Colorwashing Black Metal

A review of Daniel Lukes and Stanimir Panayotov, eds., Black Metal Rainbows (Oakland: PM Press, 2023).

Sometimes, the idea for a book is good enough to carry it a long way, even if the execution doesn’t satisfy everyone. The anthology Black Metal Rainbows, edited by Daniel Lukes and Stanimir Panayotov, is such a book. Essentially, it looks at black metal from a progressive and radical angle, clarifying that it is “for everyone”, despite the nationalistic, misogynist, and homophobic baggage it carries. It’s hard to argue with that. It’s also laudable to put together a book that cuts across the boundaries between academia and DIY, between science and art.

The problem is that many of the texts remain in the academic realm, and often with a strong postmodern bent, which tends to make for big words but little substance. Quite frankly, the editors’ introduction borders at times on the nonsensical. “If you think that black metal wasn’t poking fun at itself, deflating its own pretentiousness and self-seriousness pretty much every step of the way, then you’re not seeing the full picture; you’re missing out. Have you even read Nietzsche?” What does that mean? And what does Nietzsche have to do with anything, really?

I found the most enjoyable pieces in the book the ones staying tight to the politics (Margaret Killjoy’s “You Don’t Win a Culture War by Giving Up Ground” or Stuart Wain’s “Why Us? Why Now? Discussing the Rise of Anti-fascist Black Metal”), reviving great zine writing (Espi Kvlt’s “Queer Kvlt Porn”), and offering interesting perspectives on the music (Angel Simitchiev’s “Black Ambiance: Where Do Ambient and Black Metal Meet?”). I had high hopes for Patrizia Pelgrift’s “A Biatch in the Northern Sky”, but was disappointed. Too many cliches both about Norway and about expat life (and perhaps black metal), and too little exploration of how Norway is making black metal part of its cultural canon, nonchalantly glossing over the far-right ideology that’s deeply entrenched in it. In a book like this, it would have been good to see an insightful piece about Norway’s newfound love for its former outcasts. Ironically, one of the better academic articles I have read in recent years could have helped, namely Christopher Morris’s “The New Romantics: Norwegian Black Metal and National Identity”.

The art is very good, sometimes great. The ambitious design is on the whole very good as well, if it wasn’t for the pink chapter headers reminiscent of the earliest of Atari arcade games. Didn’t work for me, but hey, that stuff’s subjective.

Well. Despite my reservations, this is a fine release with the best of intentions, and anyone with a desire to veer the most contested of subcultures into the right political direction should have a look at it. On close to 450 pages, there should indeed be something for everyone.

Gabriel Kuhn

(January 31, 2023)