Slayer has introduced a new track, “When Stillness Comes,” from their updated 2015 lineup sans Jeff Hanneman (RIP) and Dave Lombardo, with Paul Bostaph (Forbidden) and Gary Holt (Exodus) filling in on drums and guitars. The track begins with what sounds like an attempt to make a simplified version of the introduction to “South of Heaven” or “Reign in Blood,” but it moves at an oddy pace designed for more comforting rhythm than confrontation. Then the track launches into a sort of Nine Inch Nails tribute with offbeat guitar chords appearing to accent the beat, and lots of chanting vocals. In its final minute or so, the track launches into an appreciable but formulaic impression of older Slayer while not dropping the somewhat groove-oriented approach of newer Slayer14 Comments
An experienced music listener who is new to black metal asked for a doorway into the genre. This raises the question of how to appreciate black metal, which like most things in life is mostly mental preparation. Without context, black metal seems like any other loud genre, and it becomes harder to distinguish the newer tryhard junk from the original.
The best way to gain context is to walk through the history of the genre from oldest to newest. This approach, common in art, literature and philosophy, allows people to see what developed from what and what the reasoning for that was and therefore, what the reasoning is behind what is here now.
The result of this query was a simple list to urge people to explore this genre further. This list originates in the history of black metal music, but also in influences that can be identified among the bands as immediately relevant. Toward the end it extends more into general conjecture based on what shows up later in highly different form among the black metal works of relevance listed above it.
I. Proto- Metal
- Bathory – The Return
- Slayer – Hell Awaits
- Hellhammer – Apocalyptic Raids
- Sodom – Persecution Mania
- Sarcofago – INRI
- Merciless – The Awakening
- Blasphemy – Fallen Angel of Doom
- Von – Satanic Blood
III. Black metal
- Immortal – Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism
- Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
- Burzum – Burzum/Aske
- Emperor/Enslaved – Split
- Darkthrone – Under a Funeral Moon
- Beherit – Drawing Down the Moon
- Varathron – His Majesty in the Swamp
- Havohej – Dethrone the Son of God
- Impaled Nazarene – Ugra-Karma
- Samael – Worship Him
IV. Second Wave
- Gorgoroth – Antichrist
- Graveland – The Celtic Winter
- Ancient – Svartalvheim
- Sacramentum – Far Away From the Sun
- Ildjarn – Forest Poetry
- Summoning – Dol Guldur
- Zyklon-B – Blood Must Be Shed
- Gehenna – First Spell
- Behemoth – From the Pagan Vastlands
V. Extended Contemporary
- Demoncy – Joined in Darkness
- Sammath – Godless Arrogance
- Mutiilation – Remains of a Ruined, Cursed, Dead Soul
- Absurd – Asgardsrei
For immediate death metal background to black metal:
- At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
- Carnage – Dark Recollections
- Godflesh – Streetcleaner
For heavy metal background to black metal:
- Mercyful Fate – Don’t Break the Oath
- Venom – Possessed
- Angel Witch – Angel Witch
- Destruction/Tormentor – Demos
For hardcore punk background to all metal:
- Discharge – Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing
- Amebix – No Sanctuary
- The Exploited – Death Before Dishonour
- Cro-Mags – Age of Quarrel
For electronic music background to underground metal:
- Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express
- Tangerine Dream – Phaedra
For progressive rock background to metal:
- King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King
- Yes – Tales from Topographic Oceans
- Camel – Camel
- Greenslade – Greenslade
For classical background to metal:
- Anton Bruckner – Symphony No. 4
- Richard Wagner – Tannhäuser
- Franz Schubert – Unfinished Symphony
- Mozart – Symphony 41
- Haydn – Symphony 82
- Bach – Partita No. 5 in G major
Horror movies, like death metal songs, take one or more basic forms derived from the experience being described which symbolizes a psychological state in the user. Much like childhood night terrors, one form of horror movie is the pursuit themed movie. Final Destination 2 offers a new take on this which expands it into almost postmodern territory: death itself pursues a cast of characters and, because death is metaphysical but can influence the physical world, they find themselves pursued to paranoia because there is no tangible enemy to avoid or beat.
The plot of the Final Destination series stays invariant in its approach: an event which will bring death to a group of people is destined to occur, one of these people has a premonition, and the group avoids death, only to find that it has not forgotten them and like an engineer checking items off a “to do” list, comes after them invisibly and craftily. Death stalks its victims through a variety of Rube Goldberg contraptions made from everyday objects seeming to conspire toward evil ends, which is what makes this movie so fun. No situation is innocent because ordinarily innocent surroundings can, when twisted by the brilliant hand of doom, become fatal for the relatively ordinary and normally blithe people in these films.
Like the characters in the movie, the audience is driven to paranoia because these events have a conspiratorial nature. As the old saying goes, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and when small parts are combined with fiendish intelligence, they make death traps that could hide behind any door and every life event. This raises terror to a new level, because instead of characters approaching a known evil, the threat to their lives hides among the ordinary, and life must go on, so they try to survive with as much normalcy as possible despite feeling the breath of death on their necks at every moment. For a death metal fan, this resembles life itself, as “only death is real” and we are aware of the fragility of life, and banish superstition not only with cartoon fantasy visions of the afterlife but with the religious way that people view human life as being independent of nature, chance and anything beyond what we intend, as mediated by careers, commerce and laws.
Perhaps the most telling moment of the underlying thematic material in this film becoming clear involves a character who, having seen another character terminated in gory excess, goes on a lengthy neurotic breakdown rant in which he screams repeatedly, as if trying to convince himself more than others, “I control my life.” Other characters launch into worlds of human construction to hide from death: one talks about her career, another immerses himself in drugs, and another in mourning and self-pity. All come to doom except the few who manage to be both realist and focus on survival, and become aware of the metaphysical and take the threat seriously even though they do not understand it. Final Destination 2 effectively parrots back to modern people (in a more interesting form) the existential terror of death in the anonymous city where at any minute our technology and social order can collapse and leave a trail of victims.
The original Final Destination focused on a plane crash but the second in the series works with the more mundane threats to the modern citizen, which in a way are more terrifying despite the constant mysterious disappearance, shooting down and crashes of planes that have become a staple of the news of late. In this film, death lurks everywhere and a plan exists for each of us determining when we die. This offends our post-Enlightenment sense of being masters of our own fate and wiser than nature, because in this case death acts more like a force of nature than a ghost or spirit, making it terrifying, systematic and relentless.
Knowing the horror genre well, apparently, the filmmakers do not fail to follow the pattern of horror films, which is that characters struggle against their own denial before they encounter a supernatural force, and then only those willing to both believe in it as real and learn about it to fight it on its own terms can prevail. This formula proves effective because it is a metaphor (for Ara) for our own process of learning in life, where our assumptions prove insufficient and we must recognize the failure, drop our pretense of control, and then learn about what we oppose in order to get past it. Tightly scripted and edited, this film keeps suspense high but not uniformly so, creating a graceful story arc which accelerates rapidly before its peak, delivering all of the thrills and wisdom of a horror film in a compact package.7 Comments
The second edition of the #metalgate podcast has arrived! This one features a more acrimonious look at the split between those who want a single moral right way for all of us to behave, and those who want a more chaotic and naturalistic “do your own” thing. Is there a middle ground? Will there ever be understanding between the two? Only you can decide! Tune in for metalgate podcast issue two below.37 Comments
Recent posting of an interesting article about transcendent realization in metal provoked a number of confused comments, none of which addressed the substance of the article. The objection was to modern metal, which many view as a misbegotten genre, and to secondarily to the bands involved.
As a thought experiment, I thought I might share some thoughts on analysis of metal. You will not find nice easy binaries and “objective” analyses here, more like qualitative assessments in a shifting frame of reference. Mostly these are questions which do not resolve to nice, uniform and balanced answers. They embrace the controversy.
However, you will find that as you look back over the journey — and that is the best metaphor for experiencing music, that of looking into a field of data — you will see that taken as a whole, the details point toward an overall picture. Your job then is to assess that against all other music and place it in context.
I start with these general questions:
- What changes between start and finish?
- What patterns can be found?
- Do these patterns form a language of sorts?
- If so, does it lead to the conclusion?
Art is a communication. Art that extends over time, like novels or music, takes the listener from a starting point to a conclusion. It is not very powerful, usually, to have the precepts equal the conclusion, but sometimes — rarely — a full circle can be revealing, like when one recognizes how utterly futile an idea was when applying it to an experience, and ends up abandoning it. Patterns can consist of any data that is discernibly isolated (relevant to all of its parts) and can often change meaning when repeated. Language uses patterns to build meaning by expressing tokens in context and changing that context to apply more attributes to those tokens. Language leads to a conclusion when internal conflict results in a clear answer as to what has become victorious, been destroyed or a merging of ideas.
These lead to other questions, such as regarding technique:
- Does this technique fit a need, or is the need made to fit the technique?
- Is it evocative of any real-world experience or vivid thoughts?
- Are the values of proportion, balance and purpose applied in this use of the technique?
- Is there another more relevant technique that was not use?
The biggest question here is whether the technique is used for a purpose or not. A band that merely makes a list of all techniques, assigns them to songs and then barfs out a song using them will not only be boring, but will miss an opportunity to communicate something more than the technique — including composition — itself. The worst problem here is the “wallpaper effect” where the band does not vary the intensity within each song, creating a listening experience like listening to a faucet on full blast.
I also suggest the following for seeing past aesthetic:
- If the lyrics were absent, how well would this piece stand up?
- If I played this on a kazoo or acoustic guitar, would it still sound as powerful?
- Is there depth to this imagery, or is the song a framing for the presentation of an image?
I find it useful to have a smaller CD player or computer in another room with not-so-excellent speakers. You can fire up the music on one of those and listen from a room or two away, which creates a sort of ad hoc filter that removes the value of production. You end up hearing root notes and rhythm the most, but also lose many of the flourishes that hide the actual music.
Then you should ask of its artistic relevance:
- What does this piece of music express?
- Does this address something relevant to life itself?
- What have I learned or experienced through this piece?
These questions explore significance. That exists on both a musical and thematic level, with the best music having the two operating at once toward the same ends. Music that is relevant expresses something we know of in life, and finds a way to make it beautiful and create transcendence from it. Clarity, or truth about reality, can itself have a transcendent effect in that it clears aside confusion and opens up a pathway to future creation. Good art creates a world that you want to step into and help fight it out so that the best, the beautiful, the good and the interesting prevails over Big Macs and Cheetos.
And then, finally, your duty to the reader:
- How many times could I listen to this without getting bored?
- In what situations would I discuss with others what this conveyed?
- How does this expand the metal lexicon of technique and ideas?
If you are writing as a reviewer, your readers do not have infinite time or money. They can purchase a few albums but are going to rely on these for enjoyment and learning over the course of the coming years. Remember your Bell Curve: most albums are in the middle, with some outright turds to the left and a few real standouts to the right. Your job is to pick the standouts because people can love these for years, and/or some of the high middle albums. Do not be afraid to be vicious. This is the money of normal people being spent on this music, and if they end up dissatisfied, it creates more landfill and causes them to despair on quality. Whatever is rewarded in the marketplace predominates, meaning you get more of it, so any sane person will be strict about quality.
With that being said…
Here’s a couple tracks for you to try. The only comments that are worthwhile are analytical ones. If you want to call someone a fag, go to one of the other threads and call me a fag. I got over it long ago and now I just ask for phone numbers or cock pics.28 Comments
Lonegoat of necroclassical band Goatcraft issued the following statement today on, of all topics, Death Metal Underground itself. Read on for some clarification of the oddities of Goatcraft coverage for the past year or so, and the “no Goatcraft rule” implemented some time ago.
Brett Stevens is a controversial man. He’s made more armchair activists angry than anyone else on the internet. Founding the legendary Dark Legions Archive, as well as many other groups/websites/etc, his reviews were unmatched and were of the highest linguistic artistry. He created worlds in his reviews that paralleled the musical subjects better than anyone else who ever wrote about metal.
He’s been around since the nascent stage of the internet to this now populace, SJW Tumblr Tranny modern wankery that resembles dumpster diving more than anything else. It’s only suiting that he swapped to writing movie reviews.
For a while I aided Brett by helping out behind the scenes at Deathmetal.org. I wouldn’t really consider it “helping” as I’ve never been a writer nor cared to be one. Usually my contributions were drunken and juvenile. It was what it was.
In return for my contributions, Brett hosted this domain while I was in between jobs and had no spare money to pay for it. About a month after that we had a falling out over a mutual acquaintance and our stances regarding this person. Goatcraft.net was then nuked. Most of the Goatcraft material was pulled from Deathmetal.org at my request. There’s now a No-Goatcraft rule implemented at Deathmetal.org because of all of this.
About 8 months later Brett gave me the Goatcraft.net domain back.
I’m indifferent to what Deathmetal.org is nowadays. There are some good articles like the recent Abominations of Desolation controversy article, although he should’ve been more specific in the article instead of hiding its intent through multiple layers.
This should clear up any confusion regarding the friction between Deathmetal.org and Goatcraft.
Consider it a generous statement and a fair one, and wonder no more why our Goatcraft reviews went away. It is what it is.32 Comments
When future history is written, either on the scraps of a dead civilization or the new frontiers of a restored one, it may include a mention of Generation X as a precipice between old and new. In 1989, waves of thought were already concentrating on the idea Francis Fukuyama would express a few years later, which was that history was pretty much over and a final human form had been found. Now, the thought ran, we only had to figure out the parts of life that were not government or economics.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure dropped into this fertile climate like a bomb of pleasant discomfiture. Its ostensibly pleasant message resonated with a nation caught in indecision. The 1960s had legitimized every behavior, but lacking the comforting direction of the 1940s, it felt adrift. It was somewhat clear the Cold War was winding down and change would happen soon. It would arrive in a void of purpose that unsettled Americans. We had prosperity, relative peace and working social institutions, but life still echoed with a basic emptiness.
The plot involves two Southern California kids who, coming from unstable families, have decided to chuck everything and be in a hard rock band. Their challenge awaiting them is that, being disengaged from public reality entirely, they are about to fail history and with it, a year of high school, which will lead to their separation and the death of the band. With the help of a visitor from the future (George Carlin) the two set off to explore history in order to learn what school could not teach them.
Science-fiction nerds will note rather cruelly that this movie may have borrowed its basic plot device from a British series of the 1960s, Dr. Who. Where the Doctor ventured in a call box, American time travelers got a phone booth. Otherwise, the devices resemble each other to a great degree. The plot follows a simple course of introducing the dilemma, then a series of essentially short skits involving a mockery of different historical periods, followed by a somewhat complex confrontation between historical characters and the 1989 world and then a pleasant and satisfying conclusion.
It would be a mistake to write this movie off as shallow, however. Bill and Ted are two of the most wounded characters to occupy the screen during the 1980s. Both have shattered family origins, low self-esteem, and are perplexed by a world that seems like commercials projected onto screens behind which people wallow in insecurity, doubt and meaninglessness. As many did during the 1980s, they hide behind idiocy as a way of shielding themselves from expectations. They find adults hard to take seriously because adults are focused on methods and results, but not quality of experience. Bill and Ted delineate themselves as characters by their pursuit of something above what they know as life, starting with actually having purpose, even if they have no idea how to go about it.
They launch into their adventure with a jovial carefree attitude that dramatically contrasts the adults of the day. Where 1980s authority figures are rigid and demanding, Bill and Ted look to the value of a given experience in itself. As they go through history, this makes them able to adapt to many different circumstances from which they borrow historical personages. On being brought to the setting of the movie in San Dimas, CA, these figures interact with modern locals and quickly show themselves to be far more competent than your average citizen of the modern era. This movie makes contemporary people look like blockheads who depend on rules and rigid social order to keep themselves from drifting into oblivion, and quickly show a kinship between Bill, Ted and their historical counterparts: all of them dream not only bigger, but of something better, even when simply pursuing their own pleasures. In contrast to the spraypaint color and fake tans of Southern California, the historical humans are a flash of brightness like lightning.
Most of us will find the ending to this film somewhat cheesy, but there is no way to avoid it with a plot that completes itself with a finite achievement; emotional closure does not occur, so the filmmakers allow us a few moments of comedic absurdity with one exception. Look for psychoanalysis to make an appearance and underline a vital plot point in the final few minutes of the film. As always, this movie shows a clash between Baby Boomers, who grew up in a world with order and assume it still exists, and Bill and Ted — symbols for Generation X — who awoke in a world that made no sense, was vapid and had no sense of its own history.
In undertaking their journey through greatness of the past, Bill and Ted in many ways summarize their own time. It struggled with literal threats like the Wild West, political instability, invasions, religious wars and neurosis, but now returns back to its roots in the Socratic questions about the value in life itself. This alludes to what Fukuyama wrote about, which is the question before humanity: become mere materialists, or rise above? Bill and Ted answer with a resounding Be excellent to each other, a message that resonated with many back at the end of the Cold War in its transformative formula for a quantitative world to improve itself instead of stagnating.10 Comments
Back in 1986, one lineup of Morbid Angel recorded what that lineup considers the first Morbid Angel album, Abominations of Desolation, which was later re-released on Earache Records in 1991. But three years later, the band re-recorded most of the songs in a streamlined form and released it as Altars of Madness, which the lineup of the band as was at the time through the present considers to be the first Morbid Angel album.
Avoiding a peek into the controversy and the clash of personalities behind it, metal archaeologists today can look at the musical differences between these two albums. Altars of Madness focuses on a tighter and more streamlined style that too often slips into the type of verse-chorus with bridge that was used extensively on speed metal/death metal hybrids like Seven Churches and Rigor Mortis. This may show the influence of Texas band Necrovore, who established a more aggressive aesthetic but kept song structures closer to the NWOBHM model that speed metal used.
At the same time, other bands were taking a hint from Hellhammer/Celtic Frost and writing songs which had some repeated passages which could be used as verse and chorus, but behind those varied the riffs to give the song a unique structure. This opened up new possibilities that all bands entrenched in the rock ‘n roll “verse, chorus, bridge, solo, repeat” pop song format could not reach. In that new frontier, bands saw new musical and artistic possibilities, and the form of modern death metal began.
The first Morbid Angel album contained many of these aspects, particular in some of the odd structures used on the first track. For the most part however it stuck to good old fashioned pop song format with a few modifications, using the Slayer technique of introductory riffs and some hints from Possessed. This showed a dramatically different side of the band than the extended compositions of Abominations of Desolation which, while many used verse/chorus at their center, were more likely to vary riff form and use solos as a kind of second layer to the rhythm guitars.
Controversy continues to this day regarding which is the “true” Morbid Angel. As strange as it seems, the first recording may be the one that opened up more historical space, although its lesser production and expanded song structures made it less hard-hitting at any instance and thus less “heavy” or “brutal” to the audience, which is why the band wants it to be the first album: it is a better product. For many of us however Abominations of Desolation has long surpassed the first two Morbid Angel albums as the one most frequently listened to because of the depths of its complexity and musical imagination.15 Comments
Before William Gibson and the eventual cinematization of his ideas, The Matrix, but after Shockwave Rider and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Tron captured the imagination of the public with a movie that adapted the Star Wars series to take place inside a computer. More of a culmination of ideas and a reduction of them to a tangible form than an entirely new idea on its own, Tron defined the cyberpunk wave of science fiction by laying out the basic ingredients of all of its future drama. The result is a visually compelling movie that compares to Metropolis and Blade Runner for its graceful but imposing artistic representation of its topic.
Set in approximately the same time in which it was filmed, this movie follows the path of a hacker trying to find proof that he wrote a massively successful video game which has been stolen by a 1980s style evil large corporate entity. The only glitch is that the secret exists only within the massive mainframe computer that, like the AIs in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Neuromancer, assists that corporate entity… and may partially control it. The mainframe is controlled by a program that resembles the early worms that conquered much of the internet in that it absorbs smaller programs and uses them, zombie-like, as its agents, slowly gaining power as it absorbs more code. In the process of trying to gain entry to the machine, the hacker is captured and digitized by it. Now he must break through its security to escape.
At this point, it becomes necessary to point out that there are two movies in Tron. One is a science fiction story that summarizes much of the thinking about virtual reality from the previous decade, and another is a movie that — look at the logo on the cover — applies the Disney-style Hollywood treatment to make a story dramatic and yet accessible. The two do not completely integrate and the science fiction dominates most of the first two-thirds of the movie, at which point its storyline becomes obvious and Hollywood takes over for the touchdown. The great strength of this movie is that it made visualizations of computer concepts in the way that has always distinguished Disney productions; its most poignant image, perhaps borrowed a little bit from Thomas Pynchon, is of the neon-light modern city and how it resembles a visual representation of computer programs.
Where Pynchon compared the lighted city skyline to circuit boards, Tron makes programs into lighted cityscapes that resemble circuit boards, but represent the interaction of programs, users and data. Gibson took this image further and removed the city from it, making it merely a cool-looking abstract space that overlapped with the city but did not directly represent it. Much as both Pynchon and Gibson were influenced by W.S. Burroughs, in this story the computer realm resembles Interzone, or a place where the symbolic becomes real and yet the real can be manipulated by symbols. If you need that dumbed down to a stupefactive level, go see The Matrix, which is 5,000 times more Hollywood-Disney than Tron and is designed to neutralize the power of these concepts.
In Burroughs, Nietzsche comes to life (from On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense): words manipulate like program code written right into our brains, and the only solution is to decode the message and compare it to reality, at which point one can escape. The Matrix is like the French Revolution writ large onto the screen, in that some simplistic evil corporation keeps everyone in a state of illusion — much like movies and TV including The Matrix do — by creating a false reality. When they wake up, recognizing that the reality is false is enough, and suddenly everyone comes together and sings kumbaya and celebrates the fact that they are all free now. Sound familiar? Yes, it is the standard movie plot of everything from Revenge of the Nerds to Three Days of the Condor. It also compares somewhat to other movies from the same genre of mood as this one and the same time period, such as Blade Runner and Wargames, each of which involves a man fighting technology for liberation theme.
The interesting science fiction movie within Tron starts at the moment that man is digitized into the machine. Most cyberspace dramas focus on the virtual becoming real, but in this case the real becomes virtual and must find a way to escape from the machine. The movie misses out on what may be the real story, which is how changing data in a machine can change real life, by putting the protagonist Flynn (Jeff Bridges, a spiral cut ham) into the machine. If one bit in your record at the DMV or credit bureau becomes changed, your life will take a radically different turn. By focusing on the escape itself instead, Tron manages to spin itself into an interesting tale where a man must play several video games and win before he can break out into the machine itself, circumvent its security measures and then disable the rogue program that controls it.
This “escape” theme works well but disconnects real from virtual worlds, which makes it difficult to have any central narrative except the liberation of the machine itself, which conveniently also liberates the information Flynn needs. For the first two-thirds of the movie, Tron plays with its ability to visualize video games as if the participant were inside of them, and works out a few basic computer concepts in visual form as well, which was necessary to prepare the mainstream audience to understand the weird gadgets that were only just beginning to penetrate homes. When the Hollywoodization takes over, the final third of the movie becomes more like Star Wars and your typical 1980s adventure movie, which causes a somewhat incoherent sequence to segue into a happy ending.
As a movie from its time period, Tron holds up brilliantly over thirty years later. The graphics still look believable and the basic metaphor of man in machine as a program fighting for survival against assimilation strikes a chord with our own struggle to avoid having our brains taken over by the endless memes, advertising, political promises, slogans and trends that keep our modern world under control. While the ending is both slightly confused, fairly derivative and moronically basic in the way only Hollywood can do, it does not detract from an otherwise intriguing and imaginative film that may be one of the more impressive works of quasi-apocalyptic cinema from that era.4 Comments
Like Idiocracy, the story involves a man who is put into stasis for centuries and wakes up in a new world where humanity has bred itself into oblivion. The Margaret Sanger style eugenics implications are even clearer in this story than in Idiocracy, told with both wit and compassion. Unlike the movie, this story addresses the question of how technology could persist, and comes up with the Nietzschean idea of an upper caste of intelligent people who have ended up enslaved to the masses of fools.
The story falls into the style which is convenient to call “honest” when we in fact mean realistic, with some aggression behind it in the telling of an important story that is mostly forgotten because of its political inconvenience. For Kornbluth, who was Jewish, to explore anything tinged with eugenics in the years after WWII was not only personally brave but ran the risk of great condemnation. Perhaps he was a victim of political correctness because it seems this story should have wider reach.
“The Marching Morons” is written in the older style of science fiction that readers of Ray Bradbury may be familiar with, which is not so much self-consciously “literary” content embedded in mass market writing but a compact, vivid style in which every detail is important but the big picture is not lost in the details. Kornbluth writes with what we might call passion but is more appropriately termed “urgency” in that this story takes place in a desperate time, and was written in a desperate time.
While the presence of this story in the heritage of Idiocracy seems obvious, it is also important to point to an earlier work which it would have been hard for any science fiction fan to miss: The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells. In this book, a Victorian scientist travels to the future. He finds the planet is now divided into two groups: the Morlocks, brutal and crude creatures that fear the light and control the planet from its surface, and Eloi, light and graceful creatures of intelligence which live below the surface in menial circumstances.
As the protagonist explores, he discovers that the Morlocks have descended from the working classes of his time and have through evolutionary pressures become essentially Orcs, thoughtless and violent but obsessive. They live by feeding on the Eloi, to whom Darwin has not been kind because when intelligence is no longer needed for survival, it becomes a burden and the thoughtless and violent dominate it.
Apparently Wells was influenced by E. Ray Lankester’s book Degeneration: A Chapter in Darwinism (1880) in which the author sets forth the idea that if a species gains a constant food supply, evolution pushes toward a suppression of form in a kind of marginal profit obtained by removing expensive features that are no longer necessary.
It may also serve as an answer to Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race, in which he posits an underground species of angelic human-like creatures known as Vril-ya will take over earth with superior intelligence. Much as Orwell answered Huxley, Wells answered Bulwer-Lytton, suggesting that instead of the utopian vision he portrays a Lankesterian degeneration of humanity lurked in the future, which is the theme held in common with both Idiocracy and “The Marching Morons.”13 Comments