Music with a brown edge

Soon after discovering CMI I started to scan the gothic scene. I found ‘medievalish’ music such as Ataraxia, Engelsstaub and Faith and The Muse. At some point I heard of the titleless debut album of Orplid (1998). I believe I read something about “medieval” when I had not found anything new of that for some time. I ordered the album directly from Eis und Licht Tonträger. The cd did not sound very medieval, but contained a magnificent victorious kind of folky music. I asked if the label had more of such music and I got some more Orplid releases later such Forseti, Of The Wand And The Moon, Sonne Hagal and Scivias. Just before I went to the 2000 edition of the Wave Gotik Treffen in Leipzig, I heard about a new neofolk band (as the style is referred to) who also uses a military sound: Von Thronstahl. I bought the debut 12″ (1998 also released by Eis und Licht) in Leipzig and was blown away. The typical Eislicht style was/is soft minimalistic music with accoustic guitar(s), singing and sometimes drum or keyboards, but Von Thronstahl had hard martial sounding industrial elements too. Von Thronstahl would also play in Leipzig that year. It took a while before we found the park where, but it soon became clear that there were problems. Police was all around. Von Thronstahl did not play, but only played their music and Death In June (who would also perform) was forbidden to play by the mayor of the city. We did see Ostara (who would debut on Eislicht too), but things started to sound familiar…

Neofolk
After having played in the politically left punk band Crisis (1977 to 1981) Douglas P. started with Death In June. In the early days DIJ (or DI6) reminded of industrial projects such as NON, electronic terrorism with heavy drumming, but there were also postpunk influences. Pretty soon there were also experiments with folk music. This style often does not contain anything more than a guitar and Douglas’ voice. A similar direction was followed by founding member Tony Wakeford who (after a postpunk band Above The Ruins) founded Sol Invictus. Another artist moving somewhere between “post industrial” and folk music was David Tibet who had been active under the monicker Current 93 since 1982. In collaraboration, Pearce and Tibet made their best music. The music these bands created was different, yet similar, but unique in the world of music. I believe it was a Berlin record store who came up with the term “neofolk” (lit. ‘new folk music’) and when Douglas saw the term, he started to use it himself. Thematically the named bands went from Crowley and Satanism to paganism and anti-modernism. There were also references to the world wars. The bandname Death In June is supposedly a reference to the death of SA leader Ernst Röhm, DI6 even sang the Horst Wessel-Lied. Some albums are officially forbidden in Germany or rated 18+. Douglas’ lyrics are extremely shaded and it is hard to say if the music really contains a message of any sort, but the tone was set.

The early wave of neofolk music has never really been my thing. I have but a few of DI6’s albums, only one compilation of Sol Invictus, one cd (and a 7″) of Strength Through Joy and nothing of Fire+Ice. With the ‘second wave’ I was quite in the middle. The rapid rise of Eis und Licht Töntrager with their way too similar sounding bands and… the early concerts.

On 26 oktober 1997 I went to the Ekko in Utrecht. I do not remember what band I went to see, but the main act was Kirlian Camera, a provocative industrial project founded in 1980. When I arrived at the venue, there were a lot of people standing outside so I figured that the doors had not opened yet. When I saw people who did enter the room I followed them and I got a flyer. Another kind of flyer than I usually got (other parties and concerts), a leaflet saying that KC is a fascist band that should be banned. I did not pay a whole lot of attention and just enjoyed the show. A few years later was the trouble with DI6 and Von Thronstahl in Leipzig and I already heard that problems grew rapidly in Germany. Antifascists would show up at concerts to protest, prevent the performance or even demolish the bands’ and visitors’ cars. More than one band is still unable to play in Germany. Then at 28 oktober 2000 the Netherlands would have their first neofolk concert: Dies Natalis in the Oefenbunker in Landgraaf in the very south of the Netherlands. The Oefenbunker has has neofolk parties for a while and was a nice, small venue for a concert with (probably) not too much audience (who knew neofolk in those days?). I got a bit suspicious when there was a girl making photos of the audience instead of the band. There were a few people who dressed different from the rest, but that is never a problem at concerts. Soon it was clear what all that was about. De Groene Amsterdammer, an outspoken left newspaper, wrote a lengthy article heading “music with a brown edge”, including a large photo of a close-up of a young woman dancing to the music. This awfully written and very ‘guiding’ text can still be found online at the website of De Groene Amsterdammer. It opens with the term “nazipunkrock”, names bands such as Landstorm and Holocaust and then describes the event in detail. In fact, there was nothing “rock”y about the evening and the two named bands are skinhead-hardcorebands that (probably) nobody in the audience cared about. The journalist wrote: “They wear tight black pants, the legs folded over shiny black army boots. Orange lantern glow reflects on their bare skulls as they cross the street.” Also a nice one: “On the black wall behind the stage, “Exiting” is written. Around the “x” is a circle, so it seems a Celtic cross.” That was just the standard outlook of the room, the band had nothing to do with that. Besides, since when do Celtic crosses have slanted crosses? More and more parellels are drawn with skinhead hardcore bands, the journalist tries to make his point. Bands that have nothing to do with the concert are dragged into the report, but accusing references to similar bands are made as well. “Significant are also links to related bands. Among others, there is a reference to Death in June, a band whose name refers to the death of SA leader Ernst Röhm. The repertoire contains songs like “Horst Wessel Lied” and “Rose Clouds of Holocaust”, on the cover of one of the CDs a slanted swastika is displayed. Death in June is also represented in a compilation cd dedicated to Leni Riefenstahl.” “Also about the drummer John has second thoughts: “He wore a shirt of the band Blood Axis. The founder of the band is Michael Moynihan, a first class fascist. Moynihan says “the only thing I regret is that the Holocaust is a lie.”” High class journalism! A bit more skinbands are mentioned, then the journalist actually says something about the performance: “Accompanied by heavy drums Dies Natalis yells seemingly unsuspected texts.” John (him again, John is a guy of the Antifascistic movement Kafka who informed the newspaper) did actually notice a few things. There is a guy in the audience who is linked to a skinhead movement and many people where Thor hammers!!. Woo us! “The lyrics indeed contained hidden messages according to John. “There are many references to Ernst Jünger. There is plenty of singing about blood, steel and war. In the song “Death of the West”, the entire Western society is torn down. Everything American is by definition wrong. That is the philosophy of the New Right. I also see people walking around wearing the Voorpost rune.” (The Elhaz/Man-rune is indeed somewhat of the symbol is the neofolk movement and (accidentally or not, but I think it is, since neofolk is mostly a German thing), it is also the logo of the Dutch movement Voorpost.) You heard it, neofolk equals skinhead hardcore!

There was quite some discussion between listeners to neofolk and the newspaper and De Groene Amsterdammer did not find their article too strong (but it still available), but this discussion died out. In the years to come, the neofolk scene remained under the attention of antifa movements. Sometimes they managed to convince mayors to cancel the concert to prevent trouble or a bad name, sometimes it seems as if they had overlooked a concert and nothing happened whatsoever. However annoying these actions were, I am glad that we never came to German situations in which visitors of concerts were attacked (I myself was once in Leipzig). Things remained to mudd throwing and concert cancellations. A new wave of interest rose when the neofolk scene gave birth to a new musical genre.

Martial industrial
The Moon Lay Hidden Beneath A Cloud was a legendary project. I discovered them on the Loki list when they released their third album “A New Soldier Follows The Path Of A New King” (1995). The album blew me away. Medieval music, but also bombastic industrial and with magnificent vocals of Elzbeth. TMLHBAC was a couple-project. They released 6 cds and some other material (7″s, a split cd and a book). The last cd “Rest On Your Arms Reversed” (1999) was a compilation with material earlier released on compilations and vinyl and is the best cd. I saw TMLHBAC live two times, one time in Brugge and one time in Waregem. Just before the latter concert there were rumours that the male half of the project would release something of his own project. With several others I bought the titleless picture 12″, which was released on the band’s own label “Arthur’s Round Table”. Der Blutharsch (as Albin Julius’ solo project was called) would be a one-time event, but because of Albin’s pushing TMLHBAC into a more martial sound and of course personal friction caused Albin and Elzbeth to split up. This also spelled the end of TMLHBAC. I did not really mind that. The band quit at their peak. They had a great discography and could no longer fall into the trap of keeping to release new material that does not get any better. TMLHBAC might be my favourite project, one of them for sure. The Der Blutharsch debut lp contains what I describe as “martial soundscapes”. Soft ambient music with a lot of war samples and here and there some drumming. People who had the lp got a card to order a 7″ and continuing in this fashion, Der Blutharsch got a small but fanatic following. The releases soon costed a lot to get second hand. The music was never more than nice and when my money got lost trying to order a box with 7″s, I kind of lost track of Der Blutharsch. The first cd “Der Sieg Des Lichtes Ist Des Lebens Heil!” (1999) contained the material of the 7″ and contains a few rough martial tracks, heavy drumming, military singing, provocative lyrics, great, boy I regretted not having tried harder to get this 7″ box. After that, each album got better. I think it was Herr Julius himself who coined the term “martial industrial” for his sound and pretty soon, he got much following. Der Blutharsch was very provocative. The bandname would refer to some elite korps, there were a lot of references to the world wars, nationalism, eyebrowraising symbols were used such as the Sigil-rune, the iron cross and oak-leaves and all that with aesthetics that offended many. Concerts where like raids, black uniformed men drumming and shouting on stage. Yep, Der Blutharsch certainly went far towards the borders. Of course these concerts were controversial. The Leiden show of 28 september 2004 was not cancelled, but took place under protest and with the mayor and town council in the audience who wanted to know what it was all about. They found the concert “tasteless but not illegal”. The luck of the antifa movement from then on became more variable and nowadays it seems that they aim their arrows elsewhere. Not that there are many concerts these days. By the time I write this, martial industrial is way over its peak.

After starting to release cds (1998, 1999 and then another one about every year), the popularity of Der Blutharsch rose quickly. All the controversy gave Julius more attention than a project of this sort would receive normally. In fact, the antifa-raid worked counter-productive. Nowadays Julius (but also Douglas P.) can actually live from his music, a thing that many bands can only dream about.

More martial industrial
I noticed the debut cd “Iron Avantgarde” of Kreuzweg Ost when I was in the cd-shop Sounds in Venlo. Kreuzweg Ost was a project of twee (ex-)metalheads and obviously throve heavily upon the popular genre of martial industrial while distancing themselves from politics with a sticker on the cover. So in the year 2000 martial industrial was already quite popular. Looking back for releases that were made available before Kreuzweg Ost’s debut I had to dive deep into my archives. Turbund Sturmwerk had by then released two albums (1996 and 1999), Albin Julius had released the debut albums of Dernière Volonté and Tribe of Circle, a compilation 7″ “Wo Die Wilde Kehrlen Wohnen” he even came up with his own parody under the monicker La Maison Moderne; there had been vinyl releases of Sturmovik and Karceral Flesh and last but not least, the magazine “Letters From The Nuovo Europae :Neue Kultur Für Die Gulag-Massen:” saw the light of day, the main literature on the music and everything around it at the time. So, in only two years the style had reached quite a following. Pretty soon the genre would explode. In 2001 the debut cd of Sophia was released on CMI and the debut lp of the CMI-related project Toroidh was made available. In the next year followed Karjalan Sissit (taking the style to new extremes). Before then there had been a variety of styles, some projects where more ambient in style, others more bombastic, but now the orchestral sound with drumming became most popular. Soon “sounds like Der Blutharsch” was the way to sell material and a lot of crap was released. In fact, I have been quite critical to projects that would become the bigger in the genre: Karjalan Sissit and Triarii which both reminded me too much of Sophia. Looking back, Triarii is the only project that survived the years, I rarely play any martial industrial but Triarii nowdays.

I would almost forget a little bit of history. In France there had been a project fascinated by the world wars for years: Les Joyaux De La Princesse. They undoubtely have had their influence on martial industrial artists. Another band that had a lot of influence is Laibach. This Slovenian art project was founded in 1980. They made parodies to all kinds of music, but they became mostly notorious for their provocative appearance. They made videos in which they walk through a mall in nazi uniforms and inspite that “wir tanzen mit Faschismus und roter Anarchie” they have more than ones been mistakingly accused for harbouring an extreme right ideology. While Laibach is obviously very tongue-in-cheek, their style was copied by martial industrial projects that were less clear about their austere sense of humour. WWII symbolism, references to ‘the wrong side’, controversial compilations (Evola, Codreanu, Riefenstahl, Thorak, Breker, etc.), uniforms or uniform-like clothing on stage (but more in the audience), bands seem(ed) to make an effort in getting a bad name. I also visited a concert once where the man behind the PA refused to mix the music of Les Joyaux De La Princesse when they pulled out some flags. Douglas P. tried to talk things straight and the concert continued, but just to sketch the sensitivities of this form of provocation. There are people who see the scene as a political movement, but I do not agree a bit. There are elements that are definately political, such as Von Thronstahl’s anti-EU intro of the “Germanium Metallicum” album, anti modernistic / Western sentiments and the like, but there is no coherent political ideology, just flashes of this and references that. I never heard a band taking stands against certain peoples even though some opponents seem to find antisemitism everywhere. In fact, there are bands who do have an outspoken political preference, the Belgian band Militia (strickly not a martial industrial project, but acting within the same scene sometimes) is very leftish, but as far as I know not frowned upon for that by other bands (the other way around there are some reservations). Just to say that there is no political movement to be found here. Some elements are on the edge, sure, but are there also not film- or games-genres that offend people and generally, interests, hobbies, sexual preferences, etc. that are not for anyone? Personally I have seldom ran into anything that I so strongly disaproved off that I would get rid off the album, ran off on a concert or anything like that.

In my case I see a musical genre made and liked by people who sometimes critically look towards certain elements of society, like to show off a little with taboo-subjects, but who are mostly just in it for the music.

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