Heavy metal is a convenient boogeyman.
Transgressive in aesthetics and sound, the words espoused by these bands and the characters that a few select musicians portray make for easy targets to pin all of the ills of society on. It is a style that looks dangerous and with lyrics that talk about danger, so the people behind the music have to be dangerous themselves, right?
Metal isn’t just an easy scapegoat for religion, the mainstream media, and polite society at large, though. In actuality, metal is often put on trial by the fans themselves. For instance, James Vance blamed Judas Priest for his suicide attempt.
The murderers of Elyse Pahler were happy to shift the blame for their deeds onto Slayer. It is quite literally the pathetic “the devil made me do it” argument. The exploits of the second-wave black metal scene in Norway are so well documented that even the most pedestrian metalhead is aware of Euronymous and Varg.
In 2005, BBC2 aired an hour-long documentary about the connection (or lack thereof) between extreme music and crime as part of their This World series. The episode was called “This World: Death Metal Murders” and it features some of the most in-depth reporting on the subject. The program features a who’s who of the death and black metal scenes, from Deicide’s Glen Benton to Necrobutcher of Mayhem. BBC2’s official press release from the time is as follows (via blabbermouth):
“Of the young heavy metal fans in this picture, three are now dead; four are on trial charged with murder; one is serving 19 years; two more of their friends are serving long prison sentences. They were called the Beasts of Satan and their story has gripped Italy for more than a year.
With unique access to them and their families, as well as graphic police footage, ‘This World’ asks — how much did their addiction to satanic death metal music influence their descent into torture, sacrifices and murder? The film also travels around the world, from Milan to Oslo to California, investigating the bizarre underground scene that is extreme metal music. We interview the extraordinary musicians — from Glen Benton of Deicide (who has an upside-down cross branded into his forehead) and Necrobutcher of Norwegian black metal band Mayhem, to a Capuchin monk who struts the stage of a metal festival in Northern Italy roaring out heavy metal songs, to self-confessed Swedish Satanists Dissection.
“‘Bleeding on your knees/ My satisfaction is what I need/ The urge to take my fist/ And violate every orifice/ You’re nothing/ Beaten into submission/ Raping again and again.’ These are the lyrics of ‘Sex. Murder. Art.’ — a 1995 track by American band SLAYER, who have sold millions of albums around the world.
They and other death metal bands sing about rape, torture, necrophilia, murder and Satanism. Over the years, this type of music has been blamed for driving teenage boys to murder and suicide. The parents of Elyse Marie Pahler took SLAYER to a California court in a failed attempt to ban the sale of this kind of music to children, after their daughter was murdered by Slayer fans obsessed with Satanism.
“‘No-one can contradict me when I say that heavy metal and satanism are closely linked. They go hand in hand, they’re inseparable. I say this without the shadow of a doubt,” says Michele Tollis, father of Fabio, who was murdered in a Satanic ritual by the Beasts of Satan sect in Italy. Michele has become something of an expert in the genre, having attended more than 80 heavy metal concerts during a six-year search for his son which culminated in the discovery of the body last year.
“Not surprisingly, death metal musicians deny that they have any responsibility for the actions of people who profess to be their fans. “I say don’t blame people like me, and [Marilyn] Manson, because we never said, ‘Hey, we’re going to be role models for all your kids.’ That ain’t what this is about. It’s about entertainment,’ says Glen Benton of Florida death metal pioneers DEICIDE — who were the favourite band of the Beasts of Satan.
“And indeed there is little evidence to suggest that normal, well-adjusted kids can be driven to murder by music. And yet the concerns persist. According to Don Roberts of Stanford University, it is not the majority of kids we should be worrying about.
It’s the kids who already have problems with violence or depression who perhaps should be kept away from death metal. ‘What the music may well be doing is simply reinforcing beliefs that they might have started with in the first place, and building on them and justifying their world view, legitimizing the way they feel. The lyrics are violent, they lyrics are misogynist, the lyrics are depressed and depressing, the lyrics are satanic, they talk about suicide, they talk about self-mutilisation. The very kinds of things we’re worried that these problem kids will get engaged in.’
“This appears to be born out by the experience in Norway. In the 1990s, more than 40 churches were burnt down by followers of Norwegian black metal (a fusion of Satanism, Norse Paganism and noise). State Prosecutor Bjorn Soknes interviewed many of the arsonists and found they had a lot in common. ‘They were young, 16 to 22, they were lonely people. Many of them told us they were listening over hours to black metal music before they burnt churches.’ Yet the hysteria that the church burnings produced — it is still something of a national obsession in Norway — has only served to spread the gospel of black metal around the world. Bands like Britain’s Cradle of Filth sell hundreds of thousand of albums.
“Necrobutcher is bass player of the most famous black metal band of all — MAYHEM. He acknowledges that the huge controversy surrounding the band has only fuelled the cult of black metal: ‘The people we scared are scared and the people who understood the joke are still there, and just smiling about the whole thing. It’s not totally a joke, of course. It’s something that the government couldn’t control, you know? They tried to keep us down, and by doing that, what happened? Cult fucking legends.”
“So what should you do when your kids come home wearing upside down crosses and pentagrams? The mother of a 13-year-old extreme metal fan in Norway thinks all you can do is engage with them. ‘You have to go along with them I think. I think it is very important not to just deny it or say that you’re not supposed to do that and this, but to find out what it is, what he is thinking and why is he fascinated. What is it with this music?’
“And Mario Maccione, convicted in Italy of murdering his friends in a Satanic ritual? ‘You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who have done what we have done. Of the millions of people who listen to metal music, no-one, I repeat no-one has ever been involved in anything like this. In fact many more people have done things like this who do not listen to metal at all.”
Watch the documentary below: