Indie label Blackened Death Records has been a champion of progressive ideals in extreme metal for a while now, but none of its projects have ruffled feathers quite like Olivia Neutered John. The one-man feminist pornogrind band, created by label founder Richard Weeks, aims to tackle the scene’s misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic tendencies by turning overused tropes on their head.
Extreme metal is a genre with a long history of irreverently delving into grotesque themes, so much so that the average fan is unlikely to bat an eyelid at tales of mutilation, dissection, torture, rape, cannibalism, necrophilia and beyond. Some would take their defence of the genre’s use of these topics to the grave, but despite probably having heard dozens of songs about women being raped and mutilated, a handful of listeners took great offence to songs about busting balls and cloven testicles.
The project’s debut album, Kill All Men (Starting With The White Ones) was a tongue-in-cheek affair, but it held a real message that tackled the metal scene’s sexism head-on. The follow-up, an eleven-minute EP entitled Transphobia Annihilation Squad, proves a more directly angry affair. Whilst Kill All Men made fun of its critics through a satirical quality, Transphobia Annihilation Squad is more focused on call-to-arms protest songs with political sound-bites like “you do not own women’s bodies” and “hate speech is not free speech.”
Excited by the grinding anger of the new EP, we met up with the man behind the noise to have an in-depth talk about the important societal message behind the project.
Kill All Men flipped the grotesque themes of death metal on their head in order to make a point about sexism, does Transphobia Annihilation Squad aim to do the same with transphobia? If so, how?
The lyrical style around a lot of the songs on Transphobia Annihilation Squad is a little different from Kill All Men. KAM had a lot of violent lyrics directed towards men, their so-called masculinity, and their genitals. A lot of the lyrics on TAS are more fight songs or protest songs…Mind you, there is still some of the violent gore on a few songs on TAS!
How does the new EP expand upon the concepts and message of Kill All Men?
The EP expands on the debut by saying “we’re angry – we’re toning down the silliness – we are cranking up the anger.” I want people to hear these songs, read these lyrics and say “okay, I know exactly where this guy is coming from” as opposed to just “wow these lyrics are brutal.” The brutality won’t go away completely – wait until album two. I already have a… unique concept for it.
You’ve had abuse online pretty consistently since the release of Kill All Men, have you ever considered stopping the project to get away from it all?
To be honest, as discouraging as the unending torrent of abuse and death threats can be at times, it only fuels the need to continue writing these songs and shouting this anger. At the end of the day, I am still a white man. I have privileges that a lot of others don’t. The abuse I suffer is nothing compared to women, minorities, trans folks, and other marginalized groups. Without sounding like a “white knight”, if I can soak up some of the hatred, I am fine with that. Like I always say, heavy metal is a shield, not a sword.
The general idea of Olivia Neutered John is fairly ingenious – if someone takes offence to it, they’re kind of proving its point (if an extreme metal fan is annoyed at a song about men being murdered, surely they should feel the same for the plethora of songs about the same thing happening to women) – was the aim somewhat to help people realise their own prejudices?
You are spot on. I think a lot of misogynists don’t even realise they are being shitheads. It’s kinda just accepted to treat women this way or that way. I’m hoping that some dudes out there will reflect upon the lyrics and say “oh shit – I’m an asshole.”
Besides the abuse you’ve received, have you had anyone approach you to say it’s actually helped open their eyes?
Yeah, I have definitely had a few guys message me and tell me about how they’ve realised they are being jerks. Which is cool, if I can help stem the tide of abuse, I have succeeded.
Do you sense that bands with progressive messages like Olivia Neutered John are becoming somewhat more regular?
I definitely feel this way. ONJ, Castrator, Without, and others are getting louder every day. Even some bands that have been around for awhile like Kreator and Lich King are raising their voices against homophobia, transphobia, and other injustices. I think after the “2017 Apocalypse,” a lot of people are taking up arms against injustices. Society is definitely getting shaken up right now, so we need to help steer the ship into a land where everyone is welcome.
The same people who claim that metal “needs to shock and offend” are often the same ones getting annoyed at Olivia Neutered John’s message. In a sense, does this not make ONJ more ‘metal’ than bands that are sticking to the same old tropes?
There is a level of shock value in all metal, but you need to back up the shock with some actual ability and some real messages. It’s become super apparent to me, not just through ONJ, but also through our “Fuck NSBM” shirt design. Nazi bands out there like “Hitlerstormer666” or “HolocaustCoolKids1488” are all conceptually redundant and politically broken. It is 100% shock value.
“The holocaust was cool” – Mate, you are literally not bringing anything to the table with your second-hand lyrics and borrowed Burzum riffs. It’s easy to shock, but the shock should open the door to something revelatory. Take ‘TERF Genocide’ from the new EP. I obviously don’t want people I disagree with to die, but the shock of the lyrics coupled with the line “fuck off and die… metaphorically” is my way of saying “hey guys, look at your rhetoric, your ideals are fucked up, sort them out.” Whereas an NSBM’s photo of a crater full of dead holocaust victims has no message other than hatred.
You tend to see a lot of people claiming politics have no place in metal, do you think it’s fair to say these people misunderstand what metal is, or are at least forgetting large parts of its history?
Mate, Black Sabbath – ‘War Pigs’. Metal was invented by hippies saying “guys, war is bad, let’s stop it.” Whenever I hear someone say that politics doesn’t belong in metal, I have to call them out. Metal isn’t just about Dungeons & Dragons, this isn’t just “fun music,” there is shit that needs to be said. Don’t hide from this stuff, it’s not going away, stand up for what you believe in.
You’ve mentioned that Kill All Men was one of Blackened Death’s best performing albums, do you think this is partly because of the controversy it caused?
The album doing so well is definitely partly due to angry people checking it out. There has been a lot of support for both the ideals and the music, but a loooooot of people are just here to be angry. The songs from the album on our YouTube channel have a shocking amount of downvotes, despite the fact our YouTube channel doesn’t get a lot of traction. Most of our listeners hit up Bandcamp and Spotify. But people are specifically going to YouTube to “leave a mark.” They are going to Facebook to post Pepe memes on the ONJ posts. They are going to Instagram to tell me they are going to put a bullet between my eyes. So yeah, part of it is manufactured shock. …But if that whips up discussion and pulls the hatred off of others, I am all for it.
Astral Noize has teamed up with Blackened Death to offer the chance to win a free download of the EP, alongside copies of our first and second print issue. Three runner-ups will also win a free download of the EP, so check out the rules on our Facebook and enter now to be in with a chance to get some killer free music!
Words: George Parr