A Blaze in the Western Sky: The New Wave of Anti-Fascist Heavy Metal

Metal is obsessed with waves, so much so that various stages of its evolution (at least those that can’t be pigeon-holed into specific genre tags) are described as such. We had the indispensable New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) in the ‘70s and the less-talked-about New Wave of American Heavy Metal (NWOAHM) loosely attributed to bands like Shadows Fall and Lamb Of God in the late ‘90s. These waves often mark a significant moment in the genre’s continued development, perhaps even a time when the genre transitioned into an entirely new thing, just as NWOBHM helped to shape, define and popularise metal after it was initially kick-started by the likes of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. So it’s apt that the current crop of staunchly anti-fascist bands have been dubbed by the likes of Kim Kelly as the New Wave Of Anti-Fascist Heavy Metal.

Despite a longstanding history of political expression within metal that has, since its inception, aimed to call attention to abuses of power or problems in society, the genre has also long had some dodgy sociopolitical affiliations. The obvious go-to is the explicitly Nazi sub-subgenre of National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM), but there are also more subtle but always present issues, like the genre’s proclivity toward macho aesthetics which, alongside a hideous amount of gatekeeping within certain circles, has contributed to its continued status as a white cis male-dominated scene. Considering this, it’s admittedly not enough for metal bands to be just anti-fascist, as if being opposed to far-right Hitler wannabes should be anything less than the default. However, if you use the NWOAFHM tag loosely as a way to categorise bands who prioritise inclusivity and disregard the scene’s dodgy corners regardless of said corner’s musical output, then it’s an apt title for a movement taking place in a time that has seen the rise of ugly new faces of the far-right and major political upheavals like Brexit and our friends across the pond voting-in a tangerine man-child, with his finger on the pulse of white supremacy and his actual finger potentially on a big red nuclear war button.

And so, it’s clear that metal needs a change. The point that’s made when people say things like “the metal scene needs to be destroyed” is a valid one, but how many of us have truly abandoned the genre after saying it or worked to dismantle or deconstruct the power structures we say we’re rallying against? Instead, let’s recognise that it can be better, and strive to improve it by promoting bands with ideals as good as their music and by protecting the people of colour and LGBTQ+ folk who often face persecution, both in the scene and outside it. Thankfully, metal’s betterment has begun, at least for those of us who care about striving to make it an inclusive subculture. As much as there are still many, many dickheads out there who would rather continue to make excuses for the likes of Phil Anselmo and Tim Lambesis because the riffs are just too damn sacred, there is also a growing counter-movement that wants to embrace the progressive possibilities of a more inclusive genre.

Metal does not belong to anyone, and it can surely only become more interesting through diversity. It’s no coincidence that many bands who could be grouped under the Anti-Fascist Wave are also contributing forward-thinking music that actively strives to break new ground or offer a fresh perspective. For this reason, it is undoubtedly one of the most exciting things to have happened to the metal scene in some time. Whilst ageing figures who’s relevance waned decades ago continue to mindlessly claim that “rock is dead” (and/or gratuitously chime in with out-of-touch views on current political topics), the underground has been awash with creativity for those with the time, energy and passion to listen. We’re often hearing about how great the current doom scene is, or how there are more innovative takes on black metal now than ever before, and whilst past periods in metal’s history have been defined by the emergence of new subgenres, whether it’s ‘80s thrash or even late ‘90s nu-metal, the latter end of this decade will surely be remembered as a time that artists and fans started reflecting on the genre they love and thinking about how it can improve, both musically and ethically.

2019 could potentially be the most pivotal year in the scene’s continued growth. There’s new music due from the likes of Redbait, Venom PrisonUnderdark and more as well as a fuckton of tours and even what is probably the first explicitly anti-fascist metal festival in this month’s Black Flags Over Brooklyn. The importance of such an event can’t be overstated, and the fact that there’s an audience for it is testament to just how much this movement is growing. At the end of the day, we’re all here for the riffs, but if those riffs are attached to a Nazi, a racist, a misogynist, a homophobe, a transphobe, an Islamophobe or any kind of bigoted dickweed, then it doesn’t matter if they’re the best thing since the first six Sabbath albums, they can get fucked. All hail the New Wave of Anti-Fascist Heavy Metal.

Looking for more NWOAFHM? Check out Dawn Ray’d, Ancst, Iskra, Ragana, Thou, Underdark, Ithaca, Redbait, Allfather, Sarparast, Vile Creature, Avvika, Yovel, Gudsforladt, Racetraitor, Void Ritual, Hayyoth, Woodland Tomb, Anarchist Wolves, Book Of Sand, Not A Cost, Appalachian Terror Unit, Couch Slut, Storm Of Sedition, Cloud Rat, Chepang, Axebreaker, Occultist, Morne, Closet Witch, Feminazgul, Marxthrone, Neckbeard Deathcamp, Nazi Killer, Kastchei, Body Void, Venom Prison, Sunrot, Bitter Lake, Order Of The Wolf, Spectral Lore and Petrichor. Sorry to anyone we’ve forgotten.

Words: George Parr (@GeorgeJParr)

*Post updated in August 2019 to remove references to Blackened Death Records.

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