So I guess I have to talk about Steelfest

A new controversy caught my eye as a metalhead. A few days ago the veteran thrash metal band Sodom attracted backlash over their scheduled appearance in the Steelfest Open Air Festival, a metal festival in Finland dedicated mostly to underground black and death metal bands, in 2022. The reason why that’s proving to be a bit of a problem for Sodom is that, while there are respectable bands in the line-up, the some of the bands in Steelfest’s 2022 line-up include noted NSBM (that’s National Socialist Black Metal; literally Nazi black metal) bands. These include Graveland, Nokturnal Mortum, and Satanic Warmaster. The man behind that particular band is so adamant that he is not a Nazi that he went out of his way to make a graph supposedly showing how little he sings about Hitler or Jews. Of course, a quick look at such material as “Return of Iron and Blood“, “Strength and Honour“, and “Carelian Satanist Madness” quickly dispells said notions, as does the fact that material like that is still played live in more recent years and a compilation of NSBM songs was released as recently as 2017. One wonders how Werwolf could make that graph to try and exonerate himself. This isn’t even a new thing for Steelfest, either. In 2014, Steelfest had Goatmoon, a notorious NSBM band, in its line-up, and, as you would expect, both Goatmoon and the attending fans performed Nazi salutes at Steelfest. So, from that standpoint, Steelfest has kind of a history of openly promoting NSBM and having open Nazism promoted on stage and celebrated by both bands and fans. You don’t have to be politically correct to see why that’s a problem.

As it stands, Sodom have made their statement, and so has Steelfest. Sodom have stated the following on September 1st:

Hey pals! To get it right up front. Once again, we distance ourselves from bands that abuse their musical platform to express their political views, whether right or left, to the outside world. But we stand for freedom of expression for everyone and we won’t let that talk us to death. When the Steelfest promoter booked the show with us at the end of 2019, these supporting acts and the billing were not even up for discussion. So we have a valid guest performance contract. We are currently clarifying the legal situation. We generally perform on behalf of ourselves and our fans and not for the other bands.

The politically correct bands, whatever that means, are in the majority at Steelfest. Will they all cancel their performance? We will definitely talk to the organizer again about this situation and will form our own judgment.

We can’t always please everyone and we don’t want that at all, but if we have to bow to some kind of political pressure every time, then we artists/musicians can soon quit our jobs. And after 40 years in this exciting business, I don’t need any instructions about what to do or not.

We have a strong fan base in Finland and many are happy to see Sodom again receiving a special setlist exclusively. After this long dry spell, we are of course happy to be playing in Finland again. This is our job, our passion. That’s what we are living for. We won’t let that talk us to death either and decide for ourselves. We will of course keep you up to date on the current state of affairs.

But don`t forget…Sodom stands for freedom, peace, justice and democracy. And that’s all that counts. Cheers ,)

Sodom also initially said yesterday that they would try to return to Finland as soon as possible, “hopefully under better circumstances and with a little more poisitive vibes and party atmosphere”. That said, despite all of that, Sodom have announced today that they will be cancelling their appearance at Steelfest, “solely on the basis of our own conviction”. It certainly is a strange turn considering that Sodom initially didn’t want to be “pressured” into cancelling, partly on freedom of expression grounds and partly on financial grounds (evidently this was going to be one of their first shows since the pandemic rendered concerts impossible). Now it seems that this has changed, citing their own conviction. One wonders what that conviction was. But, given that Sodom have never been a pro-fascist band, perhaps they realizing that partying with Nazis and having others join them in doing so wasn’t worth the money, and we can all be glad for that.

As for the organizers of Steelfest, they’ve put up their own, much longer, and honestly even worse statement. To summarize, they complain that multiple agencies have contacted Steelfest to ask them to cancel some bands for being problematic (which is funny, did they ever get asked this when Goatmoon showed up in 2014?), and have declared that they will not let any agencies decide what bands should be cancelled. They claim that they reject any political movements and racist ideologies that want to use metal as an expression of their movement, which is just bullshit since they’re fine with NSBM bands being there and have been for years, NSBM being a sub-genre of black metal that exists precisely to take up black metal as an expression of Nazism in exactly the way Steelfest claims to oppose, while going on to declare that they will not take sides because “all sides are equally repulsive”, which is just that classic, childish centrist horseshit that serves only to defend fascism by saying that opponents of fascism are morally equivalent to the fascists they fight.

Satanic Warmaster, for their part, have come out in support of Steelfest’s statement, and of course they would since it defends them in practice, adding yesterday that they “draw the line in front of extortionist booking agencies and external influence that has it’s roots much further than within the metal scene”. It should be worth noting that last month they also shared a post from Werewolf Records complaining about a “new obviously moral policy” from Metal Archives, specifically their apparent decision to label Werewold Records as an NSBM label, and whining that “such moral crusades are not the responsibility of a website many consider a reliable and neutral source”. Well, the label itself is run by Werwolf, the man behind Satanic Warmaster, which as we’ve established is an NSBM band, but maybe by checking their band roster we can see why Metal Archives felt the need to do this.

Although not all of the bands there are NSBM, there are some notable NSBM bands on their roster. Besides Satanic Warmaster, and any other bands run by Werwolf, their current roster of bands includes Goatmoon, a well-known NSBM band whose lyrics frequently reference the “Aryan” race and its fantasized triumph over “subhumans” and other Nazi tropes, as well another NSBM band called Hammer, whose logo features a swastika and whose only full-length album is literally called “Shoax” (a reference to the Holocaust, or Shoah, and the belief that it never happened). There’s also White Death and Ymir who, while they aren’t overtly NSBM, do have songs that talk about “Aryans” and “the race of wolves”. Their past roster also includes bands like Aryan Blood, who definitely wear their NSBM convictions on their sleeves, Wodulf, a Greek NSBM band who also appeared at the Asgardsrei Festival (basically an NSBM festival) in 2019, Vothana, an American NSBM band run by a guy from Vietnam, Eisenwinter, a Swiss NSBM band who are about as brazen as Aryan Blood are, Evil, a Brazilian NSBM band not to be confused with the much cooler Japanese black/thrash metal band of the same name, Forest, a Russian NSBM band, Mastema, a French black metal band whose songs have such titles as “Killer of ZOG”, “Death to Z.O.G.”, and “Auschwitz”, Satans Sign of War, a German black metal band whose self-titled album contains several Nazi songs, and Hunok, a Hungarian black metal and dark ambient band that seems to have Nazi leanings. So, with this in mind, I’d say that it is definitely not inaccurate to refer to Werewolf Records as an NSBM label.

By the way, if you look at Satanic Warmaster’s album “Nachzehrer”, released in 2010, you will find that Michael W. Ford, the famous Luciferian Satanist occultist who founded the Greater Church of Lucifer, wrote lyrics for the track “Utug-Hul” under the alias Akhtya Nachttoter. So Michael W. Ford, who swears that he left the Order of Nine Angles because it was too fascist for him, seems to have had no problems working with someone who makes Nazi black metal. Just take that in so as to have no illusions about where Ford stands on fascism and Nazism.

But anyways, how do we deal with all this? There’s always talk of political correctness whenever we have to discuss fascism in metal, mostly from people who, as always, are motivated primarily by consumption. You saw it in the people who defended Phil Anselmo’s drunken white power salute and attacked Rob Flynn from Machine Head for calling him out. Black metal, though, is a very strange case. There are a lot of grey areas that result from the fact that even non-NSBM bands sometimes tend to sneak some fascistic or racist leanings in somewhere (I can think of such examples as Baptism, Impaled Nazarene, and Carpathian Forest for instance, funny enough two of those bands are from Finland), or just have musicians who are kind of fascist in some way even if it doesn’t reflect in their music. Of course, another part of it can stem from the fact that, for many, it can just be an edgy teenager phase, like when Darkthrone released. On the other hand, there are also some seriously committed fascists in the scene as well. Burzum are especially problematic in this regard in that they are still sort of celebrated today even though released plenty of stuff with Nazi imagery in the past and the man behind Burzum, Varg Vikernes, is essentially a prolific racist both past and present.

As an unrepentant black metal fan, consumer, and connoissuer, and as someone whose spent time in rather disturbing or just really edgy corners of the internet, I can attest to what it’s like to walk on the edge and carefully, or sometimes not so carefully, parse through boundaries with just good edgy fun on one side and morally reprehensible ideology on the other. Appreciating black metal as someone who isn’t a far-righter or a fascist or a Nazi can mean being very careful with your black metal to sort between who is and isn’t a Nazi, not just so you don’t wind up banging your head to Nazis but also so you don’t end up giving Nazis any money. I think dealing with the minions of the Order of Nine Angles within the Left Hand Path should give you a very good lesson as to how important that is, and since the O9A can sometimes have its claws in black metal bands too you need to be even more careful, especially knowing what Kevin Bolton’s been up to during the 1990s. One either enjoys black metal indiscriminately, which is fairly impossible without being willing to co-sign all sorts of immoral or just sloppy bullshit, or one enjoys it diligently. It’s what allows to enjoy some very edgy and even somewhat problematic material, whilst also avoiding the defence of open bigotry as a form of artistic expression.

The political correctness angle is worth returning to for multiple reaons. Obviously when Steelfest invokes it, it’s opportunistic radical centrist bullshit when considering that the line is being used to defend avowed Nazis like Satanic Warmaster, but it’s also true that black metal is, in certain ways, definitely a very “politically incorrect” genre, not in the sense that it’s all whiny right-wing bullshit (although I am looking squarely at certain bands for being precisely this) but because it prides itself on disturbing the boundaries of sensibility and good taste, which is definitely where many grey areas come in. When it comes to black metal bands, as long as they’re not avowedly fascist or Nazis, I definitely think there’s room for Amber A’Lee Frost’s idea that even reactionaries can make good entertainment or art, so long as that’s all it is. You can’t appreciate black metal if your only criteria for appreciating it is that it reflects progressive values or something to that effect, because black metal is definitely not for people who like to marinate in feelings of hope and goodness (mostly because black metal takes pleasure in disrupting those things), or who can’t derive those things from the visceral darkness it speaks to (and I understand that, for most people, that’s very difficult).

The term political correctness has been taken up by the right-wing as essentially a catch-all term for any and all progressive or left-wing political tendencies, but in its strictest sense it just means the insistence on rigid conformity to political orthodoxy, and in the original left-wing usage of the term, political correctness was a way of designating dogmatic adherence to the line put forward by the Communist Party in Russia or other Communist Parties and setting that line above independent thought and socialist principles. Before the late 1980s, the term was frequently used by libertarian socialists and feminists to mock authoritarianism and, for them, being politically incorrect meant insisting on unbridled freedom of expression, particularly sexual expression, and defying the party lines of authoritarian socialists. In a vague sense, the right-wing recuperation of this term does carry echoes of that meaning as well, but for them this meant that the otherwise powerless left was in fact the ideological orthodoxy of the day and that defending the powerful and systems of power constituted the real political incorrectness. Such an absurd reversal of roles has allowed “political incorrectness” to serve as a softballing or excusing of fascism as a kind of rebellion simply because it upsets most people, when in reality fascism always imposes a political correctness of its own when put into power, and psychologically fascists and hard-rightists end up being slaves to their own political correctness and become thin-skinned, because tyrannical orthodoxy and reactionary hostility to difference is the function of authoritarianism in all its forms and particularly within the right.

Here’s what I’m trying to get at. If the idea is that you have to make it so that every black metal band on scene has to be left-wing some way, then, yeah, that would be a form of political correctness in the loose sense at least. But, from my perspective, what is expected of Steelfest is not a form of political correctness, or at least that is not what I expect. I don’t expect Steelfest to cancel every band with vaguely right-wing members in it. I only expect them not to support open, self-described, confirmed Nazis, and especially not people who try to lie to everyone and say they’re not Nazis while still giving Nazi salutes (as is the case for Goatmoon at least), releasing white supremacist material to this day (as is the case for Graveland), and performing at Nazi music festivals (as is still the case for Nokturnal Mortum and Goatmoon). If the Nazis want to play, they should do it on their own, go and fuck off to Asgardsrei or wherever they can congregate by themselves while leaving the rest of us alone. Meanwhile everyone else should really stop giving them support, and stop making excuses for Steelfest and other festivals giving a safe space for Nazis, because that is de facto Nazi apologia.