Between ‘Auschwitz Rules’ and ‘Never Again’: Holocaust Representation in Metal (Project sketch)

In current memory studies, it has become possible to explore previously tabooed representations of the Holocaust, which has been summarized under the term of ‘holocaust impiety’ (Boswell 2012). Metal has already been looked at as remembrance culture in its own right (Philipps 2012) and the use of historical themes is at the centre of manifold studies in the field. However, the Holocaust specifically has only been a marginal subject so far – either being categorized as a downright ‘problem’ (Kahn-Harris 2020), limited to exemplary case studies, or analysed as problematic part of National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM).

My dissertation project aims at reducing this gap as well as enriching existing contemporary history and memory studies by providing a more varied and in-depth approach. Departing from the assumption that Metal culture with its aesthetic dedication to ‘evil’ has the potential to provide a unique perspective to the question of how to deal with absolute real evil, I contend there exists a spectrum of representation of the Holocaust within Metal. This spectrum ranges from Holocaust denial or glorification in the right-wing extremism of NSBM to a discourse of ‘no more’ by left-winged bands (from the Global South) mirroring the universalized Holocaust remembrance discourse, where the Shoah functions as marker of evil and as a stand-in for genocide in general.

Between those two distinctly political poles (which stand in contrast to the often put-forward notion that Metal is unpolitical) there exists what could be termed as a ‘grey zone’: In correspondence to metal’s fascination with violence and evilness of human nature, here the perpetrator’s perspective is at the forefront – the core example being Slayer’s Angel of Death. Existing analyses of this particular song mostly agree that its lyrical fixation on a Nazi perpetrator does not necessarily equal condonement of glorification of his crimes and worldview. This and many more similar examples touch upon the core question of perpetrator studies, namely of the ethical limitations and benefits following from this kind of representation.

My inter-disciplinary methodology aims at taking different levels and possible readings into account which sometimes intersect or contradict each other (inspired by Kopanski 2022). The multiple levels constituting the analysis are: for one, the artists’ intention behind their creative choices; then the musical piece itself and what readings can be attributed to its aesthetic and lyrical expression; and, lastly, fan and critic responses and readings. Applying source criticism and historical contextualization, the sources consist of music and videos, articles, online discourse threads, and interviews.


Works cited:
Matthew Boswell, Holocaust Impiety in Literature, Popular Music and Film. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2012.
Keith Kahn-Harris, “Engaging with Absence: Why is the Holocaust a ‘Problem’ for Metal?” In Metal Music Studies Vol. 6:3 (2020): 395-414.
Reinhard Kopanski, Bezugnahmen auf den Nationalsozialismus in der populären Musik. Lesarten zu Laibach, Death In June, Feindflug, Rammstein und Marduk. Münster: Waxmann 2022.
Sören Philipps, “Zwischen Stereotypen und kollektivem Gedächtnis – die erinnerungskulturelle Dimension des Heavy Metal.” In: Rolf F. Nohr and Herbert Schwaab (ed.), Metal Matters. Heavy Metal als Kultur und Welt. Münster: LIT 2012, 445-455.



Cite this blog post
Elena Bös (2024, February 21). Between ‘Auschwitz Rules’ and ‘Never Again’: Holocaust Representation in Metal (Project sketch). PopHistory. Retrieved April 15, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/vvmg

Elena Bös

Elena Bös is PhD student at the LMU Munich and research assistant at the Institute for Contemporary History Munich.

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