Unmasking Gaylord, Black Metal's Latest Anti-Fascist Enigma
A chat with the mastermind behind a Nazi-punching new black metal album that's burning up the Bandcamp metal charts.
Photo courtesy of Richard Weeks
I never thought I’d be typing these words, but, it’s been a big year for anti-fascist black metal. British anarchists Dawn Ray’d led the initial charge with their 2017 opus, The Unlawful Assembly, which found a new home and a second pressing with Prosthetic Records in early 2018. Since then, a small but fierce coterie of bands (primarily British, but with a few notable American exceptions) have been burning up the Bandcamp metal charts and annoying the absolute bejesus out of extreme metal’s scummy fascist contingent in a new wave of militant, outspoken, and unapologetically anti-fascist extreme metal.
Bands like Iskra, Panopticon, Ancst, and countless other RABM (red and anarchist black metal) outfits paved the way for this latest development—which includes upstarts like Underdark, Sarparast, Feminazgul, Allfather, and, as of earlier this month, Libtrigger—while bigger bands like Power Trip and Summoning have recently made it dead clear on which side they stand.
The viral success of Neckbeard Deathcamp and their debut, White Nationalism is for Basement Dwelling Losers, lit up the metal Internet and landed them a deal with Prosthetic Records, who are quickly becoming a sort of de facto home base for this sect of activist headbangers. The trio’s deliberately lo-fi war metal recordings about drowning Richard Spencer in piss and declaring war on incels became another flashpoint in the seemingly eternal argument over how politics fit into extreme metal, and as it turns out, served as the direct inspiration for yet another buzzy new Nazi-smashing metal project: Gaylord.
Up until now, the person behind Gaylord has remained anonymous, for security as well as personal reasons. Many of the artists uniting loosely behind the anti-fascist black metal banner have preferred to stay anonymous, or to operate under nomes de guerres. This isn’t at all uncommon within the black metal realm—wherein stage names like Nocturnal Grave Desecrator and Black Winds, and Usurper of Eternal Condemnation and Inverted Crucifixion, are extremely normal—but carries a deeper significance during a time when extreme right-wing violence has already claimed multiple lives and doxxing remains a dire threat for leftist and anti-fascist activists. However, after I contacted Gaylord and requested an interview, the Canadian multi-instrumentalist decided that they’d rather go public about their identity.
The name “Pope Richard” will be familiar to many people, especially those who are enmeshed in metal Twitter. There, the Pope—real name Richard Weeks— is extremely outspoken about metal and politics); elsewhere, his label, Blackened Death Records, churns out politically situated grind, black metal, and death metal releases as well as bigger projects like the recent WOMAN (Worldwide Organization of Metalheads Against Nazis) compilation. I honestly couldn’t be less surprised to find out that Weeks is behind this project,, but his reasons for unleashing this specific album into the world, at this specific time, were far too intriguing to pass up a conversation about them.
What follows is our conversation—held via Skype, with a few follow up queries over Twitter DM—about Gaylord, anti-fascism, keeping black metal dangerous, and what prompts someone to write a song called “Neo-nazi Metalheads Will Be Hanged and Their Broken Corpses Openly Mocked.”
Noisey: So where in the world did you come from?
Richard “Pope Richard” Weeks: Well, I am based in South London and have been for pretty much the entirety of my "professional career." I originally hail from Atlantic Canada—a small eastern Province called Nova Scotia. I have lived in the UK for many years writing and recording all styles of music, most of which has had an anti-fascist bent to it.
Would you be down to tell me the names of any of your other projects? This is your big reveal, as it were!
[Laughs] Absolutely. The Twitterverse knows me as Pope Richard. My most notable bands are probably Suicide Wraith and the somewhat notorious Olivia Neutered John, although I have at least a dozen other small projects I operate out of my own small label named Blackened Death Records.
Oh! I didn't realize it was you! Well done.
[Laughs] I seem to have surprised a few people, which I am happy with!
So that's quite interesting then. Since you're already very open about your politics, in and outside of your music, why did you decide to keep Gaylord so secretive?
Well, my sexuality and gender identity are things I have struggled with a lot growing up. I knew when I was a young teenager that I didn't fit in my skin very well. I always felt like I was meant to be born a woman. And now, at 36 years old, I am only discovering the right words to describe who I am. I identify now as non-binary. I had no idea this term even existed when I was a kid. I just felt... different. I think I wanted to stay anonymous as a way to shield myself from... myself? If that makes sense. But after a week of seeing Gaylord being judged by hateful, hateful people, I have decided I can't hide, I need to get out here and fight as hard as I do in Olivia Neutered John.
It makes sense that you'd want to protect that aspect of your identity, especially given the kind of music and message you're putting out there. Where is this hate coming from?
A lot of it is Facebook. There are some absolutely grotesque people on that platform. As soon as you attack their sacred cow of black metal, they just unleash a torrent of the most disgusting shit you can imagine. Homophobia, fascism, racism, it's all there.
So people come to the Gaylord Facebook page specifically to attack the band?
No, nine times out of 10 they are too scared to confront the band directly. I have a feeling this may change once my name gets out there—I had death threats for two months when Olivia Neutered John first debuted. Have a look at these comments; just a few snapshots of how people are reactingto the band. The YouTube screenshot is absolutely abhorrent.
Jesus. It seems like they're scared, though. Every time a band actually pushes back against fascism's cozy safe place in extreme metal, these kinds of people freak out. It's almost as if they realize—momentarily at least—that they are supporting something unacceptable.
I hope they feel some guilt, to be honest. Part of what I do with music is try to push buttons, [with] Olivia Neutered John and now Gaylord. I want people to think about the dumb and ignorant shit they say. There is a lot of genuine hatred, but there are also people lost in the shuffle. Heavy metal is a shield and armor, it's protected us when we are down, but you have some people in the community taking it and using it as a sword. Those once bullied are now the guilty.
So where did this specific project come from? How much did Neckbeard Deathcamp and their viral success influence Gaylord?
Neckbeard Deathcamp was almost an immediate influence on me. The first day their album dropped, no word of a lie, about 10 people emailed or messaged me saying "RICH IS THIS YOU???" And after a few days of seeing how this band really got under the skin of internet trolls, I said to myself, ‘I bet I can do something like this.’
I loaded up my recording gear with the defaults I have for my DSBM act, Suicide Wraith, and wrote the first two songs that would appear on the album. I thought they turned out pretty well, so over only four sessions, I wrote the entire album. So yeah, the line between "homage" and "ripping off" is always a little thin [laughs].
That's ace. Have you been in communique with the Neckbeard Deathcamp people?
Yeah, we have had a few emails back and forth. They like what I'm doing and I like what they're doing. They're great guys. Behind the "comedy" routine, they have very strong conviction to the things they say and do.
Yeah, I've chatted with them as well (and have a story coming out soon!), they're legit. That's one of the irritating things about the critique I’ve seen that the "gimmick" of these bands is going to turn people away from "real" anti-fascist bands. What do you say to that critique, and to the implied assumption that anything this militant and aggressive must be a joke?
I think that there are multiple angles to tackle fascism and hatred. You have the "serious" bands like Dawn Ray'd and Underdark writing very serious songs about destroying fascism—which is great. What you have with ND and Gaylord is a different approach. There is a bit of comedy rolled in—absurd comedy. I mean, I don't think we'll ever get to drown Richard Spencer in Baja Blast, but seeing that man get punched so hard he spiralled into the land of obscurity is equally as lovely.
A diversity of tactics, if you will. Very anarchist of you.
How do you identify politically?
I lean very far left. A little Canadian Socialist, a little British Labour, and some angry Communist leanings all mixed in. The world is an ever changing place—that's what makes living so exciting, new ideas, new identities, new plans. I've never been one for buckling down and proceeding in traditional ways. We're only here for, what, 70-ish years? I want to see and do as much as I can in that time. I feel like conservatism is a stranglehold on personal beliefs and society as a whole.
Why do you think extreme metal and black metal in particular skews so conservative?
I think it's a prison it's built itself. The scene revolves so heavily around counterculture that if you step outside of it's narrowly defined rules you are deemed a "poser.” [For example,] having long hair is a very metal thing, but not all of us can grow long hair. Genes, accidents, and work roles sometimes dictate if we can have long hair. But as soon as you cut your hair, the scene declares you a poser. If you don't play a riff just like this you're a poser, if you don't sing just like this you're a poser. So basically in being so vehemently counterculture ,heavy metal—especially black metal—has built itself a conservative prison.
And in terms of its political leanings? Why have we got so many fucking Nazis running rampant in black metal?
I think the reason there are so many Nazis inside black metal is due in part to Nazis not having a lot of places they can get out and be Nazis. You don't normally just see a group of Nazis hanging out at the mall drinking Starbucks, but inside black metal—a scene already outside of "the norm"—they can grow and proliferate like a cancer. There's already a lot of pagan symbols inside heavy metal, so it's easy for hate groups who have already stolen these ancient symbols to extend even further.
Interesting. So black metal is essentially a safe space for these kinds of people to let their freak (i.e. Sonnenrad) flags fly, as it were.
Yeah, they think it's a community where they can safely let their racist beliefs run amok unchecked. This is why we need to be so hard on it. This whole "black metal has to be dangerous" thing is pure malarky. Listen to any old black metal and it's all Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons. It's potentially even nerdier than power metal! The fact that even part of the community has been usurped by Nazis is grotesque.
And what about the line of thought that black metal should be dangerous, offensive, and unbeholden to society's rules or niceties?
I think it's a cop-out. So much of the genre is built on Lord of the Rings that I cannot take it seriously as "dangerous". Even all the church burnings and murders in the early scene—it's all unrelated. Heavy metal as a whole is portrayed as a "chest-beating animalistic monster" which to a point can be true, but this is another "rule" that needs to be broken. I'm sure I don't need to tell you what it's like being a woman in a scene like this!
Just a bit! That reminds me, since I've got you—can you tell me more about Olivia Neutered John? I remember being taken aback that it was coming from someone I then perceived to be a dude.
Yeah, absolutely. Olivia Neutered John is a vessel I use to attack preconceived notions of death metal and porngrind. Death metal has a lot of focus on men murdering women, and porngrind has a lot of focus on sex crimes committed to women—potentially from scenes that have large clusters of men within their ranks. Since so many men front early death metal [bands], you are bound to have a lot of victims in songs be women. I wanted Olivia Neutered John to flip that around—murderous women killing and raping men.
I knew from the very beginning that an incredibly toxic scene would not react well to this, so I wrapped important messages about women's rights, trans rights, acceptance, etc in a big comedic wrapper. I wanted to pull people in with silly song titles and nasty riffs, but keep them interested with deeper underlying societal commentary. I suppose Gaylord is a similar thing—attacking a form of music with the music itself. Fighting fire with fire as it were [laughs].
I get the rape revenge vibe (very Castrator-y), but want to challenge the idea that the best way to combat rape culture is with more rape imagery. Did you consider that critique when you approached the idea for this project?
Yeah, I have had a number of people bring up imagery and ideals from the first LP that never crossed my mind initially. Using rape to combat rape being one of them. A lot of this imagery comes from a very "angry white man angry at other angry white men" angle. A lot of people have asked me to clarify certain comments and yeah, I completely understand that it can be very harrowing for people to see and hear imagery like that.
Similarly, I have had a lot of trans people talk to me about lyrics about genital destruction hitting home in weird ways for them. Penile destruction and references to "tiny male genitalia" come off as forms of body shaming. I always thank people who come to me to discuss these things. I want to raise awareness in the scene, but I also want to learn and grow from things I have said and done—furthermore, black humor has a way to obfuscate your point. This is why I wanted the last track on Kill All Men be a recounting of murder, rape, and abuse numbers. Raping a rapist is not justice. Killing a killer is not justice.
Thank you for giving such a thoughtful answer. I know you've been an active musician for yonks, but it seems as though your militantly political output has only really ramped up post-2016. What prompted this new wave?
I love heavy metal, and you fight for that you love. My first political album was an EP by a project called Sea Wolves of the Atlantic. It's an anti-fascist neofolk I started after lamenting one day that there is too much Nazi worship in the neofolk scene. Now, at this stage, I didn't even know that antifa was a thing. After the album got a few reviews, I noticed that a lot of people were against the idea of anti-fascism and I wasn't sure why. 'Surely people aren't actually pro-fascism in this day and age?'
On top of the racism in neofolk, I knew there was a lot in heavy metal as well and I wanted to fix it. The amount of NSBM apologists I met while playing shows all around the UK is absurd. It can be as innocuous as, ‘Yeah, I listen to Burzum but I don't care about his politics’ to ‘Yeah, I play in an NSBM band with concept albums about modern day genocide and race wars.’ I wanted to distance myself from that shit, and the further I pushed myself away, the more I wanted to push them away. This was my heavy metal, this is the music that had always been there for me when I was down and out. I didn't want it taken from me by racist assholes. So I changed my tune from ‘I need to run away from this to, ‘I need to run headlong into this and kick the hornet's nest as hard as I can.’
How can we inspire more metal folk to take that attitude, and start fighting back?
It's twofold. We need to push against fascism, racism, and homophobia at every chance—not just tearing down NSBM, but confronting people when they use "casual" racist and homophobic slurs. We also need to show members of the community that we are all in this together. Remind them that heavy metal was here for you when you were downtrodden. It was here for us all. We're all outsiders; using the music that saved us as a wedge to keep others out of the scene is elitist, pretentious, and disingenuous.
It's not going to be a quick solution. It's going to take loads of hard work. We need direct action. Not just in the form of physically shutting down NSBM shows, but also by writing militantly anti-fascist music. You can't ignore the KKK and expect them to disappear. You can't ignore white supremacy and expect it to disappear. You need to hold them over the fire and push against them. Shut down their shows, write music, call out people in Burzum shirts. Be relentless.
Kim Kelly is an editor at Noisey; she's also on Twitter.