Image via Metal Injection
If the last few years are any indication, heavy metal is saddled with the neediest fans in all of music. Can any other genre boast a fanbase that’s as rabidly obsessed with its music as it is in defending why it listens to it in the first place? Bear in mind that I’m not suggesting the absence of willing apologists for other forms of music; in fact, the growing tendency for fans and critics alike to feel some obligatory need to offer up some kind of enjoyment accountability spans across all genres. It’s a behavioral pattern that’s inextricably linked to the horseshit notion of “guilty pleasures.” Unless you’re Catholic, you’ve got nothing to feel guilty about. I sure as hell don’t; I didn’t write ABBA’s “Waterloo,” but I won’t be apologizing for the boogie that may (read: definitely) occur whenever I hear the song.
I like being happy, and I don’t apologize for the things that make me happy out of fear that my happiness might very well offend someone else. It’s not about censorship, or the bottomless pit of the “artist or art?” argument; it’s about the satisfaction and enjoyment one gains from a piece of music. It’s an experience that is wholly and uniquely one’s own, unhindered by anyone else’s opinion—at least, it should be. Considering the difficulty of finding the holy grail of serenity in our present day world, it’s baffling that we so often employ self-loathing rhetoric at the first sign of enjoyment. As fans, our relationship to art and music is inherently intimate, yet heavy metal culture continues to reflexively and inexplicably apologize for that relationship.
The tendency for apologetics with heavy metal likely comes from the well-meaning perspective of avoiding offense, but let’s not kid ourselves. This is a genre that celebrates songs titles like “Stripped, Raped, and Strangled” and bands like Couch Slut, Rotting Christ, and Cattle Decapitation. Subtlety has never been metal’s strong point. Nothing about this music or this culture suggests coddling, so why do we insist on ensuring non-metal listeners that, “We aren’t all like that?” Imagine how lame it would be if George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher kicked off every Cannibal Corpse show with a ten-minute apology to any audience members who may be offended by what they’re about to experience.
Of course, he wouldn’t do that, because everyone in the audience is at a heavy metal show. The band’s name isn’t an alliterative accident. For decades, parents of budding metalheads have been raising holy hell over album covers, band names, song titles, and the most unintentionally hilarious urban myths this side of the Knights in Satan’s Service. Now heavy metal is its own Tipper Gore, wringing our hands over what essentially amounts to what’s made this music so appealing in the first place. Are there problems in heavy metal? Sure. Are there human beings of the lowest common denominator using all manner of art and music—including metal—to propagate their fucked up agenda? Absolutely. Change is a frightening prospect, and especially so when it disrupts deeply entrenched social perspectives in a scene that often willingly confuses propaganda for extremism. This is not an issue of censorship: the homophobic, misogynistic, bigoted comments you read or hear in heavy metal fandom are not the vocalizations of a thriving culture. They are the fear-induced death groans of an ideology that is the antithesis of anything extreme.
Hitting “post” doesn’t make you an expert on gender issues, race issues, LBGT issues, or the Westernized patriarchal tyranny, nor does browsing the Nuclear War Now! or Lambgoat message boards give you a complete understanding of what metal fandom is all about. Any digression from or manipulation of that original ideal—to be loud and heavy as fuck— is a grand exercise in nonsense and insecurity, so save your apologetic outrage for the injustices that exist in the tangible world.
Heavy metal doesn’t need you to apologize, justify, or excuse it. If “I know it’s Manowar, but” is a phrase you instinctively utter to avoid incurring the wrath of culter-than-thou keyboard warriors, then please take all of your heavy metal music in all of its forms (CDs, tapes, vinyl, 8-track, Mini-Disc, whatever) and pack it into a cardboard box , crudely scribble “NOT FOR ME” in huge letters on the side of said box, and then dump it at your local thrift store for some awesome kid to discover.
Look, we’re well aware of what we’re listening to, why we’re listening to it, and why it fucking rocks. Heavy metal is fundamentally ugly, loud, and aggressive. This isn’t a call for ya’ll to please understand that we ain’t all that bad. We know, it is that bad. However, heavy metal has no more sketchy parts in its history than any other genre does, and its antisocial tendencies don’t obligate its fans to justify themselves to those who don’t get it. Aside from an active acknowledgement of and respect for absolute equality, you don’t owe anyone else shit, much less an apology for what little happiness you’re able to find in music and art. Suggesting otherwise only serves to epitomize the most arrogant and disingenuous kind of grandstanding. In a society unable to come to grips with its own anger and the concept of basic human rights, getting defensive about your music preferences seems positively fucked.
Some of us find our bliss in the utter darkness, and some of us find our bliss in the two-part harmony of Wynonna and Naomi Judd. Regardless of where you find your sweet spot, just enjoy the fact that you’ve found it, and let everyone else enjoy their own without having to listen to your unsolicited commentary. I’d rather hang with one dude in a Slipknot tracksuit than hundreds of people who turn down Phil Collins at the stoplight when the windows are rolled down. Don’t blame Phil. Blame yourself. There’s enough to be angry about without wasting your time and energy defending the little good you’re able to find.
Jonathan Dick is proudly listening to Wynonna Judd on Twitter.