Massacration were a parody heavy metal band from Brazil, originating as a sketch on that country’s comedy show Hermes e Renato. I didn’t know this when I found them back in 2006, when my friend and I in Australia typed “metal” into Youtube, and were greeted by the Metal Milkshake music video. From there we watched the rest of their videos; Metal Bucetation, Cereal Metal, Metal is the Law, and of course Evil Papagali. We were hooked.
Massacration obviously loved and understood heavy metal so well that they didn’t come off as pandering, annoying or insincere. They poked fun at heavy metal sub-cultures and the overall pomposity and grandeur of so-called traditional heavy metal with such love – and actual decent songs – that metal fans embraced the band, especially in their native Brazil. Actually, I’m not sure how many people know of the band outside of Brazil, and that’s a real shame.
I was inspired to write about Massacration for two reasons. Recently I went out for some drinks in Beijing, and I saw a bottle of Cachaça behind the bar, reminding me of the epic Massacration break-up song, The Bull (NSFW)
Tragically, I also recently learned that lead guitarist and video director Fausto Fanti (aka Blonde Hammet) took his own life in 2014. So, this is also a way for me to pay respects to him, and bring a bit of recognition to his great band and sense of humour. RIP Blonde Hammet.
So how does this all tie into nominalisations? Does it? Let’s explore!
Before I make the very tenuous nominalisation/Massacration connection though, let me introduce the band.
Massacration was Detonator, Blonde Hammet, Metal Avenger, Headmaster, and Jimmy “The Hammer”. Lead singer Detonator and lead guitarist Blonde Hammet were the stars, and along with bass player Metal Avenger, were the only ones in the group that could actually play their instruments. Detonator employed a comedic falsetto singing style, that parodied the very high-register, quasi-operatic vocal styles of popular 80s-metal singers like Michael Kiske and Rob Halford. He played on this conceit by speaking with a high voice in interviews and public appearances; his fictional back-story being that he was a castrato. Blonde Hammet, always wearing his Oakley wrap-around shades under his distinct blonde bangs, was the straight-man to Detonator’s absurdity. He would occasionally get a subtle laugh in, mostly through visual gags (the timing of the kiss he blows to camera in The Bull is perfect). The rest of the band were practically faceless window-dressing as far as identities went, and that was fine.
A comparison can be drawn to similar mixed-media parody metal band/TV show Dethklok/Metalocalypse. However, where this parody band was about bringing the grim mythos of metal album covers to life through a story-based TV show; Massacration were about transforming mundane, relatable and everyday occurrences and things into metal. I thought a long time about whether this description is apt, considering The Mummy is one of their songs; however, even that song was just about wanting to have sex after a long dry-spell, so I’ll stand by it.
In their comedic arsenal, the producers of the Massacration videos had real comedic chops. While the videos and songs from the Hermes e Renato sketch show and first album (Gates of Metal Fried Chicken of Death (2005)) were clearly low budget, they were still very effective. Evil Papagali had a silly looking hand-puppet parrot ‘flying’ around a city getting into all sorts of humorous shenanigans. Metal Milkshake ended with the band assembling a giant (and incredibly cheap looking) Flying V guitar to shoot a laser at a giant Michael Jackson impersonator. Cereal Metal involved the band in what seems to be a metal boot-camp leading a group of young, doughy metal-heads in military training involving star jumps, interspersed with footage of the band eating their own brand of cereal. Lifestyle advertising at its finest. Halfway through this video is a smash cut to lead singer Detonator, who opens a container with a spring loaded snake. With a look of shock and fear as the snake bursts out, he unleashes a wicked-sick falsetto power metal scream, that kicks the song into its thrash-section! Brilliant!
After touring as a real band following their unexpected success; by the second album Good Blood Headbanguers (produced by famed producer Roy Z (2009)), the band had money and the accompanying videos were of a much higher budget. While The Mummy is probably the most appealing in a broad-comedic sense, and The Bull is absolutely brilliant in its complete absurdity; it’s the Sufocators of Metal video that is perhaps the strongest showing of the pomposity and gloriousness of metal lyrics in contrast to the mundanity of real life theme. The video begins with the band in a cheap looking diner, sitting around a small fluorescent-lit table, sharing a long-neck of beer that is being drunk out of tiny plastic cups. Detonator arrives and begins to sing his furious tale about the “Sufocator” – an acquaintance who took his “CDs and DVDs of metal” but didn’t return them. During the chorus, the band in unison sings “e Sufocation!” as they triumphantly toast each other like victorious warriors in a fire-lit great hall after a glorious battle… but with plastic cups in a cheap looking diner. For Massacration, real-life was always glorious.
Detonator’s house is shown, and while he is dressed in his trademark cheetah-print spandex, his house is uncharacteristically suburban. It’s neither the dark fortress of metal or the lavish house of rock-star decadence his lyrics portray – and it’s brilliant. The song ends with the “Sufacator” taking Detonator’s vinyl copy of Court of the Crimson King hostage, while Detonator is screaming in hysteria, and a policeman negotiates the hostage release. The pacing and build-up to this moment is flawless. The album choice is perfect – very worthy of a screen-cap:
Visuals aside, the other primary comedic goal in originally forming Massacration was for the writers to poke fun at fellow-Brazilian bands who sang in English, despite it not being their first language. Some metal examples of these are Sepultura and Angra. As a side-note, even these two bands embraced Massacration; Angra and Massacration filmed a comedic “music duel” skit together and occasionally guested in each others’ live shows, and (ex) Sepultura’s Igor Cavalera was rumored to have been Massacration’s touring drummer. Anyway – Massacration didn’t have very good English. Rarely, entire sentences would be in Portuguese. Often though, in lyric sentences, most times the nouns in the subject or object position would be swapped with made-up words; these were a Portuguese root-word with an English suffix attached at the end.
There’s a term, Macaronic Language, that is used to describe a language that is a mix of different languages. As I was researching for this piece, I found that the combination of English and Brazilian Portuguese is referred to as embromation. According to Denilso de Lima at the Macmillan Dictionary Blog (2010):
Embromation comes from the Brazilian Portuguese verb embromar and the English suffix –ation. Embromar means lots of things, but in this context it can be loosely interpreted as: the process of creating words and sentences from words and (maybe) sentences you know to make something people think is real English.
In this sense, embromation as a language construct has a similar function in English language to nominalisations, in some contexts. What is a nominalisation? Very generally – it’s basically when an English verb, adverb, adjective or other word-type is used in a sentence as a noun. For example:
I jogged (verb) to work.
My jog (noun) was filled with peril.
You probably use nominalisations like this from time-to-time without thinking. You’ve probably already read many (and will no-doubt read more) in this blog post!
Another common way to form English nominalisations is by taking one of the aforementioned word-types (sometimes nouns too) and adding a suffix (i.e. -ism, -ation, -olic) to the end of it to make a new word that functions as a noun. There’s a great blog post by Helen Sword (2012), Zombie Nouns. I thoroughly recommend reading the entire thing, as it’s very entertaining and informative. As a general idea, the term Zombie Noun is sometimes applied to nominalisations that are formed with suffixes – while they may contain a lot of embedded meaning, they may contain little or no meaning to those reading/listening to them for the first time; they scare people away!
Have you ever been to an academic conference? Inevitably, one or more speakers will give a talk about something that sounds very intelligent – and usually is – but will provide little context for the terms they are using and the conclusions that they are drawing. The concepts and words they use, that are so familiar and commonplace to them, are often alien and incomprehensible to those who are listening. They will speak very well, and leave the audience with looks of comprehension on their faces, but minds drawing blanks. Of course, no one will admit they didn’t comprehend until later that evening after a few drinks, when one conference-goer will say; “great conference, but what the hell does zestfulisation mean?”
Discussing nominalisations in this is a bit of shoe-horn job I realise, but it’s been interesting in writing this and considering the similarities between constructed languages, and language constructs within a single language. Both Zombie Noun nominalisations and embromations, while they may contain meaning to the user and sound “good” (whatever that means); they probably won’t be understood by the listener without sufficient prior-knowledge or being put into context, no matter the language.
How does this make Massacration funny then, you ask?
Because in the end, just like Zombie Nouns, the embromatic lyrics of Massacration made little sense to most people, if anybody. An English speaker could only recognise the sentence structures and words around the Portuguese/English embromations, and thus would have no clear understanding of the lyrics’ meanings. A Portuguese speaker would perhaps recognise the Portuguese root words making up the embromations, but wouldn’t understand the context it was being used in. I’m sure there are many bilingual English and Portuguese users in the world, and while they could probably understand much more than the average mono-language user, even then the mangling of Portuguese with English suffixes resulted in nonsensical words that may have lacked meaning without a clear context. This is where a significant amount of the band’s humour came from. Despite using language so incoherently, the band projected such pride, sang with such gravitas, and played their songs with such metal conviction. However, the end result was that it really made little sense to a large portion of their audience.
A lot of modern humour is about saying something arbitrary out of context of a situation (think Family Guy or that hilarious “random” acquaintance you might’ve had back in college); this is simple-absurd humour that gets a cheap laugh, before it gets tiresome. Massacration, on the other hand, masterfully crafted their nonsensical absurdity through both their lyrics, music and visuals. The analysis of this extends further.
“This vacelation is not a headbanger / he takes your CDs and empreste to another friends!” screams Detonator with fury! And with the video working alongside the aggressive music and the words that we can get meaning from, we actually make some sense of these lyrics through context, even without understanding Portuguese. Or do we?
I’ve tried entering several of these words into Google Translate. I start by entering the whole English/Portuguese embromation and then delete letter by letter from the end until an English word appears. This rarely works, as I don’t know what word endings from the Portuguese words have been lopped off to add the English suffix. I did learn a couple of things from The Bull though, and it’s interesting how the videos played with my expectations through the contextual meaning I’d created for myself, when the literal meaning was very different.
At the start of The Bull, Detonator asks Blonde Hammet for more Cachaça, stating he wants to “stay very crazy”, and soon says that he is very “Magoation”. I had thought that maybe this meant that he was drunk, and that supposition works in what we are seeing and hearing. Furthermore, in English (at least in Australia), we have a term “maggoted”, as in; “I got maggoted last Friday night” to mean one was highly intoxicated, to say the least. However, it turns out “Magoa” just means “hurt”, which he is because his girlfriend broke up with him. It’s funny that he added the English suffix to the end, as it makes the hurt poetically absurd. In another line in that same song, Detonator sings “The chains of steel / aprisonate me / in the corno’s land!“, and as he says the last line, he puts his fingers on his head like a devil. I had always assumed that “Corno” was the word for devil or demon in Portuguese, but it turns out it means “cuckold”. That more literally fits the meaning of the song, but again, playing with visual-meaning and assumptions; it’s all very clever.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what conclusions I’m drawing here, but it’s been nice to revisit Massacration. Like lazy rappers, it’s probable that Massacration’s use of embromations were used just to make lyric writing simpler by applying easily rhymable suffixes; although, why then the visual cues in the music that established a context different from the literal meaning? Within the fiction of Massacration, the purpose of using embromations was so the band (as poor English users) could understand what they were singing about. When their actions don’t match what they should understand in their first language… this is very clever and lends credence to this idea of playing with contextual meaning.
Even if my specific arguments are flawed, I’m still convinced there’s a lot more going on with Massacration than the silly parody-band they at first seem. It’s been a challenge to write about them and consider them in this way – and isn’t the best art about challenging the audience?
Anyway, language awareness aside, go and listen to or watch Massacration – it’ll make you pump your fist with feelings of metal-gloriousness, while laughing out loud at the stupidity of it all. Just like all the best heavy metal!