The Darker Side of Metal: Racism

We here at CJLO love heavy metal, despite its many flaws. It’s not just a few bad apples spoiling the genre. Some cases are evidence of cultural intolerance infiltrating the scene, getting worse as the music becomes more extreme. This two-part series will examine the problematic nature of metal. We’re only scratching the surface here, the subject matter can fill books and multiple documentaries. But only by acknowledging the problem, can we change it for the better.

Although its roots are based in African-American blues and rock n’ roll, metal has attracted a number of white supremacists. Part one uncovers how the music is used to sell hate, and what a handful of individuals are doing to combat that racism.


Evolution of a Problem:

Since its inception, Heavy metal pioneers like Black Sabbath and Slayer have used Nazi imagery for the sake of being provocative. Lemmy of Motorhead was particularly controversial for collecting Nazi memorabilia, but he insisted he was only interested in the historical significance, and not the ideology. It wasn’t until the 1990s, that Nazism was taken seriously. The Norwegian black metal scene took it to the next level with acts of violence and terrorism. The most infamous perpetrator was Varg Vikernes of Burzum, and his transition from a Lord of the Rings nerd to Satanist to “Pagan Nationalist.” His many crimes include murder, arson of several churches and mailing a faulty letter bomb to Israeli band Salem. He and other Scandinavian black metal bands sought to return to their Pagan roots, writing songs of Viking armies conquering foreign foes. This led to the creation National Socialist Black Metal. The music style has been used an effective recruitment tool for far-right hate groups, operating in secret through record labels. European NSBM was later adopted in North America, building on the legacy of the racist skinhead band Screwdriver. It was rebranded as “hatecore” and was able to fly under the radar thanks to free speech laws. The racism in the lyrics was downplayed so that bands could reach a wider audience and headline mainstream music festivals.


the problem persists:

Just like the world today, racism in metal is subtle, but has occasional publicized outbursts. In 2016, Phil Anselmo of Pantera was caught on camera giving a Nazi salute and shouting “white power” at a concert. He claimed it was a joke, but his behaviour wasn’t the least bit surprising, considering the amount of confederate flags in Pantera’s album art. The same year, NSBM band Graveland were set to headline the Messe des Morts festival, but the show was shut down by anti-fascist protesters. Meanwhile, Varg Vikernes, a decade since being released from prison, has abandoned black metal and instead posts racist video rants on Youtube.


who is fixing the problem:

In response to NSBM, there has been a rise of explicit anti-racist black metal bands. Lyrics fantasize about executing racists like in “White Genocide” by Neckbeard Deathcamp and Gaylord’s “Neo-nazi Metalheads Will Be Hanged and Their Broken Corpses Openly Mocked.” This year was also the first installment of Black Flags Over Brooklyn, a festival dedicated to anti-racist extreme metal. Bands like Anal Trump (a parody side-project of Travis Ryan from Cattle Decapitation) have directly donated money made from record sales to organizations that support minority groups that have been hurt by the Trump administration’s policy.

People of colour are occupying more and more space in metal. Excluding the cringey white rappers of nu metal, artists are infusing heavy metal with hip hop to speak of the black experience. Some notable bands are Body CountIce T’s metal side project—and Ho99o9, who mix elements of trap, hardcore punk and industrial metal.

If you ever have suspicions of a certain band being racist, do your research. It sometimes only requires a Google search. Antifa networks have done a lot deep-diving on bands, often finding racist remarks made in interviews, old photos of band members sieg-heiling, or an association with NSBM record labels.


Chris Aitkens, aka The Frog, is the host of SEWER SPEWER on CJLO every Wednesday at 1pm.