Editorial: Of Course Black Metal Is Racist—It’s Evil
2018 has been a bad year for black metal’s image. Only months after the long-anticipated Lords of Chaos movie finally premiered, multiple black metal bands have had their questionable pasts come back to bite them in their asses.
Most notable are Taake, whose North American tour was cancelled after Antifa protestors became enraged about frontman Hoest performing with a swastika painted on his chest in 2007 [He’s also Islamophobic. -Ed.]; Marduk, two members of whom were recently revealed as having bought a bunch of Nazi propaganda; and Swedish heavyweights Watain, who had a band photo leaked featuring touring guitarist Davide “Set Teitan” Totaro throwing the ‘Sieg Heil’ while the rest of the band looked, well, not that upset about it.
This has caused a sudden reexamination of black metal’s shady past by record labels, supporters, and think-piece writers. Everyone seems astounded that black metal, no longer an underground cesspool but one of heavy metal’s most lode-bearing subgenres, could still be so full of bigotry.
To which you’ve gotta ask, what world have you been living in?
Black metal wasn’t birthed by people having nuanced conversations about the holistic traditions of old faiths. Black metal was formed to be evil for evil’s sake. Its pioneers were teenagers responding to a cut-and-dry concept of Christianity with a cut-and-dry concept of evil. And for those kids, who grew up a short train ride from where the Holocaust happened, there was no greater evil than the Third Reich.
So of course there’s a racism problem. Of course most of the truest people in the genre’s history are really into the Nazis. It’s certainly fucked up, but it’s 1000% not a surprise.
Before you start in with a bunch of Not All Black Metal Fans bullshit, understand that I’m not saying that you have to be racist to play black metal, or that by playing black metal you automatically become a racist, or any of these obvious incendiary reactions. Black metal has evolved as a genre enough that we can safely say you don’t need to subscribe to some “Pro-Europe” Facebook feed to be a good black metal musician.
This also isn’t an out for those musicians who have gotten caught in the crossfire. These guys deserve all the criticism and Antifa coming their way. I’m loving watching this, and I’m disgusted by their whining. You’re not allowed to talk about making metal dangerous again and then play the victim when your show gets cancelled. Your whole thing is about being controversial, right? So man up. If you’re big enough to court an identity that flirts with gross race politics, you’re big enough to brush off getting called out in the press.
But what’s exhausting is the pearl-clutching. The outrage. The metalheads who own t-shirts with WWII photographs of German Panzer tanks crushing human skulls, suddenly freaking out when they discover their favorite band was serious about it the whole time.
The problem starts when you begin quantifying the definition of “political.”
Nazism isn’t about politics, it’s about morality. It’s impossible to separate the political agenda of the Third Reich from the disgusting morality (or lack thereof) that lay at its core. So let’s stop hiding the Nazis behind the unknowable curtain of red tape and fine print that we consider “politics.” The Nazis were evil. There’s nothing to “get” there.
That’s why the early founders of black metal were drawn to the Nazis. Those dudes didn’t consider “evil” a church-sponsored word for “organic” or “sexually open,” they subscribed to the Christian definition of evil: murder, horror, cruelty, coldness of heart, brutality for brutality’s sake. Euronymous of Mayhem said that the Bible is the only true book for Satanists. And no one was humorlessly dedicated to evil like the Third Reich was. So these kids embraced the ultimate taboo and worshipped the Nazis, Lucifer’s legions of death as they existed on Earth.
Of course, the minute any of them made any money with their music, these guys began backpedaling and refining their exact philosophies. Black metal musicians are kings of hiding racism in other, more “philosophical” realms of thought. Oh, they’re not Nazis, they’re Quisling Isolationists, or Anticosmic Terror Worshippers, or blah blah blah. At the core of all of these ideologies usually exists a baroque phrasing of the idea that white people are superior to people of color, along with some zany theories about the Jews.
And look, the dudes in the Second Wave were all teenagers, so I’m not at all surprised if many of them have renounced those ideologies. I honestly don’t believe that a guy like Ihsahn is in any way racist, and I’m sure he and a lot of those kids only said they were at the time to get some gasps.
But just as the Black Circle took the Satanic thrashings of Venom and Celtic Frost too seriously, so have several later generations of black metal fans taken their glorification of the Nazis too seriously. And you may think they’re all just basement-dwelling nerds, and there’s some truth to that. But eventually someone’s going to get beaten to death for not being a straight white guy. So let’s stop talking our way around this problem and instead face it head-on.
Obviously, black metal has gotten way better than all that, and most of the artists championing the genre right now are open-minded and decent. Bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, Immortal, Uada, Aosoth, Carach Angren, Krallice, Ash Borer, Mutilation Rites, and The Howling Wind have made plenty of varied and interesting black metal that is not laden with racism or Nazi imagery.
But that doesn’t cancel out black metal’s underbelly, which keeps showing up among the ranks of prominent money-makers within the scene. And honestly, if it was revealed that members of any of the bands listed above were racists, I would be less surprised than if a member of, say, Gama Bomb or Battle Beast was.
A while ago, I wrote a piece about how in my nerdy mind, there are Nazis in hell, which is why black metal bands “just trying to be evil” used Nazi imagery. It was a blatant attempt on my part to explain how I can both be an open-minded liberal and still like bands who use some pretty face-forward Nazi imagery. But the more I think about it, the more I realize I was naïve. I was that “But The Riffs” guy, using my comic book-fed imagination to try and wish away something that sat poorly in my gut.
Black metal is awesome, and should be for everyone, but it has a racism problem at its roots. Don’t act shocked, because you knew that already. Acting like you didn’t adds to the problem. Hopefully, that bigotry will be slowly worked out of the scene over time. For now, though, we can acknowledge it, act a little less defensive every time some “legend” in corpse paint confirms the ideologies they’ve been quietly hinting at for years, and focus on those creeping songs about Satan made by people who aren’t assholes.