Heavy Metal Terror

Friday, November 13, 2015, marked yet another day of tragedy as Islamic extremists from the self-proclaimed Islamic State used AK-47s and suicide bombs in a series of coordinated attacks on Paris, France.  Six sites were hit throughout the city, with the worst being the Bataclan Theater, where the capacity crowd of 1500 were held hostage and 89 people were killed during a concert by the California band Eagles of Death Metal.

Contrary to the band’s name, Eagles of Death Metal are not a death metal band.  In fact, they are not even classified as heavy metal.  But that does not mean that the heavy metal world has not reacted to the band’s loss, to the Paris attacks, or to terrorism, in general.

Rock & roll has been vilified as marking the downfall of civilization since before the term was coined by Cleveland DJ Alan Freed in 1951.  It’s lyrics, driving beats, and decibel levels seemingly make people lose all control over mind and body; it’s listeners seen as rebellious, insurrectious youths–and worse.  And rock’s evolution into hard rock, heavy metal, and its many sub-genres is certainly no exception.  However, the people who listen to, and perform, heavy metal music have the same hopes, concerns, fears, and joys as anyone else.  And when it come to terrorism they react in a variety of ways, just like anyone else.

Immediately following the Paris attacks, many in the hard rock and heavy metal world did what many others throughout the world did–took to Twitter to voice their concerns.  The Australian band AC/DC tweeted “We mourn this tragic loss of life and stand with the world to salute your joie de vivre. Paix.”, Slipknot singer, Corey Taylor, sent “love and thoughts to the French people” and expressed the hope that “justice is done for those who died & those who were hurt”, and Anthrax guitarist, Scott Ian, simply told everyone to “Kiss your kids, hug your partner and hope somebody somewhere has a plan.”  Others expressed anger, calling the attacks “sick”, “cowardly”, and “appalling”.  And others, still, noted that they, too, take the stage every night, and an attack like this reminds them of their vulnerability–and hoped the band and their crew in Paris were safe.  Of course, we later discovered they were not, as news of Eagles of Death Metal merchandise salesman, Nick Alexander’s death was later confirmed.  Eagles of Death Metal eventually made their own statement, expressing their grief, thanking authorities, and reminding the world that “love overshadows evil”.

Heavy metal bands were similarly affected by the tragic attacks of 9/11, which are reflected in their songs and in their actions.  Like what they have to say, or not–heavy metal artists are rarely at a loss for words.  Perhaps one of the most profound reactions to that event came from the American power-metal band, Iced Earth, and its singer, Matt Barlow.  Following the Sept. 2001 attacks, Barlow took stock of his life and left the successful band the following year to get a criminal justice degree and became a Georgetown, Delaware police officer, before eventually returning to the heavy metal stage in 2007.  With a new frontman, the band released its 2004 world history-themed CD, The Glorious Burden, which featured songs such as the US National Anthem, “When the Eagle Cries“, and “The Reckoning”, which warns our enemies that “justice shall be done, nowhere to run.”

As authorities investigated and arrested suspects in the days following the Paris attacks, many heavy metal bands currently touring throughout Europe practiced the entertainer’s mantra of “the show must go on”.  And as investigations turned up more planned attacks against European targets, and ISIS statement claiming the attacks marked the Bataclan concert-goers as “apostates“, and warned of future attacks, several shows did, indeed, go on.  Some shows, however, did not.  Heavy metal acts, such as Motorhead, Marilyn Manson, and Papa Roach, canceled Paris shows that had been scheduled for days after the attacks.  Similarly, other bands, such as Five Finger Death Punch, cancelled shows scheduled for others cities in France.

But as the days moved forward and touring bands moved on to their next gigs, some resurgence of relative normalcy did happen.  Motorhead moved on to Germany, playing shows throughout the country. In Dusseldorf, the band’s classic song, “Bomber”, seemed to have a new and special resonance with the crowd, as air raid sirens preceded lines like “we shoot to kill, and you know we always will. It’s a bomber, it’s a bomber!” as a metal-framed bomber adorned with pulsating lights and a French flag “flew” above the stage.

However, at least one other heavy metal band felt compelled to completely cancel the remainder of its European tour.  The American band, Lamb of God played shows in Ireland and Germany in the days following the Paris attacks.  But on Nov. 18, citing security concerns that have yet to be made specific, the band and its touring guest, Children of Bodom, canceled its Tillburg, Holland show just moments before the doors were set to open.  Reaction from the band’s usually-loyal following has been mixed, with some showing support for the band’s decision, while others expressing sentiments, such as “the terrorists have won”.  In an official statement from the band’s singer, Randy Blythe, his immediate reaction to the threat was that he did not wish to put anyone, including the band or the fans in harms way, which was succinctly stated as “fuck this, I am done here“, and that the band did not wish to play “terror alert hopscotch through Europe right now just to play a few heavy metal concerts”.  He says he hopes people will understand–but, in typical heavy metal fashion, exclaims that he doesn’t much care if they don’t.

Heavy metal songwriters tend to pen lyrics that reflect the darkness that society encounters, so time will tell if the Paris attacks of Friday the 13th will leave a lasting impression upon the heavy metal world, as the New York City attacks of 9/11 did.  On the more mellowed side of rock, UK fans of Eagles of Death Metal launched a campaign to send the band’s Duran, Duran cover of “Save a Prayer” to the top of the charts, with the original artists vowing that any proceeds it gets from the cover will be donated to charity.  As each individual in our chaotic world tries to move on from these latest atrocities, the idea of saving a prayer for those not alive to move on seems an appropriate response for now.


Movie Review: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Say what you want about the guy’s religion or politics, but there is no denying that when it comes to physical abilities, Tom Cruise is a friggen badass.  Cruise showcases those abilities in his latest film, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.  In this 5th installment of the Mission: Impossible movie series, the 53-year-old actor performs many of his own stunts, which is no small feat in this action-packed thriller that involves car and motorcycle chases through the streets and countryside of Casablanca, foot chases through the streets of London, and edge-of-your-seat gun and knife fights.

Tom Cruise (“Top Gun”, “A Few Good Men”) plays agent Ethan Hunt of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF)–an independent spy agency that specializes in deception and security infiltration.  In Rouge Nation, the IMF, headed by William Brandt (Jeremy Renner – “Hurt Locker”, “American Hustle”),  is defunded and its members, including Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg – “Shaun of the Dead”, “Ice Age” ) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames – “Pulp Fiction”, “Con Air”) are absorbed into the CIA, headed by Alan Hundly (Alec Baldwin – “The Departed”, “Hunt for Red October”).  That is–all its agents except Ethan Hunt.  With the IMF now out of the way, a group known as “The Syndicate” emerges, led by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris – “Prometheus”, “’71”) and aided by ex-MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson – “Hercules”), and sets its sights on Hunt.  Hunt and his former-IMF friends must now track “The Syndicate”, a group not formally recognized to even exist, while also dodging the CIA, which is now trying to kill him.

Faust’s motivations and loyalties are questionable throughout the film, leaving the viewer–and Ethan Hunt–wondering just whose side she’s on.  Those questions are compounded when British Intelligence enters the picture after the discovery of a cherished USB drive containing valuable information is revealed.  A drive that only the British Prime Minister can access and that Lane and “The Syndicate” desperately want.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is jam-packed with enough twists and turns to keep viewer interest, but without so many that they become cliche and boring.  The interaction between Hunt and Faust is not muddied up as a love interest, but as one of adversarial (or is it partnership?) respect.  This is a definite popcorn movie, and you might even want to have a beer or two handy, because it’s a fun ride.  And as you watch scenes involving wing walking and underwater action, it’s important to remember that’s a 53-year-old mega-star putting his life on the line to make a roll believable.  That–my friends–is a friggen badass.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation hit the big screen in August, so chances are you won’t find many theaters still showing it.  However, it’s Blue Ray/DVD release date is set for Dec. 15, so you won’t have long to wait to get your hands on this action-adventure-thriller.  Don’t expect a cinematic masterpiece, but buckle up for a fun ride.  And get ready for more, because a 6th installment is already in the works.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it–see this movie.

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Movie Review: Black Mass

I genuinely love organized crime stories.  The politics and maneuvering with entities outside of the organization–and within the organization, the planning and forethought that goes in to any long-term organized venture, and, of course, the merciless violence of a good ol’ fashioned mob war.  Whether it is actual history or fiction, books or film, I just love the genre.  So when I saw the trailer for the film Black Mass so many months ago–and what an incredible trailer it is–I immediately added the title to my “must-watch” list.

Based on a true story, the film stars Johnny Depp as the infamous mobster and fugitive, James “Whitey” Bulger, Joel Edgerton (“Exodus: Gods and Kings”, “Warrior”) as FBI agent, John Connelly, and Benedict Cumberpatch (“The Imitation Game”, “War Horse”) as Massachusetts state senator, Billy Bulger.  It takes place on the streets of South Boston, between 1975 and 1985, ten years after now-notorious “Whitey” Bulger is released from federal prison for armed robbery and truck hijacking as part of the Winter Hill Gang.  In the film, Italian mobsters from North Boston are trying to expand into Bulger’s territory, so “Whitey” devises a plan to become an FBI informant and use the feds to, in his words, “fight our war for us”.  From that point on, the film is largely focused the relationship between “Whitey”, his politician brother, Billy, and agent John Connelly–and the ways those relationships affect their individual interpersonal relationships with others.

Johnny Depp gives a stellar performance in this film, and I am no big fan of Johnny Depp.  Probably due, in no small part, to the makeup, hair, and wardrobe department, I honestly found myself at times forgetting I was watching Johnny Depp.  It probably also helps that I don’t really have any idea what a South Boston accent sounds like, but it sure sounded good to me.  I would not be at all surprised if Depp gets a major award nomination for his work on this one.  And I think it will be well-deserved.


Unfortunately, the acting and makeup are the high points of the film.  With a setting time period that extends 10 years, the movie does not have enough time to properly develop the intricacies of what I enjoy from the organized crime genre.  The war between the Winter Hill Gang and the Italians is portrayed more as character development than as something important to the plot, the consolidation of power over the South Boston rackets and World Jai Alai is almost an afterthought, and the violence is gratuitous, with many of Bulger’s murders seemingly meaningless to the greater story.  This just was not the type of mob movie I was hoping for.

Ultimately, my disappointment with Black Mass is based on my preconceived high hopes for what I thought it could have been.  It is still worth watching, if only for the marvelous acting, but I would advise saving the price for theater admission and popcorn and waiting for the DVD.  This certainly isn’t the type of film that demands a big screen, but you’ll definitely want to wait until the kids are asleep.