Dr. Jeremy J. Swist gave a paper entitled “Fascist Receptions of Antiquity in Metal Music” on October 19, 2021 as part of the Mahindra Humanities Seminar “Classical Traditions and Receptions.” Dr. Swist is a lecturer in the Department of Classical Studies at Brandeis University, and holds a PhD. in Classics from the University of Iowa. He has published on historiography, rhetoric, philosophy, and medicine under the Roman Empire, as well as the reception of Greece, Rome, and Byzantium in heavy metal, including a chapter on Sparta in the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Metal Music. The talk was recorded and is available for viewing on YouTube.
Since its genesis a half-century ago, heavy metal music, along with the counterculture that formed around it, has generally defined itself through transgressive sounds, words, and images as expressions of rebellion against modern and contemporary systems of order, conformity, and control. Often complementary to metal’s core antagonisms to modernity are romanticizing appeals to a premodern past, including ancient Greece and Rome. A small but influential minority of European metal artists push transgression to extremes by flirting with or fully embracing fascist imagery and ideology, and in the process replicating and perpetuating fascist and white supremacist manipulations of a classical antiquity they dream of resurrecting through apocalyptic war and genocide. Fascistic metal artists, many of whom are connected to extremist and terrorist groups and individuals, charismatically offer to thousands of tolerant and susceptible consumers harmful distortions of the classical past. In this talk Swist not only critiques these artists’ appropriations of classical history and culture in light of the far-right’s general reception thereof, but also highlights positive solutions from within the global metal scene to challenge these hateful usurpations of the ancient world.