“A Son of Southern Darkness” is a selection of diatribes and rants from a displaced Black Metal aficionado in South Africa. The views expressed below belong to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the rest of the staff on the site.
RANT ONE: THE SAMMAS
The South African Metal Music Awards (or SAMMAs as they have come to be known) is possibly the worst circle-jerk this poor, misguided country has borne witness to since Guptagate . I’m sure it’s all fine and well for most genres of metal, but grouping black metal – a lifestyle choice known for its antisocial and misanthropic tendencies – with the ‘regular joes’ of harder rock seems in very poor taste.
While run-of-the-mill metal musicians may think it’s a great idea to ape ‘normal’ celebrity culture by dressing up in ill-fitting formalwear and attending a mock red-carpet event to celebrate a popularity contest in truest Grammy fashion, this is really only a small step away from the Metallica/Lady Gaga crossover the world was recently treated to. While there are multiple categories within the metal diaspora that are awarded within this mockery – from thrash to alternative to core and so forth – black metal really has no place whatsoever within this debacle, wherein “organisers nominate the metal bands who have had the most influence in their respective fields.”  According to their own Operations Manual , “Public Polls do NOT determine a winner! They only serve to validate that the SAMMA Panel has nominated properly.” So an organising committee with little to no interest in or knowledge of black metal music and culture (should that be kvlture?) are responsible for deciding which bands are worthy of their notice? 2017’s selection for Best Black Metal speaks volumes of this clique-based selection process…
First up, Adorned in Ash. A self-styled “Female fronted Christian Extreme Hybrid Metal band”  has no place on this list. A band that lists no black metal acts in their influences. A band that displays no black metal stylistic devices in the few seconds of their music I could stomach. A band that is proudly Christian  nominated in a genre that is appropriately infamous among ‘normal’ media for church burnings and satanic imagery? No, no and no. There is no amount of badly-applied corpsepaint that can qualify this band for inclusion.
Second on the list is Nebula Disrupt. At least this Cape Town-based group not only plays decent black metal, but they have actually released an EP for public consumption within the last year. I can almost forgive them for associating themselves with this celebration of mediocrity.
Third, Spectral Realm, who last released an album in 2015. Their symphonic approach is fairly unique within the South African subculture, but nominating a band just because they do occasionally perform live shows seems pointless.
Fourth, the crowd favourite, Theatre Runs Red. Their immaculate corpsepaint hardly makes up for a lack of recorded material, and not even a mention on the much-cited Encyclopaedia Metallum. Even their music, while carrying unmistakeable whispers of the likes of early Hecate Enthroned, is more death than black. This didn’t stop them winning this dubious award in 2015 and 2016, again without any associated releases.
Last on the list is Wildernessking, who consistently release music, videos and are embarking on a European tour. They are also signed to an established record label (Les Acteurs de l’Ombre) specialising in black metal.
You would imagine, based on the above, that only one band really qualifies for this award and that there is a clear runner-up, too – but no, popularity reared its ugly head and the ‘cool kids’ at Theatre Runs Red won for the third time running and Spectral Realm took second place. Let’s review:
- One out of five nominees has released an album in the 2016-2017 period.
- One out of five has released an EP in the same timeframe.
- Two out of five have contracts with record labels or promoters.
- One out of five is touring outside of South Africa, carrying their music to a wider audience.
- Zero of the bands who had recent releases, contracts or meaningful tours won anything.
While this obvious favouritism irks me (despite it being a hallmark of South Africa, home of nepotism and double standards), what really gets to me is that black metal is even included in this fiasco. Historically, black metal has never been a crowd pleaser nor even an open culture: its ranks have always been closed and it is still vilified for its exclusivity and elitism, a status that suits most fans perfectly: these are the few, the brave that dare to prefer music to elbows in their ears at live shows; the ones that still buy music in a variety of formats rather than pirating it. And the musicians are the outcasts and misanthropes – illustrated by the vast number of one-man metal projects within the genre  – who create music more for their own cathartic needs than to satisfy a fickle fanbase. Even in South Africa, relatively unknown individuals like Ophiuchi  are improving the average quality of metal with their music. As soon as any musician – metal or otherwise – is composing for somebody else, they have achieved that most awful accolade of all: they have sold out.
I’m not saying that black metal bands in South Africa shouldn’t be recognised for their contributions to metal (let’s face it, many are far better musicians than the shredders and blastbeaters that typify the country’s output), but there really shouldn’t be a Black Metal category within any kind of awards. It’s just not what the cult is about. And if they insist on persisting in this folly, at least get somebody who knows a little about it to advise them on nominations.
- Coincidentally, a Google Search for “sammas” brings you to Wikipedia’s Finnish entry on Oral Thrush.
- The infamous ‘State Capture’ that has been happening in South Africa is big news locally, where an Indian family, through carefully placed bribes, are being proven to have ‘bought’ a controlling interest in the ANC-led government.
- Taken directly from the press release by one of the event’s biggest sponsors, Paul Bothner Music.
- Read the quasi-legalese here.
- As quoted on their website.
- Fenriz of Darkthrone has long been a champion of black metal’s anti-religious stance, as evidenced in this interview where he likens organized religion to Vogon poetry from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Despite bands like Horde or Antestor loudly proclaiming their Christian black metal values, religion is to black metal what Steel Panther is to any other metal – a distasteful parody at best, a direct insult at worst.
- If you haven’t watched it, I urge you to enjoy the three-part documentary on Xasthur, Leviathan and Striborg released by Vice.
- Whose first album I had the distinct pleasure of reviewing.