To Hell And Back

There's No Room In Metal for Racists, Abusers, and Bigots

A meditation on enabling oppression, As I Lay Dying, Emperor, and taking accountability for one's own mistakes (plus some sweet new metal tunes).

by Kim Kelly
25 June 2018, 8:06am

To Hell And Back is a weekly column in which Noisey metal editor and lifelong hesher Kim Kelly explores the extreme metal underground and recommends her latest faves.

To be perfectly honest with you all, I personally feel that, as metal fans, the practice of separating the art from the artist is no longer a luxury that we can in good conscience afford ourselves. This world has always been ugly, and violent, and unfair; inequality and exploitation has always been rampant, marginalised communities have always suffered under the iron fists of those with unearned privilege and power, and the very land I’m standing on as I type this is stolen, and stained with the blood of colonial genocide. These truths remain unchanged no matter who infests the White House or other halls of power – but now, in the age of social media and smartphones and hyper-connectivity, there’s no way for us to turn a blind eye to them.

We’ve seen the children in cages. We’ve seen the bodies of unarmed Black men lying in the streets, victims of state-sanctioned murder. We’ve seen the faces of trans women beaten and executed for daring to exist. We’ve seen the desecrated Jewish cemeteries, the defaced mosques, the swastika graffiti, the KKK marching proudly through the streets of American cities. I've seen a lot people musing about what they would have done back in 1933, when they started burning books, and seizing passports, and the Brownshirts came; now is your chance to answer that question for yourself. Is buying a bigot or an abuser’s new album or going to see them play a show the same as participating in wide-scale ethnic cleansing? Of course not, don’t be ridiculous. However, is tacitly (or explicitly) supporting the violent ideologies they espouse, materially or otherwise, a dangerous, inhumane, shameful thing? Yes. Does purposefully ignoring or waving away the import of politics in art make you a coward? Also yes. Now is not the time to hand out hall passes because of fucking riffs.

That being said, you can probably guess my opinion on Christian (or should that be formerly Christian?) metalcore band As I Lay Dying’s decision to welcome their former vocalist, Tim Lambesis, back into the fold following his release from a truncated prison term. Lambesis was arrested in 2013 after attempting to hire an undercover police officer to murder his estranged wife, Meggan Murphy Lambesis; he pleaded guilty in 2014, and was sentenced to serve six years in prison. He was released on parole in December 2016, and is featured on a new As I Lay Dying single, "My Own Grave" (the title of which seems a little on the nose, given, you know, the attempted wife murder thing) which dropped on June 8, 2018.

The band has since released a half hour-long video explaining their decision to reunite with Lambesis, wherein they all discussed how they got to this point; at one point, As I Lay Dying guitarist Nick Hipa said, “What he did was very public, and it can never be forgotten, and it shouldn’t. But that’s part of what he has to endure for the rest of his life… When I saw who he was, and who he had genuinely become, I let go of that.” They discuss Lambesis’ court trial and prison sentence, but there is no mention of what he doing serving time for, or of his ex-wife, or of his three children.

While there has been a predictable outcry against this turn of events, there has also been a distressingly robust positive reaction from As I Lay Dying fans who are happy to have Lambesis back in the band. Scrolling through the band’s Twitter mentions surfaces a seemingly endless parade of well-wishers, some even invoking Jesus Christ in their public forgiveness of Lambesis. After I tweeted about it, one person in my mentions asked, “What else is a 37-year-old going to do? His bandmates threw him under the bus and started [new band] Wovenwar, so I see more of an issue with the lack of integrity from those guys,” which makes sense only if one accepts the premise that “rockstar” is the only avenue of employment available to an able-bodied, straight, white, barely middle-aged cis man in America, albeit one with an incarceration record.

To be clear, said record is a very real barrier to entry for many formerly incarcerated people seeking employment (especially those who are Black or Latino men) and is yet another brutal symptom of our broken carceral state; Lambesis would probably have trouble finding a white collar gig at this point, and may need to find what’s known as a “transition job” recommended by his parole officer for awhile. Another commenter noted that Lambesis will need some financial means to generate income in order to survive and to pay his child support, which is wholly reasonable; however, I am not convinced that this means he is entitled to re-enter a career as a touring and recording artist, complete with fawning fanbase, or that his bandmates are not wholly complicit in the propagation of these things.

As an abolitionist, I do not think that prison is the answer to the question of justice; no human being belongs in a cage (especially not the innocent brown children currently imprisoned by the American government in literal concentration camps on the U.S. border!). The goal instead should be rehabilitation and healing through restorative justice, and what troubles me about Lambesis’ case is that there seems to be no real evidence of either. The recently remarried vocalist’s image may eventually be rehabilitated – in the eyes of his fans, and certain sectors of the music industry – but at what cost? Look: this is a thorny, complex situation to parse, and I certainly don’t have the answers, but this… doesn’t seem like the right path for the band to have taken, even if it is Christian to “turn the other cheek” (it’s wild how one can cherry-pick whichever bits of Christianity one likes to justify even the most inhumane actions, huh?).

I reached out to the band’s most recent label, Metal Blade Records, requesting clarity on their role in the band’s return, but they declined to comment. So, for now, the mystery continues: what’s going to happen to As I Lay Dying now? Should we care? What happens if they tour, or record a new album – is the metal press going to cover it? Is he getting a pass because his crime was directed at a woman, or because metalcore as a genre is seen as passé and stale (instead of edgy and dangerous like certain other genres), or because his band was so seminal for so many millennial metalheads? Frustratingly enough, only time will answer these questions (and I’m mad impatient on a good day, so I hope time gets its ass in gear).

It would be silly for me to write all this without acknowledging metal’s long history of creating space for and supporting the actions of bigots, abusers, and other scum. Some of our most cherished folktales centre on violence and hate, and many rotten people have made indelible marks on the genre, from Varg Vikernes to that racist ding-dong from Malevolent Creation. For black metal fans, this is a particularly acute issue, as some of our most lionised figures are fucking terrible people – or at the very least, people who have done fucking terrible things.

This is something I’ve dealt with personally for years now, as my politics have evolved and I’ve worked to figure out my view on the world. I’ve certainly made mistakes. By now, I’ve cut out basically every artist whose politics or actions I no longer feel comfortable supporting in my own life – but even as recently as 2017, when I traveled to Norway to interview Emperor’s Ihsahn, I wrestled with the clash between my deep love for their music, and my acknowledgement of the band’s tainted legacy. The ghost of Magne Andreassen, the gay man who was stabbed to death in 1992 by Bård "Faust" Eithun, Ihsahn’s former bandmate in Emperor, haunted my writing process, and I nearly gave up on it altogether.

It was hard. I first interviewed Ihsahn back when I was in college, and remembered him as being an exceedingly gracious, thoughtful interview, so when the opportunity came up to sit down with him in person and discuss one of my favourite albums, I jumped at the chance almost unthinkingly. Once I got to Norway, on the day before I was due to sit down with Ihsahn, I spoke with a few queer metalheads who had reached out after seeing me mention the upcoming interview on Twitter. They told me that they were disappointed in me, and that, as someone who is concerned with justice in the metal community, I needed to do better. Though I was initially defensive, I knew that they were right, and I resolved to do my best to navigate the situation without jeopardising the work I’d been sent there to do. I reached out to some Norwegian friends who knew both Ihsahn and Faust personally, and over festival beers, discussed the nature of evil, and Faust’s life post-prison, and how Ihsahn handled the knowledge of the murder, and how some of them still can’t look at Faust anymore.

I weighed the fact that Faust wasn’t present on Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk (the classic album that was being played in its entirety that weekend, and the reason for my feature) against the reality that Emperor rehired him once he was released from prison after serving nine years of a 14-year sentence. I thought about what it would feel like to be 17 years old and find out that your friend and bandmate had murdered someone; would it make sense for you to go to the police, or to ignore it and hope it went away? What went through his head the night he found out? Would I have done anything differently?

In the end, I wrote the story. I understand why I was criticised for deciding to go ahead with it, and take accountability for that; I’m not sure I’d do it again if it was offered now, but these are the difficult decisions that we must make and mistakes we must confront if we truly want anything to change. We all fuck up sometimes – the most important thing is how we clean up the mess afterwards.

So how do we do that? There’s no one answer, and even though I know where I stand, it took me a long time to figure that out, and I’m still actively working on it (and still dealing with my mistakes). It comes down to personal responsibility, and your own politics, and your own level of willingness to engage with, and interrogate, and sometimes abandon the things you love in pursuit of greater understanding, and lesser harm. For me, it also comes down to the way I approach metal coverage on Noisey, because I am in that particular position of power; so I don’t publish or assign anything on artists whose work or actions go against my own principles.

There are a lot of metal bands in the world; asking yourself, “are these riffs really worth it?” is a small step, but a crucial one.

It starts with us. It starts with you.

Broken Dead

Broken Dead’s new album Extent of Pain is one of the best things I’ve heard all month (and it’s been a good month!). The Eugene, OR outfit’s thrashy, crusty, dark hardcore ticks all of my boxes, and despite the rawness of its emotional delivery, is maddeningly listenable. The album came out back in 2017 (which feels approximately 697 years ago) but the band just wrapped up a tour of the Western U.S. so I’m hoping to hell they have an East Coast jaunt scheduled soon.

Forelunar

Rummaging through the outer reaches of Bandcamp’s metal section is one of my favourite ways to discover new music, and Forelunar is one of the fruits of this week’s session. The Iranian atmospheric black metal project (sole member Harpag Karnik is based in Tehran) focuses on crafting a heavily emotive sense of romanticism (think of a more stripped down early Alcest) within its gentle, almost pastoral compositions; it’s black metal, yes, but of the loveliest and most ethereal sort. I’m not even mad about the light-fingered drum programming, and I usually hate drum machines.

Body Void

Bay Area dark sludge trio Body Void is a treasure. Their sound is a gluttonous feast of different flavours: sludge is the main course, but there are also generous lashings of black metal, drone, crust punk, noise, and doom on offer, all smouldering together, hot and bright. Vocalist Will Ryan’s shuddering gurgles on tracks like “Trauma Creature” sound like he’s fighting to scream through a throat filling up with blood and gobs of flesh (and I absolutely mean that as a compliment. On top of their music comes their deeply political message: one that howls for liberation, and rages against oppression in all its wretched forms. Ultimately, I am grateful that bands like Body Void exist – especially here, especially now.

Forlorn Citadel

I just had to share this with y’all because it’s the most spot-on Summoning worship I’ve ever heard. My jaw dropped when I first heard it, and I remain absolutely astonished at how perfectly this Greenland-turned-Australia-based project from multi-instrumentalist Solace has managed to capture the iconic atmosphere of one of metal’s most unique entities. Go check it out, seriously – and if Solace does decide to branch out and mix it up a little on their next offering, I’m sure it’ll be just as compelling.

No/Más

These breakneck D.C. grind punks have got the right fucking idea. On their latest release, Foreign Threat, No/Más rips through seven tracks of powerviolent hardcore punk chaos in under 10 minutes, and make every second count. They don’t have lyrics posted up on their Bandcamp, but from what I can tell on songs like “III,” they also really hate cops – always a bonus!

Bloody Tyrant

Bloody Tyrant’s slick take on modern, folkym melodic black metal comes with a decidedly Taiwanese bent that’s augmented by their use of the pipa, a traditional four-stringed instrument reminiscent of a lute with a plaintive voice. There are strong sonic similarities to their homeland heroes Chthonic, who also meld Taiwanese folk with black metal bombast, which makes sense enough; the band has been deeply influential to an entire generation of local musicians. Bloody Tyrant seem determined to forge their own path, though; there’s a lot of promise in their latest full-length, Hagakure, and I’d definitely be interested to see how they fare live.

Dryad

Dryad’s latest, The Silurian Age, is just really fucking well-executed raw black metal (from Iowa, of all places – which, judging by these guys and the excellent Closet Witch, is becoming one of American metal’s new hotspots). I like this a lot, and if you dig chilly, lo-fi, charmingly fuzzed-out black metal scrapings, you will too.

Kim Kelly is an editor at Noisey; follow her on Twitter here.

This article originally appeared on Noisey US.