Saturday, May 17, 2008


In Black Metal culture, the term 'Horde' is often used as a metaphor for 'band'. Even one-man Black Metal bands are described as Hordes!

Undoubtedly, the word 'Horde' is used in Black Metal culture because it carries connotations of violence, brutality, barbarity, belligerence, masculinity. The history of the use of this metaphor in Black Metal is obscure: I have not been able to reconstruct how it became part of Black Metal culture. Perhaps some reader of this post with a better knowledge of Black Metal history can enlighten me?

Nevertheless, in this post I will examine the 'web of significance' of the term 'Horde'.

The etymology of the word 'Horde' itself is clear: 'Horde' is a term of Turkic origin meaning a royal residence or camp. The 'Horde' is the residence of the Khan (paradoxically, where the original Turkic word had connotations of settling down, of stasis, the contemporary word has connotations of movement: a horde is teeming, swarming, advancing). Genghis Khan united the nomadic tribes of northeast Asia, and thereby founded the Mongol Empire, which eventually came to occupy most of Asia. Under Genghis Khan's grandson Batu, the Mongols definitively conquered Volga Bulgaria and the Kievan Rus in 1237. The Mongols brought a terror to Europe that would is remembered to the present day. However, the Mongol empire divided into competing factions before the thirteenth century was over, and in 1502 its last stronghold in Russia ceased to exist. Nonetheless, the name for their awesome military force would leave its burn mark on the languages of Europe: the Horde.

The mythic resonance of the word 'Horde' would lead Charles Darwin to use it in his 1871 book "The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex". He used the term 'Horde' to designate the social groups of primeval men and the ape-like progenitors of man. The sociability within these barbarous groups, from which all civilized nations descend, was the result of natural selection, spurred on by increasing reasoning powers and foresight, and by the praise and the blame of other members of the group. For Darwin, the male was the actor of natural selection, while the female was merely passive: "Man is more powerful in body and mind than woman, and in the savage state he keeps her in a far more abject state of bondage than does the male of any other animal; therefore it is not surprising that he should have gained the power of selection." The era in which this power of selection was wielded is long gone: "It deserves attention that with mankind the conditions were in many respects much more favorable for sexual selection, during a very early period, when man had only just attained to the rank of manhood, than during later times. For he would then, as we may safely conclude, have been guided more by his instinctive passions, and less by foresight or reason. He would have jealously guarded his wife or wives." I interpret Darwin's text as a creation myth, a story or explanation that describes the beginnings of humanity. Darwin' myth is an ethical precept that sanctions Victorian gender relations. In this myth, the primitive horde is presented as simultaneously attractive (there is more than a little nostalgia for the era when men wielded 'the power of selection') and repulsive ('an abject state of bondage').

Sigmund Freud's 1913 book Totem and Taboo uses Darwin's text as the basis for some myth-telling of his own. Drawing far-reaching conclusions for very superficial ethnographic knowle, he wrote: "All that we find [in Darwin's primal horde] is a violent and jealous father who keeps all the females for himself and drives away his sons as they grow up. (...) One day the brothers who had been driven out came together, killed and devoured their father and so made an end of the patriarchal horde. United, they had the courage to do and succeed in doing what would have been impossible for them individually. (Some cultural advance, perhaps, command over some new weapon, had given them a sense of superior strength). Cannibal savages as they were, it goes without saying that they devoured their victim as well as killing him. The violent primal father had doubtless been the feared and envied model of each one of the company of brothers: and in the act of devouring him they accomplished their identification with him, and each one acquired a portion of his strength. The totem meal, which is perhaps mankind's earliest festival, would thus be a repetition and a commemoration of this memorable and criminal deed, which was the beginning of so many things - or social organization, of moral restrictions and of religion." For Freud, the Horde as a social group - and indeed, humanity as a social group - is founded upon a crime - a crime which Freud describes with a strange combination of attraction and repulsion ('memorable and criminal').

Darwin's and Freud's myths remind me strongly of ethnologist Michael Taussig's 1987 book "Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing". In this book, Taussig investigates the “wildness” projected onto American Indians by Western colonial imagination. This 'wildness' evokes bloodthirsty repression by colonial (ecclasiastical and capitalist) authorities of the Indians it is projected on: the savages must be brought in line by savage means. At the same time, the 'wildness' projected on the Indians also leads the colonialists to impute supernatural healing powers to the Indians. Taussig: “So it has been through the sweep of colonial history where the colonizers provided the colonized with the left-handed gift of the image of the wild man--a gift whose powers the colonizers would be blind to, were it not for the reciprocation of the colonized, bringing together in the dialogical imagination of colonization an image that wrests from civilization its demonic power”. Cannibalism is an essential trait of the wildness projected onto Indians. Likewise, for Freud the cannibal wildness of oedipal totemism must be brought in line through civilizing psycho-analysis. Freud constructs psycho-analysis as a colonialization by consciousness of the exotic and savage jungle of the unconscious, which is simultaneously the exotic and savage, cannibal world of prehistory. But for Freud, the confrontation with the savagery of the unconscious also has extra-ordinary healing powers.

The 'Horde', under the name 'nomadic war machine', swarms forth again in Deleuze and Guattari's classic 1980 book of postmodernism 'A Thousand Plateaus'. Inspired by the work of British historian Arnold Toynbee and by the psycho-analytic work of Freud, the two philosophers contrast the socio-philosophical meaning of nomadic life against that of life in city-states. Where city-states are characterized by a hierarchical, homogeneous and totalitarian ("arborescent") organization, nomadism has a more freely structured, heterogeneous ("rhizomatic") organization. Nomadism is idealized by Deleuze and Guattari as a practice which must counter the capitalist greed, soulless rationalism, and superficiality of the urban landscape. Again, the 'Horde' is presented as a violent force that must heal the ills of Western culture.

So how do these connotations of the word 'Horde' relate to the use Black Metal culture makes of it? What can we say now about the web of significance woven around the word 'Horde'?

The connotations of violence, belligerence, masculinity, primitivism, cannibalism and occidentalism that the word 'Horde' has in the writings discussed above, are all relevant to Black Metal. Like with Freud's primitive Horde, in Black Metal a culture hero whose life ended in violence (Dead) was cannibalized; I'm referring of course to the rumour that Euronymous would have consumed a part of Dead’s brain. Memorable and criminal, attractive and repulsive, Black Metal has wrested its demonic power from civilization, receiving the left-handed gift of the image of the Horde and reciprocating civilization with teeming, swarming, blackened, buzzing noise.


Nicola Masciandaro said...

Hellhammer use the word in 1983, Celtic frost in 1984, but Bathory's "Of Doom . . ." seems especially relevant to what you want to chart:

Hold high our banner black, the three flames in red
Brothers and sisters
Hail, proudly raise your heads
Through you we've reached out to just every nation
You kept us alive with your love and dedication
Bathory Hordes is the united force, we are all born of one womb
The mightiest of hordes born through faith and belief
Hail now the sign of the black mark and of doom......

You kept your faith, you mailed us your Hails
You spread our name and commotion
You are the ones who believes and supports and that's called shear bloody
f*cking devotion

The creature with red eyes, the symbol we've chosen
To guide us or fool us but together we can't lose
Brothers and sisters under black moon
Hail high the sign of the black mark and of doom......

Wearing our name B.A.T.H.O.R.Y., on T-shirts and badges, we salute thy
You thrashing f*cking lunatics forever you'll live in our hearts
Hail high sign our faith the black mark......

valter said...

Thanks Nicola!

jennifer01 said...

Why would anybody say it that way, you can easily get your point across in a polite and courteous way. Lets all just get a long.
wow gold

sildenafil said...

I usually associate the word "horde" with violence. I think heavy metal people look for heavy words to describe themselves. I have heard this word within the lyrics of some songs.