Gospel of the Worm: Marduk, Antifa and the Continuing Poisoning of the Discourse

Disclaimer: to prevent any unnecessary confusion, and to save some times for potential commentators on this post, I am entirely in favor of the ongoing existence of Antifa movements across the world. As with all movements, especially one as disparate and decentralized as this one, disagreements and mistakes are bound to happen. Therefore, I do not have to condone every single action committed by Antifa activists around the world in order to support the very existence of the movement and what it stands for. Thanks.

Black metal deserves every single piece of criticism laid at its doorstep. Let’s be very clear on that before we begin. You don’t get to base your genre of music on despicable, and sometimes plain murderous, figures and then act surprised when people levy enhanced and abrasive scrutiny against you. (I mean, you definitely can do that but it’s just childish and coy.) A genre which actively courts racism, nationalism, violence and shock images should not be surprised when people pick on it; you’re asking for it, even if you don’t hold those values yourself, and, deep down, you fucking love it. Black metal wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the knee jerk reactions of mainstream culture towards it, clear and cut. If black metal’s original aritsts were simply taken in stride, if they were treated as the petulant children they so often were, the genre would have been stillborn.

However (fortunately, I believe), that wasn’t the case and black metal was allowed to (somewhat) outgrow its deluded origins, producing some of the most innovative, evocative and moving metal to date. Shrugging off a simplistic worldview in regards to nature, religion, philosophy, violence and more, black metal has been able to produce nuanced and intriguing works of art on all of the subjects above as well as a host of others. Unfortunately, and as a direct result of how young metal really is, the original wave of black metal (to which all of the modern black metal bands owe a debt and an unbreakable bond of association) is still making music very much enthralled by its own antics and internal languages. Some of those antics, like the desperate cry for independence and personal willpower which takes the form of Satanism, are not only perfectly appreciable but also downright necessary.

Others are neither of those things, often crossing the lines into either childish amateurishness or decadent extravagance, lost in mumbling attempts at expression or boring self-aggrandizement. Marduk‘s lyrics (we can debate the veracity and quality of their music later) have, somehow, managed to fall into both. Looking back at their long career (being one of the original bands taking part in the wave of black metal placed firmly in the early 90’s), one finds either stumbling wordplay (“Wolves / Many miles they went / To reach this point / They went here to seek what they lost / What they lost before time / Before the first rays of light / In the worst torment of all“, from “Wolves” [1993]) or quite embarrassing attempts at painting themselves as more than they are, a trait common to pretty much every single black metal artist from the time (“Black, fearsome and grim and mighty / Panzer division Marduk rolls over enemy land / Striking hard and fast against / your lines / We blow your fortress into sand“, from “Panzer Division Marduk” [1999]).

Why are we even talking about Marduk though? The post below doesn’t include a clear chain of events. I trust you to find it for yourself. Here’s a recap: Antifa threatens to show up to an Oakland venue and cause trouble (read: violence) at Marduk’s show. Police cannot approve such a show, considering it a threat to public safety. The venue, also concerned for the safety of its employees and unwilling to operate without police approval (that’s illegal, by the way), cancels the show. The Internet Metal Community (multi-headed maniac that is) proceeds to tear itself apart. Seems like a clear victory for Antifa and anti-fascism everywhere. Right? Wrong.

The sharp of eye might notice that neither of the lyrics quoted above amount to fascism in any way, shape or form. I repeat, just to be absolutely clear: Marduk are not, and never were, fascist, neo-Nazi or Nazi sympathizers in anyway, shape or form (if you have any other, firm evidence, to the contrary, please present it so that I can recant). Nor do the rest of the lyrics contain anything to the contrary (believe me, I’ve read them all). The only ready evidence at hand is an interview from 1995 to Nordic Vision magazine in which Morgan “Evil” Steinmeyer Håkansson (guitar) states: “in Germany, where magazines as “Rock Hard” and “Metal Hammer” have decided that we are a facistic [sic] band and refuse to print any ads with Marduk […] the reason for this is that in a German magazine I said that in Marduk want to prevent immigration to Sweden and that I was proud over the fact that my grandfather was a serving German officer during the second World War”. This is prefaced by some utterly disgusting quotes about “immigrants – who poison our environment”.

And that’s basically it. Is the latter quote absolutely abhorrent? Absolutely. Does it point towards fascism, or even current racism, within the band? Not really. Does taking pride in your grandfather’s service in the Wehrmacht make you a fascist or a Nazi? Absolutely not. I don’t have the ink to go into the Wehrmacht’s intricate role vis a vis the Nazi regime here, but serving in the Wehrmacht was, most of the time, no different than serving in any other country’s army, with all the intricate social, political, economical and psychological reasons for doing so (of course, one could argue that serving in any army is fascism; I disagree). More than that; if you read the lyrics of Marduk’s music, they’re not only not fascist, they’re often anti-Nazi. Take the often maligned “The Hangman of Prague” (moniker of Reinhard Heydrich, one of the key players in the Nazi regime). If you only read the first two stanzas, admiration and pro-fascism sentiment is what you’d take away:

In the gothic splendour of
the chapel of Saint Wenceslaus.
Golden door with seven locks,
seven keys within your hand.
Ancient crown of Bohemia
placed upon your head.
Sharpening your spears.
The hangman’s disciples, vomiting forth death
Murderous power, rabiate hate,
harbinger of suffering.
The malignance of malevolence
rises beyond benevolence

Smite your foes that they may die,
splattering blood across the sky.
Architect of genocide
in death taking pride.
The shape of things to come.
The shape of things to come.
The shape of things to come.
The shape of things to come.

It’s all there; Heydrich is painted in positive colors, the supposedly glorious, European past of Bohemia (a kingdom often worshiped by Nazis since it had a key role in combating the Ottoman Empire’s advance into Europe, with all the “race war” undertones that has) is referenced, power is raised on high and violence is, if not exactly desirable, then certainly prevalent and efficient. But if you dig a bit deeper (heaven fore-fend!), you discover an interesting reversal. Suddenly, the tables are turned, and Heydrich himself is killed, becomes the hunted:

Thousand-eyed Angel of Death
armed with flaming sword.
Spread your wings, let the killing begin.
The hunter becomes the hunted.
Hangmen also die.

[…]

Hangmen also die.
Morningred, morningred
shines us to soon be dead.
Retaliating from beyond.
Killing, bloodspilling,
Wade through carnage.
Seas of blood, seas of blood.
Seas of blood, seas of blood.

The picture now becomes (gasp!) much more complicated. Heydrich is far from worshiped here, despite being a key figure in the Nazi regime, a villain almost as well known as Hitler himself. He is to be retaliated against, he is a perpetrator of an endless cycle of blood and misery. Those ideas, more than anything else, were carried forward into Marduk’s career, doubled down on in their latest album, Frontschwein. The band do indeed sing about World War II, violence, war, bloodshed and more, all the while walking the thin line between appreciation, fascination, disgust and criticism. A surface reading of those lyrics can easily lead one to believe that they’re like a million bands out there, enthralled with the idea of war and the “cleansing” force it brings.

But nothing could be farther from the truth. Marduk are fervent critics of war and its senseless nature while at the same time still infected with the perhaps childish fascination with war’s promise. Does that make them fascists? Hardly. Does it make their lyrics often crass and blunt? Certainly. Thus, in this dire age where actual fascism and Nazism multiplies across the world (in little-known places like Washington D.C) is Marduk the band you want to go after? Is a boycott or cancellation of their show really the best use of your resources when fighting these abhorrent and intrinsically dangerous movements? It really isn’t and the efforts which went into having Marduk’s show cancelled in Oakland would have been better used towards other goals, like punching Nazis in their fucking face.

So far, it appears my criticism is solely directed towards “the left” (whatever the hell that means) and Antifa but nothing could be further from the truth. Seeking to capitalize on the cancellation of Marduk’s show, right-wing-associated blogs and publications (to which there will be no links in this article) immediately went for the pitchforks and torches. Some of them went so far as to call Antifa activists “Antifascist and Communist Terrorists”. All of them lamented the cancellation of Marduk’s show, proclaiming the death of free speech and the First Amendment (reminder that the First Amendment protects you from the government and not private citizens) painting the scene in colors of alarum and manifold disaster.

Listen closely; I don’t really care that Marduk’s show got cancelled and I would gladly see more shows cancelled if that is the cost to be paid for victory in the fight against fascism and Nazism. Is it a shame that Marduk’s show got cancelled? Yes. Was it a waste of time and pointless ammo given to the right born out of lack of research and nuanced thought? Yes. Was Marduk injured by this cancellation in a substantial way? No. Is the black metal scene being oppressed? No. Is free speech in America dead? It’s getting there but not because of the cancellation of one show by one black metal band. If metal shows, some of them, some times, in some places, need to get cancelled as unfortunate causalities of Antifa’s struggle, then so be it.

This is the nuance which is lost as part of the polarity of online discourse. One can, as I have, hold the following views at the same time: Marduk’s show getting cancelled was a damn shame and Antifa are completely justified in their actions, even if these sometimes include mistakes and mis-targets. The fact of the matter is, if protecting black metal bands, adults all who choose to skirt the lines of the controversial, the criminal, the abhorrent in the name of their art, if protecting these bands from the extremely rare occasion of one of their shows being cancelled, if all of that is more important to you than fighting fascism and/or Nazism, you’re my enemy.

Metal and music is incredibly important to me; I don’t think anyone who reads this blog would say otherwise. And yet, somehow, combating the slow and insidious rise of Nazism/fascism is more important to me and I would gladly see the first suffering if it means effective resistance to the second. However, “”””the left”””” (again, whatever the hell that means anymore) needs to own up; don’t cover up your choices and your mistakes. Yes, getting the Oakland show cancelled was a mistake. Yes, Marduk are not fascist or Nazis or neo-Nazis or whatever. Yes, we could have used our resources better. No, this does not make us terrorists, or idiots or traitors. It makes us humans who are very, very worried and anxious for our well-being and the well-being of our friends. In the course of protecting those things, yes, we will make mistakes. We must learn from them and make sure, for our own camp’s sake, that they don’t happen again.

Oh, also, Milo Yiannopoulos (who was dragged into this chain of events, god knows why) is a fucking asshole and deserves every single thing that’s now coming to him. Period.

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Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.






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