Heavy metal is about, amongst other things, history. Much in the same way that works of fantasy, sci-fi and horror offer endless source material to the budding lyricist, the ceaseless shifting of events and ideas provide a near-infinite bank of images, concepts and moments to draw upon. In metal’s own 50-year history we’ve seen everything from Iron Maiden’s ‘The Trooper’ wading through the bloodshed of the Crimean War, to Salem’s mournful preservation of the Holocaust (and the moral opposite, in NSBM bands glorifying fascist iconography). Whilst escaping reality through the embrace of fiction has proven to be consistently appealing for many musicians, those that actively confront historical reality are hardly spoilt for choice. Indeed, works that do engage with the past can feel powerful, inspiring and tangible because they actually happened.
So, then, we live in a world where the phrase “Ukrainian World War I blackened death metal” exists. Enter 1914, whose second album The Blind Leading the Blind was released last November on Napalm, now being reissued due to popular demand – a clear sign of their quality and appeal. Their take on blackened death is invigorating, particularly in their use of spoken samples which tie the passages together excellently – just as one might be able to catch a moment’s reprieve from shellfire in the Somme. Singer, WWI fanatic and archaeologist Ditmar Kumarburg’s complete authenticity is the core of the group; their concept was entirely his making, and it elevates 1914 beyond mere gimmickry. We’re treated to a song that describes the fate of one of the few German tanks to see combat (A7V Mephisto), a version of the war song Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire (also covered by Chumbawumba) and an Exploited cover for good measure. The band’s combination of styles and utterly sincere songwriting powerfully captures the violent, chaotic, miserable existence that befell so many across the war’s various fronts, whilst approaching the war itself with a scholar’s eye for detail.
We live in a time where such clarity of vision is under threat from a fascist resurgence. The right have no care for historical accuracy – to them the past is either a collection of moral fables, a reassertion of their racial supremacy or statistics to be misused by fuckwits like Stefan Molyneux. The bewildering, immense complexity of human society and the legacy of each and every event is too much for those who resist political transformation, so the answer is simple: wilfully distort the vast array of events, ideas and legacies that comprise history into a narrative which justifies their continued hold on various forms of power. Even in metal we confront a latent alt-right contingent, and it must be acted against. By never sparing the gory details, recognising the power struggles inherent to historical events and tackling the subject with sincerity, bands such as 1914 give us the tools to do so.
The Blind Leading The Blind is reissued on 31st May via Napalm Records and can be purchased here
Words: David Burke