Headbangers Brawl: Is there really an SJW problem in extreme music?

Posted by on June 22, 2016


A few days ago, Decibel Magazine posted a guest column discussing the social effects within the metal community of those who called themselves “social justice warriors” after a self-proclaimed member of the anti-fascist movement Antifa pepper-sprayed a venue in Sacrament, CA during a Taake show. The Sacramento chapter of the Antifas expressed their intentions to protest the show because the band’s frontman Hoest has performed with a Swastika painted on his chest and openly made comments against Islam. After watching the metal blogosphere and friends of ours collectively lose their shit about the Decibel article, we thought we’d discuss it here.

As this has been a broad subject that’s becoming more resonant in the metal community, the Metal Insider staff pitched in their opinions on whether the metal community is having a social justice warrior problem or not.

Alix: Do I think there’s really a SJW problem in the metal scene? my short and simple answer is yes, yes there is and here’s why: Metal has been the musical movement representing rebellion since its inception and that seems to be forgotten by many of its followers. The reminder of that can be seen on a daily basis when you see strangers glancing at you out of the corner of their eyes, trying to figure out if you are heading to your weekly baby sacrificial ritual or if you just killed your parents.

The same sentiment goes with the way we think about the world in general, making us very opinionated about what we think is right or wrong in a social aspect. Whether it’s our political, religious or moral views, we are judged harshly by those self-righteous members of society from the top of the high horse they’re sitting on and we notice it. Take a look at the lyrical content of your favorite metal band: We talk about how useless or harmful religion has been to humanity the same way we talk about how all we wanted was a Pepsi when every one else thought we were on drugs and ended up institutionalized.

The freedom to speak up about all the things we’ve felt oppressed about talking to those who aren’t part of the lifestyle we chose is one of the foundations of heavy metal. And those who claim to be part of our community are bringing the same blockade which only creates unnecessary and uncalled tension. What I’m referring to is the pointless outcry opposing other individual or band’s view, not the apathy to actual injustice that would affect someone negatively, like the Antifa guy who decided to gas an entire room full of innocent people. That kind of intolerance and ignorant actions are a much bigger issue than a singer, who’s known for relying on shock value to remain relevant, painting a swastika on his chest.

When it gets to the point of someone actually affecting you or others you care because of their behavior related to their point of view, that’s when actions should be taken and not before. Cases like the disgusting behavior from Pentagram’s frontman towards Wax Idols and King Woman or a white-supremacist singer shooting a sikh temple should not be lumped in the same group because looking for punishment and retribution is simply justice and not part of a subjective agenda that tries to accommodate everyone’s sensitivity. But when it is because someone thinks different than your way of thinking, therefore, they should be secluded or chastised about it, you’re just part of the problem.

At the end of the day, none of these self-proclaimed social heroes will affect anyone with enough integrity to shrug off any pressure put by a group of offended people but it still a nuisance that would be better if it disappeared instead of plaguing the metal scene the way it has lately.


Chip: I’ve read both articles that, in their own way, express opinions on the actions of a supposed Antifa member and the ensuing backlash about so-called Social Justice Warriors destroying metal for the rest of us. The original Neill Jameson article was in line with how most of his articles read and was a pretty spot on piece. The follow-up article written by a guest blogger for the Decibel blog wasn’t so much. Sans the normal arguments about which albums should be ranked higher or lower on year end lists, I couldn’t ever remember a time when a piece written under the Decibel banner had ever had me scratching my head the way this one did.

This is really a three-part problem, and just like how everyone is confusing issues and playing to alarmists in our current political cycle, the metal scene seems to be doing the same thing. The first issue is the actual actions of a certain individual at the Taake show in Sacramento. No one should be applauding this. Period. It was foolish, dangerous, and as Neill so astutely pointed out, completely counterproductive. Let’s be clear, this guy didn’t walk into a neo-Nazi rally or a dog-fighting ring and pull these shenanigans. He walked into a relatively peaceful concert and basically attacked people that were undeserving of his aggression. (I’m also betting dollars to donuts that this kid grew up listening to The Sex Pistols and didn’t care one bit that Sid Vicious used to wear a swastika the same, silly, shock- value way that Hoest once did.)

The second and third issues are a little more intertwined. Is metal allowed to be ‘unsafe’ and do so-called Social Justice Warriors have the right to try and make it a ‘safe place?’ The problem as I see it is that people, including the author of that Decibel piece, are having a really hard time grappling with the concept of what makes art ‘dangerous’ versus what makes art either exclusive or inclusive. It’s really two different things. Should metal music be allowed to be ‘dangerous’ in its lyrics, concert performances, album artwork, etc., etc.? Short answer: of course. This is where that whole freedom of speech thing comes in. As an artist, through your art, you should be allowed to express any ideas and thoughts you might have. Those who find merit in them become your audience/fans, those who do not, don’t. If that sounds like over-simplified Sociology 101 its because it is. You as an individual also need to decide if the actions of an artist you like upset you, do you continue to support the art. Do you still watch films made by child molester Roman Polanski? Do you still listen to songs produced by murderer Phil Spector? Do you still root for your favorite sports team that just signed a guy who beat his wife? Do you still listen to the black metal band whose singer painted a swastika on his chest at a show? I’m fully aware that those are all drastically different scenarios, but in the end the result is the same: Those are all your decisions to make as an individual and no one should tell you otherwise. So yes, metal should be allowed to remain as ‘dangerous’ as it wants to from a purely artistic standpoint.

But here’s where it gets tricky and where a lot of people seem to get lost in the barrage of everyone furiously pounding their keyboards to insult one another on message boards. Metal, as a style of music, isn’t for everyone. But metal, as a scene, should be for everyone. You dig? No, my wife, my mom, my co-workers, most of my friends, and the vest majority of people I have ever met do not like metal music. It is an acquired taste that only a small percentage of us carry. But if any of them did start to like metal music I would welcome them into this scene with open arms no matter what their gender, sexuality, race, age, nationality, political views, or anything else was. To me this is where “social justice” has a place in metal. You want the art to be dangerous, but the gallery that houses the art shouldn’t be. Do you get molested when you walk into an art gallery that has Gericault or Grunewald hanging on the walls? Of course you don’t. But how many female metal fans have been molested at metal shows? Not. Fucking. Cool. If you want to call me a “social justice warrior” because I think anyone who wants to go to a metal show should, without anyone feeling them up or dropping pepper-spray bombs on them, then go ahead. I’ve been called worse.

I’ll say this again: Metal, as a style of music, isn’t for everyone, and really nor should it be. But metal, as a scene, should be for everyone who wants to partake. So does metal have a “social justice warrior problem?” That depends on your point of view. Are you concerned that somehow metal musicians will stop writing ‘dangerous’ material because they will fear backlash from SJWs? Then, no, metal does not have a problem. I really don’t believe any artist worth their weight in integrity would compromise their art because of a handful of people complaining about it. Hell, if anything get ready for even more ‘shocking’ antics from certain musicians. If your concern lies more along the lines of, ‘I’m not allowed to be a “dude” and feel up every girl who walks in the room or throw racial slurs at the kid at the show whose skin is a different color than mine,’ then guess what: a) Yes, you do have a social justice warrior problem and b) you’re a fucking tool who is doing more harm than good to a scene we all love.


Bram: Let’s start with the Decibel article. The author, an Associate Professor at Franklin and Marshall College, seems to not understand exactly what an SJW is. No one’s asking extreme music to go away. There’s a big difference between being critical of someone’s music or art and wanting to censor it, which the author doesn’t seem to grasp by comparing SJWs to the PRMC. If you’re listening to Cannibal Corpse, Anal Cunt or S.O.D., chances are you’re already in on the joke and have suspended your disbelief. If you’re seig heiling and yelling “white power” as a “joke” and don’t recognize initially that you’ve fucked up, then that’s something else entirely. Why shouldn’t people be upset about that? The question is how upset they should have gotten. Do I think Phil fucked up? Yes, should he have apologized? Yes. When he finally did so more than once, I accepted it and he’ll be judged on his future actions.

Another issue is that there are some misogynistic assholes in metal. How does expressing solidarity with Myrkur, who’s received death threats for nothing more than being a woman in a field dominated by men, make one a SJW? Podoshen seems to think that there’s no area in between allowing racist misogynists to run free and the total whitewashing of anything remotely controversial in metal. If these people are really just “scene tourists,” jumping from outrage to outrage as the author suggests, then they’re not SJW’s, they’re just assholes. I don’t know of any examples of people doing this. And speaking of examples, Podoshen doesn’t really give any beyond a documentary he saw and Jameson’s column.

In short, I don’t think metal has an SJW problem, I think that the metal community has a problem with the concept of SJWs, a construct  that wasn’t even really a thing until five years ago.


Nick: It’s an interesting conversation, for sure, and if it’s an actual problem, it’s often not one coming from within. As an anecdote, I just spotted a post to the Facebook wall of one of my old haunts in Providence, Firehouse 13, last night. The post was by a small group of people totally outraged and just shitting the bed upset that a local band called Dead Girls Don’t Say No was on the bill for a metal show this week, outright demanding that the band be completely blacklisted from all venues in New England.

The response from the community was pretty spirited, to put it lightly; you’ve got the typical swath of mouth-breathers talking about how horrific “PC culture” is and outright insulting them with the kind of articulation that makes me be ashamed to be from the same time zone. That’s pretty much to be expected, the negative side of course being that they’re reinforcing the kind of negative stereotypes about metal fans that brought these particular wastes of air into a conversation about a community that she has no part of to begin with. Over the span of a few hours, though, is where the idiot train went fully off the rails. Fans, wives, and the band themselves all chimed in, including their female lead singer, giving plenty of examples that they weren’t promoting violence against women, and no one in that band would hurt a fly. Just an admittedly kind of dumb joke inspired by a horror movie. None of those points were addressed by the Oppression Police, mostly boiling down to “but I’m upset and it doesn’t matter.” The kicker was that none of the offended parties here had ever been to this venue at all, nevermind attend a metal show. They were coming from a completely different world and saw something that hurt their feelings from the outside.

Bram totally nailed it on the point about suspending disbelief, which is a skill people in this particular group lack. Corpsegrinder is a World of Warcraft-playing dork who spends one hour a day growling songs about murder. The bottom line here is that unless there’s a legitimately hateful ideology behind your music, it’s the exact same thing as putting on a horror movie or any other kind of subversive piece of entertainment. Ultimately, the whole exchange was a case of the offended parties not caring about anything but their knee-jerk reaction to a kind of music they don’t understand, and a lot of the rational reactions from more collected members of the community were way overshadowed by a couple hundred denim vested neanderthals who think their culture is under attack.

Ultimately, I think the SJW argument is a total exercise in futility, because both sides made up their minds before they ever engaged with the other. I just try not to be a piece of shit to people, and have enough of the social graces and comprehension skills to know the difference between things that are truly hurtful, and when to suspend my disbelief as an adult with self-awareness. Metal fans and tumblr types alike could use a dose of all of those things.

[Photo: Mike Wohlberg, TFK! via Decibel]

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Categorised in: Columns, Headbangers Brawl