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Black Metal History

Mentally Murdered: A History of Political Extremism in Black Metal Pt. 2

Extreme polemics have long held an unfortunate place in heavy metal in general, and black metal in particular.

Extreme polemics have long held an unfortunate place in heavy metal in general, and black metal in particular.

Well that was fortuitous, if unfortunate, timing. As this story edged up against deadline, Phil Anselmo – the famed, oft-troubled lead singer of Pantera and Down, among other projects – managed to sabotage the finale of Dimebash, an annual event honoring Anselmo's fallen bandmate Dimebag Darrel, by ending an all star rendition of Pantera classic "Walk" by giving the audience a "sieg heil" Nazi salute and uttering the words "white power". This out-of-nowhere affront was quickly chalked up by Anselmo himself as an inside joke referring to the white wine several of the musicians had been drinking backstage (???), and a little more belatedly in a mea culpa video upload where Phil seemingly took full responsibility and begged forgiveness.

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Is it enough? Possibly. Filtering through user comments on various Facebook and Blabbermouth stories surrounding the incident, the number of metal fans playing the anti-SJW card and attempting to paint anyone seeking to hold Anselmo accountable for his actions would appear to outnumber the actual outcriers at least 5-to-1, which raises a lot of questions about the difference between free speech and an artist's need to own their actions and behave, if not as an out-and-out role model, at least within some semblance of social responsibility.

Machine Head's Rob Flynn, himself a participant at the event, was the first fellow musician to call Anselmo out for his "bullying" tactics, although he hardly represents a unified front in the scene. Within the past 24 hours alone, Dimebag's girlfriend Rita Haney sprang to Anselmo's defense while former Machine Head drummer Chris Kontos doubled down by not only calling for Anselmo's head but also tossing the gauntlet at Flynn himself for Machine Head's "Nazi"-resembling stage backdrops. For the most part, though, metal artists have largely come down on the side of condemnation, but how does that square with the social media commentators, many of which openly profess hatred for Pantera and Anselmo yet nonetheless accuse those calling Anselmo a racist as overly sensitive, PC blowhards?

Phil Anselmo is hardly the first heavy metal artist to flirt with controversy. Much like punk rock before it, metal has long been a lightning rod for young creative types with such contempt for society, the system, "The Man", that, lacking any articulate thoughts of their own, it's not been unusual for dubious ideologies and imagery to make its way into such artists' music, whether the sentiment is sincere or just a petulant middle finger to the establishment (a more loaded version of the genre's penchant for Satanism, even among musicians who are professed atheists and, thus, discount the entire Christian ideology, Lucifer included).

As covered last year in the first part of this series, extreme polemics have long held an unfortunate place in heavy metal in general, and black metal in particular. Following the church burnings of the early 1990's, attention in this regard soon turned to the rise of what has come to be known as National Socialist Black Metal. From his prison cell in Norway, Burzum mastermind Varg Vikernes took to penning essays in earnest expressing racial views similar to that espoused in Hitler's Mein Kampf; although  Vikernes has waffled in his allegiance to National Socialism proper over the years, his views have never really wavered in their racial supremacy, with continued focus on the dilution of Caucasian bloodlines by so-called "mongrel" races. To many, these views are the logical endgame of someone like Phil Anselmo railing against what he perceives to be an anti-white agenda in the lyrics of rap artists, a subject Anselmo was known to rail against in live shows back in the 90's, when gangsta rap was at peak influence.

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In 1997, a neo-Nazi group dubbed by the media "Einsatzgruppe" – German for "task force" or "deployment group" – were arrested in Hemnes for a number of planned hate attacks on religious and ethnic groups in Norway. One of their professed goals was breaking Varg Vikernes out of prison, and indeed Vikernes' own mother, Lene Bore, was found to have donated 100,000 kroner to their cause. Bore claimed ignorance of the group's jailbreak plans and was acquitted. Vikernes had taken to embracing Nazi attire and even shaved his long locks around this time, taking on the classic "skinhead" look prevalent among neo-Nazis. However, although he was able to continue recording Burzum music within the confines of prison, Vikernes reserved his more overt racism for his books and essays, sticking with more ephemeral mystical concepts within the music itself.

Vikernes did, however, contribute lyrics to the Darkthrone album Transilvanian Hunger, which was released with the phrase "Norwegian Aryan Black Metal" in Norwegian on the back cover. Darkthrone founder denied any political leanings associated with with this phrase, and characterizing one's band as apolitical would come to be a typical defense in such situations: we're not against other races, we are just urging renewed pride in white culture… in a nutshell. That such views could easily be used to instigate violent action against racial groups not deemed to be sufficiently respecting that white culture is a subject that continues to be lost on many of its adherents.

One of the most notorious of the early NSBM bands were Germany's Absurd, who collectively lured  15-year old Sandro Beyer to his murder in 1993. Led by Hendrik Möbus, the Beyer killing was allegedly motivated by Beyer spreading rumors about the band, including the salient gossip that Möbus had been carrying on an affair with a married woman. While the murder itself was not deemed political in nature, Möbus has always been vocal in his neo-Nazism, having violated his probation shortly out of prison by performing the Nazi salute in concert, and the man currently operates a self-described NSBM record label called Darker Than Black.

In more recent years, Inquisition has dealt with controversy over their supposed "stealth" Nazism, not openly avowing themselves as NSBM but utilizing artwork by a known white supremacist (Antichrist Kramer) and having been outed by their former bus driver as such. Similarly, lauded Swiss upstarts Bölzer were taken to task for their frontman's apparent swastika tattoos, which he defends as representing ancient "sun wheels". This raises an interesting question: with all of the ancient imagery and ideology that Hitler coopted and bent to his own uses – even the concept of "Aryanism" was appropriated second hand via the dubious scholarship of Arthur de Gobineau – is it acceptable for modern artists, metal or otherwise, to attempt to reclaim those concepts, or does the looming legacy of Nazism dictate that those totems are off limits in perpetuity? Many would insist on the latter, but even for those who believe in reclamation they must surely understand that, in doing so, they are very much playing with fire.

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