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.