For Albuquerque’s Headbanger Mayor, Power Comes in Power Chords


“That’s really cool that my book’s on his table,” said Daniel Bukszpan, 48, the author of the encyclopedia, a 2003 illustrated guide to all things metal. (In the interest of precision, it should be noted that Mr. Bukszpan’s exuberant response included the use of a four-letter modifier that, while it appears several times in his book, has been omitted here.)

Mr. Bukszpan, who lives in Brooklyn, added, “But please remind the mayor of Albuquerque that the proper way to read the book is in the bathroom, not the office.”

Either way, few people can speak with Mr. Keller’s authority when it comes to explaining what makes Albuquerque a place so welcoming for metalheads that one was elected as mayor. Yes, the city has nurtured bands dabbling in other genres, from indie rock to alternative country and norteño, Mr. Keller acknowledged.

“But what about Randy Castillo?” Mr. Keller asked, referring to the drummer for Ozzy Osbourne and Mötley Crüe who was born here and attended West Mesa High School before following his star to Los Angeles. In addition to the array of metal bands spawned and performing in the city, the mayor pointed out that another prominent figure in the metal world, Rex Brown, the former bassist for Pantera who now plays with Kill Devil Hill, makes his home in Albuquerque.

“I believe in the power of Metal!” -Mayor Tim Keller Video by ABQ-LIVE

A passion for metal minutiae might not seem like a priority for someone like Mr. Keller, who studied art history at Notre Dame and went on to obtain an M.B.A. from Harvard. With progressive political views, he served as a state senator and as New Mexico’s state auditor before running for mayor in a city that had been, until his election, under Republican control since 2009.

Born and raised in Albuquerque, Mr. Keller attended Catholic schools. He struggled with dyslexia as a child and still does, opting to devour audiobooks instead of reading. As the father of two young children, he insisted that he doesn’t attend as many concerts as other metal aficionados.

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“What can I say, this is something I’ve been into for a long time,” Mr. Keller said of his love for heavy metal.

Credit
Gabriella Marks for The New York Times

Still, Mr. Keller said that he valued heavy metal’s capacity for bringing people from different backgrounds together, especially in the Southwest, where Hispanics and Native Americans have long featured prominently in the metal scene, forging subgenres like Rez Metal, popular on and around the vast Navajo reservation.

“Despite a reputation for metal skewing Anglo, it doesn’t in New Mexico and never has,” Mr. Keller said. He cited the appeal in New Mexico of songs like “Indians,” the enduring 1987 Anthrax single about the marginalization of Native peoples in the United States, and the admiration that many people here have for figures like Chuck Billy, the Native American frontman for the thrash metal band Testament.

While Mr. Keller’s fusing of heavy metal and politics has earned him a lot of attention, authorities on the genre argue that the mayor is part of a global current of elected officials who have made their love of metal part of their political narrative.

“It’s not that surprising, since the first generation of die-hard metal fans is entering their 40s and 50s, rising to positions of power and obtaining political influence,” said Jeremy Wallach, a cultural studies scholar at Bowling Green State University in Ohio who specializes in the global spread of heavy metal.

Danica Roem, the pioneering transgender vocalist for the band Cab Ride Home, won a seat in November in Virginia’s House of Delegates. Farther afield, Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, may arguably be the world’s most powerful metalhead, listing Napalm Death and Lamb of God among his favorite bands.

Freddy Lim, the headbanging frontman of the band Chthonic, is a member of Taiwan’s parliament. And in Norway, Fenriz, a member of the black metal outfit Darkthrone, campaigned for a council seat in an Oslo suburb by posting photos of himself and his cat with the caption, “Don’t Vote For Me.” (He won anyway.)

Mr. Keller, for his part, insists that he is focusing on urgent issues in Albuquerque, including a stalled rapid transit system and luring investment to the city. His supporters note that he has begun chalking up victories, like the announcement this week by a Texas health care support company that it will hire hundreds of employees here. Mr. Keller also signed into law on Thursday a bill decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, a move aimed at refocusing police resources in the crime-weary city.

Many constituents — including some in the metal scene — aren’t holding their breath that a new mayor, even one steeped in a take-no-prisoners music culture that isn’t normally associated with establishment institutions, will be able to achieve change overnight.

“I didn’t vote for Keller, but then again I don’t vote at all,” said Jake Pacheco, 35, vocalist for the Albuquerque thrash metal band Anesthesia.

Still, Mr. Pacheco said that Mr. Keller compared favorably with Albuquerque’s former three-term mayor, Martin Chávez, still notorious in the metal community for having sought more than a decade ago to crack down on downtown concerts — viewed then as contributing to underage drinking and violent crime.

With each concert appearance, Mr. Keller seeks to bolster what he views as heavy metal’s “empowerment” potential.

When the Florida metal band Trivium arrived here for a concert, there was Mr. Keller on the stage at the Sunshine Theater, reminiscing about how he had listened to the group’s music on the campaign trail, before urging fans to let loose a welcoming scream for the performers.

Paolo Gregoletto, the bassist for the band, seemed delighted to come across an elected official expressing such zeal, and said as much later on Instagram. The mayor, he declared, had provided “one of the sickest show introductions ever.”

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