The term Nordic folk has emerged to distinguish a series of bands that are directly connected to the revival of heathenry, the tradition of the Aesir and Venir, often focused on Nordic cultural identity and accurate history of pre-Christian Scandinavian countries. The term has a double usage in that it is a way to not say neofolk, which has the occasional baggage of costumed racists like Sol Invictus or Allerseelen. Drawing a distinction is especially important as white nationalists have staked their claim on heathenry, using pseudoscientific theories like “metagenetics” and misreadings of Carl Jung to argue that heathenry is a religion that is for people of Northern European descent only.
For the vast majority of heathens, particularly heathens outside of the U.S., this notion is absurd, and instead Asatru and heathen denominations across Nordic countries have been active in anti-racist campaigns and welcome a worldwide kindred. The neofolk duo Hindarfjäll comes from this tradition, using the traditional regional instruments and sounds of Norway and Sweden to revive a historical music that is tied directly to the earth. Started by vocalist Nils Edström in 2015, the project was inspired by bands like Wardruna in that they drove directly from a historical memory that centered an earthy pagan worldview.
Hindarfjäll is centered well in neofolk in both sound and practice, with each member filling multiple roles as they juggle a range of instruments from flutes to guitar to bassy percussion, all backed by looping chants. There is something haunting about the folk-inspired sound that comes out of the frigid woods, and Hindarfjäll feels like they are emerging with a sound meant to capture a life guided more by the cycles of nature than the modern travails of politics and conflict. Each track feels precisely laid, patient and haunting, acting as a reminder of a life that once existed and could again. This may be why the bands in the Nordic folk scene have been so centered on history, particularly the accuracy of it, because of the misappropriation the far-right has made of their cultural legacy.
Hindarfjäll is new on the scene and has yet to put out a full-length album, and has instead been releasing demos that sound like they could have been birthed by a dozen musicians syncing for a decade. With the very brief coverage they have had, they have used it to make a public statement about what they stand for. Before playing their first live show in 2016 at The Asgardian, they wanted to make clear that they reject any element of the racialist pagan movement.
I want to add is that I think that racism is a very important subject because Asatru and the music we play attracts a lot of idiots unfortunately. Such as nazis and racists, I think that’s unacceptable. Hindarfjäll does NOT tolerate such things. We take a stand against hatred and racism.
The Asgardian was put together by Asatru UK, a heathen association that prohibits racism in their organization. “Asatru UK is an organisation that abhors all forms of discrimination and racism in Heathenry, and though it is sad to say – these views ARE still out there. For the good of our members and the community we are creating, we do have to have some measures in place to keep that community hate free.”
We are jumping the gun a bit to include Hindarfjäll since they only have a few public recorded tracks and have yet to release their full length album, but we were blown away and wanted them in the mix early. We are putting some tracks below from Bandcamp and YouTube, but unfortunately they are not on Spotify yet and cannot be added to the playlist.
When the nazis came to town, a friend of mine got in her pickup truck and drove around the entire night. Not just to keep track of the fascists, but to give rides and offer safety to anyone and everyone who felt threatened by them. I know without a doubt she would have climbed out of her truck and intervened more bodily if it had been required of her.
She’s also white and has a rather large and prominent tattoo of Mjolnir, “Thor’s hammer.” She listens to black metal, writes in runes, tends towards misanthropy, and draws strength from the old gods. These are all things a lot of nazis do too. Which is to say, my friend spends a lot of her time in contested cultural terrain. I love her for it.
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My favorite type of metal is black metal. My favorite type of goth is neofolk. My favorite type of punk is oi!. All my favorite musical genres are rather heavily populated by fascists.
I don’t like fascists.
I still listen to black metal because I love it. I still listen to black metal because I don’t believe we should cede cultural and aesthetic terrain to fascists.
On one level, it’s easy to distinguish myself and my interests from those of fascists: I don’t believe in racism, “racialism,” conservatism, or patriarchy. I don’t believe in authoritarianism or nationalism. But the fascist project, as I understand it, doesn’t organize itself solely on political lines; it’s actively engaged in cultural warfare (which it refers to as “apolitical”). It attempts to imbue society with certain values.
Some of those values are those overtly political ones I outlined above, but there are others. There are values like glory, honor, struggle, tradition, faith, reverence for the earth, love of family, and the beauty of death. These values aren’t inherently fascistic, but they are values that are easily perverted to fascist ends.
I’m drawn to black metal and neofolk precisely because they incorporate aesthetics based on those values. This wasn’t a conscious choice, of course. I like the music that I like. But in retrospect, it seems obvious that these values attract me.
As anarchists, we interact with those values too.
To take “war” as an example: I once wrote a book about the militaristic defense of an anarchist society. I struggled to represent war as complicated and traumatizing at the same time as I valorized it. Whether or not we tend to use words like glory, honor, or valor, we celebrate the courage of people who are willing to fight and potentially die for the larger social body. We celebrate that courage because we need that courage ourselves, and it is largely through culture that we imbue ourselves with that courage. As an antiauthoritarian, however, I’m going to go about imbuing that courage in a different way than authoritarians might. I have no interest into romanticizing a sanitized version of war. The state has an interest in creating naive soldiers, but I want to represent struggle as dangerous and horrific at the same time as it is beautiful.
We must represent war if we are to represent society honestly, and certainly if we are to represent revolution honestly. The glorification of struggle is cultural/aesthetic terrain I must, by necessity as a non-pacifist anarchist fiction writer, share with fascists.
A lot of fascists are also into paganism (particularly European paganism, naturally). Paganism is not terrain we should cede to fascists. Some people (antifascist pagans) are not capable of ceding the terrain to fascists, so it behooves the rest of us to not abandon them.
If we decide black metal is fascist, then fascists will recruit black metal fans uncontested. If antifascists decide that some specific subculture, aesthetic ideas, or spiritual practices belong solely to fascists, then we are in essence giving to fascists all the practitioners and appreciators of those ideas. We shouldn’t let nazis have nice things.
Of course there is cultural terrain that is, and should stay, solely in the hands of the right wing. White people with swastika tattoos are not really fighting fascists for cultural terrain — they are either ignorantly or maliciously promoting nazism. Bands that will neither confirm-nor-deny being nazis and make constant use of nazi imagery both for its shock value and because they are advocates of European nationalism, like Death In June, are doing the work of the right wing.
It behooves people who are in contested cultural terrain to, well, contest it. Practitioners of European paganism are workinghard to drive nationalists and fascists out of their spaces. Even “nonpolitical” black metal bands can and have taken stands against fascism, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask for someone to say “fuck no” when asked directly if they are national socialists.
It’s possible that we might lose some of these fights. Despite skinhead culture coming out of a multiracial British working class identity, and despite antifascist skins standing at the forefront of antifascist organizing and fighting for decades, the skinhead aesthetic (and name) became practically synonymous with racism.
I don’t spend much of my time talking about “honor” or “glory,” because the first thing I think of when I think of those words isn’t pretty. Maybe we lost the fight for those specific words, I don’t know. The concepts themselves, though, still have resonance for me. I don’t always know how to talk about those values as an anarchist, but I do know that they get at something deep and meaningful to me. I cry every time I visit the graves of the Haymarket martyrs in Chicago, and when I need strength I draw upon my pride at being part of a long tradition of rebels.
I don’t want the fascists to have the concepts themselves, and I will fight for them. Because I like black metal and hate nazis.
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Just as with we did with Panopticon, we are diverting from our focus a bit for a band that is not known primarily for its neofolk tracks, but is still so indebted to the genre that they deserve attention. Aztra is an Ecuadorian metal band based out of Quito that has made regional folk music the core of their sound since their founding in 2005, drawing out in the same way that the revival of Northern European country folk music built the core of early neofolk bands. This cultural revival has a point for Aztra, particularly drawing out the importance of the indigenous folkways of Ecuador that have been erased through centuries of settler colonialism.
It is that folk metal sound that links together their six full length albums, ranging between explosive and stagey metal songs and neofolk that sources much of its instrumentation and rhythm to the indigenous communities that the band members come from. There is a certain fusion at work, between epic metal coming out of the late 80s American scene and regional folk music,patched together into a tapestry that is both wholly original and reminiscent of Latin American metal bands of the 90s. Aztra is not afraid to go over the top, to wail in the way that 3 Inches of Blood or Dragonforce did, which is why songs about liberation and class war are still so fun. The infusion of Amorfino, Sanjuanito, and the kind of songwriter finger-picked guitar makes it feel as though anything could surface because there is such a well of musical history to pull from.
Because Aztra is definitely more of a metal band we are spending a little less time on them, but their anarchist and anti-colonial roots make them perfectly centered for our mission, and since they drive heavily into the neofolk scene we think they should be included. This is especially true with albums like Guerreros (2016) and Raíces Latinoamérica (2012) where they allow the folk music to really bring us back to the stories of home. It is their 2010 live album Acústico Vivo that we are going to embed because it so perfectly fits the neofolk parameters, especially when we think of neofolk as an international phenomenon that draws on folk music traditions of different regions. This is important as we demolish the Eurocentric perspective on the genre that has been driven by the far-right scene and prioritize indigeneity around the globe.
It is also in Acústico Vivo where a certain passion erupts, the return to the Latin ballad, and a broad range of instrumentation, including the wooden flute that stands out in neofolk. There is a rhythmic pacing to each song that never feels as though it is backing away from the epic intensity that their metal songs are branded with.
Aztra’s name comes from the sugar mill where workers went on strike in 1977, but were attacked by the dictatorial forces. They are vocal in their opposition to the economic globalization offered by the World Bank and IMF, particularly how it affects indigenous communities in the global south. Lyrics to songs like Hijos del Sol speak to this:
We sing for the child and because everything
And because some future and because the people
We sing because the survivors
And our dead want us to sing
We sing because the scream is not enough
And it’s not enough cry or anger
We sing because we believe in people
And because we will defeat defeat
We sing because the sun recognizes us
And because the field smells like spring
And because on this stem in that fruit
Every question has its answer
We sing because it rains over the groove
And we are militants of life
And because we can’t even want
Let the song become ash.
The band hopes that their music will serve as inspiration in the same way that music has always powered vibrancy and resistance in Ecuador. The album Guerreros, which is ‘warrior’ in Spanish, burned this spirit into the record.
Warriors born as a proposal of social resistance, day by day we live constantly fighting from any space and from any stage, to each of the members and militants of our people, that makes us warriors. Our trench is art. We are warrior workers of the art that we are looking for day to day better conditions of life for our towns.
We are putting an Acústico Vivo track below for you to check out (but no Bandcamp, unfortunately), and we have added several Aztra songs to the Antifascist Neofolk Spotify playlist. Check out both below:
Black metal virtuoso Panopticon has a whole neofolk universe, and now we are adding it to the neofolk canon!
The eclectic nature of neofolk (and this blog) means that there is a broad spread of folk music that the genre can pull from, but there are a few common features. Paganism, history, community, resistance, and the struggle to maintain a counter-culture all collapse together like a neutron star with Panopticon, a genre defining Americana black metal band that has become a staple of Old God playlists. Based out of Appalachia, the uniqueness of their sound is a the methodical rhythm of storytelling, which founds their albums in a tradition of oral history that traces back past the coal mining migration to the mountains or the economic collapse and mass exodus from West Virginia.
It was tough to choose a band that is primarily known for its deep screeching metal sound to feature on this site so early, but that is not the Panopticon we are going to focus on. While they tower high in the world of epic metal, that is only one half of an incredibly diverse musical array that drives heavily into the world of european neofolk revival, Appalachian folk music, vibrant bluegrass, and tech-imbued ambience. Albums like The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness 2(the twin side to a crushing metal first entry) forgoes the sound of the prior entirely to jump into a folk traditions of culture that formed up around working class coal miners who developed an internal community life that riffed on folk spiritual and survival lessons from the old country. Autumn Eternal is mixed company, slow acoustic sets, marked particularly by slow strings, ar interspersed with the sound that we are so accustomed to hearing. The shifting sound, which has gone from full bore hillbilly country to acoustic silence of neofolk to blackgaze, is something to really marvel at when we are talking about a single person stretching over fifteen albums.
While it is clear from their lyrics, almost spoken didactically at times, that they see folk traditions and spirituality as a claim of strong community bonds against a commercializing world, this is centered deep in the class politics that are rightly the province of West Virginia. Starting with a focus on mass incarceration and the surveillance state evolving in late capitalism, Panopticon has a strong prison abolitionist strain. Kentucky and West Virginia’s labor history, particularly the “redneck” coal strikes that charged the region with the kind of militant anger that only comes the kind of brutal exploitation that coal barons have staked their reputation on. The album Kentucky deals with this heavily, introducing the labor folk songs of the area that many would expect from the Industrial Workers of the World’s “Little Red Songbook” or Utah Phillips last release. There is a deeply felt sense of loss in the way the album deals with settler colonization of the Americas, but still finds heroic stories in how it recounts the trials of Sacco and Vanzeti, the Haymarket martyrs, and ground laid by anarchist figures like Emma Goldman (The final track on their self-titled debut is called Emma’s Song).
Panopticon’s main figure, Austin Lunn, is open about his anarchist politics, the way that regionalism plays into his worldview, and how it is connected to struggle. This on the theme of identity that plays so heavily in neofolk, but takes it decisively back from the far-right, who tries to essentialize it with race and gender. Instead, it is working class community, the beauty of the mountain, and the bonds formed in rural backgrounds that formed that sense of self. There is a bluegrass pick in it, the sound of a dripping still, an uncle’s voice of advice. Those roots are the multicultural mix of working people, those who survive only because of the skin of each other, and Lunn is proud of this. Part of Lunn’s refusal to do too much press or numerous interviews with metal magazines is the antagonistic response to open anti-racist politics, which some see as divisive or “witch hunting.”
Panopticon has made a point of playing at metal festivals that eschew apolitical fence-sitting for open politics, like the Dutch festival Roadburn. He is continuing this trend in the upcoming Northwest Terror Fest happening in Seattle from May 29th to June 1st. On Wednesday evening Lunn will be playing an acoustic set, perfect for anyone interested strictly in the neofolk side of Panopticon. The festival itself (which we will be covering in the future) will be filled with anti fascist metal and grind new-standards like Dawn Ray’d, Cloud Rat, and Closet Witch.
We are adding only a few of Panopticon’s neofolk tracks to our playlist, as well as embedding their Appalachian folk and euro-neofolk albums below, but feel free to check out their entire Bandcamp library.
The wooded strip of land that runs along the coast West of the Cascade Mountains seems to draw its own sound, meted out of the deep woods and the terror of deforestation and ecological collapse. Nuwisha makes perfect sense as it is part and parcel of this environmental inspiration that comes from “cascadia,” the western region of Oregon and Washington that stands out as a unique bioregion. Like other cascadian bands, particularly black metal projects like Wolves in the Throne Room, there is a “cascadia scene” of bands coming out of the woods, with their music tied deeply to what the natural world inspires and the fierce rage that is sparked in its defense.
We first came across Nuwisha on Red and Anarchist Black Metal (RABM), which noted that it really is a blackened neofolk project because of the black metal elements like a grinding guitar that appears as a layer under some songs or the screeching vocals. These are really intermittent, and it feels more like Current 93 in the vocal style than Empyrium. You get the sense when listening to their debut demo and their 2013 album Solitary are the Winter Woods that this is a DIY project, driven people getting together and performing and recording it themselves.
While it is a diverse and eclectic sound, there is a conscious effort to appeal to the neofolk scene, even including a musical interlude halfway through called “Winter Interlude (A Song of Ice and Fire).” The lyrics are classic neofolk fare, focusing on the cycles of natures, the celebrations of the equinox and Ostara, and calling back to an earth-centered view of what creates vibrance in a community. The stifled cold of winter plays its own character in the album, which is the kind of mournful cry that often gives neofolk that bitter call, the kind of thing that is perfect for your Yule sunset playlist.
The band launched its first demo, Laughter on the Wind, 2012 in Portland, Oregon by Rowan WalkingWolf, who is noted by RABM to be one of their readers and how they were keyed into the band even though it may be a little past their scope. The eco-anarchist perspective was highlighted there, saying that it was the “profound experiences in and deep ecological connections with the Cascadian landbase and by dreams of the inevitable annihilation of civilization and the aftermath thereof.” This is reminiscent of many of the hardcore projects that lingered around Earth First! In the 1990s, like Earth Crisis. Rowan has a second neofolk project, Sparrowhawk, which we will profile in the future, which also has members of the Portland synth-folk ensemble Plantrae (we will probably get to them too).
Nuwisha seems to be on hold right now since they have not had a major release since 2013, which likely owes to the fact that Rowan is running around starting up new projects around cascadia. This is common in this sort of scene, constantly reinventing the sound, starting new bands and solo projects, and finding any way of making something unique in a flurry of Bandcamp releases.
Nuwisha is not on Spotify, so we will just put the Bandcamp embedding here to check out. We may start doing an alternative playlist function so we can keep bringing in bands not found on Spotify.
Announcing a new project to project the antifascist neofolk scene, profiling bands, antifascist resistance in neofolk, and the building of an antiracist music culture.
There is a story we tell about the past. Where the mundane was imbued with the sacred, where the forest still held magic, where the world was larger while our community was small.
Neofolk is the modern revival of folk music traditions interwoven with metal, ambient, gothic, and other “fringe” music, usually focusing on pre-Christian pagan spirituality, de-sacrailization, and a look to the past. The bands that have dominated the genre, who have the largest tours and quotes in music magazines, entered this genre because they wanted a romantic art form that told the story of Europe’s past. This was to revive a nationalist identity, just as it was in 19th Century romanticism, to imbue white people with a sense of mythology about Europe’s past and the need for a rebirth.
This concept is largely known as “metapolitics,” the process by which thinking and philosophy is changed in a culture to make it more malleable for political change. Since their defeat in World War II, many fascists have turned to the world of metapolitics in art, in philosophy, and music, as a way of influencing the culture so that far-right politics have a fighting chance. This is a strange twist on Marxist revolutionary Antonio Gramsci’s theses about cultural struggle: when you change the perspective you can change the political outcomes.
Bands like Sol Invictus, Death in June, Changes, and Fire + Ice were tied to far-right nationalist movements, including parties like the National Front or skinhead gangs like the American Front, and saw the music as a way of creating a deep nostalgia and sense of longing for white Europeans. By fetishizing a false narrative about the past they can then pair the modern world, with its liberalism and multiculturalism, as the inverse of the history they are fetishizing. The romantic qualities they are offering in their music seem only possible through the revolutionary nationalism they are peddling. These bands grew and set the tone for the burgeoning neofolk scene, so much so that the scene’s narrow view of European heritage and nationalism became the lens through which all bands were judged. The genre was then was allowed to simmer with this ideology without intervention because the hold that fascists had on the music was so strong.
The far-right did not invent neofolk, it does not own it, and it should not be given to them.
The left is a romantic tradition that looks both forwards and backwards, dreaming of what the world could be and picking up traditions and histories that tell that story (both real and imagined). This is why, as Margaret Killjoy has pointed out, genres like black metal and neofolk appeals so much to anarchists, whose sense of passion and prefiguration draws on a well of romanticism. Neofolk attempts to modernize the pre-modern, the stories, music, cultural significance of societies past, and while European revival music has dominated coverage, neofolk is a worldwide phenomenon that draws from traditions from South Asia to indigenous North America to West Africa to Northern China.
There is another neofolk, one that rejects fascist stories about white identity and imperialism, one that is fueled by decolonization, a connection to the earth and Old Gods, to the spirit that fought feudalism, capitalism, industrialism, and the ravages of white supremacy. We refuse to let fascists define our music, and instead are committing this work to start a new “scene” that is inclusive, diverse, and founded on resistance. This is openly and unabashedly antifascist neofolk, a music scene that not only refuses nationalism, but makes itself an enemy of white supremacy.
Sort of like Michael Muhammad Knight did with Taqwacore, imagining a music scene that did not exist to that people would be inspired to create it, we are humbly trying to give this a name and declare its existence. This is, to a degree, a falsehood, since antifascist neofolk has existed as long as the genre has, especially where the music was created as a work of postcolonial cultural struggle. But what we hope to accomplish here is to be intentional about creating an antifascist space that brings together the bands and create an clear cultural space that people can identify with. Instead of the assumptions that exist about neofolk, we are the people who we want neofolk to be in the future. By defining antifascist neofolk as a possibility we create a standard to apply to the genre, a line to force musicians to cross, and a question to pose. When the far-right defines the genre they define the values, morals, and what is considered acceptable. Now we can define those boundaries.
Neofolk is one of the best examples of what Rose City Antifa refers to as “contested space.” Anti-Racist Action was formed in the 1980s around contested spaces like working class neighborhoods and music venues, specifically inside the punk scene that had both left and far-right wings. Music scenes like skinhead Oi! was a struggle for who was going to define the genre and have access to the musical spaces and the people. ARA refused to cede that ground to white power skinheads, and forced them out of their recruiting spaces. Fascists need music as a recruitment tool since it drives at the heart before the head is ready, and we refuse to allow them that. Instead, just as people have done successfully for the past few years in black metal, we are creating a counter-culture of our own and seeing neofolk as a place to struggle against white supremacy rather than a radioactive wasteland.
This blog will remain relatively simple without a lot of frills, almost no design, and we will update the visuals slowly over time. The point will be to highlight new bands, building an “antifascist neofolk canon,” and to speak of both the positive organizing in neofolk spaces and the ongoing problems in the scene. The posts will be primarily focused on explicitly antifascist neofolk bands, but we will include the occasional band from adjoined genres like black metal, ambient, industrial, and anti-folk. We will also highlight a few bands who, while not be explicitly political, have separated themselves from the far-right. Most neofolk bands do not have primarily political lyrics, so instead we look at themes, public statements, behaviors and activism, and other things that allow them to stand out, including artists who have left neofolk bands that turned towards the far-right. This will include a special focus on bands that derive their sounds from outside of Europe and North America, and include musicians of color who are often erased from the story of neofolk.
This will be paired with a playlist we encourage people to follow, which will start small and will grow as blog posts are added. We will also create a resource list for other things that are topical, such as antifascist black metal lists, information about fascist entryism into the music scene, antiracist organizing tools, great record labels, and news. Expect a lot of album announcements, show reviews, band lists, interviews, and hopefully a lot more.
While this is a singular effort, we want your help! Please contact us with suggestions for bands, share widely, and start a conversation. If you are with a label that supports this, we would be happy to check out new music and prop up bands that line up with the values here. We also would love contributions and submissions, but note that there is not money behind this and it is instead a labor of love (at least right now). We will create a donation option, but other than that we just want to focus on the music for the time being. We want, more than anything, to be the place people go when looking for great new music, and to redefine what this scene can be. Posts will be slow starting, but expect a lot more to come.