Nergal And The Antifa T-Shirt Controversy: “I Like Trolling And I Like Provoking People”
Behemoth frontman Nergal isn’t afraid of a little controversy. For years he’s been stirring things up with his outspoken opinions on religion or ‘disrespecting’ his home country of Poland’s coat of arms, landing him in hot water with the Catholic Church. His latest action to spark outrage wasn’t amongst ecumenical circles, but amongst left-wing metal fans. Posting on his Instagram stories, Nergal shared a photo of a T-shirt with the slogan ‘Black metal against antifa’ on the front and ‘Kill them. Show no mercy. Fuck antifa!’ on the back.
This was always going to cause outrage and controversy, which it turns out was the desired response. But why? We caught up with the Behemoth vocalist to talk about the headline-grabbing photo, Antifa, binary thinking and more.
So, Nergal, this Antifa T-shirt thing… What happened there? Why did this create a controversy?
“Honestly, I have no idea. First of all, people misinterpret things on the spot. They don’t ask questions anymore. It made headlines everywhere. And I like stirring the shit up – that’s my nature. I like trolling, and I like provoking people. Remember that story of me being rejected from the YMCA?”
“Orion [Behemoth bassist] and I went, but we had to go back to another gym, and I just made up the story that we were rejected because of our beliefs, blah, blah, blah. Man! It made headlines all over the place. People are being fucking outraged… people saying that I should get beaten, that my opponents would just be happy about that. And I’m just reading all these comments and all these headlines and I’m going like, ‘Why?’ No-one would bother to ask me if it’s true – because it wasn’t true – I made up a story. It was again another occasion that I realised how it’s easy to manipulate people, how to fool them around and just make whatever you want to do.”
Tell us about how the T-shirt photo came about.
“So we were in Finland and someone left this ‘Black metal against Antifa’ shirt, and one of the guys wore it. So, again, I took a photo of that and made a quick comment. From my observation, every time I hear about concert cancellations from bands that I know, and I know for a fact that are everything but political – the last thing you could say about Bölzer and several others – is that they’re fascists. They are not. Because if they were fascists, we wouldn’t be friends. Everyone now who knows me knows that I am anti any totalitarian regime. So I made the point that, ‘Hey, Antifa, if you guys want to fight fascism, use your brain first’, you know? Because you’re aiming [at] the wrong targets. And I’m pissed off, because it’s stupid. And it’s also the reason that the world is so imbalanced.
“It’s one radicalism replaced by another. All of a sudden, I was accused of being sentimental about Hitler, which I find, frankly, disgusting. Why would you even say that? That’s stupid. So I came up with this metaphor. The way that the world thinks, these days, in its majorities, is like, ‘Are you against Hitler?’ You say, ‘Yes, I am against Hitler.’ ‘Well then, you must be a Stalin supporter.’ Or, ‘You’re against Stalin? Then you must be pro-Hitler.’ That’s how people think these days. They think black and white. There are no in-betweens, no grey spots. There’s no middle ground. It’s either this or that. The world is bipolar, all the way through. Which is very unjust, and stupid.
“So for me, it’s like, ‘Guys, give me the right to think that both are assholes, and they killed 50 million people.’ I want to be in the middle, and I’m in the middle and I have my opinion: both [sides] are shitty. So hey, Antifa, I know that I generalise. Someone kinda gave me some extra knowledge; that there’s a German Antifa that actually know what they’re doing, and I don’t really know much about that – I just know that they attack venues, they attack people physically, but on many occasions they just don’t know who those people are.
“And if you follow my social media, you know that I’m pro-LGBT, I’m always pro-womens’ rights. When it comes to black metal, I’m way too liberal for how conservative this genre is. But then again I’m way too old to pretend. Whenever I think the world is unjust, and there is no justice, I just say something. And I understand that for some people it’s not very comfortable, what I’m saying. But the last thing you should do is to accuse me of any radicalism. I said that several times, too: I love my art to be radical and extreme. This is the spot where I go. This is my place. But offstage? Man, I’m just a liberal with a big mouth. That’s all I am.”
Do you think there’s any substance to the accusations that bands like Graveland or Bölzer have links to national socialist movements?
“I mean, how can you call Okoi [Thierry Jones] from Bölzer a fascist when his dad is black? People are not aware of what they are doing or saying. I know these guys, and they are genuine artists, and they’re pure as fuck when it comes to politics: they’re apolitical. Most of these bands are apolitical. I kind of gave up on just being an advocate. I don’t want to do that because the world is stupid these days, and it’s just getting worse and worse. So I’m like, ‘Fuck it.’ Fuck it, because it’s just wrong… But then again, if you ask me, I disagree with a lot of stuff that is happening out there.
“And then again, as much as I’m a supporter of minorities and I’m friends with minorities, it triggers the antagonists as well. Whenever I make a post about pro-gay rights, it immediately puts me in ‘the gay section’. Which again, is wrong. I’m not gay, and if I was gay, you’d know it. If I was transgender, you would fucking know it, because that’s my nature. I’m not here to lurk in the shadows. I’m here to be who the fuck I am. Like being honest with myself, and with fans, and with the world. That’s what I am. But what I dislike to the maximum is the fact that people just see black and white. That’s all they see. And I always advise our fans or whoever is asking, ‘Guys, please, just stop being judgmental. Just to think twice before you throw accusations.’ It’s so easy to throw shit at other people these days. Do they deserve that? In most cases, I guess not. So do some investigation. Talk. Think. Fucking wait with your language. Wait with your wording, because sometimes it’s too much. So maybe I didn’t wait with my wording when I made my post about Antifa, okay? And I admit that.
“But then again, a few days ago, I came across Nick Cave’s interview about that. And guess what? I’m reading that, like, ‘Wow!’ and I’m sorry that I can’t explain myself so well, but he said exactly what I was trying to say. I just use a more straight-up, more radical or whatever expression. But he said exactly what I mean.”
What did you take away from the Nick Cave interview?
“Well, basically, he brought that Antifa thing up, and he said that they’re basically acting like the ones that they fight with. They are using the same methods and the same means. What differentiates you from actual fascists? That’s what he said. I was reading that, and now I’m wondering how many people will attack Nick Cave? I guess not many, because he’s too much of an icon. And it’d be fuckin’ surreal and ridiculous to call Nick Cave a fascist. But just because I come from the genre that is niche and is not mainstream, it’s much easier to bring that stuff up.
“But it’s super unjust you know, and just stupid. Imagine that you’re not drinking. You don’t drink any alcohol. But you go to Grandma’s birthday, and everyone is making a toast. You go like, ‘Okay, just this one time’ – you’re making one toast. And all you hear behind your back is, ‘He’s an alcoholic.’ That’s how people react these days. That’s wrong. That’s very unjust.”
What’s the one thing people can do to improve understanding, to improve the quality of music scenes and to get along better?
“I don’t want to sit here and preach, because maybe I’m as confused as most people. Because times are rough. I’m struggling with my problems here in my country. I’m in opposition to the highly conservative, Catholic government with some nationalistic sentiment. I’m in opposition to them. So I’m confused myself. Maybe it’s going to come to a point that whenever I make a negative comment about my government, I’ll have to go to the court again, and just be dragged there, and they fine me, or maybe they fucking imprison me. I don’t want to just be the one preaching here and telling you how you should act. You know, there’s this Latin saying, that comes from medicine: Primum non nocere, which means ‘Firstly, do not make harm.’”
The Hippocratic Oath, for doctors: ‘Do no harm’.
“Yeah – ‘Do no harm.’ Just imagine replacing the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) and more with that one sentence (laughs). And really put that into action. Really take it to your heart, and follow accordingly. I would guess the world would be a better place to live.”
Behemoth are headlining Bloodstock in 2020. The festival takes place at Catton Park, Derbyshire, on August 6-9, 2020.