Sadistic Metal Reviews: 10-23-2016

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Humans and metal bands are self-replenishing resources. There are always more to burn!

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Interview: Jon Konrath (writer)

What does it mean for you, to be a writer? Do you consider yourself in this position?

It’s a tough call – I mean, I put the profession of writer on my tax return, and that’s what I do for a living. But I think a lot of people expect a writer to be something different, some kind of Stephen King character, or a celebrity that publishes millions of books and appears on Charlie Rose and stuff. I’m far from that, because I really avoid the classes and readings and events – I’m not interested in the business of publishing or books, and I find most writers to be far too aggressive and egotistical. Most of my coworkers don’t even know that I write books. My parents don’t even know I write books. Writing in this day and age is considered strange, but I see it as a necessary evil.

What has been different about writing your second book than the writing of the first?

Summer Rain, my first book, was very linear. It was based on reality, and it followed an outline that I carefully managed. There were things that completely didn’t happen, but much of it could have occured during your typical summer on campus in 1992.

Rumored to Exist, on the other hand, is completely random. It’s the literary equivalent of Kentucky Fried Movie, a bunch of pieces put together to form feeling, terror and energy rather than emotion. It involves a lot more research, reading stuff to get ideas for bits and pieces. And a lot more stuff comes to me spontaneously, and ends up on scraps of paper and backs of envelopes before it is developed further. It’s not about character development and fleshing out a huge outline like Summer Rain. It’s a lot more the way I like to write, and it’s closer to my voice. But it’s much harder to do. The two are very different.

Both of your books have been print-on-demand, and you’ve been doing web-based writing for over a decade. Do you use these technologies to avoid conventional publishers, or do they have other advantages?

iUniverse and print-on-demand happened at the perfect time, just as I finished a draft of Summer Rain and really wanted to print a few hundred copies for fans and maybe to sell online. I looked at printing companies that could do 500 or 1000 books for several thousand dollars, and didn’t have any way to put that much into a book. And I was certain publishers weren’t going to even answer my mail if I sent them a thousand-page coming-of-age tale set in Indiana. Then I found iUniverse, and within six months, had this first novel sitting on my shelf and sitting on Amazon and other stores ready for purchase.

PoD is really analogous to the web’s model of letting anyone publish. When I first did zines online, I was able to avoid dealing with jerkoffs at Hit Parader or Metal Edge and write my own reviews for anyone to see. Later, I wrote fiction, and did a literary zine called Air in the Paragraph Line without dealing with any of the pretentious people that usually run small literary journals. Print-on-demand let me take the same style of writing and move it to paper without dealing with the logistical problems of storing a bunch of paper copies, going to the post office every day, cashing rubber checks for $3, and so on.

With Rumored, the decision for iUniverse was a tough one, because I really wanted to find a publisher. But I know a lot of former publishers here in New York that are begging for spare change, and nobody’s doing anything adventurous now that the entire economy is collapsing. And I didn’t want to deal with a bunch of agents or publishers that would look down their nose at a book that advocated sex with sheep and spends page after page talking about the Satanic anti-Christian holocaust or whatever. Also, I just wanted it DONE, and in paper. So it’s out now, and I’m sure it will sell less copies, but it’s out and I didn’t have to deal with anybody to print it.

Do you do any graphical or layout design besides what’s on the book? if so, which do you think will be more important as a stressed aspect of any new design, during the next two decades: perspective, color contrast, impact fonts or religious icons?

I do a limited amount of web page work, and I do some layout stuff for my day job, but it’s not my specialty. I’ve also been experimenting with some fake porn stuff lately, putting people’s heads on naked people’s bodies – I think this is one of the most underrated art forms out there.

I think perspective has the most subliminal impact on any layout, at least the ratio of everything in the layout. The golden ratio has always been a strange constant in nature and in classic art, and it’s amazing that you can still see it in most modern movies. I had an old roommate doing a thesis on the films of Stanley Kubrick and the use of the golden number in how he framed his shots and arranged some stuff during editing. I thought it was total bullshit, and then he brought me to The Shining in a big-screen movie theatre, and every fucking shot was perfectly framed that way. I did a lot of reading about film a few years back and I realized that every aspect of film editing has to do with this – make a plane come into a shot one way and it’s beautiful, but the other way is threatening. I think the way people are drawn to a web page, to a subway ad – it’s the biggest aspect of anything.

Color contrast – that’s a fad. In a few years, it will be something else. My mom used to be an interior decorator, and used to go to these big conventions and they would basically say “this will be the next color”. One year, she came home and told us that small appliances and electronics would be coming out in pastel colors, and I thought she was smoking crack. Next Christmas, every store was selling pink jamboxes and baby blue telephones. Much later, we had the iMac and all of the clear plastic, clear color stuff. Who knows what will be next.

It’s weird that you say religious icons, because I don’t see them in ads much, but then think of what icons have replaced religious ones in our culture: Coca-Cola, Microsoft, AOL, Britney Spears, MTV. You see Pepsi billboards more than you’d see large crosses in towns a hundred years ago. The Nike swoosh is probably more recognizable than the crucifix. And there are billboards with just that swoosh. Not a picture of the shoe, not a description of how much it costs or what its value is over other shoes. Just the fucking swoosh, and maybe a slogan that sounds more like a self-help mantra. I’ve never created any layout that has to do with that, but seeing as I spend a lot of time on the subway, I see it constantly.

When you describe the writing of Summer Rain, is this close to the William S Burroughs cutup technique, or that of oral literature? How similar do you suppose this process is to the means by which death metal bands compose technical masterpieces by collecting riffs and shaping them recombinantly into narrative?

It’s funny you should mention that, because I’ve been talking to Ray Miller (creator of Metal Curse zine and the death metal band Adversary) about how he should start writing a book. He worked for years in an indie record store, and every shift there was some strange, weird story. It could be like that book High Fidelity, but much more underground or strange. And in talking to him about how to get started, I mentioned the analogy of a death metal band creating an album. Instead of starting at page one and telling the story, sometimes it’s helpful to write these “riffs” and collect them, and later put them in place, like how you’d write songs. Rumored to Exist happened very much like that. So did Summer Rain, but it’s much less apparent because it’s a linear story. Rumored prospered from this lack of concentration on my part. It also made things much more difficult to edit.

And from what I’ve heard, that’s how Burroughs got Naked Lunch together, as opposed to the Kerouac straight-narrative, typing on rolls of paper approach, which would drive me nuts.

Do you find that being a writer makes you more prone to socialize, or more paranoid?

I wouldn’t say I’m paranoid, but I’m not a social diva, either. I’ve generally kept to myself, partially because I spend a lot of my time chained to the computer, but also because there aren’t many social outlets for writers that aren’t swimming with writers that have severe ego problems. I don’t like classes or workshops because I usually end up getting in fistfights with diva writers who think they are the next Michael Crichton or something. That said, New York is a decent place to be as a writer, especially if you work the corporate office environment. I know a lot of people who are aspiring actors, or long-time musicians, or occasional standup comedians, or wannabe screenwriters, or part-time directors, or something. So there can sometimes be some support from these people, so that’s cool. But most of the time, I socialize and don’t talk about the book, because I don’t want to be like those Amway people, always trying to push their product on everyone.

When you sit down to write, do you have an outline in front of you or in your head? how much of your work is improvisational? how many times do you edit and, what intoxicants are required to begin the editing process?

It depends on the book, of course. My first one, Summer Rain, was very outlined and regimented – I had to plan out with a calendar what would happen and I vaguely followed what really happened to me that year. But Rumored was more like playing with legos, because of the nonlinear format. At first, I simply wrote bits and pieces that gelled into segments. Later, I had a lot of trouble balancing this out – some things were a line long, others were the size of a short story. So I had to do a certain amount of planning on paper to balance things, move things around, and give the whole thing a feeling of continuity.

Most of Rumored was born from ideas I’d get anywhere – while in the shower, while reading a book, a web page, watching a movie. I wrote ideas, phrases, bits of dialog on scraps of paper, notepads, spiral notebooks, and in a slush file in emacs. Bits and pieces got moved around, and improv had a large amount to do with how to place those ideas and actually turn them into readable pieces of text. My best writing was when an idea came to mind and had enough inertia to pull out a very energetic piece without much thought. When I had a good night, it was much more like channeling than actual writing.

Of course, this left a very fucked up and uneven manuscript that required a lot of editing. And edits actually rewrote the entire book several times over. There were seven major versions of the book, with each one comprising of sometimes more than a dozen paper edits. Even with this, I know there are still mistakes in there. But the other problem with a book like this is that it’s hard to say when it’s done. I can’t just say, “the good guy beat the bad guy and got the princess, so I guess it’s done.” It took a lot of work just to put the fucking thing down and concede that it wouldn’t get any better.

As far as substances, the drug for this trip was caffiene, with some ephedrine thrown in for good measure. Anything else would slow me down or change the tone. I still don’t see how Bukowski or Hemingway or whoever could load up on booze and write. And I’m not into any other drugs. I even quit caffeiene during the final editing of the book, and it made the work in the last stretch twice as hard.

Who are your favorite postmodern writers?

I’ve always thought the phrase “postmodern” was too vague and gimmicky in categorizing writers, kindof like how “open standard” in the computer world doesn’t really describe anything. But I guess Mark Leyner would be at the top of the heap, and Raymond Federman. I’ve read a lot of Burroughs, although I like the story of his life more than I like his actual work. Naked Lunch is a landmark book, but I’d rather read interviews with WSB where he’s rambling on about Mayans and Yage and Control and everything else. His theories are incredible, and I wish I could live a life a percent as interesting as his.

Do you believe that postmodernism – the concept of linear rationality being dead and supplanted with the world of subconscious imagery – in literature has place, or is merely a deviation soon to be forgotten by history?

I think it has more of a place than people realize, now that everyone’s using the web, and that’s the biggest mess of nonlinear shit out there. It’s only a matter of time before people write good nonlinear books of pieces of imagery cataloged by link instead of linear pages, and people will be able to parse it perfectly. I don’t think that the human mind thinks in a straghtforward way, and it’s just a limitation of technology that presents literature in a straightforward way. If they ever start injecting works of art into peoples’ brains like a drug, the linear story will be the one that is forgotten by history.

Some people claim to remember stories and ideas visually, like William Gibson’s concept of cyberspace, but others describe a non- linear structural memory. Is this because events, actions, objects have internal mechanisms that describe their function in a unified external reality, or because of our tendency to associate ideas with other ideas for the purposes of contexting?

The original concept of Rumored to Exist was that each section would be a part of a person’s brain or memory, and at that time, I did a lot of reading and research on human memory to see if this was true or if I was just making it up. And human memory isn’t linear, it is organized chronologically or in neat pieces like an MP3 library or something. It’s easy to see when you look at stroke victims, and how they selectively remember things, but because other organic parts of their brain were destroyed, other parts are gone. So after a stroke, you might not remember how to speak, or butter a piece of bread, or operate a microwave oven. And it’s sometimes possible for these people to re-learn these skills using free memory in other parts of the brain. That makes me think the mind is more like a hard drive with a bunch of loose inodes and a file allocation table, and the importance or relevance of different things determines how well that information is kept. That’s why you can’t remember the songs a band played at a show, but you remember the way the beer tasted.

To answer your question, I think this is a feature and limitation of our organic brain. I think the way we group disparate parts and pieces of our external reality into events and stories and nightmares and memories is how the software works for this hardware.

But it was a particularly unlucky star for the Italian painters of genius in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that, in the narrow sphere to which they were arbitrarily referred for the choice of subjects, they had to resort to miserable wretches of every kind. For the New Testament, as regards its historical part, is almost more unfavourable to painting than is the Old, and the subsequent history of martyrs and doctors of the Church is a very unfortunate subject. Yet we have to distinguish very carefully between those pictures whose subject is the historical or mythological one of Judaism and Christianity, and those in which the real, i.e., the ethical, spirit of Christianity is revealed for perception by the presentation of persons full of this spirit. These presentations are in fact the highest and most admirable achievements of the art of painting, and only the greatest masters of this art succeeded in producing them, in particular Raphael and Correggio, the latter especially in his earlier pictures. Paintings of this kind are really not to be numbered among the historical, for often they do not depict any event or action, but are mere groups of saints with the Saviour himself, often still as a child with his mother, angels, and so on. In their countenances, especially in their eyes, we see the expression, the reflection, of the most perfect knowledge, that knowledge namely which is not directed to particular things, but which has fully grasped the Ideas, and hence the whole inner nature of the world and of life. This knowledge in them, reacting on the will, does not, like that other knowledge, furnish motives for the will, but on the contrary has become a quieter of all willing. From this has resulted perfect resignation, which is the innermost spirit of Christianity as of Indian wisdom, the giving up of all willing, turning back, abolition of the will and with it of the whole inner being of this world, and hence salvation. Therefore, those eternally praiseworthy masters of art expressed the highest wisdom perceptibly in their works. Here is the summit of all art that has followed the will in its adequate objectivity, namely in the Ideas, through all the grades, from the lowest where it is affected, and its nature is unfolded, by causes, then where it is similarly affected by stimuli, and finally by motives. And now art ends by presenting the free self-abolition of the will through the one great quieter that dawns on it from the most perfect keowledge of its own nature.

– Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation

If there is an afterlife, what do you think it would be?

I don’t think there is an afterlife, so I try not to speculate about it. I think the afterlife is the carrot on a stick that leads the religious to do really stupid things and waste their lives. People should stop thinking they are one of the chosen few that will go on to a better place and actually do something with their lives that will make this world a better place.

Are you following the growing penetration of drugs into American society? From where do you think this originates? What is the significance of drugs – altered perception – in the time after perception was considered inherently faulty?

Let me hijack this question and answer it in a different order. First, drugs are omnipresent in American society because any highly industrialized nation doesn’t utilize its population efficiently. Back in the old days, people spent all of their cycles hunting game, planting gardens, making quilts, raising babies, building log cabins, and tending fires because they had to, to survive. There wasn’t much leisure time, and it was used by religion. There was little free will – you either hauled water from the well a mile away, or you died. Humanity doesn’t always have things easy now, but it’s not hard to get an easy job at McDonalds or a factory, pay your rent, never break a sweat, and have 128 of your 168 hours a week free to your own devices.

Now some people use that time in a cool way. They go to school, they create cool web pages, they climb mountains, they work on their car. But many people don’t know what to do with their time. They feel a need to belong, this tribal instinct. They watch sports, they drink beer, they become xenophobic, they develop ulcers, they try to keep up with the Jonses. Most of the ailments of the late 20th century have to do with people who have too much free time on their hands, from corporate corruption to gangs to religion. This isn’t a new theory; even though he is legally considered criminally insane, this is the logic the Unabomber was laying down.

Okay, so you have this straight man’s culture, where you’re expected to buy into the white picket fence thing, and have kids, and buy a sports utility vehicle and play golf. And more and more people think this is a crock of shit. And they get high. They find out that controlled substances make them forget about this void in life. And it might even make then enter a new subculture with other stoners, where these rules don’t exist.

I’m not a drug user, except for the occasional beer with friends, so I don’t know if I really buy either side of it. I’m not the kind of person to hang onto either extreme and consider it right, so I’d rather sit in the middle, or not even participate. I write about drugs a lot, though, because this culture interests me. It’s something that hasn’t been touched in a creative way, something to be explored.

I thought Naked Lunch was pretty creative, but the reams of drug fiction following were mostly social irresponsibility pornography. If you were going to write with drugs as your topic, what might you create?

I think the best way to write about drugs would be to have them an integral part of the story, but not be in the forefront. Drugs are just a chemical; any real story is about humanity, and any compelling story about drugs would have to describe the human condition in a compelling way. Drugs are usually used in a plotline as an evil, or an excuse. Like, a guy robs a bank because he’s on drugs. Occasionally, someone writes about drugs as a catalyst, a conduit to action, like in most crime films where mobsters have a shitload of cocaine and that temporarly reverses things so they are on the heavy side of the law, and there’s no way the cops could win. Think about movies like The French Connection, where these guys with a fuckload of heroin were above the law. That’s about as far as most books and movies really go with it.

I think Hunter S. Thompson did some great work beyond Burroughs in this area, but I also think if he wasn’t taking a drug store full of junk when he was in Las Vegas, he would have written a book just as entertaining as Fear and Loathing. But it’s a book about excesses, and the writing and the search for humanity is what makes it for me.

Do you see writing in this time period as democratic, or elitist?

It’s probably more elitist. Most writing in this country is actually the production of “media” by “media figures” who are pop stars known for their name instead of their craft. It’s nice that technologies like Print on Demand and the Internet are making it easier for anyone with skill to create art, but I don’t see much of a community surrounding this. I’m hoping we’re at a crossroads where the truly intelligent will realize that writing for fame and fortune is futile, and it’s better to write for yourself and put it out there, even if only a dozen people see it on the web or in a zine or whatever. And then those intelligent will congeal and find each others’ work and form an unstoppable movement of real work, rather than the imitation writing that marketers present to us in book stores.

This seems to be the same problem faced by aging death metal bands however. At some point, having a day job to write books or death metal music reviews all night becomes tedious, and one wishes to be supported by the primary labor of life, writing. How does this fit into ideological niche marketing as you describe?

It doesn’t fit, and that’s the catch. You can’t support yourself selling twelve copies of your work a year. And there are other forms of support, like grants or communes, or scholarships, or universities, but they all dilute you into something else just as much as a day job. Like, I went to an art museum once, and there was an exhibit that was a bunch of hay and horse shit on a floor, and a bunch of Macintosh computers showing bitmapped animated pictures of Planet of the Apes. Was that art? I’m not sure. But the grant application that paid for all of that hay and shit was probably incredible art. And if you want to do that all day, and you are good at it, that’s great. But it probably means you aren’t producing art like you originally wanted.

When did you first decide to be a writer? If a role model, what qualified that person as insurmountable by their world?

I’ve always been able to write to a certain extent, but I got more involved with computers as a kid, and during school, so I always thought that was my destiny. I thought I had a book in me, but I was more concerned with learning how to hack and program. I eventually hit a wall in my formal CS training, around the time I also got dumped by this girl I was dating. I was going through a serious “what should I do with my life” phase, and didn’t entirely know what I wanted to do. I’d been working on a few Death Metal zines and I enjoyed the journalism and writing, but didn’t know if I could become a “serious” writer.

So the writers that got me started were guys who were not pretentious, and made it look easy. I liked the spoken word of Henry Rollins, and it got me into writing in a journal every day, and observing things around me. Charles Bukowski made me look at autobiographical fiction and consider it easy. So did Henry Miller, but Bukowski’s work had a certain sense of truth to it, and showed me that it wasn’t what you were writing about as much as how you wrote it. That got me started on short stories, and eventually Summer Rain.

Should writers stay celibate?

Not really, or at least not by choice. Granted, it’s hard to write on a daily basis and maintain any kind of relationship. I can’t write as well when I take off Friday and Saturday to spend time with a girlfriend or cruise around looking for one. Those are the days I write most, so my stretches of not getting any also tend to be when my writing volume increases. But interacting with people is – well, it’s not essential to writing, but it helps.

This seems to me why ancient religions and cultures recommended a studied celibacy for men. It seems that one workaround to this would be a more anti-social culture, where fewer people attempt the emotional interdependency that works well to glue society together like plywood, in which a relationship offered briefer, more passionate encounters with a significant other living in a close but separate location.

Do you see there being any humor in that being hard makes it hard to write?

There are a lot of strange catch-22s in our society like this. For example, most people that teach acting are not good actors, because if they were, they’d be getting parts, not teaching. If you’re teaching any practical field, like business, you can’t be working in that field, unless you are doing a half-ass, part-time consulting job or whatever. Very few people can pull it off, but many don’t, so it makes you wonder how the hell people figure this stuff out.

Writing is the same because writing involves translation of the human element into word. And to be a specialist in the human experience, you’re going to date people and be married, and go to parties, and have a family, and travel all over, and do all of this stuff. But if you did all of this, you wouldn’t be able to write! And I always wonder if my writing would be better or worse if I was hidden away at my ranch in Colorado all year around, where the nearest living person is ten miles away. I also wonder what would happen if I simply went full-tilt wife-hunting and gave up everything to get married and settle down. I wonder if I did that if I would ever write again.

On the other hand, it’s no coincidence that when I’m not in a relationship and I want to be in one, I tend to write more vividly about the situation. Summer Rain was started after a horrible breakup back in college, one that probably wasn’t that horrible at all, but I just couldn’t kick it. That kind of pain gives you motivation to do more, so I can ultimately appreciate the cruel irony of the whole thing.

How do you feel about Christian presence in American politics?

It’s sickening. There’s supposed to be a freedom of religion, and a freedom FROM religion, but look at any piece of American money and tell me that this is nothing except a joke. Christians funnel serious money into American politics, and this won’t change. I wish someone would get in the primaries to have some visibility, and then just get up during a speech and say “If you believe in God, go FUCK yourself.” Until then, we have politicians pandering to these idiots. It’s scary stuff

Do you think psychology as a science is unduly influenced by Judeo-Christian values?

It depends on the brand of psychology. When a lot of people go to a shrink after they get dumped or someone dies or whatever, they usually get this fast-track band-aid treatment that involves spilling out your problems and reassuring you that it will be better, but not actually offering any “reprogramming” or heavy understanding of what possible psycho-somatic issues could be causing your problems. That dovetails nicely with the christian belief that if you have problems, you just pray to Jesus and it will all be better. Both are simply a distraction, and that works for a lot of people, but I’m the kind of guy who wants to know what the hell is really going on. I mean, as a kid, every toy I was given was taken apart as soon as I learned where to dig up a phillips screwdriver. So when I was in high school, college, and I wanted to go to a shrink and really pull apart my head and find what was defective and either comment it out or replace it with a new subroutine, I was always running into these shake-and-bake therapists that just wanted me to tell them what was wrong in sixteen one-hour sessions, maybe give me some pills, and it was better. And it wasn’t!

There’s a smaller, but more focused area of psychology that focuses on finding the basis of problems, realizing that your actions and reactions shape the way you see the world and eventually how well you work with it. This is called NLP, and it’s more analogous to debugging a computer program than praying to Jesus, which is why it’s interested me. It’s also more expensive, harder to find, and takes a much longer time to work through, which is why I’m currently not working on it.

What do you think in the same context as Christian political presence about Muslims? About Jews?

There’s less of a Jewish presence in politics, although you see it here in New York. If anything, it’s refreshing to go from Indiana, which is 107% fundamentalist Christian, to New York City, where there are enough Jews that a fundie probably couldn’t run for office without some flak. I don’t even know much about the Muslim influence, and I’m not up on the Middle East, so I’ll leave it at that.

According to the doctrines of Buddhism, the world came into being as the result of some inexplicable disturbance in the heavenly calm of Nirvana, that blessed state obtained by expiation, which had endured so long a time – the change taking place by a kind of fatality. This explanation must be understood as having at bottom some moral bearing; although it is illustrated by an exactly parallel theory in the domain of physical science, which places the origin of the sun in a primitive streak of mist, formed one knows not how. Subsequently, by a series of moral errors, the world became gradually worse and worse – true of the physical orders as well – until it assumed the dismal aspect it wears today. Excellent! The Greeks looked upon the world and the gods as the work of an inscrutable necessity. A passable explanation: we may be content with it until we can get a better. Again, Ormuzd and Ahriman are rival powers, continually at war. This is not bad. But that a God like Jehovah should have created this world of misery and woe, out of sheer caprice, and because he enjoyed doing it, and should then have clapped his hands in praise of his own work, and declared everything to be very good – this will not do at all! In its explanation of the origin of the world, Judaism is inferior to any other form of religious doctrine professed by a civilized nation; and it is quite in keeping with this that it is the only one which presents no trace whatever of any belief in the immortality of the soul.

– Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Sufferings of the World

It seems to me the only difference between fundamentalist Christians and Jews is that Judaism is a materialistic religion with a racial xenophobia, while Christianity is a pseudo-idealist religion with a xenophobia of abstract orthodoxy. In many ways, that last phrase could describe what happened to European intellectualism, with a few bright exceptions, after Christianity arrived. What are your thoughts on these provocations?

I don’t know. To me, I see the main difference is that Christianity has sought to grow by being a very inclusionary religon. That means if you aren’t Christian, you can always be saved and sign on the dotted line and give us money and all will be well. That’s why if you sat in a bus station in Indianapolis on the average Tuesday, someone is going to try to convert you to Christianity about every twenty minutes. And that’s why Christianity is such a basic, dumbed- down religion, with very little orthodoxy. There aren’t a lot of rules to learn or classes to take (unless you’re Catholic) and you can even get an illustrated kiddie bible to read if the King James is too tough for you. Everyone’s invited, and that’s why their numbers grow.

On the other hand, I see Judaism as a very exclusionary religion. Jewish singles are taught to date only partners who are also Jewish. It’s very hard to convert to Judaism. It’s all protected by a very complicated and orthodox system of language, rules, calendar, holiday, diet, and everything else. But that means it’s kept pure.

I think both methods are inherently wrong, though. Any religion stresses that its members are the chosen one, and that other people are pieces of shit. Otherwise, religion would be universal, and individual churches wouldn’t have a way to make money anymore.

Which would you kick out of bed more quickly, Janet Reno or Keanu Reeves?

I think if you had an amateur porn of yourself fucking Janet Reno, it would be pretty much the ultimate party conversation item. And you know I’d go for the ass, as a little Waco retribution.

Speaking of Waco, what is the function of government?

Good question. I’m far more socialist than liberitarian in that I think the government should provide the functions that a free market economy can’t or won’t provide. In the old model, that’s stuff like roads and healthcare, retirement and men on the moon. There’s also protection and enforcement, from jails to armies. You could argue that any of these things could be done better by private companies, but corporations might not want to do them if there’s no bottom line for them. If a company is paid a billion dollars to build a one billion dollar university, they don’t have any motivation to do it, unless the company is a Christian-run shell corporation that wants to ram religion down the students’ throats, or unless Microsoft wants to build the school and brainwash the kids into using their crap. That’s why in theory a government would get involved – to make sure the alterior motives are decided by the people instead of some marketers.

In my perfect world, peoples’ greed and stupidity wouldn’t come in the way of advancement of society, and government projects like space exploration, computing, scientific research, and healthcare would actually be progressing instead of just being a sick joke. The problem is that people are too greedy, and want to know what’s in it for them. We haven’t found the cure to cancer because the top research scientists are figuring out how to make Sports Utility Vehicles even bigger, because that’s where the money is.

Does this imply that all governmental systems share common functions of both socialist and capitalist behavior? Would it be possible play with words and call socialism “social behavior” governmental theory, and call capitalism simply “competitive behavior” theory? One is implicit centralization; the other abstract. In this view, it might be possible that capitalism is closer to the anti-democratic social ideals I have interpreted from some of your statements above. If competitive rather than capitalism were seen as an American value, how do you think our social outlook might change? Would there be a blurring between the “public fiction” and “private truth” of various economic, social, governmental enterprises?

Socialist socieites also work for a collective goal by the nature of social behavior, but libertarian societies expand social behavior to include as a basic value an indifference to collectivism. Is this true in your view?

It’s true, and I think it’s an inherent flaw of most libertarian systems. For one, I think collectivism is a basic human instinct – one that can be unlearned and avoided – but it’s normal, and something the sheep out there understand. Also, I don’t think everyone can be the center of their universe; I mean, I can’t cook well, I can’t run a nuclear reactor, I don’t want to be the one to clean my septic tank, and I have to rely on doctors, lawyers, grocers, farmers, and many others to survive. A system of collectivism is supposed to provide a method to have those people help each other, while benefitting the most from it. I’m not saying our current system works, but only so many people can vanish from society and hide out in Idaho with their guns and dogs before things fall apart.

Do you believe in conspiracies?

Hell yeah. But I find the myth of conspiracies far more interesting than the conspiracies themselves. I’m writing about them a lot in Rumored, in a very playful and mocking sort of way. I don’t necessarily believe in aliens or whatever, but the Area 51 shit is great. Every society has its own myths and mytholgies, and centuries from now, people are going to be studying the X-Files like we now study Thor and Zeus.

I do seriously believe in a lot of government conspiracy. I seriously think the CIA has its hands in many evil plans, and I know billions of tax dollars go toward creating craft like Aurora, the next-generation hypersonic spy plane. I think a lot of the UFO sightings out there are probably Lockheed test craft operating at night. I know if I would’ve seen a stealth fighter in 1977, I would’ve thought the Martians were coming, too.

Jon Konrath on Death Metal

I know you’ve been a big metal and death metal listener for years. What are you hearing these days?

I actually listen to more stuff in the “prog-metal” genre these days, like Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Queensryche, Joe Satriani, etc. When I put on an “old” CD, it’s more likely going to be an old-old band like Saxon, Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate, SOD, or Anthrax. When I do have some 90s-era Death going, it’s usually Dismember, Macabre, Carcass, or Entombed.

Pick five of the most important metal bands in history and give a brief rundown on each one and why it necessarily fits into the history of metal music.

Metallica – Kill Em All: Although the band later became butt-pirates, this album was practically an anthem to millions of metalheads, and acted like a gateway drug for virtually everyone that went out and started a band or got involved with heavier metal.


Motorhead – No Remorse: With their wide appeal and universal mythology, Motorhead became almost a meta-band that everyone respected as the loudest, rawest, and coolest. It’s hard to pick just one of their albums, so I chose their ubiquitous double-album compilation, filled with a little bit of everything from their early career.

 

Queensryche – Operation : Mindcrime: This obscure group of Seattle prog-rockers put their mark on the world with what’s possibly the best concept album ever.

 

 

Entombed – Left Hand Path: This immaculate work filled with unprecedented heaviness but yet an incredible depth and complexity was the high water mark for the early 1990s Swedish Death Metal genre, and in my opinion, was never topped.

 

Slayer – Reign in Blood: Although their earlier work was just as impressive, this album defined how fast metal would be played for years, and also got Slayer kicked off of Sony.

 

Do you consume any mainstream media?

I meet a lot of people in New York who either think they are bohemian or think they are upper-class and say “Oh, I don’t have a TV” or “I don’t watch movies” or whatever. In general, I find that these people are more fake and uninteresting than the people I know who spend their Saturday on the couch with a beer watching NASCAR. I’ve found that a lot of people that purposely don’t watch TV are still living a fantasyland existance, even without the sitcoms and John Hughes films. They’re still told what to do, and they still obey. It’s not a coincidence they all go to the Hamptons or all pierce their eyebrow or all dye their hair the same way. It doesn’t make them any better than me.

I admit, I do watch TV and I do go to movies and I buy DVDs and play video games. I don’t have cable TV, and I have pretty much given up on newspapers and magazines, although I might flip through whatever’s in the doctor’s waiting room. I enjoy it, but I don’t let it run my life. I think there’s a difference between watching TV and believing in it. If you believe in TV, the ads will lower your self esteem, and make you think you’re a loser because you can’t own a new Oldsmobile or land a chick like one in a Revlon ad or beer commercial. And when your esteem is low, you’re hit with the food ads – 50 grams of cheese fat stuffed in a pizza crust, a bunch of sugar and desserts, and high-fat snack chips that will make everyone happy. It’s no wonder America is obese these days. But I don’t think you need to buy into this to enjoy TV, and I think there are movies that are good entertainment, and just that. It’s just important to remember not to compromise your own life because what you see on TV is neat.

How controlled do you believe the US media to be?

Everyone should read Ben Bagdikian or the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) stuff, or at least listen to Jello Biafra rant about it. Pretty much everything we read or hear is controlled by a couple of huge corporations. And many smaller outlets for news and information become available, like the internet, but as the big companies get bigger, it seems like less and less people get involved with underground sources. And most people don’t believe stuff on the internet, because it’s diluted by so much shit. I mean, there are some great web sites out there with conspiracy theories, investigative reporting, and stuff like Slashdot, tech news, but there’s so much spam and make.money.fast and urban legends, that it’s hard to believe anything you read anymore. But to answer the question, yes the US media is controlled. And being controlled by big money is worse than being controlled by the government, like it was in old Communist countries. Because you can overthrow a government or vote out a leader, but you have no recourse against GE or Newscorp. You could stop buying their stuff or watching their shows, but that won’t hurt them much – many more sheep will continue to keep them in business.

But here steps in Satan, the eternal rebel, the first free-thinker and emancipator of worlds. He makes man ashamed of his bestial ignorance and obedience; he emancipates him, stamps upon his brow the seal of liberty and humanity, in urging him to disobey and eat of the fruit of knowledge.

– Mikhail A. Bakunin

It seems to me that evolution is a nihilistic thing, meaning it has no morals or concerns for outcomes. Thus when a society is built that values competitiveness at the expense of social logic, and you get the most fascist possible outcomes disguised as the most empowering, convenient, financially beneficial to the individual. Is this a virus humanity will shake? Is there any way out of the big money media control mess?

I think the real question to ask is, “will this virus kill itself?” Enron and WorldCom both died; this week I heard QWEST said they “accidentally” underreported a bajillion dollars of profits, and Ziff- Davis might file Chapter 11 this week. It’s not good news to our economy that these companies are falling, but it’s a demonstration that even the biggest corporations will eventually fail.

Do you think civilization often hides ugly truths behind social behavior?

I’m not sure what you’re getting at – does civilization hide truths with behavior? I think so, but it also has the ability to modify society so that the lies become the truth. That’s part of religion – a while ago, half of the kids born wouldn’t live to see their first birthday. So the churches told people to fuck like bunnies, so they’d have more customers. Now, almost all kids survive, so the world is overcrowded. And we certainly look away from problems and are drawn to others, but that’s more of a problem with capitalism. Everybody talks about school vouchers and keeping porn off the Internet this election, but nobody really gives a fuck about their kids. They never talk to them and treat them like animals. It’s all very silly.

My question might be phrased thus: does civilization have a public justification for a hidden agenda, although not necessarily an articulated and conspiratorial one, which disguises some “private” and/or unpleasant truths?

Just a stab in the dark on this: the human is the only animal that has an inherent double-standard to its nature. I mean, dogs shit on the ground, they fuck each other whenever the need arises, they dig through garbage, and they don’t think twice. But humans are more sophisticated, so there’s this whole obvious-but-secret life to everyone. Everyone has sex (well, I haven’t lately, but that’s another topic) but there is a strong taboo about sex. The same with bodily functions and death and sin and a bunch of other things. Now, I’m not saying we should all run around naked and shit in the streets. But what I am saying is maybe the human mind has this unconscious desire to have these double standards, these things that keep everything running that nobody talks about. Because if you live in an ultra-rich environment, you don’t clean your toilets. You don’t even talk about them; you pay someone else to do it. That sets up this strange double-standard, and that breeds similar things in business and politics, in the guise that it makes us “more sophisticated.”

What do you think makes us greedy, evolutionary mechanism out of control or social conditioning? Or is it possible that the former would naturally check itself eventually, but the later “justifies” it somehow to our symbolic and rational mind?

There’s a lot of social conditioning in our world that we don’t even see. There may be a primal base of darwinism, but the virus of advertizing and marketing tells us we are not complete unless we own a car with leather seats and 7-speaker CD sound system, and it puts off a huge spiral of related stuff. I also think when you don’t get the big things, you overindulge in the small. So when you see that TV commercial of a happy family and you are alone, and then the next commercial comes on and it’s for the new Pizza Hut Pizza with ten pounds of heart-clogging cheese per slice, you pick up the phone and order the pizza and eat the whole fucking thing. There’s this combination of greed and a desire for more mixed with a despiration to fill your life with something, and it’s injected into you pretty much from birth.

It is one of my theories that Christianity isolates the individual by forcing the individual into moral self-comparison with the holy deity, “God.” This causes people to think strictly in terms of their own prospects, and to lose sense of social hierarchy and collective goals. Where do you see this as converging with your own beliefs?

I would agree, although I don’t know if I would call it self- comparison as much as fear of failure. God is like a parent figure, more than a parent because he’s all-knowing, and people don’t want to disappoint their parent, especially if they will get an ass-beating over it. The strange thing is, in a theoretical sense, that would mean people would do unto others, create communities, and help the needy. But I think when you have the Christianity mixed with the unchecked greed, you get this horrible mutation of Christianity that most people in the USA preach, the kind where they think everyone is going to hell but them, but they are also really shitty to others.

Sometimes it seems as if humanity has justified this expansion using warmed-over Renaissance feeling coupled with a Christian ethos of dominating nature (which is “evil”). Do you think there’s any truth to this?

Oh, sure. Corporate branding is a billion-dollar industry, and they grab onto any emotion then can find. The Christian thing is a popular one, but throw in the “it’s for the children” and “it will make people like you”, and you’ve got a good start.

Most American kids feel neglected in the areas that are most intangible, such as time spent, value in the family unit, and that ephemeral “love,” for the third or fourth generation now. Is this a product of industrial society? Did people once treat their kids with more care, and have a collective interest in childrearing as near the top of their hierarchy of demands from a civilization?

It’s tough to say, especially now that single-parent families have been a regular way of life for over 30 years now. I think our industrial society makes it harder for parents to spend time with their children, but I also think people want immediate results, so they aren’t willing to invest time in childrearing. I mean, everyone *thinks* they do, but so many parents rush their kids into Ritalin or other drugs, and they also think they can buy parenting. I grew up in a somewhat affluent suburb where good parenting meant buying your kids the right clothes and buying them a car in high school. It’s much more than a material thing, and not many people realize that. But, I do know some people that are very good with their kids and they still work long hours at shitty jobs but are able to make it work, so not all hope is lost.

Do supermodels shit?

If they do eat at all, I’m certain they just puke it back up, but maybe some of them are addicted to laxatives. The whole thing scares me – I work in Manhattan and I’m amazed at the overabundance of phenomenally skinny women. I mean, everyone I see is six feet tall and 110 pounds, and I know that going to the gym for 5 hours a day doesn’t do that. Either they are coke fiends, or completely anorexic, or both. I’m not too into that, so it freaks me out more than anything else.

Why does death metal seem politically relevant to the end of the 20th century, to you?

Okay, so you’ve got mainstream music, however you define that. And if you’re not a sheep, and you feel a need to be different, you follow another path. In the past, that might have been punk rock, or hardcore rap, or metal, or electronic music. Well, in the interest of marketing, all of these things have been crossbred and watered down and turned into viable commercial product. So depending on what part of the country you live in, mainstream music is now either “alternative” punk music, or “R&B” rap music, or “Electronica” disco- type dance music.

So the true underground is Death Metal. And every effort to market this has failed, because if you remove the gore and the raw power and the Satanism, you’re left with something remarkably stupid that won’t market to the average record-buying sheep, and won’t have enough balls to interest metalheads. Because Sony and BMG can’t sell it or get MTV to play it, they ignore it, and the essential culture of Death Metal survives. It survives because of tape traders (and now MP3 traders) and small distros selling 20 copies of a CD and zines and fans. It means that only selling 1000 copies of an album is considered wildly successful, but it also means that album is going to be evil and aggressive and memorable and pure energy. It means that bands get to dictate what goes on an album, and gets to write songs that are sick or intelligent or protestful or Satanic or whatever. In a sense, it is a far more pure element of democracy, because it isn’t subverted by money. And it’s a form of socialism, at least in the sense that the community keeps itself afloat. You can’t just go to the average Musicland and buy good Death Metal; it’s your job to seek out this stuff by getting on the web or reading zines or talking to others.

But aside from my rambling, the importance of this politically is that the Death Metal community isn’t supported by a government, and it isn’t run by a corporation. And it doesn’t have a massively widespread impact on society, but it’s an interesting pocket of culture that sustains itself. And those things interest me, because if I could find them outside of music – if I could find a community similar to this that would feed me or clothe me or shelter me in exchange for the work I put in, it would be an interesting political experiment.

If you could say one thing to Jesus Christ, what would that be?

I’d probably tell him I was sorry for what his followers did with his message. I don’t believe in God – I’m an Atheist – but I do believe that a man named Jesus Christ walked the earth 2000 years ago, and I believe his followers wrote a book and started a church. I’m guessing the water-to-wine, rose-from-the-dead-on-the-third-day stuff is probably metaphorical, but I do think he was a charismatic man who had some ideas and told them to many people. And in the most basic of senses, Christianity has some good tenets – don’t fuck with people, don’t lie, be honest, do unto others, and so on. I’m probably far more Christian in that sense than most so-called religious people out there. But unfortunately, all of this was distorted over time, and turned into a profitable business, and a powerful tool of government. And I’m sure that if big J walked the Earth today, he’d be pretty pissed at how his vision was warped into what it is today. I’d also ask him his opinion of The Last Temptation of Christ, since I think it’s a pretty cool film.

When Christianity came into being, the craving for suicide was immense—and Christianity turned it into a lever of its power. It allowed only two kinds of suicide, dressed them up with the highest dignity and the highest hopes, and forbade all others in a terrifying manner. Only martyrdom and the ascetic’s slow destruction of his body were permitted.

What is now decisive against Christianity is our taste, no longer our reasons.

– F.W. Nietzsche, The Gay Science

I’m certain of the possibility of UFOs, and the probability of their existence, but I fear the “UFO community” because of its continual anonymity, broad claims and paucity of consistent evidence except for the generalized existence of flying metallic objects on planet earth. To me, it seems that any government is going to hide most of its budget to work on secret evil shit to do to other people, in case one’s role suddenly becomes being the recipient of the “unto you.” What sort of stuff do you think’s brewing now? Do you give any credence to conspiracy theories about AIDS or the West Nile virus, or do you think these are simply a consequence of commercial exploitation of deep forest areas (thus bringing previously undiscovered satanic microbes to the public eye)?

I predict that the threats will all be real things, but the reactions by the government is fucked up. Take the West Nile virus here in New York City. It’s a real virus, mosquitos are a real problem, but most of the people that would die from it are old and half-dead anyway. So the best reaction would have been a good public awareness campaign about mosquitos, along with patrols that cleaned out cesspools and whatnot.

Instead, Guiliani sprayed this incredibly evil chemical all over the place. They were not supposed to spray it on food, but videos came out later with them spraying it right on open fruit stands, and I’d bet anything that the food was sold later to unsuspecting people.

A lot of bad shit could happen in the near future, and it’s not a conspiracy theory. Think about Gulf War syndrome, smallpox, or e coli – that Fast Food Nation book told unspeakable horrors about how understaffed and inconsequential the USDA is about meat inspections, and now there’s a beef recall going on in Colorado as we speak. And remember last fall when everyone and their brother was finding Anthrax in the US mails? None of these are conspiracies like saying that the CIA invented AIDS. (Although I think the CIA made crack cocaine popular,) but the government’s piss-poor reaction to these problems are veiled in mystery.

If your options were an eternal existence for human populations or total destruction of earth, including all humans, which would you pick?

I’m going to read a bit too much into this to support an answer. I think, given the rate of human growth, that it would not be possible for an eternal existence on our one small planet, at least given our current technological infrastructure. Many people (Greenpeace et al) think that in order to sidestep this, we need to avoid using the Earth as a natural resource, or at least avoid destroying it. But a minority of people think that the solution is to create a larger infrastructure – hydrogen cars, solar power, fusion power, synthetic nutrients instead of laborious farming and inefficient slaughterhouses. And people themselves have problems that prevent an eternal lifespan – medicine can only do so much, and you’d need genetic engineering orders of magnitude better, to essentially slow or stop aging and repair genetic disorders. And eventually, you’d run out of room – you’d need to move to other planets, other moons, spacestations to support the population. And you’d need to slow down the growth of population, too.

This all sounds great to me, but I think population has lost faith in the idea of space exploration. Even with people living full-time in the ISS, there’s no public interest in taking the next step. A few people on the internet, like the Artemis project, and people who have been reading Kim Stanley Robinson for too long (like me) want to see someone win the X-Prize and put private space travel on the map, but too many people are more interested in the new Britney Spears video. There are also too many serious issues, mostly related to obsolete tenets of religion, that prevent any scientific progress on ideas like cloning, stem cell treatment, genetics, population control, longevity enhancement, or anything else. Of course, as Bill Hicks pointed out and as I found while reading a Gideon’s Bible in a Las Vegas hotel room a few weeks ago (I’m not a fan of the work, except as an interesting fictional treatise, and sometimes to throw back at people to prove a point) but in the bible, Adam and Eve were supposed to live forever. They were supposed to never produce. They were supposed to live a utopian paradise and they fucked it all up. Now, this is just a fairy tale, but I see nothing wrong with pursuing this in the future, in creating our own garden of eden.

Could one construe all of civilization except for its pure pragmatics as a death realization avoidance cult?

It’s more than a death realization avoidance cult; you need to add to that all of the building empire people do, like having kids and buying crap they don’t need in order to have the most, even after they die.

Jon Konrath
www.rumored.com

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July 16th, 2011 – A Day of Death, Buffalo NY

When the stars are right, when the planets of alien coordinates align in perfect syzygy, when the arcane progress of dark matter warps the cosmos into gravitations of sinister consequence, the Dead Gods may once again rise from their eonian slumber… but only if the proper rites are set in motion by those giftedly prescient of mortals. Chainsaw Abortion-ist Brian Pattison was one such a prophet who had succeeded before in the act: 1990′s Day of Death, an atrocity survived by none but a fanatical few, and the tale obscurely recounted within the scripture known as Glorious Times. Now 21 earth-years after that most notorious of receptions in the death metal saga, a wiser but no less maniacal Pattison determined the time was ripe for another extra-dimensional conjuration, with no less a death-god than Kam Lee in mind as his ultimate summoned entity. Naturally, the Buffalo territory of New York would again provide the setting, with the chosen temple for this installment being the rather profoundly-named Club Infinity.

An unprecedentedly cavernous venue, Club Infinity can house up to 500 or so bacchants before it becomes a legal deathtrap — yet attendance for the day must have been less than half of that numeral. Apparently, the local Buffalonians who would normally haunt the premises for their fix of alcohol and loud noises had absconded to a different corner of the land, lured up and away by the promise of an outdoor barbeque/live music festival of some sort. As it were, only the blackest-hearted diehards heeded the call to this cursed slice of suburbia, where memories from beyond time would once again climax in a lurid celebration of the horrific, the macabre, the rapacious and warfaring facets of existence from which fleeting mortality truly derives its meaning. Our lives — and indeed our deaths — would bear the distinct and indelible imprint of this Day as a scar that never heals, and whose free-flowing ichor blazes a sanguinary trail across ages…

Lethal Aggression: New Jersey’s crossover-thrash godfathers themselves had been the honorary headliners for the pre-Day of Death celebration, which of course had been successfully realized the previous Friday night; but for Saturday’s Day of Death proper, Lethal Aggression actually re-emerged from their dens — bleary-eyed and wracked with raging katzenjammer — at an ungodly brunch hour to be the very-fucking-first band in the proceedings, which was a display of tenacity mostly lost on the scant gathering of earlybirds. What followed was a forthright little blitzkrieg of their trademarked “drugcore” anti-anthems, which was made all the more special for the occasion with the return of classic-era guitarist Dave Gutierrez (though he may have been initially unrecognizable due to his new blue-dyed and bespiked hair), who additionally was commendable for drawing the wicked Lovecraft-inspired design for the Day of Death T-shirts. Towards the end of their timeslot, though, it became clear that vocalist John Saltz had most anticipated getting to the last song on the list — “No Scene” — as he had accidently launched into that whole vocal line during the beginning of penultimate song “Spooge”, causing the band to screech to a stop and start all over. In retrospect, the mixup should not have been too surprising, as the apathy-decrying, poseur-scourging lyric matter (the key verse being, “All you do is come to shows, sit around and stare”) was uncomfortably relevant enough to boil our blood. And this was an absolutely necessary kick-in-the-ass to start everything off on the right track.

Hubris: Being the first of four local bands to open up a 13-band procession is a task about as unpleasant as serving in the infantry during a foray into an uphill battle, and yet the cadre known as Hubris still mobilized for their set like the hungriest of mercenaries — corpse paint, wicked demeanors and all. Though they are a relatively new constellation in our Northern skies (to wit, all of their embryonic recordings thus far feature a drum machine because they could not, until recently, secure a faithful skinsman) Hubris’ style of black metal extrapolates directly from the most abrasive entries in the classical Scandinavian school, falling into a nebulous scape between Marduk’s Opus Nocturne and Immortal during their soulraping halcyon years with Demonaz. But at 4 p.m. in a sun-baked, poorly ventilated enclosure, the band’s blizzarding invocations of carnage-strewn battlefields and holocausted settlements were all but guaranteed to a tepid reception. Frontman Hellskald vehemently refused to let the standers-by off easily, however, and at numerous intervals demanded choruses of quasi-fascistic fistpumping from every slouched, beer-nursing figure in the near and far vicinity. It would be difficult to not be impressed by the young band’s charisma, and Hellskald’s exiting exhortation to “Rape angels! Drink their blood! Castrate God!” would basically set the tone for the remainder of the rituals to follow.

Seplophile: Attribute it to that everflowing stream of youthful vigor if you will, if that would most efficiently explain how Seplophile had the mettle to burn through one of their own setfuls of brutal death, just a few hours before they would entirely re-animate the godlike monolith of morbidity ‘From Beyond’ with living legend Kam Lee. Despite Seplophile’s ostensible “newcomer” status, they are a band that follows “The Old School Spirit” as their unshifting lodestar, and their drive is incited by memories of the vital role that the Buffalo scene had once taken in the death metal genesis (that is, before everyone and their grandparents emigrated to Florida). Their discography to date apparently features none but a single demo ‘…And Death Shall Have His Dominion’, so the boys did not exactly have a hell of a lot of material to choose over, but their formulas exhibit a certain potency of form and execution that echoes the advanced blastations formerly mastered by the early incarnations of Cannibal Corpse and Cryptopsy. If anything, the set was a reassurance that this fledgling local band had talent in abundance for the daunting role of Kam Lee’s backing band, and that would only further whet our bloodlusts for the Massacre to come.

Resist Control: Reportedly one of the all-time favorite newer Buffalonian bands of Brian Pattison himself, Resist Control followed swiftly on Seplophile’s heels with high-octane, classic hardcore-thrash madness that veers more towards the vehicle of purposeful, distinct narrative rather than uncontrolled paroxysms of angered words and misplaced epithets. This is the type of band that would incite violent, all-consuming pits amongst any gathering of punks and skins on a normal night, but of course since Resist Control were haplessly saddled on the first quarter of a 12-hour-long engagement, they were mostly just gawked at by those who weren’t caught up at the bar or the merchandise tables with all the luminous death metal celebrities. Still, the band gave voice to outrage as sonorously as a good “canary in a coalmine” ought, and it would be well-off if they could soon branch forth from their hometown Buffalo circuit and reach more disenchanted ears out in the rest of the Amerikan wasteland.

Sam Biles: Caught in similar circumstances with antihero-of-the-day Kam Lee, Sam Biles is an illustrious frontman who for some reason or other stands separated from his classic backing band — Hideous Mangleus, in this case — and so performed his best-loved songs at Day of Death eponymously, with the aid of youthful and capable hired hands. Somehow, Biles had managed to secure and implausibly import a star-crossed trio of Texan luminaries to stand in as his henchmen: on guitar, Francisco of HRA; on bass, Dave of PLF; and on the drumthrone, Matt of Blaspherian. This ad-hoc convocation had actually never before rehearsed with Biles, and yet their set for the evening came together with such natural beauty that a blind man would no less envision the old gang of Feev and the Brothers Bonde back at their respective spots (except — dare we say it — with tighter musicianship?). Preposterously outfitted with all of cast-iron armbands, leather pants and a fucking Ratt T-shirt, Biles prowled the peripheries of the stage like a caged beast whilst animating every disturbingly hilarious lyric with guttural prowess — and of course, the Tejas Squadron behind him did not once skip a stroke, faithfully re-enacting the catchiest death-throes behind material like “Question Your Motives” and “Burning Children” (“Remember kids, don’t play with matches! Aaaaaargh!“). If the audience gathered for the night had any doubts about Biles’ solo appearance, their apprehensions were completely quashed before the first song even ended; and by way of analogy, it could be correctly assumed that Kam Lee wouldn’t need Rick Rozz, Terry Butler or Bill Andrews to pull off the old Massacre songs with masterful [dis]grace.

Avulsion: The final of the local marauders to be showcased for the Day, Avulsion are elder guardians (est. ’92) of the Buffalo death metal tradition, though their essence is thoroughly imbued with eclectic dosages of hardcore and grind. Shrewdly tongue-in-cheek yet convicted in their anti-humanist manifestos, this band effectively mimics the torments of alienation through truncated songs patched together from ambiguously buzzing tremolo riffs. But perhaps their most distinctive asset is the uncanny throat-power of their frontman, who is able to switch so rapidly between a strident punk shout and a rattling growl that it was easy to be fooled into believing there was more than one lead vocalist at work. After completing a formidable listing of original compositions in record time, Avulsion thought well enough to conclude their set with a cover of Carcass’ “Empathological Necroticism”, which certainly tweaked the ears of all those yakkers in the vicinity who were only half-listening otherwise.

Goatcraft: The horned and cloven-hooved brainchild of keyboardist Jason “Lonegoat” Kiss, Goatcraft is purest piano metal unbounded from the conventional backdrop of screaming strings and timekeeping clangor, essentially comprising foreshortened sonatas that weave narratives and paint airs with bleak minimalism — obviously, this performance would be the one looked upon as the “oddball” on the bill by a large portion of the audience, if only for their bewilderment over aesthetics! Matters were not made much more agreeable due to the fact that The Lonegoat did not have access to his personal keyboard for the night, and thus had to make do with a rented piece of junk that would hiss and sputter at loathsomely frequent intervals. Though the technical difficulties as well as the piss-drunken interjections of certain audiencemembers shot through any semblance of good ambiance for this listening session, the one-man-band remained steadfastly transfixed at his post, only uttering a few words of exposition when necessary, or still more rarely betraying a glare from beneath a heavily corpsepainted and bloodsoaked brow. It may be a sad inevitability that those few ambitious souls who elect to play solo, ambient Metal in a concert setting will never have the right kind of audience, as people who walk the hessian path between Classical and Metal appreciations are still unmercifully uncommon, especially in regards to the U.S front. But for any matter, Goatcraft is still a promising work in progress; expect to hear more from this satyrid maestro in further compositions both personal and collaborative.

Druid Lord: The newest creative vehicle of former Acheron axemen Tony Blakk and Pete Slate, as well as their skin-hammering Equinox comrade Stephen Spillers, Druid Lord is a death/doom affair that draws its most prominent tributaries from the sludge-tainted fountainheads of Winter’s Into Darkness and Autopsy’s Mental Funeral, with perhaps the faintest hints of vintage Cathedral coursing noxiously through the solution. But whatever feeble combinations of band names one chooses for describing Druid Lord, it remains that this band gathers its purpose in delineating true imageries and sensations of Horror: the same inspiration for all music branching from the germinal genius of Black Sabbath. For their Day of Death appearance, Druid Lord had driven up north nonstop from their vantage point in the opposite pole of the country (Orlando, Florida), which might have added an honest dimension of bodily-excruciation to their already torturous live show. Though their 2010 LP Hymns for the Wicked lists Druid Lord as being a three-piece, they have since added Ben Ross as a rhythm guitarist, allowing The Great Slate to solo to his evil heart’s content whilst dense riffing frequencies are maintained. Bassist/vocalist Tony Blakk, already bedecked with plenty of frontman’s credentials for his years in Equinox, was practically thespian here in his snarled descantations of grisly fates. But for the song “All Hallows Evil”, he stepped aside to allow Kam Lee to take over on vocals — a very honorary guest appearance that would only be shared for the night by Derketa. Speaking of which…

Derketa: As of late, reunions in classic death metal have occurred on such a frequent scale that even the over-sanguine among us are becoming rather desensitized; an entity like Derketa, however, is so improbable a phoenix to rise from the ash that only the ignorant could fail to take notice. Formulated in the foundational ’80s era by Sharon Bascovsky and Terri Heggen, Derketa holds historical leverage alone for being the first female death metal band; of course, they earned their musical leverage by their demo recordings and the ‘Premature Burial’ EP, which featured decelerated-tempo, incredibly growly songs that sounded somewhere deep within the realms of Hellhammer and Nihilist. But the immediate intrigue that the band’s output garnered seemed to cause the very pressure that broke them apart, although Bascovsky put forth several honest attempts to keep Derketa’s name alive over the years, finally succeeding in a full reunion by 2006. Only five years later did the revitalized cult feel strong enough to begin live outings: the first three in their native Pittsburgh, and the forth to be Buffalo’s Day of Death 2011 — significantly, the girls (minus current bassist Robin Mazen, who was busy with Demonomacy back in Florida) had been in the audience for the fest’s 1990 edition. When it was finally time for Derketa to commence with their first out-of-state appearance and the opening sequence for “Premature Burial” was sounded, practically the whole fan-populace in the venue came flying to crush in front of the stage. Guitars sounded appropriately huge and menacing (although in the beginning only Sharon and Robin could be heard, as Mary Bielich’s distortion pedal had shorted out), and it’s apparent that over the years Sharon has trained her vocals to be even more fearsome. It was especially uplifting, though, to see Terri reprise her role as the original female death metal drummer — still the rarissimus avis of the genre — and as she was able to borrow Rottrevore’s massive drum kit, her blows were as sonorous as they could be. A brand new song called “Rest in Peace” (dedicated to Seth Putnam and others in a growing list of “dead metal guys”) was showcased: it could be the most doom-influenced track they’ve composed yet, which probably hints a lot at the overall aesthetic to expect on the imminent debut LP, In Death We Meet. And, as mentioned before, Kam Lee made one more guest appearance for the song ‘Last Rites’, growling along with his brightest female disciple for what must have been a very high point in the band’s lifespan.

Rottrevore: After Derketa and Sam Biles-technically-Hideous Mangleus, Rottrevore were the last in a series of revitalized Pennsylvanian cults to preside over Day of Death with their characteristically Northeastern, bowel-wrenching odes to the evil in man. Known best amongst the underground for their solitary full-length opus Iniquitous — an onerous, eldritch epitaph crafted after the most primeval echoes of the Stockholm and New York schools — the band almost inexplicably vanished from the scene shortly after the release, issuing no signs whatsoever from under their official banner save for the ‘Disembodied’ compilation pressed by Necroharmonic some time ago. This being so, their sudden resurgence back into action this year — signing with Spain’s Xtreem Music, dusting off unreleased songs, logging studio time with Erik Rutan for a new EP — is more than remarkable, and Day of Death would be honored with the first Rottrevore performance in nearly two decades. Frontman Chris Weber did not at all contrive much fanfare and flamboyance about the distinction, however, and preferred to be businesslike in his dispensation of aural punishment. Their set of course included all the choicest bits from Iniquitous (this humble narrator was partial to ‘Unanimous Approval’ and ‘Incompetent Secondary’, but everything honestly sounded true-to-form), and there was also a peppering of the new material which sounded to be very close in spirit to the classics, which is a very good thing indeed. This reunion show turned out to be a success in any respect, and the fact that it was all only a preview of what is to come can only confer the best of prospects.

Deceased: Who could have imagined that our most beloved Virginian bizarro-deathmeisters Deceased would be the only holdovers from the first incarnation of Day of Death? Granted, in the 21 years that have elapsed since then, the band has metamorphosed into an almost entirely different beast: the latest album Surreal Overdose features a tightly-crafted continuation of the ripping speed metal that has become their standard since the mid-’90s; and of course, King Fowley now vocalizes at the helm rather than behind the drumkit, backed by a quartet of mostly drafted-for-the-live-show mercenaries (including, for the very first time, guitarist Danzo of New York City-area hilaritythrashers Vermefüg). With a varied listing of the old savage classics mingled with everything up to the newborn creations, Deceased had a canonical time-travelling drama to offer their audience, although their stage time had to be disconcertedly hurried along due to some fascist schedule-policing on the venue’s part. This constraint was especially bogus for a born raconteur like King, who barely had an adequate moment to address his audience between songs, yet he still strived for those full Deceased theatrics we’ve all come to expect, complete with fucked-up monster masks and all such related tomfoolery. Perhaps, in recognition of the spirit of Day of Death, Deceased should have traded out some of their later-period songs for more selections off the early milestone ‘Luck of the Corpse’ and so on, since the audience was uniformly comprised of old-school hessians hellbent on tradition. But whatever the case, it was gratifying to have one of the original fest participants return for the second incarnation — and how many bands other than Deceased truly demonstrate the longevity of the underground death metal practice?

Insanity: It would not at all be a droll exaggeration to nominate San Francisco’s Insanity as the least fortunate band in all of death metal, following from their absurdly tragical biography as the one-time most promising vanguards of the newly developing extreme style, poised at the very cusp of self-realization yet cruelly denied their seat in the pantheon due to terminal illnesses, crippling accidents, and the ever shifting sands of label-backed patronage. Fate is a bitch, as superhumanly tenacious frontman Dave Gorsuch knows only so well at this point, and Her cantankerous whims sure enough wrought hell on Insanity’s maiden voyage across the Northeast. The very first tour date in Toronto had to be cancelled due to issues with bordercrossing policies, and during that same time bassist Falko Bolte was sniffed out for drug possession and was summarily locked away in a local jail, for as long as it would take for his sentence to be issued. Shaved down to a trio with no low-end support, Insanity nonetheless soldiered onward to Club Infinity intent on following through on the warpath they had carved. Guitarist Ivan Munguia took over Falko’s vocal duties on the spot, and both guitarists turned up the bass on their amplifiers with the hopes of plastering up the frequency gap in their wall of sound. It was evident then that failure was decisively averted once the opening strains of ‘Attack of the Archangels’ sounded out across the hall, electrifying the East Coastal audience who had before only dreamed of bearing witness to California’s most mythical entity. Since Insanity’s complex, many-riffed compositions emphasize guitar theatrics over everything else, the lack of Falko did not distract too much from the live reenactments, and the normally-silent Ivan’s backup growls turned out to be commendably feral, especially for the newer material which draws more than usual from call-and-response vocal forms. But the high point had to be marked by the song “Fire Death Fate”, which might be declared the most well-known of all Insanity songs if mostly for the fact that Napalm Death did a cover of it on their ‘Leaders Not Followers’ tribute album: a rather late piece of evidence concerning the remarkably deep-rooted influence that Insanity exerted on British extreme metal. In all, Insanity’s appearance was laudable in spite of the hindrances that seem to perennially plague them, and your humble narrator would go on to follow the band for two more dates of the tour, which were similarly sublime beyond all belief and yet met with shockingly low turnout. But that, friends, is a story for another odd time and place…

Nokturnel: After Goatcraft and Sam Biles’ One-Off Backing Band, Nokturnel were the last of the fiends who flew up from Texas to play a set — although, most old-schoolers remember the band from when they were still based in their native New Jersey, rattling out an intriguingly odd permutation of Voivodian death-thrash on the oft-overlooked opus Nothing But Hatred (another lamentable victim of the doomstruck vessel that was JL America Records). But sadly, nothing at all from the back catalogue was to be on the menu for the night: Nokturnel were quite literally debuting a new drummer and it was simply not in their longterm interest to teach him anything other than their contemporary songs, which are structured and conceptualized out of a much different mindset than the ’90s fare. It was a let-down for the diehards — come to think of it, *everyone* who was gathered for Day of Death was essentially a diehard in some way (especially that magnificent bastard who adamantly demanded to hear “Nuke Seattle”: may you have Satan’s blessings) — but sets will be sets, and it was still fun to watch Tom Stevens shred like a maniac (until his guitar strap came flying off its peg in the middle of everything). We were, however, treated to some completely new material: “Demonic Supremacy” and “Ancestral Calling”, the latter of which was astonishingly pulled off despite the drummer’s inexperience of ever rehearsing it. But at the end of it all, when Tom and the gang were packing it up, the restless energy in the room very palpably spiked to the critical mass: with Nokturnel down, the strike of the fatal hour was fast approaching with the grand finale…

Kam Lee/Seplophile: Primogenitor, mastermind, chieftain, elder god — in death metal, these honorary titles can only officially be coronated onto one Kam Lee. As vocalist for the overwhelmingly foundational bands Death and Massacre, it was Kam who devised the guttural vocal approach closest associated with the genre; and — as is only natural for a Samhain-born son — it was also Kam’s profound knowledge of literary and cinematic Horror, as well as the darker facets of world history that gave concept and soul to an artistic movement. Though his deathgrowls became the stuff of legend early on in the ’80s tapetrading network, his best known contribution is arguably the full-length Massacre album From Beyond, and the fact that this meisterwerk would be fully re-concerted for Day of Death [or should it have been called “Asscrack-of-Morning of Death” at this point?] imparted a dizzying sense of disbelief on the intimate, rabid crowd clinging in front of the stage. But indeed, it wasn’t a collective delusion: the familiar hearkening of “Dawn of Eternity” resonated true through us all, and surely enough Kam Lee stepped forth from the shadows, with Seplophile’s instrumentalists trailing close behind. Previously, Kam had worn a Bone Gnawer shirt for lounging around with his fans and peers off-stage, but for this set he switched to one bearing a “Herbert West: Reanimator” logo — of course, very appropriately referring to the film based on the Lovecraft novella of the same name, with its central theme of profligate science hideously inverting the laws behind life and death. What followed was a set that went by a true-to-album, track-by-track order of those nine anthems we all know better and love better than family; Kam’s live execution captured the full, terrifying intensity of the recordings of his youth, and his ribald yet quickwitted banter in between is always prime entertainment. All the while, the axemen of Seplophile darted to and fro across the stage like winged nightgaunts, and considering how the band had only three rehearsals with Kam to prepare for the night, their performance was almost too good to be true. When “Corpse Grinder” finally ground everything to a halt, Kam and the boys made a hasty exit… but everyone knew the slaughter couldn’t possibly be over yet! And in no time, of course, the spotlights flickered back on and Kam had indeed returned with a few bonuses in store. There was “Provoked Accurser” from the fabled single of the same name, a cover of Impetigo‘s “Boneyard”, a ridiculously fun cover of “Skulls” by the Misfits (which Kam introduced with a paean to punk’s crucial relation to death metal’s genealogy), and finally the ‘Inhuman Condition’ EP’s cover of Venom’s “Warhead” (similarly introduced with reverent words for the Newcastle trio, and how they were responsible for Kam’s fateful crossover from punkship to metaldom). Kam also took advantage of his stagetime to relate some news concerning future exploits: apparently, he has rekindled his alliance with veteran Massacre/Obituary guitarist Allen West, and the duo are in the midst of a scheme Kam has decided to name “Corpse Rot” — a portmanteau of the Massacre song “Corpse Grinder” and the Obituary song “Slowly We Rot”… naturally! And with that, the stars again shifted into benign coordinates and the glorious spell was broken, yet the harrowing tale would be scribed immortally within the Necronomicon of death metal’s saga. For this Day would surely be the last Day that Kam Lee would perform those classic Massacre songs live in concert, and those who missed it, have missed it for all eternity.  

-Thanatotron-

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Under a Toltec Moon – Memories on Mexican Metal

1. Introduction
2. A desert walk
3. Nahuatli steel
4. Pactum: M.O.D.L.
5. Mortuary: Blackened Images
6. Transmetal: Amanecer en el Mausuleo
7. Cenotaph: Riding Our Black Oceans
8. Shub Niggurath: The Kinglike Celebration
9.  Sargatanas: The Enlightenment
10. Aztec rites of darkness
11. Xibalba: Ah Dzam Poop Ek
12. Funereal Moon: Beneath the Cursed Light…
13. Avzhia: The Key of Throne
14. Demolish: Remembering the Cabalisticae Laments
15. Argentum: Ad Interitum Funebrarum
16. The Chasm: Conjuration of the Spectral Empire
17. The resurrection of the necrocults
18. Necroccultus: Encircling the Mysterious Necrorevelation
19. Yaotl Mictlan: Guerreros de la Tierra de los Muertos
20. Infinitum Obscure: Sub Atris Caelis
21. Denial: Catacombs of the Grotesque

Written by DevamitraObscuraHessianPearson and Xavier with Eduardo (Shub Niggurath / Necroccultus), Demogorgon (Avzhia), Marco (Xibalba) and Joel (Mortuary)

Introduction

In Mexico the god appears; thy banner is unfolded in all directions, and no one weeps.

The Hymn of Tlaloc

Goedel’s law tells us that no logical system can anticipate all of the demands of reality, because reality as an inarticulated mass of events and causes is naturally bigger in scope than any description of reality. The fallout from this is that every society loves to have a no man’s land, an anarchy zone and a lawless frontier. It’s hard to talk of Mexico as a singular entity when it is comprises so much more. It’s a former Spanish colony, containing the vestiges of two of the greatest empires to walk the earth — the Aztec and Maya, both of whom were warlike, enjoyed human sacrifice, and compiled more learning that any modern group would voluntarily undertake. In addition, it’s also part very learned place, part chaotic third-world disaster, and part anarchy zone. From this ferment comes some of the best metal to grace the earth. After Scandinavia and the US, Mexico produces the most quality underground music. And even more, the Mexican bands seem to “get it”: they can reconcile a nihilistic morality, technological warfare and even gutter-level fighting sensibilities with the arch, elegant and imposing formality and bravery of the past.

A desert walk

Muerte. That word, in Mexican art, embodies religious and historical streams of life so much more than the anglosphere’s clinically worldly emphasis on death as medical phenomenon. This muerte is a gate to antiquity, a divine storm, a holy mystery – contemplation of its secrets connects the Catholic superstition, still so powerful and affecting to common people, to the cruel and decadent rituals of the Toltecs and Olmecs, when no purpose higher could be envisioned than to bleed for the gods. Glimpses into Mexican tradition most often involve the morbid signature of supernatural belief in a strange form of unearthly life, represented by the skull worship of the Day of the Dead and the various devil masks and bizarre colourful monsters decorating the fiestas, as in embodiment of death metal aphorisms such as “the past is alive”.

It would be fairly easy and obvious to point out social ills, crime rates and poverty as motivating factors for religiously oriented fatalistic thoughts, but for the psychologist and the occultist the pathology of the morbid mind is not only a reaction, it is also a cause itself, deeply ingrained in behavior and culture. To go into this sphere in depth would require another kind of a broader study and it is hardly of interest to most of our readers, so we shall mostly be occupied with the mythical, visionary image of Mexico, closest to us who are far away. It is the land of the eagle and the scorpion, of the peyote cactus and tropical steam, of the sea and the canyon. As we see everywhere in the world, the landscape becomes the structure of the mind, which gives life to stories and archetypes showing the apparent chaotic complexity of nature in symmetrical solutions. And musically, what can offer better representations of the occult-mathematical beauty of life than the hymnals of muerte: Death Metal and Black Metal?

To this day, Mexico has not produced vapid mainstream metal sensations nor hard rock imitations to speak of, at least not ones that would have entered our awareness. It’s as if the inward drawn nacional spirit shuns the idea of establishing false identities and masks of life through exports, but instead entertains the Mexicans with whatever art or entertainment the local masses wish to be produced – but this is a realm mostly obscure to outsiders. Even in order to scratch the surface of Mexican rock and metal, one needs to stress the importance of such luminaries as Luzbel and Transmetal, names mostly unknown even in cult metal collector circles. As a more recent example, the astral and progressive death metal of The Chasm has certainly been gathering well deserved praise and attention in the underground, but as a phenomenon it’s still far from gracing the cover in Terrorizer or Decibel magazine.

Nahuatli steel

As the youth of the world tripped in the pseudo-spiritual chemical bliss of the 60′s, the seeds were sown in Mexico as well with an interest towards Rock music merged with esoteric and mystical themes, but true to its violent century, the nation oppressed its bravest minds, declaring them “communist”. Thus was quenched the initial surge of Heavy Metal, as clubs were closed, magazines censored and subversive content in radios minimized. Everywhere else the initial 70′s where the pivotal time for the realization of all kinds of “satanic” and “occult” music manifestations, so in the case of Mexico it took at least a decade to recover from vandalism espoused by the government.

As the wave of Americanization hit Mexican youth culture in the early 80′s, it was inevitable that some unique voices would rise against manipulation and show their own kind of “metal mass”, inflected with the Catholic superstitions and violent streets they saw all around them with innocent, idealistic eyes. Two names especially can not go unmentioned: the original thrashers Death Warrant from Ciudad Juarez and the more classical but frighteningly psychic Luzbel from Mexico City, one of the greatest metal institutions to rise from the sand of Mexico and a prophet of Doom Metal themes and aspirations.

Huizar, the maniac behind Luzbel, managed to also put forth with his comrades at Escuadron Metalico label a series of compilations which in the mid-80′s showed the sounds of the new metal generation inspired by, mainly, American thrash metal and European speed metal. These “Proyecto” vinyls featured Transmetal, Ramses, Six Beer and practically everyone else who dominated the end of the 80′s when finally Mexican metal was too strong to be quenched by sporadic police raids and random accusations of blasphemy and iniquity. These troubles were akin to an anvil upon which the hammer of the light bringer shaped and pounded the minds that were to break free of the shackles of social upbringing and even “humanness” itself.

Eduardo: Well, to have a live appearance was not easy at all, because many people in Mexico (until this day) are a very difficult audience towards the Mexican bands. But we showed them that we were true about our ideals and that we gave 666% in every show! So we got the support of all the metalheads and they gave us in return a total storm of headbanging and full support. These were unforgettable moments to Shub Niggurath.

Joel: There was a small metal scene hungry to hear more extreme metal, so we always had great support from the beginning. I think there were more people supporting the scene than there is now supporting new metal bands, it’s a weird thing! Authority and “normal” people, as usual here, they didn’t understand our music. Sometimes the police were around looking to bother us, came up to the rehearsals and trying to get us, but never had luck, hahaha! And the people, those normal people, were the ones to send the police. I remember a show in Guadalajara or Leon in which the flyers had a circle in our logo and said: Watch out, Catholic, don’t assist! That was really funny.

Already before the decade was over, the most evil of the bands inspired by Thrash, namely Mortuary, Pactum, the inimitable Toxodeth and Transmetal (who tightened their sound album by album and still continue to do so after more than 20 years of career) had overtaken the gap between the international underground and the Mexican one. Suddenly the Judas Priest and Scorpions influence as the mainstream Mexican sound was replaced by a streetborn brutality and occult gore visions that would have made Slayer shudder. Studio and recording conditions were hardly ideal, but creating an easily digestible sound was hardly the intent of these iconoclasts, who repeated the slightly anterior efforts of the Brazilian scene in unleashing a torrent of noisy darkness easily mistaken for hardcore punk as the antithesis to forgetfulness and ignorance in adult human life.

Joel: Musically, our influences were basically Slayer, Venom, Possessed, Celtic Frost, and some classical masters. Lyrically important were the things inside my mind, my way to see this life, and obviously some great writers like Nietzsche, Poe and Lovecraft influenced us. Before Mortuary, each of us were playing in various bands songs of the bands that influenced us. When I was a child I studied some basic piano as well.

Eduardo: Also I had musical experience before Shub Niggurath: we created the Death Thrash Metal band called Tormentor. This was the origins for the unnameable abhorrence later known as Shub Niggurath.

Pactum – M.O.D.L.

A mob of confusion, alike crawling insects, attacks the strings as early blasphemists Pactum struggle to make sense of violent, anti-religious ideas called forth by their satanic subconscious in Mexico City’s extreme response to Bathory and Sarcofago. While the anally raped vocalist rants meaninglessly on, the guitars manipulate suggestive, dischordant layers of picked notes and speedy runs that often sound chaotic but on a closer listen reveal an affinity with classical construction much like the early methods of Burzum and Ildjarn to call forth elegance from pieces of degeneration. Be it dissidence, incompetence or imagination that made Pactum to mangle the pieces of thrash they built upon nearly inrecognizable, the originality and harsh, spontaneous electric discharge that carries these songs onwards makes for a curious and surprising listen for those who are able to listen to the nearly unlistenable. In “M.O.D.L.” the band has discovered one of the valuable early lessons of black and death metal, that of desecrating the sanctity of rigid social structure by defying musical conventions and bringing the expression closer to the fractal noise of nature.

Mortuary – Blackened Images

The elaborate and malign death metal of Mortuary is one of the most recognized funereal voices of early Mexican scene in cult circles and totally deservedly so, as the melodious and grinding old school sound hasn’t dated one bit but preserves the vital energy field of the times when death metal was not taken for granted, the quest for the ultimate density and sobriety. The rhythmic intensity brings to mind the debuts of Morbid Angel and Vader while the gloomy melody disposed as the interconnector of the more thrashing riffs is without question Central or South American in character (think: “INRI”). Joel Alanis’ voice escapes the trap that caused problems for many a thrasher, holding the rhythm of the syllables in position when reciting the blasphemies in English, and his powerful roar commands the fast, climactic and concise songs effortlessly to their logical conclusions. Even today Mortuary’s short but perfectly articulate album could serve as a protocol for building enjoyable but deep death metal, one that incites both head-banging and heart-scrutiny as the ultra-infectious “Reign of Dead” and “Asphyxiation” attack your brain with sensations from beyond and memories from the depths of the layers of mental programming.

Transmetal – Amanecer en el Mausuleo

As the inaugural saints of muerte spread their leathery wings over Michoacán and the 80′s were drawing to a close, Mexico’s silence was ruptured by these mangled, hellspawned shouts and nearly arbitrary riff structures envisioned by the scene’s godfathers Transmetal as the path leading to the aerie of the future. Simple and pitiless like a less experienced Sepultura or Slayer debut, this early collection sees Transmetal attempting to bludgeon their way through a barrage of speed metal in an endless call-and-response of rhythm riff and hoarse barking. Germans had invented most of these figures and refrains as early as 1984 but the untamed desert frontier of their homeland does bestow Transmetal with a rancor bringing it closer to the most subterranean and spontaenous garage punk bands that had the chance to practice their instruments on brief relapses from fighting social corruption. The sketchy but decisive melodies of “Temor a la Cruz” and “Fuerza Invisible” hardly represent an international or even local pinnacle of art, but they were enjoyed by a legion of punks and metalheads for their absolute breakup with the more mainstream appealing qualities of traditional heavy metal.

If there is a style of metal one thinks of in regards to Mexico, it must be Death Metal, in its brutal but most oblique forms, the sonic heir to Aztecs’ solar blood rites and Toltecs’ shadowy sorceries, an amalgamation of heretical thought inspired by Crowley and Lovecraft with a deep respect for the sacred and universal forces of nature which permeates the continuity of godforms in Catholic religious language in shades of traditional paganism which it overtook in surface but never in spirit. The first of these classics was undoubtedly Mortuary’s famous “Blackened Images” (also one of the earliest important Mexican releases sung in English) but no underground Death Metal maniac would forget the splendid, churning visions of Shub Niggurath (“Evilness and Darkness Prevails”, “The Kinglike Celebration”) or Sargatanas (“The Enlightenment”) either, not to mention the virile luminary Cenotaph (“The Gloomy Reflections of Our Hidden Sorrows”, “Riding Our Black Oceans”) whose lifeblood still runs in the veins of the most prized names of today’s underground (The Chasm, Denial and Hacavitz among others feature former Cenotaph members).

Demogorgon: Our ancient strain of blood has always been important to us, as on it are real human sacrifices and that is something we deeply connect with. We are proud of it and it deserves all of our respect. But anyway, we are mostly influenced by European Black Metal.

Joel: Definitely the legacy of our past has been influential in what we do, also the current situation in which the country has plunged. All the ups and downs of the past of our culture influence us directly or indirectly. The difference is the window from which we look at it, it’s definitely not the same as for the rest.

Eduardo: Mostly these bands’ message is about Death, destruction and occultism. If I’m not wrong, only Xibalba took our cultural roots into his concept – they even wrote “Unique Mayan Black” on their debut album. Cenotaph, Mortuary, Shub Niggurath, Tormentor, Deus Mortis, Deadly Dark, Necrophiliac and Pentagram among others were influenced by the Florida and Scandinavian scenes when they built Death Metal during the late 80′s and the early 90′s. My influences have always been bands like Morbid Angel, Deicide, Bathory (old), Sodom (old), Nihilist, Therion (demos), Thergothon, Winter, Necroschizma, Bolt Thrower, Slayer (old) and H.P. Lovecraft’s masterpieces. In Shub Niggurath, Arturo (who handled vocal invocations) was always in charge of the lyrical concept. Regarding “Evilness and Darkness Prevails” I only did the guitar solos, after that I had to leave the band. I have nothing to do with “The Kinglike Celebration” – for me this is not the real Shub Niggurath. For me, this was just some kind of project, without Arturo there, I am not sure about the result.

Cenotaph – Riding Our Black Oceans

Coming off the back of an excellent debut in the form of ‘The Gloomy Reflections Of Our Hidden Sorrows’ and losing a prominent member in the form of Daniel Corchado, Mexican horde Cenotaph radically altered their sound aesthetically and showed a refinement of production and to a smaller extent, musical technique. Whereas the first full-length resembled a prototypical version of Nile, with an exotic though nonetheless esoteric and original take on New York death metal (think Incantation, Morpheus Descends), ‘Riding Our Black Oceans’ owes its musical framework, when speaking of instrumental technique, to European metal, most notably the first two albums of At The Gates, with a much more classicist approach to melody. With the outgoing of previous throatman Corchado a new vocal makes itself at home, not far from the tortured howls of Anders Friden. The same sense of aggression is also present in this work, but is less of a catharsis than the aforementioned Swedish band or the German act Atrocity, and has a motive towards evoking a nostalgic depth, rather than a psychological-emotional one. The percussion is chaotic and structurally brings to mind a more rigid and maze-like ‘Beneath The Remains’ by Sepultura, with more adventurous battery that evokes their ‘Morbid Visions’ record. Acoustic guitars embellish and interlock with these intricate arrangements, and are an obvious nod to Mediterranean and Southern European music. This stylistic admixture works brilliantly, rather than being a work that is merely imitative of an established style, it works the more obvious traits for its own ends, borrowing rather than copying. Cenotaph make a very distinct and profound work here, one of the finest releases to come out of Latin America.

Shub-Niggurath – The Kinglike Celebration (Final Aeon On Earth)

From the extra-dimensional plane of unspeakable horrors that’s revealed in our nightmares by black, arachnoid creatures, prying open our sub-conscious to witness terrible visions, comes this brutal classic of Lovecraftian Death Metal. As a later album in the old-school tradition, ‘The Kinglike Celebration’ has the strength of dynamic and coherent composition under the unmistakeably nefarious atmospheres that could only come from the first generation to be instructed by the likes of Possessed and Sepultura. Unlike more recent acts such as Portal that also delve into the Non-Euclidean realm of Howard Phillip, this work remains an highly geometric one, as if to frame the malevolent world of the Ancient Ones within the scope of human cognition, enabling the sensations of fear and awe and involuntary submission to the higher, evil will. The symmetrical structure of these songs oversee a central melodic theme being deconstructed with the horror of trembling and ominously churning, Deicidean riff-work that builds to a majestic revelation of cosmic power, usually embellished by eerie synths. From this expanse, the band reintroduces the central riff, re-contextualising it through powerful lead overlays and purposeful percussive and rhythmic enunciation, with the crescendo-inducing prowess of a Classical symphony. Shub-Niggurath advance the pulsating Slayerisms of Deicide’s first album to encompass thoughtful formulae of occult melodicism and awaken the unspeakable entities of the grand, cosmic hierachy.

Sargatanas – The Enlightenment

These blasphemers from Guadalajara were around as early as 1986 according to their biography. Only denizens of the infernal layers know what they must have sounded like back then, but their full length revelation is also nothing less than ancient and horrific, of deeply atmospheric and disturbed vision of extended, simple and dragging death metal torment. Shunning the eloquent melodies of Cenotaph and likewise the rhythmic energy of Mortuary, Sargatanas withdraws into ascetic and morbidly elongated tremolos pillared by blasphemous growls mostly maintaining the emotionless, yet commanding tone of satanic artifice, as a stone statue summoned to unholy life and crushing Christians with no haste or passionate compulsion – determinate, almost peaceful. The meditative quality is carried to the extreme in mid-paced or even slower songs such as “Fear and Suffering” or “The Proclamation” (featuring drum patterns motivated rather by ritual ambient than Dave Lombardo) making it even somewhat plodding. The band barely animates for a gloomy rendition of Possessed’s “Satan Curse” in a version that sounds like bubbling lava or tremors preceding an earthquake and one of the most delightful tracks on offer, the chaotic “Satanist” whose main riff recalls Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” and as many other tracks on here, is seemingly randomly interrupted for a mock satanistic prayer. In any case, this inward bound attraction and solitude of vision will open only to deepest underground death metal cultists and fans of subtle terror based on psychological expectation and illogical mood cues, examples of which are found plenty in Mexican horror movies and early black metal in the vein of Samael and Barathrum, which undoubtedly heavily weigh on Sargatanas’ study list regardless of this band’s origins being placed even further back in the dimension of time.

Aztec rites of darkness

Without prior knowledge it would be easy to assume that the Black Metal biosphere of Mexico would have been overtaken by bulletbelted battalions fueled by alcohol and sexual lust, but instead some of the most purely mystical and meditative classics of the 90′s underground arose from under the wings of Guttural Records, the all time prime supporter of Mexican occult metal who still keeps cranking out occasional re-releases of material whose quality is, occasionally, simply beyond our dreams. To name some, if you have not heard the most moving moments of Xibalba, Avzhia, Funereal Moon and Shub Niggurath, you don’t know how astral and insane Black Metal can simultaneously be while resorting neither to “progressive” nor “raw” clichés, instead being alive with the fervent force of Mexican demons that feast on the souls of succumbed sorcerers, the experience and experiment being total.

Marco: We have been listening to Metal music for a long, long time. We began by listening to a lot of ’70s bands (Purple, Priest, etc), we experienced the radical change and the explosion of the new bands from the ’80s (Venom, Bathory, etc.) and we just grew with the evolution of this music through the end of the ’80s and the beginning of the ’90s. I think all of this music has influenced us a lot. Books that have inspired us throughout all of this has been ancient literature from the pre-Hispanic cultures of our homeland – with special focus on the Mayan topics mainly, though we also like H.P. Lovecraft’s books. In those days, there were not many bands like us around. I remember that on the few gigs we had, some people were just staring at us, and some other were just enjoying the sound. It was really small and we just seem to get more attention from other countries than ours. Sometimes, regular people were inventing silly stories about bad things happening to them simply because we were about to play on that day. I don’t think the media was focused on this kind of extreme music back in those days, as it is now.

Demogorgon: Avzhia was formed with influence from Death, Thrash etc. Metal, absorbing and swallowing the blackest of these styles of Metal to form a dark and melancholic sound. Musically we were influenced by the old school of Black Metal, bands such as Bathory, Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, etc. and ideologically for example Emperor, Dissection, Satyricon, Black Crucifixion, Grand Belial’s Key, The Black, Tormentor, etc. We were never schooled musicians, we started doing it simply like we felt at the time in the earlier 90′s and we’re still doing music the same way. Avzhia was the only Black Metal band playing in the midst of a lot of Death Metal bands, we remember brutal mosh pits and hostility… so when Avzhia took the stage the audience seemed to be taken by a great fucking depression! In the early 90′s it was a big challenge to keep moving forward into the majestic world of Black Metal.

Xibalba – Ah Dzam Poop Ek

Like Cenotaph, but in the context of a Nordic black metal band, Xibalba take obvious cues from mid-period Darkthrone and Burzum’s ‘Det Som En Gang Var’, and use various aesthetic tricks to distinguish the artistic and ethnic context herein, whilst also succeeding in not letting grandeur overwhelm the beauty of their work. Flowing, harmonic riffs, much like an upbeat version of ‘Panzerfaust’ work their way through catchy, waltzing rhythms that would fit nicely into balladic pieces, sounding just as apt as an interpretation of ethnic, triplet based patterns, transferred onto the modern drumkit. Samples to introduce particular songs use ancient Mexican folk music to accentuate the ‘Mayan’ character of this record, this is done sparingly and is non-excessive, charming and ensnaring. This album is strictly traditionalist in its execution, but successfully incorporates unique, exotic elements into its framework, retains its dignity without compromising it’s honesty. This was released in 1994 and was a time where many metal acts were on the verge of signing artistic death warrants by trying too hard to be different. Xibalba continued the legacy of black metal’s orthodoxy and breathed new life into it.

Marco: I think “Ah Dzam Poop Ek” is a great album, we express the essence and the atmosphere of our past in every song. Maybe it could have had a better production, but in the end that is the sound that captures the environment we are related to. And it’s good to stay away from a trite, standard and expected programmed sound. We hope to release our new album soon.

Funereal Moon – Beneath the Cursed Light of a Spectral Moon

Easily one of the most obscure and horrifying symphonies ever composed on the Mexican soil, the drug-addled, hypnotic and twisted black ambient scenarios of Funereal Moon despite the Guttural Records connection bear little resemblance to the warm crusted ground of Xibalba or the quasi-Nordic beauty of Avzhia – or any other formal black metal for that matter. If you have heard some of the unsane abstractions concocted by the French black legionnaires or Texan congregation of Equimanthorn on their mostly private tape mayhem, you might have an inkling of what to expect. Subsonar synths throb, cheap reverbs multiply growling voices to comical intensities, layers merge into a ritual cacoon of violent concentration in a macabre crescendo of not-so-subtly erotic (especially in the hideous “Vrykolkas (White Irish Eyes)” backed by whiplashes and female moans) palpitations begging for release through the dagger of the proponent. When synthetic guitars and mechanically stumbling drumscapes kick in to approximate occult metal architectures, the effect is close to what Black Funeral evoked years later in the industrial black metal revivals of “Az-i-Dahak” and “Ordog” – here achieved without any excess stylistic measures, simply thrown in your face in the name of blasphemy and contempt. Cheesy and immature to the extreme, but at the same time mercilessly compelling like an exploitation movie, these desolate voices of sorcery seem somehow one of the closest to the alienation and horror of the Mexican “Nocturnos dominion”, where immoving cacti stand upon the chaparral as guardians of twilight and coyotes raise their chant to the bloodred moon, all ensorcelled by the forgotten spells of Tulan sorcerers.

Avzhia – The Key of Throne

From out of Mexico City’s chaotic and concrete urban sprawl arose this monumental Black Metal album as a statement of militaristic and natural order, inextricably linked as they would have been to the inhabitants of Tenochtitlan, the former capital of the great Aztec civilisation. Avzhia here develop the ritualistic and prolonged, ‘Pentagram’ by Gorgoroth-like phrasing of ‘Dark Emperors’ into even grander arrangements panning across vast battlefields and landscapes, bringing keyboards to the foreground for a sense of epic melody that resembles Graveland’s ‘Creed of Iron’ being guided by the expansive compositions of Emperor. There is none of the lead guitarwork that’s central to ‘In The Nightside Eclipse’ in forming esoteric musical themes, so the symphonic majesty of ‘The Key of Throne’ is simply and effectively accompanied by the fullness of sweeping powerchords and this approach brings a lot of primitive but intelligent flavours to the sound and the composition as far as bringing the themes to a successful conclusion is concerned. When stripping away the keyboards from the guitars to reveal the simple beauty of an idea, almost Punk-like riffs of the sort Impaled Nazarene are infamous for are unleashed in a warlike clash of thought and action. With the inclusion of the keyboard, there’s a sense that Avzhia might have heard Skepticism’s ‘Stormcrowfleet’ as the same feeling of ethereal beauty and earthy power is evoked. The bass plays an important role as well, during the drawn-out riffing, reminiscent of Primordial’s ‘A Journey’s End’, folkier parts can be heard echoing underneath like a dormant race building its power to strike, and strike it does as the full instrumental ensemble combines to reiterate this idea. Perhaps this is Avzhia’s vision, like the Norwegian Black Metallers once possessed, of Satan’s adversarial power conquering the modern, Christian lands, once again appeasing with the blood of fallen enemies the ancient gods who had long ago died for their race.

Demogorgon: To analize this album, well, it contains too few tracks but each one of them satisfies us and yes, there’s both ideological and musical evolution – but as always, firmly obscure roots that define Avzhia.

As the populist variants of Nordic Black Metal and Gothenburg Death Metal grew in volume and number, so did the attempts at “romantic” or “psychedelic” sound in Mexico, mostly misguided through a lack of coherence and real inspiration beyond the mundane wish to belong in a clandestine good-looking cult of gothic clothes; an unfortunate occurrence of middle class commercial mentality in a society otherwise unnaturally divided and polarized (the shades of civil war never left, nor the even deeper bloody roots of muerte culture). Prominent American label Full Moon Productions signed Argentum for their one interesting album, “Ad Interitum Funebrarum”, while many in the vein of cloak-and-hood-gothic Demolish and the rather interesting Black Vomit toiled in obscurity. The Chasm, a masterful brainchild of Cenotaph alumnus Daniel Corchado, advanced from Mexican beginnings to dominate the forthcoming decade (now in Chicago) with a progressive (structural, non-gimmick) Death Metal tour de force. Another relocator was the grinding, blasphemous and simplistic “bonehead black metal” group Morbosidad, whose several drummers died in accidents.

Demolish – Remembering the Cabalisticae Laments

To be honest, and there is a reason to be because we are not here to create empty hype and false promise, most of Mexican metal of the 1990′s was comprised of worthless copies aping whatever neo-gothic metal trend was looming in the world at large and it’s nowhere more clear than in this compilation of the successive 1995 and 1997 demos of Demolish and the progression from mediocre to bad influence. The bouncy, hyper-emotional and lethargic black groove of the first part “Reinforcement Laments from the Lamb” (That’s just about what I emitted halfway through this concoction!?) is an incriminating example of heavy metal dressed as black metal, enveloped in saccharine keyboards which occasionally would inspire a vomitous reflex from even that top hatted abortion of Dimmu Borgir (old). Suffice to say there’s a lot of Anne Rice-y occult romance and affective screaming and bombast with hardly any musical surprise or moment of interest, as they would probably distract from the singular intent of securing the attention of fat gothic Wiccan bitches. I guess you might be into this if Covenant’s mercifully forgotten “In Times Before the Light” or earlier Cradle of Filth was the best thing that ever happened to you in black metal. The older more creeping old school death metal influenced occult metal in the earlier recorded second part “Artis Cabalisticae” includes violent moments of hope, but not enough to convince any further than, say, that first EP from Portuguese womanizers Moonspell. Hardly any Toltec spirit here, so move along.

Argentum – Ad Interitum Funebrarum

Hooded Wallachians prowl the crenellated wall tops of ancient castles, Mediterranean bards wield their lutes as metallic Paco de Lucias and some thin, wimpy goth called Philix Pherboreon (is this a Harry Potter character?) attacks the cheap Roland determined to reign as nocturnal dominion over every Mexican black metal wannabe circa 1996. With surprising class and flair, Argentum’s hymns to darkness remind one that the atmospheres descended part from “The Principle of Evil Made Flesh” and part from “Goetia”, might not stand the highest in today’s black metal elitists’ repertoire but today, sounds more exciting and unique because of their severe emotional and dimensional indulgement in a nearly forgotten quest – to compose music, not meaningless random noise or robotic riff patterns. The band is undoubtedly at their peak with the sustained moods of “Enter an Encysted Hibernation” and other slower pieces such as “The Serpent’s Lament” which traces the ethereal scents of the black lotus much as My Dying Bride would have if they had obsessed with black metal during the time of their first album. When the bands decides to thrash onwards in speed, and yet retain the “gloomy” keyboards in “Mortuus Infradaemoni”, it’s undoubtedly a bad choice, sounding ridiculous and swamping their intentions of occult credibility observed with “Lections on texts including English, latin, Catalan, Creol, and Ancientdark Language & Spanish”. The question mark imprinted by this upon one’s brain is better than mere satisfaction, though.

The Chasm – Conjuration of the Spectral Empire

The Chasm’s fifth album in a productive and populated discography continues their journey through the astralic realms of the dead, traversing a heterogenous soundscape much like the cultural topography of Mexico itself. Where Corchado’s work with Cenotaph was inspired by the rhythmic power of Swedish Death Metal, this album is more in tune with not only the melodicism of old troops from Gotenborg like At The Gates, Unleashed and Dark Tranquility but the morbid disharmony of Norsk Black Metal classics ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ and ‘Under A Funeral Moon’, which owe much to the Latin American primitivism of Sepultura that also goes into the sound of ‘Conjuration of the Spectral Empire’. The expansive melting pot of sounds and styles is guided by Shamanic visions that peer into the inpenetrable abode of Mictlantehcuhtli, coloured and contrasted by the opposing principles that intersect this psychic plane, giving this album a vast sense of direction proportional to the longing for ancient wisdom in a world torn from the continuum of tradition. From the very outset of ‘Conjuration…’, the winds of the Chihuahuan desert are conjured by guitars and effects, bringing to mind the main theme composed by Ennio Morricone for the nihilistic Western classic, ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’. Each song develops from or towards a single, clear and always beautifully poignant melodic idea, fusing the structural framework of early Dismember with the technique of Technical Death Metal bands like Cynic and Atrocity and their insistence on rhythmic and melodic interaction, although the use of inverted powerchords amidst the South American chaos and Melodeath flourishes, to create a more sombre atmosphere recalls the obscure Black Metal of Mütiilation’s second album. The Chasm avoid the pitfalls of Melodic Death Metal by having this focus, removing themselves from the tendency of bands to resemble a Scandinavian folk riff-salad with no conceptual reasoning behind it. Instead, songs qualify as movements and the phrasal development therein demonstrates an awareness of Classical music that restores the grand aspirations of the Swedes and therefore stands alongside the likes of ‘The Red In The Sky Is Ours’ and ‘Like An Everflowing Stream’ as monuments to the primal, cosmic darkness of our true, inner nature.

Through the international contact and amalgamation of principles brought about by simultaneously World Wide Web access and the extent of educating the young generation in English language (movies, videogames and music being elemental and important here) the new millennium saw Mexico closer than ever to its northern neighbour. Youth factions such as the hated “emo” culture would have been out of place in 1980′s conservative Mexico, but despite clashes between groups they are widely approved today. All in all, it seemed to weaken the unique characteristic of the Mexican underground which was the tough rebelliousness in speed metal and occult/mystical lyrical tendency in Death Metal. In other words, too many corpse painted posers (such as the unending repertoire of Azermedoth Records) and uneventful, funny “goregrinders” (Disgorge, the original of this style, still continues to exist) infected the underground.

Eduardo: Certainly this isn’t an easy way to get money, fame or groupies. If that’s what a band is looking for, it’s just a bunch of shitty losers. You should work because you love what you are doing, and doing this just to be a sell out and gain a living from the people who manage you is a completely Shitty attitude. Underground Death Metal is for true warriors who eat, shit and talk metal, and love it as a son! To know all the underground beasts that still dwell on the catacombs of the worldwide scene and support them as brothers… In Europe it’s awesome how the Metal way of life is still the way for the chosen to die with their boots on. Metal in Europe is bigger than other music styles without the need of being in a popularity contest. Metal is for metalheads and that’s it.

On the other hand, in Mexico, Metal has been taken as a trend. Every single metal subgenre such as death, thrash, black or speed has been invaded by stupid bastards with childish ideas and only commercial purposes. This is not only certain individuals, as even labels have mutated into money makers – signing bands created to give a commercial and false name to metal. They think that they know everything and even take the image of the old gods as costumes. Please! All those denim jackets full of patches from Possessed and Slayer, just to name a few, worn by kids of 18 years and claiming to be “thrash ’til death”! Jajajajajajajaja! Or the new trend of “old school death metal”? Please, when those bands were out, nobody cared about them! But now everybody is looking for those bands, jajajaja! Only the true ones we’ll meet at the end of the road. The other ones will escape to the next trend, because they never really belonged to us!

The resurrection of the necrocults

This is not to say Mexico’s soil doesn’t still bleed black at the desolate fullmoon hours. Old bands all the way to Luzbel are still sporadically active and the promised Avzhia offering “In My Domains” is one of our most awaited forthcoming releases in several years. Infinitum Obscure featuring The Chasm’s Roberto Lizárraga is a throwback to the days when death metallers weren’t afraid to expose religious mysticism, supernatural fervour and psychological “dark” addiction in one package, while Hacavitz and Yaotl Mictlan bring back the Aztec themes but do not retain the climactic level of Xibalba’s “Unique Mayan Black Metal”. Satanists who preach the ontology of Self and the theurgies of netherworlds remain plentiful, Denial and Necroccultus (both featuring scene veterans such as Supplicium’s Isaíah Huerta, Shub Niggurath’s Eduardo and Cenotaph’s Oscar Clorio) being probably the best of the bunch, and also for example Ravager enjoys wide exposure and releases on prominent European metal labels (while Avzhia sadly toils without a record deal).

Demogorgon: Look out for “In My Domains” – this album is strong in itself, riff by riff. It’s raw while plentiful in melodic interludes, grim voices and depressive atmospheres. We do what satisfies us, then other metalheads can satisfy themselves with Avzhia’s music. It’s great to meet true people when we do shows. Avzhia is always going to exist in the dark side of true Black Metal and we will keep doing our work full of darkness of our Lord Sathanas. Grim, cold, melancholic and depressive are characteristics of what Avzhia is! Only the true emperors live, eternal life to Black Metal! See you soon wherever you are… on “In My Domains” tour.

Marco: We just like the sound of a good song, no matter what style it is. As long as it reflects honesty and passion, clearly away from the rules of the mainstream. We have made this music since the ’90s, and still I can have ideas for a song that sounds great, even when there’s hundreds of bands around. You just need to find the right notes and stay focused on the path. This music has been really distorted from the original roots. What makes it worth I don’t know, but maybe just to know the right path is still there and the fact that we’re contributing to it. I think it depends on the integrity and personal convictions everybody has. It’s all part of finding personal freedom or spiritual release.

Joel: We are satisfied with the music that we did. It represents the things we felt at that time, and it’s a real condition that still prevails. Songwriting for us has been a natural change in the evolution of the band, as new songs have the seal of Mortuary but are definitely not the same. We have an evolutionary progress, you’ll see.

Necroccultus – Encircling the Mysterious Necrorevelation

On the footsteps of Irapuato bands such as the Paradise Lost influenced Supplicium and the Chasm-ic A Perpetual Dying Mirror the mad inverters of music decided to go for an irate, warlike sound most akin to Vader’s most brutal incantations. For a fan of Sargatanas and earlier Shub-Niggurath, there are plenty of morbid mental cavities to succumb into in atmospheric death-thrashing of “Mirage of Death” or the more Northern sound of “Descent To Requiem”, actually close to Absu’s early efforts in mingling Swedish death metal and the more ritualistic and sensual sound of ambient black. As regrettably is the case with neo-death metal, there is a great temptation to succumb into a patterned safe manifestation of used riffs, which no longer have the capacity to shock or inspire but the most fresh and innocent listeners. One can only imagine what impact “The Necrosphere Within” would have had in 1987, but the lack of a honest exploration of death metal horizons arouses the question how long can “formulaic death metal” be “death metal” at all, since the genre was incepted to scare the listener into an acceptance of devious un-life. In a hodgepodge of riffs, the social instinct takes over and the music loses the “death-feeling”. A slight rescue is obtained by preserving much of the doom character of the members’ earlier bands, as well as wicked and proficient guitar solos. In total, “Encircling the Mysterious Necrorevelation” is far from bad, but it also lacks the essential magic and forceful intellect characteristic of Mexican metal peaks.

Yaotl Mictlan – Guerreros De La Tierra De Los Muertos

Yaotl Mictlan in a similar respect to Xibalba borrow stylistically from European black metal. Their debut full-length contains a battle-hardened ferocity not unlike Graveland’s ‘Thousand Swords’, and in attitude resembles a less esoteric version of the classic Polish black metal acts. Musically this has the precision and sharp execution of Enslaved’s ‘Frost’ album, but with is overlaid with meandering, arpeggiated guitar forms that bring to mind a more rock-inclined take on Burzum’s first album. True to backdrop, the band bring elements unique to their Mexican heritage to the fore, in the form of wind instruments, percussives and acoustic guitar passages that are distinct within flamenco music. This is no doubt a unique approach, and firmly grasps a sound it can call it’s own, though lacking the cohesion and charge to put them in the same tier as Xibalba or Avzhia. As a result of this, ‘Guerreros De La Tierra De Los Muertos’ comes across as a tiresome listen, but not without the occasional flourish of excellence. Now signed with Candlelight records, it will be interesting to see what results their next release will artistically yield, as there are moments of promise here.

Infinitum Obscure – Sub Atris Caelis

Often referred to as a clone of The Chasm, Infinitum Obscure do indeed share more than a few identifiable traits with their fellow Mexicans, most notably the tremolo picking and those galloping triplets that lend so much power and vigour to the rhythm. There is something that ultimately separates the two bands, however; that being the conceptual direction each band embarks upon: while The Chasm invokes a strong, dark atmosphere that emphasizes the mystical, esoteric passage through some evanescent portal, Infinitum Obscure are far more direct in organizing a forceful rhythm in such a way as to remain concentrated on a single, grounded idea, often reinforcing this focus by frequently returning to familiar themes. So, while their main inspiration might take flight into stranger landscapes, Infinitum Obscure are quite content to portray the lost chasms of this world with an evocative atmosphere of imaginative melodies and, most importantly, direct and uncompromising riffing. On ‘Sub Atris Caelis’, Infinitum Obscure’s sophomore album, these points are emphasized more clearly, making it their definitive accomplishment to date. The need to shake off the burden of being a mere clone band is eminently present; the band tasks itself with creating something altogether their own, resulting in a real sense of the epic emerging from the patterns interwoven throughout the record; each song is striking at something profound, grasping wildly in the search for solidarity. The consequence of these compulsions is an album that sounds like it is still very much in The Chasm camp; while really it has taken several progressive leaps forward, leaving us with a work of art brimming with the self-confidence of autonomy.

Denial – Catacombs of the Grotesque

Some of the most impressive new death metal from anywhere in the world, this churning, impactful and bodily animalistic accomplishment from former Cenotaph and Shub Niggurath madmen is not a joke. What Cannibal Corpse always intended with their chromatic, bass-heavy and relentlessly rhythmic one dimensional stream of riff becomes an amalgamation of melodic motifs and devastatingly experimental squeals in the hands of these  perpetrators, as the background noise boils and envelops much as the classic “Onward to Golgotha” did, while the constant, FX enhanced, ridiculously monstrous voice of Ivan Velazquez intones all the perspiring tension of underworld nexus, the twilight threshold of life and death where sorcerers and demons whisper secrets to the warrior, offering true and false guidance, representing the violent archaic generations that waged war on Mexico’s bloody soil and continue to make many lives into living hell. I have alluded to the monotone nature, which is probably intentional and it hardly detracts from enjoying this cryptic abomination for further and further listenings, as the heights such as “The Pestilent Pits of Disgrace” or “Necrotic Invocations” are deceptively complex mazes of chords and melodies disguised as straightforward infernal metal by the tight manner of production and the guitarists’ sparse use of leads or interludes. Most importantly, the unrelenting hopelessness of these afterworld visions will force the listener to abandon the illusion of safety and immortality that makes the common man succumb to faulty, immoral decisions from day to day, thus achieving one of the highest principles of death metal: mental change (abomination). One would hesitate to lift such a recent work to the hallowed pantheon of Cenotaph and Mortuary after a brief listening span, but if a candidate is chosen from this tournée, this must be it.

It can be said that while Mexico’s metal offerings are not especially plentiful, they are generally interesting and spirited while the best of the country are just about the best these genres have ever seen, on an international scale. Mexicans’ natural groundedness coupled with the mystical tendencies is an excellent standpoint for witnessing the oblique directions of Death and Black Metal from an unpretentious, furious, “Luciferian” angle. It’s almost a surprise there isn’t so much more of it, even though I’m surprised if any reader of this article gets a sense of scarcity regarding items of interest in Mexican metal. So, that being said, it’s about time we leave you to contemplate the mysteries of Toltecs and Satan in the consummation of the extreme, Romantic and evil compositional systems of these modern Mexican warriors and dreamers.

Marco: I think this music is very individual and very personal, and it can take you to a spiritual level, if you listen carefully. Our ancient cultures are based on spirituality, so that’s the point in our just making this weird mix. One song can take you to the top of the pyramids, and reach for the skies, and another one could take you to a scenario of a war against the conquerors. In the end it’s all about finding your own roots, it’s some kind of, another, resource to open your eyes and to step away from the enslavement of social rules and moral unconsciousness (Christian superstition included). In the end the people in power need a dormant society, so they can keep on corrupting, spreading corruption in every corner, and people are just playing the game. Only the connection to your roots will set you free.

Joel: It’s a matter of self confidence in all the things we do, the feeling of greatness inside, the feeling of power, to reach new levels in the extreme brutal metal music we make! I’m not here to convince anyone to do anything, we are selected persons, we the whole scene… the others, the weak, must die!

Highest hails from Deathmetal.Org to Joel of Mortuary, Marco of Xibalba, Demogorgon of Avzhia, Eduardo of Necroccultus and last but not least Noe of Guttural Records for providing in-depth thoughts from the original perpetrators of real Mexican Metal! All of these bands are active so look out for forthcoming events of true massacre of the highest order.

Once you decided to come to Mexico you should have put all your petty fears away. Your decision to come should have vanquished them. You came because you wanted to come. That’s the warrior’s way.

– Don Juan Matus

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Embryonic exhumations – Unearthing classic demos

Ras Algethi – Oblita Divinitas
Helheim – Walpurgisnatt
Alioth – Channeling Unclean Spirits
Graveland – Drunemeton
Tsjuder – Ved Ferdens Ende

Ras Algethi – Oblita Divinitas

If the architecture of the great Gothic cathedral, with its upward arches, towering spires and cosmic domes laden with images of the suffering divinity on this earthly realm, had been constructed as a kind of sacral road sign to the eternal paradise beyond, then the music of Ras Algethi’s demo is a fitting soundtrack of cathartic expression, a release from the pain and misery of the mortal existence. Like the immortal Oneiricon – The White Hypnotic album to follow, ‘Oblita Divinitas’ relies heavily on the sounds of the mighty organ for it’s intensity as an imposing beacon of death, magnifying the mournful, melodic patterns that guide the listener through the distinct passages of these songs. Where the organ picks up on the general idea of a riff that’s introduced first, the guitars go on to elaborate this phrase in an almost improvisational, though highly restrained, story-telling manner. The bigger picture develops more gradually – far more slowly and funereal than the full-length – and the organs and percussion eventually give way to the austere logic of the main riff, with clever variations that manipulate this momentary freedom from time and space, or blissful acoustic passages that prolong and reflect in it (anticipating ‘When Fire is Father’, one of the most memorable songs on ‘Oneiricon’), before the other instruments return in an emphatic transition, taking the music to an even deeper level of suffering. Ras Algethi show a very mature compositional style from the onset, not just giving a vague sensation of sadness, but carefully detailing the journey with a reference point of possibly going beyond the world that causes it, re-addressing this emotion as a painful longing for release. –ObscuraHessian

Helheim – Walpurgisnatt

Ghoulish, ethereal and enwrapped in a magnetic tape production reeking of ancient tombs and broken 4-trackers, Helheim’s vision of industrial black metal is far more elemental than the connotations of that description during the last decade. As with the primitivist throbbing drum machines of Mysticum and the ambient blankets of Sort Vokter, the aim is ritual-hypnotic music which does not try to spice up black metal in order to make it more comforting or exciting; instead, it challenges one’s concentration by looping, returning and rewiring little fragments and pieces of riff in powerful early Norwegian black metal language, conducted by the raging screams of the now-deceased vocalist Jon A. Bjerk. The svastika simulacrum depicted on the cover highlights the natural difference with the smoother approach of the other Helheim of the same era, famed mostly for the vagrant mythological epics of “Jormundgand” – this Helheim rather spits in the face of the observed tradition in order to bring forth the subconscious terror of life and death that has been embedded in the mythos of all ancient cultures and bring across a pertinent message to the civilization (macrocosmically) and the black metal of our time (microcosmically). –Devamitra

Alioth – Channeling Unclean Spirits

Remember how disappointed you were the last time you heard a new Varathron or Rotting Christ album? If the same lack of consistency and effort permeates other areas of Greek society, them having descended from the mythic glory of Athene into debts and poverty needs hardly the prophetic eye of Cassandra to fully explain. As in Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel “American Gods” the lost European deities are found prowling the Wisconsin backwoods, Chicago based Alioth’s mystical and sensual tribute to Hellenic black metal ca. 1993 is admirably not only a continuation of the electric technoid dynamo drumbeat and an application of the palm muted speed and doom riffs in esoteric underground context; it’s also a highly logically strung sequence of moods as if the physical organization of pain and pleasure in a Dionysian ritual theatre, succumbing with the heavy held back moments of “The Channeling” and “Apocryphal Dimensions” and rising through the interludial “Invocation” and “Invocation II” to softly expire orgasmic relaxation. So much could be created out of this basic concept that it’s a pity the full-length album has remained cloaked in the depths of the primal sea, while Wargoat Obscurum iterates far less subtle (and far less interesting) metal with Cult of Daath. –Devamitra

Goreaphobia – Morbidious Pathology

Goreaphobia’s debut album wouldn’t have been quite so eagerly anticipated without a strong back catalogue of minor releases such as the ‘Morbidious Pathology’ demo, which provides an unexpected listening experience if Mortal Repulsion is the only recording you’ve heard from the band. Where the full-length communicates visions from the abyss through the blank eyes of an old mystic locked in a lucid dreaming state, this demo is full of enough youthful energy to express the paranoia of a thousand souls trapped within the claustrophobic confines of their own mortality. Variations in riffs reflect these tightly packed structures, seeming to progress with not so much a linear logic than the re-arranging of parts of the whole, like limbs being removed from a body and sewn on to somewhere else entirely until the true grotesqueness of humanity is revealed. As with Mortal Repulsion, despite the physical connections to Incantation, there is a stronger similarity to the craftsmanship of Immolation and albums that would come in later years, such as the complex and disjointed but melodically evocative Here in After. The lead guitar work, though highly restrained, possesses a sense of neoclassical refinement that bridges some short-burst riffage with eloquent but totally disturbing solos. This demo shows the beginnings of an all too rare experiment in Death Metal where you can observe the maturation of a consistant idea as it goes through the turmoil of a tortured, temporal existence. –ObscuraHessian

Graveland – Drunemeton

It’s not difficult to understand the distaste that Darken has for the recordings commited to tape during Graveland’s infancy in the light of his recent catalogue of pristine, epic and Atlantaean creations. Some distance away from the expansive scenes of battlefields and expressions of Romantic nationalism, this ancient offering from the living master of Pagan Black Metal is totally shrouded in a necrotic production, like ghostly shadows moving through oaken forests, casting a spell within more cloistered and Druidic surroundings than the output of Graveland from the past 15 years. Alongside the visions that created the force of Scandinavian Black Metal in the early 90′s, this demo represents the reclusive and misanthropic esotericism of that era, especially the primality of the lowest fidelity cults, Beherit and Ildjarn. Sounding like the work of a punk ostracised by that increasingly over-socialised group for being too idealistic and inhuman, Darken conjures a lurid interpretation of hypnotic Bathorean riffing that develops through the echoing of majestic, synthesised voices that open this recording as though a prologue to ‘The Celtic Winter’. The experimentation with primitivism in ‘Drunemeton’ is so deconstructionist that the guitar technique becomes fragmented completely and subordinated to reveal gloomy ambient moods that amplify the silence of a forest at night before the dawn of battle. There’s a similarity to the Beherit song ‘Nuclear Girl’ in how the guitar is used more like a sample, reverberating it’s texture through the keyboards to emphasise a cloistered sensation, accompanied by monastic chants at other times. Culminating in the ambient classic, ‘The Forest of Nemeton’, this demo is the successful beginnings of Graveland’s exploration into unconventional and nihilistic territory beneath the folky phrasing of guitar-led melodic work, which would shape the dynamic of his entire discography to follow. –ObscuraHessian

Tsjuder – Ved Ferdens Ende

Fifteen years ago, we were too proud and lofty to listen to it, our sensory devices soothed and inflamed by Panzerfaust, Battles in the North and Høstmørke, while the new generation of neo-progressive and mainstream black metal bands sought to enrapture even wider audiences with movie soundtrack influenced keyboards and angelic female voice conjured by fat-bottomed gothic tarts. For the atmospheric maniacs only, as it’s hard to argue for its musicality against the likes of Vikingligr Veldi; but the epic wanderlust and distorted pagan death ritual of this demo’s centerpiece, “Fimbulwinter”, unfolding like a flower at dawn or the psychedelic mandala of LSD invading brain receptors, is one of the pure innocent and mesmerizing gems of underground black metal in this sacred and forsaken era. The primal Isvind-esque melody dance like ripples of waves on a forest pond, the hissing tracker production complete with the macabre clack of a drum machine and the dampness of a Nordic bedroom cellar permeate the recording to such a thickness of adolescent black metal fury that it’s hardly palatable to generic audiences then and now. Barely a trace of the fast norsecore of the more familiar debut album Kill For Satan is noticeable here, the only similarity being the guitarist Draugluin’s technique of bricklike tremolo chord architecture where rhythm plays little importance. While primitive, this compositional method bears an intrinsic beauty which is worthy of recapitulation when the pure augustness of early Norwegian black metal has mostly become forgotten in favour of seemingly more rich and elaborate indie stylings. –Devamitra

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Assimilation

What makes metal heavy also makes the mainstream want to absorb it

In the night, one can hear many noises. Some sound scary, and others signal scary events. For example, the roar of an animal is disturbing, but to someone alone in a house a stealthy footfall or the click of a lock is scarier. Similarly in art, the context of a sound defines its significance, and what makes music frightening is the meaning it encodes.

Among all forms of art, what makes heavy metal unique is that it embraces disturbing sounds which are not ugly but which portend disturbing patterns found in reality. Heavy metal is the music of the apocalypse, and whether warning it off or cheering it on or both, achieves this heaviness through the context it conveys.

What makes heavy metal heavy?

Both fantastic and literal, heavy metal explores the ideas our society will not endorse. It is not protest music, whining “it should not be” into a secondhand microphone, but a war-like genre which describes destruction with the joy of a painter who could use it as a color in a new epic landscape. Metal is about the experience of life, but it disciplines that with a clear sense of reality and consequence, as is appropriate for “heavy” conversation. Where society hides from fear and allies itself with the threat of the consequences of fears, metal allies itself with death to dispense fear.

When metal first arrived, new fans began to understand what made Black Sabbath “heavy”: the patterns which revealed the thinking behind such noises, putting context to the fear they instilled. Thundering distorted riffs were not new; Blue Cheer had done that. Neither was aggression; Iggy Pop had done that. But Black Sabbath, inspired by horror movie soundtracks, came up with a new style of music that used melodic phrases played in power chords, and by targetting the weighty topics that social conversation did not admit, creating a terrifying form of art.

Rock music had grown through the 1960s from simple boyfriend-girlfriend pop to apocalyptic rock like the Doors or King Crimson in the same way the Beatles rejected their sugarpop roots to become morbid and political. Whenever given a chance, the music reverted to a simple, tolerant, peaceful hedonism that hid its escapism and narcissism. The future members of Black Sabbath, upon seeing a horror movie and wondering if people would ever pay to have that experience in rock music, created the antithesis to distracting escapism: a descent into the complex and violent world of reality.

Its heaviness migrated into a different style of composition: other bands wrote songs around open chords which were strummed in a repeated pattern, and then modulated, while Black Sabbath used moveable power chords to make phrases into riffs and it was the change in those phrases that communicated a difference in outlook. It was more like classical music, where harmony is so well-studied that it is used as a device toward “narrative” compositions where the change in motifs and their accompaniment conveys a string of moods that like a mythology or a fable convey the idea of a journey from one point to another.

With this development, they gave meaning to the sound. Its context of topics gave its heaviness form, but musically it was heavy as well, using thundering chords that stripped out traditional harmony and made the riff instead, like the nihilistic voice of an angry god, speak the truth that completed the poetry of contrast in each song. By throwing away form, and the form of socialization which “peace” and “love” implied, Black Sabbath brought danger back into a stagnant modern life — specifically, the danger that in all the attempts to stay away from the darkness, we as a civilization had missed an essential truth.

What does metal believe?

As an art form, metal has continuously developed visions of a human apocalypse lingering in the absence of our willingness to face reality. Reality is, as the saying goes, not entirely pleasant, and so is less popular than simple partial truths called “symbols,” which create an illusion of completeness by super-simplifying reality. Morality is not scientifically accurate but it is more comforting to our minds to have two options instead of nearly infinite ones.

During its maturation, metal wavered in and out of the public illusion, called “consensual reality,” which is the alternate reality of values most people use to navigate their lives. Consensual reality includes the symbols people want to believe in and, reinforced by preference-enabling activities like democracy and consumerism, makes itself “real” by the fact that most people believe it to be true. This public illusion takes many forms and metal has not been immune, but is strongest when it kicks aside the illusion and goes for the kind of heavy contexts that always made good ambiguous truth.

One view of metal is as a reality mediator showing the darkness underlying our pleasant illusions, and that in doing so, it is not deconstructive but attempts to make clarity of life by finding beauty in the dark and heavy as well as the light. As a holistic approach, this outlook negates both dualistic worlds (heaven, hell) and secular morality in favor of a scientific, historical and abstract design-oriented perspective on life. This then returns us to the idea of metal as orthodoxy, or a genre in which there is a clear direction and those who deviate from it are parasitizing on the popularity of the genre while weakening it with ideas that oppose it.

The terms “sell out” and “poseur” arose in the 1970s to refer to those of this intention, most specifically the bands like Def Leppard who turned their heavy metal roots into radio trash that was essentially rock music with power chords. A poseur was someone dishonest who adopted the most rigorous pose, or identity-affirming lifestyle and opinions, of a genre but was like all hipsters using it for his or her own benefit and believed none of it. These terms persist to this day.

Any ideology is necessarily orthodox, in that if it does not assert a right way and wrong way of doing things, it is not an ideology at all but an ethic of convenience much like the opinionless, directionless motions of rock music or its deferential humanistic political counterpart. Rock stands for a big party and everyone having it their way; this is a meta-orthodoxy that opposes all orthodoxy.

Metal on the other hand is orthodox and opposes meta-orthodoxy because an orthodoxy of no orthodoxy is a lack of direction. Directionless self-assertion does not address the apocalyptic or religious aspects necessary to unite human thinking toward survival in an apocalyptic time. To clarify reality, metal music embraces nihilism and worships power and beauty, because these things connect us to a reality that will forever seem flawed to us because it is full of horror, doubt, fear and death. However, the metal outlook shows us the wisdom of these things and makes living with them seem “fun,” where rock music and other anti-orthodoxies retreat into human activities and social realities, pushing reality itself far away.

As a result, metal is sandwiched between protest music of the anarchic left and the wisdom of the conservative ancients, forming itself through fantasy into a vision of a more realistic and more enjoyable vision of life. Rock music is a product of the wealth and convenience of a modern time that allows us to have inconsequential lifestyles and opinions, while metal is a revolution against that outlook, a seemingly deconstructive art form that in actuality opposes deconstruction.

We can trace these ideas through consistent beliefs found across metal generations:

  1. Beauty in darkness. It is not ugly, pounding music but music which discovers beauty in distortion, in anger and terror, in violence and foreboding dark restless relativistic power chords. The point is not to deconstruct, but to go through deconstruction and find meaning. This is evident in the works of Black Sabbath and every metal band since, and is what distinguishes “real” metal from hard rock.
  2. Worship of power. Unlike pacifying rock music and jazz and “new music” classical, metal music adores powerful, vast and broad simple strokes; it loves the majesty of nature and its crushing final word. It does not have love songs. Instead, its love is directed to forces of nature, including physical forces like storms and intense human experience like war or loss, as if trying to find meaning in these.
  3. Worship of nature. Linked to metal’s adoration of power is its appreciation for the function, including its “red in tooth and claw” aspects, of the natural world. Where most are repulsed by the idea that combat exists between animals in which one is victor, and one is prey, metal idolizes it. It finds beauty in ruins, in destruction, and in death, as if praising the cycle of life they engender again.
  4. Independent thinking. Metal does not buy into the individualism of a modern time where the only goal is material pleasure of the self (materialism) and keeping others away by granting them the same (humanism). It prefers the independent thinking that looks for higher values in life, mountains to climb and challenges to be met. Where punk music enmeshed itself in a callow “I wanna do what I wanna do,” metal saw this as part of the same gesture of rock music and discarded it.

These are expressed artistically by the following:

  1. Dark, morbid themes that clashed with the “love will save us” hippie mentality. These are explained by Black Sabbath as being derived from the horror movies of the day, a genre which features a union between technology and the occult (zombies, werewolves) producing a force humans cannot oppose. Normal technologies and methods cannot defeat it. They struggle against this force but their emotional instability causes them to sabotage one another, and often the dark force wins. Examples from this genre: Mothra, Dawn of the Dead, Alien, The Exorcist, The Shining, War of the Worlds.
  2. Songs written from short cyclic phrases called riffs, which unlike rock riffs used moveable chords of inspecific harmonic bonding, making the melody and rhythm of the phrase more important than key or voicing. Metal bands tend to use more riffs per song, and not in the traditional cycle of verse-chorus, in a way quite similar to progressive bands like King Crimson and Yes, both of whom used aggressive distortion.
  3. A focus on the holism of the human effort as determined by our moral state as individuals in a way that can only be described as “religious.” Metal, in addition to sounding eerily like angry Bach-scripted church music, has a similar focus to dogmatic transcendentalism Christianity: what is our future as human beings, and how does how we shape our personalities effect it?
  4. Bass-enhanced overdriven guitar sound, or distortion, which encloses the primary instrument used in making heavy metal. In rock, guitars and drums come together to emphasize a vocal melodic line; in metal, guitars lead a melodic line for which vocals are a complement and drums a timekeeper, enclosing it in a regularity to give listeners context. The guitar is the loudest single instrument heard and the one that invokes changes in song.

These beliefs and musical techniques reinforce each other. Using distortion and loud music, yet finding beauty in it. Using longer narrative phrases so as to tell a story, creating a holistic view in which emotion emerges, instead of citing pre-configured emotions like rock music does. A darkness and melancholy exhibited in lyrics and imagery, corresponding to aggressive music, expressing a desire to seize all of reality, good and bad together, and make something better of it.

Heavy Metal as Romanticism

We have seen ideas similar to these before in the form of a genre that, once birthed, refused to die, even as history moved on. In fact, it has re-emerged throughout the modern time because it was the step before this new type of rationalism,

Although metal borrows from both classical and Romantic periods of classical music, its most intense similarity is to the Romantic period in literature, which in its later years diverged into Gothic horror and transcendental idealism. Much as embryological theory tells us that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, or that a fetus goes through the same stages of evolution as its species did to arrive at its current state, metal theory shows us that metal — as a revolt against what rock music stood for, e.g. distraction — forms an embryo which rediscovers its musical past. In this sense, metal is starting with classical and venturing through late Romanticism toward modernism.

According to the experts, Romanticism in literature and music has several tenets:

  • It is not clearly defined as a single thing, or several versions of this thing1. Most of Romanticism existed before it became a concrete movement, and heavily overlapped with classicism2.
  • A desire to explore organic culture instead of high culture, especially tales of the medieval age and its feudal society3
  • Worship of the imagination, and of creative and individual truthfulness in emotion4.
  • Reverence for nature as “an organically unified whole,”5 and intuition, instincts, and feelings were seen as necessary complements to reason in contrast to “mechanical” rationalism6.
  • Symbolism and myth were given great prominence7.
  • Rejection of the universalism in exchange for study of the individual as distinct from others8.
  • Shift from a mimetic to an expressive orientation, meaning that art no longer imitated life, but expressed a truth found in it9.
  • A willingness to strive “for the unattainable beyond the morally permitted,” and a rejection of morality for situational or naturalistic interpretation10.
  • An appreciation for the melancholy, remote and ancient11.

Romanticism was a response to neo-classicism, which was the most recent form of the surge in rationalism brought about by The Age of Enlightenment. Where the Enlightenment rationale brought individual rights, focus on personal emotion, and a linear logical process by which one could dissect the world and find an absolute response to it, Romanticism both inherited that tradition and began dissolving it. It is for this reason that we can find Romanticist themes abundant, in everything from Star Wars to presidential speeches: the conflict of rationalism-versus-Romanticism has never been resolved.

Unlike modern individualism, Romanticist individualism meant using yourself as the justification for your own wants, instead of trying to find some external justification. As Nietzsche phrased it, “I prefer” and “I find beauty in” are more important than all the equations, statistical summaries, studies cited and popular votes in the world; Romanticism (of which Nietzsche was an ambiguous defender but spiritual comrade) rejects the idea of externalized truths and knowing, and instead prefers a sense of unity between the individual’s aesthetics and a “mythic imagination” which lets them see possibilities in the world using holistic logic, instead of the linear (single-factor) logic used by rationalists.13

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
The World is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth (1789)

~

Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist.

And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no additional mission which would lead it beyond human life. Rather, it is human, and only its possessor and begetter takes it so solemnly-as though the world’s axis turned within it. But if we could communicate with the gnat, we would learn that he likewise flies through the air with the same solemnity, that he feels the flying center of the universe within himself. There is nothing so reprehensible and unimportant in nature that it would not immediately swell up like a balloon at the slightest puff of this power of knowing.

On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense, Friedrich Nietzsche (1873)

Heavy metal inherits this conflict because in order to be “heavy,” it must tackle the dark issues everyone fears. What makes these issues dark is that our normal methods cannot defeat them. We then must ask what we exclude from our methods, and we see that any anti-social information — that which might offend someone, or mention death, or suggest that morality is an imposed and artificial condition — is excluded from our methods. As a result, heavy metal becomes a kind of peering behind the curtain of an externally-imposed reality, and in seeing the horrors within, finding a new desire for both warlike apocalyptic intensity and a beauty discovered in darkness.

Romanticism re-occurs because it is generally seen as the only idea which can oppose modernism, which is like neo-classicism but even more insistent upon rationalism and the hybrid between individualism and groupthink that is utilitarianism. Metal, as a genre exploring Romanticism with a masculine and warlike approach, most closely approximates the philosophies of Nietzsche and other post-Romantic writers who wanted to escape the bureaucratic approach to society and restore a sense of adventure.

Metal is fantasy that can be applied to reality, neatly briding the two categories of art as entertainment/mimesis and art as politics. It is not protest music, nor is it the kind of wallpaper-like distracting pleasant activity that we see on most television shows. Instead, it is a manifestation of the Faustian desire for forbidden knowledge. From classical literature and music, it borrows a rigid sense of structure and a desire for resurrection, Tolkien-esque, of the ancient times of honor, blood, warfare and magic. From Romantic literature and music, it takes its major themes, including the sense of an individual trapped in a moribund society reaching out and the idea that when the individual escapes society to nature, reality can be seen for the first time. The most similar Romanticists to metal lyrics are probably the following:

  • William Blake – wrote about metaphysical topics from the perspective of the universe, and mocked humans for being weak and obsessed with the trivial.
  • John Milton – wrote Paradise Lost, in which Satan is an anti-hero who rejects the rule of heaven in order to discover life for himself.
  • William Wordsworth – enshrined anti-social behavior with his classic The World is Too Much With Us, which calls for rejecting society in favor of mythic imagination.
  • Mary Shelley – wrote Frankenstein, in which technology creates a new form of life which discovers it has no place in the world, and it turns destructive.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – a realist who did not shy from horror, Goethe believed in a universe where human perception was a small and unnecessary part of its divine function.14

If we had to summarize metal as an artistic movement, it would be fair to say it has more in common with European Romantic art than the popular music and boutique art of our present era. Like the Romantics, it sought a transcendence in accepting the world’s inequality and horror and using it as a relative opposite against which to project challenges; it wants to bring back the fighting spirit of an ancient time, and give us independent thinking and goals instead of buying us off with the humanist-materialist tripe that the mainstream media proclaims — dogma which, interestingly, has failed to solve a single widespread problem of humanity.

Even more interesting is that the genre of horror movies, an intersection of proto-science fiction and occult lore, was born of the Romantic movement. Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein, was the wife of Percy Shelley, a Romantic poet. Bram Stoker’s Dracula came from the Gothic fringe of the Romantic movement as well. One of the greatest descriptions of Satan ever, Paradise Lost by John Milton, was also a Romantic work.

“I believe in tragedies…
I believe in desecration…”
The Sun No Longer Rises, Immortal (1993)

Like its Romantic forebears, metal music desires transcendence: finding the beauty in darkness by accepting the physical struggle that is life, and instead of trying to run away from that struggle into personal material comfort, accepting it as something that gives significance to our existences. Metal music desires to overcome our fear of death and of nature, and by accepting them, to show us a new world of meaning. In this, it is both a continuation of Romanticism and an evolution of it to a more coherent state.

How did this change for underground metal?

Appearing in the early 1980s, underground metal arose from a hybrid between crustcore/hardcore (Discharge) and the structuralist, neo-classical heavy metal of the previous generation (Judas Priest, Black Sabbath). It took the Romantic themes of earlier metal and made them more extreme. If underground metal has one unifying concept, it is the one emphasized by Hellhammer, “Only death is real.”

After heavy metal blew out by getting absorbed into its own popularity, and then speed metal copped out by softening its stance and sound to be more popular, underground metal roared away with pure nihilism: facing life as it is without a thought that anyone or thing in the universe cares if we collectively or individually survive. This was orthodoxy retaliating against anti-orthodoxy, which always takes the form of individuals preferring to avoid reality and so passive revenging themselves against those disciplined enough to want, in the time-honoured method of survival common to all creatures, to adapt to reality. In overcoming the anti-orthodoxy of individualism, underground metal became the first popular music genre ready to face ego-death.

The question, of course, could be asked: Why did you ever try narcotics? Why did you continue using it long enough to become an addict? You become a narcotics addict because you do not have strong motivations in any other direction. Junk wins by default. – William S. Burroughs, Junky

Ego-death is a concept that psychedelics and zen monks alike discovered. In it, the person realizes they are one part of a giant system, and stop seeing the world through themselves. They see themselves in the world, but they see the bigger process first. Ego-death tends to lead to a transcendent state where one sees all of consciousness as a continuum, and becomes less afraid of d-y-i-n-g. Ego-death forces us to see life through a filter that is super-realistic, or dedicated to bringing people into a moment of realization that what they are touching and doing is real and they need to grasp command of their own minds to survive. It opposes panic and illusion, moral and social judgment (“knowing” from Nietzsche above), fear and pleasant unrealistic thoughts.

Not coincidentally, “only death is real” resembles topics from “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad and “Paradise Lost” by John Milton. In both, as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the protagonist is thrust into a delusional, dysfunctional, chaotic world that he alone can see is wrecked, and takes a long journey in which she or he can see that the nothingness is very real and pervades everything, and that our denial of this emptiness of life makes a greater emptiness, or a hollow illusion that cannot satisfy us. As we try to live in this illusion, we see reality peeking through, and so become neurotic.

The characters in these books overcome their situations only by throwing away the rule book, avoiding what other people tell them is the truth, and acting on their animal intuition. Conrad’s protagonist Marlowe begins the book impotent and ends it with a powerful tool, like a sword or fire, to explain why what he sees is as impotent as he once was. It’s like an adolescent story, but for humanity, growing out of its moral illusion and seeing reality as a pragmatic task. In Paradise Lost, Satan is appealing but has made an error in opposing the order of nature/God, yet still he has to make this decision, to explore the world in a Promethean sense of fearlessness and self-command. His undoing is too much self and not enough command.

Underground metal recognized this duality of human thought. Official knowing was bad news; unguided knowing was chaotic and destructive; therefore, a new type of knowledge had to be created, and this knowledge was nihilistic literalism as found in hardcore punk merged with the fantasy and epic worldview of heavy metal. The political nature of punk had made it easy for foolish people to slap anarchy stickers on their rockabilly guitars and start repeating the same old stuff, like the aged activists who whine “why can’t they just see” when life has passed them by.

Underground metal was not political or social, but philosophical: it viewed the world from outside human eyes, seeing it like a large scientific experiment in which history was the result, and based its knowledge on the abrupt interruption to human illusion created by death. When we see that wisdom, we recognize that we are tiny and inconsequential, and that adapting to life is more important than the moral, social, media and political worlds made of human agreement to have a symbol stand for something.

“Only Death is Real” conveyed ego-death: no matter how big you think you are or how important, death is more real than your visions, so you must accept nothingness. To accept nothingness is to cast aside the unhealthy parts of the ego and to give it context, so that the ego is a motivic force but only one of many on a planet. To see only death as real is to wonder what else can be real. The answer is right past the end of our noses: the world is real, and it’s a continuum that renews itself, so it’s worth working for. If you like life, you work to make it better. If you hate life, you deny the reality of the world and you go further inward into the self and its desires, which has never worked for making anyone happy no matter how stupid.

We are social creatures, and it is as mathematically logical why that is so as the collaboration between parts of a computer program. We are all of the same thing, and we want to take our part in this thing, which includes nature and our fellow humans, and if we like being alive, we want to do what’s best not just for ourselves or for humanity but for the whole thing. What a stream of interesting thoughts “Only Death is Real” can unleash, in part because our society does everything it can to deny the reality of death.

The archetypal death metal bands — Hellhammer, Bathory, Slayer — all used occult imagery much as Blake, Milton and Goethe did. With that in mind, we can re-interpret Slayer’s Satanic imagery as more than being opposition to Christianity. For one, they do not seem to oppose Christianity. If anything, lyrics like “South of Heaven” or “The Final Command” illustrate, like Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” before them, a world in the grips of evil based in power based on an illusion. In Slayer’s complex theology, Christianity is Satanic because like political strength and industry it is a false outward power when inward the person is underconfident and weak. Christianity however is seen as often accurate, in that the apocalypse does come from selfishness, and Christian morality (“bastard sons beget your cunting daughters”) is the best way to live, but a way that makes no sense in a world addicted to the power of illusion.

As in Milton, Slayer’s Satan is a rebel against a singular order encroaching upon the world, a necessary force like magnetism that opposes any such centralization. In Slayer and Milton’s view, to have any single power controlling the universe is to bring the universe toward sameness, something thermodynamicists call “entropy,” or a state when any direction yields the same results as any other because of the uniformity of the universe. Milton was edging toward a transcendental view of God as being a property of the universe, and not an ego or personality such as that overbearing one against which Satan revolts, himself a victim of his own excessive egoism.

I feel there is some hideous new force loose in the world like a creeping sickness, spreading, blighting. Remoter parts of the world seem better now, because they are less touched by it. Control, bureaucracy, regimentation, these are merely symptoms of a deeper sickness that no political or economic program can touch. What is the sickness itself? – William S. Burroughs

In the Milton-Slayer worldview, “God” encompasses both bad and good, because together these create a reality in which we can strive for better things. Similarly, in Conrad, the tokens of good and profit are chased in such a way that they create an illusion sustained by greed, in which the only heroes are amoralists like Mr. Kurtz who use brutality and combat effectively, but are conflicted over the underlying reasoning for their goal, namely the need to produce income through ivory when greater challenges await. In the worldview these artists offer, profit motive and morality are a going-inward into the protective mantle of fear, and morality is something we impose on the world to avoid the heroic challenge of leaving that inward sanctum and achieving goals that are not justified by physical survival (morality) or material comfort (profit).

When we look at metal with these opened eyes, the sound and imagery and lyrics are far less random. Distortion is a finding of beauty in darkness, a clarity emerging not when one looks at individual grains of sound but when one hears the blurry whole and deducts from it both pure tone and the harmony of randomness to that clarity; distortion forces us to take a view from above, and see the whole picture in order to understand what occurs at any moment. It is also a metaphor for our inability to ever fully perceive the universe, telling us that if we look at the center of the distortion we will find what is occurring, even if we cannot see it perfectly. The gritty, chaotic sound of distortion defies our logical containers that look for purity and instead finds a reality that although hazy is as clear as it if were pure.

The “riff salad” of metal bands is a way of establishing that music is not a cyclic loop of verse-chorus, resembling our going inward to the world of our own thoughts and preferences, but a journey in which our inward struggle parallels our outward struggle (much like the jihads of Islam: the lesser Jihad is the war against ignorance/infidels, and the greater Jihad is the war for spiritual clarity in oneself). Metal is art because it does not preach a political solution, but shows us the reasons for it. When that sort of higher thinking fails, metal relapses to liking noise and hedonism but little else.

It is one thing to preach, as if politically, against the ego. It is another thing to show a path beyond the ego. “Only Death is Real,” like nihilism itself, is a way of dispensing with “belief” in order to begin the journey to discover what is real and what is supra-real. The supra-real is that dimension where heroism and creativity lie, where one has accepted the feared attributes of life (d-y-i-n-g, disease, sodomy) and has transcended them by seeing what is not material/tangible yet is also important. It is this journey that metal music, classical music, and all great art describes. It is starting from nothing, like Satan exiled from Heaven, and getting over resentment of life and fear of death to see the beauty in darkness and to return to life with a desire to make it better. It is a recognition of the inherent distortion of our perception, and tuning our ears and minds to see past that faltering.

When only death is real, the ego dies for a moment and we see the world as a whole, and can get out of the prison of our limited perspective and re-bond to the life that produced us and produces all we value. It is a hedonic state higher than hedonism, to love life and want to make it better through better design. This is where death metal broke from heavy metal, and it is where all thinking that rewards strong souls begins.

The Evolution of Black Metal

Death metal brought images of impending doom and a fascination with the macabre into a dark world. It built upon what speed metal and grindcore had already established: an apocalyptic epic where the only future was decay. Death metal incorporated the righteous integrity of speed metal and the nihilism of punk into a musical onslaught warning of destruction. It fit into Kurt Vonnegut’s famous metaphor for art: that artists are to society what canaries were to the coalminers who brought them into the depths of the mine as warnings. When the song of the canary turned weak or stopped, it meant that suffocating coal gas was flooding the mine.

Death metal is an extension of the complexity of speed metal, partially arising from the attitude of that genre that any large problem can be solved by reason. Speed metal and thrash believed in rationality, and preached insanity as a negative characteristic. Death metal became the science of understanding insanity and breakdown, not preaching against it as speed metal often did but explicating it in epic songs and vivid imagery. Black metal, as a response to the failure of death metal to avoid the crowd, was an embrace of all things destructive to human illusion: natural selection, warfare, predation, violence, cruelty and tyranny.

Black metal restored romantic side of metal as its primary vehicle; its emotion is more obvious as that is its obsession. A death metal band would never argue destruction of the world, calling it irrational, where a black metal band would call for destruction of all life on emotional grounds. Black metal’s sadness comes from its emotional entrapment in a mechanistic world, and for that reason it rebels against order, whether in Heaven, on Earth, or in Death Metal. Black metal is in many ways a return to the mission metal left when exploring the scientific mindset of the technological age (as computers revolutionized life in the eighties, quantitative rationalism experienced a resurgance of influence).

If we look at metal’s history, we can see how this conflict brewed. Black Sabbath retaliated against the hippie music of their time as unrealistic and distracting. The following generation of metal turned it into more of a party for alienated kids, which punk retaliated against by returning the focus to all the negative aspects of reality. The next generation of metal, speed metal, picked up the punk outlook but channeled it into the heroic stories of past heavy metal, creating a less lamentatory and more assertive, masculine “we can fix this” outlook. When speed metal collapsed into its own popularity, death metal returned with pure nihilism balanced by a structuralism that suggested life was understandable but denied by the individual. Grindcore rose simultaneously with death metal and restored the punk/hippie attitude of tolerance toward the individual. Black metal retaliated against this just as Black Sabbath condemned the hippies of their day by brushing aside morality for an awareness of horror and our impotence against the real threats in this world; it rejected all protest rock and literal music for a spiritual conditioning which embraced struggle, darkness, melancholy and other Romantic traits.

Black metal grew exponentially since its emergence as a distinct musical style in the early 1990s; previous “black metal,” from Venom through Hellhammer, had been a variant on the dominant style of the time and often indistinguishable from death metal. Like a new civilization, it grew from a small group of innovators who were disgusted by the “jogging suit” mentality: people who were essentially products of a modern time, who blindly bleated its ideas, figuring out how to play death metal and becoming popular in the genre by making their music more like what audiences accustomed to rock music expected. In essence, the crowd had infested death metal as it had speed metal before that, and black metal was a response to this.

Recognizing that no matter how they dressed up the music as something “new,” appearances could be cloned, black metal musicians decided to go where the crowd could not follow: they would write music that expressed a grandeur of nature and feral amorality, hearkening more to the values of Samurai or European knights than to the disposable ideals of modern time. Since such a topic requires music that infuses the listener with a sense of awe and beauty in the cycle of destruction and creation that renders our world, they could no longer rely on “three chords and the truth,” but had to actually put the truth in the music, and write more poetic and complex songs.

The small civilization within civilization that was black metal was united more by ideals than by aesthetic or musical tenets, although all of its music by aiming to express the same kind of idea had similarities, mainly in its use of poetic complexity and truth within the music (and not necessarily the lyrics; you listen to black metal, and because of its intense artistry, find truth there). Because we are surrounded by infinite voices repeating the same few ideas in many different forms, here are the basic ideas of black metal that are distinct from the mass:

  1. Nature as a supreme, rational and all-pervasive order. Natural selection and an embrace of struggle took the center stage through celebration of predation and death. Even more, black metal celebrated the nature “within,” or our inner feral nihilism that made a mockery of morality.
  2. Anti-Christianity/Crowdism. Crowdism is the idea that respecting the will of individuals is more important than finding a realistic idea. It is a form of backward logic where we see the individual as the cause, and not the effect, of all that is around us and so convince ourselves that a human social consensual reality can override nature. Crowdism is secular Christian morality.
  3. Introspection. The only meaning comes from what the individual can interpret; there are no boundaries between individuals and the world (nature) as whole, but individual perception is limited to natural abilities and learning from experience. This is the opposite of the “if it feels good, do it” rhetoric of hippie rock.
  4. Morbidity. Viewed as an essential giver of meaning. Where most view death paranoiacally, and see it as a great entropy removing all value, black metal musicians viewed it as something giving meaning to life.
  5. Organicism. Like Romantic poets, black metal musicians tended to place more faith in organic growth than imposed social order. A sense of differentiation from the herd, hatred toward the incompetent and delusional, pride in unique ethnic origins and a celebration of older culture makes this a huge part of the genre.

To any student of European history or art, these values are not new; they are traditional to all Romantic forms of art, whether literature or visual art or symphonies, and were upheld by artists as disparate as William Wordsworth, Anton Bruckner, John Keats, Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Lord Byron and William Shakespeare. For all of these artists, nature was a higher form of order than the rules of civilization, and civilization had become decadent by praising its own “equal” order more than the “unequal” order of nature. Many philosophers, including the celebrated F.W. Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer, explicated these sentiments in their own work. Black metal’s ideology is nothing new.

What was new was an expression of these ideas in popular music, because rock music and blues and all of the associated disposable art has always been a manifestation of the crowd revolt mentality: simple music so that everyone in a room could get it, diametrically opposed to the grand works of classical music which were too complex and emotionally involved for a crowd to appreciate (or even to have the attention span to endure). Rock music focuses on one emotion per song, bangs it out in riff and chorus, and makes it very simple by using a relatively fixed number of scales and chord progressions. Rock music is the perfect product because it’s easy to make, is appreciated by customers of all ages and not limited by intelligence, and is inoffensive on a certain level in that it has nothing to say that will disturb. The basic message of rock music is to include everyone equally, to appreciate them for being alive and not for their inherent traits, and to come together on simple human values and not higher ideals; rock is inclusivity. Black metal is not.

Much like when watching Lord of the Rings, Braveheart or Apocalypse Now one has a sense of an ancient warlike order, when listening to black metal one sensed a realistic and amoral entity underneath the Romanticized skin of the music. This eternal form of the human spirit grows from the naturalism of black metal as well through its belief in a karmic cycle based on natural selection. At the lowest level, humans are little more than animals. If they exert a form of natural selection upon themselves, and attempt to rise above that level, those who survive will be apt for it; if they do this for several levels, they eventually rise to a state of having a higher intelligence, degree of physical strength and beauty, and moral character (“nobility”: the ability to see what is correct for the natural order of society as a whole, and not to get distracted by personal or emotional issues). At the very top are those who are fit to lead by the nature of having a transcendent consciousness; it is thought that these much higher IQ than most modern people and were far less fearful, neurotic and self-obsessed. This, too, derived from Romanticism.

Underground metal goes mainstream

Underground metal reigned in part through its mystique. Hated by almost everyone, in and out of jail, preaching ideas which were anathema to both heads of state and hippies in the gutter, underground metal seemed a fragile and rare thing. This mystique faded as the economy shifted again, as it had done in the early 1980s allowing a rush of “indie” bands, and distribution contracts loosened up in the late 1990s.

Where once there had been “import” racks for CDs from abroad, and it was hard to find music, starting in 1997, underground metal became available in mall stores and through Amazon.com. Its identity as a separate entity became difficult to maintain, and the process of assimilation began. In response, metalheads attempted to rally around an identity as “different,” but in doing so, they focused on external aspects (distortion, imagery, indie status) instead of what did make the music distinct: it saw hope for the future in ideas outside of the same accepted dogma all the mainstream newspapers, television and radio sell to us because it is a popular product. If the truth is difficult and therefore unpopular, metal rebelled against popularity as a selection matrix, and from that developed a range of thought which made it a genre distinct from all others.

Far from being alone in this, underground metal has fallen into a general trend of independent art producers seceding from reality. “Literature” has collapsed into a few thousand tiny magazines read by no one but MFA candidates in creative writing, and “visual art” has become a network of small galleries selling cute expensive paintings to uninformed patrons. Even classical music has gotten in on the decline, with “new music” — micro-symphonies of human voices, squeaking dissonant noise, and other trendy types of sound — appreciated by a diehard cult following who need a raison d’etre outside of their civil service jobs.

These genres used to speak an independent voice, but now they repeat lockstep the strange formulation of modern liberal democracy — a “neo-conservative” viewpoint which both champions civil rights and “social issues,” but also affirms the need for a strong economy and constant warfare against evil enemies. Political theorists might try to make sense of it, but it is more direct to understand it this way: popularity sells.

“One could argue that American fiction has ghettoized itself by insisting on a self-reifying view (humanist/materialist?) in which all answers are known, the political binary is carved in stoned, we all have swallowed whole certain orthodoxies, and the purpose of the fiction is just to reinforce these. At the heart of this lies a selfish agenda, that has (one could arge) really ceased seeing the world as a unity, and has begun aggressively internalizing certain capitalist dogmas that say: Of course you are the most important thing, of course you exist separate from the rest of the world.” – George Saunders, The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers

In this situation we find a repeated structure from metal itself, and even, larger society. Metal music goes through cycles where a new idea comes about, is looked down upon by others, and then fully expresses itself, at which point it is cloned to death by the same people who were speaking badly about it earlier (by this I mean new subgenres, not recombinations of existing genres like – eh – “nu-metal”). If you look at it as a conflict between people of able character, and those who are by nature followers, what you see is that the able create; the followers imitate, and in so doing, drown it and condemn what was created to being of the same mediocrity it helped to escape.

Indeed, the death metal of today more musically resembles rock than that of ten years ago; same with black metal. They have been assimilated, but from within the metal genre, by people whose character is so low that their highest values are to esteem what is valued by the larger society, and thus to reproduce it in the appearance of something which is not larger society, assuming that by controlling appearance, they control content. They are wrong, and they drag down everything they touch. It is this way with the creation of music, the promotion of music, and the choice of who runs hubs; most run them for the popularity, and don’t mind if there’s a whole bunch of support for moronic rock music thrown into the mix. In fact, they encourage it, as by appealing to everyone, they feel like Christ on the cross, being both a victim and a conqueror by the sheer fact of being needed.

This conflict repeats itself in all human endeavors: one group starts a process that creates benefit, and then others surge in and, not understanding the struggle of creation, parasitize it and destroy it. We can see this in the tendency of sequels to intelligent movies being junk; in the revolutions of the masses against the elites that leave nations with lower average IQs and third world levels of dysfunction; in the killing of Socrates by democratic Athens; in the denial of reality that lets Americans run up record debt, or our species to deplete fish stocks, pollute the ocean with floating plastics, and poison our open waterways with enough chemicals to turn amphibians hermaphroditic. The eternal human struggle for clarity of reality, versus withdrawing into our own perspectives and becoming oblivious, is repeated in metal and its struggle to resist assimilation.

The ‘heat-death’ of the universe is when the universe has reached a state of maximum entropy. This happens when all available energy (such as from a hot source) has moved to places of less energy (such as a colder source). Once this has happened, no more work can be extracted from the universe. Since heat ceases to flow, no more work can be acquired from heat transfer. This same kind of equilibrium state will also happen with all other forms of energy (mechanical, electrical, etc.). Since no more work can be extracted from the universe at that point, it is effectively dead, especially for the purposes of humankind.
— Andreas Birkedal-Hansen, M.A., Physics Grad Student, UC Berkeley12

With human beings, our tendency to act for ourselves alone — individualism, or selfishness — divides up our civilization and encourages entropy. Metal, as a perspective beyond the individual and the ego-drama that rock bands promote through love songs and peace dogma, encourages us instead to get over ourselves, transcend our egos, and look at reality for the potential beauty within it. In this, we enact a familiar drama to any post-agrarian-civilization art, which is that of the lone individual versus the crowd. The individual wants to do what is right, but the crowd wants him to be selfish like them, so that together they do not challenge each other and no one can ever be wrong, or face conflict, or be lonely. But in the end, the crowd always makes itself miserable because its vice is essentially cowardice. Metal reintroduces some clarity through a simple formulation: either one goes inward, and tries to know reality through oneself, or one looks outward and tries to know oneself through external opinions, and as a result, loses oneself in the crowd and its lowest common denominator inclinations, namely fear, selfishness and narcissism.

Assimilation of metal

Whether this larger conflict will be resolved is not yet certain – definitely, however, metal is a reaction against it. When people sang hippie songs, Black Sabbath brought in dark reality, and woke many out of the stupor that assumed extending democratic liberties to all humans would solve far deeper-rooted problems. As rock music headed toward an effete protest against Reagan in the 1980s, metal retaliated by condemning left and right for their ignorance of basic human dissatisfaction and the threat of nuclear warfare. Finally, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, death metal and black metal arose to remind us that we are mortal, and that there are greater values than that which society can bestow, such as nature, the upholding of tradition, and pride in our national origins.

The clones have closed in fast on those, since they are indirectly the greatest threat to clone culture to ever arise in metal. For this reason among others, it’s worth upholding in them what gave people hope: the belief that someday the war of clones versus leaders, masses versus elites, would come to an end. Some keep trying to dumb it down into a political trend that gives us a partial truth and tries to make it represent all of reality, effectively blinding us to the big picture so we can focus on a vicarious struggle:

More than three decades after Black Sabbath conjured images of the dark arts, heavy metal is growing up. The genre is increasingly incorporating social and political messages into its dense power chords.

“Metal is expanding and evolving and becoming more diverse,” said Canadian anthropologist and filmmaker Sam Dunn, who directed “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,” released on DVD this summer. “It’s at a much more vibrant state than it was even five or 10 years ago.”

“It’s becoming global and it’s becoming a tool for social and political commentary,” Dunn said. “It takes on a greater meaning in countries where people have had to struggle to survive. It takes on a much stronger political tone.”

Metal music in the 1980s was often homophobic and “very white,” she said, but current bands tend to be socially conscious and suspicious of political power. There’s also more women in the audience — and fronting the bands.

The lyrics on Lamb of God’s two most recent albums have been expressly political, and the politics lean heavily to the left.

Napalm Death’s Greenway is considering work as a political activist when his metal days are over, but he doesn’t think metal will ever completely stray from hedonistic and supernatural themes.

MSN

It is not surprising that mainstream media misunderstands underground metal. After all, they virtually forced its creation, since any band darker or heavier than Metallica received no recognition; the media wanted to sell us metal as party-lovin’, loud and crazy rock music. And so while the underground bloomed in 1985 to 1996, they praised stadium heavy metal and hard rock bands. During the current time, they embrace as “metal” music that is mostly emo hardcore: metalcore and nu-metal.

To an observer of the recent black metal scene, it’s tempting to get bitter. The newest style and trend appears to be “black hardcore,” or bands putting together two three-note riffs in a standard song format in recombinant order, and even the most ambitious bands are succumbing to this influence. Reminiscent of when hardcore punk music bloated itself into entropy and collapsed because no one could tell any two bands apart, this is like gangrene creeping up the legs and finally into the bloodstream of the genre.

When the genre is healthiest, the winds of coming winter oppose all new bands with brutal hardship, so only the most determined make it to the stage of releasing an album. This encourages others who have talent and brains to take a stab. If a lone artist looks at a genre, and sees a thousand albums of which two are good, the conclusion will be that the genre is fattened and the fans thus unable to tell the difference between good music and bad.

If the genre seen has a handful of albums, most of which are excellent, it is instead a compelling argument for further exploration. This is how genres rise and fall, and is why hardcore punk and death metal both eventually fattened themselves into insignificance to the point that now, once you’ve heard one band, you’ve heard them all. So for the health of the genre, it’s better that fewer albums of a higher quality are released.

Ideals of assimilated metal:

  1. Everyone must get it. It must be simple, not challenging, and most of all not have any poetic essence to its soul, as most fans can’t get that and thus will not buy it.
  2. Appearance over structure. It must have a unique appearance, but say the same old things philosophically and use familiar musical ideas so that even the dumbest fans can understand it and buy it. Even more, it must be upheld as dogma truth that adding a flute or screeching spotted owl to the same old music somehow makes it “unique” and worth owning.
  3. Form doesn’t apply to content. In other words, appearance is more important than structure, which is the form that moulds itself to the content, in the same way a story about a rescue at sea has a different flow and arrangement than a story about contemplating death in the bathtub.
  4. Simplistic emotions are important. Forget the depth of “Inno A Satana”; blindly praise Satan with roaring, consistent anger, because that way every fan, even the ones with Down’s Syndrome, can get what it’s about and get into it. Start a big singular emotion party, and make it simple so everyone can buy the CD and come along.
  5. Everyone can participate. Black metal clones are not specific to a certain land or belief system, as they are essentially musically the same and are designed so that even a retarded outer space alien could “get it” and start tapping its feet and wearing Darkthrone-brand jogging suits immediately. Nationalism, even elitism, eugenics or belief in anything at all is out; what’s in is having some music that sounds angry, is written like punk rock, and can be appreciated by everyone so they can buy the CDs or praise the “underground” scene queens who created it.

The average black metal fan today has not heard the formative works of the genre: Immortal, Emperor, Burzum, Gorgoroth, Enslaved, Darkthrone, Beherit and Varathron when they were making essential, complex, beautiful music. All they’ve heard are the newcomers, both of the blatantly commercial Cradle of Filth variety, and the scene whore “loud, fast and antisocial” type of band. The newcomers are uniformly worthless, as they express nothing that rock music does not, and by giving it an extreme aesthetic, allow their fans to convince themselves that they are “part of” some movement against the dominant trend of society, even though much like Democrats and Republicans in America agree on the same core values, newcomer “black metal” repeats the same empty rhetoric that rock music has been feeding us for fifty years. Newcomer black metal is black metal only in the world of appearance; in terms of musical and artistic structure, it’s closer to punk rock or even Dave Matthews Band. It’s rock music.

Agents of Assimilation: The Hipster

Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.

But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”

An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization — a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” — a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.

Ad Busters — Hipsters: The Dead End of Western Civilization

Adbusters doesn’t mention this, but there’s a simple pattern:

Normal, healthy people pick music they want to listen to.

Hipsters pick music to make themselves look good.

A hipster is defined by this reversed cause/effect, and this is why they parallel our society: like people looking for political handouts, they are justifying themselves to others instead of acting as they know is right.

In metal, the hipster is the person always trying to be different, to pick music that is brainy or “authentic” (simple), the person spreading trends and fads. Instead of being an authentic fan who picks the music he or she thinks is best, the hipster is using the music as adornment to conceal their ordinariness.

What’s the damage, you ask? Hipsters bloat genres with people who don’t understand them and, in the ensuing confusion, pick the lowest common denominator. So heavy metal returns to rock, death metal returns to heavy metal, folk becomes punk, and so on.

Healthy societies work from cause to effect. We need an empire, so we build it (cause) and then it appears (effect). Dying societies work from effect to cause. We want an empire, so we create the appearance of an empire (effect) and hope it will show up (cause). This is why old black metallers fear trends, hipsters, fads and mass media like the plague: they promote this unhealthy psychology.

In the postmortem over humanity’s failure, our new reptilian overlords will discuss this issue, and conclude that humans had two modes of thought: a healthy forward-thinking one, and a negative and sick backward-thinking one. The hipster, like every other form of decay in our society, is backward thinking.

Metal is currently awash in hipsters because hipsters use something called irony to disguise their low self-esteem. If they’re listening to IRON MAIDEN, it’s because they find it amusing — not because they believe in it. In fact, they believe in nothing except what others believe in within their social group, which makes them always right. If someone makes fun of them for liking IRON MAIDEN, they can always claim their enjoyment is ironic. It’s a race to the bottom with the hipster, because believing in anything but illusion and evasion makes you a target, so they believe in nothing except “ironically,” and that’s how they infiltrated metal.

In the same way hipsters find trailer parks quaint and amusing, they found death metal and black metal intriguing. It was untamed, unsocialized material, and a threat to everything the hipster stood for. So they assimilated it, and moved in by taking positions in the community. Start buying metal, or selling metal, and others depend on you. From that they branched out by using the hipster tactic of focusing on the external. “Well, this could be more unique if we added a flute…”

When you focus on the external, and don’t pay attention to the fundamental quality of music that distinguishes it, which is how well it communicates, you end up norming the music. Structurally, it becomes all the same, but externally, it’s all tricked out in motley so it appears “different” and “new.” But the real name of the game is not being different, but being the same so you are universally accepted, while having enough adornments that you stand out in a crowd… just like the hipster.

We’ve seen this steadily increasing in metal since 1994 or so, and it was helped by some in metal who would rather leave a bad legacy with a full wallet than the inverse, such as Death and Cannibal Corpse. It will reverse, but only as soon as metal bands and fans start communing on the idea of forward-logic instead of backward, negative logic.

The end result of complete cellular representation is cancer. Democracy is cancerous, and bureaus are its cancer. A bureau takes root anywhere in the state, turns malignant like the Narcotic Bureau, and grows and grows, always reproducing more of its own kind, until it chokes the host if not controlled or excised. Bureaus cannot live without a host, being true parasitic organisms. (A cooperative on the other hand can live without the state. That is the road to follow. The building up of independent units to meet needs of the people who participate in the functioning of the unit. A bureau operates on opposite principle of inventing needs to justify its existence.) Bureaucracy is wrong as a cancer, a turning away from the human evolutionary direction of infinite potentials and differentiation and independent spontaneous action, to the complete parasitism of a virus.

(It is thought that the virus is a degeneration from more complex life form. It may at one time have been capable of independent life. Now has fallen to the borderline between living and dead matter. It can exhibit living qualities only in a host, by using the life of another — the renunciation of life itself, a falling towards inorganic, inflexible machine, towards dead matter.)

Bureaus die when the structure of the state collapses. They are as helpless and unfit for independent existences as a displaced tapeworm, or a virus that has killed the host. – William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

Hipsterism is reality-avoidance, in the same way Crowdism or any other mass movement is: the assimilation of the individual by the crowd in order to destroy reality, which in turn destroys the collective. Societies, genres of music, groups of friends and businesses all fit this pattern, which is fundamental to human psychology. Either the individual stands up for what is true in reality, not what the individual prefers, or the crowd declares its own reality and then the collective veers off course because it has lost touch with reality. Assimilation is a byproduct of individualism without reality, just like bad music is the product of people pandering to each other and not finding a beauty in reality, including its darkness and horror, as heavy metal has throughout its four decades.

Resisting Assimilation

The problem with combatting assimilation is that assimilation is less an act than a passive lack of acting. When good metal is not made, and people do not assert what makes metal unique, assimilation surges in like water filling the space where it was swept out of the way. Like all things in humanity, the default state is one of disorganization and failure, and it is only when wise minds step in and re-direct the chaos that prosperity of any kind happens.

We have learned what does not stop assimilation. Trying to keep the music rare means hipsters buy it on eBay. Trying to keep it indie and obscure means that hipsters only prize it more. Trying to make it more offensive or extreme just makes it more novel. These methods do not work. What also does not work is trusting a “scene” or “underground” to keep away the mainstream, because underground scenes are an advanced form of maintaining rarity through social networks.

A “scene” means music that is consistent enough for people not to care what band is playing, so they can socialize in the same environment time and time again. A “scene” is clubs that play music that sounds very similar time and time again so they know they can draw an audience each time. A “scene” are sellers of music who find bands that sound like each other so they can compare past successes to the next generation, getting a crop of already-proven fans to come buy it all again. The variation is dead – the conformity is absolute. And worst of all, it’s voluntary and in a moral facilitative society there are few arguments accepted against it.

That kind of consistency kills music by raising the level of expectation to an entry requirement. The hardcore “scene” murdered hardcore by making it consistent – acceptable – “fun” and extremely similar. Bands who used to fight for a living could suddenly find central places to play, sell and broadcast their music – but in order to do so, they had to make it fit within expectations. Metal will die with a scene or without some form of one.

The problem with this flood isn’t its quality in itself. The problem is that when there is a flood of undistinctive material, (a) anything that does not conform to the pattern is not recognized and (b) the information overload is so great than any excellent band that does rise will be ignored. In essence, the underground has replicated the errors made by gigantic record labels in the 1980s.

Interestingly, the same thing happened in hardcore music in the 1980s when it became cheap and easy to release seven-inch records. Suddenly, there were no “fans”: everyone had a band, zine, label or distro. Consequently, quality went down, because no leaders were picked, and a great averaging occurred. Everyone could participate, but because there was no specialized fanbase, the farthest they got was participation, getting their share. No one great rose above and therefore, the great people stopped trying. There was no direction.

Analogous to the effects of democracy and consumerism on the quality of people in society as a whole? You bet it was. Analogy to egocentricism of the west, and its own cultural failings? You bet: the same mechanism was in effect: a lack of appreciation for quality because popularity/social pressures dictated participation, an external factor, not hierarchy, which requires a measurement of amorphous qualities such as “artistic worth” which are unrecognizable to most people in the crowd. Consequently, hardcore declined to the point where, in 1985, all the bands sounded exactly the same and there were no leaders.

Another concept, that perhaps will embitter some because of its practicality, is that of your personal landfill. What you produce on compact disc or vinyl or tape doesn’t magically disappear. It ends up in the landfills, with all the other waste you produce, to rot in insignificance, slowly leeching poisons into the earth. You like being alive, right, or you’d be dead — why create more personal landfill if it won’t achieve something you desire? For every CD you buy, there’s one more CD in that landfill. Buy the best, ignore the rest, and your personal landfill will not only be small, but will possibly not exist as others enjoy those CDs, since good CDs can be enjoyed in any age while trends are temporal.

My suggestion to all those who love metal is simple: stop supporting bands that are OK instead of great.

Few genres demand as much long-term allegiance as metal, and get it. Of styles likely found in a record store, only metal, industrial, country, jazz and classical have enduring audiences. Other genres are bigger, but people stay with them for fewer years. As history has shown us, metal is too easily absorbed by the mainstream. Black metal selling out and the rise of nu-metal occurred at the same time – is anything in the universe “coincidental”? It’s interesting to note that a similar absorption afflicted death metal, heavy metal and hardcore punk, all of whom relied on popular-music-style short song formats.

The Case for Metal to Follow Classical

However, there is one guaranteed way to take metal out of the mainstream: leave behind the mainstream song format. Most songs are three minutes of a verse-chorus nature, and they use devices such as rhythmic predictability on the offbeat (“expectation”) and melodic hooks. If metal were to expand on its riff salad nature, it would join genres like jazz and classical in a musically distinct form, and become inaccessible to those who want to make or consume bite-sized music. Every other metal band aspires to classical guitar anyway; why not liberate our impulses toward something that is clearly enjoyed and valued?

For example, consider these micro-symphonies:

When people tell you what they want, they usually tell you what appearance or experience they want — the effect — and do not understand the device for achieving that effect — the cause. They think in terms of the appearance of what they want and not the underlying structure.

For example, when people say they want simplicity, what they really want is organization. It’s why “My Journey to the Stars” works even though it’s “complex” in theory — complex means having a central idea that is simple and clear, and then manifesting it in different forms so people can compare them like metaphors and see the abstraction. People will tell you they want raw, fast, brutal, simple but they’re talking about the one riff they remember, kind of how most people can identify the opening riff to Beethoven’s Symphony Number 5 — it’s the simplest, most memorable part of a complex music experience.

The role of art is to be a silent philosopher, meaning that it does not make explicit commands and references to everyday objects, but gives us a clear spiritual commandment and its corresponding aesthetic from which to work. Art organizes our spirits and approach to reality. It is important that art does this because most people know the end result they’d like to see, but are completely unaware of the context in which it exists. They see a riff, and figure that if they just heard that riff, they’d have the whole experience, or they think of one moment when they were happy and assume that correlations which occurred simultaneously to that moment — a cigarette, a postcard, a summer day — are the cause when the real cause was the sequence of events that led up to that one moment having great significance, or that one cigarette being the break that really helped them find mental clarity. It wasn’t the cigarette — it was the context.

In human life, once civilization is established, we face a causal breakdown. Person A does something, and Person B sees the results, and tries to work backward toward the cause. Metal bands see how others have succeeded, and try to imitate the outward aspects — faster drums, harsher vocals, floaty keyboards — without understanding that it’s the songwriting and beneath that, the ability to reference “meaning” in experience shared between artist and listener, that makes the song great and not just average with above-average execution.

At this point, the genre doesn’t understand its own spirit or aesthetics, so bands make salads where they throw together unrelated stuff and figure that since it has everything, it must be good. This “carnival style” metal is a salad of distractions from which each piece returns to a few exactly repeated themes. As a result, there’s a lot going on, like riding a merry-go-round and seeing the world outside flash by in disorienting random order, but there’s no development of theme; it’s just a more complex version of verse/chorus pop music.

People can’t put into words what they want. When shown what they want, they will initially resist it because it doesn’t “look like” or “sound like” what they want — people in 1990 “wanted” simpler, catchier, groovier speed metal, and that movement went nowhere. While sub-sub-genres like metalcore, deathcore, or “black punk” (hybrid of pop-punk, shoegaze, emo and black metal) have momentary peaks of popularity, these seem to fade quickly, unlike the lasting appeal of the best of death and black metal. They’re popular, but no one seems to love them like true classics.

However, there is still great room in this genre for those who can translate the spirit, aesthetics and organization of classical music — narrative motives — into death/black metal. That’s the real ground to conquer. Whoever does that will be initially unpopular, like death metal and later black metal were, but later acknowledged as a hero. Like the songs listed above, such music will be passionate but leave the repetitive, formulaic, simplistic structure of pop music behind.

Metal music will never fit into the framework of other genres. Where other music might sound scary, metal communicates the meaning of scary, and this means that it will always oppose the anti-orthodoxy of mainstream logic. For those who understand its message and the power of its sound, assimilation of a distinct genre into the indistinct mass will always remain a threat.


  • 1

    Romanticism, on the other hand, is what the writers of the Romantic Period practiced: there is not much agreement about what that is exactly, and there is in fact a longstanding debate about whether there is such a thing or only Romanticisms. See A. O. Lovejoy, “On the Discrimination of Romanticisms,” PMLA, 1924; Ren� Wellek, “The Concept of `Romanticism’ in Literary History,” Comparative Literature, 1949; and finally, Jerome McGann’s Introduction to The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse (revised edition). – http://www.users.muohio.edu/mandellc/eng441/urllist.htm

  • 2

    A movement in art and literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in revolt against the Neoclassicism of the previous centuries…The German poet Friedrich Schlegel, who is given credit for first using the term romantic to describe literature, defined it as “literature depicting emotional matter in an imaginative form.” This is as accurate a general definition as can be accomplished, although Victor Hugo’s phrase “liberalism in literature” is also apt. Imagination, emotion, and freedom are certainly the focal points of romanticism. Any list of particular characteristics of the literature of romanticism includes subjectivity and an emphasis on individualism; spontaneity; freedom from rules; solitary life rather than life in society; the beliefs that imagination is superior to reason and devotion to beauty; love of and worship of nature; and fascination with the past, especially the myths and mysticism of the middle ages. – http://www.uh.edu/engines/romanticism/introduction.html

  • 3

    Some of the earliest stirrings of the Romantic movement are conventionally traced back to the mid-18th-century interest in folklore which arose in Germany–with Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm collecting popular fairy tales and other scholars like Johann Gottfried von Herder studying folk songs–and in England with Joseph Addison and Richard Steele treating old ballads as if they were high poetry. These activities set the tone for one aspect of Romanticism: the belief that products of the uncultivated popular imagination could equal or even surpass those of the educated court poets and composers who had previously monopolized the attentions of scholars and connoisseurs.

    Whereas during much of the 17th and 18th centuries learned allusions, complexity and grandiosity were prized, the new romantic taste favored simplicity and naturalness; and these were thought to flow most clearly and abundantly from the “spontaneous” outpourings of the untutored common people. In Germany in particular, the idea of a collective Volk (people) dominated a good deal of thinking about the arts. Rather than paying attention to the individual authors of popular works, these scholars celebrated the anonymous masses who invented and transmuted these works as if from their very souls. – http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/hum_303/romanticism.html

  • 4

    Emphasis on the activity of the imagination was accompanied by greater emphasis on the importance of intuition, instincts, and feelings, and Romantics generally called for greater attention to the emotions as a necessary supplement to purely logical reason. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 5

    While particular perspectives with regard to nature varied considerably–nature as a healing power, nature as a source of subject and image, nature as a refuge from the artificial constructs of civilization, including artificial language–the prevailing views accorded nature the status of an organically unified whole. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 6

    It was viewed as “organic,” rather than, as in the scientific or rationalist view, as a system of “mechanical” laws, for Romanticism displaced the rationalist view of the universe as a machine (e.g., the deistic image of a clock) with the analogue of an “organic” image, a living tree or mankind itself. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 7

    Symbolism and myth were given great prominence in the Romantic conception of art. In the Romantic view, symbols were the human aesthetic correlatives of nature’s emblematic language. They were valued too because they could simultaneously suggest many things, and were thus thought superior to the one-to-one communications of allegory. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 8

    In addition, neoclassicism had prescribed for art the idea that the general or universal characteristics of human behavior were more suitable subject matter than the peculiarly individual manifestations of human activity. From at least the opening statement of Rousseau’s Confessions, first published in 1781–“I am not made like anyone I have seen; I dare believe that I am not made like anyone in existence. If I am not superior, at least I am different.”–this view was challenged. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 9

    Certain special features of Romanticism may still be highlighted by this contrast. We have already noted two major differences: the replacement of reason by the imagination for primary place among the human faculties and the shift from a mimetic to an expressive orientation for poetry, and indeed all literature. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 10

    The hero-artist has already been mentioned; there were also heaven-storming types from Prometheus to Captain Ahab, outcasts from Cain to the Ancient Mariner and even Hester Prynne, and there was Faust, who wins salvation in Goethe’s great drama for the very reasons–his characteristic striving for the unattainable beyond the morally permitted and his insatiable thirst for activity–that earlier had been viewed as the components of his tragic sin. (It was in fact Shelley’s opinion that Satan, in his noble defiance, was the real hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost.) – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 11

    a literary, artistic, and philosophical movement originating in the 18th century, characterized chiefly by a reaction against neoclassicism and an emphasis on the imagination and emotions, and marked especially in English literature by sensibility and the use of autobiographical material, an exaltation of the primitive and the common man, an appreciation of external nature, an interest in the remote, a predilection for melancholy, and the use in poetry of older verse forms. – http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/romanticism

  • 12

    The ‘heat-death’ of the universe is when the universe has reached a state of maximum entropy. This happens when all available energy (such as from a hot source) has moved to places of less energy (such as a colder source). Once this has happened, no more work can be extracted from the universe. Since heat ceases to flow, no more work can be acquired from heat transfer. This same kind of equilibrium state will also happen with all other forms of energy (mechanical, electrical, etc.). Since no more work can be extracted from the universe at that point, it is effectively dead, especially for the purposes of humankind. – http://www.physlink.com/Education/AskExperts/ae181.cfm

  • 13

    But the rising materialism and focus on business at the cost of the mind and the spirit was spawning reform movements all over America…Many felt a psychic dislocation, that the bottom had dropped out of their world since traditional values and conventional reality were just not enough for them. They tried to impose meaning individually, for institutions and dogmas seemed to possess little truth. Philosophically, they reacted against the materialistic educational theories of Locke and rationalism. They found Truth more a matter of intuition and imagination than logic and reason. They rejected the mechanistic view of the universe so dear to Franklin and Deists and opted for a more organic view, seeing the world more as dynamic and living. – http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/eng372/intro.htm

  • 14

    “He was recognized as a leading figure in the Sturm und Drang, which celebrated the energetic Promethean restlessness of spirit as opposed to the ideal of calm rationalism of the Enlightenment. Goethe’s poem ‘Prometheus’, with its insistence that man must believe not in gods but in himself, might be seen as a motto for the whole movement.” – http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/goethe.htm

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What is heavy metal?

In the night, one can hear many noises. Some sound scary, and others signal scary events. For example, the roar of an animal is disturbing, but to someone alone in a house a stealthy footfall or the click of a lock is scarier. Similarly in art, the context of a sound defines its significance, and what makes music frightening is the meaning it encodes.

Among all forms of art, what makes heavy metal unique is that it embraces disturbing sounds which are not ugly but which portend disturbing patterns found in reality. Heavy metal is the music of the apocalypse, and whether warning it off or cheering it on or both, achieves this heaviness through the context it conveys.

What makes heavy metal heavy?

Both fantastic and literal, heavy metal explores the ideas our society will not endorse. It is not protest music, whining “it should not be” into a secondhand microphone, but a war-like genre which describes destruction with the joy of a painter who could use it as a color in a new epic landscape. Metal is about the experience of life, but it disciplines that with a clear sense of reality and consequence, as is appropriate for “heavy” conversation. Where society hides from fear and allies itself with the threat of the consequences of fears, metal allies itself with death to dispense fear.

When metal first arrived, new fans began to understand what made Black Sabbath “heavy”: the patterns which revealed the thinking behind such noises, putting context to the fear they instilled. Thundering distorted riffs were not new; Blue Cheer had done that. Neither was aggression; Iggy Pop had done that. But Black Sabbath, inspired by horror movie soundtracks, came up with a new style of music that used melodic phrases played in power chords, and by targetting the weighty topics that social conversation did not admit, creating a terrifying form of art.

Rock music had grown through the 1960s from simple boyfriend-girlfriend pop to apocalyptic rock like the Doors or King Crimson in the same way the Beatles rejected their sugarpop roots to become morbid and political. Whenever given a chance, the music reverted to a simple, tolerant, peaceful hedonism that hid its escapism and narcissism. The future members of Black Sabbath, upon seeing a horror movie and wondering if people would ever pay to have that experience in rock music, created the antithesis to distracting escapism: a descent into the complex and violent world of reality.

Its heaviness migrated into a different style of composition: other bands wrote songs around open chords which were strummed in a repeated pattern, and then modulated, while Black Sabbath used moveable power chords to make phrases into riffs and it was the change in those phrases that communicated a difference in outlook. It was more like classical music, where harmony is so well-studied that it is used as a device toward “narrative,” through-composed pieces where the change in motifs and their accompaniment conveys a string of moods that like a mythology or a fable convey the idea of a journey from one point to another.

With this development, they gave meaning to the sound. Its context of topics gave its heaviness form, but musically it was heavy as well, using thundering chords that stripped out traditional harmony and made the riff instead, like the nihilistic voice of an angry god, speak the truth that completed the poetry of contrast in each song. By throwing away form, and the form of socialization which “peace” and “love” implied, Black Sabbath brought danger back into a stagnant modern life — specifically, the danger that in all the attempts to stay away from the darkness, we as a civilization had missed an essential truth.

What does metal believe?

As an art form, metal has continuously developed visions of a human apocalypse lingering in the absence of our willingness to face reality. Reality is, as the saying goes, not entirely pleasant, and so is less popular than simple partial truths called “symbols,” which create an illusion of completeness by super-simplifying reality. Morality is not scientifically accurate but it is more comforting to our minds to have two options instead of nearly infinite ones.

During its maturation, metal wavered in and out of the public illusion, called “consensual reality,” which is the alternate reality of values most people use to navigate their lives. Consensual reality includes the symbols people want to believe in and, reinforced by preference-enabling activities like democracy and consumerism, makes itself “real” by the fact that most people believe it to be true. This public illusion takes many forms and metal has not been immune, but is strongest when it kicks aside the illusion and goes for the kind of heavy contexts that always made good ambiguous truth.

One view of metal is as a reality mediator showing the darkness underlying our pleasant illusions, and that in doing so, it is not deconstructive but attempts to make clarity of life by finding beauty in the dark and heavy as well as the light. As a holistic approach, this outlook negates both dualistic worlds (heaven, hell) and secular morality in favor of a scientific, historical and abstract design-oriented perspective on life. This then returns us to the idea of metal as orthodoxy, or a genre in which there is a clear direction and those who deviate from it are parasitizing on the popularity of the genre while weakening it with ideas that oppose it.

The terms “sell out” and “poseur” arose in the 1970s to refer to those of this intention, most specifically the bands like Def Leppard who turned their heavy metal roots into radio trash that was essentially rock music with power chords. A poseur was someone dishonest who adopted the most rigorous pose, or identity-affirming lifestyle and opinions, of a genre but was like all hipsters using it for his or her own benefit and believed none of it. These terms persist to this day.

Any ideology is necessarily orthodox, in that if it does not assert a right way and wrong way of doing things, it is not an ideology at all but an ethic of convenience much like the opinionless, directionless motions of rock music or its deferential humanistic political counterpart. Rock stands for a big party and everyone having it their way; this is a meta-orthodoxy that opposes all orthodoxy.

Metal on the other hand is orthodox and opposes meta-orthodoxy because an orthodoxy of no orthodoxy is a lack of direction. Directionless self-assertion does not address the apocalyptic or religious aspects necessary to unite human thinking toward survival in an apocalyptic time. To clarify reality, metal music embraces nihilism and worships power and beauty, because these things connect us to a reality that will forever seem flawed to us because it is full of horror, doubt, fear and death. However, the metal outlook shows us the wisdom of these things and makes living with them seem “fun,” where rock music and other anti-orthodoxies retreat into human activities and social realities, pushing reality itself far away.

As a result, metal is sandwiched between protest music of the anarchic left and the wisdom of the conservative ancients, forming itself through fantasy into a vision of a more realistic and more enjoyable vision of life. Rock music is a product of the wealth and convenience of a modern time that allows us to have inconsequential lifestyles and opinions, while metal is a revolution against that outlook, a seemingly deconstructive art form that in actuality opposes deconstruction.

We can trace these ideas through consistent beliefs found across metal generations:

  1. Beauty in darkness. It is not ugly, pounding music but music which discovers beauty in distortion, in anger and terror, in violence and foreboding dark restless relativistic power chords. The point is not to deconstruct, but to go through deconstruction and find meaning. This is evident in the works of Black Sabbath and every metal band since, and is what distinguishes “real” metal from hard rock.
  2. Worship of power. Unlike pacifying rock music and jazz and “new music” classical, metal music adores powerful, vast and broad simple strokes; it loves the majesty of nature and its crushing final word. It does not have love songs. Instead, its love is directed to forces of nature, including physical forces like storms and intense human experience like war or loss, as if trying to find meaning in these.
  3. Worship of nature. Linked to metal’s adoration of power is its appreciation for the function, including its “red in tooth and claw” aspects, of the natural world. Where most are repulsed by the idea that combat exists between animals in which one is victor, and one is prey, metal idolizes it. It finds beauty in ruins, in destruction, and in death, as if praising the cycle of life they engender again.
  4. Independent thinking. Metal does not buy into the individualism of a modern time where the only goal is material pleasure of the self (materialism) and keeping others away by granting them the same (humanism). It prefers the independent thinking that looks for higher values in life, mountains to climb and challenges to be met. Where punk music enmeshed itself in a callow “I wanna do what I wanna do,” metal saw this as part of the same gesture of rock music and discarded it.

These are expressed artistically by the following:

  1. Dark, morbid themes that clashed with the “love will save us” hippie mentality. These are explained by Black Sabbath as being derived from the horror movies of the day, a genre which features a union between technology and the occult (zombies, werewolves) producing a force humans cannot oppose. Normal technologies and methods cannot defeat it. They struggle against this force but their emotional instability causes them to sabotage one another, and often the dark force wins. Examples from this genre: Mothra, Dawn of the Dead, Alien, The Exorcist, The Shining, War of the Worlds.
  2. Songs written from short cyclic phrases called riffs, which unlike rock riffs used moveable chords of inspecific harmonic bonding, making the melody and rhythm of the phrase more important than key or voicing. Metal bands tend to use more riffs per song, and not in the traditional cycle of verse-chorus, in a way quite similar to progressive bands like King Crimson and Yes, both of whom used aggressive distortion.
  3. A focus on the holism of the human effort as determined by our moral state as individuals in a way that can only be described as “religious.” Metal, in addition to sounding eerily like angry Bach-scripted church music, has a similar focus to dogmatic transcendentalism Christianity: what is our future as human beings, and how does how we shape our personalities effect it?
  4. Bass-enhanced overdriven guitar sound, or distortion, which encloses the primary instrument used in making heavy metal. In rock, guitars and drums come together to emphasize a vocal melodic line; in metal, guitars lead a melodic line for which vocals are a complement and drums a timekeeper, enclosing it in a regularity to give listeners context. The guitar is the loudest single instrument heard and the one that invokes changes in song.

These beliefs and musical techniques reinforce each other. Using distortion and loud music, yet finding beauty in it. Using longer narrative phrases so as to tell a story, creating a holistic view in which emotion emerges, instead of citing pre-configured emotions like rock music does. A darkness and melancholy exhibited in lyrics and imagery, corresponding to aggressive music, expressing a desire to seize all of reality, good and bad together, and make something better of it.

Heavy Metal as Romanticism

We have seen ideas similar to these before in the form of a genre that, once birthed, refused to die, even as history moved on. In fact, it has re-emerged throughout the modern time because it was the step before this new type of rationalism,

Although metal borrows from both classical and Romantic periods of classical music, its most intense similarity is to the Romantic period in literature, which in its later years diverged into Gothic horror and transcendental idealism. Much as embryological theory tells us that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, or that a fetus goes through the same stages of evolution as its species did to arrive at its current state, metal theory shows us that metal — as a revolt against what rock music stood for, e.g. distraction — forms an embryo which rediscovers its musical past. In this sense, metal is starting with classical and venturing through late Romanticism toward modernism.

According to the experts, Romanticism in literature and music has several tenets:

  • It is not clearly defined as a single thing, or several versions of this thing.1 Most of Romanticism existed before it became a concrete movement, and heavily overlapped with classicism.2
  • A desire to explore organic culture instead of high culture, especially tales of the medieval age and its feudal society.3
  • Worship of the imagination, and of creative and individual truthfulness in emotion.4
  • Reverence for nature as “an organically unified whole,”5 and intuition, instincts, and feelings were seen as necessary complements to reason in contrast to “mechanical” rationalism.6
  • Symbolism and myth were given great prominence.7
  • Rejection of the universalism in exchange for study of the individual as distinct from others.8
  • Shift from a mimetic to an expressive orientation, meaning that art no longer imitated life, but expressed a truth found in it.9
  • A willingness to strive “for the unattainable beyond the morally permitted,” and a rejection of morality for situational or naturalistic interpretation.10
  • An appreciation for the melancholy, remote and ancient.11

Romanticism was a response to neo-classicism, which was the most recent form of the surge in rationalism brought about by The Age of Enlightenment. Where the Enlightenment rationale brought individual rights, focus on personal emotion, and a linear logical process by which one could dissect the world and find an absolute response to it, Romanticism both inherited that tradition and began dissolving it. It is for this reason that we can find Romanticist themes abundant, in everything from Star Wars to presidential speeches: the conflict of rationalism-versus-Romanticism has never been resolved.

Unlike modern individualism, Romanticist individualism meant using yourself as the justification for your own wants, instead of trying to find some external justification. As Nietzsche phrased it, “I prefer” and “I find beauty in” are more important than all the equations, statistical summaries, studies cited and popular votes in the world; Romanticism (of which Nietzsche was an ambiguous defender but spiritual comrade) rejects the idea of externalized truths and knowing, and instead prefers a sense of unity between the individual’s aesthetics and a “mythic imagination” which lets them see possibilities in the world using holistic logic, instead of the linear (single-factor) logic used by rationalists.13

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

The World is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth (1789)

Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist.

And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no additional mission which would lead it beyond human life. Rather, it is human, and only its possessor and begetter takes it so solemnly-as though the world’s axis turned within it. But if we could communicate with the gnat, we would learn that he likewise flies through the air with the same solemnity, that he feels the flying center of the universe within himself. There is nothing so reprehensible and unimportant in nature that it would not immediately swell up like a balloon at the slightest puff of this power of knowing.

On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense, Friedrich Nietzsche (1873)

Heavy metal inherits this conflict because in order to be “heavy,” it must tackle the dark issues everyone fears. What makes these issues dark is that our normal methods cannot defeat them. We then must ask what we exclude from our methods, and we see that any anti-social information — that which might offend someone, or mention death, or suggest that morality is an imposed and artificial condition — is excluded from our methods. As a result, heavy metal becomes a kind of peering behind the curtain of an externally-imposed reality, and in seeing the horrors within, finding a new desire for both warlike apocalyptic intensity and a beauty discovered in darkness.

Romanticism re-occurs because it is generally seen as the only idea which can oppose modernism, which is like neo-classicism but even more insistent upon rationalism and the hybrid between individualism and groupthink that is utilitarianism. Metal, as a genre exploring Romanticism with a masculine and warlike approach, most closely approximates the philosophies of Nietzsche and other post-Romantic writers who wanted to escape the bureaucratic approach to society and restore a sense of adventure.

Metal is fantasy that can be applied to reality, neatly briding the two categories of art as entertainment/mimesis and art as politics. It is not protest music, nor is it the kind of wallpaper-like distracting pleasant activity that we see on most television shows. Instead, it is a manifestation of the Faustian desire for forbidden knowledge. From classical literature and music, it borrows a rigid sense of structure and a desire for resurrection, Tolkien-esque, of the ancient times of honor, blood, warfare and magic. From Romantic literature and music, it takes its major themes, including the sense of an individual trapped in a moribund society reaching out and the idea that when the individual escapes society to nature, reality can be seen for the first time. The most similar Romanticists to metal lyrics are probably the following:

  • William Blake – wrote about metaphysical topics from the perspective of the universe, and mocked humans for being weak and obsessed with the trivial.
  • John Milton – wrote Paradise Lost, in which Satan is an anti-hero who rejects the rule of heaven in order to discover life for himself.
  • William Wordsworth – enshrined anti-social behavior with his classic The World is Too Much With Us, which calls for rejecting society in favor of mythic imagination.
  • Mary Shelley – wrote Frankenstein, in which technology creates a new form of life which discovers it has no place in the world, and it turns destructive.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – a realist who did not shy from horror, Goethe believed in a universe where human perception was a small and unnecessary part of its divine function.14

If we had to summarize metal as an artistic movement, it would be fair to say it has more in common with European Romantic art than the popular music and boutique art of our present era. Like the Romantics, it sought a transcendence in accepting the world’s inequality and horror and using it as a relative opposite against which to project challenges; it wants to bring back the fighting spirit of an ancient time, and give us independent thinking and goals instead of buying us off with the humanist-materialist tripe that the mainstream media proclaims — dogma which, interestingly, has failed to solve a single widespread problem of humanity.

Even more interesting is that the genre of horror movies, an intersection of proto-science fiction and occult lore, was born of the Romantic movement. Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein, was the wife of Percy Shelley, a Romantic poet. Bram Stoker’s Dracula came from the Gothic fringe of the Romantic movement as well. One of the greatest descriptions of Satan ever, Paradise Lost by John Milton, was also a Romantic work.

“I believe in tragedies…
I believe in desecration…”

The Sun No Longer Rises, Immortal (1993)

Like its Romantic forebears, metal music desires transcendence: finding the beauty in darkness by accepting the physical struggle that is life, and instead of trying to run away from that struggle into personal material comfort, accepting it as something that gives significance to our existences. Metal music desires to overcome our fear of death and of nature, and by accepting them, to show us a new world of meaning. In this, it is both a continuation of Romanticism and an evolution of it to a more coherent state.

How did this change for underground metal?

Appearing in the early 1980s, underground metal arose from a hybrid between crustcore/hardcore (Discharge) and the structuralist, neo-classical heavy metal of the previous generation (Judas Priest, Black Sabbath). It took the Romantic themes of earlier metal and made them more extreme. If underground metal has one unifying concept, it is the one emphasized by Hellhammer, “Only death is real.”

After heavy metal blew out by getting absorbed into its own popularity, and then speed metal copped out by softening its stance and sound to be more popular, underground metal roared away with pure nihilism: facing life as it is without a thought that anyone or thing in the universe cares if we collectively or individually survive. This was orthodoxy retaliating against anti-orthodoxy, which always takes the form of individuals preferring to avoid reality and so passive revenging themselves against those disciplined enough to want, in the time-honoured method of survival common to all creatures, to adapt to reality. In overcoming the anti-orthodoxy of individualism, underground metal became the first popular music genre ready to face ego-death.

The question, of course, could be asked: Why did you ever try narcotics? Why did you continue using it long enough to become an addict? You become a narcotics addict because you do not have strong motivations in any other direction. Junk wins by default.

– William S. Burroughs, Junky

Ego-death is a concept that psychedelics and zen monks alike discovered. In it, the person realizes they are one part of a giant system, and stop seeing the world through themselves. They see themselves in the world, but they see the bigger process first. Ego-death tends to lead to a transcendent state where one sees all of consciousness as a continuum, and becomes less afraid of d-y-i-n-g. Ego-death forces us to see life through a filter that is super-realistic, or dedicated to bringing people into a moment of realization that what they are touching and doing is real and they need to grasp command of their own minds to survive. It opposes panic and illusion, moral and social judgment (“knowing” from Nietzsche above), fear and pleasant unrealistic thoughts.

Not coincidentally, “only death is real” resembles topics from “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad and “Paradise Lost” by John Milton. In both, as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the protagonist is thrust into a delusional, dysfunctional, chaotic world that he alone can see is wrecked, and takes a long journey in which she or he can see that the nothingness is very real and pervades everything, and that our denial of this emptiness of life makes a greater emptiness, or a hollow illusion that cannot satisfy us. As we try to live in this illusion, we see reality peeking through, and so become neurotic.

The characters in these books overcome their situations only by throwing away the rule book, avoiding what other people tell them is the truth, and acting on their animal intuition. Conrad’s protagonist Marlowe begins the book impotent and ends it with a powerful tool, like a sword or fire, to explain why what he sees is as impotent as he once was. It’s like an adolescent story, but for humanity, growing out of its moral illusion and seeing reality as a pragmatic task. In Paradise Lost, Satan is appealing but has made an error in opposing the order of nature/God, yet still he has to make this decision, to explore the world in a Promethean sense of fearlessness and self-command. His undoing is too much self and not enough command.

Underground metal recognized this duality of human thought. Official knowing was bad news; unguided knowing was chaotic and destructive; therefore, a new type of knowledge had to be created, and this knowledge was nihilistic literalism as found in hardcore punk merged with the fantasy and epic worldview of heavy metal. The political nature of punk had made it easy for foolish people to slap anarchy stickers on their rockabilly guitars and start repeating the same old stuff, like the aged activists who whine “why can’t they just see” when life has passed them by.

Underground metal was not political or social, but philosophical: it viewed the world from outside human eyes, seeing it like a large scientific experiment in which history was the result, and based its knowledge on the abrupt interruption to human illusion created by death. When we see that wisdom, we recognize that we are tiny and inconsequential, and that adapting to life is more important than the moral, social, media and political worlds made of human agreement to have a symbol stand for something.

“Only Death is Real” conveyed ego-death: no matter how big you think you are or how important, death is more real than your visions, so you must accept nothingness. To accept nothingness is to cast aside the unhealthy parts of the ego and to give it context, so that the ego is a motivic force but only one of many on a planet. To see only death as real is to wonder what else can be real. The answer is right past the end of our noses: the world is real, and it’s a continuum that renews itself, so it’s worth working for. If you like life, you work to make it better. If you hate life, you deny the reality of the world and you go further inward into the self and its desires, which has never worked for making anyone happy no matter how stupid.

We are social creatures, and it is as mathematically logical why that is so as the collaboration between parts of a computer program. We are all of the same thing, and we want to take our part in this thing, which includes nature and our fellow humans, and if we like being alive, we want to do what’s best not just for ourselves or for humanity but for the whole thing. What a stream of interesting thoughts “Only Death is Real” can unleash, in part because our society does everything it can to deny the reality of death.

The archetypal death metal bands — Hellhammer, Bathory, Slayer — all used occult imagery much as Blake, Milton and Goethe did. With that in mind, we can re-interpret Slayer’s Satanic imagery as more than being opposition to Christianity. For one, they do not seem to oppose Christianity. If anything, lyrics like “South of Heaven” or “The Final Command” illustrate, like Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” before them, a world in the grips of evil based in power based on an illusion. In Slayer’s complex theology, Christianity is Satanic because like political strength and industry it is a false outward power when inward the person is underconfident and weak. Christianity however is seen as often accurate, in that the apocalypse does come from selfishness, and Christian morality (“bastard sons beget your cunting daughters”) is the best way to live, but a way that makes no sense in a world addicted to the power of illusion.

As in Milton, Slayer’s Satan is a rebel against a singular order encroaching upon the world, a necessary force like magnetism that opposes any such centralization. In Slayer and Milton’s view, to have any single power controlling the universe is to bring the universe toward sameness, something thermodynamicists call “entropy,” or a state when any direction yields the same results as any other because of the uniformity of the universe. Milton was edging toward a transcendental view of God as being a property of the universe, and not an ego or personality such as that overbearing one against which Satan revolts, himself a victim of his own excessive egoism.

I feel there is some hideous new force loose in the world like a creeping sickness, spreading, blighting. Remoter parts of the world seem better now, because they are less touched by it. Control, bureaucracy, regimentation, these are merely symptoms of a deeper sickness that no political or economic program can touch. What is the sickness itself?

– William S. Burroughs

In the Milton-Slayer worldview, “God” encompasses both bad and good, because together these create a reality in which we can strive for better things. Similarly, in Conrad, the tokens of good and profit are chased in such a way that they create an illusion sustained by greed, in which the only heroes are amoralists like Mr. Kurtz who use brutality and combat effectively, but are conflicted over the underlying reasoning for their goal, namely the need to produce income through ivory when greater challenges await. In the worldview these artists offer, profit motive and morality are a going-inward into the protective mantle of fear, and morality is something we impose on the world to avoid the heroic challenge of leaving that inward sanctum and achieving goals that are not justified by physical survival (morality) or material comfort (profit).

When we look at metal with these opened eyes, the sound and imagery and lyrics are far less random. Distortion is a finding of beauty in darkness, a clarity emerging not when one looks at individual grains of sound but when one hears the blurry whole and deducts from it both pure tone and the harmony of randomness to that clarity; distortion forces us to take a view from above, and see the whole picture in order to understand what occurs at any moment. It is also a metaphor for our inability to ever fully perceive the universe, telling us that if we look at the center of the distortion we will find what is occurring, even if we cannot see it perfectly. The gritty, chaotic sound of distortion defies our logical containers that look for purity and instead finds a reality that although hazy is as clear as it if were pure.

The “riff salad” of metal bands is a way of establishing that music is not a cyclic loop of verse-chorus, resembling our going inward to the world of our own thoughts and preferences, but a journey in which our inward struggle parallels our outward struggle (much like the jihads of Islam: the lesser Jihad is the war against ignorance/infidels, and the greater Jihad is the war for spiritual clarity in oneself). Metal is art because it does not preach a political solution, but shows us the reasons for it. When that sort of higher thinking fails, metal relapses to liking noise and hedonism but little else.

It is one thing to preach, as if politically, against the ego. It is another thing to show a path beyond the ego. “Only Death is Real,” like nihilism itself, is a way of dispensing with “belief” in order to begin the journey to discover what is real and what is supra-real. The supra-real is that dimension where heroism and creativity lie, where one has accepted the feared attributes of life (d-y-i-n-g, disease, sodomy) and has transcended them by seeing what is not material/tangible yet is also important. It is this journey that metal music, classical music, and all great art describes. It is starting from nothing, like Satan exiled from Heaven, and getting over resentment of life and fear of death to see the beauty in darkness and to return to life with a desire to make it better. It is a recognition of the inherent distortion of our perception, and tuning our ears and minds to see past that faltering.

When only death is real, the ego dies for a moment and we see the world as a whole, and can get out of the prison of our limited perspective and re-bond to the life that produced us and produces all we value. It is a hedonic state higher than hedonism, to love life and want to make it better through better design. This is where death metal broke from heavy metal, and it is where all thinking that rewards strong souls begins.

The Evolution of Black Metal

Death metal brought images of impending doom and a fascination with the macabre into a dark world. It built upon what speed metal and grindcore had already established: an apocalyptic epic where the only future was decay. Death metal incorporated the righteous integrity of speed metal and the nihilism of punk into a musical onslaught warning of destruction. It fit into Kurt Vonnegut’s famous metaphor for art: that artists are to society what canaries were to the coalminers who brought them into the depths of the mine as warnings. When the song of the canary turned weak or stopped, it meant that suffocating coal gas was flooding the mine.

Death metal is an extension of the complexity of speed metal, partially arising from the attitude of that genre that any large problem can be solved by reason. Speed metal and thrash believed in rationality, and preached insanity as a negative characteristic. Death metal became the science of understanding insanity and breakdown, not preaching against it as speed metal often did but explicating it in epic songs and vivid imagery. Black metal, as a response to the failure of death metal to avoid the crowd, was an embrace of all things destructive to human illusion: natural selection, warfare, predation, violence, cruelty and tyranny.

Black metal restored romantic side of metal as its primary vehicle; its emotion is more obvious as that is its obsession. A death metal band would never argue destruction of the world, calling it irrational, where a black metal band would call for destruction of all life on emotional grounds. Black metal’s sadness comes from its emotional entrapment in a mechanistic world, and for that reason it rebels against order, whether in Heaven, on Earth, or in Death Metal. Black metal is in many ways a return to the mission metal left when exploring the scientific mindset of the technological age (as computers revolutionized life in the eighties, quantitative rationalism experienced a resurgance of influence).

If we look at metal’s history, we can see how this conflict brewed. Black Sabbath retaliated against the hippie music of their time as unrealistic and distracting. The following generation of metal turned it into more of a party for alienated kids, which punk retaliated against by returning the focus to all the negative aspects of reality. The next generation of metal, speed metal, picked up the punk outlook but channeled it into the heroic stories of past heavy metal, creating a less lamentatory and more assertive, masculine “we can fix this” outlook. When speed metal collapsed into its own popularity, death metal returned with pure nihilism balanced by a structuralism that suggested life was understandable but denied by the individual. Grindcore rose simultaneously with death metal and restored the punk/hippie attitude of tolerance toward the individual. Black metal retaliated against this just as Black Sabbath condemned the hippies of their day by brushing aside morality for an awareness of horror and our impotence against the real threats in this world; it rejected all protest rock and literal music for a spiritual conditioning which embraced struggle, darkness, melancholy and other Romantic traits.

Black metal grew exponentially since its emergence as a distinct musical style in the early 1990s; previous “black metal,” from Venom through Hellhammer, had been a variant on the dominant style of the time and often indistinguishable from death metal. Like a new civilization, it grew from a small group of innovators who were disgusted by the “jogging suit” mentality: people who were essentially products of a modern time, who blindly bleated its ideas, figuring out how to play death metal and becoming popular in the genre by making their music more like what audiences accustomed to rock music expected. In essence, the crowd had infested death metal as it had speed metal before that, and black metal was a response to this.

Recognizing that no matter how they dressed up the music as something “new,” appearances could be cloned, black metal musicians decided to go where the crowd could not follow: they would write music that expressed a grandeur of nature and feral amorality, hearkening more to the values of Samurai or European knights than to the disposable ideals of modern time. Since such a topic requires music that infuses the listener with a sense of awe and beauty in the cycle of destruction and creation that renders our world, they could no longer rely on “three chords and the truth,” but had to actually put the truth in the music, and write more poetic and complex songs.

The small civilization within civilization that was black metal was united more by ideals than by aesthetic or musical tenets, although all of its music by aiming to express the same kind of idea had similarities, mainly in its use of poetic complexity and truth within the music (and not necessarily the lyrics; you listen to black metal, and because of its intense artistry, find truth there). Because we are surrounded by infinite voices repeating the same few ideas in many different forms, here are the basic ideas of black metal that are distinct from the mass:

  1. Nature as a supreme, rational and all-pervasive order. Natural selection and an embrace of struggle took the center stage through celebration of predation and death. Even more, black metal celebrated the nature “within,” or our inner feral nihilism that made a mockery of morality.
  2. Anti-Christianity/Crowdism. Crowdism is the idea that respecting the will of individuals is more important than finding a realistic idea. It is a form of backward logic where we see the individual as the cause, and not the effect, of all that is around us and so convince ourselves that a human social consensual reality can override nature. Crowdism is secular Christian morality.
  3. Introspection. The only meaning comes from what the individual can interpret; there are no boundaries between individuals and the world (nature) as whole, but individual perception is limited to natural abilities and learning from experience. This is the opposite of the “if it feels good, do it” rhetoric of hippie rock.
  4. Morbidity. Viewed as an essential giver of meaning. Where most view death paranoiacally, and see it as a great entropy removing all value, black metal musicians viewed it as something giving meaning to life.
  5. Organicism. Like Romantic poets, black metal musicians tended to place more faith in organic growth than imposed social order. A sense of differentiation from the herd, hatred toward the incompetent and delusional, pride in unique ethnic origins and a celebration of older culture makes this a huge part of the genre.

To any student of European history or art, these values are not new; they are traditional to all Romantic forms of art, whether literature or visual art or symphonies, and were upheld by artists as disparate as William Wordsworth, Anton Bruckner, John Keats, Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Lord Byron and William Shakespeare. For all of these artists, nature was a higher form of order than the rules of civilization, and civilization had become decadent by praising its own “equal” order more than the “unequal” order of nature. Many philosophers, including the celebrated F.W. Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer, explicated these sentiments in their own work. Black metal’s ideology is nothing new.

What was new was an expression of these ideas in popular music, because rock music and blues and all of the associated disposable art has always been a manifestation of the crowd revolt mentality: simple music so that everyone in a room could get it, diametrically opposed to the grand works of classical music which were too complex and emotionally involved for a crowd to appreciate (or even to have the attention span to endure). Rock music focuses on one emotion per song, bangs it out in riff and chorus, and makes it very simple by using a relatively fixed number of scales and chord progressions. Rock music is the perfect product because it’s easy to make, is appreciated by customers of all ages and not limited by intelligence, and is inoffensive on a certain level in that it has nothing to say that will disturb. The basic message of rock music is to include everyone equally, to appreciate them for being alive and not for their inherent traits, and to come together on simple human values and not higher ideals; rock is inclusivity. Black metal is not.

Much like when watching Lord of the Rings, Braveheart or Apocalypse Now one has a sense of an ancient warlike order, when listening to black metal one sensed a realistic and amoral entity underneath the Romanticized skin of the music. This eternal form of the human spirit grows from the naturalism of black metal as well through its belief in a karmic cycle based on natural selection. At the lowest level, humans are little more than animals. If they exert a form of natural selection upon themselves, and attempt to rise above that level, those who survive will be apt for it; if they do this for several levels, they eventually rise to a state of having a higher intelligence, degree of physical strength and beauty, and moral character (“nobility”: the ability to see what is correct for the natural order of society as a whole, and not to get distracted by personal or emotional issues). At the very top are those who are fit to lead by the nature of having a transcendent consciousness; it is thought that these much higher IQ than most modern people and were far less fearful, neurotic and self-obsessed. This, too, derived from Romanticism.

Underground metal goes mainstream

Underground metal reigned in part through its mystique. Hated by almost everyone, in and out of jail, preaching ideas which were anathema to both heads of state and hippies in the gutter, underground metal seemed a fragile and rare thing. This mystique faded as the economy shifted again, as it had done in the early 1980s allowing a rush of “indie” bands, and distribution contracts loosened up in the late 1990s.

Where once there had been “import” racks for CDs from abroad, and it was hard to find music, starting in 1997, underground metal became available in mall stores and through Amazon.com. Its identity as a separate entity became difficult to maintain, and the process of assimilation began. In response, metalheads attempted to rally around an identity as “different,” but in doing so, they focused on external aspects (distortion, imagery, indie status) instead of what did make the music distinct: it saw hope for the future in ideas outside of the same accepted dogma all the mainstream newspapers, television and radio sell to us because it is a popular product. If the truth is difficult and therefore unpopular, metal rebelled against popularity as a selection matrix, and from that developed a range of thought which made it a genre distinct from all others.

Far from being alone in this, underground metal has fallen into a general trend of independent art producers seceding from reality. “Literature” has collapsed into a few thousand tiny magazines read by no one but MFA candidates in creative writing, and “visual art” has become a network of small galleries selling cute expensive paintings to uninformed patrons. Even classical music has gotten in on the decline, with “new music” — micro-symphonies of human voices, squeaking dissonant noise, and other trendy types of sound — appreciated by a diehard cult following who need a raison d’etre outside of their civil service jobs.

These genres used to speak an independent voice, but now they repeat lockstep the strange formulation of modern liberal democracy — a “neo-conservative” viewpoint which both champions civil rights and “social issues,” but also affirms the need for a strong economy and constant warfare against evil enemies. Political theorists might try to make sense of it, but it is more direct to understand it this way: popularity sells.

“One could argue that American fiction has ghettoized itself by insisting on a self-reifying view (humanist/materialist?) in which all answers are known, the political binary is carved in stone, we all have swallowed whole certain orthodoxies, and the purpose of the fiction is just to reinforce these. At the heart of this lies a selfish agenda, that has (one could arge) really ceased seeing the world as a unity, and has begun aggressively internalizing certain capitalist dogmas that say: Of course you are the most important thing, of course you exist separate from the rest of the world.”

– George Saunders, The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers

In this situation we find a repeated structure from metal itself, and even, larger society. Metal music goes through cycles where a new idea comes about, is looked down upon by others, and then fully expresses itself, at which point it is cloned to death by the same people who were speaking badly about it earlier (by this I mean new subgenres, not recombinations of existing genres like – eh – “nu-metal”). If you look at it as a conflict between people of able character, and those who are by nature followers, what you see is that the able create; the followers imitate, and in so doing, drown it and condemn what was created to being of the same mediocrity it helped to escape.

Indeed, the death metal of today more musically resembles rock than that of ten years ago; same with black metal. They have been assimilated, but from within the metal genre, by people whose character is so low that their highest values are to esteem what is valued by the larger society, and thus to reproduce it in the appearance of something which is not larger society, assuming that by controlling appearance, they control content. They are wrong, and they drag down everything they touch. It is this way with the creation of music, the promotion of music, and the choice of who runs hubs; most run them for the popularity, and don’t mind if there’s a whole bunch of support for moronic rock music thrown into the mix. In fact, they encourage it, as by appealing to everyone, they feel like Christ on the cross, being both a victim and a conqueror by the sheer fact of being needed.

This conflict repeats itself in all human endeavors: one group starts a process that creates benefit, and then others surge in and, not understanding the struggle of creation, parasitize it and destroy it. We can see this in the tendency of sequels to intelligent movies being junk; in the revolutions of the masses against the elites that leave nations with lower average IQs and third world levels of dysfunction; in the killing of Socrates by democratic Athens; in the denial of reality that lets Americans run up record debt, or our species to deplete fish stocks, pollute the ocean with floating plastics, and poison our open waterways with enough chemicals to turn amphibians hermaphroditic. The eternal human struggle for clarity of reality, versus withdrawing into our own perspectives and becoming oblivious, is repeated in metal and its struggle to resist assimilation.

The ‘heat-death’ of the universe is when the universe has reached a state of maximum entropy. This happens when all available energy (such as from a hot source) has moved to places of less energy (such as a colder source). Once this has happened, no more work can be extracted from the universe. Since heat ceases to flow, no more work can be acquired from heat transfer. This same kind of equilibrium state will also happen with all other forms of energy (mechanical, electrical, etc.). Since no more work can be extracted from the universe at that point, it is effectively dead, especially for the purposes of humankind.

— Andreas Birkedal-Hansen, M.A., Physics Grad Student, UC Berkeley12

With human beings, our tendency to act for ourselves alone — individualism, or selfishness — divides up our civilization and encourages entropy. Metal, as a perspective beyond the individual and the ego-drama that rock bands promote through love songs and peace dogma, encourages us instead to get over ourselves, transcend our egos, and look at reality for the potential beauty within it. In this, we enact a familiar drama to any post-agrarian-civilization art, which is that of the lone individual versus the crowd. The individual wants to do what is right, but the crowd wants him to be selfish like them, so that together they do not challenge each other and no one can ever be wrong, or face conflict, or be lonely. But in the end, the crowd always makes itself miserable because its vice is essentially cowardice. Metal reintroduces some clarity through a simple formulation: either one goes inward, and tries to know reality through oneself, or one looks outward and tries to know oneself through external opinions, and as a result, loses oneself in the crowd and its lowest common denominator inclinations, namely fear, selfishness and narcissism.

Assimilation of metal

Whether this larger conflict will be resolved is not yet certain – definitely, however, metal is a reaction against it. When people sang hippie songs, Black Sabbath brought in dark reality, and woke many out of the stupor that assumed extending democratic liberties to all humans would solve far deeper-rooted problems. As rock music headed toward an effete protest against Reagan in the 1980s, metal retaliated by condemning left and right for their ignorance of basic human dissatisfaction and the threat of nuclear warfare. Finally, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, death metal and black metal arose to remind us that we are mortal, and that there are greater values than that which society can bestow, such as nature, the upholding of tradition, and pride in our national origins.

The clones have closed in fast on those, since they are indirectly the greatest threat to clone culture to ever arise in metal. For this reason among others, it’s worth upholding in them what gave people hope: the belief that someday the war of clones versus leaders, masses versus elites, would come to an end. Some keep trying to dumb it down into a political trend that gives us a partial truth and tries to make it represent all of reality, effectively blinding us to the big picture so we can focus on a vicarious struggle:

More than three decades after Black Sabbath conjured images of the dark arts, heavy metal is growing up. The genre is increasingly incorporating social and political messages into its dense power chords.

“Metal is expanding and evolving and becoming more diverse,” said Canadian anthropologist and filmmaker Sam Dunn, who directed “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,” released on DVD this summer. “It’s at a much more vibrant state than it was even five or 10 years ago.”

“It’s becoming global and it’s becoming a tool for social and political commentary,” Dunn said. “It takes on a greater meaning in countries where people have had to struggle to survive. It takes on a much stronger political tone.”

Metal music in the 1980s was often homophobic and “very white,” she said, but current bands tend to be socially conscious and suspicious of political power. There’s also more women in the audience — and fronting the bands.

The lyrics on Lamb of God’s two most recent albums have been expressly political, and the politics lean heavily to the left.

Napalm Death’s Greenway is considering work as a political activist when his metal days are over, but he doesn’t think metal will ever completely stray from hedonistic and supernatural themes.

MSN

It is not surprising that mainstream media misunderstands underground metal. After all, they virtually forced its creation, since any band darker or heavier than Metallica received no recognition; the media wanted to sell us metal as party-lovin’, loud and crazy rock music. And so while the underground bloomed in 1985 to 1996, they praised stadium heavy metal and hard rock bands. During the current time, they embrace as “metal” music that is mostly emo hardcore: metalcore and nu-metal.

To an observer of the recent black metal scene, it’s tempting to get bitter. The newest style and trend appears to be “black hardcore,” or bands putting together two three-note riffs in a standard song format in recombinant order, and even the most ambitious bands are succumbing to this influence. Reminiscent of when hardcore punk music bloated itself into entropy and collapsed because no one could tell any two bands apart, this is like gangrene creeping up the legs and finally into the bloodstream of the genre.

When the genre is healthiest, the winds of coming winter oppose all new bands with brutal hardship, so only the most determined make it to the stage of releasing an album. This encourages others who have talent and brains to take a stab. If a lone artist looks at a genre, and sees a thousand albums of which two are good, the conclusion will be that the genre is fattened and the fans thus unable to tell the difference between good music and bad.

If the genre seen has a handful of albums, most of which are excellent, it is instead a compelling argument for further exploration. This is how genres rise and fall, and is why hardcore punk and death metal both eventually fattened themselves into insignificance to the point that now, once you’ve heard one band, you’ve heard them all. So for the health of the genre, it’s better that fewer albums of a higher quality are released.

Ideals of assimilated metal:

  1. Everyone must get it. It must be simple, not challenging, and most of all not have any poetic essence to its soul, as most fans can’t get that and thus will not buy it.
  2. Appearance over structure. It must have a unique appearance, but say the same old things philosophically and use familiar musical ideas so that even the dumbest fans can understand it and buy it. Even more, it must be upheld as dogma truth that adding a flute or screeching spotted owl to the same old music somehow makes it “unique” and worth owning.
  3. Form doesn’t apply to content. In other words, appearance is more important than structure, which is the form that moulds itself to the content, in the same way a story about a rescue at sea has a different flow and arrangement than a story about contemplating death in the bathtub.
  4. Simplistic emotions are important. Forget the depth of “Inno A Satana”; blindly praise Satan with roaring, consistent anger, because that way every fan, even the ones with Down’s Syndrome, can get what it’s about and get into it. Start a big singular emotion party, and make it simple so everyone can buy the CD and come along.
  5. Everyone can participate. Black metal clones are not specific to a certain land or belief system, as they are essentially musically the same and are designed so that even a retarded outer space alien could “get it” and start tapping its feet and wearing Darkthrone-brand jogging suits immediately. Nationalism, even elitism, eugenics or belief in anything at all is out; what’s in is having some music that sounds angry, is written like punk rock, and can be appreciated by everyone so they can buy the CDs or praise the “underground” scene queens who created it.

The average black metal fan today has not heard the formative works of the genre: Immortal, Emperor, Burzum, Gorgoroth, Enslaved, Darkthrone, Beherit and Varathron when they were making essential, complex, beautiful music. All they’ve heard are the newcomers, both of the blatantly commercial Cradle of Filth variety, and the scene whore “loud, fast and antisocial” type of band. The newcomers are uniformly worthless, as they express nothing that rock music does not, and by giving it an extreme aesthetic, allow their fans to convince themselves that they are “part of” some movement against the dominant trend of society, even though much like Democrats and Republicans in America agree on the same core values, newcomer “black metal” repeats the same empty rhetoric that rock music has been feeding us for fifty years. Newcomer black metal is black metal only in the world of appearance; in terms of musical and artistic structure, it’s closer to punk rock or even Dave Matthews Band. It’s rock music.

Agents of Assimilation: The Hipster

Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.

But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”

An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization — a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” — a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.

Ad Busters — Hipsters: The Dead End of Western Civilization

Adbusters doesn’t mention this, but there’s a simple pattern:

Normal, healthy people pick music they want to listen to.

Hipsters pick music to make themselves look good.

A hipster is defined by this reversed cause/effect, and this is why they parallel our society: like people looking for political handouts, they are justifying themselves to others instead of acting as they know is right.

In metal, the hipster is the person always trying to be different, to pick music that is brainy or “authentic” (simple), the person spreading trends and fads. Instead of being an authentic fan who picks the music he or she thinks is best, the hipster is using the music as adornment to conceal their ordinariness.

What’s the damage, you ask? Hipsters bloat genres with people who don’t understand them and, in the ensuing confusion, pick the lowest common denominator. So heavy metal returns to rock, death metal returns to heavy metal, folk becomes punk, and so on.

Healthy societies work from cause to effect. We need an empire, so we build it (cause) and then it appears (effect). Dying societies work from effect to cause. We want an empire, so we create the appearance of an empire (effect) and hope it will show up (cause). This is why old black metallers fear trends, hipsters, fads and mass media like the plague: they promote this unhealthy psychology.

In the postmortem over humanity’s failure, our new reptilian overlords will discuss this issue, and conclude that humans had two modes of thought: a healthy forward-thinking one, and a negative and sick backward-thinking one. The hipster, like every other form of decay in our society, is backward thinking.

Metal is currently awash in hipsters because hipsters use something called irony to disguise their low self-esteem. If they’re listening to IRON MAIDEN, it’s because they find it amusing — not because they believe in it. In fact, they believe in nothing except what others believe in within their social group, which makes them always right. If someone makes fun of them for liking IRON MAIDEN, they can always claim their enjoyment is ironic. It’s a race to the bottom with the hipster, because believing in anything but illusion and evasion makes you a target, so they believe in nothing except “ironically,” and that’s how they infiltrated metal.

In the same way hipsters find trailer parks quaint and amusing, they found death metal and black metal intriguing. It was untamed, unsocialized material, and a threat to everything the hipster stood for. So they assimilated it, and moved in by taking positions in the community. Start buying metal, or selling metal, and others depend on you. From that they branched out by using the hipster tactic of focusing on the external. “Well, this could be more unique if we added a flute…”

When you focus on the external, and don’t pay attention to the fundamental quality of music that distinguishes it, which is how well it communicates, you end up norming the music. Structurally, it becomes all the same, but externally, it’s all tricked out in motley so it appears “different” and “new.” But the real name of the game is not being different, but being the same so you are universally accepted, while having enough adornments that you stand out in a crowd… just like the hipster.

We’ve seen this steadily increasing in metal since 1994 or so, and it was helped by some in metal who would rather leave a bad legacy with a full wallet than the inverse, such as Death and Cannibal Corpse. It will reverse, but only as soon as metal bands and fans start communing on the idea of forward-logic instead of backward, negative logic.

The end result of complete cellular representation is cancer. Democracy is cancerous, and bureaus are its cancer. A bureau takes root anywhere in the state, turns malignant like the Narcotic Bureau, and grows and grows, always reproducing more of its own kind, until it chokes the host if not controlled or excised. Bureaus cannot live without a host, being true parasitic organisms. (A cooperative on the other hand can live without the state. That is the road to follow. The building up of independent units to meet needs of the people who participate in the functioning of the unit. A bureau operates on opposite principle of inventing needs to justify its existence.) Bureaucracy is wrong as a cancer, a turning away from the human evolutionary direction of infinite potentials and differentiation and independent spontaneous action, to the complete parasitism of a virus.

(It is thought that the virus is a degeneration from more complex life form. It may at one time have been capable of independent life. Now has fallen to the borderline between living and dead matter. It can exhibit living qualities only in a host, by using the life of another — the renunciation of life itself, a falling towards inorganic, inflexible machine, towards dead matter.)

Bureaus die when the structure of the state collapses. They are as helpless and unfit for independent existences as a displaced tapeworm, or a virus that has killed the host.

– William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

Hipsterism is reality-avoidance, in the same way Crowdism or any other mass movement is: the assimilation of the individual by the crowd in order to destroy reality, which in turn destroys the collective. Societies, genres of music, groups of friends and businesses all fit this pattern, which is fundamental to human psychology. Either the individual stands up for what is true in reality, not what the individual prefers, or the crowd declares its own reality and then the collective veers off course because it has lost touch with reality. Assimilation is a byproduct of individualism without reality, just like bad music is the product of people pandering to each other and not finding a beauty in reality, including its darkness and horror, as heavy metal has throughout its four decades.

Resisting Assimilation

The problem with combatting assimilation is that assimilation is less an act than a passive lack of acting. When good metal is not made, and people do not assert what makes metal unique, assimilation surges in like water filling the space where it was swept out of the way. Like all things in humanity, the default state is one of disorganization and failure, and it is only when wise minds step in and re-direct the chaos that prosperity of any kind happens.

We have learned what does not stop assimilation. Trying to keep the music rare means hipsters buy it on eBay. Trying to keep it indie and obscure means that hipsters only prize it more. Trying to make it more offensive or extreme just makes it more novel. These methods do not work. What also does not work is trusting a “scene” or “underground” to keep away the mainstream, because underground scenes are an advanced form of maintaining rarity through social networks.

A “scene” means music that is consistent enough for people not to care what band is playing, so they can socialize in the same environment time and time again. A “scene” is clubs that play music that sounds very similar time and time again so they know they can draw an audience each time. A “scene” are sellers of music who find bands that sound like each other so they can compare past successes to the next generation, getting a crop of already-proven fans to come buy it all again. The variation is dead – the conformity is absolute. And worst of all, it’s voluntary and in a moral facilitative society there are few arguments accepted against it.

That kind of consistency kills music by raising the level of expectation to an entry requirement. The hardcore “scene” murdered hardcore by making it consistent – acceptable – “fun” and extremely similar. Bands who used to fight for a living could suddenly find central places to play, sell and broadcast their music – but in order to do so, they had to make it fit within expectations. Metal will die with a scene or without some form of one.

The problem with this flood isn’t its quality in itself. The problem is that when there is a flood of undistinctive material, (a) anything that does not conform to the pattern is not recognized and (b) the information overload is so great than any excellent band that does rise will be ignored. In essence, the underground has replicated the errors made by gigantic record labels in the 1980s.

Interestingly, the same thing happened in hardcore music in the 1980s when it became cheap and easy to release seven-inch records. Suddenly, there were no “fans”: everyone had a band, zine, label or distro. Consequently, quality went down, because no leaders were picked, and a great averaging occurred. Everyone could participate, but because there was no specialized fanbase, the farthest they got was participation, getting their share. No one great rose above and therefore, the great people stopped trying. There was no direction.

Analogous to the effects of democracy and consumerism on the quality of people in society as a whole? You bet it was. Analogy to egocentricism of the west, and its own cultural failings? You bet: the same mechanism was in effect: a lack of appreciation for quality because popularity/social pressures dictated participation, an external factor, not hierarchy, which requires a measurement of amorphous qualities such as “artistic worth” which are unrecognizable to most people in the crowd. Consequently, hardcore declined to the point where, in 1985, all the bands sounded exactly the same and there were no leaders.

Another concept, that perhaps will embitter some because of its practicality, is that of your personal landfill. What you produce on compact disc or vinyl or tape doesn’t magically disappear. It ends up in the landfills, with all the other waste you produce, to rot in insignificance, slowly leeching poisons into the earth. You like being alive, right, or you’d be dead — why create more personal landfill if it won’t achieve something you desire? For every CD you buy, there’s one more CD in that landfill. Buy the best, ignore the rest, and your personal landfill will not only be small, but will possibly not exist as others enjoy those CDs, since good CDs can be enjoyed in any age while trends are temporal.

My suggestion to all those who love metal is simple: stop supporting bands that are OK instead of great.

Few genres demand as much long-term allegiance as metal, and get it. Of styles likely found in a record store, only metal, industrial, country, jazz and classical have enduring audiences. Other genres are bigger, but people stay with them for fewer years. As history has shown us, metal is too easily absorbed by the mainstream. Black metal selling out and the rise of nu-metal occurred at the same time – is anything in the universe “coincidental”? It’s interesting to note that a similar absorption afflicted death metal, heavy metal and hardcore punk, all of whom relied on popular-music-style short song formats.

The Case for Metal to Follow Classical

However, there is one guaranteed way to take metal out of the mainstream: leave behind the mainstream song format. Most songs are three minutes of a verse-chorus nature, and they use devices such as rhythmic predictability on the offbeat (“expectation”) and melodic hooks. If metal were to expand on its riff salad nature, it would join genres like jazz and classical in a musically distinct form, and become inaccessible to those who want to make or consume bite-sized music. Every other metal band aspires to classical guitar anyway; why not liberate our impulses toward something that is clearly enjoyed and valued?

For example, consider these micro-symphonies:

When people tell you what they want, they usually tell you what appearance or experience they want — the effect — and do not understand the device for achieving that effect — the cause. They think in terms of the appearance of what they want and not the underlying structure.

For example, when people say they want simplicity, what they really want is organization. It’s why “My Journey to the Stars” works even though it’s “complex” in theory — complex means having a central idea that is simple and clear, and then manifesting it in different forms so people can compare them like metaphors and see the abstraction. People will tell you they want raw, fast, brutal, simple but they’re talking about the one riff they remember, kind of how most people can identify the opening riff to Beethoven’s Symphony Number 5 — it’s the simplest, most memorable part of a complex music experience.

The role of art is to be a silent philosopher, meaning that it does not make explicit commands and references to everyday objects, but gives us a clear spiritual commandment and its corresponding aesthetic from which to work. Art organizes our spirits and approach to reality. It is important that art does this because most people know the end result they’d like to see, but are completely unaware of the context in which it exists. They see a riff, and figure that if they just heard that riff, they’d have the whole experience, or they think of one moment when they were happy and assume that correlations which occurred simultaneously to that moment — a cigarette, a postcard, a summer day — are the cause when the real cause was the sequence of events that led up to that one moment having great significance, or that one cigarette being the break that really helped them find mental clarity. It wasn’t the cigarette — it was the context.

In human life, once civilization is established, we face a causal breakdown. Person A does something, and Person B sees the results, and tries to work backward toward the cause. Metal bands see how others have succeeded, and try to imitate the outward aspects — faster drums, harsher vocals, floaty keyboards — without understanding that it’s the songwriting and beneath that, the ability to reference “meaning” in experience shared between artist and listener, that makes the song great and not just average with above-average execution.

At this point, the genre doesn’t understand its own spirit or aesthetics, so bands make salads where they throw together unrelated stuff and figure that since it has everything, it must be good. This “carnival style” metal is a salad of distractions from which each piece returns to a few exactly repeated themes. As a result, there’s a lot going on, like riding a merry-go-round and seeing the world outside flash by in disorienting random order, but there’s no development of theme; it’s just a more complex version of verse/chorus pop music.

People can’t put into words what they want. When shown what they want, they will initially resist it because it doesn’t “look like” or “sound like” what they want — people in 1990 “wanted” simpler, catchier, groovier speed metal, and that movement went nowhere. While sub-sub-genres like metalcore, deathcore, or “black punk” (hybrid of pop-punk, shoegaze, emo and black metal) have momentary peaks of popularity, these seem to fade quickly, unlike the lasting appeal of the best of death and black metal. They’re popular, but no one seems to love them like true classics.

However, there is still great room in this genre for those who can translate the spirit, aesthetics and organization of classical music — narrative motives — into death/black metal. That’s the real ground to conquer. Whoever does that will be initially unpopular, like death metal and later black metal were, but later acknowledged as a hero. Like the songs listed above, such music will be passionate but leave the repetitive, formulaic, simplistic structure of pop music behind.

Metal music will never fit into the framework of other genres. Where other music might sound scary, metal communicates the meaning of scary, and this means that it will always oppose the anti-orthodoxy of mainstream logic. For those who understand its message and the power of its sound, assimilation of a distinct genre into the indistinct mass will always remain a threat.


  1. Romanticism, on the other hand, is what the writers of the Romantic Period practiced: there is not much agreement about what that is exactly, and there is in fact a longstanding debate about whether there is such a thing or only Romanticisms. See A. O. Lovejoy, “On the Discrimination of Romanticisms,” PMLA, 1924; René Wellek, “The Concept of `Romanticism’ in Literary History,” Comparative Literature, 1949; and finally, Jerome McGann’s Introduction to The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse (revised edition). – http://www.users.muohio.edu/mandellc/eng441/urllist.htm
  2. A movement in art and literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in revolt against the Neoclassicism of the previous centuries…The German poet Friedrich Schlegel, who is given credit for first using the term romantic to describe literature, defined it as “literature depicting emotional matter in an imaginative form.” This is as accurate a general definition as can be accomplished, although Victor Hugo’s phrase “liberalism in literature” is also apt. Imagination, emotion, and freedom are certainly the focal points of romanticism. Any list of particular characteristics of the literature of romanticism includes subjectivity and an emphasis on individualism; spontaneity; freedom from rules; solitary life rather than life in society; the beliefs that imagination is superior to reason and devotion to beauty; love of and worship of nature; and fascination with the past, especially the myths and mysticism of the middle ages. – http://www.uh.edu/engines/romanticism/introduction.html
  3. Some of the earliest stirrings of the Romantic movement are conventionally traced back to the mid-18th-century interest in folklore which arose in Germany–with Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm collecting popular fairy tales and other scholars like Johann Gottfried von Herder studying folk songs–and in England with Joseph Addison and Richard Steele treating old ballads as if they were high poetry. These activities set the tone for one aspect of Romanticism: the belief that products of the uncultivated popular imagination could equal or even surpass those of the educated court poets and composers who had previously monopolized the attentions of scholars and connoisseurs.

    Whereas during much of the 17th and 18th centuries learned allusions, complexity and grandiosity were prized, the new romantic taste favored simplicity and naturalness; and these were thought to flow most clearly and abundantly from the “spontaneous” outpourings of the untutored common people. In Germany in particular, the idea of a collective Volk (people) dominated a good deal of thinking about the arts. Rather than paying attention to the individual authors of popular works, these scholars celebrated the anonymous masses who invented and transmuted these works as if from their very souls.
    http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/hum_303/romanticism.html

  4. Emphasis on the activity of the imagination was accompanied by greater emphasis on the importance of intuition, instincts, and feelings, and Romantics generally called for greater attention to the emotions as a necessary supplement to purely logical reason. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  5. While particular perspectives with regard to nature varied considerably–nature as a healing power, nature as a source of subject and image, nature as a refuge from the artificial constructs of civilization, including artificial language–the prevailing views accorded nature the status of an organically unified whole.
    http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  6. It was viewed as “organic,” rather than, as in the scientific or rationalist view, as a system of “mechanical” laws, for Romanticism displaced the rationalist view of the universe as a machine (e.g., the deistic image of a clock) with the analogue of an “organic” image, a living tree or mankind itself. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  7. Symbolism and myth were given great prominence in the Romantic conception of art. In the Romantic view, symbols were the human aesthetic correlatives of nature’s emblematic language. They were valued too because they could simultaneously suggest many things, and were thus thought superior to the one-to-one communications of allegory.
    http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  8. In addition, neoclassicism had prescribed for art the idea that the general or universal characteristics of human behavior were more suitable subject matter than the peculiarly individual manifestations of human activity. From at least the opening statement of Rousseau’s Confessions, first published in 1781–“I am not made like anyone I have seen; I dare believe that I am not made like anyone in existence. If I am not superior, at least I am different.”–this view was challenged.
    http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  9. Certain special features of Romanticism may still be highlighted by this contrast. We have already noted two major differences: the replacement of reason by the imagination for primary place among the human faculties and the shift from a mimetic to an expressive orientation for poetry, and indeed all literature. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  10. The hero-artist has already been mentioned; there were also heaven-storming types from Prometheus to Captain Ahab, outcasts from Cain to the Ancient Mariner and even Hester Prynne, and there was Faust, who wins salvation in Goethe’s great drama for the very reasons–his characteristic striving for the unattainable beyond the morally permitted and his insatiable thirst for activity–that earlier had been viewed as the components of his tragic sin. (It was in fact Shelley’s opinion that Satan, in his noble defiance, was the real hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost.)
    http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  11. A literary, artistic, and philosophical movement originating in the 18th century, characterized chiefly by a reaction against neoclassicism and an emphasis on the imagination and emotions, and marked especially in English literature by sensibility and the use of autobiographical material, an exaltation of the primitive and the common man, an appreciation of external nature, an interest in the remote, a predilection for melancholy, and the use in poetry of older verse forms. – http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/romanticism
  12. The ‘heat-death’ of the universe is when the universe has reached a state of maximum entropy. This happens when all available energy (such as from a hot source) has moved to places of less energy (such as a colder source). Once this has happened, no more work can be extracted from the universe. Since heat ceases to flow, no more work can be acquired from heat transfer. This same kind of equilibrium state will also happen with all other forms of energy (mechanical, electrical, etc.). Since no more work can be extracted from the universe at that point, it is effectively dead, especially for the purposes of humankind.
    http://www.physlink.com/Education/AskExperts/ae181.cfm
  13. But the rising materialism and focus on business at the cost of the mind and the spirit was spawning reform movements all over America…Many felt a psychic dislocation, that the bottom had dropped out of their world since traditional values and conventional reality were just not enough for them. They tried to impose meaning individually, for institutions and dogmas seemed to possess little truth. Philosophically, they reacted against the materialistic educational theories of Locke and rationalism. They found Truth more a matter of intuition and imagination than logic and reason. They rejected the mechanistic view of the universe so dear to Franklin and Deists and opted for a more organic view, seeing the world more as dynamic and living. – http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/eng372/intro.htm
  14. “He was recognized as a leading figure in the Sturm und Drang, which celebrated the energetic Promethean restlessness of spirit as opposed to the ideal of calm rationalism of the Enlightenment. Goethe’s poem ‘Prometheus’, with its insistence that man must believe not in gods but in himself, might be seen as a motto for the whole movement.”
    http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/goethe.htm
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