Maspero, Davide. & Rubric, Max.-Wolves Among Sheep (Book Review)

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Review Date: April 2020
Released:  2013 (Italian), 2015 (English)
Publisher: Tsunami Edizioni
Rating:  4.5/5
Review: JP

Black Metal is one of the more, shall we say… anti-social, misanthropic sub-genres of Metal and NSBM even moreso. Due to the transgressive nature of the imagery, lyrics and presentation of National Socialist Black Metal it has attracted enormous attention world wide from media and academics and has polarized fans and critics everywhere.  It was only a matter of time before someone wrote a book examining this phenomena

Back in 2013, authors Davide Maspero and Max Ribaric collaborated on what, in my mind stands as the definitive study of NSBM.  The result of a number of hard years of work is the book WOLVES AMONG SHEEP.  It carries the subtitle of History And Ideology of National Socialist Black Metal.  To summarize for those who don’t perhaps already know, NSBM is the generic tag-line given to Black Metal bands that are perceived to be racist and promoting hate and death. That is a gross oversimplification as we learn from the book, but many, dare I say most people, will be satisfied with that broad categorization.

Originally published in Italian, WOLVES AMONG SHEEP was published in English in 2015 and again in Russian in 2017. The book itself is a monster running over 575 pages.  The slightly over-sized paperback is dense and just packed with black and white graphics.  The overall layout and design is very appealing and professionally done.  There is a foreword from the authors and a foreword for the English edition written by Michael Moynihan, author of LORDS OF CHAOS the first book about Black Metal published back in 1998.

There are many other features, sub-sections called ‘Dossiers’ where the authors focus on a specific part or aspect of the scene.   There are also half a dozen interviews with prominent figures in the NSBM scene, printed in full, unedited form to avoid any misinterpretation.  The whole thing is fully cited and sourced so people can examine the raw material if they so wish and there is even a helpful glossary in the back to help explain and define some of terms used by members of the NSBM community. From a technical perspective, this book is extremely well done.

Maspero and Ribaric embarked on a massive quest to explore this underground music and they said that they were at times met with hesitation and suspicion when trying to extract material for their research, which is to be expected.  There is a wealth of information, all logically presented with neutrality, objectivity and the ambition to be incredibly comprehensive.

There is a brief introductory chapter to the whole concept of NSBM.  Then what follows is a chapter that in-depth look at the evolution of politics, hatred, misanthropy, extremity and racism in music, dating back to national anthems, military marches and the compositions of Wagner.  The next focus is how it pertains to the evolution of Black Metal from the roots of Venom, Hellhammer, Bathory and into the second wave of Black Metal spawned in Scandinavia in the late 80’s and very early 90’ s and ultimately arriving at the progenitors of NSBM in the mid-90’s.

From that point on the book falls into a standard pattern of each chapter is an examination of the NSBM roots and scene of a specific nation or general region of the world.  We start with a chapter on Germany, then Poland, onto Greece and the Mediterranean then France, then back to Italy.  Then we go north and look at Scandinavia then a broader section looking places like Belgium, Switzerland, England and a few others where NSBM exists but has not really taken hold.

Next we go behind the former Iron Curtain and learn about Russia and then off to Australia of all places which has a fairly strong NSBM following.  What follows next is a look  at North America; the United States, Mexico and even Canada gets a brief chapter with a small scene entered largely in the province of Quebec.   Even Latin American gets examined with places like Argentina having a surprisingly strong NSBM history along with Brazil and Peru but less so Chile.

After an incredibly exhaustive global journey that consumes 427 pages of the 575 page book, there is further analysis beyond a nation-by-nation examination.   I say exhaustive because while no fault can be found with the presentation of the material, I will admit it did become a bit monotonous to read over and over about a national NSBM scene and a chronicling of numerous, poorly produced, black and white, demo cassettes limited to 500 copies or less with lyrics about Hitler, pagan fronts, hate and blood and honour and countless grainy pictures of swastikas and skinheads and other horrible imagery. However, that is what the scene is and now it is documented.

The book finishes with some alternate perspectives including a chapter called, ‘The Red and The Black- Red and Anarchist Black Metal Vs. National Socialist Black Metal’. In this section we discover some equally hateful music from the left side of the political spectrum and a comparative of the two.   The second last chapter is a look at Satanic skinheads, hatecore, punk and more.

In the early part of the book the authors say that NSBM is full of two key components; ‘controversy’ and ‘contradiction’.  As we learn more about NSBM we discover there is actually quite an incredible range of motives, styles and outcomes from the (invariably young) people who produce this music.  Some, (fortunately most perhaps) are ‘just kids’ who in a somewhat juvenille and unsophisticated attempt to shock by deploying horrible images of death, racist buzzwords and/or invoking the name of Hitler or other infamous figures.   More often than not many of these bands later recant their earlier behaviour, try to justify it as youthful indiscretion or leave the scene altogether. Unfortunately however, there are others who keep the scene going and becoming entrenched.

Some NSBM bands are explicitly political. Some are anti-political.   Some bands spew hate against a single type of person, some bands seem to hate everyone!  Some bands use religion and religious imagery, some bands avow it. Some NSBM bands embrace paganism and heathenism as a cover for their message and some Black Metal bands have been sucked into the vortex of evil and been unfairly labeled as NSBM; guilt by association, despite little evidence. There seems to be an endless number of permutations of the phenomena and each have their own little circle or group or front and a language specific to what they feel they want to achieve with their message.

One the most surprising aspects of the book was the amount of nuance in the scene.  It blew my mind that there are Japanese NSBM bands that use Hello Kitty/Hitler imagery and Indonesian Yoga NSBM bands that embrace eastern spirituality and philosophies into their hate.  It seems hate is global and in steady supply.   I won’t spoil the conclusions of the authors but without any advance knowledge of their perspective, but I found it interesting and perhaps receiving that that I had drawn the same, ultimately optimistic, conclusions.

WOLVES AMONG SHEEP is an important book.  To the best of my knowledge, no one, to date, has attempted such an in-depth examination of such an unpalatable topic.  It is long and it is dense and certainly not always pleasant reading but it had to be this way, to be considered even close to comprehensive.

When the Metal media (or other media for that matter) they approach the sensitive topic of NSBM, more often than not,  it is with a rather superficial analysis that can be reduced to, ‘Nazis are bad and therefore NSBM is bad’. That is like saying, ‘The sky is blue’ and doesn’t add much to the study of and understanding of how and why these forms of music dredged themselves up from the muck and how they found a global and sympathetic audience.  Some (most?) music media and academics simply ignore NSBM, which is not an unreasonable policy in itself either.  I don’t want to get into a debate about the merits or disadvantages of ‘platforming’ but it also probably doesn’t help to just stick your head in the sand either.

In many of my book reviews over the years I have recommend many books to people. I always encourage people to read, learn, grow, expand their minds and enjoy the printed word.  WOLVES AMONG SHEEP gets a very high mark for what Maspero and Rubric have achieved and presented but in terms of recommending this book to everyone, my only counsel will be I suggest that you approach this book with extreme caution.  The material is difficult, dense and not an especially pleasant read, however if you want to learn more about NSBM this is the benchmark.