I spend a lot of my time either griping about metal on the dumpster fire that is my Facebook page or polluting various platforms with my ranting and ravings on the subject. It’s because this is a genre of music and a subculture that I both adore and absolutely fucking loathe, and this duality keeps me somehow engaged even when the plot is so thin the FDA would give its prophylactic ability a 1/10 (fucking skulls), resulting in a child that no one would play with because he sucks. Which is why David Hall’s recent piece here and Andrew Bonazelli’s rebuttal caught my attention — they’re two sides of the coin in what might be the least compelling culture war currently going.

Both pieces attempt to rectify what’s going wrong in metal, and both make points I strongly agree with. Hall’s first half is especially on point, nicely CliffsNotes’d with “Metal is in constant celebration of a victory it has never achieved.” I would agree with this mostly based on my interaction with people involved in the scene and my obvious attempts to walk away whenever someone wants to discuss the “metal brotherhood” like it’s a fucking religion and not a grouping of people drinking at a shitty bar while a band cosplaying Mortal Kombat II have candles lit underneath a Bud fucking Lite banner. Where both gentlemen here missed the shot is that metal is terrible not because of bands “selling out,” but because of the absolute shithead mentality of the herd. For a genre that seems to emphasize freedom and individualism, there sure are a lot of fucking rules.

As a subculture, metal can be exceptionally petty, small-minded, sexist and sensitive to the point of self-parody. It’s a clique, a club, and if you don’t like something (or worse, like the wrong thing), you ain’t in it no more.

Metal has a very difficult time self-examining, which is probably going to lead to undiagnosed testicular cancer later in life. If you bring up the issues of women in metal being treated poorly, you’re met with a choir of “white knight,” “faggot,” or the hot buzz word of the contemporary moron, “cuck.” If you try to decry racism in metal, you’re met with similar resistance. Or, on the other side, if you stay apolitical or try to have a rational discourse on challenging subjects, you run the chance that ANTIFA will toss a smoke bomb into your show and fuck up everyone’s makeup, which I suppose doubles as an assault on capitalism (unless they used money to buy the bomb). It seems like every few days there’s another headline about bands getting their shit pushed in because they once walked by someone with repugnant political views in a hallway somewhere, and thus they deserve to get a show cancelled or, worse, have their personal information shitted out onto the internet so their personal safety is put in jeopardy. It almost feels like there’s no winning with anyone, because someone will always take some kind of offense to you, which used to be one of the tenets of punk and metal, but now is just another hassle that either brings out the loudest (and dumbest) elements of the far right and left, and leaves those who value critical thinking and discourse over sloganeering looking for the nearest exit.

I think Hall gives Deafheaven way too much credit, and this is coming from someone who had a six-minute Twitter war with them over “font culture” when I wrote about how ridiculous I thought their blanket was. It wasn’t like they just came out of nowhere with Sunbather; I remember a growing buzz on their earlier recordings and — I’m sure I’ll catch shit for this — some members were involved in the black metal scene for a bit before Apple wanted to use them in an iPod commercial. At this point, I think they’re just doing shit like the sunglasses bit just to fuck with people, and if that’s the case, then great, but either way it doesn’t mean the fucking sky is falling. Every few years, we see in a band what the ancient prophecy foretold as the “commercial sellouts” that were going to kill metal. Remember Liturgy? I hope not, but I’m sure you do. Say what you want about pink album covers — at least it didn’t come with a rambling book that read like a philosophy major’s Mad Libs. And before Liturgy, it was the bogeyman of having “underground” titles sold in places like FYE that was going to kill metal. Before that, it was Cradle of Filth. I mean, Jesus Christ, the first thing a lot of people think of when they hear “metal” and “commercialized sellouts” is Metallica. For the last few decades of spikes and leather, there’s always been some band or idea that’s going to “destroy” metal. We’re so fucking melodramatic. Is the influx of tourists from other genres because of crossover bands like Deafheaven annoying? I grew up on the Jersey Shore. Every summer we had a deluge of drunk, loud and rude people who didn’t belong there swing through, and every fall they’d fuck off back to where they belong. This is no different.

Also, I hate to take the mature approach to anything, but Bonazelli was right: For better or worse, there’s so much metal either spewing out currently — or decades worth of backlog — that you can basically ignore what you don’t like instead of wasting your time being petulant because Ray-Bans are fucking expensive and I only buy gas station sunglasses because I’m irresponsible and break them. I mean you — you do that, not me. God I hate my life.

What’s probably most damaging to metal as a subculture doesn’t come in the form of a pink record cover or a picture of some lady smiling in zero gravity, but in sensationalizing clickbait like the AV Club’s exhaustively well-written witch hunt about the “Nazi problem” in metal that apparently we’re not aware of. It’s the inability to allow bands to respond to allegations or to express that they’ve changed, grown up, evolved. It’s the thought police overthinking everything and going on gut / emotional first responses. It’s ANTIFA going into shows and causing violence first and asking questions never. And it’s people like Richard Spencer and Alex Jones giving idiots platforms that bleed into all forms of artistic expression. It’s the dearth of critical thinking, dialogue, reason and then, when called for, action. And it’s not just metal, or music in general, but all facets of life in this fucked-up country in 2017. Hall was right: Anti-intellectualism is the new black these days.

Metal is an idea that means something different to everyone involved in it. And ideas don’t seem to have a shelf life no matter how they’re abused. We have people who think the Earth is flat and 6,000 years old. So, it comes down to you, the individual, to live and express it however the spirit moves you. Yes, even if it’s a “metal brotherhood,” this all comes down to your own life and perception of the world around you. You can choose to let this kind of shit get under your skin and ruin your enjoyment and participation in metal, but then you’ll have to be the one to look at yourself and ask if you were really ever in it in the first place.