For decades, "heavy metal" music has been linked to Satanism and the occult. In the 1970s, this image waspromoted by rock stars intent on buoying sagging careers with a little controversy. Now, what was once done for shock value and to sell records has evolved in to a conscious attempt to spread neo-Nazi ideology among American youths.
Heavy metal, like all music, is constantly evolving and being reinvented. New generations build on the past, pushing the envelope of what is acceptable andadding new twists to the music and its message. Today's new generation of metalbands, known as the black metal underground, is so extreme it makes Marilyn Manson look square. For those who want to turn teenage angst into hatred, this metal scene is a natural target. "We want evil to gain more power in the world, and that we achieve through being evil ," is the way that black metal poster boy Varg Vikernes pur it. Vikernes practices what he preaches. A key Norwegian black metal figure, Vikernes is in prison there for beheading his best friend. He endorses fascism, child sacrifice and torture. In the 1990S, Vikernes and others in the Norwegian black metal "inner circle" were accused of inciting dozens of anti-Christian church arsons and carrying out attacks on gays and people of color.
Racially speaking, there is nothing "black" about the black metal music scene. Like heavy metal, most of its fans are white and suburban. Black metal got its name because it embraces darkness and evil. Its fans in general are turned off by Christianity and see society as destined for collapse, a deserving victim of its own goody-goody hypocrisy.
Music Matters: Words to Action
The music - and its increasing identification with neo-Nazi ideology - is important. While many adults find it hard to imagine being swayed by the lyrics of rock bands, the fact is that for many youths music does play just such a role. As dozens of people who have left the scene have testified, teenagers who listen to the songs hundreds of times actually are affected by the words. With the white supremacist lyrics echoing in their heads, a certain percentage of these still-forming youths are transformed into full -fledged haters.
"The music we listened to, how we talked, it got into your mind," says Randall Rojas, a 23-year-old in jail on a murder charge. "Then you'd start acting like that. You'd be doing speed and the lyrics would come into your mind, lyrics like 'Eating your insides, rah, rah, rah, smashing your brains, rah, rah, rah .' Real vulgar stuff. Hatred. I don't think any young person should listen to that stuff.It will alter your mind."
Thomas Powell, 19, another California Skinhead and devotee of racist rock, describes It like this: "[T]hey talk about killing and they just pump you up, you know." Words, for these youths, often become action. Among others, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris - who murdered 12 of their classmates and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado last April - were said to have been influenced by this kind of music. The majority of black metal fans, of course, are not threatening to burn down their neighborhood church and are not active neo-Nazis. Most are into it for the music, the style, the nihilism that seems so attractive to many a rebellious and alienated teenager. But solidly ensconced within the scene are neo-Nazis hoping to take advantage of the black metal fan's penchant for the dark side to spread neo-fascist ideology. In addition to the concerts held in both Europe and the United States, these ideologues are using the World Wide Web to build connections and solidarity within the neo-Nazi youth scene - a development that is deeply troubling because of the popularity of metal amongsmall town youths.
It didn't start out this way.
'They Have Crossed the Line'
Since the 1970s, metal has diversified from the power blues of Led Zeppelin into what are known as speed metal, death metal, grindcore and black metal. Some metal bands were offshoots of punk rock and promoted independent thought and action, while others appealed to the dark side, pushing the envelope in their lyrics, performances and lifestyles to the edge. Black metal has fully embraced this dark side.
Black metal emerged in the early 1980s, when the English band Venom coinedthe term. The band's songs of Satan and evil inspired a generation - to the chagrin, ultimately, of their creators. In 1992, Venom's former leader Cronos, now a fitness instructor, spoke of his disdain for the violence of successor bands he helped to inspire. "They have crossed the line," he told Orcustus Magazine. But it was a bit late for regrets. Many of Cronos' young fans, like Vikernes, had come to relish the evil that for Cronos was merely an act. Musically, black metal has been called a teenage soundtrack to the battle between good and evil. The music has an atonal quality, blazing fast guitar riffs, violent nihilistic lyrics that are growled instead of sung, and ambient keyboard and synthesizer sounds. In appearance, the genre'smusicians have not strayed far from the traditional heavy metal look - long hair and metal-studded leather jackets. Some don Viking attire, complete with robes, swords and other medieval trappings. Many others are into "corpse paint," thepallid black-and-white makeup popularized, among other places, in the movie"The Crow."
Satan, Christianity and Nietzsche
By definition, black metal bands are vehemently anti-Christian. Some follow this line because of their belief in Satan as a deity, while others see themselves as independent thinkers opposed to the supposed "sheep-like mentality" of Christianity. Others adhere to pre-Christian theologies like Odinism, Asatrú and other polytheistic pagan faiths. Many in the scene are extremely wellread. Most have attended or are in college, and they are quick to quote everyone from Heidegger to Shakespeare - although the universal favorite is Friedrich Nietzsche. It is the combination of the "will to power" philosophy of Nietzsche and the ethnic nationalism that is often associated with the worship of pagan gods that first pointed some in the scene coward violent racism and anti-Semitism.
Over the past five years, black metal has grown exponentially in the United States, and with it a frightening group that promotes "black music for white people." Neo-Nazism, white power, hatred of Jews and people of color is building in the black metal scene and forging alliances outside of metal. The magazine ofResistance Records, the one-time powerhouse label of the neo-Nazi Skinheadscene, has interviewed key players in the so-called National Socialist Black Metal Underground, known by its shorthand designation of NSBM Underground. In1995, Resistance magazine introduced racist Skinheads to this new subculture. Four years later, no introduction is necessary. Neo-Nazi Skinheads and black metal enthusiasts have proven co be a fine match. Nearly every U.S. racist music distributor, from Resistance to Panzerfaust Records of Minnesota and Tri-State Terror of Pennsylvania, now sells "White Death," a compilation that features racist Skinhead bands as well as neo-Nazi metal bands from Europe. Another example of the confluence of Skins and black metal is found in the racist Polish band Graveland, whose first album is "Heeding the Call of the Blood." Graveland is composed of a typical black metal enthusiast, corpse paint and all, and a Skinhead.
'Lords of Chaos'
In the United States, the NSBM Underground is led by an organization calling itself the Pagan Front, a loose coalition of music labels, bands, organizationsand individuals from around the world. One of these music labels, Dungeons ofDarkness, recently produced a compact disc entitled "The Night and the Fog: ATribute to the National Socialist Black Metal Underground."
Run by three students at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Dungeons ofDarkness is closely tied to Darker Than Black Records in Germany (run by Hendrik Mobus, who served time in prison for murder); to Tellurian Battleground Productions (run by an individual calling himself "Orcrist, the Jewslayer"); and to Breath of Night Records (based in Dekalb, Ill., and run by a student at Northern Illinois Universiry who is working toward a doctoral degree in philosophy). The Pagan Front, which communicates primarily via the Internet, has forged ties to the Heathen Front, an international organization in which Vikernes remains a key player. Through its Web page, the Heathen Front sells Vikernes' racist and anti-Semitic book, Vargsmall, and provides a discussion group and a newsletter devoted to promoting its heathen - or more accurately, neo-Nazi - agenda. The "Vinland" (U.S.) chapter of the Heathen Front is led by James Mason, a one-time member of the American Nazi Party and present leader of the Universal Order, a cult-like group that sees Charles Manson in heroic terms as history's second HitIer. Mason's book on Manson was put out bythe PortIand, Ore.-based artist, writer and musician Michael J. Moynihan. Moynihan - who is the author of Lords of Chaos, a book on Vikernes and the Norwegian church arsons - leads the black metal band Blood Axis, which hasdrawn anti-racist protests in the United States. Moynihan makes few bones abouthis views: "If fascism will restore some sense of order, discipline and responsibility to the world," he told Compulsion Magazine, "then I am all for it." Asked about the Holocaust, Moynihan told No Longer A Fanzine that "the number of six million [Jews murdered] is jusr arbitrary and inaccurate, and probably a gross exaggeration .... It's not as if I'd be upset to find out the Nazis did commit every atrocity that's been ascribed to them. I'd prefer it were true.""If I were given the opportunity to start up the next holocaust," he added, "I would definitely have far more lenient entrance requirements than the Nazis did."
Nazis and Metal: The Confluence
Further evidence of the black metal Nazi confluence in America:
• Denver resident Boyd Rice, founder of the band NON, is often referred to as the vanguard of the American black metal scene. Rice was an early member of theneo-Nazi Skinhead outfit American Front. He also has appeared twice on a cable television show hosted by Tom Metzger, leader of the neo-Nazi White Aryan Resistance in California.
• Pit, a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based magazine that once covered the metal scene in a basically apolitical way, has taken to publishing uncritical interviews with neo-Nazis. In one, a band member who calls himself Kapricornus says, "Personally, I have never hid [sic] my National Socialist and Heathen ideology . ... All actions that eliminate Catholic churches or the plague of negroidial [sic] creatures in spilled blood is acceptable." Another musician predicts: "Auschwitz and Birkenau will be reopened under new management - US!"
• Thomas Thorn, singer-songwriter for the black metal band Electric HellfireClub, was asked by Seconds Magazine what he thought of church burnings. ''I'mall for it," he replied. It's no coincidence that we had a picture of a burning church on the first album. A lot of people will say, 'That's a horrible thing to say! There's a history behind the architecture, if nothing else.' Nobody said that when they [the Allies] were blowing up the Nazi eagles on top of the Reichstag at the end of World War II."
Today, it seems clear that white supremacists - many of whom haverecognized the power of music as a recruiting tool since the early 1990S - are increasingly turning their attention specifically to the black metal scene. The misogyny, racism and homophobia inherent in much of black metal have proved to be fine starting points for the men who seek to spread neo-Nazi ideology. In the United Stares, as in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, extremists have managed to infuse much of the black metal scene with white supremacist ideas. What is disturbing is the extent to which they are succeeding. Black metal, along with other types of racist music, seems to be becoming an effectivevehicle for racist hatred.
Eric K. Ward is the regional coordinator of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment. Jonn Lunsford is a research associate with the Coalition for Human Dignity. Justin Massa is a research associate at the Center for New Community.