Heavy metal is a genre that typically is synonymous with blazing guitars, soaring vocals and a predominantly macho aesthetic. It is because of this that in the 1990s, when legendary Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford came out, it was such a shock not only to the genre but society in general. Another trend setter in the metal genre is the progressive band, Cynic. Much like Halford, two of its members, Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert, have now come out. With them not being the first ones to do so, many have been wondering if this would even matter anymore to fans.
One of the most well-known metal scenes in the country, perhaps in the world, is that of the Florida death metal scene. This is where both Masvidal and Reinart were brought up. In fact, both musicians met early in middle school and have been friends ever since. It is in 1993 that, along with bassist Sean Malone, they recorded one of the quintessential metal albums, Cynic’s Focus.
Unlike the straightforward, bludgeoning sound metal oftentimes takes, their debut took the extreme genre of death metal and juxtaposed it with intricate time signature changes and jazz fusion. It is something that the genre had not heard previously. As a result, the album was given good and bad marks across the board, along with other progressive death metal pioneers Atheist and Nocturnus. What further differentiated Cynic from other bands was their performances. Unlike most who donned the leather, denim and band shirt aesthetic, they were in Indian garb and also featured a female keyboardist. Both of these aspects were radically different for metal at the time.
Because of this, their brand of metal was not received with open arms. One of the largest tours they were on included the hard-hitting Cannibal Corpse, a band that had a fan base that was macho and not really open-minded. Because of this, they were not treated well. Oftentimes, they would have fans yelling for them to get off the stage In light of how the band was already treated, they were nowhere near where they are today, able to openly speak about their sexuality. Due to the traumatic nature of these shows, the band wound things down and moved to Los Angeles to take part in various progressive rock bands.
Between the internet revolution and young fans discovering the progressive death metal scene, Cynic re-emerged in 2008 and created the album Traced in Air. While many felt it was not up to the standard of the debut, it was still met with praise. However, soon enough, the band altered their sound by eliminating much of the death metal elements and have since turned into more of a progressive rock band which incorporated elements allowing them to still sound like Cynic. This was evidenced by their most recent release Kindly Bend to Free Us.
Due to the more open-minded nature of the metal scene, the two finally decided to open up about the fact that they were gay this week, following in the footsteps of Rob Halford. Having seen Halford open up without much backlash, they have been tempted all these years to announce their secret. However, due to the backlash in the early days, it was still in the back of their mind. They did not know if they would lose fans as a result of making the announcement.
Now, they no longer have to hide their secret. While the verdict is out on how fan reaction will be, it is unlikely their current incarnation will be affected by announcing their sexuality. At this point, many fans know they are not the typical band and they accept it. For instance, they are one of a very small group, if not unique, as a band which has a segment of their show dedicated to relaxation and yoga. This is one element that never would have been acceptable at the beginning of their career.
Due to this open-mindedness of the fans, it is unlikely they will see much, if any, backlash. It has been decades since Halford opened up. Gaahl, the controversial signer of the black metal bands Gorgoroth and God Seed has come out of the closet in recent years, as well. The latter being more pertinent in the scene due to the more extreme nature of Gaahl’s bands.
Musicians opening up about their sexuality may become more commonplace in the meal scene, much like it has for the rest of the entertainment industry. It has become a near-weekly occurrence that someone from Hollywood comes out, which speaks volumes of the acceptance of homosexuality. The entertainment scene is leading the way in terms of allowing sexual orientation to be a non-issue in later days.
Dissent is a natural part of discourse, and there will always be people on different sides of social issues such as sexual orientation and racism. The growing acceptance of differences and intolerance of ignorant behavior in the societal norm are creating a more open environment for discussion and understanding. Stereotypes and cultural assumptions are being broken down daily.
If a genre such as heavy metal can become more accepting of sexuality and sexual orientation issues through the years, it opens the possibility that society in general is moving to become openly accepting of differences. Whether or not that is the case, Masvidal and Reinert of Cynic can fully be themselves without hiding behind their instruments now that they have made the choice to come out.
Opinion by Simon Mounsey