Howard Dean’s Kvlt ov Personality: Incorrigible Apathy?
You know that feeling, when you’re readying yourself to say something and you need to take a series of deep breaths, because you know that it’s going to be divisive and potentially make random strangers hate you? I’m feeling that way right now.
I fucking love Arghoslent and Grand Belial’s Key. They are two of my very favorite bands. They make amazing metal that is sharp, unique, and headbangable. They have some of the best album art ever. If I had to make a list of my top five favorite bands of all time, they would both make it. To quote Eric Cartman, I’m seriously, you guys. These bands are ridiculously good. These are bands for which the old metal term “riffs for days” is inadequate. We’re talking riffs for weeks. We could have a month’s worth of Riff of the Week material exclusively with these discographies.
I could be classified as a dedicated supporter of Arghoslent and Grand Belial’s Key—both directly and indirectly. I’ve given these two bands a lot of my money, as I own damn near their entire catalogues in physical format, and I’ve sang their praises and recommended their music to many a fellow metal fan over the years.
Arghoslent is a death metal band from Oakton, Virginia, that is currently on hold due to the 2006 death of their most recent vocalist. They were formed in 1990, releasing several demos independently on cassette, before releasing their well-received debut album, Galloping Through the Battle Ruins, in 1998 on Wood Nymph Records. Since then, they have released a further two studio albums (both on France’s excellent Drakkar Productions), along with several EPs and split albums (including a 2001 split with the amazing Australian death metal band, Stargazer).[i] Arghoslent mix the brutality of old school death and thrash metal with the soaring (and sometimes beautiful) melodies of traditional heavy metal bands. Think Possessed or Repugnant riffs mixed with the majesty of Manilla Road or Pagan Altar. Yes, that awesome. Try a couple tracks on for size and try not to shit your pants:
Grand Belial’s Key is a black metal band, also from Oakton, Virginia, that is made up of several members from Arghoslent (including guitarist/bandleader/composer extraordinaire for both bands, Alexander Halac a.k.a Gelal Necrosodomy/ Pogrom). They may be classified as “black metal,” but make no mistake: they are a different kind of black metal, and they fucking rip. Formed in 1992, GBK is known—like their death metal cousin, Arghoslent–for their indelible trademark sound: insanely catchy riffage slathered in black metal and punk, with more than a tinge of NWOBHM and traditional heavy metal influence (think Taake meets Maiden—seriously). It’s a unique sound, and one that has withstood both the test of time, and the insanely difficult standards of black metal elitists. Nary can a USBM (United States black metal) hater finish a typical rant about “how bad the American scene sucks” without adding the allowance, “Except for Grand Belial’s Key. They’re the only good black metal band from the States.”[ii] GBK have released three studio albums, as well as several EPs and splits, and is currently signed to World Terror Committee.[iii] Try them out, but have an oxygen mask and defibrillator handy:
Now, some of you lifelovers are probably sitting there, scratching your balls or fallopian tubes, and saying to yourself, “What’s the big fucking deal, Howard? Why are you going on about people hating you? So you like a couple of metal bands? Pssssh!” And some of you trve kvltists out there are probably fondling yourself with a Mutiilation back patch while listening to a Tukaaria demo and saying, “Me too, brutha! Byah, m’er-f’ers!” However, some of you out there right now are fighting mad and undoubtedly saying to yourself, “That asshole behind the stupid ass Howard Dean schtick is a chump and a lowlife, and I really don’t like him anymore. I kind of wish I could shank him with a screwdriver.” Now, why might those in this last group feel this way?
Because the men behind Grand Belial’s Key and Arghoslent are racists. Yes, racists. Like REAL racists. Like, “I openly admit that I have racialist views in interviews,” racist. The band members have been pretty transparent with their beliefs, and have made them known in several interviews.[iv] The name “Arghoslent” is a pseudo-Greek amalgam roughly translated as “slave ship” or “slave fortress.” The band has worked with many bands from the underground racist/NS scene, including Mudoven and Der Sturmer, and have released music on the now defunct NSBM (“National Socialist Black Metal”) record label Vinland Winds.[v] It’s safe to say that the guys behind Grand Belial’s Key and Arghoslent are assholes, and probably not guys you’d want to know personally.
But what about the music? GBK bandleader Gelal (known under the moniker Pogrom in Arghoslent) has been quick to point out that listeners should not construe the personal beliefs of the band members (which are decidedly racist) with the themes, content, concept, and music of their bands. One could make sense of this. This could be (relatively speaking) almost cut-and-dry. But Grand Belial’s Key and Arghoslent aren’t singing about some mundane Autopsy or Dark Funeral type shit. The lyrics are quasi-historical, but they are doused with more than touch of racist accelerant. Grand Belial’s Key has an album named Kosherat and a song titled “The Shitagogue”. Arghoslent has albums titled Incorrigible Bigotry and Hornets of the Pogrom, and songs named “Flogging the Cargo,” “Hereditary Taint,” and “Rape of a Slave.”[vi] In the booklet for Incorrigible Bigotry, the sentence “Recorded South of the Mason-Dixon line” is placed prominently in the liner notes, as is a prompt to “Send all hate mail” to their current address.
What about this view from the band(s) that the music should be understood in a separate context from the opinions/beliefs of the musician? We’ve all heard this before. Many times. It’s a popular opinion held by many people. Tom Araya fronts a metal band notorious for their anti-Christian and Satanic lyrics (Slayer, for you lifelovers and mouth-breathers), but is a Catholic in his personal life. He has gone on record many times to establish and reaffirm the dichotomy between an artist’s personal life and beliefs, and those expressed in his or her art. He is not a Satanist, he is not anti-Christian, and he does not think God Hates Us All. It’s all for effect, a commentary of sorts, and, as he so deftly puts it, art can imitate and reflect life—even the dark reflections.[vii] And many other musicians over the years have made a point to defend themselves from the content of their own music, lyrics, and imagery, arguing that it is all fantasy, fictionalized for effect, metaphorical, or strictly for fun. But with GBK and Arghoslent, we appear to be getting this argument in reverse. An artist attempting to defend his art from himself? “Don’t judge my (not so) latently racist music just because I am a racist?”
I do not consider myself a racist. I do not have any racist or racialist views or opinions, and I do not hate anyone simply because of their skin pigmentation, bone structure, anthropological history, country of origin, or general lot in life. In this way, I feel the way many a Gen-X’er or Gen-Y’er probably feels—like we’ve learned from the shittiness of the past, we understand that people can be terrible shitheads, and as a result, we try not to live and act like terrible shitheads ourselves. As such, we sign a proverbial social contract that outlines our voluntary agreement to be a relatively well-adjusted member of society. Scream “anarchy” from the Revolutionary Command Center in your grandma’s basement all you want, but that’s the cold hard truth for the majority of us.
So, call it my white male privilege, my apathy and ambivalence, hell, call it some type of suppressed racism I don’t acknowledge. Call it something. Call it anything. Just call it [enter Anton Chigurgh with captive bolt pistol]. But I am charmed by and enamored with this music, and this music is made by a group of racists. Lyrically and thematically, I find these songs uncomfortable—even repulsive—but I can’t help but be pulled in by the hypnotic and galloping riffs, the dizzying guitar solos, and the hammering drum beats. I very much enjoy listening to Grand Belial’s Key and Arghoslent, even if I can’t sufficiently defend it.
In conclusion, I leave you with Arghoslent sans voice—that is, free of its vitriolic and poisonous lyrics—Arghoslent’s masterful track Incorrigible Bigotry, off of the album of the same name. An eight and a half minute instrumental display of soulful and supreme riffery that will (almost) make you feel warm inside.
Or don’t. I know some of you will never press play.
[i] For more info about Arghoslent, including their full discography, visit the metal-archives. http://www.metal-archives.com/bands/Arghoslent
[ii] I don’t agree with this elitist statement. The U.S. has produced plenty of great black metal. See also: Averse Sefira, Negative Plane, and Avichi.
[iii] For more info about GBK, visit their metal-archives page at http://www.metal-archives.com/bands/Grand_Belial’s_Key/270
[iv] Here’s a quote from an interview: “Many continents far beyond Europe have known great empires, but conspicuously sub-Saharan Africa has not. One of the oldest lands trod by man has never mastered architecture, cultivation, technology, science, or any other prerequisite for civilization. In the United State one constantly endures unpleasant interactions with the descendants of these dark and unaccomplished people, and therein is a source of disappointment and irritation that is manifest in some of the descriptions in our songs.” Link: http://z4.invisionfree.com/IcedEarth/ar/t180.htm Also, a link to another interview: http://www.supremebrutality.net/interviews/grandbelialskey.php
A quick google search will produce many more.
[vi] Lyrics for the song Flogging the Cargo reference “pitch brutes” and “filthy mongrel dogs” destined to fail because of a “flawed genome”: http://www.songlyrics.com/arghoslent/flogging-the-cargo-lyrics/
[vii] Tom Araya and Slayer info paraphrased from Sam Dunn’s “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey.”