I love music. I love heavy metal. I really love extreme metal. Vivek Venkatesh, associate dean and professor at Concordia University, digs extreme metal, too.
What grabbed my attention was not that someone from academia enjoys the bands, Coffins and Death (excellent bands, by the way). The crux of Montreal Gazette‘s article was about Venkatesh’s condemnation of anti-Semitic or white supremacist metal; nodding in understanding, this was all too familiar. I identified with the anxiety that’s fueled by the questionable ideologies of these musicians. Like Venkatesh, I avoid these bands and do not endorse them.
As a metal fan and music reviewer, it’s always exciting when I discover metal musicians intelligently tackling various topics. Thanks to that, my metal playlists sound in depth enough to be in a library’s reference section; I’m open minded but not to the point of purchasing an album with a swastika stamped on it underneath a wiry band logo.
Many metal fans are aware of the longstanding racism, which was fueled by the onset of the new wave of black metal in the nineties; this led to the escalation of neo-Nazi and NSBM bands in recent decades. When people of different backgrounds and beliefs love their metal on the extreme side just as much, this causes disturbances within metal listening experiences.
I know many metal fans are willing to separate these musicians with their art, enabling themselves to solely appreciate the value of the art. I, on the other hand, cannot. For me, ideas that merely flirt with these subjects are even given the side eye in question. When some musicians have even distanced themselves from black metal for electronic music because of its relationship to rock (hence its relationship to blues, hence, its connection with black people), my instinct tells me not to stick around. Of course, some bands pursue this art form, mostly, for its sinister artistic appeal. Take Dissection, for example, as they have denounced racist ideologies of bands.
“Night’s Blood” by Dissection/YouTube
While I don’t know every metal fan’s perspective on political stances, I certainly can relate, being a black female into this genre. Ever since I discovered heavy metal, I’ve either faced disapproval from my community or some implication of racism within the genre; I’ve struggled with lonesomeness, while graduating from a predominately black university and wondering where I fit in the assumed norm of a white male dominated space. (Never have gotten over how my black colleagues lurked at the indiscernible letters on my band shirts—another topic on its own.)
Thankfully, a discussion of the black female presence in metal is finally circulating in written form. Laina Dawes, through whom I discovered the Venkatesh article, relayed experiences in her book, What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal.
Concerns don’t stop there, though; issues on the metal scene range from racial tension to sexism to elitism to many others, and it’s all complicated. I could go on and on. That’s why it’s worthwhile to have healthy exchanges about complexities of the metal community. Is there a limit for the “extreme” within extreme metal?
[Editor’s Note: To better reflect the content of this piece, the title has been changed to “Is There a Limit for Extreme within Extreme Metal?”]