It’s 2015, so the case for being not-a-racist is now so robust that even most racists are now prepared to go out of their way to insist that they’re definitely not racist. One subculture where this logic doesn’t really apply, however, is the murky world of National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM). As its name suggests, draping yourself in a swastika, screaming about your admiration for the SS and generally being a raging Nazi isn’t just accepted in the NSBM scene, but a pretty crucial requirement for inclusion in it. Unsurprisingly, NSBM is steeped in controversy, not least in the wider black metal and metal community.
That controversy has been playing out in Glasgow over the past few weeks, after a local promoter announced that the city would be hosting the first ever UK gig by controversial Finnish black metallers Satanic Warmaster. Having released their first album as far back as 2001, the band have built up a cult following. But with their links to NSBM bands and sometimes questionable lyrical content, Satanic Warmaster also have to spend a lot of their free time denying that they have any inclination towards, you guessed it, Nazism.
As of last week, their sell-out Glasgow show has been looking for a new home, because the original venue, Audio, have pulled out, citing concern over the “band’s views”. The announcement was greeted by comments online of "Well done Audio!" and "So they hate the jews and love the third Reich..nice...". But according to the promoter who booked the band, this only came after both they and the venue received “a lot of hassle” and it was “bashed extremely by other groups”. One fan told me she was “threatened” by anti-fascists after signing up to the Facebook event for the show, with “slanderous comments posted all over the internet”.
So, how bad are Satanic Warmaster and is the outrage justified? Well, factors like their split record releases with NSBM bands with names like Aryan Blood, or contribution to a 2006 compilation called Declaration Of Anti-Semitic Terror, packed full of neo-Nazi acts, don’t exactly paint an angelic picture. There’s also been instances where the band have seemingly supported Nazi ideology themselves, having penned lyrics about “torching the Jewish creation”, the “purest essence of the cult of our blood” and “one state, one folk, one leader”. The last two come from a song called “My Dreams of 8” (below), which may sound innocuous enough, except for when you consider that the number eight is a standard far-right euphemism for Hitler (with H being the eighth letter of the alphabet).
Should we be bothered that a band with links to overtly Nazi acts and some suspect lyrics are coming to the UK for the first time, or is this just a particularly trying test of our belief in free speech? Certainly, Satanic Warmaster's lyrics are abhorrent, but black metal is hardly a scene that tries to cultivate a squeaky clean image, with its proponents generally playing up to every stereotype of nihilistic metal bands who worship Satan, dress up in corpse make-up and want to upset your Nan. The genre’s overblown theatrics can often verge on pastiche, but its fans tend to take it dead seriously, usually harbouring an encyclopaedic knowledge of obscure Scandinavian artists with inexplicably enormous discographies.
As a result of this, a lot of them are more pissed off at the adverse reaction to the Satanic Warmaster booking than those trying to prevent them from playing. On social media pages a war is playing out between those who are offended by the band and hardcore fans who argue that people just don't understand the finer nuances of the genre, bemoaning the venue’s cancellation as an attack on free speech. "Audio Glasgow you fascist pigs, not accepting others for their beliefs and not doing any real research and certainly not contacting the band to get a definite statement," said one commenter on Facebook.
“I think the fuss is based on lack of knowledge to be honest,” one fan told me, who - given the heat surrounding the show - was wary of having her name published. She had purchased a ticket the morning they went on sale and said she was looking forward to the concert: “It's exciting that their debut UK show is in Glasgow. It's a big deal in the black metal scene and people from all over are coming to Glasgow for it.”
Exactly what will happen with it now remains to be seen, with the promoter - Gigs in Glasgow - proving elusive on the specifics when I asked them. However, a spokesperson said the show will still be going ahead, so at this stage it looks like a case of finding a lucky Glasgow venue that’s brave enough to deal with the inevitable fallout. Describing the reaction to the show as “insane”, the promoter justified the booking as “an obscure, underground black metal act who have a cult following” and was adamant there’s nothing sinister about it.
“There will be no Nazi flags or saluting, nor big skinheads trying to smash people. All it'll be will be black metal fans wanting a good night out, some of whom will have waited five to ten years to see the band,” they said. The promoter also called the venue out for cancelling this gig despite having hosted shows by similarly controversial acts Gorgoroth and Marduk over the past year. Elsewhere, seemingly in a bid to excuse Satanic Warmaster’s misdemeanours, the promoters have taken to Facebook to list lots of other black metal bands and their alleged crimes. One example was Burzum who were accused of burning churches down and whose founder, Vargs Vikernes, has been charged for inciting racial hatred and is a convicted murderer - although I’m not convinced the “see, everyone does it!” argument is really valid or going to help here.
Satanic Warmaster have responded angrily in the past to their gigs being shelved, and have been weighing in on Facebook comment threads relating to the Glasgow show recently. Last year, following the cancellation of a Dutch gig, a rambling statement from the band followed, in which they accused “crooked and cowardly” anti-fascists of smearing them. They also said they will “not apologise for being a black metal band”, not that it seems like anyone has actually been asking them to, either then or now.
Even more conclusively, a bar graph was published by Satanic Warmaster's on their website detailing the band’s lyrical themes over 15 years of musical releases. Somehow, the Third Reich or anti-Semitism didn’t make it onto the graph, despite the lyrics I previously highlighted and both being common topics in their interviews. Maybe the graph only incorporates literal mentions, or maybe it's just not true. Either way, it hasn’t done much to dispel the NSBM rumourss surrouding them. And I must admit, I’ve never had to release any bar graphs to verify my non-racist credentials before, but then again, I’ve never penned any songs about Hitler either.
Gigs in Glasgow were willing to concede that there are some less palatable aspects of Satanic Warmaster’s creative output. “I find most of the accusations insane and bizarre, although I’ve never denied that there is some questionable stuff. But then black metal in its entirety is questionable, as the genre is built upon controversy,” they said.
That is surely the crux of the matter - black metal undoubtedly does thrive on its outsider image, with gratuitous lyrics and an obsession with pushing against all boundaries of taste and respectability as part of its essence. Where a line is then drawn between what is and isn’t acceptable becomes more complicated - you could call it black metal’s grey area.
In all likelihood, most fans of the band don’t identify with far-right views and, if their pronouncements are anything to go by, nor are the band really trying to sell themselves on the basis of the cheap thrill of Nazism either. And perhaps we need to check ourselves before we take seriously the lyrical content of a lead singer who calls himself Satanic Tyrant Werewolf. But the fact of the matter is, when a band associate themselves with the specific strand of NSBM even indirectly, like Satanic Warmaster have, they aren't just using controversy as an artistic concept anymore, they are contributing to a neo-völkisch movement that actively promotes neo-Nazi ideology, white supremacy, homophobia, anti-semitism and the rest. That's not cool, and it's especially not Glasgow. So, is it really any wonder that in a city where far right group Pegida planned an eventually thwarted march through the city centre, people don't want to play games with hate speech?
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