The patriarchal nature of rock and roll has been well and truly established for some time. Women have been unwillingly assigned a supporting role in the musical universe, but recent years have seen an increase in the number of artists standing up and stating plainly that they’re not going to take this bollocks.
Maggie Killjoy of Feminazgul and Nomadic War Machine is one such artist. Amongst the endlessly male and violent world of black metal, she’s defiantly taken a frontline stance against the resurgent right-wing beliefs that seem determined to permeate everyday life in an age that should definitely know better.
With her recent Feminazgul work The Age Of Men Is Over now available, we thought it was time for a chat, so Astral Noize took the opportunity to ask this rightly outspoken musician about the state of black metal, Antifa activity, keyboard militia and The Lord Of The Rings.
What do you think is behind the sheer amount of resistance to progressive politics in the contemporary black metal scene?
My cheap and easy answer is “patriarchy”. Despite black metal presenting itself as outsiders and misfits, it still somehow manages to have a lot of hyper-masculine aspects. Progressive politics, multiculturalism, the left, etc. are seen by hyper-masculine elements of the right to be weak and effeminate. This is, of course, absurd for a bunch of guys running around in makeup and long hair (which I’m not saying is necessarily feminine, but it certainly is presented that way by mainstream society). I think that a lot of this “you can’t tell us what to do!” that comes from the right… when we’re just telling them we don’t like Nazis… is practically just “you can’t tell us what to do, mum.” It’s the most childish form of rebellion.
I’m being salty and probably more snide about this than I should be, but I’m fucking angry about Nazis pretending that fascism is a rebellious stance so I’m willing to take a few cheap shots.
How exactly does your use of Lord Of The Rings allegory function in a feminist context?
I’ve got two different answers. The first one is the most honest one, and it’s shorter. A few years ago, my friend said “I’m not a feminazi, I’m a feminazgul.” And I loved that spin on it, and especially once I transitioned (I am a trans woman) I thought “hell yeah, I’m going to name my black metal project Feminazgul.”
But I’m hugely into Lord Of The Rings, because I’m hugely into allegories of power. Lord of the Rings is, in one understanding, the perfect anarchist parable. Power cannot be wielded, it must be destroyed. Okay, on the other hand, Tolkien was unconsciously—I hope unconsciously—pretty racist and all the villains in the books are either non-human or people of colour. Like a lot of really powerful myths, LOTR can easily be read in multiple directions. A critique of fascism is plain to see, since Sauron is basically Hitler, but with the appeal to the simpler times, and a certain sort of nationalism amongst the various groups fighting against Mordor, I can see how it plays into right-wing ideology as well. Which makes sense, because Tolkien himself said he’s probably either an anarchist or a monarchist. Two opposites if there ever were.
I think it’s fair to identify with either side of the conflict in Lord Of The Rings, in some ways. I’ve long held that the orcs should become the proletarian analogy they were born to be and overthrow Saruman and Sauron. But the Feminazgul, in particular… what do the Nazgul do besides find men who have power (the ring) and take that power away from them? Sure, the regular Nazgul then give it back to Sauron, but hey, since I’m making this shit up, the Feminazgul can do whatever they want. So yeah… in short, Feminazgul hunt men who hold power.
What do you think of J.R.R. Tolkien’s anti-industrial politics? Do you feel they relate to anti-capitalist ideology in the modern day?
It’s so complicated! I came up as a green anarchist—though I’m more of a social anarchist these days, if I had to pick a sub-category. The first time I read Lord Of The Rings as an adult was sitting behind a log in the middle of the night at a forest blockade, waiting to see if the police would raid and try to get us out of the trees so loggers could cut the old-growth forests. When the movies came out, I saw them in the theatres with other forest defenders, and we were whooping and hollering for the Ents as they tore up the dam and destroyed all of Saruman’s shit. BUT, as I’ve gotten deeper into my political understanding, I see how the back-to-the-simpler-times position can be so fucking reactionary. I really do see the orcs as basically the oppressed working class, at least in terms of their industrial undertakings. See also the tension in Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, which handles it so well. All sides are sympathetic to me in that one.
How did you feel about deathmetal.org referring to The Age Of Men Is Over as ‘the most feminine black metal album of all time’?
Oh, yeah. That’s honestly going to go into my press kit, as soon as I make one. I feel like I won an award. I tried to thank them on the site, but for some reason they didn’t approve my comment.
What other kinds of issues – if any – have you had with keyboard warriors and alt-righters?
So there’s this problem when you’re someone who is marginalised by society, that it’s hard to tell sometimes whether someone is talking trash on your music because they don’t like your music or because you’re a girl. If I go into the grocery store in the small, right-wing town I live in, and the guy behind the counter gives me a look of death, is it because he’s had a bad day or because I’m a scary queer girl from hell? Microaggressions happen so often that it’s hard to know when they’re happening, if that makes sense.
So I’ve seen some people really tear into Feminazgul, being way more critical of it than anyone has ever been of my other project Nomadic War Machine. Usually, it’s some dude, and he name-drops as many bands per sentence as he can to talk about why my music isn’t kvlt enough, essentially. Would he be that critical if it weren’t an album by a woman that pretty much openly is trying to say metal isn’t just for men only anymore? It’s really hard to gauge.
Other times it’s not subtle, like when someone on twitter put down my anticapitalist opinion by calling me “little girl”. I do wonder if he would have said that had he known I was trans. Thanks for gendering me correctly, but you’re still a misogynist shit.
But I don’t get right-wing hate nearly so much as a lot of people, especially other women that I know. And overall, the response from people of all genders to Feminazgul has been fantastic. Or when it’s critical, manages to stay critical only of the music (and not in a weird masculine posturing way).
Black metal was, in its very earliest form, notionally music for outsiders. Why do you think it is that the modern black metal establishment latches on to far-right ideologies so much?
It makes some sense to me, to be honest.
I’ll compare it to Satanism, for a moment, since there’s so much overlap aesthetically and ideologically between black metal and satanism. I noticed pretty early on that Satanism seemed to represent the knife’s edge between two opposing political ideologies: anarchism and fascism. It’s sort of the difference between whether your “do as thou wilt” means “and try to fight for everyone’s freedom to do as they will” or “I got mine, fuck everyone else”. I met a lot of Satanists who used Satanism as a way into anarchism, and I met—but didn’t stick around long with—Satanists who used it to excuse extreme authoritarianism. Then there are less-extreme versions of both sides of that. Progressive types of Satanists tend towards fighting for multiculturalism and diversity and shit, in a generally social-democratic way, while others take it more right-wing but towards right-libertarianism instead of fascism.
So it goes with black metal? But with slightly different axes. Say you’re really misanthropic and love nature. You could take that and go anti-civ and green, or you could get all folk-ish in the Nazi sense. Say you hate Christianity and love your pagan roots. You could either be like “yeah! fuck monotheism and colonialism wherever they go!” or you could be like “Sweden is the best fuck the rest of the world and sure I’m an Irish-American but white is white so yay go Sweden” or whatever fucking nonsense. I’m active—and violently, when necessary—opposed to the right-wing, but I can see how extreme ideologies fuel artistic expression, so I see why Nazis are drawn to black metal and vice versa. Fuck them, regardless.
Incorporating Nationalist Socialist ideology into black metal is somewhat of a hypocrisy, due to early black metal’s ideals of outsiderism and freedom. Do you agree with this?
Yes and no? Mostly yes. I hate hate hate hate how Nazis posture like they’re rebels when it’s the least rebellious ideology of all time. See the photo of the button-down Nazi punching the black-clad Antifa.
BUT, if you’re an ignorant little privileged shit who grew up white, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied, and male in one of the richest societies in the world, I can see being so naive that you’re just like “oh boy I love evil shit! what’s evil? Stalin! Hitler!” or whatever and decide you idolise those people. Because you just have no experience outside your own and haven’t reflected on experiences outside your own. Because you grew up being told the world revolves around you. Want to actually rebel? Do it by refusing patriarchy, refusing white supremacy, refusing all the systems that say the world revolves around you.
The thing is, the battle lines are being drawn right now. Nazism isn’t quite the abstraction it was ten, twenty years ago. (To be clear, street violence by Nazis has long been a problem. I’m speaking of white nationalists organising on a larger scale, which has seen a resurgence). So when there are basically no Nazis around, running around with a swastika might seem edgy or whatever. Now, though, it’s just signifying participation with a real-world movement that is the enemy of anyone with half an ounce of compassion in their body.
Nazism is also a politics of fear and cowardice. Nazis are chickenshit. It’s actually why fighting them is so effective. I’ve talked to old Antifa street fighters from the late 80s when Nazis were everywhere in punk, and Nazis don’t stick to their guns as soon as they’re losing even a little. Nazis make terrible underdogs. As soon as they’re underdogs, they run and hide and quit. Which is good. Which is why we should keep punching them.
A lot of people say that we should separate the art from the artist in terms of NSBM and the like. What are your feelings on the matter?
I’ve got some friends who listen to metal regardless of the band’s politics, and those friends are actively involved in fighting against organised fascism. Everyone draws their ethics in different places, which is fine. A lot of those friends won’t advertise the band (by wearing a shirt) or give them money, but will listen to them. Myself, I think life is too short to listen to art made by Nazis. But I still listen to The Smiths, so that might be hypocrisy on my part (I won’t give that racist any money, though). I try not to get hung up on where people stand on those issues. Well, the issue of what you listen to at home. I’m actively in support of Antifa organising against fashy bands and getting their tours shut down and shit.
I will say that knowing a band or writer or whoever is fashy is important, because it’s important to think about what you’re consuming and what aesthetics and ideas you’re sitting on. It helps you avoid being influenced in ways you don’t want to be influenced.
There’s some aesthetic common ground I share, as an anarchist, with the far-right. I believe there’s beauty to be found in militant struggle, and its attendant grief, for example. I refuse to give up any cultural ground to fascists, though. They can have my fascination with death when they rip it from my dead hands. The same goes for metal. We can’t let them have black metal. I’m not mad that Nazis make metal, I’m mad that nazis breathe air.
The full version of this feature was originally featured in our third print issue, available here.
The Age Of Men Is Over is out now. Purchase here.
Words: John Tron Davidson