The Russian invasion into Ukraine from the North, East and South that began on February 24th, 2022 shocked the metal community, actually the entire world, whether you expected it or not. Peace – being allowed to live without the threat of being killed from a foreign military force – was thought to be the lowest common denominator of the world, as stated, and signed in the UN charter.
In this chapter of War & Metal (read chapter 1), we reflect the reaction of the metalverse to this ongoing war in Ukraine. It is an attempt to differentiate between morals and politics all based on the finding that there is mostly silence from those metal bands who made millions with selling anti-war songs. War shifts priorities and perspectives and questions anew who is good and who is evil. It’s complicated!
There is a simple formula: Peace equals don’t kill, and it makes for the very basic foundation of social life. Humans learned that living in a group enables a better life way before any of them learned to walk on two feet.
War comes in various shades but each means death and destruction for much longer than the actual fighting lasts. War is tool to force a foreign leader’s will on the citizens of a neighbouring country by simply invading it with full military force is entirely inacceptable. The suffering of two world wars in the early 20th century united the vast majority of mankind to ensure peace by all means. The uncounted civil and proxy wars all over the world should have taught Europeans to remain cautious. We failed here.
Nevertheless, demanding peace is objective and unbiased. Standing up against killing is actually a moral duty as long as ‘don’t kill’ is the foundation of civilisation. Not demanding peace is ignorance or at the very least a lack of sympathy. But basically not demanding peace is accepting that I might get killed next or in other words: not demanding peace is accepting war.
Metal music is aggressive and loud, just as war is. But metal music is also channelling aggression into soundwaves and rhythmic moves. Having said this, metal is highly social as it prevents aggression turning into violence against others – usually. Antti Hyyrynen (Stam1na) even spoke of the love in the moshpit (source)!
There is a long list of anti-war songs in metal. Some explained the bloody business of war generating wealth of a few while killing masses. Some illustrated the cruelty of the battle field or the devastation of nuclear weaponry.
Anyway anti-war songs have also generated economic success for their creators and gathered them on the moral high ground of do-gooders.
“The power-mad freaks who are
Ruling the earth
Will show little they think you’re worth”
(“Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” by Judas Priest)
Sympathy is defined as the “feelings of concern or compassion resulting from an awareness of the suffering or sorrow of another”, but also the ability to “respond to the concerns or feelings of others” (source). Lacking sympathy is asocial or even a symptom of sociopathy.
While demanding peace is unbiased as it does not blame anybody or anything, sympathy is already biased. It is demonstrating solidarity with victims and their suffering. And yet sympathy alone does not blame either. It is merely a passive way to criticize the aggressor’s deeds.
Those songs can be understood pieces of moral art as moral describes a behaviour that is considered proper. In a psychological definition, moral is not limited to attitude and opinion but requires action. It is about “the distinction of right and wrong behaviour” (source). That’s what anti-war songs do. Writing and playing them is moral and in addition those songs demand moral actions.
Anti-war songs mostly look back on historic events. The entire concept of the Ukrainian doom/death metal band 1914 is based on WWI, for example. They never left space to doubt their anti-war attitude only to find themselves now right in the middle of a bloody war.
Public opposition against the aggressor is the highest form of demanding peace and demonstrating sympathy. It usually aims to de-escalate as prerequisite to achieve a non-violent setting leading to peace again.
Open opposition can be demonstrated by an endless set of means. Some are peaceful others not. There are several forms of gatherings for demonstrations, there is the option of sanctions and naturally there are violent ways too, such as supplying weaponry, infiltration, guerrilla tactics, assassinations, and finally joining the war. The choice of form is limited by the availability of means and the attitude, naturally.
Standing up for one’s opinion by non-violent demonstrations and economic sanctions are in general socially accepted. They are a statement of a shared and lived moral. A highly delicate although legitimate way to support the victims of the invasion is by donating to their army – as Ukrainian metallists from 1914, Somali Yacht Club and Ignea do or even the Steelfest(ival) crew.
Half the world cut business with Russia and even greedy tech corporations and credit card providers have quit their business in and with Russia. But why haven’t Metallica or Iron Maiden or Slayer done the same? Don’t they stick with their own songs anymore? Or do they simply want to have a foot in Putin’s door in order to make money from shows in Russia as soon as possible again? Some less popular bands make a better role model: Lazy Bonez from Kuopio/Finland for example has quit all digital sales to Belarus and Russia (source) flanking the international sanctions on a larger scale.
To be fair: Metallica donated 100K for World Central Kitchen’s efforts in Ukraine. The information is not to be found on Metallica’s own webspace but only on the site of their charity organisation, All Within My Hand. Even in there they avoid the term war or to name Russia as the aggressor (source)!
Undeniably Apple or Panasonic or Visa made big money on the Russian market and their trades supported Russian oligarchs’ wealth plus generated taxes for the Russian government to pay for weapons and their army. Selling metal albums and shredding on Russian stages does the very same!
Who is to blame for the Russian war in and with Ukraine? Is it really Putin and his circle of cronies alone? Undoubtedly the dictator has established a reign of threat and fear. Speaking up against his perspective or any other form of protest is nowadays a crime in Russia. But even if more recent elections have been subject to massive fraud, the Russian people made him their president when there were other candidates! He has taken decades to establish his regime, extinguish opposition and expand his empire in Georgia etc. At least from abroad he seemed to have only few opposition parties with only rather weak or even questionable candidates to challenge him in elections. It seems even sort of natural he found strong support in the military ranks as armies have always favoured strong solitary leader figures, for those have provided their elites the most powerful and most rewarding positions.
On the other end of history we can cast a view on Mahadma Ghandi leading India with the power of peaceful masses into independence. However it remains a matter of speculation whether Putin would risk a ‘Tiananmen Square massacre’ or find support for such an operation from his army. In dealing with Alexej Navalny he outsmarted the Chinese way in the Peng Shuai incident.
There are endless discussions about who is to blame for this war in Ukraine from our metal community point of view in the comments following the posts of 1914 or Stoned Jesus (such as this) on Facebook. Additionally, it reflects the full spectrum of opinions and discusses the role of NSBM bands.
“Don’t ask what you can do for your country
Ask what your country can do for you”
(“Take No Prisoners” by Megadeath)
One critical point remains to be addressed: the dirty business with anti-war songs released by bands who made millions from it but have not yet had the guts to share as much as a peace symbol.
The non-military share of Putin’s cronies, who are vital to all his plans, is his circle of oligarchs. He provided the basis for their accumulation of insane amounts of money while they provide safety. It is on them how intimately Russian money is tied to all kinds of business from industries to real estate, culture and sports all around the globe. Consequently, international sanctions are a complex matter with massive losses on both ends.
The metal million sellers make just as good an example as soccer clubs owned by Russian oligarchs. Naturally neither Metallica nor Iron Maiden nor Slayer are owned by anyone but themselves. But any of them have made millions from selling music, merch, and tickets in Russia.
When the Scorpions, Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe, Cinderella and Skid Row played at the sort of hard-rock Woodstock-like festival in Moscow in August 1989, a six-digits number of fans experienced what was entirely normal in the west for the first time. “Wind Of Change” is a baby born from Klaus Meine’s (of The Scorpions) experience of this very journey. The processes that overturned the socialistic governments had already begun. Certainly western metal fans can hardly imagine what it meant for Russian rock- and metal fans to see those bands playing in the Lenin Stadium, even if they only heard or read about it in media coverage.
The spirit did not last too long. When big fish toured Russia, such as Nightwish (in 2016 and 2021) or Judas Priest (in 2012) or Megadeath (in 2014 and 2017) it was business as usual. There was no political message, there was no supporting of establishing democracy. It was playing where crowds would fill the venues which in the very end means: where enough money can be expected to pay for hosting the shows there. That’s just it. Professional musicians make their life from selling their music and Russia is a large market.
A tour has to pay for the band, the managers and promoters, the stage crew, the venue (staff, equipment and rent), the security, the accommodation and transportation, the catering. It will pull media and crowd. And the local catering, accommodation and transportation providers will make their money from it too. But in case of the really big fish there is yet another party to consider: the investors. Money from morally doubtable sources pays up front for the tour only to gain the lion’s share of the return. Read Marco Hietala’s personal post on why he left Nightwish carefully (source). Those greedy and shady figures played their role too. Finally and in the end on each single sale, tax will fill the bags of the sovereign too, not to mention any bribes that are expected.
Stupidly the power of oligarchs and corruption has been a major problem in most if not all ex-soviet states. Neither Russia nor Ukraine makes for exceptions here. Even worse those people have acted on all political sides and pulled strings that are repaid with the blood toll of war.
The bigger the act the more it consolidates a corrupt elite and the dictator and Each show provides a stage for their propaganda as they can then say: Look, I made it happen. Thus it not is a question of supporting the dictator or the metal community but one does not work without the other This being said, isn’t it the very least we can expect from our idols that they answer to themselves? Instead they blame their managers or bookers for not playing in Russia in May 2022 – as Iron Maiden did (source)!
Speaking of it, there was a season full of international metal acts scheduled for Russia and Ukraine and even Belarus kicking off very soon. The war killed it, of course. Bands like Wolfheart had the guts to make their own decision to cancel their shows with a public statement while the vast majority did it silently. Interestingly the tours of for example Jethro Tull, Draconian, Powerwolf, Kataklysm and Wiegedood have yet not been cancelled (by March 19th 2022)!
“Dead bodies, dying and wounded litter the city streets
Shattered glass, bits of clothing and human deceit”
(“Mandatory Suicide” by Slayer)
Metal has been political from day one on, in mainstream metal bands as much as in attitude-based genres. The history of violence related to Black Metal is as old the genre itself and thus, it is all but surprising to find NSBM bands playing their role in violence that has been going on in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea ever since 2014. As a matter of fact, there is a very active NSBM scene in Ukraine that maintains intensive contacts with international neo-nazi networks. This requires a closer look. In the centre of a generally vivid Black Metal scene one name appears multiple times particularly in the most extremist and violent context. This key figure has been the owner of the label Militant Zone based in Kyiw and is also the mastermind M8L8TH. He explicitly considers his band an NSBM act. Militant Zone organized festivals in Kyiv such as the Fortress Europe and Asgardsrei (source) which have functioned as crucial hubs for world-wide neo-nazi networking activities and generate remarkable funds for the scene. This key figure is also known to be active in the Misanthropic Division and Asov Battalion, last of which is a unit in the National Guard of Ukraine and has fought in Eastern Ukraine since 2014. Misanthropic Division aims to achieve an independent of Russian and western influences, nationalistic Ukraine and recruits fighters among Black Metalists all over Europe. Even the Brazilian police reports acquisitions in Porto Allegre in 2017 (source).
There is no excuse for killing or glorification of violence. That said, these groups have posed a threat of a certain degree for Russian interests in Eastern Ukraine and make a perfect subject for pro-Russian propaganda. Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister Sergey Lavrov have made excessive use of that ignoring the one critical fact: the very key person described here, is Russian! What a cynical detail it is, pointing directly at the just as vivid neo-nazi scene in Russia. Basically, NSBM is a supra-national genre and network. So who is the ‘Nazi scum‘ discussed so highly emotionally these days?
Apart from all this quite theoretical discussion and very personally, I suppose not all the black and brown mercenaries are still as happy fighting as they had to face the bloody truth and fatal force of the Russian invasion.
“Blast off, it’s party time
And we don’t live in a fascist nation”
(“B.Y.O.B.” by System of a Down)
Good And Evil – It’s Complicated
Who is good and who is evil is not easily told, not even in times of war.
Several comments on 1914’s post reflect the growing anti-Russian attitude in even the most peaceful (Ukrainian) minds. It is understandable as it is the Russian president who brought war to Ukraine. It were the people in Russia who voted for him, them who did not stop him, (soldiers recruited from) them who pull the trigger even when no one can see it. From the perspective of civilians bombed out of their homes, attacked by tanks and shells day and night, the threat of imprisonment for standing up against war makes for a small sacrifice. How will it burn to see that those who made their millions from anti-war songs don’t even stand up for peace when it would cost them nothing, nothing at all.
“War is something that I despise
For it means destruction of innocent lives”
(“War” by Edwin Starr)
Time will tell when socially unaccepted fades into politically incorrect and then to business as usual with the Russian dictator again. Even the death toll has been forgotten quickly when it came to business once the weapons were silenced after every single war. Then “Wind of Change”, “One”, “War Pigs” and all the other anti-war anthems will echo over Moscow again.
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Thank you Laura for your support!