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Why We Can’t Ignore the Blatant Bigotry in Metal

[WARNING: Disturbing macabre imagery]

The first time I saw Behemoth’s video for Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel, I found myself a little confused.

It opens up with a woman in a white dress running through a field. I could write an entire article on white-dressed women in metal videos, but I digress. Then there’s a shot of a wolf, followed by a shot of a hooded man carrying a panicked sheep through a woods.

All three characters keep running (perhaps chasing or running towards each other), and the woman keeps looking behind her until she presumably spots three cloaked figures in horned masks and stops in her tracks.

She calmly enters a gothic, abandoned building in which she is soon anointed by one of the cloaked men. He pours blood down her throat as she kneels with her hands behind her back. He then strips her and places his fingers around her face, causing her to spurt blood out of her eyes, mouth, and skin. This is followed by shots of her vomiting more blood and sprouting thorns from her back. She appears to have been sacrificed.

Within the last minute of the video, she is shown (naked and missing her eyes) blowing a trumpet; the spikes in her back have become wings, though she appears completely stationary.

Behemoth is known for their hatred and criticism of Christianity, as their Satanic videos often reflect—so the graphic nature of the video wasn’t what struck me as unsettling. Something about the woman in white made me feel uncomfortable: was she summoned by these men? Was she a voluntary sacrifice?  Or simply overcome by a dark force she couldn’t resist?

I then remembered their video for Ov Fire and the Void. The woman in white was there, too. In this video, she throws herself from the top of a building, dies, wakes up with black eyes, is mysteriously impregnated, gives birth to a demon baby, and sacrifices it to the band. While waiting for her to arrive, the men have murdered and eaten a live angel (a naked woman with wings).

While the video is mainly supposed to be a bastardization of the Immaculate Conception, I think there’s something to be said about the women in both of these scenarios.

I love Behemoth. I’ve seen them twice so far and they put on probably the best show I’ve ever seen. These videos don’t make me love their music any less; but what gives? What’s the real purpose of these women? What are they meant to represent, and are they active participants in their own representations?

These questions can extend to women in the metal scene at large—both musicians and fans. Women have always been regarded as second-class citizens in the metal community, despite their constant presence on stage and in the crowd.

Even though female metal musicians and fans are becoming more and more prominent, the authenticity is often doubted.

Take moshing, for instance. It’s never really a big deal if a guy doesn’t mosh (logically speaking most people don’t go in the pit, considering the pits are just little crop circles in a larger crowd), but if a girl goes in the pit it’s typically talked about as if she’s trying too hard to prove she’s enjoying the show. Or worse, it’s fetishized—much in the same way catfights are.

Style of dress presents a big double standard, too. The typical metal guy goes to a show dressed in a band tee, jeans, and sneakers. A lot of women dress this way, too, but women who dress more provocatively to metal shows are often, once again, looked down upon or hypersexualized (take “Metal GRRL” and “Trophy Metal Girl” for example). It seems that according to mainstream metal culture (or at the very least this cartoonist and anyone who agrees with him) there are only two types of women: those who are metal fans but so desperate for acceptance that they deserve disrespect, and those who are only there as eye candy and company to metal men.

Perhaps this is a modern mutation of the 80’s groupie, a hot woman who acts as a sexual object for a band. Lamb of God’s video for Redneck comes to mind; there is actually no point of the women being there, and it doesn’t add to the plot of the video at all (which is actually otherwise pretty humorous). It seems they’re only present to make the band look cooler to their assumed audience: heterosexual men.

I would say this accepted idea of female objectification in metal (and in our society in general) leads to a lot of sexual harassment for women show-goers, as well. One of my friends had a man repeatedly try to stick his hand up her skirt at a show. What she was wearing and the fact that she was screaming along with the band didn’t make a difference: this guy clearly thought she was there for his sexual pleasure. And if you think this story hasn’t happened to the majority of women show-goers out there, then think again.

I can’t help but think of an episode of Metalocalypse, a cartoon that depicts what the world might be like if most people were metalheads. Nathan Explosion, the vocalist for the most popular band in the world, Dethklok, confesses that he has a recurring nightmare in which the only way for him to get girls to have sex with him is to give them oral sex. While the show is satirical, it reveals a truth about the metal community: getting laid is the goal, but giving the woman pleasure is unthinkable and uncool.

When you take this mentality to a metal show, girls are only able to achieve validity or invalidity if the guys at the show accept her. And in terms of female musicians in the metal industry, they are often only intriguing to the public for the same reasons: her association with the men in her band, or her sexual desirability.

For instance, take Revolver’s Hottest Chicks in Hard Rock Calendar. Instead of actually showing interest in female metal musicians, the magazine provides pinups of them in calendar form every year. A stranger trend I’ve noticed is sexualizing the wives, girlfriends, and daughters of metal musicians and rock stars. These women are objectified not only because of their physical appearance, but because they are infiltrating the boy’s club that is metal by marrying, sleeping with, or being related to a man in the scene.

But despite the “appreciation” of “hot” women in and around the metal genre, women who try to capitalize on their beauty are often not respected anyway. One of the most notorious examples is Butcher Babies, a quintet fronted by two women. Even though they’ve technically seen their fair share of success, that doesn’t mean they’re respected. In short, they’re not taken seriously as a metal band, and furthermore they’re objectified for their revealing style of dress.

This comes through in their interview with Revolver. Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey, the two female vocalists, aren’t asked about their music once. Instead, they’re asked questions like “what’s the wildest experience you’ve had at a party?” and “how do you deal with creepy fans or stalkers?” They are of interest to the metal community not because of their music, but simply because they’re appealing to look at. While they’re both clearly attractive women, Shepherd and Harvey are diminished to “hot” metal girls rather than respected as musicians.

What I find even more disheartening is that misogyny reaches even respected bands with female members in it. When I was introduced to iwrestledabearonce, the first thing my friend said before playing the song for me was “they have a chick singer.” Same with Huntress, Walls of Jericho, and Arch Enemy. I’ll refrain from discussing the nausea the word “chick” gives me, and simply quote an article from Thrash Hits: “Because it would be totally acceptable to call Disturbed ‘Jewish-fronted metal’ and Suffocation ‘black guitaristed death metal.’”

Metal is stereotypically thought of as a white, straight, male-dominated genre. But there are multiple minorities becoming more and more visible in the metal community while still battling prejudice from both peers and audience members.

For Today guitarist Mike Reynolds and All That Remains frontman Phil Labonte are known for their public declarations of homophobia, but were largely unsupported by the community at large. For every fan that agrees with Reynolds and Labonte, there are countless more who hail Judas Priest’s Rob Halford as a legend. Halford is perhaps the most famous non-straight metal musician to ever come out; the overwhelming support for Halford arguably paved the way for other LGBTQIA+ metal musicians to come out, such as Gaahl of Gorgoroth and Mina Caputo of Life of Agony.

Racism is also present in the community. Varg Vikernes of Burzum, a known neo-Nazi sympathizer, was arrested for inciting racial hatred and glorifying war crimes and Chris Holmes, former W.A.S.P. guitarist, claimed in a 2011 interview that black culture ruined metal and music in general.

Nevertheless, there’s evidence of anti-racism as well: a website called “Metalheads Against Racism” featuring bands such as Aborted and Morrigu, an impassioned speech by Machine Head’s Robb Flynn calling for protest, and Rage Against the Machine’s benefit show protesting racist immigration laws in Arizona. Tom Morello, frontman of Rage and vocalist Serj Tankian of System of a Down even co-founded Axis of Justice, a non-profit dedicated to fighting for social justice.

Even though the metal genre is often generalized as solely violent, the community is nevertheless perhaps inclined to openness and activism because of its inherent rebellious and nonconforming nature. Those who enjoy or play metal music are already outside the mainstream; therefore, metalheads see the music as important and inspirational rather than the personal lives of the artists.

But slow social progress doesn’t diminish the racism, homophobia, or misogyny that metal has the potential to promote. There will always be minority fans in the community, but that’s not the crux of the issue: it’s about whether or not the scene welcomes those minorities openly, or if they have to fight for acceptance.

Some male bands hailed by the metal community as nearly infallible often promote violence and hatred against women in their music. In a very personal article on Invisible Oranges titled “Are you talking to me: Respecting women in metal,” the author discusses how metal healed her after being raped at fifteen years old. But she explains “Ironically, the music I suddenly needed most had no use for me…in lyrics, women were lamented, reviled, violated, or ignored, but rarely respected. At shows, it was much the same.”

There are still countless examples of lyrical misogyny in metal, as there are in other genres of music. The first two examples that come to mind include Cannibal Corpse’s Addicted to Vaginal Skin, which is truly disgusting in all senses of the word, and BTM FDR by The Acacia Strain which includes the line “you spread disease when you spread your legs.” Metal isn’t a typically “nice” genre of music—violence, anger, and gore come with the territory. But that excuse doesn’t make these lyrics any less sexist.

It’s clear that for female metal fans and musicians to be treated fairly, the community itself needs to undergo some major changes. The same can be said for other genres of music, including Pop and Hip Hop. The fact of it is anything our misogynist culture breeds will inherently show signs of misogyny.

Perhaps the first—and maybe the simplest—step to making metal a safer, more accepting place for women is to acknowledge these women as genuine lovers of music and culture: not chick singers, not trophy babes, not posers, not scary dude’s girlfriend. Unless men in the metal world can see the women on stage as serious musicians and the women in the pit as serious fans, metal will always be a boy’s club—no matter how many women are present.

Leyla Ford of MetalSucks sums it up perfectly: “The larger issue here [is] assuming the experience of being in a band, a metal band, with mostly men on tour or behind-the-scenes is what makes women participating in it special.”

Women in the metal scene had to fight to be there. You can’t like every band you hear, as music preference is always subjective; but you can at the very least respect the existence of every band you hear—especially one that clearly shares your love for a marginalized genre.

Metal is already about rebellion, rawness, and counter-culture. One of the reasons I love metal as a genre and way of life is how undeniably human it is in the pain, anger, violence, and criticism it expresses—the same reasons a lot of people are intimidated by or detest it.

Being human is universal; human emotion doesn’t discriminate by gender the way our society does. It’s that human rawness that gives metal the ability to spark a strong sense of community between musicians and fans alike. And that community would be a lot stronger if everyone in it saw each other as equals.

If you’re interested in hearing kick-ass metal, check out the links throughout the article and below:

I Am King: Code Orange (Reba Meyers, Guitar/Vocals)

Trip The Darkness: Lacuna Coil (Cristina Scabbia, Vocals)

Blood Pigs: Otep (Otep Shamaya, Vocals)

Beaten And Left Blind: Landmine Marathon (Grace Perry, Vocals)

Darkness Encroaching: White Empress (Mary Zimmer aka White Empress, Vocals and Chela Harper, Bass)

Hate Love Songs: Gwar feat. Vulvatron (Kim Dylla aka Vulvatron, Vocals; she’s no longer performing, but still awesome…even if you don’t like metal, you should probably check her out)

Ghost: Frantic Amber (Mary Säfstrand, Guitars, Mio Jäger, Guitars, Elizabeth Andrews, Vocals, and Madeleine Gullberg Husberg, Bass)

 

Have a thought about this piece? We encourage your civil communication with our writers. Tweet us at @fembotmag or reach out to us on our Facebook page.

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Written by Taryn Pire

Taryn Pire is a starving poet and newbie bartender from north Jersey. A recent graduate of Ithaca College, her interests include slam poetry, social justice, death metal, and lively conversation. She has dreams of living in a small NYC apartment, where she’d survive on tacos, whiskey, and words. Follow her on Wordpress @tarynpire

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