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Arch Enemy & Dostoevsky’s Devils

Angela Gossow

2,045 words

“No gods, no masters” is an old anarchist slogan, dating back to the nineteenth century. It envisions a cosmos marked by an absence of hierarchy. There is no God above us, and there should be no masters in this world to boss us about. Since this small world is our only world, we have an obligation to rid it of all forms of subordination. We won’t get a second chance in some sacred afterlife, where injustice and hierarchy could be divinely dissolved.

The slogan “no gods, no masters” is also the title of a melodic death-metal song by the Swedish band Arch Enemy. The lyrics were written by German-born Angela Gossow, Arch Enemy’s former vocalist and now their manager. The song first appeared in 2011 on the album Khaos Legions, and the band performs it regularly during their many tours. It is, unfortunately, an impressive anthem.

In “No Gods, No Masters,” Angela Gossow imagines herself a freedom-seeking rebel with her back thrust against a wall. She is, however, “locked and loaded [and] ready to strike,” and the forces of anarchist justice are united as they prepare to retaliate against humanity’s oppressors. A better future requires this act of defiant self-assertion. Since the cosmos is without God or gods, and since the hierarchies that subordinate us are unjust, we must create ourselves and recreate our world by individual acts of will. Hence the repeated refrain, “I am who I am,” a version of Jehovah’s name. Gossow even manages to work a sentence from Nietzsche into her song, as well as a phrase (“against time”) that she may have lifted from Savitri Devi, without understanding it.

Arch Enemy travel freely around the globe, prominently displaying anarchist symbols while growling about “legions marching ready to fire” and the happy day when anarchism’s black flag will fly over burning cities. Fists are often lyrically raised in rage, and eternal resistance and imminent revolution are often promised. A common idea in the band’s lyrics is that, because of the great suffering oppressors have inflicted on them, their retribution will be all the more devastating.

Arch Enemy

If their words are taken literally, Arch Enemy are advocating violence; yet no government arrests them, and no police force takes seriously their explicit calls for anarchist revolution and the annihilation of enemies. Videos of their various performances are easily accessible on YouTube. The speech rules that censor even unquestionably factual statements by the Right are not applied to Leftist advocates of anarchy and destruction.

Nor should they be. Although the band’s members believe they are genuine rebels, Arch Enemy’s talk of anarchist revolution is in essence a commercial activity. Fans of Arch Enemy pay to listen to music they enjoy, and if they choose, they can also fantasize that their listening makes authority figures tremble. Arch Enemy’s current vocalist, clearly unaware that anarchists are supposed to believe that property is theft, even complains about undocumented downloading of her music, which should be too trivial a concern for someone committed to sowing chaos and destruction. An old-school showbiz promoter would call Arch Enemy a novelty act. Anarchism is their shtick, which makes the musical product they market seem attractively dangerous.

The specter of anarchism was once more frightening.

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Devils, first published in the early 1870s, tells the story of a collection of anarchists and other assorted radicals whose dysfunctions and revolutionary plans disrupt a quiet provincial town and culminate in the murder of a former member of their movement.

Nikolay Stavrogin, the novel’s central character and the most disturbing of its many devils, has “an extraordinary aptitude for crime,” and once raped a pre-teen girl, causing her to hang herself. In a famous passage, the radical theorist Shigalov, hoping to arrive at a better form of social organization, begins his theorizing from the anarchist goal of “unlimited freedom,” but is forced to conclude, based on the evidence he has collected and interpreted, that “unlimited despotism” must be mankind’s post-revolutionary fate.

Because the thoughts of Dostoevsky’s radicals are incoherent and disordered, they have difficulty even speaking with one another. A meeting of anarchists and nihilists quickly descends into angry dissension because they hold wildly incompatible visions of the revolutionary future they are all working to achieve.

But despite their comical disorder as a political movement, many of the anarchists are serious about their plans for violent insurrection and are therefore genuinely threatening. They are all devils, possessed by dangerous ideas. Dostoevsky, who believed he could see the future from scattered portents in his present, has his radicals discuss the murder of a hundred million people to accomplish their revolutionary aims, which turned out to be an accurate prediction of Leftism’s death-toll in the twentieth century.

Above and apart from the anarchist devils stands a lesser devil, the liberal Stepan Verhovensky, Stavrogin’s former mentor, and it is in him that we can see a closer parallel to the self-styled radicals of Arch Enemy.

Verhovensky is convinced that he is persecuted and constantly surveilled by the police. His belief that the Czarist power structure fears him gratifies his vanity, but in fact the authorities have no interest in him and are just barely aware of his existence. His inflated self-image is bound up in his false vision of himself as a threatening radical: “Had anyone assured the honest man on the most irrefutable grounds that he had nothing to be afraid of, he would certainly have been offended.”

In their most recent album, Arch Enemy instruct their listeners that there is only one race: an indivisible humanity which has been divided by false labels maliciously propagated by the powerful. Those of us who dispute this alleged truth are dismissed as lobotomized masses that “never question authority” and “never suspect deceit.” The band are, they want us to believe, boldly speaking truth to power, like little Elijahs armed with guitars.

The fiction that there is only one race happens to be the official position of both the Swedish and German governments, who will punish any vocal disbelievers. It is also the position of every powerful institution in the Western world. Arch Enemy’s claim that the single-race fiction is a radical, suppressed idea is obviously false. Only people who question authority and suspect deceit deny this established truth of anti-racism, our reigning orthodoxy.

Arch Enemy vow to topple unnamed “empires of corruption,” but if we leave aside celestial angels, whom Angela bizarrely plans to bury, and Philistines, who are also marked for death, the only nameable villains who can be identified in their lyrics are racial nationalists, intolerant Christians, and cosmetics companies that test their products on animals. The first two are eligible for criminal prosecution in much of Europe, and the latter have few defenders anywhere.

Angela Merkel does not fear Arch Enemy’s anarchist activism, though she is unlikely to attend their concerts. If she gave the band any thought at all, she would surely marvel at how they can so convincingly present their defense of the anti-racist status quo – and their defense of anti-nationalist politicians like herself – as angry acts of musical rebellion against entrenched authority.

Expressions of anger should imply a real cause for the anger. Put in ethical terms, only people whose ideas are genuinely marginalized have a legitimate right to political anger. A nationalist musician could legitimately sound angry because he has a real motive, inasmuch as his ideas are not only marginalized but often criminalized. Promoters of anti-racist dogma who display anger in their performances are appropriating an emotion that properly belongs to their opponents.

For the last fifty years, Western publics have been regularly lured into believing that a successive series of edgy pop performers are bearers of attractively subversive ideas that threaten established authority. By listening to a certain kind of music, and by carefully pondering the lyrics, you can participate in some important cause, though always a cause favored by the West’s real masters.

Arch Enemy provide a striking example, because there is such a thorough disconnection between the outward aggression of their music and the real location within modern culture of the ideas that the music expresses. On all important issues, the political opinions of Arch Enemy are not materially different from the political opinions of the average kindergarten teacher, or of the average television reporter. Yet the same liberal ideas, located firmly at the center of the deracinated mainstream, are presented in a much different package, decorated with Nietzschean allusions, anarchist slogans, and angry threats of violence against imaginary oppressors.

It is often hard to fully grasp the near-invincible ignorance so common on the Left. Angela Gossow is German. The core male members of Arch Enemy are Swedish. The band’s current vocalist is Canadian. All of them believe – despite the complete absence of evidence – that their respective governments and ruling institutions are white supremacist in nature. It never occurs to any of them that, despite their repeated acts of self-styled rebellion, the indifference of their governments to their anarchist sloganeering disconfirms that belief, which in any case is false on its face. Objectively, the master they serve is establishment power, but in their minds they do the opposite. Because they are so strongly deluded, they can gratify their vanity and convincingly play the role of dangerous metal rebels, free from any threat of punishment.

Dostoevsky, despite his prophetic abilities, could not have foreseen a future in which musical performers threatening violence and professing anarchism could earn substantial incomes while serving European governments as de facto members of their propaganda departments. His anarchist and nihilist devils were wicked, but most of them genuinely opposed established authority, as did their real-world counterparts.

In Devils the real hero, and the most tragic casualty, is Ivan Shatov, a former follower of Stavrogin. He has become a Russian nationalist, after concluding that anarchists despise their own people. For Shatov, nationalism promises, and can deliver, a kind of group immortality:

Science and reason have, from the beginning of time, played a secondary and subordinate part in the life of nations; so it will be till the end of time. Nations are built up and moved by another force which sways and dominates them, the origin of which is unknown and inexplicable: that force is the force of an insatiable desire to go on to the end, though at the same time it denies that end. It is the force of the persistent assertion of one’s own existence, and a denial of death.

A nation is an ongoing project of group survival and flourishing. It precedes one’s arrival into life, and it should continue after one’s death. In our present we recognize our past as our own and can anticipate our future, so long as the nation’s will to survive persists. Without that insatiable desire in the present, a will carried by individuals asserting their own existence, a nation will die.

Arch Enemy have a song on the same subject, “Yesterday is Dead and Gone.” It was written from a much different perspective.

Acknowledging only ourselves and the present moment, we are walking out from the darkness of yesterday, shaking chains and breaking cages while doing so. We will acquire thereby greater compassion, as well as an opportunity to punish enemies on a day of reckoning. Because yesterday is dead and gone, all that matters is our present and our decision now to deny the nationalist claim that we exist and act in continuity with an ongoing group project, which people before us once sustained and people after us could inherit. Somehow, this denial of our history will end all “power games” and allow us to stand in the flames while reaching for the sky.

If all the dissonant sounds are ignored, and after all the entertaining metaphors of cages and flames have been translated, “Yesterday is Dead and Gone” turns out to be a matter-of-fact description of the current ambition of most Western governments, namely the destruction of their own nations. Arch Enemy pretend that this lofty globalist goal will require from us much struggle and the burning of bridges under blood-red skies; but in fact, despite all the band’s colorful talk of resolute will and aggressive action, it requires only our lethargy, which they are in the business of encouraging.


  1. Posted August 20, 2018 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    Great essay. I’ve long argued that the Left has been so successful at getting what they want since the 1960s that nowadays their radicals are stuck simply mirroring the establishment and calling on law enforcement to do their dirty work for them. Hence why the antifa protesters outside an NPI conference from a couple of years ago were reduced to harassing conference attendees who were smoking outside the venue for doing so in a non-smoking area. That’s all they have left – being an arm of the authorities.

    In the 1960s, Jacques Ellul wrote that the frightening ingenuity of the late capitalist system is that it neutralizes its own opposition by commodifying it, and thus ironically finds ways to make money off of it – it seems that, like Che Guevara T-shirts, Arch Enemy is another example of this phenomenon.

  2. Frederick Jürgen
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    I quote: “If all the dissonant sounds are ignored, and after all the entertaining metaphors of cages and flames have been translated,”

    First of all, I want to make it clear that of course, Arch Enemy is weak, false metal.

    But the very fact that the establishment deems it necessary to clothe it’s message of messianic equality in the aesthetic, proto-fascist garb of death metal speaks volumes. The phenomenon of hipster metal speaks volumes, the message being acknowledgement that a significant portion of the white population could not be enticed to listen to pop, hip-hop and EDM and needs to be propagandised with an art form vastly superior to aforementioned genres.

    I see this trend as another desperate example of the ruling clique trying to save their neck. In Ukraine their goons fight under the banner of Banderism (NOT Freedom and Democracy) and the white intelligencia is in need of proto-fascist aesthetics (also events!) to be able to be fed neoliberal platitudes. This truly is the calm before the storm.

  3. nineofclubs
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    I get the sense that Arch Enemy, like the Sex Pistols forty years ago, use anarchist symbols and rhetoric more for shock value than out of any genuine commitment to anarchism.

    Unfortunately for Arch Enemy, the public is hardly shocked by mainline anarchist symbols today. The big A is regarded with as much horror as the corporate logo for IBM – which is appropriate since both share the same commitment to liberal globalism.


  4. Owlspotted
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    What a sad thing to see what the post-Western education system has done to such an angel. Sick shit.

    It’s nice to see a sensible mention of Dostoevsky in contemporary discourse though. Mainly all there is to be found are Jordan Peterson’s peabrained takes.

    • stefan
      Posted August 21, 2018 at 4:21 am | Permalink

      Peterson is an idiot, but his take on Dosto is still above what you get from typical critics and academicians.
      Actually, my corner of the world isn’t as far gone as, say, NA is but years ago, in high school, “Karamazovs” were for example enthusiastically presented as having some sort of revolutionary atheist subtext. Now, in that age you aren’t exactly likely to actually read your assigned school reading and, anyhow, Dostoevsky is one of those writers for whom I have no bloody idea how anyone think that they ought be pushed on kids at that age, like they can appreciate it any way. So, for years, I automatically associated Dostoevsky with atheism and general liberal antinomianism.

      What I am saying is that I can see why people can see his talks about Dostoevsky as refreshing.

      • Owlspotted
        Posted August 21, 2018 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

        Wow, that must have been an incredibly incompetent teacher. But yeah, I don’t hate Peterson for his choice of authors (even if I’ve never heard him say anything very original) but rather the way he tries to pretend that guys like Dost. and Niet. should be celebrated alongside the modern world. It’s a binary choice he’s avoiding so if Hell really does have an Ironic Punishments Dept. like in that Simpsons episode then I’m sure Peterson will end up as transgender.

      • Manfred Arcane
        Posted August 22, 2018 at 1:50 am | Permalink

        Wait, really? I’m not questioning you but, even though I saw a bit of Lefty butchery of Dostoievski, that is still quite something.
        As to whether or not such a work ought be mandatory reading for school kids, I understand that “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a required reading in Canadian high schools. At least kids can get something useful out of old Russian fatso novels, compared to stuff like that.

      • leech
        Posted August 22, 2018 at 3:23 am | Permalink

        People see what they want to see… No less of a man than T.S. Eliot argued that not only is “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” not really anti-Catholic, but that Joyce’s entire oeuvre reveals him for a deeply christian man. And, if you check the bit about religion on Joyce’s wiki page, you’ll see that he was far from being alone in that. Your teacher’s “interpretation” of Dostoevsky is hardly as imaginative as that.

      • Adrian
        Posted August 22, 2018 at 5:24 am | Permalink

        Peterson is not an idiot. That’s what’s so frustrating.

  5. Right_On
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Here’s another example.
    Wilko Johnson was a member of the pub-rock band Dr. Feelgood in the 1970s. (I saw them back in the day!)
    During the Brexit referendum he said: “I’m a bit of an anarchist you know, I’ve never voted before but I’m going to vote on this. We should understand we’re Europeans and I think we should have a common currency. We should feel ourselves to be part of Europe, not some ludicrous Little England dream.”
    If Wilko supports the bureaucratic EU then I’m more of an anarchist than he ever was!

  6. Randy
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    Live Action Role Playing

  7. Peter
    Posted August 20, 2018 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    I want to bring up a point that I find way to little addressed: the anti-racists claim to stand up against oppression, and are scorned because there is no governmental oppression of anti-racism. But I would like to point out that there is very well need to rebel against racism: because racism is NATURAL ! And these clowns correctly feel that racism is omnipresent ! Because everybody is racist! Anti-racism is simply the age-old jewish pathologization of the natural.

    I might also point out that there may well be a case for anti-racism: every group has its social contract, i.e. its rules, its foundational beliefs, its agreement, arrangements, consents. A family – and that seems to be the kind of group that is generally aspired – has certainly 1 egalitarian rule: belonging. You belong to us, we are solidary with you, we are an alliance for mutual protection and assistance. And as a group member, you have to honor your obligations to this alliance also against possible dislike.

    So: when someone is under the illusion that there is only one race the human race: then he has been successfully brainwashed to consider EVERYBODY on earth as part of his in-group. And therefore: anybody who violates the social contract of this global in-group by denying some people support and assistance only because of petty dislike, then the group must sanction this rule violation in order to stay credible as an alliance.

    So: the extreme hate of the anti-racists is genuine as it´s expression of fear for group stability (and group stability is a matter of life and death, therefore you´re always dealing with extreme emotions in that area). AND the anticacists have EVERY reason to PERMANENTLY sniff for racist rule violation: because like every human, the anti-racists know fully well that they themselves are, like everybody, racist, just that they are willing to make the effort to suppress their own dislike, and they demand it from every other group member also.

    So, that´s all completely consistent and a-ok… no criticism… as long as we are within the anti-racist paradigm. Which is of-course BS.
    But I want to close with the remark that the anti-racist paradigm is not just random BS but of-course well-devised BS: the jews, by devising a rule that cannot be kept, create permanent guilt. And that´s the whole point. Everybody is racist, thus everybody is guilty eternally, thus jews have eternal control.

    So… all… quite clear… and it makes more sense to describe things in these terms than to harp on the idiocy of our touching moral superpeople and their childish fake-rebelliousness.

  8. stefan
    Posted August 21, 2018 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    Yeah, this is one of those defining traits of modern Left that doesn’t seem to be pointed out and analysed as much as it ought be, especially given just how glaring it is. That they can be convinced that they are rebels, revolutionaries, transgressives while working within the established, safe mainstream, while either being in power or forwarding views of those who are in power. This actually marks every corner of modern art.

  9. Posted August 21, 2018 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    Excellent. The Left, Old and New, have always been whores of plutocracy. Spengler said it a century ago, and nothing changed. Lots of money for the 1905 and 1917 revolts in Russia. The New Left was sponsored by the CIA and again there was a lot of funding available. During the 1970s a couple of left-liberals, Barnett and Muller, in their book Global Reach, based on interviews with CEOs, pointed out that the ‘down with borders’ slogan of the New Left is the same as that of IBM and other corporations. The ideal was a monocultural world. Things have proceeded apace since then.

  10. Wim De Pauw
    Posted August 26, 2018 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    Excellent article. But you take groups like Arch Enemy too serious as an anarchistic threat in my opinion 🙂
    I like Arch Enemy myself while my political views are not Left at all, but Right or whatever you may call someone who likes a free economy, less government, less regulations, etc.
    The life performances of Arch Enemy are fantastic, and Michael Amott is one of the best guitar players in the world. That’s why I like it, as I like a lot of other metal groups even though most of them have left political ideas that I do not support.
    The point is, it just doesn’t matter to me if they are left or right because it’s about the music and it’s just a show.
    I could say the same thing about Stephen King for example. He is a fantastic writer, I like his books even though he has very left political views.
    You can always treat these books or music as cognitive dissonance 🙂 , something your mind really needs sometimes.
    Am I ever going to participate in an anarchistic march because I like Arch Enemy? Not in a hundred years!!! Am I afraid other fans would beat me during a performance when they find out I might vote for Trump if I were American? No way.
    And yes, they have left ideas but without judging or forcing others to do the same During interviews, by the way, they will almost never talk about politics,
    Many artists, be it painters or writers of musicians, have exposed some kind of anarchism because they dare to thing out of the box. That is not something since the last 50 years but since centuries. Hieronymous Bosch was an anarchist 500 years ago, he just had to be a little more careful than the death metal groups today for not being burned like a witch.

    • alexei
      Posted August 27, 2018 at 2:14 am | Permalink

      But there is literally nothing brave or out of the box about them or others like them nowadays. As everyone else has noted, claiming that you are “rebellious” and “dangerous” doesn’t make you so – rather, that you are openly promoted and marketed as such reveals that you are actually exact opposite.

      And nobody argued against enjoying their music as such. If I refused to consume anything produced by far leftists, then my choice of modern music/cinema/video games/fiction/comic books would be extremely narrow.

  11. Levi Rafael
    Posted September 3, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I thought that the 21st century Right was pro-anarchist at this point. 100 years ago the Left was derided as “subversive,” threatening to civilization and amoral. Now the Left is supposedly “statist,” ultra-civilized instead of primal and organic, modern and overly moralist in our demands for social justice. I know nothing about AE’s or Gossow’s politics, but from my own time in the melodeath culture I would dare to assume that they actually tend more to the Right than the Left. What happened to the century of the anarchy-fascist synthesis?

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