Sunday, 13 December 2009

Remain true to the earth!: Remarks on the Politics of Black Metal

[Paper presented in absentia at Hideous Gnosis Black Metal Theory Symposium 12 December 2009]

‘Remain true to the earth!’:
Remarks on the Politics of Black Metal

Benjamin Noys (2009)

Der Feind is unsre eigene Frage als Gestalt.
Carl Schmitt

If we were to define a degree zero of Black Metal (BM) politics then it would be an unstable amalgam of Stirnerite egoism and Nietzschean aristocratism: a radical anti-humanist individualism implacably hostile to all the ideological ‘spooks’ of the present social order, committed to creating an ‘aristocracy of the future’ (Nietzsche 464), and auto-engendering a ‘creative nothing’ (Stirner 6). The instability lies in the coupling of a disabused hostility to liberal-capitalist ideologemes with a Nietzschean ‘grand politics’ of natural degrees and ranks. More precisely it lies in the retention of certain radicalised ‘spooks’ – notably nation, race, historical tradition or counter-tradition, and war – that perform the dual function of disrupting the limits of acceptable discourse within modern liberal democracies and grounding the abyssal draining of all ideological contents. Of course these are often ‘spooks’ associated with the extreme right, Nazism, fascism, and ultra-nationalism. Whereas Stirnerite individualism might be regarded as anarchist, or at best indifferent to politics, this racial-national metaphysics is often, although not always of course, deployed to re-territorialise and establish a ‘grand politics’.

It is of course perfectly possible to detach such a politics, which often seems at best secondary or contingent, from BM. A contrast can be drawn between a musical radicalism that is betrayed or constrained by these ‘remnants’ of theo-politics. In this way the critic from the left can safely handle and enjoy BM and proclaim their own sophistication by condescending to the naiveté of such adolescent political posturing which ‘unfortunately’ marks an otherwise admirably radical aesthetic. We can also imagine a more sophisticated Deleuzoguattarian version of this argument: the deterritorialising or dematerialising effect of BM qua music requires a reterritorialising grounding, but only to produce a necessary site of radicalised intensification; after all, the nomad performs their deterritorialisation by staying in place. In this case we could argue that the various territorialised ‘spooks’ are mere thresholds or sedimentations that, despite its own proclaimed territoriality, BM works over, exceeds, and puts in flight. In Evan Calder Williams more Marxist version of this type of argument: ‘the lesson to be drawn from black metal is the way in which its concrete sonic expression dismantles its spoken ideology.’ What concerns me is that both these options, tempting as they are, refuse to take seriously the kind of coherence between aesthetics and politics argued for from within BM. Instead of a splitting or contradiction between place and music, to be resolved by us politically or theoretically, I want to take the internal discourse of BM at its word.

Here I want to take one specific example of what we might call, in terms that would not doubt horrify him, an ‘organic intellectual’ of BM: Sale Famine.[1] My choice is dictated by the fact that Famine refuses any notion of the contingency of the link between BM and the extreme right, instead insisting on the necessity of such a link. BM is, in essence, right-wing: ‘To my mind, without being necessarily N[ational] S[ocialist], real BM is always extreme right-wing music — be it from Asia or Latin America as extreme-right politics are not the appanage of the white race — and it is always Satanic.’ (Famine, Zero Tolerance) In a recent interview Famine is probed further on this statement, with the interviewer raising the case of a possible ‘left-leaning’ BM band such as Wolves in the Throne Room. Famine is unequivocal in his re-iteration: ‘Now, I have never heard of WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM, but if they praise cultural blending, common ownership and equality of all human beings, then no, they have absolutely no right to play BM. They just have the right to make me laugh.’

To prevent any misunderstanding Famine’s negatives are my positives and, of course, from his position that automatically eliminates anything I could have to say about BM. In what follows, however, I want to reconstruct Famine’s position through his statements and through a consideration of Peste Noire’s aesthetic practice. I want to stress, in particular, how his statements and his aesthetic work together to construct a particular political position.

Chthonic and Telluric
What is the reason for Famine’s claim of an essential articulation between BM and the politics of the extreme right? It is because BM articulates itself on the earth, on the chthonian and telluric, to establish its aesthetic identity:

Black Metal is the musical memory of our bloodthirsty ancestors of blood, it is the marriage of Tradition, of old racial patrimony with fanaticism, with the rage and the rashness of a youth now lost. It is a CHTONIAN religion: a cult of the EARTH and a return to it, therefore a nationalism; a cult of what is BELOW the earth: Hell — the adjective “chthonian” applies to the Infernal gods as well. BM is a fundamentalism, a music with integrity (from Latin integer, complete) which helps me to remain complete in a dying world, amidst a people in decay, unworthy of its blood. It is the apology of the dark European past. It is a psychosis which helps us to flee a reality we cannot tolerate anymore.

Therefore, an authentic, real, or true BM, can only, for Famine, be a BM that is essentially territorial, selective, and hierarchical about the privileging of a singular and integral territory. The implication is that BM can never exist in the abstract but only as a particular national, regional, ethnic, or racial, form. This is a politics and aesthetic of the One but which, as we will see, can only ever appear in the form of the Two.

The result is a peculiar, to say the least, form of nationalism; although one not quite so strange when one notes the occult strains raining through Nazism, fascism, and extreme right cultures:

I am a nationalist, not a socialist... My two nations are: France d’Oïl and Hell. BM is a double nationalism, temporal and spiritual, horizontal and vertical. 1° TEMPORAL as it is always the heritage of a BLOOD and of a material EARTH it has to worship. 2° SPIRITUAL (vertical) in that it is metaphorically a nationalism from Hell and from Darkness, an ethical and aesthetic allegiance to the Kingdom Of Evil. Of course I share (I say “I” because it is not necessarily the case for the other members) some principles of National-socialism but I reject some too.
To paraphrase Famine’s axes, BM articulates together a horizontal axis of history, that precisely establishes a synedechocal continuity from the obscured European past that can be recovered only in its dispersed traces, and a vertical spatial grounding, an inverse spiritual hierarchy in neo-Platonic style, in which the ‘ladder’ of Being descends into the earth in terms of its participation in degrees of darkness.

This territorial politics plays an explicitly shaping role in terms of the aesthetics of BM. No matter how ungrounded or abyssal this territory may appear, being ‘below the earth’, it underpins the essential resistance against any deterritorialising and / or democratising ‘abstraction’. The very contradictions of Peste Noire’s aesthetic, its own fractured and strange parataxis of cultural elements, are related precisely to this spatio-temporal territorialisation
As far as the traditional/non-traditional contrast is concerned, I would say Beauty, Grandeur, Nobleness emanate when PN evoke the European PAST (which explains that melancholy, which is nostalgia) with a Black Metal in accordance with our forefathers’s tradition (BURZUM, MÜTIILATION, VLAD TEPES). Hatred, terror, DISORDER, madness break out when we conjure up the CURRENT democratic world. Naturally that disorder is expressed in forms which are less conventional.
The irony is that the aesthetic elements of BM most likely to appeal to the left, or left-leaning, cultural critic – its use of ‘forms which are less conventional’, its evocation of terror or madness – are simply contingent elements that result from the mimetic parsing of the fallen world of modernity which Famine despises.

Evan Calder Williams notes that Peste Noire’s album Ballade cuntre lo anemi francor (2009) plays between the ‘impossible return’ to a lost past and ‘the bare noise and pulse of a modern world’. This is often played out in the contrast between an ‘angelic’ female vocal, and the ‘demonic’ Gollum-like rasping and wheezing of Famine, or, in the track ‘La Mesniee Mordrissoire’ between Famine’s voice and the harmonious martial male voice. At the level of the lyrics and the music it comes in the deliberate provocation of corrupting traditional military and royalist songs with singing the praises of Satan and the recognisable, although inimitable, elements of black metal. The difficulty is that we can just suppose this split as given? Can we have the ‘bare noise and pulse of the modern world’ as the nihilist critique of what Badiou calls ‘capitalo-parliamentarianism’ without the embarrassing archaic fascist nostalgia? For Peste Noire, or for Sale Famine, this splitting is impossible, as the elements of the lost past constantly clash against the ‘noise’ that is representative of a fallen modern world – this quasi-‘dialectical’ tension cannot be divided. Famine’s ‘boyscout Satanism’ – Sieg Hell instead of Sieg Heil, and Nietzschean übermensch sodomy – is predicated on the retention of an aesthetic and political ‘fractured unity’.

Cultural Partisan
To specify more closely this imbrication of politics and aesthetics I want to consider Carl Schmitt’s work Theory of the Partisan. Schmitt is attempting to articulate the disturbance caused by the figure of the partisan in the usual state-logic of warfare, in which the partisan creates an indistinction between the conventional combatant and civilian. In Schmitt’s analysis the ‘good’ partisan is the one that retains their telluric character: ‘He defends a piece of land with which he has an autochthonous relation.’ (92) For this reason the partisan, although disturbing to the usual order of the ‘friend-enemy’ distinction by which Schmitt defines the space of the political, remains within it by having a ‘real enemy’. The ‘bad’ partisan, which Schmitt unsurprisingly identifies with communist militancy, has no telluric grounding and instead generalises their struggle to create an ‘absolute enemy’. In this case ‘the partisan also became absolute and a bearer of an absolute enmity.’ (93)

Of course it might be thought to unduly flatter Famine to regard him as Peste Noire as a ‘partisan group’, although it would be congruent with their own self-image. What concerns me, especially in the context of Ballade Cuntre lo Anemi Francor, is the aesthetic and political construction of the figure of the ‘enemy’. Schmitt, in Nietzschean fashion, regards the figure of the enemy as the shape or configuration of our own question: ‘The enemy is who defines me. That means in concreto: only my brother can challenge me and only my brother can be my enemy.’ (85 n89) In Schmitt the figure of the enemy also has a pacifying function: the construction politics around the friend-enemy distinction is to define ourselves and also to regard our enemy as an enemy, rather than as someone to be exterminated. If the partisan threatens to unbind this function, their telluric and political grounding in a defensive national struggle is the means Schmitt uses to retain the partisan within the nomos of the earth.

In the case of Famine and Peste Noire we could argue that their own telluric identification with a defensive national cultural struggle performs a similar function. The vituperative construction of the figure of the plural ‘enemies’ of France gives a figural coherence to their cultural struggle. They try to remain partisans in the positive sense Schmitt gives this function, and so ‘remain true to the earth’. This project is, however, in tension with the fragmentation and dispersion the plural indicates. Here the disturbance lies on the side of what is being struggled against – the capitalist effects and forces of real abstraction. These uprooting and emptying dynamics of disembedding and deterritorialisation are, precisely, the effect of social relations and resist localisation in particular figural enemies. The threat is not here an abstract politics of equality, although, almost quaintly, Famine still seems to regard this as on the table. Instead, it is the abstractive politics of equality of ‘one market under God’, to use Thomas Frank’s felicitous phrase.

The result is that we can interpret this singular instance of the politics of BM as an instance of resistance, but of a particular type. Famine/Peste Noire try to inhabit, metaphorically, the position of Schmitt’s telluric partisan to give form and figure to their enemies. The escape of their ‘enemies’, due to the de-figuring effects of capital, constantly evacuates this project of content – hence the possibility, which I feel is too quick, of simply locating the politics of Peste Noire or BM in some category of postmodern parody or blank irony. It is not that these effects do not occur, but rather they are the effect of operating within the cultural framing of real abstractions. If the enemy we define at the same time gives us self-definition then the figural struggle of Famine/Peste Noire is endless and endlessly failing. Hence I would suggest that there is real anguish here, whatever the parodic desires of Famine, or the parodic effects of the socio-economic forms of the law of value. Theirs is a political / cultural desperation, although one that certainly, and necessarily, takes malignant telluric forms.

Certainly I have only focused on one singular instance of the politics of BM. I am not taking this instance as strictly metonymic of all BM positions and politics. I do want to argue that it is symptomatic, and revealing because of its explicit form and ambition, as well as, why not?, its aesthetic success. This is a politics which conforms to Badiou’s analysis of the ‘passion for the real’ and the twentieth century as the century of war and scission – a stalled dialectic of the division of the One into an antagonistic Two that can never stabilise. The aesthetic of Peste Noire cannot be separated from this antagonism, but inhabits it as the effect of fusion of the aesthetic and the political to give figuration to an always elusive ‘enemy’. Of course, contra Famine’s desire, the abstractive figural desire of his work makes it available to those non-telluric and non-chthonic enemies he professes to hate – he would, of course, despise this analysis. This is not to take the easy path of postmodern ‘everyone reads in their own way’, or limitless politics of re-inscription that would license a reading ‘for socialism’. Instead, I have tried to take seriously a depth of commitment, which I unequivocally reject politically, in the cultural articulation of the political and aesthetic. I remain, however, one of the enemies of France.

Badiou, Alain, The Century [2005], trans., with commentary and notes, Alberto Toscano (Cambridge, UK, and Malden, MA: Polity, 2007).

Birk, Nathan T., “Interview with La Sale Famine of Peste Noire”, Zero Tolerance, pdf.

Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Will to Power, trans. W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale, ed. W. Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1968).

Schmitt, Carl, Theory of the Partisan, trans. G. L. Ulmen (New York: Telos Publishing, 2007).

Stirner, Max, The Ego and His Own, trans. Steven T. Byington (New York: Ben R. Tucker Publisher, 1907). Available from The Egoist Archive: pdf

Travis (Diabolical Conquest), ‘Interview with Famine of the French Black Metal band Peste Noire’, Diabolical Conquest: Underground Extreme Metal Webzine, August 12 2009,

Williams, Evan Calder, ‘Three hours (misanthropy)’, Socialism and/or barbarism blog, 9 June 2009,

Peste Noire, Ballade Cuntre lo Anemi Francor, De Profundis, France, 2009.

[1] It should be noted that a Gramscian politics of hegemony has been invoked by the far right, in particular in France by Alain de Benoist, ideologue of the ‘new right’. His culturalist rascism and anti-Americanism bear many similarities to the views of Sale Famine, however Famine’s elitism and anti-popular stance incarnate a peculiarly constrained vision of hegemony – one occult and elitist.


Joshua said...

"Instead of a splitting or contradiction between place and music, to be resolved by us politically or theoretically, I want to take the internal discourse of BM at its word."

This is an elegantly stated and enacted call for readings of rather than for or against texts. Not that those other approaches don't have a worthwhile angle of attack, but it is refreshing to return to the prefiguring operations taking place at the level of the performance of the work that are too often lost beneath the interpretive framework of an impeccably read, inexhaustingly radical audience.

Benjamin said...

Thanks Joshua, that's what I was aiming at!

Shannon Bain said...

Great stuff, Benjamin. Specifically, the identification of the interdependent dynamics of in-group/out-group definition as the form and source of BMs wonderfully kooky – but often heartfelt – politics is really very well articulated.

Some of my work is in a similar, but analytically influenced, vein. If you're interested:

Also, I'd love to read your thoughts on BM and Bataille's Occultic anti-economics.

Keep up the good work.

Sam said...

nice work - reminds me of some repurposing/rereadings to/of the black helicopter 90's militia types

Benjamin said...

Thanks Shannon and Sam, some more material on in-group/out-group dynamics will be in the longer published version, hopefully out soon.
On Bataille and BM, I may do some of that in a later piece, but despite having an interest in Bataille and BM I think sometimes the conflation can be problematic. Certainly Bataille directly struggled to distinguish his 'heterology' from fascism, I tend to think BM still has too unitary a conception. I'm also suspicious of the use of Bataille to delineate cultural movements /products as 'transgressive' (regarded as 'positive'), w/o a real inquiry into the purposeful destabilising effect of 'transgression' or 'general economy' that, it seems to me, would problematise a lot of explicitly 'Bataillean' transgressive art

Shannon Bain said...

If I follow you correctly, I'd agree that Bataille's transgressive stance was intended as a fundamental "undoing" or "work against" that, if truly successful, essentially escapes the aestheticizing conventionalization required of a transgressive STYLE of art (be it Nitshian Vienna Action Art or the pomo/mad max-ish sturm und drang of SRL). That is, transgression, once aetheticised or mobilized as an evaluable tool of artistic production loses it's truly dangerous, truly transgressive edge. That might be why Bataille retreated into the ineffable realms: the occult and mystery-religion-like secret societies.

But I would suggest that another reading of Bataille, as simply a particularly good example of a style of thought and rhetoric which was taking shape at the time, and of which BM is a contemporary descendant, IS worthy of relatively straightforward examination. Specifically, if one thinks of the Nietzschean anti-enlightenment, crypto-pagan contamodernism that was becoming a sort of cottage industry throughout inter-war Europe. Especially as it pertains to Bataille and Klossowski's College and their search for the roots of the sacred in peoples and cultures as opposed to individuals. All of this seems to parallel a lot the pseudo-fascist, racialist rhetoric of BM. Though, of course, BM is more obviously driven by transgressive posturing against what they take to be a weak liberalism as opposed to a re-connection with some sort of vital sacred unity beyond modernity's fragmenting subject/object duality.

Anyway, seems like a good topic to me...

D said...

you fags wanna circle jerk?