Content Warning: This article includes details of sexual assault.
In September of 2017, all four members of the Polish death metal outfit Decapitated (Michał Łysejko, Wacław Kiełtyka, Rafał Piotrowski and Hubert Więcek) were arrested on charges of kidnapping and rape following a show they played in Spokane, Washington. The charges came from two women who were reportedly held against their will on the band’s tour bus after the show. One was able to escape. The other reported that she was then raped by all four members of the band in the bathroom of the bus—with police citing “significant bruising and abrasions on her arms that were consistent with being restrained.”
That October, while being held in the Los Angeles County Jail, they were all formally charged with rape. Awaiting their upcoming trial that was scheduled for that January, they left on bail of $100,000 each after spending a total of 96 days in jail. Come January 5, 2018, all charges against the band are dropped with the victim’s well being cited as the sole reason. Shortly after, Decapitated released a long winded letter expressing desire to “move forward” from this event and claimed complete innocence—even going so far as to call themselves victims of false accusations, saying that “[w]ords hurt. Words matter. Truth matters.”
Decapitated has since returned to the scene in full force. Touring all over the world with such acts as Napalm Death, High on Fire, Inferi, and Archspire, it seems that the community has been more than willing to look past the victim’s horror stories of sexual violence in the continual allowance of rape culture that has long pervaded the rock and metal scenes since their inceptions.
One needn’t look far to find instances of this culture. Courtney Love’s reported sexual assaults at her own shows; The Scorpions’ pedophilic original artwork on their album flagrantly titled “Virgin Killer;” the countless reports of assault at both Woodstock events; the continued admiration for late womanizer, abuser, and pedophile GG Allin; Manowar’s Karl Logan’s recent arrest and guilty plea on possession of pornographic content of girls as young as four years old; the rape and murder of Mia Zapata (of The Gits) in 1993. The list of transgressions goes on, with an untold number remaining unreported. Sexual assualt, pedophilia, murder, and other forms of violence against women, the queer and trans communities, and others, have long been an issue within the predominantly white and male centric rock and metal communities.
What should upset the most here is the continual occurrence and allowance of this type of behavior. Even just within the extreme metal scene there are far too many examples. Another very recent instance is American thrash band Vektor. Despite 2019 video evidence of David DiSanto (vocalist/guitarist) violently assaulting his wife, Katy DiSanto, the band has since returned to the scene as normal. Aside from an initial (and ultimately inconsequential) outcry, their 2020 single has since racked up over half a million hits on Spotify and has been followed by further releases and tours.
illustrations by Vivian Veidt
In the case of Decapitated, a band established in the metal scene since the mid 90s, during death metal’s heyday, there’s been a common sentiment among fans that the band itself are the victims—the women involved debased as liars stalking the wealth and attention of a relatively obscure death metal band. Many fans feel that the action of dropping all charges is enough evidence to suggest both the band’s total innocence and the woman’s total depravity.
Yet, there’s so much left to unpack beyond this simple dichotomy. Men often fail to comprehend the mental anguish and trauma affiliated with involving the law in a search for justice in sex crimes. Due to the law’s incredibly narrow definition of rape, placing the burden of proof on the complainant, and so many deeply rooted patriarchial cultural values that primarily serve to benefit wealthy white men, the insurmantable obstacles for victims of sex crimes often leave them without the justice that the law is supposedly there to provide.
What’s also often (and unsurprisingly) excluded from these echo chambers of fans assuring themselves that they aren’t supporting abusers is the public and private response that sexual assualt survivors often receive upon any sort of publicity: death threats, victim blaming, and shame from those closest to them as well as the general public. In what world would a woman put herself through what could only be a debilitating mental experience in order to gain what little this relatively obscure death metal band has to offer?
And what exactly do these people think she was after? Money? Attention? Some sort of sick fame?
The obvious answer to this situation is that the women involved were not simply liars seeking to exploit some B side death metal band. Rather, the community at large has again chosen to side with the abuser rather than the victim, allowing rape culture to continue unabashed because men would rather listen to their favorite band without feeling the guilt intrinsic with their (in)actions than do the hard work of deconstructing these toxicly patriarchal values that we continue to uphold.
Powerful men throughout history have often been able to skirt responsibility for their (alleged) crimes, their fans doing the hard legwork for them and helping to destroy any hope for justice in the process. Chris Brown, Michael Jackson, James Franco, R. Kelly (until very recently), Pablo Picasso, countless priests and religious officials, even past U.S. presidents such as George H.W. Bush and Donald Trump. All men who have gotten away with horrendous crimes due to how little value we place on the voices of victims in this society—especially non white, non male victims.
Women speaking out against these issues have also largely gone unheard, ignored, or vilified. For decades people like Dolly Parton, Courtney Love, Lauryn Hill, and Yoko Ono have spoken out against gendered violence within the industry. Yet bring up their names and you’ll often hear the common sentiments of vilification and fan conspiracies against them despite many of them being survivors of abusers who have gone on to become martyrs and legends.
It’s nothing new when I say that we need to listen to the voices of the women who have been speaking out against this allowance of rape culture within the rock and metal scenes for decades. As a lifelong member of the metal scene (especially here in the PNW), I’m profoundly disappointed by the continual ignorance being embraced. For a fringe community that touts such values as camaraderie, acceptance among the downtrodden, and critique of systemic power dynamics, there’s a serious disconnect between how this community perceives itself and how it actually is. Until we disallow the presence of abusers in our community, as well as the arguments for their perceived innocence while condemning their victims, we will continually fail ourselves and all those around us.