There is no genre is all of metal that evokes such strong emotions and such controversy as National Social Black Metal. Why is that? Why do we as a metal community, ironically one founded on such things as freedom of expression and individualism, have such strong feelings against the bands that chose to play this particular form of music?
Many in the black metal community treat NSBM like it’s a plague on our culture when in reality it is not. We treat bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Panopticon as if they are perfectly fine and acceptable but we treat Drudkh, Graveland, and others like they shouldn’t be played or have to be qualified in order to do so. Why? There’s no reason outside narrow-minded ineptitude that keeps these kinds of opinions alive. There are many reasons we should stop the persecution, either subconsciously or consciously, of the subgenre.
Firstly, NSBM is a genre of black metal, there is no avoiding it, no denying it, not getting around it. To write off NSBM as not really a part of the community, to say it has nothing to do with black metal culture is as bad as Protestants saying the Catholics aren’t really Christians or Catholics saying Protestants aren’t Christians. It’s all the same at its core. To deny NSBM, or to qualify our listening of a band that has NSBM leanings, weakens the community and the culture has a whole. If we are saying, we like it “but” then we are saying that there is something that does not belong in black metal. Who are we to decide this? The entire culture of black metal is predicated on the ability to express ourselves fully and celebrate individuality.
We a fringe society, one that exists on the edges and in the shadows. We are a small community, yet we are not a homogenous group, each of us is different and we must accept that difference. Black metal has a strict but small code: if it’s dark, if it’s true, if it’s aggressive, if it has power. That’s really it. It has never been written down but from all my searching, all my analysis of bands and songs and all the different rhetoric, that’s what black metal boils down to. We become stronger as a culture and a community when we recognize this, that we are free to believe what we want (I don’t particularly believe most of what NSBM bands do but that’s fine).
Secondly, listening to a particular band, too, does not mean we condone and support what they believe. It means we support the music and their right to say what they want. Take Graveland, an excellent pagan black metal band whose lyrics stem from topics such as ancient history, antichristianity, folklore, and mythology; Rob Darken, the man behind Graveland has described himself as a hardline right winger. Does listening to and supporting Graveland mean I condone or agree with what he believe? Of course not! That idea is as ridiculous as it is narrow minded. It means I like the music Graveland produces. I used to say I like Graveland “but I don’t support what he believes.” Now I look back on that and want to smack myself. It doesn’t matter what I believe when I talk about Graveland or Darken, I don’t need to compare what he believes to what I do to qualify my enjoyment of Graveland. When we listen to Graveland or Absurd, it’s not about our beliefs, it’s about theirs. It’s stupid really. We don’t qualify ourselves when we listen to Dissection (Jon was a very hardcore member of the Temple of the Black Light) or Gorgoroth (Infernus too is a Theistic Satanist and Gaahl claimed his belief was Nordic Shamanism) yet we treat bands line Graveland, Drudkh, and Burzum, like we can only like them in secret for the beliefs of their musicians. It’s ludicrous and it needs to end. Varg may believe some wild things but he is still responsible for helping create black metal. We need to stop complaining about him and what he believes every time someone brings up Burzum, in the black metal community we ought to be able to separate the two. End of story.
Thirdly, we are enriched, as individuals and as a community when we embrace everything that black metal can offer us. This includes NSBM. Part of black metal, for me, is learning. Black metal teaches me a lot of things that I want to learn and shows me many things that I did not know were out there. When I listen to a new band, I want to feel enriched by what their music is about. I don’t particularly care what they believe, as long as I can begin to understand it. And through listening to more NSBM bands I have begun to understand the though process through which they reach their beliefs. From what I have learned, a lot of NSBM bands are really just nationalistic bands that sing about the pride they have in their culture and the mourning of the seeming loss of said heathen culture (largely due to Christianity and Islam). The more I listen to bands like Graveland, Drudkh, Nokturnal Mortum, the more I understand their emotions and the feelings of anger and loss they have. And yet, I retain my own beliefs and opinions about heathenism, nationalism, and so on. I have learned to understand it, appreciate it, and learn from it without having to adopt it as my own beliefs. Anyone who is willing to truly listen can do this, it’s not a difficult concept.
Even the term NSBM is full of poison. Just being labeled an NSBM band by someone can undercut the message of the band. Take Satanic Warmaster, another band like Graveland that is certainly antichristian and certain right wing and thusly gets labelled as an NSBM band. Why though? Because too many people nowadays cannot separate the band from the artist, they cannot separate the ideas and image of the band from the person or people behind it. This sort of thing has to stop, it’s a pathetic cancer that’s eating the heart of black metal and rotting it from the inside. it’s not what black metal is about. We don’t label a band a certain thing because a member or members believed certain things. If we did then Mayhem would be a mishmash of Satanic, Communist, Atheist, NS black metal. But it’s not. We call it True Norwegian Black Metal, because that’s what it is. That’s what Mayhem, the band, has stood for since the beginning.
Bands that are NSBM usually don’t hide the fact that they are NSBM, it’s not something they are squeamish about telling people. Don’t label a band NSBM because they have nationalistic or pagan tendencies, if they are an NS band, they don’t you need speaking for them.
Another reason people seem so afraid of NSBM or what it means is that it is not “safe.” This could be seen as a controversial opinion (though hopefully not more controversial than the overall opinion of the article) because it could seem as though I’m attacking people. I’m not. I am, however, attacking the idea that black metal, in general, is safe. It’s not. Black metal is the most extreme form of music there is, our history is steeped in violence, NSBM is simply an extension of that. If you don’t like the music, don’t listen to the music, if you don’t like the politics of a band, you are by no means forced to listen to it. Butchering the community with anti-NSBM rhetoric though, is unnecessary. To coin a phrase here, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the church. Do not tell others what they should or shouldn’t listen to, it’s simple.
Darragh of Horrenda is a person I consider a good friend, we can talk about music and history and culture while often having differing opinions. We both realize, and hopefully the community at large will follow this example, that personal political beliefs don’t really matter in the grand scheme of black metal. Sure it’s important to the individual, but on the whole it’s not. Individualism is something black metal is built on, each person being able to believe and support what they want to is paramount in black metal, or at least it should.
In closing, stop qualifying your enjoyment of bands like Graveland, Gaoth (another Irish band whose member I consider a friend despite our disagreement on things), and Drudkh because you’re not expected to believe everything the artists do, stop treating bands like their message is any less important because you don’t agree with it because it hurts our community, and stop treating these bands like they have nothing to offer the black metal community. We are a small community, don’t close the gates on our own.