BY COLE NOWLIN I love H&M. As someone who has been financially enfeebled by my compulsive expenditure of large swaths of my meager income to clothing I do not need, H&M is the perfect place to load up on unnecessary-but-desirable jackets and jeans on the cheap. In this year’s Coachella collection, the Swedish outfitters featured a number of heavy metal-inspired items. I’ve always been less the Slayer T-shirt type and more of a burgundy micro-check button-down guy, so I didn’t take much notice to this metal segment of the new line. That is until the Internet starting rumbling about possibly one of the biggest marketing boners in recent memory.
Even those who aren’t the least bit familiar with the metal genre are sure to know bands like Guns N’ Roses, Metallica and Slayer, and probably have seen at a least a few snarls walking around in their band apparel. But not too many people have heard of bands like LANY (below, right), MORTUS (below, left), or THE ONE — which currently have their logos emblazoned on H&M’s jackets and T-shirts. In fact, exactly nobody had heard of them before the news broke of the H&M metal line. That’s because, as it turns out, they don’t exist, they are literally made up out of whole cloth.
Making up fake brands or entities to put on T-shirts is by no means new or unprecedented. Think of all those abysmal Abercrombie and Hollister graphic tees that insist they are property of some mythical athletic department. The fact that the bands featured on H&M’s apparel were inauthentic surprised no one, but the lengths that H&M appeared to be going to to conceal this fact did. Enter Strong Scene Productions, a shadowy production company/record label. Shortly after the H&M clothing line was released, there was a post on Strong Scene Productions’ official Facebook page applauding H&M for digging deep into the metal scene to feature some of the bands on their label. To mark this auspicious occasion, Strong Scene announced a compilation of music from these super-obscure underground bands featured in the H&M line, such as LANY (pictured, right) and MORTUS (pictured, below left). There is just one problem: Strong Scene Productions is also fake. Strong Scene claims to be founded in 1999 on their Facebook page, yet there are no posts created beyond a week ago.
The metal blogs were up in arms, nobody had ever heard of any of these bands or Strong Scene Productions — and these are the people that know their metal. There was much goatee-stroking and hue and cry about the WTF of it all, but the prevailing theory speculated that Strong Scene, the bands, and the music are all part of an elaborate Potemkin village constructed by H&M to promote their new spring line. But why these bands? At least two of of the groups had profiles linking them to the NSBM (National Socialist Black Metal), a Nazi-friendly metal subgenre. Nazi associations? This is good for H&M how again? Another H&M metal band’s bio declared: “The purpose of Mortus is to serve the almighty Sathanas and spread the black semen of the holy goat onto all lands.” If there was any justice in this world, that would become H&M’s new corporate slogan. Something like: H&M, SERVING SATAN AND SPREADING THE BLACK SEMEN OF THE HOLY GOAT ONTO ALL LANDS SINCE 1947.
None of this was making any sense, so Phawker went to the H&M on Chestnut Street to investigate. After choosing two pairs of jeans from the rack that I never planned to actually try on, I asked the two H&M employees overseeing the fitting room if they knew anything about this metal T-shirt hoax. Neither had any idea of what I was talking about. The girl who was on jean-folding duty was similarly in the dark, as was the cashier. Thoroughly discouraged, I left H&M no more wiser than when I went in, empty handed save for a $7 sweater and a pair of joggers I did not need.
By the time I got home, the Internet already had it all figured out. Turns out Strong Scene is the brainchild of Henri Sorvali, a Finnish keyboardist who plays in real metal bands called Moonsorrow and Finntroll. Sorvali says he created the fake label and fake band profiles to ding H&M for putting out clothing with the logos of fake metal bands when there are plenty of great actually-exist metal bands laboring in obscurity, including his. He released the following statement on Facebook:
We have never stated to collaborate with H&M in any way but only to create pieces of music inspired by their new spring collection. It was you all who read something which you didn´t care to understand. And unfortunately people twisted and misunderstood it badly. We are not a label, but a one- time improvised, collective art project in the vein of Spinal Tap, Monty Python and the Yes Men with no intentions on anything except for art. The whole project was to show that not all metal music is what you hear in commercial forms, and different subgenres exist even within metal music.
So let me get this straight, to bring attention to the fact that there are many obscure metal bands worthy of people’s attention Sorvali cooks up a media hoax that doesn’t include any actual obscure metal bands that are worthy of people’s attention? I’m all for pranking corporations to make some point about mindless consumerism, but there’s no there there here. The key word in that last sentence is point, and, allowing for the fact that it might have gotten lost in translation, I don’t see one here. Just a lot of Sturm und Drang signifying nothing. I feel like metal has worked hard for many years to change its clownish-music-for-moronic-people image and has made significant inroads into the realm of respectability and this whole faux-fashion metal hoax just feels like a giant setback, kind of like how I felt when those cops got shot in Ferguson and all that hard-won justice and reform and shift in public opinion was undone by a brief moment of idiocy. Still, having said all that, none of this changes this immutable truth: Moonsorrow is fucking awesome name for a metal band. Hail Satan!