Defying Death

What's a death-metal mogul to do when the world becomes as macabre as his music?

The hyper-patriotic Decker views death metal's obsession with obscenity as a test case for the American ideal. Indeed, death metal is built to offend the offendable--"religious figures, the church, the part of the establishment that would censor your ability to be free," says the singer. "The most beautiful thing about this country is that I can stand on the fuckin' sidewalk and scream 'cunt!' at people all I want and I have the legal right to do it. What are they going to pop me for? Noise ordinance violation at 6:00 in the afternoon? I love it."

Decker isn't impressed with the more recent, serious turn of mainstream metal--the slow descent into a post-Reznor/post-Cobain/post-Columbine cult of teen victimhood. The sea change might be described as the difference between Slade singing "Mamma Weer All Crazee Now" in 1973 and Disturbed screaming, "No, Mommy, don't hit me!" today. Good old adolescent fixations have been replaced by adolescent "concerns," as hedonism and "Thank you, Conan" guitar worship give way to womb nostalgia and child-abuse testimony.

"It's supposed to be dumb," Decker says of the music, flipping open a laptop to check for e-mail but ignoring his ringing cell. "You're not supposed to be educating people. You're supposed to be feeling the aggression, the anger, and let that negative tension out." To this end--and confirming my suspicions of death metal as a whole--Decker claims he makes up his lyrics every time he sings them. (Though he always returns to a certain, um, theme, suggested by such titles as "Tampon Tea Bag," "Puss Blood Pentagram," and "Crimson Smell.")

"Sick is a cool way of life": Don Decker (second from right) with Anal Blast
Diana Watters
"Sick is a cool way of life": Don Decker (second from right) with Anal Blast

Decker's tests of tolerance might need to be toned down in the current cultural climate, though he probably views them as no less revolutionary than tearing off a burqa or restoring music to Radio Afghanistan. One gambit, in particular, would now seem impossible: "We can't do this any more, obviously, but when we would go out of town and play shows, we would get on the plane, and as soon as we taxi out to the runway, when the jets build up to take off, we'd be like, 'Yeah, we're gonna crash! We're all gonna fuckin' die!' We'll traumatize the whole fucking airplane..."

At the very moment he relates this story, we hear a knock on the door. The visitor is a pale woman in black eyeliner with a stud in her lip. Her name's Holly. "I guess if you're busy, I can talk to you later if you want," she says to Decker. "I just wanted to know how you want this to go down. Like, should I go onstage right away?"

Decker switches into professional mode. "I was figuring you should probably come out during 'CSW, Cum-Shitting Whore,'" he replies. "I wanted to actually stop and let the crowd hear you fuck the mic again, for that submarine diving noise that we got last time."

He turns to me. "When she screwed the mic last time, it fuckin' actually fed back. I guess the human body's like large radio antenna."

"Yeah, this time I think I'm going to lay back and put my knees on either side of my head," Holly says. They work out the logistics of keeping the act slightly hidden--and clean--to avoid getting the club in trouble.

"So no bodily fluids?" she asks.

"No piss, no shit," he says. "I'll be down in, like, ten minutes. You can get friendly with the mic."

He turns back to me. "Now, what were we talking about?"

I tell him I have no idea.

He laughs. "Sick is a cool way of life. There are a lot of people out in the world that like to take life to the extremes. But we're all basically really harmless people--except for my drummer. And me a few years ago."

Downstairs at the Lab, the Anal Blast spectacle plays out much as you'd expect. The two guitarists windmill their long hair as Holly writhes and Decker sneers, "Graaaalsjdgdaslkahfgllsqowuxkjmlughh!" into the mic. A few female fans look on from the floor and smile, lightly moshing now and again, but shying away when the male-ruled pit gets judo-level brutal.

With a few notable exceptions--bassist Tara Lee Anderson of Martyr A.D., for example--death metal is a boys' club onstage. Yet the female presence in the scene is growing, despite inevitable incidents of lunkheadism. Consider, for example, this admission by Mike Byrne, a witty, bespectacled Anal Blast fan who also plays guitar in Malignant. "If I didn't have long hair," he admits, "I'd never get laid."

After the set, Byrne and I leave the concert room for the bar, and he points out a friend bending over the pool table to sink one in the corner pocket. "See that girl?" he says. "She's with me. And she's getting increasingly fucked with tonight. She just takes it." He shakes his head. "Sometimes a mob mentality takes over."

(When the woman passes, the two exchange mouse-voiced greetings. A friend within earshot laughs: "That's not very death metal of you.")

Over in the bar's under-21 section, a pair of female high school students scoff when I ask if the atmosphere at death metal shows gets too humid with testosterone. "We take it as a joke," says one, who identifies herself as Mz. Eat'in. "Some people come and they get upset, but that's the point: They want to offend you." Her friend, Rainbo, suggests that it takes a smart sense of humor to appreciate the music--more than, say, to just be trendy and show up for the club's far more populous hip-hop nights.

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