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Culture, Music

Keep it Metal

by Kavish Chetty, images by Carla Danielle / 10.05.2010

Longhairs are like wolves. They prowl about, and stare with vicious saucer-eyes. They are decked out in full, heavy metal regalia, each article of clothing is a rosette; a lapel pin, a badge of honour to demonstrate that they are worthy: metal-worthy.

A few choice phrases were hanging off the brim of my consciousness when I walked into War at the Warehouse. They’re shouted out chorus-like, and are as unavoidable as the finger horns that get flashed across the venue. To perfect the finger-horn stance is a three-step process. First you stare down your victim across the room. Then, slowly and deliberately, you raise your right arm until it’s fully extended and perpendicular with your thorax. Your forefinger and pinkie explode upwards, veering away from the centre of the half-fist, your thumb clasps onto your folded index and ring finger, and you lean backwards just slightly. The more perceptive cultural anthropologist will tell you that a gentle and repetitive nod of the head is not mandatory, but appreciated. And when sufficient tension is built up, you can tear it all down with a barked, shouted or otherwise hoarse-throated proclamation of “keep it meddle, bru!” or “keep it broodal!” I pondered this injunction to sustain brutality when I saw a rather brutally chubby young man in black get-up pouring All Gold tomato sauce onto his boerie roll and just taking a bite out of life. He needed the nutrition and kilojoules to keep his body alive while he half-heartedly banged his head on the dancefloor. I saw a Mexican wave of whiplashed necks spreading from the monitors all the way to the bar. I continued to ponder this “brutality” when the emcee of the evening clambered aboard the stage and announced that he bought “lank” raffle tickets, and that we should join him. Holy shit! A raffle? Jesus, that’s brutal. I haven’t bought a raffle ticket since I was at the grade 10 braai at Bishops and won a pedicure gift certificate. That was a pretty heavy-handed, metaphysical brutalisation of my attitudes to karma.
“Keep it fuggen’ metal, bru!”

To be fair, I’m being overly harsh. But heavy metal culture does strike me as though it’s sucked itself inside out and has become an inverted mainstream culture, with poorer sound equipment and a smaller audience. They’ve got different rituals and liturgies, but the whole thing is still a primate mating ritual, poorly performed, lubricated up with Wellington’s brandy and Coke. Some kids take the opportunity to exercise their long-stockpiled atavistic impulses, and mosh about the monitors in a conclusive spectacle that we share 98.5% of the same DNA as the chimpanzee. Other kids need to give their stockpiled sexual lust a workout, and ogle the handful of gorgeous Gothic girls in fishnet stockings, their tits packed so tightly together by leather corsets, it looks like they’ll catapult out and knock someone’s boerie roll out of their hand (sorry, the irony of vampire-types congregated over a skottel, shelling out fifteen a piece for a boerewors roll is just… visual poetry of the most moronic subset). Metal types tend to pride themselves on being beyond the petty trappings of the mainstream culture they denounce with such frothy mouths. But I get the feeling if they could maintain the same critical distance from their own culture as they do from Tiger Tiger, Tin Roof and all these other dens of anti-intellectual iniquity, heavy metal would no longer exist. They’d see all the tropes just decked out in eyeliner and band t-shirts, realise they’re in uniform, goosestepping to the dull rhythm of a capitalist enterprise, throw their cigarettes out in the piss-stained gutter, go home and look at themselves long and hard in the mirror.

Ripping off heavy metal is a monkey’s game, like wrestling midgets or bullying children. It’s an easy target and I don’t congratulate myself for doing it. And yet in my more nostalgic moments, I still can’t resist spinning the odd metal record: Morbid Angel, Deicide, Atheist, Burzum, Summoning, Ildjarn, Enslaved. So I don’t want any racist jackassery popping up on the comments thread about how I should stick to my own rhythm and my own blues.

What do these four bands playing this evening suggest about the future of heavy metal in this country? That’s it’s well-loved by its thin tribe of fans, that it’s being played with passion and skill, but that it’s going nowhere. Even the fans tend to be rather lazy, and the vocal interaction with the bands is disheartening. The first band, Shitstorm (oh, yeah), made my ears bleed – there wasn’t much nuance or melody in their music, and if there was, it was lost in the sound-desk’s obsessive focus on high-range, tinny, treble-emphasised guitars, and low-range, string-flapping bass. During one of the vocalist’s more audible moments, he chorused: “Fuck you, Fuck-face!”, then wrapped the microphone cord around his neck, until the mic swung ’round and hit him in the face. He was hyper-energised and aggressive, I can give him that.

The second band, Sabretooth was the highlight of the evening. Their music is a camp tribute to the hair metal of the ’80s, updated with Malmsteen solos and hoarse vocals. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and that’s why they work. Their lead guitarist is technically accomplished and awesome. He wears a star-spangled bandana over his forehead and his shoulder-length locks moistened so many clefts that night that half the girls could only stagger like zombies trying to keep eggshells secure between their thighs.

Then it was A Walk with the Wicked. Again, technically accomplished, international standards, but fundamentally silly. Their vocalist doesn’t stop talking in his cookie-monster voice even when bantering in the interludes between songs. Their music is fast, well-performed archetypal death metal and their four-man front line is unflinching, a steady stream of necks being placed under severe pressure, hair flailing over fretboards.

Lastly, the Heathens. Again, they don’t take themselves too seriously. Their music is simplistic, not particularly interesting or inventive, but effective and entertaining. I paid special attention to the drummer, only because I know him, and whether through projection of desire or reality, his cymbals and snares articulated themselves with the greatest clarity of the evening. But my eardrums still split, and I can hear white noise in my skull even this morning.

All images © and courtesy Carla Danielle.

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