Interview, PM Press Blog

Interview: Rain Corbyn Talks ‘Black Metal Rainbows’ and the Potential for a More Progressive Black Metal Scene

By Julie River
New Noise Magazine
June 13th, 2024

Is black metal beyond saving? Or has it been lost entirely to the NSBM (National Socialist Black Metal) movement and their ilk who would have the entire genre represent far-right ideals? We at New Noise Magazine have always believed that we can hold up inclusive values whilst celebrating black metal rather than surrender the genre to the Nazis. The team behind the new collection of essays, Black Metal Rainbows, share those values and want to explore what the genre is capable of on the opposite side of the spectrum from NSBM.

“Black metal is for everyone,” write Daniel Lukes and Stanimir Panayotov in the  introductory essay of Black Metal Rainbows entitled “Somewhere Over a Black Metal Rainbow.” “Everyone, that is, who wants to listen to it, play it, think or write or make art about it.” The collection goes on to collect a series of essays about the progressive, inclusive, and even revolutionary potential of a genre that is all-too-often associated with white supremacy, proving their thesis that black metal is, in fact, for everyone.

Rain Corbyn is the narrator and producer of the audiobook version of Black Metal Rainbows, meaning that they also mixed, edited, and proofed the audio version of the book. They came to the book from a unique perspective as a fan of Black Metal Rainbows who took on a bigger role in the project. We sat down with Corbyn to discuss their involvement with Black Metal Rainbows but also their own experience as a nonbinary, queer, autistic metalhead who became disillusioned by the black metal scene and rediscovered their love of the music through this book. While Corbyn’s answers were long, they were also fascinating and insightful, so we elected to print the entire interview so that none of Corbyn’s enlightening points were missed.

How did you get involved with narrating this book? Do you have the freedom to choose which projects you work on, or do you get assigned to projects?

I read the book as a fan first, and it really inspired me. The essays and art made me feel less unwelcome in the scene, or what the scene could be, so I reached out to the press to see if they were interested in audio adaptation. I figured music-heads were more likely to be interested in audiobooks than most, and it would make the material more accessible, which is always important to me. Luckily the press was interested, and I got to work!

I am an independent narrator so far, so, yeah, I do choose all my own projects! I audition for gigs regularly, but some of the projects that have been the most rewarding have come from directly querying authors and publishers of books I’ve loved. I’m definitely interested in working with audiobook production companies, but I’m also picky and disabled, so freedom and schedule flexibility go a long way! I’m big into horror, which I also write and narrate. Just like in the metal scene, you need to be intentional about who you collaborate with. Extreme content can be liberating and cathartic and progressive, but plenty of losers in both media use it as an excuse to write bold-faced, bigoted crap. The same guys (and it’s usually guys) try to hide behind, “writing gory extreme stuff doesn’t mean you want to do harm IRL,” but then go on to harass and bully people. All of that (is) to say (that) I need to be able to say “no thanks” if the material or author’s conduct doesn’t work for me.

You said on Twitter that you had given up on black metal as lost to “the fash, trolls, and creeps,” and that this book saved the genre for you. Was there any particular experience in black metal that made you want to give up on the genre? 

I noticed that creeps and bigots in my local metal scene really leveraged COVID to take over the bars and venues that were desperate for business. The more community health-conscious metalheads were staying home or occasionally drinking at bars with outside areas. But the guys who thought COVID was “just a flu,” a leftoid hoax, or whatever other conspiracies were sitting right up at the bar all day every day, spending lots of money. They got the run of a few places that wouldn’t have stood for it before. It was always important but exhausting to keep vigilant for abusers and bigots in the scene, and I think some venues stopped looking quite so hard for dog whistles and red flags if it was between that or staying afloat. So the bigots brought their friends, who brought their friends, and you can’t put it back in the box. It’s that old thing of, “What do you call a bar with one Nazi sitting quietly in the corner? A Nazi bar.”

Even before 2020, though, I felt like I was increasingly in the minority for shutting down sexist and racist comments by my peers, as well as boycotting shows by bands I really didn’t agree with politically. I’d get people to cancel plans to see sketchy shows or tell them I wouldn’t join them in edgy jokes, and eventually I (would) stop getting calls to hang out, and that sucked. “But the riffs tho” started as a phrase to make fun of people who didn’t have enough spine to give up an occasional show because the members were racists or sexually assaulted someone. It’s become this ironic, semi-meaningless phrase now, like “Check your privilege” and “Did you just assume my gender?’ It frames important issues as absurd, or like the person saying “Hey, maybe let’s not do that?” is a bigger buzzkill than people directly supporting messed up culture.

I’m not saying it’s comfortable telling people their joke was fucked up, or that you can actually cause harm that means we’ll boot you from our circle. Earnest fascists rely on poor-taste jokes, “a little NSBM as a treat,” and all forms of rape culture to make their behavior seem less out of bounds, to normalize it. I think it’s mostly good to mellow out a little as we age, but not about this stuff. So yeah, then COVID trauma made it really easy for me to get pretty bleak about the scene and people in general, especially seeing “life moving on” meaning disabled and immunocompromised people were explicitly excluded from the physical community spaces.

The last problem, which was my own fault, is that I really do struggle finding and making new friends, and I just didn’t know where to look for better scenes that reflected my values more, so I just dipped. That’s a big part of why Black Metal Rainbows brought me back to a scene I had kind of given up thinking could exist. It’s there, both in physical space and online. Plus I got a lot of great band recommendations and a place to start. I still don’t go out much, partly because I live rurally now, but it matters that I’m choosing that rather than being forced out of the community. I know where to go now when I do become less of a shut-in. (laughs)

Now that you’ve been involved with this audiobook project, have you found your way back to black metal?

I’m still COVID-conscious and don’t see a lot of venues meeting my needs in terms of ventilation, so I haven’t been to any shows recently, unfortunately. I’m hoping this summer I can do something outdoors. I guess it’s lucky that black metal isn’t as reliant on shows as other genres, and plenty of my favorite bands are just one person or don’t play live anyway. So I’ve been supporting them and playing my own music for the first time in years, too.

Just to give you an idea of where I’m coming from, I’m a trans woman and I got into music journalism because I’m a punk fan first and foremost, and then working for New Noise and other publications helped me develop an interest in metal, too. But one thing that always makes metal difficult for me is that I feel like punk is decidedly anti-fascist and pro-inclusivity, and I keep getting disheartening reminders that the metal culture isn’t necessarily the same. But Black Metal Rainbows makes the argument that there’s at least the potential for black metal to be a progressive space for everyone. You seem to agree with that, so where do you see that potential and hope in the genre? 

Yeah, I feel a lot better than I did about the scene, but we definitely don’t have the same history or precedent of anti-fascism that a lot of punk does. We can learn a lot from principles and signaling that punks use to find their people (and to) maintain a healthy community with pro-justice values. I got into folk punk while looking for energetic music that fit my values more in the interim, and (I) think there’s both a lot of aesthetic and political potential overlap. I love the more depressive black metal for catharsis and to feel less alone in moments of pain and despair, but, ultimately, I think a scene needs hope and solidarity in struggle to survive.  You need to feel like it matters to do the right thing, even if it’s hard, even if you’re the last asshole doing so. I see that more in punk music and culture for sure.

I loved how the book explores what the opposite of black metal could be, or asks what black metal inverted is. Is it white or pink metal, or is it still black metal but with the anger pointed at external threats rather than towards the self, or more marginalized people? Folk, punk, and black metal all have a low-fi DIY aesthetic and potentially lower financial barriers to making them, in theory anyway. I think there’s community to be found in that similarity even if the music has different vibes. And people are out there mixing them too, plenty of folk punk bands incorporate harsh vocals and fast messy picking, not to mention the Appalachian and working-class black metal happening. They can also both have a self-flagellation thing lyrically, the, “I’m a fuckup I deserve a bad life,” but I like how folk punk does that with a tongue in cheek and an obligation to do better tomorrow. I think there’s good push and pull between the two approaches. If black metal says “I am insignificant in the universe, so nothing I do matters,” then punk replies, “Yes, so let that free you and us all from the pressure to do anything other than make and live safety and joy.” I think most people need a mix of solo contemplation and group settings to stay sane and know themselves. I’ve gone way hard on isolation since COVID, and the book was a nice swing back.

Similarly, both solo and collaborative songwriting can learn a lot from each other and from mashing up the processes. Most musicians know the agony of songwriting sessions that go nowhere because nobody can agree on where to start, but also too much isolation as an artist isn’t always healthy. Especially in a scene that’s a political battle ground, isolation can lead to forgetting why it’s important to stand up to the jerks because you don’t see as much of the effect of their behavior on others. It can be easy to mistrust your own gut when someone crosses your boundaries and you have no frame of reference. For me at least, when I experience someone treating me in a way that’s ableist or queerphobic or plain old unkind, I am prone to betray myself by giving excessive benefit of the doubt. The loud prick isn’t doing the same self-reflection, so they get louder; I get quieter; it snowballs. In scenes where the music is the message, it is crucial to have people you can turn to and say, “Was that fucked up, or am I just prickly today?” It’s hard work, and morally lazy reactionaries sure as hell aren’t doing it, so we’ve got to. Punk has always gotten that.

All of these essays are fascinating, but was there one in particular that spoke to you more than the others?

I return to the introductory essay “Somewhere Over a Black Metal Rainbow” by Daniel Lukes and Stanimir Panayotov often. It really distills the thesis of the whole book so well. “Don’t let the nazis have the scene; don’t let them have anything,” (paraphrased) really stirs me up.

Espi Cvlt’s essay “Queer Kvlt Porn” also rips. Sex workers have always been innovators and the front line when it comes to justice and tools for survival of the individual and community, so seeing that intersection regarding this scene struck a chord. Plus, vamp’s talking about Pelle Ohlin being such an important figure to vamp’s inner life was a poignantly romantic piece of writing. Romanticism and deep feeling gets muscled out by nihilistic numbness a lot in black metal, and this was a nice refresher. Laina Dawes has always been an important writer to me, as has Kim Kelly, so narrating essays they wrote had me kind of star-struck.

Mostly though, it was how the collection was greater than the sum of its parts. That’s what I want from the scene. I have this evil but persistent idea that I have to do everything myself, and black metal is obviously dangerously tempting for that reason. I think it’s a whiteness thing; it’s a class-privilege thing; it’s a capitalist thing, all of which affect me but don’t reflect the world I want to be part of. So, with this collection, the practice of voicing a plurality of opinions that don’t always overlap helped me let myself off that hook in a bigger way than I realized until writing this now.

I didn’t agree with every word of every essay, but homogenizing that isn’t my responsibility. As long as we’re pushing in the same direction and actually talking, actually listening, I think the left has a chance of taking metal back. A diverse leftist metal scene where ACAB means we kill the cops we are tempted to be towards ourselves and each other is so important. God knows the right isn’t sweating the small stuff. They don’t lose sleep if someone’s out of lockstep, as long as they hate the same demographics. And that means they’ve moved effectively for too long while we’ve been fractured, and they definitely think they own metal in some places. We can call their bluff and make messy, fabulous, colorful, weird art without and against them, and there are lots of us who want that.

Black Metal Rainbows is available in print form from PM Press and the audiobook version is available on Audible.