“Taking the Power Back:” The Responsibility of the Rock and Metal Community to Ensure Solidarity With the BLM Movement.
Motley’s Emer Walsh takes a hard look at race in the hard rock community.
The Rock and Metal Community has always acted as a safe space for those dealing with frustration; personal, public or political. The genre, thanks to Rage Against The Machine, the Sex Pistols, Rise Against and many other revolutionary artists, has for many years propogated anti-establishment ideology and various political issues often propelling them into the mainstream, using their music and platform as a means of cultural and social change. Today, the Black Lives Matter movement is a seismic modern cultural shift that deserves our undivided attention as members of the rock and metal community. The murder of George Floyd and the rebellion that it has sparked relating to both the individual and institutional racism against black people is both a cultural and political shift in our society and it is imperative that this community unequivocally supports the BLM movement for numerous reasons.
Firstly, to ignore the BLM movement while continuing to enjoy rock and metal music is above all, hypocritical, as it shows one’s blatant ignorance and neglect of the pioneers of the genre. To quote one of the co-founders himself, Little Richard, “The blues had an illegitimate baby and we named it rock ‘n’ roll.” “We,” in this sentence relates to the legendary African American artists such as himself, Bo Diddley, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and of course, Chuck Berry.
Secondly, to not support the BLM movement as a member of the rock and metal community is to undermine the progress and work made by the revolutionary figures that we enjoy listening to. Even if the artists that you may listen to are not outspoken on political and cultural issues themselves, a quick look at their musical influences will likely reveal that their style and rhythm is heavily derived from the works of those same African American pioneers of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Thirdly, one prominent quote that has been shared by Black Lives Matter activists in recent weeks is, “It is not enough to not be racist, you must be anti-racist.” This is an extremely important stance to take, as it requires intervention in circumstances in which racist behaviour is being perpetuated and it necessitates a collective responsibility to force racism out of spaces in which it has previously thrived.
Regrettably, the rock and metal community has and is still one of these spaces.
At the beginning of June, the lead singer of the award-winning heavy metal band Avenged Sevenfold, M Shadows, released a moving op-ed in which he pledged his full support to the BLM movement and called out behaviours within the rock and metal community that “should make any decent person sick to their stomach.” As an example, Shadows described the time he brought his African American brother-in-law to a Slipknot concert (his favourite band) in which he described the tension caused by a black man being in the audience as palpable.
Shadows also goes on to call himself out for using antagonistic lyrics and imagery in the past including the use of the confederate flag in their artwork, stating that he has since grown and is grateful that he has been able to evolve alongside the band’s audience. And for the most part, it seemed that the majority of the band’s audience had evolved.
The op-ed was met with mostly kind and supportive reactions, however, not all embraced Shadow’s support for the BLM movement and many took to Twitter to express their outrage that their favourite band had given in to what they reviled as a “radical leftist race conspiracy.”
The publication of this op-ed is incredibly significant as it serves as an example of what anti-racism looks like, but it also highlights an issue that has existed in the rock and metal community for a long time. In addition to instances of casual racism amongst members of mainstream metal music groups, notably Slayer’s Tom Araya and System Of A Down’s John Dolmayan, it is not news that rock and metal have been used more blatantly by white supremacist organizations for both recruitment purposes and as a means to normalise racist ideology. Try looking up “rock and nazism” on Google, and the first three results are Wikipedia pages titled “Nazi Punk,” “White Power Music” and “List of Neo-Nazi Bands” in which a plethora of groups are listed with their music readily available on YouTube and other online platforms.
One quick search on Spotify and you will find playlists titled “NSBM” (Nationalist-Socialist Black Metal), with thousands of listeners. If you want know where where these NSBM bands play, another quick google search and you will find festivals across Europe and the US dedicated to platforming neo-nazi rock groups, such as the “Asgardsrei Festival” in Kiev and the “Rock Gegen Überfremdung” (Rock against Foreign Domination) in Thuringia, Germany, both attracting thousands of attendees on an annual basis.
As I said, The Rock and Metal community has always acted as a safe space for those dealing with frustration, whether that be personal, public or political. For this reason, racists and white supremacists have thrived in this space due to their so-called discontent with society. M Shadows’ op-ed marked a significant shift in rock and metal culture and in many ways, it served as a warning to those masking their racist behaviour in the form of legitimate political grievances that their presence was no longer welcome in this space.
To ensure support for the BLM movement, both the bands, and we, the listeners must continue to force out this degenerate manipulation of a genre that owes the vast majority of its cultural significance to the artistry of the great African American pioneers whose legacy we as a community continue to enjoy to this day.
“Come on, we gotta take the power back.”