You don’t have to look far to find sexism in metal. Songs about rape, torture, and violence against women are prevalent, and you don’t have to spent long looking through the stock of underground distros to find plenty of album covers depicting women in various states of deprivation and undress, be they alive or dead. It often seems that, the more extreme the music, the more bone-headed the attitudes encountered are. Even if it’s not intentional, it all contributes to a situation where such sexism is institutionalized, making it seem normal. Castrator flip this situation on its head entirely with No Victim. Whilst the music may fit firmly in to the paradigm of traditional death metal, lyrically and thematically, No Victim is a feminist call to arms. And this is, undoubtedly, a Very Good Thing.
There is plenty here for fans of bands such as Cannibal Corpse, Immolation, and Suffocation to like. The music on No Victim is heavy and punishing, blending groove and sheer power, with short moments of melody keeping things tuneful and providing extra character and dynamics. “Honor Killing” gets things going at pace, restless and utterly crushing, moving from double-bass heaviness to a slower, expressive solo within the first minute. It’s an early indication of the talent on display, and is no false dawn. “Brood” has the kind of heavy groove that Suffocation did so well, and the guest solo from Robert Vigna (Immolation) is superb; whilst “The Emasculator” moves forward with undisguised menace and threat, suiting the lyrics perfectly. The solo around the 2:30 mark is a highlight of the EP, and whilst the growled vocals are deep throughout the EP, they reach very impressive depths by the end of the song. The only musical mis-step on the EP is the way the closing title track ends. It seems to stop rather suddenly, as if the recording were stopped a few seconds too soon, which is a real shame as otherwise, No Victim cannot be faulted as an example of punishing death metal.
What seems to have upset some people, though, are the lyrics. And frankly, if you feel upset by what Castrator are singing about whilst you’re content for songs like “Fucked With A Knife” to be held up as genre staples, then you need to have a long, hard conversation with yourself. The situations described in “Honor Killing” – of women being murdered by their own families for loving the “wrong” person – are real, even here in the UK and other Western countries. The fear of being alone at night (and subsequent self-policing behaviour and victim blaming) described in “No Victim” is something practically every woman will have experience of if you ask her about it. We can dismiss the lyrics of most extreme metal bands as nothing more than fiction and fantasy, allowing us to go on with our lives, listening to such music without feeling any kind of cognitive dissonance. But to then get upset about a band taking a violently aggressive feminist stand, simply by placing a woman in a dominant role as they do on “The Emasculator”, is nothing but sexism. Castrator must surely have been under no illusions that their songs would result in a backlash (hell, simply being an all-woman band is often enough to incite that; or even daring to be a woman in a band), and I absolutely adore that they went ahead and released such songs anyway. bell hooks it ain’t, but it’s still a refreshing take on the genre. And it’s worth pointing out that, whilst some may cry about these songs being an “attach on men” or some such rubbish, all the victims in the lyrics are men who have already harmed and killed women. It’s not all about feminist revenge fantasies, though, undermining any potential claims of Castrator being one-trick ponies; “Brood” tells a tale of irresponsible parenthood in a very death metal manner (“Pumped full of seed once again / The fertile eggs release with her sex drive / Society’s next burden comes of age to continue / The insane cycle”).
Even if you don’t care about the lyrics and theme as much as I do though, there’s no denying that No Victim is an EP of superbly accomplished, mercilessly crushing old-school death metal. It’s further proof that gender really shouldn’t matter when it comes to assessing music, as the music on offer here is more than the equal of any other band playing this style that you care to name. And if No Victim can empower people, or force them to confront their own prejudices, then even better. I’m genuinely excited to see what the band offer up next, as this is top-tier death metal, and has the potential to see the band compete with the big names.
n.b. it’s sad that it needs to be said, but feminism has nothing to do with hating men. If you believe it is, then take the time to educate yourself. It is a very diverse area of thought, with many different schools. I describe Castrator’s music as feminist not because it is largely about taking revenge on those who have harmed women, but because it clearly aims to empower women.