Written by Espi Kvlt
Continuing from where I left off in my previous column about leftist black metal bands, this time I wanted my focus to solely be on queer art. As a trans bisexual black metal musician myself, it’s always a breath of fresh air to find other queer folk making this kind of music. Even when leftist black metal bands get popular, they are often dominated by cishet men. Here’s a list of eight queer bands breaking the barriers of what it means to be a black metal band in 2021.
It’s rare these days for me to hear a black metal band and say, “this is unlike anything I’ve ever heard.” Which is not to say it’s a bad thing when bands are second-wave worship with interesting concepts, but it’s nice to hear variety in a genre often so bogged down by tradition. Biesy, a one-person band consisting of a self-proclaimed “drag princess,” is that rare band doing something completely off the wall for black metal. The vocals are an extraordinary powerhouse of traditional black metal sometimes and a sexy mix of clean vocals other times. The instrumentation beneath them is not afraid to mess around. Going from smooth electronic sound to distortion that will make you feel like you’ve been electrocuted, this band is one to watch. There is simply no one else like them.
When people think of queer black metal, Feminazgul is most likely one of the first bands to cross their mind, and for good reason. Incredible band name aside, Margaret Killjoy is on the forefront of activism in both queer and anarchist spaces. I was unsure if I should include Feminazgul on this list or the last one but chose this one because as a fellow trans person, watching Feminazgul’s success has been an inspiration to me. Before I started making music myself, I fell in love with Feminazgul and knew there was finally a space for queer people opening up in this scene. The band’s recent LP, No Dawn For Men, makes that more apparent than ever. The second the first song starts, it has the same vibes as Summoning, and it never stops having Summoning vibes. But of course, it’s a unique effort, as well. Laura Beach’s vocals, for one, are some of the best I’ve ever heard. With headphones on it’s as though she’s whisper screaming into your ear, and you can’t tell if you’re afraid or impressed. The synths mix with the riffs beautifully creating an atmosphere that weaves between uplifting and horrifying. There is never a dull moment on this record, and it is truly a triumph of queerness.
The album Some Kind of Vampire from the band Valravne immediately opens up with a spoken word by the anti-drag queen, David Hoyle aka The Divine David. After that powerful opening, we are immediately greeted with a strong vocal performance, thunderous drums, and dark riffs that remind one of walking through a cave with no light. Valravne isn’t here to bring joy to your face like some of the other bands I mentioned did. Instead, this is an earnest record about the pain of living in the shadows. Despite how dark it is, it isn’t afraid to get groovy, such as on the song “Some Kind of Vampire” which has spunky riffs you can dance to and a spoken word performance from the band’s sole member, Valravne, itself. If you’re like me and sometimes you just want to feel sorry for yourself and/or angry at the world, this is a great album to do just that.
It has been an honor of mine to both watch Rage of Devils evolve as an artist and watch the sole member of the band, Erin Palmer, evolve as a person. I met Erin before she came out and got to watch as they evolved into the person they always wanted to be. It’s always a beautiful experience seeing someone become true to who they really are and the confidence that comes with it. But usually, that isn’t followed by an incredible album like Rage of Devil’s Life of Horror. It starts slow, with a sweet synth intro, but after that it doesn’t let up, giving us an explosion of fast-paced black metal that is uncompromising in its queerness. With song titles such as “Queer as in Fuck You” and “Abolish Gender,” this album is extremely in-your-face about the message it’s sending, and it doesn’t care whether you like it or not. I am so proud of Erin and grateful to call them my friend. This album is an achievement of queer music.
Liturgy was a contentious band long before Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, the band’s vocalist and guitarist, ever came out as a trans woman. On the test of what is and isn’t “real black metal” by the hardcore chuds, Liturgy often failed. This is what drew me into their music to begin with, just as Deafheaven had done so long ago. I failed to see how what I was hearing couldn’t be considered black metal. Between the tremolo picking, blast beats, and nasty shrieks, it clearly was. Adding some flair doesn’t make it less so, it simply evolves it into something new and interesting. That was before Hunter came out as trans. Now that she has, the contention is even more so, which I didn’t think possible. Their last album, Origin of the Alimonies, in my opinion, is one of their best. Obviously, the first thing I saw was that cover. As a trans sex worker I know how much bravery it takes to just exist in your naked body. So much judgment is placed upon you that isn’t placed upon nude cis people. We are expected to loathe our bodies, to want to hide them, to be in the shadows. Thus, a huge smile crossed my face when I saw the cover of this album with Hunter nude without a care in the world, holding a ball of light that made her appear ethereal and magnetic. The album itself is similarly unashamed, taking hints from past Liturgy efforts and elevating them to new heights, with incredible instrumentation from flutes, trumpets, violins, the list goes on. This feels like where Liturgy has been headed towards but couldn’t quite get there without that ball of light, and now that they have, they have reached a status of icons in both the black metal scene and the queer scene.
Antecantamentum has many incredible pieces, but none stand out so brightly as the album, κῆρες μέλανος θανάτοιο or Keres Melanos Thanatoio. Available as both a full album split up between multiple tracks or as one long, single composition, this piece has multiple movements that flow from harsh black metal into stunning acoustics. The piece starts off distorted, noisy, harsh, then softens into a gorgeous interlude where an electric guitar and acoustic guitar dance off one another, ending with more harsh black metal that also contains uplifting clean vocals. For me, I interpreted this piece as my own trans journey. I am unsure if that’s what Demetria intended when she wrote this piece out, but for me, I saw the opening as the struggle and pain of not understanding what was going on, the middle acoustic portion as me coming to terms with who I am, and the final movement the shrieking declaration that I am trans and I will fight for myself and all my trans siblings. This album is both a harrowing personal journey and a battle cry, and no other music has made me feel more connected to my queerness than this.
A unique entry on this list, A Constant Knowledge of Death has no qualms about experimenting across metal subgenres. Their album Vol. III.c: Everything Was Possible And Nothing Was True, however, is a pummeling dosage of blackened sludge. With all music composed by Aki McCullough and with her as the guitarist of the group, it’s no surprise that the songs presented here will be speak boldly to any queer person listening, as Aki is herself a trans woman. For me, this was the most true on the track, “Drowning In A Burning Building.” The self-destructive feeling that it’s better to let darkness consume me than attempt to fight it is a feeling most queer people can probably relate to, and it’s offered up through a mix of spoken word, clean vocals, exciting riffs, and an atmosphere of total defeat. It isn’t the most blackened track on the album, with others offering up far more shrieking and fast playing, but it will make you feel the way black metal often does: melancholy and hopeless. This blackened sludge album is a pessimistic experience, and I mean that in the best way.
Honorable Mention: Moss Golem
I was torn about whether to include this or not. Moss Golem is dungeon synth, but I consider them blackened dungeon synth due to the extreme vocals which cover their albums. I decided I simply must include them, because they have meant so much to me as a trans person. I first discovered them with their effort Of Witches Blood and Tears. I was expecting typical dungeon synth when I pressed play, but what I got was a dark journey of sound as a vocalist who sounds similar to Golem themselves narrated over beautiful synths. I decided to preorder the tape for the vocals alone, and this is what I received:
Never in my life have I felt validated by a cassette tape until I opened this and started weeping. Something magical happened in that moment. The knowledge that I wasn’t alone in this scene filled to the brim with people who want people like me dead. But it didn’t stop there. Their next album, The Woods of Galdura, donned a cover with a witch holding the hands of two Adam and Eve figures who appear to be trans. This band is very unapologetic about trans rights, and it is not only refreshing, it is life-changing.
Article by Espi Kvlt who is involved in many music-related projects, and beyond. Visit his LinkTree to begin exploring them!