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A Stereotype as Tough to Break as Steel: Black Metal and Anti-Religious Angst

 7/14/12, 8:29AM Since my last updated note from yesterday, there has been further discussion and talk on the Atlantic’s comment boards, concerning the integrity of the Atlantic piece -from the alleged reasoning given for the deaths of Anahita’s family members, to the existence of Anahita entirely. 

Regardless of the reality behind details in this story, my reactionary piece is not meant as an endorsement of, or personal agreement with, the actions described therein. The core of this piece is intended as a commentary on the value in exploring reasoning behind stereotype associated choices, which can be contemplated even if only in a hypothetical space. 


**Note: In correlation with the discovery of “repurposed imagery” used in The Atlantic post on which this reactive commentary is based, one such image has now been removed from this post, which first went live at 3:04PM this afternoon.

When I attended the EMP Pop Conference back in March, I expected to meet lots of new people. I expected to hear lots of new music. I expected to be given lots of insight on music I already love, from lots of enthused academics. All of these things did indeed happen. There were moments of intrigue and moments of laughter at the inevitable music related jokes that would come up in conversation among panelists. There were also moments that would halt audience murmurs and genuinely make everyone think because different cultural constructs around various genres of music created situations or reactions that were so unlike the American music mainstream, that occasional, deep levels of contemplation were the only possible results. Nonetheless, nothing I gleaned from hearing doctoral research gave me serious shock or emotional discomfort. It was all in the pursuit of knowledge and not for jolting value.

One would imagine that the chances of encountering musicological material of deeply jarring quality, outside of a setting devoted entirely to those who foster music’s studies, would be close to naught -let alone have any such material hit right upon a specific topic of as poignant and stereotypical as what was posted in the Atlantic yesterday.


When Black Metal’s Anti-Religious Message Gets Turned on Islam


When a headline mentions metal music and anti-religion, it’s attention snatching but not entirely press stopping. This, and similarly negatively-passioned sentiments, have been dancing on a bed of flames with the metal genre for decades; implications of metal’s occupation in a person’s library biasing views on listener behavior and their overall moral code as an individual. (Not to mention other elements like sub-cultural dress and lexicon.)

Further complicate the blanket statement of anti-religion with a laser-focused opposition to Islam and the question of heavily weighted seriousness becomes a question of quantity of radical statements, rather than if it will be radical.

Author of the piece, Kim Kelly, carefully gained insight that breaches each of these areas, when she was able to converse (via Facebook,) with one very secretive woman on a metal fueled mission. This woman is known only as Anahita. The stories spun about, and by, Anahita threw both my first and second impressions for a complete loop. Though I just stated above that discussion mixing metal and anti-religion isn’t new and that American mainstream music can act like a vacuum to music’s international differences, to hear that someone is composing and exposing songs that viscerally declare, “Burn the ***ing Quran!,” and have the explanation not be rooted in adolescent rebellion or general addiction for attention…sheer curiosity demands an explanation.

As with many (at least regionally) diminished behaviors (e.g. calling out racial slurs at passersby in broad daylight) when one or a few individuals break one such diminished norm, it can be cause surprise -if for no other reason than it seems almost unbelievable in that moment, that someone would revert to widely ‘dead behavior.’ Kelly gets right as the not-so-descriable heart of this sense when she explains,

“There’s something different about [this music.] This is real.”

Augmenting emotional associations to almost palpable levels of hate seems to stretch Anahita’s belief in the music beyond that of even the most fervent of underground subcultures in the darker and/or more overtly aggressive branches of metal; to the point of its significance and meaning not being one facet of her life or characteristic of her life but the state of her existence entirely: mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically. Well, by now one might be inclined to just perceive Anahita as any number of things: purely disturbed, severely intolerant/ignorant, soulless and the more obvious, hateful. An open and shut case of an extremist and ‘bad seed’ among the genre’s populous and someone to either pity or despise. Someone who clearly knows nothing of Islam and acts out of lack of understanding…

Continue to advance forward in Kelly’s article though, and your budding conclusion arrives at loop number two. Anahita is leading a black metal band in Iraq and as an adult who was raised a Muslim, by parents who, as Kelly cited from Anahita, were “described as “open minded” and “not strict.“.” An implication of cultural ignorance suddenly becomes irrelevant. Does this just leave Anahita in the category of the disturbed bad seed? After all, plenty of children are raised to follow particular ways by their parents -religious or otherwise- and not everyone keeps the values of the parents once they reach adulthood.

This is where things become quite paradoxical and ironic. Anahita’s hatred doesn’t come from a singular desire to non-conform or because she would simply rather take up a different set of religious values. She was raised with an understanding of Islam but presently carries true hatred for it, communicated through her black metal band, Janaza, because a “Muslim guy of course,” as Anahita explained to Kelly in their exchanges, was behind a suicide bomb attack that left her younger brother and both parents dead. Combine this tragedy with similar assaults that impacted other friends and Anahita’s motives are clear cut. The deaths of her family members and risk to those she cares for, propel her to speak out against the religion that ‘defends’ these


One begins to wonder about and contemplate the odd mixture and balancing of emotional justifications that must be swimming around in Anahita’s mind, as well as the minds of those who express themselves in alike ways through metal. (Elaborated on in Kelly’s piece.) The ongoing quest for understanding and a quelling of fear since 9-11 has shown portions of the American-Muslim population trying to shed light on the ‘true meanings and values of Islam’ and not to align an entire faith with the actions of marginalized terrorists who distort the faith in the process. It’s understandable, in the face of what she has lost, that Anahita could be angry and feel hatred toward suicide bombers and toward extremists distorting Islam, while still holding onto her faith. However, additional investigations and thinking by Anahita, over Islam’s writings, incited the opposite effect of total denouncement and created Janaza.

What brings everything together and caps off this paradox, is the fact that Anahita ultimately expresses a desire for safety and “freedom of speech,” as she tells Kelly -things that she justifiably wants, most likely, because at the present, she is stuck in living in a world absent of these things in war.

“The goals of Janaza and [side project] Seeds Of Iblis are to show the world that Islam is dangerous…and [that] even the people who live in the Middle East get hurt by [Islam] and seek for freedom of speech[;] just like the other people from all over the world.”

So there is a deep love for family, love for friends and hate for war that hurts those family and friends. Positioned in this light, these qualities frame Anahita as an experienced, caring and positive idealist -hardly someone one would shun or avoid, unlike the venomous musician her genre of choice can make her out to be. Chasing love and and freedom with hate and judgement. It’s impossible not to think on that.

Without peeling back the layers of the story behind this woman’s raw displays and words, she absolutely sounds and speaks like someone who would perpetuate violence using black metal, rather than actually wanting to end it. (Regardless of the way in which she believes the violence will end. I am not here to judge her feelings on Islam.)

Despite the fact that people may be shocked when ‘radical/dead behavior’ randomly rears its head, Anahita embracing black metal’s sub-cultural roots as fully as possible, as a mirrored response to equally disturbing, current events shaping history, serves as a rare reminder of one genre’s complex issues and real events that create the “kernel of truth” on which many music genre stereotypes are based; long after their respective historical origins have been forgotten or watered down. It’s important to know the substance behind things that jolt or unsettle us. Not because all random, radical behavior has a deep, justifying story but because without some amount of enduring substance, reactions to stereotypes become as ignorant as the stereotypes themselves and neither can ever be overcome.

5 Responses to “A Stereotype as Tough to Break as Steel: Black Metal and Anti-Religious Angst”

  1. Anonymous

    The entire “anti-islamic death metal scene” is a fabrication. The image provided by the so-called Anahita (who conveniently remains anonymous based on some western narrative of muslim oppression) is actual a stolen flickr photo from Raúl González stream here (http://www.flickr.com/photos/raulgzz/7559738960/)

    Also, as the article on the Atlantic progressed throughout the day other images on their metal page were removed as metalheads discovered they simply stole designs from other groups.

    Artistic integrity = Zero. Will the real Anahita please stand up? Because something smells fishy here.

    Also, your own summary of the “victimized muslim girl” based on the picture is therefore bogus since you are analyzing Raúl González girlfriend and not this enigmatic Anahita character.

    Furthermore, if you or Kim Kelly (writer of the original article) ever actually spoke to a real muslim, or better yet, a real Iraqi you would learn very quickly they do not speak like Anahita.

    You might also learn that Iraqi metal bands like Acrassicauda are headlining for Ministry and no one is dissing Islam. The only people that do that are right-wing islamophobic nutjobs who are trying real hard to fabricate fake realities under the auspices of righteousness.

  2. Kira

    Dear Anonymous,

    I would like, first and foremost, to thank you for taking the time (I would hope) to read my entire piece before expressing your opinion on it. I can’t speak for Kim Kelly or The Atlantic but I will say that I looked into the link you provided and also re-checked the Atlantic piece, which I see has updated according to the reasons you gave. Seeing as I only composed this piece today and posted it shortly after 3PM with the images not having been changed at that time, it could not have been helped up until I saw your commentary or the Atlantic piece updated but I do thank you for the extra notification and have altered things thusly.

    As to your words directed specifically to me, while I’m all for everyone having their own opinion, I just wish to illuminate some key things that I feel you’ve left out, which thereby drastically change how I appear to come across, should anyone just see your commentary.

    At the time in which this Anahita person (whether or not she exists is not my focus for this moment,) decided to devote her life to making Anti-Islam black metal music, my reaction is not framing her in a “victimized Muslim girl” light as you imply it to be, but rather, I stated that she had been brought up as Muslim but hit said turning point wherein she chose to denounce Islam *entirely.* In fact, Kelly’s article that I’m commentating on, quotes “Anahita” stating, “I am fully anti-religion in general.” Therefore, there’s no religious correlation to make as to her victimized status.

    If we are to go with the logic that this girl exists and her story is true, then, if your parents and brother are killed by (what I *explicitly* referred to and additionally implied as an, “extremist” who inappropriately *distorts* Islam,) then you are still a victim of a plain murderer.

    Lastly, in no way, shape or form was I attempting to communicate a generalization on *all* Iraqi metal groups as dissing Islam. To the contrary, I am simply speaking to this one person’s story behind why she is embracing long standing stereotypes of the metal genre -not stereotypes of Iraqis or Iraqi metal fans/bands. Whether Anahita is “right” or “wrong” in why she uses black metal as her outlet of communicating her vehemently neagtive feelings is not for me to judge upon. I am simply pointing out that traumatic events that have shaped her (as well as countless others’ lives in a myraid of ways,) are being carved into history and explain *their particular* use of the genre’s subculture.

    Every genre of music has it’s rights and lefts. Purists of every genre exist and they go in both directions. I am a fan of various metal sub-genres and within said sub-genres I have bands I like, who support positive themes, and other groups in the same classification, who just as loudly proclaim works encouraging all kinds of depraved, non-humane actions. That’s why stereotype origins are important to analyze; so we as music lovers are able to differentiate along the spectrum of “artists.” However, even if I don’t agree with depraved things one cluster of bands does to warp a genre, it doesn’t mean the events that lead up to them being that way never occurred.

    Thank you again for expressing your opinion and I hope this will be a place you will visit again.


  3. Anonymous

    It’s hard to believe that someone would go to all the trouble of composing and recording a fairly sophisticated track and coming up with an online identity without there being a grain of truth in it. Anahita may not be exactly who she says she is and/or may have embroidered her life story, but her identity is less important than the image she’s crafting. Black metal musicians have been embracing alter egos for a long time.

    FYI there are lots of people in the Middle East who don’t like Islam. Just because there haven’t been any high-profile anti-Islamic bands before doesn’t mean that there can’t be one now. In general, it’s unwise to assume that anything has to be a certain way. The world is always changing.

    My guess? Anahita does exist, altered or exaggerated certain details of her life, and found some random picture to be her avatar in order to preserve her anonymity. Just because that picture turned out to be of somebody’s real-life girlfriend doesn’t mean the whole story is false. We can’t know for sure yet.


  4. Anonymous

    I don’t have time for a lengthy response but your whole premise rests on this girl existing and the story being true which at this point is looking like an internet hoax by a anti-islamic hate group called the Anti-Islam Legion :


    Trying to weasle any inspiration from this story is like saying the Emmet Till murders were positive for the black community. The real story here is the continued hate of islamophobia and the lengths some people will go. What is surprising is the lengths some people want to believe it, and that is a stereotype; white non-muslim believing every crappy thing about Islam. Analyze that. I guess it helps them sleep better at night knowing the wars we’re fighting over there are just wars against people who deserve it for having such a messed up religious belief. Not even for a second would this stereotype question their own mental prison.

    No one Special

  5. Asad

    I’m really not in a position to say whether this story is true or false, but I do know that Islamophobia is very real and deadly. Attacks on masjids (mosques – though the term “masjid” is preferable to Muslims) are way up this summer. And there are enough real examples of bigotry within song lyrics that there is no need to make them up.

    Look at Offspring’s “Tehran” – “This is no Vietnam
    We will win in Iran
    The president said let it ride
    Islam be damned
    Make your last stand
    In Tehran”
    Read more at http://www.songmeanings.net/songs/view/125484/#IcTbFH4EjhrZE6ps.99


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