Most music fans often have to wrestle with the fact that some of the artists they adore have the worst morals. This crosses all genre boundaries, but the place where that dichotomy can be most deeply felt is with metal. The heaviest and darkest strains of the music can often carry with it some pretty awful ideals. Just ask any slightly liberal fan of Burzum how they feel about the ambient metal project’s mastermind Varg Vikernes’ homophobic, anti-Semitic stance and watch them cringe as they try to justify why it’s okay to still like his music.
This is something that Drew Daniel, one-half of the experimental electronic group Matmos and the man behind The Soft Pink Truth, has mulling over for some time. (He wrote an essay not too long ago entitled “Confessions of a Former Burzum T-Shirt Wearer.”) As much as he enjoys slapping on a trucker’s cap and a sleeveless jean jacket and hanging at Maryland Deathfest (which he did very recently), he does so knowing that many of his favorite acts might view Daniel’s homosexuality as, at best, a problem; at worst, an abomination.
But just as almost all Matmos records are created from a core concept, so too is his solo work. So, what better way to explore this musical and cognitive dissonance than to take some of the most egregious examples of black metal’s extremist stances on sex, sexuality and life and render them as electro, house and disco tunes? Or as Daniel says in the press notes for Why Do The Heathen Rage?, “this record celebrates black metal and offers queer critique/mockery/profanation of its ideological morass in equal measure.”
The results of these experiments can be on the nose, like doing a gender switch on Brazilian extreme metal act Sarcofago and having its misogynistic lyrics to “Ready To Fuck” (sample lyric: “Standup to see my penetrator hammer”) sung in a diva-like fashion by Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner. Others take a little bit of unpacking. You would have to know how the proto-industrial beat that Daniel applies to Beherit’s “Sadomatic Rites” is a flag for the S&M crowd, which in turn puts the song’s torrent of debauchery (“Pleasures so sweet/city of hell…sodomites and blasphemers”) in a much different light.
And as with most of Matmos’ work and the last Soft Pink Truth effort, an album of punk covers released a decade ago, this whole effort is cut through with a rueful sense of humor. He playfully mocks the deathly serious tone of most metal LPs’ opening tracks with “Invocation for Strength,” which features him and Antony Hegarty reading a poem taken from Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture intercut with some graphic gay porn samples.
It will be interesting to see how metal fans react to something like this. Will they see the humor in Darkthrone’s sludgy and troublesome “Beholding the Throne of Might” becoming a giddy ‘90s-era electro pop tune, or how Daniel makes drum ‘n’ bass mincemeat of Hellhammer’s thrash metal anthem “Maniac”? My guess would be no. But hopefully there will be some folks open-minded enough to slide on some corpse paint, grab a glowstick and explore this gray area with The Soft Pink Truth.