Listing 2014

Is there anything more self-indulgent and aggrandising than making a list of your personal achievements over the last year? Yes, plenty. But it still makes me feel like a bellend. I’ve had to tell myself repeatedly that writing this is more an exercise for myself, to help reinforce in my mind the positive aspects of my life over the last 12 months. If other people read it and get something out of it, great. But ultimately, this post has an intended audience of one. And that’s OK. I think.

 

Good things that happened to me in 2014

1) I got a job at least somewhat related to my degree. The start of 2014 saw me unemployed with little hope of finding any income, which was compounding my existing depression and feelings of worthlessness. But to my continued surprise I was offered a fixed-term contract with an organisation in London, which allows me to at least occasionally use my Japanese for translations or just conversing with colleagues. It’s not perfect, but of all the jobs I’ve had it’s definitely been one of the most bearable, and it might end up being a stepping stone towards something more permanent. It won’t, but it might.

2) I moved out of my parents’ home in an East Anglian village to a room in London. I can’t pretend my current living situation is ideal- the house is in a frequent state of disrepair, the estate agents have often been slow to respond to complaints and send repairmen around, and my room is tiny. And there are plenty of alienating moments living in the city, close to millions of people but rarely interacting with any of them. But the rent’s cheap for London, and it’s quite close to where I work. More importantly, it’s been the first step in becoming more independent, having to look after myself after a long period of feeling like a child being looked after by his parents. And now that I don’t spend all of my time with my family, I find myself appreciating the moments I do spend with them a lot more.

3) I made a number of new friends and acquaintances, aided by Twitter. I’m very ambivalent about the site overall, honestly. While it can be a great tool for connecting with people from all walks of life, and discovering information and perspectives you would never be exposed to through mainstream media, this year has demonstrated how easily it can be used to harass and threaten people, particularly those already subject to marginalisation and persecution. But I’ve been lucky enough to find no end of funny, intelligent, socially engaged and compassionate people through social media, and after moving to London I was also able to meet a fair few of them in real life. I hope it goes without saying that relationships developed solely online are entirely valid, but it’s been wonderful to be able to meet people in the flesh as well. For someone struggling with low self-esteem like myself, the fact that someone was willing to make the effort to come and see me in person helps me feel as though I might be a person that others value.

4) I finally sought medical attention for an ongoing condition which had been causing me discomfort and embarrassment for months. For a long time, my depression and low self-esteem had convinced me that I did not “deserve” to seek relief from this problem, that it wasn’t serious enough to do anything about. But I eventually decided I was tired of dealing with it, and sought help from a private clinic after the NHS were unable to provide assistance. I’m glad I did. The resulting operation was unduly expensive, and caused a great deal of pain immediately afterwards. And I still resent the fact that I was unable to have this dealt with on the NHS, that people in worse financial straits than myself would have had to put up with it. But I’ve felt much better about myself since, and I hope that if anything similar happens in future I’ll be more able to value my health.

5) While my writing did slow down towards the end of the year due to both a lack of confidence in my abilities and creative block, I wrote several blog posts in 2014. One in particular achieved a certain viral presence, and resulted in wider discussion about extreme right-wing politics in heavy metal. There was some unfortunate and perhaps inevitable negative feedback as well, though I largely felt annoyed and frustrated by this rather than threatened. (It’s inescapable that as a white, straight, cisgender etc etc man, the backlash received here was minuscule compared to what others have dealt with this year, often for far less strident comments). In any case though, it felt good to have contributed in a small way to the conversations that have been happening this year around prejudiced and discriminatory politics within metal. I’m not sure if my creative block is going away anytime soon, so I’m trying not to set myself any unrealistic goals with regard to writing in 2015. But if I come up with even one post that engenders as much discussion this year, I’ll be more than satisfied.

6) I finally recorded some of the songs for my long-gestating hardcore/grindcore project Anal Gender. The resulting demos are the sketchiest of first drafts, lacking vocals, drums or indeed anything but the guitar parts I’ve written over the last couple of years. But there’s been some positive responses, and I’m hoping that this year I can recruit some band members to flesh out my ideas and maybe even start playing live. (click here for the demos in question)

7) Owing to aforementioned issues like my mental health and the medical problems in 4), I’ve not kept as fit as I would have liked this year. But again thanks to friends on Twitter, I was able to find a great gym dedicated to strength training upon moving to London. I hope to continue using it through 2015, and to regain some of my enthusiasm for powerlifting. At this point in my life, I have few illusions about becoming a champion in competitions or developing a bodybuilder’s physique, and I don’t think I really want those things anyway. But if I can end 2015 lifting even slightly heavier weights than I was at the end of this year, I’ll consider that a victory.

8) Thanks to my move to London, I was able to see far more live music in 2014 than in the two years before it. This wasn’t an entirely positive thing- most of the time I go to these shows on my own, and for whatever reason this felt especially lonely this year, which put a damper on some otherwise great gigs. Hopefully this year will include a similar number of shows, but I’m going to make a stronger effort to invite friends along with me this time.

Albums I enjoyed in 2014 (no particular order)

1) Gridlink- Longhena

2) Thou- Heathen

3) Swans- To Be Kind

4) 100 Onces- S/T

5)  Pallbearer- Foundations Of Burden

6) Yob- Clearing The Path To Ascend

7) Tombs- Savage Gold

8) Panopticon- Roads To The North

9) Morbus Chron- Sweven

10) Diskord- Oscillations

PUAs in Japan: when misogyny and Orientalism mix

(Content note: misogyny and violence against women, abuse mentality, racism)

Readers might already be aware of the pick-up artist (or “executive dating coach, as he apparently prefers to be known) Julien Blanc, aka RSD Julien, who has received opprobrium for the manipulative and often violent tactics he advises men to use to attempt to attract women. In particular, a video of him using these tactics against women on the street in Japan has gained attention for the openly violent actions he is shown using- putting women in headlocks and thrusting their heads into his crotch, for example. The backlash has begun, with feminist activist Jennifer Li starting a Change.org campaign urging hotels in Australia to refuse to host Blanc’s seminars, which has already successfully persuaded the Como hotel in Melbourne to cancel one such event. (Li is also behind the #TakeDownJulienBlanc hashtag.)  In Japan too, commenters are raising awareness of Blanc’s planned return to Japan in mid-November, hoping to prevent him assaulting any more women.

I’d like to urge everyone who hasn’t already to sign Li’s petition, and to spread the word that this man’s actions, and those of PUAs more generally, constitute harassment or even assault of women. In this blog I’d like to focus a bit on the Orientalism that underscores Blanc’s behaviour towards Japanese women in his video, and how that Orientalism is reflected in attitudes towards Asian women among not only the pick-up artist community, but also among Western (generally white) men in Asia.

(For the purposes of transparency: I studied Japanese at university and spent a year in Japan as part of my course, where I observed the behaviour and attitudes I discuss. This obviously means my impressions are limited to one country in Asia and are of course subjective in nature;  I cannot pretend to be an expert on Orientalism or the dynamics of how Western men conceive of Asian women or Japanese women in particular. Feel free to let me know whether you think my observations are valid or not.)

Anyone who, like me,  is driven by some masochistic impulse to spend any time reading into the PUA movement- men who seek codified, systematic ways to seduce women- will probably come to the conclusion that manipulation is central to the approach these men adopt towards women. The central idea that PUAs/”dating coaches”/whatever advocate is that there are foolproof shortcuts available to men (for a fee, of course) to essentially trick women into sleeping with them. For a sizeable portion of PUAs, in fact, the central pleasure of sexual conquest seems not to be sexual, but the “conquest”- the sense of having “beaten” or “won” against the woman in question. If like me, you believe in patriarchy as a social system and a mindset that values domination and control above all else, the connection seems obvious. So too does the frequent characterisation of PUAs as seeing women as enemies in a video game- if you consult the strategy guide and use the right techniques against the “enemy”, you will be able to control them and gain a victory, without fail. PUA communities therefore buy into the unstated patriarchal imperative to exert control over women, and the dehumanisation and essentialist attitudes (“women are all the same, they all respond predictably to these actions”) that one must adopt in order to use manipulation against an entire group of people without encountering moral conflict.

There are differences in how these men see separate groups of women, though, which lead to differing approaches against said groups. In particular, PUAs and others in the affiliated internet “manosphere” view Asian women through the lens of Orientalism, buying into crass stereotypes of them as submissive, subservient, demure, and focussed on pleasing the men in their life. This is often held up as an ideal model of womanhood, contrasted against Western (generally American) women who are characterised as too demanding, selfish or even “ruined” by the influence of feminism. (This antipathy never seems to stop PUAs from attempting to seduce Western women, funnily enough.)

While the manipulative or even outright abusive techniques PUAs champion are themselves forms of violence (Blanc and at least one other pick-up guru have characterised the Duluth Power and Control Wheel as a how-to guide on “gaming” women, which is unusual only in its frankness), it is less common that they explicitly recommend an escalation into physical violence of the kind displayed by Blanc, at least when first meeting a woman. So why does Blanc feel so confident in assaulting Japanese women? Certainly, he utilises this outright aggression against women around the world. But he seems particularly brazen about this behaviour in Japan, bragging that “When you go to Tokyo….if you’re a white male, you can do what you want.” He also gives voice to abusers and rapists everywhere with the pronouncement that “Every foreigner who is white does this.”

Here, the racist conception of Asian women as submissive and non-retaliatory intersects with the misogyny inherent in the PUA outlook on women in general. Because Japanese women are believed to be too submissive to object to abuse, and because women are believed to be property men can do what they want with, Blanc feels entitled to assault with even more impunity than he would against white women. And because of the belief abusers hold that all men treat women like they do, he feels confident enough to display this abuse online and promote it to other men- every white man in Japan does this, or they would if they could. Unconsciously, he makes explicit the power that white privilege gives him, even in a majority non-white country like Japan. Because unfortunately, unless someone decided to file a complaint and press charges against him, he likely will get away with this. The influence of white supremacy around the world means that often when white Western men harass or abuse Japanese women, nothing gets done.

Obviously, few white men in Japan engage in openly abusive behaviour like Blanc’s. But the Orientalist view of Asian women that spurs such behaviour on is not uncommon among those men. During my time in the country I quickly became aware of the other exchange students who spent most of their time trying to seduce Japanese women, who would sometimes openly profess their “appreciation” for said women over those from their own country. The point is not that international relationships are a bad thing- happy, respectful partnerships between white men and Japanese women happen all the time. However, men who travel to Japan (or other countries in East Asia- the stereotypes in question are rarely sensitive to nationality) with a preconceived notion of the country’s women moulded by Orientalism are more likely to fetishise those women than to treat them as individuals worthy of respect. Even if they don’t use physical violence like Julien Blanc, they are likely to feel more entitled to harass women in these countries, to ignore signs of discomfort or shrug them off as “natural submissiveness”. This behaviour is all too common against women in Western countries; buying into Orientalist stereotypes can only make it worse.

It’s a good thing that Blanc’s abusive behaviour, and his promotion of abuse to other men, is being exposed and opposed. With any luck he will soon find it impossible to profit off of his behaviour, though I won’t hold out hope that this will cause him to question whether what he is doing is acceptable. What Blanc does, however, is at the extreme end of a spectrum of behaviours. While it’s easy to focus on the PUAs who, like Blanc, openly harass and assault women, we also need to pay attention to the racist and misogynist ideas behind their behaviour. Few will take them to such extremes, but they underscore the outlooks of far more men than just the relatively small pick-up artist community.

Bölzer, the swastika and ill-advised reclamation

Like most things in life, I caught on late to Bölzer, the Swiss death/black metal duo whose music has been received rapturously by metal critics over the last year or so. But having listened to a track off their soon-to-be-released Soma EP, I quickly came to the conclusion that the hype was justified. With a teeming, overwhelming sound for a two-piece, aided by refreshingly naturalistic, analogue production, both of the band’s short releases to date show a lot of promise, at times bringing to mind a version of Blut Aus Nord that favours direct bursts of aggression over long-form experimentation. It’s little wonder that these recordings, and a smattering of well-received live shows, have metal sites the world over eagerly awaiting a full album.

But, given recent events involving other underground bands who turned out to hold extremist views, a part of me was cautious about becoming too enthusiastic. What if this group, too, had some skeletons in their closet? In an extreme metal world that more often than not fails to adequately defend against the infiltration of dangerous far right ideology, this caution is not always excessive.

And then, last night, I came across an interview with the band on Stereogum that seemed as though it might confirm some of these fears. Among various other topics, interviewer Kim Kelly questioned guitarist/singer Okoi Jones (aka KzR) about tattoos of his depicting swastikas, as well as other symbols used by ancient religions. I have excerpted the relevant passages below:

STEREOGUM: I have one more question. I wanted to talk about your tattoos, specifically the swastikas and sunwheels. I know you and I know what you’re about, but not everyone who sees you play has that background. I want to just get it all out there before anyone sees a picture of you and makes assumptions. So. What’s up with the swastikas?

KzR: Please, I’m very happy you asked me because only a few people have asked me in interviews and I’m more than happy to tell people because I don’t want to be misunderstood. My sunwheels, my swastikas, my whatever you call them, it’s an ancient symbol used by basically every culture on this planet at some time or another for more or less the same reason, to express their adoration for the sun, the solar power. Most of them were sun-worshipping peoples, or held respect for the balance of the sun. It’s also a lunar symbol in itself for the sun cultures. Its right or left form reversed is a lunar symbol, too, and it’s a female as well as a male symbol; it represents a lot of different energies. It’s a continuum, it can be a destructive force, it takes a lot of natural philosophies into one. If you read about it, it’s really fascinating.

(…)

STEREOGUM: It also recently dawned on me that the title of your much-loved song “Entranced By The Wolfshook” is actually referencing the wolf’s hook symbol, which has got a very heavy history of usage by the Nazis as well as in Hermann Löns’ book Der Wehrwolf and by forestry workers in Germany. You even incorporate the wolf’s hook into the Bölzer logo itself. Can you tell me why you decided to highlight that particular symbol?

KzR: Indeed, man’s lusting for power is as a wolf’s for meat … often leading to self destruction. For us the wolf’s hook, or Wolfsangel, is one of the many symbols of antiquity to become caustically stigmatized as a result of their usage within a fascist-era Europe, something we are soberingly aware of but do not condone. Enough systematic cultural lobotomization has taken place in the past to make any such further demonization of values and symbolism acceptable within a modern and supposedly tolerant society. We promote the growth and enlightenment of the individual, the last thing on our agenda would be to glorify the implements of power involved in the collective enslavement of a people and their individualism. Fascism and racism in that sense are pretty unattractive for us.

Given my previous writing on another band’s association with Nazism and related imagery, some readers might expect that I would be quick to similarly label Jones a neo-Nazi as well. In this case, however, I am not entirely sure that this is so- at least, not yet. It is true that a white person with tattoos of a symbol that has come to be associated with perhaps the world’s most infamous fascist regime is extremely suspicious. The dig at “modern and supposedly tolerant society” also rings at least a couple of alarm bells- it does not seem to come from a position critiquing the hypocrisy of modern capitalist societies which preach the rhetoric of tolerance while still remaining fundamentally unequal and white supremacist in nature. And despite Jones’ proclamation that his band favours individualism over the collectivism of fascist ideologies, and the implication that they are therefore opposed to Nazism, this could be merely a cover for the truth. As contradictory as it seems, the rhetoric of individualism is not always incompatible with fascism, as can be seen in the phenomenon of libertarian types allying or forging ideological links with far-right movements. Certainly, his explanation comes off better than the infamously incoherent equivocation offered by Inquisition’s Jason Weirbach when asked whether he was a neo-Nazi– it would be hard to come up with something worse. But this could simply indicate that Jones is better at hiding his true beliefs than Weirbach.

Nonetheless, I do not think there is conclusive evidence here to declare with reasonable certainty that Okoi Jones is a white supremacist or a neo-Nazi. While there was at least one eyewitness account of the fascist views of Inquisition’s members to add to the evidence of Nazi and anti-semitic imagery and allusions in that band and its associated side projects, nothing similar has yet appeared in relation to Bölzer, at least as far as I am aware. As such, the possibility remains that the band’s leader may be “merely” extremely ignorant of the swastika’s impact, and genuinely (if misguidedly) attempting to “reclaim” the symbol’s older meaning. While I remain skeptical of Jones’ explanation and half-expect to hear more questionable statements in future, I am not yet prepared to suggest that we shun the band immediately.

This does not mean, however, that the best case scenario- that Jones is extremely misguided, rather than an outright fascist- is a harmless one. The fact remains that, in spite of its thousands of years of use in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, as well as in ancient Europe, the swastika is mostly associated in present-day Europe and North America with Nazism and other fascist and far-right movements. It is extremely unlikely that its appearance in a tattoo on a white person will be taken as anything other than support for those movements and their associated violence against marginalised peoples, given the white supremacist views that lurk in such circles.  The Third Reich’s heinous crimes are not even a century old; it seems impossible to hope that isolated efforts to detoxify or reclaim the symbol they appropriated will have any effect after such a short time. And if such a reclamation were to be attempted, it seems far more appropriate that it would be spearheaded by the religious movements who used it in the past* than by people in a musical subculture which has a frankly shameful record in terms of combating the sort of ideology that corrupted the symbol’s meaning in the first place.

As such, regardless of whatever Jones’ intentions are, his usage of an ancient symbol tainted by fascist ideology and its accompanying brutality cannot hope to achieve what he seems to want them to. His championing of individualism in the Stereogum interview leads me to believe that he would fervently disagree with this view, perhaps claiming that his personal motives and interpretations of the symbols should override what others would assume based on what they see (and I’ve no doubt that commenters on this piece will offer similar defences). Unfortunately, I am not swayed by these arguments, which seem to imply a person’s intentions have the magical ability to erase any harm that might arise from their actions. Like it or not, when used in the form of a tattoo on a person who looks like Jones, the swastika is likely to mean only one thing to a survivor of the Holocaust, or to a member of any group targeted by contemporary fascists. Even if his intentions genuinely are to use this symbol in a way entirely unrelated to fascism, history looms larger than our individual desires.


* The swastika is, of course, still frequently used throughout Asia, where its association with the region’s religions is stronger than the taint of Nazism. It should go without saying that this cultural context is vastly different from the situation in Europe, and that any talk of reclamation applies primarily to areas where the symbol is still a reminder of a horrific regime and the crimes it committed.

Mortals- Cursed to See the Future

mortals

Back in the earliest days of heavy music, little or no attention was paid to exact genre classification. “Heavy metal” wasn’t really self-applied as a descriptor by bands until well into the 70s; the terms was used more or less interchangeably with “hard rock” and others to describe a wide variety of groups from Bad Company to Black Sabbath. In an era of intense internet debates over whether a group plays blackened death metal or deathened black metal, this application of blanket terminology seems quaint. And yet, five decades in, the rich, divergent history of metal subgenres is being amalgamated and hybridised, with previously impermeable lines of classification being blurred. More and more groups take influence from so many different areas of the metal map that precise classification seems pointless; it’s easier to throw up your hands and say “it’s just metal“.

Into this category I would place the New York trio Mortals, whose second full-length Cursed to See the Future boils down decades of metal history into a potent, distilled form. An easy, if somewhat lazy, description of the band might be as a kind of black metal version of High on Fire, where that group’s blend of sludgy, Celtic Frost-inspired riffs is augmented by the addition of blastbeats, tremolo picking and shrieked vocals. But that undersells the wide variety of terrain their latest release covers. The majority of these songs stretch out to eight or nine minutes, packing in innumerable riffs but pacing them with space to breathe as well. “Epochryphal Gloom” is a prime example, building slowly from deliberately-paced, portentous bass, the tempo and intensity climbing gradually until all hell breaks loose. Here and on other jams, the breakneck sprints are separated with lurching doom stomps and swinging half-time breaks, the pace constantly shifting but always remaining under masterful control. Drummer Caryn Havlik skilfully alternates between blastbeats and patterns which almost recall hardcore. Singer/bassist Lesley Wolf’s playing isn’t particularly prominent in the mix, but her hoarse, rasping vocals are delivered with 100% conviction, and fit their musical backdrop perfectly. Guitarist Elizabeth Cline steers clear of flashy soloing in order to instead punctuate the riffage with melodic leads- the outro of final track “Anchored in Time”, in particular, brings to mind a swaggering 80s metal riff filtered through the Mortals lens. It’s not exactly a triumphant, soaring finale, but it does offer a brief respite from the otherwise dark mood of the rest of the record, piercing the gloom with a ray of light.

You could argue, not inaccurately, that Mortals aren’t really doing anything new here. It takes skill and effort to blend so many influences into a coherent whole, and to perform the result with energy and passion, but it’s not exactly the same thing as creating something entirely original. This seems like nit-picking, though, when this innovation deficit is felt throughout the metal world, and when the band’s output is this much fun to listen to. Cursed to See the Future might not going to change your world, but it’s near-impossible to listen to without banging your head, throwing the horns and offering the invisible oranges to the gods.

Cursed to See the Future is released on the 8th of July through Relapse Records. Check out Mortals’ Bandcamp here, or listen to the album’s first track “View From a Tower” below.


Personal Bullshit IV: finding inspiration where you can

ambergray

I’ve done some rambling, self-obsessed posts in my time, but this might be the most self-absorbed piece I’ve ever done. Read at your own peril.

I feel like this is an odd attribute in someone who went to study Japanese at university, but I’ve never been a particularly huge fan of anime. I enjoy the work of Studio Ghibli, of course, and the film version of Akira was very influential on me when I saw it as a teenager. But I’ve been somewhat wary of delving further into the medium, mostly for a reason that’s probably unfair: the fans. More than the stereotype of Western anime fans as socially awkward and obsessive to an uncomfortable degree, what put me off was the way some fans would latch on to this one particular aspect of Japanese culture, and act as if their appreciation for it gave them some unique insight into the country and people. To appropriate this area of Japanese culture without necessarily understanding it seemed to me an uncomfortable expression of Orientalism, the uncritical, adoring flip-side to the xenophobic Japan-bashing of something like Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun. I didn’t want to come off as one of “those” Japanophiles, so for a long time I avoided delving too deeply into anime, or indeed manga.

Recently though, I’ve started to think that these concerns about the people who consume anime shouldn’t prevent me enjoying the best of what the medium has to offer. A few weeks ago I watched an entire anime series through for the first time: namely, Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of the most famous and well-regarded examples of the mecha (giant robot) genre. I came to the show via an odd route. Given its large profile I had obviously heard of Evangelion before, but only became really interested in it because of the references to it in the music of Gridlink, the recently disbanded grindcore outfit whose final album Longhena has been one of my most frequently-listened to this year. I may therefore be one of the few people who heard the music referencing the show and then watched it, rather than the other way around.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the show and its accompanying movie conclusion The End Of Evangelion, in spite of some major technical and narrative flaws. The show’s producers were in dire financial straits by the end of its run, unable to even afford to produce animation frames, which is immediately obvious in the last few episodes when certain scenes feature still images for as long as a minute at a time. The attempts at humour in the show’s early run mostly fell flat for me, as did the episodes that merely reproduced the formulaic, monster-of-the-week format of shonen anime rather than subtly deconstructing it. By the end of the series, though, the show’s tone had taken a more serious turn, focused more on character than overarching plot, that resonated with me, particularly in terms of the insights it gave into its protagonists. The teenaged central cast, tasked with protecting humanity from invading “Angels” using the titular biomechanical Evangelions, felt real to me because of their responses to what, realistically, would be highly traumatic events.

Main protagonist Shinji Ikari, in particular, already suffers from low self-esteem  before being forced into war, and by The End Of Evangelion appears to be affected by full-blown depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Similarly, the character of Asuka Soryu Langley is initially introduced as confident to the point of arrogance, and at first seems to be a brash, cheery girl in the vein of so many other anime heroines. But she too struggles with self-esteem issues and emotional repression. Having linked her self-worth to her performance in battle, she is devastated by defeat, lacerates herself for her failures and eventually succumbs to a mental breakdown. I appreciated that a fantastical science-fiction setting would devote this much attention to the consequences of its events upon the mental state of its characters. But these characters’ feelings of inadequacy and self-hatred were especially resonant to me as someone who has struggled with the same emotions for most of my life.

It’s for a similar reason that the music of Gridlink strikes such a chord with me. Lyricist and vocalist Jon Chang has explicitly mentioned Evangelion as an inspiration (“It’s a really interesting theme which goes back to Evangelion, of characters who don’t like themselves; who don’t like their lives, and they really don’t like the world that much, but it is up to them to save the world”), and drew upon the imagery, themes and atmosphere of the series and other, similar anime and videogames to create a version of grindcore that retained the genre’s trademark furious anger, but also made room for the sadness and despair of these media’s central characters. The melancholy that accompanies the fury was more evident on Gridlink’s later releases, but their first album Amber Gray features a song directly inspired by Evangelion that balances the two on a knife edge. In just over half a minute, “Asuka” manages to neatly summarise the aforementioned Evangelion character’s emotional struggle, as well as some of the show’s central themes:

In the walls of your heart
I’ll always be no one
In the walls of ourselves
Kimochi Warui
No one hates you
as much as you hate yourself
in your own heart
Die

I can’t entirely explain why, but the “No one hates you/As much as you hate yourself” line in particular is tremendously evocative to me. To live with depression is to forever have that self-hatred accompany you. For myself in particular, the fact that you are always accompanied by yourself is what produces self-hatred. If you spend enough time with anyone you’ll grow frustrated with them at times. Being around myself at all times, and remembering the bad and hurtful things I have done, is a major reason I often hate myself. In the context of the rest of the lyrics, the line could be read as an accusation, an expression of frustration at someone’s depression from someone outside of it who does not understand how mental illness affects people. But it could also be read more positively, as an affirmation. Yes, self-hatred is a frequent feature of my mental state. But it is unlikely anyone in the world hates me to that extent- they don’t spend as much time with me, they don’t know all about me, they likely do not think about me unless I initiate contact somehow. In an odd way, I find it reassuring to hear Jon Chang scream that lyric, and to hear my mind screaming it back. I might not be able to remove self-hatred from my mind, but I can take some small comfort in the fact that others probably do not hate me as much as I think they do.

People, particularly my parents and other family members, sometimes ask me why I consume angry, despairing or melancholy media to the extent I do, with the implication that it is partially responsible for my emotional state. I wonder if it is precisely because it deals with the emotions I feel most regularly- anger, despair, depression, self-loathing- that things like Gridlink or Evangelion resonate with me. Or perhaps it’s because these things are skewed towards negative emotional states, that the inspirational messages I am able to take from them feel more real to me.

Inquisition and black metal’s fascism problem: clarification and follow-up

UPDATE 05/05/2014- added link to Daniel Gallant’s interview in Decibel to footnotes

Since the piece I published on Monday, in which I supported claims that the band Inquisition are neo-Nazis, has received the most response out of any of article I’ve written on this blog*, I figured it deserved a follow-up. I’d like to discuss some of the fallout, and clarify some things I feel I didn’t articulate well enough in the original post.

First, readers who’ve not already seen it will probably be interested in Inquisition singer/guitarist Dagon (aka Jason Weirbach)’s response to the claims in this piece by Decibel. I have to wonder if Decibel seriously thought Dagon would answer the question “are you a Nazi?” by saying “yes, yes I am. Buy all of our albums and merchandise!”, but either way it gives you a chance to hear the accused’s side of events. It probably goes without saying that I treat his explanation with extreme scepticism. In a statement on the band’s Facebook page prior to this article’s release, Dagon tried to claim that his ethnic heritage means he can’t be a white supremacist (“I have half latin roots so use common sense”), and in the Decibel piece claims that Antichrist Kramer, the head of the Satanic Skinhead Propaganda label that is infamous for releasing music by openly anti-Semitic or white supremacist bands, can’t be a white supremacist himself because he has worked with a Mexican band. This argument, a close cousin of the “but I have black friends!” defence against racism, was also proposed in the comments to my initial blog, and I’ve already responded to it there, but felt I should do so again here.

I think it is dangerously limited to conceive of white supremacists as Dagon does in the Decibel piece, as “a person who views their race—white—as supreme, and will not associate, absolutely, with no other race of any kind, other than his own race, which in this case would be white.” This is an historically inaccurate view that allows existing racists off the hook. As Daniel Gallant, the former white supremacist who I quoted in the previous piece, puts it: “Right wing extremists who are neo-Nazi do often have non-white alliances with others who share anti-Semitic beliefs and views. This was also true for the German WWII regime, who had non-Aryan alliances. There is a public misconception about what right wing extremist and or terrorists are, and what they are not.”** It would be extremely difficult for a bigot to avoid any dealings with people they consider inferior to them; there are many cases where bigots have friendships with members of the groups they generally despise, either for show to “prove” their lack of bigotry, or if they feel that person is “one of the good ones”. Tactical alliances with those who share their views are also not uncommon: I doubt the Third Reich thought much of the non-Aryan government of Imperial Japan, but it did not stop them allying together in World War II. It is all too common for members of marginalised groups to buy into prejudice against other groups, or to accept the white supremacist views that still linger in the unconscious as a result of colonialism. Anti-semitism among South American black metal bands, for instance, is not unheard of. White supremacists such as Kramer may well be willing to ally with people they consider inferior to them, if they share ideological similarities.

I’d also like to address the various responses to my original article that accused me of being self-righteous, a member of the PC leftist social justice thought police, or even a bigger fascist than the neo-Nazis and white supremacists I discussed, because I suggested people avoid listening to a band if they are suspected of ascribing to dangerous, hate-fuelled ideologies. (It’s odd that so many responders seemed so confused on what a fascist actually is when I provided a link to Umberto Eco’s concise set of defining characteristics.) I already explained in the original piece why I consider fascism and white supremacist ideology especially dangerous, so I’m not going to repeat myself here. I do think I could have articulated my position on this better though, so I’ll attempt to do so.

I personally chose to stop listening to Inquisition’s music when I came to the conclusion they were likely neo-Nazis. Because I consider it a bad idea to give financial support to fascists, white supremacists etc, I advised readers of the previous blog on this subject to stop paying for the band’s albums, T-shirts and other merchandise. However, I realise that even people who hate fascism will not all want to stop listening to a band they enjoy if the musicians responsible might be involved with fascism. I cannot police what people listen to, and despite what several commenters asserted, I don’t wish to. So if people continue to listen to Inquisition via downloads or streaming services, I’m not going to tell them not to do this, or give them shit for it. Looking back at the original blog post, I realise I may not have articulated this clearly enough, and given the impression that I expected everyone to make the same choice about Inquisition’s music that I did.

I can’t entirely deny that my position is a self-righteous one. I did make the choice to stop listening partly out of shame at having praised and supported a band with an ideology I consider harmful. It is on some level an attempt to absolve myself. But it’s a personal choice, and not one I expect others to make as well. There are those who I suspect realise this on some level, and have an intensely hostile reflex against anything they interpret as telling them to limit their intake of art that others consider offensive or harmful. I suspect it’s that reflex that led them to label me the thought police, a “PC SJW fascist” or whatever else. But my suggestion is only made in the context of fascist, Nazi and white supremacist artists, who I consider to be dangerous enough that I don’t want to support them in any way. If you don’t believe that Inquisition are neo-Nazis, or if you don’t believe that fascist ideologies are harmful, then I will likely not be able to convince you otherwise. If that is the case, my suggestions don’t apply to you, and you’re welcome to ignore them. Just don’t expect me to take your position seriously, or to respond to your arguments in the comments section. Since you don’t take my argument seriously, that seems entirely fair to me.

                                 

*Seriously, where were all of you when I wrote about how metal could benefit from engaging with intersectional feminism? There’s like 10,000 words on that subject, there’s bound to be something there for you to get irate about and call me a PC thought police fascist for!

** Gallant has told me that Decibel have offered to interview him about this issue as well, and that he has agreed to do so. If this interview does materialise I will edit this article to link to it. UPDATE 05/05/2014: the Decibel interview with Gallant can be read here. I think he sets out his point very well- I could quote half of what he says, but this line in particular resonates with me: The metal that I used to listen to is about challenging the system and the powers that be – not becoming more like them. We don’t want to become abusers or oppressors. I never thought that was the point of metal.” Given that we still live in a society that is institutionally racist (even if very few are outright, open white supremacists), how exactly is it rebellious or challenging the status quo to tolerate music made by white supremacists?

Inquisition and black metal’s fascism problem

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It was only at the end of last year that I became aware of US black metal band Inquisition, thanks to the appearance of their latest album Obscure Verses for the Multiverse on numerous critics’ end-of-year lists. Upon first listening, the main things that struck me included the oddly croaky, reptilian voice of singer/guitarist Jason Weirbach (aka Dagon), as well as the fact that all the songs sounded quite samey, given the ubiquity of their monolithic assemblage of thick riffs and relentless blastbeats. Quickly though, I grew to appreciate the band’s unique sound, and delved further into their back catalogue. This did lead me to develop some concerns about their material, the song “Crush the Jewish Prophet” from Magnificent Glorification of Lucifer being the most obvious example. If the song was an anti-Christian critique in the black metal tradition, as it appeared to be based on its lyrics, why was it necessary to centre Jesus’ ethnicity in the title, unless the band felt this too was something to criticise? But, caught up in the music, I didn’t worry too much about this.

Until, that is, I saw a thread concerning the band on a friend’s Facebook page earlier this month. It was here that a man named Daniel Gallant, formerly a white supremacist himself, called Inquisition’s members (Weirbach and drummer Thomas Stevens, aka Incubus) out as Nazis. When asked to elaborate on this, he stated the following:

“I was a white supremacist for many years. I have been out for twelve years. I drove the bus for an Inquisition tour. When I suspected they were white power, because I was driving for my friends band Gyibaaw, a First Nations band, I decided to prove it.

I pulled off my t shirt and there it was…my giant swastika for them all to see…they clapped and cheered…Inquisition (both Tom and Jason) were thrilled.

They boasted about their admiration for Hitler, how they loved the white power movement, and had many friends from South America and Everett, Washington…turns out we had mutual acquaintances. Tom used to hang out with the World Church of the Creator and still boasts his admiration for the church. Jason boldly stated he loves imagining living in the Nazi era and wished that would happen in America. They ranted until I shut them down.

The band Gyibaaw were grossly offended to the point of backing away from the black metal scene because of it.”

I realise that not all readers will be convinced by the personal testimony of one individual. It is a known fact, however, that the band has associated with the white supremacist Antichrist Kramer, commissioning him to create artwork for the 2010 reissue of their first full length album Into the Infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult. Kramer has been deeply involved in the National Socialist black metal movement, putting out music by openly white supremacist and/or anti-Semitic groups on his label Satanic Skinhead Propaganda (as documented in this article). It seems unlikely that Inquisition’s members would be unaware of his leanings, or that they would associate with him unless they were sympathetic to his beliefs*.

Sadly, this kind of ideological association is not unheard of within metal, especially black metal. The subgenre has long been a hotbed for reactionary political viewpoints, perhaps because of the anti-modern standpoint many of its bands employ, its reverence for “paganism” and other traditionally-minded cultural trends that have also been co-opted by fascists, and the reactionary nature of not only its ideological position but also its musical form. The Second Wave of black metal started, after all, as a reaction against death metal, with many bands deliberately hearkening back to earlier forms of metal and forsaking technique and polished production in favour of a “primitive” sound. It’s not surprising that this inclination would also create room for fascist ideology to spread- both spring from a reaction against modernity, as elucidated in point 2 of Umberto Eco’s analysis of the uniting ideology of fascist movements here.

Despite knowing about this trend within black metal, however, it was still an unpleasant shock to discover that a band I enjoyed subscribed to fascism. My immediate reaction was a feeling of shame, and anger at myself for not having investigated the group’s background. In the past I had made it a point to avoid music created by neo-Nazis or white supremacists, even in cases like Burzum where people insisted the music was good even if band leader Varg Vikernes was a virulent bigot. I smugly stuck to the position that I wouldn’t listen to Nazis’ music because it was shit anyway, the product of idiotic skinheads who could barely string two chords together. But this was confounded by Inquisition’s technically adept, well-written and well-recorded output. I had been simplifying reality to fit my own preconceptions.

More than anger at my self, though, I felt angry that the band’s fascist leanings were not more widely known. This is a group that has gained increasing media attention in recent years, their latest album having been reviewed in mainstream publications such as Pitchfork, but as far as I can tell metal journalists have yet to seriously question Inquisition on their views or their links to open white supremacists like Antichrist Kramer. How hard would it have been for the interviewer in this Invisible Oranges article, for example, to seriously interrogate Weirbach about the message of “Crush the Jewish Prophet”, instead of just accepting his equivocation? Do these writers not care about the expression of bigoted views, as long as they like the music? It’s hard to escape the conclusion that they don’t.

Even though I hadn’t paid for any of their music,  I didn’t want to support Inquisition in any way after finding out about their Nazi sympathies. I eventually decided to delete them from my music library and stop listening to them entirely. I do still find myself asking whether this was necessary. Fascist or white supremacist rhetoric is not central to their message or lyrics, which tend instead to focus on the conventional black metal concern of Satanism as expressed through astrological and cosmological imagery. Perhaps the band is canny enough to realise that openly expressing their views would limit their appeal or get them into trouble; perhaps they ascribe to the wider metal world’s liberal conviction that music is no place for politics. In any case, I usually hold to the idea that it’s OK to enjoy art and media with problematic elements, or which has been created by objectionable or even bigoted artists, as long as we acknowledge those problems and don’t shut down criticism of them. But for me, personally, a line has to be drawn somewhere. Art created by Nazis, fascists and/or white supremacists is on the side of the line I do not wish to set foot in.

This is not what I would consider a hypocritical position. Fascist ideology- insofar as it is a coherent ideology- is inherently violent in a way other political alignments are not, rooted in the rhetoric of destroying any element of society deemed undesirable. As Eco notes, diversity is conceptualised in fascism as a symptom of modernist decadence; and since fascism worships action for action’s sake and violent struggle as an inherent part of life, Nazi or white supremacist movements are ideologically driven to commit violence against members of any group outside their own. While the rhetoric of neo-Nazis and/or white supremacists within black metal is often mainly focused against Jewish people, it is naive to think that violence will be used solely against one group if this rhetoric is tolerated, especially when hatred of marginalised groups such as people of colour, LGBT people and disabled people is accepted even within mainstream society. Even a band like Inquisition that doesn’t openly espouse fascist rhetoric can still cause harm to members of persecuted groups. Gallant’s story shows how Weirbach and Stevens’ open expression of admiration for the Nazis led to the First Nations band Gyibaaw turning away from black metal, closing the door on an opportunity for that group to counter the genre’s overwhelmingly white demographic and tendency to champion or tolerate extreme right views. If we give our money to musicians with fascist leanings, we don’t just support them financially, we send a message to them that their extreme views will not cause them to be criticised, that their views are therefore acceptable. The same act also sends the message to minority groups that we care more about music than about making sure that fascist and white supremacist ideologies are not tolerated or allowed to spread. In a sense, we choose our own enjoyment over people’s safety, over their right to live free from fear of ideologies that call for their destruction.

I urge anyone who cares about making metal a space which is open to and safe for marginalised groups of people to, at the very least, abstain from paying for Inquisition’s albums or live shows. I wouldn’t want to force anyone to stop listening to the band’s music entirely as I have done; this is obviously a matter of personal choice. But please do consider whether it is worth it to add to the popularity of a band that holds these views- not just Inquisition, but any band in black metal or the wider genre who subscribes to fascist, white supremacist or Nazi standpoints. There’s enough excellent music out there being made by musicians who do not align themselves with dangerous, hate-fuelled ideologies.

                                       

* It is also worth noting that Inquisition’s Jason Weirbach runs a side project titled 88MM. In the simple alphanumeric cypher that passes for a secret code among neo-Nazi groups, this number represents the letters HH, or “Heil Hitler”.