Black Metal Ontology: Performing the Witch
Dr Jasmine Hazel Shadrack
Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and as terrible as an army with banners? (qtd. in Grey, 2013, p. 14)
Through my performance as Denigrata Herself in the black metal band Denigrata, something ‘other’ has been advancing in parallel with my on-stage persona. She has made herself known to me through our shows, promotional pictures, album art and videos. Whilst I had no a priori desire to create Denigrata Herself in these terms, she has evolved this way nonetheless. She is a witch, a patriarchally loathed female archetype who embodies freedom of will, sexual desire and power. She has developed into a feminist strategy of resistance that ‘evolves strategies which “consume” their own biases as they expose and erode those of the dominant discourse’ (Tiffin, 1991, p. 96). Denigrata Herself’s embodiment of the witch archetype offers restorative feminism within black metal, subverting its juridical masculinity from inside its own dominant discourse.
For black metal, this is its code manipulation, a term used by Lori Burns and Mélisse Lafrance (2002) to convey othered meanings, representations of female musicians, and women in popular music. This is applied to the two women in the band, Denigrata Herself and Manea. Having been told at performances that we look like witches; whatever image people have in their minds from popular culture aligns with what they see in us. This is not some Disney crone, this is a nomadic deterritorializing of hegemonic constructs of femininity, of black metal’s masculine frame and has found a home with the most patriarchally hated of folkloric female figures, represented by us.
The witch as restorative feminism means that the women in the band can be read as existing in and resisting a masculinist closed network of signification. Whether we are seen as witches or not, we are able to exist and perform in that space with a more thorough understanding of the overt and covert patriarchal strategies and discourse that inscribe it. The archetype of the witch-as-performance means that Denigrata Herself and Manea take up black metal space, not just as women that are forcibly constructed in patriarchal terms, but as witches whose performance erodes and corrupts its masculine laws. The witch is our code manipulation and restorative feminism, whose ontological representation brings feminism to black metal. As Peter Grey states, ‘we are the witchcraft, the practice of [it] is one of revolution and of the power of women’ (2013, p.16).
The alignment of black metal and Denigrata coalesce through the transgression and explosion of boundaries, that exceed and burst beyond their limits. Denigrata Herself and Manea’s development have allusions to the maleficus, which aesthetically bleeds into much of black metal’s imagery and symbolism. Simply put, the way Denigrata’s music makes me feel, forges my alter ego into a powerful woman who acknowledges the weight of patriarchy’s gender essentialism and chooses to corrupt it.
Author’s note: different parts of this contribution have drawn from my monograph Black Metal, Trauma, Subjectivity and Sound: Screaming the Abyss (Emerald, 2021), and from my contribution to the edited collection Black Metal Rainbows (PM Press, 2021)
Songs to keep in your ear
- Denigrata, ‘Kyrie Eleison’
- Wolves in the Throne Room, ‘Ex Catherda’
- Arkhon Infaustus, ‘Saturn Motion Theology’
- Locrian, ‘Rain of Ashes’
Further Reading (1)
Jasmine’s book Black Metal, Trauma, Subjectivity and Sound: Screaming the Abyss was published by Emerald Publishing Limited and can be found here.
More information about the edited collection Black Metal Rainbows, for which she wrote a chapter, can be found here.
More academic and creative works by dr. Shadrack can be consulted here.
Further Reading (2)
- Burns, L. & Lafrance, M. (2002). Disruptive Divas: Feminism, Identity and Popular Music. London: Routledge.
- Connole, E. & Masciandaro, N.(Eds.). (2015). Mors Mystica: Black Metal Theory Symposium. London: Schism Press.
- Grey, P. (2013). Apocalyptic Witchcraft. London: Scarlett Imprint.
- Tiffin, H. (1991). Post-colonial literatures and counter-discourse. In B. Ashcroft, G. Griffiths, & H. Tiffin (Eds.), The post-Colonial Studies Reader (pp. 95 – 98). London: Routledge.