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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Interview: MkM (Antaeus)

Editor’s note: this originally appeared in issue #3 of the zine “voices wake us…” (“Voices Wake Us…” Zine. $1ppd. voiceswakeuszine@hotmail.com) but it can be disseminated freely so long as this notice remains intact.

Questions by “Voices Wake Us…” Zine.
Answers by MkM (vokillz).

First off, what is your name and what part do you play in the band (instrument or vocals, etc.)?

vokalist, disease holder of AntaeuS. Satanik stigmata & preacher of the Void. 27 years old up to this day, non dead to most humans. Frontman & main voice for AntaeuS, I do speak for Him.

Now to the real questions. Black Metal’s legendary “first wave” included so many legendary bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone, and Immortal. Many conclude that the evolution of BM ceased after this period, so what do you think Antaeus’ relation is to the progression of the art? Is it justifiable to be merely more extreme? Can anything be added to the music at this point that has not been done already?

Black Metal does mix both ideology & musick, on this level, I would have to point out that most of nowadays bands have no linkz with the real meaning of this Art.Immortal never really took part of the bm kult, though their sound is very similar, their concept would be more based on northern landscapes, while bands like dark throne & mayhem had a more nihilitic death feels to the lyrikz & the aura was a bit more depressive in most cases.

We are payin hommage to those bands of the second wave, for their dedication in the early days & the message they did spread. We do evolve in the same vein, we hold the same message & our speech is based on hatred, denial of life & anything that would be related to “holyness” any religions wise, anything “human” related would be a target.

Black metal = SataN in its most strikt vision, we here speak of death, total death & the praise of the vortex that would swallow all. Though the utopia of such an ending is known of us, we do work in this way, spreading our disease & disgust of life and the concept related to it.

Sound wise, we are more extreme than the suscited bands, we couldn’t perform the same of art, for multiple reasons : we do breed violence more than depression (as individuals) & we do perform what we are & breath. The band is composed of 5 individuals more or less evolving on the Hate path. Me & Set being at the forefront of this, & since we are the main composer (him for the music & I being the sole responsible for any lyrikz & propaganda), we are the trademark of AntaeuS.

Also our approach is more destruktive than the “90s” gloomy approach of darkness, while they were opening gates of despair, we are opening gates of torment & pain.

Both are as effective, I truely find my inspiration in both, but violence is our key, our vektor.

Feel his pulse through us.

We are one stone of the edifice.

Black Metal is like a kathedral of Hate, it is not a question of evolution, the “evil”ution within takes place within the rankz of devotee evolving & praising the kult.

You have expressed dissatisfaction with the Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan album as being too rushed in the studio. To me, I can say I do not think it harms the record and adds to the urgency of the album. However, you have a new album coming out and will this be different and in what way a “representation” of the band that we have not already seen?

Somehow you are right, now that the album is older to my ears (two years or so) I get to listen to it in different perspectives, not rekalling all the shitty detailz about its conception & its spreading.CYFAWS was a gathering of mostly old trackz, like demos & reh tracks, all gathered on the same full lenght. Only one track never appeared anywhere before the cd release (though I am not even too sure about that now, I should check the live tape on chanteloup creations…) also the cd had three different rekording on it, which was a bit messy & made it sound more like a recollection than anything else.

Now, I think that baphomet did allow the band to put all together the most efficient earlier track of the band (inner war, devotee, nihil khaos…) but a rerecording of the whole album would have been best, now that would be the main complain about this lp.

Also this album did cost us a lot of money, but I do not fool myself, it is the same way for many bands around here, still having labels to cash on your work without being fair to the band is something I will never tolerate. That made me freak out, the band never got a fuckin cent out of the sale of the band, considering it did reach around 3000 copies (which is amazing to us, we never expected this much) one could easily guess that we got massively fucked on this one.

DE PRINCIPII EVANGELIKUM the newest release presents a more compact release, being composed on a two years basis, the whole has a more “united” strukture & lyrikz wise, that did allow me to have something fully solid. This time the lyrikz are included, I had the time to type all in time so people will finally get to understand what lies behind antaeus, though it will remain obscure to most or simply fucked up.

DPE is less easy to get into, it took me a few month to get into some trackz myself, having one hell of a hard time to lay vokalz on those & get the whole strukture in the reh’ room

The band does reh’ around 6/7 hours per week in the reh’ room & more when we get nearer to live exp or studio rekording. We get ridd off a lot of material, our work is very serious & we are making sure to have the most efficient offering to the black metal kult.

I think that one thing that would lack on DPE would be the intro sektion that are truely important to me, this time the drummer & I did lack time to meet & do something of my taste, that is my main “negative critic” to the new album. Next release shall see a return to those sonic landscapes & all the frustration that did hide behind those.

Many BM bands are one-person projects (Burzum, Bathory, Taake, Krieg, Ildjarn, eventually Emperor, and at times Darkthrone). What is the band construct of Antaeus? How does the song-writing process work and who does most of the “legwork” for the band, ie: setting up gigs and record-related business. Any comments on past members or development of the band over time?

You would mention there strongminded individuals that had one hard time finding the right members to perform their art with, or simply couldn’t deal with others, due to ego conflikts.I was just a session member in the early days, being too busy with my zine & my distribution (& my former band)

When AntaeuS turned into a virus in me, I felt like it had to evolve further than the limitations that the main man back then had for it. I think that all took shape when I got hold of all the strukture of AntaeuS, getting set as main guitarist was the best move ever, since we have known each other for years & we had the same musikal taste (for the early 90s sound, nowadays we tend to listen to different aktz yet our basis are the same).

Drum wise, we decided to get ridd off the drum machine & never changed since.

Bass & rythm guitar wise, we might have had more than 20 different members within the band, but in 98 we did finally find the right one, being also involved in Eternal Majesty with whom we did a split demo back then. I did know them since they were working a lot with SPIKEKULT (since their first demo, “dark empire”).

Since then, the line up is perfekt & all of us are united & work on the musikal struktures.

For all the rest, interviewz, ideals, propaganda, kontaktz, ALL is done by me & me only. Mostly due to the fact that I am the only one speakin & writtin in english.

That does take a lot of my time, due to this I did stop all others implications (my zine, other bands & even spikekult for some months/years).

We do not seek gigs really, since conditions are always fuckin ridiculous or awful, I try to avoid to the max getting to play live, though we had two or three great shows since 94; mostly over the two past years.

Getting gas money & some beers seems to be the VERY best we could get in europe, even if we perform in front of 300 people… the cost to rent a place is so high that none could ever pay the band.

A couple reviews I’ve read of CYFaWS, while positive, have accused the band of not bringing anything new to the table. Stylistically, I would say that Antaeus is a) faster (I’d say only Krieg is as fast), b) more “grind”, c) less atmospheric, d) more brutal and divided into penetrating structures of noise than in an “epic” sense of many bands. Agree? What is the aesthetic you are going for here, other than just “fast.” Because it is definitely a unique and not just a retro sound.

I do agree with those reviewz, still we never did claim to bring anything to new, so I sometimes wonder why we are accused of that, just like we were lyin about it.True, we are faster, though I would use “more brutal” instead, since speed for itself doesn’t mean much to us, tons of swedish bands are playin hyper fast, but both the drumz & riffs are without any effects on the listener.

Brutality & Hate are the main faktors in AntaeuS sound, we do hold this pulse & seek to create such aura within any rekording of ours.

Our epic approach might be linked to the tension we do put in the rekordin process.

The grind aspect cannot be denied as well, musik wise, some bands are truely unique to me, but the message, most of the time, would be simply ridiculous or be the opposite of my ideas.

Older grind bands had more of a dark or sick approach compared to today’s fun/gore/political bands.

Hate is a large concept of the band. Does this reach over into politics at all? Many BM are clearly fascist, a politics based on hate, while others are nihilistic (and in that sense, partially anarchistic). Views of politics in yourself and in the scene?

Hate is anywhere, but most politics would serve some instead of others, while we support the death of ALL; all those fascist bands are always a source of interrogation in my kamp. All those linked to black metal & openly using both the sigils of SataNism & those of Nazism are creating a nonsense to me.the nihilistic part is often dealing with one hope for a brighter future, built on the ashes of nowadays society & values.

I do not have any hope of this kind, the only hope I have is tattooed on my chest.

Let’s go back on the nonsense, I don’t care about NS bands as long as they are not linked with black metal. Politics would limit the initial meaning of black metal.

NSBM seems more serious to the young than the “inverted cross”, since it would represent something more “socially involved”, having to deal with values that would be more “linked” to todays world & having more impact due to the importance of sigils (ie : the use of swastika or SS sigils are full of meaning & related to happening that took place less than a century ago). Politics are giving black metal a more “humanistic” approach, which I don’t really understand. I would understand sadistik exekution using SS symbols or funeral mist for their vision of death in general, but as far as “human values” are involved, I simply don’t get it.

Any individuals mixin bm with ns should realize that there is already a scene for that, anything metal related is more or less viewed as “outcast” due to the code of life (destruktive, alcohol, aggression)…

anyway when I think of those teens doing “sieg heil” here & there with their beers & long hair, they would be among the first to enter the gas kamp that does make me laugh

Death is the main goal anyway.

In what sense is Antaeus a “do it yourself” band that controls the aspects of recording, promotion, management, and production itself? You are clearly dedicated to the underground, but many people are not familiar with the metal underground as much as the more-established and cohesive American punk underground. How does the underground work and how much is Antaeus a separate entity from outside control and influence of labels, promoters, etc?

A would be my band then, since I would be responsible for most of those aspects.Being honest, I am not too aware of the punk scene, though got to meet up with some labels from around here pressing punk vinylz & their scene seemed much more “supportive” & less “inner war” in between labels & so on. I might have a wrong of it though.

I would be totally dedicated to one aspect of the ug scene, which I could describe as the only real scene, with true sick freakz & not wannabes & morons of any kind that would pollute the bm kult.

those idiots are numerous & for the past years, I would have spent way too much time on those inbreed fags instead on workin on my code of life & supporting what had to be supported with the scene (bands & labels wise). Now we are viewed as traitors to most, since we did sign to Osmose.

Osmose allows us a studio rekording budget & having the whole distribution in their hand, I could never deal with that myself, my daily job takes around 50 hours per week now (compared to 70 h per week for last year) which makes it nearly impossible to cope with the mail & any correspondance in general. Even reh’ with the band got closed to impossible for me. All is getting better now, but as far as I am concerned, if A didn’t sign to Osmose, all would have stopped. I couldn’t go on paying 300 usd per month for the band, not having enough to cope for my own living cost.

Now we do loose less cash, but we still loose. So when I get to read that we did become fucking rockstars or sell out, I might ask to whom did we sell out???

A band selling 5000 copies (which even ain’t our case) could never live out of it, I am sure that you are aware of that, but many readers out there that did write us do think that we do earn enough money with the band to live with….

It was ok to reply to those questions the first years, but after a while, it killed me that most people wouldn’t get how it workz…

But hell, we are talking about fuckin labels detailz & how bands are getting fucked most of the time

Right now with Osmose, all is doing ok, we just did spend around 400 usd for this one, (lay out & mastering) since we did excess a bit the budget allowed for the studio rekording.

How is the French “scene?” Are there many bands, zines, or venues to play in? Are there a lot of posers?

Scene in france is not my fave subjekt, I did support many bands from around here in the past, being proud of my “local scene”, but all those bands did fuckin backstabb us for no reasons or so. “allies of today are the backstabbers of tomorrow”, thus I don’t mention too much about bands from around here.There is a fair deal of akts though, most of them are amateurish to the core & spending more time in front of camera or doing shirtz than working on the musikal parts.

All of them are envious little morons who are offended when they realize it is not that “easy” to have a cd out. They all think that demos are useless & that the underground is just a chat room on the net.

For the older ones, we had either conflikts with them or totally different views.

Apart from a few dozen individual in the whole france, we don’t get along too much with individuals from around here.

I had my fair deal of war around here.

In the newer band ; dark opus & aosoth are among my faves

DEATHSPELL OMEGA must be the ultimate black metal band the traditionnal way. END ALL LIFE is without any doubt the best vinyl bm label, they must have by now the CYFAWS on lp out, & that is one Honour for us to be on that label.

Zines? well 666 is the best in the extreme bm/dm way, eternal fire was killer too but defunct (or simply no newz from them since long), stregoica was kult in its dayz, now they are doing ordealis rekords which is very promising (killer work from their part), deadfuckinchurch is a good zine but he said that his final issue will be the next…

Some distro are great too, like paleur mortelle & warchangel.

AntaeuS will have a split 10″ with AOSOTH on Paleur Mortelle (akhaeus@aol.com) in the comin month btw.

Gigs wise, the audience is way better than any us gigs that I got to visit (& I had my fair deal of us deals over the three or four stayz I did over there), we usually get from 150 to 400 nowadays, but places are not so numerous & each venues does cost around 2000 to 3000 usd to rent for a night, with such prices, no bands would get any payment, asking for gas payment is already a dream for bands.

Due to that, in 2001, antaeus only performed live Once.

We did perform a bit more over the past months, with bands like nargaroth, taake, enthroned, eternal majesty…

The last hellish gig we did do was in Paris with taake & enthroned, our best set ever since 2001

In nov 002 we will be among the opening bands for the DEICIDE european tour, we shall desecrate new countries & I do expekt that tour I must say.

It’s nothing you’d understand, but I do have something to say. In fact, I have a lot to say, but now is not the time or place. I don’t know why I’m wasting my time or breath. But what the hell? As for what is said of my life, there have been lies in the past and there will be lies in the future. I don’t believe in the hypocritical, moralistic dogma of this so-called civilized society. I need not look beyond this room to see all the liars, haters, the killers, the crooks, the paranoid cowards — truly trematodes of the Earth, each one in his own legal profession. You maggots make me sick — hypocrites one and all. And no one knows that better than those who kill for policy, clandestinely or openly, as do the governments of the world, which kill in the name of God and country or for whatever reason they deem appropriate. I don’t need to hear all of society’s rationalizations, I’ve heard them all before and the fact remains that what is, is. You don’t understand me. You are not expected to. You are not capable of it. I am beyond your experience. I am beyond good and evil, Legions of the night — night breed — repeat not the errors of the Night Prowler and show no mercy. I will be avenged. Lucifer dwells within us all. That’s it.

– Richard Ramirez

Most BM has diverged into “symphonic,” commercial crap. I’m sure you have some ventings on bands like this (Dimmu Borgir, Anorexia Nervosa, Ancient), or on “retro” bands like Dark Funeral. To many, Black Metal must remain underground and elite, and yet within it are elements that are more palatable to the masses- a band like Immortal proving that BM can be commodified over time. Thoughts on this phenomenon in Black Metal?

Like anywhere, when you get an artistic style that would be perceived as elitist & underground, one will have the wish to “extand” it on a different level, for various reasons.Some considers that the message should not be limited to one handful of individuals

some seems to think that they would sell more rekords having an “evil” image Some just find it “cool” to use such imagery Others are living the black metal kult, on a daily basis.

Music wise, I am closed minded when it comes to black metal, not opening myself too much to new genres, though I did try to pay attention to all those bands poppin up & crossing goth, indus & so on with black metal.

I must admit that diabolicum & mysticum were the only one that did match my expektations when it comes to the aura created.

On the other level, I also pay attention to the “performers”, for example : Anorexia Nervosa is often quoted as fag band, mostly due to the COF sounding of the musick. But on a personal level, the frontman is really a sicko & is among those few individuals I consider. Yet he would be a bit too much “rock n roll” sometimes eh too much drugz & autodestruction for me (which does provide a smile, that does you an idea on how fucked the man can be) aktually I think that when you get to meet him, he would be more in his place belongin to sadistik exekution than anorexia (musick wise) Ancient & dimmu borgir never made it to me, not even one track from their early days (the ep of ancient was ok though).

You did qualify some elements of black metal as “palatable” for the masses, yet we have to redefine masses then, since those masses would be the “extreme metal scene” which is not that wide, only a few thousands people I would say.

Not something that could be play on the air of any local radio show & musical tv shows or whatever. We are not dealing with “pop” music. But I do agree, black metal did sadly evolve to a wider audience & that doesn’t mean that the real audience did grow bigger, just that it did expand to people that simply don’t get a clue of what real black metal is about.

Having some individuals to compare napalm death to dark throne amazes me… the only link between those bands is mostly in the instruments used & some beats. (& some would kill me for the “rythm” comparaison)

Anyway, on our level, like other bands, we remain an underground band, you will most likely always find “cyfaws” & “dpe” on cd format, but we will go on doing limited tapes & vinylz. Only for those few sick ones that are also the pulse of the band.

It does mean a lot to us to be supported by like minded individuals, band members or zine editors or just listeners.

I do not get much letters in that vein, but with those few with whom we share visions, getting to read some comments on AntaeuS work is always rewarding.

Our satanik audio violence would be a weapon & only some individuals know how to handle it & how to view it properly.

Carcass or Bolt Thrower? Pick one.

Fuck… Bolt Thrower

at least they didn’t change & “cenotaph” is an instant classic for me, such as the “in the battle there is no law” lp. carcass had amazing trackz but fuckin wimped out too much for my taste.

When can we expect the new album (on Osmose, right?) and will there ever be an American tour??

the new rekordin shall be out on sept 23rd in europe, so obviously a bit later in the usa, osmose doesn’t have a distributor over there I think, so most releases are available mostly through ug mailorders & so on. I doubt one will find it as easily as CYFAWS over there. I seriously doubt on the american tour thing, though I wish we could go over there & perform with bands like black witchery, thornspawn, krieg, demoncy, gbk & so on. Since we are doing a european tour for “DPE” in november, as opening band for Deicide, I am not nearly sure that no tour will happen until the next release (the third album that is).Having us on a european tour would mean getting the band on a bigger “bill”, having an headlining band that could make it possible. As of now, I have no big expectation about a us tour, since it seems nearly impossible, we are not “selling” enough to be pushed that way.

The Deicide tour is already something really expensive.

In the future, who knowz? but I wouldn’t be surprised if the band never gets to perform over there.

Bands like marduk, satyricon & others took forever to go to the other continent & most of the time, itz like a money vortex more than anything else.

Time shall tell, we still have to perform over here first, that is our territory & we haven’t visited more than three countries as of now (which would be like performin in three different states for a us bands).

To you, what is most important in sustaining black Metal into the coming years, as it is increasingly an “endangered” form of music?

I see it that way : Evil will never dies, it might change shape, as long as some form of Art will be dedicated to its “grandeur”, I see no problem with itBlack Metal has somehow a more raw approach to it, a darker incarnation meant to appeal to more extreme masses, thus a minority of individuals are truely meant to understand fully the concept behind this genre.

Black metal is nowadays marketed as a musical genre only, with gimmicks to help the sales. Many bands did take the opportunity to rise using those “eye catching” ideas related to black metal.

Your top 5 BM records?

DarkThrone “a blaze in the northern sky”
Funeral Mist “devilry”
Katharsis “666” + “red eye of wrath” demo
Blasphemy “fallen angel of doom”
Beherit “D. down the moon” (& oath of the black blood)those are the ultimategettin near to that, I’d add sadistik exekution (all releases), profanatica, demoncy, krieg… I’d easily give 20 names that would represent the whole list of bands I really support…. Giving 30 names would be impossible though. not enough bands have individuals matchin the right ideology one should have within the bm scene.

Thanks for the interview! Good luck on your upcoming record and in the inevitable Satanic victory over the forces of light. Have a nice day

Forces of Light are forces of lies as well, they are their own failure & we shall be the witness & the temptation for them.Take a look in the abyss & the abyss will stare back at you

For we hold the ultimate void, we shall go on, we are Omega.

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Death Metal FAQ

1. What is Death Metal?
2. Who invented Death Metal and when?
3. Why do most Death Metal fans wear distinctive t-shirts?
4. How to understand Death Metal lyrics?
5. Why does Death Metal have such a morbid visual style?
6. Are Death Metal bands satanic or occultist?
7. Does Death Metal possess an ideology?
 

What is Death Metal?

Death metal is structuralist heavy metal that borrows heavily from classical and industrial music. Its heritage is equal parts neoclassical heavy metal from the 1970s and hardcore punk from the early 1980s; if you throw Discharge, Judas Priest and King Crimson into a blender and set it on “high,” you might get something like death metal. It took from roughly 1983-1988 for death metal to fully evolve, and at that point, it experienced six golden years of fruitful growth before lapsing as black metal eclipsed it in popularity.

The original underground musical genre, death metal was completely unknown to most people until 1997 when it became fodder for mainstream commentary after several school shootings. During the 1980s and early 1990s, it was impossible to find death metal in normal record stores and chains; most people ordered it from small mailorder companies, or “distros,” that stocked underground metal exclusively. The underground in fact replicated every aspect of the normal music industry, including journalists and radio stations, to avoid being tainted by “commercial” or “mainstream” music.

We say death metal is “structuralist” because, in contrast to rock music, its goal is not a recursive rhythm riff that encourages constant intensity through verse-chorus structure; death metal, like black metal after it and prog rock and classical before it, uses “narrative” song structure, or a string of phrases connected in such a way that they effect musical and artistic change throughout the song. While rock music aims to find a sweet riff and ride it, and much of older heavy metal does the same, death metal is like opera: its goal is to use riffs to introduce more riffs, and through those, to create a treelike structure of motifs which resolve themselves to a final dominant theme. In this, death metal (like the progressive rock and synthpop bands that influenced it) is closer to classical music than rock music.

The history of rock music has been written by commercial promoters who have tried to establish its “authenticity” and uniqueness, and therefore, almost all mainstream publications are hostile to death metal. Death metal reminds us that rock music, blues and jazz did not arise autonomously in America, but were based on centuries of European popular music (the I-IV-V chord structure of the blues is derived from European folk music, and its “blues scale” is a modification of Asian and Celtic scales). Rock music is a scam, and its marketing makes it seem to be something greater than what it is, which is the same old music dressed up as a product. Death metal more than any genre before it broke from the rock tradition, and therefore is a threat to the rock establishment and its profits.

Like most musical genres in the modern time, death metal is constantly under assault not only from external interests, but from within, as self-interested people try to make rock music and dress it up as death metal. These attempts to simplify the genre would benefit those who attempt them, as they would both be able to make a saleable product (being similar to established musical tastes, it sells easily and broadly) and be able to claim the “authenticity” of belonging to an outsider form of art such as death metal. These false death metal bands have polluted the genre with the same mainstream dogma and musicality that death metal sought to escape. Like all human social breakdown, this breakdown occurs through the selfishness of individuals who are unwilling to admit that the health of the genre is more important than their personal profit.

Death metal flourished from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, and then was for most purposes replaced by black metal. Where death metal was structuralist with heavy emphasis on chromatic phrasing and hence rhythmic, black metal used narrative construction based on melody (an innovation of later and progressive death metal bands as well, such as At the Gates, Atheist, Gorguts and Demilich). As such, it is often hard to tell where death metal ended and black metal began, although in their mature form they are distinct genres. In this, and in the aesthetic components of death metal borrowed by mainstream bands as varied as Slipknot and Nirvana, death metal lives on.

References:
The History of Metal

Who invented Death Metal and when?

Death metal arose from the end of hardcore punk colliding with a desire to renew the spirit of metal; launched in 1969, proto-metal like Black Sabbath had become lost among hard rock (Led Zeppelin) and progressive rock (King Crimson) and needed redefining. The aggressive, oversimplified, and disconnected from contemporary music sound of hardcore punk was apt and therefore infused into heavy metal. In the process, because hardcore punk relied on streams of power chords or phrasal instead of rhythmic competition, metal became an entirely new animal.

This change can be heard first in speed metal bands like Metallica, Slayer, DBC, Rigor Mortis and Nuclear Assault. Phrases got longer, songs got more intricate, and the type of riffing that repeated a rhythm using a single chord got rarer; a new form of music was in the forging. However, these bands were still too entrenched in many of the rock-influenced tendencies of metal; death metal made a clean break from these. (It is interesting to note that the ultimate point of breakaway was thrash, or hardcore punk crossover bands who wrote punkish songs with metal riffs; these reduced music so much to its essence that it had to reconstruct itself, and having grand ambitions, reached toward narrative composition instead of the hackneyed rock styles.)

During the years 1983-1985, a style emerged that was between death metal, black metal and thrash, and from this all of the succeeding genres were to derive their musical inspiration. Bathory, Sodom, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost formed the basis of this style, augmented in the Americas by Possessed, Slayer and Sepultura. From these founding acts styles diversified into death and black metal. While many give credit to Venom for the term black metal, musically speaking they were rooted firmly in the heavy metal tradition.

The golden years of death metal were from 1988 to 1994, during which time the classics of the genre and all of its variations formed. Percussive death metal thundered from the industrial east coast of America; Texas produced a harsh and grating otherworldly sound; Florida created the rhythmic and alienated Tampa style of death metal. Progressive bands from the USA and melodic bands from Sweden rounded out the style, as did innumerate hybrids, including doom metal and speed metal crossovers.

However, by 1994, the genre reached a decision point: where to go so as to keep up with black metal, which had expanded into melody as quickly as death metal had expanded into rhythmic structure, and now threatened to become more popular? The death metal genre had become calcified between diehards who insisted on a narrow definition of style, and “innovators” who wanted to make it into rock music, but both groups in their efforts to control external factors forgot internal factors, and the ideology and artistic spirit of death metal as lost. As such, it appeared senile and was forgotten for some years.

At the time of this writing, death metal is practiced by a few holdovers from the late 1980s who continue to put out quality music, but their numbers decline each year. The general health of the metal community is poor because it focuses on uniqueness of external appearance and not composition and artistic integrity. While we hold out hope for a death metal revival, it is more likely that it will simply take its place in history and we will be left with recordings.

References:
The History of Metal

Why do most Death Metal fans where distinctive t-shirts?

In the underground death metal subculture, the shirt you wear — bearing the logo of a favorite band or organization or concept — defines which strata of social accomplishment to which you belong within the death metal community. Your taste identifies your level within an intellectual hierarchy based on what its members are able to comprehend, or withstand, perhaps, musically.

For example, a guy in a Cannibal Corpse t-shirt might be neglected by someone wearing a Beherit t-shirt because Beherit has a more esoteric and theoretically-adventurous audience than the low-brow blockhead churning of Cannibal Corpse; t-shirts determine what bands your brain can accept and thus often, a type of caste identification within the hierarchy of fans. Those who try to forge this identity often find themselves answering difficult questions under unpleasant circumstances.

In the inverse situation, someone in an Atheist t-shirt might laugh off someone wearing a Sarcofago t-shirt as a philistine. This allows multiple communities to exist in a hierarchy within the death metal community and identify each other by sight, as well as differentiate metalheads from the hordes of drone normals who do nothing but buy Creed CDs and singing plastic fish.

How to understand Death Metal lyrics?

Death metal bands tend to use complex, Latinate language to describe the world in terms of its function and technologies, leaving the emotional terminology for rock music and blues. Its goal is not to affirm the emotions of the individual, but to point out the effects of structural change in the surrounding world. Not surprisingly, as a musical movement, death metal is also structuralist.

Unlike rock genres, there is a near total absence of gender words and love songs. Death metal is not about emotional escapism. Death metal is about reality.

Why does Death Metal have such a morbid visual style?

Symbols serve as an important anchor between the way a music sounds and what it represents aesthetically, including the ideas of the musicians as inspirational to their work. In death metal, there are several main categories of symbolism: the “occult,” the morbid, and the technological.

Death metal art — as seen on tshirts, album covers, flyers, patches, pins and stickers — includes all of these. The occult represents an opposition to morality; as a “nihilistic” genre, death metal musicians tend to be realists and recognize that no matter how much we classify something as morally bad or good, reality is unaffected, and whatever object is in question will serve reality at the level of function and not morality. The morbid represents another nihilistic outlook, which is that not only is death more real than our moralizations against it, but it will inevitably happen to us and we must be reminded by that. Where the occult uses pentagrams, ancient script, sigils and demonic imagery, the morbid uses disease, horror, submission and bodily corruption (including the mind/body turned against itself, as in zombie films) as its palette.

Technology makes an odd bedfellow with death metal art, as it is commonly used to modify one of the other two categories. Much as at the end of the Black Sabbath song “War Pigs,” Satan is shown as laughing and spreading his wings at the slaughter of young men for profit, technology is portrayed as amoral and therefore something that can turn on humanity at any minute. Combined with morbid imagery, we have art revealing human beings as both dependent on and captive of technology; combined with the occult, we have either technology in the power of the occult, or the occult as naturalistic and opposing technological humanity.

Art Death Metal bands satanic or occultist?

Death metal bands are occultist in that each of the founding bands and most to follow had an occult focus or research interest evident in their lyrics. However, few practise mysticism and most seem to use it solely as metaphorology for their works. This is convenient because our moral society, even when secular, bases its morality on Judeo-Christian mythology.

Any academic study of occultism in death metal must also take into account the range of occults employed. Judeo-christian, Babylonian, Far East, Nordic and indigenous American symbolism and ideologies appear in the lyrics and conceptual positioning of death metal bands.

References:
Satanism as Metaphor in Metal Music

Does Death Metal possess an ideology?

When heavy metal evolved in response to the hippie culture around it, it took darker themes to a new intensity and warned of apocalypse. Fifteen years later, speed metal bands were wailing about Armageddon. But as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is different from George Orwell’s 1984, death metal had accepted that the apocalypse would be a whimper, and not a bang, and that its progress was inevitable.

This paranoid and soul-wrenching logic created an immediate need to overcome the superstition and self-pity of a complacent age. In consequence, as if approaching Nietzsche’s “abyss” and going under instead of over, these bands have embraced a philosophy of nihilism and a delight in the intellectual, sensual and spiritual extremes of a dying age.

From this, much can be learned about a human future: nihilism frees us from much of our fear by confronting it head-on. Death metal bands have created an epic change in American subculture from one of morality to one of existential self-assertion, but further, the “gore” lyrics of many bands have targeted social denial of collective fear of death.

Ideology serves an important place in the generation of lyrics and concept to each band. for most, the personal is political in choice of music, intellectual aspirations within it, and values as expressed in themes of darkness, death, the occult, war, genocide and suffering. Death metal reflects a lineage to hardcore music, yet its heavy metal side shows in the use of the personal rather than collective as a means of communication.

That death metal has not collapsed on its own inertia, or become morality-driven and thus socially conformist like emocore or “life metal” bands, is a small miracle in a time of overwhelming commercial motivation to human efforts. Its underground remains strong and defiantly independent. As more people in society feel the need to withdraw from decaying mainstream values and behaviors, death metal’s ideology offers a glimpse of a nihilistic but impressively un-neurotic future.

References:
The Philosophical Tradition of Heavy Metal

Written by Vijay Prozak

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The Heavy Metal F.A.Q.

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About

The Heavy Metal FAQ explores the development of heavy metal as a musical movement through its context in popular culture, and reflects upon the ideological and sociological circumstances that motivated that development. These circumstances are tracked through music theory, symbolism, and behavior.

Contents

Version: 2.0 / September 8, 2014

I. What is Heavy Metal?

  • Heavy metal originated as a counter-reaction to the hippie rock of the 1960s and was intended to sound like a horror movie soundtrack
  • Heavy metal fused progressive rock, hard rock, and soundtrack styles using the power chord to make phrasal composition
  • Heavy metal culture and lyrics resemble European literary Romanticism in its emphasis on the individual and nature, not social mores, dictating value in life
  • Heavy metal ideology is an active form of nihilism, in which the individual believes in nothing because belief is not needed as much as a creative, intuitive, warlike principle of vir
  • The musical and cultural influences of heavy metal suggest this idea has been injected into the mainstream, but that a constant struggle exists to "norm" it to social mores

1.1 Music

slayer-live-tom_araya Defining heavy metal requires we look at its many attributes as part of a whole. Heavy metal is is a musical style with certain compositional tenets without which music cannot be said to be heavy metal; however, even more profoundly, it is also a set of ideas that shape its composition, and without those you can have something that "sounds like" metal but does not fit the whole profile of heavy metal. Musically it can be described by the following:
  1. Composed using forms of the power chord, or a fifth chord lacking a third, in a moveable form based normally on the low E chord. Since these chords lack a third, they are neither major nor minor, and can be played in any position, which lends itself to writing longer, more dynamically melodic or lengthier phrasal riffs.
  2. Musically "heavy" derived from a songwriting style that emphasizes a return to unison after a resolution of motifs. The promenade-style riffs and theatrical conclusions of metal songs derive from this need, which forms a heavy (emotionally significant) moment later in each song.
  3. Dark subject matter, and use of heavy distortion, vocal distortion, intensely fast or slow tempos, and other ways of converting that which appears noisy and ugly into a musical language, as if attempting to find beauty in darkness.
  4. Familiarity with the past musical language of metal riffs and imagery, and ability to build on it, both musically and ideologically.
  5. A preference for cadence where rock bands would use rhythmic expectation in the pattern of syncopation extended to the beats themselves. Although metal beats are syncopated, this is used internally within cadenced beats and reduces drums to a constant -- or "timekeeping" role -- which ends phrases on the downbeat.
Emerging from the ruins of rock music, heavy metal grew from the conventions of that genre, which possessed an international flair in its use of Anglo-Celtic song structures, European music theory, Middle Eastern and Asian scales, an Arab instrument converted by Spaniards and electrified by Americans, and timbral singing from Africa. These remnants were tempered by a tendency toward progressive rock song structures which approximate those of European classical music; the rhythms of garage punk bands, which come from the first two guitar lessons of an aggressive teenager; and finally, the thematic tendencies of horror movie music, which are generally borrowed from Modernist- and Romantic-era classical composers such as Anton Bruckner, Richard Wagner, Camille Saint-Saens, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann and Ottorino Respighi. The traits of this modernist music -- mobile fifths, unison, thematic repetition with inflected motifs, layered harmony and inversion -- extend heavy metal beyond its classical roots but also step further backward in time toward the origins of Western music, in that by liberating itself harmonic structures used to identify scale, it returns to the modal, melodically-structured, narrative compositional form originally pioneered by earlier civilizations like the ancient Greeks. When classical music emerged from the rigor of Baroque styling, and ventured into the theoretical but passionate world of the Romantics as defined by Beethoven, it reached a height that demanded a further gesture to continue its artistic specialization. The final point of departure was to liberate melody from the intricate harmonic structure of Romantic music and in doing so to make melody more than harmony the leading compositional tool, so that pieces were defined by the evolution of melody instead of strictly harmonic structure. In this form, which resulted in music that tended toward a nearly chromatic base scale with motifs clustered around it in varied modalities imposed on contact points in that progression of tones, the narrative method of composition reached its most flexible voice. Music became more motif-driven, spurred on by the "leitmotifs" of Richard Wagner, and united a juncture of music, narrative, theatricism and architecture -- Bruckner famously referred to his works as "sonic cathedrals" -- in which it evolved to within a step away from becoming the rigorously correlated drama, ritual and music of the Greek theatre. Heavy metal inherited all of this through a modern form because of its desire to escape the cognitive dissonance reaction to modern life. In part, this impulse comes from the metalhead who realizes that the individual is basically powerless, except in a future time when predictions about the negative nature of modern society will come true. Of course, in the now, parents brush that aside and go shopping, stockpiling retirement funds so they can carelessly wish their children a good life before disappearing into managed care facilities with 24-hour cable movie channels. A more fundamental part of this dissident realism is creative. People who see most of society going into denial because they cannot handle their low social status, the dire future of human overpopulation and industrialization, and the negative motivations hiding beneath social pretense, aka "cognitive dissonance," will often mourn most for the opportunities lost when people value putting their heads in the sand more than finding beauty in life. It is the convergence of these ideas that creates the violent and masculine but sensitive, Romantic side to metal: it is a genre of finding beauty in darkness, order in chaos, wisdom in horror, and restoring humanity to a path of sanity -- by paying attention to the "heavy" things in life that, because they are socially denied, are left out of the discussion but continue to shape it through most people's desire to avoid mentioning them. This same principle underlies classic European and Greco-Roman art and music, the idea of an aggressive and warlike but wise and sensitive motivation that is both religious and scientific, peaceful and belligerent, because it understands a principle of order to the universe and asserts it because it is beautiful in that it is a "meta-good," or the harmonious result of darkness and light in conflict. For this reason, it is not moral in the sense of judging as good or evil, and neither fits into the hippie "peace, love and hedonism" approach nor the conservative, market-bound ignorance-is-bliss smoke and mirrors of mainstream music and bourgeois art. Unlike any other musical principle, the one thing that unites the varied borrowings from baroque, rock, jazz, blues, folk, country, classical and electronic music that form heavy metal is this Romantic principle of doing what is right not in a moral sense to the individual, but in a sense of the larger questions of human adaptation to the universe, the conceptual root of "heavy" in metal and what throughout history has been called by a simple syllable: "vir," the root of virtue in a sense older than a modern moral interpretation as chastity. Vir is doing what is right by the order of the universe discerned by asking the "heavy" questions, and speaks to an abstract structure of right as opposed to an aesthetic one, where the individual picks the non-threatening as an option to the threatening.
It's a concept album about what once was before the light took us and we rode into the castle of the dream. Into emptiness. It's something like; beware the Christian light, it will take you away into degeneracy and nothingness. What others call light I call darkness. Seek the darkness and hell and you will find nothing but evolution. - Varg Vikernes, http://www.burzum.com/
For these reasons, where rock has simpler unifying principles (tension between pentatonic and harmonic minor scale) and other forms of music have more clearly genre-specific technique, like funk, which supports a variation not musically much distinct from rock and jazz, metal is both a polyglot and a theory of its own, helped greatly by the flexibility which the power chord bestows. The ability to move chords rapidly without harmonic obstruction led to a desire to write more evocatively phrasal riffs, which led to the riff as basis of composition, which in turn led to longer song structures using a modal sense to unite motifs in an otherwise disparate, chromatic context. This process evolved through the proliferation of sub-genres that marks the development of metal since 1970. Heavy metal music, as a genre, encloses sub-genres which implement the above list with varying degrees of proficiency, leaving behind rock conventions as they do so for a uniquely metal musical language. While much of this change occurred within speed metal, it was enhanced during death metal and perfected with black metal, and can be seen as an ongoing stratum of concept developed with the first proto-metal album, and continuing in refinement toward a higher vision of itself.

2.2 History

black-sabbath-band_photo-5
I've never thought it an accident that Tolkien's works waited more than ten years to explode into popularity almost overnight. The Sixties were no fouler a decade than the Fifties -- they merely repead the Fifties' foul harvest -- but they were the years when millions of people grew aware that the industrial society had become paradoxically unlivable, incalculably immoral, and ultimately deadly. In terms of passwords, the Sixties where the time when the word progress lost its ancient holiness, and escape stopped being comically obscene. The impulse is being called reactionary now, but lovers of Middle-earth want to go there...[Tolkien] is a great enough magician to tap our most common nightmares, daydreams and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either: he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day's madness here in a poisoned world. We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers -- thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams. -- Peter S. Beagle, introduction to _The Hobbit_, 1973
Heavy metal emerged as a distinct musical form with the first proto-metal introduced in 1970 by Black Sabbath. The UK band created a new style of music, equally influenced by extreme rock and horror movie music, that strung together power chords into longer phrases which gave the music a dense and morbid atmosphere. The hippie lexicon of the day referred to it as "heavy" because of the sensations of dark realism and confrontation with reality hidden beneath the human world formed of the consensual reality of socializing, laws and morals. Hippie culture, in full flower at the time, based its music on popular sentiments of pacifism and love. This was a negative reaction to the innocent but wholesome rock of the 1950s. In contrast, proto-metal brought a dirge of the insignificance of the individual, the brutality of life and the ominous unknown of the future. Where rock bands wrote about personal and political topics (sometimes referred to as "karmic drama") proto-metal dug into the broader worlds of history, mythology and metaphysics. The new music instantly attracted those who found both 1950s culture and 1960s culture to be unrealistic, including bored kids from the suburbs where reality was deliberately kept in quarantine and nothing an adult said could be trusted. This upset the music establishment who, despite its criticism of other industries as obsolete and oppressive, was as much a force of calcified "conservative" thinking as was the factory and agriculture establishment before it. Proto-metal made the rock elites look as fat, stuffed-shirty and retrograde as the suited bankers they replaced when the first Black Sabbath album reached number 8 on the UK charts and number 23 in the USA. Since its inception, the heavy metal genre matured through several generations, sorted by time period:
  1. Proto-Metal (1970-1974)
  2. Heavy Metal, Hard Rock/Glam Metal and NWOBHM (1975-1980)
  3. Speed Metal, Proto-Underground and Thrash (1981-1987)
  4. Underground Metal: Death Metal, Grindcore and Black Metal (1985-1993)
  5. Metalcore and Nu-Metal (1995-2005)
  6. Hybrid Metal: Melodic Metal, Power Metal and Indie-Metal (2005-present)
Proto-metal (1970-1974) Black Sabbath changed direction -- mixing heavy guitar rock, progressive rock, dark apocalyptic rock and horror movie soundtracks -- when Ozzy Osbourne observed that it was "strange that people spend so much money to see scary movies" and wondered if Black Sabbath (then named Earth) could make music with the same effect.
As musicians in the fertile UK rock community, Black Sabbath experienced wide-ranging influences, but heavy guitar rock like The Stooges, progressive rock like Jethro Tull and King Crimson, and apocalyptic rock like The Doors all made their impact on the new music. From the heavy rock, Black Sabbath took its basic power chord sound, from horror movie soundtracks its extended melodies, and from progressive rock its varied and complex song structures. The Nietzschean and apocalyptic themes of the music came from The Doors. Together this mix forged a new style which grew out of rock but by its different approach, also rejected rock. Through both the horror movie soundtracks that inspired its new sound and the progressive rock desire to approximate the classics of generations past, Black Sabbath inherited a heavy classical influence. This influence eventually absorbed others because the type of chord used in heavy metal, the power chord, can be easily played with the same finger position in any part of the fret board. That ability lends itself to a technique of writing riffs with more phrasal development than rock riffs, which tend to bounce to a rhythm with a very basic harmony; metal riffs could and did move dynamically and approximate a melodic style of composing, and their dramatic horror movie underpinnings encouraged these riffs to imitate what they were portraying, giving them a neo-Wagnerian, operatic feel. This more complex style of distinctive riffing, and its "heavy" tendency to run through multiple motifs on its way toward a theatrical conclusion, was what above all else was to define heavy metal music. Heavy Metal, Hard Rock/Glam Metal and NWOBHM (1975-1985) Heavy Metal The term "heavy metal" refers to both the genre as a whole and a sub-genre of the first wave of 1970s metal music. The successive generation of metal bands streamlined the variety of Black Sabbath into an identifiable set of conventions while merging it with the hard rock influences of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Heavy metal shortened the longer power-chord riffs of Black Sabbath and instead used rock-influenced riffing, melodic lead-picked fills and harmonized guitars to produce a similar sense of structured riff without having to use the full phrasal riffs that require the music to move at a slower pace. This produced two waves of heavy metal, first a basic rock-metal hybrid, and second a revival in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM).
  • UFO
  • Thin Lizzy
  • Kiss
Hard Rock Hard rock can be identified by its surface resemblance to heavy metal but use of riffs in the rock style as harmony and rhythm without the dependence on phrase that defines most metal riffs. In addition, hard rock bands tend to stay toward the pentatonic-harmonic minor transitions that define most of rock music, eschewing the darker modes and minor key focus of metal. Hard rock emerged with Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and The Who which remain its most iconic acts. It also created a hybrid in the form of "stadium metal" or "glam metal" which fused the guitar-oriented stadium rock of the 1970s with early heavy metal, producing bands with a big studio sound and professional songwriting but some of the metal edge.
  • Van Halen
  • AC/DC
  • Guns N' Roses
Glam Metal Predominantly a UK movement, heavy metal crossed the pond and landed in Los Angeles where during the early late 1970s and 1980s it became "glam metal," similar to some of the "stadium metal" or crowd-pleasing variants of heavy metal. This sub-variant of heavy metal distinguished itself by applying Hollywood theatrics and the stadium rock sound to heavy metal, as well as some of the gender-bending aesthetics of big city art rock. In a theme that would become part of the bedrock of internal dialogue among heavy metal bands and fans, metalheads critiqued glam metal for "selling out," or placing appearance and image before substance in order to become more popular with a vapid and uncritical public. Already a division emerged in metal paralleling the division between "punk rock" and "hardcore punk" in the punk community: many people listened to metal, but its fanatical fanbase wanted music like that of Black Sabbath but more intense. They did not want heavy metal to become hybridized with rock to become a lighter, more socially acceptable and more commercial form of itself. They wanted to get outside of the consensual reality created by social agreement and wanted the music to lead them. Instead, society wanted to assimilate them and make them "safe," removing the elements of the music that were not socially acceptable. This fracture spurred the next movement within the heavy metal genre.
  • Motley Crue
  • Poison
  • Skid Row
NWOBHM In response to the influence of "stadium heavy metal" on both shores of the Atlantic, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) attempted to exceed the power of Black Sabbath by incorporating faster punk-influenced tempos and the grander song arrangements of prog-rock bands. Much as proto-metal derived an influence both from proto-punk (Iggy and the Stooges) and progressive rock (King Crimson, Jethro Tull), NWOBHM appropriated the dramatic flair and long song structures of heavy guitar prog-rock bands like Jade Warrior, Greenslade, Aphrodite's Child and Yes in addition to the rock flair of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Where Black Sabbath tuned down its instruments however the NWOBHM kept theirs in standard tuning and opted for a mid-range sound instead of the sprawling cavernous darkness of the extensive riffs of the proto-metal band. In addition, riffs showed the influence of heavy metal by being less phrasal using power chords, but instead implementing lead guitar -- often harmonized as in Judas Priest and Iron Maiden -- to create melody between complex patterns of strummed chords. The new sub-genre also borrowed its intensity from the rising punk movement as well as a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) approach to publishing, promoting and recording its music. The DIY aesthetic in both punk and metal arose in response to the intense commercialization of heavy metal that resulted from a handful of record labels releasing all of the music the public experienced, and that music -- like Black Sabbath had in its later albums -- tending to become softer, more personal and less critical of larger movements in social change. Instead of relying on major labels, NWOBHM released their own material, promoted with flyers and word-of-mouth, and cultivated an audience who instinctively distrusted commercial and socially-approved material. As a result, NWOBHM maintained its underground status and avoided being inundated by commercialism, and instead sent its most popular bands up into the mainstream where they influenced just about everything else.
  • Iron Maiden
  • Judas Priest
  • Motorhead
  • Venom
Styles Styles refer to aesthetic conventions adopted within multiple genres and do not constitute a musical deviation from that genre but apply a different aesthetic. "Black Metal" (I) While musically within the heavy metal realm, aesthetic divisions within that sub-genre inspired future generations to expand upon the concept. Starting with NWOBHM and heavy metal bands Venom and Coven in the 1970s, this style of heavy metal used attitudes and techniques from punk to make a simple but surprisingly dark and expressive form of anti-life art. At first humorously Satanic for the shock value of offending an uptight world, these bands quickly found an audience interested in their blasphemic worldview, which in later generations expanded into the obsession with negativity that is a hallmark of postmodern consciousness, paranoia, and drone existence in western nations.
According to rock journalist Joel McIver’s 2004 book ‘Justice for All: The Truth About Metallica’, the origins of King Diamond’s look can be traced to a September 1975 Copenhagen stop on American shock-rocker Alice Cooper’s first solo tour: “It was Alice Cooper. I saw the ‘Welcome to My Nightmare’ tour in Copenhagen in 1975. Even though there wasn’t that much make-up ... it changed him completely. He became unreal. I remember the show so well. I was up front – and I thought if I could just reach out and touch his boot, he would probably disappear.” King Diamond’s theatrics, when combined with music heavier than that of Cooper, in turn paved the way for the legions of face-painted metal bands that dot the landscape today. It also subjected King Diamond and Mercyful Fate to accusations of Satanism, which Diamond addressed in ‘Justice for All’.
  • Venom
  • Coven
  • Mercyful Fate
"Doom metal" When bands focus on the slow and moribund, dragging riffs that create atmosphere through resonance of repeated patterns that induce a sense of hopelessness and despair, they continue the Black Sabbath tradition of "heavy" in a new form. Doom metal bands come in two varieties, a heavy metal based sound derived from proto-metal, and a darker chromatic approach which owes its germinal material to death metal. These bands prefer detuned guitars, moaning vocals and lengthy songs which resemble dark passages of sound resonating through subterranean caverns.
  • Pentagram
  • Saint Vitus
  • Witchfinder General
"Power metal" (I) The marketing department came up with this tasty term for energetic heavy metal that owes its musical essence to a cross between speed metal and prog-ish heavy metal, with bouncy rhythms and jazz-inspired double-hit percussion. At first this style referred to a somewhat emotional, exuberant and over-indulgent form of heavy metal, but as time went on, the style moved to include other genres. In the current time, power metal hybrizes its original heavy metal form with speed metal and injects death metal technique.
  • Helloween
  • Iced Earth
  • Helstar
Speed Metal, Proto-Underground and Thrash (1981-1987) Speed Metal After heavy metal became absorbed by the mainstream, upcoming metal bands sought to be faster and more extreme in order to avoid being assimilated, believing that radio and social pressures would impose a dividing line that would keep overly loud, fast and distorted music from reaching a mainstream audience. Speed metal arose from two influences: the NWOBHM bands who usurped the metal community in its last generation and the newly intense sounds of hardcore punk. The pattern of a new genre becoming popular, and changing itself to be marketable even though the result was "false" or "sold out" music, and in turn causing underground musicians to retaliate with a more extreme form, repeats through the history of metal. The borrowing from hardcore punk gave speed metal a new edge. Hardcore punk bands wrote in the chromatic scale and used impromptu melodies with abrupt tempo and melodic shifts in aggressive, stripped down music that entirely obliterated rock conventions like use of pentatonic scales, pop song structure and frequent tempo and key changes. Unlike pop music or its progenitor punk rock, hardcore punk was "about something," namely the condition of humanity and human thought. Metal bands from this moment on adopted this more skeptical view of society and its place in history as a whole, which translated the political realism of punk into the mythological-historical view of metal. Photo of Cliff BURTON and METALLICA and Kirk HAMMETT and James HETFIELD and Lars ULRICH Using the muted strum, in which the pick hand rests gently across the strings and produces a shorter and more explosive sound, speed metal bands wrote faster and more complex riffs which they fit into complex song structures derived from progressive rock. The faster speed required more aggressive vocals that were closer to shouting than singing and encouraged a different kind of technicality which emphasized less of harmony and more the construction of riffs and radical shifts in tempo. With the more complex riffing packing more detail into songs, speed metal bands expanded song formats beyond the cyclic verse-chorus that worked so well for metal genres before them and instead diverged into the progressive rock structures that had frequently intruded but never found a uniquely metal expression. With speed metal albums like Metallica _Ride the Lightning_, songs became mazes of riffs. As a result, bands looked for a way to make their riffs "talk" to one another through an internal dialogue. The result caused riffs to find compatiblity with one another on the level of "shape" or similarity of phrase. Riffs aimed to contrast each other but to keep a narrative going, with each successive riff revealing a new aspect to the underlying truth like a voyage of discovery or the denouement of a horror movie. Late speed metal began its turn toward something more explicitly artistic with Slayer _South of Heaven_ and Prong _Beg to Differ_, and soon other bands were modifying their own sound to reach this "high concept" goal. Speed metal suffered a fatal flaw in that, as extreme as it was, it was also rhythmically hookish like a pop song, and soon lesser bands had adopted the style and were making pop music within it. That in turn drove speed metal bands into the public light, and by 1988 it was apparent that the formative days of the genre were over and the long slow descent into selling out had begun. The crucial moment came when Metallica, the band that swore never to release a video, released a video for a song with soft verses and distorted choruses, "One." Pantera followed this with "Cemetery Gates" which used a soft/hard dichotomy as well. A year later, Metallica unleashed a self-titled album with a new logo and less disturbing lyrics with simplified song structures. The era of speed metal was over. Thrash Much as speed metal crafted itself from a hybrid of hardcore punk and NWOBHM, thrash music arose arose from the hybrid of hardcore punk and heavy metal. Where speed metal leaned toward NWOBHM, thrash based itself on more extreme hardcore and the older metal of Black Sabbath. Named after "thrashers" or skateboarders who were prone to like both metal and extreme punk, thrash bands wrote short songs comprised of bursts of metal riffs in punk song format. Lyrics criticized society as a whole and avoided specific political viewpoints for the most part. Where a punk band would criticize the hold that industry or the army had on politics, thrash bands wrote from the perspective of one of the most disenfranchised members of society, the suburban skateboard punk. With no money, no adulthood, and no escape from the miles of lookalike homes on the floodplain, thrashers criticized society itself as a mistake and pointed out its inhumanities and glaring deficiencies with funny, acerbic lyrics. Songs were often as short as a few seconds and the bands crammed four times as many songs on a CD or LP as your average metal or punk band. For the first time, an underground genre embraced alienation, speaking as if it found no meaning in society and would not want to be allied with it. Although the thrash genre consisted of only a handful of bands and died out after only a half-decade, its influence spread throughout both metal and punk undergrounds, effectively ending punk by being more extreme and forcing metal to race to catch up. Bands took the humor of the genre and isolated it, producing joke bands like Stormtroopers of Death and Method of Destruction whose sound cleaned up the original messy and abrasive thrash and replaced it with cleanly-defined chords and standardized song structures. Despite innovation in both genres, speed metal was destined to collide with corporate megaculture and thrash was to burn out its intensity as audiences moved away from the extreme to the more commercial in both hardcore and metal genres. Proto-Underground Another movement developed in parallel to speed metal and thrash. In 1982, a UK hardcore punk band named Discharge released an album entitled _Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing_. Unlike most hardcore bands, who carefully tied their riffs to their drums, Discharge let the drums play freely as timekeepers in the background while riffs changed independently. The resulting sound liberated the melodic power of the guitar to be entirely riff-driven and allowed the guitar to lead drums as the primary driver of change in each song. While the punk music that Discharge emanated tended toward a chromatic sound, the new flexibility of this format inspired many metal bands, including speed metal and "proto-underground" bands who established the basic techniques of two genres to come, death metal and black metal. The new sound inspired bands who straddled the genres which would become black metal and death metal. Although they retained many of the elements of speed metal, these faded away as time went on, as did the use of the muted strum. Instead, bands of this type used a fast tremolo strum in the Discharge style and added extreme vocals caused by shouting or screaming while limiting the sound to highs or lows, producing a natural distortion effect. This type of vocalization originated with bands like Motorhead, The Exploited and Amebix. The new style built their songs around the internal dialogue of riffs that resulted in unique song structures fitting the content of each song, the use of "ambient" techniques where riffs changed independent of drums and instruments supported the riff in layers, and the tendency toward the mythological view of metal fused with the total social alienation of hardcore punk. Underground Metal: Death Metal, Grindcore and Black Metal (1985-1993) Where previous generations of metal hoped for acceptance, underground metal hoped for the opposite: it wished to remove itself from the mainstream mentality in addition to being too extreme to be sold out. Instead, underground bands wanted to create an alternate system of recording, publishing and distributing music. Spreading news and music through tape-trading and small "zines" or homemade, xeroxed and low distribution magazines, underground metal gained a worldwide audience of fanatical fans. Death Metal The first to emerge from the raw material of Slayer, Hellhammer, Bathory and Sodom was the nascent death metal genre. Death metal strung together chromatic riffs using the tremolo technique to create intricate shapes, or phrasal riffs, that then fit together through a process of "riff-gluing" which fit riffs together like puzzles so that they complement each other while contrasting, causing the mental impression of an expanding landscape or labyrinth as the song progresses. This creates a sensation for the listener of discovery as each new riff puts the previous patterns in contrast in a version of the "prismatic" composition used by Modernist classical composers to make repetition grow more intense through atmosphere. This includes a motif-style arrangement where songs return to themes and riffs fit the atmosphere altered by the meaning of the lyrics, which incorporates a theatrical element like the music of Richard Wagner or ancient Greek tragedies. celtic_frost-band-original The first wave of this technique with Slayer (1983) kept its roots in the combination of NWOBHM and hardcore punk but evolved to become faster, ripping-strum styled metal that shifted with muscle over rigid, ambient repetitive beats. However the second wave -- Morbid Angel (1986), Celtic Frost (1985), Sepultura (1985), Deathstrike (1985) -- were more obscurely and bizarrely formed from raw innovation and chromatic scales. As the decade waned and humanity seemed further flung into the pit of materialism, death metal reached toward the progressive and explored the extremes of melody (At the Gates), ambience (Obituary), percussion (Suffocation), atonality (Deicide), and progressive music (Atheist). Bands created intricate compositions in which song structure reflected song content as foreshadowed by the sigils of the riff forms themselves, with each successive riff changing context and expanding atmosphere to create a sensation of constant discovery. Death metal successfully evaded assimilation from extrinsic forces, but instead degenerated within. As more bands entered the genre as the underground grew, the bulk of death metal shifted toward a more percussive and chromatic style, composing their material visually from power chord forms along the bottom three strings of the guitar. This lowered the requirements for entry as did the expanding world of labels and zines which supported them, and standards fell. This in turn compelled bands to turn to novelty to distinguish themselves, and bands began voluntarily incorporating mainstream conventions. Labels seized on this as a chance to form death metal hybrids with rock music, which produced "death n' roll" and a form of proto-indie metal that left behind the power of death metal for socially acceptable ideas, musical conventions and aesthetics. Grindcore Descended from thrash, grindcore took the hardcore punk and metal hybrid and applied to it the death metal tendency to down-tune guitars and distort vocals. Like thrash, it featured short songs with unique "shapes" or structures built around the riff. Unlike death metal, it tended to follow the punk style of essentially cyclic verse-chorus songs with some detours. The genre birthed itself in 1985 with Repulsion and Napalm Death both releasing demos. The more rigid and technical playing of Repulsion contrasted the earthy, organic and chaotic -- deliberately off-timed, absurdly down-tuned and discoordinated -- style of Napalm Death. From the fusion of these bands modern grindcore was born, but other than a few late entrants was done with its creative output by the early 1990s. An important side effect of thrash and grindcore appeared in its influence on punk. Toward the middle-1980s, punk bands had spent their fury, and explored instrumentally adventurous and more mainstream-oriented angles like later Black Flag and Fugazi (ex-Minor Threat). Many bands, such as Amebix, Discharge and Cro-Mags, drifted closer to Slayer-styled speed/death metal hybrids. The vast majority built together a hybrid of the more progressive punk styles, the rock-infused styles, and borrowings from grindcore. The result formed a pop-punk variant best exhibited by Jawbreaker, which took the poppy songs of The Descendents and built into the them a convoluted song structure. The most profound change was "emo," which was punk music that focused on self-pity, sadness and compassion instead of rage. This music verged on indie rock in sound and developed a devout following before it was absorbed by pop and progressive punk. An important genetic component of death metal, grindcore arose from the ashes of hardcore and thrash as the alienated punk-rockers and sociopathic metalheads of the world sought something more extreme, more evocative of the discompatibility they felt as a process of soul. In 1994, Napalm Death _Fear, Emptiness, Despair_ sounded almost the last note for grindcore as its course of innovation started to veer from the minimalistic to abrasively coarse and simple, death metal-like music with complex jazz-y rhythms. Grindcore, like hardcore, thrash, speed metal and early forms of death metal, continues to this day, but most innovation remains at the aesthetic level and the original thrust has been lost. Black Metal (II) Black metal, born to uncertainty and neglected for nearly a decade, flowered in the early 1990s. Arising from proto-underground metal, black metal took its primary influence from Hellhammer/Celtic Frost and Bathory. During the later 1980s the genre essentially suspended itself while bands attempted to find a new sound for the underground metal era. Since death metal had explored a form of structuralism, or phrase-based highly structured music, black metal aimed for ambience. Its earliest acts in its fully realized form detached guitars from drums such that drums kept constant time while riffs changed in an extreme version of the lexicon of Discharge -- seen most profoundly on Immortal _Pure Holocaust_, Graveland _The Celtic Winter_ and Darkthrone _Transilvanian Hunger_ -- and pitched the classic biologically distorted guttural death metal vocals into a high pitched whispery rasping scream. The bands of this generation deliberately engineered their production to sound like the worst of garage engineering and incorporated the noise and distortion into their music by allowing resonant frequencies to carry their simple melodies in layers like an ambient composition.
I told the producer, 'Give me the worst microphone you have.' The sound of the drums, we didn't do anything to make the sound of the song special. Ten minutes and everything was ready. And he was asking, 'Don't you want to do anything, you know, you always have to adjust the sound.' No! Because it was a rebellion against this 'good production.' We called it necro-sound, 'corpse sound,' because it was supposed to sound the worst possible. I ended up with a headset as a microphone, because that was the worst I could find. I used this tiny Marshall amplifier, you know this big, because that was the worst we could find.
Black metal arose in part in response to the degradation and assimilation by mainstream intentions that began to crush death metal in the early 1990s. With the rise of black metal, underground metal inherited the rejection of industrial society that marked thrash and some death metal and expanded it into opposition to modernity itself. Frustration with an increasingly liberal West that had become as oppressive as the conservative version, and a new global economy that seemed to be removing culture as fast as it attempted to make every corner of earth safe for business, as well as a Romantic desire for ancient times in which, it was perceived, meaning was more readily attained through tradition and struggle, drove black metal to become not only the most articulated form of metal yet, but the most popular to rise from the underground. After a dramatic series of church burnings, murders, and taboo politics which affected all but a few of the original Norse, Greek and American black metal bands, the genre was captured by hipsters who pandered to a market who wanted the image of extremity without the socially unacceptable views and behavior. Black metal gained notoriety not only for its acts of guerrilla warfare and urban terrorism against churches but its negativity toward the "fun" culture of rock music that was pervading metal and assimilating it. Deathlike Silence Records, the label started by Euronymous of Mayhem, imprinted its releases with the famous slogan: "No mosh, no core, no trends, no fun." Black metal band members gave interviews where they decried the "jogging suit" culture that had taken over death metal with safe, solely humorous and pointless lyrics. In the view of black metallers, modern society represented a series of trends which took good sub-genres and exploited them, removing their essence and making them into a standard product like a McDonald's hamburger. This outlook fit within the desire to make the music as obscure, lo-fi and violent as possible. The goal was total alienation from the herd and its morality. After its peak in the early to mid-1990s with the Nordic black metal explosion, the genre fell prey to bands who adapted the black metal sound to other genres and made easily-digestible versions of the sound. This flowered into a synthesis with indie rock in the late 1990s, at which point the genre had become little more than an aesthetic style and was essentially abandoned by the original bands, fans and community. Styles "Doom Metal" (II) During this time period, former Napalm Death vocalist Lee Dorrian started Cathedral, a band that borrowed from both NWOBHM band Witchfinder General and death metal to produce a new sound. While doom metal bands of the proto-metal variety such as Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus and Pentagram (US) had existed since the 1970s, this new form of doom metal based itself in death metal theory more than the inclusive rock hybrid of proto-metal. Doom metal thus serves not as a sub-genre, but as a style or technique by which bands play exhausting slow and ponderous music which creates an enhanced sense of darkness and mortal weight among the audience. Doom metal can be either of the heavy/proto-metal variety or the death metal variety. Following Cathedral in the death metal variety were Thergothon, Skepticism and Divine Eve. "Speed/Death" Early in the genre, most bands had trouble leaving speed metal behind and some formed a hybrid zone which mixed the techniques of both genres in the form defined by speed metal. A movement to combine speed metal ideals with a more abstract and logical, dark sequence of tones took hold in the form of bands such as Kreator and Destruction, who put together deathy speed metal, or intense hardcore-inspired extremists like Sodom who built three-chord high-speed songs to accustom an audience to enjoying a fast and violent melody. In addition, bands in the United States like Rigor Mortis and Sadus mixed the styles with an infusion of technical playing, which can also be seen on the first Atheist album. "Industrial Grindcore" One of the most influential offshoots of grindcore proved to be industrial grindcore as developed by Godflesh in 1991 with _Streetcleaner_. Combining machine-like electronic percussion with layers of distorted guitars, Godflesh created a spacious sound in which intense distortion gave rise to gentle melody and layers of melody created a harmonic landscape through which the motion of the song progressed. The possibilities of this new style stimulated minds in the upcoming black metal and later death metal works, causing many bands to work toward atmosphere and layers of sound in their otherwise traditional metal. Metalcore: Metalcore and Nu-Metal: (1995-2005) By 1994, black metal culminated in the most iconic and ambitious releases of its era, most notably Burzum _Hvis Lyset Tar Oss_ and later Darkthrone. At the same time both death metal and black metal languished, a new audience inspired by the headlines of black metal murder and the raw parent-shocking extremity of death metal surged into the genre. This created a financial opportunity for those willing to make music that was death metal or black metal on the surface, but underneath, was something safer and recognized. This new music specialized in avoiding the disturbing political and social themes of black metal and toned down the extreme mortalistic pessimism of death metal to a humorous focus on gore lyrics as exemplified by Cannibal Corpse, who lifted much of this from early grindcore pioneer Carcass. Metalcore The new post-underground metal music combined a new style of technical grindcore with groove, "mathcore," best seen in Dillinger Escape Plan, with the hard rock and heavy metal styles of yesteryear and fitted these to the type of rock-punk hybrid of later hardcore, which evoked a "progressive" style in a punk way by insisting on the highest contrast between riffs to the point of randomness, such that songs cycled as if going between different exhibits in a carnival (and the music often resembled carnival music with its emphasis on polka-like beats and extended cyclic fills). In addition, black metal degenerated into what was called "war metal" which referred to exclusively chromatic, highly rhythmic music which imitated the primitive music of Beherit and Blasphemy without the emotional intensity, resembling more than anything else mid-period hardcore punk given metal rhythms. Some even took this hybridization to its next logical step and mixed crustcore, the genre which linearly inherited from Discharge and Amebix, with nominal black metal to produce "black punk." Another form mixed with deathgrind to form "deathcore" and "slam," which emphasized percussive riffing and heavy groove with numerous "breakdowns" or rhythm breaks leading to a half-speed groove. Nu-metal Mainstream metal added funk and hip-hop influences to death metal to create a rock-based variant known as "nu-metal." Using the vocal rhythms of hip-hop in a style inherited from the "brocore" metal of Pantera and its descendants, nu-metal used rock song format and metal distortion to make riffs which were essentially funk- and rock-based but used metal techniques of chromatic fills and strum techniques. Perhaps the biggest nu-metal band appeared in the form of Slipknot, but related acts such as Rage Against the Machine and Marilyn Manson also incorporated these elements. Nu-metal added nothing to metal that hybrid bands had not attempted in the 1980s, but with death metal minimalism and the extremity and imagery of black metal, it became a marketable force at stores like Hot Topic which catered to rebellious teens who wanted to avoid stepping over lines of social acceptance and thus actually damaging their futures. Much as a famous ad campaign related "Banker by Day, Bacardi by Night," the nu-rebels wanted to have both the merits of sociability with the appearance of alienation. Blackened Death Metal In the underground, some tried a new marketing technique and created "blackened death metal" or "black/death metal" which distilled to simple rock-style songs with the simplest form of death metal riffing with melody added. This trend peaked early because of the lack of stylistic distinction of these bands which cultivated rejection by existing black metal and death metal audiences, and their refusal to go all the way to socially safe material as nu-metal and alternative metal had, depriving them of an audience beyond an underground which only grudgingly accepted them. Others reverted to a previously successful form in the percussive death metal of Suffocation but streamlined the result into simpler song structures and added groove in the Pantera style, producing a variant of commercial metal known as "slam" which while it had underground aesthetics failed to uphold the structural and philosophical conventions of the genre and was for the most part quickly discarded. Hybrid Metal: Melodic Metal, Power Metal and Indie-Metal (2005-present) By the time the 21st century dawned, metal had almost four decades of evolution under its belt but to most, it became clear that it had stalled. No new genre ideas had emerged and people were rehashing the past. And so it came to pass that what the 1970s metalheads had feared was in process: metal was being assimilated by rock n' roll and reverting to the mean. All of the sub-genres mentioned in this section fall within the rock world more than metal because they reverse and remove the unique metal method of narrative composition, and replace it with the cyclic harmony-based approach of mainstream rock music, no matter how "extreme" the aesthetic in which it is draped. During this age, metal recombined and hybridized but essentially failed to move forward. Melodic Metal Starting with At the Gates _Slaughter of the Soul_ and related releases from Dissection imitators such as In Flames and Dark Tranquility, metal bands realized that they could capitalize on what Sentenced had pioneered in death metal: mixing in the Iron Maiden/Judas Priest dual guitar harmony of melodic leads. While Sentenced took a death metal outlook, and Dissection tended more toward heavy metal in song structure and sensibility, the new genre stirred interest in many because it softened the extremity of death metal and attracted an audience with a more even balance between genders. With the next generation, bands reduced death metal to technique alone and followed a heavy metal/hard rock format. The result then hybridized with metalcore to produce "melodeath" or melodic heavy metal with death metal vocals and metalcore song structure. Bands like Archenemy forged into this new domain which rapidly synthesized itself with the type of high-speed chaotic metalcore produced by bands like The Haunted (ex-At the Gates). This style reached its logical conclusion in Gridlink, who applied thrash aesthetics to technical melodic riffing and came up with 13-minute albums with more riffs than most bands put in hour-long works. Power Metal (II) Many metalheads expressed a desire for the relative straightforward approach, riff-centric music and compositional integration of 1980s speed metal. They felt that subgenre avoided the excess and dangerous thought of underground metal while preserving what had eternally made metal rewarding to listen to, namely the strong musicality and structural patchwork that produced a sense of ongoing development. Power metal worked in marginal death metal technique and adopted many of the more rock-oriented riff styles from the NWOBHM, sometimes using death vocals and hard rock riffs. Often these bands developed songs from verse-chorus loops but added transitional or bridge riffs to adopt greater complexity. Picking up on a black metal influence, most power metal bands tended toward fantasy-oriented lyrics heavy on medievalist and Tolkien symbology, although those had some precursor in 1980s heavy metal bands like Helloween and Omen. Many modern power metal bands of the Blind Guardian style also feature a use of vocal melodies that resemble those found in gospel and inspirational music, tending toward an upward tonal swing at the end of each phrase. Indie-Metal During the 1990s as death metal and black metal surged, indie rock had also gone underground while alternative rock dominated the radio and video channels. Originally born of the migration of DIY punk bands upward into a form of simple, folksy and low-fi rock, indie rock expanded in the 1980s as a method for bands to achieve a reach outside their local communities without becoming dependent on major labels for the same reason that punk bands opted for self-release. At the time and throughout the 1990s, releases that were not on major label imprints found themselves relegated to specialty stores and mail order. As indie matured it crossed-over with another minor-key genre that in opposition to the bombastic and egotist of mainstream rock became self-effacing and even self-pitying, emo. With the emo-indie fusion independent music expanded from a category in the 1980s to a sub-genre of rock music in the 1990s with its distinct sound. Many noticed that indie bands like My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth were very close to black metal, as both used high sustain distorted guitar to create ambient waves of sound, and hoped to find a way to bridge the two despite radical differences in composition, outlook and spirit. As black metal burned itself out, first with imitators and then substitutes like war metal, indie-metal arose first in the black metal genre with crust/indie/emo/black hybrids. This idea spread when Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore joined "black metal supergroup" Twilight, whose sound resembled drone/indie more than black metal. The headquarters of this scene was San Francisco record store Amoeba Records, which began stocking black metal in the late 1990s and recommending it to its clientele of urban indie-rock hipsters. Another big influence starting in 1995 was Swedish band Opeth who took on the death metal label but whose music, with its acoustic verses and distorted choruses, more resembled nu-metal or alternative-metal without the bouncy rhythms and served itself with a certain projected ostentation -- "you wouldn't understand this, it's too deep and technically advanced" -- that won it many fans among the lowered self-esteem youth who shop at Hot Topic. slipknot-band_photo The first salvo of the indie-metal revolution came through bands like Isis, Gojira and Mastodon who combined proto-metal with indie rock and progressive pop punk, creating longer songs that used metal riffs and aesthetics but other than superficially entirely resembled what the previous generation of indie rock and emo, notably Fugazi, Jawbreaker and Rites of Spring, had made the mainstay of their own successful careers. As the "melting pot" of indie metal continued, other styles emerged, such as "sludge" which erupted from Eyehategod's punk rock take on the slowed-down dirges of Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus. Other bands took inspiration from the rising "progressive metal" movement which Dream Theater popularized with its mix of heavy metal and light progressive like Rush, and as bands like Cynic and Atheist drifted further into jazz technique, this snowballed together and formed a set of techniques which were recognized as more difficult than standard rock playing thus desirable. Further indie rock crossover occurred when Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl formed Probot, a metal band that sounded more like alternative rock (Grohl's former bandmate, Kurt Cobain, identified Celtic Frost as the major influence on Nirvana). Eventually this spread outward through "technical death metal" which, inspired by Gorguts _Obscura_ and other works in the death metal genre, applied death metal aesthetics and technical playing to an indie/death metal/metalcore hybrid. At this point an aggregate, this music followed more of the mainstream path, mixing the light jazz of the 1970s and 1980s with progressive heavy metal technique and indie rock. Its sense of technicality arose from the percussive death metal bands following Suffocation, Incantation, Malevolent Creation, Immolation, Gorguts, Pestilence and Deicide who incorporated intricate rhythms and "sweeps" which sound notes cleanly moving from lower to higher strings on the fretboard, but in the newer form this technicality fit into the late hardcore model of songs which aim for maximal contrast and minimal coherence beween riffs. With that in mind, this style was probably always misnamed as "technical death metal" because it has little in common beneath the surface with death metal, and much more in common with indie-metal.
  • Filter
  • Pelican
  • Opeth

2.3 Styles

slayer-jeff_hanneman Rhythmic Percussive The major innovation of speed metal was the muffled, explosive strumming of power chords to produce a sound of impact and resurrect the power of rhythm guitar in rock music. This creates a sound that is both conclusive and demanding, which in turn requires greater coordination with drums and for rhythms to end toward a hard conclusion, not an open cadence. This style defined speed metal, but spread into death metal and other genres as a secondary technique.
  • Exodus
  • Prong
  • Suffocation
Phrasal Riffs can be played with a tremolo strum to increase sustain on each note creating an effect much like that of playing the riff on a violin, which then makes its melodic component and "shape" or the patterns of its tonal motion and rhythm combined define the meaning of the riff. Phrasal bands use fast strumming to make riffs that talk to each other on the basis of contrast and similarity in phrase, allowing the band to fit together different riffs to make an internal dialogue so that the sound moves forward by successive revelations from the contrast of riffs. This creates a clear narrative structure and allows more riffs per song.
  • Slayer
  • Morbid Angel
  • Incantation
  • Immortal
Textural Some bands use multiple speeds in the way they strum their riffs, producing a texture within the ostensible riff composed of notes, which in turn creates an ambient effect by relegating drums to timekeeper and taking over the lead role for rhythm with the guitar. Textural riffs tend to emphasize internal divisions of rhythm and create consistency through using these textures like motifs shared between riffs, advancing the song through internal dialogue between the textures.
  • Unleashed
  • Fleshcrawl
  • Bolt Thrower
Trance A trance rhythm uses repetition of a simple phrase to create atmosphere through expectation and then layers additional compositional elements on top or (or texturally, within) that phrase. Like metal itself, this style is easy to do, and hard to do well. It requires a spacious and basic chord progression to work with and an ability to use texture, melody and structure to expand upon that initial setup. As with prismatic construction, the "sonic cathedral" effect creates a sound tapestry through addition or subtraction of harmony, and provides powerful but somewhat linear song structures.
  • Burzum
  • Molested
  • Von
Structure Cyclic In the most common type of song structure, songs are constructed around a verse-chorus pair that has a turnaround, bridge or solo section before returning to repetition of its main theme. This somewhat binary construction alters that cycle only to provide some sense of peak before returning to the norm. In such songs, conclusions are equal to precepts; that is, the song returns to the same position where it started. This is ideal for songs that express emotion about personal issues, like love and sex, because the singer does not want the world to change; he wishes it to remain static, but for this one alteration, which is the acquisition of the beloved/belusted, which is often seen as fulfillment in lieu of the world around him becoming something he enjoys more. "If I only had you, I could put up with the rest" might describe this mentality. Verse-chorus song construction also finds popularity for its ease of construction, because like opposite ends of a piston cycle the two parts of the binary reinforce each other, which allows artists to focus on harmony and soloing.
  • Venom
  • Motorhead
  • Exodus
Narrative As the craft of songwriting becomes more complex, a need arises to organize riffs internally by their relationship to one another instead of by their general relation to a harmonic principle as can be done with binary cyclic songs. This requires that the riffs create an internal dialogue in which the shape of each riff comments on each other and shows a chance in relationship to an underlying idea, so that each new riff expands on the context of the old and allows them to be repeated -- albeit less than in a cyclic form -- in a way that takes advantage of an expanded context so that each successive riff reveals more of a slowly emerging idea. In this style, which more resembles a topography than the neat circles of binary songwriting, songs tend to take narrative form of either a purely motif-driven type which conforms to a story told within the content, or in a more abstract form where the narrative appears in immanent form from the interaction of the riffs themselves. In narrative songs, structure fits content rather than adapting to a pre-ordained form; in some classical music, form is highly articulated to reflect a certain type of story that is to be told, and there the two impulses find parity. In death metal, where the highest evolution of the narrative form occurred in metal, initial riff shape approximates a metaphor for the germinal content, which then in turn shapes song structure around it, more like a form of power chord poetry than a strictly symbolic use.
  • Demilich
  • Incantation
  • Morbid Angel
Layered A song format brought to its height by technology, layered songs create a single unifying element and then place additional instrumentation around it both in support of it and by doing so, as a method of subtly altering context to change the overall impression of each cycle. Originally the province of collaborative improvisation which by necessity incepted through a simple, repetitive and harmonically open phrase played by one instrument so that others could join at will, with electronic music this form appeared as "dub" built around a sampled and sequenced significant element to which other repetitive sounds were added. Layered music allows the addition and subtraction of layers to manipulate the sonic form as a whole and influences its audience by atmosphere, or the sensation of each cycle as changed by the alteration of its layers which builds upon the trance-like unifying element. This shows up in metal more as a technique, such as allowing a riff to gradually find support in drums, bass and vocals, and saw its predominant use in death metal as this form. Frequently, bands break to a riff, mirror it in other instruments, then double the pace of at least one of those instruments and possibly add a second but closely related riff over the top to build intensity without breaking from a riff form.
  • Bolt Thrower
  • Dismember
  • Monstrosity
Flavors New York Death Metal (NYDM) Building on the techniques of speed metal, these bands mixed the percussive style of explosive muted-strum riffing with dark and morbid riffing exhibiting doom metal influences. Often song structures took a more literal direction and resembled musical essays commenting on different aspects of a form before peaking and then returning to stability. This style takes two forms, the guttural blasting death metal variety and the more intricate but mid-paced style. Florida Death Metal Florida death metal bands created a style which emphasized repetitive riffs closely mated to drums and pulsing rhythms. The result borrowed more from heavy metal and speed metal than most death metal, but provided an easily-grasped form which increased the renown of the genre through defiant, monstrously simple and direct metal.
  • Deicide
  • Monstrosity
  • Death
Swedish Death Metal Bands of this variety used a new type of spikily distorted guitar, formed by applying high-intensity distortion via pedal and overdriving it at the amplifier as well, which created high sustain to the guitar and facilitated development of melody. In addition, the early bands in this style borrowed the "d-beat" (a broken rhythm between snare and bass drums) from Discharge and applied it to simple melodic riffing to create a style both savage and beautiful. Bands initially applied the traditional Swedish melodic aptitude toward death metal that initially favored complex riffing, but later reverted to a heavy metal form with speed metal influences that used cyclic song structures to make the most popular version of this style.
  • Carnage
  • At the Gates
  • Entombed
Progressive Continuing the progressive tradition in metal from its influences in late 1960s progressive rock, death metal bands upgraded the wily fingered "technical" death metal of a previous generation with influences from jazz, classical and 1980s guitar shredder music like Joe Satriani. For a time, many of these bands found a unique voice for application of progressive rock ideas in metal without simply recapitulating past works, but with the popularity of Dream Theater it became clear that a huge audience existed for that which facially resembled classic progressive rock and had simpler internal structures underneath. Thus progressive music in metal had two generations, a native one and an externalized one which gradually became a more rock-like form that retained metal riffing and lost all other influences.
  • Atheist
  • Gorguts
  • Pestilence
  • Obliveon
Göthenburg/Melodic From Göthenberg, Sweden, came a series of bands emulating At the Gates by making technical death metal with heavy metal influences and technical riffing. After At the Gates released _Slaughter of the Soul_, this form changed into mostly heavy metal with death metal tremolo strum and lots of melodic intervals. At that point, it essentially became assimilated by power metal.
  • Dissection
  • Sacramentum
  • Unanimated
Deconstructivist Chaotic and nihilistic blasts of short information in three-note riffs founded this style, which through reduction of assumed musicality focused on the information it communicated, but ultimately recapitulated the punk tendency toward disorder and thus became assimilated by punk styles or the art-rock tendencies to which punk migrated. This style differs from the rest of metal in that it attempts to break down or deconstruct attention to a single point of focus, rather than enwrapping multiple points of focus into a single narrative, but resembles early thrash and grindcore in its construction and the arc of its evolution.
  • Impaled Nazarene
  • Havohej
  • Ildjarn
Epic Descended from the devotees of Bathory "_Blood, Fire, Death_, this style aims to create a mini-opera out of albums made with grand concept, "symphonic" instrumentation or added layers of keyboards and synthesized voices, and song structures which emphasize aggression rushing into vast and spacious processionals resembling the coronades of classical music. Often like its forebear Richard Wagner this style focuses on a fusion of folk tales, nationalism and mythology.
  • Emperor
  • Bathory
  • Graveland
Folk Arising later in the metal canon but within the 1990s, this style took folk forms and hybridized them with metal. In this instance, folk refers more to the European music tradition of songs passed along in local areas over the generations, and less to the rock-infused variant of American country which derives influences from Anglo-Germanic folk music adapted to the simplest cyclic form possible.
  • Enslaved
  • Empyrium
  • Skyforger
Neoclassical Deriving many of its influences from the late-period synthpop like Dead Can Dance that fused ambient/industrial with world music, rock and classical influences, neoclassical influences in metal attempt to resurrect classical song structure and spirit in metal music. In heavy metal genres, it tended to manifest in borrowings from classic melody used in lead guitar solos; in death metal, it manifested in structure that emulated the grandeur, power and breadth of classical music. Some bands, such as Massacra, described themselves as "neo-classical death metal" while others alluded to this influence only in interviews.

II. Metal as Concept

  • Metal is a form of composition rather than a specific music theory unique to metal but also found in classical music.
  • Metal bases its beliefs around the concept of _vir_, or aggressively doing right without reference to individual preferences.
  • Metal culture is not counter-culture, but a rejection of it and mainstream establishment culture alike.
  • Metal theory involves a number of techniques used to make sonic texture and narrative composition.

2.1 Theory

sheet_music-beethoven
"All music is the same." - Paul Ledney (Profanatica, Havohej, Incantation, Revenant, Contravisti)
Heavy metal music uses the same music theory that propels all Western music: the diatonic scale and its harmony, the same rhythmic divisions and calibration, and the same instrumentation. Rock music arose from polyglot influences; heavy metal injected Modernist classical via horror movie soundtracks and then in the next generation stripped down composition to the barest elements and then built it up again into a language of its own. Thus much like rock exists within Western music, metal exists within rock, but by dint of its entirely different approach and outlook constitutes a separate genre. What distinguishes metal is its use of riffs as motifs or phrases. These allow metal musicians to unite two highly contrasting points through an intermediate journey composed of dialogue between riffs in (usually) the same key. Through internal dialogue, these riffs negotiate a balance such that the song arrives at conclusions different from its starting point and can repeat its main themes in a new context established by the changing shape of the riff. As a result, metal song structures vary more than those of any other popular genre and contort themselves to the unique needs of each song. However, since metal is still a form of popular music, this variation occurs as an addition to the dominant verse-chorus structure, much as metal is an augmentation to culture as opposed to a counter-reactive, revolutionary force. Through this method heavy metal inherits the technique of modernist classical composers like Anton Bruckner and Richard Wagner, who used both leitmotifs and the prismatic technique of repeating themes after variation to increase intensity of mood, fused with the technique of hardcore punk musicians that stripped aside the conventions of rock to write in keyless chromatic phrases. It inherits its song structure from the progressive rock like King Crimson or Jethro Tull that was part of its founding inspiration, but wraps it around these phrasal compositions inspired byhorror movie soundtracks that were derived directly from modern classical. Using the instrumentation of rock, metal is able to channel its more traditional heritage and, like its founders Black Sabbath, oppose the dominant illusions of a time where pleasant mental escapism pretends it is combating a dominant undercurrent of decay based in human evasion of reality. Metal is not just "not rock"; it is anti-rock. In this sense, heavy metal may be the first "informational" genre of music in that its riffs act more as a pattern language or design pattern to signal the intent of each motif than they serve in the rock music role of filling harmonic space to accompany a vocal which defines the melodic progress of the song. These motifs emerge from a sense of mimesis, or imitation of what exists in reality, but in the case of metal this imitation seems to be not of physical objects but logical objects. Metal is about information; information forms a level that unites thought, matter and energy by putting them in the same arrangements and thus having the same informational outcome. Thus a dream can metaphorically resemble reality, and the objects in reality can be re-shaped by the actions of the dreamer corresponding to events in the dream, and even the cycling of energy can be changed by an alteration in form of physical objects based on their abstract design or thought-based properties. This Platonic similarity explains much of the evocative power of metal: its riffs resemble sensations of reality if not reality itself, much like how horror movies speak through metaphor about the horrors of life itself. The intensely ritualized vocabulary of metal riffs resembles other types of design where repeated patterns are used in similar fashions; the difference is that in metal this language of patterns is used toward fantastic and not functional ends. Architect Christopher Alexander, who designated the term "pattern language" to describe how similar needs produced similar architectures and how those in turn effected the layout of whole communities, explained the importance of pattern languages and their use in producing spaces for humans to live in:
When I first constructed the pattern language, it was based on certain generative schemes that exist in traditional cultures. These generative schemes are sets of instructions which, if carried out sequentially, will allow a person or persons to create a coherent artifact, beautifully and simply. The number of steps vary: there may be as few as a half-dozen steps, or as many as twenty or fifty. When the generative scheme is carried out, the results are always different, because the generative scheme always generates structure that starts with the existing context, and creates things which relate directly and specifically to that context. Thus the beautiful organic variety which was commonplace in traditional society, could exist because these generative schemes were used by thousands of different people, and allowed people to create houses, or rooms or windows, unique to their circumstances.
Each pattern is a three-part rule, which expresses a relation between a certain context, a problem, and a solution. As an element in the world, each pattern is a relationship between a certain context, a certain system of forces which occurs repeatedly in that context, and a certain spatial configuration which allows these forces to resolve themselves. As an element of language, a pattern is an instruction, which shows how this spatial configuration can be used, over and over again, to resolve the given system of forces, wherever the context makes it relevant.
This sense of a pattern language producing design patterns specific to a certain function and adaptive to context resembles the descriptions of another great thinker. The Greek philosopher Plato wrote of divine forms which explained the patterns behind everyday objects and the reasoning for their existence. He viewed these forms as a truer representation of reality than a focus on the tangible and immediate material example of any given object. His description of these forms is as follows:
[There are] men passing along the wall carrying above their heads all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals...which appear over the wall. Some of them are talking, others silent...[The prisoners] see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave...And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them? And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow? To them...the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.
In this metaphor, Plato describes what forms are by describing what they are not. In the context of metal, the forms of riffs are not strictly mimetic; they do not imitate, for example, a chair. They imitate the mental experience of someone perceiving an object in an event or process and the resulting unity between that thought and the experience. The narrative riff style encourages the expression of a process through a story, such as how a person came to a realization, and the interlocking prismatic riff constructions emphasize this condition of change restoring order but amplifying its context and thus meaning. In this sense, metal reveals the underlying content to objects and experience as is relevant to the narrator. This fits with the metal idea -- derived from Romanticism -- of the lone individual trusting an "inner self" where truth and lie can be discerned and meaning can be found. The metal habit of knitting together riffs to tell an evolving story exemplifies this idea. The narrative construction of heavy metal -- especially underground metal, in which the genre found full expression after three generations -- joins it with an elite fraternity of other genres in which song structure is specific to context. In particular, classical music, cosmic ambient bands and progressive rock tend to use this structuring scheme. It enables them to both experiment within a rule-based system where a language is shared with the audience and thus can be used by reference to incorporate a wide variety of ideas, and also to adapt their music as specifically as possible to its topic. This creates a certain "poetry" of the song where the lyrics explain what occurs and lead changes in guitar which determine the directional change of the song. In classical music, the song forms that developed over centuries reflected the generative patterns required for certain types of context, which in art means "content" and "topic." Metal creates an extremely naturalistic form of information music as a result. Its songs, like structures found in nature, use simple ideas expanded upon by their interaction over time so that through the internal dialogue of riffs, a journey unfolds and reveals the intent behind the content as framed by the artists. Much like in a poem, where the meaning is not "spelled out" but must be decrypted by the mind of the reader who compares it to past experience and uses analysis to unconver its relevance and metaphor, metal songs resemble subconscious ideas or even the shapes of memories and experiences in our minds. Like abstract art, the unconscious metaphor indicates a similarity and creates a connection between listener and topic.
A physicist, conceiving systems of differential equations, would call their mathematical movements a "flow." Flow was a Platonic idea, assuming the change in systems reflected some reality independent of the particular instant. Libchaber embraced Plato's sense that hidden forms fill the universe. 'But you know they do! You have seen leaves. When you look at all the leaves, aren't you struck by the fact that the number of shapes is limited?'
Narrative construction empowers each song to have a unique "shape," much as riffs have shapes based on the phrase they repeat and the different tonal directions it takes. Heavy metal creates a type of mental symbol in each song such that it evokes a sense not just of the immediate but of the timeless archetypes of human life. Lyrics underscore this by avoiding the personal and sensual that rock music favors, and instead looking at life through a lens of mythology, history and fantasy. If a source of modern myth exists, it might be found in heavy metal, where not only words and images but also the shape of riff and song like sigils encode a type of not universal but particular experience that resonates with all who have undergone it and amplifies context from the immediate to the eternal. In this heavy metal also resembles Greek tragedy and other types of drama in which music plays a central role. In its role as an outsider, metal opposes both current culture and anti-culture, preferring the intangible view of history external to the perspective of our society and the daily mundane ideologies and rituals we use to re-assure ourselves. Its "heavy" content shows us where there is a more fundamental truth; we bind truth up in words, and in stories of the individual, and obscure the larger picture. For this reason, its neo-Wagnerian motifs and narrative composition reveal an underlying need that our society cannot address. It conjures up visions of ancient greatness, and metaphorical myths of fantasy lands, to show us the world outside of the human definitions, rules, morals, laws and mental constructs that we use to self-congratulate on our importance. This in turn brings up vir, which is the notion of doing what is right; this differs from modern morality, which is focused on defense of the individual against imposition of the will of another, because vir focuses on what is right according to the mythic or cosmic order as a whole, and frequently involves acts that modern people would say are "wrong" because they involve the sacrifice of one or more individuals. The mythic-historical view of metal allows it to take this non-human perspective and from it, to create myth:
[Myths] are the world's dreams. They are the archetypal dreams and deal with great human problems. I know when I come to one of these thresholds now. The myth tells me about it, how to respond to certain crises of disappointment or delight or failure or success. The myths tell me who I am.
Although it takes some analysis to spot its origins, this mythic nature is the essence of heavy metal and its choice to use longer riffs in narrative structures. This tendency has grown over time from a way of writing riffs to a way of thinking and in doing so, lives up to the original influence of horror movies on metal. Horror movies demonstrate the influence of mythmakers, notably the greatest literary inspirations of metal including H.P. Lovecraft, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, John Milton, Friedrich Nietzsche and E.A. Poe. In pursing this mythological voice, heavy metal displays a number of technical innovations or other changes from popular music:
  • Technique --> Structure
    Technique, which normally serves to embellish, became under metal the science of structure by creating ways for guitar to lead composition independent of drums and vocals, which lead in rock music. Heavy metal worked through the austerity of power chords and a jazzlike rhythm to a deeply chaotic and abstract blues. Speed metal used muted-palm picking to create a mechanical, grinding sound, where death metal bands began to use a flutterstrum which would turn a chord into a stream of undulating sound with a massive tremelo effect, building a powerful tool for ambient melody.
  • Harmony --> Melody
    Harmony in metal is used to unify a number of melodies to a sequence of tone centers which represent the parts of the idea being manipulated by the song. The riffs which metal bands use are structuralistic in that they describe rather than categorize, by the nature of their wandering phrases which use structural similarity for coherence rather than tonal unison. Where harmony serves to preformat a range of emotions for rock bands, in metal, melody drives harmony, letting the composer take the music into whatever direction he/she desires by dynamically associating tone centers with contrapuntal arrangements, layering strips of reference to narrative and joining them with harmonies.
  • Tonality --> Dynamicism
    The major element of the evolution of heavy metal is a progression in tonality from the blues-rock extrapolationist grab bag to the chromatic, dark and almost mystically nihilistic tone patterns of death and black metal. The ability to change from a fixed-tonal system to a system which, like the Doppler effect, is based on proximity and speed to establish a current point of reference, provides for a basis of composition which is more specialized for systemic expression than for linear expression.
Metal musicians have frequently cited classical composers, such as Johannes Sebastian Bach (Bathory, Dawning), Richard Wagner (Burzum, Necrodemon), Ludwig van Beethoven (Bathory, Condor, Organic), W.A. Mozart (Morbid Angel, Organic), Niccolo Paganini (Organic), Modest Mussorgski (Sammath), Franz Liszt (Dawning), Bedrich Smetana (Condor), Antonio Vivaldi (Organic), .
"Strife is evolution, peace is degeneration." - Varg Vikernes, http://www.burzum.com/

2.2 Philosophy

mayhem-dead
That depends on how you see Utopia. In a sense, an ideal society would be a static society, and any such society is an evolutionary dead end. Happiness is a byproduct of function, purpose, and conflict; those who seek happiness for itself seek victory without war. -- William S Burroughs
On the surface, heavy metal appears a distant from philosophy as one can imagine. A genre of long-haired, beer-swilling, dope-smoking maniacs screaming lyrics about death, war and the occult seems far removed from any pretense of structured thought. Yet under the surface something else lurks. The word "occult" -- original meaning: concealed -- denotes hidden truths of an esoteric nature which cannot be learned from symbols, but must be experienced in layers with each layer giving rise to the ability to understand the next. It also applies to any genre like heavy metal that conceals its truths in such layers. The occult resembles art itself which takes a narrative form in contrast to the representative form of symbols. The earliest art -- a cave painting of a hunt perhaps -- told stories: an attempt, a struggle, pitfalls and failures that were overcome to achieve a goal. The outcome of these tales was not the interesting part since it was already known; hunts were either successes or fatalities. What made them interesting was the struggle in each, and the overcoming, and the prototypical version of a "moral" -- what was learned in the process -- which meant that the teller revealed in narrative a change in his own mental state through experience in the physical world. As humanity grew, this story-telling attribute of art grew with it.
I grew up in an idyllic society, really. Homogeneous, no crime; everything was basically perfect. We had stables with girls riding horses, who were playing on the outside... there were no problems. Whatever. At some point, when we grew older, of course there were problems but we didn't see them thus. Basically the truth, eh? But when you grow older, you see that things are not the way you want them to be. McDonald's didn't appear until 1991 or 1992, and when it did, we actually took a rifle and bicycles, we rode our bikes up to McDonald's, and we sat down and started to fire on the windows. We were sneaking up and shooting at McDonald's, we stockpiled weapons and munitions to prepare for war, because we not only suspected that there might be a third world war, but we hoped that there would be a third world war. Not because we enjoyed destruction so much, but because we knew that if you want to build something new, you have to destroy the old first.
Most philosophies take a utilitarian view of life and measure actions by whether a group of people would see them as "good" or "bad." But that utilitarian view has an Achilles heel. Categories like good/bad become symbols. Symbols can take many forms: political, commercial, moral and most importantly, social. A social symbol conveys membership in a group or status within the group. For those who want to manipulate others, specifically groups of other people, symbols serve a role art cannot. When they associate a symbol like "good" with an act, they can trigger mass obedience, and by labeling other things as "bad," can wage war against them using the superior numbers of the herd. Heavy metal -- which finds beauty in darkness, clarity in distortion, and justice in violence -- constructs itself from contrasted patterns to reveal an underlying truth and a rejection of symbolism and utilitarianism. It worships power and nature, not morality. Its view strikes away from the modern utilitarian notion of good as that which pleases the group, and returns instead to the individualism tempered by nature worship expressed by the European Romantics in art, literature and music during roughly 1600-1900 AD. M.H. Abrams provides us with a definition of Romanticism.
  1. A revolt against accepted form: democratization of subject and language, a less formal poetic voice, and a new range of subjects such as the supernatural and "the far away and the long ago" adopted by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats and others; the visionary mode of poetry adopted by William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Blake; and the use of metaphysical symbolism.
  2. Focus on the poet's or writer's own feelings instead of a universal emotion shared among all humanity. This emphasized spontaneity, meditative stillness, and a sense of discovery through intuition. Imagination was seen as more important than fact.
  3. External nature (landscape, plants, animals) became a persistent subject.
  4. Often written with the poet or writer as protagonist.
  5. A sense of progress, or of limitless good achievable by use of the imagination, instead of reliance upon past methods.
He contrasts this to the values of the neoclassical period that immediately preceded the Romantic:
  1. A strong traditionalism rooted in their respect for Greco-Roman classical writers, and a distrust of radical innovation.
  2. Literature was seen as being primarily an art, or a skillset created by nurturing innate talents through directed work. For this reason, complex formal rules and conventions were highly important.
  3. Art was seen as an imitation of nature, with human life being its prime subject and the communication of ideals toward humanity its goal.
  4. Emphasis was placed on what humans possess in common, such as characteristics, shared experiences, thoughts, feelings and tastes. The goal was to express common truths in an enlightening way.
  5. Humans were viewed as limited and having specific places in a hierarchy of natural events and beings, called The Great Chain of Being. It was considered best to find the appropriate place in this and not go above it.
The most important part of this may be the "own feelings instead of a universal emotion shared among all humanity" and "sense of discovery through intuition" which are complementary parts. A metalhead does not seek knowledge in the ideas of the crowd or the universal feelings of humanity, but in the experience of the individual and the inner truths revealed. The purpose is to find an order in nature both inside the self and in the outside world, and as a result, a way to escape the judgment of the herd and know not only what is true, for crowds lie to cover their misdeeds, but also what is important. Among other attributes, metal is a proactive and valuative philosophy which seeks to find an optimal experience in life.
They block out the landscape with giant signs Covered with pretty girls and catchy lines Put up the fences and cement the ground To dull my senses, keep the flowers down -- Give My Taxes Back, Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (Dealing With It)
Hateful savages Strong black minds Out of the forest Kill the human kind Burn the settlements and grow the woods Until this romantic place is understood -- Absurd, "Green Heart," (Out of the Dungeon)
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche draws a distinction between "Apollonian" or rigidly order-based thinking and "Dionysian" thought which resorts more to an expression of the human id, a chaotic and emotional force.
With Romanticism, Western thinkers rejected the order, balance, harmony and rationality of Classicism and replaced it with a tempestuous focus on the human individual. While this reflected the thought of the Enlightenment, in which the human form replaced the notion of a divine order to all life, Romantics tempered this with a strong suspicion and distrust of what is socially popular. The figure of the Romantic era is the lone actor who understands his or her world through inner passion and finds it reflected outwardly in nature. As part of this new discipline, Romantics emphasized "the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental."
Among the characteristic attitudes of Romanticism were the following: a deepened appreciation of the beauties of nature; a general exaltation of emotion over reason and of the senses over intellect; a turning in upon the self and a heightened examination of human personality and its moods and mental potentialities; a preoccupation with the genius, the hero, and the exceptional figure in general, and a focus on his passions and inner struggles; a new view of the artist as a supremely individual creator, whose creative spirit is more important than strict adherence to formal rules and traditional procedures.
Romanticism produced some of the greatest works of literature the Western world has in its canon, many of which evoked form and content similar to that of ancient Greco-Roman literature without the surface formalism of the preceding Classicist generation. Among the important contributions of Romantic literature were poetry from William Wordsworth and Percy Bysshe Shelley, an epic poem about the fall of Satan entitled _Paradise Lost_ by John Milton, and from the later Romantics, _Frankenstein_ by Mary Shelley, _Dracula_ by Bram Stoker and _The Sorrows of Young Werther_ by Johannes Wolfgang von Goethe. In addition, later writers such as Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft borrowed from Romantic themes. Stoker, Mary Shelley, Poe and Lovecraft contributed the raw material of the horror story which is the basis of the horror film genre from which heavy metal received its first and ongoing most fundamental inspiration. caspar_david_friedrich-the_wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fog In particular, the works by Mary Shelley, Milton and Stoker deserve further analysis in the context of metal. In _Frankenstein_, which contained many allusions to the French Revolution
, a scientist becomes intoxicated by his own power and creates a "perfect being" who then turns on human society; in _Paradise Lost_, Milton tells the story of Satan from the perspective of that fallen angel, revealing the depths of a human-like ego; in _Dracula_, a parasite attacks society and must be destroyed by chasing it to its Eastern lair and exterminating it. In that story, the parasite grew out of the changes in a local prince who rejected God after his kingdom was assaulted by Muslims and his wife slain. These books cover a huge span of European history and fundamentally reject not just Classicism, but much of the Enlightenment and French Revolutionary rhetoric of the time. Where the Enlightenment and Revolution saw all humans as valid decision-makers, and thus equal, the Romantics saw a society out of control that had left behind principles of reality found in nature to pursue its own swelling, monstrous ego.
The "new form" of her novel is more subjective, complex, and problematic than earlier monster fictions in the political tradition. Mary Shelley translates politics into psychology. She uses revolutionary symbolism, but she is writing in a postrevolutionary era when collective political movements no longer appear viable. Consequently, she internalizes political debates. Her characters reenact earlier political polemics on the level of personal psychology. In the 1790s, writers like Edmund Burke had warned of a collective, parricidal monster -- the revolutionary regime in France -- that was haunting all of Europe; in the aftermath of the revolution, Mary Shelley scales this symbolism down to domestic size. Her novel reenacts the monster icon, but it does so from the perspective of isolated and subjective narrators who are locked in parricidal struggles of their own.
Heavy metal picked up this theme with its embrace of "heaviness" itself: a hidden, or occult and esoteric notion, that truth is not accessible to the crowd. Ideas become heavy because they resurrect truths which are known to nature, but not the human social mass which chooses only ideas that flatter it and its sense of self-importance. To find these truths, the individual must look within to what they know is true and reject that which the crowd embraces. Much as in _Dracula_ and _Frankenstein_, the individual finds that others are unwilling to believe that anything out of the ordinary is going on, and must tackle the problem on their own without many resources.
Rape my mind and destroy my feelings Don't tell my what to do I don't care now, 'cause I'm on my side And I can see through you Feed my brain with your so-called standards Who says that I ain't right Break away from your common fashion See through your blurry sight -- Escape, Metallica (_Ride the Lightning_)
The social philosophy of heavy metal can be described as "antisocialism." Metal embraces everything that normally we exclude from social conversation -- death, ugliness, terror, genocide, disease, warfare, perversion -- and somehow channels it into music that lacks beauty in the decorative sense but makes from these repellent conditions an appealing conflict in which we wish to see the best outcome push down the rest through those same dark methods. This view remains socially unacceptable in both liberal democracies and conservative theocracies, which is why the public view of metal disregards it and characterizes it as angry teenagers protesting early bedtimes. That description would apply if heavy metal uniformly rejected everything before it, but it tends to reject social illusion and human illusion and embraces forces of nature and objective change such as history and its codification in myth. Antisocialism can be seen in metal on a musical level as well as in its lyrics. Rock music is based in harmony, or the idea of setting up a basic melody and then using vocals and change in key or shift to minor key as a means of inducing emotion, usually of a contrasting/combined form like sadness and delight simultaneously. This bittersweet feeling pervades most rock with a heavy sense of emotion focused in the individual. Metal distances itself by basing the song around the riff where changes in riff induce emotion instead. In that compositional method, what creates emotional intensity is the relative change in riff as part of an ongoing song structure, more like a poem than a pulsing constant sound. This inconstancy in metal proves essential to its method: instead of creating an emotional state and then manipulating the listener with it, metal creates a context and then adjusts this such that the change in riff and relation between riffs provokes in the listener a recognition of a resemblance to some facet of life or experience. This establishes one of the fundamental thoughts implicit in metal philosophy: the individual as inconsequential in a world without inherent rules or an order above nature, in which meaning is derived not from individual desires and judgments, but the process of interaction within the whole. Metal adopts a certain kind of positive nihilism in this regard in that it sees life as a series of choices based on options that emerge, not a process of following a built-in path to acceptance. The esoteric nature of metal thought, inherited in part from its fascination with the occult, holds that there is no one path for everyone only paths that some may opt to follow which have different results from the others. Metalheads often draw a distinction between mainstream culture and their own beliefs, or use terms like "poseur" to exclude those who are of the mainstream mindset. That mentality originates in this division between private truth and public illusion.
According to the Romantic conception, the lost unity could not be restored by external means; it had rather to grow out of man's inner spiritual urge and then gradually to ripen. The romantics were firmly convinced that in the soul of the people the memory of that state of former perfection still slumbered. But that inner source had been choked and had first to be freed again before the silent intuition could once more become alive in the minds of men. So they searched for the hidden sources and lost themselves ever deeper in the mystic dusk of a past age whose strange magic had intoxicated their minds. The German medieval age with its colorful variety and its inexhaustible power of creation was for them a new revelation. They believed themselves to have found there that unity of life which humanity had lost. Now the old cities and the Gothic cathedrals spoke a special language and testified to that 'verlorene Heimat' (lost homeland) on which the longing of romanticism spent itself. The Rhine with its legend-rich castles, its cloisters and mountains, became Germany's sacred stream; all the past took on a new character, a glorified meaning.
Heavy metal rejects modern morality which aims mostly at protecting the individual from a requirement to conform to social standards, but at the same time asserts that the individual can reject any morality which is inconsistent with nature, history and mythology. Before this modern morality, the idea of doing right possessed a different meaning: "vir," or a sense of aggressive putting of things to right according to a natural, cosmic or metaphysical order. Where modern morality is designed to preserve the individual against society, the ancient way sought to promote healthy in society and surrounding nature as a whole as a means of preserving the individual. The expression of this belief in metal takes on a Faustian nature. A German Romantic writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, wrote his immortal epic _Faust_ about a man who makes a bargain with the devil and in it encoded the metaphor of the Faustian spirit: humankind struggling with the necessary evils of suffering and death, yet aware of the great things to be achieved once one accepts them in the bargain. As a result, the Faustian spirit describes any individual who does not seek to explain away suffering, but wants to accept life as a whole, and thus feels extreme passions in both pleasure and pain. It is the antithesis of the passive and world-negating spirit of not only far-east philosophy and populist Christianity, but also our modern notion of Utopian fantasies of making the world "safe." Metal rejects safety, morality and the idea of "normalcy" or a single standard that tempers the nature inside of us. The raging spirit of metal that embraces the dark side of life is Faustian in its very nature, as is the tendency of black metal bands to glorify both death and the exultant experience of victory in combat. Goethe emerged from the Romantic time period and outlook, but so did another group of writers who expressed "naturalism" or a belief in the order of nature as more realistic and often, more accurate and divinely inspired, than that of humankind. For misanthropes at a structural level, naturalism rejects human morality and invented religions and replaces it with substitutes derived from patterns found in nature, often through transcendental thought. Best exemplified by William Blake (a major influence on The Doors) and Ralph Waldo Emerson, this movement seeks to understand nature and its wisdom by recognizing that it is superior to human orders for the purpose of adapting to and maintaing a high quality of life. Naturalists do not cringe at the red talons of the predatory hawk tearing the mouse; instead, they praise the greater strength of the mouse and hawk populations achieved as a result, and the trees which will be fertilized by hawk droppings. It is an organic, gritty philosophy with deep links to cosmicism, or acceptance of the universe as an order in itself which needs no remaking; this is in dramatic contrast to Judeo-Christian moralism, which inherently finds fault with nature and seeks to replace it with an morality designed to pacify fear of insufficiency, death and suffering. Blake's concept of "the path of excess leading to the road of wisdom" is an esoteric statement of this belief, and clearly influenced early heavy metal and is an unstated influence behind death metal and black metal. Whether born yesterday, or an older person, the individual faces a world in which many things happen, and some turn out positive for that individual, while others are negative. Herein is the reason humans philosophize. We live because to some degree, we believe in living, but it is a balance between emotions incurred by the positive and the negative aspects of life. In this the fundamental question of philosophy can be seen, which is, "Why do I live, and why is it that life includes negativity?" There are several approaches to this question:
  1. Deny suffering. Whether through stoicism, or numbness, or a belief that the individual does not exist, one can minimize the value of suffering to the individual. However, when one destroys suffering in the representation of the world that every individual has, one also reduces the impact of joy, and thus a stable norm is achieved but great deeds, which require great passions and enjoyment of life, are stultified. The problem of far-east philosophies comes to mind here.
  2. Embrace suffering. Self-pity is a fundamental notion to all humans, because by making the impact of suffering congratulatory to the individual, it allows the individual to endure suffering, but also converts the individual into a masochist. When this happens, the individual loses any higher impulse, and becomes fixated on the self and ways to keep it afloat through additional suffering and, as a palliative, reward, which usually takes the form of pity for others. This is the way of middle eastern religions, including Christianity.
  3. Explain suffering. Without finding a way to resolve the fact that it is real and its impact will inexorably be felt, suffering can be interpreted as not only logical but as a kind of logical optimum. In this view, one finds a reason that suffering exists, such as the notion that because there is negativity there is space for change, and that which is not fit for the future is eliminated. It is a naturalistic view, and this is common to all Pagan beliefs: they understand suffering as a mechanism by which nature maintains itself and encourages, gently when you consider how large the natural world is compared to the individual, the growth of individuals and species.
The only philosophy that expresses vir is (c), because in this one subsumes the role of suffering to that of a creative force, and thus does not lessen either suffering of joy, but finds it natural and right that one might pursue enjoyment (and what it encourages: creative achievement, whether writing better music or building bigger banquet halls) and also experience suffering. There is no need or ability to explain away suffering; suffering is simply suffering, or negativity, associated with empty spaces and "clearing" forces such as winter and death. The individual following this philosophy must accept that some things, such as mortality and suffering, are part of life as a whole, and while the individual will suffer and die, the whole will continue and it is right that it do so, because the whole is the source of both the individual and enjoyment. In this, metal approximates the knowledge of hermetic, Pagan, Hindu and other occult sects more than the exoteric vision of Western religion and morality. Metal music serves as a popular target for those disturbed by evil, Satanism and occultism, only in part because those views are taboo; the bigger sin is refutation of the accepted view with something that may admit the taboo. During the 1980s when more people held Christian views, one of the primary charges against metal at events like the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) hearings was that it encouraged Satanism. This occurred during a time when people were being convicted of child molestation under a theory of "Satanic ritual abuse" and the mainstream media never blinked at the accusation. Since its inception in Black Sabbath, metal has expressed a fascination with both evil and the occult. At the point of its origin however this fascination mostly dealt with the threat of evil coming to pass. Its thought verges close to Milton and Blake in this regard by showing a utility of evil, and an experience of Satan which reveals the conflict in the human soul between ego and world. Unlike most descriptions of evil, early metal lyrics focused on evil as an explanation for the mass trends and politics shaping society. Black Sabbath portrayed evil as a negative force controlling humanity behind the facade of civilization and its institutions. Over the generations of heavy metal, the genre has changed its outlook on these the role of evil.
Now in darkness, world stops turning Ashes where their bodies burning No more war pigs have the power Hand of God has struck the hour Day of Judgement, God is calling On their knees the war pigs crawling Begging mercy for their sins Satan, laughing, spreads his wings Oh, Lord yeah! -- Black Sabbath, "War Pigs" (_Paranoid_)
During the speed metal years, metal kept essentially this same concept. In the hands of popular culture and politics, evil found a way to corrupt good. However, the blame for this rested on external parties and those with wealth and power. This both continued the Black Sabbath view of "war pigs" controlling society and pointing it toward evil ends which culminate in the destruction of all for their sins, and modified it such that the forces of evil were seen as controlling that which was otherwise good. Witness this late-career summation from Metallica:
Lady Justice Has Been Raped Truth Assassin Rolls of Red Tape Seal Your Lips Now You're Done in Their Money Tips Her Scales Again Make Your Deal Just What Is Truth? I Cannot Tell Cannot Feel -- Metallica, "...And Justice For All" (_...And Justice For All_)
The death metal generation took over next but showed some overlap with the speed metal years through bands such as Slayer. In their vision, evil corrupted good because what was seen as "good" actually served to enable evil through the delusion, laziness and narcissism of humanity as a group. This view combines the historical and the mythological to create a "mythological-historical" perspective in which views changes in human experience as the result of a shifting of underlying ideas, in this case a tendency for evil to be considered good. Slayer express a vision of a society that has corrupted itself through "good" which was actually evil in hidden intent, resulting in an insufferable world:
Fear runs wild in the veins of the world The hate turns the skies jet black Death is assured in future plans Why live if there's nothing there Spectors of doom await the moment The mallet is sure and precise Cover the crypts of all mankind With cloven hoove begone -- Slayer, "Hardening of the Arteries" (_Hell Awaits_)
The following generation took the mythic view of history expressed by Slayer and made it into an identity. In this view, the world is rotten and good is the source of this ill; the solution is to destroy good, invert the cross, and let the churches burn. In this view, Christians and others who affirm morality of the herd are the negative and corrupting force of evil, and good can be found in doing evil to them. The idea of those who proclaim themselves as "good" being fundamentally manipulative, hypocritical and deceptive emerges during this time.
Chant the blasphemy Mockery of the messiah We curse the holy ghost Enslaver of the weak God of lies and greed God of hypocrisy We laugh at your bastard child No god shall come before me ...Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law Rebel against the church Drink from the chalice of blasphemy Rise up against the enslaver -- Morbid Angel, "Blasphemy" (_Altars of Madness_)
At its extreme end, this philosophy begins to resemble advocacy for a Satanic holy war. In this crucial step, good is not so much corrupted as it is wrong; the idea of goodness is illogical and inherently manipulated and must be destroyed. This creates an important precursor to the philosophical leap taken by black metal bands in the next half-generation.
We deny God and his rule We defy his supreme force Crucified by the dark power His death was a glory Forgotten by our mind forever He's left the churches to torment us We'll destroy the high altar Until we see the ashes of pain -- Sepultura, "Crucifixion" (_Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation_)
When black metal approached this topic, it evolved its dislike of good to a final stage: not only was good corrupt, but it was illogical. Love, trust, equality, acceptance and universality were illogical not by their own rules but by the rules of nature. Christianity was -- as Nietzsche saw it -- the origin of humanism and liberalism which constituted a form of control of humanity through social influence, a method of using guilt and shame to tame the exceptional so they could be humbled before the herd. As a result, black metal created the first metal genre to not only reject corrupted good, but to reject the notion of good, and to build within the concept of "evil" a philosophy of natural selection, conflict, war and racial isolation. Naturally the latter became the most controversial as since the end of WWII the Western nations have adopted a policy of inclusivity and diversity. The embrace of nationalism that came with black metal -- Mayhem practiced under Nazi flags, Darkthrone and Burzum advocated racial withdrawal if not supremacy, even mild-mannered Enslaved sang of their Nordic land as separate from all other peoples -- shocked and appalled many which seemed to prove the black metal approach to evil: "good" makes people afraid to do what would be logical in nature, which is self-preserve and allow natural selection to weed out the stupid instead of soliciting them for votes and selling them products.
Run from this fire It will burn your very soul Its flames reaching higher Comed this far there is no hold O, all small creatures It is the twilight if the gods - Twilight of the Gods, Bathory (_Twilight of the Gods_)
Not all bands took these highly articulated approaches. During the death metal years, some bands took a mere atheist/materialist stance:
Drown your sorrows in prayer But your prayers will never change the world I separate myself From those who chase the spirit I can't fall to my knees And pretend like all the rest This is a soul that doesn't need saving -- Immolation, "I Feel Nothing" (_Here In After_)
It is unclear whether Christianity is the actual target, or whether that target is "herd morality" as Nietzsche would call it. Many metal bands, such as Slayer and Black Sabbath, have Christian members who do not hide this orientation; few if any metal bands wish to be identified as "Christian metal," in part because of the existence of a parallel underground within the Christian community for popular music with an exclusively Christian message. Within metalheads there is a distrust for selling out or joining an institution such that one would benefit from it because then objectivity is occluded by the resulting self-interest. They apply that vision equally to commercial interests, political interests and of course mainstream religion. Much like the Romantic poets before them, many metal bands embrace occult and pagan beliefs, including almost all of black metal and death metal. The Romantic poets found interest mostly in the European traditions of occultism including Greco-Roman paganism and, with the rise of nationalist sentiment in late Romanticism, the indigenous European cultures and their ancient gods. The interest of the Romanticists centered around the possibility of a wisdom with levels of revelaton as opposed to the single-level of modern Christianity which was then too easily taken over by social trends, the whims of its audience or political influences. Others used occultism and pagan beliefs as metaphor, including to explore a more naturalistic morality and to symbolize a past era.
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, English Romantic poet (1789)
Heavy metal beliefs might be described as "transcendental." Transcendentalists hold that an order pervades all of the universe which can be perceived by the individual and through its understanding, the individual can come to understand the logicality of the cosmos and thus discover the divinity within it. This order opposes the notion of "faith," where the individual accepts as true what religious dogma says must be true, and dualism, which presupposes that whatever spiritual order exists must do so in an entirely different world where the essential laws of construction of that world differ radically from our own. Metal spirituality tends to take a transcendental view, usually that by observing nature and reality, the individual can find deep within themselves a revelation of the meaning and importance of existence. Selecting for where they have more in common than not, certain ancestral beliefs can be grouped together as "pagan" (a term originally designating their prevalence in the countryside). Pagan and occult beliefs are similar on a structural level, with some arguing their origins in Hindu and Greco-Roman traditions have a single ancestor, and differ from Christianity in several key ways:
  1. A lack of official doctrine and ideological qualification for entry (exotericism).
  2. Good and evil as collaborative complements rather than oppositional.
  3. Process and eternal renewal instead of judgment and final states.
  4. Disbelief that a sacrament or magic words can substitute for knowledge or ability (esotericism).
  5. Nature-worship instead of worship of idealized humanity.
As if inspired by Dionysos, the crafty god of wine of the Greek era, or by Fenris, the wolf of apocalypse of the Norse, metal bands have rejected order in favor of chaos and impulses of the raw id. This dovetails with the naturalism of paganism and its refusal to adopt a written orthodoxy let it be co-opted into an exoteric philosophy capable of manipulation like the mainstream organized religions including the "New Age" neo-Pagan ones. Paganism at its heart embraces secrecy, hidden knowledge and elitism. Metal plays to this ideal with its own tendency to obscure its meanings behind a wave of riffs but to leave the meaning plain for those who can undergo a few levels of analysis to bring it out. Metal bands incorporate occult, mythological, Pagan, Satanic, Norse and polytheistic imagery in a number of ways. Some incorporate ideas of it into their lyrics; others use numerological formulae in composing riffs; still others explore sacred ideas within their imagery or writing. With the rise of death metal, this became more common with Rudra (Hinduism) and Asgard (Asatru), but with black metal the use of lyrics expanded, including bands quoting from Eddas (Burzum, Enslaved) and outright Satanic texts or practice (Acheron, Dissection). As black metal faded, the rising power metal genre took up much of this material in a gentler form but remained fervently nationalistic and separated in identity from Christianity. Heavy metal touches on another taboo thought which is the idea of nihilism. Nihilism is not so much an advocacy as it is an issue that most people tiptoe around. Is life meaningless? Our lurking fear is that nothing we do has any significance beyond our own experience which vanishes at death and that we are at best only physical bodies with impulsive needs. The gateway to this question and related lines of thought is found in nihilism. Nihilism states a triad of anti-beliefs: no truth, no values and no knowledge.
Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy.
F.W. Nietzsche introduced the concept of nihilism with his dichotomy between the "last man" and the "overman": the last man is a pure materialist who cares only about his own comfort and wealth, where the overman wishes to overcome the conditions of human life including its transient temporality and create greatness and beauty far beyond the bounds of self. In many ways, metalheads resemble the overman by discarding concerns for what is popular thus profitable thus conducive to personal comfort and convenience, and instead laboring in darkness to produce music that is meaningful to possibly themselves only. The problem most metalheads find is that they encounter a world of self-destruction. A society that validates itself with its own theories, unproven because of the vast wave of technological wealth upon which we ride, has made itself into a crass mess of fast food, obedience-oriented jobs, flattery and pandering to special interest groups. The only option seems to be to drop out and live in relative poverty while avoiding its commitments, which then leads to evolutionary destruction of those who drop out. Modern life gives us a choice of giving and becoming last men, or constantly struggling to stay outsiders in order to strive toward being overmen.
"In our contemporary, youth are pretty much lost. They have no direction. Nobody is telling them what to do. That is, people are telling them what to do, but the youth have instincts telling them, 'This is wrong.' People are telling that Christianity is good, people are telling them that the USA is good, NATO is good, our democracy is good. But we know -- if not intellectually -- we know instinctively that this is wrong."
Nietzsche saw last men as being a symptom of "nihilism," which he defined as a lack of importance assigned to anything beyond material comfort because of the lack of inherent characteristics -- truth, God, knowledge, values -- requiring us to be otherwise. Metal retaliates with a form of "active nihilism" that instead acknowledges the void and seeks to find meaning in the possibilities of life instead. Metal bands routinely reject the mores and morals of society around them, but instead of replacing them with an ethic of convenience, replace them with morals of their own. The first and most important of these is the distinction between "poseurs," or those who use music as a means to socializing with others and being popular, and those who are "true metal" and find meaning in the music for its own sake. Metal identifies primarily as outsider art and always has. Its perspective views society as an error and sees the basis of this error in the pleasant illusions most people tell each other in conversation, hear from the television or read in advertisements. Like the Romantics, it scorns mass society and sees it as based in people flattering each other with what they want to hear, not what they need to hear, which is what they find within themselves -- if they are brave enough to look. In this sense, metal opposes nihilism of the passive or fatalistic sort, and replaces it with an active nihilism that acknowledges the lack of inherent truth but suggests that we can find a truth in survival itself, in prevalence through conflict, and in searching our inner selves. friedrich_wilhelm_nietzsche The reliance on instinct hearkens to both the examination of inner truths that the Romantics explored and the reliance of early Idealist philosophers such as Kant on intuition as the basis of knowledge. It also dovetails with the Nietzschean idea of most morality as a control mechanism by those who need an external reference to avoid infringing. In his view, the moral questions that trouble the average person are not only common knowledge but unexceptional to a person of higher ability. For this reason, the law of social morality constrains those more able people and ultimately enslaves them to the problems of those below them in ability, producing an accelerating factor for nihilism.
Notwithstanding his frequent characterization as a nihilist, therefore, Nietzsche in fact sought to counter and overcome the nihilism he expected to prevail in the aftermath o the collapse and abandonment of traditional religious and metaphysical modes of interpretation and evaluation. While he was highly critical of the latter, it was not his intention merely to oppose them; for he further attempted to make out the possibility of forms of truth and knowledge to which philosophical interpreters of life and the world might aspire, and espoused as "Dionysian value-standard" in place of all non-naturalistic modes of valuation. In keeping with his interpretation of life and the world in terms of his conception of the will to power, Nietzsche framed this standard in terms of his interpretation of them. The only tenable alternative to nihilism must be based upon a recognition and affirmation of the world's fundamental character. This meant positing as a general standard of value the attainment of the kind of life in which the will to power as the creative transformation of existence is raised to its highest possible intensity and qualitative expression. This in turn led him to take the "enhancement of life" and creativity to be the guiding ideas of his revaluation of values and development of a naturalistic value theory. This way of thinking carried over into Nietzsche's thinking about morality. Insisting that moralities as well as other traditional modes of valuation ought to be assessed "in the perspective of life," he argued that most of them were contrary to the enhancement of life, reflecting the all-too-human needs and weaknesses and fears of less favored human groups and types. Distinguishing between "master" and "slave" moralities, he found the latter to have become the dominant type of morality in the modern world. He regarded present-day morality as "herd-animal morality," well suited to the requirements and vulnerabilities of the mediocre who are the human rule, but stultifying and detrimental to the development of potential exceptions to that rule. Accordingly, he drew attention to the origins and functions of this type of morality (As a social-control mechanism and device by which the weak defend and avenge and assert themselves against the actually or potentially stronger). He further suggested the desirability of a "higher morality" for the exceptions, in which the contrast of the basic "slave/herd morality" categories of "good and evil" would be replaced by categories more akin to the "good and bad" contrast characteristic of "master morality," with a revised (and variable) content better attuned to the conditions and attainable qualities of the enhanced forms of life such exceptional human beings can achieve.
From this view, Nietzsche was not overly fond of nihilism, but some have posited that the "active nihilism" is in fact what he argued for: an acceptance of the unimportance of life beyond its immediate value, and from that, a desire to expand it and make it improve the experience of life itself. This focus on experience translates into much of the hedonism and adventurism of heavy metal, with its creative side channeled toward the music itself, and its sense of improvement based on bringing what is "heavy" -- or real despite human everyday denial -- back into focus. The idea behind this version of nihilism is that it liberates us from the "slave morality" and allows us to see reality clearly, thus make decisions based on what is actually happening. With its focus on results alone, and viewing them from the broader context of history, heavy metal posits a new form of active nihilism: that instead of judging our decisions by good and bad, we judge them by outcomes and whether those outcomes fit with what we find not just acceptable, but "excellent" (in the immortal words of Bill and Ted). We know how past acts have turned out and what resulted from them, so when we go shopping for actions to fulfill our goals, we can compare past outcomes to desired outcomes and pick which actions fit best. This creates a kind of table where we see that action A made result B, and A(1) -> B(1) and so forth, and thus lets us index these backward by looking down the column of outcomes and seeing which B(x) most closely approximates our chosen outcome. As metal puts this into a historical view, it changes the focus from what we want as a personal result to what we desire not just for today, but for ages hence. This also encourages us to see ourselves in the context of history and compare the calibre of our acts to those who have come before us.
Only death is real. - Hellhammer
Metal's virus comes wrapped in the appearance of death, meaning that where there is a weakness to death, it equalizes and penetrates. The morbidity, paranoia, passion and politics of metal over the years has shown a passage by which one accepts death, and the nihilistic chaos of material reality, and in doing so lays down the foundation for transcending it. Metal, by introducing structure and spirituality and Romanticist individualism and nihilism, issues to its listeners a challenge to explore it deeper and bond with what causes it to be, rather than what it "is."
Mankind does not represent a development of the better or the stronger in the way that it is believed today. 'Progress' is merely a modern idea, that is to say a false idea. The European of today is of far less value than the European of the Renaissance; onward development is not by any means, by any necessity the same thing as elevation, advance, strengthening. In another sense there are cases of individual success constantly appearing in the most various parts of the earth and from the most various cultures in which a high type does manifest itself: something which in relation to collective mankind is a sort of superman. Such chance occurrences of great success have always been possible and perhaps always will be possible. And even entire races, tribes, nations can under certain circumstances represent such a lucky hit. - Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ
By rejecting inherent truths, metal explores an existential viewpoint in which the experience of life itself is the goal. The choices we make define who we are, and some live epic lives above the mundanity of the herd. This outlook emphasizes the experience of life itself rather than an external reward, whether monetary or in some dualistic metaphysical realm. In other words, the goal of humans is to find the best in life and to improve themselves by living not just well in a material sense, but finding health in their spirits and an enjoyment in life. Any metalhead who has noticed that most people appear depressed, lonely, beaten down, exhausted and generally at odds with existence will sympathize with this point of view.
It's been my dream To enter the stream To let carnates know What life really means If one understands That's all I can ask Life to you is such a wretched task! - An Incarnation's Dream, Atheist
In black metal, Romanticism took a turn toward its later forms which were explicitly nationalistic and naturalistic in defiance of the tendency of popular morality to "make safe" what nature once relegated to lawless conflict. As societies passed more laws, and focused more on defense of the individual against nature and social forces, the amount of control these societies had over their citizens increased. To black metal musicians, this was a sign of decline and a dying civilization because it favored the weak over the strong and produced a non-culture based on safety, shopping and politically correct opinions.
Romanticism though in its beginning little concerned with politics or the state, prepared the rise of German nationalism after 1800. It was an aesthetic revolution, a resort to imagination, almost feminine in its sensibility; it was poetry more deeply indebted to the spirit of music than the poetry of the eighteenth century had been, rich in emotional depth, more potent in magic evocation. But German romanticism was and wished to be more than poetry. It was an interpretation of life, nature and history—and this philosophic character distinguished it from romanticism in other lands. It was sharply opposed to the rationalism of the eighteenth century; it mobilized the fascination of the past to fight against the principles of 1789.
Black metal expressed this sentiment through strong nationalism. On the lesser end, bands like Enslaved and Immortal wrote songs about their homeland, its traditions and legends. Even death metal bands like Amorphis joined in this activity by writing albums based on the national epic, the Kalevala. On the more extreme end, bands like Graveland, Darkthrone, Burzum and Emperor expressed far-right sentiments and endorsed a strong nationalistic spirit. Even bands caught in the middle, like Mayhem, were rumored to perform in a room decked with not only Norwegian flags, but the flags of both Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Heavy metal utilizes a method of uniting riffs so that no linear truth exists, but an immanent truth is discovered as the listener connects the associations of those riffs. This is similar to the postmodern novels of James Joyce and William S Burroughs, where a series of divergent threads unified unspoken topics indicated by metaphorical assonance with consensual reality experience. The inversion of value so that its inside might be seen, postmodernism serves as a philosophical hall of mirrors by showing many potential truths as equivalent to a single truth at once. What makes postmodernism most distinctive is its absorption of intensely "chaotic" theories such as quantum physics or non-linear mathematics, by virtue of its foundation in technology and looking past superstition, but also peering beyond the intellectual process of illusion to see how the universe functions as organism, with universal principles of growth. Afflicted with knowledge, postmodernism tends to emphasize the "subtext" of each situation, where there is an acknowledged reality and an underlying larger picture which often has nothing to do with the material props at hand. As such, dreams of death and great journeys past the land of the dead are complex and intriguing material.
Postmodernist philosophers ask us to carefully consider how the statements of the most persuasive or politically influential people become accepted as the “common truths”. Although everyone would agree that influential people – the movers and shakers – have profound effects upon the beliefs of other persons, the controversy revolves around whether the acceptance by others of their beliefs is wholly a matter of their personal or institutional prominence. The most radical postmodernists do not distinguish acceptance as true from being true; they claim that the social negotiations among influential people “construct” the truth. The truth, they argue, is not something lying outside of human collective decisions; it is not, in particular, a “reflection” of an objective reality. Or, to put it another way, to the extent that there is an objective reality it is nothing more nor less than what we say it is. We human beings are, then, the ultimate arbiters of what is true. Consensus is truth. The “subjective” and the “objective” are rolled into one inseparable compound.
Heavy metal explores this subject through first fantasy and second, the demand arising from any good story that it be at least plausible in comparison to what we know of existing reality. For a fantasy story such as _The Lord of the Rings_ to work, it must be sufficiently removed from our experience and yet congruent with it in parallel so that the world is plausible and the fantasy can be interesting to beings such as ourselves with our struggles in this world. Much like the conditions for metaphor and art itself, this requires both the postmodernist sense of truth and a tempering of it with cold hard reality as experienced in life here. This also parallels the metal view of dualistic religious faiths, easily summarized by "wishing does not make it true." In contrast to dualism, metal offers a sense of transcendent mysticism which shadows that offered by late Romantics and thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson. The basic belief of a mystic is that events and objects are interconnected in a structure that is larger than immediate material parameters and as such can be accessed if one is open to transcendence, or letting go of the visible for the abstract. The mystic finds significant experience in interpretation of everyday events because in the mystical view, all events are connected by an underlying order, even if not an inherent one. To the mystic, cause/effect reasoning dips deeper than the material and can exist on a purely informational level, much as how sacred symbols and sigils are presumed to grant a power over the objects they reference.
While we may believe our world - our reality to be that is - is but one manifestation of the essence Other planes lie beyond the reach of normal sense and common roads But they are no less real than what we see or touch or feel -- Burzum, "Lost Wisdom" (_Burzum_)
Heavy metal tends to find order beyond where most look for it. It possesses a tendency to see chaos as a form of order or a precondition for order. The tendency of mathematical systems to go from the linear, or vector measurement, to chaotic multidirectional entities is a measure of its organicism, or the point at which it moves from chartable projections to the zone decided only by theory. Organicism is a philosophy of information science which holds that in order for something to articulate itself independently, it must be of an unmeasurable state of chaotic motion. This calls to mind one of the instigations to the rise of chaos theory, the research of Werner Heisenberg. His "uncertainty principle" is summarized as follows:
The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa.
Among other things, this means that those who inspect reality are in turn influencing the system they are measuring. There are no impartial observers, only those who see what is presented to them in response to their presence. This means the observer becomes integrated into a system in which all measurements are variable in chaotic patterns without linearly predictable jumps. A pattern with linear jumps suggests the order is evident within that pattern, where a pattern with chaotic jumps suggests an order behind the evident pattern. Hence an emergent organicism appears in many things, including metal, which approach problems in which binary solutions (those composed of yes or no, off or on, right or "wrong") lead to illusion, since the binary nature is a projection of the intelligences observing the situation and not emergent from the properties and methods of the system itself. This returns to the metal and Romantic conception of the individual knowing the world through the inner self, or as Immanuel Kant referred to it, "intuition." Kant saw intuition as the basis of our a priori knowledge of the working of the world and its causality. However, this line of thought remains distinct from individualism in both metal and Romanticism. Metal favors individualism but also devoutly rejects it in its present form. As embraced by modern society, individualism means the ability to make arbitrary decisions and still be defended. As seen by metal, individualism resides in the ability to reject the insane arbitrary decisions of others. Strongly in favor of the independent evolution of individuals so to allow them space to grow without the persistent damage of scar tissue formed to avoid intervention by the arbitrary appearances of demands by others, the individualist genre metal has developed a subculture with focus on the development of the individual as a force of chaos and change in the otherwise patterned material/causal world.
When night falls she cloaks the world in impenetrable darkness. A chill rises from the soil and contaminates the air suddenly... life has new meaning. -- Dunkelheit, Burzum (_Filosofem_)
The reasons for individualist thought usually center around the idea that those who know what they want for personal fulfillment will not project that on to others for purposes of control. Individualism is a property of art and any other discipline which demands independence and focus; systemic and/or chaos thinkers understand it as a form of parallelism, where individuals in parallel discover the same truths by exploring their inner selves. Much like the Romantic notion of the lone wanderer above the mist, this notion of individualism shows metal encouraging the exploration of self to get over the self, in contrast to those unrealized souls out there who know only desires of the basest (and most commercially lucrative) nature, and thus enslave themselves to their desires.
Betraying and playing dirty, you think you'll win But someday you'll fall and I'll be waiting Laughs of an insane man you'll hear Personality is my weapon against your envy Walking these dirty streets With hate in my mind Feeling the scorn of the world I won't follow your rules Nonconformity in my inner self Only I guide my inner self -- Sepultura, "Inner Self" (_Beneath the Remains_)
As a method of interpretation, this metallic perspective verges on structuralism. Structuralism posits that no exoteric or face-value interpretation of truth exists, but that all truth is emergent and found from the analysis in the mind of the individual:
Since language is the foremost instance of social sign systems in general, the structural account might serve as an exemplary model of understanding the very intelligibility of social systems as such -- hence, its obvious relecance to the broader concerns of the social and human sciences. This implication was raised by Saussure himself, in his _Course on General Linguistics_ (1916), but it was advanced dramatically by the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss -- who is generally acknowledged to be the founder of modern structuralism -- in his extensive analyses in the area of social anthropology, beginning with his _Elementary Structures of Kinship_ (1949). Levi-Strauss argued that society is itself organized according to one form or another of significant communication and exchange -- whether this be of information, knowledge, or myths, or even of its members themselves. The organization of social phenomena could thus be clarified through a detailed elaboration of their subtending structures, which, collectively, testify to a deeper and all-inclusive, social rationality. As with the analysis of language, these social structures would be disclosed, not by direct observation, but by inference and deduation from the observed empirical data.
Structuralism describes a method for perceiving structure that requires interaction to be revealed. This applies well to language or reverse-debugging of computer code, but as a proactive measure applies to the methods that can be used to construct logical objects such that they do not have linear structure but an internally-balanced emergent structure. This describes the metal method of writing interlocking riffs as well as the method that listeners use to decode them and perceive an order to the song as a whole. Unlike rock 'n roll, which has a linear structure in a cyclic arrangement, death metal has a layered structure based on internal correspondence between riffs that can only be perceived through observation and comparison in reference to the whole.
How do you account for the vision of the man possessed on stage, and the man sitting before me? We are quite the opposite to what is personified on stage. Every band has it's own way of dealing with shit and if they play this kind of music, or even just any extreme music, maybe they are like that full time, maybe not. Like we always say, people like Rick Astley are probably the biggest wankers in the world. They probably come off stage, and wanna kill kids. With us, its the contrary, on stage we are executing the whole other persona, in regular social conditions we are pretty straight forward. -- Lemmy Kilmister, Motorhead
Influences
  • H.P. Lovecraft
    Lovecraft developed mythologies from simple brutality and built a spiritual structure of a phenomenology of evil from the myths of Ancient Sumeria combined with his perceptions of pre-religious darkness and fear. His imaginative and lurid tales not only inspired many horror films, but provided the basis of metal lyrics for every generation of metal. Of all the writers cited by metal bands, Lovecraft not only ranks as most frequent but as most esoteric.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien
    John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was a professor of the English language at Oxford during the first half of the twentieth century, infusing his fascination with Germanic themes of honor and ancient mythology into a fantasy series involving a "middle earth" where magic and science were one. Like many metalheads, he saw humanity as in decline and in need of a unifying quest to give it purpose and to restore a sense of activities worth doing more than attending jobs, shopping and downloading free internet porn.
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
    The most influential philosopher in metal, Nietzsche shifted philosophy from the somewhat inward-focused idealism to an existentialism that contained a practical component. To Nietzsche, Christian morality of good/bad was irrelevant because the universe thrived on conflict as a result of its will toward life, and this imbues each person with a will to power. In those who can clearly articulate their own will, this turns into a desire to do outward good; in those who do not self-actualize, it becomes a consumptive and narcissistic impulse. Through his rejection of social morality and affirmation of the lone individual striving against the herd and struggling to understand a reality best expressed in constant warfare and predation, Nietzsche created the grandfather of all heavy metal philosophy.
  • William S. Burroughs
    Heavy metal got its name from a William S. Burroughs writing. The infamous writer of _Naked Lunch_, is known as much for his heroin addiction as for his contributions to literature, including what might be called the first truly postmodern novel in _Naked Lunch_. However, his contributions were vast, starting with his "cut up" style of literature which would weave a complexity of connections between granular sections of text randomly recontextualized in a chronological narrative. The philosophies of individual freedom, control, darkness and politics contained within "Naked Lunch" and subsequent works (_The Nova Express_,_The Ticket that Exploded_,_Cities of the Red Night_) provided an unfathomably universalist basis to metallion rejection of authority, conformity, and materialist aesthetics.
  • William Blake
    One of the first transcendental poets to articulate his ideas in a structured metaphorology designed to transcend the calcification of Christianity, Blake spoke of sensual and intellectual excess as salvation for the soul and invented a form of morality based in joy which used its romanticism as a basis for its respect and fascination with life. Blake's detailed exposures of human reason and fear at its most primal and yet most symbolologic delivered a scientific mysticism to those who came after him (including Jim Morrison and William S Burroughs!) a shadow in which motion was possible, a darkness which mostly concealed a limitless beauty of freedom.
  • John Milton
    An English minister and poet, John Milton conceived and wrote the epic poem, "Paradise Lost," in which Satan is portrayed as a beautiful angel who rejects servitude in heaven and is exiled in flame, only to learn how to love the barren but self-decisional realm of Hell. The phrase "to reign in hell" from various metal recordings references his classic line spoken by Satan, "It is better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."
It's a concept album about what once was before the light took us and we rode into the castle of the dream. Into emptiness. It's something like; beware the Christian light, it will take you away into degeneracy and nothingness. What others call light I call darkness. Seek the darkness and hell and you will find nothing but evolution. -- Varg Vikernes, http://www.burzum.com/
Heavy metal can be seen as a subculture, or culture within a larger culture, as opposed to a counterculture, or oppositional culture within a larger culture. The reason for this distinction is that while heavy metal is rebellious it does not exclusively define itself as being the opposite of what exists, but sees itself as a modification (or "fork" to the brachitic hierarchy of revisions) to existing society, mainly because it operates on a level lower than that of institution -- it is a spiritual re-alignment through a re-arrangement of values, or maybe we should say, a re-evaluation of all values. In that light, it also makes sense to consider heavy metal to be a series of ethnocultures, because each nation produces music of a unique sound and attitude, often with a unique subset of the values and situations discussed in death metal. A fan can instantly tell the difference between South American black-death and Swedish death metal, or Japanese grindcore and American thrash. There are clear conventions to each that correspond to culture and ritual, which correspond to ethnicity and geographic area. Since heavy metal was created in response to the counter-culture, and was negative about the counter-culture but not enamored enough of the dominant order to be a reactionary counter-counter-culture, we consider it a subculture but refer to it generically as a "culture," because it has all aspects of culture: values, rituals, symbols, clothing, lifestyles and art. Metalheads measure their worth through fulfillment of their roles in this culture, not by tangible symbols of the same.
The world may be explained in sociological terms. David Riesman describes three basic social personalities in _The Lonely Crowd_. 'Other-directed' people pattern their behavior on what their peers expect of them. Suburban America's men in gray-flannel suits are other-directed. 'Inner-directed' people are guided by what they have been trained to expect of themselves. [General Douglas] MacArthur was inner-directed. The third type, the 'tradition-directed,' has not been seen in the West since the Middle Ages. Tradition-directed people hardly think of themselves as individuals; their conduct is determined by folk rituals handed down from the past. -- William Manchester, _American Caesar_
The heavy metal subculture makes itself instantly recognizable through its heavily codified visual appearance: youth in black t-shirts with logos across the top and cover art below that, with long hair and possibly tattoos, gathered away from society at events involving metal music and places where metal is distributed. They resemble a small army in public, which has caused many a hipster or journalist to wax poetic about the lack of individualism in the culture. It seems instead that in coherence with the concept of "heavy," metal culture has placed itself zenlike beyond a simple division into individualist/conformist. It recognizes the need for unity in belief to make power. Within that, it allows for variation, as can be found in the proliferation of diverse tattoos and the variation in shirts that metalheads wear, with a type of caste and preference system formed by who appreciates what band, with those who like the brainier music being the unacknowledged elite. It has rituals -- concert behavior, meetings for listening to new music, record store power structures, friendship and courtship -- that borrow from their parent cultures, composed of both traditional culture and its modern adaptation, although they borrow more from the ancient remnants than the contemporary hybrid. This culture was so distinctive at American high schools in the 1970s during the first generation of heavy metal that it was branded with a variety of names: heshers, threshers, Hessians, headbangers, metalheads. In Europe, other names came about from similar impulses, including metallion, metaller and metalist, although these grated on American sensibilities and did not transfer. The name mutated into "thrasher" for those who listened to thrash, a type of music formed of the hybrid of hardcore punk and metal riffing, exemplified by D.R.I. and Cryptic Slaughter. For this reason, metal culture became known as "Hessian" or "thrasher" culture, with most people outside recognizing its members by site without much knowledge of the music or values behind their behavior. Much of the reason for this approach originates in the attitudes of mainstream society, somewhat correctly, toward standard teenager behavior: spoiled by an indulgent attitude toward parenting, yet forced into rigid behavior to compete for future jobs, teenagers rebel but very few do so in a way that both asserts childhood and adulthood as metalheads, generally ludic types, do. Metal culture, or Hessian culture, involves loud heavy metal music made in the postmodern interpretation of classical music and rock n roll arrangement, creating a disturbing noise and profound motion in its practice and social implications. Author Kurt Vonnegut likens the role of an artist to society as the role of the canaries miners brought into the coal tunnels to warn for the presence of gas: when the birdsong changes or stops, death is near. At the end of the twentieth century, as we suffocate in the meaninglessness of the social machine we have made, metal and punk music are striking alarms of misery and fear hidden beneath the commercially-viable good assurances which have more than once prompted the adage, "Talk is cheap." This sense of "role" pervades everything, including instilling a sense of honor relative to the materialism of society. Metal culture is what keeps the music from becoming like everything else that's in the consumer market: products. Products want to do something so visibly, it is entirely distinctive, while not doing anything beyond the norm so there are no objections to purchase. Culture keeps spirit alive by serving as an interpretive landmark of existential questions, delivering to the interpreter a sense of combining the metaphor of the art with the catalogue of past experiences in life that might be relevant. In metal, the culture does not value making music for people who want entertainment; it rewards the creation of epic and powerful things out of the forces and remnants of destruction. As if it embraced paradox itself at the same time it attacked paradox as a notion, metal invents itself out of nothing and creates a Romantic, transcendental sense of the good through living according to its own tenets, untamed and not pandering to anyone or anything else.
"No jobs!" - Demonaz Doom Occulta, Immortal

2.3. Context

nuclear_detonation Early Influences Heavy metal arose in the 1960s when Western civilization re-examined itself in the light of two disastrous world wars and an ongoing struggle against communism. As the victor of both world wars, the United States led the world in thought and industry and its influence dominated the post-war world. Originally formed of colonies which first attempted to self-organize as a confederation, the new nation quickly committed to central authority in order to act as a single entity. This caused a conflict between the rural South and industrial North over what type of rule would prevail and after a disastrous Civil War, a strong federal entity was selected and embarked on a series of programs ostensibly to improve living standards. Over the next forty years the United States unified itself with expansion of the founding concepts of the nation in accordance with the decisions of the Civil War. The highest power was the Federal State, but the Individual was its currency, and therefore America came to embrace its image as the "melting pot" in which the "poor, huddled masses" might find refuge. America invited and enfranchised new groups of people, starting with recently-freed African slaves and continuing to an acceptance of previously unwanted immigrant groups, such as Irish, Italians, Jews and Eastern Europeans. After the second world war, Americans began to reconsider their mission in light of their opposition to both fascism and communism, and opted for a purely inclusive society which facilitated the individual desires of its members. A similar outpouring of sentiment emerged in Europe, especially in France which had been the birth of these theories in its Revolution of 1789 when the ideals of the Enlightenment were put into political form. That union produced a period of massive instability in France followed by the Napoleonic wars which, foreshadowing the conflicts of a century later, involved an ideological struggle between liberal democratic forces and those who opposed them for majority control of Europe. The alliances that eventually triggered the first world war, which in turn triggered the second, emerged from the jockeying for power that created unstable alliances between European nations. As the 1960s dawned, Europeans and Americans began to assimilate the Revolutionary rhetoric much as the Napoleonic French did, and extended this to social engineering. As the forces of Revolution battled with the Establishment, a movement of youth arose which embraced with great fervor the new revolutionary outlook. Before it gained any social status, the cultural force of this revolution -- a "counterculture" -- possessed "outsider" authenticity and cachet which made it a sought-after cultural force across the West, in part because of its contrarian status and its lack of acceptance among the cultural and social mechanisms of the day. Like a high school revolt riot, the counterculture united previously disenfranchised groups under the Countercultural banner. As this group became dominant, it adopted freely from both the "new left," the 1930s pre-war socialism, traditional American individualism and the new science of managerial society. Rock music became the banner and motivating force behind this youth-oriented movement. Industry invented rock music from existing forms but in the classic habit of industry, streamlined them into a simple product which could be inexpensively created and differentiated on the basis not of internal variation, but surface variations. This allowed industry to recruit a lower quality of musician and improve profits through novelty, advertising, and recording technique alone, which widened the margins on this new form of music. Rock mixed country folk, derived from English drinking songs, Celtic folk music, German popular music including waltzes and the proto-gospel singing of Scottish immigrants, with blues music. The blues was not formalized until it was recorded, and at that point in time, a fixed structure was imposed on it based on the interpretations of others. Broadly stated, it used a minor pentatonic scale with a flatted fifth, constant syncopation, and distinctive "emotional" vocal styles including call-and-response vocalization. Of all of its components, none were unique, nor was its I-IV-V chord progression. To view it from an ethnomusical perspective, the blues is an aesthetic (not musical) variation on the English, Scottish, Irish and German folk music which made up the American colloquial sonic art perspective since its inception. From a marketing perspective, however, the blues had to be marketed as a revelation from the downtrodden and suffering African-American slaves, so that it might maintain an "outsider" perspective which, to people bored with a society based on money and lacking heroic values, might appear more "authentic" than their own. The birth of rock was the birth of the counterculture and the establishment of the dichotomy: the marginalized, outsider and ignored versus the vapid, boring and soulless mainstream. When country music was re-introduced to the then-standardized blues form, the result was called rock music. Its primary difference from country was in its use of vocals which emphasized timbre over tonal accuracy, and the adoption of a more insistent, constant syncopated beat. While German waltz and popular music bands had invented the modern drum kit and developed most techniques for percussion, their music and that of their country counterparts in America tended to use drums sparsely, much more in the style of modern jazz bands than in the ranting, repetitive, dominant methods of rock music. However, it is hard to find someone in a crowd of mixed gender, race, class and intellect for whom a constant beat is intellectually and sensually inaccessible, so it was adopted as a convention. Much as the standardization of the blues took diverse song forms and brought them into a single style, rock swept a wide range of influences into a monochromatic form. It seemed that industry had created the perfect universal musical form. However it arrived, blues-country became "rock" in the 1930s-1950s mainly because of technology. Adolph Rickenbacker invented the electric guitar in 1931, and recording equipment advanced from the primitive to the cheaper and more portable units brought on by vacuum tube and then transistor technology. Additionally, microphones improved, especially those which could capture the nuances of voice. Louder guitars and vocals required the simple shuffle beats of blues drumming to gain volume, prompting a revolution in drum kit assembly. As a result, the simple blues-country hybrid became a marketing standard known as "rock 'n' roll," then "rock," as it was absorbed into the American mainstream. The earliest bands lacked much in the way of style, but wrote complacently harmonizing pieces based on the European popular music of clubs in the 1930s (much of jazz is based upon the same music). As time went on, the stylings -- appearance, performance and cultural positioning -- of the music became more advanced, and the songs themselves became simpler and more like advertising jingles. The 1960s: the Hippie Revolution Rock music presented itself as an oppositional alternative to the "traditional, boring" life of "the Establishment" and quickly became a galvanizing force for the counter-culture. The innocent pop of the 1950s gave way to an angry voice that endorsed liberal politics, sexual liberation, and general hedonism; these traits had been a mainstay of Western revolutionaries since the 1600s, but starting in the early 1900s gained new force and after the wars and the alliance with the Soviet Union, became seen as a positive counteraction to industrial society, capitalism and authoritarianism. The problem offered by this new format lay in its simplicity: because the songs were simple, which enabled them to be mass-produced and sold through advertising alone, they also did not have staying power. A recording had to be made once, and musicians throughout history have never read contracts, so labels could just about print money with each additional copy made. The problem was that since the music was interchangeable at an underlying level, it was also unsatisfying, so record companies looked for new external aspects to add to the music in order to give it novelty, authenticity and thus the "cachet of cool" sought by its audience. In the mid-1960s, rock exploded with a new variety that was both musically more advanced and possessed more of a rebellious streak. The Beatles took the forefront of this movement and created music which was melodically advanced (although saccharine) and took on more explicitly sexual topics with a stance of disaffected youth. Much of the posturing of this new rock music took its style from the 1930s alienated youth novels of the UK and the outsider lifestyles of the Beats in the USA. With this was born the counterculture in music: rock music distinguished by authenticity derived from its challenge to existing authority, including social standards and morals. The more it tweaked the nose of the Establishment, the more power it gained in the media and thus the more the product sold. The Beatles proved masters at this, inciting controvery and adulation wherever they went, and making edgy statements like "We're more popular than Jesus Christ" which the outrage-hungry press dutifully reported. As the 1960s advanced, the power of television combined with the intensity of the political situation led to a melding of the political counterculture and its rock music. It became essential for rock musicians to talk about peace, love and the happiness that was possible in a Utopian world of kindergarten-style sharing, all while amassing vast fortunes and living in mansions. When the Beatles sang "All you need is love" they were already on their second marriages, having covertly exiled one band member and possibly kicked another one to death. And yet the vision of "love" versus a mechanical automatron world of 1950s style career advancement, shopping as an activity and making war on the "misunderstood" Communists, as a gambit that enabled its audience to envision themselves as revolutionaries changing society from a primitive past toward an enlightened future, sold records like never before. The 1970s: Mainstreaming the Dissidents As the 1960s came to a close, it became clear that rock music had reached the end of its arc. Bands took the music to the extremes of progressive rock on on hand, and toward the dark primitive sounds of Iggy and the Stooges and Black Sabbath on the other. Everything that could be done had been done in its most elemental form. This spurred experimentation in the 1970s with both form and content. In this decade, progressive rock ventured farther from the norm, and new forms such as disco and punk appeared. In response, rock music took on a new populist edge as it went from the somewhat grubby hippie fringe to a mainstream hedonism that fused feel-good politics with digestible, slickly produced material. New forms of music entered the pop lexicon as reggae and a modern, rock-infused form of country music intruded. Even jazz found itself a rock hybrid with "fusion" music that applied rock percussion and song structure to jazz, translating the intricately plotted musical density of progressive rock into free-form jams that fit into rock songs like extended guitar solos.
No three words connote "PROG ROCK" more negatively than Emerson Lake & Palmer. Their music is incredibly pompous, for they are incredibly pompous individuals. One of them (does it matter which?) famously said their goal was to create "a pure white European music with no black influences."
Culture responded to the tumult of the 1960s by making a safer mainstream version of it. Corporations staffed by unexciting men in suits adopted radical hippie slogans and used them to sell mundane products. Even more, all of popular culture got behind appropriating the hedonism of the 1960s and translating it into the everyday. Technological futurism without ideological structure mated the sensual lifestyles of the 1960s with the commercial values of the 1940s. "Free love" became swinger parties, psychedelic exploration became better living through chemistry, and pacifism became a popular fashion of self-expression but no longer as much of a political statement. The radicalism of 1968 gave way to consumerism with benefits of 1978. Commerce and conservatism assimilated the forces that once opposed them. Similarly, rock lost its edge, and while many people explored fusion, synthpop, disco or reggae, the most radical drifted toward punk. Stripping rock down to its basics using power chords, punk destroyed the rules and democratized the art form even further. Now it was no longer necessary to play an instrument for months or years in order to become famous; you could play for six weeks, make a catchy (but edgy) song and make it onto the radio. The driving impetus toward punk was, much like that of early heavy metal, to remove the artificiality of rock music and replace it with something more elemental. Although many bands developed the sound, starting with 1960s bands like The Stooges, punk rock formalized itself with The Ramones in 1976. Their goal was to remove influences and escape the rock world, in part to avoid being commercialized and assimilated as they viewed 1960s and 1970s rock as having been.
Mr. Ramone once described his guitar style as "pure, white rock 'n' roll, with no blues influence." "I wanted our sound to be as original as possible,'' he said. "I stopped listening to everything."
Despite this brave statement, punk became quickly assimilated because its low threshold of instrumental ability and recording quality allowed just about anyone to make it. In response thousands of bands erupted so that by the end of the 1970s, punk consisted of thousands of bands with interchangeable names, songs, attitudes and recordings. What was first the work of pioneers became a big party where anyone could join in. Much as rock music itself democratized and streamlined genres as diverse as country, blues, big band and folk into a single entity, punk also became a snowball that picked up the flavor of the month and rolled it into a new easily-digestible format. As the decade clicked over into the 1980s, a genre known as "pop punk" emerged as college students began picking up instruments and making softer, gentler and more introspective versions of punk songs. The result assimilated punk rock into the mainstream rock industry. The 1980s: the Material World In outrage, punks reclaimed their territory with hardcore punk at the end of the 1970s and early 1980s. This music went even more extreme, using chromatic scales and two-chord songs, and added more savage vocals that used the distorted voices that folk singers applied at parts of their songs when bad characters or negative events entered the fray. Punk hardcore changed music for two reasons: first, it removed itself from rock by deconstructing even the marginal rules of rock, and second, it designed itself to avoid the mainstream music industry entirely with a do-it-yourself (DIY) aesthetic and the creation of a separate network of zines, radio stations, tape traders and clubs who catered to this music and its fanbase and excluded everything else. For the first time, a sub-culture challenged the counter-culture and threatened to entirely drop out of society at large. Punks lived in squats, or appropriated empty buildings, and survived by foraging while they dedicated their time to not becoming either suit and tie guys or burnout hippies who thought peace would save the world. Punk had a message: society was terrible because people were terrible, and no easy solution like "love" would save the day. Instead, it was time for war! Hardcore punk formed a parallel world to that of metal during this period. An innovation on either side passed to the other, and drove the next evolution of that side. Thus hardcore picked up on metal drumming, then sent it back with additional simplification, where it was adopted; metal adopted hardcore vocals, then made them more extreme, and sent those back where they were enthusiastically received. During the mid-1970s metal went through its own flirtation with stadium rock and was almost assimilated, but came back through a DIY underground movement in the NWOBHM who paralleled the punk attempts to do the same. Even more, both genres borrowed from tropes of the rock world and adapted those to their own forms, albeit in such customized form that they were unrecognizable. Metal adopted the lengthy complex solos of stadium rock but passed them through a hardcore punk filter to make them chaotic and violent, and converted the extended bridges of post-progressive stadium rock into new song structures. In turn, rock picked up on the idea of distortion and punk rhythms. During the 1980s, the only relevant symbols were monetary and social success, meaning a modern adaptation of the white picket house in the suburbs, the minivan, local church and school groups and happy children with no cares in the world. A decade of overextension and massive expenditure on cold war buildup shattered most of this and replaced it with a literal reality of subservience, slowly flipping the power balance to a sublimated leftism. As the smiley futurism came to a close at the turn of the eighties it was clear the alienation was not an affliction but a condition of the system, and more extreme responses arose. Both the old-school conservative system and the hippie "revolution" had failed in their aims. In the mainstream, the previously "new left" leanings of our culture were overshadowed by the pragmatism of gaining money and power, and in the underground, a new series of dissidents found themselves in desperate paranoia against the industrial society slowly surrounding them. Slowly, the pragmatic "eat and assert needs" conservativism of America flowered with Ronald Reagan, and the underground new left moved toward media and went mainstream to combat the money and power of old school interests. The defining aspect of the 1980s was the Cold War and its attendant threat of nuclear annihilation. Where 1950s and 1960s children feared bombers in the sky, 1970s and 1980s children feared first ICBMs and then cruise missiles and submarine-launched nuclear holocaust. Folklore absorbed the legends of the nuclear Cold War: seven minutes between detection and detonation, nuclear winter, doomsday machines and computers waging cancelation warfare across the globe. In the West, conservative politicians took office and began the biggest military buildup since WWII in preparation for either land war in Europe or a Naval/Air battle for dominance of the oceans. No one knew how long the Cold War would last, and each side over-estimated the other. For those growing up during this time, the threat of immediate obliteration proved a driving force behind the music they listened to, and musicians heard this call and made their rhetoric even more extreme. The result was a decade which outwardly tried to affirm all that the people in their 30s and 40s found meaningful, namely a white picket fence vision of America from the 1950s but wrapped in a cushion of safety and removal from the internal problems of the West. It was a bracingly reactionary time, in which "Communist" was once again a career-threatening insult, and in which the Christian religion and the process of making money for oneself again became the way in which social importance was reckoned. Naturally, this provoked a resurrection of the Counterculture and its strongest incarnation yet, since it had been absorbed in the 1970s and, since popular opinion was close to its own values, had been assimilated. Now that it once again had something to rebel against, it manifested itself in a growing cadre of die-hard liberal specialist movements and alternative art, literature and music scenes. This gave metal a new commitment which was resistance to the dominant warlike culture and its tendencies toward control as the battle between revolutionaries and Establishment wore on into its second decade. By the mid-1980s however hardcore punk waned because it both had exhausted its repertoire of simple songs and needed to be more complex to avoid overlapping with previous material to such a degree as to be seen as a variant of it, and it had been assimilated from within by those who, seeing how easy it was to make hardcore punk, opportunistically created their own bands despite a lack of artistic content or actual talent. The result was a flood of "DIY" sound-alike bands who promptly drove most of the serious fans away from the genre and replaced them with "fanboys" or those who wanted to be in the scene for the purpose of being in the scene, and saw music as incidental to that process. Metal had its own version of these, both "sellouts" who used the music for personal monetary gain, and "poseurs" who used the music to gain social prestige and from that gain personal importance. Toward the end of the 1980s, hardcore bands converted themselves to either post-hardcore bands like Fugazi, emo bands like Rites of Spring, or pop punk bands like Jawbreaker. During the 1980s, rock downgraded its intensity from stadium levels for a flirtation with synthpop which created the archetypal 1980s sound: electronic drums, lush keyboards, distorted but soft guitar and stark vocals. As this sound gradually became assimilated by the type of shiny pop that American radio stations had perfected in the 1950s, a quasi-underground "indie" (independent) rock community came to life. Borrowing the DIY attitude and simple aesthetics of punk, this genre produced simple rock music with heavy emotional overtones of alienation, melancholy, loneliness and uncertainty. It styled itself as a form of counterculture toward the positive, financially-geared, strong and militaristic spirit of the politics of the time. Led by bands like REM and Yo La Teno, indie rock eventually became a fairly mainstream style, but for a few years in the 1980s it was the rebel of the rock world, doing everything exactly the opposite of what conventional wisdom dictated. The indie scene cemented the "new" dichotomy in music: one was either with the mainstream attitude and tastes, or went underground and catered to something else. The biggest influence on music during the 1980s was not sound, but video. In 1981, the first music videos began rolling out over cable channels. Because they were on cable, and not regular TV, they could be more risque than what went on television sets. Songs had to fit within the format defined by the video, which was essentially a three- to five-minute movie revealing a storyline with some kind of ironic or otherwise high-contrast ending, interspersed (usually) with the band playing or lip synching within a scene. During the 1980s, a successful video greatly helped launch a song into the slipstream and soon became necessary for all bands hoping to make it in the mainstream. Indie rock bands were able to avoid this for some time, but as soon as they migrated to larger labels, the demand existed for them to also put out videos, which in turn influenced their songwriting to fit into the "MTV format" of slick verse-chorus with a lengthy bridge or other space for concluding action in the mini-movie.
Watch as flowers decay On cryptic life that died The wisdom of the wizards Is only a neutered lie Black knights of Hell's domain Walk upon the dead Satanas sits upon The blood on which he feeds. -- Slayer, "Die by the Sword" (_Show No Mercy_)
Also during this time arose the worst of the governmental attempts to limit the expression of rock music. Politicians had been itching to limit this music since the 1960s since, with the voting age lowered to 18 and television broadcasting constant entertainment into every home, rock music had become a more formidable method of changing public opinion than the New York Times and MacNeil-Lehrer report combined. In 1985, the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) campaigned for warning labels on rock albums; in 1990, Judas Priest was sued under the theory that they had encoded "backward masked" or reverse-order sound in their music that encouraged fans to commit suicide, based on a 1985 suicide-pact shooting by two teenagers. This was also the era of the "Satanic panic" that involved teachers at the Virginia McMartin preschool going to trial on the theory that they had sexually molested their students as part of the rituals of a Satanic cult. This paranoid outlook reflected much of the politics and political reality of the time, as society tore itself apart both from counter-culture remnants of the 1960s and a Soviet nuclear threat that had its citizens living in terror. The 1990s: Counter-Culture becomes Culture This changed in the 1990s. That decade dawned with the maturation and assumption of the reins of power by those who had been students during the tumultous, counterculture-dominated 1960s. In chasing the symbols of peace, happiness, love and tranquility, the "youth counterculture" of the 1960s and 1970s embraced its oppressors and soon the peace sign became another icon of commercial culture. Capitalism and socialism became bonded in a new form of government, "globalism," which felt that the industrial mix of capitalism, liberal democracy and social welfare was the ultimate form of government and the final evolution of human society. Post-coldwar instability arose when the sudden collapse of communism under Western economic pressure created a vacuum of social direction which was eventually resolved in unity between moral emotion and needs for power. As little had changed, social boredom increased and with the official ideology of non-change created the most nihilistic, disposable society ever. Entertainment media became prevalent as CDs, VCRs, and stereos of a high-performance nature became common. The large screen TV lit America at night and warmed her power grids with the drooling inattention of a stagnant, functional land. Worldwide, America was seen as a cultural leader and thus was embraced despite the horrifying failures of the American system. The focus of world leaders turned inward to militarize against drugs, racism and separatism.
There is more chaos, war, pollution now than ever before in our recorded history. Of course, we might have known a period with even worse conditions, but the Christians burned all the records that could tell us about it anyway. Like in the library of Alexandria, wherever the Catholics or Protestants or Christians came, they destroyed the culture. They ruined the culture. They burned the culture. And they burned the records of these cultures. That includes the European cultures. That includes African cultures, Asian cultures, American cultures; wherever they were, they destroyed everything. They want to replace our culture with Americanization, with the Judeo-Christian cultures. Christianity is the root of all problems in the modern world.
Any analysis of this time will reveal the increasing presence of television, cable television, movies and radio in the collective consciousness of Americans. In addition, the Internet, a defense communications subsystem, exploded into public life with AOL and dot-coms clamoring for inflated market share. The new Clinton economy raced up to meet it with token appeals for heart-tugging issues but a fundamentally sound economic policy which fostered growth, allowing an increase in corporate power and correspondingly, distrust of corporations especially the multi-national corporations that globalism favors. World culture sighed a collective disbelief of ideology and iconography except as applied to hedonism, entertainment and public status. Belief in any meaning toward a cause was seen as a method of getting killed, and conflict avoidance for both commercial and moral purposes became the public standard of behavior in America and other countries in its economic model. The hedonistic culture of the 1960s merged with the consumer culture of the 1950s. And while the edges of boredom on this vision showed, to many the classic 1960s archetype of the population being oppressed in being kept from the fulfillment of their urges, as a means of expressing a template of life, came true in the ability to have a job, make money and express hedonistic outpourings. People began talking about their careers in emotional terms when in fact they were signaling social status. With culture dead, religion dead, and no historical consciousness to speak of, what remained was being better than someone else or some other group. Underneath the positive pluralistic propaganda a new society appeared in which the goal was to improve personal wealth and power at the expense of others with whom it was assumed nothing was held in common. hippies The result was the "Me generation" turned into an ideal for new generations and created a new era of narcissism, where little allegiance existed even among family members. Broken homes, degenerate and abusive marriages, parents working until late at night and a constant stream of media emphasizing human failure and conflict took its toll. Almost aphasic in their approach to politics and ideology, the generations arising in this time were entirely temporal in their approach to values and without belief in any form of ideal, as all ideals had behind them a commercial engine. As if in sick replay of the Vietnam conflict, human intentions seemed "good" but turned out "bad" - through something we brought with us no matter where we went. Emotional nihilism approached, and raging spirits sought reason to live or, in other ranges, significance of death. With the election of Bill Clinton, a sensation of new directions suffused the Western world. The world shifted toward Utopia plans just in time for the Soviet Union to fall. When the walls came down in 1991, people assumed that a new era had arrived in which the old threats no longer existed. Counterculture merged with mainstream culture yet again, incorporating the 1980s capitalist ideal with the 1960s liberal idealism. The result was that bands found endorsing counterculture themes no longer elicited the authenticity they craved, and turned toward other ways to oppose the dominant mostly-liberal power hierarchy. Indie rock merged with metal and punk to form a kind of primitive but hook-laden sub-genre known as "alternative rock." Borrowing heavily from the 1960s, this sub-genre nonetheless injected itself with the cynicism and world-weariness of those who feel the promised Utopia was nothing but. Alternative rock essentially absorbed indie.
Welcome citizen of our adorable nation Serve and be a part of us in modern time Parents have never existed; your blood, state property Leave personality; total trust will make security Your ears - our information Your eyes - our sight Implanted in society - only for the security From childhood to the grave Every step will be safe as we are behind Guided through life blessed in our birth So our secret son welcome to the promised life... -- Carbonized, "For the Security" (_For the Security_)
Perhaps the biggest explosion of the 1990s was techno. Invented in the 1970s by fusing disco structure and synthpop technique, techno mutated two decades later as people began to use dual turntables to mix existing albums into a form of dub. Frequently, they combined techno and chill-out or ambient musics to create intricate layered dub "sets" lasting around an hour that took listeners through the stages of ritual: initiation, ego dissolution, orientation, union, deepening, clarification and absorption. By taking users through these "journeys" or "adventures," techno sets extended music beyond a listening experience to a participatory experience. While not everyone enjoyed techno, the appeal and power of this approach influenced many other genres who wanted to incorporate the sense of unity and action in their work. Some of the most prominent music of this era, notably indie and electronica, distinguished itself by being minor-key and having high energy, creating an atmosphere of wistful sadness as one finds in Autechre or Nirvana. As the Clinton years wore on, confidence increased. Cheap labor from Asia enabled vast profits to roll in, and then the internet created a new industry in which people invested and made fortunes. It seemed like life had finally returned to normal after the world wars and turbulence of the 1960s, but toward the end of this period, doubts intervened. The remarkable smugness of the globalist capitalist liberal democracy grated on many people, and the countries who were not participating in the great first world gold rush alarmed many who saw a minefield of future enemies being sewn. Music reflected this by turning the downcast mentality of alternative rock into a truly outcast and depressed mentality. Genres like doom metal and "suicidal black metal" thrived. The world wanted a negative trip and it found musical expression in genres with the sense of negated possibility of a bad situation being otherwise. As this new generation assumed hold, the rules of the 1980s faded. No longer was it enough of a commitment to rebel against perceived authoritarianism, since the people in control were the anti-authoritarians. Nor could there be any compromise with counter-culture, since that also had won, nor with industrial society and its materialistic and consumerist urges, since that had either been assimilated by or had assimilated the counter-culture. Heavy metal had to invent a new path and chose, through black metal and death metal, that of rejecting modern society as a whole. This provided a new and more extreme direction that involved revolt against Christianity, the concept of equality, and even the notions of love and trust. Heavy metal reached maturity in its nihilism and at the same time invented its own path. Black metal blazed a path for itself through church arsons, murder and violence, but equally shocking reclaimed authenticity by proclaiming a love for Nietzschean natural selection, nationalism (and sometimes outright racial exclusion), anti-Christianity and anti-liberalism. Black metal rejected the entire postwar tendency toward liberalism and governments as protectors and guidance of citizens, and turned back to culture, nationalism and Social Darwinism which were in the 1990s the most powerful taboo one could invoke. The 2000s: Interregnum As the Clinton years drew to a close, it became apparent that the dot-com bubble was about to detonate and it did, creating a recession that damaged some of the mood. This was followed shortly by terror attacks across the world, including the "9-11" attacks in New York, and a resulting war on terror. During this time, most of rock music saw an opportunity to re-live the Reagan years: Bush II was in office, and the Soviets had been conveniently replaced by world terror. Music took a turn toward the rebellious at the same time that many of the 1990s genres began to appear visibly exhausted of any potential, but kept going through the motions because of a necessary faith that answers could be fond in this direction. This created an undercurrent of "counterculture II" during the George W. Bush years, but it remained unconvincing and faded quickly.
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. Cattle Decapitation vocalist Travis Ryan said his San Diego band's mix of charging guitars and an animal rights message is drawing a diverse crowd that includes activists as well as traditional metal fans.
During this time pop music came to somewhat of a standstill, paused for a moment, and then began to explore past directions which had not quite been fully developed. Nu-metal rose as bands revisited rap/rock from the past two decades and made a more virulent form; pop recombined 1980s instrumentation, 1990s emotions and 1970s stadium rock to make a new form of pop. This in turn hybridized with rap and hip-hop, changing its rhythm and subject matter. As hip-hop became an accepted form of music in the mainstream pop community, rock and pop began a convergence which resulted in forms that were different on the surface but very similar at an underlying level.
It's very hard to recognize the truth when you are bombarded by lies all the time, every minute of the day. Even in sleep, because you dream of the places you have during the day. You are bombarded by commercials and completely senseless information every minute of the day. If you turn on the TV, you are bombarded; if you turn your head in some direction, you see some sign or some commercial. If you read magazines, newspapers... senseless information. The news are themselves products being sold. Everything is meaningless. Sure, the truth is out there -- not to sound like some 'X-files' but -- the truth is of course to be found, but in a sea of lies. It's just impossible to find it unless you know how to look, where to look and when to look. Of course, it's not possible to just get up in the morning and just say 'OK, I'm going to go find the truth this day,' and go find it. You have to try, and fail, and eventually you will weed out all the lies and you end up with something at least similar to the truth. The truth is hidden, under grass, under some rocks, in a hidden trail, a forgotten trail in a forest. And when you are trying to find these trails, you will stumble, you will get snagged on branches in your face, you will make mistakes before you finally find it.
With the rise of personal computer technology, home recording had become simpler and more affordable. In the 2000s, the drive to get people on the internet manifested itself in vastly cheaper computer hardware and software. This caused a new generation of music to possess much more advanced production and to streamline toward variants of known styles that could be easily grafted on to a base of techno or dub. As a result, greater emphasis fell on the instrumental ability of those bands who chose to go the "organic" or semi-organic route. Coupled with an explosion in American education in the 1990s, including music education and a greater diversity of training materials, the technical ability of musicians and producers rose in tandem. The 2010s: Instability Returns When the Bush presidency ended in what seemed like universal disapproval, society launched itself in the opposite direction mandated by counterculture II and elected the first African-American President in the USA while pushing further to expand the European Union to include groups outside of Western Europe. At this point, popular music found itself unable to take a stance which reflected alienation other than on a personal level. Music became more introspective and emotional, focusing on specific issues such as environmental crises that were popularly approved, but generally tying these to a personal narrative. With the vast democratization of recording technology enabling people to produce full albums from a single computer and piece of software, more music flooded the market than ever before. The years after that time brought great indecision to metal. It had achieved total taboo status and yet, as industry and popular desires took hold, had lost that same outlook and become assimilated by the norm. As a result, metal bands turned toward hybridization with rock and related genres, and began to adopt a more friendly attitude toward the former counter-culture values that were now mainstream. By the time Barack Obama was elected in 2008, heavy metal had been entirely absorbed by the culture around it except for a few die-hards. This impacted its creativity and threw the genre into a slump. At the same time, the popularity wave caused by the huge upheaval and consequent popularity of black metal for its perceived authenticity pushed metal further into the public eye. To meet this new demand, metal produced more refined versions of existing genres, mutating death metal into "technical death metal" which was essentially later hardcore merged with progressive rock and lite jazz, and fusing black metal with indie-rock, a move formalized by the transition of Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore into black metal supergroup Twilight. The resulting cultural abyss assimilated all music which it encountered, subverting it to feed the dominant paradigm of the age which rewarded utilitarian and moral tokens based in narcissism above all else. The word "compassion" became popular as a way of gaining entry to a now-dominant counter-culture whose ideas threatened no one and thus as uncontroversial, did not assert any form of authenticity. The remaining authenticity was sought in the personal and the social, where artists addressed conditions of life without enwrapping them in any broader purpose than emotion. However, stormclouds obscured the horizon. Despite the modern assertion that all problems could be solved with education, science and technology, society appeared to be disintegrating from within. Artists had no way to address this other than to notice it, which was controversial enough that it achieved authenticity but not popularity, or to go further into re-iterating the dominant dogma through more and more personal perspectives. Becalmed in confusion, artists look toward greater extremity in an uncertain future.

III. Encountering Metal

3.1 Concerts

heavy_metal_concert Metal concerts are generally advertised in local circulars and weekly newspapers like the _LA Weekly_ or _Houston Press_. Promoters advertise in the backs of these publications, or in rare cases metal-specific magazines or papers, so fans can find concerts. When you locate a concert, call the venue, as often you can save some money buying tickets in advance or through a broker, but beware of "resale" outfits that are legal scalping agencies. Ear protection Amplified systems within clubs sometimes go over 120 dB in terms of effect on the listener, so it is wise to purchase intelligent ear plugs (either the silicon blobs or the compressible sponge probes). Anyone who scorns you for doing this is probably deaf already, so don't bother replying. Social interaction If you walk with respect for self, others, and world, and do not interfere with the needs and spaces of others, you will almost universally be fine. You may witness violent cultures such as skinheads, cholos, or deranged Hessians on speed and the best way to handle it is gently. Provocative behavior usually will result in violence. If you get a tshirt Longstanding metal tradition holds that if you go to a show and purchase a tshirt, it should be worn proudly the next day to explain your bruises, new cast, dark circles under your eyes and general exhaustion.
  • (Preferred) As your sole garment except black pants all day on the following day.
  • (Acceptable) Underneath your uniform of slavery the next working or school day, hopefully wearing some mark of violence/evil as well.
  • (Deprecated) As your sole garment all day for the next three days.
Rules of evidence Keep all "evidence" (things that are likely to be confiscated) on your person in soft objects rather than cases and put them either in obvious places (pockets) or in places that will not be found during a manual search. One is often frisked at the door and all strange hard objects explored to see if they are weapons. For example, if you are carrying smoking materials, a good place would be under the scrotum if a bag, in the wallet if rolled joints, or in your shoes if a pipe. If you are smoking during the show, you want no flame to be visible near the scent of your smoke, so curl your hand around the joint and cup it to your mouth like you are holding your chin or clearing your throat. Always pass it to friends below the line of sight, e.g. at waist level, and blow smoke toward the floor. Merchandise Bands generally sell CDs and tshirts for $10-35. Bands often make their money touring on merchandise sales alone, but if you purchase during the show or within the club, the club owner may get a percentage. The preferred way to buy is before or after the show as the band is loading in or out when they can sell it to you for ready money and be free and clear. This does not work with bigger bands who have a merchandising contract. Labels often give bands a certain number of CDs in lieu of direct payment so purchasing those can keep the band on the road with the fewest additional hands extracting payment. Here is the order of preference for buying objects in terms of how much money is returned to the band:
  1. From band at show after official merch period is over
  2. From band at show
  3. From band website or mail order
  4. From label website or mail order
  5. From underground distro
  6. From specialty record store
  7. From chain record store or large distro
If you purchase from the band directly, more of the money goes to the band; the more parties involved in any transaction, the more is skimmed off the top to those intermediate parties. For this reason, purchasing from a large generic store or mail order is the last resort, as that merch is sold by label to distributor to the final seller. Distribution Metal uses an internal network of underground distributors, activists, and content architects in order to ensure the distribution of music. It is a remarkably efficient chaotic machine. Most of these distros advertise in zines or magazines with contacts and price lists, but most are online at this point. A definitive list is no longer possible owing to the frequency of their appearance and disappearance. Person to Person Sales Net sales are common as they allow the seller to receive $6-12 for a CD that would otherwise return $2-4 at a record store or $0.50-2 at a corporate music outlet. Most transactions occur through a posted trade/sale list online. To purchase, a buyer contacts the seller and works out an arrangement through email or private message, then transfers funds via check, cash, money order or online banking. The seller then ships within a few weeks and the buyer adds that seller to a list of successful transactions; often these lists are publicized. Remember that how you treat others influences the likelihood of how you will be treated. Tape Trading The time-honored tradition of tape trading has allowed metalheads to find new music for the last four decades. With the rise of the internet and decline of cassette tapes, this form is less prominent. Originally it involved parties sending each other dubbed cassettes with all of their recent musical discoveries. Each party would send a tape to the other, and then dub those on to other people. This is how many early recordings got that "third generation copy" sound that was prized by black metal bands. At this time, with cassettes and recorders scarce, tape trading mostly lives on through podcasts, or short radio shows recorded live and published on the internet, either at a specific time or archived for later download. Used CDs Used CDs provide a good way to get a metal collection inexpensively if you trust the buyer or can inspect the CD beforehand. Record stores often make more money on used CD's -- for which they pay $2-$5 and sell for $6-$10 -- than shrink-wrapped brand new versions. Hence most of them now have some form of used music display. Netwise buyers sell mostly used merchandise at often better prices especially if you buy in bulk. These also transfer any proceeds of the sale toward buying more metal. A newer breed of record stores exist which specialize in bulk resale, e.g. they have a ton of stock in a warehouse environment. These often will sell you two decades of metal for $25 or thereabouts. Large sellers like Amazon who have resale programs will often host third-party sellers posting classic metal for as little as $1-2 per disc.

3.2 Recordings

Terminology of Metal Recordings
  • Audio. Audio is any recorded sound, whether live (bootleg or live album) or studio (recorded with intent for release).
  • Live. Live sound is either a live album released by one of the band's labels, or a bootleg recording which is released by a fan or sometimes for profit bootlegger.
  • Studio. Studio music is produced by agreement between band and label as pushed as the regular "product" containing the music of the band.
  • Video. Video is any recorded motion picture imagery, whether live (bootleg or official concert performance) or studio (recorded with intent for release as a separate production).
"I have always loved the Swede death metal guitar sound above all. Maxing the highs and lows on an old BOSS 'Heavy Metal' gets that heavy Entombed 'Left Hand Path' sound. Put the Level and Distortion each at half, then just adjust your EQ's in your amp accordingly. You are more likely to find a BOSS 'Heavy Metal' at a pawn shop or something of that sort, seeing as how BOSS discontinued them a couple years ago..." - Gary (Morgion)
Recommended Works Heavy Metal
  1. Witchfinder General - Live '83
  2. Saint Vitus - Mournful Cries
  3. Candlemass - Ancient Dreams
Speed Metal
  1. Metallica - Ride the Lightning
  2. Nuclear Assault - Game Over/The Plague
  3. Prong - Beg to Differ
  4. Voivod - War and Pain
Thrash
  1. Dirty Rotten Imbeciles - Dealing With It
  2. Cryptic Slaughter - Convicted
  3. Dead Horse - Horsecore: An Unrelated Story That's Time Consuming
  4. Corrosion of Conformity - Eye for an Eye
Proto-Underground
  1. Bathory - The Return...
  2. Hellhammer - Apocalyptic Raids
  3. Slayer - Hell Awaits
Speed/Death
  1. Rigor Mortis - Freaks
  2. Kreator - Extreme Aggression
Death Metal
  1. Massacra - Final Holocaust
  2. Deicide - Legion
  3. Morbid Angel - Blessed Are the Sick
  4. Therion - Beyond Sanctorum
  5. Sepultura - Morbid Visions
  6. Incantation - Onward to Golgotha
  7. Morpheus Descends - Ritual of Infinity
  8. Necrophobic - The Nocturnal Silence
  9. Obituary - Cause of Death
  10. Suffocation - Effigy of the Forgotten
  11. Atheist - Unquestionable Presence
  12. Dismember - Like an Ever-Flowing Stream
  13. Amorphis - The Karelian Isthmus
  14. At the Gates - The Red in the Sky is Ours
  15. Demilich - Nespithe
  16. Asphyx - The Rack
  17. Carnage - Dark Recollections
  18. Pestilence - Consuming Impulse
Grindcore
  1. Repulsion - Horrified
  2. Terrorizer - World Downfall
  3. Carbonized - For the Security
  4. Napalm Death - Fear, Emptiness, Despair
  5. Blood - Impulse to Destroy
  6. Pathologist - Grinding Opus of Forensic Medical Problems
  7. Carcass - Reek of Putrefaction
  8. Cianide - A Descent Into Hell
  9. Bolt Thrower - ...For Victory
Black Metal
  1. Burzum - Hvis Lyset Tar Oss
  2. Immortal - Pure Holocaust
  3. Emperor - In the Nightside Eclipse
  4. Darkthrone - Transylvanian Hunger
  5. Graveland - The Celtic Winter
  6. Bathory - Blood, Fire, Death
  7. Ildjarn - Det Frysende Nordariket
  8. Summoning - Dol Guldur
  9. Gorgoroth - Antichrist
  10. Beherit - Drawing Down the Moon
  11. Enslaved - Vikinglgr Veldi
  12. Havohej - Dethrone the Son of God
  13. Mayhem - De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
  14. Sacramentum - Far Away From the Sun
  15. Mutiilation - Remains of a Dead, Ruined, Cursed Soul
  16. Varathron - His Majesty at the Swamp

3.3 Resources

crimson_ghost For someone concerned with historical accuracy, most of the internet provides nothing of value. Offered as underground and outsider opinion, the perspectives offered there for the most part repeat what larger media have said and distort according to the conventions of labels, but because these are popular illusions they are granted perceived authoritative status. Instead, we suggest the following resources from the old underground: For acquiring used or out of print (OOP) CDs, cassettes and vinyls:

IV. Meta

4.1 About

About this FAQ During the early days of the internet, a form of distributed bulletin board existed for the whole net, called USENET. One of the earliest USENET hierarchies was the alt.rock-n-roll hierarchy, started to complement alt.sex and alt.drugs in the middle eighties. By the next decade, a .metal had been added and by the early nineties a new group, .metal.heavy was added to accomodate "heavier" metal, not knowing that "heavy metal" is a keyword for more commercial, rock-based offerings. Somewhere in this time alt.thrash was created for skateboarders and taken over by crossover music fans. In order to advance this hierarchy to a contemporary state of metal knowledge, in 1993 I created the newsgroup alt.rock-n-roll.metal.death, which was followed by .progressive, .doom, and the newer hierarchy of alt.music.black-metal in the middle 1990s. Many users contributed texts during this time which encapsulated frequently sought knowledge, so I mixed those texts with my own texts that I had been developing since the late 1980s on the topic of metal. The result was the USENET version of The Heavy Metal FAQ. As the internet has evolved, USENET has virtually disappeared and been replaced by a duality between small blogs and large sponsored sites. During this time, the need for accurate knowledge about heavy metal has accelerated because larger sites push their for-profit (or for-ideology) agenda on users, and smaller sites not only offer only fragmentary knowledge, but frequently vanish from the net. Each website now is like a user was on USENET, an atomized commodity. The most recent edit of this FAQ addresses the changes in metal since the 1988-1996 period in which it was penned and updates the text to address a wider and more formal audience. This change is designed to counteract the predominance of non-information (marketing, propaganda) and pseudo-information (partial truths, social preferences) that currently dominates both on the internet and in the media products sold in stores. About the Author Brett Stevens began his life as a metal writer by writing and uploading lyrics files and record reviews to underground hacker websites like The Metal AE in the late 1980s. Since that time, he has branched out into heavy metal radio from 1992-1998, online radio, and writing about underground metal and the related communities. He has served as editor of The Dark Legions Archive, which first went online in 1991 as an open FTP directory, then Gopher server and finally a website on a series of webhosts. As the oldest and longest-running metal website, The Dark Legions Archive provides information about metal without either commercial bias or conformity to "non-conformity" based in socializing with participants in a "scene." You can read more here: Inspiration Call the Metal AE! +1 201 879 6668 (8N1) PW: KILL

4.2 Contact

http://www.deathmetal.org/ Death Metal Underground PO Box 1004 Alief, TX 77411 (512) 553-4544 editor@deathmetal.org

4.3 References

  1. Gabriella, "Ozzy Osbourne: The Godfather of Metal," NY Rock, June 2002. Retrieved from http://www.nyrock.com/interviews/2002/ozzy_int.asp on September 8, 2014.
  2. J Cremer, "The birth of black metal: through the Mercyful Fate of our king," The Copenhagen Post, October 27, 2013. Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20131101030359/http://cphpost.dk//through-looking-glass/birth-black-metal-through-mercyful-fate-our-king on September 8, 2014.
  3. Varg Vikernes interview, Until the Light Takes Us, Factory 25, 2009.
  4. J. McIver, Extreme Metal II, Omnibus Press, London, 2005, p. 110.
  5. C. Alexander, "The origins of pattern theory, the future of the theory, and the generation of a living world," speech to the 1996 ACM conference on Object-Oriented Programs, Systems, Languages and Applications (OOPSLA), San Diego, CA.
  6. C. Alexander, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, retrieved from http://www.stcsig.org/usability/topics/patterns.html on September 8, 2014
  7. Plato, The Republic, trans. Benjamin Jowett, Book VII, retrieved from http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.html on September 8, 2014.
  8. J. Gleick, Chaos, Penguin Books, New York, 1987, p 195.
  9. J. Campbell, The Power of Myth, Anchor, Rockland, MA, 1991, p. 14.
  10. Vikernes.
  11. M.H. Abrams, "Neoclassic and Romantic" in A Glossary of Literary Terms, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Orlando, FL 1993, pp. 125-129.
  12. A. Gatherer, "The Dionysian and the Apollonian in Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy," The Oxford Philosopher, August 25, 2014. Retrieved from http://theoxfordphilosopher.com/2014/08/25/the-dionysian-and-the-apollonian-in-nietzsche-the-birth-of-tragedy/ on September 8, 2014.
  13. "Romanticism," The Encyclopedia Brittanica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/508675/Romanticism on September 8, 2014.
  14. Ibid.
  15. L. Sterrenburg, "Mary Shelley's Monster: Politics and Psyche in Frankenstein," In The Endurance of "Frankenstein": Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel, ed. George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: Univ. of California Press, 1979, pp. 143-71. Retrieved from http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/Articles/sterren.html on September 8, 2014.
  16. Ibid.
  17. R. Rocker, "Romanticism and Nationalism." Retrieved from http://flag.blackened.net/rocker/roman.htm on September 8, 2014.
  18. "Nihilism," The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/nihilism/ on September 8, 2014.
  19. Vikernes.
  20. Cambridge, 616
  21. H. Kohn, "Romanticism and the Rise of German Nationalism," The Review of Politics, Volume 12 / Issue 04 / October 1950, pp 443-472. Retrieved from http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=5378456 on September 8, 2014.
  22. "Truth," The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/truth/#SH5a on September 8, 2014.
  23. W. Heisenberg, "Über den anschaulichen Inhalt der quantentheoretischen Kinematik und Mechanik", Zeitschrift für Physik, Issue 43, Volumes 3–4, 1927, pp. 172–198.
  24. D. Allison, "Structuralism," The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, Cambridge Press, Cambridge, UK, 1999, p 883.
  25. Dog 3000, "Emerson Lake & Palmer Trilogy," Head Heritage. Retrieved from http://www.headheritage.co.uk/unsung/review/1133/ on September 8, 2014.
  26. B. Sisario, "Johnny Ramone, Pioneer Punk Guitarist, Is Dead at 55," The New York Times, September 17, 2004. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/17/arts/music/17ramone.html?pagewanted=print&position=&_r=0 on September 8, 2014.
  27. Vikernes.
  28. J Norton, "Heavy Metal Gets Socially Conscious," The New York Times, August 10, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/10/AR2006081000925.html on September 8, 2014.
  29. Vikernes.
27 Comments

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.


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    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

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    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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