From the mailbag:
I just had a rather unfortunate epiphany: after watching a few episodes of Spawn: The Animated Series, which allowed my sensibilities to become firmly engulfed by early/mid-90s aesthetic grimness, I decided, naturally, to continue along the same path and give Cause of Death a listen, followed by Spiritual Healing. Something about the nostalgia, or rather the temporary transportation to another time, in which everything from the music to the imagery (in regard to both lyrics and album artwork), rang true and made the experience that much more impactful, as a result of not only the sonic brilliance, but the context in which it was conceived. Feeling myself begin to weep for the state of modern metal (a lament to which I’m sure you’re no stranger), I then put on Epitome of Darkness, as it, in my mind, represents a genuine return to Swedeath form in the age of inconsequential copycat and/or hybrid genres, and typically provides at least temporary relief from the subcultural nihilism. Yet it did very little for me, especially when compared to the transformative genius of Death and Obituary, as it lacked that sense of earnest vision found within the aforementioned albums. So I was wondering if there are any relatively new bands and/or emerging styles or scenes that you find genuinely original? And, more importantly, do you think metal, mainstream or underground, has any place, aside from a parade of pitiful sentimentality, in today’s culture?
This was my response:
Let me take these questions in backward order.
Is underground metal or metal in general still relevant? — yes, mainly because it expresses an eternal idea, which is the importance of power/beauty of a situation over individual drama. Metal is anti-individualist, as reality itself is; hence our celebration of death, destruction and other factors bigger than the individual. The problem with metal’s relevance is that many of the newer listeners have grown up on state-, media- and commerce-supported propaganda and so have no idea of a world outside the self. They are perfect consumers and little egomaniacs.
Emerging styles, scenes or new bands of inspiration? — there are some newer bands of note, but not too many; most of the ones on the list (http://www.examiner.com/metal-music-in-houston/best-metal-of-2011) are older bands brought back in new form. I think that some have found new ways to take the old ideas, for example Beherit or Blaspherian. My thought is that good music out there exists in potential form, but musicians have no idea how to form a movement, express ideas, or even what ideas to choose. Metal is either stranded in imitating the past or in imitating indie, and neither is a new direction so it confuses musicians. Further, the preponderance of bad metal getting good press is driving away talented musicians. When you see all the magazines in a genre praising utter crap, you hit the road, because you know that your best efforts would be ignored in that genre.
Originality. — I’m not sure this is important. Coming from the world of classical music, nothing seems original; it takes known techniques and develops along those lines to the point of exclusivity. For example, syncopation and pentatonic scales have never been unknown to classical, but were seen as appropriate only at particular times in larger pieces. Is it original to use them to exclusivity? In the same way, Plato touches on every topic of philosophy in his writings. When we tackle any one of those, in depth, we’re not being original but getting more in depth. What matters more than originality, then, is truthfulness meaning “does this represent useful ways of understanding the world.” To my mind, the best of death metal helps us perceive this world more clearly and to construct a spirit for enjoying it as it is. I’m thinking of Demigod here, but the first few albums from Death or Obituary would work as well.
I like your observations on the state of metal and hope you take them further. We need more people to point out that the Emperor has no new clothes, and that we need instead to put our focus on quality and intensity so that newer metal of power can grow out of the community.
There are two views of history; one is the linear view (we evolve steadily toward higher levels) and the other is the cyclic view, which states that similar approaches in evolution beget similar results, and that individuals and populations tend to go through “cycles” as they discover these truths, until they stick and no longer need discovery. This approximates learning itself, in my view.
In the linear view of history, metal is evolving toward a higher state.
In the cyclic view of history, metal has lost a higher state and is stumbling through error until it rediscovers the value of a higher state and starts making moves in that direction.
Which is it?