Let’s be honest: Heavy metal doesn’t have the best of reputations for being nice. Known for its aggressive, sexist and often deliberately offensive lyrics delivered by leather and stud clad tough guys and its endless hard living, hard drinking, groupie grabbing tours, it offers easy targets for the establishment to take aim. On the face of it, death metal band members and their fans aren’t the kind of mates you would take home to meet your mum.
The recent film “Lords of Chaos” did the image of rock no favors. Depicting the rise of Norwegian death metal band Mayhem, it pulled no punches in its depiction of their cynical, sinister approach to life, which included the burning of churches and ultimately, murder. Even the baby face of Macaulay “Home Alone” Culkin’s younger brother, Rory, couldn’t dilute the despicable antics of Euronymous and Varg at the center of this ultimate game of one-upmanship that lifted the lid on the darker world of Scandi-metal.
Still, while Alice Cooper may have proudly sung “No More Mr. Nice Guy” in 1973 in the epitome of the nasty image of rock when you look behind the mask of their sneering stage persona, many of the biggest and best metal bands genuinely are nice people that your mum would love to meet. They respect their fans, they love their wives, and they often do incredible stuff behind the scenes, with no interest in publicity or reward. Far from setting fire to churches, these are friendly, family men who are completely different when they are not doing their “day job.” Let’s take a look at a few of the quiet stars of the loudest business.
Bruce Dickinson – The Fifth Musketeer
Famous for their wild stage shows featuring huge animated demons, Iron Maiden is one of the most famous and commercially successful heavy metal bands of all time. So, naturally, you’d expect their lead singer, the screaming Bruce Dickinson, to be a wild man of rock, living it large at every opportunity, but far from it. Not only is he a competent fencer and was once ranked No. 7 in the U.K., but he is also an honorary citizen of Sarajevo. He received the award after the band played there during a siege in 1994, giving hope to the thousands trapped in the city. A qualified airline pilot, Dickinson has also used his own plane in rescue operations around the world. That’s hardly the attitude you would expect from someone who made their name singing “666 — the number of the beast.”
Matt Barlow – Georgetown PD
Even Bruce Dickinson’s heroics in Bosnia and Herzegovina pale in comparison to Iced Earth’s former lead singer Matt Barlow’s incredible actions back home. Horrified by the events of 9/11, he left what he called “the illusion of being a rock star” so that he could make a real contribution to his country. Stepping out of the spotlight, he spent seven years on the police force in Georgetown, Delaware, helping the local community before returning to rock in 2007 with Ashes of Ares.
Ronnie James Dio – Time for Everyone
Despite heading up some of the most legendary metal bands of all time, including Rainbow and Black Sabbath, Dio never forgot who made him who he was. The creator of the now ubiquitous devil’s horn gesture seen at almost every gig, Dio was one of the most accessible men in rock. He always had time for his fans, no matter how many waited and never left a gig without working the line and making sure everyone got their moment with their idol and an autograph to remember the experience.
Kiss – The Men Behind the Masks
Of course, few bands have taken on their stage persona quite like veteran rockers Kiss. They have relentlessly forced their way into the public consciousness through everything from “Scooby-Doo” and “Family Guy” cartoons to Kiss-themed slots and pinball machines. Still, behind the leather and make-up, the elaborate pyrotechnics and the long, leery tongues, you’ll find a bunch of nice guys. Founder Paul Stanley, for example, likes nothing more than taking his kids to school (where he chats with none other than Dave Grohl in the schoolyard) and attending fitness classes with his young wife despite often being the only man in the class.
At the end of the day, while they may seem like rock gods to you and me when you get right down to it, most of them are people with lives and families, morals and manners just like us. But why let the truth get in the way of a well-honed stage image?