In 2006, a Finnish black metal guitarist named Ville Iisakki Pystynen recorded with a controversial, short-lived band called Blutschrei. That year, Pystynen—who tours under the moniker “Shatraug,” but has also gone by “Hellseeker,” “Ghoul,” “Fornicator” and, incredibly, “Malice Pooper”—played guitar on their first and only album. The record, The Voice of Forbidden Pride, featured tracks like “White Agony,” and lyrics like, “Mother Europe, here I stand, a proud son today and a white father tomorrow,” or “Let us take the course of time and turn our heads toward the rising of a better Reich.”
Unsurprisingly, it led more than one metalhead to align Blutschrei and its members with a smallish, pro-Nazi subsect of black metal called National Socialist black metal, or NSBM.
Years later, Pystynen is poised to begin a North American tour across 11 American cities with his other band, Horna (Finnish for, in a burst of originality, “hell”). But when a writer for the metal gossip site Metal Sucks addressed the group’s alleged NSBM ties, he sent music scenes on both coasts into conflict: with antifa and Satanic groups on one side calling for boycotts; fans and some Proud Boys defending Horna on the other.
For their part, Horna denies the association. The band did not respond to request for comment, but in a statement on social media, they wrote that Horna had “never been and never will be anything but Satanic Black Metal”; that they “judge every man and woman only by their demeanor, not by their race or sexual preferences”; and that they “have zero interest in politics, left or right.”
Still, evidence of Nazi ties didn’t end with a single, 13-year-old album. The Metal Sucks article went on to point out that Pystynen had once owned Grievantee Productions, the label behind bands like Kristallnacht and Hammer, which has a swastika logo. A June 2018 article from the Austrian paper of record, Wiener Zeitung, noted that Pystynen had been affiliated with other NSBM bands, whose names translate to “Aryan Art, Aryan Blood, and Final Solution.” Horna’s lead singer, Tuomas Rytkönen or “Spellgoth,” has played with Peste Noire, a French black metal group that identifies as “right-wing anarchist,” but has often been labeled NSBM over its frequent use of blackface, lynching imagery, and their lead singer’s hardline stance as “a racialist, an ethno-pluralist, absolutely against race-mixing,” according to an interview with noted NSBM label, Militant Zone. Horna has noted on social media that the members of Peste Noire are “good friends.” In 2017, after Peste Noire was banned from a festival for their views, Horna bowed out in protest, citing “antifa bullying.”
When news broke of the tour, helped along by the anti-authoritarian Twitter account Heresy Labs, venues were inundated with complaints. Several quickly canceled their shows. “The dangers of working with outside bookers is that at times, things like this fall through the cracks and when that happens, we take heed to the warnings and heads up from you,” Brooklyn’s The Kingsland wrote on their Facebook page. “After looking into the accusations against Horna and reviewing the article released by metalsucks just 20 short hours ago, the kingsland has heeded your consul and cancelled this show.” (The outside booking agent, Metal Mafia Records, who did not respond to request for comment, insisted on social media that the show had not been canceled, but would relocate to another venue.)
But others stood their ground—two West Coast venues in particular: Orange County’s Karman Bar and L.A.’s Five Star Bar (neither responded to comment). In a statement on Instagram, a representative from Karman Bar wrote: “We have never discriminated due to ‘speculations.’ An announcement was made by the band. If that’s not enough, then don’t show up. Simple?” Outcry from local activist groups ensued. Among the vocal: Long Beach Antifa and HelLA, a Satanic collective.
On Wednesday in Los Angeles, the walls of Five Star’s neighbors were peppered with flyers. “SAY NO TO NAZI BLACK METAL,” one read. “In lyrics, the band calls for ‘The death and destruction of the Jewish people,’” read another. Local business owners, some of whom were anxious about speaking due to retaliation, worried over whether they would need increased security on the night the band played. More than one said they had received warnings that Proud Boys were planning a counter-protest of the show. In a statement to The Daily Beast, the manager of a nearby art-house theater called the Downtown Independent wrote that the “Downtown Independent would not ever provide a platform to hate speech in any form. Whether overt or implied hate should have no safe harbor anywhere, especially in Downtown Los Angeles.” At the same time, comments poured in to the metal venues’ Facebook and Yelp pages. “This bar is owned by racists,” one guy wrote.
Others defended the band. A member of Withermoon, an L.A.-based metal band opening for Horna at a few of their shows, told The Daily Beast that the outrage was nonsense. “They’re not Nazis. They’re Satanic fans,” he said. “Just ’cause someone’s in a band that talks about that doesn’t mean they’re Nazis. Slayer mentions Auschwitz and Satanic stuff, and that guy’s an atheist.”
It’s true that many prominent metal or metal-adjacent acts have played with Nazi imagery over the years. In 1986, on their most famous record, Reign in Blood, thrash metal group Slayer released “Angel of Death,” which appeared to glorify the violence at Auschwitz (the band later cleared up the Nazi-sympathy rumors, with an absolutely annihilating music video for their song “Pride in Prejudice,” which is not for the faint of heart). Marilyn Manson played with Weimar imagery; Motorhead frontman Lemmy notoriously collected and publicly wore Nazi memorabilia. It can be difficult to draw the line between shock-value stunts and indications of belief (though some might wonder if that’s a line worth drawing anyway).
One Facebook commenter, Reaver Gravespawn, who has opened for Horna in two different bands (“Gravespawn” and “Draconian Oracle”), echoed support for the group. He argued that Horna wasn’t hostile, so much as indifferent. “Black metal, both as a style of music and ideology, is quite unapologetic about its overall coldness toward humanity,” he wrote to The Daily Beast. “If people choose to hate us over misanthropic or selfish indifference, so be it, but hate us for the right reasons.” In response to the statement, one L.A. boycotter laughed. “Fair enough,” he said. “Fuck you.”