When asked what comes to mind when they think of Metal as a genre of music, many in the mainstream will mention “noise”, “anger”, and “screaming”; when considering the fans that follow such a musical movement, many of the community get branded as antisocial for not conforming to the mainstream. However, what happens when you ask a member of that community? What happens when you ask a metal-head? Odds are the majority of them would tell you about how they enjoy the inclusive nature of the community: the feeling that they belong, that they are not judged, how they are united by an intense shared passion. In fact, one might say that many members of this community, both fans and artists alike, feel a distinct sense of pride regarding the inclusivity of their community. However, can this community truly be considered inclusive when it harbours members with antiquated racist views?
I’m not suggesting that every member of the Metal community is racist – far from it, I have spent many years as an Asian metal-head feeling largely accepted as part of this diverse community. However, the events of last week have given me reason to reassess the state of racial diversity, and acceptance thereof, in the community.
The annual Dimebash concert took place on 22nd January to celebrate the life and music of one of Metal’s greatest fallen heroes, “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott of Pantera. The event saw performances from a number of icons from bands such as Metallica, Slayer and Foo Fighters. However, at the centre of this celebration was Dimebag’s old bandmate, once lead-singer for Pantera, Phil Anselmo. Following the performance, a video surfaced showing Anselmo performing a Nazi salute, and shouting “white power” at the end of the show. These foolish actions have been chastised almost universally. However, what further compounds the ridiculousness of the situation was Anselmo’s intial attempt to defend his actions as part of an in-joke regarding drinking white wine backstage – something which he has since been called out on, with the jury being smart enough to realise that the photo evidence provided does not actually show him with a bottle of white wine in hand, but instead a bottle of lemon vodka. Now Phil has been quoted as saying some rather outlandish things, and has also managed to incorporate a few slightly more questionable lines into his lyrics, but it seems that his actions at Dimebash this year constitute the straw that broke the camel’s back. The backlash against his behaviour at the performance has seen members of the Metal community, both artists and fans alike, turning their back on the guilty party; the most vocal of these has perhaps been Robb Flynn, frontman of Machine Head, whose early musical output was heavily influenced by Pantera, with his band spending much of their early years touring with Anselmo. The 10-minute tirade that Flynn uploaded to YouTube prompted a number of fans to respond with videos of their own, many airing their disappointment at Anselmo’s behaviour. Anselmo has since recorded his own video, sharing what seems to be an emotional apology to those who he has offended, acknowledging his mistake and placing some blame on alcohol – some have accepted it, others have not. Amongst those who have not accepted his apology are the band-bookers at FortaRock festival in the Netherlands who, following the recent events, have decided to cancel their booking of Phil’s current band Down. Whilst they are the only festival to take this action so far, one wouldn’t be surprised to see others following suit. Concerned about the Down brand and his colleagues’ images, Anselmo has therefore offered to step down from his role in the band.
But is this even the point? In an age where celebrities are idolised and looked up to, shouldn’t such a prominent figure in the community have known to set a better example? Whilst the Metal community does pride itself on its welcoming nature and inclusivity, it only takes a cursory glance at the racial demographic of both the performers and attendees at Download Festival each year to see that Metal is still a predominantly white community. And it is actions such as those undertaken by Phil Anselmo that strongly enforce the status quo, actions that undertaken either drunk or sober have no place in Metal, or indeed in the rest of society.