Extreme metal is a genre with a long history of political connotation – between the righteous, punk induced rackets of the genre’s genesis in the ’80s to the oft-questionable political stances (and the brushing under the carpet of such stances by major labels) of the modern day, it’s become somewhat of a distinctive feature for a band to be definably left-leaning or alternative in their politics.
Whilst you may have fooled yourself into believing bigotry has a place in extreme music – because it’s extreme and extreme views such as nazism have a place, simply because of the nature of the music, you’d be wrong. However, in the modern day, extreme metal’s diverse tapestry plays host to a multitude of left-leaning artists, flying the flag for a rich tapestry of political ideologies dedicated to humanity’s progress.
At Astral Noize, we are staunch supporters of anything and everything forward thinking, and of progressive political causes. With this in mind, we’ve dug deep, reflecting on our moral and political compasses, and our extensive musical collections, to curate a selection of artists who push forward-thinking, progressive politics through extreme music.
Panopticon, aka Austin Lunn, plays a brand of atmospheric black metal akin to Wolves in the Throne Room and Drudkh. However, where the politics of these bands is made implicit, Lunn isn’t ashamed of the traditional roots of his music. Nor do they relate to the same destructive Libertarianism as his European cousins.
Black metal (& Libertarianism) is romantic by nature, representative of the environment which it is born from. This is most evident on Panopticon’s release Kentucky. Compared to the angst, isolation, and loss of identity felt by his European cousins, Lunn’s melodies are yearning and grandiose. His music is sentimental and nostalgic by nature of his working-class Appalachian roots.
His earlier works incorporate bluegrass, a genre derived from African American gospel, and appropriated by the white working class of the Appalachian mountains. He becomes the preacher to a choir of disenfranchised and downtrodden people, wrongly notorious of electing a president with strong fascistic leanings, who some of Panopticon’s European cousins’ Libertarian leanings yearn for.
Panopticon‘s nostalgic representation of his traditional roots attempts to liberate through a pride in his multicultural, immediate, history. Rather than evoking a long forgotten romantic ideal of the past, as his European siblings and Libertarian leanings would want, he makes the case for the present emancipation of the working class.
Olivia Neutered John
Self-defined as “feminist pornogrind,” the debut release from Olivia Neutered John is gearing up to take on sexism and inequality in the metal scene. Titled Kill All Men (Starting With The White Ones) and featuring great track names like ‘Queen Of Cock And Ball Torture’ and ‘Heterosexuals Are Gay’, the comes via Blackened Death Records founder Richard Weeks (aka Pope Richard), and will be released this Halloween.
Blackened Death Records has been a champion of politically progressive extreme music – from death, black and doom metal to neofolk and harsh noise – since its inception. Though not all of the label’s roster is politically-inclined, Weeks has long been outspoken when denouncing racist and sexist bands. The label is also a good place to go for unique merchandise with a strong message, including a “heavy metal accepts all sexualities and genders” shirt and, more recently, a “fuck NSBM” shirt.
Bursting onto the scene with aplomb following their critically acclaimed debut full-length Animus last year, one of Venom Prison’s most defining characteristics is their subversion of extreme metal tropes. Waging a war on metal misogyny, the album has turned the grotesque imagery of the death metal subgenre on its head, featuring lyrics about oppression, politics and force-feeding rapists their own genitals (stylishly portrayed on its cover). The rage-filled lyrics on the album are backed up by a violent concoction of thrashy riffs, turbo-speed percussion and throat-shredding yells, all of which contribute to a hellish ruckus so venomous it deservedly found its way onto countless end of year lists.
The political nature of UK doomsters OHHMS’ music is much less direct than you may expect from a punk or hardcore group, but it is nevertheless a strong part of their sound. Around the release of their full-length debut earlier this year, guitarist Daniel Sargent told Astral Noize: “I think Paul (Waller, vocalist) is looking for deeper, lasting lyrical themes rather than just taking pot shots at current political demons” says Daniel. “There are plenty of other bands for that sort of thing.” You won’t see OHHMS shouting angry messages about current issues – there are grander themes afoot on The Fool. “I think we’d rather write songs that can still be related to in 20-years time” Daniel explained. This is reflected in their songs, with lyrics shifting their focus from vegetarianism (‘Rise Of The Herbivore’) and “the bullshit pulled off by big companies messing with our food” (‘Bad Seeds’) to flat earth theory (‘The World’) and getting stoned to death (‘The Lovers’).
Slower-paced metal genres like post-metal and sludge may be the last thing that comes to mind when you think of politically-charged music, not least of all because of its less forthrightly angry approach, but North Carolina’s MAKE fly in the face of this unwritten rule.
The band’s latest LP, 2016’s Pilgrimage Of Loathing, was their heaviest release yet, combining belligerent black metal with dingy but monolithic riffs and post-metal textures. Some of the album’s most abrasive moments could be found on ‘Human Garbage’, a less than flattering track about the band’s ex-State Governor Pat McCrory and, as the band’s Scott Endres explained, “all the other career opportunist scumbag politicians across the country.”
The music of American black metallers Anagnorisis is, admittedly, not inherently political. In fact, it is more frequently personal, as is evident on latest release Peripeteia, a cathartic endeavour created in the wake of the passing of frontman Zachary Kerr’s father. Nevertheless, the band unashamedly broadcast their progressive views, even creating an updated version of their logo using the colours of the LGBT pride flag for their social media profiles.
The open-minded nature of the band’s members is reflected in their forward-thinking music, which burns up the black metal rule book and forges something completely original from the ashes; mixing in a variety of unconventional instruments, sounds, rhythms, harmonies, cadences, effects and mixing techniques. Flying in the face of the NSBM scene, Anagnorisis reflect what black metal is really about – liberation and freedom.
Words: George Parr, Richard Lowe and Joe-Julian Naitsri