The world of metal happily exists outside the mainstream, with only a few of the biggest acts ever getting sizeable attention outside the rock press. Sadly it's only when tragedy hits, someone does something absolutely loathsome or mainstream news and figures misunderstand the genre's many different genres and subcultures, that bands hit national and international headlines. This is our list of when metal has come to the world's attention for completely the wrong reasons.
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Alice Cooper shocks the UK
Decades before before becoming the born again, golf-loving grandfather of rock, the general public found Alice Cooper genuinely scary. Prominent anti-fun campaigner Mary Whitehouse was so terrified she successful banned Cooper's 1972 anthem School's Out from Top Of The Pops. As Alice subsequently pointed out, this inadvertently propelled the song to number 1 in the charts anyway.
Fifteen years later it was Cooper's graphic horror-inspired stage show which was the target of Labour politician David Blunkett. O the campaign failed, and Alice has merrily been having his head lopped off on these shores ever since.
The PMRC vs metal
Remember those Parental Guidance stickers on albums? We have the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) to thank for that. Led by Senator Al Gore's wife Tipper, in 1985 the PMRC drew up a list of 15 songs they objected to on due to themes of sex, drugs, violence and the occult, with many metal bands joining the likes of Prince and Madonna. Luckily, Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider was on hand to help, taking the stand at a televised senate committee hearing, wearing double denim and looking like he'd just rolled off stage, to fly the flag for the so-called ‘Filthy Fifteen’ and artistic expression. He even insinuated that Tipper Gore had a dirty mind in the process.
Judas Priest get sued
When a tragic suicide of two teenage Judas Priest fans in Sparks, Nevada in 1985 was blamed on subliminal messages on the band's Stained Class record, the Birmingham metal gods were forced to go to court to defend themselves and the entire genre. The ludicrous accusation was eventually thrown out in a 1990 trial when it was pointed out that while you could vaguely discern “Let's be dead” and “Do it” if you played the record backwards, you could also hear “Give me a peppermint” and “Hey ma, my chair's broken.”
Marilyn Manson gets blamed for Columbine
A decade later, another American tragedy was again blamed on metal by a media looking for an easy scapegoat. Following the murder of 12 students and one teacher in Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, politicians and the US media made sensationalist claims that the killers were influenced by Marilyn Manson and his group's music that was said to glorify violence. Manson remained articulate in his measured responses to the accusations, including a piece in Rolling Stone, but his name is inexorably linked to these hysterical, misguided reaction.
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Senator Bob Dole takes on Cannibal Corpse
No strangers to controversy across the world for their lyrics and imagery, Buffalo's death metal kings Cannibal Corpse had already gained mainstream attention for their appearance on Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. However, a year before challenging Bill Clinton in the presidential race, Reublican Senator Bob Dole would give the band yet more coverage when he accused the band and a number of rap artists of “undermining the character of the nation.” Cannibal bassist Alex Webster later commented that it had the opposite impact that what was intended: “It was an honour of sorts. We are happy we managed to get their attention.”
Anthrax get tied into the 9/11 anthrax attacks
When New York thrash legends Anthrax came up with their name in 1981, they probably didn't anticipate the shitstorm that would erupt 20 years later. A week after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, five more people died when letters filled with anthrax powder were mailed to media and Democratic party offices, with the band having to temporarily change its website due to the traffic it was receiving. Luckily the band's planned name change to 'Basket Full of Puppies' was just a joke.
A T-shirt lands Cradle Of Filth in hot water
Cradle Of FIlth’s journey from the Brat Princes Of Black Metal to cuddly national treasures is weird. not least because they’re synonymous with the most offensive piece of clothing since the miniskirt.
The infamous ‘Vestal Masturbation’ T-shirt features a nun pleasuring herself with a crucifix on the front and the phrase 'Jesus is a C**t' on the back, various fans and even ex-Cradle drummer Nicholas Baker have got in trouble for wearing it since its release in 1993. Most famously the Lord Provost of Glasgow, Alex Mosson, got the garment banned from the city's Tower Records store in 2001, deeming it “sick and offensive” – which was kind of the point.
Body Count piss off Ben Hur
It's safe to say Cop Killer, from Body Count's eponymous debut album, ruffled a few feathers when it was released in 1992, with US President George HW Bush and Tipper Gore (her again) unimpressed by the song's violent denouncement of the LAPD. But while mainman Ice T has continually pointed out that he is merely playing a role in the song, Hollywood legend Charlton Heston didn't see it that way, and weighted into the debate by reading out the song's lyrics at a Warner Bros shareholders meeting. Ice would remove the song from subsequent issues of the album, but it still garners the biggest response at every Body Count, so who's the real winner?
As I Lay Dying’s Tim Lambesis plots to kill his wife
Tim Lambesis was a busy man during the early 2010s. The singer with metalcore leading lights As I Lay Dying renounced his Christianity, hit the steroids hard and embarked on an extra marital affair that broke up his marriage. Oh, and then he tried to have his ex-wife murdered.
It was the latter that led to one of the decade’s most surreal sights: that of a glum-faced Lambesis, clad in prison scrubs, being marched pitifully into court on May 16, 2014 to receive a sentence for his part in the plot to kill his former wife, Meggan.
The road that brought him there reads like the plot of a bad Coen Brothers movie. In May 2013, Lambesis asked a gym buddy if he knew any hitmen, only for the alarmed associate to go to the authorities, who set up a sting that involved the unsupsecting singer agreeing to pay $20,000 to a fake asssasin in a public library.
The jury didn’t buy Lambesis’ ’roid-rage defence and sentenced him to six years in jail. His bandmates promptly distanced themselves from him – though not so far that they wouldn’t controversially reunite with him when he was released in 2018.
Lambesis’ return polarised the metal community: for some, his contrition at his misdeeds and subsequent work in the fields of addiction and mental health mean he should be granted a second chance; for others, this misogynistic bozo tried to have his wife killed.
The Daily Mail calls My Chemical Romance a 'suicide cult band'
When the Daily Mail picks on one of rock's many subcultures they pick on us all. Again taking a tragedy – the suicide of 13-year-old Hannah Bond in 2008 – and blaming it on music, the newspaper claimed emo music was responsible, specifically calling My Chemical Romance leaders of the 'suicide cult of emo' that was obsessed with depression and self-harm. The article led to fans protesting outside the Daily Mail's office but failed to whip up public panic of the genre that was intended. Which, given it was a nasty attempt to sell newspapers on the back of a tragedy, is as it should be.