Saturday, June 29, 2013

Sexism in Heavy Metal

We must be very skeptical when we see Heavy Metal express conformist ideological positions.

If language is the domain of domestication of experience - and by that I mean, if language is a tool for making faux-sense from non-sense - then what is Real is what is left unspoken; Therewithin lies the enduring necessity of art and especially music: in expressing the inexpressible, a sideways glance inside the wound of existence. Heavy Metal is a wordless scream. It is pointing at the horror of life. From blatant forms of death and decay and zombies to the more modernist depictions of middle-class ennui and urban alienation.

Heavy Metal tolls the funeral bells for 43 years now. Surely the danger it prophesies must have occurred by now, right? If not, then the danger is time itself, experience itself, the horror and awe of sentience.

Warning, Humans: The apocalypse is at hand, it has forever been at hand. There is no final count, no absolution, no yesterday and no tomorrow.

Romance is the tool of Heavy Metal, a modern sort of music with an ancient conceit. In that space, the nationalist tendencies of it can be best understood. In that space, men are Men, women don't really have souls and the world is there to conquer and forge anew with willpower. Imagine that Victorian dolt on the painting standing with his silly suit and cane on the top of the mountain gazing at the clouds. Actually, don't just imagine, here it is

Ahh... not a single woman or nigger in sight!

Heavy Metal subcultures are rife with racism, but have been making some progress. There is a political precedent that allows for some limited progress in that aspect and it comes via Rush: Ayn Rand-type Objectivism. Because that strain of thought persists and informs Heavy Metal, listeners are prepared to accept an individual of color as part of their tribes if they show a strong will and moral sense *akin to that of the white man*. In this way, people from other races are allowed in the clubhouse if they understand and can further the memetic ancestry of individualism, capitalism and Manichean ethics: If you believe in the Strong, if you believe in free commerce, if you believe in Good and Evil, you can be part of the metal hordes.

As problematic and colonialist as all this sounds, there can be a discussion and progress from such a basis (and there has been). Such a basis can be radicalized. What is needed is higher level discourse by the proponents of Heavy Metal subcultures to take it there. Now where these people are and why aren't they writing (or composing and performing) to that end is it's a whole different issue and article.

But even a staunch nationalistic and ancient-loving point of view in Heavy Metal is not a conformist point of view; It comes in contact with modern living and there is friction. From this friction, sparks of interest can arise. Heavy Metal doesn't need to be correct (or even very nice), it just needs to collide with preconceptions in a spectacular way so as to inspire individuals to seek their individual truths., for example, a hornet's nest of neo-nazis and misanthropes if there ever were one, has had a brief positive influence on me not due to the letter of its content, but its counter-cultural spirit on the whole. In the outright lunacy of suggesting Heavy Metal carries the torch of classical composition and not blues-based rock n' roll (which is left to the loathsome blacks) I learned "well, if this person can re-contextualize the narrative of Heavy Metal in whatever way they like, then so can I. Who is going to stop me, Lemmy?".

That is the seed of radical thinking and self-definition that Heavy Metal trades in.

But when it comes to ingrained gender roles, Heavy Metal isn't even inspiringly over-identifying with a  bigoted point of view. It has no extreme message. It doesn't push anything.

Heavy Metal agrees with an American home-owner from the '30s on the role of Man and Woman in life. The man is the hunter out in the wild. The woman tends to the cubs inside the cave.

When Heavy Metal express conformist ideological positions, we must be very skeptical.

An over-identification that could have been useful would be for a Heavy Metal band to be defiantly pro-homosexual and call for the destruction of womankind on the whole. That's the sort of nonsense you can work with.

But this middle of the road misogyny just breeds lukewarm contempt from those of us that are anti-sexists and a lurid confirmation bias from those of us that have been traditionally sexist to begin with. This sort of sexism that Heavy Metal endorses is ass-patting the worst aspects of male listeners, it provides no challenge, it provides no restrictions and no transcendentalist goal; It just reiterates on the common old narrative that women are inferior, weak of spirit and desire and can only be sexually acted upon by Proud Mens. The only women it accepts are glorified sex objects and/or (be very careful with the 'or' proposition here, it is extremely potent psycho-dynamically) women that have taken upon them the role of men so as to survive. Imagine some boy looking up at his mother's thighs. Imagine her all decked out in chains and leather and spitting out a sickkkk guitar solo, imagine a boy's erection turning to a man's erection.

So either women as sex objects, or women as sex objects that double as male tyrants.

How can this base be radicalized? From the esoteric/occult aspect, I would expect Heavy Metal bands to posit a message of full abstinence from sexual activity of any kind. Heavy Metal tends to look at human beings as spirits first anyway, it would be very useful for a musical subculture to strip any gendered identifier from its fanbase and aggressively police a no-joy, no-fun, anti-human, anti-life approach. Of course this would be short lived and its results horrible in a whole different way, but from a point of view of cultural theory, all that fallout would be useful to work with and to push forward from, as a building base. 

Another approach would be to de-centralize the narrative of 'Man is Strong, Strength is everything, Will is everything, Willpower is therefore masculine' in Heavy Metal. A Romantic core can be separated from those 'might is right' nationalist conceits because the core of Romance is not strength. It is dread, terror, awe. It is the unmentionable, that which can only be glanced at sideways. If anything, the ablation of such horror and torment can only be the existential solution: I remain close to this terror, I remind myself of this terror, if I forget this terror, I have lost my way. There is no right and wrong, I must make of my existence what I can with full knowledge that life and death are the same thing.

Furthermore the most direct method would be to aggressively recount and attack gender stereotypes in Heavy Metal via pure fucking Modernist/Humanist holocaust. Do we still have any progressive metal worth its salt? Can they make a few concept albums about say, the journey of a transgendered individual through life? How about progressive metal about sexual dysfunction and alienation directly? Where's my prog metal opera on the debunking of biological determinism? Heavy Metal stands in proud opposition to teleological determinants describing sentience, after all. Life is horror, life is imagination, life is life, right? Can these tensions be either lessened or absurdly stressed to the point of deconstruction?

Before any such forward-thinking reconstruction of Heavy Metal can occur we sadly have to deal with a much more banal but pertinent issue. People love their comfort-food-art more than they love other human beings, even in the abstract.

This can be seen online every day, in social media. If pressed, people will prefer for Game of Thrones to continue existing than the whole gender of women.

If you criticize the culture they use as self-identification, you are criticizing their being itself. People are very quick to react to this in the worst ways.

The first thing we have to discuss, for a long time, until people understand it, is that you can both like -or even love- a type of art and at the same time have the necessary distance from it to see the ugliness in its inner workings. Be it music, video games, movies or tv shows, whatever you love is also hurting you. Too much distance is obscuring the vital connection we have with art. Too little distance makes the art we love so integral to our being that it takes hold of us and leaves us to the whims of market capitalists selling product. Believe it or not, critique of culture and an examination of media can contribute to radicalization but we first must understand our relationship to the media itself, regardless of the content of media. It is impossible to discuss the problem or sexism or racism in Heavy Metal before all parties agree that human beings are more important that Heavy Metal.


  1. I like the effortless way with which you write! Great points and shows developed critical thinking skills :)

  2. Several questions:

    1. When you say that we must be skeptical when Heavy Metal expresses conformist ideological positions, do you mean that we must be skeptical of the effective function of such positions (i.e. through such positions we spark contrary inspiration, as with your experience with, or do you mean that Heavy Metal that holds to such positions should be treated as suspect (i.e. metal that holds to the trite 1930s sexism is of little use and should be disregarded)?

    2. With respect to the “no joy, no fun, anti-human, anti-life” model for radicalization, would you say that Brutal Death Metal would meet such criteria, except that it is characteristically masculine? I have often wondered what the result would be of approaching an emotionally disconnected materialist subject matter from the perspective of an impersonal (and therefore genderless) force and tying this idea to serialist composition techniques. I wonder if modern metal listeners would be capable of discerning between the chaos of Brutal Technical Death Metal and a hypothetical 12-Tone derived atonal extreme metal. I am unaware of whether this has been attempted to any significant degree.

    3. In what way would you say that Death Metal or Black Metal fail to focus on the dread and awe that you suggest as the core of Romance? Do they fail?

  3. Tyson Gough: humans (can be) sexual. Objects can be sexy. Think about it.


    1. the latter. Heavy Metal that isn't pushing the envelope must be considered as suspect, as Heavy Metal is rebellion, not agreeing with your grandfather on the role of women in society.

    2. I think brutal death metal is sexual in its subject matter of blood, gore and (often) disfigured prostitutes. It is not sexual in a normalized way and perhaps some inspiration can occur there, but it's so difficult to parse (brutal death metal, for me) that I don't often try. Perhaps others can speak for the extreme alienation of BDM and if it has inspired anything.

    Sculptured, an old melodic death metal band attempted serialist compositions in metal. They weren't pleasant to listen to, but they were interesting.

    3. I do not think they fail to, no. But they aren't consistent. A black metal band might write a song about being lost in the woods, or the cold mountain winds piercing their skin... and on the cover they'll have an abused woman by a corpse-faced man. This dynamic is there from the beginning of black metal, where Norwegians made shrill, blurry, badly produced witch music and they claimed to be hyper-masculine at the same time. They murdered homosexuals. They were extremely conservative in world-view. The only exception that comes to mind was Profanatica, whom - though ridiculous - understood that the message of blasphemy is primarily sexual, and in sexual blasphemy we do not adhere to normalized gender roles and sexism.

    I do not keep up with modern black metal as much as I should (because it's so bad) but I am prepared to accept that smart minds have attempted to touch on the issue of normalized sexuality in their black metal. If they exist, if such bands exist, I'll appreciate links.

  4. Surely you have seen this before:

    I know nothing about modern black metal, so I won't be any help there.

  5. I've seen Spinal Tap once but I have no memory of it because it didn't correspond to my HM experience so I didn't find it very funny. More for people into the monsters of '70s rock excess.

  6. oh now the joke comes back to me, they accuse the person(s) in Spinal Tap of being sexist to which they reply,

  7. Helm,

    My apologies for the bad joke. I have a habit of saying that line whenever I get the chance. I think that the distinction between monsters of 70's rock excess and the more extreme side of HM is important. As you know, Glam Metal takes after the monsters of 70's rock more directly than say Hellhammer. I think that the popularity of Glam metal propelled a lot of the masculinity in extreme metal. One side becomes decadent while the other becomes fundamentalist. Many bands, especially the good ones, don't fit into such a clearly defined spectrum. Anyhow, since I can't make a clear point about any of this you may like the following article on Glam Metal's failure to do anything radical with the gender-bending of 70s glam rock.

    As always, I really enjoy reading your blog and look forward to every post.

  8. so provoked by this text. amazed. so much energy stirred. valuable. i think if i can harness it for my own ends. been cross checking my own chaos core re: HM domestication. currently of the mind that electric fire (Sound Barrier; Born To Rock) casts connections contrary to what i mine from you ideas.

    yes, i'll be specific soon about It. first i need to skype my prophetess.

  9. my Wife is more important than heavy metal. however, typing that out in blog comment does not make it true. truth is, she and i know my interaction with heavy metal produces diminished returns.

    i'm skeptical when i see myself express conformist ideas of Poetry of Subculture, Helm. just referring to heavy metal with a capital H and capital M is so copy cat, for me.

    Electric fire
    Continuously fueled
    By guiding forces
    Unseen but yet still proved
    (Sound Barrier, Born to Rock)

    i attended a benefit show for Dan Brown, Sound Barrier's drummer about a month ago. thought about people being greater than HM. liked the vibe there. a man gave me his business card which read Live Love Hard Fast

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