Jeanie Robertson was running errands when it happened. Despite being an attentive driver, Robertson was blindsided by the incident. She’d heard of an increasing number of such tragedies on roadways across the U.S., but she never thought it would happen to her. Jeanie was just bumping some tunes through her 2021 Chevy Spark’s Apple CarPlay system when her stereo abruptly faded out three tracks into Taylor Swift’s “Evermore.” Before she knew it, Robertson was hurtling down the freeway at 70 MPH, knuckles white on the steering wheel…listening to Five Finger Death Punch.
“At first, I thought the vehicle was just sick of hearing ‘Willow’ for the umpteenth time and was staging a revolt, but then this really generic guitar riff kicked in,” Richardson said.
On that day, Robertson became the latest victim of a cyberattack campaign that has already resulted in hundreds of traffic accidents, dozens of punctured eardrums, and at least one ruined makeout sesh. This increasingly common form of international warfare has recently been used to disrupt oil pipelines, food manufacturers, and healthcare systems, but experts are calling this latest audio offensive the most insidious attack to date.
“The scariest thing wasn’t the abrupt shift in volume or the confusion; it was the startling realization that some people voluntarily listen to this crap,” said Robertson.
Victims across the country have all given chillingly similar reports: they’re driving along when their favorite radio station or album suddenly fades out, only to be replaced by one of the heavy metal band’s sophomoric singles like “Wash It All Away” or “Darkness Settles In.”
For Robertson, the incident nearly ended in a crash with the sudden onslaught of tired riffs and cheesy lyrics replacing Swift’s delicate chamber pop in the flash of an eye. “I’ve never heard of this band, so at first, I thought maybe my 13-year-old nephew had recorded some angsty voice memos on my iPhone and set them to music. Discovering that this was an actual musical outfit that people pay money to see was almost as shocking as the initial episode,” Robertson says.
The Las Vegas-based heavy metal outfit has a decidedly polarizing sound, making them ideal for weaponization by a foreign entity. “Those of us in the social science community have been worried about something like this happening for a while,” says Franz Boldenburg, an ethnomusicologist at Yale.
“We long ago identified FFDP as a band that’s particularly ripe for this type of abuse. They’ve got all the hallmarks of what makes for good auditory psy-ops: the cloying patriotism combined with the nihilistic sneer of metal and lyrics that seem to be almost entirely lifted from maxims scrawled on the inner arm of a bored tween during study hall,” says Boldenburg.
In some ways, Boldenburg says there’s a degree of irony in the band’s ultra-nationalist music being used against their fellow Americans: just ask Manuel Noriega. When the Panamanian dictator holed up in the country’s Vatican Embassy in 1989, U.S. Forces blasted him with a melody of some of America’s most… distinctive musical exports in an effort to drive the opera-loving Noriega out of hiding.
“In a way, it’s like being given a taste of our own medicine; it’s really some quite clever cultural commentary,” says Boldenberg, way overthinking it. “These hackers are essentially saying, ‘Oh, you want to know what it’s like to be inundated with the most obnoxious aspects of American culture without your consent? Well, here you go.”
For her part, Robertson says she doesn’t feel as if she can trust her stereo system until the issue has been resolved. While she’s normally the type of driver who always likes to choose her own tunes during a drive, she’s begrudgingly turning to public radio to fill the void in the meantime. “Sure, it’s like listening to paint dry, and you still can’t convince me that Prairie Home Companion wasn’t developed as a cure for insomnia, but at least they’re no risk I’ll be subjected to the musical equivalent of a Monster Energy and Slim Jim-fueled burping contest,” she said.