There’s a story—almost a legend—that was passed around among metal fans in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Death metal band, Cannibal Corpse had released an album called Tomb of the Mutilated and there was a song on it that caused a female executive at Roadrunner Records UK to flat out refuse to work with it/them. The song was called “Entrails Ripped From a Virgin’s Cunt”. Not, as you might imagine, a ballad.
So here’s the thing with teenage metal and horror fans: When they hear a story like that, about a song from a band with a name like that, it makes them want to hunt it down. It’s like when certain horror movies were banned for being explicitly violent and vividly shocking. We searched for those bad boys like Sherlock Holmes in his prime.
Because fiction is fiction, right? Some people defend these lyrics and those movies by saying that it’s just fantasy, but it’s not even that. The fans are generally not “fantasizing” about these actions, about being able to get away with them without fear of punishment. Rather, many of us (this writer included) enjoy art which pushes the boundaries, which runs and jumps at the line of good taste with unparalleled vigor.
All of which is perfectly fine, but there is an issue with death metal and it requires many of us fans to take another look at those Cannibal Corpse lyrics. Here’s a sample from that aforementioned “Entrails Ripped…” ditty.
FAIR WARNING, don’t read on if you’re easily shocked:
“Mutilated with a machete
I fucked her dead body
The first and last
Your life’s only romance
My knife’s jammed in your ass
As you die you orgasm.”
See what we mean? It’s worth noting that, if you listen to the song, you can barely make out the words that “singer” Chris Barnes is growling; some people call it “Cookie Monster metal” because the words are genuinely indecipherable. Children can listen to it, because there’s no way of knowing that the “Grrroooaaagghhh Bwahhh Ooooaagggh” noise translates to what you see above. But still, that is what they are saying and playing. Lyric sheets allow fans to join in.
Now, again, this writer’s general stance is that there should be no boundaries in fiction and art. The issue with that song, and much that came after it, isn’t with the graphic violence and hardcore gore. It’s that the fictionalized violence is against women and that became a worrying trend.
Some metal fans will scoff and say that this is yet another attack on men by the “libtard” left. They’ll cry about protecting what is special to them, what makes metal great — that disregard for political correctness, etc.
But it has to be cause for concern when the lyrics of music with fans so heavily weighted towards men wallows so gleefully in rape and murder themes about women. Jill Mikkelson, in a piece for Vice called “It’s Time to Stop Making Excuses for Extreme Metal’s Violent Misogynist Fantasies”, correctly said that we would be less accepting if a white band, listened to almost exclusively by white people, were singing graphically about lynchings. In fact, every time a metal band throws out some lyrics that could be interpreted as racist, we justifiably dig into them, question the band’s motives, and ask them for an explanation. Why are lyrics detailing violence against women different?
“I don’t think anyone listening to Devourment is necessarily an outright menace, but I’ve realized it’s not that simple, either,” Mikkelson wrote. “Lyrics like this are reflective of a sexist society; they help to preserve a patriarchal power structure, maintain the status quo of women as disposable sex objects, and it’s very likely that they’re insidiously affecting men’s attitudes towards women, both in the context of metal and outside of it.”
The good news is, there are bands out there attempting to change things for the better. Death metal bands which retain the level of intensity, but manage to do it minus the misogyny. In the UK, Kerrang! Magazine’sBradley Zorgdrager wrote a piece called “How Brutal Death Metal is Confronting its Misogyny Problem”, highlighting bands such as UK death metallers Venom Prison.
“Bands who have had misogynistic lyrics in the past — you’ve got to give them the credit of growing up and reflecting on what they used to talk and sing about,” said Larissa Stupar, vocalist with that band. “Most of them are fathers themselves, and they’re married, and they’ve grown up. They know that it was fucked up.”
One of those bands that are “growing up” are Texas group Devourment — ironically, one of the bands that Mikkelson highlighted as problematic in her Vice piece. Ruben Rosas is the singer, and he acknowledged that they had to switch things. For the most part, the lyrics on the most recent album, Obscene Majesty, don’t mention gender at all. But as Zorgdrager points out, when they do on the song “Truculent Antipathy”, the violent roles are switched and it sees the victim of an attempted rape take her bloody revenge.
“The song is really about [the fact that] women are just as fucking insane as men are, given certain circumstances,” Rosas told Zorgdrager. “If you read the lyrics, you’ll see in the end that the woman in the story was molested and abused as a child, and became this fucking psycho.”
In fact, the members of Devourment admitted to Kerrang! that it was Mikkelson’s 2016 Vice article which made them think harder about the sort of lyrics they were putting out into the public.
“It did kind of hold up a magnifying glass to that,” Devourment’s Chris Andrews told Zorgdrager. “The fact of the matter is we don’t really believe in these ideas or fetishize them or anything…If you’re getting called out for it, you’re obviously not writing a shocking horror movie here, you’re just pushing this misogyny button over and over again. Why are you doing that?”
That’s the big point here. Because if murder and rape-based lyrics are expected, they’re no longer shocking. Instead, as Mikkelson points out, it would be more shocking to go the super-feminist route.
Either way, the fact that bands such as Devourment are thinking hard about what they’re doing can only be a good thing.