Metal Alone Cannot Unite Us

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The misguided rush for commonality in the face of tragedy.

In the days that have followed the failed insurrection on the United States Capitol, countless numbers of pundits, personalities, and regular people have tried to piece together just what happened. The usual questions of who, what, where, when, and why have been raised and slowly pieced together. Those that have been warning for years of such a moment were sadly vindicated while certain individuals who stoked those fires slinked back into the shadows hoping their miscalculation won’t hurt their business or, in some cases, the chance to become president.

Hundreds rioted, most without trying to hide their identities. This has obviously led to the identification and growing number of arrests of people from all over the country. Communities are now being confronted with family members, friends, and neighbors being revealed as treasonous, violent terrorists. Shock and surprise eventually give way to introspection, which is where many of us are now.

Naturally, smaller niche communities have begun their own self-reflections, and heavy metal is no different. Jon Schaffer, guitarist and principal songwriter for Iced Earth, was photographed storming the Capitol building and, as of this writing, is being sought by the FBI for questioning. Although Schaffer’s involvement came as a shock to some, longtime readers of the Toilet Ov Hell and listeners of the Toilet Ov Hell podcast are well aware of Schaffer’s extreme political thoughts.

From his involvement with the violent radical antigovernment Oath Keepers, to his wearing of Confederate flags, to his over-the-top freedom-loving side band Sons Of Liberty, to his appearance on far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s show. This information has been widely available because Schaffer has not tried to hide it. Now it is finally catching up to him.

While most of the metal community and beyond have castigated Schaffer, there are, as expected, defenders as well. Empty shouts of the first amendment and liberty ring pretty hollow in the wake of 5 deaths. There has been a third response cropping up that tries to avoid any sort of conflict. A soft, down-the-middle approach that will not rock the boat and hurt the bottom line. Broad, carefully-worded condemnations of the riots, but not of Schaffer himself, have been issued from Iced Earth and his Demon & Wizards bandmate Hansi Kürsch. According to both, the violence is bad and that’s all we have to say about that. They had to say something, but not enough to lose fans or fully remove themselves from their money-making project. Then, there are the people that want to avoid the situation altogether in a misguided attempt at unity.

In an age where the VJ is extinct and terrestrial radio is on the way out, a person like Jose Mangin, who hosts a national show, is one of the few non-musician celebrities in the metal world. Beyond that place of prominence, we have writers, bloggers, and social media personalities. It’s not much, so that means his words tend to hold more weight as he is a recognizable figure that reaches a large audience on a daily basis. In the aftermath of the failed insurrection and revelation that a well-known metal musician participated (I’ll assume he’s referencing Schaffer. Ex-Misfits vocalist Michale Graves also attended, but no one cares about him), Mangin had this to say:

While that sentiment may be nice on the surface, it doesn’t hold much weight in reality.

The calls for a unified metal community are really just a hope or dream. Dreams are not impossible, but they require serious work and actions to be achieved. There cannot be a peaceful, loving metal community when leaders and tastemakers such as Mangin want to brush aside the very real and very serious divisions that have been pervading the scene since its inception. Pick your poison and it has found a place in metal. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, anti-trans, ableism, you name it. If you can name it, a metal band has probably written a song about hating it. While many speak out against these hatreds, there has also been a soft middle where people refuse to deal with serious and hurtful issues, citing that they just “like the music”. It’s this laissez-faire attitude that has allowed a genre like NSBM to not only still exist, but continue to thrive.

Punk fought Nazis and kicked them out. Hardcore fought Nazis and kicked them out. Metal, in general, just kind of shrugged and allowed them to stick around. By doing so, these people have learned to tone down their rhetoric enough to start or join other bands, get signed to better known labels, and subtly reach a much larger audience. It is one of many blind spots in metal that continues to fester and push us apart rather than bring us together.

Of course, it’s not just racism that metal has had trouble in coming to terms with. Just ask Tim Lambesis, who went to jail for trying to hire a hitman to murder his wife. After his release, As I Lay Dying reformed and played sold out shows. David DiSanto of Vektor violently abused his wife. Vektor just released new music a few weeks ago which was promoted by a well-known blog. And how could we forget former Pantera front man Phil Anselmo screaming “White Power” and seig heiling on stage? It would be hard for Mangin to forget as he was standing right there. Anselmo currently has about three or 4 active bands and Down is getting back together. How can we “continue rocking” when we let people like this continue?

Following a backlash to his initial tweet, Mangin tried to clarify:

His desire to find commonality rather than focus on differences may be well-intentioned but chooses to ignore ongoing and underlying issues. It asks us to ignore the real world and put our arms around the sweaty person next to you at the show when “Raining Blood” plays over the PA. This is the equivalent of Marge Simpson saying “Now let’s forget our troubles with a big bowl of strawberry ice cream!” Ignore the difficult stuff, listen to music, and everything will be better. While a common interest in a specific genre of music may bring us together, it does not bind us together. We live in the real world where real things happen and they do not magically go away because of a shared love of a riff or lyrics.

Unity (not the kind being preached by elected Republicans now culpable in a failed coup attempt, but actual unity) cannot simply be achieved just by wishing for it. Real, serious steps must be taken if we really want to make it happen. We cannot be all about the music if the music makers and providers want to suppress or destroy certain groups for simply existing. We cannot be all about the music if we cast a blind eye and sweep the bad actors under the rug. You have to draw the line. One would think “actively trying to overthrow the government” would be that line, but you might lose a couple of listeners or Twitter followers in the process.

Schaffer and Graves found more in common with seditionists and bigots. No riff was too great and no solo was too incredible to stop them from befriending and supporting the worst of the worst. That cannot be ignored, cannot be forgiven, and can never be forgotten.

Commonality is not good enough, especially after the events of last week. We can’t ignore the bad stuff because it makes us uncomfortable or may risk the bottom line. If we truly want get better and unite, then we have to work for it. We have to listen to those that have been pushed aside and marginalized. We have to listen and learn from our mistakes so that we may move forward. Otherwise we are bound to repeat ourselves with growing regularity and increasing severity. Metal has brought many of us together and has, in fact, saved lives. Think of how many more people can be helped if we actually work at it and improve it.

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