In 2016, former Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo gave the Nazi salute before yelling “White Power!” to an audience in California.
Shortly after, he put out a statement attempting to excuse his behaviour by saying it was all just a big joke. A few days after that, he issued a more serious apology pleading with fans to forgive him. The reactions were mixed. The incident and subsequent apology were widely covered on most music sites, but there was no move to ‘cancel’ him or his music. As time passed, it seemed he emerged relatively unscathed from what was unequivocally an unredeemable act. That is, until this week, when Anselmo’s two New Zealand shows with his current band, The Illegals, were cancelled after the white supremacist terror attack in Christchurch.
What at first began as a quick Google search on Anselmo quickly turned into a days-long research project into the grotesquely racist, bigoted, anti-semitic and homophobic views held by some highly successful metal bands, both past and present. I also find it shocking that it took me less than 30 minutes (and some mind-numbing scrolling through a few highly questionable metal forums) to find YouTube videos of Anselmo spewing similar white supremacist rhetoric in the past—all while fronting one of the biggest metal bands in the world. In March of 1995, there is video evidence of Anselmo delivering a race-fuelled speech at a Pantera show, lambasting the ‘stop black on black crime’ movement and repositioning it as an anti-white ideology, before saying, ‘All you white kids out there, let me tell you something that no other motherfucking white band in the world has any guts to say: when you wake up in the motherfucking morning and you look at yourself in the goddamn mirror, have all the fucking pride in the world, man. It’s your world.’
In a separate video, Anselmo tells another crowd, ‘If you’re here tonight, and you feel proud, and you’re white…’ before raising a fist to the air and clapping. In both videos, his words are met with rapturous applause. Six years later, in 2001, there is recorded evidence of Anselmo yelling ‘White Power’ at a Pantera show in Seoul. That same year, Pantera was nominated for a Grammy.
After a bit of digging, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that Anselmo isn’t an anomaly in the metal music scene. Nor is he the norm. But it’s impossible to ignore that there is something deeply unsettling going on—a celebration of white-nationalist rhetoric delivered under the guise of shock value and artistic expression. The Black Metal scene seems to be the worst affected. There’s even a subgenre called National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM), which is pretty self-explanatory.
Due to its growing popularity (especially in Eastern Europe), there’s even an NSBM festival held every year in Kiev, Ukraine, called Asgardsrei. Its claim to fame is being ‘the largest militant black metal festival in the world’, and last year boasted a lineup of 14 neo-nazi bands, including Russia’s М8Л8ТХ and Finnish national-socialist band, Goatmoon. I’m trying to just relay the facts here without letting my disdain muddy the truth, but some opportunities to mock these xenophobes are too good to pass up. Allow me this one indulgence. In a review of Asgardsrei 2018, I found this glorious description of the venue that hosted the festival’s “sealed political conference”, Pact of Steel.
‘Pact of Steel took place in the Reconquista Club which is a venue run by people connected with the wider Ukrainian Azov movement. Reconquista is a combination of restaurant and a bar, which has a fighting space where MMA fights (but also pole dancing and stand-up comedy) are regularly organized.’
I loathe to give all these losers the attention they so desperately crave, but I think it’s important to highlight just how prevalent these white supremacist bands and their fans are. In France, the anti-immigration band Peste Noire (French for ‘The Black Plague’) just released their latest record, Split. Unsurprisingly, the music is shit. But the cover features an image of the charmingly named singer, Famine, in blackface with a chain around his neck. Further in the booklet, he appears again dressed as a member of the KKK. The album stream, uploaded to Youtube, has over 136,000 views, whilst their previous album has double that.
Over in Norway, the white-nationalist metal scene has been thriving for decades. Two of its biggest exports, Burzum and Emperor, are deeply problematic. Burzum is the project of Varg Vikernes, a member of the White Aryan Resistance and convicted murderer with 89k Instagram followers. Emperor, touted one of the most legendary black metal groups of all time, also count a convicted murderer among its members. Their drummer, Bård Guldvik “Faust” Eithun, recently rejoined the band after serving a 15-year prison sentence for stabbing a gay man to death in a hate crime. Other members of Emperor also lent their bigotry to a side project in the early ’90s called Zyklon-B, named after the poison used in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Bewilderingly, Emperor is booked to play the Metro Theatre in Sydney on April 2. Anybody have Egg Boy’s number?
But wait, unfortunately, there’s more. Arguably the biggest black metal band ever, Norway’s Mayhem, toured Australia successfully only last year. Mayhem’s drummer, Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg, is a known racist who is quoted in 1998’s black metal biography, Lords of Chaos, as saying, ‘I’ll put it this way, we don’t like black people here. Black metal is for white people… I’m pretty convinced that there are differences between races as well as everything else. I think that like animals, some races are more … you know, like a cat is much more intelligent than a bird or a cow, or even a dog, and I think that’s also the case with different races.’
Even Slayer, who headlined Download festival at the beginning of this month, deserve a harder line of questioning. Over the years, the band has strongly denied any allegiance to Nazi-ideology. Known for their obsession with Nazi paraphernalia and aesthetics (their band font logo is modelled off the SS lightning bolts), they’ve also recorded two songs about notorious Nazis. ‘Angel of Death’ recounts the hideous atrocities committed on Jewish prisoners by Nazi physician Josef Mengele, while ‘SS-3’ is a song about senior SS commander Reinhard Heydrich. Both tracks were written by guitarist Jeff Hanneman, who died of alcohol-related cirrhosis in 2013. Here he is heiling Hitler in an old photo that resurfaced online.
Both Hanneman and Slayer have long defended their use of Nazi imagery and Nazi references in the band’s songwriting, citing their keen interest in German WWII history. But, like, did you guys have to name your fan club ‘the Slaytanic Wehrmacht’ after the Nazi armed forces? I get that there’s an element of shock value in there, too, but where do you draw the line between extremism as an art form and art that actively promotes extremism?
The results are in, and it’s time to face the music. Metal is a predominantly white phenomenon and it’s harbouring white supremacists. The question is, are we going to keep ignoring it?