Another generation of heavy metal has taken over, and — sorry — it ain’t just about strippers and dope. Okay, it’s partly about strippers and dope. And we’ll get around to that. But more and more, as metal evolves into a huge international music that belongs to everyone, it has gotten to be something weirder. It’s become a guardian of morality — not church morality; real morality. Praise be: Given the void in responsible behavior among governments, police, educational establishments and religions, the task of guiding our youth down the path of righteousness has fallen to .?.?. Satan.
This hit me again about a year ago, when I was sitting on the interview throne for Heavy: The Story of Metal, which airs in four parts May 22-25 during VH1’s Metal Month. I don’t know if they’ll use any of my footage, because network programming V.P. Michael Hirschorn had originally asked if I could come up with amusing anecdotes of decadence and depravity in the style of Behind the Music. And as I talked, I kept realizing instead how deep-down healthy and even admirable the whole scene is. Especially, I was recounting one recent Ozzfest tale: A drunk and slamming metal fan accidentally bowls over a skinny little immigrant who’s cleaning up the site with a dustpan — then picks him up and offers the sincerest apology I’ve ever seen. Thinking about the unglitziness and essential brotherhood of that, I choked up and nearly bawled like a baby. So, in honor of Metal Month and the calendar’s upcoming 6/6/06, I thought I’d offer up a few of my own Most Metal Moments. Ready for prime time or not.
Modern metal, in contrast with its glammier ’80s Sunset Strip incarnation, has followed the lead of Metallica and Megadeth into ever-darker regions of protest and penance. If it still identifies with the Adversary, that’s only because fundamentalists the world over have succeeded in selling the image of a God who really sucks. Over the past decade, as pious citizens have shuddered at metal’s devil horns and tattoos, Korn, Marilyn Manson and Dio have extended a claw to the kids who were being abused, rejected and driven onto the streets. Lamb of God have scientifically demolished the patriotic oaferies of militarism. Cattle Decapitation have bellowed about the trashing of the Earth.
Consider the artists’ visual/conceptual themes: Man’s Son self-crucified, Lamb self-sacrificed, Cattle self-immolated. Words, delivered in unintelligible croaks, are often about slaughter, disease and rot. Since metal’s pentacle and cross hang upside-down, what do you think death metal, currently sweeping the planet like a bacillus (while ignored in the media), is really about?
The opposite. The victims of Wal-Mart World feel hopeless, worthless, dead. They want life, to paraphrase an old Black Sabbath song, and they kill themselves to get it.
Everywhere I’ve looked at Ozzfests the last few years, there’s been more evidence. I saw that it wasn’t enough for these beasts to stand several hours in the 100-degree heat of greater San Bernardino; they had to beat the shit out of each other, too! No living greenery relieved the spectacle — as they marched cyclonically and bashed each other in tribute to the raw retch of DevilDriver or the murder masks of Slipknot, a vast cloud of brown dust rose into the pale-blue sky.
One by one, gasping pit bulls fled to the only shade, a foot-wide strip cast by the perimeter fence, their eyes, noses and mouths packed with grit. There was no plumbing, and a 20-minute wait for a $5 cup of ice water, which the purchaser was likely to end up just hurling at somebody — what the fuck! People were trying to spit, and they couldn’t.
So I was watching. Ever the provident adult, equipped with four bottles of designer H2O, I gave one to a grime-encrusted kid. He applied a tiny amount to the most afflicted area, the eyes, and passed the bottle around to some other refugees. A few minutes’ breather, then: Okay! Back to the pit!
The First One I Hit
The slamming thing is kinda peculiar. Here’s another scene, after a Behemoth show at West Hollywood’s Key Club. I was in a parking lot among a few stragglers when a guy walked up, pointed at me and announced to everybody, “What do you think, should I beat the crap out of this dude?” A 30-year-old black-shirted Latino about 5 feet tall and 4 wide, he had probably culled me for sacrifice because I looked old and insufficiently metal. But he seemed genially shit-faced rather than dangerous. So I thought I’d talk to him.
“Hey, who did you think was best tonight?”
He leaned in, put his arm around me and breathed beer in my face. “To tell you the truth,” he said, “the first one I hit.”