More so than any other art form, music is where no one seems to care if you shamelessly rip off those who’ve come before you.
You don’t see upcoming young directors aping David Lynch, Sofia Coppola, or David Fincher. Or successful artists cranking out paintings that look suspiciously like the works of Jackson Pollock, Salvador Dali, or Keith Bodwee.
And yet music history is littered with successful acts who have sounded suspiciously like other better-known bands. Think R.E.M. spending their early years being labelled as an indie version of the Byrds. Or Airborne being frequently confused with Australian hard rock legends AC/DC. Or Greta Van Fleet appearing to take its every songwriting cue from the long-gone Led Zeppelin.
And then there are those who take their idol worship to levels that transcend the music. Enter Holden Matthews from Louisiana.
Where most musicians from the land of alligators and shrimp gumbo see Cajun and zydeco as their meal ticket to a record deal and backstage deli platters, Matthews chose to specialize in a decidedly more obscure genre. Evidently unaware that greasepaint runs in 32-degree weather with 78 percent humidity, and that black isn’t the smartest fashion choice when the sun beats down upwards of 216 days per year, the 22-year-old chose black metal as his ticket to stardom.
And then he began doing what black-metal fans have done for years in the genre’s ancestral home of Norway, namely burning down churches. It’s estimated that around 60 Norwegian churches were set aflame in the ’90s, with the music-history book Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground suggesting that a third of them were burned by those involved in the black-metal underground.
Matthews’s score card contained three churches, all Baptist buildings set on fire in Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish in 2019. According to U.S. Department of Justice release this week, he pleaded guilty to all charges, and faces up to 70 years in prison.
The release states, “Matthews admitted to setting the fires because of the religious character of these buildings, in an effort to raise his profile as a “Black Metal” musician by copying similar crimes committed in Norway in the 1990s. Matthews further admitted that, after setting the third fire, he posted photographs and videos on Facebook that showed the first two churches burning."
It goes on to note that Matthews (whose father is a deputy sherrif), "admitted that he had taken these photographs and videos in real time on his cell phone, as he watched those churches burn, and that he had posted them to Facebook in an effort to promote himself in the Black Metal community.”
That the American black-metal community isn’t exactly bursting at the seams on this side of the world evidently escaped him.
The people of Louisiana can at least thank their lucky stars and stripes that Holden didn’t eat the brains of one of his fellow black-metal mavens, cut off his own hands and replace them with pig hooves, stab another scenester 23 times to make sure he was truly dead, or go the local asylum and stick various mentally ill patients in front of the mike before rolling the tape on something that sounded like an extra-congested Satan having his morning dump in the bowels of a Medieval storm sewer.