“The world is on fire,” Ben Hutcherson told an audience in Brooklyn, last month, before a set by his band, Glacial Tomb. He added, “At least we can all burn together.” Over the next thirty minutes, the band, which Hutcherson describes as playing “blackened, sludgy death metal,” roared through a half-dozen songs, replete with thundering drums and growled vocals. The set ended with a broadside of defiance, in the form of a cover of the punk band Aus-Rotten’s “Fuck Nazi Sympathy.” As Glacial Tomb sped through the song—which includes the lines “Don’t respect something that has no respect” and “Don’t give them their freedom, because they’re not going to give you yours”—audience members shouted the lyrics, churned in a mosh pit, and dove from the stage.
The set was part of a fifteen-band weekend festival at Brooklyn Bazaar, in Greenpoint, called Black Flags Over Brooklyn, which was organized as probably New York City’s first anti-Fascist extreme-metal show. It was planned partly as a celebration of an underground form of music that has traditionally thrived on images of drama and danger, and partly as a response to a subgenre known as National Socialist black metal, which espouses neo-Nazi views and has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as aiming to recruit youth to white-supremacist causes. The organizer of the Black Flags show, Kim Kelly, who, until recently, was a metal editor for Noisey and has written for Pitchfork, Spin, and Rolling Stone, said that, although National Socialist black-metal bands comprise only a small percentage of metal music, they have recently had outsized visibility. And, as far-right movements have grown in the United States and Europe, she said, some metal fans have begun having discussions about politics and expression that mirror those taking place in the broader culture.
“Should metal stay dangerous and controversial and offensive?” Kelly said. “Is it censorship to deny bands a platform for their genocidal views? Is it curtailing their free speech to make it harder for a band to get booked or get signed versus at what point does it become critical to keep these dangerous Fascist elements out of our scene? At what point is that record worth so much to you that you would buy it knowing that you were actively contributing to something that is harming other people?”