A metal festival might be expected to cause some controversy—but not usually for the reasons Northwest Terrorfest did. A three-day concert in Seattle, Washington, Northwest Terrorfest hosts a series of prominent bands from the “extreme” edge of heavy metal. In the weeks before this year’s event, the organizers publicized a few policies. Bathrooms would be gender-neutral, racist imagery would be banned, and anti-harassment and anti-hate policies would be strictly enforced. Social media comment sections soon displayed evidence of a split: an aggressive series of punches traded between those who celebrated Terrorfest’s progressive turn, and those who thought misanthropic racism and sexism were key to keeping metal “dangerous.”
“We can’t concede any ground to fascism. We cannot just abandon a music scene to the Nazis, as it gives them a safe space to build and grow,” says Simon B., vocalist and violinist for the anarchist black metal band Dawn Ray’d. “The majority of people in this scene, however, are decent people who are not racist or right-wing in any way. We meet so many amazing people every night, and it’s time to show the Nazis to be the minority they truly are.”
Dawn Ray’d, a Terrorfest headliner, were soon joined by vocally antifascist bands like Closet Witch, Cloud Rat, Dead to a Dying World, and Despise You—all defying a persistent stereotype that casts black metal as a cesspool of reactionary white nationalist mysticism.