A few months ago, on March 24th 2023, Dawn Ray'd, from Liverpool, released their new album, To Know The Light, perhaps the most direct and the most radical of their recording career, which began in 2017 with The Unlawful Assembly and continued in 2019 with Behold Sedition Plainsong.
A proposal that will surely seem unusual to the casual listener: anti-fascist and anarchist black metal. How to combine anti-fascism with a genre that draws its origins from people rather close to the extreme right? What are the points of contact between anarchy and extreme metal? We asked Simon Barr, singer and violinist of the band directly in the interview you find in English below, and in Italian at this link.
One of the main aspects that stand out in your records is the radical character of your publications: anarchic and antifascist black metal. A juxtaposition, the one between black metal and antifascism, which seems unusual, considering that, since its origins, black metal has more than often been associated with far-right, if not overtly Nazi, ideologies.
I would therefore like to begin by asking you two questions, which are related to each other.
On the one hand, I would like to ask you that which is the great dilemma of many black metal fans: how can a person who loves extreme music and who professes to be antifascist, communist or anarchist, approach a genre whose stylistic coordinates where defined also (but not only) by people who have manifested far-right ideologies over time? So, long story short, to immediately make the classic name that always comes up in these discussions, it is useless not to acknowledge as many of Burzum’s works, for example, forged the genre that we love today. How to deal with the ethical dilemma inherent in listening to and appreciating music produced by an openly Nazi person and in playing a genre that also comes from the works of these personalities?
This is the ultimate black metal question isn't it? My opinion of this has changed over time, the more time I have spent involved in this music and involved in activism, the more I have changed from my original view point. I used to believe that we had to destroy all traces of NSBM, of Burzum and the other right wing bands, and never listen to it at all.
As I've got older I now believe that ultimately, speaking out against fascism, taking action in the real world, building radical supportive communities, they are our priority, and I have neither the energy or the interest in policing what band merch people wear, or what music they listen to. Burzum is incredibly important to black metal. We have to admit that, we have to admit its importance to be able to accurately work out how to combat his influence. We can pretend its rubbish, but that I think only further creates a difference between us as antifascists and young people discovering black metal who find enjoyment in his music. Admitting some of that music is very powerful but recognizing that we need to make a break from the past politically I think is the most convincing argument. Ultimately, it doesn't matter to me what you are listening to, if you are actively involved in refugee solidarity, if you actively oppose nazis in the streets, if you are building strong and diverse communities where you live, if you stand up in defence of trans people, that is what matters.
We are in a period of transition musically, in 2015 when we started, it was unthinkable to talk about 'antifa' in black metal, and now we are here! I think if we want to win people over, we have to be understanding that life is complicated, people are imperfect, we are all born of this fucked up world, but we can also tell when people are well intentioned and want to make a better world, and that is the most important thing I think.
On the other hand, I wanted to ask you how, from your point of view, anarchism can be connected and embraced with black metal and what are the elements of contact between these two worlds.
I'm not very good at this spiritual stuff, other people have a better understanding of the whimsical side of both black metal and anarchism than me. However, black metal is wild, defiant, counter cultural, anti-religion... What is the appeal of pledging loyalty to this capitalist system, to a government that is evil in the most banal ways, to a police force, a military that exists to further corporate goals? What is badass, wild or fantastical about a system with so many bureaucratic laws, that favors homogeny, that demands compliance, and stifles imagination with work and toil?
The Black flag of anarchy, the chaos star of anarcho-nihilism are surely the most black metal things of all time?
We are the wretched masses, seething in the dark, biding our time to wipe the ruling class from the face of the earth, we will reforest the earth, we will make it wild and free, we aren't against violence or self defense, and we aren't afraid of authority!
In the review of your latest album, To Know The Light, I talked about the fact that a common aspect between black metal and a certain anarchism can be a nihilistic view of the world and of life. On your latest album, however, you seem to move away from this approach, indeed communicating messages of optimism towards the future, resistance and love (Freedom In Retrograde, Go As Free Companions). Do you agree with this interpretation of your message?
Yes, pretty much, although I would use different words to describe it. We have given up being optimistic that things will get better, and have accepted that the world is fucked. In that sense we have embraced nihilism, rather than running from that realization we are trying to reckon with it, to find happiness despite that difficult truth.
I think it is important to not be angry all the time. Sometimes anger at this system is important, but we also have to find joy, love and beauty in our lives, despite how bad things are, otherwise we have lost everything. If the future is canceled and destroyed, then today is all we have, so we have to find happiness and joy today. I think a way to do that is through the defiance of resistance and building community.
The review then closes with the wish and the hope that more and more extreme anti-fascist bands will emerge and that this trend will lead, as happened in other subcultures, such as the skinhead or Oi!, to the formation of close communities that reject and oppose the infiltration of the extreme right in the scene. Do you think such a network already exists? How is the anti-fascist scene in extreme metal?
Honestly it feels amazing and very inspiring at the moment. Bands like Ashenspire, Gravpel, Trespasser, Liturgy, Yovel, Ragana, all these bands are radicals, and they all bring something different to black metal as well. For a few years I think we all had to imitate black metal slightly, to be taken seriously in a very conservative scene until we could hold our own position within that scene. Now though, RABM is actually a really experimental scene, freed from the confines of traditional black metal but still able to draw from it. I think we are creating a scene where bands are taking this genre in lots of different directions at incredible speed, unencumbered by the restrictive atmosphere of the past. I am so excited about the way we have created something more beautiful, creative and inclusive than ever before.
We are playing the first Antifascist Black Metal Gathering in Switzerland this autumn, and I can't wait.
It seems to me that recently there are numerous English bands of various genres who express through their works a certain generalized discontent, the result of this "perfect storm" given by the addition of Covid, Brexit and the return of war in Europe. A recent example, in addition to your record but of a completely different genre, is UK Grim by Sleaford Mods. What do you think about it? Do you think your work could be included in this list or is affected by all these events?
I think the UK is another capitalist country in crisis, the old model of providing wealth through colonialism doesn't exist, the empire is over, and the ruling class don't know how to keep it afloat without those ways of gathering wealth. They are turning to ever more right-wing and deplorable politics to try and keep the population loyal and onside, for fear of a huge revolt I think. If people here only realized that our day to day lives are getting worse, and it is the fault of the ruling class then we could really start organizing change. I think art and culture is a great way of spreading those ideas, we just have to make sure our rebellion is not co-opted by capitalism and the state. Since covid and brexit, everyone in this country knows things are fucked, we just need to learn to focus our anger in the right direction, not at refugees or trans people, as the ruling class are trying to encourage.
Focusing then on the musical component of your works, in my opinion there are two characteristics that distinguish you. On the one hand, obviously, the violin of the singer Simon, which gives the sound a certain epic-folk nuance, not only in the slow parts but also in the more extreme ones; on the other, the presence, alongside more classically black metal songs, of others that we could define as protest songs, such as Requital and Freedom In Retrograde on the last album. Would you like to tell us about these two aspects of your music? How, for example, did this union between violin, protest songs and black metal come about?
Honestly it was quite an organic development. Myself and Fabian used to play in a screamo band called We Came Out Like Tigers, I played violin in that band as well, I am able to play this instrument, and it always seemed to make sense to include it in the context of the songs we have written. I also grew up playing folk and traditional music. The first bands I saw as a teenager were Chumbawamba (playing their folk set) and Oysterband, but I have been taken to see folk music since I was a small child.
It doesn't feel that out-there either, folk music has long crossed over with black metal, and for music to be properly "folk", it has to be working class; the music of the common folk, so it naturally became what it is I think. If you are going to be a folk metal band, you have to sing about working class struggles surely?
To Know The Light is your third album, following The Unlawful Assembly (2017) and Behold Sedition Plainsong (2019). How has your sound and your way of making music evolved over the years?
I think we really stepped up on this record. Initially we felt we had to fly under the radar a bit, because we were so confrontational politically, we felt we had to be a 'true' black metal band, so we were slightly conservative in our musical ideas I think. We just aimed to make an anarchist version of the black metal that already existed. For context, in 2015 when we started RABM wasn't what it is now, people advised us not to talk about antifascism as it was too contentious, in squats and radical centers they wouldn't label us as black metal on the flyers because of the association with the far right in Germany and Europe. We initially got a lot of abuse, death threats, and hate online,
Thank you for your availability and I greet you with a last question which also contains a hope: if I am not mistaken, you have never played in our country. Can we hope to welcome you to Italy in the near future?
We are touring mainland Europe a lot this year, so we are hoping to cover as many places as possible, hopefully we will make it to Italy!
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