Headbangers’ Brawl 9/26: Why Are We So Bothered By Tori Amos’ “Challenge” To Metal?

Posted by on September 26, 2011

Headbangers’ Brawl is a weekly column where Metal Insider’s Bram and Zach take a moment to debate and analyze two opposing sides of a topical issue occurring in the world of metal and/or the music industry.

Earlier this week, Tori Amos issued a “challenge” to metal bands saying that the emotion in her music has power that metal bands can’t touch, stating she’ll get up on any stage and “take them down.” While it was more or less an aside, it quickly riled up the metal blogosphere and fans of heavy music alike. Our guest brawler this week is a member of both. Grim Kim runs Catharsis PR in addition to running her own blog and contributing to Terrorizer Magazine, Invisible Oranges, and Metal Sucks. She’s also a merch-slinger to the stars, and one of the most outspoken people we know. We knew she’d have an opinion about this, and she does, but we thought we’d get her take on things to start. Grim Kim will be going into more detail in her piece for Metal Sucks later today, but here’s a taste of what she thinks about the whole ordeal, along with Bram and Zach’s take on it.


Grim Kim: My initial reaction to this was visceral – “Aw, HELL no!” and I think it’s safe to say that a lot of other metalheads felt the same way. Judging from various comments on Blabbermouth (always a great indicator of widespread metal opinion [note: sarcasm]), Twitter, Facebook, et al, heshers were none too impressed with Ms. Amos’ “challenge.” After thinking it over a bit, and taking into consideration the fact that artists will literally do anything (or say anything) to sell albums in this stagnant economy, I’m sure that the metal community’s collective bristling over homegirl’s offhand comment-turned-publicity-stunt was exactly what she was going for. Someone’s publicist had to have alerted Blabbermouth to this particular quote, unless of course B-mouth makes a habit of trawling mainstream music sites in search of tidbits (which wouldn’t surprise me, given their penchant for sensationalism).

But more importantly, why did I even care enough to have that reaction? Who is Tori Amos to me? No one. I couldn’t name you a single Tori Amos song; the only snippet of her music I’d even heard was her whispery, weird cover of “Raining Blood.” When my more sensitive girlfriends in college were connecting with her songs, I was tormenting my roommate with Bestial Warlust and collecting French black metal records. By that same token, why would ANY of us care? Tori Amos is as important to our culture as the new Deathspell Omega album is to hers, so why did we even bother getting perturbed by her inane ego-tripping?

Because it offered up yet another example of how hopelessly out of touch the mainstream music community is with heavy metal, and underlined the condescension, confusion, disdain and ignorance that members of said culture hold for this music we hold so dear. How many times have you heard someone dismiss one of your favorite records as “just sounding like screaming”? That’s exactly what Ms. Amos has done, and we’ve had about enough. The implied notion that metal and emotions are mutually exclusive entities slathered the icing on one very unappealing cake. Bitch, have you ever HEARD Neurosis?!


Bram: I think Tori Amos has at least a working knowledge of metal – she’s been in a band with Matt Sorum (even if Y Kant Tori Read was hair metal). And if this fire that we’re all stoking continues to smolder, she’ll probably offer up a half-hearted apology saying her words were taken out of context. I’m guessing she meant figuratively get up on stage, not literally. I’m not going to defend her, but I’ll come clean: I really liked the first two Tori Amos records, and I can kind of understand where she’s coming from. I haven’t heard a Tori record in years, but Little Earthquakes was the shit. The stark album closer “Me And a Gun,” an acapella song about her rape, is harrowing.

But she’s missing the point entirely. She’s suggesting there’s no emotion in metal. Not only do many bands have lyrics as intense as anything she can muster up, but the feelings that any music, regardless of genre, can pull out of you are purely subjective. The despair, anger and longing that a great black metal song can bring up, even if you can’t decipher the lyrics, can be unbelievably powerful even if it’s hard to explain why. I just don’t know why she has to bring metal into the conversation. Do you think she’s purposely doing this because she knew the metal community would react the way it has?


Zach: Did Amos purposefully do this to get a reaction from the metal community? Probably not. I think it was literally a musician rambling about her own talent and trying to sound “intelligent” by comparing her music to another genre. In her defense, though, I think her comments were less of an attempt to belittle metal. It felt more like she was trying to say “my lyrics are so meaningful that even the toughest metal head couldn’t hide his/her emotions.” Instead, it came off as her calling out metal bands as “emotionless.”

Either way, though, Amos comes off as ignorant through her comments. As Kim highlights, some may turn to artists like Amos or Sarah McLachlan for comfort, while others turn to metal. I’m sure I’d shed a tear or two if I gave some of Amos’ songs a listen (Bram, you’d recommend Little Earthquakes, eh?), but I prefer to turn to bands like Iron Maiden, Machine Head, Pantera and even Devildriver to help me when I’m at my lowest. Music may be universal, but we all have our own individual tastes.


Grim Kim: Hah! Hobknobbing with one of the GNR dudes is hardly a statement of metal cred, especially when said musical project is a largely failed 80’s synth-pop band (where did you get “hair metal” from?). Like I said, her Slayer cover made it clear that she at least know a thing or two about the devil’s music, which makes it even more puzzling as to why she’d make such a silly remark. The more I think about it, the whole thing just smacks of internet overkill. Some singer 99% of metal fans don’t give a toss about makes an off-the-cuff statement at the end of an interview pimping her latest product, some blog picks up on it, Twitter pops off, and within the space of a half hour, it’s a “thing,” and we’re up in arms against a foe that has no idea we were even listening.

She probably picked metal bands in particular to “call out” purely because they are known for volume, intensity, and aggression (or maybe there are feminist undertones – calling out a testosterone-fueled boy’s-club culture, though I’m hesitant to even bother reading that much into it). It’s hard to exist in this world (or at least the kind of world that asks you to do interviews for music blogs) without gaining the most basic knowledge of what heavy metal is – loud, heavy, fast, long hair and leather.

It’s just sad to see how ignorant she and so many others are of the emotional depths and intellectual heft found in the words and music of so many metal bands. One listen to Warning’s ‘Watching From A Distance’ could coax a reaction from a heart of stone – let alone one that concerns itself with weepy post-riot grrl piano anthems…

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