Why metal will never be understood, and never wants to be

by Cory Van der Pol
April 3, 2014 –

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We live in a land of confusion. Most people here have trouble differentiating between a conclusion and a method used to reach a conclusion.

Take for example the phrase, “That’s logical.” To most people, this conjures up a list of things that are accepted as having a basis in logic. When you ask them to parse something new, which involves applying a method to each sequential detail in order to find out how they fit together. That’s difficult; tracking conclusions and having a whitelist/blacklist of accepted ideas is easier.

If you want to know how metal calcifies itself, it is through these conclusions. Darkthrone ended up sounding the way they did as a result of their method, putting together all the pieces and coming up with a bigger direction. When bands imitate Darkthrone, none of this happens, and thus none of the music is nearly as good. They know how to imitate it from the surface inward, but they don’t know why it came about it and thus, how to charge it with the meaning the original had.

Especially threatening to popular music is the process of calcification by which the method of the past generation becomes the conclusions of the next. Darkthrone makes a great album; everyone imitates it; as a result, that sound becomes stale and disassociated from the meaning it once had.

It was once common for metalheads to complain about being misunderstood, and their music not being understood and accepted. Now it is accepted, and it has rendered it harmless. What did that rendering was all the metal bands ripping each other off, churning the original ideas into a mush of imitation. In fact, the problem is that metal when understood is in fact misunderstood, and keeping it not-understood is what is required for people to go back to method instead of just trusting its conclusions as gospel and repeating them in recombined form.

Metal is in fact like a snake consuming itself. As soon as orthodoxy is established, it is destroyed and its destroyer rises only to be in turn consumed itself. Parallels can be drawn to ocean waves cresting and then self-destructing, the need for forest fires, how predation ensures that prey animals get smarter, or other natural metaphors. What it fears is the calcification and a related process known as social acceptance. When a group of people encounters a new idea, it mocks it, then tries to destroy it, and finally accepts it. But once the idea is accepted, the process of calcification happens as society assimilates the idea as conclusion and throws out the methods, but even worse, the nature of having the idea accepted means a process of compromise which shaves off the parts of that idea that offend various segments of society (think of a PTA meeting: can’t move the parking spaces, or you upset either the church ladies, the teachers’ union, or the parking authority). Social acceptance destroys ideas through imitation and compromise.

This process goes back to metal’s birth. The members of Black Sabbath couldn’t get on board with the happy hippie world around them, so they made their own music which destroyed that illusion with powerful sound. They were reacting to the acceptance of conclusions from the past period, the 1950s, in which people were fed on Dale Carnegie style salesmanship as a means to success. As a result, society stopped being truth-oriented and started being feelings-oriented. Happy feelings meant a sale. Ten years later, happy feelings meant social success. Salespeople knew that acceptance and inclusiveness made sales, so they made their advertising as innocuous as possible. The hippie movement imitated this but used politics instead of profit (at first) as their guide.

The problem was that the hippie portion was just as fake as the 1950s salesmanship portion. Similarly, the current imitation of the 1990s black metal scene or worse, the 1980s emo and shoegaze scene, is completely fake. The fifteenth Blasphemy clone is as burnt out as the fifteenth Beatles clone or fifteenth Dale Carnegie graduate. All of it is emulation of the past through its surface, which fundamentally disturbs the metal outlook. For underground metal, all that is left is to seek total nihilism or negation of values, or to pick values that cannot be compromised and thus cannot be assimilated by society. If you want to know why metal has been drifting toward extremes lately, this might explain it.

All of this is a rather long path to saying what every teenage music fan does not want to face: it’s time to stop talking about how you are misunderstood. You don’t want to be understood. Even more, being understood would destroy your chance for growth and turn you into an identical suit-wearing conformist droid marching off to do the same stuff the last generation did, and we can see them drinking themselves to sleep every night. When people obviously don’t get what you’re about, thank them. They’re helping you grow, just like they’re helping metal grow every time they run into a WTF moment and toss it out in the dustbin.

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10 comments

  • EDS

    “Especially threatening to popular music is the process of calcification by which the method of the past generation becomes the conclusions of the next. Darkthrone makes a great album; everyone imitates it; as a result, that sound becomes stale and disassociated from the meaning it once had. ”

    This is precisely why I hold the classics close and never let go. Each passing year they become even more valuable as they ascend into high art status. Even a few of the recent metal albums this site has lauded over the past few years wear themselves out after repeated listens. Some just didn’t impact me at all. Teenagers and young adults picking up the axe and drum sticks looking to make some metal need to heed articles such as this.

      1. EDS

        I have been listening to them lately. I will say they have a lot of promise but a few of the riffs pop up and don’t seem to fit in the greater scheme of the songwriting. At least 3 of the riffs are like that. It’s an enjoyable album but I don’t know how well it will hold up in the years to come.

  • Lord Mosher

    The question for me is:
    The original meaning that the classic albums have, was that created on purpose? Because sometimes I get the feeling that even the classic bands/artists are the first people to apparently misunderstand what made their early music great in the first place.
    .
    I think once a great thing is created, it’s easier to strive towards that greater standard by making it a conscious decision to that end. However when that great thing does not yet exist, I deem it unlikely it can be created solely by decision making.
    .
    And if that’s the case, reaching higher standards means filtering out the decisions that not work and repeating those that do. Repetition does not equal creation. All paths are finite. All great metal too.
    .
    I feel Metal as a medium has reached its useful lifespan. As a medium to convey its original meaning it has become obsolete. Aesthetically it may continue because it’s still satisfying but to that end, a 15th copy of Burzum is as good as any as long as it is competent since orthodoxy is both meaning and method.

    1. Even More Bitter Man

      Does it need to be created “on purpose”? Maybe it was just a feeling or something they stumbled on to and were like, hey, this is cool, let’s make it better. The bands were thinking about all the stuff they sang about, burning churches, Europe, war, natural selection, death, murdering homosexuals with pocket knifes, whatever. If what came out of that was this music, that’s “on purpose” enough. What is happening now is bands who want to sound like those old bands, so they take the songs from their first punk rock band and hang black metal riffs off of it like ornaments from a tree. It sounds like black metal until you sit down with the album and listen to the whole thing and then you realize it’s a ripoff and has no guts, no soul, no originality, nothing to say for itself at all except, “Hey look at me, I’m a black metal attention whore!”

      1. Norbert Kennedy

        AS usual this troll called Even More Bitterman shows he really belongs at Metal Archives or Ultimate Guitar, or whatever.
        Somebody needs to block this doofus. Nobody takes you serious man please go away!

  • ksava

    “the first people to apparently misunderstand what made their early music great in the first place.”

    They probably just understood ‘it’ intuitively at the time of the album’s creation.