Extreme metal’s relation to extreme politics provides a variety of examples. From Slayer’s ‘Angel of Death’ in the 1980’s to the Norwegian black metal scene in the 1990’s to the current strain of National Socialist Black Metal on extreme politics have played a role in extreme metal either aesthetically or ideologically.
Heavy Metal’s own relation with such extreme attitudes has a history that has been around almost as long as the genre itself. These attitudes range from the ultra-right (racist and neo-Nazi) and, in some instances, ultra-left-wing (communist and anarchist). Such combinations are nothing new in the music world. Richard Wagner’s denouncement of Jews is widely known.
Furthermore, the strange but true phenomena of racist country and punk will be also be touched on. Additionally, racist lyrics have in the past been used by big-name hip-hop acts.
This article will look at how far and how often Heavy Metal has pushed the limits of not only sound but of ideas.
Long before the controversies surrounding Metal and even before rock and roll, there was Richard Wagner. Wagner is considered the catalyst for the ultimate “art over politics” debate in music. While Wagnerian clichés such as “it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings” are still prevalent, Wagner’s work remains attached to much controversy.
Adolf Hitler said: “Whoever wants to understand National Socialist Germany must know Wagner”. Wagner’s music was often used at Nazi party rallies and followed Hitler’s radio speeches. There are many who still associate his music specifically with Nazi Germany.
In July 2001, Jewish composer Daniel Barenboim conducted the piece ‘Tristan und Islode’ at the prestigious Berlin Staatskapelle’s Israel Festival. When he asked the audience if they wanted to hear Wagner as an encore to the regular program, it sparked a half-hour debate before the performance and, in turn causing many Israelis to protest and walk out of the theatre.
C.J. Trahan, a late 1960’s New Orleans area musician recorded many 45 rpm singles under the name Johnny Rebel. Trahan recorded songs with titles such as ‘Kajun Klu [sic] Klux Klan’, ‘Nigger Hatin’ Me’, and ‘Some Niggers Never Die (They Just Smell That Way)’. The songs were done up in the contemporary country style featuring a backing band.
Stylistically, it has been described as the regional take on rockabilly called “swampabilly”. While the Johnny Rebel mostly were used in juke joints throughout Louisiana, some decades later, they were bootlegged in Europe and found their way into other regions of the United States of America. One of the main bootleggers was the North American label Resistance Records, whose involvement in “hate music” we will touch on later.
Moving into the 1970’s, the early North American punk scene adopted the swastika as a shock tactic to rebel against the “safe” music era of E.L.P. and David Cassidy. One of the first bands to use the swastika was Cleveland-based proto-punkers, The Electric Eels. Guitarist John Morton called their approach “art terrorism”. Their fashion sense pre-dated the tattered and torn look of the UK’s “Class of ’77”.
As Cleveland punk historian Mike Weldon said: “In 1974, they (The Electric Eels) were wearing safety pins and ripped-up shirts, T-shirts with insulting things… White Power logos and swastikas: it was offensive and they meant to be offensive. They meant to distract people, but I don’t think they were exceptionally racist: they were being obnoxious and outrageous.”
In 1974, the New York Dolls flirted with communist hammer and sickles and one photo even shows the later line up with guitarist Johnny Thunders wearing a swastika. The band’s manager, Malcolm McLaren, would later gain infamy by working with the Sex Pistols in Britain.
The British punk scene of the late ’70s quickly picked up on the swastika as shock-tactic from the Sex Pistols and their affiliated groups like Siouxie and the Banshees.
During the time of 1977-1978, many punk fans gravitated towards this look while others felt it was just helping the neo-fascist National Front gain popularity.
Additionally, the punk’s use of the swastika came following the time when Eric Clapton’s praised the National Front. In August 1976, he told an audience to “vote for Enoch Powell… (and) stop Britain from becoming a black colony… get the foreigners out.” To turn the tide, an organisation called Rock Against Racism put together a major campaign within the punk scene.
Rock Against Racism was formed in 1977 as part of the umbrella group, The Anti-Nazi League. Several punk and reggae bands played benefits for Rock Against Racism, including X-Ray Spex, the Buzzcocks and Steel Pulse.
To counteract anti-racist activism, Rock Against Communism, was created as a reaction to the Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party-connected Rock Against Racism. Rock Against Communism was first led by the National Front, then reconvened in 1982 under the leadership of Ian Stewart, from the Nazi skinhead Oi! Punk band, Skrewdriver.
Through Rock Against Communism, Stewart created a label called White Noise Records who released albums by other Nazi skinhead bands such as Brutal Attack, No Remorse and Skullhead.
Skrewdriver’s ‘Hail the New Dawn’ was released in 1984 and continues to be a huge inspiration to the white nationalist movement worldwide. Even though the album seemed like it was from a very marginal fanbase, it is currently selling on Amazon.com.
Germany’s Rock-O-Rama Records released Skrewdriver’s ‘The Voice of Britain’ and ‘Boots and Braces’ albums in 1987 (Coincidently, they also released left-wing Finnish hardcore punk bands like Riistetyt and Appendix).
The same year, Donaldson formed a new organisation called Blood and Honour whose goals were to unite white youth and promote white power “through positive ideals and a positive message”. Other aims included: “to create units in every city, every town in every country. To promote our culture and our traditions.” This is especially true considering Blood and Honour has chapters in several European countries, including Czech Republic, Finland, Switzerland, Serbia, Hungary and Sweden. Plus, they have documented supporters in Argentina, Australia and South Africa. Additionally, Blood and Honour also has chapters in the United States of America in Texas, Georgia, Ohio and California.
Blood and Honour was also, “a magazine promoting (National Socialist) NS ideals, NS music, be it rock. Oi!, metal, etc.” Much to their aim, the Australian metal band Death’s Head has played benefit shows for Blood and Honour and can been seen on Metal-Archives.com in front of their banner.
The band features Ryan Marauder, guitarist of the black and death metal bands Gospel of the Horns and Destroyer 666, both of whom are more based on the general metal tradition of blunt lyrics about war, Satan and sex.
During the early ’90s, “gangsta rap”, an offshoot of hip-hop, received a wealth of sensational media coverage not seen since the early days of rock and roll. Due to the fact that it was a predominately African-American based style; it sounded the alarm in suburban white North America.
White teens bought the major of records by articles like N.W.A. and Ice-T. In turn, this replaced the Tipper Gore fronted Parents Music Resource Centre’s focus on “explicit lyrics” from heavy metal to hip-hop.
The time period of 1988-1991, hip-hop was filled with racially charged lyrics. In 1991, Ice Cube’s song ‘Black Korea’, on his second solo album ‘Death Certificate’, spewed venom towards Koreans in South Central L.A., “…your little chop suey ass will be a target/So pay your respects to the black fist/or we’ll burn your store right down to a crisp.”
Ice Cube’s lyrics were a dead-on foreshadowing of what was to come in the barren neighbourhoods of L.A.’s South Central. During the 1992 riots, many black youths attacked Korean shops. While a more direct correlation may be made from growing tensions between the two communities as opposed to lyrics in a popular rap song, there still is a lot to be taken from Ice Cube’s lyrics.
In a 2006 interview with the magazine, FHM, Ice Cube said, “if they (Koreans) still have a problem, it’s their problem (not mine)”. Additional controversies arose in the early ’90s with statements made by Public Enemy’s ‘Minister of Information’, Professor Griff. In a 1988 Washington Times interview, Professor Griff said that “Jews are responsible for the majority of the wickedness that goes on across the globe.”
Getting into the crux of our focus, Heavy Metal has been dismissed by the political right-wing as “amoral”, “decadent” and “anti-Christian”. Whereas the left-wing has often deemed it to be “sexist”, “fascistic”, and “close minded”. Regardless of these critiques, it has become something more than music in relation to the way it uses provocation — both symbolically and politically. What is represented by these symbols, and are they used for just shock value or an actual political motive?
The first band in heavy metal considered “extreme” was Motörhead a British band so loud and heavy “if they moved in next door they’d kill your lawn”. When they debuted in 1977, they made even Judas Priest seem normal.
Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead has for many years collected Nazi memorabilia. Although, he collects SS banners, flags and daggers for strictly non-political reasons: “I like having this all this stuff around because it’s a reminder of what happened, and that it’s in the past (for the most part some Nazism still exists, but at the margin).” Lemmy also said that he is against any left-wing or right-wing extreme and defines himself as “an atheist and an anarchist”.