“Blitzkrieg tonight?” Olli asks me, his brows raised and grinning slyly.
I never said no.
Nor would I break that pattern today.
In the heart of Windhoek, banging heads had started assembling in what was dubbed a bunker. Heathens. Devil worshippers. Blasphemers. Those were my father’s naming words, not mine. The cheap beers at Blitzkrieg were only secondary to the musical buffet on offer. Quietly, indecisively, maybe even apprehensively, the devil’s music had crept into the city’s underground.
The heavy-handed branding didn’t go unnoticed either. References to German conquest were in bad taste, Namibia’s only German newspaper cried. Its own origins seemingly forgotten. The Third Reich; that’s where imperial nostalgia drew a line—apparently. Fears of the Südwester Lied being drowned out by heretic anthems were growing. “Blitzkrieg”, however, the bar’s owner assured the public, paid homage to a Metallica song and not to the titanic military force. Decorative gas masks and steel helmets, sent the odd cough-cloaked “bullshit” into clenched fists. Blitzkrieg—almost seamlessly—blended into the conglomerate of colonial vestiges in the capital’s centre. Even the signage did relatively little to betray it—it could best be described as a metal take on “folksy”.
Up until the bunker’s doors opened, only my bedroom had borne witness to my headbanging and mimed shredding. That is, unless my mother was hanging up the washing. I appreciated her turning a blind eye to the post-pubescent angst on display in the curtainless window. At least, that’s what I always assumed she did.
While metal’s meek insurgence barely saw the light of day, Namibia’s popular music scene was embroiled in an escalating rivalry between the country’s two most celebrated Kwaito artists—both crowned, neither dethroned. Gazza had established GMP; The Dogg, Mshasho. Record labels became pledges of allegiance. So infallible were loyalties that taxi drivers brandishing their fidelity were risking customer retaliation. On Blitzkrieg boulevard, taxis were constantly stopping to pick up and drop off customers; hooting all the while to try and drum up new business. I wouldn’t be surprised if this stop-start procession was intensified by conflicting musical loyalties. Clients lost and cabs missed. Until the night rode in. Traffic dwindled. Expectant hoots lost their audience. And with dwindling traffic came the shadows. On a street that had relatively little nocturnal appeal, the abyss was beckoning.
Despite its sanctuary, the music often felt at odds with the place and people. Maybe less so in the beginning, when I’d eased myself into Pantera’s The Great Southern Trendkill. The familiarity of groove-laden aggression from Texas was unsettling. I still struggle to articulate it. From movies and TV shows, I knew that Texas was also kind of dry. It wasn’t much, but even the album cover bore some resemblance to the Khomas Highlands. If you squinted hard enough the rattlesnake could be a puff adder. I was quickly sold on the idea of community. How easy it was for people to rally under the banner of an “acquired taste”.
Far too easy at times.
Pantera’s Confederate-emblazoned merch was all the invitation white nationalism needed. If you squinted hard enough, that star-spangled cross might wash into shades of orange, white, and blue. Or black, white, and red perhaps.
Afrikaner and German infatuation with the New Wave of American heavy metal also gave rise to some phonetic phenomena. Swings at a Murican drawl ranged from complete misses to near-hits. Usually, the former and never quite out of the park. Amusing and puzzling, because if any two languages matched metal’s often guttural profile—Rerig!
This also coincided with 9/11 and the subsequent wave of reinvigorated American patriotism that spilled into the empire well beyond US borders. That very day, P.O.D.’s fourth studio album was released and songs like “Youth of the Nation” gripped Americana airwaves, not only becoming a Nu Metal staple, but also representative of the perceived resolve of Western institutions—quite ironically, since the song was inspired by a school shooting in California.
Whiteness’s affection for the music was blinding. Often terrifying. But rarely questioned. Germany’s colonial backwaters had effectively retained some Nazi sympathy, and few bands invoked these as much as Rammstein. Pyrotechnics, German enunciation, and rolling ‘r’s were all the invitations they needed. By an antifascist sextet, no less. Confused and contradictory politics were almost characteristic of not just Namibia’s metal scene, but metal fandom at large. While fascism was allowed little room to flourish, a settler community’s own warm embrace of the music left little hope for introspection.
Metal in its variable arrangements had found it difficult breaking through the wall of popular music as it was, but Namibia presented a unique challenge. A small population that overwhelmingly subscribed to Christian beliefs was not going to surrender its ears easily to a music littered with blasphemy. Inverted crosses and pentagrams graced the odd album cover, while the number “666” made quite a few lyrical cameos. Its sonic expression wasn’t much less offensive than the imagery, with metal’s famously harsh vocal performances realising God-fearing listeners’ ideas of demonic speech. On the eve of the millenium, though, the music approached the frontlines of popularity to break away from inhibitive stereotypes. Its feigned surrender, while effective, came at a price. The manoeuvre irreparably divided the ranks. Nu metal was the Trojan horse that infiltrated the pop fortress. Bands like Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, and Papa Roach watered down the cacophony and pagan thematics enough to invite the metal music phobic listener in while still attacking the viscera, something that appealed to metal sensibilities. Turntables and rapped verses were unforgivable to many. Metal purists were appalled. Disgusted. For a society like ours, and someone like me, that’s what it took to finally overwhelm indoctrinated inhibitions.
But for most of us, metal merely offered reprieve. Reprieve from family, from society. Reprieve from dogma, from convention.
Reprieve from anger.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of Slipknot slowly strangling Simply Red through the wall of my brother’s adjoining bedroom. But it did a good job diverting the quelling anger within our household passed from one family member to the next. Endlessly. Until it was brought to a halt by a hand with index finger and pinkie pointing to the heavens. It signalled the start of my brother’s journey. I wasn’t far behind. To put it in Dantean terms, he might have been a circle or two ahead of me.
But I quickly caught on and up, realising that there was something oddly cathartic about listening to a clown rhythmically beat the shit out of a barrel with a baseball bat, surrounded by eight other masked maniacs, reciting anarchy in Drop D. As far as live performances in music videos went, “Wait And Bleed” was only ever matched by Zack de la Rocha and Co. raging against empire in a packed concert venue.
Thursdays turned into a ritual for me. As the clock struck midnight, Headbanger’s Ball delivered my weekly dose of metal-heavy visuals. The scheduling of the programme didn’t help erode the sacrilege. Right in the witching hour; in winter, daylight savings time eased some fears, but apart from the length of my pyjamas, very little else changed. Cross-legged and perched on a square black leather bean bag, I bobbed the night away in front of an almost muted television so as to not to risk my mother’s reprehension. It was a school night after all.
Seemingly insignificant acts of defiance were the elixir of any metalhead’s existential gauntlet. Not interlocking fingers during prayer in church was the height of callousness, according to my father. I spared him, though. Infiltrating Lutheranism with ears tainted by Lucifer was enough for me. Smirking, I simply mouthed the lyrics to “Here Come the Butchers” during The Lord’s Prayer. “Fold your hands!” he used to hiss at my brother through gritted teeth, who was far more prepared to openly challenge my father’s indoctrination— which was as fickle as our family’s church attendance. We usually only crossed the threshold on major Christian holidays. A reluctant majority in tow; coerced into sanctimony.
Windhoek was not an easy place to procure metal music. What the local music stores had on offer would have sent any purist running for the hills. Burning my brother’s CDs only did half the job. Especially once our metal trajectories started diverging and my metallurgy quickly turned obsessive. I was given some fairly tired-looking Sentenced albums and Napalm Death’s Harmony Corruption by a stock receiver at the camping store where I worked during the December holidays. Neither ever managed to become anything but collectables in my ears.
With my holiday earnings I managed to lay my hands on monthly issues of Rock Sound Magazine which curated metal content and the ever-present sample CD stuck to the magazine’s rear cover. Was the church aware of this? I guess having My Chemical Romance grace the front page was enough to feign sanctimony. Boy, was I grateful.
Keywords were all I needed to embark on a Yahoo-powered search once our dial-up connection became stable enough. Blast beats. Breakdowns. Bagpipes. Bombast. Beauty. Brutality. Everything worked and nothing felt adrift. Before I knew it, I had a genealogy of subgenres unfolding in my mind. A pity Sam Dunn beat me to it with A Headbanger’s Journey.
Bobo, Olli, and I used to enter the Bunker’s hallowed halls with an arsenal of song requests, which the shaggy-haired bartender rarely denied. Their collection of MP3s effortlessly held its own against the sundry demands of cacophonous connoisseurs. On a weekday, Blitzkrieg was usually pretty empty, which was ideal if you didn’t want to compete for the only pool table. It was the centrepiece in one of the two rooms that flanked the modest bar. It took up most of the room lined with metal memorabilia. Once you’d descended the bunker’s stairs, very little room was left for anything but metal. Conversations were laden with musical discoveries, band dynamics, or just plain shared appreciation for a song someone had just requested.
“Did you know that Alexi Laiho was 18 years old when Something Wild came out?” Bobo once dropped into the round.
Olli and I responded with a chorus of “What??”
“Holy shit! That’s why they called him ‘Wild Child’.”
Tucking my lip under my incisors, I quickly joined in the closing riffage of Ensiferum’s Little Dreamer on my pool stick.
“It’s just a phase,” my sister’s boyfriend once smugly assured my parents. Even though no one had asked. Perhaps it comforted my father. He must’ve been referring to my taste in music, my long hair and earring, or my embracing of the metal aesthetic that was tempered by a reluctance to wear black clothes and closed shoes in a place where temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius in summer. And God forbid I test my parents’ resolve by suggesting I get a tattoo. The etching doesn’t need to be visible, I kept telling myself. I was drawn to comfort. Comfort in nonconformity. The comfort of letting confined spaces collapse in anger that wasn’t familiar.
Restrictive space and the Windhoek CBD’s hefty rent eventually forced Blitzkrieg to relocate to an industrial complex on the city’s periphery, where Namibia’s metal scene ultimately culminated, albeit briefly. Considering its relatively short lifespan and its influence, the bar lived up to its name. Despite its own ephemerality, Blitzkrieg’s former patrons still happily return to the perennial comfort of the music that summoned it.
Frowin Becker is a researcher and writer, whose creative writing has previously appeared in Doek! and Isele Magazine. His popular writing has also been featured in The Conversation Africa and Mongabay. Frowin was shortlisted for the inaugural Bank Windhoek Literary Awards’ nonfiction category.