Milazzo, Alex (ed.), Ripping Tongues (Book review)

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Reviewed: September, 2021

Released: 2021, Heavy Music Artwork

Rating: 4.5/5

Reviewer: JP

This is a unique and important book.

RIPPING TONGUES is the result of a three-year interview project spearheaded by Alex Milazzo of the Heavy Metal Artwork organization. HMA started about 10 years ago and have built a solid and global reputation for world class Heavy Metal related publications. HMA line of products goes beyond your mere sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll autobiographies penned by self-serving, ‘rock stars’ aided in huge part by ghost writers. HMA takes a more cerebral and artistic approach. Feel free to read my reviews of other HMA publications on this site and watch for my interview with founder Alex Milazzo in the near future.

The concept of RIPPING TONGUES is simple. Milazzo interviewed 1000 different bands from a wide variety of Metal genres, from all across the world, and asked them the same questions; (paraphrased) “Is Metal dangerous and what are your thoughts/how important is free speech?”   All of them are printed here in one amazing collection.

The book itself is the usual high standard. It is an over-sized paperback, black and white, not a hint of colour.  I can’t help but think that since freedom is a black or white issue (either you are free or you are not) I can’t help but feel the black and white text was a deliberate choice. The book is 373 pages long with pure text and a few simple graphics. The quotes are run alphabetically by band and there is a short section of quotes from album cover artists such as Felipe Franco Machado, Gyula Havancsak, and Maxime Taccardi.

When you get right down to it, there is not much to this book in terms of frills or bonus features.  That is not a negative but ultimately it is ‘just’ 1000 quotes about Freedom and free speech; nothing more, nothing less.   Well actually, there are a handful of quotations about the nature of freedom scattered across the book from influential authors, poets, politicians and philosophers, such as Aristotle, Freud, Orwell, Bronte and George Washington, all serving to reinforce the main point.  There is no foreword or afterword, or index but there is a very brief, un-credited, introductory blurb, likely from Milazzo.   The streamlined presentation serves to emphasis the power of these simple words in defence of freedom.

One might think it could be dull to read 1000 opinions about freedom but therein lies the brilliance of this book. It was fascinating.  It was made even more interesting so when I was a fan of the band/individual provided their thoughts. Each band is credited with where they are from,  lyrical topics, their genre and who provided the quote.   There is a wide-range of bands from 40 years veterans to a bunch of new, young bands as well.  Opening a random page (which happened to be under the letter ‘E’) we see Enforcer, Ensiferum, Enslaved, and Enthroned, so these are not just obscure bands, although there are plenty of those as well.

I did not formally count or rank the types of response (although it would be interesting to do so) but the vast majority (estimated at 90+%) are in support of, as the book subtitle says, “free speech, free thought and free expression.”  The remaining responses are roughly apolitical, declining to comment and a few very rare bands that seem to endorse limits on freedom. I love Dragonforce but I’m not shocked they did not have anything too serious to say on the topic, while perhaps slightly more cerebral artists like Mikael Akerfledt of Opeth has a bit more to say. It may not be surprising where Jon Scaffer of Iced Earth stands on the topic! By and large it was virtually unanimous the importance of freedom to create, to think and speak what you feel.

The responses range from humorous, to simple and stark, to aggressive, to long and thoughtful essays about the nature of freedom.  A couple of favourites were Albin Julius of a German band called Der Blutharsch And The Infinite Church Of The Leading Hand, who rather cleverly responded simply with  ‘451’.    Henri Sattler of God Dethroned amusingly said  “I don’t like free speech; I rather wish we were under the church’s spell again.” (p. 142).

I’m not surprised that the Metal community has rallied so strongly in defence of freedom. Metal has been a target of censorship since the Scorpions in the 70’s had any number of album covers banned or censored, to the 80’s with the rise of the PMRC in the United States to the 90’s when Death Metal bands like Cannibal Corpse and Dismember fell foul of regional obscenity laws. Bands like Behemoth and Cradle Of Filth, while not quoted in this book have had their share of controversy about free speech as well. Those are just a few examples.

I have few broad observations about the content.  It came as little surprise that the more extreme bands in extreme genres  (Death, Black, Grind etc) were the most vehement and outspoken in defence of liberty and freedom.  The young trendier bands in the genres of sludge and metalcore etc were the bands that would be more accepting of limits on freedom.

By and large it was less relevant where a band member would fall on the traditional left vs. right political spectrum, the vast majority (left and right) support freedom.  If we could discern a slight trend (if you could even determine the bands political slant) it was clear that the left-leaning bands were more likely to accept limits on freedom.  They would say ‘Free speech is great ‘but’…and add certain qualifiers.  It also seemed a good chunk of Black Metal bands would say,  ‘we are not political but freedom is important.’
It is very gratifying to see some solidarity in the Metal community about this fundamentally important issue.  With free speech under attack from governments, politicians, corporations, NGO’s and even people who don’t support the concept of free speech, this book could not have come at a more important time.

I very, very rarely get political at, but this book comes right when the Canadian government recently passed a law allowing the government (via unelected, appointed bureaucrats) to monitor content and censor the internet (Bill C-10).  This is very frightening. Canada now has the most heavily regulated and censored internet of any nation in the free world. Our government now has the ability to censor and punish if we post, for example a picture of the new Cannibal Corpse album cover and ‘they’ deem it ‘objectionable’.

The second law the Canadian government proposed is Bill C-36 that would allow the government to waive the rights of individuals, and grant police the power of search and seizure and apply fines if you are accused of saying something the government finds offensive…even before you do it!  You can be sued, censored and fined and never get to know the name or your accuser or have the right to defend yourself (called due process) in a court of law. These are scary times but it is comforting to know that thousands of Metalheads don’t agree with these draconian laws more in line with Russia, China or North Korea.

For reasons beyond my comprehension in recent years free speech is under attack (under the guise of tolerance, social justice and being politically correct) and it is good to know what Metal bands and people we can count on to defend it and which bands to support.   If you dear reader, as a Metal fan or otherwise, value the freedom of the artists you enjoy to create their art, then RIPPING TONGUES is a critically important book.

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