Turning a blind ear (NSNSBM)

A comment discussion from an older post is worth posting in full here, as it's a gesture toward explaining a bit about - and raising perhaps more fully the deep problems of - what it means to listen to and really love a cultural mode (black metal, i.e. BM) with a frequently fascistic politics, ranging from implicit to very, very explicit. Any thoughts on any this are seriously welcome, as any explanation I might give doesn't take away my persistent uneasiness. I know some of you also have my same combination of far left politics with a cultural taste that includes some seriously fascistic (with the caveat that we again need a better conception of the gap between fascist aesthetics per se and culture that espouses fascist politics) culture, some misconstrued as such (I think here of certain attacks on Brutalism), some rightfully designated as so.

The anonymous commenter asked:
This is indeed a great album [the album in question is Peste Noire's Ballade Cuntre lo Anemi Francor, about which I've written a bit - S a/o B], and I am also having a difficult time wrapping my head around it. It is especially perplexing to be faced with such a masterpiece when one considers the imbecile (I commented on the interview with Famine elsewhere) who created it. I'm having a harder time enjoying the likes of Akista, Peste Noire, Malveillance, Kult Ofenzivy, Drudkh etc. as of late in light of the increasingly absurd blending of racialism and nationalism with what at first glance seemed to be a clumsy albeit genuine reaction to neoliberal integration. I can imagine someone like Zizek having something Lacanian to say which would help me rationalize listening to Dolentia and Goatmoon while reading Deleuze and Guattari, although I can't help but wonder if there may never be a method for "cheating" my way out of this one. Anyway, I'm very interested in more of your thoughts on the matter.

My very short answer is four-fold, aside from saying that the Goatmoon/Deleuze combo sounds awful for more than a few reasons. (What I say below also leaves out my real interest in the politics of misanthropy itself, and the ways in which certain misanthropic aesthetics have tended to marshal the signifiers of the 20th century's nastiest modes and moments.)

First, the vast majority of the culture we consume is ideologically contemptible, although rarely does it bare its colors so visibly as black metal. To go the Zizek route you invoked, isn't this analogous to that much cited Brecht line ("what is breaking into a bank compared with founding a bank")? The idiotic posturing - and genuinely disturbing politics - of some BM is a quiet fart against the not-so-hidden din of the dangerous ideological constructions of our era and the way in which they prop up systemic and structural violence against massive portions of the global population. Yet we rarely tend to agonize if we listen to a bit of pop fluff, now and then, however ironically. This isn't to excuse the stated politics of BM whatsoever, simply to question the investment of our anxiety. (And I write this as someone who has a great deal of love for some pop music genres, particularly certain hip hop and old Memphis soul, and who has little interest in attacking pop for being pop. That said, almost none of it can "move" me like BM can.)

Two, the gap between the sonic qualities of black metal and its avowed politics. Even if you don't go as far as I do (of seeing within the music itself a anarchistic, dialectically self-consuming relationship between inherited forms of the past and the networks of the present), the fact remains that barring a good deal of time spent with the lyrics sheet and interviews, you'd be hard pressed to tell apart NSBM (National Socialist black metal) from what we might call NSNSBM (not so National Socialist black metal). However, this perhaps only attenuates the sense of listening to something that bristles with the wrong kind of hate. And hence, perhaps, is all the worse, letting us turn a blind ear to what we suspect, correctly, is going on just below the buzzing surface.

Third and this I delay for a far longer post, much of black metal that is secessionist, telluric, and insistent on the autonomy of local zones (things behind which many of us could get, at least in a non right wing militia or intelligent design teaching school district form) gets lumped in with the real NSBM, or at least the muddled and murky pond of ethnic/racial nationalisms on which a large amount of BM depends for its lyrical content. There is a major difference between a simple hailing - or heiling - of your proud white frosty nation and attempting to preserve local cultural traditions and historical figures of anti-imperial rebellion. (This is not to assume that there is a very messy hinterland between these two tendencies.)

Fourth, it is because that gesture - the reaction toward neoliberal integration - is abortive/aborted that it needs to be brought forth. A deep listening, one that goes past the irresponsible and ultimately banal national-racism, and a concern for the unrealized kernel that happens against the intentions of its creators is at stake. A perhaps translatable model, an apparatus of reading and willful reuse/misuse (the echoes of my salvagepunk thinking intended here).

Of course, in separating the wheat from the chaff, you need to know when all you have is a bundle of shit to be cast away and burned. Some things are, and should be, beyond recuperation.


Isaac said...

Politically beyond recuperation? probably. But black metal beyond usefulness? I'm not so sure. Black Metal bands like Peste Noire (not to mention nearly all of the Norwegian scene) always seemed to carry that shrieking savage consciousness of the natural-state-of-things. It's abrasive, you can't get away from it- that beneath the surface lies the brutality of nature, the hierarchy of bare force that chafes against the artifices of civilization from mass production to the constant assurance of the protection of all individuals, rather than relying on the protections afforded by family and tribe.

It pains me to think that one would have to settle for something like a vision of a fanciful, pacific, world or the notion that what's natural isn't so awful after all. It reminds me of the room mate who introduced me to black metal and would 'come down' from his listening binges with the light post-punk band XTC.

But I think your original intuition was right. That this negative consciousness being pushed in a radical direction is an embrace of the nightmare of antiphysis (close to your use of Nature) of the willful destruction of natural categories even if they are sacred and biological (many of which aren't). Not out of pure thanatos (that would just extend the problem), but as a kind of death struggle between desire against nature-including human nature. But that could just go the way of futurism, so I don't know.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your response to my comment. Your mention of the Brecht quote is spot on for Zizek, in fact I'm sure he's used that one once or twice, and it really does apply here. Hate Forest naturally reminded me of the Drudkh question, which I've tried to clarify somewhat elsewhere (http://codepoetics.com/poetix/?p=440#comments). While recognizing that Blood in our Wells is dedicated to Stepan Bandera (reactionary nationalist and occasional Nazi collaborator), one must not forget that Roman Saenko is quoting heavily from the works of Oleg Olzhych (tortured to death in Sachsenhausen), Ivan Franko (founder of the socialist movement in western Ukraine) and Taras Shevchenko (Christian humanist(!) and anti-imperialist). However, I guess the point would be to say that my blind ears hear only Nestor Makhno when tu(r)ning to Drudkh.


Dominic said...

So what do you utterly reject? What's borderline? Is self-proclaimed NSBM beyond the pale, while mere crypto-Nazism sometimes leaves room for manoeuvre?

I find I can live quite happily without Grand Belial's Key, for example...

socialism and/or barbarism said...


my point isn't that all BM is beyond "recuperation" (a word that I used in the post and that I realize I don't much like, as it points in that direction of tamping down, making nice, etc). Rather, that some of it is purely shit - and not in the glorious abject sense to be hailed, the excremental filth and fury.

And oddly, the "some of it" I find to be purely shit often overlaps, with the most inane politics and the most redundant musical qualities, the corpse-painted hacks ripping off In the Nightside Eclipse for the thousandth time.

However, where I rather disagree with you more whole-heartedly is on the "bare force" issue, particularly as it relates to "nature" vs. "artifices of civilization." This will require a proper post (and I will hopefully get to it soon, because this doesn't much explain why I think this), but in brief: I think that much of the fetishization of nature in BM and the fetishization of it as somehow a blast of the unkempt, uncontrollable "natural state of things" is in fact a cover story, one that misses the deep artificiality of black metal, its inseparability from the electric, from the chugging, buzzing noisescape of industrialization and the transmission networks beyond. If it is the sound of the "natural state of things", it could only be the sound of the natural state of manufactured things, some buried consciousness of what is labor/productive process frozen into the built world.

socialism and/or barbarism said...


Drudkh are a great example of what I mean by that slippery ground - or a ground that we tend to muddy without considering more carefully - between NSBM per se and what you very well describe as the music of revolutionary conservatism. A number of the bands raised in your original question - and hell, Peste Noire, perhaps best of all, with the simultaneous raising of Artaud and L'Action Francaise - are precisely that odd combination, of blood and soil patrie (or at times, the hearkening toward le royaume) with an aesthetics that flies in the face of all that we tend to associate with either conservatism (with its associated sense of traditional cultural preferences, or at least a lack of formal innovation in cultural production) or Fascism (from its Futurist through monumentalist through social realist valences).

socialism and/or barbarism said...

Dominic -

I'm tempted to go the Jesse Helms route and say: "I know it when I hear it."

My dividing lines of when to toss the black metal baby out with the Nazi bathwater actually doesn't have to do primarily with how visible their shit politics are. To be sure, I have no interest in listening to the vast majority of "true" NSBM. But that has more to do with the fact that the music is tame, derivative, uninspired, and a waste of time. While I like a bit of wiggle room for manoeuvre, I also am equally bothered by a tendency I mistakenly described, that of "recuperation."

So, more directly.

What I utterly reject are NSBM bands who make boring music.

What is borderline: explicitly NSBM bands who make amazing music.

What is not borderline whatsoever: bands that may or may not get described as "fascist" or "nationalist" who make the kind of music I cannot live without.

Nicola Masciandaro said...

I think the path I take through the hate forest (amazing band!), definitely holzweg rather than road, is a combination of a deep lack of concern for correctness (rationalizing my listening) and a nasty habit of improvisationally allegorizing everything in favor of my own whims and desires. Which doesn't add much to the issue posed here, though in practice it produces something like ECW's boundaries. A slightly more black metal way of saying this is that I find ideology revolting as such and therefore tend to rule it out along with any sense of responsibility towards it in an priori way. Which does not mean I do not have ideological *tastes* (leftist/anarchist). Or that I do not enjoy rapturous musical experience of principles territorialized by fascism (self-sufficiency, purity, nobility, spiritual culture). Basically, 'All that is written is written for our doctrine.' Perhaps poetic rather than blind ears. So that when Akitsa sing to me

Enfants du Nord, fils du froid
Combats pour tes origines et ta culture
Les forêts épineuses ou le vent souffle
La neige blanche d'une rare pureté

Sang nordique
Identité à cette terre

Soldats du Nord, fils d'Odin
Combattez pour vôtre territoire
Tel les vikings imposez vôtre domination
Démontrez la gloire du Nord

. . . well, you know.

socialism and/or barbarism said...

Akitsa. So fucking good.

Something in what you said helps me clarify the Gordian knot of black metal "ideology", which indeed is revolting but which nevertheless marks its objects (or, more precisely, is marked by the objects it supposed describes: what is ideology if not the rendering natural/appearing as if permanent and eternal the contingencies of some thing, or some arrangement of things). For the fact is that those principles territorialized by fascism ("self-sufficiency, purity, nobility, spiritual culture") may appear in the lyrics of BM but surely not in the sound (and not in most of the lyrics, or at least of the Satan oriented borderline NSBMers, like my old favorite Satanic Warmaster). When even one man can be a horde and can make the kind of black racket we know very well, we are surely far from a Nazi (or Ayn Randian) vision of pruity and self-sufficiency: it's the dirty mess of a horde coming together, the self-sufficiency of the group as a discontinuous, historically fractured body.

Listening to "Sang Nordique", I'm struck by just how incredibly far the music is - in all its weird shimmering chugging groove, slow throb bass kick, and hyper repetitive fuzzed out guitar lines - from any "rare pureté". (Again, a question, perhaps, of what happens against the "will" of its creators.) If there is a sang nordique around which to rally, it must be something decisively not pure, either in the easy translatability of allegory or of bullshit racial determinism, but rather something closer to a stance to be taken, an origin to be raided and used by any against the very ideologies for which it is marshaled. Blood and soil as a mode of collective relation to shared ground (the relation of embattlement to a territory on which you have been made to feel unwanted, the very condition of all those who work for a living), not as phantom guarantors of heritage.

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Cool. The blood-soaked land is dirty indeed, self-soiled. And we are also dealing here with the more extensive question of *lyric* as such, something grounded in a universalized specific loving/hating subject and a saying that exceeds and overmasters its said. Here the heritage of the black metal artist should be traced, not back to some original warrior band or comitatus, but through the medieval troubadour to the pagan wanderer/outcast/loser, the one who exemplifies his culture only by not--something Severed Ways does very well. Song=virtual/more-real possession of the beloved=NOT doing what you are singing about. Here I see more clearly black metal's *pathetic* dimension as its nuclear power center. Vide Heartless (vocally close to Vordr, but more straight up melancholic): "Let me drink my blood / It's my final wish!"