Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Death Metal And Islam

This week's New Yorker (cover date Jan. 22) has an interesting article by Raffi Khatchadourian about Adam Gadahn, a lost-soul sort of American kid from California who ended up finding meaning in militant Islam, and now lives as Azzam al-Amriki, an Al Qaeda propaganda tool believed to be in hiding in Pakistan.

I'm very much interested in how relatively normal people can become radicalized, particularly when the radicalization involves the levels of mystical nonsense one sees in religious radicals. On this point the article is interesting but not supremely enlightening.

Before Gadahn became a militant Islamist, he was a geeky kid interested in death metal. In covering this phase of his life, the article makes some intriguing observations but tries too hard to reconcile death metal and Gadahn's version of Islam.

As for the interesting bits, the article quotes a former metal d.j. who notes that "Death metal is an extremist movement." But Khatchadourian wants to make a deeper point about the kinds of people extremist movements might attract. The d.j. continues, "Where heavy metal gets a lot of the guys who lift weights and punch out beer cans, death metal is a really interesting combination of people, but a lot of it is just nerds." True dat.

Khatchadourian also locks on to another interesting facet of metal culture: "Members of the genre generally profess to reject Christianity, but they do so in a religious framework, using the language and imagery of paganism or Satanism, rather than atheism." As an atheist metal fan, I can definitely have fun with Satanist imagery, but I do get sick of seeing one form of nonsense used to counter another.

But then Khatchadorian goes a bit off track. "Fans who outgrow the music, as most do," he writes, "often enough become religious." Whoa. First off, I feel like I've grown into metal as I ditched a lot of silly self-conscious hangups I embraced when I was more into punk or indie (although I don't know a ton about death metal; it's a deep sub-genre populated by a lot of small bands). Second, I would be amazed if there are any data available on the religious feelings of former death metal fans. That bit seems like an obvious attempt to create some sense of order in telling the messy story of Adam Gadahn's change from metal head to turbaned head (oh, I coulda written that much nastier).

I doubt the connection between death metal and militant Islam is any deeper than that they both tend to appeal to people who feel isolated in some way, people who like communities in which they feel they've found a niche. But there's no need to hypothesize deeper connections about religion. And sub-cultures that shelter lonely nerds are hardly rare.

I can't finish without saying that I was impressed that Khatchadourian picked up on an unfortunate tendency among the death metallers: "Onstage, artists often wore sweatpants to demonstrate their athleticism and lack of pretense." I'm not so sure about the athleticism; I heard it was to show how above image they were. Still, if your band is called Cannibal Corpse, I think you have already opened the door to pretense. That's why I tend to prefer the more pretense-friendly sub-genre of black metal. It's totally different from death metal. Well, not really.


jonathan even-zohar said...

How stupid is this idea man. Death Metal and Radical Islam go together like shit. Loving metal is about embracing fictional violence, not Allah-loving bloodshed. Great analysis

Anonymous said...

heavy metal is art,as at cinema movies you can express yourself and ideas via metal,so if you believe in violence and hate you will find heavy metal for instance a nice tool to express your stupid muslim,fascist,radical,racist or one-sided opinions and ideas,so what?look at rage against the machine they praise a scum named mumia via funk and alternative metal or rapmetal,euronymous wanted to express his sick ideas where the meaning of good and bad are resrved via black metal.He believed that every bad deed was good like rape or murder(until var killed him and saved the planet from another stupid),slayer from the other side hate everyone and if you are slayer fan the only way to end up militant islamist is to dont speak english(so you cant listen or read the lyrics obviously),graveland via black metal express their patriotic feelings(not nationalist;go listen the fucken lyrics).So what because of a stupid milksop american kid metal is bad,so what we will have to do if someone stupid became murder after seeing a stupid psychedelic movie with serial killers,blame all the other movies or the entire genre,no offend