Black metal, witch hunts, and crybabies

Thursday, August 31, 2017

If you, like myself, are a metalhead, and moreover, a member of the black metal “scene” (for lack of a better term), then I’m sure you’ve heard all about the MetalSucks v. Hells Headbangers drama by now. If you haven’t, here’s a quick refresher: MetalSucks, an ironically named tabloid-esque site that covers mainstream metal and crackpot gossip, accused Hells Headbangers, an extreme underground metal record label/distro, of releasing and distributing “Nazi propaganda.” MetalSucks said this “is unacceptable to us,” as if their opinion on the matter is somehow law, or as if anyone of consequence actually cares about said opinion.

The Right and Wrong Things

This is in line with what MS has done in the past: exploit real social or political issues in order to draw more visitors to their site and make themselves seem relevant. In this case, they used the recent events in Charlottesville (i.e. drama between neo-Nazis and Antifa, etc.) to do so. It’s not surprising. MS, like many news publications, groups, organizations, companies, and people in general, are trying very hard to say The Right Things, support The Right People, and send The Right Messages, up to and including The Right Jargon and The Right Popular Social Sentiments of Our Time. In an age where, if you say the wrong thing, infringe on someone’s “safe space,” accidentally let slip a “microaggression,” or “trigger” someone, you could get blacklisted, lose financial support, be publically denounced as The Wrong Thing, and essentially have your life ruined. Welcome to 2017, folks.

Let me clear a few things up. I don’t support Nazism in any of its forms (neo- or otherwise). My grandparents lived in what is now Slovakia, in a small farming community that was invaded by Nazis during World War II. An old castle there was obliterated by them (indeed the ruins are still there), and my grandfather was put to work by the Nazis, being forced to do things like haul dead bodies around. Nazism as a philosophy, political ideology, or even as a teenage “rebellion phase” is repugnant and wrong, and should stay in the past where it belongs, along with KKK violence and similar prejudicial bullshit. That being said, black metal is not inherently connected with Nazism in any way whatsoever.

This is a matter that is very confusing for those on the Outside. I capitalize the word “outside” because black metal, as a music genre, is by nature exclusivist, isolationist, and esoteric. It’s not exclusivist on any gender or racial basis, mind you, despite it facing a lot of criticism by Outsiders as “white people music.” If you don’t believe me, go check out the black metal “scenes” all across South America, and in Japan.

But I digress. Black metal confuses people, particularly because of its aesthetics, which include militarism. Thing is, though, most of that militarism is based around the music, which itself has a militant, battering, almost disciplinary type of sound. Unless a band actually declares itself to be NSBM (National Socialist Black Metal), chances are that military aesthetic is not connected to any real-world or political ideology. In fact, the majority of black metal is apolitical - inherently, if not deliberately. It has more to do with spirituality, occultism, nature, and sometimes fantasy, than any sociopolitical matter. NSBM, by the way, is a certain small subset of black metal, just like there is white power punk music, or whatever it’s officially called. I don’t support it.

Opposed to Right-Hand-Path religions

Black metal is also controversial because it is critical of Judaism. It’s import to discern that this does not stem from anything racial, but rather, the fact that black metallers are opposed to Right-Hand-Path religions, like Christianity, like Judaism, like Islam, and accordingly, it challenges those beliefs on a spiritual level. If there is a coherent ideology that a black metal band espouses, it is a religious one (that of Satanism), not a social or political one, and there are neither inherent nor deliberate racial implications involved. Phrases like “fuck your God” can apply to any one or all of those aforementioned religions. Don’t like it? Don’t listen to black metal. It isn’t intended for those who cannot stomach the controversial, the violent, or the chaotic.

MetalSucks further demonstrated its ignorance of black metal when it called for Hells Headbangers to “stop participating in the spread of hate.” Almost all black metal is in some way connected with hatred in some form. Black metal is hateful. It is hateful toward white-light religions, toward modern society, and especially toward Christian “values,” like martyrdom, “turning the other cheek,” and, perhaps most importantly, hypocrisy. You can’t have horror films without blood and killing, and you can’t have black metal without hate and violence. It is a part of the art form. And it is art - not a manual for real life. Or would the naysayers lead us to believe that because Friday the 13th features killing and butchery, the viewers are supposed to go out into the world and hurt people? Go to a black metal show and take a look around. You’ll see people supporting the bands, supporting one another, and generally enjoying the show. A baseball game is probably more violent than a black metal show/ritual.

This shouldn’t require an explanation, nor should it require justification, particularly in defense against the people criticizing it - from a place of ignorance, to boot. I don’t think people would really have given that MetalSucks article the time of day, had it not been for the ripple effect it’s been having. Recently, Lucky 13 Saloon, a goth/metal-themed bar in Brooklyn, cancelled an appearance by the band Nyogthaeblisz, on the basis that they would be “offensive.” Peste Noire were prevented from appearing at Blastfest in Norway and the Sinister Howling Fest in Germany. Bands like Inquisition and Marduk have repeatedly been attacked, their appearances and their fans attacked, criticized, and discriminated against out of some delusional belief that they are remotely connected to fascism or neo-Nazism - which they are not. This is rapidly escalating from a small metal site whining about a record label, to a full-blown witch hunt, the likes of which we haven’t seen amongst the metal community since the Satanic Panic back in the 90s.

Thought crimes and demands

Back to my original point, though, which is that MS should not be attacking Hells Headbangers in the first place. As a business, HH reserve the right to support and sell whatever bands, artists, and labels that they want. Bear in mind also that some bands or music projects whose artists might have discriminatory ideologies, like Burzum’s Varg Vikernes, are not themselves NSBM. (If you think Burzum is NSBM, or that Varg’s lyrics are in any way directly promotional of NSBM, you’re woefully misinformed.) But really, no defense is needed here. HH is a company that is trying to promote underground artists and sell their merch. They don’t care about what ideologies a particular band may have, and that’s their right.

If you don’t like something that a band is espousing, don’t give that band, or its members, or its label, your money. And don’t give them attention, share them, or recommend them to anyone. It’s that simple. People have the power and the right to do that. But you don’t have the right to accuse bands, record labels, distros, or even people of “thought crimes,” and tell them what they can and cannot believe - even if it is something hateful, and even if it is unjustifiably hateful. There’s an old saying that goes, “The freedom to swing your arms ends where my face begins.” And what that means is, you can openly criticize someone (non-violently), but you cannot demand or command them to do as you say or to agree with your worldview(s). That’s not just legal advice, it’s a fact of life.

Furthermore, dragging the names of bands through the mud, when those bands have put years of blood and sweat into what they do, and especially when those bands aren’t even remotely connected to the neo-Nazism or fascism you’re attacking them for, is beyond ignorant, and is, ironically, in itself hateful (again, hypocrisy). I’ll also add that approaching something, or even criticizing it, from a thoughtful or analytical perspective is all well and good, but simply complaining about it and demanding that things go exactly the way you want them to, makes you look like a big old crybaby. Most of the people contributing to this anti-black metal shitstorm are self-proclaimed “activists” posting angry Facebook comments from the comfort of their parents’ basements. Soldier on, you brave keyboard warriors!

The wrong genre to attack

Now, let’s talk about real lines of defense. Black metal fans are just that - music fans. However, in choosing to throw stones at black metal, the Facebook “activists” and thought-police have chosen the wrong genre to attack. Black metal has a long and brutal history that includes murder, suicide, church burnings, and rituals. Black metal will not bend or bow, it will not conform to your standards, it will not align itself with the policies or social norms of modern times. Black metal is ugly, violent, chaotic, anti-modernist, dark, and conducive to those frayed minds that exist on the very edges of society.

If you want fun, if you want something catchy, if you want something hip and modern and cool (whatever that means), stick with your mainstream music - your pop and rap and hip-hop and club music. If you want something with important social messages, with songs about life problems, and lyrics about challenging “the establishment” and other political issues, or even about dressing or acting a certain way, or being against “conformity,” listen to mainstream metal - there are plenty of good bands out there that cater to what you’re looking for. But black metal isn’t it. It’s something else entirely.

In closing, I’ll include a paragraph from a very thoughtful and well-written article on Decibel, which partly inspired me to pen this blog entry: “Metal doesn’t owe us allegiance to our viewpoints. What metal is to each person is unique. It is we that owe allegiance to metal for all that it’s given us - amazing music, a great community, and cool t-shirts with the devil and shit on them.” When it comes to metal, “we’ll never agree on everything, and we never should. But we should all agree that metal rules because it has no rules. Let’s keep it that way.”

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