tl;dr: Despite controversy surrounding the indie pedigree of Weakling’s musicians and their musical descendants, Dead as Dreams remains, as described by none other than Fenriz, an “odd masterpiece” on its musical merits and should be a part of any serious underground metal fan’s collection. The album, for a number of reasons, is currently something of a locus of blame for whatever particular sins people ascribe to west coast black metal. Some people point to Weakling as the origin point of indie creep into US black metal due to the supposed indie credibility of its members in particular as well as to a lesser extent the trend of questionable publicity stunts engaged in by mediocre bands from Velvet Cocoon to Ghost Bath (although in Weakling’s case this should be blamed on the label, not the band). As a result of these complaints, Dead As Dreams has over time become something of an Emmanuel Goldstein for black metal fans, and the album some people are critiquing when they say “Dead as Dreams” (such as the time DMU’s most alpha editor described it as “shoegaze black metal”) bears little resemblance to the actual album Dead As Dreams.
The modern way of life has conditioned people to think and consider their lives a juxtaposition of ‘job’, ‘family’ and ‘hobbies’ along with ‘fun’. This is a model influenced by industrial mentality, which needs vast amount of automatons performing meaningless tasks for the sake of production itself, simply in order to protect the bottom line at the expense of individual quality and relevance. As a result, very few people, indeed an incredibly outnumbered minority, will see and live their job as a craft wherein they find aesthetic and spiritual meaning, and would rather be out the door as soon as possible as long as their salaries are not affected.
While a hessian might rightful sneer at the mainstream idea of metal music being the result of unsatisfied teenagers, Ragnar Bragason has created in Málmhaus (Metalhead) an accurate depiction of the sad reality faced by many first-world kids that are emotionally neglected by their parents. It seems that there are two main elements needed to be present for an alienated teenager to turn to metal as a refuge under these conditions. The first is that metal music be available in his range of perception in one way or other. Secondly, and more often than not, the minds that are most receptive to this art of dark tones lean towards a romantic disposition1.
After portraying the death of main protagonist Hera’s older brother, Bragason proceeds to tell us how the girl takes refuge in adopting his image and diving head-first into his metal persona. As she grows into a young adult, Hera becomes increasingly conflictive, to the point that she goes out of her way to create trouble for its own sake. Most of the movie at this point is a big tantrum with a few scenes in which the main character is writing and recording some angsty rock with harsh vocals. Basically, for Bragason extreme underground metal is virtually indistinguishable from emo rock at its core and motivating sentiment.
Aside from these outsider misconceptions, Málmhaus is a pleasant movie to watch with patient pacing that does not drag, convincing acting and a desolate feeling that only Nordic (and perhaps Slavic) settings really produce and which is more than suitable as backdrop for a metal scenery. Furthermore, and unfortunately for the metal movement, this picture of the pseudo-metal emo-poser is not at odds with the reality of many would be musicians in the medium. In this respect, the movie is objectively deserving.
II. Against the Vulgarization of the Metal Ideal
You may be wondering what beef I would have with this idea if the movie is in fact revealing a truthful picture of the scene. The answer is that metal art that most accurately and authentically reflects transcendental metal ideals are those produced by strong minds with a realist mentality. The emo posers in question usually produce music that is a thin veneer of emotionally outspoken yet ultimately safe and empty hogwash. From the outside, the product of the poser mind is similar to that of the authentic metal artist, because the imitator will always try to look like their idols on the exterior, but without becoming a threat to the society it claims to oppose. A true metal artist, however, represents a threat.
True metal is not an agent of social change. It is a rejection of social norms. True metal is not protest music that seeks to “create conscience”. It is the proud sneering of nihilists who see above and beyond the trappings of human convention. However, metal does not seek to destroy traditions but rather to exalt their realist underpinnings. It is not about destroying what is, because metal is realism, but rather about getting rid of the meta-reality created by humans who need an illusion to feel safe. Safe from uncertainty, safe from evil, safe from death.
Those making deconstructionist garbage music with the excuse of “destroying conventions” miss the point altogether. Yes, metal has evolved through innovation, but in a natural away in which the newly created sound is a construction and a depuration, not a musical negation, which by definition cannot be about anything because it attempts to be about something that is not, a mere abstract and near all-encompassing generalization that can never attain a definite form. This is why metal today needs to stop trying to be new and different. This is why it also needs to stop being a mere superficial rehashing of past formulas.
To reject musical convention or imitate it has never been the point. Black Sabbath gave birth to new music as it painted a stark picture that opposed flower power through its own being, but they were not defined by the latter’s non-being. New musicians need to start creating tradition, instead of attempting to dissolve it or trying to be what something else is not. Moreover, metal today needs to continue classic metal tradition if it is to be metal at all. Rejecting said tradition would essentially imply not being metal.
Death and black metal were jewels of their own time, as movements they were one of a kind and today they are, for all intents and purposes, dead, as the conditions that created and propelled them are not present today2. This does not mean that a new generation metalheads cannot be inspired and learn from it, in fact, they should. But this is the same as being inspired by Mozart or Wagner: it never calls for a copy-paste application of their surface traits.
One could describe the climaxing trilogy of Burzum3 as a concoction of Tolkien-filtered Destruction and Dead Can Dance4. But we may clearly observe that Vikernes never sought to suppress these influences nor did he try to simply make updated versions of them; he created something completely new with ideas produced from his own digestion. Part of the beauty of Burzum is how self-contained it is despite its borrowings in technique and method. Vikernes’ successfully-achieved objective in Burzum was the mystical recreation of the experience of reaching out to the ancestral knowledge ingrained genetically within the unconscious.
Immolation may serve as a different kind of example as they come from a background in early U.S. death metal from the north-east. Some say that Immolation is deconstructionist, but this is based on superficial impressions of the music, which is mistakenly considered atonal by laymen (most metalheads) who have never even heard truly atonal music. Immolation’s music is modal, but heavily emphasizes dissonant intervals as well as diminished and augmented arpeggios. In the long haul, Immolation’s approach is pretty much standard and proper death metal5 with a very unique approach to melody and an exertion of crucial control in the rhythm section.
III. The “Understood” (Assimilated) Metalhead, the Eviscerated Soul
Towards the end of Málmhaus, Hera goes through a period of introspection and redefinition after which she is understood not only by her parents but also by her whole community. She even participates in the rebuilding the church that she burned down earlier in the movie. She is no longer a threat. She even plays an alternative rock version of her “black metal” demo for the people in her little town. The wolf has been turned into the whimpering dog.
One of the main problems faced by metal today is that it no longer boasts of the outsider status enjoyed by its predecessors. A condition that lent them a unique perspective is utterly missing from most of today’s circles. Today’s apparently most rebellious metalheads are best compared to gimmicky Marilyn Manson; those that express genuine anti-establishment ideas are ostracized by their own “fellow metalheads”. There is no extremism in extreme metal today.
Today’s metalheads conflate cowardice and sheepish compliance with maturity, while they indulge in childish vices as expressions of their “freedom”. Somewhere along the road, man-made law and society’s comforts became the reality of these assimilated metalheads, and their “rebellion” is today only an echo of leftist humanism while they support a hypocritical system that fights bigotry with bigotry while denying it. They are completely locked inside the fence–inside the cave, convinced that the shadows on the wall are real, and that Plato is talking nonsense. Only the shadows are objective, they say, the shadows we can see and measure, the “sun” that is “outside” is only an idea.
Those who wisely choose to isolate themselves from the distractions of the modern world, the banal entertainment and the “metal scene”‘s circle jerk are mockingly tagged as “kvlt” or “trve”. This in itself is a terrible sign that metal has been assimilated into a safe space that forces it to be politically correct in the worst cases and representing tongue-in-cheek darkness in the best of cases 6. Monastic devotion is ridiculed as strange fanaticism, while mediocre and inline thinking coupled with a superficial extroversion is expected. Metalheads are “normal” now. They have grown up into their accepted slavery.
The truth is that this is what lies at the root of modern metal’s sterility – its inability to produce a new tradition because its own values have been supplanted by those of an assimilated portion of the mainstream. That those creating meaningful metal are only a handful of exceptions in a time when there has never before been a larger number of self-identifying metalheads indicates that the movement is at a loss. There was promise in the idea of war metal, but with the exception of black metal – flavoured acts like Kaeck, it is largely a dead medium. Cóndor is virtually sui generis, and the likes of Graveland and Summoning are the sole survivors and curators of a dead tradition way past its heyday.
I hope you’ll excuse me for bringing Vikernes back into the conversation, but it seems to me that his movement away from metal aesthetics during the mid 1990s was only the escape of a clever sailor from a fast-sinking ship. Although we should not mix politics with the judgement of music quality, the observation that deliberate ideologies (or lack thereof, supposedly) directly affect the kind and quality of music that is produced is pretty obvious to anyone watching intently. It is therefore only honorable that Vikernes should wholly embrace the ambient aspect of his music, the side that has remained truly underground to this day.
Once black metal becomes the cash cow of sell-out clowns like Abbath or Ihsahn, it no longer represents, in the eyes of the world-perception, what Burzum was about. There is no boundlessness. There is no escape from the idiocy of modern society in black metal anymore. It is only a show, it is not dangerous because it is not real, actually, it is fun. It is obvious that there is no other option but to move away from the symbol that has become a sign for ridiculousness and poserism. A symbol is only as good as what it transmits, and an artist cannot be excluded from context as the dreamers within the ivory towers of academia think (and contradict by trying to insert politically-correct statements in their garbage modernist compositions which hold no meaning in themselves).
The solution to metal’s plight is that circles of metalheads arise who can truly think outside the constraints and mandates of what is considered “good” or “proper” by the status quo. How they achieve that is less important to metal itself than that they actually accomplish it. This is not rebelliousness for its own sake, though it could be mistaken for it, but the idea that nobody else should in control of your mind and thoughts, and that the only truth lies in our mortality, and in man’s natural multiplicity of mind which makes his reality material and psychic at once without either being more important than the other7.
It is important that metal stands outside any such constraints to be what it is, otherwise it is like a caged predator: it ceases to be one as soon as it is shackled. Furthermore, metal loses its edge if it is not under pressure, because that is its whole purpose, it is a counter culture. Without nothing to counter, it simply loses its essential raison d’être. Therefore, this is not a call to the comformist to accept extremism, to understand those few who actually step outside the bounds of what is permitted. This is an encouragement to those who would attain higher understanding and see metal come alive again to become extremist in thought themselves, because in a sick and decadent world, it is those who are healthy of mind who are willing to act insanely.
1 Anyone who is new to this idea might need some clarification here. By romantic we do not mean someone who is the perfect womanizer, but more of a neo-dark romanticist, a revivalist of 19th century romanticism with a Nietzschean twist. People in our society who are commonly referred to as such are usually not so much romantics as whiny weaklings who cannot face up to reality. Metalheads do not avoid reality, they reject the images created by the delusions of modern man, who conveniently assumes their truthfulness: his own refusal to accept life in its full-fledged manifestation and the place of MAN within it.
2 It is my contention that the capacity for almost complete isolation experienced by young musicians during the late eightees and early nineties is made void today by the effects of the Internet and inescapable (for those living in urban and suburban areas) fast-paced life.
3 Namely Det Som Engang Var, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Filosofem
4 The reader may refer to Destruction’s Infernal Overkill from 1985 and Dead Can Dance’s Within the Realm of a Dying Sun from 1987.
5 Both Immolation’s Close to a World Below and Obscura by Gorguts are outstanding examples of this. Also, seemingly unbeknownst to the masses, well-developed death metal falls into the category of properly progressive music, while so-called “progressive death metal” (a redundant term) outfits are surface-oriented bands that produce disparaged songs as a result of poor musical judgement. A painful example of this would be The Sound of Perseverance, Death’s final album and an awkward affair that would make anyone with ears for proper music cringe in empathic embarrassment.
6 There was tongue-in-cheekness in the past, even during the golden years, but you can trace a distinction between these clowns and the best bands who used imagery to drive points home in a non-ironic way. Sincere nihilism and non-pretentious occultism stared right out of the classic albums, while today, these concepts are flat images worn on the outside only, as musicians try to cash in on people’s expectations.
7 The young science of psychology approaches these conclusions even as its mainstream-dictated values orders it to not make these findings, to try to make void the importance of the unconscious and subjective perception and will.
One list of albums dictated by the masses of sheeple apparently does not provide enough self-indulgence and emotional masturbation for the hordes of mental weaklings that yearn to be called metalheads in order to disguise their lack of direction or ideals. Hence, here we are, clubbing away at one of these sorry piles of shit for the amusement of hessians. However, we also hope that the attentive unawakened reader may start to see a glimpse of the truth through outright disrespect for the inherently contemptible. (We have skipped some items in the original list as to not incur in much unnecessary repetition of releases, thus the odd numbering of the items herein.)
2. Swallow the Sun – Songs From The North I, II & III
The term “doom metal” is again used to justify slow-coming boredom and lack of originality. Swallow the Sun compile alternative metal slow and simple grooves with the alternation of growls and the clear vocals typical of post-cuckolded Amorphis Scandinavian gay ‘hard’ (ha!) rock. There is an obvious pseudo-progressive intent here as discreet radio moments pass us by in a series of haphazardly-stitched, disingenuous grimaces. Radio emotional pandering for the pretentious.
3. Draconian – Sovran
Apparently radio gay doom is popular at MS’ website. Only here we have a much more straightforward, perhaps more honest, attempt at the same run-of-the-mill pop rock opera. Draconian switches between male and female vocals, with duet episodes, themselves interrupted by long harmonized guitar lines reminiscent, at least superficially, of Funeral’s early work. However, Tragedies did not fall into popisms and rather took a more traditional popular music approach to vocals and applied it to a quasi classical level which may make one think of European early music. Draconian, on the other hand, stink of Barbie sex.
4. Shape of Despair – Monotony Fields
Mediocre and dull ‘doom metal’ seems to be extremely popular. It may be that since the average music listener is a terrible one, and that they seek these sounds as stimulus for a purely sensual experience and so can only identify with very simple-minded works, however contorted their outward forms may be. Shape of Despair provide the pop listener with the ‘doom metal’ experience in the same way that Cannibal Corpse provides him the ‘death metal’ experience. Of course, this is the sort of listener that “listens to all kinds of music”. All is imbecility.
5. Galneryus – Under the Force of Courage
One day little guitar Syu wanted to find a place for his neoclassical wanking and so created the power metal band Galneryus. Galneryus released a couple of comically-endearing and childish albums until the inevitable sellout moment came. After trying their hand at pandering to a more mainstream audience and wisely switching to writing lyrics in Japanese (realizing, perhaps that their main market was inside Japan after all, and that foreign fans would always be attracted to the sound of a strange and unique language), the band took a wide turn back to a firmly European style inspired on the likes of Manowar-inspired streamlined power metal with augmented structures that balance a manner of unpredictability without ever feeling unsafe and, of course, always remaining singable. Clever and winky, empty as fanservice-crammed anime.
8. Leprous – The Congregation
Groovy, syncopated, modulations disguising poorly-presented repetition, weird clean vocals, just enough electronic noodling and laid-back but ‘cool’ drums. This is the recipe par excellence for the multiculturalist wet dream presenting all forms and nothing but insecurity and hollowness at its center. Here is where the worst overproduced radio pop is peppered with jazz fusion gimmicks. Metal? Music or public obscenity?
9. Moonspell – Extinct
A horrible blend of modern industrial tropes and a sissy euro-rock basis, accompanied vocals angsty enough to seem edgy but just safe enough as to not scare away the wimps who listen to this garbage. The high school poser solos do not really redeam this first-world, spoiled-kid, macho pretension.
14. Enshine – Singularity
Basically, the sonic representation of the sparkly, clean-shaven assholes of fans of these music ready to be sodomized by real metal music. Lacking in all natural self-assertion or distinct personality, this is music for the bottom who craves to be dominated. In other words, music for social justice warriors.
15. Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
This is as ridiculous as pseudo-progressive core pandering can get. What is worse, this band is playing a dangerous game in which they may lose all of their audiences, or perhaps score with New York hipsters. Crammed in under two minutes you may find explicit deathcore and alternative rock passages, power metal leads, nu-black metal runs lead by duets of inhaled low growls and Chester Bennington’s evil twin brother’s whining, without excluding the use of high squeals. Basically, a puddle of diarrhea that clearly gives away the cause of ailment. Unbearably disquieting in its stupidity.