The Polishing of Metal
Part 3.5 - The Witchfinder
General: The Story of The PMRC
By Derek McDonald
Yes, Metal, the lumbering dinosaur of the '70's took an
evolutionary step into popularity when it collided with the 1980's. But its
evolution wasn't complete. During the 1980's it would no longer collide with
itself but its growing popularity and shrinking secrecy would make it collide
with society. A society, for the most part still run by closed-minded
conservatives. It was the Reagan/Cold War Years.
As Metal's popularity grew ever more apparent, Reagan-era
special interest groups began to voice their opinions.
The biggest foe of rock will be recorded in history as the
PMRC - The Parents' Music Resource Center - (aka "The Washington Wives" by
those who don't care for them).
The PMRC is the watchdog organization founded in 1985 by US
Senator's wife Tipper Gore and US Treasury Secretary's wife Susan Baker after
they discovered that Pop star Prince was singing songs describing acts of
masturbation and oral sex and that some Heavy Metal seemed to extol the cause
of devil worship. Though the group claims its primary aim is simply to make
parents aware of the provocative themes and raw language that characterize much
of today's rock, the PMRC has, in fact, courted both the media and lawmakers as
it has relentlessly pressured record labels to impose rating systems on their
Indeed, the PMRC has become the most effective adversary
that Rock & Roll has ever faced. The PMRC thrived and had such success
because of the times in which it was founded. The Reagan administration was
determined to bring back conservative beliefs into American society. This
"Conservative Ideal" made rock a prime target.
But rather than address the issues -- the fact that Heavy
Metal, in particular, not only spoke to the simmering discontent its listeners
felt but provided an alternative source of personal pride and cultural identity
-- these groups homed in on the more superficial forms of subversion: dirty
language, devil lyrics, reverse messages, inappropriate dress and any other
nonsense they could spew forth. As history shows, they were bound and bent to
stop the show and spoil the fun. They tried to muzzle Metal. Many of these
groups acted very much like children and kept files on suspected artists and
lyrics and were determined to undermine the constitutional Freedom Of
Expression, an ideal held sacred in most of the Western world. Frank Zappa
lectured them on this very principle at hearings they held.
Fact of the matter is very few of these charges were ever
substantiated. Foul language was maybe the only issue that any action was taken
against and this was very minor with the addition of a warning sticker on
albums with questionable images or lyrics.
This minor change in the way rock did business did not come
easily. Almost half of the 50 US states considered a stickering law and a
congressional hearing was held to discuss this matter. Several well known
rockers appeared to defend their art form. Two of the most vocal was Dee Snider
of Twisted Ssister fame and Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. In attendance also were
several other Metal artists as well as countless pop rock artists who named
themselves "The Music Majority.
The laws never happened. Instead, the major record
companies, 24 in total, rolled over and volunteered to sticker such albums on a
self censoring system. Over time all record companies fell in line with Virgin
coming in last, choosing instead to put a quote from the US constitution's
First Amendment instead of the black and white warning sticker.
This kind of controversy is not new to rock and roll.
Through the '50's and '60's, "scandals" of every sort were occurring. From
Jerry Lee Lewis making a cousin his bride to Elvis Presley who dared to wiggle
his hips or the Beatles with their "long hair. Rock & Roll has been
around the block more than once with this matter.
But this; this was different. This hatred of the music genre
went deeper than just the music and lyrics. Figuring that they wouldn't win by
attacking the entire musical genre, and calculating that two plus two made
five, the special interest groups chose to try to divide and conquer. Iron
Maiden was an early example. They were accused of being devil worshippers
because of their song The Number of the Beast with the lyrics: "666 The Number
of the Beast. Fact is Iron Maiden are far from having anything to do with
the devil and that song was based on a nightmare a band member had but to the
zealots a single song and album cover was enough to condemn its authors of
It didn't stop there. Nobody and nothing was sacred. Some
came up with even worse. Before the decade was out, both Ozzy Osbourne and
Judas Priest had been accused of inspiring teen suicides either by the PMRC
directly or private citizens on a political crusade. Both cases were dismissed
and both artists walked out of court free. But the deciding judges warned that
other such cases may not get off so easy and to expect more in the future.
And so it continued, debate after debate and case after
case.. This may make it seem like it was an all encompassing hobby of Americans
during the '80's but the fact of the matter is most fans didn't know or care
much about the politics of success.
By the beginning of the early 1990's, the music which was
designed to allow people the freedom to enjoy what came out of the record
player was now telling society that the show will go on regardless of what "the
establishment" thinks of it! And it did just that - go on.
The story on the PMRC does not end here, however. The PMRC
did survive. They continued to attack Metal but not with such force as they
once did. A new enemy of mankind had come to their attention: Gangsta-Rap.
Their attacks now centered on this new demon. By 1995 they were once again
trying to restrict the rights of others, this time by claiming they were
helping society by stopping children from hearing explicit or violent lyrics.
They took advantage of their small victory with the warning labels and tried,
in 6 US states, to stop the sale of stickered items. They have thus far failed
to make it law.
This dragon would raise its ugly head again in 1996 when the
Thrash band Slayer would be sued for (as news reports claimed) "inciting two
teens to conspire to commit murder and devil worship."
As well, the US retail giant would attempt to ban records
because of the warning sticker and cover art. But WalMart spread the hatred out
to all music genres.
But the PMRC, although the biggest, was not the only pundit
that Heavy Metal and Rock & Roll in general has faced. Many churches have
also attacked the genre for extolling the values of devil worship, its language
and encouraging sadomasochism. Their excuse for violating the rule that church
and state are separate is that they are speaking in the name of the lord.
Like the PMRC, the churches had little to defend their
opinions with. To say that all Heavy Metal extols sadomasochism and devil
worship is like saying all Blues music encourages poverty, all classical music
is listened to only by rich snobby people, country music attracts only the
attention of redneck hill billies, all bikers wear leather and beat people up
or all computer users are mathematically smart. Although these are commonly
accepted principles they are clearly false and, quite frankly, insulting!
Although there are some examples in Heavy Metal which can be used as examples
to attempt to prove devil worship and sadomasochism, there has never been clear
and absolute proof, nor is it easy to accept that the musical genre and its
fans have collaborated over 30 years to promote such things. Such a conspiracy
on such a grand scale is most certainly a mission impossible and it doesn't
even make a good fictional story plot.
In all fairness, in some cases the church is doing what it
thinks is indeed the will of god for the good of the people, but most times
they are clearly acting in self interest. It leaves no question as to why so
many young people these days do not regularly attend their houses of
When it comes to the evils of the world, Metal seems to rank
very low when you consider the plight of the hungry, homeless, war and diseases
which attract so much more of mans energies and are by far more serious
issues to deal with.
Ask any sadomasochist and they will tell you that it wasn't
music that got him or her interested in sexy costumes, whips, chains and
alternative forms of lovemaking. Ask any kid in any town where he learned to
cuss and swear and chances are he learned it on the street or at home (like I
did), not on a record. Ask most people if they know what devil worship/Satanism
really is and they will have no idea. Such things do not need the help of Metal
to promote them, they seem to do a fine job on their own as do sex, violence
and drugs. Take Metal away and you will still have these problems. Contrary to
the beliefs of many churches most people seem to think that what feels good
must be good and Metal is no more evil or good than society at large and unlike
religion, which does still have a place in our modern society, Metal has never
started any wars or prejudice and also serves a purpose.
All Men Play On 10: The Super-Bands
During the 1980's there was more than one movement in
Underground, there were other deeds brewing.
Firstly, there was the big bands of the '70's that had
survived all of this shifting around and became bigger. They, for the most
part, kept their own style of Metal. Such bands as Judas Priest, AC/DC, Van
Halen and Rush paved their own pathways to success and to this day still
entertain people live and loud. They crawled from the underground to become pop
Rush is Canada's biggest contribution thus far to
Metal. Their 1976 concept album 2112 has become a standard in the world of
Heavy Metal. With many successive hits they were named Canada's Official
Ambassadors of Music by the Canadian government in 1979 and won The Order Of
Canada in 1996. Despite being accused of being pretentious and now rarely
performing outside Canada, Rush is still clearly a marketable commodity for
In 1970 they came from England and have
rocked hard ever since. By 1980 they boasted sell out US and UK tours. Judas
Priest is the perfect example of a Heavy Metal band; screaming guitars and a
screaming vocalist, all clad in studs and leather. Although more recently their
popularity waned they remained a top notch Metal outfit who had set standards
for the genre. Some of their best works include the singles Living After
Midnight, Ram it Down, You've Got Another Thing Comin' and Breaking the Law.
After almost 24 years the great ship that was Judas Priest
ran aground. Disagreements amongst the band members and the loss of their
singer Rob Halford to other projects left them with a situation that they could
not recover from. By the end of 1995 the talk of breakup was in the air. But,
almost six months later a new singer, was found and the differences between the
remaining members was settled just in time thus giving new life to an old band.
No matter what anyone says, 1995 marked the end of an era for Judas Priest for
they left behind a 25 year legacy of studs, leather and hard music. Maybe the
next 25 will be as promising.
Van Halen started in Passadena California, USA
and by the 1980's had become one of the most successful and marketable Metal
bands. It was founded by Eddie and Alex Van Halen with David Lee Roth on
vocals. Originally called Mammoth they changed the name to Van Halen when they
discovered Mammoth had already been taken. Several other band members changed
but this basic line up remained until 1985 when Roth was replaced by
Ex-Montrose vocalist Sammy Hagar who would be replaced by the returning Roth
when artistic differences with Hagar outweighed those of the failing soloist
Roth who returned on a temporary status, only to leave after 2 songs in 1996.
It was the biggest piece of industry news of that year.
1984 was a big year for metal. Nuclear annihilation was once
again on the popular minds and the entertainment culture, so was George Orwells
book 1984 and the idea of big brother. It was supposed to be either
the Armageddon or the coming of the age of Aquarius. Neither happened. Leather,
spikes and chain-mail were back in fashion for Heavy Metal stars and fans alike
(the style would return in the late '90s) but Van Halen kept a steady pace with
a return to their old format and on new years eve kicked it all off right with
their album of all new material called MCMLXXXIV (1984). The album would remain
on the charts for the entire year. It debuted at #2 on the US charts and the
single Jump hit #1. It effectively put them on the popular map. Many critics
however believe their best work was the following album: 5150.
The Faster The Better: The Evolution of Thrash
During 1981 Conrad Lant, then an employee of Neat Records,
an indie that had made its mark on the NWOBHM movement in Wellsend (Newcastle)
England, started a band called Venom and created a demo tape. David Wood, the
big wig of Neat, was frustrated by Lant's constant requests to publish this
work. In despair Wood took the tape to Geoff Barton, a guru of the NWOBHM
movement and editor at Sounds magazine. Barton loved it and raved about it in
print. Lant was rewarded with his record contract and Thrash was born!
Well, not so fast! It isn't quite that easy. The style that
is Thrash had been experimented with before. In 1975 Motorhead had come on the
scene with Ian (Lemme) Kilminster at the Helm and by 1979 with their On Parole
and Motorhead LPs they became big news with both the Punk and Metal crowd. The
sound that would result from this band as time went on was an embryonic form of
what we now call Thrash long before that name meant anything to anyone. This
seed would later give Lemme Kilminster the title "Grandfather Of Thrash..
Although Motorhead, it could be argued, came up with the idea of Thrash, an
idea alone does not constitute invention. Their contribution was very
important, however, for it left a seed by which Conrad Lant and Venom would
grow from and become recognized by history as the inventors. Exactly where
Venom and Conrad Lant (aka Cronos) fit into the history of Metal is a sticky
point for it is with this band, one of the few in history, that we can clearly
pinpoint a crossing from one sub-genre to another. The exact point where idea
met action and created invention. Were they simply a NWOBHM band taken to the
fullest extremes or was the plan to invent a new genre and use the NWOBHM
movement and fans to do it? Well, probably neither or is that both? They fit
nicely in between both sub-genres and can be easily classified in both.
Shortly after Lemmy (as in Lemme a fiver)
Kilminster (real name: Ian Kilminster) got the sack from Hawkwind he started
his own band which he described as, "The kind of band that if we moved next to
you, your lawn would die." Originally to be named Bastard, Motorhead debuted at
the Roundhouse in London in May of 1975. Lemmy obviously knew what he was doing
for in 1981 Motorheads live album, No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, went
immediately to number 1 on the UK charts. The first Metal album to ever do so.
On Lemmy Kilminster's 50 th birthday he was crowned the King Of Metal.
Venom were no strangers to the night. They became
famous for their occult Metal antics and were known only by their stage names:
Cronos, Mantas and Abbadon. Many people argue that the band isn't worthy of
honorable mention because they weren't that good. In their own admission they
were meant more as a joke in answer to the NWOBHM movement that was sweeping
the metal world in the early '80s rather than a serious effort.
At the time of its founding, Conrad Lant (aka Cronos) was an
employee of Neat records, a small English record company responsible for many
NWOBHM group publications. Notoriety was struck when Geoff Barton of Sounds
Magazine heard their demo and told the world about it. The result was powerful
songs, stage shows like never before, a loyal following of fans and Venom being
recorded into history as being the crossover point of NWOBHM to Thrash.
So, essentially almost as soon as NWOBHM was born, it
reproduced and although it started in England it didn't stay there for very
long. As an answer to the British Metal movements the Americans would embrace
Thrash as their own and perfect it.
The American answer would become modern Thrash-Metal. It
wasn't really until the arrival of Thrash, Speed, Black or Grindcore (whatever
you want to call it) that music sped up to what it is today. Thrash was a
retaliation to the Glam Metal that came out in the 80's and made MTV rich as
well as an answer to the influx of British bands. Thrash used the speed and
complexity of NWOBHM, along with the tonal shaping of classic Heavy Metal to
express itself. Speed was dominant in the construction of most early
Such bands as Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax (the big three
Thrashers) were early starters in this genre but were by no means the only.
These bands, in general, took a more direct stripped down approach to
performances by leaving much of the theatricals behind and concentrating on the
product, their music, rather than the elaborate dress and bright lights of
their NWOBHM counterparts.
As Punk and NWOBHM helped the British record companies with
fresh talent so did Thrash for the Americans. Many new Indie Labels" such
as Metal Blade and RoadRunner were started to promote this valuable asset to
Metal. The impact wasn't immediate, however. It would take until the mid 1980's
before thrash would be recognized by the Metal populace who, before then, were
living in a world saturated with NWOBHM and Glam. The Thrash sub-genre did come
unto its own and dominated the late '80s and 1990's Heavy Metal scene. 85% of
all Metal made during that period was Thrash or Thrash related.
Chances are when someone says the name Heavy Metal to you,
you think of the Thrash sound as the stereo-typical Heavy Metal music it has
grown to become.
If each star in the night sky represents a
distant sun then Metallica was the fastest moving and maybe the brightest. This
Thrash quartet started with the intention of being faster and louder than
anyone else. And they were! Their success happened so fast that by 1991, only
10 years after their founding and 8 years after their first publication Kill
'em All (Originally to be called Metal Up Your Ass) they were outselling
everybody in the rock field and by1994 had won 3 Grammies.
Metallica used their great volume and Thrash speed not just
to make lots of noise but to enhance their music. During the past decade they
experimented and perfected their sound to the point where it became palatable
to a large audience.
They were (and at time of this writing are) the most popular
rock band to ever walk the earth, followed very closely behind by Guns N'
Roses, a band who will probably become known for their character as well as
their music. Metallica's sound is best described as Motorhead meets Iron Maiden
(two of their influences).
Iron Maiden and the NWOBHM movement managed to standardize
Metal and turn it into a professional and respected musical art, but outside of
its own fans and performers Metal received only modest respect and this is
where Metallicas legacy will be forever recorded into history. Metallica
made the record industry and general populace outside of the genre respect the
music. In fact they almost single-handedly forced it into the popular culture
in the early 1990's, a trick that had never been achieved by any other Metal
Slayer is a band who never lost their hard edge.
The band set standards for the Thrash Metal flavor of Metal and stuck with it.
Very few bands in this extreme form of music ever make it big but Metallica as
well as Slayer did manage to gain wide popular appeal. Record collectors
consider Slayer publications as some of the most valuable and challenging to
find because of its extreme sound which caters to a very specific ear. Formed
in 1983, near Los Angeles USA, this band became most popular for their ground
breaking classic Thrash album Raining Blood.
Anthrax came to the fore in New York in 1982.
Managed by Johnny Z., founder of the indie Megaforce Records label they
released Fistfull Of Metal in 1984. Despite its tasteless sleeve the album
received fair reviews. In 1985 they redid a lightning fast version of the Sex
Pistols God Save The Queen. For a time they co-existed with SOD (Storm
Troopers Of Death), a spin-off band by sharing their rhythm guitar player and
bass players, Scott Ian and Dan Liker respectively. Liker later left Anthrax.
They also became good friends of the members of Metallica. In 1987 they
commissioned former Kiss and Whitesnake manager Eddie Kramer which resulted in
the albums Among The Living and State Of Euphoria becoming classics.
Pretty Boys: The Age Of Glam
During the 1980's Metal also experimented with so called
Glam Metal which had more of a Pop style sound, not suprisingly because glam
came from '70s pop. Many people jokingly say that the easiest way to tell a
Glam band from a regular Metal band is by the clothes they wear. This statement
does have some truth to it, but exactly how much is hard to say because it has
never been put to a scientific test. Musically, many of the bands were able to
make some listenable noise, but visually the best description would be
"cheesy. The whole fashion of guys looking like girls and girls looking
like guys was probably started here. Long blonde or pink died hair,
circular-saw blade codpieces, spandex and puffy clothes and a more than ample
supply of leather and spikes took the Heavy Metal warrior image and pushed it
beyond the envelope tolerance levels. The Glam style became probably as big as
the NWOBHM sound did. Unfortunately, Glam's fame is not as well deserved. At
first Glam bands were original but in its later years the music industry had
made it into a cheap and cheesy assembly line musical form which destroyed its
Slade was founded in the UK around 1971 although
it existed under other, less successful, names as early as 1966. Their singer,
Noddy Holder, once declared "the fans are tired of paying to sit on their
hands, while watching musicians who clearly couldn't care less about their
customers. What's wanted is a more party atmosphere. With this expression
and what many felt was a move towards so called 'progressive rock, where
old men with beards and long hair put their heads downcast from the audience
and played long dull solos, Glam was born. Marc Boland (of T-Rex) was probably
the first Glam rocker but Slade shifted that fad into Metal which caught on by
the early 1980s. And so off they went to stardom with hit singles: Cum On Feel
The Noize (which would later be redone by '80s Glam rockers Quiet Riot), Look
Wot You Don, Run Runaway (Later redone by a Newfoundland folk group) and so on
which took music back to the basics and clothes into the direction of Christmas
trees making male rockers look like 'male peacocks' as it was termed. Slade
lasted well into the '90s even though only two singles ever charted in the US:
Run Runaway (at #20) and My Oh My (at #37) in 1984. Both singles were back to
back on their Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply LP. In the UK they fared
better; everything charted in the top 20.
Quiet Riot, founded in 1973, met their
biggest success in 1984 with a redo of Slade's Cum On Fell The Noize. They were
Slade fans. The band topped the US charts with their album Metal Heath with the
single of like title, the first debut Metal album to reach #1 on US charts and
something that even bands the size of Kiss never managed to do. This success
was to prove brief after several other flop albums with only one other,
Condition Critical, breaking the top 20 at #15. The band broke up in 1988.
Formed in 1980, Motley Crew visited fame by
self producing and publishing their songs on their own Leathur record label but
in 1992 that was to end when Elektra signed them to real fame. Their biggest
moment saw them hit the highest Metal slotting on the billboard chart since The
Song Remains The Same by Led Zeppelin in 1976. That album was Girls, Girls,
Girls. Here they incorporated harmonicas, organs and pianos into their music,
taking them in a new direction and moved them up from club sized Glam Metallers
to stadium sized rock and roll. The hits would keep on coming with other albums
including Dr. Feel Good. In 1987, Nikki Sixx (founder and bass guitar (real
name Frank Faranno)) almost died of a heroin overdose. Previously, in 1984,
Vince Neil (vocals) was involved in a major car accident in which Hanoi Rocks
drummer Razzle was killed. But despite the problems the band plays on.
Glam bands were numerous but one of the
most popular were Twisted Sister who, shortly after their founding in 1982,
made it onto the charts with such songs as We're Not Gonna Take It and You
Can't Stop Rock-n-Roll. They broke up in 1987 leaving many fans still hungry.
This form of Metal has gone out of style and, although Slade
and some of the older bands survive, many of the bands are no longer around.
Unfortunately history has not been kind to these bands and uses them almost as
a joke for the excesses of rock in the '80's.
The Bad Boys: Death Metal
Death Metal also saw a rise in the 1980's. It is argued that
this form of music will replace Thrash as the dominant Metal sound by the turn
of the century. Speculation aside, its roots may stem as far back as Black
Sabbath in the early '70s or as late as 1980's Thrash. Wherever it came from,
it came to rise by the late 1980s with such groups as Sepultura, Obituary,
Carcass, Amorphis and the like. Centering its dark sound on lyrics of carnage
and death (in most cases), its name is quite appropriate.
The most noticeable item of Death Metal, beside its hard use
of electric guitars and bass drums, is the growling of the vocalist. In Death
Metal the voice is almost used as if it were another instrument. The music is a
solid wall of sound that would even put to shame the coiner of the phrase "Wall
of Sound, Phil Spector of '60's rock fame.
Death Metal is both an advancement and a degradation to
Metal. It de-evolved the music by reducing it back into an often poorly
recorded grinding, almost unintelligible noise with heavy use of bass guitars
and guttural growls for vocals. But at the same time it sent Metal back to the
basics and readdressed its core fan group by giving them the heavy sound they
Carcass is a British Death band formed in 1987
originally consisting of three members: Jeff Walker, Bill Steer and Ken Owen.
Their musical approach is one of morbid grunts over a barrage of chaotic,
bass-dominated music. The lyrics centered primarily on vomiting, mutilation,
putrification and steaming entrails, but using proper medical terminology.
Their first release, entitled Reek Of Putrefaction, was fast
paced grind core with lyrics created with the help from a medical textbook or
two. Their second release called Symphonies Of Sickness was lyrically similar,
but the music had more melodic influences. The next release, Necroticism -
Descanting The Insalubrious, brought Michael Amott aboard and the sound
progressed to melodic death metal with grinding influences. The next album
named Heartwork saw the biggest change, where the lyrics did not have the
"medical" type of theme, and Steer decided to leave all the vocals to Walker.
The music was simplified more, and lost more grinding attitude. Amott left
Carcass after Heartwork and Hickey took his place on the Heartwork tour. Hickey
was gone before the recording of Carcass's last album called Swansong and Carlo
Regadas was brought in. Until this point Carcass would have simply remained a
cult following to their fans in Europe and the USA but 1995's Swansong
introduced new elements to the band that allowed them to be exposed to a wider
audience. Swansong sounds more like a hard rock album instead of death but it
still contained Walker's raspy death metal vocals as well as allowing lyrics
dealing with topics of political and personal interest. But it was too little,
too late for the bands break up followed. It was obviously the end of Carcass,
but one more album was released; Wake Up And Smell The...Carcass. It is
basically a compilation of their work comprising of songs that didn't get on
the Swansong release, and songs from their EP's and other compilations.
The remaining members formed a new band called Black Star
(named after a song off of their last studio album Swansong - similar to how
Black Sabbath got their name).
Sepultura is a band from Brazil which came to
be in 1984. Influenced by bands like Slayer and Venom, they developed their
harsh sound but pointed their lyrics into the direction of death and carnage.
Their 1991 album Arise is said to be the best selling album in the history of
their record publisher, RoadRunner. Their 1996 single, Roots, received wide
market appeal as well.
The intense and often disturbing sounds of the
death-Metal band Obituary depicts a unique style which took them and music to
the outer most extremes of experimentation. Deep bass with a growling vocalist
and intense lyrics create a sound which caters to the most intense Metal fan.
Amorphis, from the Netherlands, was the point
at which the Death Metal sub-genre grew up and was introduced to a wider
market. Using synthesizers as well as the traditional instruments of rock they
added a harmony and melody to the traditional bass guitar and growl of Death
Metal. The evolution started with the Tales From The Thousand Lakes album in
1993 which was a theme album based on the Finnish national pole book Kalevala,
a book of tales and folklore. This album could be described as the future of
metal. One could even go so far as to say 'genius.
Unfortunately Death Metal has a bad side to it. The majority
of bands like those previously listed and their band members play their music
with the intent on receiving some sort of respect based on their musical
talent, like any other music. There is, however, a fringe group of people who
live the fantasy. In Norway, a big Death Metal fan base, a true Heavy Metal
murder mystery was being lived in April, 1994.
Enter: Bard Eithum (aka Faust) of the Death Metal outfit
Emperor. He is, in the end, sentenced to 14 years for stabbing a gay man to
death in Lillihammer two years previous. Now enter: Varg Vikernes (aka Count
Grishnackh) of the band Burzum. Armed with an axe, a bayonet and seven knives
he is convicted to 21 years of killing his one time colleague Oystein Aarseth
in Aarseth's flat, stabbing him 23 times in the process. He was apprehended
after bragging to British Heavy Metal magazine, Kerrang! about it. He blames
the "Jews who killed my father Odin," for the carnage. The satanic terrorist
movement, which he and a buddy Aarseth founded in more chummier times, is
suspected of the burning of a number of churches, many dating back to medieval
times, because they desire the removal of Christianity for the return of the
Individuals such as these serve no other function than to
fuel the fires of the people in the PMRC. These individuals do not represent
everyone and Death Metal does not promote brutal murder; at least not for the
rest of us.
Not everyone is out for hatred, however, even though
violence comes anyway. In Tallin, Estonia the following month, Napalm Death
beat up the Russian Nationalist band Corrosive Metal for their racist and
fascist comments. It seems that Death Metal has not yet decided if it is on the
side of good or bad.
The Religious Movement
Heavy Metal can be easily described as the old fashioned
good versus evil story. On one side you have those who battle to save the world
from destruction, carnage and slavery and on the other side you have completely
the opposite. The evil side is easily and most commonly depicted in Metal but
it would be unfair to not speak of the other side.
All of what Heavy Metal represents is probably summed up in
one line by MINISTRY on a quote they sampled for their New World Order song
which came from a speech Ex-President George Bush gave: "What we are talking
about here is Good and Evil, right and wrong!"
Much of this battle is fictional. In fact a large part of
Metal, particularly that of the 1980's, is derived from the imagination and
medieval or religious folklore.
Stories of heroic battles or bitter enslavement are common.
Iron Maidens Seventh Son, both song and album, is the one that comes
quickly to mind as being one that clearly shows this. Manowar is another band
who glorify the spoils of battle (usually involving themselves), The Crown And
The Ring being a good example of this.
The stories can also be based on history or the here and
now. Megadeths Countdown To Extinction expressed the urgency of saving
the environment without making a protest of it. Master Of Puppets by Metallica
discussed the uselessness of drug abuse. Iron Maidens Aces High was about
WWII Spitfire air battles and 2 Minutes To Midnight was about the threat of
nuclear annihilation. Slayers Angel Of Death was about the infamous Nazi
Dr. of Death: Mengela.
This battle can also occur in your dreams, such as
Metallicas Enter Sandman, or the enemy could be unspent sexual desire as
expressed in Girls Girls Girls by Motley Crue. Or it's about rules like
Manowars All Men Play On 10. The list of enemies is endless. You yourself
could come up with other examples. Name it and it has been covered by many
The whole New World Order which was the buzz word to
describe the changes occurring in the 1990s had been predicted years earlier by
There were also those who didn't fight evil but decided to
join it (or at least pretend they did). Venom, Infernal Majesty, Emperor and
dozens of others sing of the victories of Satan and his armies or, if not in
name, his image is used to express other misfortunes. Most of these battles
however are less realistic and depend heavily on the listeners mind and
With so many Earth bound and Hell bound battles, where does
God fit into all this? The religious bands, that's where. Although not quite as
popular or prominent, bands who regularly sing of the victories and glory of
God do exist, although usually they remain lumped with the rest of their Heavy
Metal peers in the eyes of the church.
Contrary to the popular belief that Heavy Metal fans would
rather hear of Satan than God, bands like Barren Cross and Stryper offered an
alternate point of view.
Originally named Roxx Regeme, Stryper was formed
in Los Angeles, USA by Micheal and Robert Sweet in 1981. They dressed in
matching yellow and black uniforms and added to the spectacle by throwing
bibles into the audience at shows. They received much media coverage. Their
greatest hits were on their 1986 album To Hell With The Devil which reached #32
on the Billboard charts for 3 months. But by the time 1990 came around their
albums sold poorly as the fans tired of this particular phase of the religious
revolution and decided to go elsewhere.
Barren Cross formed in 1981 and came over
as a cross between Van Halen and Iron Maiden. Hard hitting guitar work with
metallic anthems would win them some popularity with Metal fans and topics
covering drug abuse, terrorism and abortion in a manner not to condemn but to
explain, gave them commercial acceptance as well. By 1990 they had provided a
much needed credibility injection into the Christian Rock movement which had
suffered bad press for several years.
The Next Generation: The New Underground Sound
Death Metal re-introduced the "underground" to Metal. Not
all Metal bands make it to stardom and Death, especially, is no exception. Many
bands tried and thus far have failed to impress a wider audience. In many
cities the bars, pubs and night clubs are once again draining the fans from the
stadiums to see the underground acts. Some are good and destined for success,
others are not so lucky.
Infernal Majesty is one such
Thrash/Death act that had a tough time of it. Calling Toronto's Yonge Street
district home (the actual commercial downtown of Canada) is Infernal Majesty.
You can find their name inscribed on the walls, billboards and letter boxes up
and down the street. Unlike other Toronto Bands, like Rush or Anvil, they just
can't get a break. To the truest of Metal fans they do have some redeemable
value, but unfortunately the general public doesn't agree and their 1987 debut
album with Chris Bailey on vocals, None Shall Defy, although well produced and
recorded with Banzai (Canada)/ RoadRacer (USA), did nothing. New copies of this
album can be had for $.99! (Many people believe it's worth every penny! But
since Chris is a relative it is a prized trophy in my record collection.) It
was a wonderful effort, but an example that should be noted amongst all these
successful bands that for every Metallica there are hundreds of bands that
either were no good or just didn't get a break. But everyone started here.
Their debut record would be re-released in Europe as CD in 1996 and sold for a
modest $15 CDN. Perhaps their musical style is back in fashion.
Since the arrest of their guitar player for biting the neck
of a girl at the infamous Sanctuary club on Queen Street West in Toronto, the
band reunited with its singer, Chris Bailey, and have embarked on a new record
Lodged firmly in the underground also was Hardcore Metal. It
actually started way back in the early 80's and as an offshoot from Thrash
meets Punk, but by the mid 1990's it had obtained enough of a following to get
some radio time on college and late night broadcasts. Unfortunately this
sub-sub genres sound is hard to distinguish amongst all the others during
the 1990's because of the radio medias insistence on calling everything
Hardcore to avoid using the politically incorrect Heavy Metal.