The below reflection is written by multi-instrumentalist Draugr of the Georgia (US) black metal bands Galdr, Ancalagon and Obscurum.
It’s a cautionary tale.
When I first became interested in black metal as a young teen around 2005, I didn’t have any idea where I stood politically. I only knew what many young people know at that time in their life: There is something wrong with the world. The reasons why were almost too complex to ponder.
As I grew, and while my interest and activity within the subculture grew, my perspectives became increasingly shaped by the people around me as well as my involvement in various black metal networks. Growing up white in North Georgia didn’t quite provide me the diversity of viewpoints that I could have used, while elements of right-wing politics and language became increasingly normalized to me via underground black metal correspondence, zines, and the like. It got to the point where I couldn’t really recognize the blatant signs and dog-whistles of far-right associations. I thought of myself as entirely apolitical. Even the times when I had recognized those signs, my conditioning had allowed me to, at best, chalk it up to fantasy-shock-rock kind of stuff, or to justify that behavior as their right of freedom of speech in a sort of hypothetical open-forum of political debate. And at worst, absorb or parrot ideas and perspectives from that realm of thought. I was impressionable and enthusiastic about the scene and it encompassed my world.
Still young and looking for inspiration and answers, my personal beliefs that had leapt from being raised in a Buddhist household by a progressive mother, to Richard Dawkins-esque atheism of the early YouTube “intellectuals,” to a very black metal inspired “Invert Christianity for Satan” were giving way to a spirituality in paganism that I felt reflected better my reverence for solitude and nature, as well as my love for mythology and mysticism. This transition also helped to blur the lines in regard to far-right iconography and language for me unfortunately, and I became ever-more desensitized to right-wing language and ideas.
This time is when I began my project Galdr, around 2008. Up to this point, my bandmates and I had been releasing tapes of our projects ourselves or through whatever small tape label would agree to work with us. However, I knew that I wanted better label support for the full-length that I had been writing. I began sending a demo version of the album around to various labels with bigger followings that I found on MySpace, hoping that someone would respond wanting to release a CD. During this time is when I stumbled on the MySpace page for Darker Than Black. On the outside it appeared to be a pretty typical black metal label, the tagline was something cheesy like “Antisocial Art, Antisocial People.” But they had a pretty good following of people, so I checked their roster of bands to see if any of them rang any bells. It seemed like it was mostly populated with vaguely-martial looking stuff mixed with some non-overtly political pagan black metal. Looking back, I realize that there was probably some motivation in keeping the roster full of politically-ambiguous looking pagan bands, and I feel a sense of anger and embarrassment that my art could have been used to essentially soften the public image of a bunch of fascists. However, I did see that Absurd was sitting at the top of the roster. At that time, my thoughts regarding that band wasn’t “Oh shit, they’re an NSBM band” — I didn’t care, I was able to entirely look over the fact that they had far-right ideas and ties, after all, that was their right and I felt that by accepting that, I was taking a completely apolitical stance on the matter. The only thing that popped into my head after seeing Absurd was “Oh shit, that’s that band that killed someone, just like Burzum!” So I got the address and sent off a tape to who I didn’t know at the time was Hendrik Möbus from the very same Absurd. The response was pretty quick, I think it was a week or two before Darker Than Black contacted me. The message was basically that they were interested in releasing any full-lengths I completed. I told them that I had one ready to go and songs written for a whole other one with more coming, so it was decided then that we’d work together to release my stuff for the foreseeable future.
For the first couple of albums, things went fairly smoothly. I went on unknowingly absorbing perspectives from the worst corners of the black metal community and I was still able to maintain my “apolitical” perspective despite coming into contact with increasingly sketchy characters through Darker Than Black and learning weird stuff about the label like them being raided by the cops (for selling NSBM). In my head I thought “that’s ridiculous, art is art, all ideas are fair game,” but the reality and the gravity of the situation started to make itself apparent in some part of my mind that a lot of the stuff I was accepting and associating with had real-world effects and was harmful in ways that I didn’t understand in the beginning. At this time, having worked low wage jobs for a handful of years and subsequently analyzing my identity and my situation while also listening to the experiences of people from different walks of life, my politics began to change, my perspective on the world matured and I began to form the beginnings of a path towards class consciousness and radical intersectionalism.
By 2014 it had been a couple years since I had sent Darker Than Black the recordings for the third full-length and I was touring with Ancalagon. Darker Than Black were dragging their feet with putting the last CD out with delays, schedule changes, etc. And I became more disenchanted and outright depressed regarding Galdr by the day. By this time, I was pretty solidly what I would consider a “liberal.” I basically held a handful of social and fiscal views foundational to the Democratic side of US politics, including the exertion of absolute free-speech, which in turn-continued to enable my association with Darker Than Black. However, my taste for them had begun to sour as I became stronger in my political stance, which led to me considering abandoning Galdr altogether. The disappointment in my past-self that grew with my political maturity caused me to want to dissociate entirely from the project and the associations that it had.
Eventually I shifted my focus entirely to working on my other projects and stopped caring about what happened with Galdr or the third album. It felt like a burden that, instead of the well of inspiration it once was, was something I had to “deal” with, some kind of mess I had to clean up. Finally, sometime within the next year, Darker Than Black had written me to inform me the third full-length was about to come out and to send them my address for my part of the CDs. At this point in Galdr’s life, I felt the most disconnected with my art under the project, feeling a combination of frustration in myself and hopelessness in the idea of now having to find a label to re-release three albums that had only been released that year/a few years prior. I just wanted to forget about it. When the CDs actually arrived they were probably 50-60% all smashed up jewel cases, poorly packed. It was basically the last straw, I didn’t make any substantial attempts to promote Galdr further and I let Galdr’s web presence and correspondence become neglected.
After this time, my political activism increased, leaning in more left and focusing on the expansion of my conception of the world situation. My artistic output oscillated between media and projects, developing a stronger vision for myself and my philosophy as an artist and political actor. My spiritual focus shifted back to the source of my religious education in Buddhism and Taoism and I realized myself as the one and all of the present. With all power of creation and birth unto my artistic output. As a result, the question about Galdr came back to my mind with a certainty and confidence in the actions I should take to regain the love for my own project that once inspired me. So I just logged back into the Galdr page, made a statement on where I stand regarding politics and Darker Than Black, ending the question as to the ties to the label, and that was that. It was refreshing. And now I am happy to announce that the original Galdr trilogy will be re-issued soon (maybe next year) on a yet-to-be named label (without NSBM bullshit attached!).
The black metal scene was difficult terrain to navigate for me as a young, enthusiastic artist and I made some serious wrong turns, but I am glad to see that these days there is a strong current of explicitly and vocally antifascist black metal arising in this subculture. It is a fight that’s worth fighting, for the art we love and the people who become impassioned by this genre in the future. I believe these kinds of spaces can be liberated from the hands of fascist creeps with a concerted effort.
I don’t know how much money Darker Than Black made off of my music, and it makes me sick to my stomach to imagine that Darker Than Black could have used money from my art to fund right-wing activities. My only response to this can be to lend my undying support and effort to the antifascist cause. Now I do my best organizing with my union and fighting for vulnerable populations in whatever ways I can. And you can bet that money from re-presses of the Galdr and other One Void Collective CDs on our end will go directly towards orgs for liberation and radical change. One being a group called Solutions Not Punishment Collective from my hometown of Atlanta that focuses on ending police violence towards black trans women as well as building political power for black queer people in the city abroad. We as a collective believe that the path towards any kind of promising future is fundamentally through black liberation.