By now Cynic are legends in the metal scene. In 1993, they released their magnum opus Focus before quietly disbanding, but the album's impact was fully felt in the realms of technical and progressive metal, influencing younger bands for years to come.
They repeated the feat with 2008's reunion record Traced in Air, and have been chugging along ever since as one of the most celebrated and beloved prog-metal acts around. Oh, and principal members/songwriters Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert, without whom the band would not exist, are gay.
It's been an open secret for years, but the pair have come forward in their first major interview to discuss life as gay metal musicians, operating within a scene which has traditionally been less than open-minded or accepting of alternative lifestyles. This is a huge step for everyone in the metal community, and here's why.
Metal is a bunch of macho bullshit. We can all agree on this, yes? From Day 1, metal has been a scene with a predominant bias toward manliness and "badassness." Whether it's traipsing around dressed like a biker or a corpse, chugging beer or sacrificing babies, naming yourself after a serial killer or writing about genocide, metal's stock and trade has always been "don't fuck with us."
Unfortunately, that has also included an attitude against anything that could be perceived as less than manly, especially anything that could be construed, rightly or wrongly, as gay. Billy Squier was a notable star among rockers and metalheads in the '80s, but the moment he put on a torn-up pink shirt and danced around in his room in a music video, he was lambasted and cast out from the scene for acting in what some fans might see as a "homosexual manner."
This attitude continues today. In metal, like rap, it's all about being tough, or at least tougher than your opponent. You can open up about all sorts of feelings so long as everyone knows you're still enough of a badass to kill them if they talk shit. And for years now, it's been totally acceptable within the metal scene to ridicule anything you don't like for being "gay."
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"Faggot" even pops up frequently in lyrics, and as recently as this year in the latest Emmure album. Front man Frankie Palmeri uses the word openly and flagrantly to deride his "haters" and cites his excuse as the precedent set by those who have come before him to use the term as an insult, more specifically citing the Korn song "Faget."
Although that song was calling out the people who called front man Jonathan Davis the word in high school for dressing like a New Wave kid, it can easily be misconstrued, as Palmeri clearly shows by using it as a defense for his use of the word.
So a scene dominated by a lot of macho posturing, where the use of a hateful term for homosexuals is a common way to refer to anybody you don't like, is probably a tough damn place for a gay person. That's what makes Masvidal and Reinert's openness and willingness to discuss their sexuality so refreshing and important.
Rob Halford of Judas Priest came out years ago, but it wasn't enough. Let's be honest here. Judas Priest may be legends, but they were mostly appreciated by an older, more mature crowd by the time Halford came out. Young people weren't learning from his example to be more tolerant or accepting of gay people within their community.
In fact, it's far more likely that those kids were laughing at Judas Priest for multiple reasons now. Not only for being old-man metal at that point, but for how "gay" they were. Just as old football stars coming out 20 years after retiring has done nothing to change the NFL's approach to these matters, just as Michael Sam being drafted by the St. Louis Rams means so much more because he is a player in the here and now, Masvidal and Reinert discussing their sexuality means so much because they are here.
Sure, Priest was making music, but can you name all of their post-Painkiller albums off the top of your head? No cheating, no Googling. I sure can't. Priest was done by that point.
Cynic, however, are vital today. They are one of the hottest names in progressive metal, both for their influence and for the continuing strength of their output. Young people are listening to this stuff, poring over their records and reading their interviews.
Those young people are going to see what Reinert and Masvidal said. That means they're going to have to make up their minds about whether they can accept the main people behind their favorite band being gay. And that is something that is important to the entire metal community.
If Cynic can gain acceptance based on the strength of their works, this could open the door to any number of gay musicians to participate in the scene, or to currently closeted musicians to be comfortable enough to come out. That is a success for all of us in destroying prejudice and discrimination in this scene dominated by macho bullshit, and that is why it's so important to metal that they are out now.
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