On November 4th, a review of the Mares of Thrace album The Moulting, written by Erik Thomas, was published on Metal Review. You can read it here.
This review made me almost impossibly angry. It was the kind of red-hot magma flow anger that could not be assuaged by all the counting to ten, deep breaths and violent video games that I could muster. Despite the fact that what I am about to do is arguably very, very stupid, here it goes. I’ve decided to write a response.
This is not a rebuttal in the traditional sense. There’s a general consensus (certainly among supporters of Mares of Thrace, at any rate) that the review was ire-rousing and in poor taste. But a lot of what has been written has been simply angry knee jerks, a lots of “fuck yous!” I want to actually start a discussion here. Because it’s not enough to be angry, to call something out as wrong. I think someone needs to take a stab at expressing exactly why this review is so infuriating, and why it is being labelled as offensive.
In a follow-up discussion, Thérèse Lanz mentioned that it doesn’t seem like Erik Thomas is a complete idiot. I agree. He describes the music that they’re making accurately, and correctly identifies some of their key influences. Despite the fact that he acknowledges that he can see what they’re trying to do, and that arguably they’re doing it well, it doesn’t really do it for him. It seems he doesn’t really like the kind of music that Mares of Thrace produces. Which is…fine, I suppose, though a little puzzling (why write a blandly negative critique of a band working well in a genre you don’t care for? Seems a waste of time). Where the review becomes officially problematic is the way he contextualizes his critique.
The crux of Erik Thomas’ critique of The Moulting is not an issue with the music, the production, the composition, or really even the album. He has an issue with the fact that he wants to like this album more that he does because he finds two women behind Mares of Thrace extremely attractive. He calls them “delectable.” He laments that his negative review will damage his chances of potentially scoring with them. This is the basis of my issue with his critique. The problems has are not with the music or the writing. Erik Thomas is upset that, in his mind, the music Mares of Thrace produces somehow makes them less attractive, less fuckable.
This is what makes me obscenely angry. If it was simply a matter for a few off-handed, ill-advised comments, jokes in poor taste, I probably would have rolled my eyes and moved on. But this is not a matter of casual sexism; it is a matter of sexism as the crux of this review. It would be impossible to simply excise an offensive comment or two. The entire piece would have to be rewritten. He’s not critiquing music here at all. He is judging the attractiveness of the people creating the music, and how their music makes them somehow less attractive in his eyes. And that, right there, is bullshit. Therese and Stef are not interested in if you want to fuck them, Erik Thomas. They are interested in intelligent, helpful critiques of their work. You are writing about music, not judging a fucked up beauty contest. Their work is not in service of your libido. Quit acting like a voyeur and start acting like a journalist.
I think it is important to state here that I don’t think sexuality and journalism should be kept completely separate – and certainly not sexuality and music! Metal is attractive to a lot of people because of the aggressive, primal, and, yes, erotic energy that it embodies. I would not love it as much as I do if it didn’t. This is not something that should be ignored or, worse, eliminated. It’s something that should be celebrated and treated with respect.
In response to the avalanche of negativity in the wake of the review, on November 5th Metal Review tweeted: “Metal Review: Promoting murderers, arsonists, blasphemers, Satanists, and bigots in metal since 2001. BUT WE DRAW THE LINE AT SEXIST JOKES.” Whoever wrote this tweet brings up a valuable point. With so much that is problematic and arguably offensive in terms of metal content, why this? Why has everyone gotten all up in arms in this particular instance?
I have two things to say about this. First of all: yes, many revered heavy metal musicians (and artists in general) live controversial personal lives. It is always an ethical issue for consumers of media whether they can continue to support and enjoy work, however brilliant, that is created by someone who is personally despicable. Many renowned artists are considered monsters by those who knew them intimately. Whether or not you can continue to enjoy the work of a great artist, knowing their beliefs and actions outside of the art they produce, is an ethical dilemma that everyone must carefully navigate. Erik Thomas is not a great artist. He’s a music critic. This is not a discussion along the lines of whether or not it’s responsible to listen to/write about Burzum. This is a discussion about whether or not a writer as the right to act like an asshole and get away without criticism. And the answer is no.
Secondly, and this is the point that might lose me friends: if you are sexist, racist, homophobic, or generally intolerant, you are an asshole, and I have no desire to know you. Full stop. There is absolutely no excuse for this kind of disgusting behaviour. I might be able to see past profound character flaws and occasionally enjoy art by someone whose personal beliefs I despise. But I would certainly never consider that person a friend, or someone I would actually want to know and spend my time with. Erik Thomas is not some troglodyte mouth-breather posting nonsensical hateful rants in a forum or in comment threads somewhere. He is a reasonably articulate, intelligent human being, and therefor has absolutely no excuse for this bullshit whatsoever. He has officially lost my interest as a reader and respect as a fellow journalist. I challenge him to earn it back – from me, and everyone else he’s alienated.
We, as the weirdos of the world, have the solemn duty to be excellent to each other. No one out there is going to be. We should demonstrate, and tolerate, nothing less. Now quit fucking around and get back to work.