NSBM (and possibly NSFW)

 

 

 bmhitlerIt’s not National, to my knowledge it’s rarely socialist, but it mostly is black metal; National Socialist Black Metal (hereafter, NSBM) annoys people by being ‘too evil’, or at least evil in the wrong way. As the snuff movie is to the horror movie, it seems, NSBM is to BM. There are a couple of flaws in this analogy; firstly, it suggests that black metal in general is, like horror movies, some kind of fantasy (which it certainly often is, but isn’t necessarily) and secondly, that NSBM isn’t some kind of fantasy (see previous parentheses). The Nazis of World War 2 probably represent the ‘ultimate evil’ to people of the post-war generations, because whereas even the worst serial killers of the 20th century ‘worked’ on an individual, localised scale, the Nazis made murder into an ideology and ultimately an industry; that is, they functioned in ways that are relevant and relate-able to the daily lives and experiences of most people; the mundane quality of extermination, of ‘death factories’ is ultimately more frightening than a lone maniac. So is Nazi black metal the embodiment of that evil and therefore the ultimate in musical terrorism? Let’s see…

Defining NSBM

Let me be clear; I am not discussing heathen/pagan/folk BM that may or may not be perceived to have a Nazi angle to it; interesting though that scene is (and Graveland is the classic example of a sometimes great band whose career has been blighted by the media’s – and indeed the band’s own – inability to differentiate between history and ideology) the term ‘Nazi’ is too specific and anachronistic to be very useful when discussing paganism, heritage etc. Here, I am more concerned with bands whose work fully intends to glorify that specific NS ideology, and whose output can be represented by artwork like this:

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nazi

The first question is, is NSBM any good? Just like any black metal, the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. On occasion, the mixture of the classic sound of orthodox BM with the particular (and let’s not beat around the bush, racist and especially, anti-Semitic) kind of extreme bile that a Nazi band projects can be extremely effective. Even a modestly-talented middle-of-the-road orthodox BM band like Poland’s Ohtar were able to make something nightmarishly gripping out of tunes that, had they been devoted to Satan, would have just been too overfamiliar. In that (but not only that) respect, NSBM is comparable to Christian Black Metal – it may sometimes be okay as sound, but that doesn’t make it right.

ohtar

Given the existence of such subgenres as ambient BM and folk BM, perhaps the only essential ingredient of black metal is Satanism, in one form or another; and the good thing about Satanism is that it can mean many things to many people. Therefore you have the kind of religious goats ‘n’ horns Satanism that is the polar opposite of Christian metal, exemplified I guess by Watain. Related, but not necessarily requiring any religious belief, there is Lucifer, the fallen angel, analogous to humankind; the cosmic light-bringer with the key to forbidden knowledge. As the philosophical figure of the adversary, Satan can simply be seen as the ultimate rebel; the perfect icon for black metal.

Misanthropy: a group activity?

Filosofem

In fact, some of the best black metal, even by those with Nazi links (Burzum being the best and most obvious example) is metaphysical and above all personal. Like any music that people put their souls into, BM isn’t ‘just music’ – and no-one could deny that in the early 90s, people like Dead and Varg Vikernes lived the music they made. Whatever his political views were or are, Varg Vikernes has the sense to realise that, while his views may be shared by many, his thoughts and feelings are his alone and at its best, Burzum’s music is an expression of those feelings. Filosofem, probably his finest work, expresses a kind of solitary desolation through lyrics that are almost abstract in their elemental bareness, making it endlessly appealing to those metal fans (and not just metal fans) who feel alienated from modern urban society and the mainstream music scene.

As an alternative (or even an accompaniment) to this kind of individualistic Satanic philosophy, National Socialism is highly inadequate; it’s too specific, too political, too ephemeral, too small. Anyone reading Mein Kampf can have no doubt that, to Adolf Hitler, National Socialism was a deeply felt personal philosophy. But anyone following it now should be aware that that’s exactly what they are doing – following someone else’s ideology, living someone else’s dream. Not to be too dictatorial about it, but surely although BM isn’t all that some of its proponents make it out to be, following a failed idea from the recent past is fundamentally not what the genre is supposed to be about.

Wolfenhords+107665_photoAnother key band who helped to ignite the idea of NSBM while definitely not belonging to it were Darkthrone, but as is obvious from looking at their work, their brief flirtation with the language of NS, even evaluated from a politically neutral point of view, actually undermined the impact of their music. The album which caused the controversy is also the one which cemented the band’s reputation as scene leaders, despite the fact that it is significantly weaker than the two which preceded it; 1993’s Transilvanian Hunger. The title track is one of the band’s best ever songs, but it also helps to illustrate where they went wrong. The (not surprisingly) vampiric lyrics are classic black metal, an almost romantic view of misanthropy, forever making cold one of the keywords of the genre. The narrator is utterly divorced not only from society but from humanity. And yet, at the same time as putting forward this image of inhumanity/antihumanity, the band chose, famously, to include the statement Norsk Arisk Black Metal (‘Norwegian Aryan Black Metal’) on the album’s sleeve. What the Aryan or Iranian (or Indo-European or however you choose to interpret ‘Aryan’) people have to do with Norway is anyone’s guess, and if we are to presume that the vampire of Transilvanian Hunger believes in some kind of racialist ideology it can only undermine the song with baggage it most definitely doesn’t need. Which raises another problem with National Socialist ideology in relation to BM; it’s too nice.

Nazism is too nice

This statement clearly needs elaboration. Misanthropy, whether or not it is a viable design for life, is all-encompassing. Nazism is definitively unpleasant, but – examining even the term ‘National Socialism’ – it most definitely cannot be said to be anti-social, let alone misanthropic. Therefore NSBM, although at first it may seem like the ne plus ultra of darkness, actually has a reductive effect compared to the stance of the classic ‘second wave’ of BM. As a misanthrope, you can’t ‘belong’, to be a member of some kind of elite society, you must ‘belong’. Sweet.

The Inclusiveness of true evil?

Standing for ‘all the darkness of humanity’ (variations of this dedication have appeared on album sleeves since the dawn of the 90s and are still going strong; a recent one in my own experience being Malaysians Nefkarata’s (very good) Morts, dedicated to “All Evil In Man”) would by necessity include Hitler & Co alongside Jewish serial killer David Berkowitz and Caligula, Idi Amin, Margaret Thatcher etc, etc, but the most strident NS bands are so dedicated to that vague and misunderstood thing, ‘Aryanism’ that basically it’s all about one short, albeit turbulent, period of the 20th century. And for all the true NSBM band’s xenophobic, elitist rhetoric, it should be remembered that historically, Nazis were not only mainly Germanic (whereas NSBM bands are as or more likely to spring from North or South America as anywhere else) but also – and for a totalitarian ‘might-is-right’ philosophy this is extremely important – the losers.

The glamour of atrocity

ilsa

Like it or not, it’s undeniable that Nazism and especially the holocaust, have a certain frisson; hence the existence of Nazi exploitation movies like Salon Kitty, Ilsa, She-wolf of the SS and (slightly more ambitiously) The Night Porter.

Awareness of this frisson is at the heart of one of Stephen King’s better pieces of writing; the opening chapters of Apt Pupil, and a disapproving awareness of it was behind the predictable moral panic which greeted Martin Amis’ deeply non-exploitative Time’s Arrow. This special atmosphere is definitely part of the allure of certain kinds of NSBM; mostly the sillier kind made by bands with ‘Aryan’ in their name – and an album cover that features a photograph of Nazi atrocities with a black metal logo has a kind of spurious impressiveness that makes it stand out amidst the hordes of unreadable scrawls, inverted crosses, enthroned goats etc.

“Nazi Moods”

Perhaps the most artistically successful Nazi-themed or related BM is the ambient kind, partly because, however unappetising it may sound from a pop-music perspective, the mix of  sombre, wintry and minimalist electronica with martial themes and archive recordings of WWII-era radio broadcasts, speeches and music is incredibly evocative and paradoxically, strangely emotionally involving.

Similarly, the kind of artwork that accompanies these releases tends to be evocativwewele rather than visceral; black and white photographs of landmarks like Zakupy Chateau, Schlöss Wewelsburg, the Wolf’s Lair; crumbling monuments, statues or ruins. This kind of aesthetic has a deep appeal which matches the music, boring if you don’t like it, but strangely moving if you do, even for those who completely reject the ideology behind it. Compared to standard NSBM, this is a very grey area; whereas a record with a cover image of a mountain of emaciated corpses and a name like ‘Aryan Sturm’ can be reasonably presumed to be an NSBM album, a masterpiece like Tronus Abyss’ Kampf – which has many of the hallmarks of an NS ambient project as listed above cannot (and shouldn’t) be easily labelled NSBM. The band do explore avenues of mysticism associated with the Third Reich, they do use martial themes and evoke the ruins of postwar Europe, but it would be difficult (and futile) to try to demonstrate that Kampf is a ‘Nazi album’, any more than Oliver Hirschbiegel’s superb and similarly evocative Der Untergang is a ‘Nazi film’.

tronus_abyss_kampf600    Untergang,-Der

Banning Nazism; the ultimate irony

In recent times, the escalating paranoia about right-wing extremity (alongside, ironically or maybe obviously, a tolerance among people for actual right-wing extremity) has led to some high-profile cases of BM bands being prevented from playing live, especially in Germany. Most of these bands have of course not been Nazis at all – and it is intolerable that these bands have had their livelihood threatened over what is basically the same kind of metal-phobic ignorance that led to US burnings of Number of the Beast in the early 80s.

Banning any kind of art is a ridiculous, futile gesture which has (to my knowledge) never had any positive results except to energise those opposing the regime in charge. On the other hand, actual NS bands should be quite pleased; banning is a classic Nazi trait, which should give them hope for the future of the reich.

 nazifamb

 

 

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