Black metal is gay.
There, someone finally said it. However, send your letters of thanks to Matmos co-conspirator Drew Daniel, care of Why Do The Heathen Rage?, his third long player under the guise of The Soft Pink Truth. Perverting nine bona fide black metal hymns through a carnal lens of feminine electronica and androgynous house, and kicking off the whole debauched affair with a spoken-word rendition of an insurgent Radical Faery poem by gay activist Arthur Evans, he exposes the latent homosexual tendencies underlying not just the often laughable overcompensations of a testosterone-fueled musical genre, but of homophobia in its widest manifestations.
And it seems that all you need to do to reveal the snarling flurries and belligerent war-cries of Venom’s canonical “Black Metal” — for the homoerotic discharge of repressed urges it always was — is strip it of its bearded distortion, add a lusty drum machine and the roving indecencies of a synthesized bass, and thereby transform it into the schlong of electro-thrash it always wanted to be. Without its protective alibi of rawness and aggression, lines like “Riding hell’s stallions/ Bareback and free” suddenly assume an ominous significance, implying the possibility that, over the years, Venom fans have been gratified by such a lyric precisely because its phallic connotations provided a sublimated release for their socially unacceptable desires.
But Daniel’s intent is not simply mischief here. With the cosmetic makeover of “Black Metal” and with the remodellings of the harsh “Sadomatic Rites” or the glossy “Ready to Fuck,” he’s not merely pulling some clever parlor trick, but rather tying these feminizing renovations to Black Metal’s notorious and fascistic history in order to make a statement about homophobes and homophobia in general. In vamping Darkthrone’s lumbering “Beholding the Throne of Might” into a squelchy pulse of club moves, in demonstrating how easily a once bellicose riff can be inflected with an unlikely resonance if played through an alternative instrument and recontextualized, Daniel has produced an incredibly deft critique of a social phenomenon that, on the one hand, equates 100% heterosexuality with the natural, with that which every man and woman is genetically and inevitably determined to do; and that, on the other, rabidly strives to erect artificial barriers against anything that might somehow pervert such inviolable naturalness, as if its questionable purity had, from the very beginning, only ever been the product of social convention and a very scrupulously gerrymandered environment.
Why Do The Heathen Rage? shows that once you excise such contrived barriers, that is, the discriminations and distances of the homophobe, or the hostility and hatred of a “Satanic Black Devotion” by Sargeist or a “Buried By Time and Dust” by Mayhem, there are certain people who no longer have anything to prevent once-dormant impulses from emerging into the cold light of day. And Daniel plays mercilessly on the fear of this non-heterosexual arousal or resurgence throughout the album, beginning with the hushed ambience of “Invocation for Strength” and its basso declaration that “We are strong to come again.” He then builds on this mission statement to include such outbursts as “When hell calls your name/ There’s no way back” and “Join us we are the future now” from the abovementioned “Beholding the Throne of Might,” which raises for the alpha male the specter of an uncontrollable lapse into something less than red-blooded masculinity. Added to this are the visions of a pandemic anticipated by the impeccable trance of “Let There Be Ebola Frost,” prognostications that emerge out of sleek, hedonistic keys and seductive female vocals to foretell the eradication of the human race. Within such frames, the album and its militant effeminacy becomes a homophobe’s worst nightmare, a prophesy of a time when everyone will be bisexual androgynes. Although according to the atmospheric menace of “Buried by Time and Dust” and the pre-historic supressions insinuated by “I’ve been old since the birth of time/ Time buried me in earth,” they always have been.
Beyond this toying with chauvinist hysteria, the reclothing of black metal in electronic garb evokes a novel perspective not only on certain individuals who enjoy growling like Satan, but also on gay individuals. With the snaps of abrasive keyboard on the burbling “Sadomatic Rites” and the twilight drum ‘n’ bass of “Maniac,” Daniels creates a magnified impression of the illicit stigma and shame that can haunt LGBT people as they try to go about their lives. Over the sordid buzz-chords of “Sadomatic Rites,” he damningly rasps such lines as “Living in eternal lust/ Sodomites and blasphemers/ Sinning sex, bestial rape,” representing the kind of internalized value judgments that must frequently recur in the thoughts of gay men and women, even though such morals can only damage them. And this corollary of Why Must The Heathen Rage? offers a unique insight into Drew Daniel the man, since as both a self-professed lover of black metal and a homosexual, it seems unlikely that he can enjoy one of his favorite musical genres without being reminded that the hateful elements within it judge him, without having such judgments take root and repeat within him as one of the prisms through which he experiences himself.
However, few of these contemplations of the deeply subtextual, multi-signifying nature of Why Must The Heathen Rage? has directly taken stock of the music itself, which for its part embodies the best work Daniels has tendered as The Soft Pink Truth. Simultaneously faithful and unfaithful to its source material — so that the listener can recognize central riffs and chord progressions, but only after being informed of the album’s status as a cover album — it inventively and creatively rearranges its foundations to result in an equally enthralling, disquieting, amusing, and perplexing work that easily stands on its own merits. The accelerating percussive volleys of “Black Metal,” the frenzied synth-flurries that close “Ready to Fuck,” and the bizarre instance of Rihanna-appropriation that form “Grim Frostbitten Gay Bar” are all high points on an album that doesn’t really have any low points. Moreover, despite the possibility that its guiding premise might have been little more than a juvenile, throwaway idea, Daniel has successfully harnessed this concept to produce an impressively cohesive art object on all fronts, one that yields perhaps the most provocative statement any musician is likely to make all year. It just might be a little too provocative for some.