By: Espi Kvlt
I was initially drawn to black metal for the same reason I was initially drawn to heavy metal, emo, and punk. It felt at first so wildly different from anything else I’d ever felt, and as I dug deeper, everything about the scene was also so wildly different from any other. I got into heavy metal as a child after going through my dad’s extensive CD collection and seeing in particular the covers of Megadeth and Iron Maiden albums. They were weird and put me off, and I couldn’t wait to put them in the CD player and see what the hell they sounded like. Emo was a similar story. Something was so weird and off about the aesthetic – the reds and blacks, the skulls, the red eyeshadow. It put people off, including me at first, which was why I loved it. Punk was the same story. My first punk show I watched as a skinhead got decked in the face by a dude with a mohawk and I was so unsettled and put off, and I loved it.
Black metal was off-putting in an entirely different way. In an alien way. With metal, emo, and punk, it was odd, but it was tangibly odd, in a way I understood immediately. ‘Oh, Satan makes our societal sensibilities uncomfortable, that makes sense,’ I thought while listening to heavy metal. ‘Oh, people don’t like being confronted by their own mortality, the weakness of their feelings, the knowledge that people self-harm, that makes sense,’ I thought while listening to emo. ‘Oh, people don’t like being confronted with the fact that their politics are shit,’ I thought while listening to punk. But black metal was a totally cosmic sound. An unfathomable, untouchable genre that was difficult to understand. Yet the instant I heard Darkthrone, no matter how weird I thought it was, no matter how taken aback I was, I was in love.
As I reflect upon why I have always been drawn to things I at first was made uneasy by, I realize that it’s because I relate to it on a different level than simply “I am a weird individual, and this music reflects that” (though that has certainly played a part). On a deeper level, I have related to these things because I myself have felt I don’t fit into any neat cisheteronormative categories. While there was always something not quite right with me, it was a struggle identifying exactly what it was. It’s not as though I’ve ever had difficulty relating to others or that I haven’t enjoyed the same pop culture as everyone else. I wasn’t into these things because I was trying desperately to be edgy or different. On the contrary, I was made fun of every time I defended my favorite pop and country singers to my emo friends. So, what was it about me that was different?
I realize now that it was the fact that I’m queer and that I found solace in music that was also queer. The more undefinable it was, the better. It’s no wonder I was drawn to black metal. It was almost impossible to comprehend at first, just like my gender. And just like my gender, the more I kept coming back to it, the more it made sense, until finally I found myself so in touch with the genre that I was able to start making it myself. It wasn’t an overnight process. It took time.
The first time I saw the Transilvanian Hunger cover (the second black metal album I ever heard), I just remember staring at that corpse painted face for such a long time, trying to understand what exactly I was looking at. It was before I knew what corpse paint was, so I was just staring at this screaming void man trying to pick apart whether it was an actual person or a painting. And if it was a painting, was it meant to be human? A ghost? A vampire? I had no idea, but I was extremely into it.
I have come to realize that I was staring at that image for so long for more reasons that just simple intrigue – I was staring at it for so long because I longed to be that. That incomprehensible being that one would have to stare at for ages to even comprehend what it was they were seeing, and even once they did, they’d have no idea what the genitalia was of the thing they were staring at, because the creature was just so outside the realm of what they understood a person to be. That’s what I wanted to be, and that’s why I was so instantly drawn to it.
I immediately started teaching myself how to do corpse paint. It was awful at first, though it has gradually gotten better over the years. And every time I put it on and up the exposure on the photos of me in it, I feel that sense of euphoria I crave. I look at the pictures of myself, and I become that creature that someone could easily mistake for a literal vampire.
Which brings me to the next thing: vampires. My gender is vampire (or vamp, the shorthand I usually use because it just flows better), and it took me a long time to reach the point where I was comfortable saying that. But I always knew. I’ve always been drawn to vampires, always covered myself in fake blood (occasionally real blood) for the hell of it, and the first time I put fake vampire fangs over my real canines, I felt gender euphoria like any other. It’s not that I think I’m literally a vampire – I’m not otherkin – but as a gender, it’s the only thing that makes sense. It is incomprehensible, this I know. And that’s part of the point. People often think I’m not aware of how weird it is to use “vampire” as a gender. No, I am aware, and that is precisely the idea. I don’t want to be comprehensible. I’m queer in the most literal sense of the word, and I do not desire any form of “passing” or of being visually and mentally digestible. Quite the opposite. I do not want to pass as anything other than myself. I want people to be as confused by me as I was the first time I saw that Darkthrone cover. You don’t have to understand my xenogender. I’m not asking anyone to do that. I’m simply asking that you not be an asshole to me about it.
This brings me to my final point on the matter of loving black metal as a queer person. A lot of people into this genre think the idea is to be as big of an asshole as possible, and that makes you cool and edgy, I guess. That’s not how I’ve interpreted this genre’s meaning at all. From the beginning, it was my understanding that black metal’s point was to break down our ideas of regular society, to question them all, and to be as offensive to the average person’s sensibilities as possible. Well, as far as I can tell, our ideas of regular society consist of racism, queerphobia, whorephobia, ableism, and an upholding of white supremacy. By what I can tell, the most offensive you could possibly be to average societal values is to break them down at their core. Being a queerphobic Nazi doesn’t challenge anything. Cops and politicians are also queerphobic Nazis. What exactly are you challenging by upholding the values of an authoritarian state? I suppose my jump from being a punk rock kid to a lover of black metal made this entire idea ludicrous to me from the get go: the idea that by supporting white supremacist violence, you were somehow being super edgy and offensive. There is nothing edgy and offensive about it. You are a pawn for the state and a massive poser.
All of this is to say that as a queer person who feels alienated even by fellow queer people, black metal was the genre guiding me home. Black metal was created for those of us who are truly so undesirable to society, our very existence as human beings is a threat to the status quo. Upholding the status quo is not black metal, but being a gay, anarchist, nonbinary vampire sure as fuck is.