by Gerry Mak in New Music on Friday 12 February 2010

I listen to a lot of bands that espouse questionable ideologies to put it mildly. With the assimilation of black metal into the mainstream, typically left-leaning music fans like me have had to grapple with the fact that some of our favorite bands have at least expressed sympathy for Nationalist Socialism – you know, Nazism – if not fully embracing it. My rationale, however, for continuing to enjoy this music is that if I only listened to music made by people I agree with, there would be very little I could listen to – no GG Allin, no Merle Haggard, no NWA, no Slayer. Come to think of it, 90 percent of the musicians I admire express rather extreme viewpoints, and that’s precisely what I find so fascinating about them.

I never really look for myself in art, I look for insights into things I don’t necessarily understand (“I shot a man in Reno/just to watch him die” is a compelling lyric, but few Johnny Cash fans, I imagine, have actually committed murder). I first started listening to NS black metal because I wanted to know more about a group of people who were diametrically opposed to people like me – I could download their music, but seeing as I am not white, I would never have the opportunity to talk face-to-face with these musicians. I then realized that so much of the music was about fantasy and escape (not really even overtly racist most of the time), and that skinheads and extremists of all varieties are merely people reacting, however wrongheadedly, to a globalized world in which they feel lost and neglected — it’s no accident that many Nazi metal bands live in former Soviet nations in which their ethnic identities had been suppressed for decades.

With the fall of communism, nationalism has become the new banner under which petty politicians in newly independent states rally their support. In this regard, I don’t consider neo-Nazis to be as virulent a threat as the mainstream politicians who subliminally exploit latent ethnic insecurities – they are merely tools, just as the loudest voices on all sides of politics tend to be.

Additionally, skinheads and neo-Nazis (not necessarily the same thing, in case you didn’t know) tend not to be the elites of their societies – they’re generally working class and disenfranchised, and just like people in the inner cities of America, they have turned to groups that provide them with structure, a semblance of community, and a sense of empowerment that no government program, YMCA, or mainstream institution has so far succeeded in giving them.

Is Nazism a fundamentally more evil belief system than one which condones rape, violence, and frenzied materialism? I’m not so sure, but I still love Burzum as much as love Mobb Deep, and I find it more useful to understand extreme ways of thinking rather than merely condemning or ignoring them.

Another result of these bands finding themselves unexpectedly appreciated by wider, often non-Aryan audiences, is that many of them have tempered their views to the point of even denying that they ever espoused any political ideology at all (inclusion, it seems, is a good tactic for neutralizing extremism). Bands such as Drudkh, whose related projects deal more explicitly with Nietzscheism, fascism, and “Aryan mythology,” had a bit of a crossover hit with 2009′s Microcosmos – the band even issued a statement that, “there is nothing in Drudkh’s music or lyrics that would suggest any political outlook.” Now, their fellow countrymen Nokturnal Mortum have also bounded out of the underground with their latest album, Voice of Steel.

Knowing nothing about this band, one would almost call the record pop. Many of the core elements of the genre – blast beats, screeched vocals, folk interludes, etc. — are still prevalent, but what is truly out of left-field are the Pink Floyd-inspired blues (really, blues!) lines and anthemic, major-key singalong segments.

The band has had an affinity for dueling flutes, violin, keyboard, and clean vocals for quite some time now, but on this album all the elements gel into a decidedly happy celebration of music, nodding to pop punk, psych, classic rock, folk, and black metal as it bops along like a corpse-painted gnome on a rainbow pony. This is easily one of the best metal albums of 2009, dropping just a little too late for most people’s year-end lists.

Despite the views Nokturnal Mortum may or may not still hold, they are making really interesting music that I personally find more compelling knowing that they have views so different from mine. In the end, no metal fan really expects political correctness from metal, and really, why would you accept a group that sings about raping nuns, impaling babies, shooting cops, or beating women, but not one that sings about race wars?

If Indonesian, Thai, French, Mexican, American, and Jewish metalheads of all political stripes embrace these bands, what does it matter if you as a progressive, upper-middle-class urbanite support them or not?