Monday, November 27, 2017

Heavy Metal Means a Long Memory, part 1

The title of this series of articles is an answer to a question.

The question is "what do we do with all the neo-nazis in our heavy metal subculture?"

Usually the way I write is kind of capricious and strange. I'm going to try to keep this as simple and direct as possible because I want this many-part planned article to be a useful resource for the future.

We're starting with the assumption that the swelling tide of the fascist creep is a terrible and terrifying thing and we all must do what we can to fight back. The rise of fascism is predicated on this asymmetry of attack. It's not always going to be black-and-red and easy to discern who the nazis are, but they're all, together, some consciously some less so, contributing to the return to power of the worst elements of western political history. We must do all we can to stop this.

If you're of the opposite persuasion, if you yourself identify as a metalhead of any sort of nationalist bent, if you're for "racial purity" for any reason, if you're against immigrants for any reason then you should know you are my enemy and I want you out of the heavy metal scene for good.

If you're heavy metal enough to read and understand the argumentation of your opposition, you can prove it to yourself by sticking around, mulling on the consequences of these arguments and following through in the way that to you seems virtuous. The only way you'll have anything but my contempt and pure desire to push you out is if you can change. Change is metal. And I will remember, and anyone who's heavy metal at heart will remember that you had the capacity for change. But if you're a shit that sticks to their shitty guns, I'll remember that, instead. Heavy metal means a long memory.

A long memory means I remember when Dimmu Borgir said this about whether metal music is for whites only, for example, yet now they're in the covers of every metal mainstream publication.

A long memory means I remember when George Fischer of Cannibal Corpse went on a bigoted, homophobic rant vis a vis his World of Warcraft addiction. Yet Cannibal Corpse are just goofy horror movie gore, right?

We must know what we are. Ignorance is no excuse. But first,

1. For us to remember first we have to understand

The issues we have to understand and come to a social agreement on are many, and so I will frame them as questions and answers. Some of the concerns we'll touch upon I have commented on in past articles, years ago, and although my condemnations were always strong, my historical understanding of this problem was weaker than it should be. I didn't foresee what was to come in the last 5 years and that's a big reason why I must do this now. To change, to mutate, is a very heavy metal quality. And to remember what you've done and take responsibility for it, is, as you will hear again and again in this series of articles, the most heavy metal quality of all.

Q. There's only very few actual nazis in the metal world, right? It can't be such a big problem?

If we use metal-archives and their ever-handy database searching tool we will find 524 bands whose lyrical and aesthetic themes hinge on National Socialism. Of them, 232 are listed as active. That's just the out and proud neo-nazis, though. The ones with pictures of Holocaust executions and samples of Hitler giving speeches on their terrible black metal cd-rs. And that's, also what Metal Archives has so far included, it's not an exhaustive, factual list. Many bands are smarter about hiding their ideology, and many bands aren't on Metal Archives at the moment at all.

Keep in mind that sites like the Metal Archives are not an academic institution in the least, they are supported by fans for their content and as such they're always positively biased towards the artists that are included. The person that takes time out of their life to update on whether Mr. Archon Grimdork of NSBM outfit "It's Only A Sunwheel" is still alive or dead probably likes Mr. Archon Grimdork, is their friend or would like to be their friend in their fantasies. As such, the coverage of the lyrical themes of these bands is always a little bit couched in this positive bias.

So, 500 or so artistic entities, half of them active. Neo-nazis. A band is 2-3 people in the black metal idiom on average. That's a few thousand people, their peers and friend circle, sympathetic labels that organize and put out their material and most importantly the unknown thousands of listeners that consume their media and endorse, to smaller or larger degrees, their worldview.

Would that be a problem? Is it a problem for you to know that there's thousands of active entities in the global metal world imagining and longing for total war, racial segregation and a holocaust for Jews, people of color, LGBTQI+ folks, communists, activists and so on?

The answer to that question probably tells you a lot about yourself. Also, that we usually come to the quick conclusion that there's probably not that many actual nazis in metal without actually doing the (turns out, very simple) research that disproves that notion tells us something about ourselves. It speaks of our desire to pretend this problem doesn't exist because its implications are uncomfortable. And it gets worse.

Inside the language of identification on metal archives we will find 'terms of affinity' that also warrant investigation. It's not just outright tags of 'National Socialism' that matter for this argument. Let's see what other tags feature right next to that in the archives.

New World Order
War Propaganda
Roman Tradition
Native Land
White Pride
World War II
Third Reich Mythology
European Unity
Conspiracy Theories

I could go on and on, it's really exhausting to read this list. The point here is that all these terms coexist, again and again, with our 'National Socialism' as the UR-source of this disease and as such are not easy to divorce from them. So you may have a smarter band that doesn't have swastikas on their cover but goes on and on about their 'proud ancestors fighting the Christians back when they were invaded'. Because Metal Archives, as we established before, is run by sympathetic fans, they will dutifully list them as 'Heritage', or at the very worst 'Nationalism' but not as 'National Socialism'. This is correct by the letter of the law but by spirit it's obviously sketchy.

Quasi-nazis hiding their identity under the broader category of 'sketchy dudes' is the prime tool of how they got to have this much reach and influence. Half improvised, but also half organized under the auspice of meta-political, Third-Way fascist ideologues, as we will examine later.

So, the fans of folk metal and rowdy viking beer-drinking metal are listening to music that has historical ties to the neo-nazi subculture in metal music, even if they don't want to believe it or are ignorant to it. This is established, again and again, by the degree of separation game. If a band just appears to be 'about mythology and heritage, bro', then why were they, once, on a record label that also puts out National Socialist Black Metal? Why have they played in more outright NS bands in the past? Why have they given interviews where they're sandwiched by other NS bands, even if they themselves do not outright endorse genocide, for the moment?

Let's return to the concept of the 'fascist creep' that I linked to above. We have to understand this: Fascism is not a mono-bloc political entity, all dressed in Waffen SS uniforms, marching in formation in the streets, trying to topple governments and install their genocidal regime. That sort of neo-nazi exists and is a real concern in the modern world as well, but we also have to account for the superficially milder breeds of the fascist creep and their diversionary methods. They use their ambiguous "are they or aren't they? Let's hear them out, at least" state to infiltrate further into the culture than out-and-proud neo-nazis can. And they have been remarkably successful in our subculture.

It is a really demoralizing thought to go through Metal-Archives and search for how many bands are tagged for lyric themes of not National Socialism, but just 'Heritage', or 'Elitism'. I will leave this adventure to you, suffice to say that the broader spectrum of ultra right-wing, conservative beliefs in metal includes thousands and thousands of active bands and tens of thousands of fans and sympathizers.

To your theoretical statement, then: there's a lot of actual neo-nazis in metal, but there's even more potential ones in the periphery of those beliefs and they are softening the ground for gradual radicalization. You yourself, probably have met them, conversed with them online and offline if you go to shows and participate in the scene, you've had to hear 'soft' positions about 'The New World Order' (which is just a cipher for 'The Jews') just as much as you've probably had to deal with the same people saying that women or people of color just... don't seem to feature in metal circles as much as you'd expect. I wonder why.

So, there are a LOT of nazis and a lot of friends-to-nazis in metal. Not just the panda-faced black metal specters in overexposed xerox copies of photos in the woods. In our community. Drinking beer at a Amon Amarth show with their friends. With your friends. Now that we understand this, we must remember it. Forgetting such a thing wouldn't be very heavy metal of us, would it?

Q. But metal is supposed to deal with ugly subject matter! Are you saying that every band that spins a gory tale of a middle ages pagan taking the knife to the Christian invader are nazis? Where does this terrible political correctness stop?

You're right, theoretical reader, here's where things get more complicated and here's where we need to develop new political reflexes and analytical tools, because our old ones have certainly failed us. But let's do this on the next installment of this series.


  1. These articles have been an insightful read. I, too, have noticed the creeps coming out of the woodwork in both the metal and occult worlds lately and also feel the importance of speaking up to make sure people know that there are plenty of us unhappy about it. That there are large groups of us that don't have hate for others and are actively fighting afainst that mentality. Excited to continue reading your writing.

  2. Jessica, thank you for your comment. The second post in the series is in editing at the moment, soon up. It's heartening to know you feel this way.