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Two Sides to Violence On Knaaves’ “January” EP


Last year I dabbled in Krav Maga for a few months. By now I’ve lost a fair amount of the muscle memory and technique, but there are a few concepts that have stuck with me. One instructor, who had a penchant for blasting Metallica and Nine Inch Nails during workouts, began a class with a short speech. I’ll paraphrase. “You do not get to control when you’re faced with violence,” he said while dialing up his playlist. “Violence happens. What matters is how you respond to it.”

No doubt this is a harsh outlook on life, one that helps bring people back for more self-defense classes, but it is one that I think extreme metal and hardcore would be amenable to. Heavy music is uniquely equipped to look the violence of the world in the face and relay what it sees to the listener. High intensity music and challenging subject matter is a natural pairing, but that doesn’t mean that all approaches to writing about violence in heavy metal are the same. In extreme metal, the convention is to let the horror of the act speak for itself. Because it should be apparent to any sensible person that violence of the scale described in most death metal is abhorrent, metal bands focus on describing the gory details instead of analyzing the morals of the situation. Even bands like Cannibal Corpse and Pig Destroyer that write from the perspective of the killer do so to highlight how twisted the mind that commits such violence must be. How the people should react to the fact of violence is left for the listener to decide. Violence happens, and metal forces you to be a bystander to this fact.

Milwaukee’s Knaaves aren’t neutral observers. In fact, on their new songs “January” and “Nine Lives Lost” they condemn bystander apathy and desensitization to violence. In an article about the bystander effect, psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latané claim that “when a person happens upon an ambiguous ‘situation,’ the person may look to others behavior to see if they observe it as an emergency. An individual, seeing the inaction of others, will judge the situation as less serious that he would if alone.”

Latané and Darley were inspired to study this phenomenon after Kitty Genovese was murdered in 1964 in Queens. Though 38 of her neighbors heard her cry for help as she lay bleeding from multiple stab wounds on the steps of her apartment, none of them left their homes to help. This tragedy is at the center of “Nine Lives Lost.” Knaaves begin the song by describing the murder in past tense before jumping to the present to address their audience directly. “Would you answer her pleas?” the band asks. “Would you sit by cowardly?” To Knaaves, inaction is unacceptable in the face of evil. The song’s urgent pace serves as a spark of courage and an extra push out the door for anyone too scared to break rank with those around them to do the right thing.

While “Nine Lives Lost” is concerned with the response to violence, “January” takes aim at its source. Over a low-slung bass riff, the song speaks of a woman’s corpse with the rhetoric of an art critic. In death, the woman’s body isn’t a human life but a collection of aesthetic choices to be consumed and replicated by the media. “Her torso slashed / The cameras flashed” singer Andy Parmann growls. That women are objectified and consumed by the media long before they die is unsaid, although the parallels are implied in the lyrics choice of words. Besides, the results of this dehumanization are made terrifyingly clear.

In both songs, the victim of violence is explicitly a woman. This isn’t exactly uncommon in heavy metal, or any medium that routinely depicts murder, but considering that Knaaves bassist Amanda Daniels is herself a woman who has spoken about her own experiences with assault, the decision to focus on violence towards women carries weight. “January” and “Nine Lives Lost” both reach the scene after the blood has already dried. There will be more blood, and more human lives ripped apart. We know that violence is coming, Knaaves ask what you’re willing to do to stop it.

Follow Knaaves on Facebook here.

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