The music rips, the moshes are fun, and the band's playing is overall solid and hungry. It features one significant change, however, not in its musical direction but in its delivery, as Ian Hsiao replaces Andrew Hsieh on vocals.
Other thrash bands have had to make similar shifts - Exodus, Testament, & Anthrax, for example - and they've survived, if not thrived. But it can be a big adjustment for fans. We may identify with one singer more than another. I have to be honest and say that, as first impressions go, I do miss Andrew's voice, a more guttural and powerful force than his replacement's. Not that Ian isn't trying, but there are occasions when, for me, it falls just short of the ferocious bite required.
For example, on the EP's standout track, the anti-nuclear Atomic Funeral, I find myself wanting a low deathblow to seal the deal. Ian's tendencies are to go higher. The conclusion to S.A.T.A.N., on the other hand, is achieved to great effect (and aided by great effects, I might add). I guess it is just up to me to adapt.
Anyway, casually first-listening to the EP at home as I attended to other domestic concerns, I suddenly had to stop everything with a "Did that just happen?" moment.
I grabbed the CD booklet and confirmed my horror.
"Kill the faggots"
Oh shit, he really said that.
Where are we, Uganda?
Normally for GigGuide.tw, if a band, venue, or promoter sucks, I (we) choose to ignore them and not give them any attention. Our limited time and energies are best served encouraging the many good elements of the scene. We have an understanding at GGHQ to accentuate the positive and be constructive in our criticisms. But there are times to speak out, as with the bullshit from Very Aspect or the evils of the ShidaAsshole Society. And this is a moment that merits a reaction, too.
Now, I've been a headbanger for decades, ever since my voice cracked. It was love at first power-chord. I know the machismo involved in the genre but I've never believed it to be necessary. Bravado has always struck me as amplified insecurity. Metal is an art that deals in aggression and a subculture that not only understands but celebrates its outsiderness. Yet I've always found it odd that Metal is often slow to embrace other so-called social deviants and minorities. What better way to defy the mainstream than to unite with other ostracized peers?
It is not my duty or desire to defend the band, but let's look at the lyric in context. It appears in the song Thrasher Commandos 完整試聽版 and is paired with another line, "fuck up the posers," a common metalhead refrain (from the 80's, at least) to assert one's strength and integrity (is that not a pose, too?). The song is a basic ode to the lifestyle of a hardcore headbanger. So it seems dubious the band has a serious deathwish for our gay brothers and sisters.
But how do really I know? As this is also a band who sings in English, one can safely assume a basic level of comprehension, that they know exactly what they are saying. So do they really want "faggots" to die? Or is "kill the faggots" some lame effort to create controversy and attract attention? I dunno, but it definitely screams out, "Hello, I'm a loser."
Sadly, homophobia is not an isolated occurrence in Metal. Anthrax, a band I've long admired for their positivity, social awareness, and efforts at racial equality, were similarly disappointing in 1998 on the song Finale from the State Of Euphoria album. The record closes with the lines :
How long have you been waiting to be set free ?
Don't you know it's easy as 1,2,3
Don't be a faggot now that's the key
Don't you know it's easy as 1,2,3
Even back then, in my inexperienced, pimply little world, I was like, what the hell?
(Note: I did ask Anthrax's Scott Ian about this during a live Twitter Q/A session, but didn't receive a reply)
For quite a long while, the words gay and faggot have been shorthand in the wider vernacular for weakness and femininity. But think of how completely stupid that concept is: how much courage does it take to be gay in the face of so much virulent hate, violence, and discrimination? It's way more courageous than posturing as a tough guy in a pack of other supposed tough guys.
And is gayness always feminine? And is femininity itself weak? No, and no. Many of the strongest people I've met in my life are women. Think about the women you know, the lives they lead, and the responsibilities they shoulder. That's real strength. And yet we deride weaklings as being "pussies." The last time I used the word, years ago, I got reprimanded by a friend, who shot at me, "Hey, pussies are powerful." She's right.
So what does this all have to do with reviewing Masquerader's EP? Well, I was enjoying the album well enough but then that one horrible line ruined it all for me. It differs greatly from a song like S.A.T.A.N., which is hard to take seriously on any level, lyrically-speaking. Singing "Bow down to the Devil" is just silly. Metal is full of such over-the-top imagery that easily rankles The Man. Songs about Satan don't have any real consequence because Satan isn't real. It's like watching a horror movie. Put your feet up and have a laugh. And maybe laugh at those who don't get the joke.
But gay people are real, and they really do get killed for being gay. Many of my friends are gay and it would be just as irresponsible to let this crap go unchallenged. The world is slowly evolving to become more tolerant and humane. The music scene in Taiwan has grown stronger, better, and more widely recognized. But a deplorable moment like that lyric is not simply immature, it's disgusting, embarrassing, and reinforces mindsets that can affect real hurtful actions, be it violence or discrimination. Words aren't just sounds. They exist to convey meaning; they communicate specific ideas. "Kill the faggots" - there's not a lot of room for guessing here.
As a fan (well, ex-fan), I want Masquerader to explain themselves. "Kill the faggots" is not funny. It's not cool. It's a wretched, awful statement. I'm not just angry, I'm furious. And I'm not just offended, I'm disgusted. I'm not gay and I don't need to be. To be human is enough to know there's no place for this kind of sentiment.
Understand, I'm not writing this review because I hate the band and wish their career to end. I don't. I've bought their albums, I've played their songs when I DJ, and I've promoted their shows on GigGuide. But I also wouldn't have done any of that had I known about the song in question. I can't and won't endorse them as such. I don't want to simply declare that what they did is bad and wrong and leave it at that. That's not enough. I want to explain why. This is a learning moment, as they say, for them and possibly other readers. "Kill the faggots" is an extreme and unacceptable comment, however it was intended. But it doesn't have to be their legacy. Masquerader can redeem themselves, in my eyes, with sincere reflection, public repudiation, and a real commitment at inclusion and decency. They owe it to themselves, their fans, gay people, and to all others they've offended.
Question: Can you succeed as a gay/gay-friendly Metal band?
Answer: Rob Halford & Judas Priest.
Now time for a confession: I made my share of gay jokes... when I was 11. Faggot and gay were words we flippantly threw around on the playground. As I grew older, I realized these words referred to actual people and I was being thoughtless and mean. I'm ashamed and I regret it. But this band isn't made of 11-year-olds. It is time to grow up. They're skilled, they're talented, and their music rocks. They are representing not only themselves but also Taiwan, as they enjoy privileged opportunities to open for popular international acts. It is a shame to waste it on ignorance. It is a shame that my enduring memory of this album will be "Kill the faggots."
PS: GigGuide.tw received this statement from ex-vocalist Andrew Hsieh:
"I want to let you know that the lyrics related to killing homosexuals had nothing to do with me. When I left the band, the original lyrics that I wrote for that verse were:
Thrasher commandos, dying in the pit.
Thrasher commandos, fuck up the posers.
I'm telling you this because I'm equally shocked and appalled at the lyrics, and I'm ashamed that my name is on such material.
- Andrew Hsieh"
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