When people think of black metal and politics, odds are they think of bands who are on the far-right of the spectrum. It’s no surprise. Fascist imagery abounds in black metal, to the extent that it’s considered utterly normal by some, and there’s a long history of some of the big names of the genre espousing authoritarian, prejudiced views; and this is to say nothing of the whole NSBM sub-genre. But recent years have seen more and more bands making explicitly anti-fascist black metal. There’s always been those who have had views we would now recognise as anti-fascist – most notably Summoning – but that’s not always come across in their music. So, here are five bands playing various styles of black metal, where you won’t need to follow up on interviews to know their anti-fascist leanings.
One of the most note-worthy of anti-fascist black metal bands, UK trio Dawn Ray’d released The Unlawful Assembly last year, garnering the band considerable attention. And rightfully so – its mixture of heathen black metal, anarchist screamo influences, and traditional folk music is one of the most vital, important things to be happening in black metal right now, and was the best album of 2017. Their lyrics cover not just straight-forward anti-fascism, but there’s an intersectional approach to the topic, considering how different factors play in upholding unjust systems of power. Their shows are cathartic, emotionally driven affairs, and each one that I’ve been to has also included a short explanation of why the band do what they do, that feels not like a band who are preaching to the converted, but who treat the audience as their equals.
One of the best post-black metal/blackgaze bands around right now, Nottingham’s Underdark have been restlessly gigging since their formation in 2015, making them stalwarts of the local scene. A Deafheaven comparison is impossible to avoid, but Underdark’s sound is much more hard-hitting, with a raw, nakedly emotional edge that made debut EP Mourning Cloak a remarkably cathartic, personal listen. Their anti-fascism is usually expressed in more poetic terms than other bands here, though their merch proclaiming “a shallow grave for every fascist“, featuring an image of that punch, makes their feelings clear.
A Congregation of Horns
Anti-fascism isn’t usually associated with war metal – if anything, ideologies on the opposite side of the political spectrum are more common within the sub-genre – but the Blasphemy-worship of A Congregation of Horns depicts a world in which Nazis are slaughtered in battle, with the anti-fascist Goat Cult burning the failed reich to the ground. It’s a wonderful inversion of the authoritarianism that most war metal seems to embrace, and it’s remarkable how natural a fit lyrics against oppression and tyranny are for the war metal sound. Of all of Pope Richard’s many projects, this could well become my favourite. The EP is due for release on 15 January 2018, and I can confirm that it is crushing.
Anarchist black metal is typically be associated with the more punk-infused side of the genre, and Austrians Schattenlicht certainly possess the spirit of protest and fury associated with such sounds; but they also add some atmospheric touches. Their Wedwerfmensch EP, released last year, combined metalpunk energy with spacious grandeur and melancholic melodies. The longest running band on this list, Schattenlicht have been flying the anti-fascist black metal flag since 2010, and though they’re yet to release a full-length, their EPs and split release to date are of such quality that when they do, it will surely be one to sit up and take notice of.
Conjuring up atmospheric and devastating magics, Smuteční Slavnost‘s sound is filled with fury and melancholia in equal measure. There might be a hint of the kind of wood-dwelling spirit that the likes of Wolves in the Throne Room popularised, but the Czech band’s music also has a desperation and vitality born of punk rock, with songs such as ‘…a pátý jezdec je Strach’ finding the middle ground between atmospheric black metal and chaotic hardcore, whilst ‘Zákonitost střídá chtíč’ features gorgeous post-hardcore movements. Their lyrics are often poetic, but some songs – such as ‘Ansuz’ – state things plainly, declaring “Odin was not a racist, homophobe or sexist! My nationality is not a weapon!”
These are hardly the only black metal bands fighting the good fight against fascism and prejudice; and there are plenty more out there who may not tackle such subjects through their music, but do so individually, simply by treating people with the kindness and respect deserved by all humans. I would also like to take this opportunity to promote the new Worldwide Organization of Metalheads Against Nazis from Blackened Death Records; the Dark Skies Above Us collective; and the Black Metal Alliance, all of whom are involved in organizing charity compilations with anti-fascist aims.