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Heavy Metal Is Racist, But Not The Way You Think

There's an article written by Carrie Braithwaite floating around the internets about how folk metal is racist and sexist, and I want to say this article is dead wrong.
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Heavy Metal Is Racist, But Not The Way You Think

Pictured above: not racists (necessarily). Photo credit: JORVIK Viking Festival.

There’s an article written by Carrie Braithwaite floating around the internets about how folk metal is racist and sexist, and I want to say this article is dead wrong. A study from Leeds Beckett University in the UK, led by professor Karl Spracklen, posits that folk metal “preserves an old-fashioned power structure where white, male Europeans are superior.” This is true — lots of folk metal is by white men, for white men, and about white men. However, this is also where Professor Spracklen’s argument begins to fall apart, as he avers that folk metal “serves as a comfortable leisure space for…the white European, working class men who have faced challenges to their assumed privileges from women, globalisation, immigration and postmodernity.” At this point, I have to pump the brakes.

Upon reading about the Leeds Beckett study, two things became clear to me:

1) Carrie Braithwaite doesn’t know anything about folk metal.
2) Professor Spracklen doesn’t know nearly as much as he thinks he does about folk metal.

Before I break down those two points, I’d like to relay an anecdote about this creepy guy I went to high school with. His name was Adam, he shaved his head, he listened to metal, and he wore the same camo pants/combat boots/leather vest combination to school every day. This kid was known school-wide to be a racist skinhead, though he never caused any trouble for me personally. Every day Adam sat in the library reading about Norse mythology — I never even saw him in any classes. My point is that there are racists out there who latch onto & use metal and Norse mythology/imagery to justify their beliefs, but — much like with the case Star Trek & pedophiles — it doesn’t seem fair to blame the art on its questionable fanbase.

Professor Spracklen’s study is hilariously flawed, as he chose to analyze only five “well-established” folk metal bands, apparently all of whom were based in northern Europe (how unsurprising that he’d then glean that the entire genre is white and male, right?) & de-contextualize folk metal from the world at large. We live in a racist sexist world — this is an inarguable fact. Therefore, folk metal exists in a racist sexist world. Therefore, there might be racists and sexists in folk metal bands. However, I find it misguided & unfair to call white men telling white male stories inherently racist and/or sexist, especially when those stories clearly have such broad appeal, ESPECIALLY when there are plenty of bands out there making music with openly racist themes.

It’s not difficult to find examples of casual racism and misogyny in metal. Laina Dawes wrote a whole awesome book about her experiences as a black woman involved in heavy metal scenes, and I have also mentioned a few ways in which I’ve been treated as an outsider as a woman especially. There’s no question in my mind that the scene is filled with racists and misogynists, because I’ve been in and out of it for nearly half my life. To call out folk metal specifically is to mislead an impressionable audience about a little-known scene at best, and derail conversations about real social issues in heavy metal at worst.

P.S. I hope you all ignored that part where it suggests that Turisas’s Varangian Way is anti-Islamic because holy moly, what a crock of shit.

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