Black metal flouts indie rock’s PC conventions
November 3, 2014 6:09 AM   Subscribe

“Someone recently came into the store and bought Belle and Sebastian and Darkthrone CDs,” laughs Connors. “It seems like the new thing now is that everyone in an indie band has a black metal solo side project. It all makes sense to me; black metal has easy appeal for music obsessives.”
As Black Metal has become hip, Jessica Hopper asks whether its new fans are sufficiently aware of its problematic history or if in fact the racist and fascist undertones adds to its "weirdly exotic" cachet.
posted by MartinWisse (94 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Interesting article, but it was weird to see no mention of Lords of Chaos, a history of the underground Norwegian black metal scene that sets the stage for the article.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:18 AM on November 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Even violent, misanthropic and full of rage, there are enough bastards in this world to hate without being so cowardly as to direct your hate to the weak.
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:26 AM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Fascist iconography and kitsch have a long, not especially healthy relationship of ironic appropriation, usually by people who have not been on the receiving end of fascist violence. But in most cases, the imagery is taken in the context that "they're gone" (however false that idea may actually be). Here, it's a bit disturbing that Vikernes and others in the genre are still active and that money is going into their pockets in the name of ironic cultural tourism.

But then, Susan Sontag pointed out long ago that the claim to "apolitical" appreciation of fascist art is congruent with one of the foundational moves in fascism:
National Socialism—or, more broadly, fascism—also stands for an ideal, and one that is also persistent today, under other banners: the ideal of life as art, the cult of beauty, the fetishism of courage, the dissolution of alienation in ecstatic feelings of community; the repudiation of the intellect; the family of man (under the parenthood of leaders)....The rituals of sadomasochism being more and more practiced, the art that is more and more devoted to rendering its themes, are perhaps only a logical extension of an affluent society’s tendency to turn every part of people’s lives into a taste, a choice.
It seems unsurprising in some ways that a dedicated snob aesthetic like -- oh, overused word! -- hipsterism (by which we really mean upper-middle-class white culture) would gravitate towards stuff like black metal. Both of them see life and politics as an art project, and culture as an object of finicky, rigid curation.
posted by kewb at 6:28 AM on November 3, 2014 [31 favorites]


This was interesting, and it's undeniable that the current transgressive popularity of black metal raises some tensions between the genre and the other genres popular with the same group of listeners.

I wonder, though, why the article ignores the presence of radical left black metal (Cepheide, Solbrud, Parusia, Panopticon, etc.). I can only assume that it's because to not do so--to acknowledge these bands--would stop the article before the headline was done. Black metal, just like punk and hardcore and metal and crust and rock and on and on and on, has some artists involved with reprehensible politics. That says less about the genre, though, and more about those artists.
posted by still bill at 6:32 AM on November 3, 2014 [27 favorites]


I know nothing about the subject but this strikes me as one of those rare articles where it really is worth reading the comments.
posted by motty at 6:37 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Black metal, just like punk and hardcore and metal and crust and rock and on and on and on, has some artists involved with reprehensible politics.

True, but with black metal the core of the original genre bands (Mayhem, Burzum, the other Norwegian bands) were deliberately satanic and violent both in their music as off stage and the genre was shaped by that. It's as if punk started with Skrewdriver or similar neonazi band.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:42 AM on November 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


The ideology goes pretty deep into it. The root of the black metal sound is in trying to remove African influences from heavy metal (whether they succeeded in this in any meaningful way is another can of worms, but this was the intention).
posted by idiopath at 6:48 AM on November 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


True, but with black metal the core of the original genre bands (Mayhem, Burzum, the other Norwegian bands) were deliberately satanic and violent both in their music as off stage and the genre was shaped by that. It's as if punk started with Skrewdriver or similar neonazi band.


True enough, although I don't give a shit about the 'satanism' myself. But early/foundational punk had tons of horrible political stuff going on. I don't exactly see the difference. I don't listen to or enjoy bands like Burzum expressly because of their politics, but their role in the genre has no bearing whatsoever on my enjoyment of black metal that does align with my personal politics. Eric Clapton's expressed sympathy for fascists, too, but I'm okay with classic rock. I just don't like Eric Clapton.
posted by still bill at 6:51 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Horde, an "unblack metal" Christian metal band from the mid-90s formed specifically to address the satanic etc. content of black metal. The act and record label received death threats over it.

(I'm not a metal fan, this Wikipedia entry is really all I know about it: happened across it over the weekend while idly following links from the entry on Sunn O))).)
posted by ardgedee at 6:51 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


and then there's German neo-Nazi hip hop...
posted by ennui.bz at 6:54 AM on November 3, 2014


It's finally come to this: hipsters have been Godwin'd.
posted by gwint at 6:55 AM on November 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


An old high school buddy of mine runs a cassette-only black metal label, and I recently had to unfollow him on Facebook because he made some statements regarding ebola victims going back to Africa and the need for a strong hand to "reign" in America, etc. It's crazy--he's an openly gay punk and he seems to be throwing his lot in with the fascists! It's like he doesn't even see the danger.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:55 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Early 90s? Those artists doing horrible things was not the start of black metal. Also Burzum is my no means the most influential band due in part to him being in jail for so long.

If they're taking just about Norwegian Black Metal - which would be weird - they're less wrong but Venom and Bathory were going a decade earlier than this article acknowledges.
posted by mountmccabe at 6:56 AM on November 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


That's not Black Metal. This is Black Metal.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:59 AM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Pantera was pretty popular with the indie crowd back in the day. But if you ever listen to the lyrics...
posted by Nevin at 7:00 AM on November 3, 2014


It's finally come to this: hipsters have been Godwin'd.

You mean nipsters?
posted by ennui.bz at 7:02 AM on November 3, 2014


If you really want something to worry about, it should be sports fans, not music fans.
posted by gwint at 7:07 AM on November 3, 2014


The ideology goes pretty deep into it. The root of the black metal sound is in trying to remove African influences from heavy metal (whether they succeeded in this in any meaningful way is another can of worms, but this was the intention).

Never heard this. Link?
posted by josher71 at 7:10 AM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


There is literally nothing that is not problematic if you go back far enough. It's not intrinsic to the genre of black metal that it be racist or violent. I don't listen to musicians or bands who do things I find deplorable, but I don't tar their entire genre with the same brush either because of Chris Brown or "Blurred Lines" or hell, "Under My Thumb."
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:12 AM on November 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


I'm just going to listen to music from kinder, gentler times where there's no danger of weird connections to fascism.

/puts on David Bowie.
posted by Artw at 7:14 AM on November 3, 2014 [24 favorites]


There is a steep divide between putting money in Varg's pocket (or inspiring others to do so) and simply enjoying a style of music which had been midwifed by people like Varg. It seems pretty facile to flatly cordon off black metal as music for bad people, but then to ignore the massive amounts of shittiness which you can find in almost any other music genre.

I guess I'm just looking at it from the perspective of somebody who doesn't particularly care for black metal all that much, although I do sometimes enjoy Nachtmystium and Agalloch, and I don't mind Wolves in the Throne Room. If a particular black metal band isn't itself promoting bad things, let alone a merely "blackened" band, then it seems like magical thinking to pretend that its subgenre still makes it culpable. If anything, I'm pleased that the NS stuff is getting so diluted.

Also, this is your daily reminder that Varg has a homebrew tabletop RPG coming out soon.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:22 AM on November 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


As an old-school 80s metal head, I think I always preferred my Black Metal satanic rather than fascist.

But honestly, I'll always be more Judas Priest than any of the growling Scandi-Fascists. Spikes & leather over corpse-paint for me.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:31 AM on November 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


As Black Metal has become hip, Jessica Hopper asks whether its new fans are sufficiently aware of its problematic history

They're just running out of postures to adopt. I figure they'll move on to polka next.
posted by jonmc at 7:32 AM on November 3, 2014


Also, this is your daily reminder that Varg has a homebrew tabletop RPG coming out soon.

Stave Churches & Stormtroopers?
posted by KingEdRa at 7:39 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


The fact that everyone knows Varg is a disgusting person and there are many people who refuse to buy his stuff and basically laugh at the guy shows that the current black metal scene really doesn't need to grapple with the genre's sordid past. We've done it. Varg is brilliant, but he's also a fucking joke because of what a vile human he is. And everyone knows it.

Also, USBM doesn't have any racist past to grapple with, AFAIK. And that's the genre that is getting the most attention and new fans.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:40 AM on November 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


> The ideology goes pretty deep into it. The root of the black metal sound is in trying to remove African influences from heavy metal

Varg Vikernes certainly had some things to say in that vein in the past, and it could very well be a personal, even central intent of his for Burzum (who knows what Varg thinks, really?) but I had never heard such a thing for black metal in general, certainly not in such a definite, clean-cut manner. Care to share some links in support of that argument?

In the forum thread I've linked to above, one guy even claims, in a matter-of-fact, non-chalant way just like yours, that "Metal", not even Black Metal but "Metal" was partly an attempt to rid hard rock from jazz elements. It's such a cynical way of looking at music history that it makes me sad, regardless if it's true or not.
posted by procrastinator at 7:53 AM on November 3, 2014


also jute gyte is really good.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:53 AM on November 3, 2014


> It seems pretty facile to flatly cordon off black metal as music for bad people, but then to ignore the massive amounts of shittiness which you can find in almost any other music genre.

To be fair, we are talking about music founded to promote racism and violence; whose germinal albums are basically a scream of hatred of many things and people; and where many if not most of the founding musicians were actual, clinical psychopaths who destroyed beautiful things and murdered other people (and themselves too, but that's their prerogative).

You'd have a very tough time finding any other music genre whose musicians were so committed to actually, genuinely being evil...

As for the music itself - after I read Lords of Chaos I was really interested to hear it, but it's tedious in the extreme, and (as the article points out) completely lacking in a sense of humor for something that could be extremely funny.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:55 AM on November 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


an attempt to rid hard rock from jazz elements.

like chords that have thirds in them?
posted by thelonius at 7:55 AM on November 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


In the forum thread I've linked to above, one guy even claims, in a matter-of-fact, non-chalant way just like yours, that "Metal", not even Black Metal but "Metal" was partly an attempt to rid hard rock from jazz elements. It's such a cynical way of looking at music history that it makes me sad, regardless if it's true or not.

Considering the massive influence of the blues in metal, I'd say that's an odd position to take.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:55 AM on November 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


If anyone's unfamiliar with music critic Jessica Hopper's work, I highly suggest checking out the archives of Fan Landers, her advice column for musicians. She recently stopped writing it (boo) to accept a job as senior editor of Pitchfork (yay).
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:00 AM on November 3, 2014


In the forum thread I've linked to above, one guy even claims, in a matter-of-fact, non-chalant way just like yours, that "Metal", not even Black Metal but "Metal" was partly an attempt to rid hard rock from jazz elements.

That's not without basis in reality, FWIW, though it's got nothing to do with racist ideology and everything to do with people just being sick of the same old music and wanting something new. Progressive rock had more of a manifesto about being un-bluesy, for the same reason. The musicians in question just wanted to play something else for a change. At least metal and prog bands can't be accused of stealing music from black people the way Led Zeppelin did.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:03 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Stereotype an entire genre AND group of people with this weird trick fans hate!
posted by basicchannel at 8:08 AM on November 3, 2014 [4 favorites]




In the forum thread I've linked to above, one guy even claims, in a matter-of-fact, non-chalant way just like yours, that "Metal", not even Black Metal but "Metal" was partly an attempt to rid hard rock from jazz elements. It's such a cynical way of looking at music history that it makes me sad, regardless if it's true or not.

That's just not true. Actual metal grew out of Birmingham, where the hideous screechings of dying industries provided inspiration for music for people left out of the summer of love. It's always been outcast music, there's always been crossover between "black" music and metal just as much as there have been black metal fans (rather than Black Metal fans).
posted by MartinWisse at 8:17 AM on November 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Yeah, if all of black metal is tainted because of the early '90s Norwegian scene, I have an itchy pointing finger here wanting to go all tu quoque on everyone...
posted by Pyrogenesis at 8:20 AM on November 3, 2014


To be fair, we are talking about music founded to promote racism and violence; whose germinal albums are basically a scream of hatred of many things and people; and where many if not most of the founding musicians were actual, clinical psychopaths...


This isn't entirely true, though. As mentioned upthread, this is only the case if you consider (some) black metal bands from the 90s as the starting point of black metal. Venom, Celtic Frost, and lots of other bands that make up the foundations of black metal have no real identifiable racist or fascist tendencies. They do have a very strongly antagonistic attitude towards Christianity, but it mostly stops there. And the idea that 'most' of those musicians were/are 'clinical psychopaths' is just goofy. A small handful of musicians involved in 90s black metal did some silly and awful stuff, but that hardly makes 'most' of the musicians in that scene clinical psychopaths.

WP/NS bands are often founded to promote violence, racism and fascism. WP bands in the oi! and punk scenes, in particular, fit that bill because there is often no focus whatsoever on musicianship. They exist purely as propaganda. You'd have a hard time making that case against black metal. So sure, there are some very politically awful people in black metal (and I pay no attention to the output, past or present, of those people because their politics are repulsive to me), but it's a huge stretch to claim the genre exists solely to promote those horrible ideologies.
posted by still bill at 8:25 AM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think my fundamental disagreement with this article is that I don't see the music world as scenes where you have to pick one and buy into it wholly as your identity.

That's why there is a problem with liking Belle & Sebastian and Darkthrone. Why it's weird that Thurston Moore can have a black metal side project (though, oddly, Sonic Youth are named as one of the artists that make it so that black metal doesn't seem so foreign).

The article discounts black metal - especially, though everything else as well - as a style of music, that people could listen to for musical reasons. The "appeal of black metal" is not that it is "genuinely culturally transgressive" but that the artists are doing very different, very exciting things. Creating new music.

"'true' black metal, by definition, is satanic"

Starting with a definition that has nothing to do with music is problematic. To be fair the article eventually goes on to mention some of the musical aspects but only under the guise of explaining how unappealing the genre is musically to push the idea that people are just mentioning/listening to the band as a pose.

Now if you excuse me the classical music I had queued up is finishing so I'm going to move on to an all-black metal day.
posted by mountmccabe at 8:44 AM on November 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Here is where I mention how much I love love *love* Drew Daniels' (of Matmos, + interviewed in the article) work as Soft Pink Truth, which this year included 'Why Do the Heathen Rage?', a collection of "Electronic Profanations of Black Metal Classics ".

From the liner notes:
Disclaimer: Aesthetics and Politics are neither equivalent nor separable. Black metal fandom all too often entails a tacit endorsement or strategic looking-the-other-way with regards to the racist, anti-Semitic, sexist and homophobic bullshit politics that (still) pervade the scene, on behalf of either escapist fantasy talk, shaky invocations of art as a crypto-religious path to transcendence, or--the oldest cop out in the book--the quietist declaration that “I just like how it sounds.” Just as blasphemy both affirms and assaults the sacred powers it invokes and inverts, so too this record celebrates black metal and offers queer critique / mockery / profanation of its ideological morass in equal measure. Mixed emotions about a murky, diverse and self-differential scene are all very well, but, as Barack Obama is so fond of saying at press conferences just before legitimizing drone warfare, let’s be clear: No apologies, no excuses, and no escape clauses are hereby offered. Murderers are murderers. No safe space for fascist garbage. The Soft Pink Truth hereby abjures black metal homophobes, racists, and Nazis categorically and absolutely: MAY THIS CURSE BIND! Remember Magne Andreassen!”
posted by Ennis Tennyone at 8:44 AM on November 3, 2014 [12 favorites]


As for the music itself - after I read Lords of Chaos I was really interested to hear it, but it's tedious in the extreme, and (as the article points out) completely lacking in a sense of humor for something that could be extremely funny.

Not familiar with Carpathian Forest? There is no way those guys are taking this 100% seriously.
posted by NoMich at 8:50 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


the ascendance of "edgy" racism

Please let's don't make this happen!
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 8:50 AM on November 3, 2014


This article is awesome. The desperate self-rationalizing contortions of white people needing to feel OK about the willful amorality of their musical choices -- more fun than Cirque du Soleil!
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 9:08 AM on November 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


This article is awesome. The desperate self-rationalizing contortions of white people needing to feel OK about the willful amorality of their musical choices -- more fun than Cirque du Soleil!

I don't understand.
posted by josher71 at 9:26 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


How many are aware of tonal Western music's roots in the service of Christian rituals? Members of that group have also voiced itheir share of violent, misanthropic and rage-filled sentiments, and have from time to time acted them out on a grand scale.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:29 AM on November 3, 2014




I have this disturbing image of hipster daleks wheeling around wearing "ironic" cloth caps and prospectors' beards, shouting APPROPRIATE! APPROPRIATE!
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:41 AM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't understand.

This is the sentiment I hold to several posts in this thread. You are not alone.
posted by still bill at 9:44 AM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


El Sabor Asiatico: "This article is awesome. The desperate self-rationalizing contortions of white people needing to feel OK about the willful amorality of their musical choices -- more fun than Cirque du Soleil!"

Hi, I'm a brown person who enjoys black metal. Analyse me!
posted by vanar sena at 10:22 AM on November 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


Actual metal grew out of Birmingham, where the hideous screechings of dying industries provided inspiration for music for people left out of the summer of love. It's always been outcast music, there's always been crossover between "black" music and metal just as much as there have been black metal fans (rather than Black Metal fans).

Indeed, the original metal evolved out of heavy blues-rock, and retained a lot of the blues-based structure of its origins.
posted by acb at 10:23 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


This article is awesome. The desperate self-rationalizing contortions of white people needing to feel OK about the willful amorality of their musical choices

Care to point to anyone who is doing this? Or did you just learn all you know about black metal from this one article and then decide to shit on it and this thread?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:40 AM on November 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


Seems worth mentioning that while black metal is not one dimensional or monolithic politically, it isn't one dimensional musically, either. Panopticon, who I mentioned upthread, for example, play (it's actually just one guy, really, but whatever) a blend of black metal and bluegrass, and it's very stridently left-anarchist, politically.

This, like any other well developed genre, can't be as easily summed up as the article (and some commenters) might desire.
posted by still bill at 10:41 AM on November 3, 2014


Man, that is just really problematic, problematic rock'n'roll, I mean!
posted by batfish at 11:07 AM on November 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


That Hopper article is about as trenchant an exploration of black metal as you'd expect to appear in Buzzfeed.

Can we talk about how being a Low fan subsidizes the Mormon Church?
posted by rhizome at 11:08 AM on November 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


You start.
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:12 AM on November 3, 2014


Using Burzum as a tabula rasa for black metal, which has evolved through many cycles of evolution in the past 20-25 years, makes as much sense as Chuck Berry's influence on rock and roll casting its practictioners and fans as coprophiles. It's all very entertaining and easy-to-write when weaponizing deconstruction, but part of that is to account for multiple historical influences (paraphrased), not to pick a historical aspect and construct a tree of influence (problematic or no) that descends from it.
posted by rhizome at 11:24 AM on November 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


I for one am disappointed to learn that "black metal" is not heavy metal played by black people.

Which I'm sure must exist somewhere, and is probably awesome.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:24 AM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


It is pretty awesome.
posted by Woodroar at 11:34 AM on November 3, 2014


When did we reach the Hubbert Peak for transgressive music?
posted by b1tr0t at 11:35 AM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


isn't this article about 15 years too late? did Buzzfeed just catch on that black metal made huge inroads with fans of other musical genres a long, long time ago?
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 12:38 PM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm just going to listen to music from kinder, gentler times where there's no danger of weird connections to fascism.

/puts on David Bowie.


/Listens to Tila Tequila

Wait, she's calling herself Hitila now?

/Turns to Nico.

Wait, she flirted with Naziism during the 70s? Didn't she date Lou Reed?

/put on Maurice Chevalier.

Dammit.

/Does the Lindy hop.

GOD DAMN IT.

/Listens to Wagner.

OH WHAT THE FUCK HE PREDATED HITLER.
posted by maxsparber at 12:43 PM on November 3, 2014 [9 favorites]




"It’s hard to love aggressive music made by murderous, homophobic white supremacists, but for fans of this subversive subgenre, navigating the space between an artist’s image and the art itself is part of the challenge."

Ugh. This article is terrible and covers almost nothing about black metal. At all. Tarring all of black metal with the actions of Varg and Faust is like accusing the Beatles and Ramones with being accomplices to homicide because of their working relationship with Phil Spector. Also, relying on the word of Blake Judd of all people might not be your wisest move. I'll grant that this article dates from 2013, so maybe Mr. Judd's activities may not have all come to light at that point.

By all means, denounce the vile shitheads in NSBM bands or who have actively murdered people, but you can probably leave Agalloch, Ulver, Virus, Immortal, Thorns, etc alone.
posted by Existential Dread at 1:22 PM on November 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


May I recommend to everyone Dominic Fox's book Cold World: The Aesthetics of Dejection and the Politics of Militant Dysphoria.


Metal has always been anti-conformist, but it is also by and large anti-sectarian: a broad church, welcoming all persuasions. That is precisely why black metal had to separate itself from "commercial" metal, turning to a fundamentalist misprision of the satanic and megalomaniac tropes of the genre to legitimate its rejection of all those "posers" who betrayed their lack of sincerity by compromising with the established moral order... Ultimately the only way to validate the "true" black metal was to make the transition from aesthetic iconoclasm to active criminal violence -- from performing menacing stage acts with impaled pigs' heads and upside-down crosses to burning churches and ruthlessly murdering one's rivals.

posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:42 PM on November 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


I for one am disappointed to learn that "black metal" is not heavy metal played by black people.

Which I'm sure must exist somewhere, and is probably awesome.


This one is only 1/3 black but infinitely more awesome than all black metal put together.

Also: this is what happens when My Bloody Valentine does black metal. It is excellent.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:46 PM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this article has a couple of interesting bits, but as a whole is... not very good. (I can't say I'm exactly surprised at that, it being Buzzfeed, but that's another matter.) It starts off describing the violence of the early Norwegian scene, brings up Varg Vikernes and his ideology, and from there seems to be working off the premise that Varg's ideology is basically the heart and soul of the entire genre, something that defines and taints it forever after. This isn't at all accurate- if it were, the majority of black metal would be NSBM, which it isn't, not by a long shot. Furthermore, it's worth noting that Varg didn't actually put his ideology into his music very much, at least in his early albums- if one knew nothing about Burzum but the music and lyrics of his pre-prison work, I don't think most people would conclude based on those that it was the work of a neo-Nazi. Burzum is influential because Varg was brilliant on a musical level, and a huge number of bands have adopted elements of the specific sound the pioneered, without adopting his belief system. I wouldn't try to argue that his ideology hasn't had any influence (it's probably one of the major reasons why NSBM exists), but it's been far, far less influential than his music itself.

Essentially, if one were to make a sweeping generalization about the aesthetic and worldview of black metal as a whole, I would say that what it is, more than anything, is Romanticist (with a capital R)- if one were to try to find a common element among all the different manifestations of it, it's basically that. There's usually a component of Romanticism in fascism, so that element of black metal attracts fascists, and so you have Varg, and NSBM- but Romanticism is not inherently fascist, either as a general thing or in the specific black metal context. (Some have argued that it is, but I would say that this is a groundless guilt-by-association argument akin to "all socialism = Stalinism" arguments.) The above-mentioned Panopticon, for example, still fits very well into that Romantic worldview and aesthetic IMO, but they are very much left-anarchist. Both NSBM and the radical left black metal bands are a minority, though- the vast majority of black metal is basically apolitical, and it was that way from the beginning.

(I do have rather complicated and mostly negative feelings about the popularity of black metal these days in… whatever you call the subculture around indie rock. I'm very much a metalhead, very much not part of the indie rock subculture, and from my perspective, though it's not universally this way, a lot of the ways which the latter has approached metal and the metal subculture strike me as being not particularly respectful, indeed often quite arrogant- going into all that would make for a very long comment, though.)

idiopath: The ideology goes pretty deep into it. The root of the black metal sound is in trying to remove African influences from heavy metal (whether they succeeded in this in any meaningful way is another can of worms, but this was the intention).

This is baseless- some have argued that metal in general is rock with the blues taken out (a highly debatable idea in itself), but the idea that black metal was an intentional attempt to remove African influences is not grounded in truth at all. I have never heard of any of its founders saying anything to that effect. The closest thing I know of is Varg Vikernes saying that he stopped playing metal because of the African roots of rock music, but that's Varg, who is not known for the consistency or coherence of his views (he later went back to playing metal).

Also, there was a form of black metal that existed before the early 90s Norwegian scene- and a couple of influential bands had black members. Indeed, in the case of Mystifier, the founder of the band has described himself as "a damn proud black man." It's very safe to say that removing African influence from the music wasn't a goal of his- Mystifier, though, isn't any more or less "African" sounding than anything after them. The sound of black metal is something that evolved over time, and to say that it was intentionally directed to eliminate African influences is simply not something that's supportable by either the actual statements of the sound's innovators, or by a closer study of the history of it.

What's more, there are a huge number of black metal bands from non-Western countries at this point, a number of which are highly acclaimed. Black metal is most definitely not a genre exclusively played, listened to, or indeed innovated by white people- it certainly isn't in the present day, and as the examples of Mystifier and Blasphemy show, it wasn't in the past either. I would say that treating it like it is is an act of erasure in itself- and, ironically, also ends up buying into the narrative that the NSBM scene wants to spread.
posted by a louis wain cat at 4:04 PM on November 3, 2014 [12 favorites]


The ideology goes pretty deep into it. The root of the black metal sound is in trying to remove African influences from heavy metal (whether they succeeded in this in any meaningful way is another can of worms, but this was the intention).

You are giving Varg's self-mythologizing ass altogether too much credit. He also pulled that line out during his ambient keyboard period - they wouldn't let him set up an electric guitar in prison, so he decided it was essentially an African instrument anyway - but he went back to his old metal sound real fast when he got out.

To make explicit what has been alluded to, the "first wave" of black metal - which doesn't sound all that much like the black metal we know now, being arguably not really a scene at all but the collection of bands that influenced the Norwegians - consists of bands like Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. The first two of those are in fact pretty bluesy - kind of Motorhead imitators - all were punk influenced and between them they introduced throaty vocals, few fucks given for technicality or production, and the darkest and most explicitly satanic themes going in the early 80s. So first off none of those guys should be roped into this.

The "second wave" started out looking like a bunch of basic metal dorks - "Burzum" is a Tolkien reference and Varg seriously released his design for a tabletop RPG last year - who hung around a record shop and wanted to be more hardcore than the Scandinavian death metal scene of the time. How that escalated as far as church burnings and Nazism is not entirely clear except that some of these guys ended up taking it all very seriously. I think it's not unfair to tar the second wave with a pretty broad brush. The original drummer from Emperor and the frontman of the Swedish band Dissection - two of the most "in it for the music" long-running Scandinavian black metal acts - were both convicted in gay panic inflected (or maybe just thrill-seeking) killings. Even Darkthrone, who come off as pretty nice guys now and play up their punk side, once labeled themselves as "Nordic Aryan Black Metal" and at least one of them declared himself racist in a interview back in the day. That might not account for every founding second wave band or player but we're talking a couple degrees to most of them. Varg is the biggest mouth - having, you know, personally killed the other contender for figurehead of the movement - and is by far most responsible for starting Nazi/White Nationalist black metal as an organized thing, though.

Contemporary black metal has sort of been addressed - it's pretty diverse. People take what they want from the second wave - for example Wolves in the Throne Room appropriating the völkisch back-to-the-land stuff for an eco-anarchist hippy perspective. And the Nordic purists hate them, which should probably be counted as a point in their favor. So I'll just say I think that's cool but I don't like people who wear Burzum shirts, and yes I know very well that Varg was a pretty original musician.

Also: this is what happens when My Bloody Valentine does black metal. It is excellent.

I like Sunbather but it really isn't that far from stuff black metal has been doing for ages. My musical discovery when I was a teenager pretty much went classic metal -> thrash metal -> death metal and punk -> black metal -> shoegaze and ambient music -> other electronic music
posted by atoxyl at 4:05 PM on November 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


Furthermore, it's worth noting that Varg didn't actually put his ideology into his music very much, at least in his early albums

You wrote your long black metal comment while I was working and waiting to finish mine. I'd say what I referred to as "völkisch back-to-the-land stuff" - which is NS ideology of a sort - is in there a bit. But like I also said at the very beginning Varg's inner fantasy/metal nerd hung out pretty far in stuff like the NWOBHM-riffy "War" and his later lyrics are in Norwegian so I have no idea. I don't think he thought it all out until he was in prison and had a lot of time to think. Regardless you can't really listen to black metal without knowing what Varg stands for now. With newer black metal bands (from Europe in particular) you might hear (well, read probably) lyrics about nature and pagans and the history of the proud [x] people and have to look them up to see if they're NSBM or just like that stuff because it's metal.
posted by atoxyl at 4:28 PM on November 3, 2014


The root of the black metal sound is in trying to remove African influences from heavy metal (whether they succeeded in this in any meaningful way is another can of worms, but this was the intention).

i think metal in the 80s was consciously or unconsciously trying to remove overt african derived styles from the music - metallica comes to mind

but one could say the same for indie rock from the very beginning - it was lou reed that insisted that guitar playing in the velvets avoid the blues licks and styles of that era

the guitar itself was partially derived from african instruments as well as drums, so it's really pretty hopeless ...

i find myself much more interested in doom metal, which seems a lot more adaptable to different mixtures of styles than black metal - the indie hipsters ought to try that
posted by pyramid termite at 6:02 PM on November 3, 2014


Blake Judd seems to have more complicated problems than people thinking Nachmystium has ties to National Socialist Black Metal.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:25 PM on November 3, 2014


i think metal in the 80s was consciously or unconsciously trying to remove overt african derived styles from the music - metallica comes to mind

well, sorta, but more in the interest of becoming a terrifying lockstep thrash machine - no room for funk or blues grooves in the terrifying lockstep thrash machine - than in the interest of white supremacy. if anything metal picked it up from punk, which was becoming faster and more rigid with hardcore, partly instigated by an all-black band (bad brains) that also played reggae. so there's that

also metallica in particular always kept some blues in their lead playing and went on to put it front and center in the 90s
posted by atoxyl at 8:24 PM on November 3, 2014


Blake Judd seems to have more complicated problems than people thinking Nachmystium has ties to National Socialist Black Metal.

Judd and his friend Jef Whitehead - who was I think only convicted on the least grisly of an astonishing number of domestic and sexual battery charges, but still - are just kind of your basic scumbags. For some reason I feel like black metal isn't as big a thing with American Nazis not Nazism as big a thing with American black metallers as in Europe.

Which reminds me of another example of morally dubious metal fandom - Arghoslent, an openly white supremacist American thrash/death metal band who (somewhat unusually) are legit musical standouts to the point of attracting significant interest from listeners outside their ideological sphere. That's already more advertising than I want to give them, though - just go listen to Vektor if you need a modern thrash band.
posted by atoxyl at 9:00 PM on November 3, 2014


When I first read the name Varg I thought that perhaps he was a delightful newly found character in Douglas Adams' lost book, Bartfast or Bust. Not the case.

Never heard this. Link?

I don't think Link made it out. Or were you referring to Leif?

...for something that could be extremely funny.

Could be?
posted by juiceCake at 10:11 PM on November 3, 2014


Man, J-Hop usedta be above this trolololololol shit, or at least keep it in her 'zines.

I kinda wish I liked black metal more, but the screechies just aren't for me.
posted by klangklangston at 12:46 AM on November 4, 2014


(I do have rather complicated and mostly negative feelings about the popularity of black metal these days in… whatever you call the subculture around indie rock. I'm very much a metalhead, very much not part of the indie rock subculture, and from my perspective, though it's not universally this way, a lot of the ways which the latter has approached metal and the metal subculture strike me as being not particularly respectful, indeed often quite arrogant- going into all that would make for a very long comment, though.)

I'm not very familiar with this topic and would be interested in reading your take on it, if you're interested in typing it up.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:26 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


True, but with black metal the core of the original genre bands (Mayhem, Burzum, the other Norwegian bands) were deliberately satanic ...

and that is bad why?

I don't think I can make justice to the purpose violence can serve in artistic (hypothetical) situations, but I do want to say that there is nothing inherently wrong with satanism.

Not to mention that very few musicians in metal are actually satanists (blasphemy is reactionary to religion, as most are actually not religious themselves), and particularly Norwegian metalheads are more into their traditional animism than christianity or its "evil" twin satanism, if they are believers at all.

But if they were satanists, a short research session will tell you that satanism is a believe as valid as any and deserving of respect. That someone is a satanist does not make it worthy of judgement or persecution. Its teachings are way more progressive than those of some mainstream religions, for example.
posted by Tarumba at 6:55 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


We humans are so boring. We just repeat the same behavioral patterns (usually focused on creating identities and discriminating and policing those identities) in different ways in different contexts over and over again. Never anything new. That's all any musical genre is--people clumping into little in-groups and defining little out-groups over various points of nuance and then using social violence to enforce norms on anyone silly enough to think they might play and win the little social clumping game. The music here isn't really the thing. I just don't believe it's really purely about the music for anyone--it's more about the branding and the emotional associations with the branding of the music and the tribal stuff. Black Metal is just another brand.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:41 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


the guitar itself was partially derived from african instruments as well as drums, so it's really pretty hopeless ...

Are there any non-electronic musical instruments which originated fully formed in Europe? The piano and harpsichord can be traced back to the Persian santoor (hammered dulcimer), there were brass-like instruments all over the ancient world (the Hebrew shofar is one example), and wind instruments were presumably rediscovered numerous times as well. If the white supremacists want a deafricanised music genre, they need to make it purely electronic, and I dont see National Socialist Aryan Synthwave being a thing any time soon.
posted by acb at 7:52 AM on November 4, 2014


We humans are so boring. We just repeat the same behavioral patterns (usually focused on creating identities and discriminating and policing those identities) in different ways in different contexts over and over again. Never anything new. That's all any musical genre is--people clumping into little in-groups and defining little out-groups over various points of nuance and then using social violence to enforce norms on anyone silly enough to think they might play and win the little social clumping game. The music here isn't really the thing. I just don't believe it's really purely about the music for anyone--it's more about the branding and the emotional associations with the branding of the music and the tribal stuff. Black Metal is just another brand.


Well, you've convinced me. I don't like anything anymore (and suspect that what I formerly liked didn't actually even exist!), and it just feels so much better! Like, I'm finally not boring!
posted by still bill at 10:26 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


But if they were satanists, a short research session will tell you that satanism is a believe as valid as any and deserving of respect. That someone is a satanist does not make it worthy of judgement or persecution. Its teachings are way more progressive than those of some mainstream religions, for example.

The Satanism of Burzum and company was not Laveyan "Ayn Rand plus ritual" Satanism, it was murdering people and burning churches Satanism. It was not a valid belief system compatible with existing in society.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:13 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


unquestionably black metal’s most influential artist two decades in? [...] decidedly non-metal acts like Grimes, Chelsea Wolfe, The Microphones, and Sleigh Bells have discussed listening to (and in some cases, being influenced by) Burzum and have helped gentrify black metal for an indie-rock audience.

I don't think influence outside of black metal, more than two decades after second wave, is the definitive measure. I'd be more likely to think of Mayhem (consistently), Darkthrone (especially earlier) and Emperor (who influenced all these melodic-leads-n'-blastbeats bands) before Burzum. Burzum are kind of Bathory-influenced anyway. The article is playing up NSBM significantly, at least in my experience. I've seen more hate incidents in public transport than in black metal gigs (once). It's perfectly viable to listen to black metal without encountering any nazi shit 99% of the time and that 1% you can look at the lyrics of "nazi punks fuck off" for inspiration.
posted by ersatz at 11:14 AM on November 4, 2014


You can and will enjoy whatever you enjoy and you will feel like a perfectly smug prick about it occasionally like we all do, and I might find what you like boring and uninspiring because I do, and all will still be well in the world because we're all supposed to be allowed to enjoy different things, and I don't think you really want it to be otherwise and neither do I.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:24 AM on November 4, 2014


I probably wasn't clear before, but it's not the music itself I'm saying is boring. It's this meta-stuff we always do--winging about authenticity and debating what is and isn't canon, calling people posers, etc. That's the part that seems boring and predictable to me. I don't doubt there's probably some interesting music buried under all that cultural noise, but it can be hard to see it as any more unique and interesting than any other obscure art.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:31 AM on November 4, 2014


I dont see National Socialist Aryan Synthwave being a thing any time soon.

National Socialist Aryan Low-Fi Minimal Ambient Scandinavian Legend Program Music By An Incarcerated Metal Musician was...

The Satanism of Burzum and company was not Laveyan "Ayn Rand plus ritual" Satanism, it was murdering people and burning churches Satanism. It was not a valid belief system compatible with existing in society.

Varg is a super serious neo-pagan, as is fashionable among Nazi-types. Talking about "satanists" is almost moot because most of the satanism was pretend.

I'd be more likely to think of Mayhem (consistently), Darkthrone (especially earlier) and Emperor (who influenced all these melodic-leads-n'-blastbeats bands) before Burzum.

I agree as far as what metal people actually listen to. But the ambient/shoegaze branch owes the most to Burzum - a little to Darkthrone probably - and I always thought it was the most interesting too (and the Emperor-derived/"symphonic" branch I kinda hate these days though Emperor were always good) and I was a metal person before I was anything else. Darkthrone/D-beat/retro 1st wave sorta stuff? Shhh don't tell the (internet) music magazines.

(I do have rather complicated and mostly negative feelings about the popularity of black metal these days in… whatever you call the subculture around indie rock. I'm very much a metalhead, very much not part of the indie rock subculture, and from my perspective, though it's not universally this way, a lot of the ways which the latter has approached metal and the metal subculture strike me as being not particularly respectful, indeed often quite arrogant- going into all that would make for a very long comment, though.)

I can comment on to this a little bit. I'm not a metal purist now but it was the first kind of music I was really into. And I'm definitely not one to complain about "hipster metal" because I think that term gets applied to way too much music made by people who really love metal and just happen to like other things too. It's just - for years metal was sort of uncool in the eyes of mainstream music criticism and regular people. I mean Robert Christgau hated Black Sabbath from the first album. It became a real folk art, made by metal people for the metal community, made by people with band shirts and band patches and day jobs doing it for the love of it. And then some time in the early 2000s, when the internet started to make niche music way more accessible, the indie rock press notices this whole uncharted terrain of metal - which of course was very well charted, with things like Metal-Archives and darklyrics remaining low-tech but encyclopedic to this day. So now there are a lot of people for whom a Burzum shirt represents just another curio in their collection of interesting tastes. Not remotely a new story, but there it is. I'm pretty over that part, but it does bother me a little every time a band like Deafheaven is hailed the next big thing and they're good, they're talented (actually I give them extra credit because they're friends with some *slightly* more veteran black metal people) but they're only an incremental step from stuff people did toiling in obscurity for years. But of course if metal was still unpopular then even fewer bands would be getting the credit they deserve and metal purists can be pretty close-minded so I wouldn't want to be stuck with them forever either.
posted by atoxyl at 1:00 PM on November 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


I dont see National Socialist Aryan Synthwave being a thing any time soon.

I guess you missed out on EBM and Industrial? I can't think of any acts that were ever blatant about the politics, but the imagery of Nazism (and Stalinism) was certainly always in the mix from day one right on through.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:42 PM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


(It's unfortunately kind of inevitable in any genre or scene where a good deal of the focus is on death and general morbidity. The Holocaust is a pretty deep well to draw from in that regard.)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:57 PM on November 4, 2014


I guess you missed out on EBM and Industrial? I can't think of any acts that were ever blatant about the politics, but the imagery of Nazism (and Stalinism) was certainly always in the mix from day one right on through.

Tom Rainer doesn't know why all you untermenschen keep calling him a Nazi...
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:40 PM on November 4, 2014


Pope Guilty: "The Satanism of Burzum and company was not Laveyan "Ayn Rand plus ritual" Satanism, it was murdering people and burning churches Satanism. It was not a valid belief system compatible with existing in society."

Neither is Objectivism, to be honest.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:01 PM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Did you know that gangsta rap comes from a subculture that often glorifies violence and has made superstars out of dealers of crack cocaine (which undoubtably has ruined more lives than burning churches)?

Yet some, including Jessica Hopper, defend their passion for the genre with apologias like that the music is just too good to not listen to. Hopper has gone further, including calling Stephen Merritt a racist for not liking rap.

Progenitors of gangsta rap, including Easy E, have been very bad people. Mase even literally killed a guy. And yet Hopper keeps listening to it.

Also, this one time, I heard a jazz song that I'm pretty sure glorified heroin.
posted by klangklangston at 10:29 PM on November 4, 2014


Did you know that gangsta rap comes from a subculture that often glorifies violence and has made superstars out of dealers of crack cocaine (which undoubtably has ruined more lives than burning churches)?

I'm a defender of black metal here but I don't think most crack dealers are comparable to people like Varg, who had all kinds of opportunity in the world but set out to do bad things more or less just because they wanted to be bad people and be known as such. Drug dealers are a particularly insufficient comparison, actually. I've spent some time on the demand side of that equation and I can tell you I know crack dealers who are literally middle aged family men just doing the only thing they've ever really done for a living. Now, there are for sure gangsters who are legit psychos but I'm not sure they loom as large in the history of rap.
posted by atoxyl at 10:43 PM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Suge Knight would beg to differ, as would C-Murder and Gucci Mane.
posted by klangklangston at 8:56 AM on November 5, 2014


Your favorite band music genre sucks is morally indefensible.
posted by Existential Dread at 3:45 PM on November 6, 2014


Getting back to this a bit late, but:

Pope Guilty: I'm not very familiar with this topic and would be interested in reading your take on it, if you're interested in typing it up.

With the caveat that this is all very subjective and everything that follows is very much my personal perception-

By and large, it's a certain type of metal band (usually heavily influenced by post-rock) that ends up popular with the "indie rock" (for want of a better term) set, it tends to be a very limited number of them, and these are often seen as essentially defining what good, artistically challenging and innovative metal is. That's not a knock on those bands, themselves- I like Wolves in the Throne Room quite a bit, for example, and they're one of the most popular black metal bands with the indie rock crowd. The problem is that this often seems to be accompanied by the idea that these specific bands are the only truly important and artistically innovative bands within metal- which, for the most part, very few metalheads would agree with. When these bands also seem to be somewhat outside of the usual metal subculture and aesthetic, and they seem to get extra praise specifically for that, it's difficult for me to see it as anything other than an example of liking a (sub)culture's art while holding the culture that produced it in contempt.

To give an example of this, Deafheaven has a very different aesthetic and sound from the black metal standard, one rather closer to the "indie rock" norm- and so then you have this Pitchfork review basically saying that Sunbather is the best black metal album of the year by far and that black metal as a whole has been changed by the release of it. That album may indeed be amazing (I haven't heard it myself, yet), but those are not opinions which many metalheads would share. When bands that seem to be distinctly outside of the metal subculture are mostly the ones that get praise from the "indie rock" crowd, and when that praise is accompanied by implied negative judgment on the rest of the genre, it all strikes a note of "your music had potential, but you weren't doing it right, but now that our aesthetic has been introduced into your music, it finally has artistic merit"- that may not be a completely fair reading of what's going on there, but I find it hard not to perceive it that way. (A particularly blatant example of this, IMO, is this Liturgy review from Pitchfork, which basically states outright that black metal is insular and needs "interlopers" like Liturgy- which, to me, shows a serious lack of awareness of how much outside influence and how much innovation there already was and is there.)

The other problem is that the past history here is not great. It's only recently that metal as a genre began receiving any real critical interest from outside the metal scene- the genre as a whole has widely been both maligned and ignored by music critics up until quite recently. This pretty much goes back to the beginnings of metal. (The reviews for Black Sabbath back in the day were often resoundingly negative and insulting- one described them as "blundering bozos.") I feel that a large part of the reason for that was a bunch of weird cultural/class stuff, but that's another topic. So, from the perspective of metalheads, they and the music they liked were basically shit on by the mainstream music press and critical establishment for years on end, and then suddenly now the same kinds of people who almost without exception tended to regard their music and subculture as devoid of artistic merit now consider it cool, but in this way that's very limited and usually only aimed at bands that are somewhat outside of the metal subculture anyway, and it's all too often accompanied by a bunch of rhetoric about how those bands are doing it right, how they're the true artistic innovators of metal and have basically made it worth paying attention to now. One can probably see why that would rankle.

I should also say that all this isn't universally the case when "indie rockers" engage with metal, by any means. Like, the Buzzfeed article interviews Andee Connors of Aquarius Records- I've often ordered from there, and have corresponded with him a bit. I would say that the cultural place Aquarius is coming from is pretty much outside of the metal subculture, that it's one much more similar to the place that the writers for Pitchfork are coming from than it is to that of the average metalhead. But it's clear to me that they truly respect and appreciate the music for what it is, and have a very good knowledge of the genre as a whole- and notably, Aquarius sells and champions stuff by a far broader range of metal bands than just the Pitchfork darlings, though they tend to like those bands as well. They always have, too, and were doing so long before metal started getting more critical interest in more mainstream circles. That sort of engagement is something I'm always glad to see- and in general, I'm very happy to see more recognition of the artistic merit of the genre outside of metalhead circles. I just find it obnoxious when it comes off as a backhanded compliment.
posted by a louis wain cat at 6:47 PM on November 7, 2014 [7 favorites]


Thanks for that, alwc, that sounds frustrating.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:19 PM on November 7, 2014


By and large, it's a certain type of metal band (usually heavily influenced by post-rock) that ends up popular with the "indie rock" (for want of a better term) set, it tends to be a very limited number of them, and these are often seen as essentially defining what good, artistically challenging and innovative metal is

A buddy of mind articulated this distinction quite succinctly: Short-Hair Metal. It's not a pure stereotype, but I think it captures the evolutionary turn nicely.
posted by rhizome at 10:04 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


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