Photo courtesy of Debauchery
Imagine you've been playing in this metal band since 1992. When the band first started, you were still a scruffy teenager with a hard-on for Bathory and a not-so-secret love of Irish folklore, happy to chug cider with your friends and play some guitar. Twenty years down the line, not much has changed in that department, but your band has blossomed into an incredibly influential and well-respected linchpin of the Irish metal community. You've played all over the world—you've even toured Russia!— and earlier this year, you celebrated the release of your eighth album. You're a lifer, and you've been doing this shit far longer and better than most. Now, imagine how you'd feel if, out of the blue, some German dude from a band you'd never heard of before called you up and threatened to sue the pants off you over a couple of words in the title of your new record. Sorry, what?
Welcome to reality for Cruachan, one of Ireland's most beloved and longest-running metal bands, whpo have just been put through the ringer by German death metal lunkheads Debauchery and the astoundingly stupid copyright claim that the band's singer had threatened to file against them. Earlier today, I came across a post from Cruachan detailing the legal hoops they've just been dragged through on account of a copyright claim made by one Thomas Gurrath, a.k.a. The Bloodbeast, a.k.a Blutgott. Already we can see that blood and the theoretical manipulation thereof is a big part of this dude's personal brand, which might have added an air of validity to his claims if anyone knew who the fuck Gurrath or Debauchery—one of ten bands with that name listed on Metal Archives—actually is.
Apparently Gurrath had a problem with the title of Cruachan's latest album, Blood for the Blood God, because he owns the German copyright to the words "Blood God." According to the statement made by Cruachan earlier today, Gurrath then proceeded to threaten the band's label, Trollzorn (who are based in Germany), with legal action, and eventually bullied them and the band into acquiescing to his demands.
"He demanded all products be taken off shelves and nothing be sold with the words "Blood God" on it. Our label tried to reason with him because this is completely ridiculous, petty and childish. Cruachan and Debauchery are two completely different bands and the name "Blood God' is relevant to Irish mythology and history as that is how some people refer to Crom Cruach. We really see no reason why he had this mission to stop our albums being sold. He did not care what our label had to say," the statement continues. "As a result, our label have come to an agreement where we can sell off the existing Cruachan merchandise but can produce no more to sell in Germany. We plan to use the title Blood for Crom Cruach going forward for Germany only. He has also received a financial compensation as well. From now on we cannot make any more merchandise that has “Blood God” written on it. Cruachan have kept out of all of this and allowed the record label try and fix this issue. As they and Debauchery have reached an agreement we feel it was time to tell our fans what Thomas Gurrath has done to us." That a human being actually thinks it reasonable to file a trademark on two incredibly common (in this specific community) words like "Blood God" boggles the goddamn mind. It's like someone trademarking "Death" or "Darkness" or "Satan," and this level of pettiness from a member of the same tightly-knit underground scene that Cruachan comes from is just pitiful to observe. Is Thomas Gurrath going to be going after Sabbat next? What about Degial of Embos, or all of these bands? What happens if Madonna names a song "Blood God" ('cause lord knows it wouldn't be out of character at this point)? I'd love to see the makers of Warhammer 40K—the games workshop who first came up with the "Blood God" concept back in 1988, published a Blood for the Blood God in 2008, and just came out with a new "Blood God" product—come after this guy.
It's hard to watch this unfold and not be reminded of a similar and just as frustrating situation from a few years back. Remember Middian, the post-YOB doom project that was effectively forced to break up after a local Wisconsin band surfaced and raised a stink over their "Midian" trademark? That one little "d" caused Middian members Mike Scheidt, Will Lindsay, and Scott Headrick a world of trouble; they were dropped from their label, Metal Blade, forbidden from selling their merchandise and records, and forced to change their name to Age Eternal. Less than a year later, the band called it quits permanently. Midian haven't released any new music since 2000, so clearly their win made a huge impact on metal. Happily, we got a YOB reunion out of the debacle, but what kind of callous dick would put a band through that?
Similar trademark-based problems have befallen Bison B.C. (formerly Bison), Rhapsody of Fire (formerly Rhapsody), Ghost B.C. (formerly Ghost), and too many more. While it's very true that bands should really do a bit more research before settling on a band name, it's also to be expected that in a genre with such a defined aesthetic, you're going to get some repeats—off the top of my head, there are two Liturgys, two Yellow Eyes, two Deaths, two Nihilists, and about a billion Black Angels. It's annoying, but its also not going to be a massive deal until one of the two starts becoming more successful and recognizable. Even then, it's not that big of a fucking deal, especially when the two bands in question are from totally different worlds. While the differences may seem minute to outsiders, to a metalhead—i.e. the people that Thomas Gurrath is marketing his music to—the thought of confusing Cruachan's Celtic folk metal for Debauchery's knuckle-dragging death metal is just laughable.
It's not unheard of for huge stars to copyright works and phrases specific to them, though it is still a comical idea; for example, Taylor Swift caught a lot of flack for trademarking a few of her own bon mots, (and even attracted the attention of a Philly metal band who tried to troll her about it). The difference between Tay-Tay and the members of Cruachan, though, is that while the former is a gazillionaire with a massive legal team on retainer, the latter are a hard-working, underground metal band with families to raise, bills to pay while holding down day jobs and making quite a bit less than a million bucks a show. This run-in with Debauchery has significantly hurt them, and for what? To satisfy one man's misguided ego? As a statement he posted earlier today on the Debauchery Facebook page shows plainly, dude still doesn't get it, and judging from the comments, the backlash against him and his band continues to get more intense. Gurrath seems to be backtracking now, and as many former fans noted, Debauchery has gained nothing from this whole situation. It's decimated their reputation, and I daresay that not many people remember bands like Midian too fondly, either.
As Cruachan asked in the closing lines of their statement on the matter, "What has happened to artistic integrity? Or empathy with bands trying to survive in this current musical situation? There should be solidarity between bands—not this disgraceful behaviour!"
UPDATE: After Cruachan made their initial statement and metal fans made their opinions of the matter known by flooding the Debauchery Facebook page with negative comments, it seems that Thomas Gurrath has retracted his demands. According to an update from Cruachan, "Earlier today we made a statement regarding legal issues with our new albums title Blood for the Blood God. Since that statement Keith and Thomas Gurrath have been in discussions pretty much all day. Thomas has agreed to remove the block on our album title in Germany so we can sell our cd's and merch there with the proper album name. Thanks to Thomas for this and thanks for all the support we have received. We now ask that this is forgotten and no more negative comments are left regarding Debauchery, I feel Thomas made an error in judgement and has fixed it and for that we say thanks."
Gurrath's own statement on the Debauchery page is as bitter as one would expect to read from a man who's made a grave mistake, realized it, and is now dealing with the aftermath. Let this mess be a lesson to bands the world over: grow up, be reasonable, and don't act like dickheads unless you're prepared to face the music.
Kim Kelly is not a Debauchery fan; she's on Twitter - @grimkim