This particular installment of Kvlt Catechisms has been in progress for a while – since June 22, assuming the history of edits on Google Docs is accurate. Before that, our Satanic feline friend KvltCat and I had a couple of weeks’ worth of conversations about what an editorial like this might look like, which came on the heels of at least a month’s worth of messages back-and-forth between ourselves whenever we saw the sort of coverage that prompted this op-ed in the first place.
See, I really didn’t want to run this piece…
If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ve probably noticed that Indy Metal Vault generally doesn’t run op-eds like this. That’s not because we don’t have strong opinions on the issue; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Instead, our (unofficial) editorial policy has been to essentially be Switzerland in terms of all things controversial: we’re staying out of it, lest we find ourselves on the slippery slope towards churning out nothing but clickbait.
However, when you cover as much black metal as we do here at the Vault, it’s virtually impossible to avoid the topic of NSBM entirely. We do our best to vet any band we’re thinking of featuring to make sure they aren’t sketch, and I’ve asked plenty of questions about NSBM in interviews when it seemed relevant. Have there been things we’ve missed in the vetting? Probably. Have we run interviews that I’ve thought twice about? A couple of times, but there’s always been a very clear line in my head in terms of what I consider an acceptable answer to questions about racism or NSBM ties. Ergo, it’s a bit disingenuous to pretend that we haven’t already been taking part in this conversation…
In the end, I gave KvltCat two parameters. First, please don’t directly call out any other sites. If you can make your point without putting anyone else on blast, then go for it. Second, I’d like to write an Editor’s Intro explaining why we decided to publish this. She wouldn’t have done the former even had I not said anything about it – given her argument, it would have been pretty hypocritical if she did – and she agreed to the latter. So here we are…
A recent swell of writing from major online metal publications has focused on “outing” bands long-suspected of anti-semitism and cut-and-dry racism. While some of the characters and incidents covered have unequivocally promoted bigotry, others live in grey areas which are difficult to parse; the recent accusations levied against Marduk, for example, were not related to the band’s public activity but were based on compromised server data. The distinction between public personas and private activity, for some black metal fans, is dissipating.
These recent online condemnations appear well-intentioned, but closer examination raises questions. Do these pieces have the shunning effect seemingly intended by the writers? Is it possible for public coverage of a controversial band to only hurt them? Should online writers be the arbiters of morality and taste for a global community? Notably, the sites leading the recent anti-NSBM crusade have also been those with the broadest readership. Covering NSBM (real or imagined) with righteous indignation when you’re a leading metal outlet is doing free marketing for any band being covered. This stems from the traffic which the top four online metal outlets receive and extreme metal fans’ inherent taste for contrarianism. It’s not reality that props up these pieces, the outrage and accompanying website hits benefit the writers all the same. If this promotion is truly accidental, these writers totally misunderstand the audience they purport to reach.
Despite the reality that there exist generally-agreed-upon bands which qualify as National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM), there are plenty who flirt with Nazi symbolism and ideology but successfully manage to maintain plausible deniability within the metal community. This exists outside of extreme/black metal as well, with beloved bands like Motorhead and Slayer openly using Nazi symbolism in their personal fashion and promotional materials for their music while claiming to not support the ideology. Similar “plausible deniability” is often buttressed by fans’ chants of “separating the artist from the art.” Mainstream metal outlet writers covering Black Metal have taken a different angle – proactively dragging both explicit NSBM acts and those who don’t fit that label neatly.
These condemnations carry the same flavor of huffishness that’s always present in hard line political writing – that self-righteousness is likely the real goal of these NSBM “hit pieces.” It should also be a hint at the sleight of intent occurring on the part of the writer. These “anti-NSBM” pieces typically mention a band which the core metal community already knows touts dubious lyrics, imagery, beliefs, or beyond. When you press the core metal community’s denial of bigotry within it, you get a reaction. Reactions online drive revenue and also attract readers from beyond that core audience. You don’t have to look further than the Comments section of the most recent controversial article in your Facebook feed to see the activity which online ire can provoke. Each commenter has clicked on the article (hopefully), and their bickering drives additional clicks. This is the best-case result for the publishing site, and that cannot be ignored. It is also worth noting that news sites totally removed from the metal scene have even waded into recent controversies, such as Newsweek and LA Weekly.
The free marketing “outed” bands recieve is possibly an unintended side effect, but it cannot be ignored since it showcases how disingenuous the outlets trumpeting anti-NSBM hand-wringing are. Conflict-hungry readers respond to these pieces by disseminating the names and lore of these bands more widely than before. Historically, the most notorious artists in black metal have been surrounded by real-life violence and Nazi imagery (See Mayhem, Burzum, etc). These elements amplified their names more than their undeniable musical talent alone could. This well-documented taste for tales of extreme behavior among metal fans invalidates any moral claim an outlet may have had in “outing” an NSBM or sympathizing artist. With the outlet’s ad revenue up and a spike in awareness of the band in question, how has the profile of NSBM truly been lessened? It simply has not.
It is tempting for both genuine and incidental NSBM fans to hide behind the argument that extreme metal is all about extreme beliefs; the logic goes that it is “unreasonable” to be surprised as a fan that a black metal band may promote hate against a specific group. Misanthropy directed toward a specific, arbitrary group becomes something not comparable to the intended misanthropic spirit of black metal- instead it wears the spirit as a cloak in order to advance a political agenda. My personal bent is that the only way to not promote a band you truly disagree with ideologically is to do just that – not promote them. No album release pieces, no interviews, no show promos. Anything additional, even an exposé, contradicts any claim of disownment an article can make. In a scene driven by zine and press promotion, NSBM acts can’t thrive without frequent word count dedicated to them, regardless of the angle. Those genuinely against the ideology should not feed its proponents.