Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know about the utter shitstorm that Lil Nas X’s ‘Montero’ has caused on the internet over the last couple of weeks. In 2021, we live in two worlds. In one, a music video featuring an artist using sexual, satanic imagery should in no way be controversial, especially if, well – *gestures to the state of the world in 2021*, whilst in the other, a single music video is enough to throw right-wing outlets into a satanic panic frenzy, one undoubtedly underpinned by both homophobia and racism.
And yet, we see people in the metal scene, supposedly a bastion of acceptance and a haven for outsiders, responding with jealousy or even childish tweets that insinuate that hip-hop is appropriating metal’s aesthetics, as if satan somehow belongs to metal and bands like Slayer (whose vocalist is now a practising Roman Catholic anyway).
The issue with publications like Metal Injection or Loudwire’s tepid responses to the video are that they centre the metal scene in a narrative that isn’t really anything to do with the metal scene. The satanic panic of the ‘80s was nearly 40 years ago, and bands like Slayer – who arguably haven’t been relevant for about 30 years – are similarly as antiquated. Similarly, to piggyback off of successful (and relevant) black artists who actually have something to say, at a time that we’re at a crossroads for the rights of marginalised people across the world, is obnoxious. And it’s even more obnoxious to utilise this success to centre metal, music predominantly made and enjoyed (and, in terms of the music industry, largely controlled) by white people, in the conversation around ‘Montero’. Perhaps we’re doing the same thing by adding to this conversation, but we feel it’s important to critique the press in our small corner of the music industry.
Metal writers with a genuine interest in music outside of the metalosphere should be praising the success of a queer black artist who has utilised the same transcendent imagery that made Christian nutjobs burn records in the ‘80s. You would think they’d have far more to say about the track, and the subsequent response, than “yeah, but, like, Slayer dude, hail satan”. Arguably, in 2021 (the second year of hell), in which cops can commit murder and still receive support, including amply-funded defences, the reactions to ‘Montero’ have the potential to have far more impact on people’s lives than Tipper Gore’s censorious, liberal bullshit in the ‘80s, and are driven by far more than just an objection to satanic imagery.
Utilising the satanic panic of the ‘80s to contextualise the issues of white supremacy and homophobia that underpin the dialogue around ‘Montero’ to their readers could be a constructive action for metal writers to take. It could be eye-opening for readers who might not care because they don’t really understand the complexities of structural white supremacy and its effects. But no, these writers (and their editors) would much rather just waffle on about the ‘80s – the same thing the music press has been doing ever since the ‘80s.
And, in fact, when you utilise the success of black artists to centre your boring fucking waffle about Slayer, or worse, just to create an SEO-bait article to piggyback off of Lil Nas X’s success, whilst saying very little other than getting nostalgic for when metal was very briefly seen as a dangerous or transcendent subculture, you engender fucking stupid commentary like this:
(uhm, no sweaty)
The sad thing is that dumb, reactionary comments like this help these publications go up in the social media algorithms, thus bringing in more precious clicks worth of ad-revenue. It’s the weaponisation of outrage for profit.
Where possible, metal publications should be examining the reactionary ills that run deep through the metal scene, but that wouldn’t be enticing clickbait, and would probably be unpopular with more of their readership than they might care to admit. The examination of white supremacy in the metal scene would probably be too controversial, too much of a complex subject – far too many profitable artists would have to be examined in a far more critical light than the metal press is comfortable with doing.
Just look at this article from 2019 in which a Kerrang! journalist used the term “accusation” to refer to Rob Darken’s long-standing career as an NSBM (sorry, pagan) artist. Apparently a man who has consistently put out music with lyrics such as this, is accused of having far-right ties. In fact, this interview was so fucking toothless on the subject of fascism, that fucking universally renowned far-right activist Andy Ngo actually retweeted it, seemingly in support.
The problem with the clickbait-focused music journalism that dominates the metal scene is that it far too often doesn’t want to go into the complexities that underpin the rampant misogyny and racism that permeate very deeply into the music industry. It’s easy to call out the Taakes or the Hornas of the world, as well we should, but it’s more difficult to critique their far-right links and harmful beliefs in a meaningful way. It’s even more difficult to be properly critical of people like Tim Lambesis, Jef Whitehead, or Nergal, all of who find themselves being featured in major publications (often even on the front cover) despite convictions or self-confessions that should warrant them no longer being given the time of day. But hey, at least they keep that sweet, sweet ad revenue flowing. At least, that’s the excuse everyone gives for the endless rehabilitation narratives and apologism for misogynistic violence.
The fact that reactionaries want to talk shit about Lil Nas X, for uhhhh, being successful, is underpinned by a lot more than some feeling of ownership over satanic imagery. If metal publications want to utilise the success of Lil Nas X (and all power to him) to talk shit about Slayer for the millionth time, they should also be reporting on and being critical of the harmful reactionary tendencies that boil just below the surface in the metal scene. Perhaps the metal press doesn’t really want to uncover and meaningfully examine these tendencies, because at the end of the day, the music press is a power structure that profits off of them far more than we all might like to admit.
Words: Richard Lowe