When ‘The Simpsons’ Had to Apologize to All Heavy Metal Fans For Screwing Up

Published on:

As anyone who has been on the receiving end of a seasoned headbanger’s diatribe will tell you, it’s never a good idea for a civilian to dip their toes into the world of heavy metal and mess up when talking about sub-genres. 

It’s a lesson that the writers of The Simpsons learned the hard way. After calling Judas Priest ‘death metal’ on a 2014 episode, they unleashed a whirlwind of anger from devoted metalheads the world over. 

“I don’t care if you want to have fun at metal’s expense,” opined Michael Nelson at Stereogum, “but if you brazenly mix up black metal and death metal – and the essence of the joke hinges on getting that reference right – well, that’s just lazy writing and it deserves to be called out and mocked relentlessly. But that’s totally pardonable compared to calling Judas Priest a death metal band.”

Realizing the gravity of their error, The Simpsons did what any smart, self-aware show would do – they owned it and apologized in the most Simpsons-y way possible. 

In a tongue-in-cheek nod to their blunder, Bart was seen scrawling “Judas Priest is not ‘death metal'” across his usual blackboard spot during the opening of the next episode. 

This whole snafu started with a storyline surrounding Homer illegally downloading music, which led to a series of events including an anti-piracy FBI investigation, a mad dash for asylum in a Swedish consulate, and the FBI roping in the mislabeled “death metal” band, Judas Priest. The Metal Gods riffed a version of their hit “Breaking the Law”, rebranded to “Respecting the law: copyright law!”.

“There’s only one surefire way to get fugitives out of a foreign building,” reasons an overzealous FBI agent in the episode. “Blasting death metal.”

“Swedes love death metal,” counters a headbanging consulate member. “It reminds us of death!”

Frontman Rob Halford said that appearing on the animated TV program was “the biggest thrill” of his life and has commended the show’s producers for indirectly apologizing to the band.

In an interview with Seattle’s KISW radio station, Halford recalled: “They invited me to a read-through, so I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll come and hang out.’ So we’re in a room, and they invite a lot of guests, and the writers are down at the other end with their notepads and watching everybody that’s looking at the table. And then the producer goes, ‘Welcome, everybody, to the read-through. Blah blah blah blah blah. ‘The Simpsons’ is the longest-running, most successful animated TV series ever.’ He sets up the storyline, and he said, ‘We open up with Homer talking about so-and-so.’ And then Homer starts speaking, and Homer is about two feet to my left. And then Marge starts speaking, and then Bart starts speaking. It was, like, the most surreal thing ever, but the biggest thrill of my life, because I’ve been a ‘Simpsons’ fan since that show first kicked off.”

He went on: “It was very, very sweet. Some of the actors knew Priest and we shook hands and we took some pictures and so forth. That’s another thing… With Priest, we’re in that kind of… What’s that thing called? The Seven Degrees Of Kevin Bacon? That’s where we find ourselves now all of these years later. It seems like there’s this great kind of seven degrees going on everywhere where Priest has touched somebody…. That sounds bizarre [referring to the ‘priest touching somebody’ comment]… Priest has reached out musically and we brought everybody into the Priest family.”

“What was really cool about that was that we didn’t even think about the script side of the show,” reasoned the frontman. “And then, of course, when it was released, instantly, all of the fans were going on the Priest Facebook, [going], ‘What are they saying? Priest aren’t a death metal band. What are they talking about?’ And then, like two episodes later, we see Bart making up and kind of doing that thing at the blackboard. They didn’t need to do that. But that’s what I love about ‘The Simpsons’ people. They’re sooo protective of their brand and everything that’s associated with it that that was a really, really beautiful gesture on their part to throw that back at Priest. Because we treasure everything about Priest… so they needn’t have done that, but they did, and I though that was a really, really cool thing.”