the fascination of the abomination
FASCISM & BLACK METAL
PHOTOS: CHANTAL LEVESQUE
Noah Berlatsky is editor of the comics and culture
Hooded Utilitarian. He writes for the Atlantic,
Salon, and Splice
Today, where this article originally appeared.
you know one thing about black metal, it's probably that some
performers are racist shitheads who burn churches. Jessica Hopper
recently published yet another article retailing the unpleasantness
committed by Varg Vikernes of Burzum. She did vary the formula
a little, though, by acknowledging that not all black metal
performers are Nazis. Instead, she argued that all black metal
performers have to deal with the fact that the music is originally,
inevitably, associated with fringe ideologies.
genre’s reluctant fans can be divided into a few apologias.
There are those who go for the sheepish “but it’s
so good I can’t help it” (the artist is creepy,
his work divine). And others subscribe to the fantasy that if
you don’t cosign the artist’s belief, their platform,
their perversion, if you don’t understand what they are
singing about, if the song isn’t explicitly promoting
an agenda, though the artist may be, that you are less of a
participant. Another common excuse is that the lyrics are unintelligible
(or not in English, so they don’t “count”),
and they are listening to black metal just for the heavy atmospherics.
a casual fan of black metal myself, I don't make any of these
apologies. And that's because there are countless black metal
acts that aren't any more ideologically noxious than any other
music on my hard drive, and less ideologically noxious than
some. Porter Wagoner singing murder ballad after murder ballad
about how cool he is for shooting his cheating woman or Janis
Joplin signing off on blackface iconography for her album cover
are significantly more dicey to me than listening to Katharsis
theatrically shrieking about witches and Satan.
true that black metal is focused on evil and death and genocide.
But being interested in those things doesn't mean you're a Nazi.
It could mean that you're Gorecki --whose droning ambience isn't
all that far removed from black metal's aesthetics, as it happens.
And if it sounds crazy to think that Gorecki's explicitly anti-Holocaust
message could find purchase in black metal, I’d direct
your attention to Pyha, an explicitly pacifist artist whose
music sounds like tortured metal emitting a long, sustained
groan of lament.
a Korean who made his sole album when he was 14-years-old, is
obviously an oddball. But there are lots of oddballs in black
metal. Another of my favourite performers, Botanist, plays hammered
dulcimer and preaches plant supremacy and fealty to the forest.
band Frost Like Ashes is part of a small group of Christian
un-black metal artists, who tend to sound exactly like black
metal except that instead of singing about blood and the pit,
they sing about blood and the cross, or about blood and the
evils of abortion. And then there are groups like Enslaved that
just like to pretend they're Vikings. Or performers like the
black/doom outfit Gallhammer who are dedicated to the proposition
that Japanese women can make a noise as terrifying and evil
as any Scandinavian dude.
are also bands like Drudkh who (as the album title Blood
in Our Wells indicates) are in fact anti-Semitic assholes.
But the reason black metal is defined by anti-Semitic assholery
isn't because all black metal musicians are anti-Semitic, or
even that there's a preponderance of anti-Semitic fascists in
black metal. It's because black metal isn’t all that popular,
but anti-Semitic assholery makes a good story. Hopper argues
that black metal fans have to face difficult questions about
their music and aesthetic preferences. But it's not black metal
that's obsessed with fascism; it's Hopper and BuzzFeed and mainstream
venues in general. I tried to pitch a piece about how black
metal isn't fascist to a number of largish mainstream outlets.
One editor said what I presume the rest of the editors were
thinking: this is too niche. Or, translated, an article about
how black metal isn't fascist isn't something anybody cares
about. It's the fascism our readers want to hear about; without
that, you've got nothing.
isn't to say that Hopper's article is terrible, or that the
issues she raises are completely irrelevant. How do listeners'
ethics interact with their aesthetics? Why do people like to
pretend to be evil? Why are they fascinated by genocide? Those
are all interesting questions. But they aren't all the same
question. Using black metal to treat them as such is more about
demographics and hit counts than it is about looking for answers.