Monday, May 05, 2008

Black Metal

Norwegian Black Metal really isn’t my thing, but luckily there are others out there surveying its murky waters. Valter at Documents has written a series of posts reflecting on the 1993 murder of Mayhem's Øystein 'Euronymous' Aarseth by Burzum's Kristian 'Varg' Vikernes. The latter – who is still in prison - seems to be on the extreme right wing in a fairly straightforward way, the former claimed to be a communist, but if ever there was a case of red fascist this is it. For it seems to have been precisely the most brutal and repressive elements of Stalinist dictatorships that Aaseth found attractive, professing admiration for Cambodia’s Pol Pot and Romania’s Ceausescu: “I like secret police, cold war and worshiping of dictators. I like bugging and spying on people, torture chambers in police stations and that people suddenly “disappear”."

I must admit in my many and varied encounters with the multifarious varieties of leftism this is something I’ve never heard openly expressed – usually the facts of Stalinist repression are either (a) used to prove that the regimes in question weren’t really communist at all, ( b) denied or dismissed as propaganda or (c) justified on the grounds of historical necessity. Still given that there was never any shortage of apologists for these regimes, Aaseth's desire was probably not so uncommon even if hidden (and they are still out there).

It should be obvious that neither fascist nor Stalinist regimes would tolerate the long haired nihilism of black metal, so the eagerness of bands in this scene to embrace such ideologies might seem surprising. Valter draws on Walter Benjamin and Georges Bataille to throw light on this phenomenon, particularly the latter’s suggestion that the artist ‘ harbors a secret desire for a society that denies him the right to exist’ (Valter’s paraphrase) - because in a dictatorship, art and literature really matter and can assume heroic dimensions, the persecution of musicians and intellectuals giving them a greater social importance for instance. I am not sure this is the only explanation, but Black Metal is undoubtedly an extreme example of the (literal) dead end of transgression as an end in itself.

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