In pictures: twenty one pilots kick off their epic Icy Tour
The Icy Tour kicked off in Minnesota last night – and twenty one pilots pulled out all the stops.
Something is happening. On January 25, a very different type of metal gathering occurred in New York City. Although the diversity of extreme sounds on the bill of Black Flags Over Brooklyn was noteworthy, as was the fact that day one was headlined by a British band, Dawn Ray’d, this was not what marked out the fest. What did was its status as a dedicatedly anti-fascist extreme metal event, as much about raising awareness of the dangers of the far-right as the sonic roar of the bands.
For the punk and hardcore scene that birthed Racetraitor – one of the acts also on the bill and with whom Fall Out Boy drummer Andy Hurley has played – this would be business as usual. For black metal, however, this is new territory. Those who perceive the scene as having a problem with the right – whether in the form of National Socialist black metal outfits, or in turning a blind eye to unsavoury comments and loaded symbols – are beginning to take a stand.
In the UK, bands like Dawn Ray’d and Nottingham’s Underdark have picked up the flag, as has one-man outfit Gaylord, the half-trolling work of Canadian-living-in-London Richard Weeks, whose song titles include such gems as Odin Doesn’t Listen To NSBM You Inbred Alt-Right Shitheels. Across the pond, Neckbeard Deathcamp, who started as a similarly caustic wind-up with their White Nationalism Is For Basement Dwelling Losers EP, have found themselves on the bill of huge metal gathering Maryland Deathfest. In Colorado, there is the epic Glacial Tomb. But for all their differences, the spirit of these bands is a shared one.
“We wanted to make it clear from the start what we believed in politically,” states Dawn Ray’d guitarist Fabian Devlin. “It was essential to make clear that we are an anarchist band; that we were explicitly anti-fascist.”
“It shouldn’t need to be promoted,” muses Richard Weeks. “It’s a twisted world we live in when you have to actively remind people on a daily basis that fascism is a bad thing.”
Neckbeard Deathcamp’s Kriegmaster Hatesturm agrees, making a similar, if more blunt statement: “If the stance, ‘Don’t be a fucking Nazi!’ is too hard for you, good. Go fuck yourself.”
But where did this movement come from, and why is it finding legs now? Black metal is a decades-old genre after all, and while the darkest corners have contained their share of artists with far-right views, it would be untrue in the extreme to suggest that going to a black metal show is akin to attending a KKK rally, with any edginess often being pure bravado. But, as the above artists say, it’s the complacency and acceptance of these things as part of the furniture, not just in black metal but in life, that presents more of an issue than some may realise. In a world of a visible far-right, where incidents like those of Charlottesville are a horrifying reality, low-level comment and right-wing YouTube channels are, says Richard, a seed from which these things can grow.
“For me, the main concern is not the super-obtuse, swastika-tattooed skinhead NSBM fan, but people with more moderate and centrist ideals,” he reasons. “No-one takes [YouTube trolls] seriously, but when people are saying, ‘Hey, give him a chance to say his piece,’ you invite the flies into your home to sit at the dinner table with you. It’s easy to stomp out cartoon Nazis, but the misguided people in the scene who shout for equality and fight tooth and nail to give fascists a platform are a threat. People like to claim equality for all, but giving a voice to those who shout, ‘genocide’ is not good.”
One criticism, of course, is that this curtails free speech. Glacial Tomb’s Ben Hutcherson disagrees: his stand against the right in music is simply a case of actions having consequences.
“It’s important to clarify that the claim that the ‘metal thought-police’ are coming for everyone’s Burzum records is a gross, hyperbolic misrepresentation of what we’re working towards,” he says. “I would rather folks not listen to NSBM, and the idea of a heavy metal that no longer punches down is a very appealing one. But the point is that freedom to choose what you listen to is not a freedom from the repercussions of supporting individuals and groups who espouse racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or fascist rhetoric.”
Where these artists see this as important is the manner in which it reflects more dangerous attitudes in the wider world; ones that can lead to dark places indeed.
“The black metal Nazis will scream and stamp their feet, ‘Make black metal dangerous again,’ but piss their leather pants as soon as you get mad and clench your fist,” scoffs Kriegmaster Hatesturm. “Like, your politics will literally lead to me and everyone I give a fuck about being bulldozed into mass graves. And I’m supposed to take that sitting down or I’m a thin-skinned poseur? I’m not a fucking dog – back your fucking words up. I’m not going to sit down, let you piss on me, and thank you for it. Get fucked.”
This is an extreme scenario. But you only have to turn on the news to understand that politics is, as Dawn Ray’d’s Fabian put it, “Knocking on your door.” It’s perhaps the gravity of this that has naturally drawn bands to take more of a stance than they might have once done.
“The global political climate has led more people to the fringes on both sides,” says Max Speelman of Underdark. “As the far-right become more extreme and more commonplace, there is a backlash on the other side of people opposing their discrimination.”
“The rise of reactionary politics in the U.S. and in a number of European countries has emboldened hate groups,” adds Ben. “For those of us who’ve been comfortably wrapped up in blankets of privilege – myself included – we have to acknowledge that things have been fucked for a long time and that we weren’t listening when people of colour, women, LGBTQ and gender nonconforming folks were telling us. I think this growing recognition of our own complicity is lighting a fire under a lot of asses, and as a result there are more avenues for politically-informed art and discourse.”
For Dawn Ray’d, a politically tense climate is one example of capitalism creating a situation in which people can be exploited. In times of hardship, they reason, it is easy to be sold a destructive idea because it’s presented as the only solution to a problem. Keen to make the point that they’re not just about outing bad elements, but encouraging community and constructive solution, the key for them is in recognising where negative paths lie. And, crucially, that people can grow and change.
“Part of it is recognising when you’ve got rich, powerful dickheads who inflame and use their power for their own ego and success,” explains Fabian. “You have to see who your enemy really is. Working-class people have more in common than they might realise. You need to spot who’s suffering under the misery of capitalism and needs a chance to develop. That’s a fine line – people say horrendous things on Twitter out of the misguided misery that they’re in. And they should be called out, but they should also be given the chance to develop, rather than hung out to dry forever.”
His bandmate, singer Simon Barr, agrees. “It’s fair to be frustrated about these things. The role of anarchists and radicals is to share these ideas as much as we can. People need to see there is a positive way to fix this, and a really profound and positive answer to these questions, rather than scapegoating migrants or Muslims.”
This is an important point: these bands are not just spoiling for a fight, but rather to ultimately help and effect change. With economic cracks showing worldwide, and climate change giving us mere decades to get our shit together or die, it’s about a liveable future, and encouraging people to work towards solutions that help everybody.
“These politics are inherently positive,” says Fabian. “It’s an optimistic outlook, but it’s a realistic view. Capitalism is despicable, and it’s important to be angry about how destructive and horrendous it is. When you internalise that, it’s easy to become extremely nihilistic, but that’s not going to achieve anything. You have to try for something more. Use that anger and frustration to build something.”
For Dawn Ray’d, this has involved playing benefit shows for the Hunt Saboteurs Association and the Abortion Support Network, the latter of which “raised money that directly helped people who needed it, and signal-boosted these politics”. Neckbeard Deathcamp’s main priority is, by their own admission, “stamping out white supremacy”, but Kriegmaster says that at a previous point in his life, “I was always much more interested in corporate agriculture and factory farming. I figured my next mugshot would be for putting sugar in bulldozer gas tanks.” Ben, meanwhile, is a sociology PhD candidate and teaches students.
“I invited a representative from Girls Rock Denver to speak to my Intro class last semester, which was largely populated by high school seniors who were mostly young women of colour,” he recalls. “The speaker talked about the mission of the organisation and we had a fantastic conversation about how education and empowerment make our communities stronger. My students were excited about the prospect of creating art, and expressing themselves without fear of backlash.”
Ultimately, what Dawn Ray’d and their like-minded ilk want is to inspire people to think about problems and how to fix them in a constructive, collective fashion. And while it may be small potatoes to play in a black metal band, every little helps. “There’s a lyric in a Wingnut Dishwashers Union song that really resonates with me,” says Max. “‘A punk rock song won’t ever change the world, but I can tell you about a couple that changed me.’ I don’t naively believe the music we make will put an end to fascism, but if it can challenge even a few people’s views and change them for the better, it’s succeeded.”
All the bands we spoke to agree education and participation are key in moving forward. And, stresses Fabian, it’s about inclusivity; creating a strong community for everyone involved.
“If Kerrang! readers want to do something, they should get involved in the local music scene, start bands, start zines, and get active,” he says. “See what’s going on in your town – you’ll be made to feel welcome. That’s part of it: building strong communities. Find out what works for you, whether it’s animal liberation, anti-fascism, feminism – get involved to talk to people.”
Doubtless, the ideas and politics expressed by these bands will leave some in disagreement. But what it boils down to is something quite simple, as Richard explains.
“I want to see a world where people are happy. I know it’s saccharine, but we’re only here for 70 years, let’s enjoy it,” he says. “Regardless of the colour of our skin, who we do or don’t worship, or who we love – we all deserve to be happy. The world will never be perfect, but throwing down in the face of oppression will definitely bring us much closer.”
The Icy Tour kicked off in Minnesota last night – and twenty one pilots pulled out all the stops.
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