Initially, this was just meant to be a live report about Mgła in London on 8th December 2015 but pretty soon I came up with the idea of widening the focus on various Polish black metal outfits. I have been into this Polish kind of black metal since I have first listened to Behemoth’s Grom back in 2006 and nowadays it just seems as if Poland is something like a quality seal for music that I thought was already dead. I have been annoyed by the Scandinavian hype for a long time now and I have not heard any newer Norwegian or Swedish band that have been interesting for me in actually a decade now.
As Sweden unsuccessfully tries to copy its own style of the nineties, Norway has started to walk a path that I completely do not understand. I think the shabby punk black ’n’ roll image that One Tail, One Head, Darkthrone, Urgehal, Koldbrann and all these outfits have adapted, was Norway’s only way to “reinvent” traditional black metal without having to change its musical structure or the antisocial image. In my opinion, this recycling is just too obvious to seem original and I cannot stand listening to any other song with just four power chords and that is it. If I want punk rock, I stick to the Dead Kennedys.
What is interesting about Polish black metal now is that most of the bands actually also do not stand out if you consider musical originality or concept. Plaga and Mgła are the best examples for this. There is almost nothing you would not be able to listen to on albums of myriads of other bands. While Cultes des Ghoules clearly have adapted their own approach to – let’s call it modern black metal or post black metal (since it clearly does not follow the “rules” of the second wave of black metal) or whatever – Mgła and Plaga seem to convince the listener just by the sheer musical quality of their actually averagely original material. I would call Magia Gwiezdnej Entropii, With Hearts Toward None and Exercises in Futility common art executed in uncommonly high quality. This counts both for the very tight technical execution as well as for the intelligent arrangements. While mostly using minor scales and actually “neat” harmonies, they still create an atmosphere that can only be described as chilling, haunting and maybe dangerous.
On stage, you cannot beat Mgła regarding minimalism. No complicated light show, no running around, no talking to the audience, no big gestures; just four unmoving and anonymous shades shrouded in black from head to feet that keep a distance to the audience. I have not seen something like this before. The focus was clear: execute the music as well as possible. I must say that I have not seen a band for a long time that I was so much looking forward to and that actually met my expectations. The sound was marvelous and, thus, one hour of hauntingly beautiful open chords, heavy blasts and these oh-so-memorable leads was over way too fast.
What was left was Dom (your one and only MetalRecusants founder) and me wondering about why Polish black metal is hyped so much right now (the London show had to be moved to a bigger venue as the tickets were selling very fast). I would say there were around 400 attendants which is a number I find huge for a weekday (Tuesday) and a band with a status that I do not consider as big. To draw a comparison, the last Watain show I saw in Hamburg had less than 200 attendants (on a Wednesday).
There are several Polish black metal bands which were rumored to be white supremacists. Two of them are Arkona and Infernal War. As our beloved Encyclopaedia Metallum tells us, the members of both have played in almost all Polish black metal bands to date, including Plaga, Furia, Outre and others. Where they did not have their members involved, they did split releases with bands like Kriegsmaschine and Inferno (which is actually Czech, but a great band to mention). If you check these bands, you will find that Arkona sometimes have strange song titles whose lyrics actually point into other political directions, as the words of “Holokaust Zniewolonych Mas” are:
“Holocaust of enslaved masses
Holocaust of enslaved reason
Holocaust of enslaved races
Holocaust of enslaved nations”
For me, this is too little evidence for any white supremacist attitude as it is written in plural and the line with “enslaved reason” points out a critical understanding of the holocaust.
With Infernal War, things look a little different. The band members have been helping out the RAC band Honor which openly propagates National Socialism. The song titles of Infernal War also seem to have been chosen not very wisely. The band claims not to be linked to any National Socialistic ideas while at the same time they tell you it is ok to use shirt prints like “Pure Elite Aryan Terror”. At this point of time, I wonder how it is even possible to be Polish and propagate NS. Poland was the first country invaded during WWII and, thus, the one which had to suffer the longest than any other country under the German occupation. Poland has the highest victim rates during WWII, especially among the civilian population. Additionally, the Polish people were one of the hardest to oppress because, in contrast to France, a whole lot of them were actually organized in the resistance. The Warsaw Uprising is known to have been supported by almost the whole city. People of Slavic origin were regarded as untermenschen among the Nazis. Their language was regarded as worthless. Now I’m asking you: how is it possible to write white supremacist song lyrics in the Polish language?
By the way, I wasn’t able to find any of the song lyrics of Infernal War’s Infernal SS EP. But I guess songs entitled “Blok 11” and “Czarne legiony SS” (Black legions of the SS) tell you everything, combined with the fact that no lyrics are given for these songs. Still, I count in the option that all the weird Nazi stuff is just stupid provocation. If you remember Jeff Hanneman and what he had to say about WWII, you might understand why. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if something is serious right-winged ideology or just stupid provocation by grown up men with little boys’ minds. There even are serious companies like ESP Guitars that produce instruments with SS skulls and runes on them. The discussion about listening to bands that support white supremacist views always ends up with one question: can you separate music and ideology? Is it just pathetic trying to stick to a band you like if you say you are not interested in their attitude? What do we learn from Israel which has already been staging operas of Richard Wagner, Hitler’s most adored composer and a declared anti-Semite? Is it okay to watch films with Tom Cruise and to indirectly support Scientology if you consider it brainwashing bullshit (which at least I do)?
On the other hand: Poland is one of the few countries where it is absolutely enough to be satanic to really provoke half the people. Nergal’s trial about tearing a bible apart is the best proof of this. I have been to Łódź for Behemoth’s “Polish Satanist” tour leg and the community of the opposite church was protesting all afternoon and evening against the show. Everywhere was full of police. My friend Roman (who’s half Polish by the way) muttered to me: “Great, this way they are unintentionally watching my car”. More on the topic of Poland and stolen cars shall be discussed later. The initial plan of seeing Behemoth in Poznań was even ruined as the show was cancelled just some days before the tour. You see, it is absolutely sufficient to be satanic or to pretend to be satanic if you want to scare the crap out of the Polish people. This may be a stupid question, but how much danger do we need? What will happen if Poland adapts to most European countries and starts being bored by satanic imagery? Will bands like Behemoth start wearing off? Will NS imagery take over just because it is the only thing left that really offends people?
For something different: Poland released three big cinema productions about WWII recently, two of them dealing with the Warsaw uprising in late 1944. It is beyond my imagination to watch one of these films and imagine seeing your grandparents or other of your people killed by the SS and then to start worshipping the SS. I just don’t get it. On a side note though, I really recommend Warsaw 44 to you. A really great and impressive film that won’t let go off you for at least some days.
Back to another theory about the dangerous element in Polish black metal, as Infernal War is not the only band I want to talk about. I think that most people feel that there’s got to be more behind the Polish mentality than just the few stupid stereotypes everybody knows. But beyond them, the average knowledge is at its end. What do you know about Poland besides “all Poles are thieves”? I guess it is just a book full of blank pages. And as we all know nothing is scarier than the unknown. Let’s try to fill these blank pages with some information.
The fact that the Poles are one of the biggest immigrant groups in – let’s be honest – almost every country in the world does not have anything to do with their homeland being ugly or whatever. Believe it or not, Poland has great medieval places (actually Cracow has THE greatest medieval place in all Europe), alpine mountains inhabited by bears, buffaloes and wolves and hundreds of miles of pure golden seashores. Norway and Iceland are where everybody wants to go. At least everyone knows someone who has been there and who has shown them pictures of fjells, trolls and so on. It has become popular to travel to these countries. The image of the wild and unknown Scandinavia has worn off. Poland is able to replace this as I guess you have not been there and you have no idea about it, right? Although this will kill the alien imagery of all Polish bands, I recommend visiting this country, learning its language and trying its food. Try something new and let go of Scandinavia. Maybe I will be able to rediscover my joy in Norway as soon as every one of you sits in an outdoor bar of Cracow, tries to order in Polish, drinks Tyskie or Żywiec, eats bigos or żurek and agrees with me that Poland is more about than stealing cars. That way, the Norwegian woods will finally be a silent place again. I am a fool to have recommended this to you, but anyway.