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Jewish Journal

Black Shabbis mixes headbanging and Talmud

by Brad A. Greenberg

March 25, 2009 | 7:00 pm

We’ve talked about heavy metal Islam and Muslim punks and Christian gutters and rockstars. But not about hipster metal for hipster Jews. Jewcy enlightens us with this article about a new Jewish metal album that “bears the unprecedented imprimatur of the cutting edge of the musical and Jewish world.”

It’s an homage to Ozzy:

Black Shabbis is released by John Zorn’s Tzadik label. It was only a matter of time before the label put out a CD like this. Zorn himself has flirted with extreme metal on his Painkiller project (which featured ex-Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris) and some of his Electric Masada work with Marc Ribot explores the outer limits of guitar noise music. Saft himself is the kind of prolific polymath that the downtown NY Jewish music scene adores, responsible for a host of film music, jazz and way-out -there recordings with a bewildering array of collaborators. In this respect, Black Shabbis is not the product of a metal band rooted in the metal scene, but of a one-off project that sets out to explore a particular aesthetic. Most of the music is played by Saft himself, with a small group of guest artists on some of the tracks (including Mr Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn).

Saft has clearly been thinking along the lines that I was when I fantasised about Death Matzo – except of course he has the ability and seriousness to see it through. The vocabulary of metal is rooted in a fascination with the dark side, with western Christian civilization’s rich and lurid imaginations of evil. Yet the dyad Christ – Satan that is repeatedly explored and transgressed in metal culture (and particularly in black (Satanic) metal) is constructed without reference to the deep-rooted association of Jews with the devil.  Jews rarely appear in the metal mythos and when they do it is in the marginal National Socialist black metal scene, whose proponents ironically associate Jews with Christianity. So there is a rich vein of symbolism and mythology that awaits any Jewish metal musician brave enough to mine it.

The cover of Black Shabbis makes the association of Jews with diabolism explicit: a winged goat-headed man with burning red eyes sports a star of David on his forehead. The 9 tracks delve into the dark side of Jewish history. The CD has no lyrics sheet and in any case some of the songs don’t have words, however the inlay sleeve does print a short paragraph describing the themes and sources of inspiration for the songs. I was immediately drawn to the track ‘Blood’, which unlike Death Matzo does not celebrate but condemns the blood libel as a ‘hideous caricature’.

OK, so I might have been exaggerating by throwing “Talmud” into the headline. But Black Shabbis’ pairing of themes is no less interesting. Video of an interview with Saft and related stories are after the jump:

 

Previously on The God Blog:

Punk like Muhammad
Heavy Metal Islam: the book
Inside the wacky world of Christian pop culture
Christian band removes agnostic guitarist

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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