In a (post-) postmodern age, no collision should surprise us. I don’t know if Latvian-Portuguese fusion food exists, but it certainly could. So it is that heavy metal has been impacted by all manner of cultures and things. It’s worth highlighting such collisions, as the image of metal as a musical and social monoculture remains persistent.
Such stereotypes of heavy metal makes its hybridity a source of delight. Having tracked its collision with one small aspect of the world – Jewishness – on my blog, Metal Jew, since 2005, I haven’t tired of finding new examples of its ability to surprise.
If metal can do it, perhaps anything can. Celebrating strange hybrids in metal should perhaps remind us that seemingly homogeneous spaces can be leavened by surprising encounters with incongruous others. Here are ten iconographic examples:
1. Power Metal and Curling: In 2006, the popular Swedish power metal band Hammerfall made a video of their song ‘Hearts On Fire’ (whose lyrics celebrate the Templars’ second coming) in support of their country’s women’s Olympic curling team. In the video, the curlers try their hand at metal and the metallers try curling in a moving demonstration of togetherness.
2. Christian Metal and Coffee: The Christian metal band Tourniquet have their own brand of coffee. Why is not entirely clear.
3. Christian Black Metal: Christian musicians love to take the most unlikely genres and turn them towards the so-called light. Thus, it was inevitable that Christian black metal would emerge. Now an established sub-genre, in 1994 there was shock in the black metal scene when the Nuclear Blast label released Horde’s ‘Hellig Usvart’album, a slab of lo-fi Darkthrone-style Christian noir, with song titles like ‘Release and Clothe the Virgin Sacrifice’ and ‘Invert the Inverted Cross’.
Credited to ‘Anonymous’ Horde was actually a project of Jayson Sherlock, an ex-member of Australian Christian death metallers Mortification. Many black metallers were furious at Horde’s betrayal of black metal. Others saw the album as a hilarious parody. Strange though it seems, the album was apparently meant in earnest.
4. Metal and Plants: Phyte Club is a truly wonderous blog that caters for ‘people who want to geek out on botany and bang their heads to brutal music, who get the same sort of rush from interacting with the natural world that they do from rocking out to heavy riffs, who catch themselves playing air guitar in botanical gardens’. How many metallers actually fall into this category is unknown.
5. Black Metal and Veganism: Vegan Black Metal Chef makes Youtube vegan cookery instructional videos, dressed in corpse paint, all to a black metal soundtrack. Sample instruction: ‘Now crush the potatoes – show them no mercy’.
6. Metal and Cruising: 70,000 Tons of Metal is a metal festival at sea, on a Caribbean cruiseliner. Nothing more needs to be said.
7. Roger Scruton loves Metallica: The British conservative philosopher Roger Scruton is known for his elegies to the ordered, deferential Britain we have lost. He is also known for his fierce critiques of popular music and popular culture. Yet apparently he loves Metallica. But maybe that’s not surprising, given the neo-classicism and virtuosity of much of metal and its frequently reactionary politics.
8. Comedy Metal: Given that metal is often thought to be irony-free and po-faced, the crossover between metal and comedy is much more extensive than some would imagine. From metal comedian Andrew O’Neil, to cult cartoon Metalocalypse, to the inevitable Youtube Hitler and Benny Hill videos, metal likes to laughs at itself just as much as its detractors laugh at it.
9. African Cowboy-Biker Metal Chic: Botswana is the only African country to have a majority black metal scene. They’ve developed a unique metal dress-code involving cowboy hats, biker-gear and a lot of homoerotic posing.
10. Jews Who Love Burzum: The notorious Varg Vikernes, of black metal pioneers Burzum, sent a letter bomb to a leading Israeli metal scene member in 1991. Despite this, and Vikernes’ overt anti-Semitism, I have seen Israeli metallers sporting Burzum T-Shirts – but I have no photo to prove it, sadly.
I’m not an Israeli. However, I am one of those contradictory metal Jews who despise Vikernes, but finds Burzum’s music strangely beautiful. Is loving the art of those who despise you a case of postmodern hybridity, or simply a case of lack of moral fibre? I lie awake at night and worry about that question…
Vegan Black Metal Chef photograph courtesy of The Cutting Edge.