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Alasdhair MhicMhaolain – The Call of Aryan Spirit: National Socialism and black metal

The Call of Aryan Spirit: National Socialism and

black metal

“Music is an artform, and I always thought art was beyond censorship.”

- Varg Vikernes (Minton, 2010)

Like the wayward lovechild of a respected gentleman, national socialist black metal is

something that is often alluded to but never openly discussed. It is considered by many to

be the dirty, dirty secret at the heart of a genre that is finally receiving the musical

validation they feel it deserves. In short, national socialist black metal, often shortened to

NSBM, is the elephant in the room of black metal. It is this essay's purpose to chart the

evolution of NSBM as a genre. To trace how the definitions and boundaries that define

what exactly 'NSBM' is have changed and shifted from it's rough beginnings in 1996 to its

present day incarnation. I will list four examples to show how National Socialism and black

metal interact, then use them to create a single argument. This could then be presented as

a model for how extremist ideologies evolve and interact with art and the society around it.

Given that it is a key factor in this discussion, it is important I define what exactly 'National

Socialism' is. National Socialism is a fascist, political doctrine that seeks to promote “anti-

Semitism, state control of the economy... national expansion” (Collins, 1984, p. 750) and

“[to] establish the [dominance] and guarantee the future of Aryan blood” (Weinstein, 1980,

sleevenotes).

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Alasdhair MhicMhaolain – The Call of Aryan Spirit: National Socialism and black metal

As a musical style, black metal is actually quite difficult to pin down and give a solid

definition to, largely because it is so often defined as what it is not (Strachan, 2009a) or

what it once was (Birchenall, 2008). Broadly speaking however, the musical styling of

black metal could be described as music with:

“...fast tempos, shrieked vocals, highly distorted guitars played with tremolo picking,

blast beat drumming, and unconventional song structure” ('Black Metal', 2010).

There are many different things that can cause a band or artist to become associated with

the Nazi ideology – sometimes something as small as an offhand comment or an ill-

advised affiliation. Once that association has been made, the tag of 'NSBM' has a

tendency to hang over all future works by that artist, whether that tag is warranted or not.

One striking example of this would be Burzum, the solo project of Varg Vikernes. With

Burzum, Varg was one of the first artists to play within the black metal style of music, and

is therefore regarded as one of the original founding fathers of the modern scene today

(Patterson, 2010). He also holds a far darker title; that of being the first black metal artist to

be accused of mixing National Socialist ideologies with his music.

This association began after Varg was sentenced to jail in 1993 for the murder of fellow

scene member Øystein Aarseth (Minton & Hinchcliffe, 2009). He almost immediately

began work on the book “Vargsmål” in which he outlined his worldview and expressly

stated that he was a Nazi. This book was published in 1996 ('Vargsmål', 2010). The

extreme political views contained within this book naturally caused a backlash against

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Alasdhair MhicMhaolain – The Call of Aryan Spirit: National Socialism and black metal

Varg and by association; the music of Burzum as well. This backlash caused many to shy

away from supporting the music of Burzum for fear of becoming associated with Varg's

extreme politics. In an attempt to isolate him from the black metal scene in general, many

began to refer to Burzum's music as National Socialist black metal ('National Socialist

black metal', 2010), despite the lyrical themes of the music having nothing to do with

politics.

In many ways, the music of Burzum was incorrectly labelled as NSBM. As Varg himself

stated in an interview:

“...you can, of course, view Burzum and [myself] as separate entities, as you [are

able to] like the first and dislike the other, or vice versa” (Minton, 2010)

This explicitly states that Varg sees a line between his work in Burzum and his own

thoughts and feelings, therefore he did not feel he was actively promoting his political

views through his music.

So why did so many people regard Burzum as NSBM? It is because once a tag such as

NSBM is placed upon an artist, that artist then become stigmatized by potential listeners.

This could be for several reasons; for instance, they may not wish to be associated with

the extreme politics or they may wish to boycott the art of the people they find offensive. It

all boils down to their unwillingness to explore the exact nature of the relationship between

the man, his beliefs and the music.

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Alasdhair MhicMhaolain – The Call of Aryan Spirit: National Socialism and black metal

So, in this case, the very first mention of 'NSBM'; all that was needed was for the artist

associated with the music to make a political statement and this then quickly spread to the

music. There was an unwillingness to explore further. Here then, in the first case of

National Socialism and black metal interacting, 'NSBM' was black metal created by

someone associated with National Socialism.

It is not always the case that an artist's politics can be so easily separated from their

music, if it is even possible to find a clear cut answer of what exactly those politics are at

all. Nokturnal Mortum are such a band. Nokturnal Mortum are somewhat of an anomaly

among bands branded with the NSBM tag. Most bands will quickly find their popularity

wavering in the face of such accusations, but Nokturnal Mortum have found their

popularity continually growing despite their association with NSBM (Strachan, 2009b).

This association began with the release of their third album proper Нехристь (NeChrist) in

1999. The album contained 88 tracks, with tracks 10-86 each being 4 seconds long and

containing 'ambient nature noises' (Нехристь, 2004). 88 may seem like an inconspicuous

number, but within neo-Nazi circles it is shorthand for 'Heil, Hitler!' - H being the 8th letter of

the alphabet, therefore 88 is HH ('The BNP Next Door', 2010). A series of ambiguous

statements from the band only made matters worse, and following a series accusations

from fellow scene members ('Lucifugum Interview', 2010), Nokturnal Mortum picked up the

NSBM tag.

However, as Nokturnal Mortum's popularity grew, the band attempted to put as much

distance between themselves and any kind of politics at all, claiming in an interview in

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Alasdhair MhicMhaolain – The Call of Aryan Spirit: National Socialism and black metal

2006 that they “never saw Nokturnal Mortum as political band” and they were “not

interested in any [political] currents” ('Frostkamp Interview With Nokturnal Mortum', 2010).

This appears to contradict previous statements made by the band, but that aside, does this

mean that Nokturnal Mortum are still viewed as a NSBM band?

No, they are not. Whilst it is, of course, impossible to get a definitive answer - there are

many participants in the black metal scene – a great majority of them do not view

Nokturnal Mortum as a NSBM band. However, that is not to say that they were never

viewed as a NSBM band. With the release of an album that specifically promoted a

national socialist ideology; song titles such as The Call of Aryan Spirit leave little to the

imagination, Nokturnal Mortum linked the two worlds of NSBM together. So in this case,

only three years after the release of Vargsmål, NSBM could be defined as black metal

music that actively promotes the national socialist ideology.

Perhaps the most recent band to cause National Socialism and black metal to interact

would be the case of the Norwegian musician Ørjan Stedjeberg, sole member of the band

Taake. In March 2007, Stedjeberg played a concert in Essen, Germany with a swastika

painted on his chest ('Taake', 2010). This incident caused the subsequent dates of that

tour to be cancelled, removals from various festival bills, the label to consider removing

Taake from their roster and “volumes of hate mail” (Selzer, 2009). There is nothing new

about spicing up extreme music with something that may be considered 'shocking' by

many (Toland, 2008), but the political nature of this 'shock' is what made it different in the

eyes of many.

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Alasdhair MhicMhaolain – The Call of Aryan Spirit: National Socialism and black metal

Despite all this controversy, Taake is not widely regarded as an NSBM band. Why then, is

this the case? One possible explanation was offered by Stedjeberg himself:

“...we are definitely not Nazis. We only used that symbol as another symbol for evil.

The usual symbols, the pentagram and inverted cross, don't invoke reactions any

more.” (Horsley, 2008)

He appears to believe people did not label Taake NSBM because the artistic intent behind

his use of the swastika was to shock and not endorse. However, it is doubtful that those

attending the concert would have had an immediate understanding of this artistic intent,

therefore I will offer another explanation.

It is my belief that the NSBM tag did not stick because the symbols behind National

Socialism are losing their power and impact. During the concert itself “[there were no]

immediate reactions from the crowd” (Selzer, 2009), and Stedjeberg “didn't receive any

confrontation” ('Taake frontman refuses to apologize for 'raping' Essen', 2010) from those

within the scene. Let us not forget that those symbols pre-dated National Socialism by

over 2000 years (Minton, 2008), and as such already had a history and lineage. Whilst I

am not suggesting that this elder lineage is reasserting itself, I am suggesting that the

black and white view of what these symbols mean is fading. No longer is it a case of the

usage of the symbols being enough to brand a band with NSBM, as these symbols no

longer necessarily mean the band is national socialist in nature.

The final example I will use is perhaps gives us the most contemporary definition of

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Alasdhair MhicMhaolain – The Call of Aryan Spirit: National Socialism and black metal

NSBM. The membership of Темнозорь is a constant revolving door of musicians, and

trying to find a definitive list of who is in the band at any given time is like trying to write

words onto water. Their connection to NSBM began when a member of Темнозорь gave

an interview to resistance magazine in 2004. In this interview he claimed that the purpose

of the music was to “[invoke] the flame of the Aryan heathen spirit in the hearts of the

young” ('Темнозорь Interview', 2010) - which of course means the music fulfils all the key

tenets NSBM. However, in a subsequent blog post on their MySpace page in 2009 stated

that “Темнозорь obviously has no relation to modern politics” ('FW: Statement from Kroda',

2010).

So, this creates a dilemma; is Темнозорь NSBM? According to some members, they

definitely are, but according to others they have nothing to do with it. As it is impossible to

ascertain exactly which of the aforementioned members are still part of the Темнозорь

collective (for the word 'band' is perhaps too regimented), it is also impossible to

accurately ascertain whether the music is or is not NSBM. Perhaps then I should turn to a

quote by the aforementioned band Nokturnal Mortum:

“...[the music acts as a] mirror – each of our listeners sees in the [art] created by

[the] band that [which they want] to see and feel for [themselves].”

By this definition then, NSBM is entirely in the eyes of the beholder. It is the listener who

assigns meaning to the lyrics, symbols and themes of the music; be it political or

otherwise. This apparent separation of politics from the music could be indicative of the

NSBM 'scene' collapsing in on itself and no longer being a valid entity in the music scene.

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Alasdhair MhicMhaolain – The Call of Aryan Spirit: National Socialism and black metal

However, evidence shows that this scene has not simply 'gone away'. There are still a

plethora of bands that mix National Socialism with black metal, and they do not look like

they are going anywhere soon (Strachan, 2009b).

Perhaps then the interaction of National Socialism and black metal can be viewed like a

sudden explosion that leaves smouldering ashes in it's wake. When something as extreme

as NSBM is 'birthed' it pushes against the boundaries of that art form. As the boundaries of

art are not rigid or set in stone, they will eventually expand to fit this once 'shocking' sub-

genre, reducing it's ability to be shocking. This reduces the impact of the genre greatly, but

there is still a simmering undercurrent of bands that truly embrace NSBM – these are

smouldering ashes left behind.

I believe that this explosion/smouldering ashes model can be used to model the

interactions of extremism and art, indeed it has been seen in other situations within the

genre of black metal, for instance; the rise and fall of Satanism within the genre (Strachan,

2009c). Art by it's very nature will always push boundaries, and therefore will always

embrace extremism on some level. Art will be art, as they say.

“Black metal has developed much more [into a music] style than into an ideology”

- Gaahl, former vocalist of Gorgoroth (Tracey, 2006)

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Alasdhair MhicMhaolain – The Call of Aryan Spirit: National Socialism and black metal

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