Politics & Music: Some Thoughts

A joint post from the authors, concerning politics within music, and its impact on the reviewing process.

Heavy metal, and its associated sub-genres, is fundamentally and perhaps inherently a rebellious and transgressive artistic expression. Indeed, for some listeners, this is an intrinsic part of its appeal. From a sonic standpoint, musicians operating within metal delight in producing music that crosses conventional boundaries in terms of volume, speed, harmony and of course, lyrical content. Inevitably, such extreme sounds attract extreme personalities, and some of these individuals undoubtedly hold what many would consider to be odious and repellent opinions. Unsurprisingly, some of these opinions find direct expression in the artistic works of these individuals via their lyrics, or less direct expression in unsavoury and unpleasant views espoused by the artist in interviews, or on social media.

Having discussed this at length over many years, we feel that it is incumbent on us to confront the issue, given the inevitability of encountering such content as we work through our respective music collections.

We are well aware that, in particular, the black metal scene has been a sympathetic arena for far-right thought, which on occasion manifests as overt fascism and Nazism. This is also true of the neofolk and martial industrial scenes, and well beyond. In addition, many bands and genres have been rightly accused of outright misogyny, with the death and glam metal scenes being particularly culpable. Graphic descriptions of degradation, rape and murder are not uncommon in death and grind in particular, and we observe that women are disproportionately represented in these descriptions. Beyond this, there are other extreme political viewpoints expressed by acts occupying less right-wing spaces on the political spectrum, including those artists that promote anarchism and non-governmental ways of thinking.

This blog is not in any way meant to condone or endorse extreme political, religious, philosophical or ethical viewpoints, but designed to express the views of two people about the quality of music produced by a bunch of musicians we’ve listened to over the years. Unfortunately, like much art throughout human history (for example the works of Mailer, Wagner or Polanski), high quality music is not always produced by high quality human beings.

We are not ducking the issues. The fascism promoted by some bands is one evil, and the misogyny prevalent in the metal scene remains another evil that should be challenged at every opportunity.

We will not, however, ignore the questionable material that forms part of our collections. It is our shared view that this kind of censorship can be counterproductive, and actually breeds an unwarranted interest in it, as well as patronisingly suggesting that the listener cannot separate the artist from the art. In the slightly paraphrased words of Nick Cave (who was referring specifically to Morrissey, and therefore his words have been adapted somewhat):

‘Perhaps is it simply better to let the artist have their views, challenge them when and wherever possible, but allow their music to live on, bearing in mind we are all conflicted individuals – messy, flawed and prone to lunacies. We should be thankful that there are some among us that create works of beauty beyond anything most of us can barely imagine, even as some of those same people fall prey to regressive and dangerous belief systems.’

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