There are few genres of music that are as infamous as black metal.
With its emergence in the early ‘90s, black metal became recognized for both its sonic innovation and controversy. Beyond the church burnings, artists expedited the genre’s infamy by adopting Nazi symbolism and outright espousing white supremacist beliefs.
The root of this is commonly linked to Burzum creator Varg Vikernes. Vikernes has frequently espoused white supremacist beliefs and has used his platform to spread hate for years. From that early scene, this hate expanded, taking form in bands who use Nazi imagery for show (e.g., Taake and Marduk), to bands who outright express fascist ideology (e.g., Absurd, Judas Iscariot, and Graveland).
But while this evil has left a horrific stain on the genre’s history, there is also a whole other side of black metal – one that is far more loving, driven to fight bigotry, and queer.
Black Metal Rainbows, edited by Daniel Lukes and Stanimir Panayotov, and designed by Jaci Raia, is an essay collection that explores queerness in black metal, the genre’s history, and the intersection of black metal and Anti-Fascist activism.
Lukes has written for several other metal publications and is the co-author of Triptych: Three Studies of Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible. Panayotov is an assistant professor of philosophy whose academic work involves feminism and metal. Raia is a freelance illustrator whose design work is quite popular in the metal community.
While the essays throughout Black Metal Rainbows analyze and speak to the genre’s bigoted history, a great amount of time is also provided to covering those bands actively working to create moving art and safe spaces for all within black metal (except Nazis). From RABM bands (Red and Anarchist Black Metal) like Sunrot, Dawn Ray’d, and Racetraitor, to bands featuring queer artists like Vile Creature, Cloud Rat, and Feminazgûl – Black Metal Rainbows is a treasure trove covering incredible artists promoting love and inclusion in the genre.
Bands that present leftist/anarchist/ and socialist ideologies have been working in the genre for many years now; online, forums and pages like the Reddit channel r/rabm and the social media account titled Antifascist Black Metal Network, respectively, are used to help shine a light on these bands. Whether it’s through the music itself, work done at shows, or online, the leftist black metal community is strong in its efforts to fight hate.
We recently had the opportunity to talk with Lukes, Panayotov, and Raia about the origins behind Black Metal Rainbows. They also talked about their favorite bands fighting against fascism, and what work is being done to create a more loving, awesome, and creative community in black metal.
The Pit: What was the band (or bands) that got you into black metal, and in those early days, what ultimately drew you to the genre?
Daniel Lukes: I got into black metal in the mid-90s, and the bands that drew me in were Satyricon, Immortal, Cradle of Filth, Impaled Nazarene, Dimmu Borgir, Covenant (later known as The Kovenant). What appealed to me about black metal was its wild and bizarre atmosphere, its fearlessness, and also its sense of melody and tunefulness, compared with death metal. What I love about black metal is that it creates a wild and unpredictable space where anything goes, so its freedom is liberating and exhilarating.
Jaci Raia: I definitely got into black metal the way I got into the rest of metal, by friends going “Oh, you like [band], why don’t you try [other band] also.” In college, symphonic and folk black metal was my gateway, and from there I started looking into second-wave stuff since I believed metal forums at the time and was told you weren’t shit if you didn’t listen to bands like Mayhem and Gorgoroth.
Stanimir Panayotov: I am a black metal disappointment. I did not have a formative period with the genre, rather, it seeped through other genres and crossovers that led me eventually to listen to some major black metal artists, but that was as late in my mid-20s.
Did you ever reach a point where you felt the genre was becoming so toxic and felt like you should abandon it, but then a certain band/artist pulled you back in? If so, who was that?
DL: Black metal became very stale and sterile in the 2000s, as metal in general took an aesthetically conservative turn after the implosion of nu-metal. Black metal also had a “trad” phase and got quite boring in the 00s. One exception to that was the rise of USBM, which sort of mixed black metal with a grunge sensibility. The band Xasthur certainly caught my attention quite a bit at the time.
As for your question specifically, I would say that despite black metal’s reputation for being rife with Nazis—NSBM or Nazi-friendly black metal has never been close to being the dominant trend of the genre. Nazis do not own black metal, they never have and never will.
SP: No, because my black metal (as I’ve been continually told over the years by folx) is too “gay” to be considered as such. But this genre is itself a culture of transgression where people easily confuse cultural taboo with rebellion. Many artists of the second wave made careers and money off this confusion. What always horrified me has been the particular insistence that this should have an extreme right-wing slant. So no, despite the political extremist gore in black metal I was not dissuaded by Nazi shitheads that the music should be somehow the victim; though I was not dissuaded too that it should be some bland pacifist music as well.
What inspired the creation of Black Metal Rainbows? How long has the book been in development?
DL: The book originates in a symposium titled “Coloring the Black” which took place in Dublin in March 2015. Its goal was to inject some color and queer theory into black metal theory, which was a “para-academic” field dedicated to taking black metal seriously not just as a musical genre but also a theoretical, philosophical, and aesthetic area of inquiry and expression.
As writers, what drives you to cover the socio-political aspects of metal?
DL: Working as a music journalist in the 2000s in the UK and USA definitely opened up my mind to the effect music has on people and what they use it for: to express themselves, to connect with others and create community, to give themselves a sense of identity, especially growing up. Music can really make the difference between finding the will to live and giving up, and that’s why it’s so imperative that it be a place welcome to all, free of prejudice and racial or gender gatekeeping. Global fascism is on the rise, capitalism is burning the planet, and even through music, it is possible to fight back.
SP: I had never planned on being a music scholar or writer, although I had written occasionally about music throughout the years. I cannot say this book is solely about the politics of black metal, there are also many intimate pieces and dimensions and hues in between within the volume. Personally, any form of art to me is never apolitical and I cannot understand musicians’ pretension to work outside of socio-political frameworks. But I am OK if artists prefer to create in the vacuum of political ignorance if their output is inspiring other people to do meaningful social work.
In black metal the politics are often surprisingly open as opposed to other genres, and because somehow the loudest and lousiest minority screams the most, society is easily convinced this is some global Nazi club. To me, the resistance to those wackos is important but not the defining motive to write about black metal. My agenda is positive first and rejectionist a posteriori. Black metal is FOR something.
Among the many essays that make up this book, is there any one (or two) that stand out to you? And why?
DL: My favorite essay in the book is Joseph Russo’s “Queer Rot.” The book showcases lots of different styles: there are academic analyses of black metal music and ideas, there are journalistic and personal essays, there are manifestos and calls to action, but Russo’s piece stands out for being a kind of experimental ethnography of Texas through the lens of queerness which in its forms approximates or mirrors the kind of trance-like effect that BM can produce in the listener. I love writing where there’s a real connection between content and form. I would also like to give a shout-out to Langdon Hickman’s piece “The Dialectical Satan” which argues for Satan as a revolutionary, liberatory figure, inspirational to leftists struggling against powers that often appear “too big to fail.”
JR: I do also love Russo’s “Queer Rot.” I remember when I was doing the layout for that piece, I just stopped what I was doing and sat and read it. It twanged some strings in me that haven’t been twanged in a while, and I probably couldn’t articulate why better than Daniel did. My favorite art pieces are by Vincent Como. They’re at once incredibly minimal and sinister, which is my favorite type of aesthetic. If I ever buy a house [LOL in this economy], I want Vincent to come and decorate it.
SP: I like Nina Power’s essay on male depression and DSBM a lot because it is a genuine and redemptive theoretical diagnosis – the kind of theory that could in fact change something in the great outside. As well as Espi Kvlt’s queer porn metal autoethnography and very candid narrative about her obsession with Dead, a subject also dear to Elodie Lesourd’s article on him, which is stylistically very exquisite and honest.
While black metal still has a Nazi and white supremacy problem to this day, there is an ever-growing Leftist and Anti-Fascist movement within the genre. While every band/artist has their own means of building a safe space, what sort of work goes into creating a space and scene that combats fascism? What have you witnessed bands/artists do to help create safer environments?
DL: I am very inspired by anyone who takes the fight offline and puts themselves in danger in meatspace to protest and defend vulnerable against fascist hooligans and gangs, and it is great to see people get out and protest sketchy bands like Taake and Horna. I think it’s important that people know that they can contribute to the fight, according to their ability and comfort level. I work in the field of cultural criticism, where the fight exists primarily at the level of competing narratives: the more people speaking out, the louder our story becomes. We have raised $10,000 USD for LGBTQ youth charities. I would like to see the media step up and amplify queer and trans voices: we are entering a critical phase of attacks on trans people, and we need to defeat this obscene moral panic that conservatives are cynically whipping up because they literally have no arguments left as to why anyone should elect them.
JR: You just have to be vocal. Be loud, and be consistent. We have to constantly remind LGBTQIA+ people that these spaces are for them. They’re welcome here. We want them here. We need them here. Nazis are going to exist, unfortunately, and we have to make sure they don’t feel welcome. They are not allowed in these community spaces, and we have to consistently let them know that. Is there some asshole with an NSBM patch on their jacket at the bar or venue? Get them kicked out.
Ultimately, what do you hope people take away from Black Metal Rainbows? And if you were to define it now – What does the black metal genre represent to you?
DL: That black metal is open and approachable, and that we are in a Golden Age of pluralistic black metal. To me black metal is freedom and misery, enchantment and self-pity, joy and annihilation, and the sound of cackling laughter, wafting over the hills…
JR: I want people to take away that black metal is so, so much more than its stereotypes. It can be wild, chaotic, bright, and vibrant; it’s screaming and throwing up sparkles and rainbows. It’s honest and raw and vulnerable.
SP: With black metal, I think hoping is a desperate undertaking. People decide in very specific, sometimes mystical ways what is important for them. I want people to be doing this with and beyond our book and whatever is their will, that will be one of resistance for a better world, but this does not mean a world of ultimate peace and victory. Black metal is a culture to be defined by its spirit of resistance and antagonism, and it represents the indefatigable impulse to overcome obedience to the masses. It will always be a sacred path to oneself, but in the process, it does not mean that cultural and political specificity should be thrown under the bus.