Black metal’s connections to members of Greece’s third-largest, Nazi-inspired political party are making the country’s national music scene taboo – but one band is fighting back.
Four young Greek musicians. As one band, they’re taking the stage to fight neo-Nazism in their country of Greece. Together, they call themselves Kalpa – a name from the Sanskrit word which describes the creation and rebirth of the universe.
“We met each other here during a very difficult time in Greece and we made the choice to express our political views because we had to,” says the band’s lead guitarist, Dimitris Bougioukos. “Everyone had to say what they truly believe about the situation and where we want to go.”
“We are against violence,” adds the band’s other guitarist, Tasos Kabisioulis. “We think the dialogue and the arts are the better way to change the world; but unfortunately we live in a violent world and there is a violent phenomenon.”
Kalpa is not the first band to take a political stance in its music against fascism. In the past, other musicians outside of the metal scene have attempted to combat Greece’s extremists – even resulting in losing their lives in the process. In September 2013, the death of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas made headlines when he was murdered by Golden Dawn member Giorgios Roupakias.
The members of Kalpa still consider taking a direct stance against neo-Nazis as bold. Today, the members of Kalpa perform their music at largely underground “squats” – private-run venues where the money from the concerts goes toward anti-fascist movements in Greece.
“When you’re in a circle, your name or face gets known on the other side,” says the vocalist, Thanos. “I think you have to be a very strong person to get directly involved. We are just supporters; but some day, I’d love to do that too – to get directly involved.”
For today, the band will not abandon its stance and will continue to fight for the reputation of the metal scene and equality in their country.
“If someone wants to kill us because we have a certain idea, I will welcome – kill me,” Bougioukos says.
The rise of neo-Nazism came with the crisis in Greece, when confidence in the country’s government wained and the attraction toward right-wing extremism rose. Parties which were only moderately successful suddenly surged in power, such as the Golden Dawn, which had been around since 1980.
Between 2009 and 2012, Golden Dawn increased its total vote count in the country from 23, 000 to 425, 000, according to Vasiliki Georgiadou, Associate Professor of the Political Science department at Panteion University. In her report, Right-Wing Populism and Extremism: The Rise of “Golden Dawn” in Crisis-Ridden Greece, she claims the party begun to receive votes from people who had not been able to vote in the past and newly enfranchised voters who largely resented the Greek governments austerity measures.
The austerity measures made by Greece’s government had a significant effect on unemployment. Since January 2015, it is estimated 50.10 percent of Greek youth are currently unemployed, according to statistics from Trading Economics.
40 percent of people who voted for Golden Dawn in June 2012 were aged between 18-34, according to data from Metron Analysis.
“Most people we know are unemployed now,” says Kabisioulis.
“Many of our friends live under this,” says Bougioukos, as he firmly raises his hand above his head and lowers it. “What we call the line of poverty.”
“Some of our friends realized that the ‘real’ problem of the crisis is the immigrants coming from Pakistan, Bangladesh,” he continues. “They’re looking for someone to accuse.”
Neo-Nazism did not arise spontaneously out of Greece’s economic crisis. Feelings of extremism had been dormant in society for years, especially in Greece’s metal scene.
“They were always there. The bands were always there,” says Sotéres Rhodes, a member of the black metal band Celestial Rite – a Hellenic black metal band.
South of Athens, in a small cafe on the island of Rhodes, the 33 year-old resident of the island finishes taking another sip of his Alfa Beer.
“Hellenic black metal is more melodic,” he explains. “But more melodic in a way that you can say it takes you places like the underworld – a creepy melody.
“I found stories interesting in the atmosphere. Let’s say it’s a fairy tale, where you can find for yourself your own philosophy.”
But, in more recent years, Hellenic black metal has adopted a different meaning.
There’s hardly a black metal scene in Rhodes – if any at all. Other than a small band of 16 year-olds, Rhodes claims he is the only one playing black metal on the island, which is a place ideally only considered “A sunny place for tourists.”
He proudly represents the music scene on the island, with his arms covered in tattoos and his black shirt labelling “Hellenic Black Metal” on the back. He stands out, and has done so for most of his life. His interests for years have been occultism and satanism, which have served as inspiration for his music.
“I’d walk up and say, ‘Yeah, I’m a satanist,’” he jokes. “That’s the story of my life, but I don’t care.”
To be free in Athens is another story.
“Down here, I don’t care,” he adds. “There’s nothing going on. Up there, I’m a little bit scared.”
He turns around and shows the back of his shirt.
“I can’t walk in Athens because they’re going to think ‘You’re a Nazi’. But I’m not.”
Black metal itself was born out of controversy. The popularity of the genre begun in Norway, where members of the music’s movement had their own stance – anti-Christianity. Fans of the genre, and even the musicians themselves, took part in over 50 church burnings in the country between 1992 and 1996.
One of Norway’s prominent black metal vocalists, Gaahl, says there should have been more, as quoted in the documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (2005).
“It should have been done much more, and will be done much more in the future,” he exclaims in the film. “We have to remove every trace of what Christianity, and the semitic roots, have to offer this world.”
“It exploded because of what happened in Norway,” Rhodes explains. “With the church burnings and the killings of all the members of the bands. It was a big thing. Everybody wanted to play black metal. I don’t know, I was always into the strange and occult things.”
Neo-Nazi black metal bands have been around in Athens for as long as the black metal scene boomed in popularity in the country, in the late 1990s.
One of the most famous bands and current Golden Dawn supporter includes the band Legion of Doom, which has been active since 1990. Bands often feature images of Greek mythology in contrast with images of national socialism, including the logo of the Golden Dawn.
Though, it wasn’t until 2012 when a connection between Nazism and black metal made the news. Around this time a Greek named Georgios Germenis was elected into the Greek parliament as a Golden Dawn politician. Coincidently, he was also the bassist of a black metal band – Naer Mataron. A connection of his name – a member of the third largest, controversial political party in Greece – and his band’s genre, brought eyes to the black metal scene.
“It’s a taboo now to wear something with the helmet of Leonidas, for example,” Rhodes exclaims. “They gave a bad name actually, to the ancient Greek past.
Germenis’ band itself features symbols of the Golden Dawn on Zeus’ clothes on the front of their album cover, Up From the Ashes.
“They’re damaging the reputation of humanity – not metal,” says Thanos the 19-year old singer of the anti-Nazi band, Kalpa, of the fascist black metalheads.
Germenis– along with other prominent members of Golden Dawn – on April 20, will be facing trial for accusations of partaking in a criminal organization. The trial will determine the fate of the political party.
In the meanwhile, bands like Kalpa will continue to play their music.
“When the neo-nazis are rising up, the anti-fascists are rising up too,” concludes Thanos.