If metal is supposed to be about the individual then why do we spend so much time in our hero worship of the stars? Metalheads like to claim that they are immune from the common threads that make people so awful and yet they perhaps engage in more hero worship than any other subgroup of fans. Don’t think that I’m not saying that metal icons aren’t worthy of our love either, they certainly are. Yet just because I happen to worship at Trey Azagthoth’s altar of madness does not mean I shouldn’t question if it’s truly justified. It ties into several questions – namely – is metal supposed to be a part of society like this? Furthermore – what does this culture of hero worship and a tendency for metal to create cults of personality say about us?
I’ve always had a weird time dealing with the cult of personality in metal because I love to worship things just as other folks worship celebrities or um.. Brita water filters (That’s something normies like right?) And I have always felt that metal was a bit more justified because it was worshiping someone famous for their passion. I’ve certainly contributed to cults of personality with my writing. Maybe I just like to think that metalheads are a little bit more aware when they choose who they wish to honor, but we all know that probably isn’t the case and it’s just that good ol’ elitism sneaking its way back in. Ultimately, as much as we don’t want to admit it, metal is a part of society now more than ever, and hero worship is going to come with that.
As we all know though, hero worship has always been a little bit more intense in metal, in large pat because the metal fandom tends to be far more intense than others. There’s a lot of reasons for this, but I think a large part of it stems from the fact that metal is based on a culture of oppression. Historically it as ‘not been okay’ to like metal, and as with anything else that is ‘not okay’ to like this has cultivated what one might call extremists. Historically metal has made its name on superfans, the types of people who carve “Slayer” into their arms or who kill themselves because they think that Rob Halford told them to. If we didn’t have these superfans giving everything up for this kind of music then the odds are we wouldn’t have metal in the first place. Regardless of anything, we need the cult of personality in metal in order to fund careers.
That intensity is a double edged blade though. While on the one hand it can lead to people spending hundreds of dollars on a merch stand (Which is awesome) or letting a band sleep on their floor it can also have more negative impacts. I already mentioned the kids who killed themselves because of Judas Priest, but I think we all know that it has gone far beyond that. After all, wasn’t the slaying of Dimebag the result of a superfan? Isn’t our collective superfandom at least partially responsible for the early deaths of many of our icons? This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be superfans, we just need to think about it. It’s one of those weird things that just forces me to question the bitter realities we all must embrace in the arts, and then we have to realize that by creating a culture where self destructive tendencies are lauded we have a lot to answer for.
The cult of personality has been one of the core elements of metal culture since the beginning. After all, do you think Black Sabbath wold have been nearly as popular if they weren’t wearing giant crosses and black hippy garb? Would KISS have made it big as “Wicked Lester” the bands name before they donned the now iconic face paint? There really is no escaping it. Hell, even Phil Anselmo, the godfather of extreme metal has used the larger than life persona around him to drive forth his own Housecore Records. In many ways the cult is a good thing, but it certainly is a weird thing to have to think about, especially given the bizarre forementioned consequences.
So what does this mean for you? Don’t feel obligated to stop carving Slayer into your arm, but also realize that when you start to foist unrealistic expectations on your heroes you can hurt them. Everyone likes it when people pays special attention to them but especially in the metal underground where there is literally negative money a lot of these people can only do so much. Before you say it’s a choice to be a metal con, you have to realize you are sadly mistaken. It’s not like Max Cavalera can end Soulfly and go get a normal person job. That’s simply not how any of this works.
I guess all I can say is keep on worshiping. While on the one hand it’s going to potentially have a negative effect on those you love it’s also pretty much he only way for them to keep going. I guess if you want to use a word popular among millennials you could call this issue problematic. I personally don’t really care, do whatever you want to do, just try and maintain a certain level of maturity about it. As someone who knows a lot of these superstars, it never pays to be the neckbeard pawing at them. Otherwise have a good time and spend some money on your heroes, they will appreciate it.