Racist Rock: An Overview of White Supremacy in Punk and Metal
In the wake of the recent massacre at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, many media sources have taken shooter Wade Page's association with the underground white-supremacist music scene and blown it up to sensationalist proportions. All of a sudden, switching on your television set is like taking a time machine back to the late '80s, when white-power skinheads were featured on every news report.
Unfortunately, most of these reports fail to provide a comprehensive historical look at how neo-Nazi-type individuals have infiltrated the punk and metal scenes. Although it's unlikely anyone will read about these racist ideologies in music and understand what compels a person like Page to commit such heinous acts, presenting a brief overview of racism in the punk and metal worlds might help to paint a clearer picture than the one that's been put forth in recent weeks.
At the dawn of British punk, Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and designer Vivienne Westwood flirted with Nazi imagery, but their intention was simply to shock people and further twist the knife in the gut of the hippie dream. The thing McLaren and Westwood didn't bargain for was fascist imagery attracting fans who misunderstood the message and mistook detached, post-modern statements for calls to defend their race.
It is unanimously agreed that blame for any punk-related white-power skinhead scene should be heaped onto Skrewdriver and their founder and lead vocalist, Ian Stuart. Formed near Blackpool, England, in 1976, the band was initially nothing more than an exceptionally raw punk band with no political affiliations that released two classic singles and an LP before breaking up in 1978. But at some point in the early '80s, Stuart mysteriously reemerged with a shaved head and overtly racist agenda. With financial backing from various right-wing political groups, a revamped, racist incarnation of Skrewdriver went over shockingly well in England, despite a lack of coverage in both the mainstream and underground music press.
Watch 'All Hail the New Dawn' from Skrewdriver
Pretty soon, bands such as Brutal Attack, Skullhead and No Remorse began performing alongside the band, and a frighteningly strong and self-sufficient racist rock scene flourished on the British Isles.
Through eight full-length releases, numerous arrests and subsequent jail stints and countless lineup changes, Stuart led his band into the '90s, courting a fanatical worldwide following. He died in an automobile accident on Sept. 23, 1993, but the white-power skinhead scene continues to linger on both sides of the pond, and many view him as a martyr for the cause.
In the realm of metal, the Norwegian black metal artist Varg Vikernes of Burzum is usually credited with first stirring thoughts of racial purity within the scene, referencing pagan imagery and the Norse god Odin in his lyrics. In the early '90s, around the same time Varg was convicted of murdering his band mate Euronymous, various Eastern European black metal bands picked up and ran with the racist banner. Rooted in anti-Christian paganism, groups such as Absurd and Graveland -- hailing from Germany and Poland, respectively -- squashed any confusion regarding their beliefs by simply labeling themselves National Socialist Black Metal, or NSBM.
Over the years, bands such as Virginia's Grand Belial's Key, Poland's Dark Fury and Australia's Spear of Longinus have used underground online distribution networks and music festivals such as the Frey Faxi festival, held in Romania, to spread the NSBM message.
Unlike the Nazi skinhead scene Ian Stuart basically cultivated from the ground up, the NSBM community projects its beliefs from musical turf whose foundation has been laid by others. This is bound to cause unrest and confusion in some headbanger circles. In a musical scene where shock, graphic imagery and theatrics are cornerstones, speculation runs rampant regarding certain bands' beliefs. Most recently, the Texas group Nyogthaeblisz was dropped from this years' Chaos in Tejas festival due to the band's supposed ties with NSBM. The fact that the name of their record label is Satanic Skinhead probably didn't help their cause, but the rumor that the band members are Hispanic makes the misunderstanding all the weirder.
There's also the issue of many black metal artists simply not wanting National Socialism promoted through the music, and Swedish bands such as Dark Funeral and Dissection have come out out against it.
In the long run, despite the coverage they've been receiving in the media, the Nazi skinhead and NSBM scenes are small, insular parts of both the punk and metal scenes, and they remain as much of a threat as they were prior to Wade Page's rampage. For now, all we can do is raise awareness of their actions through the proper channels and not lose our heads.
Tony Rettman is a freelance music journalist whose work has appeared in The Village Voice, Arthur, Swindle, Signal to Noise and Mean. His 2010 book Why Be Something That You're Not: Detroit Hardcore 1979-1985, is a must-read for any fan of heavy music and can be purchased on Amazon.