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R.I.P. George Romero

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George Andrew Romero, director of landmark horror films such as Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Martin, The Crazies, and Day of the Dead, and creator of the modern zombie movie as we know it, passed away yesterday. He was 77.

Romero’s impact on heavy metal cannot be understated. By virtue of creating the zombie movie, Romero provided extreme music with a nearly infinite repository of lyrics and visceral, flesh-rotting imagery. Think of all the death metal bands to write songs or even albums about zombies: “Eaten Alive” by Repulsion, “The Undead Will Feast” by Cannibal Corpse, “Zombie Ritual” by Death, Zombie Apocalypse by Mortician, or Horror of the Zombies by Impetigo. The list continues.

It wasn’t just death metal to delight in Romero’s brainchild: consider The Misfits “Night of the Living Dead,” and “Zombies, March!” by GWAR (hell, envisioning a GWAR in a world without Night of the Living Dead is virtually unthinkable), or the band Romero itself, for that matter.

The beauty of Romero’s vision was that it contained a world with zombies that extended out of the personal and into the epic, creating an apocalypse that completely wiped society away in a wave of dead flesh. In 1942, one walked with a zombie, but by 1968 the dead were pitted against the living in a struggle for survival. Trampling all over the horror movie standards of the day by bringing the violence, gore, and flesh-eating to the foreground, Romero began a horror arms race to up the gore and scale of atrocity, both in zombie films and in the horror genre as a whole. As his movies grew gorier and grander, metal grew increasingly brutal. In 1968, Sabbath was still playing the blues and zombies were still in black-and-white; by 1985, Possessed was writing “Death Metal” and Captain Rhodes was getting pulled in half in visceral closeup.

And it didn’t end at Romero, because what he started in his Dead series launched the careers of a myriad of other directors, each seeking to best the other in terms of gore, carnage, and scale. Without Romero, Lucio Fulci’s most iconic films might never have been made, nor Raimi’s Evil Dead series or even 28 Days Later. Zombie movies and death metal might still exist, but who know what form they might have taken? So ingrained is the modern zombie into our current collective consciousness that we sometimes take its ubiquity, its unique blend of the vampire, the lich, and the plague victim entirely for granted.

It’s telling that the all the people who I noticed mourning Romero’s death on social media yesterday were also metal fans. The worlds of horror and heavy metal have become so intertwined that getting a fan of one who does not also like the other is virtually unheard of. Furthermore, Romero was a beloved figure because he supported his fans as they supported him: he embraced his status as “Father of the Zombie Film” and made Dead movies just about until he died. Even if they sharply dropped off in quality after Land of the Dead, there’s no denying that Romero loved his creation and felt pride in it and in those who took his inspiration.

This, ultimately, is what appeals to the metal sensibility: my recent interview with Ben Falgoust of Goatwhore had us commenting on how worthwhile it is to be both fan and creator. George A. Romero was both a living legend and also one of us, as we as metalheads seek our iconic figures to be. Ever striving for a more brutal vision, it was as much Romero’s attitude as his distinctive, unmistakable zombies that endeared him to the metal world.

Here’s to hoping that Romero rises from the grave as his famous ghouls did. But until then, we’ll always, always have zombies. They’re coming to get you, Barbara.

Be sure to leave your favorite Romero movie, and your favorite metal song or album about zombies, in the comments.

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