Metal music culture’s relationship with politics is often overlooked Getintothis’ Nedim Hassan takes a look at those offering hope against hate.
Often derided as apolitical and hedonistic, metal music culture actually has a far more active relationship with politics than many would have us believe.
Metal’s engagement with politics has a long history; the most high profile example of this perhaps being its clashes with organisations seeking to curtail freedom of speech in the US during the mid-1980s.
The efforts of pressure group the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) mobilized artists like Dee Snider from Twisted Sister to defend his band and the genre as a whole.
Yet, if we look beyond heavily cited Anglo-American examples and turn our attention to metal music in different parts of the world, we find numerous contemporary examples of how metal is having significant political impact.
This was one of the most prevalent messages that we took from the recent 4th Biennial International Conference of the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS).
A broad community of academics (including this writer), ISMMS are committed to examining the world of heavy rock and metal from a range of perspectives.
At this year’s conference which took place last week in Nantes, France, scholars from twenty five countries and a range of academic fields including sociology, musicology, history and gender studies gathered to present their research.
At the event, metal music culture’s engagement with politics was explored within a number of research papers. From the politics of metal in the German Democratic Republic of the 1980s, to the striking case of how metal music has helped to drive contemporary political change in Indonesia, there were some fascinating examples.
A highlight of the conference was a special panel on metal music in Latin America.
There, researchers like Alfredo Nieves illustrated how the State of Mexico – the so called ‘periphery’ of the country – features a thriving metal scene where musicians struggle to overcome social marginalisation in order to organise gigs that empower people in a geographical location characterised by extreme hardship.
We also heard from filmmaker and academic Nelson Varas-Díaz, director of Songs of Injustice, a compelling documentary film on heavy metal music in Latin America, which was released last year.
He shed light on how the influential Nueva canción movement started by revolutionary musicians like Victor Jara and Violeta Parra has inspired a new generation of Latin American metal acts.
Bands such as Chile’s Pentagram and Ecuador’s Aztra pay tribute to these artists and the social movement they were part of in order to lay bare the horrific enduring legacy of colonialism and its modern day embodiment in neoliberalism.
Despite their often dark subject matter, Varas-Díaz revealed how these artists can become sources of resistance and hope for many who often feel powerless.
Indeed, he argued that the work of an artist like Venezula’s Paul Gillman, who released a tribute album to legendary folk singer Alí Primera in 2003, is an example of how metal music enacts important dialogues between musical genres.
By incorporating the song lyrics and themes of Nueva canción folk singers but performing them by utilising metal styles, these musicians are making clear to older generations that they have not forgotten their struggles and sacrifices.
Also, by re-articulating these messages of resistance and hope within a mosh pit context, these bands are drawing upon metal’s sonic power to inspire new generations to reflect on contemporary political issues.
As Gustavo Zavala a member of Argentinian band Tren Loco interviewed for Songs of Injustice put it, “Some people want to see rock as entertainment. For us it’s not entertainment. It is a way of feeling and thinking.”
Now, onto our guide to the latest albums that have crossed our paths which starts with a record that, while not overtly political, certainly conveys the idea that metal is a way of thinking and feeling.
Deathspell Omega: The Furnaces of Palingenesia (NoEvDia)
France’s mysterious avant-garde black metal outfit have returned with their latest offering, The Furnaces of Palingenesia.
An often brooding affair, the album mostly keeps its searing fury at bay to concentrate on its philosophical examination of the state of humankind.
Opener Neither Meaning nor Justice sets the scene; vocalist Aspa declaring in his rich and resonant tones that “We shall dissolve Man and mould him into a new shape.”
The bleak salvation that Deathspell Omega promise is exemplified in the magnificent Ad Arma! Ad Arma!
Adorned with menacing, stuttering riffs that build towards a dramatic climax that combines Aspa’s venomous sermon with an orchestral flourish, this track encapsulates this album’s compelling appeal.
Evil Angel: Unholy Evil Metal (Hells Headbangers)
Evil Angel have returned after a long hiatus to pollute the atmosphere with their unashamedly ugly sounding sophomore album, Unholy Evil Metal.
These Finnish purveyors of caustic sounding blackened thrash put the pedal to the metal from the outset, delivering savage break-neck slabs of primitive rage such as opening track Necro Black Mass and the simply evil sounding Christ Decays.
Boasting an impressive dual attack from guitarists Dr Evil and Von Bastard, as well as vocalist Orgasmatron’s blood curdling throaty rasps, these guys can still deliver while dropping the pace on numbers such as the epic Crawling from the Grave.
Savage Messiah – Demons (Century Media)
There is a real majesty to Savage Messiah’s fifth full length album. Demons is the sound of a band reaching the peak of their creative energies.
Equally comfortable on classic sounding, powerful ballad-like numbers like The Lights Are Going Out as they are on thrashtastic face-rippers like Rise Then Fall, these boys are quickly becoming British metal royalty.
Instantly accessible and boasting superb production quality from David Castillo, this album has the depth to keep you hooked in for repeated listens. Highly recommended.
Well, this is where we come to the end of the road for now. Keep hope alive and keep supporting your scene.