Mar 252014

(Yesterday we posted BadWolf’s review of Lord Mantis’ forthcoming album, Death Mask. The review led to some interesting exchanges in the Comment section, most of which revolved around the album’s controversial cover art by Jef Whitehead. BadWolf now follows up with this post.)

Here at NCS, we are blessed with a great stable of readers and commentators. For the most part, you guys respond with decorum and thoughtfulness, even when we cover transgressive and confrontative music, like the kind we covered yesterday in my review of Lord Mantis’ new album, Death Mask. That album features a striking piece of cover art, which some people have claimed is transphobic, or otherwise vile toward transgendered persons. That artwork was produced by another controversial member of the metal community, Jef Whitehead of Leviathan, among other projects.

In that thread, Charlie Fell, bassist and vocalist in Lord Mantis, spoke up. And he had this to say:

“The art work wasn’t meant to offend it was made to be a portrait of myself destructiveness as well as my minds eye view of my humanity and sexuality. The last album also featured a transgendered Christ on it and its been a theme in our cover art through out the bands existence. Im not always the best with words and come off a bit crass and insensitive to some people but I have no problems or prejudices with any race, gender (cis, trans or otherwise) or sexual orientation.

“I myself am a jew and work at a gay bar in Boystown Chicago and also was in a relationship with a transgendered woman so I can tell you that the band does not advocate violence towards anyone besides ourselves, hence the noose and the scars and the agony of the figure on the cover. I haven’t had the most privileged life and the bands art is a direct reflection of my own misery and was not intended to be some sort of tasteless shocker. We wont change the album artwork but hopefully your comments and blog posts that have been circulating will further bring awareness to the statistics that you have pointed out there.”

These comments come in the wake of a controversial interview Fell conducted with Laina Dawes at Noisey (here).

In my review, I expressed that I felt the album cover was relatively lacking in artistic content. Apparently I was quick to judge. Clearly Fell and the rest of Lord Mantis do mean something by the piece.

Many people will still feel offended by the work, regardless of Fell’s comments. Which is fair. The piece exists separately from Fell and Whitehead’s intentions. It is now its own entity, existing in the world around us. A world that, despite the best intentions of many people, is still quite dangerous for our transgendered brothers and sisters.

At its best, metal creates a safe space for musicians and listeners to express their feelings, thoughts, desires, and repulsions. Sometimes the world does not accommodate such safety. If there is a silver lining, it is that this piece has engendered more discussion of transgender issues in the metal community than I have ever seen. Hopefully this dialog can continue, here and elsewhere. I want that dialog to be open, and honest, and move the metal community at large into a place where it can offer our transgendered comrades the same safe harbor that I, in my privilege, have enjoyed.

On behalf of the NCS crew, I’d like to thank Charlie for speaking out, and to thank you all for keeping the discussion alive—and safe. (But if you’re here to spew hate and nothing more, fuck right off.)


  1. Agreed on the last parenthetical statement.

  2. Despite the fact that I argued in the earlier thread that the band’s intentions don’t matter (and in some ways I still think that they don’t – people are going to mostly draw their own conclusions about the art), I appreciate Charlie’s willingness to come on here and discuss it.

    Extreme metal contains a lot of material that is uncomfortable or potentially offensive to someone, and I know I’m personally still struggling to find where I draw my own line between, “Eh, that’s gross but I don’t have to listen/watch,” and “No, that’s uncool and it’s important to say it’s uncool.”

  3. Seeing a lot of parallels between this controversy and the ire Mastodon drew with their Thanksgiving shirt last year. Just another case of the message not matching the intention.

    On the other hand, how else do you convey the inner disgust, agony, and hate you feel for yourself on the artwork other than putting something disgusting, self-destructive, and offensive on the cover? I mean, it matches the style of the music and his blunt personality. Sure it lacks nuance, but if that’s not representative of the artist, I say go for it.

    We have to ask ourselves: would we rather the artist convey something that’s more true to their inner-self(ves), even if it offends us, or convey something fake/non-representative of the minds behind the music? Not every subject can be embodied in nuance and reasonable terms, especially in extreme metal. Sometimes the artist needs to send their message with an barbed dildo to the taint.

    • Does it have to be a simple binary choice between being true to oneself and conveying something fake? And I think we have to be careful about treating all kinds of “offensive” content as the same. I’m cool with being “offended,” but I’m not cool with art that advocates violence against marginalized people. (I will concede that whether this cover art actually “advocates” anything is up for debate.)

      The question I find myself asking is, if the artist is not transgendered, do they need to use a transgendered person’s body to express their inner disgust, agony, and hate? As with the Mastodon t-shirt, I feel that it’s important to be more careful when you’re depicting people whose experiences are not your own, because when you bring other people into it, you’re no longer making a statement that’s just about you, and you’re not the only one who has to bear the fallout from misinterpretations of that statement.

      • Thank you for bringing up a lot of points I had feeling to this response. While feelings of self hatred and self disgust are shared by each and every person the use of imagery not your own still seems a bit sour to my mind. While a lot of trans people do have those sort of feelings it’s usually not how they feel about themselves but the ways in which society views them.

      • the first time i saw the record cover i assumed it was a statement about the perception of trans people by the larger culture and how that affects trans peoples’ perception of themselves. i thought maybe the individual depicted was bound and mutilated by cultural attitudes and was attaching a different and more grotesque, but false and unfair face to themselves.

        i think it is fair to say that artists need to be careful in “depicting people whose experiences are not your own” (or i guess how we interpret the work in those situations). it certainly CAN contribute to how others view marginalized people and those people might be misrepresented by their standards.

        either way, i think this whole thing points to one of the most interesting things about listening to metal. you are often forced to confront how you view the world. do you skip over NSBM bands because their views conflict with yours in the same way that you would skip over a political site that pushes the same agenda? do you separate art from artist and try to appreciate the art itself even if you don’t agree with its message? how do you decide what is shock and what is agenda and does that matter to you? i’d be willing to bet that we’ve all thought about this stuff a fair amount and we would represent a wide variety of opinions.

        • ‘the first time i saw the record cover i assumed it was a statement about the perception of trans people by the larger culture and how that affects trans peoples’ perception of themselves.’

          me too. and as a trans girl, i thought it was pretty rad. and honestly, i would have kept on happily thinking that and was pretty excite for the record, until charlie did that noisey interview and said some of the most awful shit about trans people i’ve ever heard. so which is it, mr. fell? did you have a nice loving relationship with a trans girl, or did you meet one in a car one night a ‘cum in the dudes mouth’? that interview made me not want to hear the record and not want to support the band in anyway, not the album cover.

        • I had kind of a visceral negative reaction to the cover myself, especially knowing who drew it – whether such an assumption is fair or unfair is debatable, I guess. You make a good point in that the cover could be taken as one thing or another, or anything in between – though I understand it’s partly the ambiguity of the image that some find problematic here.

          The Noisey interview, though not as bad I expected, didn’t really help the band’s case either. But then I realize I’d be a fool to expect sensitivity from metal musicians.

          For the record, I enjoy the music of both Leviathan and Lord Mantis, whether the creators of said music are assholes/creeps or not.

      • I agree to some degree about depicting experiences that aren’t your own and the delicate line you tread when doing so. But reading some of his more candid interviews, it’s fair to say this guy gives no fucks about gender or orientation. He may not be physically transgendered himself, but he’s certainly been entrenched in the LGBT community and lifestyle for some time.

        To your other point, if he feels like a transgendered person on the inside (or at the very least, indifferent to gender), why wouldn’t he depict that body on the art? He pretty much states that in the above comment: “it was made to be a portrait of my self destructiveness as well as my minds eye view of my humanity and sexuality.”. Take note of the possessive “my”.

        • This whole “depicting experiences that aren’t your own” line of thinking is ridiculous to me. So my art needs to deal with how I feel about my little house in the suburbs and how boring my job is and how I’m pissed off I don’t get a promotion? Should I write a suite about cleaning up cat puke? Come on here – art is imagination, it’s creativity, it’s often fantasy. How do we learn anything unless we step out of ourselves? Buy what you want, be offended by what you want – but fuck off if you want to put limits on others art. Just sayin’.

          • Precisely. “Write what you know” is a good general rule, but it shouldn’t be an ironclad law. Witness the recent crop of boring, narcissistic memoirists for proof.

  4. I fully appreciate Charlie speaking up and honestly know I came off a bit harsh (but with sensitive things it happens to the best of us). I apologize first and foremost it I came off in such a way and know that Charlie’s response to my concerns is greatly respected as he could as easily just have turned a blind eye to it all. I still personally feel conflicted about the artwork myself but through your views and opinions on it my degree of displeasure has gone down. Right now I only hope your words and personal meaning with the artwork spread so that more people such as myself don’t jump to the conclusions that I did. Thank you again for the response.

    • I want to thank you, in particular, for speaking up. I read your responses many times in the last two days. You’re a brave soul. Please stay with us!

      • I’ve honestly been lurking on the site for a while! I don’t comment much because I often don’t have much to say but I’ve been a daily reader here since 2011. I apologize for causing a bit of a fuss but I am very glad at how maturely everyone here was to respond to it and makes an even better impression on me about the community here.

        • Hey, sometimes we need a bit of “fuss”. Keeps us from getting complacent about the way we view and think about stuff here.

          Plus it’s helped expose a few fantastic bits of idiocy on behalf of certain folks, which is always amusing.

  5. I’m glad this discussion is happening. My respect for the site only goes up with time! I also appreciate that Fell addressed the situation, like Lilith said, he could’ve easily ignored everything.

  6. i didn’t find the artwork offensive, perhaps because i didn’t care for the style/execution of it and therefore didn’t really give it’s content much thought? i’m not saying it’s bad artwork by any means, just not my cup of coffee(i don’t drink tea).

  7. Maybe after all these years I’m completely desensitized, or maybe I’m just an asshole, but this artwork isn’t even remotely offensive to me. I actually can’t think of any album cover that I’ve ever found offensive. Sort of baffles me considering bands have used pictures of actual mutilated bodies on their album covers but this one is somehow ruffling feathers. I suppose everyone’s buttons can be pushed differently.

    • The thing is Dave, it’s not about whether it’s offensive to YOU or not. It’s not offensive to me either, but it’s worth taking the time to understand WHY it could be offensive to someone else.

      • Good point. I guess I’m just surprised this is really getting any attention from anyone. Everything seems to offend someone.

        • *sigh*
          You can’t even call ’em chicks with dicks anymore…I don’t understand it, it’s such a literal description! if anything I’m pretty sure that artwork is pro-trans
          seems like he’s just tryin to show everybody…look she’s got a dick…but you still think she’s kinda hot, huh? bet you feel a little weird now, huh!?

  8. I should add, all this controversy surrounding the cover is probably giving Whitehead a good chuckle.

  9. Seems to me, love it or hate it, it has accomplished what any art should. It has challenged ideas and pre conceptions, and stimulated thought and debate. This is a good thing.

  10. Imagine a world where everything controversial was censored, none of these discussions would be taking place, and that would be very lame.

  11. Lol safe space metal….get the fuck out of here and go back to a safer form of music ya fuckin posers.

  12. @Cee You absolute loser lmao

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