I haven't yet heard the new Burzum album. I was supposed to get a promo copy but nothing has arrived just yet so I suppose I have been ignored. I am slightly embarassed to admit that I am looking forward to hearing it. The music of Burzum has always struck me as incredibly powerful in its stark, minimal beauty. Yet, like many others that I know, I also find my liking for Burzum difficult given Vikernes's loathsomeness. This isn't of course a problem confined to Burzum - there are loads of revolting artists in history who have created amazing work, Wagner being the most famous example - but it is particularly difficult given the location of Burzum's work in the metal scene.
As I've written at length before, there is a strong tendency in metal to play down or ignore anything that is 'political'. In my book I mentioned a interview with Vikernes conducted in prison and published in Terrorizer in 1996, that didn't discuss his racism or his killing of Euronymous. This month's Terrorizer has Vikernes on the cover and features a longish interview with him inside. It's not as much of a whitewash as the 1996 interview, but it still pulls its punches. There's some discussion of his renaming of the new album from 'The White God' to 'Belos' but little else that really delves properly into his racist beliefs. He doesn't say much about Euronymous either other than to deny his murder was premeditated. The interview seems to be a missed opportunity once again.
There are some in the scene who do loath Vikernes, some for his racism and some for his murder of Euronymous. Dig , founder of Earache Records (who nearly signed Burzum in the early 90s before Vikernes's views became clear) even posted a download link to the new album to try and sabotage it (the copyright implications of which are discussed here).
Part of the problem with Burzum is that the issues surrounding the artist are often reduced to a choice between absolute anti-racist rejectionism and apolitical 'it's only music'-ism. I reject that choice. Burzum's work is simply too interesting musically to be dismissed outright but Vikernes's views are too much a part of his work to be simply ignored. What Burzum requires is active, critical listening that goes alongside an active, critical political imagination.
The issue gets even more complicated when you think through the implications of this: does the practice I suggest apply to all artists? Could Skrewdriver for example be listened to in this way? I would argue that Burzum is much more artistically important than Skrewdriver but pinning down exactly why is very difficult.
At the Cologne metal and gender conference a few weeks back I was interviewed for an interesting sounding documentary on music and violence for the German radio station WD3. The documentary was called Appetite for Destruction - Der Sound der Gewalt and you can download a recording I made of it here:
Gerd Bayer (editor of the collection Heavy Metal Music in Britain) alerted me to an interesting exchange on metal on the unlikely forum of paleoconservative publication Taki's Magazine (Taki being Spectator columnist, playboy and all-round dodgy character Taki Theodoracopulos). Spurred by this sarcy and superficial blog post on Bayer's book, a number of other Takimag contributors have rallied round the metal flag. Most interesting is this piece by Alex Kurtagic. Kurtagic runs the UK label Supernal Music (home to the wonderful Meads of Asphodel (can't be bothered to put in a link) amongst others). Kurtagic and Supernal have been accused of far right sympathies and some of his acts appear to have NSBM connections, but in truth his views seem to be based on a loathing for modernity as much as any obviously Nazi views. The debate on Taki's Mag seems to have provoked a number of contributors to praise elements of metal, particularly black metal for its potential as a conservative critique of modernity.
There's clearly a long and detailed blog post to be done on the subject. As ever though, I don't have the time to devote to it. Hopefully at some point in the future I will write something more substantial on conservatism and metal.
The Moscow Times reported in July 2008 that members of the lower house of the Russian parliament, (the Russian State Duma deputies), Public Chamber members and social conservatives have hammered out legislation aimed at heading off the spread of emo culture, which they describe as a “dangerous teen trend”.
Freemuse also has a handy news section on heavy metal which details persecution of metal worldwide.
I just heard about a book called 'Hiding in Hip Hop' by Terrance Dean that tells of the author's experience as a gay man in the hip hop world and about the secret gay underground within it. It sounds fascinating. I'd love someone to write something similar regarding metal. However, my suspicion (and I may be totally wrong) is that there is barely any gay underground in metal. Not that there's no gay men and women in metal - far from it - but they are mostly isolated from each other. I also suspect that the mainstream gay community is pretty negative about metal and that doesn't help matters...
In three stunning posts, here, here and here, the ever-wonderful Documents blog muses on Euronymous, the Norwegian black metal scene, transgression, the artist and repression. The conclusion of the second post:
The artist as a creator who desires a society that denies his right to exist, is a paradoxical symbol. An artist embodying the left-handed side of this paradox was murdered by a fellow artist who embodies the right-handed side of the paradox: the drama which unfolded in the Dream Time of Norwegian Black Metal certainly had a "...strange processual inevitability overriding questions of interest, expediency, or even morality" (Turner). The murder of Mayhem's Aarseth by Burzum's Vikernes was not only a tragedy in the Classical sense of the word. It was and is more than that: it is the frozen image of a configuration pregnant with tensions between opposing but interdependent socio-cultural forces, a configuration that was shocked into crystallization into a monad, not by the thought of the dialectical critic (Benjamin), but by the violence of the act.
The conclusion to the third part:
By interpreting the murder as the result of a dramatic or narrative process model, I have hoped to deny Vikernes the authorship of the killing. One might counter that the "author is dead", that there is no need to "kill" him as an author of a murder. But Vikernes as an author still reigns on the internet, in interviews, magazines, in "Lords of Chaos", as in the very consciousness of metalheads. Vikernes still has authority over the murder: in this sense he is an undead author. These three posts then are an attempt to drive a stake through his fascist heart.
These posts are probably the smartest thing anyone has ever written on the early 90s Norwegian black metal scene.
The Documents blog shames me a bit. I'm an academic who has written on metal and transgression, yet my blogging is mostly light-hearted. I simply don't have the time and energy to direct my creativity too far into this blog. I'm glad that there are people around, like the author of Documents, to do so in my absence.
Semi-ambivalent Jew, ambivalent Metaller. Occassionally ambivalent sociologist, researcher and educator. Non-ambivalent husband and father