Evolving from American blues and rock and roll, the genre now known as “metal” coalesced in North America and England in the late 1960s. Bands like Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath sought to expand the musical territory being carved out by psychedelic rock and counter the idealism of the hippie movement. Driven by anti-authoritarianism and secular skepticism, early metal music was concerned with staging provocative inquisitions of government and religion.
“The music sounds aggressive and dissonant and hard to listen to because the subject matter that is being talked about should be [given that treatment],” said Kevin McCombs, a second-year student and organizer of the weekly listening party Metal Mondays. “It should be abrasive and eye opening in more ways than just lyrical content can access.”
The conflation between aggressive music and violent behavior was a recurrent theme during the month-long manslaughter trial of Randy Blythe, the gravel-voiced lead signer from Lamb of God.
In 2010, while playing a show in the Czech Republic, Blythe allegedly pushed a teenaged fan off the stage, a fall which prosecutors argued proved fatal to the young fan.
According to eyewitness accounts, Daniel Nosek, a 19-year-old man attending the concert, climbed onto the stage and began to approach Blythe who, growing frustrated by the lack of security and multiple instances of stage diving, shoved Nosek back into the crowd.
Hours after leaving the show, Nosek began to complain of a headache and it was soon discovered that he had suffered a brain injury. Shortly after, Nosek lapsed into a coma and died several weeks later. Blythe was indicted on charges of manslaughter and spent just over a month in Pankrác Prison near Prague.
During the trial, Blythe contended, not only with a host of contradictory and inconclusive evidence, but also with the negative stereotypes often attributed to metal music and its fans. Various witnesses claimed that Blythe was aggressive and violent, while those who know him insisted that he is a quiet and well-read man whose aggressive onstage persona was simply part of the show.
A court-appointed psychologist argued that Blythe was anti-social while another psychologist appointed by the defense countered that Blythe has never been violent or hostile, even while in prison. It is this concern with the apparent aggression of metal music that McCombs sees as the most inaccurate yet persistent perception of metal music.
“The thing that’s most disturbing is that people really don’t understand what people are trying to do when they make music like this,” McCombs said. “Native lyrical themes in metal songs aren’t about mapping onto the real world in terms of intentionality. It’s about taking negativity and atrocity and channeling it into something positive.”
Blythe, who kept his fans updated via posts on the micro-blogging sites Twitter and Instagram, was acquitted of the charges and is now back in his hometown of Richmond, VA.
Upon his acquittal Blythe expressed relief, gratitude and sadness in a Twitter message to fans.
“I have been found not guilty & acquitted of all charges against me,” Blythe wrote. “I am a free man…. Please remember the family of Daniel Nosek in your thoughts & prayers in this difficult time. I only wish for them peace.”
As if an international manslaughter trial were not enough to dishearten even the most die hard metal-head, metal fans were dealt a double blow this year when an article published in the March 2013 issue of Esquire confirmed the use of metal music as a weapon for torture by the US military and trumpeted the metal-head fandom of the Navy Seal responsible for killing Osama Bin-Laden.
Since 2008, reports have been surfacing about the use of heavy metal, especially songs by Bay Area thrashers Metallica, as sonic weapons. Although, in 2010, Metallica requested that the military stop using the band’s songs, a host of other bands, including the Christian death metal troupe Demon Hunter, eagerly promoted their music to the US military, sending troops free albums and patches.
During the raid, which would ensnare Osama bin Laden, the Navy seal responsible for the al Queda leader’s death was said to be sporting a Demon Hunter patch on the sleeve of his combat fatigues, according to Esquire.
Eric Van de Castle (’08), an avid metal fan, believes that the controversy surrounding the weaponization of metal music is indicative, not of any inherent tendency towards violence or conservatism within metal music, but of the genre’s s ideological and political diversity.
“[The perception of metal as violent] is really convenient perceptions for the conservative right to have about metal,” Van de Castle said, “It really ignores the particularities of metal-head politics.
“Within the scene there is a very wide range of politics. From the people who are crazy Nazis to the real hardcore anarchists and socialists,” Van de Castle added.
Van de Castle, whose thesis examined the visual semiotics of Norwegian black metal album covers, said that the most devoted metal fans are highly attuned to the political currents running through the work of their favorite bands.
“Bands still have stigma if a label that put out their album ten years ago [is connected to right wing politics], ” Van de Castle said
Nathaniel Langston, a thesis student and guitarist for the doom metal band The Antiquarians, agreed that it is those artists who confirm the worst stereotypes about metal who often receive inordinate attention.
“There are some people in metal who are really conservative and really outspoken and kind of give the whole metal community in general a bad image,” Langston said.
“There is definitely an aversion to [metal music] in the media,” Langston added.
With 2013 shaping up to be another great year for metal – with new offerings from Black Sabbath, experimental metal band The Ocean and even a 3-D Metallica concert film on the way – metal once again finds itself flourishing in the face of adversity.
Information for this article was taken from Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Metalinjection.net