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Editorial: Regarding Euronymous’ Claim that “Almost ALL Norwegian Bands are More or Less Nazis”

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A few weeks ago, a reader calling himself “Az” e-mailed us regarding The True Mayhem Collection, a Facebook page dedicated to vintage Mayhem and Burzum memorabilia. The page has recently been releasing letters that are said to be from Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth and Varg “Count Grishnackh” Vikernes to a UK fan named Paul Watson in the early ’90s. (To be specific: the page says Watson began the correspondence “in late 1991 or early 1992,” and that “The last letter fom Varg was sent the same day as he killed Euronymous,” which happened in August of ’93.) Although the letters do discuss music to a degree, the primary subject is Nazism.

Az wasn’t e-mailing us with regards to the garbage rhetoric espoused by Aarseth and Vikernes in the letters; that rhetoric is wholly expected coming from these twerps, and is, therefore, not that interesting.

Az was, however, interested in assertions made within the letters regarding the political beliefs of other Norwegian black metal bands. “[A]lmost ALL Norwegian bands are more less nazis [sic],” Aarseth writes in one letter. “Burzum, Mayhem, Emperor, Arcturus, Enslaved, you name them.”

Az noted that many of these bands are still popular today, and unburdened by a reputation for being intolerant. Thus, Az posed to us the following questions:

“I recall during the Anselmo White Power issue a few articles posing the question… Do we defend our heroes?

“Can you defend these bands?

“Will this get reported on?

“Has enough time passed since these comments (and no further incidents making it into the mainstream metal press, although there have been many if you’ve closely followed the scene) that all these bands now get a free pass?”

Which are all good questions.

The short answer is… it’s complicated.

Here’s the long answer:

You cannot lump all of these bands in together, regardless of one statement Aarseth made more than twenty years ago. You have to take them on a case-by-case basis. And, generally speaking, the bands that have avoided the controversy that musicians like Vikernes actively court have done so by being… well… non-controversial.

Take, for example, Darkthrone. Their 1994 album, Transilvanian Hunger, features lyrics penned by Vikernes, and was infamously promoted by a press release in which the band claimed that “If any man should attempt to criticize this LP, he should be thoroughly patronized for his obviously Jewish behavior.” It goes without saying that this is an incredibly stupid statement… but to Darkthrone’s credit, they repented. On the occasion of Hunger‘s twentieth anniversary, Noisey noted that Norway has a long history of deep-seated cultural anti-semitism, and Darkthrone ostensibly blamed this ingrained bigotry for their statement:

“Darkthrone can only apologize for this tragic choice of words,” Fenriz and Nocturno Culto wrote in an apology letter that revealed the anti-Semitism in Norwegian society. “In Norway the word ‘Jew’ is used all the time to mean something that is out of order. If something breaks down, if something is stupid, etc… When we wrote ‘Jewish behavior’ in our previous press statement, we could have easily have (sic) written, according to the Norwegian language ‘stupid’ instead.”

The band continued by stating it was not political in any way and that none of its albums had “contained any racism/fascism or Nazi slant at all.” When the controversy continued to rage in certain circles, Darkthrone included the following message in their 1995 album Panzerfaust: “Darkthrone is certainly not a Nazi band nor a political band. Those of you who still might think so, you can lick Mother Mary’s asshole in eternity.”

Maybe you take Darkthrone at their word that this was ostensibly a horrible cultural misunderstanding, or maybe you think that’s insincere spin intended to keep their name out of articles like this one. No one besides the members of Darkthrone can really know for sure, but we do know this: the band does not have a history of publicly making intolerant comments. You can point to videos of Phil Anselmo ranting about “white pride” and “white power”  that were filmed twenty years apart, which strongly suggests he has maintained his ugly worldview; and while he says he’s never written racist lyrics, it’s very, VERY easy to interpret some of his lyrics as being distinctly bigoted.

But if there are videos of Fenriz throwing the Nazi salute or endorsing the notion of white pride, I’ve never seen ’em, nor was I able to find them when researching this piece. In other words, there’s a lack of evidence upon which to convict Darkthrone.

And the fact that they’ve gone so long without any more Hunger-esque drama raises another possibility: people can mature and change and, yes, redeem themselves. Fenriz and Nocturno Culto were 23 and 24, respectively, when they made Hunger. They are now each rapidly approaching age fifty. It’s feasible their worldviews have changed; it’s feasible they were being provocative for the sake of being provocative when they made Hunger and have since seen the error of such sophomoric behavior (see: the dudes from Dragonforce). Regardless, the point stands: if you want to make an argument that Darkthrone are bigots, you’ll be hard-pressed to find evidence that isn’t over two decades old.

It’s even more difficult to level such an accusation against Enslaved. The band performed in Israel for the first time in 2013, and the show went off without so much as a protest. Can you imagine Vikernes trying to perform in Israel without causing a ruckus? Can you imagine Vikernes even wanting to perform in Israel?

(Yes, I understand Vikernes doesn’t perform anywhere these days. If you don’t understand the point I’m making, though, you’re being willfully dense.)

Meanwhile, in 2004, Enslaved’s Ivar Bjørnson specifically spoke out against “intolerant bands that align themselves under the Pagan label”:

“I think it contradicts itself. I think the whole idea of Paganism is beyond segregation. That would be like using religion to decide which kind of music is best. It’s different, that’s the whole point. As I see it, You’re free to prefer whatever you want. As Crowley said – he’s in many ways the ultimate modern Pagan – ‘do what thou wilt,’ but in that sense allowing others to do what they want.

“Of course you will find all kinds of intolerant people in any political or religious groups. Just because there are racists within the Pagan movement, it doesn’t make the movement racist. I think it’s great when you ask the question. Enslaved always does things straightforward. We never tread silent. We don’t want to whisper all this stuff: our pride and the culture. If people misunderstand, that’s sad, but in a way it’s good, too, because it’ll provoke somebody to actually confront us. And we can answer them, and we’ll have told another person what we mean. I think the real destructive thing is the apathy; that people might say, ‘this might be intolerant.’ And they don’t do anything about it.”

Bjørnson’s words do not sound like those of a bigot or a fascist. People like Vikernes would never even try to deny being pro-segregation (Vikernes wrote in one of his letters to Watson, “Norway for Norwegians, England for Englishmen,” and continued to endorse racial segregation as recently as last year). Put another way: Bjørnson’s statement demonstrates cultural pride, not cultural superiority, which are two very different things. There’s nothing wrong with feeling proud of, and celebrating, your heritage… it’s when you begin to assert that your heritage makes you better than other people that you run into issues.

The stance adopted by Darkthrone and Enslaved is a stark contrast not only from the one taken by Vikernes, but from the one taken by Emperor as well. Yes, Tomas Thormodsæter “Samoth” Haugen committed arson and burned down a church. Yes, Bård Guldvik “Faust” Eithun murdered a gay man, Magne Andreassen, who allegedly propositioned him (not that propositioning Eithun would make Andreassen’s murder okay, obviously — but to hear Eithun tell it, it’s the reason for his homicidal act). Their actions were, to put it mildly, despicable. And they’ve done little to suggest that they’ve changed.

In 1996,  Eithun himself conducted an interview with what was Emperor’s then-current line-up for Descent, the now-defunct magazine created by Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley… and Haugen specifically said “I have no regrets for what I did” and called his time in prison “a valuable experience.” He then continued:

“Concerning my present view on church-burning. I still stand by the concept of it, but whether or not it should continue is another issue. We have proven our point a long time ago, and there is no point to prove it further on. The symbolic value is gone, even the shock-effect is gone…This should not be misunderstood as I’m saying that we should give up ‘kampen mot hvitekrist’ (‘the fight against White Christ’), not at all, but there is also other ways to fight the enemy, which in the long run, can be more effective.”

Eithun did slightly better when he was asked, in 2008, if he “still hold[s] those religious and political beliefs” that he held at the time of Andreassen’s murder:

“I was never a Satanist or fascist in any way, but I put behind me the hatred and negativity. Those feelings just eat you up from inside.”

“I put behind me the hatred and negativity” is a good start, but “I highly regret my actions and will work to educate others about dealing with the misplaced rage that led me to take those actions” would be better. I can’t imagine Andreassen’s family would take much comfort in Eithun’s quote.

I’ve yet to find a more recent comment from either Eithun or Haugen concerning their past crimes.

So why has MetalSucks overlooked Emperor’s crimes up until now?

I don’t have a good answer.

I’m embarrassed — and, frankly, ashamed — that we’ve let Emperor off the hook all this time.

But I speak for both Vince and myself when I say that we won’t give Emperor a free pass any longer. Like the members of Darkthrone, that’s all we can really do now: apologize for our past mistakes and make an earnest effort to do better next time.

(Not that it matters in this instance, but we feel obligated to note that Eithun is no longer a member of the band.)

In his e-mail, Az said that there have been other incidents which have escaped the attention of the (relatively) mainstream metal media. MetalSucks readers should always feel free to e-mail us with any such stories, so long as those stories are backed up by evidence. As of this writing, we truly do not believe that the members of Enslaved are Vikernes-level scumbags… but we’re not afraid to admit when we’re wrong.

Like I said: it’s complicated.

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