About Vatican Shadow's Links With the Far-right
White Noise: On Consequences, Complicity, and Dominick Fernow
[content warning: the following essay includes references to racism and sexual violence]
Dominick Fernow is a critically-lauded polymath of modern "extreme" and experimental music. As “Prurient”, he makes sophisticated noise. He's toured with, remixed, and produced respected artists like Oneohtrix Point Never, Justin Broadrick, John Carpenter, Demdike Stare, Nine Inch Nails, and the Texas thrash band Power Trip. Prurient's 2015 album, Frozen Niagara Falls, received universal acclaim from Resident Advisor, Pitchfork, Mojo, Allmusic, The Quietus, The Wire, and nearly every publication that covers experimental music.
Fernow's Hospital Productions label – and the annual festival that shares its name – has featured music from artists like Kelly Moran, C. Spencer Yeh, Ron Morelli, Andy Stott, and Dedekind Cut, along with ideologically questionable artists like Mikko Aspa, Satanic Warmaster, and Akitsa.
He's known in the electronic music world for his work as Vatican Shadow and Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement. As Vatican Shadow he combines imagery of modern warfare and industrial techno, while being heavily indebted to “Muslimgauze” sonically, without Bryn Jones' explicitly political focus on Palestinian liberation1.
With Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement he wades into stranger waters still: A white man from Madison, Wisconsin making ambient techno with politically ambiguous references to colonialism's grotesque legacy of brutality across the global south. A sort of New Age counterpart to William Bennett's controversial Cut Hands project, Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement released Flying Fish Ambience, a collaboration between Fernow and Phillippe Hallais, aka Low Jack, in May 2021.
Fernow's enjoyed considerable success bringing the harsh aesthetics of noise and metal to appearances and residencies at clubs like fabric and Berghain. Pitchfork acknowledged his successful migration to the dancefloor by including his Berghain 09 mix in "The 8 Best DJ Mixes of March 2019," adding that
"nobody embodies the grey area between noise, industrial, and dance music better than Dominick Fernow."
With Ash Pool, he makes dissonant black metal that features graphic lyrics often focused on sexual violence.
He was also previously a member of Cold Cave, a band known for catchy synth pop as well as for touring with Boyd Rice, a folk singer who's been dogged by persistent accusations2 of fascist sympathies for decades.
Fernow doesn't seem to make any effort to hide these relationships, yet over the course of thousands of words of coverage in outlets from Condé Nast-owned music publications, to longform interviews in arts magazines like The Creative Independent, to obnoxious essays in derelict blogs, it rarely comes up at all.
Varis Verkosto a Finnish antifascist website published an article about Fernow's collaborator Mikko Aspa and his involvement with the National Socialist group Nordic Resistance Movement. Including a performance at a 2016 benefit concert for Jesse Eppu Torniainen, a member of the organization imprisoned for killing someone at a protest.
“for violating the terms of his parole in a 1993 murder by publicly mocking and demeaning his victim and by giving a ‘sieg heil’ salute, both actions illegal under strict German laws.”3
Absurd was publicly defended by William Luther Pierce, the founder and leader of the white supremacist organization National Alliance.
Pierce died in 2002, but was recently in the news as commentators drew parallels between his influential 1978 genocidal sci-fi novel, The Turner Diarie4s, and the pro-Trump riots at the US Capitol in January 2021. The novel is an important text for the international white supremacist movement, and often comes up in the context of accelerationist right wing violence.
Pierce hosted Absurd singer Hendrik Möbus in West Virginia when he was on the run from German authorities in 2000. Möbus was wanted for violating parole by sieg hieling at a concert, posing with Nazi flags at Auschwitz, and "publicly mocking" the 15-year-old that he and his bandmates strangled to death in 1993. The SPLC report suggests he was working with Pierce to funnel recruits from the underground metal scene into an international fascist network.
Fernow's discography is massive, with work produced under nearly 40 different aliases and band names. Discogs lists close to 700 releases from scores of artists on Hospital Productions, the majority of whom are not linked to Finnish Neo-Nazis.
Most of the far-right connections happen on the more obscure end of the metal and noise spectrum, releases that may seem impenetrable to casual fans. An easy jumping-off point into this side of his practice is the aforementioned Pitchfork interview, found in Brandon Stosuy's October 2006 "Show No Mercy" column.
Fernow is pictured at the top of the column in his (now closed) New York record store with Mikko Aspa, a musician mostly unknown outside of underground metal, noise, and far right circles. Also known for his “Northern Heritage” label, his bands Clandestine Blaze or Deathspell Omega, or his pedophilia-themed noise project Nicole 125. Over the course of the interview, he recommends and name-drops Aspa's Northern Heritage label along with bands ranging from crypto-fascists like Akitsa to outright Nazis like Absurd.
At the time, Stosuy was a highly respected metal critic; he's since gone on to become an influential and insightful curator, author, festival organizer, and artist manager. He goes out of his way to vouch for Fernow, offering assurances that Fernow isn't "hipster metal," that his enthusiasm is sincere, and his knowledge extensive. Yet there is no mention – even for shock value – that Absurd is an influential National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM) band. This is not hard to ascertain, even if you're not a professional metal authority: Absurd's Encyclopedia Metallum profile lists "National Socialism" along with "warfare,""Germanic mythology," and the white power movement "Rock Against Communism" as recurring lyrical themes.
As for Aspa, He's listed as the founder of five different labels, and has released work with almost 30 aliases and groups. Aspa's been forthright about his general ideological orientation6 for 20 years.
In addition to posing with Aspa and platforming his work in the pages of "the most trusted name in music," Fernow has collaborated with and promoted music with Aspa for years. A quick Discogs scan reveals work from Nicole 12 on Hospital Productions, including a split with Prurient in 2005. A Prurient split with Aspa's Grunt project followed in 2006. Fast forward to 2016 and Prurient shows up on BDSM Atlantic Partnership alongside Aspa's Sadio alias, released on Aspa's Freak Animal label. Regardless of his intentions, it would be strange to suggest that an artist as thoughtful as Fernow has remained ignorant of his colleague's 20 years of dabbling in Neo-Nazi politics.
While Aspa is possibly the most vocally political of his radical right wing associates, Fernow has released music with several other artists with fascist affiliations. In 2008 Ash Pool appeared on Eight Acts of Origin, a compilation draped in white supremacist codes, alongside bands ranging from Akitsa to overt Nazis like Gaszimmer7. Ash Pool's song "Shade of Rape" is the last selection on Side 888 of the collection, limited to "4889 hand-numbered copies."
Fast forward to 2019, Ash Pool's discography now contains a split release on the Tour De Garde label. Fernow's band contributes "Dogs Rape Her" as the flip to Thy Serpent, a Finnish black metal band founded by Sami Tenetz. Tenetz also has a long history with fascist organizations, distributing Nazi music, and appearances at white nationalist gatherings. This isn't subtle. Tenetz's record store sold Adolf Hitler pins and his band Goatmoon performed at Asgarderai, a Ukrainian white power music festival that Vice Magazine calls "the Neo-Nazi networking event of the year." Incidentally, the festival is named after a 1999 EP from Absurd.
And finally, there's Akitsa, a Montréal-based black metal band founded by Pierre-Marc Tremblay, aka OT. Tremblay also owns the Tour De Garde label, which has been promoting music from Nazi artists for over a decade10. Fernow's Hospital Productions was the home to 12 Akitsa releases between 2005 and 2019, including splits with Prurient and Ash Pool.
When asked about allegations of racism in a 2015 interview with Noisey, Tremblay's quoted saying that Akitsa "has never been and will never be a racist band." The interview doesn't include any follow-up questions, despite Tremblay's anecdotes about Aspa, Satanic Warmaster, and their mutual colleague Fernow, that appear in the same interview. Tremblay's unqualified denial was good enough that Noisey's editors ran the subhead that the band was "quashing NSBM rumors."
In 2021, journalist Sébastien Roback's "Selling Hate: Canadian Labels that Platform and Profit from Nazi Metal," Roback's research included original reporting, but the story is founded on the fascist artists and events that Tour De Garde openly promoted on their website; evidence archived by Roback before the label wiped its catalog following his article's publication.
These are not allegations or rumors with much room for interpretation, they're Discogs entries with catalog numbers. It's only a small part of Fernow's discography, but consistency over time makes the case for plausible deniability difficult.
If anything, the diversity of artists that Fernow works with raises more questions: If he has the clout to collaborate with Godflesh, Merzbow, and Equinoxx, why does he also repeatedly choose to work with obscure metal and noise artists who are only remarkable for promoting violent right wing ideology?
And why does this insular clique of militant fascists choose to work with him?
Why is due diligence not done by music journalists ? How many times will this kind of “scandal” happen ?
Update 16/07/2021 : Brando Stosuy dropped Fernow interview from his book Stay Inspired: Finding Motivation for Your Creative Work.
A follow up of this article is available here
The listing of U.S intervention across the globe without taking any stance and we will see later why and especially intelligence agency, who seems to be more admiration than critics or using a problematic title like “Taxi Journey Through The Teeming Slums Of Tehran ” music journalism being so ingrained in white supremacy that they can’t even be bothered to write about it.
The Turner Diaries was cited by Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh and Olympic Park Bomber Eric Rudolph, among others
The Nicole 12 discography includes sexualized imagery of young girls alongside titles such as "Lolita Love," "Semen on Braces," "Nippon Ballerina Voyeur," and "Schoolyard Pedophile."
In a 2001 interview with Chronicles of Chaos (as Clandestine Blaze) Aspa offers opinions on immigration, nationalism, "gypsies or street n[e]ig[hbo]rs", and explains that he's not actually a Nazi, as Nazis are socialists, and not misanthropic enough.
Gaszimmer roughly translates as "gas chamber," and the band's Metallum profile lists "National Socialism" and "Aryan Triumph" as lyrical themes
H is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and in white supremacist numerology 88 signifies "Heil Hitler."
In the code 1488 the first two digits are a reference to David Lane's "Fourteen Words," a common white power slogan: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White [sic] children."
A quick glance through the label's catalog shows more work from some of the most notorious racist, fascist, and unapologetically white supremacist bands in underground metal, including Peste Noire (2009), Baise Ma Hache (2014), Satanic Warmaster (2015), Krüel Kömmando (2017), and Pagan Hellfire (2020). Tremblay's label also has the dubious distinction of being the home of the sole release from In Ketten, the alias Absurd used during their time in prison.