Death Metal: Violent Sexism and Why Race Matters

(TW: Sexual Assault, Rape)

By now, everyone’s heard about the release of Kanye West’s most recent output, The Life of Pablo, and while many are divided on the quality of its musical content, there are also plenty of people who are, in a world that is increasingly aware, pointing out some of the blatant sexism that is, and has been, evident in Kanye West’s lyrical work.

In itself, this is not an issue. It says a lot that more and more people are getting fed up with the way women are portrayed and defamed in these songs. It’s a good thing. However, the issue arises when people continue to criticize black artists, mostly in Hip-Hop, about the sexism in their lyrics, while failing to criticize or even acknowledge the even more rampant and dangerous misogyny in other genres which, as a matter of fact, are primarily white. I’m referring, in particular, to varieties of Death Metal music, namely Grindcore and Brutal Death Metal, as well as related genres.

Over and over again, articles and posts on social media criticizing black artists for sexism surface online, while for Metal music, these occurrences are far more rare. This phenomenon continues to occur despite the fact that many Metal artists (particularly those writing in the various Death Metal idioms) write lyrics that are explicitly and shamelessly violent toward women. While it’s not okay when Snoop Dogg refers to women as objective “bitches and hoes,” he, at least, never spins a yarn about raping, torturing, and violently mutilating them.

These lyrics themselves contribute immensely to a culture of sexual violence that has persisted for centuries, and will continue to persist so long as it is not being called out by listeners of this music. While I may love Death Metal, particularly for its musical merits, I believe that listeners have a more pressing responsibility to the women in this country who are victims of a toxic culture than they do to the musicians who continue to poison society with artistic glorification of violent sexual assault and male-dominated rape fantasies (a la bands such as Cemetery Rapist and Devourment). As Jill Mikkelson stated in her recent op-ed for Noisey, it’s time to stop making excuses for a genre that contributes so much to violence against women.

And furthermore, the (rightful) acknowledgment of misogyny in Hip-Hop, without the recognition of sexism in Metal, only helps to create racial divides as well as sexual ones. It places a stigma on a genre that is largely comprised of black artists, while absolving a genre that is largely white. It paints a picture of black musicians as being low, base sex fiends, a view that stems all the way back to slavery, and is invigorated in films such as Birth of a Nation. While it is certain – or at least, I’m hopeful – that readers of this article do not align themselves with these harmful, racist views, many will carry them, to some degree, unintentionally. Such is the result of centuries of institutionalized and systematic racism, and it should be the goal of every decent human being to dismantle these views, step back, and realize the truth about what has been going on.

The issue is not really about which genre is more violent, or which is more sexist. Rather, the fact that one is given more negative attention than the other, when both are doing serious harm. If listeners criticize one and not the other, then they are only fighting half the battle, and are doing a serious disservice to the progress made, both in regards to race relations and gender equality.

-Andrew Oliver