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Does metal have a racism problem?

Former Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo yelled 'white power' at the conclusion of a recent show, sparking an examination of the subculture's darker elements. 

Philip Anselmo apologizes for his actions at Dimebash 2016

A decision by metal musician Phil Anselmo, former frontman for the band Pantera, to give a Nazi salute and shout "white power" at the end of his performance during a January metal festival has prompted a backlash and a public apology to the metal community.

In a video released January 30, the singer apologized for his actions at the festival honoring the deceased former guitarist of Pantera, and asked for forgiveness from fans, after heavy criticism from fans and fellow rockers.

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A concertgoer posted a YouTube video of the incident at Lucky Strike Live in Hollywood, titled “Phil Anselmo is a Racist! Ruins Dimebash 2016.” The video has since garnered nearly a million hits.

“A very sad moment and to me ruined the night,” Chris R posts in the video’s description. “This is not what Pantera is about!!!”

Fans were joined by members of other bands in expressing their outrage.

“Only in the metal community is something like this so, so, brushed off,” said Robb Flynn of the band Machine Head, in a YouTube video response. 

“The majority of people are like ‘Oh here comes the PC police and justice team,' " said Mr. Flynn, who was present when the incident occurred, having performed on the same stage just minutes before. "Y’all just need to thicken your skin. If this was Chad from Nickelback or Justin Bieber, if this was Tom Brady if this was Lars ... Ulrich [of Metallica], heads would roll!”

Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor also took a stand, telling media that racism in metal a "bigger problem than what happened that night."

Others say that overstates the problem. 

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“As in any group, there are some ignorant people who listen to heavy metal. Hate and racism don’t belong in metal,” says metal aficionado Tyler Sewell in a phone interview. “[Metal music] always gets painted with a broad brush. In this case, though, the guy [Mr. Anselmo] said it – and he deserves all the return hate that he gets – but it’s not representative of metal at all.”

Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow for the Anti-Defamation League, says in a phone interview that at any given time, there are usually between 100 and 150 white power music bands operating in the United States. The most popular of these bands play racist hardcore punk and racist Black Metal.

“There’s truth in what both camps are saying,” Mr. Pitcavage says. “There’s no doubt that there are a lot of white supremacists who are into death metal. You see it on their social networking profiles again and again and again.”

Pitcavage adds, “Moreover, while not all of [black metal] music is racist, a lot of it is. There aren’t many genres of music that have a sub-genre of racist music attached to them as is the case with metal. That’s a real problem.”

“People gravitate to a certain genre because they sense kindred spirits,” he says. “What Anselmo did certainly says something about Phil Anselmo, but I don’t think you can extrapolate from that one person to all of death metal.."

Racist fans' attraction to death metal may stem from a long-standing cultural marketing mishap, says Pitcavage.

“Metal music and National Socialist Black Metal in particular use imagery, iconography, and even fonts that hold a particular appeal to white supremacists who are attracted to that kind of imagery,” he says. “One kind of problem with death metal is unrelated to the music, it’s a packaging issue.... The themes and the desire to be renegade are very attractive and draw in white supremacists who tend to gravitate to that.” 

He added, “On the other hand, it is also true that the great majority of metal fans are not racists or white supremacists and it is important to acknowledge that.”

Racists shouldn't be allowed to define the genre, say fans. As Machine Head's Flynn concluded in his video, “There is no place for that in metal. And if there is a place for that in metal, count me out.”


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