At its best, music is about tension and release. That’s especially true of metal — there’s a particularly potent catharsis that comes with its unleashed aggression. Politics, on the other hand, tends to move a lot slower. But occasionally, after a lengthy buildup, there’s a breakthrough.
That’s what we saw Tuesday, as voters around the country went to the polls a year after one of the darkest elections in recent memory. You might have forgiven a lot of Democrats for feeling anxious and in need of an outlet for all their pent-up frustration. Fortunately, one of the candidates typifying what turned out to be a huge day of victories for Dems had the perfect soundtrack in the form of her thrash metal band Cab Ride Home. That’s the musical project of Danica Roem, who defeated longtime incumbent Bob Marshall in a race for the Virginia state legislature.
You might not typically consider blasting metal while watching the results roll in, but in a year where nothing seems to make sense anymore, Roem’s band made for some inspired and emotionally resonant listening Tuesday night. What better way to capture the mix of unbridled joy and anger over an arch conservative who once called himself Virginia’s “chief homophobe” losing handily to a transgender metal singer?
Marshall, like fellow Virginia loser Ed Gillespie, ran a failed campaign of Trumpist culture-war tactics. His campaign framed Roem as an unholy aberration as Gillespie refused to debate the longtime former journalist and misgendered her. “That you can engage in this kind of behavior — which clearly goes against the laws of nature and nature’s God — and hold public office and make decisions on behalf of the common good,” he told the Washington Post in October. “That is what is at stake here with the moral question.”
Watching Marshall’s campaign ads — like the one using “shocking” footage of the band and accusing Roem of “lewd behavior” — is enough to make any progressive want to run through a brick wall, albeit not in the good way, like how Roem’s music might make you want to run through a brick wall. If there’s one group of people who tend to know more about the relative merits of God’s successes and failures than Republicans, it’s death-metal bands.
Roem, who mostly campaigned on the decidedly un-metal issue of traffic concerns in her northern Virginia district, has been singing with Cab Ride Home since 2006. And in another surprise, they’re actually pretty good. That’s not even grading on the curve of politicians moonlighting as musicians — Mike Huckabee playing the bass guitar this is not.
The five-piece band, whose music is a mix of speed punk, thrash and melodic death metal, released its debut record, The Intoxicated Massacre, in 2009. To get familiar with the heart of the band’s sound, look no further than the song “Drunk on Arrival,” which features Roem’s guttural vocals breaking through the band’s distorted riffs, melodic leads and double-bass drum pounding. Its latest full-length LP, Crash the Gate, dropped in April and shows a more tightly wound band, both in terms of songwriting and production.
“The way I explain it to people is that, for some people music is a sound. For people who are into metal, it’s a lifestyle,” Roem explained in a wide-ranging interview with Noisey published in June. Among other things, the conversation touched on her coming out four years ago and her love for the metal community.
“It’s the aesthetic that you have,” she said. “It’s the personality that you put on display. It’s the way that you talk to your friends. It’s not just what you listen to in your car on the way home. The lyrics inspire part of your life. The music tells your story.”
On Crash the Gate’s title track, Roem tells some of her story with lyrics that, in hindsight, feel like they could apply to the conservative backlash against her candidacy. “God won’t buy your hypocrisy,” she snarls over swirling guitar leads before the song lurches into a chugging sprint.
Lest you think Roem — who largely tried to stay above the fray of culture-war invective that has come to define the current political climate — might be in the mood to unleash some frustration of her own, having just won a historic election, she instead seems to be focused on the job to come. Asked about her opponent after her win Tuesday, she declined the opportunity to take a well-earned swipe — at least overtly, anyway.
“Starting next year, Delegate Marshall will be one of my constituents and I’m not going to attack my own constituents,” she told MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell. “I think if there’s any lesson that comes out of the race this year it’s that attacking your constituents, singling them out, stigmatizing them and trying to make people feel bad about ourselves? That’s not our Virginia.”