Beyond porn: Is black metal the final frontier of obscenity insanity?

As a genre, black metal tends to forego verses, choruses and traditional concepts of consonance and tonality to create an atmosphere of fear and terror.  Predominantly originating in Scandinavia, it is an art form with a violent history, and its very existence is opposed around the globe today.

In 2004, Polish authorities confiscated concert video recordings of Norwegian band Gorgoroth, which were to be used in a forthcoming live DVD.  The police based this seizure on the concert’s content, as the band played while flanked by sheep heads on stakes, four nude, crucified models, and numerous satanic symbols, all of which were covered in blood.  The concert’s organizer was fined approximately $3,000 as a result.  The band later recreated this incident in its Carving a Giant music video, available below.

The phenomenon is not limited to Poland or Gorgoroth.  British cultural commissars charged Swedish metal band Dismember with obscenity in the early 1990s for the contents of its song “Skin Her Alive.”  In America, GWAR was arrested and charged with obscenity law violations in North Carolina during its 1990 tour; the band was able to reach a plea bargain that included not playing within the state for one year.  Rapper Ice-T’s side metal band, Body Count, was threatened with legal action over the inclusion of the song “Cop Killer” in its self-titled album.  This excludes the civil actions brought against Slayer, Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest by the families of those killed – by others or their own hand – allegedly due to the artists’ music.

Beyond the music’s grim subject matter, the musicians who create metal – and specifically black metal – make themselves easy targets.  Gorgoroth’s former singer, Gaahl, was sentenced to 14 months in prison and $32,424 in restitution for allegedly kidnapping a man, torturing him for several hours and collecting his victim’s blood in a cup, which Gaahl threatened to make his victim drink.  Going back farther in time, Norwegian band Burzum’s bassist, Varg Vikernes, a/k/a Count Grishnackh, was convicted of burning down four historic churches in Norway — even using the charred rubble of one such burning as the cover artwork for a Burzum album.  Vikernes also murdered his bandmate, Øystein Aarseth, by stabbing him almost two dozen times.  Though the reason for the murder is still unclear, tension between Vikernes and Aarseth as to whether Burzum should promote Satanism or Norse religious beliefs is believed to be an underpinning cause.

As bizarre and repulsive as these events are, they do not bear on the quality of the perpetrators’ speech.  The Miller test is, thankfully, created to focus on speech and not the characteristics of those who made it.

It is unpopular to stand in solidarity with Satanists, church-burners, torturers and murderers.  In the interest of free speech, though, it is important to see their unique vulnerability because of their prior acts, even if they were criminal and we find them despicable.  In light of increased pressure on Eric Holder and the DOJ to stop up obscenity prosecutions and “protect” America’s families and children, more vigilance is needed in protecting free speech — even if it isn’t porn.

8 Responses to Beyond porn: Is black metal the final frontier of obscenity insanity?

  1. yoshi says:

    When you stick to legal issues – I rather enjoy your blog postings. So stay with it instead of making lameass postings about science and economics. Topics you clearly know nothing about.

  2. m says:

    Um, as an initial matter, isn’t it spelled “Burzum” as in http://www.burzum.org ?

    Second of all, this is such a surface treatment of the entire issue that I wonder why you bothered to use it as an example. You seem to be lumping all of these bands and the authorities’ actions against them together, without taking into account any of the cultural context in each case. You also haven’t given any sort of background on how, or even whether, this country has moved from PMRC hysteria over this music to something more accepting over the last couple of decades as black metal, death metal and metal in general have become more accepted into the culture (although prejudice still exists).

    If you’re going to bring up these topics, either do a deeper and more thoughtful analysis or just leave it alone. Otherwise you look like some indie rock zine puke or Washington Post journalist who knows very little about the subject, trying to be hip and culturally relevant.

    • J DeVoy says:

      Fair enough. I’m merely trying to give the upshot of an overlooked issue. It’s not on most people’s radar, but I don’t know if most readers have the interest to read about the intricate differences between Swedish and Norwegian black metal cultures. Frankly, I think a surface-level view is more than many would care for in the first place.

      • Sgod says:

        and varg is not just the bassist of burzum.he plays all instruments in burzum.he was the bassist in mayhem for some time though.hope not to sound like a black metal fan who is angry at you for not doing a very good article.but i heavily disagree with the way you as “m” said above group it all together

        Best wishes
        Sgod

  3. Dan says:

    my kids play black metal. Making black metal seem evil just because one person in a band killed another and someone else burned some buildings is like saying all Republicans are evil because on Vice President shot someone and a President caused a country to be turned to rubble

    …oh…wait…we may be on to something here…

  4. […] tip: I got the black metal band clip from Legal Satyricon, a blog devoted to free speech issues; they are discussing “black metal” and censorship […]

%d bloggers like this: