First there was Matisyahu, the Hasidic hip hop and dancehall phenomenon. Now, DNAinfo reports, Crown Heights has Streimel Viking — death metal by way of Orthodox Judaism.
Streimel Viking’s band members — all former devotees of the Chabad-Lubavitch sect of Hasidic Judaism — offer a nod to their religious backgrounds with their name, “a mashup of the traditional fur hat worn by some religious men on holidays and the metal stock character of the Nordic warrior,” DNAinfo explains.
If the scull-cap crowd at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn is any indication, they’ve struck a cord in the Orthodox world.
“Some of them like metal, some of them don’t like metal,” bassist Getzy Edelman, 27, said of the audience, which included one of his younger sisters (he’s one of eight siblings) and innumerable friends from the neighborhood. “But they definitely like us.”
Technically, Edelman is a rabbi, from an old-line Lubavitch family with deep roots in Russia. In Crown Heights, they call someone with his pious lineage ghezhe — Lubavitch slang for Hasidic nobility— though thrashing through a death metal breakdown onstage at Hank’s on a recent Saturday night, it was hard to imagine Rabbi Edelman and his bandmates could look less ghezhe if they tried.
“I have a rabbinical degree, but it means jack,” Edelman said. “I haven’t really been religious since I was 15, but my dad’s a rabbi, so it seemed like the thing to do.”
Edelman’s band, which practices in a foreclosed row house on Empire Boulevard, has made a splash in a neighborhood where rock music has little history.
Just a few years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine a death metal band — any death metal band — building a following in Crown Heights, a neighborhood long dominated by Caribbean immigrants and Orthodox Jews. But cheap rents and a growing cadre of new young residents make their presence here less alien than it might have once seemed.
“The truth is, I love Brooklyn,” said drummer Shmuelie Lowenstein, sounding more like a hip young transplant than the dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker he is. “I don’t really care for Crown Heights, but the rent here is cheaper.”
While frontman Connor McCrate joined the Chabad movement in college, three of the band members were raised in the Lubavitch community, and their paths to music followed similar tracks.
Although they didn’t know each other then, all three discovered metal at about the same age, around the time of their bar mitzvahs. Before long, they were rocking out to bands like Cannibal Corpse and Children of Bodom in the back of the bus to yeshiva.
“Like most communities, they have a few kids that are smoking pot or drinking and they listen to secular music,” Lowenstein said. “I got into thrash, and it got heavier and heavier. We were pretty hell-bent on playing metal.”
Unlike Matisyahu, Streimel Viking’s music is not devotional or religious, but the band members are open about their cultural roots in Judaism.
Although avowedly irreligious, the group still toes the line between the Crown Heights they grew up in and the new one growing up around them. They spend holidays with religious relatives, and share a plates of homemade Jewish food at band practice.
Lowenstein even played his first hardcore shows at community open-mic for Lubavitch kids, flailing through sets of religious Jewish melodies called niggunim he and a pal had reworked into metal songs.