Anti-semitism is very much frowned upon these days, so I don’t often get to see the mass media reduce me to an invidious exploitative stereotype for the amusement and titillation of my peers.
In that sense, the 2009 episode of the TV show Bones titled, “Mayhem on the Cross” was a stimulating novelty. Not that it was anti-semitic — of course not. It was anti-metalhead.
Admittedly, I’m not a pure metalhead — I don’t attend concerts very often, and I listen to lots of non-metallish music, from Mariah Carey to Donovan. Still, I identify sufficiently to have found the Bones episode alternately hysterical and irritating.
Let’s cut to the tape:
The opening Norwegian black metal band doesn’t sound remotely like Scandinavian black metal — the vocals are crappy Eddie Vedder via nu-metal, not black metal’s demonic screech, and the music is lumberingly catchy rather than atmospheric. There’s even a stadium rock adrenaline chorus, for pity’s sake. One of the performers is shown using a chainsaw…an amateurish, anything-goes move that could certainly occur at a punk show, but which just is not black metal at all. The band who played the song is in real life named “Tondra Soul” — and, yeah, black metal bands don’t use “soul” to mean “soulful” and if they want a made-up-language word for “thunder”, they take it from Tolkein, not from fucking Esperanto.
Psychiatrist Lance Sweets more or less correctly characterizes the difference between death and black metal when he explains that, “Death metal is about brutal technical proficiency while black metal is about emotion.” So points for that. But then Sweets goes on to insist that both death and black metal “exploit adolescent feelings of alienation, depression… “ The problem here being that extreme metal isn’t especially aimed at adolescents — at least not by pop music standards. You go to a metal show, you see folks in their twenties and thirties and older — and that’s in the audience, not just on the stage. You want to see young people’s emotions being exploited, you need to go see Beyonce or Lil’ Wayne or Vampire Weekend live. While there are no doubt some teens who love the head-banging, for the most part the alienation and depression in metal are aimed at the adult and the comfortably middle-aged.
One of the characters declares, as if she’s reading from an encyclopedia: “Death metal enthusiasts prefer morbid horror-centric venues for performance.” What? Since when? They’re not theatrical troupes! They’re not combining metal and performance art! They book shows in clubs, for crying out loud!
Expanding on the point above — death metal bands? They don’t wear make-up. That’s black metal bands. Get it straight, people.
Of course, the main point of confusion here is the idea that metal is overall a dangerous, violent subculture. Certainly, Scandinavian metal in the ’90s did involve murder and assault and church burning — but to the best I can tell, that’s largely over. Some performers are still interested in Satanism, but that just makes them irritating blowhards, not a menace to society. As for American extreme metal — I doubt the guys in Cannibal Corpse even trash their hotel rooms, y’know?
But if it knew what it was talking about, it wouldn’t be television. I do wish they’d done enough research to have actual metal on the soundtrack, though. “Tondra Soul” — yeesh.