The first time I heard Decapitated I’d been collecting demo tracks off of a peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing program called SoulSeek. After falling in love with Polish death metal’s sterile brutality, as one did back in 2004, I found Decapitated’s ‘Cemeteral Gardens‘ demo from 1997. The strong ‘Ultimate Incantation’ vibes and impressed me enough to track down their records up until ‘The Negation’, which hadn’t been released yet. The one that hit me, and sticks to me to this day, is their second full-length ‘Nihility’; a powerful brutal death metal album that is severely clinical yet groove-positive in its inspired attack. I fell off as a fan soon after the charm of the clickity-clacking early 00’s brutal death drum sound wore off and their style became groove metal, a trend of simplification that voided thrash metal at its prime.
The band’s slow transformation into a death/groove metal hybrid, as drummers and vocalists passed through, left their sound refined and technical but still fully accessible. As much as I’d been down on the band for a decade this years ‘Anticult’ was impressive; Decapitated found and inspired sound somewhere between Gojira‘s former self, some odd Lamb of God riffs, and Meshuggah‘s current mania. I never wrote a review after hearing the album because I have little to say about groove metal: It is too blunt and robotic for me to keep on repeat for long. ‘Anticult’ is infectious, though, and upon returning to it a week ago I discovered the band had been accused of gang-raping a fan in Spokane, Washington.
I currently live in Washington and know Spokane well enough to be familiar with The Pin. The venue where the alleged crimes took place is an amazing mecca for the very isolated heavy metal community in Spokane. Being a hundred plus miles away from bigger cities or, well, anything else is made much easier by having a venue that extreme metal bands are willing to trek out to as they cross the country in buses. I wanted to take a closer look at the situation, the potential consequences for all involved, and also make a few points about due process. If you are about to stop reading this, let me make my point(s) in a few brief sentences:
Taking a ‘side’ in a rape allegation without direct witness or personal involvement is unhealthy for the due process rape allegations deserve. By making rape allegations polarizing situations and defending or admonishing either side, you’re subverting the rights of both the victim and the accused. Be highly suspect of those grandstanding on the subject, they’re likely misguided or being manipulative. So, what are the facts so far? What am I even talking about?
The allegations themselves are outlined HERE in the follow-up article that includes details from the police report. In brief: At least two fans party with Decapitated on tour bus. Some form of sex occurred in the bus bathroom involving one woman and two band members. The woman reported the incident as rape to local police early that same morning. The earliest statements taken from the band members when initially questioned appear to indicate they didn’t know there was trouble until they realized they’d need to call for translators and their attorney. This isn’t incriminating, they’re Polish and if you’ve ever seen band interviews they’re still not amazing at speaking English. It makes sense that they’d want a translator when facing felony charges. Clearer statements have been made since. Including this Facebook post that illuminates previous statements:
The key takeaways here are:
- The band are pleading not guilty.
- “Please respect due process. The full story.”
- All tour dates cancelled.
- Any prior statements were made before Miranda rights were read, or knowledge of warrant for arrest.
Reactions came, of course, as every major news outlet posted at least one story about the event. Not all reactions to the news were polarized and insensitive towards either side of the situation. While comments raged equally on news stories, forums, Twitter and Facebook there were many with appropriate responses:
In true internet fashion, the push to defend the band’s honor has turned into a perceived assault on women in the online metal community. Here is where things get scary for me as a fan of heavy metal, and extreme metal like Decapitated in particular, we can only lose fans for our cause by alienating and disenfranchising women. Extreme metal has a small-but-strong following around the planet and anyone who would seek to force out anyone from the community (online or otherwise) is self-cannibalizing stupid behavior. The same way Decapitated should not be seen as “obviously guilty”, women should not be seen as the desperate, cock-gobbling coked-out Barbie-lookin’ hair metal groupies of the 1980’s Sunset Strip.
The point is incredibly well outlined by Thea De Gallier in her article voicing concerns of fans who rush to defend bands they idolize because they can’t imagine artists as capable criminals. Metal musicians are absolutely capable of sex crimes. Example 1. Example 2. Example 3. Example 4. Reading through mentions and posts about an incident that none had witnessed quickly becomes sickening. It only reinforces my main point: When allegations of sexual assault are official and under investigation, the absolute best course of action is to abstain from rhetoric out of sensitivity for both the victims and their accused.
The endless need for every person on the planet to share their research-void opinions has lead to a culture that will die on the every sword they see, for the sake of spectacle and attention. All publicity is good publicity. Negative or positive, any attention is brand recognition for self-important youth, artists, and being noticed is the true cure for the debilitating fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) state of the millennial generation. What is my point? Allegations of rape and sexual assault have never seen benefit either from pundit-style grandstanding for or against either alleged victim or perpetrator(s.) It is typically cruel and unusual behavior.
Actually this person gives a great segue into a look at metal artists issuing opportunistic social media press releases as they see outrage against both sides. The same way a sexual predator is opportunistic towards their targets, many artists well-schooled in marketing know that a well-timed statement can garner attention towards their own similar artistic projects. The two bands making the publicized statements are the relatively unknown Venom Prison and the popular Polish metal figurehead Nergal of Behemoth. While Venom Prison seeks to admonish and convict Decapitated for their own personal warpath, so does Behemoth ultimately seek attention from Decapitated’s likely shared fanbase. Though, as you’ll see… Nergal has a lot more class, and neutrality, in his statements.
Before any of the news of the alleged gang-rape had broken, I’d read the following article in Revolver about a band named Venom Prison. The music is rather generic despite online enthusiasm for it. There are elements of European hardcore, crust, and death/grind that collide in predictable ways. The ‘Animus’ album is a both dizzying and trite, but far from offensive. I’d definitely watch them open for a band like Decapitated. I’m not casting shade here, really. I love the idea that more vegan anarcho-punk types make their way into the metal spotlight. I was one of those kids in the late 90’s and it only makes for more open-minded, inclusive fans. Despite her bland death metal vocals, Stupar offers a refreshing voice to the usually unfocused annuls of extreme metal activism. Within that article I got the sense that her beliefs and intentions were good, some of the questionable statistics she’d outlined in the article also made their way into the statement released by the band, as they cancelled any/all scheduled appearances with Decapitated as a result of the accusations:
Reading Venom Prison‘s statement it clearly infers that they’re pulling out of the shows because they believe Decapitated are more than likely guilty of some kind of sex crime. It goes too far, to be so bold to deny the accused their due process before reacting. It appeared as if Venom Prison used the situation as a platform to share their brand of politics while Decapitated was a vulnerable target for opposition. “We’re against rape! So, don’t go see Decapitated because they probably did it!” And that is just so incredibly irresponsible a message to send. It reeks of opportunistic self-promotion more than it does anti-rape activism. “We don’t need all of the facts! Guilty!” is the least punk rock idea ever, honestly. Disregard for the lives and reputations of an established fellow musical artist is nearly as heinous as any negative statement you could make about the alleged victim, simply because of the publicity the band garnered. It is good that they’re popular for their anti-misogynistic stance, but I don’t think it gives respect to the due process Decapitated deserves. Behemoth front-man Nergal’s statements are mostly neutral but his words resonate with solidarity for his long-time acquaintances in Decapitated.
Here Nergal is more or less repeating what the band themselves had to say. “Calm down before you start flame wars. Wait for the evidence to sort things out.” Really who better to offer advice and consolation than Nergal, whose own past has met with with similar tour-breaking accusations. Fifteen years ago an entire community banded together to force Behemoth out of a planned festival in Poland because of rape allegations. Ethically speaking, this was an appropriate comment to make and shows his experience in the industry which Venom Prison’s decision-makers have comparatively less grace. He admonishes victimization of others, calls for due process to be served, and hopes for the best possible outcome whatever it may be. Does my earlier statement about opportunistic musicians cannibalizing Decapitated hold up for Nergal after closer inspection? No. I think both artists have the greater good of extreme metal and their fans in mind, only one spoke as a diplomat and the other a reactive gutter rat.
Culturing populist reactions to energize others might strengthen awareness for a cause in the short term. Posting photos of monetary donations to anti-rape organizations totally looks like fake-ass posturing for the sake of public relations: Buying fan approval. Whether any human being chooses to admonish or defend the accused it comes at the cost of accusing those who have not been proven guilty, or demolishing already fragile victims. The only way you can truly show respect for the Decapitated and alleged victim, which she deserves, is to sit and wait to see what the evidence says.
The only way you can defend the band you love so much is to sit and wait and see what the evidence says. Anything negative one might say about the alleged victim is deluded and cruel. Without knowing the victim, the young lady and her perspective of the situation, bashing on her is re-victimizing someone who has potentially already been damaged by the incident. As tough and ‘metal’ as any fan might be, that behavior is mercilessly cruel. Anything negative one might say about the alleged rapists, the entire band themselves, is also deluded because you’re not a witness to the alleged incident and defaming the band without the full story is ignorant and pointlessly aggressive.