I'm going to apologize in advance for the structure of this post- I am not entirely sober while writing it and it involves combining many disparate political, philosophical, and cultural ideas I hold into one (hopefully) cohesive narrative. Still, I have no doubt that there will be points I need to clarify, and that's what the comment box is for: please, ask questions, criticize, be real: at Trial By Ordeal, we want our community involved in what we're doing. We learn as much from you as you do from us.
Nationalism. It's a hot word, though if you look at the dictionary definition, it probably shouldn't be. Still, it's one that carries a lot of baggage with it, and depending on where you live, it can convey a lot of different things. Nationalism has been a major part of extreme metal from a very early age; the earliest interviews with Mayhem heavily mention Norwegian culture and cultural pride, and it extends through the rest of the metal scene in many different forms. We're all intimately familiar (especially if you read this blog) with different NSBM or nationalist scenes across the planet, especially in eastern Europe and South America- bands ranging from Nokturnal Mortum to Campo De Mayo to Forefather, all with different perspectives on what it means to be nationalist and to hold one's country up to ancient standards of good.
There's a curious lack, however, of a nationalist sentiment in American black metal. NSBM naturally suggests a sort of nationalism, but even American NSBM bands seem less concerned with the country itself and more on outward aggression towards perceiving "invaders"- minorities, communists, the "wrong" religion, what have you. Eastern European bands who are nationalist without an NSBM perspective are not at all unknown, but it appears that within the American metal scene, they are almost inextricably tied. Why is this, exactly? America is a culture with an incredibly rich history filled with pride, honor, warfare, and conflict to draw amazing stories and songs from- but why are there so few doing it?
I'll be self-indulgent for a moment: one of my main bands, A Forest Path, was created with the goal of being a powerfully and unapologetically nationalist band. We play something that sounds like a more Taake-influenced spin on the first Amon Amarth- rather poppy, accessible, but still powerful melodic black/death metal. The lyrics we write are firmly nationalist in nature, but we have no interest in racism or xenophobia: simply an upholding of the original ethos of America (as we imagine them.) To be more self-indulgent, a couple excerpts:
From Plymouth land to Augustine
And westward we shall roam
The trumpets sound the thirteen hymns
Of birthright land, my home
From Atlantic ocean current
And east blown winds of time
I close my eyes and breathe in air
Of glorious nation, mine
And though dark battles may fall upon
Our victorious reign
Still our spirits, unshackled, soar
Broadly in the main
And so from northern snow to southern sun
And vastland forest glade
We prepare to defend our home
By point of valiant blade
Though I have traveled to many lands
Still my heart is a forest stream
That echoes with my pride
These waters run with ancestral blood
My fathers spilled
That I cannot deny
~"My Heart is a Forest Stream"
How many years
I've spent enshrouded by fear
Under shadows of war
In hopes that one day
I may return my honor
To its rightful throne
Though ages have passed
I've remained a tower of strength
A pillar of old
And so I proclaim our glory
A legend of victory, a banner untold
~"The Tattered Banners of Hope"
As you can see, the lyrics are forwardly nationalist, not especially couched in metaphor- but why is there so little of this in the metal scene? Many metalheads I've spoken to, even those unaffiliated with national socialism (though I hate to have to say that at all) have expressed powerfully nationalist views from which I think some passionate, stirring music can most certainly be derived. The Ukrainians do it all the time- why can't we? The fact that nationalism and national socialism are so inextricably tied in the mind of the American public is one part of it, but perhaps there's another, deeper reason.
Many people try to suggest that, because of its origins as an immigrant nation, America has no precise culture of its own; not bound together by blood and national heritage, we are at a loss to describe ourselves in terms of a world where most nations have a huge, ethnically-rooted history to draw inspiration from. But are we, as Americans, not connected enough by our immigrant history alone, and the blood spilled for our independence, to create stirring art? Perhaps the overweening emphasis on ethnic unity is the problem; ethnicity need not be the dominant suggestion of culture in the individual. I, and I'm sure most readers of this blog from America, see those of different ethnic backgrounds not as alien, but as other Americans, bound together by our upbringing, cultural roots, and connection as part of the same nation.
I would love to see more expressly nationalistic music coming from America without the seemingly natural rider of racism and xenophobia which appears to accompany it. Considering that our nation (that is, mine) is currently racked with a possible economic collapse, massive cultural divisions, and the perpetual threat of poverty, sickness, and death, it would be only natural for the people of the nation (and the artists within the metal scene) to become bound together by looking back to the origins of the country and its glories, triumphs, and victories in order to propel forward into a new age. I can feel the tides shifting within the metal scene myself: the more people I talk to about politics, the more pro-American sentiment I'm hearing from American metalheads, who are eager to express these feelings but think there's no outlet for them. Of course there is: we were crucial in establishing metal into what it is today, and it's about time we took some pride in ourselves.
(For those interested in nationalist but non-NS American extreme metal: apart from my own project, I've only found an isolated other. Pagan Hammer, a one-man project from North Carolina who I'm close friends with and released several times on my old label, makes expressly nationalist, stirring, victorious black metal influenced by bands like Graveland, Satanic Warmaster, and Branikald, releasing music such as the WWII-hailing "Ode to my Fathers" EP and cementing itself as perhaps the greatest single artist in USBM today. Absolutely worth a look, and I will do a post on him in the near future.)
If anyone else can provide instances of nationalist but non-NS US metal, I would be very interested in seeing it. But let's talk about your perspectives: how do you feel about nationalist music coming from America? Is its lack a problem or a pleasant absence? Discuss, challenge, and THINK in the comments below.