A Black Thursday
An online furore erupted last Thursday (7 Mar) when Swedish black-metal group Watain’s concert was abruptly cancelled due to official concerns that their transgressive message may “affect our religious and social harmony”. The decision was handed down by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) following advice from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has appeared publicly to defend his position, citing the band’s history and public concern as grounds for the cancellation.
Modern Satanic Panic?
The debacle began when an online petition emerged on 6 Mar, drawing more than 18,000 supporters in 5 days. They sought to ban Watain and another heavy-metal group Soilwork, branding them as “satanic music” and advocating messages of “death and suicide”. Mr Shanmugam has gone on to state that the anti-religious lyrics of the band were untenable with Singaporean societal values. While he has denied the direct influence of the petition on the MHA’s decision, it should be noted that the performance had previously been approved by the IMDA, which followed strict guidelines to remove any anti-religious songs and imagery. The entire performance, from the band to the set list of songs were scrutinised and given the green light before the sudden cancellation.
The Singapore music scene is no stranger to black-metal, having hosted bigger and more controversial black-metal groups such as Behemoth and Mayhem in 2013 and 2006 respectively. Additionally, research has shown that listening to heavy metal allows listeners to process their anger and inspire calmness, showing that “levels of hostility, irritability and stress decreased” while extreme music was played. Ultimately, this act of policing a private event has left the metal community in Singapore disappointed and furious. So far, there has been no compensation offered from the IMDA or MHA.
Fingers pointed back
On 9 Mar, Minister Shanmugam drew flak when he drew attention to an inflammatory photo posted by fans of Watain, in response to the MHA’s decision. He highlighted their race, alluding that due to their Islamic faith, they would be less sensitive to the anti-Christian messages of the band. Racialising and projecting a divide between religious sensibilities onto a morally misunderstood community, which is multiracial and multireligious, is nothing short of pure irony.