THE CONSERVATIVE-REVOLUTIONARY POTENTIAL OF BLACK METAL ART
I. Black Metal: a Subculture or a Counterculture? Methodological Foundations
Black Metal shares the fate of all complex and multifaceted phenomena that transcend their narrow genre identities and, similar to Hegel’s philosopher who is able to “grasp an era through thought,” are always ahead of their time, either by affirming, or by totally rejecting the spiritual foundations of the time period in which they live. Both require an ability to examine it from a distance. As the unquestionable product of Modernity, Black Metal paradoxically issues a death sentence to the Modern world. The latter is the case not only with respect to contemporary Christianity: it is the antithesis to everything that is believed to be of any value for an average representative of today’s Western society: from the conventional notions of the good and the beautiful to the metaphysical Being itself. In other words, Black Metal, at a glance, is the very embodiment of an active-nihilistic phase in a metaphysical process of transvaluation of all values heralded by Friedrich Nietzsche.
This is the second reason why Black Metal is mostly defined apophatically, that is to say, from negation. I have already mentioned the first reason for this: despite Black Metal’s prevalent description as a subculture, it is more accurate to define it as a counterculture the goal of which is to terminate the entire Modern era. Many sociologists would disagree with my assertion, because some of them share the idea that early Christianity was the only fully successful counterculture in European history, which overthrew the values of the previous era, whereas the adherents of Black Metal, both genre creators and ordinary fans, are totally integrated into the current social system, support its cultural codes, and never question that which is truly vital for its existence axioms.
As attentive readers of Ernst Jünger know, almost everything — no matter how “subversive” or “irreverent” — can be incorporated back into the system as “manifestation of freedom. Therefore, Black Metal may be considered only a subculture, which is exaggerated in many infamous parodies that reveal the infantile and ultimately primitive character of the self-proclaimed “true blackers” who cannot cope even with their parents. Undoubtedly, these observations are not groundless, and are basically endorsed within the movement itself, which developed its own ways of social regulation in order to expel the so-called “untrue” posers from their community, i.e., trendies and money-makers that appeared after the scandalous events in the early history of Black Metal.
However, I would like to emphasize the fact that the given survey is not sociological; otherwise, I would have to put a full stop right after stating that the Black Metal scene degraded a long time ago, which means that there is no place for wishful thinking. In other words, I will discuss not what Black Metal currently is, but what it is supposed to be according to the pioneers of the Black Metal movement and those who stayed devoted to the latter tradition. Therefore, I consider Max Weber’s Verstehende Soziologie (Interpretative Sociology) to be the only suitable sociological method that seeks to understand a certain cultural phenomenon from within, describes it on its own terms and operates within the notion of the ideal type. The latter gives the opportunity to avoid biases of positivist thinking and legitimately apply the heuristic mental constructs derived from the empirical data for the purpose of better analyzing reality. The most famous example of the ideal type is the “Protestant ethic” used by Weber as a key for exploring the emergence and the essence of capitalism in his renowned work Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), which provides a fruitful alternative to the popular historical-materialistic explanation of Karl Marx. Accordingly, our ideal type is called “Black Metal Art” or simply “Black Metal.”
As such, this method is quite akin to the philosophical-hermeneutical approach developed by Martin Heidegger and his disciple Hans-Georg Gadamer who rejects the very term “method” as a natural-scientific remnant in the Geisteswissenschaften (human sciences). According to Heidegger’s philosophical interpretation focused on the classic concept of the hermeneutic circle (“to understand the whole, we need to understand the parts and visa versa”), the task is not to find the way out of the circle, but rather to enter it correctly, since this circle is that of our existence. Put simply, we (“Dasein” as “Being-in-the-world”) always understand certain phenomena in this or that way, so our sole duty is to explicate our assumptions or, in Gadamer’s words, our “anticipation of perfection.” The latter is what I am going to do in this paper, although I have to admit that in some cases we deal with such a high level of self-reflection demonstrated by the Black Metal artists that the researcher gratefully turns into a mere commentator: consider the first-ever DVD “Opus Diaboli” released in May of 2012 by the Swedish band Watain to experience the difference between the interpretation of Watain’s vocalist E. and those given in most Black Metal documentaries, interviews, and thematic investigations. The vast majority of such sources still are very disappointing or insufficient.
II. Aesthetics and Metaphysics vs. Ideology and Politics of Black Metal. The Principal Directions within the Black Metal Movement
What is the starting point for this research? Since the times of Aristotle, it has been obvious that the shortest way to the essence of a thing lies in its definition. But, again, mostly negative definitions of Black Metal exist. They do reflect the greatness and intensity of this phenomenon but say little about its main idea. For example, the epochal and countercultural significance of the latter can be easily inferred from the well-known attempts to clarify the essence of Black Metal such as, “it is not another musical genre,” “it is not mere music,” and “it is not entertainment/business.” Another set of negative definitions due to the nihilistic orientation of Black Metal is also widely recognized: it is believed to be anti-religious, especially anti-Christian, antisocial, misanthropic, blasphemous, and so forth.
Likewise, all intellectual efforts to articulate what Black Metal is rather than what it is not usually end up with an appeal to a certain spectrum of moods and emotions (“dark,” “melancholic”), sometimes–to certain highly metaphoric concepts (“evil,” “ugliness,” “war”) or to Black Metal aesthetics known as part of the well-established phrase “Black Metal Art.” This expression, however, raises further questions since Black Metal is represented as l’art pour l’art only if the latter means something like Supreme Art that bears explicit occultist connotations, which is the very opposite of this approach. If not, one is welcome to enter endless debates regarding the basic principle(s) of Black Metal ideology, which are mostly centered on Satanism.
Depending on what one considers the object of negation or the enemy against whom the War is being waged (“Black Metal ist Krieg”), there exist different ideological trends within the general Black Metal movement, which regularly cause sharp disagreements between its members: radical nihilism and atheism that stand behind Satanist imagery and sometimes overlap with LaVeyan Social Darwinism; the Occultist trajectory, which is often connected with the Left-Hand Path; Theistic Satanism (the religion of Deus/Diabolus Absconditus) that borders on Gnosticism and similar teachings, on the one hand, and archaic Pagan cults, which may be linked to “Aryan Luciferianism”—on the other; variations of Heathenism, from Pantheism to Vedic hymns, which are mainly developed within such subgenres such as Folk Black Metal or Viking Black Metal, and even Christian “Unblack” Metal, not to mention other innovative Black Metal bands often focused on their own “philosophy.” Naturally, we may legitimately wonder which direction is more representative of the movement or, in contrast, should in no way not be associated with it as one that transcends the limits of this ideal type.
Another way to fill the gap between the apophatical definitions involves pointing out the mystical or even a religious feeling that is typical of the Black Metal Weltanschauung, its special “spirit.” A reference to this theophanic experience that underlies rational explanation, among others, can be found in the interview with the French Black Metal band Deathspell Omega:
Some of us had a religious upbringing indeed, and these obviously went through the initial phase of global denial, whereas others were raised under the sign of rationality. That we eventually all experienced a shattering theophany is something very hard to explain in rational terms. There’s of course cultural arguments, anyone who went through long universitarian studies has been given keys—and this despite the fact that most universities in the occidental world are actually strongholds of humanitarian egalitarianism—and we chose not to ignore these keys, whereas most people do as they prefer to remain in harmony with the current Zeitgeist.
Such purely phenomenological descriptions could have dissolved genre boundaries, yet we feel that Black Metal has its positive core which strictly differentiates it from the related genres and may be formulated very simply. Therefore, even though only the National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM) scene and its rarer leftist analogues are notable for direct political involvement, Black Metal as a countercultural movement with great ambitions but carefully guarded borders is political par excellence, political in Carl Schmitt’s sense of the distinction between the friend and the enemy, which translates into the ultimate degree of association and dissociation between “us” and “them.” A highly selective approach to potential membership in the Black Metal community, of course, is more eloquent than inherent in any genuine aesthetic formation, prioritizing artistic expression and detesting the rigid and external ideological clichés, whether political or otherwise.
At the same time, such Ukrainian Black Metal bands as Nokturnal Mortum, Kroda, Drudkh, or Hate Forest, which at present comprise one of the most acclaimed NSBM scenes in the world, if not the most, even though they may introduce themselves as simply patriotic and concerned with traditional heritage preservation (another esteemed Ukrainian one-man band Lutomysl was described in a recent interview by Pavel “Lutomysl” Shishkovskiy, who envies people “whose only problems boil down to the presence of Jews or blacks,” as NEONSDSBM ), can hardly be regarded as such that impose restrictions on ways of expression in order to meet ideological needs. Above all, they gained recognition all over the world owing to their musical masterpieces.
In a narrow sense, Black Metal as a total war against the Modern world cannot be free of the political implications either, although most crimes in the early history of Black Metal were committed due to personal, not political reasons . Similarly, one may single out both the left-wing and the right-wing tendencies since the very birth of the Black Metal movement represented accordingly by Satanist Øystein Aarseth “Euronymous” of Mayhem, who sympathized with left-wing extremism, and Varg Vikernes of Burzum as a scholar of Old Norse religion, an adherent of Paganism, and an authoritative figure in the contemporary right-wing circles (among his influences are Knut Hamsun, Oswald Spengler, and Julius Evola), who distanced himself from Satanism and the whole Black Metal scene after its newcomers had started exploiting the original ideas and aesthetics invented by the pioneers merely for their shock value or for commercial purposes. Retrospectively speaking, it is no wonder that Euronymous was killed by Vikernes in 1993, which is regarded as “the beginning of the end” followed by the split and the growing commercialization of the scene (consider Nargaroth’s song “The Day Burzum Killed Mayhem”). On the other hand, I would not say that there is an irresolvable conflict of these two tendencies, or that there is no such metaphysical position that integrates them on a higher level.
Indeed, it is possible to oppose the Modern world and its symbolic incarnation, Christianity, both “from the Left” and “from the Right.” Furthermore, although liberation, nihilism, anti-clericalism (remember the famous Norwegian church burnings), etc. are mostly associated with the Left, even those Black Metal groups that stick to the Left-Hand Path (for instance, Polish Black Metal band Behemoth) do not necessarily correspond with the political Left, both classical and Cultural Marxism. Often quite the reverse is true, or they go beyond politics. This ambivalence is also visible on an aesthetic level: the “right-wing” symbols of the Empire, King, God, etc. are no less popular than the “left-wing” concepts of Homelessness, Void, Rebellion, and so on.
Benjamin Noys, who also addressed the issue of politics in the Black Metal movement, used as a case study the interview answers by Sale Famine of the French Black Metal band Peste Noire which was not an accident. Famine, who believes that left-wing Black Meal is contradictio in adjecto, underlines the chthonic and, as a result, the nationalist character of Black Metal and glorifies “the dark European past,” declared the synthesis of both approaches in a very transparent manner:
Black Metal is the musical memory of our bloodthirsty ancestors of blood, it is the marriage of Tradition, of old racial patrimony with fanaticism, with the rage and the rashness of a youth now lost.” 
Likewise, Famine describes his nationalism as fundamentally twofold, “temporal” and “spiritual,” which correlates with being a citizen of France (“medieval,” “rural”) and of Hell (“Sieg Hell!”). Noys fairly draws a parallel between this focus on the chthonic aspect of Black Metal and the telluric grounding of Carl Schmitt’s Partisan. Finally, searching for the roots of this ambiguity in Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy is also absolutely correct: the greatest European nihilist was simultaneously the greatest elitist, aristocrat, and traditionalist who looked ahead to the beginning of the new Golden Age. That is why Nietzsche referred to himself as “the first perfect Nihilist of Europe who, however, has even now lived through the whole of nihilism, to the end, leaving it behind, outside himself”, that is the first anti-nihilist as well.
In addition, Nietzsche was the greatest aesthete and stylist who erased the very distinction between form and content by making even the superficial details ideologically relevant and meaningful. The latter sheds light on the reasons why the expression “Black Metal Art” means something incomparably deeper than, for instance, “Black Metal Ideology” or “Black Metal Politics” and has the potential to reach a metaphysical level. At this point, an appeal to the Conservative Revolution—another complex cultural phenomenon that has much in common with Black Metal—becomes inevitable.
III. The Grand Invocation: the Conservative Revolution as an Act of Ushering the Gods Back into the World
Conservative Revolution and Black Metal are similar for at least two reasons. First, both have countercultural value. The only difference lies in the fact that what requires additional reconstruction in the context of Black Metal belongs to the explicit objectives of the conservative-revolutionary theory, which may be unequivocally derived from its name. Conservative Revolution was a broad ideocratic movement that evolved in Germany during the 20th century’s interwar period. It was also known under the name of the “Third Position” or the “Third Way” because it was impossible to classify it as ideologically Right or Left. Some of its principal players have already been mentioned: Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Oswald Spengler, Edgar Julius Jung, Carl Schmitt, Ernst and Friedrich Georg Jünger, Julius Evola, Ernst Niekisch, Martin Heidegger, Armin Mohler, and others. The global aim of the conservative-revolutionary movement was formulated by Hugo von Hofmannsthal in 1927 as part of his legendary speech delivered to students in Munich. He argued that the Conservative Revolution is a phenomenon previously unknown in European history that strives to terminate not only the era of the Enlightenment, but also that of Renaissance and Reformation. In other words, its goal is to construct the New Middle Ages.
This necessity of revolting against the course of history was proclaimed in Julius Evola’s work Revolt Against the Modern World: Politics, Religion, and Social Order of the Kali Yuga (1934), which, to a great extent, was nothing but a radicalized and politicized version of the major text The Crisis of the Modern World written by René Guénon, the founder of integral traditionalism, in 1927. In the chapter called “The Doctrine of the Four Ages” of his work, Evola writes:
Although modern man until recently has viewed and celebrated the meaning of the history known to him as epitomizing progress and evolution, the truth as professed by traditional man is quite the opposite. In all ancient testimonies of traditional humanity it is possible to find, in various forms, the idea of a regression or a fall: from originally higher states beings have stooped to states increasingly conditioned by human, mortal, and contingent elements. This involutive process allegedly began in a very distant past; the term that best characterizes it is the Eddic term ragna-rokkr, “the twilight of the gods”… According to Tradition, the actual sense of history and the genesis of what I have labeled, generally speaking, as the “modern world,” results from a process of gradual decadence through four cycles or ‘generations.’
In his later book Men Among the Ruins: Post-War Reflections of a Radical Traditionalist (1953), Evola defined Conservative Revolution as “the return to the starting point,” “to the source.” Naturally, in order to secure this grand historical coup, one has to rely on the means available in that very Modern world. This insight gave birth to the shortest formula of fascism “René Guénon Plus Tank Divisions,” which may be found in The Morning of the Magicians written by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier in 1960. Indeed, back in 1921 Thomas Mann considered Conservative Revolution in his Russian Anthology as a political projection of Nietzscheism understood as a synthesis of “conservatism” and “revolution,” “freedom” and “bonds,” “faith” and “Enlightenment,” “God” and “the world” and compared it with the Russian messianic idea as two totally different phenomena united, although, by their common “religious nature, religious in a new vital sense that has a great future.”
Therefore, second distinctive feature of Black Metal and the Conservative Revolution comprises the fact that both movements are not only anti- and contra- but also meta-phenomena, which reject the narrow genre and political identities in favor of the higher goals. Conservative Revolution is always positioned as a metapolitical movement and, speaking in Ernst Jünger’s terms, as “the absolute revolution” that ruins tradition as form but thus realizes the sense of tradition. This is the so-called “metahistorical” and “dynamic” approach to Tradition written with a capital “T,” which was introduced by Julius Evola as an ability to sacrifice forms in the name of principles. Furthermore, another similarity between Black Metal and the Conservative Revolution is that both ideal types are portrayed as a special recognizable “style,” that is, ultimately as an aesthetic phenomenon.
The merger between the aesthetic and the political elements in the conservative-revolutionary movement, which was noted with displeasure by leftists who were always afraid of “irrationality,” Walter Benjamin, in particular, was undoubtedly carried out beyond decorative purposes in mind. It was aesthetics that was meant to be that magical key used to “re-enchant” the world and reintegrate the autonomous and disconnected fields of politics, science, religion, ethics and, again, aesthetics, which replaced the hierarchic medieval universe subordinate to one transcendental principle. However, conservative revolutionaries mostly spoke not of God but of gods in the plural; the generally acknowledged metaphor that signifies re-mythologization of the world is “the return of the gods” or “the return of the sacred,” which was especially anticipated by Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Jünger.
“Merely” waiting for re-sacralization of the world, however, is not a rule and corresponds only to the current phase of metaphysical transvaluation of all values. This phase was preceded by the active-nihilistic period of titanic domination, the reign of Prometheus, who symbolizes the elemental powers of technology. According to Ernst Jünger’s observation made in his essay “On Pain” (1934), we live in the time when the new orders have moved far ahead, but the new values have not become visible yet:
We conclude, then, that we find ourselves in a last and indeed quite remarkable phase of nihilism, characterized by the broad expansion of new social orders with corresponding values yet to be seen.
This means that Übermensch “als Sieger über Gott und das Nichts,” the Superman as a victor over God (the ruined old order) and Nothingness that replaced the latter, enters the final phase of the battle with Nothingness itself. At this stage, both Jünger and Evola developed the concepts of apoliteia, right-wing anarchism and the differentiated man that rejects the Modern world not out of nihilism, but because it does not meet the ideal of the new sacred order. Of course, this stage is temporary: Evola’s right-wing anarchist and Jünger’s Anarch are always ready to seize the opportunity to build a new Empire.
Structural similarities between Black Metal and the Conservative Revolution are also obvious. Armin Mohler, who published a monograph Conservative Revolution in Germany: 1918–1932 (1950), which started the tradition of academic investigation of the conservative-revolutionary movement, singled out five main directions within the latter, three of which became exemplary: Young Conservatives (Moeller van den Bruck, Edgar Jung, Oswald Spengler), National Revolutionaries (Ernst Jünger, Ernst Niekisch, Hans Freyer), and the völkische movement that made the greatest impact on National Socialism (the famous doctrine of “Blood and Soil”). Accordingly, Young Conservatives mostly developed the organic imperialist models; National Revolutionaries were on extremely good terms with the destructive forces of the industrial civilization, and the völkische resemble the contemporary Pagan Front.
In his profound examination of the conservative-revolutionary recollections in the Black Metal movement, Alex Kurtagic primarily emphasized völkisch ideas , which is justifiable. At the same time, I would say that the most representative of the Conservative Revolution was not the völkisch but rather the national-revolutionary movement. Its members, Ernst Jünger, in particular, elaborated on the main metaphysical sentiment of the Conservative Revolution, that is the unity of freedom and the necessity presupposed by the concept of German voluntarism, in the most detailed and accurate manner. This metaphysical standpoint corresponds with the Gnostic Anti-Cosmic trend in the Black Metal movement, which is also notable for strict dualism between one’s divine will and anything else (“Death against death”) and does not seek the sacred within the limits of this world. A well-known description of National Socialist metaphysics by Hendrik Möbus of the German NSBM group Absurd (“the most perfect synthesis of the Luciferian will to power, and neo-heathen principles and symbolism”) would also be relevant in this context, although he is more closely associated with the Pagan Front. Incidentally, his conversation with “Velesova Sloboda” is the most interesting and professional discussion of the classic conservative-revolutionary topics by any Black Metal musician that I have ever read.
In conclusion, I would like to quote the words of Erik Danielsson of Watain about the revolutionary essence of true art and the necessity “to get deeper and deeper” while exploring the horizons of the genre:
If you want to do something groundbreaking in something as sinister as black metal—if you want to correspond with dark energies that exist beyond this world, you cannot have a mere interest in black metal. A passion for a music genre is not enough to change the course of musical history or the history of the world. To me, it’s not strange there aren’t more bands like us because individuals of that sort are very rare. If you have an extreme source of energy flowing inside yourself you either end up in prison, sharing a high place with a politician or you do what we do.
It is difficult to disagree and overlook the parallels with the aspirations of the most devoted and bright members of the conservative-revolutionary movement. After all, Mohler’s academic research was nothing more than a way to gather the new extreme front in post-war Europe under an alternative name after discrediting the National Socialist project and any other movements dangerous for the system, including Black Metal in its purest manifestations. Is it surprising that one day the representatives of these metahistorical and countercultural directions will join their forces as the “contenders in the larger game”?
- Ajna Offensive, Deathspell Omega Interview. ↩
- Interview with Lutomysl at Orthodox Black Metal. ↩
- Kevin Coogan, How Black is Black Metal?, Nachrichten Heute ↩
- Benjamin Noys, “Remain True to the Earth!”: Remarks on the Politics of Black Metal, Hideous Gnosis: Black Metal Theory Symposium I; Edited by Nicola Masciandaro (Charleston: CreateSpace, 2010), p. 105–128. ↩
- Nathan T. Birk, Interview with La Sale Famine of Peste Noire, Zero Tolerance ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power; Translated by Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale; Edited by W. Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), p. 3. ↩
- Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World: Politics, Religion, and Social Order of the Kali Yuga; Translated from the Italian by Guido Stucco (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1995), p. 177. ↩
- Ernst Jünger, On Pain (New York: Telos Press Publishing, 2008), p. 46. ↩
- Alex Kurtagic, “Black Metal: Conservative Revolution in Modern Popular Culture,” The Occidental Quarterly Online, republished at Counter-Currents. ↩
- Hendrik M. (Absurd) im Gespräch mit der Redaktion von “Velesova Sloboda” ↩
- Darren Cowan, Interview with Erik Danielsson of Watain at Blistering.com ↩
- Ibid. ↩