Why Louisiana church burnings prompted a discussion about racism in metal music


On April 10, 21-year-old Holden Matthews was arrested and charged with intentionally burning down three historically black churches in the St. Landry Parish in Louisiana. Matthews was later charged with hate crimes.

During a press conference, Louisiana State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning, Jr. said Matthews’ association with a music sub-genre known as “black metal” was being discussed as a possible motive.

Some on social media felt that the conversation should have been about racism, not music. But others pointed out that black metal has a history of association with nationalism and white supremacy.

Varg Vikernes, an influential figure on black metal’s second wave, was convicted by a French court in 2014 for inciting violence against Muslims and Jews. Today, he runs a YouTube channel that has over 250,000 subscribers and warns against the threat Europe faces from multiculturalism.

In 2000, the Southern Poverty Law Center warned that “national socialist black metal” was “becoming [the] soundtrack for [the] racist right.”

Last year, the Norwegian black metal band Taake had to cancel its North American tour after being accused of racism.

Most black metal bands, however, have no associations with racism or right-wing extremism. Some such bands are Deafheaven, Agalloch, Panopticon and Wolves in the Throne Room.