course an alternative, non-mainstream subculture but that doesn’t mean it’s an exclusive club, only open to a select few. There is nothing “extreme” or “alternative” about being racist; if you look throughout human history, it’s just about the most pro-establishment, conservative thing you can be! Mainstream culture often excludes and alienates many people, and Metal is an “alternative” to that. As Rob Zombie said in the documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey: “Metal is all the weird kids in one place”. If Metal is not an inclusive place where people from all walks of life can feel accepted, then what on earth is the point? Ignoring racism is not “Metal”; fighting it and welcoming victims of it certainly is.

As I said at the beginning though, I can to an extent see where both sides are coming from here. Looking at the people who wish to ignore Phil Anselmo’s actions, they are invariably going to be big fans of his music, and it can be hard to accept that your idols are sometimes much less than perfect human beings. Especially with music, it is something that is often enjoyed as a total escape from the world and thus many people would rather not pay attention to its context (i.e. they’d rather concentrate on appreciating the music for its own sake). So, if such people are confronted with unpleasant contextual information (such as a musician’s offensive personal views or actions), they choose to ignore it, deeming it irrelevant in determining how good the music itself is. On the other hand, given that we have people saying they are turning their backs on Anselmo’s music as a result of his actions, it looks like the reverse is true too; that is, we have people refusing to listen to, if not outright disliking, music because of negative contextual factors. My personal position is somewhere in the middle though and, to explain why, I’ll need to recall something I learned at university several years ago…

I have Bachelor and Master’s degrees in philosophy, and one subject I studied was aesthetics: the philosophy of art. A central topic in this area of philosophy is the question of what it means for a piece of art to have value. We learned that a piece of art (be it a song, film, book, painting, etc.) can be said to have both “aesthetic” and “non-aesthetic” value. The aesthetic value of a Metal song or artist, for example, would be found in its composition, style, musicianship and anything else that makes it good from a technical standpoint. Non-aesthetic value however comes from external factors; moral, social and political considerations for example (i.e. anything that is separate from how good a song is on a technical level, but which can still affect how it is critically perceived). Aesthetic and non-aesthetic considerations can often conflict and contrast, so that we may find ourselves struggling to determine how valuable a piece of art is. A key example of this that I looked at during my studies was the film Triumph of the Will by Leni Riefenstahl.download

Aesthetically, it is considered a work of brilliance due to its ground-breaking cinematography. Non-aesthetically, it’s, well, a Nazi propaganda film; regardless of how technically good it is, the controversy of the subject matter invariably affects many people’s opinions of it. So, you might say the film is “good” if you place more importance on aesthetic factors, but “bad” if you place more importance on non-aesthetic factors. In either case, your overall view of the film is limited. Both aesthetic and non-aesthetic factors are necessary in order to determine how good or valuable a piece of art is; if we just focus on one or the other, we don’t see the full picture.

So what does this mean for Phil Anselmo and the large quantity of music that he’s produced?  It means that it’s understandable to criticise or boycott it as his actions arguably affect the non-aesthetic value of his music. Conversely, his actions do not necessarily affect the aesthetic value of his music, and thus many people remain happy to listen to it. I personally think it’s important to try and balance the two though. I am not the biggest Pantera fan but I’ll generally bang my head and so forth if Cowboys from Hell or 5 Minutes Alone comes on in a club. Will I stop doing that now? I don’t know, but I do know that it will perhaps affect my overall enjoyment of the music. Similarly, I think Ted Nugent has written some decent songs, but his Right-Wing views leave a bit of a sour taste in my mouth when I’m listening to them. Art does not exist in a cultural vacuum; how it relates to cultural norms and sensibilities is certainly going to affect many people’s opinions of it as it is just one little piece in the jigsaw of a person’s life. Personally, as well as being a proud Metalhead, I also identify as being English, Irish, bisexual, an atheist, a humanist, a liberal, a social democrat, and a feminist: I don’t stop being any of those things when I put my headphones in or attend a gig, and so they all feed into how I interpret and appreciate my music. 100 people may each recognise the technical brilliance or raw power of a great Metal song but a multitude of factors can affect how non-aesthetically valuable they each judge it to be.

To conclude, racism should not be accepted within Metal as it threatens the community’s inclusivity; we are a family, where no one should be made to feel unwelcome. Does that mean we should all stop listening to Phil Anselmo’s music? I personally think it’s understandable whichever decision you make there. Pantera’s influence and legacy are undeniable and if you are such a big fan of their music (or of Superjoint Ritual or Down), you might very well find it impossible to stop listening to it. But, don’t give people a hard time if, like Robb Flynn, they have decided to turn their back on it. The unacceptable nature of Anselmo’s actions means that, for many people, his music is now irreparably tainted. It may not be bad technically, but it is really hard to enjoy something if it offends, excludes or alienates you. For Metal to survive as a thriving community, it requires us to ultimately be respectful of the differences we have; Metal can make you feel free and liberated from the often oppressive nature of mainstream society and no one should be denied this.