Editorial: There Are Nazis in Hell
Lately, it seems like every band whose aesthetic even remotely involves the trappings or phrases of the Third Reich is getting taken to task. While this is often laughable and easy to blow off as oversensitive nonsense, as in the case of Dream Troll, it sometimes raises questions among the metal fanbase. The most notable instance of this is when Swedish black metallers Marduk had their Oakland show shut down due to perceived threats by Antifa, who claimed the band’s use of terms like ‘panzer’ and ‘frontschwein’ implied an allegiance to Naziism.
And even though I’m an admitted liberal SJW snowflake or whatever term oversensitive conservatives use, I, like many metalheads, rolled my eyes at the claims made against Marduk, because I’m a big nerd who thinks about monsters and death and Hell a lot. Of course Marduk are going to reference the Nazis, because they’re a Satanic band, and there are Nazis in Hell. Some of them are burning for eternity, and some of them are demons torturing the souls of sinners, but they are definitely writhing in Hell as flames lick their flesh.
Let me begin by making some things clear: first of all, I don’t believe in Hell as anything more than a cool fictional place. Like Mordor or Candyland, Hell is an awesome setting with lots of potential, but I’m not worried that I’ll go there when I die just because I enjoy having slapping out knuckle children or eating steak on Friday. Second, I’ve never met or talked to anyone from Marduk (dudes ghosted me at 70,000 Tons when I was supposed to interview them), so this all comes from my opinion of them as a fan. And finally, I’m an over-imaginative dude who reads too much horror, and I enjoy creating fantasy scenarios, so just work with me here.
There’s an invisible line with every black metal band that determines whether or not they’re political. It often comes from their visual aesthetic, the language surrounding their albums, and their approach to the music itself. Political black metal is often far down the right-hand path, full of hard-lined nationalist imagery, overly-researched historical language, and straightforward rhythms and barking. It has, with lack of better words, a harsh realism to it. But often black metal bands are more spiritual than political, and their use of war imagery and weaponry isn’t about an adherence to an ideology, but rather an examination of death, sorrow, and evil.
This often comes across as being related to Naziism because the Nazis looked evil as fuck. If you think Hugo Boss designed the Third Reich’s uniforms to be snappy and utilitarian, you’re lying to yourself. Those motherfuckers wore full-length leather and skulls on their hats because they wanted the people around them to consider them angels of death. As Mitchell and Webb succinctly pointed out, there’s no way these guys didn’t know they looked terrifying:
Meanwhile, those parts of the Third Reich that weren’t intentionally evil were made evil by the Nazi Party’s actions. The Nazis’ campaign of genocide and conquest was so evil that the German phrases and typical wartime equipment they used (when I see a black gasmask, I think of an Otto Dix painting) were made evil by association. Words like blitz, schnell, and panzer (literally just ‘lightning’, ‘fast’, and ‘tank’) carry hefty connotations because they were used by people whose primary goal was to wipe out anyone who didn’t fit the physical and ideological standard of a failed Austrian painter with one testicle.
So of COURSE the demons of Hell would mimick the Germans (and hey, vice versa—let’s not forget the Thule Society and Hitler’s weird occult obsessions). Hell is a place of terror and torment, its landscape and populace ever-changing to embrace whatever will bring the most sorrow and terror to those being tortured therein. More so, demons love poetry when it comes to punishment, tormenting their charges in ways that throw their lives and passions back at them (think Tantalus). So given how many of the Nazis ended up going to Hell, of course the demons would want to give them a taste of their own medicine, wearing the insignias and trappings of their campaign of murder and evil.
This is black metal fantasy in a nutshell—mythical demons that are a hybrid of both the primal gods of the pit and the churning war machine born of man’s true shittiness. Goats in gasmasks, tanks made of skulls and spikes, flapping banners emblazoned with symmetrical black magic glyphs—this combination of the Nazis’ nationalistic efficiency and the classic hair-and-hoof blasphemy of old European witchcraft is black metal at its heart (for a great song that locks this down lyrically, try The Crown’s “Blitzkrieg Witchcraft”).
The band who really revolutionized this aesthetic was Slayer. Plenty of Slayer’s songs are about the Nazis, but they never seem to idolize or revere them. The Third Reich’s evil is more a symptom of the evil that grips the world at large (which is also how Slayer portrays serial killers—real-world blasphemies born of mankind’s most honest form). Slayer are definitely more spiritual than political—their songs about war are very much about the agony and confusion felt by the people taking part in it—and their portrayals of the Nazis depict them as horrifying and demonic. Similarly, songs like “Chemical Warfare” portray the hordes of Hell using the same cold, clinical tactics as the Nazis to wage war in Heaven. Slayer’s message has always been that mankind is the Devil, so to portray Satan’s minions as biomechanic authoritarian footsoldiers straight out of anti-Nazi propaganda seems to give both the Devil and humanity their dues.
Some might say that this is selective belief, and there’s some truth to that. What’s not THAT offensive to me might be hugely worrisome to someone who’s not bombarded with heavy metal all day, and these lines I’m drawing between Satanism and Nazism are thin to say the least. True Satanists—not Anton La Vey-reading teenagers, but true human monsters dedicated to evil for evil’s sake—are happy to align themselves with the Nazis, because their MO really is suffering.
But if Antifa are going to be shutting down concerts and taking bands to task for their offensive behavior, they need to determine whether a band actually has fascist leanings or whether it’s creating a Satanic fantasy straight out of Lord of the Rings using modern imagery. Context is everything, and it’s often pretty tangible. There are times when it’s obvious some dickhead is dropping the N-bomb to make people gasp, and there are times when it’s clear that some dickhead is pining for the era when it was acceptable to enslave and murder black people (and before I hear some asshole say, But rappers use that word constantly, remember that black people embracing that word is different, because context).
My point is this: fantasy is fed by real world history. And there’s no more popular fantasy world than the Christian afterlife, where the good are rewarded with wings and the wicked are punished with a pitchfork through the bladder. And if we’re feeding this fairy tale our own history, then there are definitely Nazis in Hell. Hell definitely breeds Naziism; fuck, for all we know the Nazis taught Satan’s armies a thing or two about just how horrible punishment can get. So when a Satanic band sports images and phrases that seem worryingly like those of the Nazi party, it’s worth taking a closer look at them before condemning them. Because who knows, maybe they’re just evil.