Thursday, May 30, 2013

Metal Briefs: National Socialist Black Metal, Part 1

I Wonder Who A.H. Is

I've been wanting to do this for a very long time now. As I've repeatedly said, lyrics don't mean anything to me. I'm a Christian who is an avid consumer of black metal, so that should go without saying. It's not tough to ignore them, when you have to have a lyric sheet to pick out more than five or six words at a time. But I am interested in lyrics from a more academic standpoint, and I appreciate the strong correlations between musical style and lyrical standpoint. I have my theories as to why Christian bands so rarely make good metal.

While many metalheads will draw the line at NSBM, I don't see that line. To me, being against God is worse than being against a particular race. Neither is exactly a good thing, but like I said, it doesn't matter. And if you want to be logically consistent, I hardly think a racist viewpoint is worse than a misogynist viewpoint. So if you're drawing one line but not the other, you're being silly.

Anyway, here is my first exploration of NSBM, in an attempt to see if I can find any kind of connection between ideology and music. These are all courtesy of Cosmic Hearse.

Malveillance: Que La Mort Vous Emporte (2003)
3 out of 5 stars

Que La Mort Vous Emporte is the debut full-length of Quebecois one-man band Malveillance. I quite like two-thirds of this record. Between the writing style and the treble-overdrive guitar tone it sounds like a (comparatively) primitive blend of Nargaroth and The Ash Eaters. Unfortunately, two of the songs here are an abortion with blown-out production, so I can't give it a strong endorsement.

Southern Aryan Response: Southern Aryan Response (2001)
0.5 out of 5 stars

Southern Aryan Response was a Brazilian band who only released this 4-song demo, and if you hear it I'm sure you'll agree that they shouldn't have gone that far. In stereotypical NSBM fashion, they start the record with an overly-long, somber march featuring synths. When they get to the proper metal, you can tell there are 2 or 3 good, slightly Immortal-esque riffs in here, but their guitarist had apparently never even seen a guitar before they began recording. It's clumsy as hell. Nothing else about the music stands out either, and the last song ("Night of the Boots") sounds like a joke.

Forest: Forest (1996)
3 out of 5 stars

Forest is/was a Russian band who actually have a few records under their belt. This was their debut, and by today's standards it's almost completely unremarkable black metal. It's not particularly good or bad (OK, "As a Shade Above This Land" is fucking awesome), featuring standard tremolo riffing and blast beats, as well as rasped vocals. The only unusual thing is the clean vocal style in several songs (a style later adopted by Darkthrone) and the 20-minutes of complete WTF garbage they tack on at the end. In 1996 this might have been worthy of your attention, but in the last 17 years it's been done to death.


  1. This is an interesting post, and it deals with something I've struggled with. As someone who listens (and performs) music that can be anywhere from modern to 600-700 years old, I know intellectually that I could easily be "supporting" artists whose views might be repugnant to me, and it could be virtually impossible for me to find that information. I have to judge a lot of that music on its own merits. On the other hand, in our new age of the interwebs, artists (and everyone else) have almost limitless possibilities for sharing their thoughts and/or hate with the world, which can make it almost impossible to separate an artist's music from his or her political/religious/other views.

    Personally, I do draw the line at NSBM, although I can definitely see your point how that could be a hypocritical distinction. It's easy for me to be blase about attacks on theology when I myself am not religious. I can't speak for anyone but myself, but I guess my line is drawn because I personally have a hard time with attacks on groups that have already suffered (and are currently suffering) from persecution.

    But that said, that's an emotional reaction based on my own experiences, not a logically consistent, ethical view point.

  2. I have a huge problem with the notion that "being against God is worse than being against a particular race." While an anti-God and anti-religious stance within metal is typically expressed in very extreme terms, it is typically held within the confines of the music and very very rarely enters the real world. The obvious exception would be the Norwegian church burnings but those were isolated crimes carried out by fucked up children. Compare that to the very real threat posed by any sort of racial nationalists, the serious imposition those ideologies place on real people all over the world when the themes of these bands enter the real world, as they so often do, and I don't see how you could NOT take this stuff very seriously. It is symptomatic of a real threat to all people because it transcends music and encourages action in a way that extreme metal's anti-religious statements do not.

    1. I'm out of time on my break, but quickly going back over this I just realized who you are. Welcome, and thanks for engaging in the discussion. I think my comment below addresses what you said here.

  3. As a Southerner, and someone who believes fervently in civil rights, I find it grotesque that people could be considered somehow lesser than other people based on the color of their skin or country of birth. This hateful and horrific notion is one of the most repulsive theories humanity has ever had to conquer--and one the U.S. has struggled to fight back in an effort to erase the original sin of our own founding.

    God is a choice; religion is leap of faith. Skin is real--even if we perceive it in different ways. Any philosophy that condemns another because of it must be carved out like a cancer.

    The writer seems to have a startlingly open-eyed approach that racism or hatred of others based on color is just a theory--that it's not real, or just like being an atheistm or doesn't hurt others. This is provably false. Much blood has been spilled over this philosophy of hate. The bold American hero Medgar Evers, who fought for Mississippians to be allowed to vote regardless of color, was shot dead in his driveway less than 5 miles away from where I sit. He was killed by a man who believed that people should be separated because of color or race. It happened just a few years before I was born.

    Racism isn't a toy you play with; it's a razor-edged grenade.

    I will not read this site any longer. I have no time or patience for racism or even the vaguest tolerance of it.

  4. I underestimated the reaction I would get to this post. I take that as a pleasant surprise.

    A lot of great art comes from a radical perspective. I am looking into NSBM to see if I can find great art. Thus far I've been pretty disappointed (although Nokturnal Mortum approaches that status). The trouble is in discerning what is great art from a radical perspective, and what is just a radical political statement masquerading as art. I'm not looking for the political statements. Since I am currently on break, using a government computer, I can't share my political opinions, so I can't elaborate on that. I can say that I am not a racist, or at least I try to be as un-racist as I can be--everyone has some sort of racist attitudes, that's a fact of life.

    I am not saying that racism is less evil than anti-God/anti-religious sentiment in any kind of objective, secular sense. As far as anti-God, in a secular sense it's patently false. As far as anti-religion, that would require a lot more definition and then a whole lot of argument and would still not lead to any kind of consensus. What I am saying is that, to me personally, an anti-God sentiment is clearly worse.

    Instead, the comparison I want to draw your attention to is misogyny, not religion. In the world today, misogyny is clearly the bigger threat. That hardly needs exposition, so I won't belabor the point. And misogyny is rampant in metal lyrics, and really everywhere else you look in popular culture.

    Ultimately the greater evil that is going to cause greater harm in the world could very well be global warming, if that is indeed as great a danger as many scientists say. (I will avoid being more specific due to the risk of making a political statement.) Yet I daresay you are deriving a great many benefits from the processes which are said to cause global warming.

    If you wanted to take some kind of principled stance against supporting anyone who holds abhorrent beliefs, then have fun obtaining all the raw materials and building everything you need on your own like a caveman. Also, avoiding all art.

    Do, do draw your own lines. But realize that in any objective sense they are going to seem a bit silly.

    Gorjus, I don't know whether you've read this site before at all. It's too bad you feel that way. To be quite frank, I think it's a little bit pathetic to avoid opinions that you don't agree with. I surround myself with them all the time, so maybe it's become easier for me. However, I wish to thank you sincerely for reassuring me that I was right to do this. If I have challenged no one, then what's the point?

    1. By what metric do you consider misogyny to be "clearly" the bigger threat than racism? I don't mean that as attack--I'm genuinely curious. They're both pretty awful, but I don't know how one would quantify which is the greater force of evil in the world. Comparing, say, illegal parking vs. racism, sure, that's a pretty easy comparison, but when it gets to huge issues like racism, misogyny, or any other bias against a large portion of the population, it seems impossible to rank them.

      The more I think about it, though, I think the more object to your statement that drawing lines is "silly" in an objective sense. When you say that we can't completely isolate ourselves from anyone who holds abhorrent beliefs, you're talking complete sense. For all I know, the guy who turned on the robot that installed the camshaft in my car is a complete racist shitheel, and there's not a lot I can do about that. But on the other hand, that fictional racist autoworker isn't promoting his racist beliefs through his work. He or she might do it elsewhere, but not in my camshaft, whereas NSBM are actively spreading a message of hate.

      It's true, we can't insulate ourselves from it completely, but a lot of us do the best we can. Rejecting NSBM black metal and not promoting it is one small thing we can do, but I don't think the fact that we can't make 100% commitment to punishing (or at least ignoring) all racist people doesn't mean that the act is silly.

      I do think that, from an academic perspective, your idea is interesting, i.e., has NSBM produced worthy "art" by some measure. I think what I do find slightly unsettling is the idea that those racist messages don't really matter in some sense, because other artists do things that are subjectively judged to be worse or that we, as listeners and consumers, are not living a lifestyle that's 100% of such influences.

    2. Good points, all.

      I honestly thought that was evident, but I'll explain. It's hard to find statistics for these kinds of things, so I can't really do that. But if you consider all of the crime against women in this world, not only out of hatred but also out of disrespect, I suspect it far outstrips race-based crime. I do know that most crime is committed within an ethnic group, and that a whole lot of crime is men perpetrating against women. Look at the issue of rape in the military as one example. Men in the military are no more likely to be raped than other men, but women in the military are far more likely to be raped than other women. Or, look at how many Muslim societies treat their women. I could go on and on here, but I think the point is made.

      If silly is not the right word, try arbitrary. As to the second part of that paragraph, you make a good point, but there are several underlying questions which must be examined. You seem to reject the idea that we should not support something simply because the person behind it holds abhorrent beliefs. That's good. I know you feel the second part of your point is self-evident, but you're going to have to explain why that's objectionable. If I don't care what the lyrics are, then what's the damage? Also, I don't think a whole lot of people are joining causes because of music. Not these days anyway. Now, I've heard the argument that the labels who release this stuff supposedly use the money earned to promote their agenda, but that's inconsistent with the common knowledge that there isn't any money to be made with any kind of sub-sub-underground metal. Honestly, I don't think people like Rob Darken are to be taken any more seriously than any other dumbass taking his picture in full armor in the forest. In other words, I have no respect for their mystique. It's all theater and they're all villains. Nazis just happen to make particularly good villains. See Indiana Jones.

      Yes, racism does spur people to evil actions, but I don't think racist music does any more than Ozzy's music made that kid kill himself.

      As for the rest of your objection, I think it comes down to the fact that I find the message in almost all metal to be irrelevant. If the lyrics were important, they'd be intelligible.

      I am very much interested in the academic question. It occurs to me just now that many bands who are considered to have a great deal of artistic merit have been accused of holding NS beliefs but have rejected such accusations--while at the same time benefiting from controversy. I don't know how that fits into the puzzle, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

    3. Those are fair points. I suppose the questions that fall out of that are, "Does the music make some people worse for hearing it, i.e., are they more inclined to be racist after than before?" and "If we all turn away from that message, will they stop making music?" I'd guess the answer to the second question is no, but the first is trickier. It's possible that they're preaching to the converted at a rate of nearly 100%, but I don't know how you determine that in an objective way. I was really into lyrics when I was a high schooler (even though, like you, I'm much less so now). Would being exposed to that message have affected me then? Probably not, because I grew up in a rural area filled with racists, and although I wasn't untouched by it at the time, as I grew up and experienced more of the world, I've moved beyond those prejudices as much as is humanly possible. (As you say, we're all at least a bit prejudiced. It's something we struggle against, not cure.) I don't think NSBM would have been a tipping point for me, even in my youth, but that's a sample size of 1. But you're right to question trying to have it both ways--if the idea of Ozzy causing suicide attempts is obviously ridiculous, it's hard to argue that the analogous situation with racism is somehow more valid.

      As Chris pointed out, I think part of my own personal reaction is due to the fact that the anti-religious statements, for example, are part of a shtick/mythos, whereas I don't think NSBM bands are doing it just for image, and that further, the intent matters. But that's another assumption.

  5. I would argue that racism is worse than antitheism not just from the secular perspective ("you can't hurt what doesn't exist") but even when looked through the prism of Christianity:

    Hurting others:
    -The racist hurts fellow human beings and through that hate hurts God as well, while the antitheist hurts only God. Just as a human parent would prefer taking on child's hate rather than have the child hate siblings, so with God who is more robust than humans and most of the time can't be physically hurt. If he had his druthers, would God go to cross himself or have racists crucify who they deem undesirable people?

    Hurting self:
    -The racist has two relationships that need to be fixed: horizontal and vertical, while the antitheist has only the vertical relationship problem. The racist most of the time has a religious excuse and has created an idol that approves of his racism so that the true God is doubly hidden from him, while the antitheist is further down the road of shedding idols and therefore closer to God.

    Ending argument: one can be a good human being and antitheist, but one can't be a good human being and racist.

    Of course, I'm idealizing the antitheist here (imagine an atheist Job), but that's indicative too that I can do that, while I can't seriously imagine what an idealized racist would look like (a kindly slaveholder?).

    1. That is not the question I expected to be debating.

      I think if you look at the two greatest commandments, the first one is more important. It's more essential. Hating your fellow man is a side effect of not loving God.

      No one is a "good human being," save Christ. All our good deeds are as dirty rags. (An extremely metal sentiment, I think.)

      An idealized racist is someone who hasn't really given race much serious, honest thought, or has not had the right experiences. A secular humanist is only a step or two away from a fascist, in the way their logic is grounded.

    2. One can't even show they're obeying the first greatest commandment (e.g. praying) while ignoring the second (e.g. ignoring a half-dead person on the road), so in practice the second one takes precedence:

      If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1 John 4:20)

      Do you have any examples of secular humanists that are that close to fascism? To me secular humanism seems to be on the left of political spectrum (social justice, liberal democracy, etc) and along the lines of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's religionless Christianity, while fascism is on the far-right (ultranationalism, xenophobia, unholy union of church and state, etc). An average non-idealized racist is much more likely to be drawn to fascism than an average non-idealized secular humanist.

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  7. Fantastic discussions, everyone. Thank you. This post far exceeded my expectations. The last thing I want to address is the meaning of my comparison between secular humanism and fascism. They look quite different if you only see the surface. The ideological underpinnings, however, lie in the way they view individuals and in their Darwinian/anti-religious traits. The conclusions they draw may be quite different but the basic assumptions are the same. Maybe my focus is too narrow, but that's how I see it. Secular humanism is basically an optimistic version of fascism's pessimistic weltanschauung. Also, to say fascism is far-right is an oversimplification, because it has many far-left traits as well.

    1. Sorry, couldn't help but butt in here. Everything you have been posting seems so idealized that its really hard to take seriously. Take that remark about secular humanism and fascism, now, ignoring that you are making claims that are provably false (for example that secular humanism is anti-religious [not believing and being against something are two different things], and actually fascism, if we are looking at the specific instance of national socialism in Nazi Germany, is, if not religious, based in superstition of a similar nature), "They look quite different if you only see the surface." by surface you seem to mean, their actual effect on the world. There is a world of difference between the small portion of the world that happens to not be religious (for the record, I think most of us would prefer not to be group under a generic label because we don't all automatically have the same values), and an active political party responsible for millions of deaths. I could list the thousands of other major differences, but that's certainly the main one.

      This seems to be a consistent flaw in your argument that is completely ignored. You are equating opinions and actions. "To me, being against God is worse than being against a particular race." Now, once again I take issue with the premise of your argument (not believing in something does not inherently make you against it, in fact it implies that you don't have much of an opinion of it either way. No one would say you're "against" sea monsters, spaghetti monsters or any other unreal thing), but if we're to ignore that point, there's an even deeper flaw in assuming that what one could do against an abstraction or concept such "god" or being religious is the same as being against a race (unless your god is so weak an ineffectual that he cares what deicide says about him). Any attempt to equate the two is necessarily deflated by the fact that hundreds of millions have suffered directly because of racism, and there are active political organizations working to continue that oppression.

      I understand that listening to this music creates a very ambiguous moral territory. I completely empathize with you there. What's wrong with the arguments you are presenting is that they seem to come from an opinion that you're not testing with the actual reality of the situation. Interest in NSBM is one thing, but you are being way too loose with your comparisons, generalizations and assumptions. Your idea of secular humanism is, does not apply to every person who doesn't believe in god, or even a large number, nor does your idea of christianity fit what everyone believes, more importantly it certainly doesn't fit how everyone acts.

      I'll take my response off the air, because I feel that if you are still of this opinion, after having it thoroughly dissected and broken apart over a year ago, arguing back and forth with you isn't going to be effective. I don't mean that in a rude way, I just don't really have time to get at the route of the assumptions you're making, and ultimately, the internet has this nasty way of producing alternate "facts" which basically means everyone can believe what they want to believe regardless of its validity.

    2. You've missed my point entirely. My belief that being anti-God is worse than being racist is tangential to the whole discussion, and unless you hold religious belief I doubt you can see it. Your comment betrays your incomprehension by your use of a ludicrous straw man, i.e., your argument that hating a race is obviously worse than hating some abstraction. You also misunderstand what I mean by "worse." The harm of anti-religiosity is not to God, it is to you. I mean that what is "worse" is more treacherous for your own soul, and the souls of anyone who can be swayed by anti-religious statements. What harm anyone can do to human life is paltry compared to that harm. You say that racism causes real harm in the world, but anti-religiosity/irreligiosity does not, but the fact of the matter is that anti-religiosity/irreligiosity is a far more deadly scourge, and one that pretends to be utterly harmless, making it all the more sinister. And, in truth, being irreligious is as bad (or nearly so) as being anti-God. "So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." Yes, in context it speaks of deeds, but deeds are fruit of the tree, and the tree is what is ultimately important.

      The point I've been trying to make is that there is no harm in listening to NSBM in and of itself. NSBM is an even more laughable joke than Watain's cartoonish Satanism. Their earnestness makes it moreso. No one is going to be converted to racism from it.

      I will agree with you on one thing, that further discussion is probably not going to be productive. I believe all the relevant points have been made as well as they will be. So I am closing the thread.