In 1988 I discovered metal. I always knew it was there, and I'd flirted with it occasionally throughout my young life, via bands like Def Leppard, but it wasn't a serious relationship. My exposure to the genre had been limited to whatever bands were in music magazines and on MTV. Since most of them looked terrifying I avoided them. However, I did love Judas Priest's "Another Thing Coming," even if I was too ashamed to admit that to my "cool" friends.
It was Guns 'N Roses that eventually unlocked the key to my metallic heart. From there it was on to Metallica, Anthrax, S.O.D., M.O.D., Helloween, Testament, The Cro-Mags, and others. Like Megadeth.
I saw the video for Megadeth's "Peace Sells" on Headbanger's Ball and related to its sardonic wit, so I acquired the album. When I examined the CD insert in detail I was aghast when I read the lyrics to "Good Mourning/Black Friday."
You have to understand: at this point I was more influenced by Goth than Metal. So I was OK with purchasing a book of photographs of London's Highgate Cemetery but anything gory was a no-go.
I had slept over at a friend's house a couple of years before when she busted out a copy of Lucio Fulci's City of the Living Dead, a.k.a. The Gates of Hell, and the infamous "vomiting entrails" scene terrified me so profoundly that I had a debilitating panic attack a few hours later (how embarrassing).
The lyrics of "Good Mourning/Black Friday" weren't just gory, they were gleefully so, as evidenced by lines like "I grin while you writhe with the pain that I deal."
Reveling in this kind of debauchery was unimaginable to me:
Their bodies convulse, in agony, and pain.
I mangle their faces till no features remain.
A blade for the butchering, I cut them to shreds.
First take out the organs, then cut off the head.
The remains of flesh now sop under my feet.
One more bloody massacre, the murders complete.
I seek to dismember, a sadist fiend.
And blood baths are my way of getting clean.
I lurk in the alleys, wait for the kill.
I have no remorse for the blood that I spill
A merciless butcher who lives underground.
I'm out to destroy you and I will cut you down.
I see you, and I'm waiting for Black Friday.
Yet the music! The song sounded so good to my ears, catchy even, and I took no small amount of pleasure in Dave Mustaine's shredding guitar. What did this mean? Was something wrong with me? I was genuinely alarmed.
As a formerly devout Catholic, I had only recently begun to question the tenets of my religious upbringing. An eighth grade religion class had insisted that masturbation was a sin, a statement that infuriated me to the point that I decided God was a crock of shit. But this was different. "Black Friday" ends with the repeated refrain, "paint the Devil on the walls" which was decidedly troubling to me.
I don't remember what I did next. I must have somehow rationalized that it was OK to like Megadeth, despite these lyrics. After all, I had a copy of Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel's NAIL album and I prayed my mother would never figure out the lyrics to "Pigswill," a song that even disturbed me. Still, I had friends who liked Foetus's music. Megadeth felt more dangerous somehow. I had just moved to California from Louisiana and I didn't have many friends and I wasn't sure if the ones I'd had back home would approve.
Of course, nearly 30 years and dozens of hardcore horror movies later, I no longer suffer from such crises of conscience. I am fully aware that consuming horror pop culture, no matter how grotesque and gory, does not mean one condones killing sprees. Reading explicit Hannibal "murder husbands" slash fiction does not mean that I think murdering people and eating them is OK (although I am perfectly OK with male homosexual sex).
What does frighten me, however, are those people who still don't grasp that engaging with pop culture depicting explicit gore or sex or a combination of the two, does not make one a degenerate. Whether it's a song, a TV show, a movie, or even a comic book, it's still fiction, which should always be a safe space to examine ideas, no matter how twisted they might seem to others.