Last week, Slayer set the Metal Internet alight with a poorly-worded Instagram post heard 'round the world, wherein vocalist and bassist Tom Araya referred to his own fans as "snowflakes" and, essentially, told us all to "get over it," because "like him or not," Donald Trump is now (technically) our President. The comment section on the post—which shows a grinning Trump crudely Photoshopped onto an old photo of the band and includes former members Dave Lombardo and Jeff Hanneman, who one assumes would not be too pleased about it—roiled with negativity, as anti-Trump fans argued with their pro-Trump counterparts and sparred with a few "metal isn't about politics, maaaan!" types who were clearly new to the genre of thrash metal. The Catholic musician also seemed to make a homophobic joke further down in the comments about "Mike pence turning fruits into vegetables," which seems to allude to Pence's disgustingly inhumane support for so-called "conversion therapy." Fucking really, dude?
After various media outlets reported on the hubbub (a lot of "fuck Slayer" sentiments made the rounds), the band quickly released a statement absolving themselves of responsibility for Araya's personal political views. The statement (which was also sent to Noisey upon request) read, "As was verified by Tom, this was his post, is not something the band would have posted if asked, and does not belong on a Slayer social page. We all have our personal opinions, some of which we have voiced in the past, but Slayer has never endorsed any political party or any candidate, and the band intends to keep it that way."
Kerry King doubled down on the sentiment via a post on his wife's Instagram, which read in part, "With social media, there's too much room for misrepresentation, and we all just had a giant taste of that. Joke or not, my opinion is that our war of words should be with people who don't believe what Slayer is about. NOT with our own fanbase." He went on to note that while he and Araya have different political opinions, they still love each other and their fans. It was a nice statement, and probably the best we could hope for given the circumstances—but like, what's up with that "fruits" joke, though?.
Why does any of this matter? Are any of us surprised? Why are we seriously spending time and mental energy worrying over the politics of a band of rich old metal dudes who wrote "Angel of Death"? Millions of families are in danger of being swallowed up by our apocalyptic new fascist state, and metalheads are wasting our time sniping at one another over this?
Well, yeah, because art matters, and heavy metal matters, and artists like Tom Araya (and Slayer in general) have access to a massive platform, and in Slayer's case, a legendarily rabid fanbase who listen carefully to what they say onstage and off. Tom Araya making a homophobic joke is fucked up on a variety of levels, not least of which is what it says about Araya's attitude towards his LGBTQ fans. Tom Araya derisively referring to his fans who happen to protest the installation of an illegitimate, racist, ignorant, morally (and probably literally) bankrupt fascist as "snowflakes" is fucked up, no matter how much we all love his records. Noisey's worked extensively with the band, too, discussing politics and various topics—yet nothing like this ever came up. I'm disappointed, both as a fan and as someone who's dedicated a significant amount of time to covering their doings.
And I'm certainly not alone. After the Slayer blowup, I saw fellow metalheads talking about it on Twitter (#fuckslayer was a common hashtag) and noticed music critic and Noisey contributor Gary Suarez's thread about which of the Big Four thrash bands have disappointed him most in terms of political stance. I wasn't surprised to see Megadeth's full-on conservative Dave Mustaine and Metallica's more quietly Republican James Hetfield pop up, but seeing Kirk Hammett mentioned as a silver lining caught my interest. When I peeked at his Twitter feed, my jaw dropped—while Slayer was out here making shitty bigoted jokes, the legendary Metallica guitarist was tweeting in support of the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters and railing against "alt-right" white supremacists and climate change deniers. (Blabbermouth collected some of his recent anti-Trump/anti-fascist tweets into a nice list, if you're not big on Twitter).
I'd never really paid attention to Hammett's politics, because there was never a need to—as far as I was concerned, rich old metal dudes and I have very little in common besides a few shared favorite records, and that was mostly fine. Now, though, it's different. Seeing Hammett use his platform for good instead of apolitical self-promotion (or outright bigoted hate like metalcore has-been Phil Labonte) gave me a jolt of hope. Most Metallica fans will never give a singular shit about what I or any other music writer have to say about climate change or the need to smash Nazis" but when one of their heroes pipes up about it, there's a real opportunity for change. A single tweet from Hammett has the potential to reach over 141,000 people in one go; that's the kind of audience a fiercely political underground band can only dream of—and 141,000 possible changed minds.
Later that evening, I also noticed a few tweets from Fear Factory guitarist Dino Cazares, who was patiently dismantling the arguments of every misguided Trumpkin who stormed into his mentions. He's still at it, too—Cazares appears to respond to every tweet he gets, from supporter and adversary alike. In the past few days, I've seen him call out misogynists, racists, and xenophobes, defend immigrants, and emphasize both the importance of the US's relationship with Mexico and the incompetence of Trump himself. None of it is exactly surprising, given his Latino heritage and the fact that he's a founding member of Brujeria, who made their contempt for Donald J. Trump known in typically over-the-top fashion, but it's good for his 45,300 followers to see, anyway.
I've seen similarly encouraging statements from Slipknot's Corey Taylor, who fronts one of metal's biggest bands as well as one of the wokest metal-related accounts on Twitter. Whether you like his band or not, they're undeniably huge, and his following on there is formidable—he's hovering just under a half a million followers right now. and Taylor is using that platform to voice his support for refugees and his opposition to Trump's hateful, racist policies(and handing out retweets like candy whenever his fans ask, which is just nice). Slipknot may have evolved from nu-metal weirdness into more palatable, angsty hard rock, but Taylor remains one of mainstream metal's biggest—and most unapologetically liberal—stars. The same kind of people who listen to flag-humpers Five Finger Death Punch probably listen to Slipknot, and Taylor's impassioned invectives have the potential to open a lot of minds that are currently sutured shut.
In a similar vein, Otep vocalist and artist Otep Shamaya is extremely active on Twitter, and extremely uninterested in keeping her political views under wraps. Her pinned tweet—"I pledge never to normalize the racist, sexist, homophobic delusions of an intolerant, spineless imbecile. #unfit #unqualified #neverTrump"—is a battle cry and a warning for anyone stupid enough to trespass in her domain wielding hate or general bullshit. The aforementioned All That Remains vocalist, Phil Labonte, ran afoul of her recently by repeatedly tweeting a litany of homophobic slurs at her, only to have his tiny ass handed to him. Shamaya—a strict vegan who's long been known for her fiery political screeds and resounding roar behind the mic—is also one of metal's loudest LGBTQ voices, and was nominated for a GLAAD Award in 2010. Her timeline blazes with anti-Trump, anti-fascist vitriol—and it's truly beautiful to see.
On the less confrontational but still potent end of the spectrum, Arch Enemy's Alissa White-Gluz and Matt Heafy of Trivium are in a similar boat—big mainstream metal bands, significant social media followings, a refusal to stay neutral. While neither has taken the outwardly political tone of Taylor, Cazares, Shamaya, or Hammett, both are vocal about the issues that matter most to them. White-Gluz has long been known for her veganism and animal rights activism, but she's also spoken at length about feminism, and as of late, has been posting in solidarity with the Women's March.
Sprinkled among tweets about food (dude really likes to eat), Gilmore Girls, and cute stuff about his wife, Heafy—the son of a US Marine and a Japanese immigrant—has not been shy about his support for immigrants, refugees, and the Women's March, as well as his personal donations to the ACLU. He frequently tweets pointed song lyrics, too—I especially appreciated "Declaration," which read in part, "Fuck their ways it is time to break free / Fuck their hate, acceptance is what we need / Equality for every race, sex, sexuality / And every choice to live our lives / And to you bigot cretin ignoramus / Mind your own goddamn fucking business." It's not quite "Nazi Punks Fuck Off," but it's a big leap in the right direction.
Machine Head vocalist Robb Flynn—who became something of a modern blueprint for woke metal celebrities after his heartfelt and damning condemnation of Phil Anselmo following the former Pantera vocalist's now infamous "white wine / "White power" incident—is still at it. His Twitter timeline is currently a parade of photos from the Women's March, though the rest of it appears to be dedicated to personal photos, shilling apparel, and promoting his band, which, fair!). His frequent Facebook blogs (titled The General Journals: Diary of a Frontman… and Other Ramblings) are far more interesting, especially when he does decide to get political. His most recent post deals with the Women's March, which he and his military veteran father attended in Sacramento. It was very personal—at one point talking about his experiences with abortion, his relationship with his wife, and his own fear of being forgotten— and contained one particular observation that hit home for a different reason. It's something I've noticed too at the many protests of which I've been a part over the years: the lack of metalheads in attendance. Where is everyone?
"In Sacramento, there was a disappointing lack of 20 to 40 year old metal-heads (sic) of any sort. Other than that one sign I didn't see a single metal t-shirt or metal back-patch. Maybe they were incognito, maybe they felt hopeless/ depressed and didn't feel like marching would make a difference, or maybe (judging by the enormous amount of hate I received from previous journals/songs), most rock and metal fan's support Trump and think this is bullshit."
I really do hope he's wrong about that. There are many, many metalheads out there who are vehemently opposed to every facet of this disgusting authoritarian farce, and who do throw themselves into the resistance. Then again, it's no secret that many metalheads are conservatives, and that metal (especially its more extreme forms) has long held fast to an unhealthy flirtation with the far-right and outright white supremacy, racism, and misogyny. We have a lot to work on within our community, and with the country literally burning down around us, it's hard to want to give a shit about metal at all.
That's why these big-name metal musicians are so important. I'm not looking to hand out cookies here—tweets are nice, but there is always more that people can do—but merely to acknowledge that, despite metal's enduring boneheaded reputation, those who care about the rights and freedoms of all are far from alone. Metal itself is inherently political, inasmuch as it is art, and all art—as well as the people who make it—is political. A large number of metalheads aren't particularly interested in this aspect of the genre, though, and remain more concerned with the music itself (which makes sense, given that they're music fans first and foremost). Given the genre's knack for attracting extreme personalities ("extreme music for extreme people," right?), those who do choose to engage with politics tend to veer to either the far right, or the far left; left to their own devices, these two factions wage tiny wars on one another, an exhausting process that tends to further alienate apolitical metalheads who don't want to deal with any of it.
Free speech is still a right (for now), so metal musicians on both sides of the divide are perfectly able to speak their minds—but given metal's history of rebelling against the status quo, of fierce independence, of wide-ranging diversity, and of calling bullshit when we see it, it is hard to understand why anyone who professes to truly love this genre and its sworn allegiance to freedom of expression would align themselves with the rabid right-wing conservatism and outright fascism offered by our current Presidential Administration. We're at a point in our history when basic human rights of millions of people are at stake, including many members of our big, beautifully diverse global metal community.
Metal is about many things, and incorporates many voices, perspectives, and opinions—that's part of why it fucking rules so much—but if things carry on going the way they are, there won't be any opportunities to voice those opinions without fear of repercussions or repression. Under this new Administration, taking an apolitical stance is a luxury that Americans cannot allow themselves. It's time for the sleeping giant that is metal's "Politics? Nah" faction to wake up—and if it takes a tweet from the Slipknot guy to stir them, then tweet on, Mr. Taylor.
There are so many incredible heavy metal bands out there standing up against fascism and in support of marginalized communities who definitely deserve our full-throated support and hard-earned dollars, but most of them are still operating outside the mainstream. Old guard thrashers like Kreator, Running Wild, and Sacred Reich have always fought the good fight, and continue that work today, but we also need new bands to step up to the plate. No one comes out of the womb sporting a Bolt Thrower shirt; mainstream metal bands like the ones mentioned here act as gateways to further aural annihilation, and it's crucial that we funnel those new sets of ears toward bands who deserve their patronage.
Every Trivium single is a possible stepping stone towards Napalm Death—and now every metalhead who finds something to agree with in one of these social media posts is one step closer to discovering Nuclear Assault, or Iskra, or Misery Index, and with that, one step closer to making heavy metal better for everyone.
Kim Kelly is extremely political on Twitter all the time.
Cover image by Adam Mignanelli