Metal and Nationalism w/ Méi-Ra St. Laurent

by | Apr 3, 2021 | MMS 101

Ah nationalism and metal music… There are thousands of examples of groups promoting their history and their culture in the lyrics of their songs by using their national language, on their album covers with beautiful pictures of their landscape, or even in their music by utilizing traditional instruments. For many, simply evoking the equation “metal music + nationalism” raises a lot of questions… How should this display of national culture be viewed in the context of metal music? Is it linked with fascism or even with Aryan supremacy, as it is the case for certain groups? These questions are of great interest to many researchers working in the field of metal music studies. However, before labelling the groups promoting their national culture as part of an extreme right movement, there are a few things to consider. First, what is “nationalism”? According to the Canadian political scientist Louis Balthazar, it can be understood as the willingness – by a group of people – to prioritize the national belonging and to defend the recognition of their nation. This definition reveals an essential element: nationalism is, first of all, an attachment to a group with which we share many things, such as a territory, a language, a religion, a history or a culture…, but with which we not necessarily share the same political ideas. In other words, bands like Amon Amarth or Arkona, which are including elements of their culture in their music, do not actually promote any political ideology. Thus, “nationalism” could, to a certain extent, can be understood as an idea. However, nationalism can also be linked to a form of political action; in that case, it will be used to express right-wing political ideologies in the form of a desire to preserve traditions, or a left-wing political ideology when it is linked with a movement of national liberation from an oppressor.

But, in the case of metal, everything is far from being black or white, and some metal bands seems to go beyond the simple idea of nationalism to linger on one side or the other of the side of the political realm. Indeed, metal is a transgressive genre, one that pushes the boundaries of what is sociably acceptable. In that regard, some bands will not hesitate to express a (highly questionable) fascist-type of nationalism as much for provocation as for conviction, while some others will simply use nationalism to present a romanticized version of their history and culture. Nonetheless, the use of these references in metal is deeply ambiguous, since it remains hard to identify the ideology promoted. For example, in the case of ‘metal noir québécois’ (a black metal community from the province of Québec, Canada), nationalist references used by the bands such as Forteresse can be seen as an idea, since the bands are evoking their deep attachment to their traditions and history. Yet, it can also be interpreted as political activism. Indeed, bands can also be seen as expressing a centre-right-wing nationalist ideology by promoting the conservation of culture and the French language, as well as a left-wing ideology when it comes to give back to Quebecers their territorial, cultural, economical and political freedom for the rest of Canada. Thus, labelling a specific political ideology to a metal band employing nationalist references can be tricky; it remains important for researchers in metal music studies to have a deep knowledge of the social, cultural or even historical context from which the group comes from before labelling it. And even then, gray areas remain.

Songs to keep in your ear, which can be linked to nationalism as an idea or as a political form of action

  • Forteresse (province of Québec, Canada), ‘Là où nous allons [Where We Are Going]’ (2016)

  • Arkona (Russia), ‘Goi, Rode, Goi [Oh, god, Rode!]’ (2009)

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