Recently I was asked by Rocky Alvarado of Kill Rock Radio to discuss an article I'd written here dealing with malicious online feedback. Having been a guest on the show before, I agreed to the opportunity to elaborate on an aspect of Internet culture I find myself fighting against with recurring frequency. No matter. Alvarado and I have similar political and musical tastes, so I welcomed the chance to participate.
And then I said something that incited more angry comments: "Metal attracts a certain type of insecure personality." The response was swift and caustic.
“Her writing suck dick...” [sic]
"FEMINAZI, GTFO of metal if you hate it?"
“...look here cunt I'm not insecure, just better than you”
“I'd have to shove my fist down her throat while I fuck her just to not lose my wood...”
You get the idea.
This isn't the first time I've expressed controversial opinions on this same podcast. Last May, the thesis of my first appearance was "Austin Ain't Shit Unless You're White." But this time, the backlash was personal. But to be fair, making a statement so general about a genre I love certainly deserves further scrutiny.
As a longtime metal fan, I have always had an issue with that disagreeable subgenre known by the derogatory label of "Bro Metal." Its formation, as either a colossal accident or the demon spawn of a steroid-infused musicality, has always seemed like a moment in metal's evolution that was either, sadly, a digression or a mistake. This defective, sour footnote to metal history begins where toxic masculinity ends: with cultural gender constructs that demand a man to be sexually predatory, socially aggressive, stoic in relationships, and brazenly intolerant of anyone who isn’t.
It’s quintessential alpha-male music. Whereas music’s social function should be to elevate the culture in a positive way, Bro Metal demands and foments cultural disharmony. Seeing how its lyrics promote racism, misogyny and homophobia, this should hardly be a mystery. Bro Metal's atavistic outward show of force has always been an obvious facade meant to convey an air of masculinity where none actually exists. It’s penis-measuring of the most insecure kind.
In other words, Bro Metal is a musical malignancy that begs for removal, brah. At most, its irritating posturing is just peacocking, a flexing of steroid-infused proverbial overcompensation. At the very least, it’s simply mediocre metal (or worse). And anyone can claim it’s just commercial imagery and there’s no real intent to promote toxicity — no harm, no foul. But I'm not convinced the image is so innocuous.
And in all fairness, that’s American commercialism — we often buy an image first, the musical talent behind it second. Ask any musician who plays even slightly progressive metal and that person will tell you that not only does it take a sophisticated ear to appreciate complex metal, but an appropriately cultivated mind. American audiences have traditionally shown little patience for entertainment that requires concentration; hence the easy accessibility of Bro Metal. The subpar skill set necessary to produce it attracts an insecure personality: a machismo pretense.
Of course, there are people who would disagree with this premise — loudly. Unsurprisingly, when fans feel so close to their musical heroes that they become identity markers for them, they lash out against any dissension with the blinded fury of a devoted cult member. Just look at all the fans who rushed to defend Five Finger Death Punch's lead singer, Ivan Moody, when police found he had nearly killed his girlfriend. Never mind his alleged missteps; he's a musical hero. Who cares that she was suffocated, placed in a headlock and bruised beyond recognition? She probably deserved it.
But such things just make him more manly, not less, according to some fans' misguided reasoning. The moment the band did not fire him, draft an apology to its fanbase and scream from the peaks of social media that this was unacceptable should have been the moment we all stopped listening and giving this voice a platform. But this is America, isn't it?
Comparatively speaking, Bro Metal is a national embarrassment. This is not hyperbole; consider the caliber and nobility of acts produced by Europe alongside American acts like Five Finger Death Punch, Disturbed, Hatebreed and Machine Head. No one could compare Bro Metal founders Mötley Crüe to Opeth with a straight face, now could they?
Sure. Bro Metal may be low-hanging fruit, but for a genre that has held my attention since childhood, this is what I find myself having to answer for when challenged by someone who questions metal as a whole. It's tough to figure out how to defend the indefensible when pummeled with questions like, "What's up with the glorification of violence against women? Why are there so few queer voices? What is wrong with Pantera fans?"
Seriously, I grow tired of this and I'm sure others do too.
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Bro Metal and its deeply conditioned fans have long been a blight on the metal landscape. While the foundations of metal were laid by the sludgy down-tuned guitars of doom and darkness from bands like Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus, Pentagram and Venom, Bro Metal is the redneck cousin that shows up to family holidays proudly displaying his ignorance. A band like Mushroom Head and their sad allegiance to the failed coup of 1861 is just another example of its backward, exclusionary imagery.
And it’s that conditioning I have problems with. Let's face it, metal has long had a toxic masculinity problem, but Bro Metal needs an intervention. You know the type. The aggro, angry, self-righteous, ostentatious display of hyper-masculinity that a fellow Houston Press writer once described as "[It's] just bad riffs and some cretin with a shaved head barking about being tough."
Yes. The truck-nuts of metal. If Bro Metal were a person, it would ask if you even lift.
Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Ivan Moody of Five Finger Death Punch's girlfriend as his wife. The Houston Press regrets the error.