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At my job, a few years ago, I encountered an African-American colleague who stated that punk was an expressly racist cultural phenomenon, and went on to imply that this was generally true of ‘white’ popular music.
While I do enjoy some early punk rock music, such as the Ramones, I have never been a ‘punker’. I grew up on old-school heavy metal such as Black Sabbath, which I still listen to, and identify myself resoundingly as a Metalhead. However, while punk and metal adherents were at times quite hostile to each other back in the ‘70’s, the two have experienced some cross-pollination and have become much more friendly, especially in the face of sundry attempts at the commercialization and castration of each muse. Most punkers like a little bit of metal and most metalheads like a little bit of punk, but they’re both respectable banners of social and intellectual rebellion for the working class, which is exactly what each one was originally, expressly meant to be.
Metal came a little bit before punk, which I’ll talk about first:
After the Ramones created Punk Rock in Queens, New York City in 1974 with their first album, the genre quickly found its place in Great Britain, where it became a powerful tool of sociopolitical expression for youth who were finding their way left-of-center. Around the same time, the original skinhead movement was growing right alongside punk rock in both America and Britain and elsewhere, as a pacifistic, antiwar, anticapital and antiracist social movement.
However, as longtime punks and skinheads know, both of these were hijacked very quickly by the white power element of American and British societies. I believe as others that the ‘nazi youth’ siezed on the aggressive, rebellious power of punk and the martial, extreme trappings of the skinhead movement in order to acquire a powerful subculture for themselves as well as to try to attract attention from other disenfranchised white youth.
It is an unfortunate fact that this ‘hijacking’ of the punk/skinhead subcultures happened so easily (but not completely, mind you) that both still bear a serious stigma of hardcore, violent racism, particularly in the case of the skinheads. Today, the original left-wing, tolerant skins must universally, consistently refer to themselves as ‘SHARPs’ (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) in order to insure that they are not misidentified as nazi punks. The punk movement, for its part, tried its best to decry the infiltration of nazis into its subculture by creating epithets such as ‘Nazi Punks F--- Off!’ and increasing its expression against racism and totalitarianism.
A subset of Punk Rock known as ‘Oi’ came along in the late 1980’s, more primitive and raunchy in its style and extremely working-class-oriented in its content and even its name (a greeting amongst working-class Englishmen). It was so quickly infiltrated and dominated by the racist audience that the general public, including myself, long perceived it as exclusively racist and a serious threat to the mindset of youth.
Moving forward in time:
The result of the cross-pollination of punk and heavy metal, ‘Hardcore’, similarly was corrupted by the hate element, but not nearly so widely, as the original hardcore audience, knowing what to expect, made a point of welcoming left-wing thought and tolerating the inclusion of the ‘straight-edge’ adherents among their numbers. (‘Straight-edges’ abstain wholly from alchohol, drugs, violence (as much as possible) and from promiscuous sex. Yet even this group has seen some pollution from white power believers.)
All that I have described above is fairly common knowledge for those who are well-versed in the history of the development of the loud rock scene, however there is a dark and worrisome development over the last thirteen years that has me, a devoted lifelong metalhead, extremely concerned.
In the Heavy Metal subculture, there is a subgenre called ‘Black Metal’. It originated with a British band called Venom, which took all the dark and occultic aspects of Black Sabbath and contorted them into a band of alter-egos that purported to willfully worship Satan, do evil things and generally terrify parents, which was the whole point: the members of Venom were merely trying to create a commercial phenomenon based on kids trying to scare their parents. Their logic was that since many very conservative and religious people were absolutely convinced that Heavy Metal was the Devil’s music, then why not simply take it all the way and sing about worshipping Satan, and make a lot of money from angry kids?
It worked well, and Venom are still legends today, although many of their tapes have been vigorously burned at church gatherings on both sides of the Atlantic. One of these tapes, incidentally, is titled ‘Black Metal’, and has an infamous history in the annals of Metal and likely helped inspire the PMRC (founded by Tipper Gore, now former Second Lady of the USA, in an attempt to help parents control youth subculture).
That said, be aware that Black Metal has itself grown into several identifiable subcultures, and in many cases no longer even addresses issues in the worship of Satan. Some Black Metal outfits are now more concerned with Norse Mythology and chaotic paganism and the forest-based magick of ‘trolls’ moreso than with the original themes and topics of Black Metal. Some are even symphonic, operatic.
The first Black Metaller (to my knowledge) to invoke the power of the forest, trolls and the Norse Gods was an individual named Kristian Vikernes, who has long renamed himself Varg Vikernes or Count Grishnack. In his native Norway, he was an original member and contributor to a band called Mayhem. Mayhem also featured one of the founders of Norwegian Black Metal (which along with Swedish BM is in the forefront of the ‘Black Metal Movement’, although Russian and Polish BM is well on its way to popularity). This person called himself Euronymous, and was a devoted Satanist who mocked the teachings of Anton LaVey as being too ‘weak and watered-down’ to create a truly dangerous rival to Christianity in Norway.
Varg held this in common with Euronymous until a combination of personal differences, an argument over money and increasingly differing ideologies brought about a physical conflict in which Varg killed Euronymous. Varg is now serving a 20-year sentence, and is about halfway through it. During that time he has been producing album after album under the name ‘Burzum’, based on Norse mythology and Nazi ideology (the other half of his belief system, derived from a social and cultural backlash against a large immigrant population, much of which is from Africa). The theme of the music of Burzum is that Varg wants the people of Norway, and Germanic peoples in general, to abandon Christianity, which he sees as a social and evolutionary poison, and to return to the Odinist belief system. He also wants to recover the genetic purity of the Germanic nations, and to expel all foreign influences. He’s very friendly to the memory of Hitler and prides himself on being a relative of the hated General Quisling, who ruled Norway for the Nazis as a homegrown puppet governor, to the point of legally incorporating ‘Quisling’ into his actual name. I personally have met American nazis who revere Varg and think of him as a rallying figure.
To extrapolate how far this poison has spread, and how dangerous it can be, let the reader be informed that Varg and many other early Black Metallers were involved in numerous (!) church burnings throughout Norway and other Scandinavian countries. Furthermore, due to the influence of Varg and others like him, when the Black Metal movement spread to the Russian Federation and Poland, not only was there a prolific (again, to emphasize: !!! ) burning of churches (this time orthodox instead of simply protestant or Catholic) but also the shocking rise of full-blown nazi movements, in two of the nations that suffered the most death and destruction in the effort to defeat Hitler, even in terms of non-Jewish dead. I can name for you a solidly-popular and rapidly-rising band of Polish ‘insane nazi murderers’ (as they are described by Black Metallers on the internet): Graveland. In the case of the Russians, the skinheads (skiny, as they are called in Russian) are also partly a backlash against the rise of a large hip-hop culture amongst teenagers (called rappery). This has characterized a great polarization in Russian youth culture. However, the skiny are notoriously and proudly violent, even attacking African-American US Marine embassy guards.
For younger readers who are not well-versed in the characteristics of the Eastern Theater of World War 2, let me state that knowledgeable people find it a mindnumbing shock that Poles or Russians would ever side with nazi ideology, however antisemitic they might be. This is especially true considering the apparent numbers that are embracing the ideology. The Nazis tried to decimate the ENTIRE Russian and Polish nations, due to Nazi belief that Slavs were a race of humanlike animals. The Jews in those countries were simply targeted first, wherever possible.
Just to be thorough: For those who point out early criticism of the ‘80’s band Guns’N’Roses, who to me are just a hair-metal band with no true claims to being Metal, they were straightened out fast enough by people with commercial ties to them that by all appearances they have all personally abandoned these attitudes.
As for my personal experience of this troublesome subset of my own subculture, let me warn fellow metalheads not yet aware: Many of the older fans of Varg and racist-oriented Black Metal seem to be ‘retired’ nazi punks from the heyday of the nazi punk movement (the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s), generally in their forties. It would seem that they have grown away from Punk (or their skewed image of it) and into the (racial) Black Metal scene, due to its ‘fresh’ perspective on racial, social and religious issues.
Let met add that several months ago, I was riding an elevator with an African-American man while I was wearing a t-shirt from the band ‘Immortal’. Immortal is a Norwegian Black Metal band that, to my knowledge, has no ties with any racist ideology and bears none such in its lyrical content, which is mainly about being sinister tyrants ruling from icy, wintery strongholds. They’re quite musically gifted and the singer amusingly sounds like Popeye burning in hell (as opposed to Cookie Monster). I like them. However my fellow citizen in the elevator asked me warily if I was wearing a white power t-shirt. I assured him otherwise, quite upset that I had been misidentified as a nazi (with Cherokee blood in me, at that!). Apparently African Americans have been alerted to this negative phenomenon and will sometimes make honest mistakes, which makes things at least a little harder for honest metalheads who are simply listening to … well, less-negative proponents of Black Metal.
The American nazi (formerly a nazi-punk skinhead) whom I have met here in Philadelphia says he likes “where Varg’s mind is at.” Varg is one of many emerging racist demagogues who is able to couch his beliefs in eloquent writing and logical presentation of (skewed) facts and opinions. If David Duke or another historical revisionist (which Varg is, since he’s a holocaust denier) had grown up in Norway in the ‘80’s, he would have been a Black Metaller.
David Duke, incidentally, recently finished a tour of Russia, spreading the idea that Russians are a key to the survival of the White Race. What he intends to do with this straw at which he has grasped, I do not myself know. Perhaps he made some money from his speaking engagements.
In the end, any white-dominated music or artistic subculture that is characterized of a strong rebellious spirit is likely to be (at least attemptively) hijacked by the nazi culture. Some of it is likely a deliberate strategy by people in positions to manipulate popular culture. In any case, since racism is a problem amongst white people and a problem for other people, the explanation of this phenomenon bears making. I share sadness with my brother and sister metalheads who are people of color, whose brother Jimi Hendrix and others helped lay down the foundations of our music.