Russia Cracks Down on Death Metal

Oct 14, 2014 at 11:28 AM ET

Death metal is apparently no longer welcome in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Cannibal Corpse, the American heavy metal band, received that message loud and clear after Russian authorities canceled six of its planned eight gigs across the country this month.

In most cases, the authorities cited “technical reasons,” but the group’s fans and detractors have a different explanation: politics. Over the past month, Orthodox Christian activists have been protesting the band’s presence in Russia, saying that its songs—one is called “Sadistic Embodiment”—promote violence and Satanism. At an Oct. 10 concert in the central Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, for instance, police raided a club where Cannibal Corpse was performing and shut it down after just five songs.

“The authorities have fulfilled their duty and rescued believers from this monstrous provocation,” said Dmitry Enteo, a high-profile Orthodox activist who recently hosted a public discussion entitled “Is Putin God?”

Cannibal Corpse is not the first Western group to face problems in Russia in recent months. Polish black metal band Behemoth was kicked out of the country in May midway through its tour. The authorities cited visa issues, but the band’s concerts had also triggered protests by Orthodox activists. In June, the authorities also canceled a concert in Moscow by controversial American rock star Marilyn Manson after a bomb threat was called in ahead of his show. Manson’s fans accused Orthodox activist Enteo of making the threat. He denied the allegations, but in the end, he got what he wanted.

“People will think hard next time before they try to bring similar groups to Russia,” says Sergei Chernov, a journalist who had tickets to a Cannibal Corpse’s show in St. Petersburg, which was canceled over the weekend.

In some ways, the conflict between the church and death metal dates back to May 2012, when a newly elected Putin started promoting “Christian values” as the “spiritual bonds” holding the country together. This policy has sparked a rise in Orthodox Christian activism and inspired a number of bills banning blasphemy and obscenity in the arts and media, as well as a controversial law against “homosexual propaganda” that critics say is anti-gay.

For Cannibal Corpse, the current controversy has come as a surprise.

“This is our sixth time in Russia,” said Paul Mazurkiewicz, the group’s drummer. “The other five times were fine. Nobody cared, ever.”

The group was founded in 1988 and has since established a worldwide cult following because of its fast, distorted sound, violent lyrics and grotesque cover art. The band denies, however, that it is promoting violence.

“We like gruesome, scary movies, and we want the lyrics to be like that,” lead singer George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher once stated. “Basically, these are fictional stories, and that’s it. And anyone who gets upset about it is ridiculous.”

Fans agree and frequently vent their frustration online.

“The group came out to say sorry,” wrote one fan, known as Corpse Bride, on her VK page, after the band was recently pulled off-stage in Nizhny Novgorod. “But we are the ones who should apologize for such a country and such people who disgrace our nation.”

Riot police detained 18 angry fans on Sunday after canceling the show in St. Petersburg. A day earlier, many were equally disappointed in Moscow. Outside the club where Cannibal Corpse had been due to perform, Russian heavy metal star and politician Sergei “Spider” Troitsky raged against the authorities.

“While Putin and [Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev are busy with all their great deeds, some fucker gives some incomprehensible documents to the police, saying extremists are planning to gather here,” Spider told the group’s fans.

“We want to bring to the attention of the Russian government that Cannibal Corpse are just the same as Deep Purple—they just play a lot faster,” he added, referring to a band that Medvedev, Russia’s former president and a self-proclaimed fan of heavy metal, reportedly likes.

Enteo, the Orthodox activist, saw things differently. “We put all our efforts into this,” he wrote on Twitter after the two shows were canceled over the weekend. “Thank God!”