Up The Irony

Heavy metal has always been equal parts irony and sincerity.


There’s no limit to the waves of embarrassment that old metal dudes will rain down on their beleaguered, black-clad fans. Every time a hesher bangs his head, some fogey from the first or second gen kills the buzz: here’s Phil Anselmo doing a white power sign like a dickwad, or how about Gene Simmons’s failed bid to trademark the horns? Or, Ted Nugent, still sucking air? It certainly does suck. More recently, Dee Snider, the one-time frontman of the ’80s glam band Twisted Sister, who made an entire career out of appropriating crossdressing, is pissed about the “new” trend of non-metal fans wearing metal tees.

On October 17, Snider tweeted, “Gotta say, this new trend of non-metal fans wearing vintage metal T’s if [sic] pretty sickening. Metal is not ironic! Dicks.” Where the hell do I even begin? Old Man Snider is so completely out of touch with the culture he was once a part of, that he thinks a) the trend of wearing heavy metal shirts ironically is new, and b) that heavy metal itself is not ironic.

During the mid to late ’90s (heavy metal’s dark ages), every high school emo band on earth had at least one kid who donned an ironic Maiden tee. While no one could expect the lead singer of a band that barely classifies as metal to be aware of this particular phenomenon, the completely unavoidable resurgence of heavy metal in the early to mid 2000s (which is the only reason anyone under the age of 50 might give a damn about what Dee Snider thinks) was led by bands like Mastodon and The Sword, whose stock in trade was equal parts sincerity and irony. They showed a level of care and appreciation for old metal that led them to craft intricate, loud compositions that sounded fresh and exciting compared to whichever snooze fest James Mercer was packaging as a Shins album that year.  Coupled with the fact that what those bands were saying was just fucking funny was what made it so timely and welcome. This balance is the only thing that allowed heavy metal to force its way back into any kind of cultural relevance.

Snider followed his first ill-conceived tweet on the subject with this the next day:

“It’s not just the wearing of our metal T’s, it’s their cherry picking of our style #skulls #metalhorns These are OUR symbols; OUR image.”

And that’s where his rant takes the all-too predictable turn from stupid to problematic. Who is this OUR that Dee Snider imagines? And who is the THEY? The group that Dee Snider fancies himself a part of is a genre of music that wouldn’t exist had white people not stolen the blues and early rock and roll from people of color. Heavy metal is just one step in a long line of music born of that initial theft. The heavy metal that I know and love does not discriminate. It’s inclusive and open-minded, and it must reckon with a past that includes Pantera proudly waving confederate flags and Lemmy sporting a straight-up Nazi uniform for half a century. It’s a heavy metal that struggles to turn a profit and can ill afford to alienate any person who wants to buy a shirt and wear it in public. People are being bombed and gunned down at concerts across the world, and no one is referring to them as pop or country music fans. An old white guy crying cultural appropriation reeks of hypocrisy. It’s time to let go of the ‘who is a true metal fan?’ debate and worry about things that actually fucking matter.


John Dziuban is no longer a musician. Metal Minutiae is an occasional column on the decline of rock music.