On a sunny weekday afternoon, the front man of Scimitar offers up a rather uncomplicated explanation for why he and his three bandmates chose the moniker for their metal project.
“Three syllables make the best band names,” said Angus Lennox, crossing campus en route to Mystic Vale, where the University of Victoria Students’ Society heavy metal club regularly meets. “Plus, it looks good on a t-shirt.”
In his next breath Lennox explains that a scimitar, a curved Middle Eastern sabre popular with 15th-century buccaneers, is a link to the group’s early sound, which was heavily influenced by an interest in the bygone era.
Some of the band’s latest music sprang from his interest in Zulu people in the late 19th century, but all of their songs have a historical context, said Lennox, a history and political science double major who often finds songwriting inspiration in his course lectures.
He and bandmates Clayton Basi, George Anstey and Noel Anstey take their studies seriously, as well as challenging the misconceptions of their chosen genre.
South of Heaven: Religion and Heavy Metal, a two-day symposium culminating in an all-ages metal show at UVic, is an opportunity for Scimitar and a full bill of bands and presenters to set the record straight with anyone who thinks trashing hotel rooms and shot-gunning draft beer is synonymous with being a metalhead.
The event, a collaboration between the university and the UVSS heavy metal club, opens tonight (June 7) with a 7 p.m. screening of Sam Dunn’s Global Metal documentary, followed by a Q&A with Dunn, the UVic alumnus also behind the 2005 film Metal: a Headbanger’s Journey.
A day of free public panel discussions tuned to the religious aspects of metal follows tomorrow afternoon as part of the Congress 2013 academic conference. South of Heaven winds up with a four-band all-ages show in the Student Union Building.
Event co-organizer Shamma Boyarin, a professor of English and religious studies at UVic, conceptualized the project after he watched Global Metal.
“There’s a real melding of local styles of music, culture, tradition and local mythology,” he said of the 2007 doc.
“Putting all of that together, it just seemed to me that heavy metal and religion would be a really fertile topic to explore issues of globalization.”
Boyarin sees metal as an untapped lens through which to view religion and plans to offer follow-up courses at UVic.
“I’m a bit of the anomaly in this – don’t get me wrong, I listen to metal and enjoy it – but it’s always with a part of my brain analyzing it and intellectualizing it,” he said.
Local freelance journalist Greg Pratt leads the first talk on Saturday, an introduction to religious imagery in metal through some of its most notable names. Pratt – whose metal resumé includes 15 years producing CFUV radio show “Riot in the Dungeons” and bringing Quiet Riot album Metal Health for show and tell in Grade 1 – has strived to make his presentation accessible to all, from the curious outsider to the hardcore metalhead.
And in Victoria, there are a few. “Going back to the ‘80s, Victoria has always had a strong metal presence,” Pratt said. “Metal fans are really loyal.”
It’s a fact to which Casey Lazar, head of the UVSS heavy metal club and a guy who mostly wears leather pants, can attest. While the majority of the club’s roughly 400 members are students, attendees at local shows range in age from the single-digit crowd to octogenarians.
Metalheads have been at it since the outset of the genre in the ’70s – Lazar’s high school librarian partied with Motörhead, he beams – and now they’re showing the latest generation how it’s done.
“We’ve got lots of folk-metal bands, traditional, black, thrash, we don’t have lots of metalcore or nu metal, but we don’t have any rule that says they’re not allowed,” Lazar said. “We even have people who don’t like metal all – they just like the environment.”
Scimitar has no problem drawing more than 300 people to an all-ages show and band members say they’ve created good working relationships with promoters and venue owners in the past six years. But they agree their genre comes with a hefty dose of bias and pre-judgment.
“We try to act as professionally as possible, because there is a big stereotype of heavy metal bringing out delinquents,” George Anstey said.
“Even though we all have long hair and look greasy,” Lennox added.
For Lazar, the stigma attached to metal stretches beyond professional situations into the community.
“That’s one of the goals of the metal club: to reach out to the general population and show that there’s this giant group of metalheads, and they’re in post-secondary institutions,” he said. “They’re not some deadbeat coke addicts.”
Said Pratt: “I think a big misconception – that lots of bands have fostered – is that metal is evil and satanic and scary … a lot of bands were doing it for shock value.”
He assures those who may feel intimidated by South of Heaven that all are welcome.
“I think people are going to be surprised. It’d be great if people who think they don’t care about metal, if they’d show up.”
Tonight’s (June 7) screening of Global Metal begins at 7 p.m. at Cinecenta. Tickets are $7.50 each or $5 for students.
Panel presentations are free and run from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday in the Fine Arts building, Room 103.
Scimitar, Atrous Leviathan, Nylithia and Unleash the Archers play Vertigo at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tix are $10/advance, $15/door. Visit web.uvic.ca/~soh13/.