Canadian Anti-Hate Network
There once was a time when metal was scary.
Now, old men in facepaint (KISS) and short-shorts (ACDC) don’t seem to tip the scales of outrage as they occupy space on blockbuster film soundtracks and Youtube advertisements. Even The Beatles once bounced their own tambourine of controversy on the derrière of British youth, somehow overcoming shocking lyrics like “I want to hold your hand.” Angry throngs of protesting pearl clutchers have always been drawn to popular rock acts, like drummers to sleeveless shirts, but the end of the 80s brought a more distinctly brutal and stinging sound.
While death and thrash metal sold more records, a cadre of sad boys pined for something more devilish, more sinister, more reviled. And from the eternal angst of Scandinavian puberty rose black metal.
Angry, harsh, unpolished notes and broken chords ring out through distortion and screeching vocals. Rising like a dark tide, the first wave of bands like Celtic Frost and Bathory plotted the genre’s early trajectory, even borrowing its name from thrash metal band Venom’s “Black Metal” album. The early wave dimmed the lights enough to reach the kids who would come to define black metal’s infamous and sometimes bloody second wave.
This is also where the neo-Nazis come in.
Bands popped up across Europe, but the Norwegians set themselves apart by the immeasurable seriousness of some of its foundational figures. Multiple fans and band members allegedly participated in the burning of historic stave churches. Mayhem’s vocalist, Per Yngve Ohlin (“Dead”) would commit suicide, followed only a few years later by the murder of guitarist and indebted record store owner Øystein Aarseth (Euronymous) at the hands of one-man-band and National Socialist wunderkind Kristian “Varg” Vikernes.
The saga of Norwegian black metal has been captured in books, articles, documentaries, and even a feature film containing one of the better Culkin brothers as Aarseth. All play up the sensational aspects of the story: historic church burnings, a strong interest in Nazi imagery, and of course, murder most foul.
The origin story all contributes to the state of present black metal -- a genre replete with problematic figures and bands, but still dominated by good people who love brutal music. Neo-nazis might grab the headlines, but here are a few antifascist black metal acts to cleanse the palate and reclaim what’s ours.
This list isn’t ordered, or even one that claims to include all the best of antifascist Black Metal.
With that said, why aren’t you listening to Dawn Ray’d right this very second?
A three-piece from Liverpool, they are as overt in their anti-racist politics as their polar opposites on the NSBM scene. Named after a line from American anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre’s work “Santa Agueda,” the band’s lyrics take aim at themes from prison reform to borders.
“Songs about ‘Lord Of The Rings’ are great, so are songs about anti-fascism,” said vocalist Sion Barr during an interview in Terrorizer.
“I do believe the far-right aspect of black metal is a very small minority,” he added, “however a big problem is the wider scene’s tolerance of those ideas, and failure so far to crush them. With a growing far right globally, I think people are being forced to look directly into the eyes of white supremacy, and all of sudden it doesn’t seem so easy to stomach or excuse. Pick a side and fight like hell!”
Michael Gregor (Silenius) and Richard Lederer (Protector) are the Austrian duo that make up Summoning. Formed in Vienna in 1993, the group has never hesitated to step away from the confines of Black Metal, but have always returned to the fold, creating brutal symphonic landscapes.
According to Vice, the band cut their teeth in Europe playing at anarchist squats. Emerging at a time when racism was more a feature than a bug in Black Metal’s second wave, anti-racism and antifascism have always been a part of the dark symphonic sound.
In the same article, writer Kim Kelly cites a statement on the band’s since defunkt website to best illustrate their views on NSBM:
“At the beginning I never wanted to associate Summoning with any kind of political topics as our music is not connected to reality at all, but as national socialism-supporting bands are constantly spreading their political thoughts, I think the time has come to finally stand up and show people that Nazism is not the only ideology of the current metal scene.”
Despite strides made, all forms of metal remain firmly dominated by male led acts. This is especially true in Black Metal, where men are as common as references to “Lord of The Rings.” Challenging only one of those conventions, because LOTR is still kinda awesome, is the duo Feminazgul.
The pairing of Laura Beach and Maggie Killjoy creates a brutal and original project that remains true to the genre’s overt love for J.R.R.Tolkien. The band acknowledges the problems around race in his books, but is attracted to the concept of dismantling power, Killjoy said in an interview with progressive music blog “Astral Noize.”
She also did not mince words when it comes to fascists in the scene.
When there are basically no Nazis around, running around with a swastika might seem edgy or whatever. Now, though, it’s just signifying participation with a real-world movement that is the enemy of anyone with half an ounce of compassion in their body,” Killjoy, who is also a trans woman, explained.
“Nazism is also a politics of fear and cowardice. Nazis are chickenshit. It’s actually why fighting them is so effective.”
A witty and brutal exploration of how to satirize an entire genre while still clearly being a fan. The product of a London-based musician, their debut album “The Black Metal Scene Needs to Be Destroyed,” featured tracks that sum up how NSBM looks from the outside.
Coming out shortly after another overtly antifascist metal act, Neckbeard Deathcamp, the pair are leaders in weaponizing humour against NSBM.
From “Odin Doesn't Listen to NSBM You Inbred Alt-right Shitheels” to “Coward Authoritarian Apologist Bootlicking Kvlt,” Gaylord is a one person music project capable of disarming the heavy handed seriousness that surrounds the Black Metal scene.
Best of all, the artist is Canadian.
Nova Scotia’s Richard Weeks is the non-binary brain behind Gaylord. In a conversation with Kim Kelly (she’s interviewed everyone), Weeks unpacks his approach he takes to smashing the fash.
“I think that there are multiple angles to tackle fascism and hatred. You have the ‘serious’ bands like Dawn Ray'd and Underdark writing very serious songs about destroying fascism—which is great. What you have with [Neckbeard Deathcamp] and Gaylord is a different approach.“
Follow Peter Smith on Twitter at @misterEpete.
This article was made possible thanks to a grant from the Urban Alliance on Race Relations and an anonymous donor. Thank you.