Recently, Profound Lore Records announced a new 12-inch EP from Disma, an American death metal band that’s existed for well over a decade. The band’s frontman Craig Pillard is considered a pioneer of the genre due to his work in Incantation, one of the early innovators in New York City’s death metal scene. He is also considered a fucking Nazi.
Outside of Pillard’s main gig, he has a solo project called Sturmführer, a name derived from the paramilitary rank within the Nazi army that best translates to “assault leader.” Under the Sturmführer name, Pillard has released records that feature swastikas in the artwork and are put out on labels like Satanic Skinhead Propaganda—an imprint that, before closing in 2013, handled records by other metal bands that traffic in overt racism. But by becoming part of the Profound Lore fold, Pillard is no longer just on the cultural fringes. And his involvement there says something striking about modern metal’s ongoing Nazi problem.
Profound Lore, along with labels like Southern Lord, specializes in some of the most progressive, interesting metal being made today. Glance over its discography and you’ll find releases that rarely adhere to one sound but often push boundaries—be it Full Of Hell’s abrasive noise-metal, Krallice’s experimental black metal, or even Dälek’s off-kilter hip-hop. Come March, you’ll also find the new album from Pallbearer, an Arkansas metal band with potential to be a huge, Mastodon-style crossover act. If so, it could similarly bring more mainstream exposure to Profound Lore, which only makes the label’s seeming lack of an ethical line all the more troubling.
If Disma were an isolated incident, it’d be easy to chalk up its signing as an outlier. But Profound Lore has, time and again, supported artists lacking any moral compass. After Cobalt kicked out its vocalist, Phil McSorley, for making homophobic and sexist statements on the Facebook page of his other band Recluse, it then welcomed Lord Mantis’ Charlie Fell into the band. Unfortunately, Lord Mantis had released the infamous Death Mask, an album featuring controversial cover art (drawn by the similarly provocative Jef Whitehead) that was labeled as transphobic. When confronted about it in interviews, Fell shrugged it off by saying he sees all people as “laughing, eating, smoking, dick sucking, cum loving, piss-in-the-mouth monkeys.” It seemed Cobalt had merely swapped one ill for another.
But metal’s ongoing problem with bigotry extends well beyond Profound Lore and its roster. Black metal pioneers Mayhem spent this past winter touring with Inquisition, a critical darling who’s also been lumped in with the white power movement. Most of those accusations stem from frontman Jason “Dagon” Weirbach, whose side project, 88MM, boasts a name that alludes to the preferred artillery of Germans in World War II—and even more symbolically, evokes the “88” code employed by neo-Nazis, as a stand-in for “Heil Hitler” (“H” being the eighth letter of the alphabet). 88MM also once released a song titled “14 Showerheads, 1 Gas Tight Door” on the Satanic Skinhead compilation Declaration Of Anti-Semetic Terror, and it once released a split with Satanic Skinhead’s founder, “Antichrist Kramer,” who has a well-documented history of association with openly racist and anti-Semitic bands preaching fascism and ethnic cleansing. Put it all together, and you’d make a reasonable case that—at the very least—Weirbach has a real blind spot when it comes to cultural sensitivity. You might also accuse Weirbach of being a fucking Nazi himself.
Plenty of people did just that in 2014, after Decibel ran an interview with Daniel Gallant, a one-time Canadian skinhead who abandoned the movement and has since worked to expose the tactics used by white power groups. Gallant says that, while driving a tour bus for Inquisition, Weirbach and drummer Thomas “Incubus” Stevens both gushed over his swastika tattoo (which he’s since had removed), with Gallant claiming Stevens even talked about his own beliefs in white supremacy. In a separate interview with Decibel, Weirbach denied he had any Nazi associations—“I’m not a Nazi,” he said flatly—though he had a slightly more muddled response when asked how he would describe his reaction to seeing Gallant’s tattoo, as well as to what it represented:
I can honestly tell you that I never flat-out said I thought it was a horrible thing, or that I was against it, but never did I say I was with it and that I believed in it. What I have always told people is I understand it. I understand that when you look at history and what was happening at the time, whenever you put yourself in everybody else’s shoes—and if you’re smart enough, and you have... maybe common sense is not the word, but you have an understanding of why things happen in history and in humanity the way they do, it doesn’t matter how ugly it is to you or how great. It’s simple physics. It’s nature. Things happen. Earthquakes happen. You know? Bad, good—things happen.
Echoing this “hey, shit and Holocausts happen” attitude, Weirbach similarly shrugged off whether he might be attracting Nazi fans with his music (“[If] they like the music we’re doing, then they like it”), as well as any questions about Kramer:
If I knew he was a white supremacist, truly, would I work with him? Well, there’s a fine line, because even though Inquisition is not a white supremacist band, it gets into the area of, well, here’s a friend who may have evolved into something that is not my business, but now is working for the band. So, for the band, of course, I would not have worked with him. We would not have… it would have been very difficult. It would have affected maybe our friendship or something, because people don’t like being judged, even though ironically we’re talking about everybody judging each other.
Amid all this prevaricating, Weirbach said he also believed Kramer couldn’t be a white supremacist because he had a black friend, defended his signing with the German label No Colours because “it was the only reputable label in the underground willing to sign us,” and claimed that his sampling of Hitler speeches in his music was “neutral,” seeing as, come on, he’d also sampled the line “Hitler is dead.” The No Colours affiliation is notable given that it’s often regarded as a National Socialist black metal label (NSBM, for short), having released records by bands like Absurd, the band responsible for the murder of Sandro Beyer, later putting Beyer’s grave on an album cover and seeing member Hendrik Möbus describe Beyer as a “leftist faggot.” All told, despite his saying “I’m not a Nazi,” the interview did little to clear up the lingering question of whether Weirbach and Inquisition are, in fact, Nazis, or whether they merely flirt with Nazism for shock value like so many other assholes on the internet right now (and, in some cases, in the White House). Because you can say you’re not a Nazi all you like, but repeated actions to the contrary are far more indicative of the truth.
Weirbach’s tourmates in Mayhem have a similar history of harboring some disgusting views, though these have long been given a pass because of the band’s legendary status—and also because it is riddled with clearly insane people. Still, its almost cartoonish extremity doesn’t excuse stuff like drummer Jan Axel Blomberg, better known as Hellhammer, saying this in black metal history book Lords Of Chaos: “I’ll put it this way, we don’t like black people here. Black metal is for white people.” Nor does it give him a pass on his championing Emperor drummer, Bård Guldvik Eithun (known as “Faust”), in the documentary Until The Light Takes Us for killing “a fucking faggot.” Then there’s Varg Vikernes, the poster boy for racist metalheads, who played in Mayhem before he murdered its guitarist Euronymous, and a man who has openly propagated Nazi ideology—and has even been convicted of inciting racial hatred against Jews and Muslims.
While Vikernes is an extreme example, many of these black metal musicians—as well as their fans—tend to adopt Weirbach’s attitude that adopting Nazi imagery is purely an aesthetic choice, one that comes with the sort of implicit air quote that’s become all the more recognizable beyond the music scene. As Stereogum’s Doug Moore pointed out in a recent column, many of these attitudes read like the defenses of 4chan “edgelords,” whose own spreading of gas chamber and “greedy Jew” GIFs are just their way of being provocative—“shit-posting” the world, hoping to trigger a few normies. For some black metal fans, the offensiveness is just as easily dismissed as part of the package, and if you’re triggered by it, that just means it worked. Moore notes that a recent San Francisco show shut down by protests over Swedish black metal band Marduk—a group that’s demonstrated a two-decades-long fascination with Nazism—was just a blip in an otherwise-unimpeded tour in front of fans who, if they’re not embracing that, tend to rationalize it away. For the most part, those within the black metal community seem to shrug that it’s all just inherent to the art.
Granted, it’s already easy to regard black metal as being a purely fringe interest, appealing to just a select few anyway. It’s intense, jarring music that can also be totally goofy, and it doesn’t garner a quarter of the press that bands like Metallica and Mastodon pull. Still, black metal’s Nazi problems just represent the most radical, unabashed expression of a bigotry that bubbles under even crossover acts within the broader genre. Deafheaven guitarist Kerry McCoy used homophobic slurs on Twitter before his band enjoyed crossover success (which was all swept under the rug once the group became favorites of the press). Even Slayer’s Tom Araya recently went after “snowflakes” while offering up some gay slurs (the brief controversy over which hasn’t seemed to affect its booking a tour alongside the politically charged Lamb Of God).
And when metal musicians do get punished for saying and doing deplorable shit, it’s usually comparably light—and quickly forgotten. Pantera’s Phil Anselmo having a festival appearance by his band Down canceled after he yelled “White power!” and threw up a Nazi salute on stage led to a self-flagellating apology video and a Rolling Stone interview where he tried to refute decades worth of racism accusations, but ultimately did little to damage his current career. Disma was only kicked off the Maryland Deathfest and Chaos In Tejas line-ups after other bands threatened to drop out; meanwhile, it’s promised more live dates this year to back up its Profound Lore release. As for Inquisition, it seems posing next to a swastika flag and working with known white supremacists is fine so long as you give an interview where you say you’re just interested in, like, exploring all the world’s political philosophies.
But at a time when fascism and Nazism aren’t just things kids play with for shock value—when they are, hard as it is to believe, actual growing concerns here in America and abroad—metal bands should no longer get a pass on this stuff. Yes, Motorhead’s Lemmy collected Nazi memorabilia and even David Bowie flirted with fascist imagery. Yet neither of them were releasing songs called “Crush The Jewish Prophet,” nor were they commissioning album artwork from known white supremacists. There’s an important difference between extremism for art’s sake and art that actually promotes extremism. Metal’s tight-knit community would only be strengthened by kicking out those members who are hurting what has become such an increasingly progressive form of music with such ugly and regressive views. And wouldn’t it be nice if they could pick up a record about death, violence, and apocalyptic doom without also worrying they’re supporting a bunch of racists?