Brutal death metal bands often get accused of promoting misogyny and violence. I was thinking about this the other day while listening to Abusing Dismembered Beauties, the third and most recent album from Italian slammers Vulvectomy. Here I am, enjoying an album adorned with cover art that features a variety of gruesomely murdered/mutilated women and song titles such as “Deformed Tits Collection” and “Orgasmic Sensation Through Fecal Ingestion.” I guess at this point my fondness for slam and brutal death metal is no secret, but surely many fellow metalheads would call it in extremely poor taste, ignorant, hateful, misogynistic or some combination thereof.
This isn’t meant to come off as me saying “Hey! Look at me! Look at how EXTREME the shit I listen to is! I’m so BRUTAL you guys!” The intent is to consider whether or not these bands truly are delivering a hateful message as some have accused them of, and in all honesty, I don’t think they are. I also don’t think that I’m endorsing violence or misogyny in any way by listening to or writing about this music. Case in point: I recently interviewed the slam/brutal death metal band Colpolscopy via e-mail and asked them point blank if this music is misogynistic. They replied:
“We don’t think the people playing brutal death metal and the people in bands are misogynistic but the lyrics and scenarios definitely are pictures of violence, usually involving women. But, we are not sexist or misogynistic people, we love women, and females are common at our shows. As weird as this sounds, from a certain angle it is a result of the admiration we have for a woman. Females have responded well to our album art, and a lot of our female friends wear our t-shirt without any issue. As people we treat each other with respect. We, our friends, and people that listen to our music, look at it as brutal shit that nobody takes personally, because we’re all familiar with the style.”
Over at Teeth of the Divine, former Internal Bleeding vocalist Frank Rini posed a similar question to none other than Vulvectomy vocalist Diego Fanelli, who responded:
“Obviously we are not violent guys. We have normal lives etc. It’s pretty fun to see sometimes people who take too seriously this kind of stuff… anyway, if you read with attention our song titles, they are not all “against women”. There are many “against” men… but this is not the goal of the band… to be “against.” I only let the people know about some situation pathologies and I like to make them smile. And yes, we have intelligent girlfriends who know us well… so everything is OK with them.”
Sounds to me like these bands not only have no interest whatsoever in real life violence, but also respect their audience and possess a firm belief that they are rational, sane and mature enough to separate fantasy from reality. I previously noted that I’d voluntarily drop dead from a heart attack if I ever learned that exposure to National Socialist Black Metal inspired someone to be a racist piece of crap. The same holds true of brutal death metal and slam; I have a hard time believing that listening to it would ever make someone think it’s ok to be a misogynist or commit violent crimes against women. If someone ever were to become inspired in such a way, there is a 100% chance they were fucked up to begin with. Brutal death metal bands are presenting us with an imaginary world or scenario, much like those presented by the likes of Thomas Harris, Wes Craven or HR Giger, not an ideology or belief system.
In my eyes, listening to a band like Vulvectomy or Colpolscopy isn’t any different from watching a horror/slasher film. It’s pure fantasy; the guys in the band don’t murder and mutilate women in real life and I’m pretty sure that the actors behind the masks of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface don’t go around carving up nubile teens when they’re off set. I’ve always had a fascination with gore and horror, and listening to bands that incorporate this imagery is nothing more than an extension of that. It’s a place where two of my favorite things, heavy metal and horror, collide; two great tastes that taste great together. It doesn’t mean that I approve of anyone going out and actually committing such repulsive acts, and neither do the bands involved.
In many slasher films, it is the female lead that more often than not easily outsmarts the big, dumb, hulking male antagonist, who spends the bulk of the movie lumbering around like a total mouth breather. The male leads are typically clueless and meet untimely demises via acts of stupidity that bring them right into the path of the killer’s chainsaw. Yes, there are female victims along the way, but it is also a female that rises to the occasion (see: Ellen Ripley, Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson, Sidney Prescott, etc) and saves the day or at least her own skin, handily dispatching with the villain until the inevitable sequel. These are not damsels in distress waiting around to be preyed upon, these are women who find themselves in a terrifying situation and find the strength within themselves to survive against all odds. Surely this is the admiration for women that the members of Colpolscopy speak of.
With brutal death metal and slam, we’re getting a side of the traditional Hollywood slasher narrative that the films hardly ever delve into; what’s going on inside the killer’s head. In the films, we might witness a murder from the killer’s perspective, but we rarely get to know the killer’s thoughts and oftentimes they don’t even get so much as a single line of dialogue. We might get a brief glimpse of their back story through flashbacks or another character’s dialogue, but we never get it straight from the horse’s mouth. I don’t find anything offensive whatsoever about bands expressing themselves by adding this oft-missing puzzle piece to a narrative that’s at least as old as I am, if not older. Shifting the focus to the antagonist doesn’t devalue that narrative; if we’re talking pure fiction, doesn’t the killer have just as much right to have a voice as any other character?
An additional argument that’s often made is “this is extreme music, therefore the lyrical content should also be extreme.” While this is probably seen by many as the least compelling argument in favor of gory/violent lyrics, it does have some merit. Certainly, one can still be heavy and extreme without singing about acts of violence, but when the music itself is as violent, bludgeoning and primal in nature as slamming/brutal death metal often is, lyrical and visual imagery that deals with our most base instincts seems like an excellent fit. I can’t help but feel like something would be lost if these bands started incorporating lyrics about great moments in history or the plight of our environment, or if every album came in nothing but a discreet brown wrapper; it’d be like Leatherface wearing a garbage bag instead of a dead skin mask and chasing people around with a bouquet instead of a chainsaw. For many (myself included), a big part of the genre’s musical appeal is that it tickles the lizard brain, and lyrics and artwork to match make for the complete knuckle-dragging package.
Along similar lines, my wife has often posited that the use of such imagery is the metalhead equivalent of a bird puffing up its feathers to appear larger and more menacing to fend off potential predators, and the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Let’s face it, the vast majority of us aren’t exactly the biggest, baddest folks on the planet, so listening to music that stimulates the part of our brains that makes us want to wreck shit and features lyrics and imagery that would likely horrify 99.9% of the population might just make us feel a little less like the cream puffs that we most certainly are. This is probably a subconscious thing for most of us, but when one stops to think about it, there aren’t many other logical explanations for bands sitting around asking themselves “what’s the grossest/most offensive thing we can write a song about/slap on an album cover?”
All of this is to say that I truly believe that a band such as Vulvectomy’s visual and lyrical imagery is in no way harmful, it’s just another form of artistic expression through music, plain and simple, no better or worse than black metal’s over-the-top Satanism or power metal’s tales of dragons and wizards. Granted, it might not be the most mature or refined means of expressing oneself, but artistic expression is all it is, nothing more, nothing less; it certainly isn’t the hate-mongering music that so many make it out to be. Not liking slam/brutal death metal because you legitimately think the music sucks is one thing, but leveling judgement on an entire genre, the musicians involved and their fans simply because you don’t agree with the aesthetics is true ignorance.