With the fiftieth anniversary of metal music around the corner, forthcoming years will witness an increase of publications dealing with the history, legacy and defining characteristics of the genre. This could finally resolve the lack of consensus that still exists regarding the definition and origins of heavy metal.
Destruction are touring the US this year. The not as legendary as Sodom German speed metal band are bringing along z-list death metal bands Warbringer and Jungle Rot. Do people who love Sodom, Destructor, and Kreator love Jungle Rot? How many middle-aged men and party thrashers in Suicidal Tendencies hats also wear cargo shorts? Seeing this tour gives you the chance to find out. Will Schmier’s voice be as haggard as his appearance? Will Destruction’s drums be as fake as modern Kreator’s?
In this part of the article series “1970s Progressive Rock for Hessians”, I have chosen to take on the English group Yes‘ fourth album Fragile from 1971. While their fifth effort, Close to the Edge, is generally regarded as their creative peak and definite statement, Fragile was more important for the development of the nascent progressive rock genre, and perhaps a more suitable entry point for someone who is getting into prog rock from a metal background. There is definitely a sense of power in the works of Yes even if it takes on a different form than what we are used to in metal music. Where early metal bands like Black Sabbath expressed a gritty, doom-laden heaviness through guitar-centered power chord riffing, Yes opted to build momentum through a more instrumentally integrated approach. That is not to say that there are no heavy guitar parts on ‘Fragile’, but here the guitars assume a somewhat different role than in metal.
Obscure and wacky ’80s bands are always a treat to listen to. They bring the darkest side of Hellhammer or early Bathory while being completely unpredictable, without going to the completely unhinged music of hipsters like later Deathspell Omega. Reencarnación is another weird Colombian band that published a series of underground metal demos that would rightly be considered the true heirs to seventies progressive rock. Among the very measured use extra musical noise, such as a crowd, or a lamenting voice, there is even an interlude that makes use of a classical guitar and a violin.
888 (originally published as a self-titled) is not an album but a collection of old recordings (possibly remastered, given how clean they sound) put together as a compilation. This plays a lot like Infester’s only album, except songs are shorter and perhaps slightly more disorienting given their use of spasmic sections and percussion pauses that give it a strange feeling like that of a man gasping for air. The music basically consists of nonsense chromatic leads, Sarcofago-like thrashing, and mid-paced grindcore riffing. Quite endearing.
While what we have here is a delicious mixture of experimental and progressive thinking applied to anarcho-punk going through grindcore. Unfortunately, the recordings are section-oriented (but not precisely riff-oriented), forgetting about the importance of linking songs by some kind of theme, even if not by a melodic one. The result is a confusing, winding labyrinth that attempts to emulate the progressive rock of Emerson, Lake and Palmer in their most twisted hour, and succeeding to a large degree, as it suffers from the same sort of problems, only augmented by ignorance or inexperience.
Reencarnación’s 888 is certainly a very enjoyable album which you want to play while drinking alone in your room with your computer screen as the only light source as you read collections of BBS posts saved in a corner of the Internet by another obsessive nerd. However, this will not do as an example of great songwriting or endure objective scrutiny.
Two of the most pervasive topics in metal are the “underrating” and the “overrating” of a band or album. Given that most people are prone to confuse their emotional attachment to music with a sign of its quality, most of these claims are specious complaints that reflect the need for acknowledgement from other people as a fan more than anything else. Claims of “underratement” usually occur in regards to cult bands, and less often, to personal favorites that should be recognized by each fan as a mere guilty pleasure. Statements of “overrating”, then, comprehensibly come about when a disgruntled fan wants to bash any band that does not appeal to him, independently of the reason.
However, when leveled as a result of balanced, informed and insightful judgement, these observations become meaningful in that they have solid foundation and a motivation outside selfish emotional need for attention. Contrary to popular opinion, these arguments only need to be based on objective observationsbut need not be objective in the full sense of the word themselves. The reason for this is that the concepts of objectivity and subjectivity represent a false dichotomy inapplicable in the context of art appreciation. Appreciation rests outside any single preference, it always lies outside the emotional reaction of any one person, but is nonetheless attached to a social group’s set of principles. And principles are a human construct, not tangible, objective reality. In other words, it entails the individual perception through the lenses of convention of objectively observed qualities.
Art appreciation can be reduced to the appreciation of beauty. The concept of beauty has always been a complicated one, and like anything complicated, it gets reduced to the absurd by small minds that feel the need to fool themselves into believing they have everything under control. A sense of what is beautiful rests on what is considered to be goodtaste. The nature of both beauty and taste is neither objective nor subjective. If it were objective, beauty would be a hard, flat fact measurable by scientific instruments, and not the esoteric – perhaps mystical – sign existing completely and individually in meaning, perception and medium but also in the whole of an object, all at the same time. A divine omnia in omnibus, as it were, perceptible to the unconscious but only vaguely grasped by the conscious as an ethereal idea. The duality that implies being human, having one eye on time and the other on eternity. On the other hand, if it were subjective, it would be completely pointless to talk about beauty or taste, as these would be demoted to euphemisms for what is simply our personal preference.
It is therefore, unsurprising that beauty is sometimes linked to the presence of the divine, and therefore of that which is natural, full of meaning and in balance. Again, simplified misconceptions come to distort each of these and in an increasingly individualist society that is just so for the sake of individualism itself, renders them powerless, trapped in small containers as catchwords for egotistical affectations. In other words, beauty has indeed been stripped from its cosmic framework and taste has become personal rather than communal. Both have lost any of the usefulness they had for communication of hermetic meaning.
This egotistical individualism is deeply entrenched in group-oriented thinking, paradoxically self-indulging as it is unoriginal and lacking in personal identity. This is to be expected since unthinking compliance to the system goes hand in hand with a deep-rooted cowardice of the mind. So, taking refuge in the rise of science, humanism and tacit nihilism, our brave new world does away with meaning as it has forgotten why man created it in the first place. Our modern society, contemptibly lacking in any courage to face reality and the pressing matters of our times, turns away from an understanding of the transcendent in favor of self-validation.
Art and its appreciation suffer first in this headlong plunge into the shadows. The reason for this is that art (artificial) arises entirely from man-given meaning. The greatest art has always had the power to communicate and bring forth an awareness of enduring meaning through individually-perceived universal truths of the human condition. Forsaking the use of any actual meaning in beauty, and consequently in art, music becomes a vulgar tool for individual satisfaction.
While quiet deference is directed towards names like Yes, King Crimson, Black Sabbath, Slayer, Bathory or Morbid Angel, my experience tells me that most fans who hold these bands in some kind of respect do not understand half of the reasons why these bands are great. The case of directly disrespected and underrated but equally excellent art like that of selected works of Burzum or early At the Gates is a different although related matter into which I will not go here. In the meantime, let’s turn our attention to canonical works of the metal underground.
It seems rather unfortunate that after achieving canonical status in any genre, a classic work is condemned to be defiled in two stages. The first is one in which the cause and effect relationship between being a classic and achieving canonical status is not inverted but flattened, the popular conception of the relationship between the terms being one of equality and interchangeability. Something then happens as a direct consequence of this misunderstanding along with an ignorance of the nature of classical works at several levels. In this second stage the distorted image of what being a canonical work implies is rightly questioned, resulting in an at least partial repudiation of their validity. The term classic is then also demoted into a euphemism for “what many/most people like”. Equating popularity with quality in art is a direct consequence of the loss of meaning discussed earlier.
This is why it is important to clarify what is originally meant by classical. It is closest to the condition of being an epitome, except that this latter term is neutral and can signify an accurate representation of the qualities of a group or classification. Classical refers to the highest degree of excellence in regards to quality, which implies distinction, perfect balance and adequacy in a work within its genre. Disquieting as the perversion of this concept is, simple and effective education coupled with the audience’s willingness to let go of their ego would be enough to remedy this situation. As with many things, it is easier said than done.
An additional third stage also bears mentioning which can then be appended to the steps in the process of decay in the perception of classic works. After the flattening and disavowal of the aforementioned terms has taken place in the collective mind, a confusion ensues which brings forth the nominating of undeserving artists or works into what used to be a pantheon of the gods. As I see it, there are two main ways in which this happens. The first was already mentioned, very popular works are inserted into the lists by virtue of their popularity itself. The other is the result of the backlash classic works receive from the lack of understanding towards their classic status. The original and true classics are reduced by a narrow-minded audience with a lack of depth perception to a collection of tropes to be imitated. A collateral effect of this in metal is that after a certain amount of time, since the audience cannot understand what a classic actually is, seniority is equated with relevance and quality, and then novelty is equally mistaken for innovation.
Without control or awareness, these things happened lightning-fast in progressive rock and metal, accounting for the extremely fast evolution of metal genres running away from the mainstream limelight and into increasingly obscure territories. Giants like King Crimson, Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer and Genesis were then piled up with second-raters from all over the world. Nowadays it is customary to see Rush, Camel or Jethro Tull mentioned besides the first. Childish and musically wanting works belonging to the catalogues of Schuldiner’s Death and Cannibal Corpse even take precedence over the monumental early Morbid Angel. A closer and more knowledgeable and perceptive look into the qualities of their works reveals an enormous chasm in musical excellence and refinement separates them. They belong to completely different worlds.
Metal is encumbered by an additional hindrance: a recurrent appeal to cavemanish foolishness by the audience. This is the belief that as an essentially underground movement, metal is a blue-collar music which needs to be kept rough, dirty, mean and, well, ignorant. It is a combination of something similar to communism’s appeal to the true sense of the young masses and the testosterone posturing of a macho Homer Simpson. This idiotic claim basically consists in the stereotype that metal’s nature resides in young and unlearned spirit which yearns for adventure, rebellion and hedonism. They do not realize that these are closer to the hippie ideals than to the true metal spirit which actually resides in a warrior’s mysticism that stares reality in the face without losing sight of the transcendent.
While metal needs to grow up and continue in its journey towards higher peaks, it must do so through a profound understanding of its roots and thereby a correct appreciation of its own classics and an embracing of its core and true ideals. The mainstream would have metal become a compliant rock music in disguise, an edgy but safe expression of castrated dissent. Absorbing or becoming other genres is not progress, it is only regression or distraction. This must be rejected at all costs and a unique path into the maturity of the genre must take place in a truly forward-looking but conservative manner. Metal has always made its most significant strides in those albums which on the surface seemed orthodox but which brought meaningful innovation at the level of musical thinking, information and communication. It was not the experimentalists who revel in the strange, the unexpected and the new, but the disciplined adherents to the tenets of metal who look for their own voice while keeping the spirit of Vir at the heart of the music who move metal forward.
Floridian death metal masters Deicide will be back on the road again this month, this time as headliners of the “Metal Alliance Tour”! Joining them on the run is Swedish death metal legends Entombed A.D., along with Hate Eternal, Black Crown Initiate, Lorna Shore, and Svart Crown – making this one bill not to miss!
Ddeicide’s Glen Benton (bass/vocals) comments:
It’s with great pleasure to announce our involvement in this year’s Metal Alliance Tour 2015. We look forward to bringing our style of extreme…satanic death metal to all who attend and seeing old friends and making new ones as we travel the highways and byways of this great country of ours…As always we can’t wait to get out there and do what we do best…Crush…HAIL!
Entombed A.D.’s L-G Petrov (vocals) adds:
It’s going to be really good to tour the States again after a long absence overseas– and doing it with The Metal Alliance Tour is a great comeback! We are looking forward to sharing the stage with all the bands on the bill. Expect total headbang!!!
See below for all upcoming dates!
Metal Alliance Tour” dates feat. DEICIDE, ENTOMBED A.D., HATE ETERNAL, BLACK CROWN INITIATE, LORNA SHORE, SVART CROWN May 26 – Montreal, QC @ Theatre Corona May 28 – Columbus, OH @ Alrosa Villa May 30 – Indianapolis, IN @ Emerson Theater May 31 – Chicago, IL @ Metro June 1 – St. Paul, MN @ Amsterdam June 2 – Kansas City, MO @ Riot Room*
Des Moines, IA @ Vaudeville Mews** June 3 – Denver, CO @ Summit Music Hall June 5 – Spokane, WA @ The Pin! June 6 – Seattle, WA @ Studio Seven June 7 – Portland, OR @ Tonic Lounge June 8 – Oakland, CA @ Metro Opera House June 9 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Regent Theater June 11 – Las Vegas, NV @ LVCS June 12 – Mesa, AZ @ Club Red June 13 – El Paso, TX @ Mesa Music Hall June 14 – Lubbock, TX @ Depot “O” Bar Live*
Houston, TX @ TBC** June 15 – Austin, TX @ Empire Garage June 16 – Dallas, TX @ Gas Monkey Live! June 18 – New York, NY @ Gramercy Theater June 19 – Baltimore, MD @ Ottobar June 20 – Charlotte, NC @ Tremont Music Hall June 21 – Atlanta, GA @ The Earl** June 22 – Tampa, FL @ The Orpheum**
* = DEICIDE, HATE ETERNAL, BLACK CROWN INITIATE, LORNA SHORE
** = ENTOMBED A.D., SVART CROWN
Most of us who emerged into the classic death metal milieu are familiar with Morpheus Descends‘s classic album Ritual of Infinity and its striking cover art that remains controversial to this day. The illustrator who created that polarizing work has launched an online presence and is designing metal art of similar caliber.
Morpheus Descends rose after the early years of American death metal but before the solidification of the style, and created a grandfather template for both New York death metal and heavy percussive death metal in general. Their most notable influences were on bands like Suffocation and Incantation, who took the blueprint that Morpheus Descends created and pushed it to new heights of complexity and technicality.
Like many who decide to become full-time artists, I began in grade school as the guy who could draw really well. I specialized in dinosaurs, hot rods and sci-fi. My classmates always got me to draw for them. It was my Junior High art teacher who first made me aware, that since I spent all day drawing anyway, why not make it my career and be paid for it? My brain did a back flip, as I did not know such a thing was possible, having been brought up in a very small country town. I credit my High School art teacher, Barbara Allen, who is now a top portrait painter, and two professors in college, Herbert Fink, and Ed Rollman Shay. They REALLY showed me the path! Eternal gratitude flows forth.
How did you get started in metal? Were you a metalhead? Did you “study” any heavy metal art?
Although my career began as a horror style comic book artist (I worked for comics publishers like Fathom Press, Boneyard Press, Graphomania, London Night Studios, etc) I was always a metalhead! When bands would tour, they often bought and read comics on the road. It wasn’t long at all before I got mail, asking me to draw or paint t-shirt designs, logos, cassette, and CD covers. Soon after, ‘zines came, asking for gory covers, inside illustrations, and dark comic strips. I was doing 3-5 fliers a week back then for metal shows. I didn’t really study any “metal” artists, as I have broad tastes, and enjoy a ton of different stuff. I’ve been to Richard Corben’s house, and viewed the original painting he did for Meat Loaf’s Bat out of Hell. I did an art exhibit with H.R. Giger in Switzerland and saw his sketches for what became covers for Celtic Frost and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. But I’ve always had my own approach; no one has ever said that my art resembles the work of anybody else.
What other influences exist on your art, like other artists, morbid dreams, etc?
Dreams, DEFINITELY!!! I’m also very into the films of European directors, and the famed Polish Poster movement. I’m an ardent Surrealist.
How did you end up doing the Morpheus Descends cover? Are you a Morpheus Descends fan?
I was, and still am, a major Morpheus Descends fan! When I first got and heard their cassette “Corpse Under Glass,” I was hooked, feeling that they were the heaviest I had ever heard at that time. The band, as luck would bequeath, turned out to be horror comics readers who knew of my work. Ken, their bassist, wrote me, and we discussed the possibilities for the art that became the cover of Ritual of Infinity. In the original sketch, the “wizard” character had his hands raised, and an infinity symbol carved into his bleeding chest. I think his eyes might have been bleeding, as well, and in one hand, he held a bloody, ancient scroll. After another phone discussion, the “Carven-Diety” had its hand positions changed, and the “wizard” was now in the pose we all have grown used to: that of sawing the head off an androgynous cadaver. An ad for Ritual of Infinity featuring the debut of the cover art in b/w was published as the back cover of gore/horror comic book Cadaver, issue # 1, by Fathom Press, in ’92’-93. Funny thing: the record company’s name (J.L. America) is misspelled.
Yes, the issue of the cover has stirred as much hate, as it has admiration, and I think that’s the best thing you can hope for. The colors I chose WERE very strikingly different for what was happening with other illustrators at that time. (Or, for any time, really.) The painting was a combination of oil paint and Rotring dyes, and it strode counter to the monochromatic approach that most others were doing. When I look even now at a box full of CDs at a merch table, I am struck by how many generic looking, grey and black compositions I see. Most are great looking on their own, but a table full of them are monotonous, and do disservice to the music and bands. I knew Morpheus Descends weren’t going to be on MTV, any time soon, so their CD cover, love it or loathe it, had to nail you across the room.
You’ve just gone online. Are you offering other services to metal musicians? What other directions do you hope to take your art in?
I just finished designing the T-shirts and poster for the Stoner Hands of Doom fest, as well as the T-shirt for Argus’ upcoming European tour (I did all three of their album covers); I’m working on two new CD covers, for two new bands, The Swill, and Foghound; I will have art featured in the winter issue of Churn magazine (Issue # 11); I am designing and building the special effects props for an upcoming film named “Platypossum”; and I am masterminding a civic project that I have dubbed “Mobile Murals.” Watch for the cover I did for Ed (ex-Monster Magnet) Mundell’s next solo LP; it’s one of the greatest I’ve ever done. Check out my page at bradmooreartwizard.com, or hit me up on Facebook @ Brad Moore’s Illustration Station.
Sanctifier craft fine quality vintage-sounding Brazilian death metal, straight forward and without the desire to pander to the elitist shit contingent wanting the next trend. These death metal maniacs have been kicking around since they were teenagers in the 80s and are not children of the tape-trading phenomenon but instigators of it.
For that reason, while Daemoncraft displays its Brazilian sound right off the bat with a warped rhythm weaving through opening track “Demon Ov Lava” (which is also added as a bonus track with Portuguese vocals at the end of this CD) they’re also influenced by their peers of the time such as Immolation and latter-era Morbid Angel (i.e. during Rutan’s relocation from Redbank to Tampa). To my ears at least, this mid-period death metal influence shows up musically on this recording and appears more prevalent than other pioneering influences the band naturally does have.
Getting robbed at gunpoint and thus losing his equipment didn’t hold sole song writer Alexandre Emerson back from creating some wicked songs yet again in the name of worshiping the ancient ones, even before it was a fashion with the young whipper snappers after this sort of music became available at the mall. The cult of Cthulhu remains central to the driving force behind the writing of this music. Lyrical content avoids any crypto-punk subject matter which was par for the course when this band were teenagers and is consistently so now that they’re seasoned elders of the genre.
Daemoncraft emerges as a compact album with some amazing guitar work that has just the right amount of more modern (i.e. early 90s style) feel meshed with the primitive proto-death metal of the 80s from which this band is forged. “The Enchanter” is a good example of this layering of feeling between the two realms. However, the song is consistently deliberate throughout and makes for an excellently paced album.
I agree with executive producer Everton De Castro of Dying Music when he says Daemoncraft is a work for metal brothers of the death metal old school; for those who aren’t just here for a trend, is there any other kind?
After something happens, people have to talk it to death to figure out what it meant. What they’re really asking is: What caused this, and what was its goal or ideal in response?
What they are looking for at that time is a summary, a “main point” which can be used to explain the movement in a broader historical context (most artistic and political movements being, only a few decades past their eventiture, minor footnotes in a larger narrative).
They want to know its relevance, in other words.
Napoleon attacked Russia? Fine: a battle; what caused it? Napoleon wanted to conquer Russia… to establish hegemony of the new post-monarchic order… and to ensure French imperial supremacy… which had fallen into disrepair… and been exploited by the monarchs… — so we have multiple factors here, centering on a restoration of power after a failure. Right, a desperate move. The significance is more than what Napoleon “wanted”; it’s the historical context in which he exists.
In the same way, we’re looking at black metal and our society offers a number of failure-prone ways to look at it. First there’s the rock-n-roll industry way, which is predictably airheaded: these dudes just wanted to make the most intense music ever, man, and so they turned to Satan and extremism. OK, that’s useless — only a true retard would accept that as a complete answer. Then there’s the inarticulate musician answer, which is that they were inspired by Venom and so copied their heroes. On top of that, we have the useless academic answer, which is that they were altering the heuristic of their neuro-linguistic token integration in order to re-interpret the world as simulacra through new, opened eyes — that’s crap. Then you have interesting side observations, like the Until the Light Takes Us filmmakers wanting to make a movie about the decomposition of an idea — that definitely happened, and it’s true, but tells us nothing about how the phenomenon came about.
And what might a historian or a philosopher say?
The Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc fell in 1990-1991. That ended the post-WWII order, and the Communism-versus-Capitalism narrative which splintered off into many degrees of socialism, conservatism, greens and others duking it out. But even more, there was no longer a reason for society to strive. The war was over — what was left? The worst of the 1980s, except now we didn’t even have conservative politicians to reign us in. The McDonald’s, the Coca-Cola, the women turning themselves into plastic whores, the men living for novelty and not bravery, the large corporations controlling more of what we think, the democratic governments so easily purchased… that is the background to black metal.
And against all of these ideas, it offered a simple solution:
Modern society: Everyone is equal. Everyone is important. What is most valuable is not pushing yourself to new heights, but getting along with others. When everyone is included, there will be no war or suffering, and we can all live good lives thanks to these excessive rights and these plasticized corporate products.
Black metal: No peace can exist, and nothing is equal or pure. Morality is garbage invented by the weak. What matters is making yourself better, pushing yourself farther than ever before. War is our destiny, and this is good, because it cures stagnation and indecision. What matters most is the best rising, the supremacy of the conqueror and predator, so that we do not become weak.
In this rebellion, black metal was revolting against the beliefs of its parents, which were that once the evil Cold War was over, we would finally have reached the promised land.
This was a promised land, incidentally, that they started promising in 1914… or rather, in 1789, because it’s the same narrative. We beat back the privileged, make everything equal, all conflict ends, peace and justice reign, yay!
Except that every age has people that think this way, and they’re always wrong, in part because if you think about such a society, it would be miserable. Paralyzed, because avoiding conflict means not finding answers. Permissive, which both cheapens everything and makes sins not a pleasure but almost a mechanical duty, like our porn and its ever-expanding quest for new extremes (where do we go, really, after the A2M explosion, enema milkshake and 919 man gang bang followed by riot bukkake?).
It sounds like something out of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World: an artificial, pandering, whorelike world without a soul, but you have no reason to object, because materially, you are provided for.
That’s kind of how Baby Boomer parents treated their Generation X (and black metal was a Gen X thing entirely) kids — here’s some money, you live in a nice house and have the best options our society can offer. What are you upset about? Oh the minor fact that we inherited a first-world nation and left you a third-world one, sheerly by our Idiocracy-style tolerance and in fact encouraging of the reproduction of idiots, our fast food, our television nation, and so? That’s a minor fact. Minor. Don’t complain. Kids in the third world don’t have toilet paper.
Black metal was throwing off all of this: the vapidity, the obliviousness, the guilt and the manipulation.
It was saying we cannot all get along; in fact, most of us are shitheads. We need natural selection. What matters most is not peace, happiness, love, etc. but a warlike desire to get things done right according to a higher standard, and along the way, a Romantic contemplation of what it is to be an individual in the world, melancholy and isolated from the false cheer of society.
This fits right in with what Wordsworth, Blake, Emerson, Keats, Byron, Sterne, Shelley (Mary) and other Romantics wrote about only 200 years earlier, during the last great outbreak of culture in the West.
It also fit into the narrative developed by Plato and expanded on by Oswald Spengler, which says that societies go through life cycles, and when they get corrupted by “too much socialization,” they die in slow passage into third world status: low hygiene, corruption, disorganization, dysfunction and immoralism. Remember that other great mystery figure from the 1990s, the Unabomber? He said similar things.
None of this stuff was new. It was what the foremost intellectuals talked about in the 1960s and 1970s, before they wrote the books and recorded the music that influenced the PARENTS of the black metal generation; these were the artifacts they found, wrapped away carefully as if treasured but denied in a quest to pursue “adult” responsibilities, in attics and garages. And absorbed wide-eyed, as children do.
From that we got black metal.
Is it nationalistic? (Nationalism = one nation, one ethnic group, with a single culture, religion and philosophy to match. Don’t confuse it with patriotism, which is political loyalty to whatever State happens to control the land you’re on right now.)
Yes, it is, as the Romantics were. Not in a bigoted way like the neo-Nazis, but proud of their nations, and aware of the need for each nation to fix itself. We can’t kumbaya, glom together and fix each other. We have to go it alone.
From this view, NSBM is what black metal degenerated into, not its ultimate expression. Of course, not everyone agrees — Alex Kurtagic has a different take on things:
Black Metal artists also emphasize nature and landscape, but a morbid and mystical sensibility is evident even here. Whether inspired by völkisch thought or mere Satanic occultism, nature is always conceived in spiritual, mystical, and Romantic terms. The Black Metal aesthetic dictactes that night and winter are eternal. Coniferous forests are preferred to tilled fields and manicured gardens. Where the glorification of war merges with nature mysticism, the emphasis remains on the latter. Viking and Folk Metal bands, in contrast, adopt a more obviously völkisch approach to nature, allowing daylight in their landscapes and generally emphasizing the idyllic as opposed to counter-Enlightenment Sturm und Drang.
The Black Metal sensibility does not reject culture in favor of nature, but instead valorizes culture and nature, both conceived organically, over civilization, which is conceived in mechanistic and materialistic terms. In the Black Metal universe, cities were never built, the Industrial Revolution never occurred, and modernity never arrived. For all its belligerence, Black Metal is inherently nostalgic, a comprehensive negation of modernity. – Alex Kurtagic at Counter-Currents
I find his second paragraph interesting: the enemy is the senescence of civilization itself, which is conceived — well, here I split — from a desire to please the herd. The herd doesn’t create civilization; it destroys it. Rare individuals overcoming their own dysfunction and rising above the herd, that’s what creates and maintains civilization. But then civilization suicides: in an effort to make life better, it protects those incompetents, and soon creates a giant herd of Homer Simpsons, all subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect where they reject anything more complex than they can understand, and are confident in that rejection.
But that’s a study of methods, not of cause.
The cause is a lack of spirit, and the solution is to reject “safety” and “peace,” and explore the edge of risk. Feel the terror, the pain, the glory and the joy, again. Right now, we’re a society on anti-depressants that barely feels a thing, glad for the comforting numbness but also missing out on lives that, if we were paying attention, offer a lot more than we partake. Instead we pursue the same mechanical pleasures.
We are scheming on modern society, cruising on the wealth of the industrial revolution, to make us all materially fat and happy by removing our fears; our Satans, our Hitlers, and even our fears that there is no moral God guiding us, or no Utopian moral Society guiding us, but only a space in which we must make what we desire. Because we have no idea what we desire. We are living in a plastic simulation of a real world, built from the memories of our media lords and writers of government pamphlets, based on a morality that is dysfunctional and a dream of an empty, sterile pointless existence that we desire because it is both safe and greedy, letting us indulge our fantasies. Yet all of this is part of a power structure that undermines us.
Black metal is a revolution in culture against economics, politics, popularity and other forms of deferring the ideal for the tangible:
Certain performers like Orkis and Bylsma are also preferred for their ability to interpret certain ideas that — like genres have ideas in common and as a result, sounds in common — composers explored as part of their collective membership in certain time periods or recurring ideas, like the Faustian, the Romantic and the reverent/sublime outlook, all of which are shared between metal and classical.
These similarities in composition explain why metal and classical have a lot in common — and this is why the correct interpretors are needed. Rock is harmonic-rhythmic, metal is phrasal-narrative. When making rock music, you pick a rhythm, and then use a standard song form or variation to fit it into a scale, which in turn determines harmony. Rock riffs are not as active or as shaped as metal riffs, because generally they are variations within a scale whose goal is to return to the chord being played; they are based around open chords and lead rhythm playing of the scale. Metal is phrasal, meaning that its riffs take the form of phrases made of power chords, and narrative, which means that metal song structure is determined by content of each song more than by a standard form — that’s the infamous “riff salad” rock musicians bemoan in metal.
Classical music also uses narrative composition. While imbeciles will focus on its fixed forms — sonata, fugue, aria — the more important idea here is that the song follows the poetic content being expressed. This mirrors the epic poetry of ancient European and Indian civilizations, where it was understood that each adventure had stages of ritual, much like we have stages in acceptance of death or change. As a result, there was a need for an overture, a reconsideration, some changes and a recapitulation and synthesis of themes, and these got formalized in the song structures that today imbeciles regard as iron laws. The narrative style however is the common thread in classical music from its beginning to the present.
In rock music, you write to fit the scale to the rhythm, and then melody is added to accentuate that. This is easier work because all of the real variables are defined by the form. Similarly, in jazz, the form is fixed and within it the player riffs off harmony and rhythm, and inserts fragments of melody to that end — this is why most jazz artists make thousands of recordings of a song, and only one or two are considered “the real deal” by collectors: without the artist making it happen, cerebrally, the pieces fit together by random convenience. Classical works by the opposite principle, which is creating or adapting a general form to the poetic needs of a piece — expressing the change in both listener and “actor” within the story or feeling being related — and then designing a combination of rhythm, melody, theme, motif and form to express it well.
Metal is similar, although less schooled in this regard, because it seeks to express a similar worldview — underlying philosophical assumptions about life — to that of classical. Metal is reverent for the sublime; it sees the power and the horror of nature as necessary for its perpetuation, and is like nature intolerant of the oblivious and unrealistic because they create a parasitic slowdown of the exciting experiences in life. It derives much of its thematic development from the pace of horror movies, in which a few “awakened” people realize that they face a supernatural — or invisible pattern underlying all reality — foe against which technology and their oblivious, unrealistic social partners are useless. Finally, metal like classical expresses the Faustian spirit, or a sense of struggling for the rare and inconvenient beauty life offers, and fighting back those who submit to static obedience or dogma; this sense of purity through struggle is called vir, or the virtuous warlike acts of ancient man. These themes repeat throughout classical music, like metal, and while there are exceptions, it’s more than a coincidence that the best among metal and classical use these themes repeatedly. – Classical Music for Metal Fans
It’s a philosophy of triumph through living not for safety, but for adventure:
Where modern society in a desire for safety imposes values designed for an average person onto all of us, and assumes that our material and humanist wellbeing constitutes meaning in life, Romanticism explodes from within. It is not a philosophy of cautions, but of desires for the intangible, and as so it worships risk and conquest and a lack of fear toward the karmic existence. It transcends the desire to either live karmically, or live akarmically, because it sees karmicism as a means to an end and concerns itself only with the end: the ideal.
In this, Romanticism constitutes a philosophy because it posits intangible ideals as a balance weight to the certainty of death. It seeks a sense of unfolding; the discovery of something new in a prismatic space hiding behind the mundane. In doing so, it renovates life itself by working from within and renewing the brain in its aspiration and heroic transcendence of the karmic drag, in the exact opposite principle to modernity, which is materialism/humanism as supported by technology and populist political systems. – Metal as Prismatic Motion
And although we can show how it is connected to Romanticism and classical music, its bigger connection is to an ideal of transcendentalism which has been discovered and forgotten innumerable times — when societies are healthy, they discover it; when they are not, they forget it. This is the Tradition that writers like Rene Guenon refer to:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Songs written from short cyclic phrases called riffs, which unlike rock riffs used movable 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.
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?
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. – Assimilation
Metal finds beauty in darkness.
Modern society tries to shut out darkness and, in doing so, removes beauty.
Coca-Cola or wandering in the woods, wondering if you’ll find fresh water or die of thirst.
One is safe, one is exciting.
Does black metal flirt with fascism? Black metal is conservative, and conservatism is a spectrum from libertarianism through national socialism, just like liberalism is a spectrum from anarchy through Communism.
Black metal implies that our modern time is as totalitarian as fascism or Communism, it’s just that the mechanisms are hidden from us. We are trapped in boring jobs, in ugly cities, in blight-ridden streets that are covered in commercial messages and obscene graffiti. We are not controlled directly; rather, we are sabotaged by society itself, which removes good options from us and replaces them with ever-lowering standards, so we both cannot rebel (hey, you can do ANYTHING, man) and cannot aspire. One way of doing things rules across the globe, and it controls our lives, even if it does so by making sure that the majority prefer dumb options and thus make those into law.
Modern society is a series of bad options because those are what the equal proles prefer; as the rot spreads, the controllers laugh from their ivory towers, watching civilization defeat itself because it cannot enact impulse control, and have preferences for long-term goods instead of short-term personal gain or recognition. We destroy ourselves. We do their work for them, and since most people are too dumb to figure this out, you can shout the truth on streetcorners and you will be ignored. It is a perfect system of control.
In the process we commit ecocide by growing like an obese cancer. Is black metal green? In a way that Garrett Hardin, Pentti Linkola and Arne Naess are green.
Is it fascist? In the way that Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin were: when you are in a society of idiots, you might as well carve it up and do some conquering because these people will do nothing but pursue their hollow pleasures, live callow lives of pointless misery, and then blame whoever is in charge for their own failings.
Our world is stagnating; entropy is upon us. The old methods of 1968 will not work because they did not work, and never work. They sound good, but they, too, are hollow.
Black metal is many things. It is religious; in a pagan, transcendentalist sense that maybe the most profound Christian mystics (Eckhart, Emerson) would have understood. It is violent, and it is fascist, but not totalitarian. It is nationalist, but not racist, per se. It is an assertion of the inward spirit of humanity that wants to rise above its own fear and desire for safety, and carve from an empty wilderness of a world a new civilization, one that achieves love not by commanding it through law, but through creating it by making things worth loving.
Black metal is all that this world is not, and the order that will replace it. The next thousand years are ours.
Oh wait, I was supposed to write about NSBM. Well, it’s nothing, really. It’s what happens when the RAC people claim black metal for their own. The original bands — Burzum, Emperor, Mayhem, Darkthrone, Enslaved, Immortal — they all endorsed nationalism, like Bathory did. For them, the point was to rebuild culture; for others, the idea is to wage race war. You can see there’s a difference.
Satan is dead. At this point it’s clear that you either go full Nietzschean with materialism, and try to find inspiration from aesthetics, or try to find a religion outside the humbling dualism of Christianity. People are choosing religion, demographically, and religion is getting more scientific because it must to not get blown away by changes in attitudes. At the same time people are also getting more conservative because the modern disaster has finally started to show. We’re totally out of control of this society because everyone is equal, so you can tell no one that what they’re doing is bad (unless it’s really obvious, like murder or mass orphan rape). All religious people with brains are starting to adopt a Blake/Emerson transcendentalist view which refutes dualism, although the dumb masses are always going to need some kind of absurd promises. This means the point in being Watain is not there anymore, since they’re fighting against a phantom from the 1980s, when we all thought Christian conservatism was going to destroy us all. It turns out the Christian conservatives saved us from the Soviets, and now we’re seeing that the hippie way of life just leads to more pollution, hatred, racism, misery and despair.
Futurist metal is going to take a Marshall McLuhan/Voivod approach. Like the best of sentimental mysticism in metal, it will probably embrace the idea of a world beyond this one, although not a dualistic one, more likely one in whatever n-space “m theory” or quantum entanglement proposes. Instead of being humanistic, it will focus on exploration, conquest and discovery. This will be how it transcends the Christian dualism and Jewish guilt-based morality that is inherent to all Abrahamic religions including Islam (and at this point, Judaism has been too Christianized to survive the onslaught, which is sad as it was the last hardcore literalist religion). Nietzscheans in space, exploring micro-organisms, finding ways to tie occultism and Platonic forms to our new knowledge of sub-atomic particles, string theory and emergent patterns. When you think about it, all prog bands want to be Voivod without the candy parts anyway. – Pray for Satan
Satanism in metal is so 1980s. Back then, a revolution: discover the occult under the slick modern skin that was really only three decades (one generation) old. So when people head for the safe, you remind them of death, mutation, disease, suffering, defecation, sodomy, and occult insistence that Evil is as important as Good, and that’s another way of saying both are human perspectives only. Nature doesn’t care whether it does evil or good, it just does what it must. But now, in the 2000s, everything is permitted. We need a new mythology, not a negation. If you have Satan, you need God; if you have God, you need Satan. Now, we all know that Jesus Christ is a liberal, a Communist and probably a free-market anarchist or at least free-love hippie. But he’s sort of immaterial, he’s a popularization of the Old Testament message. Whatever God we have, it’s the same God, much as we say the word God in many different languages; every religion describes the same world, the same God, and struggles with the anthrocentric concepts of Good and Evil. If you have Evil, however, you must have Good and vice versa. So it’s time to reinvent the mythology from within. If you want to destroy Christianity, take it back to its Pagan (Greek) roots and admit the archetype for Jesus Christ was Socrates. If you want to destroy modern soulless Judaism, embrace the original demi-gnostic hermetic Judaism. We are all together in each of our nations fighting for the same world, and different interpretations of the same truth. Metal needs to embrace the futurist aspects of science joined with a mysticism of logic that doesn’t depend on a dualistic god or inherent meaning.