At this point, it feels fair to say that most of the world is in a state of disbelief and righteous anger. In case there was any doubt about which events the world is in disbelief or righteously angry over, it would be the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America. This event, and the rising populism in many countries, including my own, has had me thinking recently about how metal and politics fit together. Much of metal’s history with politics has been somewhat tumultuous, with plenty of politics in regards to censorship. I think we’re all familiar with Dee Snider of Twisted Sister’s appearance at the PMRC Senate Committee hearings, and his passionate speech against the censoring of his and other music. For many people, this is more or less the extent to which metal gets political for them, and for a lot of people it is probably fair to say that’s how they prefer it.
Metal is known outside of the community as generally not being political music, and we left that job for punk rock. On some level, that’s true. Punk rock’s identity is tied up with being political from the very inception. Their brand of politics is obvious, and punk bands make no bones about their positions on a variety of subjects from the Sex Pistol’s political anthems in God Save the Queen or Anarchy in the U.K, to the Dead Kennedys and their more famous political anthem California Über Alles. Riot Grrl bands like Bikini Kill notoriously railed against oppressive political structures, including within the punk movement itself, striving to make it a more inclusive place. But punk is dead, and metal is not the same, I hear you say. Metal is not the same, this is true. However, for the sake of argument it makes sense to compare them a little bit: both are “extreme” music with strong followings from people who consider themselves outside of the mainstream. Metal, while it has its own political moments (which I will get to), is comparatively much less political (or explicitly political), and to some this is a point of pride because metal talks about other, darker things. But let’s be real, politics is pretty dark, am I right?
Anyways, there are those of us in metal who are, in fact, political people; that is why I am writing about politics and metal. There are no doubt many people floating around who will claim to be not political, and don’t want to see anything political, or talk about it. While that is fair, I am not sorry for foraying into an important and interesting topic. See, for me, the metal world coexists with the political world. I believe that people should be political. Whether we are fond of it or not, politics has real impact on our daily lives, which includes our metal world. Decisions made by politicians in government have real impact on the metal world. For instance, in 2013 the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in Canada underwent some changes, which meant that a tax was placed on touring bands who wanted to come to Canada. This was colloquially known as the “tour tax.” This tax made it extremely expensive for most small or midsized foreign bands who wanted to tour in Canada, and thus fewer touring bands came to visit. While I am all for supporting local talent, it’s nice to get a chance to see and support touring bands. Metal also interacts with politics, because the musicians we like inevitably get involved. Sometimes they say things we don’t agree with, or things we do agree with, and sometimes they say things that make no sense (*cough* Dave Mustaine *cough). Either way, because they are celebrities in the metal world, their opinions have real impact on the people who follow them. What I am getting at ultimately is that being political is important, especially when politics interacts with our lives in every way.
So, there is currently plenty of backlash and outrage at the rising of populist politics, with large marches happening across the world to show their support for the rights of people of all colours, creeds, and genders and to express their general outrage at the state of the world. The resistance is alive, and the resistance needs music. Political upheaval leads to great tunes: it is difficult to think about the Vietnam War and not hear “Fortunate Son” by Credence Clearwater Revival, or the American Civil Rights Movement and not hear “We Shall Overcome.” Jimmy Hendrix and other greats all created protest music, and there is ultimately no reason why metal cannot produce its own protest songs. And to some extent it has; the entire back catalogue of Rage Against the Machine are essentially protest songs. Metallica, Napalm Death, Lamb of God, Sepultura and Kreator have all written, recorded, and released political songs which should be added to the soundtrack of the resistance as further proof that metal is in fact more political than people might like to admit.
There are more recent examples of this as well, at least in terms of bands themselves becoming more politically active. They show this activity through their choices in merchandise, such as Municipal Waste’s Trump themed shirt, and music being released.
It is difficult to deny that metal is fast becoming more political, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. It is also difficult to deny that by being more politically active, it can get exhausting, and sometimes a refuge is nice. Metal can still be that refuge while continuing to fuel the fires of resistance, because at the end of the day we’re all still going to go to shows and be part of the tight knit community that we have in metal, and being at that show is still an escape from the echo chamber of the internet, and that’s what’s truly important, isn’t it? Hopefully with musicians becoming more politically active, it can help to spark interest in those who are dismayed and indifferent, or inspire those members who were already politically active to keep going. While there are few foreseeable benefits to xenophobic, jingoistic, populist governance, at least we’re going to have some great protest music to stay outraged to.