The stereotypes of violence in metal

Metal is often stereoptyped as being a violent genre. And while violence is a indeed a common theme in the lyrics of many bands -- and granted, even the concept of mosh pits is violent -- when you combine that with the violence we're all exposed to in movies, TV and video games, it's easy for metal-heads (or anyone really) to become desensitized to violence. The violence in metal never gave me pause until I interviewed vocalist/guitarist Corporate Death from the Chicago band Macabre.

Macabre bills itself as a "murder metal" band. The band's lyrics are based on the lives and acts of notorious serial killers such as Ed Gein, Richard Ramirez, Jeffrey Dahmer (for whom an entire album is dedicated) and dozens of others. Death, the band's frontman, even interviewed John Wayne Gacy in prison just to better understand the mind of a serial killer. Gacy was executed in 1994.

I recently spoke with Death for Metalix in advance of Macabre's show this past weekend at Summit Music Hall for day two of Vaporfest, an annual day-long metal show featuring mostly local metal and hardcore bands. Leonard Leal from the band Cephalic Carnage and his co-promoter for the fest, Brian "Kiss" Huffinger, joined me for the interview.

We spoke briefly about Macabre's background then moved on to the content of the group's lyrics. I asked Death about his interview with Gacy, specifically, what Gacy was like and how he acted in prison. Then I asked Death how he walks the line between just telling the stories of these killers and glorifying them. Death, understandably, became defensive. "Have you read our lyrics?" he asked. "If anything, we say how bad these people are."

I hadn't read their lyrics, actually. Truth be told, Macabre is a band I had heard of but never really heard, and I had only done some cursory web research prior to the interview. It was to be a short segment, with more time devoted to playing the music. In my defense, I'm a DJ, so I'm always listening to new music, and try as I might, I don't get to spend a great deal of time with everything that gets released. For this particular segment, I was never sent a copy of Macabre's 2011 Grim Scary Tales, their first release after seven years on hiatus, and I was basically just taking Leal's word on them being good enough for airplay.

Not wanting to press Death's patience, I just wrapped it up with a ticket giveaway and left it at that. Only on the way home after work did it occur to me that I made a mistake in that interview. I just spoke with a man who interviewed John Wayne Gacy, the deranged, sick lunatic who raped, tortured and murdered 33 young men, and I was talking about him like he was Rod Blagojevich. The next day I checked out Grim Scary Tales and by track five, "The Big Bad Wolf," one thing became clear: Macabre is not meant to be taken seriously.

The first track, "Locusta," is a grind/thrash track, but most of the rest of the album is written in the style of 14th century minstrels with a folk metal background. As in the "The Big Bad Wolf," some of the songs are even in the style of nursery rhymes. Death is also in an acoustic side project called "Macabre Minstrels."

What he plays is metal satire. That's not to say the band isn't talented; it certainly is. It's also unique and deserves credit for keeping all original members since the first EP, Grim Reality, in 1987. While the band may not glorify serial killers, it could be argued that it takes them lightly. Take the song "Albert Was Worse Than Any Fish in the Sea," for example, about Albert Fish, who raped, tortured and cannibalized children in the early 1900s and claimed to have over 100 victims.

Albert was worse than any fish in the sea
He killed and ate young children and enjoyed it immensely
Albert, a child eating Fish was he
Who devoured the flesh of kids because he thought it was tasty.

Or see "Montreal Massacre" about Marc Lepine, who, in 1989, walked into an Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal classroom, divided women from men, killed fourteen women and injured ten other women and four men. He did it in a psychotic protest of feminism.

Mark went out with his rifle
To the University of Montreal
Divided up a classroom
And then shot only girls
Mark Lupine
Killed fourteen
In Montreal
He only shot girls

(Interestingly, in three albums since 1999, the band does not appear to have written anything about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Maybe even Macabre draws the line somewhere.) Fact is I'm not offended by Macabre's music, nor am I here to pronounce some sort of moral judgement condemning the band. What the band is doing is art, and sometimes art is offensive. Admittedly, the group's style may not suit Metalix or my personal taste, but that doesn't make it make less legitimate as an art form. Also, it's not like they're the first band to ever write about serial killers.

All that said, I don't subscribe to the theory that people who hear Macabre's music are more likely to become serial killers than, say, Toby Keith fans. Music doesn't compel people to do things they wouldn't already do anyway -- meaning you can appreciate a song like Cannibal Corpse's "Hammer Smashed Face" without, you know, actually smashing someone's head in "until brains seep in through the crack."

Likewise, not all metal bands write violent lyrics, but many do. While there certainly is violence in metal, it would be unfair to say all metal is violent. What's more, there's a difference between Cannibal Corpse's imaginary violence and Macabre's recounting of actual violence. Fact is, there were real victims in Macabre's satire. What happened to the combined fifty victims of John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer was horrific. They died in agony, trapped and terrified. Their families felt the blackest despair as they mourned the sons and brothers they were helpless to save.

Hmm, sounds like a metal song.

From B-Lo is a brand periodic new column from Brad Lopez, a longtime member of Denver's hardcore and metal scene, and the host of KBPI's Metalix show.

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Brad Lopez
Contact: Brad Lopez