Basslines & Protest Signs Part 11: Black Metal

By | June 5, 2019 at 1:00 PM

Last week we looked at the ugly truth of the white supremacist punk movement, led by Skrewdriver, that raised its ugly head in the late ’70s. It would be wonderful if we could say that decency prevailed and it was all over within a few years but, unfortunately, racism and hate don’t work like that. Rather, they fester like a cancerous sore. When attacked by those of us who believe in equality and freedom from oppression, it either doubles down or lurks under the surface preparing to rise again.

For a while at the start of the new millennium, and certainly during the Obama years, the more naive among us could perhaps be forgiven for allowing ourselves to believe that racism, homophobia, and other “isms” were on the wane. It felt like a new dawn was upon us. History has shown us otherwise. We really should have known better.

“Black metal is a sub-genre of extreme metal generally characterized by interchangeable falsetto/guttural vocals, symphonic and/or operatic elements, and overt satanic themes.”

Just as the very best that music has to offer can always be found in the underground, the worst can be found in the gutter. In the ’90s, we were offered an horrific glimpse of a very real white supremacist metal scene and it came out of Norway, of all places.

Black metal is a sub-genre of extreme metal generally characterized by interchangeable falsetto/guttural vocals, symphonic and/or operatic elements, and overt satanic themes. Newcastle, England band Venom are considered one of the major pioneers, though there’s not really anything operatic about Venom. Still, it was they who coined the phrase when naming their classic second album Black Metal.

Venom played up the Satanic imagery, taking their cues from fellow Brits Black Sabbath. But it was clearly all for show; hammy as hell with laughably over the top lyrics. There was nothing political about Venom.

The ’90s brought the Norwegian black metal boom though, and that was far less funny. Although early observers may have thought that it was very humorous, when bands such as Emperor, Mayhem, and Immortal started showing up in black and white “corpse” makeup, screeching for all they’re worth. British band Cradle of Filth, infamous for a banned “Jesus is a c**t” t-shirt” made some great music but they were basically a parody of what was going on in Scandinavia. It soon became clear that Norway wasn’t fucking around.

Metal fans started hearing that Norwegian black metal bands — apparently irritated that Christians had done away with Odin and Thor centuries ago — started burning down churches. And we’re not talking about rare and isolated incidents. It became a real problem. Churches were getting scorched all over Norway. And that’s pretty shitty behaviour, but then they started killing each other too.

In 1993, Euronymous of the band Mayhem was stabbed 23 times and killed by bandmate Varg Vikernes (aka Count Grishnackh) because of a disagreement. Some speculate that there was a rift over band affairs. That it was a power play. Vikernes himself, an imbecile if ever there was one, says that Euronymous was gay—like that’s a good reason. The truth is that Vikernes is a terrible person, probably a psychopath, certainly a white supremacist.

Back in the ’90s, metal magazines such as Kerrang! published photos of Vikernes in full Count Grishnackh mode, knuckle dusters fitted with blades in his hands, scowl on his face, and it was easy to laugh at first. He looked like every wannabe in the corner of every metal club. A joke. But his views were anything but funny.

Back then, before his 15 years in prison for Euronymous’ murder, Vikernes described his beliefs as nazism. More recently, he created his own term: “Odalism.” But it amounts to the same thing, a belief that Norwegians must return to their traditional values and beliefs while protecting their own culture from the “invading hordes” — coded language for immigrants. Nowadays, he lives on a farm in the middle of nowhere with his family because he’s essentially a survivalist and a tool.

His band, Burzum, were putting out music as recently as 2014 when he retired the name. He spends more time foraging for fruit and calling on people to “protect their race” nowadays. The recent movie Lords of Chaos brought more attention on him, but the fact he doesn’t really put out music anymore is no loss to anyone.

That said, Vikernes is one of the sources of inspiration for the wretched NSBM (National Socialist Black Metal) scene. Anyone with a history book knows that National Socialist equals nazism and has nothing to do with genuine socialism (not that this stops the right wing from throwing it at the left as an accusation). But the NSBM scene is a wretched hive of utter bullshit.

Interestingly enough, many of the more notorious NSBM bands don’t come from Norway at all. They take inspiration from: Vikernes from Germany (Absurd, formed by serial cock Hendrik “Jarl Flagg Nidhögg” Möbus); Finland’s Goatmoon (they have a t-shirt with the words “xenophobic ejaculation” on it (we’re not even sure what that fucking means!); and Grand Belial’s Key from right here in Virginia, US of A.

“…know the names. Dig around a little. And also know, despite all of this, most black metal bands have nothing to do with this crap.”

As with the nazi punk bands last week, we’re telling you this so that you can avoid these groups, although we’re aware of the fine balance between offering education and giving these fools extra attention. But it’s important to know that these NSBM bands are still active, they still tour, and they often show up on bills with otherwise apolitical bands. In other words, you could show up to see a cool grindcore band without knowing that the third band on the bill is NSBM (the booker probably didn’t know either).

So know the names. Dig around a little. And also know, despite all of this, most black metal bands have nothing to do with this crap.