Thursday, July 23, 2015

Blind Guardian - Beyond the Red Mirror ALBUM REVIEW

Well, it looks like the year is half over and I haven’t written a single review. To get back on track reviewing my favorites (and least favorites) of the year so far I’ll start with an album from a very special band for me: Blind Guardian.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

My Thoughts on Nazism and Racism in Black Metal

In April, the black metal duo Inquisition came under fire due to some damning evidence of their supposed neo-Nazi past which includes posing with a Nazi flag and the existence of many racist forum posts allegedly made by the band’s frontman Jason “Dagon” Weirbach. Perhaps most troubling (for me at least) was the fact the Weirbach was involved with a side-band called 88MM which released a track titled “14 Showerheads, 1 Gas Tight Door” released on a compilation with the delightful title Declaration of Anti-Semitic Terror, not to mention the fact that “88” is often used by neo-Nazis as an abbreviation for “Heil Hitler” since H is the eighth letter of the alphabet. None of this was remotely helped by the very lukewarm apology made by Weirbach amidst these accusations. The band is playing this year’s Knotfest metal festival and the inclusion of such a band with this kind of controversy surrounding them could be a messy situation and could be bad publicity for the festival and its promoters, as this Metalsucks article explains. 

When I was in middle school and high school I was sometimes accused of being a racist because I was a metal fan. Where did this come from? Does the fact that most young metal kids in our schools happen to be white cause people to believe that the metal subculture excludes and is against blacks? This is a possibility, but I don't think there's any good reason to label heavy metal fans as racist because of a lack of African Americans in the American metal scene, as I believe that the low number of AfAm metalheads in this country is mainly due to personal choice in music more than anything else. But the rather alarming frequency of racist and neo-Nazi ideologies in black metal specifically is very troubling to me, especially since black metal is my favorite subgenre of metal. Black metal musicians like Rob Darken and Varg Vikernes (and many others) express opinions that surpass mere disagreement for me, but ideas I find totally reprehensible and intolerable, not to mention idiotic due to their Nazi beliefs being entirely based on white nationalism, heterosexism, racial separatism, and anti-Semitism. I have never once held any of these neo-Nazi sympathies in my life and I can say that with complete honesty.

Some of you might be thinking, “Well, Anthony, it’s obvious why your old school mates assumed you were racist for being a metal fan. It’s because of all this far-right racism within the black metal you love so much which you just admitted was within the scene with ‘alarming frequency.’” I’d have to completely disagree with that. I’m 100% certain that all the people who ever accused me of being racist based on the fact that I listen to metal have never heard of black metal in their lives, let alone know any of these band’s names or their ideologies. The people accusing me of racism were almost always young men and women who mainly listen to hip-hop and r&b and who’ve probably never heard a legitimate metal song in their lives, their only exposure to “metal” being something like Linkin Park or whatever else is played on the radio, as well as various snippets of screamo (which isn’t metal) and metalcore songs they overhear being played on their “rocker” classmate’s iPhones. If any of these people explained to me that they’ve actually heard all about Varg Vikernes and/or the eastern-European National Socialist Black Metal movement and that’s why they suspect me of being a racist then I would understand where they were coming from and I would correct them. But that’s never happened once, not even close. The accusations of racism that have been lobbed against me over the years have always come from positions of utter and complete ignorance, never a position of knowledge and understanding of the metal subculture. So no, the presence of racism in a genre of metal that none of my accusers have ever heard of is not the reason why I have ever been accused of racism, nor have any overtly racist actions I have ever done been the cause either since I’ve never been guilty of such actions. It’s completely unfair to generalize the entire worldwide heavy metal community based on a relatively small percentage of black metal and less than 1% of all metal that has ever existed.

With that out of the way, why would I even tolerate music that is about or made by people who support Nazism? Is it morally alright to do so? Is the listener in active support of Nazism when they listen to, say, a Graveland record? It’s all about making a kind of separation between your enjoyment of the art and its content. An album, in my view, is a piece of art and a work of artistic expression and should be judged as such. The content of the art could depict things that can be loving or hateful, pleasant or disgusting, good or evil. But it’s a piece of art and it’s about experiencing the artist’s point of view, the artist's views and how they particularly align with your personal views are irrelevant. If anyone’s ideal is to only expose themselves to media (books, music, movies, etc) that’s only about everything they already believe in then that is a very unfortunate ideal to strive for. Exposing yourself to other views, no matter how much you disagree with them, is how individuals increase their understanding of the world they live in, and coming to an understanding of the bad is just as important as taking in pleasure from the good. Because of the valuable perspective and understanding gained from various artistic expressions, taking in the full spectrum of expressions is crucial to becoming a more informed and enlightened member of society while coming to a better understanding of your fellow man.

It also must be stated that an album is mainly a form of entertainment despite whatever messages are contained within the lyrics. If morality is what you’re after, pick up a copy of Plato or Aristotle. If you’re looking for a profound message then listen to a speech by Martin Luther King or the Dali Lama, but if you want entertainment, pick up an album. While there’s a vast array of music that has a defined message – sometimes a bad message in the case of neo-Nazi black metal – music can be pleasing to the ear no matter how much you disagree with its lyrical content. Music is so much more than what its lyrics are about; musical value comes from instrumentation, musicianship, structure, songwriting prowess, production values, etc. So while Nokturnal Mortum’s album Goat Horns expresses some white nationalist sentiments in its lyrics, the album’s 16 bit video game music combined with melodic black metal is so pleasing to my ears that I can’t help but label it as one of my favorite black metal records of all time.

As much as I find neo-Nazi ideology to be horrible and filled with hate, I don’t believe it is morally wrong to enjoy black metal that expresses these beliefs and it is completely wrong to label the heavy metal community as a racist subculture because of these bands. Whether we like it or not, Nazism is part of world history and the beliefs that stem from it are still alive and well. The worst way to deal with an ugly past is to deny that it ever happened, and when it comes to these neo-Nazi black metal albums, I do not believe that an effective strategy in fighting these deplorable beliefs is to pretend that these recordings don't exist. While the dust around the Inquisition controversy is still settling it still shows that even 20 years after the National Socialist Black Metal movement started these ignorant views are still being held by members of the black metal scene. As much as a few of these albums are enjoyable to my ears the lyrical content should not be condoned on a personal level, but it’s a piece of art nonetheless and appreciating art for its aesthetic or sonic appeal is not the same as agreeing with its message.