Thought of the Week: Heavy Metal Silliness

Iron Maiden, in all their aging glory.

Iron Maiden, in all their aging glory.

I came across a fascinating tidbit yesterday about a catholic school and its radio station. Certain heavy metal bands, it seems, are not allowed to be played or mentioned because of the moniker the band members chose to take. Quite a few of them are pretty vulgar and I won’t repeat them here, but some just made me laugh, because they are actually pretty popular – Alien Sex Fiend, Cannibal Corpse, Cradle of Filth, and even Heaven Shall Burn. If metal is completely not your bag, baby, then bear in mind that Alien Sex Fiend (completely not metal, but whatever) reached #3 in the UK charts with E.S.T. (Trip to the Moon) in 1984; Cannibal Corpse had a glorious cameo in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and even Heaven Shall Burn write songs mainly about their disgust with racism and injustice.

Some of the most notorious songs are – notoriously – misunderstood by a surprisingly wide demographic.

However…it isn’t like we don’t bring it on ourselves (I include metal bands and fans together, because honestly there isn’t one without the other). Band names like Cannibal Corpse and Revolting Cocks (a side project of Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen; remember Ministry? Every Day is Halloween?) are, frankly, absurd. Granted, there is a strong element of provocation in heavy metal, which is one of the reasons the stricter religious sects are often so put out; religion is often a target of condemnation in metal lyrics (note: religion, not god). No one really likes to be called a hypocrite, and this sort of cynicism abounds in metal.

Some of the most notorious songs are – notoriously – misunderstood by a surprisingly wide demographic. Marilyn Manson was famously excoriated after the Columbine shootings for his song Get Your GunnGet Your Gunn, of course, is about the murder of physician and abortionist David Gunn in 1993 by a pro-life activist, and not, in fact, a suggestion to go out and get gunns. Even heavy metal choir boys Iron Maiden are often called out for the well-known The Number of the Beast, which naturally is about the fear of evil, and the hypocritical actions people take to protect themselves. The members of Iron Maiden are in fact outspoken christians.

Heavy metal has been a part of my life (has more or less defined it, in fact) since my early teens, and while there is a lot of ‘serious’ stuff out there, there are also some examples of spectacular silliness. Take German New York power metal band Manowar:

Just a tad disturbing, wouldn't you agree?

Just a tad disturbing, wouldn’t you agree?

These guys wrote a heavy metal song about playing heavy metal, and in an impressive display of sheer pig-headed stupidity managed to garner themselves three records for loudest band in the world (in 1984, 1994 and 2008), reaching as high as 139 dB. In case you’re wondering, this is about the equivalent of standing with your ear to the engine of a 747 during takeoff. Good stuff.

Rob Halford – none more metal.

Rob Halford – none more metal.

We even look silly, with our unkempt long hair, leather underwear and inability to appear even remotely appropriate for a job interview. We like to shock people, which is probably because we were all shy nerds in high school and want to get back at all the sliced-white-bread twerps that grew up to have 2.4 children, 2 cars, a dog and a six-figure salary.

So yes, catholic school – ban our music. I wouldn’t want Goatwhore playing in my own child’s school either, even though I blast in the car on the way to work every day (not really – I’d actually never heard of them). In fact, bravo for allowing heavy metal to air on their radio station at all. A lot of ‘non-denominational’ schools wouldn’t be so brave. Now if only we had some actual catholic heavy metal bands; Avenging Pope would be awesome.

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12 thoughts on “Thought of the Week: Heavy Metal Silliness

  1. I love me some metal, but one thing metal lacks is a serious sense of humor. And I think that’s a huge reason why it gets misunderstood. I remember when people went batshit angry over Venom, and all I could think was why people simply couldn’t get the joke. It’s almost as if heavy metal wanted to be funny, but their image just wouldn’t let them be funny. Well, not Manowar funny, and definitely not Venom funny.

    Goddamnit, Venom was funny.

    • I’ll admit that I don’t know if you’re referring to something specific Venom are infamous for, or just the band itself. I know a lot of people couldn’t swallow the idea of pro-satan music, but like a lot of black metal bands the satanic imagery is just that – imagery. Even Jason Mendonça from Akercocke is really just a talented, intelligent but perfectly normal guy. I will agree that I find it hard to take Venom (early Venom, at least) seriously; it makes me think of W.A.S.P.

    • Stryper! Haha! Yeah, my brother was really into them back in the day. I think the lead singer did something sketchy a few years back (can’t remember what), so that may be why they’re not listed.

    • That is an awesome link – I was surprised to find Still Remains on there, though I’ll admit I don’t really understand a lot of their lyrics.

      There are a lot of really good christian bands out there – metal or otherwise – but what I haven’t come across is band that is specifically catholic. Wikipedia suggests christian metal is an extension of protestant evangelism…which sort of makes sense, I guess.

  2. Good points, but a couple of things. Manowar are, in fact, from Brooklyn, NY, although I understand where your confusion in thinking that they are German comes from. That is what most German metal fans look like. I know, because I travel the globe with heavy metal bands for a living, and have been since 1996. Yes, I’ve toured with Manowar, Cannibal Corpse, and some other great ones like Dying Fetus, Rotting Christ and Morbid Angel. To Gus, FYI, Manowar actually take THEMSELVES so incredibly seriously, that they wanted to throw one of their crew guys off the bus for making a Spinal Tap reference to their guitarists move during a solo that, in fact, was reminiscent of Spinal Tap, the movie. And when I say throw him off the bus, I mean quite literally, threatened to open the door of the moving bus and throw him off if he ever made said reference again. No… they too do not see the humor in it.
    There is hope though… check out Gwar. They are funny and feed on that. Milking The Goat Machine is another one. Insane Clown Posse, Tenacious D, Steel Panther. These are bands that are in the genre who feed off of the comedy.
    And now, shameless plug: If you’re ever interested in reading about some of my heavy metal adventures on the road, feel free to stop by http://www.theplayground.me and go to “Random Tales – True”. Actually, the story I’m currently telling is about the time I was on tour with Immortal and the Germans tried to arrest me for being a terrorist, just before the Manowar tour..

    • I’ve always been impressed at how seriously heavy metal musicians take the music they play, and their commitment to technical excellence. I see regimes of practice matched only by the best of classical music performers, and the technical difficulty of the music is the result of this. You couldn’t get the ridiculously fast double-bass drumming and hammered solos of a strong metal band without discipline.

      On-stage persona and image is a different thing, though, and probably comes down to the personality of the people involved. Some bands take the theatrical and show elements of a performance seriously as well – Slipknot are a wonderful example of this.

      GWAR – yes, thank you for bringing them back to my memory! Steel Panther, too. Thank you for your insight – it sounds like you had some amazing experiences on the road.

      As for Manowar’s origins…I feel a little embarrassed for that mistake. I think I tend to think of Manowar along with Helloween and Blind Guardian and other 80s power metal bands. That’s what I get for not doing thorough research – consider it corrected!

  3. Heavy metal is not really my cup of tea (Metallica and Avenged Sevenfold are my upper limit), but isn’t there a monk in Europe somewhere who’s put out a couple of albums? Brother Metal they called him…

    • Thank you so much for introducing me to Brother Metal – that dude is awesome! Sadly, it seems he’s retired from live performing (he’s 67). I will have to try and find some of his music. Not religious at all, but it reminds me of the metal albums Christopher Lee has been putting out recently. Good stuff!

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