How a Political Metal Band Became The Biggest Stadium Emo Group In The World

Via Racetraitor / Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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For better or worse, we are all constantly changing. The things that we were into as children don’t entirely reflect the adults we become. Getting older means developing and making certain concessions as a means of survival. Cherished ideals are abandoned. Lifestyles become hobbies. Nobody ever thinks it’s gonna happen to them until it does, but by that point it’s too late. A lucky few are fortunate and savvy enough to find themselves in positions where they can evolve without having to compromise their integrity. 

The uninitiated might not realize that emo-pop superstars Fall Out Boy come from the worlds of metal and hardcore. As saccharin as they might sound, if you step back you’ll notice the drop d tuning, palm muting, and hints of potentially combustible breakdowns. The fact that an emo band has roots in extreme music shouldn’t be surprising. What’s of interest here is just how intense those bands were.

Andy Hurley has been enamored with metal ever since his sister bought him Metallica‘s Ride The Lightning at the age of four. He cut his teeth playing drums in punk bands in the greater Milwaukee region. As his skills as a percussionist developed, Andy joined vegan metalcore band KILLTHESLAVEMASTER in 1996 along with friend and guitarist Karl Hlavinka, who also played drums for Chicago grindcore/powerviolence band Racetraitor.

From the moment of their inception, Racetraitor courted controversy. Although the hardcore and metal scenes were largely homogenous groups of white dudes, the unintentional exclusionary nature of these communities allowed most people to act as if they existed in a post-racist society. Born to a family of Iranian immigrants, Racetraitor vocalist Mani Mostofi was inherently aware that confronting institutional racism was a far greater task than simply disliking Nazis. Virulent between-song banter at their shows attacked the insidious nature of white supremacy and white privilege, not mincing words when referring to the audience as “crackers.” The interrogation of power structures did not sit well with armchair liberals, who absurdly considered the band to be “reverse-racists.”

In 1997, Hlavinka recruited Andy Hurley to play drums for Racetraitor so he could play guitar. Hurley’s technical prowess benefited the band exponentially, who began to shift their style from frantic powerviolence to a more studied type of death metal. The stylistic change opened doors for Racetraitor, who began to tour nationally and released their debut album Burn The Idol Of The White Messiah in 1998. After their bass player Brent Decker left the band, a rotating cast of friends would temporarily step in to fill the role, including former First Born member Pete Wentz. 

Concurrent to the end of the band, Hurley, Wentz, and Racetraitor guitarist Daniel Binaei started a metalcore group called Arma Angelus. Although less caustic than Racetraitor, Arma Angelus were nonetheless overtly political, saying in a statement upon their breakup “the goal of Arma Angelus was to express and stimulate discourse within the punk and hardcore community and to express our distaste for apathy and uncaring, which we felt had become ideals with in the community.” The lineup of the band at their last show featured Wentz on vocals, drummer Patrick Sump, and guitarist Joe Trohman. Although Arma Angelus was done, Wentz, Trohman, and Sump, and former drummer Hurley continued along with their pop-punk side project, Fall Out Boy.

While Racetraitor’s politics were once considered extreme, the past decade’s social unrest and spirit of activism have created a receptive audience. Upon the band reforming in 2016, Hurley said: “We had discussed playing a show or doing something else over the years, but nostalgia was never all that motivating, so the idea died,” Hurley explained. “But with everything happening in the past couple of years, from the way things heated up in Ferguson, Missouri, to the rise in xenophobia and bigotry reflected by the popularity of Donald Trump, making new music with Racetraitor felt important again.”

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