A group of us went to see Slayer on a friend's 18th birthday. By the time the show ended, we’d each secondhand smoked at least half a pack of cigarettes and were covered in sweat, only a fraction of which was our own. I think I saw more broken and bloody noses from mosh incidents that night than I’ve seen in the rest of my life combined. It was, as they say, "f*cking metal".
Of our friends, only the birthday boy and I stayed for the encore. We walked out of the venue, with the final chords ringing and our hearing slowly returning, to a group of guys handing out CDs in the parking lot. And because Slayer draws a crowd and we'd had to park blocks away, we had time to wonder about the contents of these new free acquisitions.
While we were batting theories back and forth, for some reason I remembered a primetime news special- maybe 60 Minutes- that I had seen about how white supremacists would leave mix taxes on sidewalks around middle schools to recruit, but quickly dismissed the idea.
Still, it was with some trepidation that we started to listen on the drive back to Adam's house. The disc opened by thanking us for previewing the selections of a label with a benign enough sounding name. I relaxed. It was just some rough-cut songs from some indie punk label, I figured. Great, we were both into that.
But then track two started, with a spoken introduction about a hero, brave and true, who gave his life for what he believed in. And then it landed- "this hero died in the 40's- Rudolph Hess, Seig Heil!" and the slamming guitar riffs began.
We quickly shifted to the next track, and the next, and the next- pausing for maybe the first 15 seconds and then moving on, cycling from punk to ska to "Thank God I'm a White Boy" (ala a racist John Denver). We pulled into Adam's driveway. Track 23, track 24, track 25.
Eventually, it stopped. We broke the disc and I made my friend take the cd, confident that even having a broken copy in my car would get me struck by lightning on the drive home or something. I drove away.
Something shifted that night. I stopped listening to metal. Don't get me wrong- I know there are racists in every genre. And most metal musicians and fans are incredible people- often the kindest, most thoughtful people I know. Countercultures produce people who know how to accept outsiders.
But while I'll still listen to the occasional Mastodon or Red Fang song, or bang my head at a metal show or two, the wind went out of a genre I'd loved.
As we've learned, white supremacists will steal anything- high and tight haircuts, the Norwegian Olympic ski team sweater, the White House- anything. But the thing they stole from me, in addition to some of my faith in humanity, was heavy metal.
Born in Norway, Svein Newman was kicked out of that country as a child for being bad at skiing, and has roamed around Montana ever since. He grew up on family farmland in rural Yellowstone County, and has spent his adult years bouncing back and forth between Billings and Missoula. Svein has spent the last nine years working for Northern Plains Resource Council, volunteers with Soft Landing Missoula, serves on the board of the Montana Human Rights Network, and enjoys divey cowboy bars, day hikes, and Settlers of Catan. He is an occasional contributor to Tell Us Something and a first time contributor to Waste Division.