Malaysia: Black metal music under attack



Black metal music under attack

Malaysian authorities see the music as part of “black metal cult”

By Meredith Holmgren

Malaysian authorities are once again targeting black metal as a source of satanic cult rituals. On 5 October 2005, Malaysian officials announced an investigation of “heavy metal cult” members, who they believe “practice animal sacrifices and destroy religious texts including the Koran” (AP, 6 October 2005). Many believe that this cult uses heavy metal music to recruit new members.

This is not the first time that this “heavy metal cult” as been under attack in Malaysia. In 2001 — the year this cult was “discovered” — the government banned heavy metal from state-controlled radio and television stations, detained people suspected of listening to black metal, and raided shops selling black metal music and paraphernalia (The Star, 25 July 2001). Permits for metal concerts were not given, or revoked, and gigs were routinely raided. During this time, the government started requiring video reviews of all foreign groups wishing to play in Malaysia. Many foreign artists were barred from performing in the country, including Megadeth, who were threatened with arrest (website 1).

Additionally, this caused problems for music labels attempting to ship merchandise in/out of Malaysia. DemonZend, a prominent independent label based in Malaysia, reportedly lost “5,000 US dollars due to customs confiscation” (2), and Bilharzia, a local metal band, said that they were placed under surveillance, resulting in an inability to receive mail from outside of Malaysia if it related to their music/scene (3).

Although Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Norian Mai stated that “black metal cult” activities were more social than criminal (The Star, 22 July 2001), it still warranted cabinet discussion by the federal government of Malaysia. One Malaysian state, Negri Sembilan, went as far as to officially outlaw heavy metal music, declaring it haram.

Some school officials undertook efforts to strip search their students to “check for tattoos, crucifixes worn upside-down or other alleged signs of belonging to the ‘Black Metal’ cult”. Many of these students, who were subsequently detained, were required to undergo treatment which included counselling, rehabilitation and ingestion of an herbal medicine — administered by a private drug company — to “stimulate thinking” (BBC, 13 August 2001).

Political motivations
Tan Sooi Beng, a Malaysian scholar and ethnomusicologist, explains that “heavy metal is a reaction to various forms of authority, and to sermonizing, and control in music and social life… Dancing and listening to loud music are forms of catharsis where teenagers can engage in emotions denied in daily life” (Dissonant Voices, 2002). Managing Director of DemonZend, Joseph Prabagar, says “we are just a bunch of guys enjoying loud music and all the euphoria of Satanism was politically motivated to start of in the first place” (2).

Tan Sooi Beng echoes these sentiments, noting, “the crackdown on black metal occurred at a time when the country was experiencing economic downturn and political turmoil… Academics and opposition leaders say that the anti-black metal operations were part of the crackdown on political opposition and discontent with Prime Minister, Mathathir Mohamad’s administration” (Dissonant Voices, 2002).

Article 19 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to hold an opinion without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas.” In Malaysia, Article 10 of the Federal Constitution states, “every citizen has the right to freedom of expression and speech.” But despite these guidelines, CNN reported, “Mahathir has said he will not allow Malaysia to be ruined by freedom of speech” (CNN, 3 August 2001).

Haven’t things changed in the last few years? After the initial government backlash, things did eventually die down; and in the years that followed, the black metal scene cautiously re-emerged. In 2004, Prabagar told that “things have been rather smooth sailing so far since late 2003” — at which time there had been a change in Prime Ministers, from Mathathir Mohamad to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. On 13 February 2004, The Asian Wall Street Journal published an article titled “Arts: A Breath of Fresh Air — Will Malaysia’s New Leadership Loosen the Hold Over the Arts?” which speculated that various artistic youth cultures had recently been given more freedom than usual.

But now in October 2005, officials are once again claiming that black metal music is a part of satanic rituals carried out by members of the occult. These cult members, “who dress all in black and wear eyeliner,” are accused of hanging out in shopping malls to recruit young people. This alleged activity, now suspected to be lead by a foreigner, has recently prompted officials to place “undercover officers to monitor the situation” (AP, 5 October 2005).

Articles and resources referred to in this article:

AP, 5 October, 2005:
‘Malaysia probing revival of satanic cult’

On WorldWide Religious News


The Star, 5 October, 2005:
‘Satanic cult may be back again’

The Star, 22 July, 2001:

‘IGP: Cult’s activities more social than criminal’

BBC, 13 August 2001:

‘Herbal cure for Malaysian metal fans’

Tan Sooi Beng:
Paper presented at the International Conference on Media Practice and Performance Across Cultures, University of Wisconsin-Madison, March 14-17, 2002

‘Dissonant Voices: Contesting Control through Alternative Media in Malaysia’

CNN, 3 August, 2001:

‘Malaysian state bans ‘black metal’ music’

The Asian Wall Street Journal, 13 February, 2004:

‘Will Malaysia’s New Leadership Loosen the Hold Over the Arts’

Website references:


More on Heavy Metal in Malaysia:

Azmyl Md Yusof and Mr Srikumar Ramayan:
Abstract from the paper ‘The Black Metal Subculture Among Malaysian Youth: Its Effects and the Role of Media’

The International Free Anwar Campaign:
‘Malaysian students strip-searched over ‘black metal cult’ alert’

‘Mentharas – Malaysian Extreme Music Portal’ – site featuring Malaysian metal bands



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