Quite contrary to that paralyzing idleness most of us are afflicted by in the fields of politics and economy, humankind appears wide awake when talk turns towards issues of race. Unable to accept that the only label we all need to give ourselves reads ‘human being’, a sadly large number of the globe’s inhabitants obviously perceives differences and gaps too broad to overcome between themselves and ‘the Other’. Upon hearing the term racism most of us tend to think immediately of the centuries-old struggle of white-against-black, but these conflicts are only the famous iceberg’s tip. Even in the world of the 21st century minorities are persecuted, racist humour enjoys a generous if secret popularity, in comparably wealthy countries refugees are shamefully deserted, and the Turkish government refuses to grant the Armenians the favour of naming the 1915 mass killings of their ancestors genocide. Metal music, topical heavyweight since the 1970s, has been less afraid of calling a spade a spade than many a political party. Social injustice, abuse and racism, far from being hushed up or dressed in euphemistic metaphors, have inspired various Metallic lyrics since the 1980s.
In 1992, the American Groove Metal band Pantera – well-known for their blunt outspokenness and metaphorical listener confusion – artfully criticised the handling of racial issues in the United States of America. “No Good (Attack the Radical)” (from “Vulgar Display of Power”, 1992) carries a greater message than hinted at in the title. The musicians break the States’ racial problem down to these lines:
Race, pride, prejudice
Black man, white man
Live in the past
We make it last
A hated mass
Drawing ever on past experiences and shutting their eyes to an internationalised world, Pantera’s home country turns into “this land of fools”. Considering the state our world is currently in finding proof that Anselmo had a point already back in the nineties is not hard; we are still miles away from having adapted to and accepted the need to live with this far from new, globalised situation.
Colour of skin colour and eye shape are not the only ignition spark for racial quarrel, though. While in many parts of the world communities have already started to overcome skin colour prejudice, a seemingly insurmountable mistrust between religious and cultural (sub-) groups persists. Take as an example the Sinti or Romani, a dispersed people of Northern Indian origin, scattered over the whole of Europe and various other countries. The term traditionally attached to them is ‘Gypsies’, politically correct or not, and similar to the Jews countless Romani died during the Nazi regime’s genocide of the Second World War. Today, the Romani are characterised a diaspora, forever foreign in whichever country they choose to live.
Zoltán “Zoli” Farkas, frontman of the Hungarian Groove Metal band Ektomorf, was born a Romani. The band was founded in 1994, yet three records and long years of excessive touring passed by until Ektomorf signed with Nuclear Blast and went international with “I scream up to the Sky” (2002). It is claimed that the band took so long to become internationally famous simply because of racial prejudice. In any case Farkas struggles with his cultural belonging, and he probably would not do so if the world had accepted him easily. “Gypsy” (from “Destroy”, 2004) reveals his anger at those who pulled faces at him when he was a child, those people who tried to break him and who “where never honest”, even when they were supposed to be his friends. Standing on stage today with a band that tours the world, Farkas declares: “Now I am a man. I don’t deny myself. No, I don’t feel shame. It’s me, Gypsy.”
And sure enough, in the course of nine albums the singer must have somehow come to terms with his past: Romani music is beautifully woven into many of Ektomorf’s harsh metal blasts. Their most various album, according to my personal judgement, is “Outcast” (2007), including instruments exotic to the dulled ear. Try “Ambush in the Night”, “Red I”, “Who can I trust?”, or “Chamunda”.
There are few fine German language Metal bands. One of them, however, sports a frontman who uses four different languages within one record: Austrian Metal band Artas unites German, English, French and Spanish lyrics. Founded in 2006, the band won the Metalchamp Competition of the Viennese Metalcamp Festival, and since then delighted their newly won audience with two records of groundshaking force and astounding lyrical quality. Against their generation’s racism Artas have created the ultimate remedy: the song “Rassenhass” features their 2011 record “Riotology” and speaks frankly of the human forgetfulness regarding former disasters of racial prosecution:
(my translation in brackets, errors possible)
Die missbrauchte Wissenschaft (Abused sciences)
Diente Satansplan (served satanic plans)
Das Bewerten von Rassen ist inhuman (rating races is inhumane)
Medizin gibt kein Recht, wer ist gut und wer ist schlecht (medicine doesn’t give the right to say who is good and who is bad)
Falsche Expertisen, ja, Verbrechen wurden nachgewiesen (wrong expertises, crimes were proved)
Die Anleitung zum Massenmord (instructions for mass murder)
Viele wurden auch vertrieben (many have been exiled)
Ramadan und Chanukka (ramadan and chanukka)
Zigeuner und ein Schwulenpaar (Gypsies and a gay couple)
Tief in den Köpfen steckt Wut (deep in the heads there is fury)
Sie alle folgen blind dem Rassenwahn. (they all follow blindly the racial delusion)
Artas argue that any one of us carries all colours of this world inside them, yet if we ignore this truth we can but become fascist. They conclude: “Weil die Masse Rassen hasst, hasst du sie auch und weil du hasst, ist Liebe stets für dich verloren. Zum Rassenhassen auserkoren.“ (Because the masses hate the races, you hate them as well, and since you hate love for you is forever lost. Made for hating races.) There is more to the problem than race, however. The musicians include further categories of (perceived) minorities who have to endure taunt and abuse, such as homosexuals, Jews, and Gypsies.
Heavy Metal pleads for tolerance perhaps because its musicians tend to have more experience in being regarded with distrust, animosity and incomprehension than fellow musicians playing other genres. It is the immense variety of different people we find in the world that can be distressing, since it is probable that we do not understand the way ‘the Other’ behaves, is educated and socialised. Differences frighten us because we cannot comprehend their sources, but if we lived without this variety, Phil Anselmo predicts, the following would happen:
If one man
Had one home
In one world
Held live alone without variety
Full of anxiety
No one to point at, question
Or even talk to — in his private grave
No matter what color
He wouldn’t be saved from hell
A closed mind playing the part of prison cells
(“No Good (Attack the Radical)”)
Colours don’t matter.