As a practicing Jew and a fan of heavy metal, I found Pantera, Down, and Superjoint Ritual mainstay Phil Anselmo’s most recent onstage antics both offensive and disappointing—though maybe not for the reasons you'd think. It's not because throwing up a Sieg Heil while declaring "white power!" is as hateful, troubling, and potentially dangerous as it’s always been, but because in this day and age—to a kike like me, at least—it’s just fucking boring.
I’ve heard and seen it all before, so there’s no need to dwell long on Anselmo's latest dumbassery, because anything that needs to be said, has been. He isn’t the only one to get caught during such outbursts, of course, although the levels of apology from other metal personalities have been varied in their degree of sincerity, effectivity, and existence. Take Mr. Varg Vikernes: I often see the Burzum bad boy’s mischievous smile in photos, and it's so infectious that I sometimes forget he’ll likely never walk back from the belief that all Jews, myself included, should be exterminated. During interviews, he gets this wistful twinkle in his eye when recounting Norwegian black metal’s heyday, as if lost in the high school memory of a game-winning touchdown play. It’s just so congenial before he invariably cuts to the chase.
"Our true enemy is the Jews! Never forget that!" Varg writes in a blog post from 2012.
It goes without saying the heavy metal community has never been the most welcoming (with some subsets less so than others), but that’s not what is truly bothersome. Metal itself often lacks a certain amount of subtlety and tact, but like any good art, its best examples are imbued with creativity and human emotion. This particular strain of hate speech is too tired and played out to be offensive anymore, and its usage is such a fallback. That in itself is what’s offensive to me—the simple fact that lazy bigots like Anselmo and Vikernes have exhausted any remaining shock value possessed by the swastika and the Sieg Heil. Shouting “White Power” at a basement show or writing another rambling post on your website about the ZOG menace is about as unoriginal as you can get these days.
I’ve experienced these anti-Semitic undercurrents since my first introductions to the very peripheries of the genre. Christian, straight-edge metalcore was the best mid-aughts Mississippi had to offer, dubiously “brutal” as it was, and I loathed it. Each church show spiel was so predictable, featuring the same discordant musical crescendos, the same sermons, the same vague, lingering unease towards non-gentiles. All my friends went to these shows in high school, and I often tagged along after Shabbat services. I’d stand in a corner, watching them dogpile on top of one another in front of a multipurpose room’s stage, scrabbling to get close enough to a mic held at the end of a frontman’s outstretched arm so they could shout along to their favorite angst anthems.
“This is my battle, this is my war,” is one line that sticks out still.
The Third Reich vibe at these events only intensified as the songs snapped into their inevitable breakdowns. Everyone would spread out amidst the pit so they could two-step in rhythm with the double bass kicks. Once, some bandleader fell to his knees to begin some barely intelligible monologue atop the caterwaul.
“He prays during this part every time,” a friend told me, shouting the explanation into my ear.
In between cacophonous bursts, the acts would explain that they “couldn’t have done this without Jesus,” and that their snarling dissonance was all in His name. They then invariably mentioned that they’d be around after the show if anyone wanted to “just talk, you know?” I always felt the outsider, and stopped going after word got out that there was an unconverted in their midst. It was too much like chumming shark-infested waters. I couldn’t stand the wider metal genre for almost a decade, and ignored the music completely.
Given just how much of the genre’s lyrics are dedicated to alienation, anger, and subjugation, it’s surprising to me that more Jews and minorities haven’t been attracted to heavy metal. As casual anti-Semitism took its toll on me, I turned to aggressive music to deal with it, only to find that some of the more talented figures in the scene had turned to the same sounds to deal with me.
When I finally got away from the Bible Belt, I suddenly found myself indulging in the most blasphemous, brutal music I could find, maybe to make up for lost time, but soon found that here, too, existed endemic varieties of anti-Jewry. The bigot contingency is still by far a minority segment within the community, and it can be argued that almost every musical variety counts intolerant individuals among its ranks, but there’s something in metal’s aggressive nature that seems to encourage intolerant bile more than most others.
As heavy metal opens up to wider swaths of the public—and face it, purists, because it’s happening whether you want it to or not—sexual, gender, ethnic, and racial minorities are going to have to figure out how to adapt to a landscape that is suspicious of us at best, and openly hostile at worst. The Vargs and the Anselmos are going to be out there for the conceivable future, but I don’t think it’s important to get angry at them whenever they posture for purity’s sake. It’s both boring and expected. If anything, it’s important to get angry at them for continuing to stagnate a vital and important musical subgenre.
Given our shared lifetimes of abuse and struggle, I find it hard to believe that Jews and other minority groups can’t pass some brutality litmus test, despite whatever Varg , Anselmo, and company would offer as evidence to the contrary. If they want to keep spewing vitriol against a backdrop of blast beats, by all means, go ahead. Free speech is free speech.
But at least be creative about it. The virulently intolerant are always welcome to air their grievances, but as more diverse voices experiment with the genre, it’ll only make them more irrelevant and out-of-touch. Mr. Phil Anselmo once so famously growled: “You can’t be something you’re not / Be yourself, by yourself / Stay away from me.” I don’t think he realized his own lines would eventually come back to haunt him.
Andrew Paul is on Twitter.