On January 23, 2006, the highest Islamic authority in Malaysia placed a ban on black metal – a rock music variant dominated by distorted guitars and occult imagery.
“Followers of black metal could be prosecuted under Islamic law. It has been established that black metal practices are way against the Syariat and every effort must be taken to stop its spread. Black metal culture is unacceptable for Muslims and can cause listeners to rebel against the country’s prevailing religion.”
– Spokesman of the National Fatwa Council’s panel on Islamic affairs, Professor Datuk Shukor Husin (Freemuse 2006) –
From the 1980s onwards the production of two similar, thrash-derived styles known as death metal and black metal, which produced some of the most abrasive and intense music the metal world had ever witnessed became two of the most popular forms of metal within the culture. These styles of metal were centred on producing lyrics largely associated with death, mutilation and the occult and were combined with extreme musical speed and growled vocals.
For many, heavy metal drew a new path away from the heavily produced ‘synthetic pop’ that engulfed the charts at the same time with groups such as the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys. This “extreme metal” was both admired and condemned for being such an extraordinary departure from conventional music norms often heard in not just popular music but heavy metal as well. However, it was because of the genre’s seemingly ‘threatening’ nature that caused it to be suppressed by mainstream press and even governing authorities.
The feature quote of this article is from spokesman of the National Fatwa Council’s panel on Islamic affairs, Professor Datuk Shukor Husin who was quoted during a news conference with the Malaysian state news agency Bernama. The issue of black metal’s affect on the country’s predominately Muslim population was brought to the public’s attention after a New Year’s Eve bust on a black metal concert in Kuala Lumpur where hundreds of unlawful arrests were made for suspected drug use and other crimes. What this example represents is that the ideologies which form the backbone of the black metal culture have been recognised by many (mostly conservative and religious groups) as a form of ‘deviant creativity’. Furthermore, commentators that are against the proliferation of black metal in popular culture believe that artists manipulate music to encourage listeners to worship ‘evil deities’ and engage in acts of violence and drug use.
Below is an excerpt of the lyrics to “Unholy Forces of Evil” by Norwegian Black Metal Band Immortal:
Evidently, this song contains both occultist imagery and ‘evil’ symbolism – lines such as “A goat baptized in fire, we dance the circle dance on thorns” signify rituals often related to Anton LaVey’s cult of Satanism. The symbolism of the goat (the animal representative of Satan) and the circle dance (a perceived satanic ritual) represent those ideologies and themes that brought initial fear from religious and conservative groups.
In the Bible a passage called “The Sheep and the Goats” (or “The Judgement of the Nations”) states:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory”
32 “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats”
33 “And He will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left”…
41 “Then He will say to those at His left hand, “You that are accursed depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”.
Matthew 25: passages 31-46
While this song is highly symbolic and appears to communicate details on acts of Satanism (through imagery relating to the goat as an example), I still believe that individuals place their own biases into songs and, as a result, interpret it differently. Some may see the song as a fantasy where the artist talks about a mythological experience, while others could interpret the song as directions to performing a satanic ritual. I think most of us would agree that the latter is somewhat ridiculous and would represent the listener’s ignorance or misunderstanding of the artist’s perceived intention. After all, music is an art form and art is a creative way to express feelings, emotions, thoughts and beliefs – it is not a guide for another person’s actions or motives.
Ultimately, I believe that what censorship achieves are undue restrictions on a citizen’s ability to listen to music he/she wishes to listen to. In reality, “heavy metal is an escapist form of entertainment, often presenting and dealing with issues that aren’t always addressed by other forums and just as often presenting scenarios and ideas that are nothing but pure fantasy” (Pyromusic online). Therefore, censorship seems unjust if it is based on ignorance and misunderstanding – often the case with black metal and, really, all forms of heavy metal.
Below is a video link that highlights how people often base censorship on their initial response to the song which, in most cases, is shock towards the sheer abrasive style of the music. In this clip the boys from The Chaser’s War on Everything take a combination of Cannibal Corpse lyrics out of their death metal context and put them to lounge music creating something that is just laughable. This clip allows us to understand how context can also affect the way people respond to music and therefore censorship. Also included is a sample of some of the lyrics used in the song.
Chaser’s War Cannibal Corpse – “Rancid Amputation” (last segment)
Ripping through flesh is what I do best
Tear off an arm
Eyes removed, cranium smashed
Decomposing remains, severed in half
Dying slowly never to rest, nerves are quivering as I trip
Removal of life on the blade of my knife
Inserted in your spine, smashing through bone
Feel my hell, I feed on fright
Rape the limbless cadaver