Nazi Imagery: Why Watain and Marduk Don’t Get a Pass While Slayer and Metallica Do
The Internet, you may have noticed, feels pretty passionate about recent MetalSucks stories regarding members of Watain and Marduk seemingly having concrete ties to Nazi groups and ideologies and Taake’s long history of Islamophobia (they’re spending less time attempting to defend Jason “Dagon” Weirbach from Inquisition, but that’s clearly been on fans’ minds as well). They also seem to have strong opinions about the fact that we dared to ask Ihsahn from Emperor if he felt any hesitation about performing with a convicted murderer, even though, if you actually listen to the interview, it’s clear that Ihsahn himself was not the least bit upset that we raised the issue.
People really like the music these people make — as do we (good luck finding a MS story where we talk shit about any of these artists’ music) — and metal does, after all, have a long history of being both intellectually curious about real life evil and deliberately courting controversy. As a result of this ardor and the tension between what we consider acceptable and unacceptable exploitation of taboos in heavy metal music, there was a trend in MetalSucks reader messages either posted on or sent to my Facebook page over the weekend:
More reasonably, there was a trend of messages like this one:
These are fair questions.
In addition to writing “Angel of Death,” a song about Nazi “doctor” Josef Mengele (which is sometimes accompanied live by vintage film of Nazis), Slayer named their fan club the Slaytanic Wehrmacht, after the Nazi armed forces, and have used a whole lot of Nazi or pseudo-Nazi imagery in their merch and promotional items. Hell, their entire logo clearly owes a debt to the SS. (And before someone in the comments section points it out, yeah, so does the Kiss logo. Kiss was co-founded by Jewish men, one the Israeli-born child of Holocaust survivors, though, so it seems unlikely they were ever endorsing a Final Solution. That’s also the only time they flirted with Nazi-inspired imagery, as opposed to the other bands we’re going to discuss.)
Meanwhile, Marilyn Manson’s 2003 album, The Golden Age of Grotesque, was inspired almost entirely by the Weimar Republic (Manson was trying to draw parallels between Germany just before Hitler took power and the United States during George W. Bush’s presidency). Even though the Nazi regime actually marked the end of the Weimar Republic, for this album cycle Manson chose to alter his logo to look more like that of the SS and made his Aryan-blonde band members dress in distinctly Nazi-esque uniforms (which actually wasn’t a wholly original idea — the glam metal band Faster Pussycat did it a couple of years earlier).
And then, of course, there’s Motörhead. Iconic frontman Lemmy Kilmister notoriously collected and displayed Nazi “memorabilia” and weapons, and like a lot of metal bands, Motörhead frequently made use of the Iron Cross.
These are just the most famous and obvious examples of metal bands using Nazi imagery. More recently, Mushroomhead got in on the act. There’s also an unfortunate history of musicians like Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield (giving himself a faux Hitler ‘stache), Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman, and Exodus’ Gary Holt taking “joke” photos of themselves giving the Nazi salute (in the latter case, while Kerry King and Machine Head’s Robb Flynn stand nearby, seemingly not at all bothered by what their friends are doing… Flynn, for his part, has since addressed and atoned for the picture):
MetalSucks has addressed these bands’ use of Nazi imagery in the past. In 2010, I expressed that while I don’t believe Slayer or Marilyn Manson to be Nazis, I have been uncomfortable with their use of Nazi imagery, primarily because I don’t think it has any point beyond its shock value. And as much as I admired Lemmy, I would have felt really uncomfortable in the dude’s apartment.
I understand that in the metal world, for some artists and fans, shock value and making people feel discomfit may be point enough. I would still argue that none of this stuff was ever really okay. That’s true for many reasons, not least of which being that the Holocaust is not distant history — many of us are related to or have known people who lived through it. And, as is the case with slavery in America, its lasting effects are still readily visible today (just ask Testament). You can totally freak people out and still not portray yourself as being in favor of genocide. In fact, if you’re being honest with yourself, you’ll quickly realize that shocking people with Nazism shows a real lack of creativity.
Having said that, I also always felt confident that these dudes weren’t actually Nazis, which is the only reason I was ever comfortable being a fan of these artists despite creative decisions that were, at best, pretty stupid (for whatever it’s worth, I’d bet the entirety of my unimpressive bank account that in the current global environment, none of these guys would toy around with this nonsense; Slayer made a whole music video devoted to illustrating where they stand on the issue today). As our very good friend Emperor Rhombus put it just last year while defending Marduk:
“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.”
Mr. Rhombus continued:
“[I]f 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.”
Context is everything, and the context surrounding all of these bands, from Slayer to Manson to Marduk to Watain, is a study in contrasts.
Slayer wrote a song in which a prominent Nazi is called a “butcher.”
Dagon (in addition to, y’know, looking at child pornography) wrote a song for a compilation entitled Satanic Skinhead: Declaration Of Anti-Semitic Terror. The song features a German man who says “You damned Jews… didn’t they kill you yet?”
Marilyn Manson wrote a song that includes the lyric “It’s a dirty word Reich” (which might not be even be pro-Nazi; honestly I’ve never been quite sure what the heck it’s supposed to mean).
Taake wrote a song that includes the lyric “To Hell with Muhammad and Muhammadans.”
Slayer exploit(ed) Nazi imagery for the sake of looking evil and/or being provocative in a theatrical setting and have never denied doing so.
Watain’s live guitarist, Set Teitan, will only just barely even admit that he gave the Nazi salute. Not that he ever claimed his use of the salute was for theatrical purposes, but his denials would negate such an argument anyway.
Manson exploit(ed) Nazi imagery for the sake of looking evil and/or being provocative in a theatrical setting and has never denied doing so.
Taake exploit(ed) Nazi imagery for the sake of looking evil and/or being provocative in a theatrical setting and have never denied doing so, but somehow think that means they get a free pass on all the horrible shit they’ve said about Muslims (including the fact that frontman Hoest wore a shirt with a crossed out star and crescent, a symbol of Islam). While the band claims they’re against all religions, we’ve yet to see Hoest sport a shirt with a crossed out Christmas tree.
Lemmy and Hanneman collected Nazi paraphernalia for their supposed historic value and never displayed these items outside of their own homes. Neither ever gave any indication whatsoever that they held onto these items for any reasons other than their historical significance.
Marduk allegedly purchased Nazi propaganda, which a scholar says are expressly for distribution and public display and are not simply “collectibles,” from a European hate group.
Members of Metallica, Slayer, and Exodus have been photographed giving the Nazi salute once.
Set Teitan was photographed or captured on video giving the Nazi salute on three separate occasions.
Robb Flynn took responsibility for his appearance in an unfortunate photo and used that photo as the means to discuss introspection and personal evolution.
Watain said Teitan gave the salute “in jest” and called the very questioning of his actions “tiresome and time-consuming nonsense.” At no point did they address the insensitivity of Teitan’s actions.
Lemmy and Jeff Hanneman weren’t afraid to openly discuss their affinity for Nazi stuff, but saying “Hey there’s some weird shit going on with these other bands” is grounds for me to be murdered (as several memes floating around right now suggest I should be).
Not to see contrast between these two groups is to be willfully obtuse. I sincerely don’t know how else to put it.
It seems like a no-brainer that fans would find these stories alarming. Even if your personal or family history doesn’t intersect with genocidal hate mongers, it’s no secret that there’s been a worldwide resurgence in Nazism, and fascism in general, including right here in the United States, the legend of which has always suggested that it was immune to crap like this. That’s a big part of the reason why any association with nationalism is more unnerving now than ever before. Say what you will about U.S. presidents of the past, but when Slayer wrote “Angel of Death” and Metallica took that horribly misguided “funny” photograph, our leader wasn’t calling for the expulsion of immigrants and the registration of people based on their religious beliefs or calling white supremacists “very fine people.” It’s never a good idea to light a match around gasoline, but it’s an awful idea to light a match when you’re soaked in the stuff.
But instead of concern, the recurring theme in the reaction to all of these stories is that many fans don’t even want to consider that their musical heroes might not be wonderful people.
So they deflect. They’d have you believe that MetalSucks is waging a war against black metal while protecting bands that we like and/or failing to condemn artists that allegedly have the money/power/influence/whatever to put us out of business. Which is Snaggletooth shit. Historically, we have been so much harder on the music and creative decisions of Metallica, Slayer, and Marilyn Manson than we ever were on those of Watain or Marduk (the latter of whom, we’d like to remind you again, we defended less than a year ago). The reason that MetalSucks has published, and will continue to publish, these kinds of stories is because we believe that it’s possible to support bands that demonstrate talent and willingness to fuck with societal norms but don’t demonstrate signs of serious assholery. Which is important, because ultimately, bigotry is going to alienate a lot of people and rob the metal community of some great contributions. Do you want to live in a world where a young Rob Halford, a young Tosin Abasi, or a young Matt Halpern is introduced to metal, sees a bunch of discriminatory dickheads, and says “Fuck this, I’m out!”? Probably not.
We’re cynical about a great many things, but we’re weirdly optimistic about that.
Anyway if you still want to send me messages about how I need to get back in the oven or whatever, my e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.