2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year, that’s not up for debate – ask anyone. It seems every couple weeks, something new and terrible comes up to compound everything that inevitably, certain other news falls through the cracks. One such thing that seems to have slipped through the cracks is a growing trend of, for lack of a better term, callout culture. It’s more or less an extension of the Me Too movement, which not only shares survivor’s experiences but also tends to warn others about abusers, with different sources popping up such as the now defunct Victims Voices Canada and Victims Voices Regina Instagram accounts. Inevitably, this type of trend has also led to the outing of shitty behaviour of musicians such as Issues frontman Tyler Carter or Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon or Holy Roar Records founder Alex Fitzpatrick. When artists are accused or found guilty of this type of thing, especially artists whose work you enjoy, the question inevitably becomes “Where do you draw the line?”
The answer to that question is a personal one for each listener and sometimes it isn’t always black and white. For example, I was becoming fond of two rather similar bands who had members accused of impropriety: Gaza and Young and In The Way. My opinion of the bands shifted greatly when the news broke but not as much as their response. Although the accused member of Gaza denied any wrongdoing, the rest of the band severed ties from him, called it quits, and rebuilt themselves as Cult Leader. While Young and In The Way more or less said “This is untrue, but you should believe victims. We can’t prove our innocence so we won’t even try. We quit.” The stark difference in response is why I simply cannot bring myself to listen to Young and In The Way but will still occasionally spin some Gaza (but not as much as Cult Leader).
Of course, sexual assault isn’t the only way you can be a shitty person, so let’s take a moment to talk about black metal, shall we?
The state of black metal is the elephant in the room of extreme metal. Everyone who knows metal knows who Burzum is as some of his shirt designs are so commonly seen that you’d swear they were sold between The Misfits crimson ghost and classic Ramones seal designs at Hot Topic. However, Varg Vikernes, the sole member of Burzum, is a man who spent 15 years in jail for burning churches and murdering Euronymous of Mayhem. The peculiar story with Burzum is that it seems not many people took issue with supporting the art of an imprisoned murderer, but for some, the line occurred after he was released from prison and his far-right, racist views came to light. I’m not sure how a line is drawn between the belief in equal rights for another’s life versus the literal right to life, but to each their own. However, Burzum isn’t the only black metal artist guilty of anti-semitic, anti-muslim, xenophobic, or white nationalist views, however I’m not going to name any names because 1) I do not want to provide any form of promotion for known racist groups and 2) I do not want to wrongly accuse any suspected racist groups and open our beloved Lizard Queen to a lawsuit. I know many people in the promotions industry who have to vet out virtually every black metal band that approaches them to ensure they recognize the character of those they chose to work with. Yet, this genre still has many fans.
This entire debate has no set answer and that line is always shifting from person to person and situation to situation. I’m sure many people would question the character of fans of groups like AxCx, Thirsting for Men, or KillWhitneyDead because of the shocking lyrical content around racist, homophobic, sexist, and misogynistic views, yet these are groups where I can separate the art from the artist and just sit back and enjoy them for what I feel to be just stupid fun. In the same sense that bands like Cannibal Corpse and Mortician don’t actually condone murder, it’s part of their schtick and not intended to be taken seriously. At least, I hope that’s the case…it was hard to tell with Seth Putnam from AxCx.
(Seth Putnam. Trust me, you do not want to find the bottom half of this picture)
In the end, every listener has to choose their own boundaries between the actions of the artist and their support for the art. Personally, I prefer not to promote or pay for any artist that has been proven in their wrongdoing but depending on their reaction and response to what they did can influence my choice to continue listening to them. That’s my line. But my question still stands to everyone else reading this rant: where do you draw the line? (I’m not telling you, I’m asking you….to quote Jello Biafra).
Written by Ted Berger
*Edited by Dominic Abate