Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Musings on Metal's Nuclear Fixation

I wrote this for Metalsucks, and wanted to post it on here because, well, I like it. It's something I may expound upon someday, time and luck willing.


Ever since the dawn of the nuclear age, mankind has been fascinated with The Bomb and its terrifying capabilities. Even before The Manhattan Project bore fruit, countless nuke-themed songs, movies, books, and of course, good ol’ propaganda flooded the American consciousness and captivated our over-reactive imaginations. Some truly masterful books (Level 7, Alas, Babylon, A Canticle for Liebowitz) and truly abominable pulp fiction novels were written, the government cheerfully advised its citizens to build bomb shelters out back and stockpile creamed corn “just in case!” (better an oblivious populace then a nation of protestors, right?), and Bert the talking turtle advised kiddies on the best way to protect themselves during an atomic blast (hide under your desk and cover your head, and everything will be swell!).

These catchy little ditties, cheesy sci-fi flicks, and government-sponsored nonsense planted seeds of fear and xenophobia, and left lasting scars upon the children of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. Ask your parents and grandparents if they remember being told to “duck and cover,” or the feeling that they got when they heard the air raid sirens scream, or the impenetrable dread that settled over the country during the Cuban Missile Crisis as JFK and Krushchev toyed with the idea of apocalypse. My granddad’s voice shook as he described it (and he’s a 6”4 ex-Marine who goes bear-hunting in Alaska on the regular). Our current administration grew up during this time, and one can only wonder how their childhood memories may someday impact their nuclear decisions.

A few decades of that will leave one hell of an impression on a young country like ours, and on the places across the globe wherein similar scenarios played out. Eastern Europe trembled when Chernobyl’s nuclear reactor blew, and the aftermath of that disaster can still be seen in the radiation-rich swaths of land as far as Siberia that some impoverished people still call home. In WWII, the United States’ destruction of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki served as a nightmarish introduction to the horrifying consequences of intentionally pushing that red button. The world has never reclaimed its pre-atomic innocence, or lost its morbid curiosity about what goes down after the bomb goes off.

The psychological remnants of this period inadvertently went on to inspire many, many more works of art, music, and literature, and has provided a creative spark for struggling extreme metal lyricists everywhere. Heavy metal has held a long-term love affair with Armageddon, and the genre itself was born barely a decade after the Cold War thawed. It’s only natural that the twain should meet. It’s possible to find references to nuclear war, fallout, and post-apocalyptic wastelands within nearly any subgenre (hell, even power metal pansies Primal Fear have a record called Nuclear Fire, and Erik Wunder of Man’s Gin penned a dark alt-country ode to his “Nuclear Ambition”). Insect Warfare, Angelcorpse, Mutant Supremacy, and the immortal warmongers Bolt Thrower have all referenced the topic within their lyrics, and that’s just the result of a two-second brain scan on my part. The theme of nuclear annihilation has been embraced most by the anti-lifers in black metal and sociopolitical edge of thrash (and about a thousand crust bands like the incredible Nuclear Death Terror). Sodom imagined “Nuclear Winter” in 1987, while Voivod lamented the onset of “Nuclear War” in 1984, and crossover bands especially had their fingers on the pulse. Nuclear Assault have been flying the atomic flag since 1984, Cryptic Slaughter envisioned a “Nuclear Future” on 1986’s Convicted, and nowadays, we’ve got Toxic Holocaust keeping that dangerous flame lit (Joel Grind kicked things off with 1999’s Radiation Sickness demo and hasn’t looked back). As far as the black legions go, the list verges upon endless thanks to the likes of Impaled Nazarene, Nuclear Desecration, Parabellum, Aanal Beehemoth, Bestial Holocaust, Black Witchery, Nuclearhammer, Bestial Mockery… even war metal OGs Blasphemy were preaching nuclear desecration in between dripping blood upon the altar. The mere existence of cult label/distro Nuclear War Now! says it all, really, and their roster is prime territory for apocalyptic metal.

When I was at this year’s NWN! Fest in Berlin a few months back, I heard so many nuclear song titles and hails to the apocalypse that it was almost funny. It all seemed bit ironic, too, that these sweaty, leather-clad musicians, with their gas masks and bandoliers of ammunition, would be calling for war in the middle of a city that has seen so much of it, and especially one that played such a crucial role during a time when WWIII seemed just around the corner. Extreme metal’s warlike nature will never be tamed, and as time goes on and mankind continues to flirt with its own extinction, bands like Nuclear Desecration may end up providing the most fitting soundtrack to whatever’s coming next.