As the FIFA World Cup gets underway in Qatar, a soccer magazine is taking a wildly different approach to its coverage of the globe’s biggest tournament—and it involves thrash metal protest songs, a fundraiser for girls and youth soccer and its own version of the “Group of Death.”
The team at Howler Magazine, a publication dedicated to telling great soccer stories, noticed after the World Cup pairings were announced that there was no noticeable “Group of Death”—a storied tradition comprised of four teams that are so good that it’s a shame that only two of them make it through to the next round. An example of this fan favorite is the 1970 powerhouse group of England, Brazil, Czechoslovakia and Romania.
Lacking that urgent pairing this year, Howler decided fill the void with the “Howler Group of Death”—four songs about soccer and the World Cup performed by San Diego thrash metal band Beekeeper.
These songs, which will be dropped on the Howler website, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok throughout the group stage, are the anthems Howler’s team believes fans deserve as well as a response to the angst many soccer fans are feeling as a World Cup full of human rights and corruption controversies kicks off.
From brands and agencies to songwriters
The “Howler Group of Death” creators include Dennie Wendt and Aaron James, the co-owners of Howler, and Erich Pfeifer, Howler’s CMO—chief metal officer. Wendt is a former Nike creative and Converse marketing executive, James was an art and creative director at agencies including Wieden+Kennedy and Ogilvy and Pfeifer cut his chops as a creative director at Venables Bell & Partners for over 14 years.
Wendt told Adweek that the inspiration to do something to address the many World Cup controversies started when Howler ran an opinion piece from writer Dan Friedman about boycotting the World Cup. Wendt, James and Pfeifer have been soccer fans for too long to not watch the epic event but wanted to call attention to their dissatisfaction with the tournament. Qatar has a history of human rights and migrant labor abuses, and FIFA has had plenty of issues over the years, including being accused of accepting bribes by the host country.
“We’re so scandalized by everything FIFA is about. We put up with a Putin World Cup (the 2018 cup in Russia), and now this, but there’s nothing wrong with soccer. These are still the finest artists in the world, so we’re not going to boycott it,” Wendt said.
As James and Wendt wondered how to address their frustrations and “poke and prod at FIFA” with Howler’s independent spirit, Pfeifer, a soccer and heavy metal fan, came up with a weird and novel idea.
“Erich said ‘listen, we’re going to have a metal band, and we’re going to call it the Group of Death…Our commentary is going to come in four metal songs, and we can make fun of FIFA, we can make fun of whatever we want,’” said Wendt, adding that the team went for it right away.
Finding a band and a cause
With the abstract idea in place, the small indie team had to figure out how to make it happen. They agreed that their protest should have a cause attached to it, and decided on Soccer Without Borders, a non-profit that uses soccer as a vehicle for positive change in the U.S. and abroad. They also decided to raise money for the organization through merchandise and donations rather than ad sales.
For the merch, the crew designed a “Howler Group of Death” logo in a quintessentially metal style and stamped it on a shirt to sell through the Howler website. The next step was finding the right band to back up the protest’s message with music. Pfeifer recruited the San Diego-based, female-fronted thrash trio Beekeeper, which already had a following.
The four songs were ideas from the Howler team, but the band brought them to life.
“We served up each of the four songs and gave them a few rhymes and a few funny ideas. But the band leaned into it really hard. They just took it, so they really need all the credit for that,” said Wendt.
The first song, “Black World Cup Winter,” is a blistering anthem that screams protest against FIFA and the Qatar World Cup. With lyrics including “Drenched in blood. Vile. Corrupt. My soul screams. FIFA Sucks,” the protest is right on the surface, delivered with head-banging energy.
“This was a weird and challenging project that ended up being something we’re extremely proud of,” said Beekeeper drummer Dylan Marks in a statement. “After [Howler] showed us the similarities between the worlds of soccer and metal, the songs just fell out of us.”
Other songs will drop throughout the tournament, including “The Cup is Not Coming Home,” which pokes at England before they take on the U.S. team, “Field of Screams,” a reaction to FIFA’s approach to the Cup, and “Death Roll Call” to usher in the second round of the tournament.
Pfeifer noted that the advertising and marketing veterans who make up the Howler team had a blast doing this passion project and hope it brings new fans to the magazine and the game of soccer.
“Advertising and marketing is a tough business. So when you can do a passion project like this, everybody’s just having a blast doing it,” he said.