Islamophobia remains one of the metal scene’s most prevalent problems.
Almost 30 years on, the burning of Fantoft Stave Church in 1992 remains an iconic image within black metal. Everyone knows the story; bored, disillusioned kids, offered a way out of the wintry monotony of Norwegian teenage life, and influenced by some of the edgier vestiges of the “inner circle” of their country’s black metal scene, set fire to an ancient church in a misguided attempt to express some sort of anti-religious sentiment – with undertones of white supremacy.
Whilst the roots of the burning of Stave Tantoft were arguably due to ignorant, bored children bringing to life fantasies of violence and ruin, there was a white supremacist, “heathen” undertone to Fantoft Stave’s burning, one rooted in antisemitic diatribes regarding the lands of the so-called Aryan race, which was perceived to have been corrupted by the influence of Christianity (read the biography section of the Burzum website for more context – or don’t, it won’t be held against you). In the modern day, vestiges of this juvenile strand of the black metal scene still exist and, in the age of the internet, are quickly amplified, as well as being excused far more than they should be. Within the black metal-centric corners of the internet, bigotry is rampant, but the most pertinent and dangerous form of bigotry in the current geopolitical context is that of the scene’s rampant Islamophobia.
In the eyes of some, Stave Tantoft was not merely an act of trve kvlt rebellion, it was the first step toward embracing an anachronistic blood and soil ideology that still permeates sections of the black metal scene today. In some confused defence of the unfortunately prevalent belief that black metal should be dangerous, the problematic dalliances so many black metal artists have taken into far-right politics are handwaved away under the guise of transgression from polite society or that of anti-humanity or anti-life sentiment. This apparently makes its okay for artists to perform with swastikas drawn on their chests and throw nazi salutes in publicity material. Some believe that in a Western Europe becoming increasingly detached from the previously dominant trappings of Christianity, being anti-religious within the traditional “universal hatred” (i.e. “I hate everyone equally”) narrative is a transgressive position to take in the 21st century.
The other issue with the backwards-looking black metal scene’s excusing of xenophobia via a proclamation of universal misanthropy is the resulting position on Islam. Islamophobia is a dangerous sentiment in the modern day, and the hatred and discrimination that it breeds has a very real impact on the day-to-day lives of millions of people across the world. But more interestingly, Islamophobia in its current form is utilised by those on the far-right to further twisted blood and soil ideologies. Today’s Islamophobia is a tool of Eurocentric (i.e. “pro-white”, “Aryan”, “Christian”) blood and soil right-wing extremism, which in turn has its origins within hard-right Christian movements. It’s also incredibly useful in the perpetuation of neoliberal capitalist hegemony – because people won’t blame the elite for their poor living standards if the press blame it on immigrants stealing their jobs. And, as we all know, a bunch of old white men in suits making a shitload of cash at the expense of the poor is trve as fvck.
As such, not only are black metal artists and fans who support Islamophobic causes in black metal (i.e: Taake peddling blatantly anti-Islamic merch), in conflation with blood and soil white supremacist thematics (regardless of the sincerity of these sentiments – once it’s been said, it’s been said), they are also solidifying a climate based around baseless prejudice toward millions of our fellow human beings. To genuinely criticise sections of Islam is perfectly permissible – and plenty of figureheads across the world do regularly speak out against Saudi Arabia’s medieval laws towards women and justice, or, with more immediate relevance to the metal scene, there has been a fairly prominent narrative within the limited but active black metal scene in the Middle East towards a variety of positions on Islam.
There’s the second wave black metal approach of the now sadly defunct Damaar, whose grinding, anti-Islamic diatribes can be seen on the same level as the unholy – and at the time incredibly controversial – volleys of Deicide or Morbid Angel in the early ‘90s (artists who genuinely lived in areas where fundamental Christianity affected day to day life), or the more constructive, sentimental veneration of a pre-Islamic society found in the music of Akvan. There are plenty of figures in black metal validly railing against Islam, and to do so is genuinely transgressive and dangerous in Islamic theocracies such as Iraq – and vitally, the critiques are based on first hand experiences of the use of Islamic ideology to perpetuate oppression.
As someone from a white Christian country, to rail against right-wing Christian society when it’s affected your life is transgressive and valid. However, as a band comprised of white men, originating from a white, Christian society, to espouse anti-Islamic hatred in your merch, your music or your actions isn’t transgressive or rebellious, it’s a move very much in line with the position many in the establishment take. Islamophobia is rife in western society from the top to the bottom. When figures such as Boris Johnson are allowed to maintain their platforms even after making blatantly Islamophobic comments, or when far-right political parties make massive gains – as they did in Sweden’s last election – what is transgressive or in any way anti-establishment about Islamophobia?
Islamophobia can be more or less boiled down to a fear of an Islamic invasion by feral hordes of brown people – has its roots both in the 18th-century definitions of race, and medieval Christianity, which rather moots the anti-establishment, “anti-human” sentiment. Shouldn’t a true hatred of religion be centred far more around the monolithically patriarchal, conservative power structures that exist within organised religion of almost all forms? If you genuinely hate all things, why are you so bothered about people of different colours and creeds inhabiting your “homelands”? Upon closer inspection, the excuse that Islamophobia in black metal is justified because of the inherent hatefulness of the music crumbles when you introduce far-right blood and soil thematics. Instead, this so-called anti-religious sentiment seeks to persecute the individual through the myth of the Islamic invasion.
Taking an anti-Islamic stance, or criticising Islam within your thematics can be legitimate, depending on the context. However, when you mix your anti-Islam sentiment up with far-right thematics and aesthetics (i.e. if you tell the promoter of a show to go “suck a Muslim” after painting a swastika on your chest during a show), or with that of “traditional” (i.e: white) heathen or cultural themes, as Myrkur has done, you are perpetrating Islamophobia, and the dangerous ignorance which underlies modern Islamophobia. Islamophobia is not “evil” and it doesn’t work under the idea of universal hatred (universal hatred being an anachronistic, mum’s basement-tier concept notwithstanding) – how is supporting the right-wing establishment or being sentimental about how “pure” your society is perpetuating universal hatred? Islamophobic sentiment in black metal, from artists, record labels, or mouth-breathing incels on social media reinforces hatred, which actually affects real people’s quality of life.
In the words of Dr Nazeef Ahmed on Melanie Phillips’ disgusting sentiment toward Islam, “I’m not ‘offended’ by this bullshit – I am maligned, marginalised and demonised by this bullshit”. Across Northern Europe, the far-right is on the rise, and, to no great surprise, across Europe, racially-charged hate crimes are on the rise. Sweden, the home of many a right-wing black metal act – including ambiguous Iron Cross appropriators extraordinaire Marduk – played host to a spate of disgraceful attacks on Mosques over Christmas. The far right is no joke, and is active across the western world – and every time a band or public figure actively espouses the casual Islamophobia so often peddled in the modern day, it strengthens those who wish to commit such baseless acts of hatred.
To attach a wanky sentiment of universal hatred or of anti-humanity to these acts is similarly disgraceful. Sure, you can drone on about evil or hatred for humanity or whatever trve kvlt concept you believe you adhere to or respect, but if you’re going to use such concepts to excuse or perpetuate Islamophobia, you are literally affecting other people’s quality of life. If your favourite band is expressing these sentiments, don’t excuse your support of them by espousing “good” riffs or childish, neo-philosophical musings on nihilism, because in reality, every time you excuse racist sentiment in this way, you enable real-life hatred.
You may notice that we haven’t capitalised the word nazi in this feature. This is not a mistake – this is an intentional decision. We do not wish to legitimise far-right sentiment in any way by capitalising this word, and we will continue not to do so.
Words: Richard Lowe