It’s often said that creative types are drawn to animals, and that’s especially true for musicians. Famed animal rights groups and shelters like PETA, ASPCA and the Humane Society count the likes of Emmylou Harris, Moby, Rise Against, Paul McCartney, Trent Reznor and Waka Flocka Flame among their supporters, and the punk and hardcore communities in particular have a history of outspoken support for animal welfare, veganism and environmental issues. Hardcore legends Converge have publicly aligned with PETA in the past (though their vocalist Jake Bannon withdrew his support for the foundation after it deemed his beloved Staffordshire terriers an “aggressive breed”). Perhaps one of the music world’s most famous (or infamous, depending on one’s view) vegetarians, Morrissey, made a stir with his band the Smiths’ 1985 album Meat is Murder and has remained an aggressive spokesman for the meat-free lifestyle and awareness of animal cruelty.
Metal folk don’t often make a concentrated effort to align with big-name charities, but instead donate their resources on a local level. It’s true that the mental image of a hardened hesher playing fetch with a Husky or a corpse-painted black metaller cuddling a kitten may seem silly, or at the very least, out of character. Anyone who’s heard the tale of Ozzy Osbourne’s infamous bat-biting or borne witness to a pigs’-blood-soaked Watain show may look askance when told that metal fans care about animals, but it’s actually an important pillar of this particular community.
Ohio black-thrash metallers Skeletonwitch made headlines earlier this year when they donated the proceeds from a limited vinyl pressing of their latest album to the Athens Humane Society and the Columbus organization Pets Without Parents. They raised $4,200 in total, and guitarist Scott Hedrick made a new friend, as well. “After donating the money, I adopted our third cat from them!” he laughs. The idea to make a bigger donation stemmed from the band’s desire to give back to their hometown, and Skeletonwitch’s label, Prosthetic Records, suggested a creative way to do it. “[The label] came up with new printing techniques and suggested doing a limited, hand-screened edition of our latest album, Serpents Unleashed,” Hedrick says. “The prints looked fantastic and we dug the idea but we felt a bit uncomfortable asking such a high price from dedicated fans and completist collectors who already owned the album. Prosthetic brought up the idea of giving the proceeds to a nonprofit of some sort,” Hedrick explains. “The decision to give it to animal shelters was a no-brainer. We have about a dozen animals between us, and we figured it was a win-win situation.”
Skeletonwitch aren’t the only metal band dedicating their time and money toward helping out the animal kingdom. When they’re not on stage, Vancouver’s thunderous heavy metal outfit 3 Inches of Blood are raising awareness of the importance of spaying and neutering pets. Guitarists Shane Clark and Justin Hagberg joined forces with three of their friends in Vancouver and formed the registered nonprofit Neüterhead: Ace of Spays. The group aims to use the power of rock ‘n’ roll to raise funds to help responsible pet rescue groups offset the cost of spaying and neutering pets. As board member Rheanna Diane explains, “Our goal is to assist with getting as many cats and dogs spayed or neutered as possible. We do this by throwing shows, selling merch online and at Long Live Cats and Dogs, and by [getting] donations from great people. One unspayed female cat can have a new litter every eight months. An unspayed female dog can have a new litter every six months. That’s a lot of kittens and puppies! Most of them end up living on the streets or in shelters where they are eventually euthanized.”
Diane, Clark, Hagberg and their partners have poured an impressive amount of time and energy into their efforts. 3 Inches of Blood even wrote a hard-rock jingle for the grand opening of Long Live Cats and Dogs, a Vancouver pet supply store owned by Clark and his wife, Neüterhead partner Kristy Lynn. They plan to record another one for the nonprofit itself. The band also takes Neüterhead merch with them on the road, to the delight of many unsuspecting concert-goers.
“They love it,” Hagberg says with a grin. “We sell shirts, chat about our pets and provide information about the importance of spaying and neutering. Some people don’t even buy shirts, but they donate to the cause, which is so awesome. The only criticism we have gotten is that there aren’t any dog shirts, but I do believe we are conjuring up a Venom-inspired dog shirt for Neüterhead. Bark Metal, anyone?”
The community boasts more than its fair share of cat lovers, too. Photographer Alexandra Crockett set out to document that phenomenon with her new book, Metal Cats (powerHouse Books, 2014). The book features heartwarming and often hilarious photos of both fans and musicians from bands like Napalm Death, Morbid Angel, Exhumed, Phobia, Ludicra, Harassor, Ghoul and, of course, Skeletonwitch snuggling up with their nonplussed best friends. Crockett has very serious plans for the book. A portion of the proceeds from the book, as well as a series of benefit shows held along the West Coast, will be donated to no-kill shelters in Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
“The main idea behind MetalCats is to spotlight animal activism and welfare, as well as local metal music,” she says. “The reason I chose cats is because that’s the natural population. In my line of study we’d call it a ‘convenience sample’ because that’s what exists already as a group. I see this as being true for metalheads, and metal dudes in particular: Most of them have cats. My criteria [for inclusion in the book] was, essentially, you had to be male-identified (trans males were included), into metal and have a cat. Why did I choose to document it? Cause it’s cute as hell and pleases me to no end. It makes my life nice to know that dudes who look mean love snuggling fluffy animals.”
So what drives this need to connect with animals? Hedrick has a theory that was echoed by both Crockett and the Neüterhead crew.
“I’ve thought about this for a while,” he says. “Metalheads have always been outsiders. We’re the weirdos, the long-hairs, people with lots of tattoos, et cetera. While many humans judge us after one look, animals never do. They’re not racist, sexist or hateful, for that matter. I think that’s a very appealing quality to someone who has perhaps been rejected or treated as second-class.” He’s got a point. To a young metal fan, knowing that he can come home from a rough day at school and be smothered with love from his dog or cat can mean the world.
“That’s totally true, and not just for metalheads, but everyone,” Diane says. “No one has a perfect life — even that prom queen has a bad day sooner or later — but pets are always there to love you unconditionally.”