Category Archives: Article

Appreciating Deicide’s Legion

Sometimes an album requires 15 years of examination before it can be addressed adequately. Deicide released their second album Legion in the summer of 1992, and it proved to be the apex of their career. It was long in coming, delayed three times by Roadrunner, and I was obsessed with obtaining it.

I was fifteen going on sixteen, and for almost six months I hardly cared about anything else. Girls? What are those? Can they get me the new Deicide album? No? Then forget it. My mania began when Deicide had come to town on a week’s notice the previous winter. They had never before played Texas, and a whole state’s worth of hessians had been clamoring to see them since their eponymous release over a year before. The show itself was a revelation. The band was tight, proficient, ferocious, and surprisingly charismatic. They tore through the entirety of their sole album which only a few breaks for frontman Glen Benton to praise and incite the crowd, as well as an intermission while the security team hastily nailed the wooden stage barrier back together after we smashed it to pieces in our fervency. Once the band had exhausted their catalog my friends and I caught our breaths, and started to walk towards the exit. That was all the songs they had to play, after all.

Suddenly a voice boomed at our backs- “We got a couple of new ones for you!” Glen and company had taken the stage once more. “This is from our upcoming album Legion! In Hell I Burn!” The room ignited. We rushed back to the front of the stage and joined the crushing wave of bodies. The new song was chaotic and technical, and Deicide were clearly excited about their new material as they played it to the hilt. “Holy Deception” followed with the same inflammatory delivery, and then the band stood down and left us to sort out our tangled hair, soggy shirts, and missing shoes.

And he asked him, What is thy name?
And he answered, saying,
My name is Legion: for we are many.

- Mark 5:9, KJV

I was bewitched. Deicide was already my favorite band and the brief taste of new songs further tightened their grip upon me. As Legion continued to be delayed (as it happens, it was announced before the band had even completed it) my anticipation became feverish. One Friday my friend Chris, with whom I’d attended the show, came to my house to “show me something”. It was a new album but he wouldn’t let me see it and instead just put it in my CD player. A droning roar and cacophony of bleating sheep drifted out of my speakers. What could it be? Legion was finally to come out on Tuesday, and I had already planned to devote the whole day to buying and listening to it. The first notes of the opening song struck abruptly and I was still confused. What WAS it? Then a familiar death-preacher voice cut through the tangle of guitars and blast beats; Chris grinned as he pulled the CD longbox out of the bag, and there was a full-sized photo of Deicide in all their Satanic glory. Glen’s bottomless black eyes stared back at us as the songs hammered the room. The record store had gotten the CDs early and decided to put them on the shelves for the weekend. And for all the build-up, for all the anticipation and impatience, every note of the album was worth the wait. Chris and I finished listening to it in disbelief, then immediately started it again. It was a good day to be a Deicide worshipper.

Almost two decades later I have listened to this album literally thousands of times. At 29 minutes it is very easy to set the CD on repeat and feel my brain cells become awash in hellish audio napalm again and again. It never loses its impact. I know every note by heart, and I have studied it and dissected it by every available means (the Hoffman brothers hard panned their guitars, so adjusting the balance switch will yield new and enlightening information about the song arrangements). Many people didn’t understand Legion upon its initial release. The preceding album was a collection of intense but highly musical anthems about the occult, godkilling, and Satanic suicide. The songs were brilliant and infectiously mnemonic, and they allowed Deicide to rise to a status second only to Morbid Angel in the Death Metal movement.

Legion, however, was a headlong dive into the abyss; a feral and fractured deconstruction of the band’s first outing that transformed their established sound into a berserker rage of sonic violence. The arrangements were twisted and jarring, the production was ear-shattering, and the message was more focused and dire than ever. This was not just an album, it was a mission statement. Glen Benton had already repeatedly decreed his own suicide at age 33, and this deadline seemed to serve as the impetus of abandon with which the band attacked each song. Legion was an affirmation of the Great Beyond, albeit one that promised eternal torment and pain, as well as an utter rejection of life, comfort, and the mundanity of daily existence that reduces people to craven weaklings.

Accordingly, the less cerebral portion of the Death Metal fanbase was alienated by such a challenging offering and it could be argued that the backlash to Deicide’s audacity was a large contributor towards the mainstream success of bands like Cannibal Corpse. Nevertheless, time inevitably bears out the merit of all great efforts and as such Legion is now widely regarded as a groundbreaking classic. Virtually all Death Metal releases in the following five years bear the marks of its influence, most notably in regard to increased attack and tempo. Despite its impact, no band has ever managed to truly recapture the nature of this release. This is true for even Deicide themselves, who ultimately reversed course with Once Upon the Cross, and then degenerated into the same low-grade Death Metal drudgery that they had once endeavored to dismantle. In fairness, there could not really be a Legion II and to their credit the band declined to attempt one.

The tragedy of Deicide and their legacy is that a whole generation of hessians know the band as a blunt, inelegant, and jock-brained outfit that write thudding tunes with a weak grasp of Satanism and even weaker sense of songcraft. This is not the band I remember, the band that fired my imagination and made me want to take up arms and scourge the Christian vermin. To me, Glen Benton died at 33 because the man he has become is a man long dead. A white hot rage is one that will consume a soul rapidly, and Deicide’s brand of rage was enough to consume them all. Still, I refuse to allow their transgressions to negate their contributions.

Legion will always be one of the best albums ever, no matter what Glen and his current line-up of mercenary Christians do next. It no longer belongs to them; it belongs to the fans and the people who still listen to that album year after year without surrender. If you haven’t listened to it in a while or avoided it because of the band’s recent output, challenge yourself to embrace this masterwork in all its caustic, quixotic glory. You will become a believer. You will become Legion.

by David Anzalone

Metalocalypse: Hipsters Slandering Hessians

Ironic, “unique” show celebrates metal as a genre for failures

In the last decade metal music, once more or less exclusive to a community of dedicated Hessians and at worst a more removed group of transient but still fervent supporters, has fallen victim to a superficial co-opting by hipster culture. That is, they wear Slayer or Iron Maiden shirts not because they genuinely enjoy the music but because these bands are “kooky” or “crazy” and associating oneself with them is the defining statement of hip irony in the 21st century. Tolerating this trend is annoying enough, as it brings the dedication of Hessians into question: “So, do you really like Slayer, or are you just wearing that for fun?” but the problem has become epidemic as hipster-focused media is produced en masse for outlets like Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim”. Even in this arena, metal no longer safe.

Twenty years ago, most people had a hyperbolic and absurd idea of heavy metal and the bands creating it, thanks to the oft-quoted (and increasingly tiresome) film “Spinal Tap”. However, it was clear that the writer/actors of this movie actually had a degree of affection for the music they aped, and it was reflected in the way they managed to address many truisms of the continuous collisions between metal’s fantastic elements and the inflexible realities of the layman’s world in which the music must struggle to be understood. This degree of sympathy and insight is strictly absent from the new animated feature “Metalocalypse”, which basically takes the “Beavis and Butthead” premise of Hessian daily life and elevates it to an insulting degree.

The show offers the premise of a fictional metal band called “Deathklok”, and the creators reveal their weak grasp of the material by first portraying the band as literally one of the richest and most powerful entities on earth (a feat that not even Metallica has accomplished), and then making their music sound wholly ambiguous- we hear three-note trudges and growls ala Six Feet Under combined with keyboards and guitar wankery more befitting of Demons & Wizards. While some may be quick to point out that the show is a parody and as such is not obligated to follow “the rules”, this reviewer believes that such decisions reflect broad generalizations about metal and its subgenres and bring the intent of the show into question.

More damning, however, are the characterizations of the band members. The writers attempt to place a death metal vocalist, a speed metal guitarist, two “European” power metal guitarists, and a nu-metal drummer into the same band, presumably in the interest of painting the entire genre with the same brush. All the members are portrayed as rock-stupid, and the shrill and unintelligible voice acting is no help. A joke can only go so far if absolutely nothing said is understood. The band is portrayed as savants who can play music to millions of people at a time but cannot grasp the idea of purchasing food at a grocery store. It seems like a more consistent idea would be to portray a relatively unsuccessful band doing everything in life unsuccessfully, or a successful band doing things in the wild excess that their lifestyle affords them, but to cram two half-baked ideas together only goes further toward ensuring that the cartoon serves as a mocking affront rather than a sly parody. The only real thing that gives the show a chance at holding interest is the random and prolific violence, though it does contributes little more than an opportunity for a very cheap laugh.

The real problem is that “Metalocalypse” (this is the last time I’m typing that stupid fucking name) is not designed to entertain Hessians, but rather it is there to give hipsters a false insight into a world they cannot or do not wish to understand in genuine terms. The show is made by outsiders looking in, and it shows on every level. Never mind the fact that the dialogue, when intelligible, is stilted and inane, the comic timing is non-existent, the plots are ambiguous, and the animation is lazy and sub-par. Metal is one of the only art forms on earth that must tolerate this kind of insult, in part because it advocates goals and means that threaten the status quo, but it is nevertheless a valid endeavor that deserves respect and legitimacy. It goes without saying that any serious Hessian should ignore this cartoon, but it wouldn’t hurt to encourage others to do the same. If someone at your school or place of business sees you wearing the shirt of your favorite band and starts talking about metal hipsterism with you, set them straight. Explain why they have got the wrong idea, and see if you can steer them in the right direction (i.e. “Have you ever listened to Show No Mercy”?). Maybe they won’t become converts, but then again maybe they won’t make their decisions about an entire genre of music and its culture based on a half-assed joke show either.

by David Anzalone

What makes some music better than the rest

Although the “art” of music, as an intangible creation expressed best as an abstraction translated through that pattern into its creation, cannot be sold in any true sense of the word, all art must have a conveyance and if it is not live informally, that is a product whether recorded CD, MP3 or concert. For this reason, the music market affects how metal music is able to propagate(tm) its sinister meme through the stupefacted masses of modern humanity.

The record industry, which is what we call the support structure for the expensive prospect of selling music, is reeling under the dual assault of MP3s and a fragmenting culture. The former allow people to download full albums and have them free, with no obligation except legal to buy the CD. The latter, cultural fragmentation, means that instead of a single dominant genre that sells massively there are now many niches that have to sell consistently to break even. Business plans are shifting.

What this means for metal, which sells few of any one CD but many CDs over time, and has the highest rate of people buying all the albums of an artist if they like one, can be discerned from the black metal experience. The average fan seems to download a few gigabytes a week of black metal, and they listen to it while IMing and watching TV, and then they either delete most of it or keep it in elaborate collections that are magically not restored after the hard drive crashes.

We can describe this hoarding behavior as what might happen if people were able to listen to any radio program from any time in history, and could bookmark them. There would be thousands of bookmarks on each computer. Since any music of reasonable complexity requires more than one listen to grasp its basic intention and structure, people would listen, be either perplexed or enticed, and would bookmark, then not return — except to those few incidences that seemed so perfectly complete or historically important that they could not be ignored.

For the first time in its career, black metal attracts fans who behave like pop fans. They are accustomed to music being cheap, meaning used everywhere in commercial messages and enticements to purchase it, and they saturate themselves in it for a few teenage and early 20s years before their jobs and televisions take their souls.

Black metal, which really picked up momentum in 1993 and collapsed in 1996 with the foundational bands spent and the hipster imitators coming in with inferior duplicates, has spent the last dozen years in a state of suspended animation, with people trying to like what is current but returning to the classics and a handful of bands out of thousands who are not only better than average, but are able to put together a complete package: music, lyrics, symbols, artistic vision, sane public statements and each part complementing the others and showing enough artistry to seem complete. Whole.

In this we see what will prevail in the time of MP3s and cultural fragmentation. It is not enough to have an album, and to have it be pretty good. It must be complete in the way the best albums are. Vision and voice, concept and execution come together like the interface to a warplane, or an elite computer program, or the echoing profundity of a well-constructed argument or theory. The albums that will be bought, as opposed to being downloaded and forgotten, are those that will ring true in this sense.

Through this lens we approach the most difficult question of human music, which is: if music alone communicates, why is it that one album in the same style is better than another? What motivates many of us to recognize this choice and make it simultaneously? It is the quality of the album as a whole product. Mathematically, it shows a higher degree of organization; artistically, whether we agree with it or not (or “like” it) it shows a willingness to tackle some idea which is neither dogmatic nor carelessly milktoast. It is whole.

Bands and labels wonder how to sell in a time of free music. The answer is simple: make concept albums, or maybe we should call them demi-concept albums, because they do not need overblown “conceptualization” that ends up with song titles like Ragn-Thor Attacking the Climate Control Apparatus of Zoroaster. We need albums that are whole. More work and thought must go into them. It is not a question of style. The style from 1992 will do. But an album that is whole will not sound like anything else, even though it’s in the same style.

The dummy writers sit out there wondering why people go wild over Sorcier des Glaces, Averse Sefira, Avzhia or Profanatica when there are 8,000 bands that “sound like” those bands, in style. The answer is that music can be a means to only one end, and that is enjoyment of a journey which involves a change in state. It cannot be manipulated through its form alone. That form must match something it is communicating, and that communication must be highly organized.

Record labels got by for years slapping together pop music “about nothing” — songs about sex, loss, anger, and material desire — and relied on their greater production power and the mechanical task of songwriting, or keeping songs in harmony with enough melodic expectation to deliver a quenchingly satisfying chorus. Bands in black metal got by from 1994-2007 by slapping together a composite of past successful riffs, bloviating on overworn topics, and putting a pentagram, swastika or Horus on the cover.

These times have changed. In fact, if we think carefully, those times of easy fat were themselves anomaly, because in them the music itself became a product — it was a means to an end of selling musical conveyances, like CDs. But now, the music is no longer rare. What is rare is someone who can put together patterns in such a way to fit nearly perfectly, and in that fit, to express something words and images alone cannot.

It’s natural selection for black metal, as for all music, and it will dovetail with the rise in cost of consumer products as cheaply drillable oil tapers off (about 2013). Suddenly, the hard years — that metaphorical frost of the elders of black metal — will return, and it will shape music to be a more precious commodity, more carefully thought out like the last missive of a dying man in prison.

Through pressures of the tangible, the focus will return to the intangible, and metal will rise in power as it leaves both hipsters and corporate behemoths — and aren’t they the same mentality, which is to manipulate others for their own social power — behind.

Isolation: Why (Some) Smart People Suicide

Jon Nödtveidt opted out of an insane world

Jon Nödtveidt is dead and the response to his suicide diagnoses why he did it. As an acquaintance of mine said, “I’m of higher than average intelligence — two standard deviations. This society is not designed for people of higher intelligence. We see things the others don’t, such as how inefficient or self-destructive the way this society works is. And since they don’t see it, they crowd out our opinions and leave us with no voice. It’s a lonely side of life.”

For the child born with intelligence, the invisible world becomes clear: the connection between ideas and consequences both immediate and long term. This has to be trained by experience, but it emerges over time (one great lament of humanity is that it takes almost four decades for wisdom to emerge in most). Such a child will literally “see” things that do not exist but which will exist because he or she understands the connection between design (our thoughts, plans, goals) and their consequences.

The higher intelligence gives this person the ability to see multiple levels of consequence. Where a dumb person can realize that setting a blaze in a living room will burn the house down, and an average person will recognize the blaze may spread to a neighborhood, the reasonably above average person weighs the dryness of the season, the amount of loose timber in the neighborhood, prevailing winds and many other factors and can see how if the situation is right this fire could torch a large section of the surrounding city.

Of course, it’s an impossible task to explain this to an angry mob wanting to torch the house of a perceived enemy; they see only the immediate and tangible, which is their desire. Their brains lack the circuits to see broader implications, so even if these are painstakingly explained, they shout out their contrarian “opinions” which are as uninformed as they are blind to the question itself. They will not care about what they do not understand, and they understand little more than a single house ablaze.

In our modern time this tendency is amplified. The masses see only that they can afford things they want and with the tendency of all crowds, confuse pleasure/comfort/stability with doing what is right to provide for the future. In fact, they don’t consider the future; most people have a consciousness span of about two weeks and beyond that are lost to consequence as well as memory. For someone with a greater span of prediction and recall speaking to such people is like shouting into the wind at someone speaking a foreign language.

The intelligent people among us have warned us for some time: there are too many people empowered by technology (Kaczynski); the cruder and dumber masses have seized political control from the more intelligent and through a policy of revenge will destroy all intelligent things (Nietzsche); the vast masses will pursue pleasure and create a sterile but safe world (Huxley); the interconnectedness of all things, including design, is blindness in most people and thus they confuse symbol with reality (Schopenhauer); people misdiagnose their problem as existential when it is instead a lack of commitment to loving consciousness itself (Mary Shelley); most people confuse preference with consequence (Plato); people commonly misunderstand good relative to a bad goal as good relative to the question of survival with grace (Aristotle); people confuse wealth with nobility (Fitzgerald); people confuse personal power with an enduring connection to their world through heroism (Hemingway); the masses mistake “progress” in the physical world for rising above its privations (Faulkner). The list would actually extend far past the length of this essay if each great thinker in history was enumerated.

Let us return to the case of Jon Nodtveidt. Smarter than most, he produced a groundbreaking heavy metal album, “The Somberlain,” while still in his teenage years. While he made mistakes after that regarding the direction of his art, he never let the quality slip, and returned with a somewhat insubstantial but musically beautiful album, “Reinkaos.” Clearly he lost philosophical direction, but the experiences of the past decade might well have injected confusion into his worldview. Whether or not he found a personal direction, he could not purge his knowledge of the invisible world from his mind.

The invisible world facing humanity is this: taking advantage of the ideological and religious confusion of the past two millennia, the group of people that Michael Crichton calls “thin intelligences” — able to perform tasks requiring intelligence but blind to the implications and development of those ideas — seized power. Their implements of control: the use of money alone to determine the fitness of an idea; the use of popularity to determine culture; the use of democracy to let the broadest segment of the population outshout the smarter ones. The consequences of their control is a ship without a captain, or more accurately, a captain who tells the passengers what they want to hear regardless of the truth.

The result will be disastrous. Since every piece of land (with less than 5% of the world’s open space excepted by governments who can later rescind those decisions) for sale, and no check on human expansion except the relatively low cost of breeding, humanity will spread like poured cement into every available space. Fences go up, and this kills off the native species of the forest that need to roam; food needs mean the oceans will soon be depleted of edible fish, the land denuded with agriculture, and high concentrations of pesticides and industrial pollutants will enter the environment.

Culture, for sale, will become cosmopolitan, and people from all over the world will flood into every city and mix with the people there, producing a cultureless heritageless grey race who speak whatever language is most popular. High art dies and is replaced by popular “art” (Britney Spears) and boutique art, which pretends to be high art so those who need novelty can purchase something “unique” (Turbonegro). Jobs that reward smart people are replaced by those where the workers are interchangeable parts controlled by huge networks of rules and deskbound bureaucrats. Freedom will be spoken of widely, but will not exist as the high cost of living will tie people to jobs of which speaking an offensive truth might cause deprivation.

This is the future, unless something changes. This is the future where the average intelligences rule over the above average. Someone like Jon Nödtveidt is likely to give this kind of world a shot for awhile, but to always love the thought of escape as it means no longer having to live the lie of riding an apocalypse-bound train with no engineer. For the intelligent, the doom to our existence is always visible, while it is invisible to the average person, and it should not surprise us that so many take their lives instead of passively accepting the inevitable failure of humanity.

Black Metal is Art

What makes music connect with your soul

Phenomenal leaps have occurred in the skill level in the black metal genre. Where black metal drummers used to be a source of amusement for anyone past the first handful of percussion lessons, now it is easy to bump into a qualified candidate at any show. The guitar work is precise in ways the founders of the genre could not have imagined, and new degrees of technique in tremelo picking, sweeps and arpeggios dwarfs the old ways.

Even in the simplistic bands great advancements have occurred. The song structures are well-known in all of their variants, and bands now are so proficient in this area they can tell from a single glance what type of song must be built around a riff to complement it. Everything’s less awkward; we know the best tempos to carry the audience, and what paces from them we can leap without causing abrupt disconnects. There are ratios for melodic riffs to blasting atonality, codices for when the keyboards come in and percussion layers boil off, tables for the use of dual vocals… black metal is almost a science, now.

Aesthetically, there is much less confusion and far fewer missteps. No band today would put out that awkward video that the Immortal guys did, or screw up like Burzum did and make those very earthy and not very black metal flyers. No self-respecting 2006 black metal band would be caught with the mishmash of gear these guys attempted to use at first, the wrong string guages and pick widths, the wrong amplifiers and pedals, even drumsets all mis-arrayed for the task ahead… no, we’ve got a much better grip on the craft of black metal, these days.

We’ve got the whole thing so much farther advanced than the founders of this genre that it’s doubtful they’d get a second listen today. Just hearing those sloppy riffs, the un-slick arrangements of keyboard, seeing the awkward band photos and hearing their very-far-from-pro sound, well, they’d probably not make it. We’ve come so far that we probably don’t even need Immortal, Burzum, Gorgoroth, Enslaved, Mayhem, Emperor, Varathron or Bathory; we’ve got bands that are so much better at what they do.

There is one crucial difference, though — the recent Summoning CD pointed out beyond doubt that black metal which preserves the epic feeling of past grandeur, and the sense of lawless abandon in the night which frees our souls from the preemptive frustration of morality and profit ethics, could still be written. What was the difference? Summoning don’t appear to have varied equipment or technique since 1993 or so. The answer is simple: it’s in the composition.

After all, each work of music has two parts: inside and outside. The outside is how it sounds, including what speeds you play it at, what instruments you use, and how the vocals sound and the production works. The inside is the notes and the ratios which determine their timing, and the structure of the song, that is to say which musical phrase goes into the next and how they carry you from a beginning state to a different mindset at the end of the song or symphony. A truly articulate piece of music is recognizable when played at half-speed on a kazoo, double speed on a Casio keyboard, or when transposed on an acoustic guitar, even if it was originally created by a metal band.

The greatest bands in metal’s history created songs that were that distinctive, and what made these songs distinctive was not random and unpredictable permutations, but that all of their parts made sense according to a certain order designed to communicate something specific. The goal was to make the audience appreciate an experience, and music was the method; because the artists approached the problem from this angle, they ended up creating works that are not only recognizable out of thousands of others but capture our imagination to this day. “That song expresses what it’s like to –” we say, and then relate some part of life we had to undergo and might again. Sometimes it’s an emotion, sometimes a condition: frustration, loss, fatalism, exuberance.

It is the inner part — the composition — of music that makes the difference between art and entertainment. Entertainment is catchy and easy to tap your foot to, maybe to sing along, and you might even remember it — but did it say something to your soul? Did it take you through an experience to the other side so that you can say you learned something from that song or symphony? Art goes deeper within than entertainment and explores the existential core of our survival, that is the delicate balance of choices by which we make the decisions that determine how we spend our lives.

Entertainment is the same base function by which we buy things, pay taxes, endure jobs, use prostitutes and clean our hindquarters. Art is heroism in battle, art is a love that lasts a lifetime, art is the joy of discovery, the force behind our personalities and wills — Art is all of that which makes life not just bearable but of a higher state of mind, a “transcendence” by which we gain a spiritual sense of meaning to life without relying on the crutches of imaginary gods in the sky, demons in hell, etc.

When I think of metal, I think of the best, because I don’t want to waste my time listening to anything but the best. This is less from some elitism, or perception of my own position as important enough to require the best, than it is from a sense of taking my time seriously. I don’t get as much time as I could fill. Unlike most people, I don’t need television because I don’t normally have hours on end when I have no idea what to do with myself. There’s more here that I want to do than I can in this lifetime. So why fill hours with less than the best art? It only makes sense if you don’t value your time, or have no idea how to amuse yourself, or no higher purpose in life than to consume (and to those people, I always ask: why bother with metal, when rock music is easier and there’s more variation?).

We should aim high in our listening, unless we’re so fascinated by the activity of being involved in music that the music itself doesn’t matter because any music will give us an excuse to be involved, but those who think that way tend to be hobbyists who “get involved” for a handful of years and then drop the whole thing just as quickly but more quietly so they can find another diversion. They aren’t serious about metal as art, so to compensate these people are “serious” about all sorts of accessories: clothing, symbols, behavior, social groups, intoxicants, porn, horror movies — it doesn’t matter what, so long as there’s enough of it to keep them busy.

Unlike entertainment or functional products (porn), art requires us to look inward and to realize what makes a composition great is its ability to communicate a journey: art isn’t like an essay, which communicates by showing us a series of logical thoughts, but it communicates nonetheless by taking us on a tour of the experience that represents the idea it wishes to convey. For example, in The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald shows us the ambition of Americans and how it causes us to contort appearances to hide our souls, which we cannot confront without realizing too much about ourselves and losing our will to live.

Black metal brought us into a dark mood and showed us meaning within it, leading us from outsidership to being comfortable enough with that mood to understand it, and then showing us how it sustained our souls in ways that our society could not. There was a sense of magic, of letting the daylight existence fall away and having an invisible nocturanl world rise up among us, a world of meaning and not the external forms which show clearly in the sunlight so they may be judged as equal or given a dollar value… our daytime world is one of products and moral judgments based on headcounts, of bureaucracy and utilitarianism, of individual morality and ownership; the nighttime world has none of those rules and liberates us to act out the stuff of dreams, the visions of grandeur that come alongside anything important enough to touch our souls, our sense of why we are alive. — that is the art of black metal.

Those who make black metal now are (with a handful of exceptions) making an obsolete genre because while they have more than successfully imitated the appearance and sound of the original black metal bands, they cannot duplicate the inside — the composition, the actual songwriting that makes music sound just as good on an acoustic guitar as on a professionally-recorded CD — which was what made the original bands amazing and started off the whole genre. It’s worth noting that we remember the great bands, and are content to let also-rans like Forgotten Wolves and Ritual and Goatlord fall by the side; they were simply errata.

In the future, whatever metal inherits from black will need a more detailed exploration of the nocturnal world of inside emotions and lightless perceptions, because while the original obsession in black metal was portraying the difference between worlds of light (utilitarian, based on external forms) and dark (things invisible in daylight but unleashed at night, based on internal qualities like emotions and intellect) there now must be a greater depth in exploration. We know the other world exists; we need to see its details and its breadth, and to again find its inspiration in ways that we might bring back to the daylight world. Escapism is not enough, and merely dividing dark from light is not enough; the lushly descending forays of Emperor, or the dark cavernous wanderlust of Burzum, or the ancestral worship of Enslaved, can be brought again to full understanding, but our goal is not longer to show the world we want but to flesh it out.

It is a Romantic spirit, a Gothic spirit, a dark sense of what goes on when the eyes of control in the current world go to sleep; night is liberation from function, because most people are busily preparing for their next empty day of work, school or retirement. In the night one can discover the reasons one is alive, and inevitably, they are linked to the potential death and meaninglessness all around us; much as darkness shows us light in contrast, nothingness shows us what we value. If enemy tanks roll down your street, who or what will you try to save?

Black metal now is a slick product because those who could invent the world inside have mostly gone away, and no one has written new songs showing us the beauty and power of the mystical world black metal created; unlike propaganda, those songs existed first as sensual experience, an adventure, but for this journey to capture our imagination it must delve into the dark regions of our subscious which knows the natural world better than our daylight, socially-conditioned selves — but this mindset of black metal includes many things we hoped to deny, including the medievalism of black metal, its amoralism and nationalism and transcendental mysticism and violence.

For now, people still fear these dangerous grounds; they have, however, perfected the art of aping black metal. We can now make Britney Spears sound like Immortal from our computer desks! But it is an age of nothing for black metal, an inversion of its fundamental belief in the inner world and rejection of the outside world; today’s black metal is like a modern product or forms designed to be processed by machine, because it focuses on external form and permutations of known successful formulas of sounds invented over a decade ago. It is stagnant because it can only re-arrange the externals, and shies away from the spirit or meaning behind the music… the fans no longer need to buy Darkthrone, or Immortal, because these are no longer relevant. They understand the myth of black metal as it would appear on a movie scene, but do they understand how the ideas behind it would be lived, and could give meaning to life?

When this state of mind changes, quality metal will return, and whether it’s in a new form or old form is immaterial. It would not make sense to abandon the flexible lexicon developed through the death and black metal years, because it’s the best adaptation of artistic voice for metal music yet found, but what matters more is what it is used to say. Not just the melodies, but what they represent… the landscapes to which they take us, the nocturnal forays on which they impel us. Art is more than that which conveys it; art is the adventure on which it launches us, and when our spirits once again accept that sacred task of nurturing imagination, metal will once again have the strength it did 1990-1995.

Twilight of the Metal Idols

Eras are relative. Most people, if they are lucky, will live about three-quarters of a century and in that time they usually come to believe that the goals and standards of their time were superior to those that followed. Sometimes this is a belief that is fueled by idealized perceptions, particularly in the case of the Baby Boomers, but other times it is a truth that cannot be ignored no matter how much denial we heap upon it.

My era is the rise of metal as a viable art form, circa 1985. Some will snort and cite the ilk of Motley Crue and Ratt as a case against any artistic content in this music. My response is that those bands were not metal bands, not in the way I think of them. The difference is that nobody who cared about those bands then still truly cares about them now. Fans of yore catch a glimpse of an entertainment news segment that features a bloated Vince Neill loping across and arena stage, and there is no sense of pathos, no sense of glory days gone by, no sense that an era is at an end.

Some months ago, I had the opportunity to briefly meet a legend. He had been in music since the late 1970s, and every band he had created was successful and made a significant mark upon the genre. True, he was aging and weighed more than he should, and the hair dye and concealer was obvious up close, but he was a legend nonetheless. I was always a fan of his work and it was exciting to finally meet him, but seeing him in that time and place struck me in a way that I never expected. It made me sad. This is not because someone I admired was showing his age, or that he presented badly. On the contrary, I was pleased to find that he was gracious and friendly. It was when he walked on to the waiting shuttle van that I felt like I was watching him disappear forever, that he was the last of a breed that was about to go extinct. He was a “big name,” one who had survived many trends and industry coups, but he still had everything in common with those who made their marks in smaller but equally indelible ways.

Metal music, especially in its most extreme quarters, is about death worship or more often a cynical acceptance of this inevitability. Why, then, are the losses in recent years so poignant to so many of us? Why is it harder than it should be to see people like Quorthon and Piggy go to the soil, even though their most important contributions were already years behind them? The answer is simpler than any of us might realize: these passings are not part of a cycle. They are glaring red flags that indicate a clear termination point that is definitely closer than we want to acknowledge. Metal is an art form that has suffered diminishing returns for over a decade, and the deaths of its pioneers are painful in the face of knowing that they will not be replaced. Even now I feel that there are still new bands worth hearing, new albums worth acquiring, but I cannot lie to myself and believe that the current output is every bit as valuable as ones from “the good ol’ days.”

This is where I claim my era. Many neophyte fans of metal are confused when anyone over thirty decries the current crop of mediocre glut, because they were not there when the best albums were released. They cannot understand that there was a time when damn near every release that hit the shelf at the local record store was something special, something that would be cherished and revered for decades to come. It is useless to live in the past, but the beauty of music is that when played it is always in the present whether it was written 1808 or 1988. To know this allows me to revisit, revere, and remember, as much or as often as I choose. It allows me to look at where metal is now and attach it to that legacy without dismay or bitterness.

In the last few years, I have avidly acquired many of the pieces that I could not readily afford when they were first released as I was but a child. I have a room in my home that houses these gems, a room where they are allowed to rage forth and be ageless again and again. But despite the best moments when I am in the thrall of a favorite work, it is hard to not feel heaviness in my heart and know that an era, my era, is nearing its end. My role, and the role of those who preserve those days as I do, is to refuse to forget but also to accept that things will never be the same. As the years drift by we will see the passing of more heroes and innovators and the best thing we can do is bow our heads for a moment, take their records from the shelf, play them at maximum volume, and remember our era once more.

by David Anzalone

Ambient metal

People frequently ask “So what is an ‘ambient metal’ band? Have you actually seen one? Are there any metal bands out there who, if asked, would identify themselves as ‘ambient metal’?” To understand why the term is used, it is important to examine first why bands do anything that they do and second, what the term “ambient” means in the context of history.

Bands are assembled of individuals who together, in some form, decide what their output will be and create it. While much of this is a spontaneous project, there is behind-the-scenes transfer of information through shared musical influences or ideas and concepts the band members collectively find useful. It is unlikely that four guys with guitars sat down one day and said, “We should be the next cutting-edge thing. I know – let’s do ambient music, but on guitars.” A more realistic version is that a band formed and started playing with some ideas they found intellectually or musically stimulating.

The earliest human music was strictly rhythmic; the next generation of change brought linear melodic music; the generation after that used harmony and syncopation to integrate the two, and this slowly gave way to the furthest evolution of form, in which melody as the primary content expression was given context by the most complex understanding of musical devices yet known. Despite its seemingly technical origins, this music achieved an acme of expressiveness in artistic outlook. Human culture is still waiting for another artistic movement with the patient spirit and yet unbridled passion of Beethoven, Bach, Strauss or Wagner.

In the media age of the 1950s-1960s, the previous popular forms of Christian hymns, blues, country and polka were whipped into a single entity and called “rock music.” It has the populist features that classical music lacks: repetitive beat, droning pentatonic harmony, and constant dynamic intensity. It is cyclic music of an unchanging character. This linear constancy reflected the literature and ideals of the early industrial age, or modernism, although presented in a postmodern (“non-hierarchical”) aesthetic concept, until punk music distilled rock music to a few chords and shattered the illusion of uniqueness to any given rock band.

We might call rock “discrete music” because it aimed at a simple, 1:1 ratio between simple and gesture in the music. While earlier music had used pentatonic scales, including accidental or “blue” notes, blues and rock standardized on the pentatonic scale plus a single blue note; most rock is major, harmonic minor, or blues scale composition because these allow a flexible harmony in which no notes are specific to major or minor keys, meaning they can be used over different tonal centers without any notes that sound bad against a chord. Rock standardized the song format on a simplified version of English sea ballads; rock standardized constant syncopated percussion; it also standardized topics and a role (sexual initiation of teenagers). It broke away from the classical idea of phrases which periodically harmonized to exclusively use chords — descending from the guitar’s role as a rhythm instrument in ensembles, minus the ensemble — which caused rhythmic strumming within a narrow tonal range to replace the many notes and changing time signatures of what came to be called “lead rhythm” phrases. Borrowing from Anglo-Celtic, Scandinavian and German folk music, and adding a simplified version of the instrumentation used in German beerhouse bands, it took the lowest common denominator and made a fixed form of it. In short it was the perfect product, but in order to do that, it had to simplify itself into interchangeable parts which each had contextless and thus universal emotional symbolism.

In the 1970s, a countermovement arose in which musicians began looking to new forms for inspiration, and found them in the neoclassical: a merging of classicalist ideas of melody and layered structure with the newfound populist beat patterns of reduced structural changes to prevent intrusion upon the actual song pattern established by melodic architecture. Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, and arguably the first ambient guitarist, Robert Fripp, embraced principles of this ethos contra the simplistic lifestyle support of mainstream rock. In this atmosphere underground metal was born with 1983 luminaries Slayer, Sodom and Bathory. Each put out an album colored by the dark careless phrasing of Venom and wrought in the tremolo strum and ambient offtime rhythmic structures of extreme hardcore. This heritage forms the basis of all underground metal.

The opposite of discrete music, but not yet approaching the complexity of classical, ambient music creates a harmonic texture and relegates percussion to a background role, letting the phrase lead the change of song structure, key and tempo. An ideal ambient composition takes unchanging rhythm and over it layers phrases, creating harmony from their conjoined effect in the way classical music does, making moods “ad hoc” relative to its starting point. Where discrete music focuses on each piece of a song being a thing unto itself, using a universal set of symbols, ambient music invents symbols specific to each song and as a result gives pieces of a song meaning only when existing in the context of others. In this, selected metal and synthesizer music (synthpop, electronica, ambient) are closer to their classical heritage than the distillation of popular memes that is rock. Not all metal and ambient music fits this description; many artists, figuring that their listening audience would rather have something immediately recognizable and familiar in a “new” form, use rock-styled composition with different instrumentation.

Good examples of ambient metal are found in At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours and Darkthrone Transilvanian Hunger most prominently, but these are the end product of an evolution that began when Black Sabbath began imitating the phrases of horror movie soundtracks in streams of power chords. The first three Morbid Angel albums, anything from Burzum, the first two Sepultura EPs, and Sarcófago I.N.R.I. all exhibit ambient tendencies, among many other albums. Not surprisingly, these bands tend to write about topics that are not “universal” in the sense of common to all human beings in the way morality is surmised to be absolute, but write from a perspective outside that of the human, as if showing us interactions of people and nature in a dispassionate, nihilistic universe which delights in conflict and interconnection more than symbols held up above nature itself.

As any change in musical style points to a change in thinking patterns, the rise of ambience in metal signifies a falling away from mainstream views — which tend to be discrete, moralistic, utilitarian, and universalist — toward a naturalistic and scientific view of reality. The linear is broken; the complex and multithreaded view of causality that ancient civilizations had, in which no single event led to change, but a collaboration of events, has been restored in the music itself, as has a belief in varied dynamics, implying a greater narrative range. In this light, it is impossible to see this music as anything but an ongoing revolution, even if the names used here are still foreign to most of the bands producing it.

Ambient music and its relation to metal

The genres grew up simultaneously and converge in the current generation
by Alex Birch

After Burzum started producing pure electronic soundtracks to Pagan mythology, Fenriz from Darkthrone decided to go avant-garde and composing electronic space explorations, Ildjarn left his Discharge-empowered poetry and began producing synth-layered soundscapes, and Beherit, in an attempt to revive the band from the dusty archives, set out to create simple but haunting digitalized neoclassical harmony, many metal fans previously only accustomed to the sound of raw guitars, slamming drums, dark basses, and tearing screams from the abyss, now began taking great interest in what the electronic genre had to offer. To the surprise of many, electronic music was close to the compositional and aesthetic roots of metal, acknowledging new bands using ambient and metal to fuse a blend between two modern instrumentations.

am-bi-ent (am’be-ənt)adj. Surrounding; encircling: ambient sound; ambient air.[Latin ambiens, ambient-, present participle of ambire, to surround : amb-, ambi-, around; see ambi- + ire, to go; see ei- in Indo-European roots.]

- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

As shown by the etymological explanation above, ambient music is an artistic medium trying to achieve an atmosphere or a particular surrounding, based most commonly on electronic sounds that are looped until the listener feels a certain mood and place arise within the mind. Usually the artist takes use of a basic synth-layer, using that as a base for a melodic or harmonic development. The synth-layer can collaborate through assonance or dissonance with another layer, in order to create balance and expand the instrumental possibilities. Tribal beats or other forms of percussion may be used to set a rhythm along with the flowing electronic waves, but most commonly these are left out completely. On top of the basic flow of key tones, the ambient artist experiments with melody and harmony, which we as listeners recognize as thematic communication. The melodies are often looped for a certain period of time, in order to achieve a form of transcendental, hypnotizing effect. Only by listening to the music continuously without interruption, perhaps over a time span of 30 minutes or longer, can the intensity and the thematic realization reach a high-end point.

Due to its very nature as music, ambient is ideal for meditation, as it means long listening hours, often with a calming and soothing effect for the mind, body, and soul. Its instrumental simplicity adds up to this, but the compositional method is often very complex. The artists can integrate different kinds of sound effects to create additional musical experiences: rivers flowing, people screaming, distorted political speeches, and even computerized sounds from a car or a machine, to further enhance and set the mood to its relative course. The leading melodies often intertwine with the basic synth-layer, ending in collaboration between rhythm (“pace”) and harmony. Some artists are able compose entire songs only by manipulating a few synth-tones, co-ordinating them into different patterns or cyclic key melodies, and as a result achieve an echoing effect in harmony. Percussion-only, like one tribal beat played against another, may also create an ambient-effect of great use — the possibilities lie within the ideas of the composer. Not surprisingly the ambient genre is a very experimental one, fusing metal, folk, jazz, and even classical music, into an organic symbiosis.

Ambient music can be seen as a structuralistic form of music, meaning the listener must recreate the compositional structure within the mind, in order to understand the ideas communicated through the musical medium. While popular music and most of the metal created today, are built around the concept of musical progression through key choruses that function as leading melodies, ambient music often lacks melodic development and instead tries to achieve an atmosphere by slowly building up harmonic tension over a large time span. The listener is forced to maintain a close relationship to the variation in tonal, melodic, and harmonic presence, and forge all partial developments of the music into a central motif. While this may sound academic, it is often very simple: by paying attention to the music you’re listening to, following the progression of the composition itself instead of the melody, you will automatically gain an understanding of the underlying structure within the music.

This does not mean that the structure in ambient music “exists” in the objective sense of the word, but that it functions as an assessment of the how the music is structured and what it tries to tell us through ideas. This, along with the fact that ambient music is created to achieve an atmosphere, makes it a very esoteric listening experience, almost like a religious ritual or an intense philosophizing thinking process. There are many kinds of ambient music and, like in metal music, certainly not all subgenres are relevant in the categorizing of the main genre. What they all share in common is a free compositional method of creating music, breaking the boundaries of verse-chorus-bridge-thinking and using the rhythm as a pacesetter and not as determiner of melodic or harmonic progression. This leaves the field open for the artists to create different patterns of ideas without being restricted to a linear beat, like in rock or popular music.

The relationship between ambient and other forms of music may seem far-fetched, but is in fact something that has helped it gain a larger listening audience outside underground circles. Metal music, like ambient, is built around the compositional idea that originates from classical music: long and intense pieces communicating an active life experience, through the inherent variation in musical structure. The free boundaries of harmony in classical music, are in ambient used to let go of all sense of percussion and instead form a continuous rhythm by regularly looping melody and sound effects, until a consecutive working arises and determines the overall thematic and musical base, on which to build upon through progression or deconstruction. Like with classical and metal music, ambient is through its free composition able to take use of partial experiences, and merging these together to form a central motif. While most rock and popular music is built around one key melody without significance to experience, classical, metal, and ambient music can only be understood when interpreting the melodic/harmonic and structural changes in the pieces, and construct these together inside the mind of listener, into a solid whole representing and describing an overall ideal, sensation, feeling, or experience.

The links between metal and ambient music are therefore multiple, and when leading bands within black metal realized the decay of the genre as a whole, they quickly turned to what must have been seen as an obvious next stage within creating neoclassical music: pure electronic textures, free from drums and conventionalities, trying to revive classical music through modern instrumentation. The ambient veteran Klaus Schulze proved that this was fully possible by releasing his album entitled “X”. In it he composes pieces functioning as musical biographies of famous German artists like Georg Trakl and Friedrich Nietzsche. While the first pieces are entirely created using the infamous synthesizer (an electronic instrument creating musical output by mathematically or by hand, manipulating keys and sounds by different musical techniques), Schulze gradually integrates classical instruments like violins. In the final piece he takes use of a full symphony orchestra and manages to create music where the classical meets the modern ambient sound techniques. The result is beyond what any artist within the ambient field so far has achieved.

Other ambient projects like the old-school synthesizer masters Tangerine Dream, began experimenting with the possibility in letting concurrent synth melodies function much like a symphony orchestra works with counterpoint, leaving out most percussive determiners and thereby form a music driven by a free melodic progression in sound. Post-techno projects like Polygon Window instead went the other way and tried to create harmony by working with tribal beats and looping them concurrently, so that a meta-harmony was taking shape as both rhythm and key melody. Early artists like Screaming Corpse would even strip the music of all melody, instead collaborating with sound effects in order to fuse different collage into central motifs. Buzzing sounds and distorted screams passing a digitalized filter, would function as instruments themselves, experimenting with echo-effects and extreme reverbing techniques.

This method of composing music was later developed into what we today refer to as “industrial ambient”, meaning a form of music that by working with machine-driven beats and sound effects replicating mechanistic and robotic parts of modern society, achieves a post-industrial form of electronic music. Similarly many projects take use of sound effects from nature, which nowadays is called “nature ambient”; samples of thunder, running water, moving glaciers etc. together with electronic instrumentation, in an attempt to describe an experience related to nature and its process as organic system. Amir Baghiri demonstrates this when forming melodic motifs by using water drums to evoke the soul of nature with its own organic material. Neoclassical ambient artist Biosphere can also be added to this list, manipulating sound effects from nature with cold and bleak soundscapes, forging a timeless atmosphere set out in the freezing northern Europe.

However, the most common form of ambient is that of long and simplistic synth tones, balancing between different tonal heights and variation in intensity, slowly building up a meditative state of mind within the listener. Lustmord and Lull are two classic examples of this compositional method: no percussion, no beat, no central melodic or harmonic motif, only hour-long sonic textures forged by the most simple of tonal variation. The theme is only understood by listening to the whole piece from start to finish, paying close attention to the underlying structures in the music and placing them in context with the central compositional idea. Metal works the same way: the understanding of the music is only apparent to the listener who follows the structural progression and not simply trying to find any “truths” within the aesthetic alone. Classical music is even more free from boundaries than metal, and requires a high attention span in order for the listener to follow each small harmonic change, and realizing its relevance from a larger contextual “truth”, which is assessed only within the mind of he or she who listens, but nonetheless is a result of an assessment of what the medium is trying to communicate.

Sometimes the entire musical picture is disintegrated into monotone sound waves, like a radio transmission being converted into pure synth layers, moving back and forth between two levels of intensity, much like the waves of the sea meets the shore. Post-Beherit project Suuri Shamaani composed music this way, following a logical progression of its previous attempts in creating solid and flowing music without as little rhythmic restrictions as possible. Inspired by synthpop masters Kraftwerk and the previously mentioned Tangerine Dream, Suuri Shamaani gained a new presence within ambient music with its desperately bleak, dissonant, organic, over-simplistic instrumentation. Fenriz’ side-project Neptune Towers was following the same lead when breaking apart the sparse beats found within the music of Tangerine Dream, and instead using the synthesizer to both shape rhythm and harmony around improvised melodies, thriving on free contextual motifs connected to the organic space of universe.

Similarly have some ambient artists been trying to use instrumentation from more traditional elements like heavy metal, to explore the possibilities in letting metal, ambient, and classical music collaborate on a common idealistic basis. Canadian ambient project Ashtorath and the more well-known artist Robert Fripp, found new life in the electronic genre when integrating classical harmony and metal instrumentation, like piano and guitar solos, even taking use of violins to achieve a neoclassical atmosphere.

While the composition behind ambient music has been complex as in the case of Klaus Schulze or Tangerine Dream, the simplicity of the instrumentation has remained as a hallmark for most of the material created within the ambient field. The veteran and official founder of the concept of ambient music, Brian Eno, stated in the liner notes to the album Music for Airports, that it had to be “[...] able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.” His music was built around this idea: simple key notes balancing on equally simple central motifs, both working as background meditation, but also providing the listener with a deeper contextual depth that only could be found by paying close attention to the structural core of each piece. In this sense, ambient music is both passive and active, as the mind of the listener concurrently experiences a background and a leading theme. This was nothing new to the metal fans that started to listen to Klaus Schulze and Neptune Towers after the outbreak of populism within the genre after 1996.

Metal music follows the same compositional method as described above: what to most people sound like “noise”, is to the regular metal listener a clear and distinctive form of music close to the classical ideals. This is understood only by seeing through the “noise” generated by the guitar riffs and the slamming drums, and instead paying attention to the underlying melody, structure, and thematic presentation. Still the metal artist is able to take use of the “noise effect” by manipulating it and turning it into an aesthetic pleasure – an important part of the musical experience as a whole. Classical music almost completely breaches the boundaries of passive/active switching by its continuous flow of partial melodic development, but similarly has the ability of being understood as both an overall tonal advancement towards a certain key motif, and as partial context in melodic detail: the focus on the partial and the whole becomes a clash that can equally by seen as the switch between the passive and active listening experience. As listeners of classical, metal, and ambient music, we both interpret the active experience and the “passive” one automatically generated, by letting the mind making a continuous re-assessment of the overall advancement of the music. This is how we are able to remember certain key parts in a musical piece, from over an hour of perhaps 40-50 different melodies; we’ve registered the overall tonal variation and from there on, remembered the partial textures built around the central motif of each piece. This can be compared to the sense of hierarchical memory by which our brain often functions: you read the word “Burzum” and think of keywords linked to that phenomenon: “ambient”, “Odin”, “Discharge”.

Is should be somewhat apparent after this reading, that ambient and metal music have a lot in common, and that the narrative basis in metal music made a logical progression away from blues/rock standards, instead trying to conquer new grounds by leaving the standardized format and migrating to an open and free composition closer to that of classical music. With that migration, the blockheads that still today are producing four-chord-cycled riffs, were left behind and still to this day do not understand nor comprehend the genius in Neptune Towers or later Burzum and Beherit. The metal artists proved once again that their ideal was an elitist and romanticist one, creating art after experience and ideal, and not after commerce and popularity. Ambient was the choice for many serious black and death metal bands when the genre became crowded with too many populists, and since the ambient field was both close to classical/romanticist ideals, and offered a modern way of reviving ancient wisdom from centuries far left behind, it was seen as the only step towards a more unrestricted musical area, filled with the passion and atmosphere that defined the best of black and death metal. Today most serious metal fans also listen to classical and ambient music, knowing these three genres contain a lasting artistic expression towards natural and traditional ideals, free from conventions found within blues, rock, and popular music, breaking new boundaries as further possibilities are explored, along the way on the journey to the stars.

Why “Christian metal” is an oxymoron

Any genre of music can be said to have an ideology, or ideological range. The musicians and fans had to pick the music because it sounded like something they wanted in their lives. With a really dumb genre, that would be distraction or posing like a slacker or a pimp. With more complex genres, the aesthetics and organization of the music suggest ideals people desire. For metal, the aesthetic — finding beauty in dischordant darkness — and organization — a “riff salad” that narrates like a poem — suggests a rejection of the human perspective for a more holistic reality.

It is this style of metal, from its first riffs derived from the modernist-classical-lite melodies of horror movie soundtracks, which, by eschewing fixed “meaning” for a sense of fitting together as a whole and having an architectonic clarity as the songs, shows us a world from the perspective of a movie, or a scientist, or history: the camera pans back and we no longer think of individuals involved as being important in their own right. We think of the story, the situation, and the outcome, but with our knowledge we cannot be limited to an anthropocentric position.

This is how, without even reading the lyrics, we can tell what metal has in the way of values and worldview, which if you believe in them enough to think they’d make a good organization for civilization, you call an “ideology.” The ideology of Britney Spears is “what the hell, who cares”; the ideology of jazz is cosmopolitanism; the ideology of techno is vibrant distraction; the ideology of classical music is a respect for intensity and attention span. All forms of art have some form of ideology, although sometimes it is hard to recognize because it is subtle or, in many cases, non-challenging (see “Britney Spears” some words ago).

The Metal Ideology

With a little more analysis, we can enumerate the metal ideology as follows:

  • Feral naturalism – Horror, predation, violence, and battle are praised for their intensity as experience and their power. Morality is thrown away in favor of this appreciation for the mechanisms of reality.
  • Technofutilism – As in horror films, technology and social institutions are useless for dealing with the problems we face.
  • Realistic individualism – The wisdom of crowds is feared and seen as false, since they pander to each other (poseurs, sell-outs). However, the individualist is realistic and so knows that everyone in a crowd is an individualist, and that’s how a crowd forms.
  • Nihilism – Morality is a human imposition, as are value and purpose. Nature doesn’t care what happens to us, and neither do the gods. We’re in the driver’s seat and whether we sink or swim is 100% up to us.
  • Holism – There is a frustration with the tendency of modern society to break down experiences and concepts by using exclusive logical OR operations in a categorical context; it is either a truth OR an opinion, but can’t be both, and so on. Metal is a genre of logical AND, in that it sees all of our judgments as attributes and reality as the only arbitrer.
  • Ludic, absurdist materialism – In a metal view, we are only fleshy bodies and we can have transcendent thoughts, but we will always be what we are. From that, we can clear aside pretense and enjoy life, which is inherently absurd, gross, terrifying, crass, insane and beautiful, the most rational design ever, rewarding.

Evidence for each of these assertions can be found in metal lyrics, imagery and through a thoughtful perspective on the sounds and structures used in metal songs. You could claim “the past is alive” and “only death is real” as good starting points, but even early Black Sabbath lyrics have the romanticist, naturalistic, holistic and nihilistic tendencies that create the above values system. In this, metal bands are not dissimilar to European Romantic poetry and classical music, which was also post-moral, saw the individual as a means and not an end, nationalistic, and playful.

Christianity, on the other hand, is more complex because it is open to wide interpretations. Narrowing in on what most people believe, we can see it has several basic tenets, originating in its idea of individual equality in the eyes of God. To a metalhead, this interpretation of Christianity seems anti-nature, because we are not equal in ability and any interpretation of equality is a human imposition that does not exist in nature; further, metalheads distrust the creation of alternate realities like God, heaven and hell. Not all interpretations of Christianity have these tenets, and some in fact are closer to what metal believes (the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Johannes Eckhart or Arthur Schopenhauer come to mind). But for the mass religion that conquered much of Europe, these are its beliefs:

  • Dualism – Christianity believes in a second reality that exists outside of this one. This reality, in which there is pure moral “good,” is called Heaven and we are supposed to impose it on earth; Hell exists in this same spirit realm.
  • Morality/peace/benevolence – In Christian lore, the best possible method of living is one that is peaceful, as that way you do not interrupt others. To a metalhead, this is ridiculous because people can be doing things that while not explicitly immoral cause bad consequences, and so of course you interrupt them.
  • Discrete individualism – Christian dogma supports the idea of the individual as absolute in that they are to be granted as much freedom as possible, and can be judged only by God, and should be forgiven when they screw up. This is to a metalhead imposition of the will of the Crowd on the individual and a type of slavery, as it retards those who do have a clue from acting to keep the clueless from dominating via superior numbers.

The common root of these Christian beliefs is humanism, or belief in the predominance of the human form and its incarnations, individuals. The Christian God is shaped like a human; Christian morality rewards never harming or killing humans even if they’re doing insane things; Christian morality emphasizes how we’re all equal. We can see how the elaborate dance of morality and theology supports a much simpler human truth, which is the desire of the ego of each one of us to be independent from forces which can humble it with reality. We want to be free from the consequences of making bad decisions and the social judgment of others, because either can show us to be incorrect or to have a weakness, and that scares us in a social setting and makes us lose social status. The root of Christianity is affirming the ego’s power; the root of metal is affirming the power of nature and by unintentional consequence, decreasing the supremacy of the ego.

Romanticism

Romanticism, the parent belief of metal, originates in a more naturalistic time before beliefs like Christianity separated the self-valuation of the human individual from nature, and gave them an imaginary reality (morality) with which to compensate. Although Christianity means well, the unintended consequence is that it makes people more selfish because instead of just trying to live their lives, they are now trying to prove and justify their worth in a moral context. The resulting drama creates many social problems because it ultimately boils down to a denial of reality in favor of individual withdrawl from reality, and it creates neurosis and ego competition.

For this reason art — which tries to affirm our bonds to reality, or through unitivity remove us from false worlds and the withdrawl into our own perspective — has been at odds with society for at least a millenium, perhaps longer. Where social control, power, law and religion require external affirmation for the individual to justify themselves, art confronts the accepted vision of reality with a fantasy that is metaphorically more accurate than the “scientific” and “objective” beliefs of a dying society. Art reconnects us with cause/effect reasoning by taking us out of a false context, and through a new context, showing us where our values lie.

Both Romanticist art and metal are therefore in conflict with Christianity as 99% of its audience practices it, and they have run into additional conflict through Christian propaganda trying to emulate the original art forms. When a Christian or secular humanist (atheistic version of Christian morality) sees metal, which is a value system that not only denies their own but makes it look like an arbitrary fantasy into which people escape their fear of mortality and failure, they have a tendency to do what any good propagandist would do: make their own version of the art in question, and then point to that new creation which did not emerge from the artistic movement but was imposed upon it, and use its existence to claim that consensus does not exist in the artistic movement.

We call this imposed, false, externalized metal “Christian metal” because its defining factor is that it is Christian. It is not a genre, but can appear in any genre; it is an ideological tag with a parallel in neo-Nazi music in that what matters most is its message, and it uses metal as a conduit for that message, instead of wanting to create metal for metal’s sake and therefore explore the values of metal.

A History of Christian Metal

Metal is a romanticist movement which was inspired by the classical era of European humanity, including as part of its view many Romantic philosophical ideals which are pre-Christian in their derivation and anti-Christian in their values.

  • Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath were originally a blues band who later shifted to metal to reflect an interest in the occult. After three albums in which massive drug use and public outcry over their beliefs battered them down, they created an album which had several pro-Christian songs. This does not necessarily reflect their beliefs, nor is likely to do so, but illustrates the confusion and doubt they encountered at the time and the religion of their youth to whose programming they returned. Further, their songs which had a “warning” about the occult were a product of their having an interest in occultist themes, but not necessarily a propagandistic outlook on it (where in contrast, every single “Christian metal” band that has ever existed has taken a preachy, condescending, demagogic tone toward their audience).
  • Metal – Metal, in Black Sabbath and related bands of that era including King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, and Blue Cheer, reflected a tendency toward darker worldviews which could best be described as Romanticist in the spirit of the literature, art and music of the post-Renaissance in which artists disaffected with the humanism of the time sought a greater meaning than a moralization to existence through art. Poets like Keats, Wordsworth, and Shelley were a revolution against a secular Christian movement in which, despite little talk of afterlife and spirituality, a tendency existed for the first time in European art to preach a secular morality to which one adhered or drifted into the ambiguous, obscure and “evil.” The works of those poets and others from the modern Romanticist movement were invoked by the similar themes of early proto-metal bands, including a fascination with the morbid and with ancient times, a desire for transcendence within the world itself, a ruthless sense of self-discipline and heroic character, and a desire for more significance in life itself more than a concern for post-death salvation.After some years of heavy metal, the movement had solidified much of its artistic technique but had degenerated into hedonism, and fortunately was able to merge with the more dogmatic punk to form the first generation of speed metal. These bands were alarmingly preachy and leftist and as a result quickly self-destructed, prompting the extreme side of metal to go “underground” and dispense entirely with morality and, in the lead of heroes like Bathory and Slayer, who arguably invented the next generation, to preach an imaginative, Romantic “Satanic” outlook which like Black Sabbath was more fascinated with the occult than with preaching its values. The music of Slayer for example uses metaphorical Satanism to describe the errors and horrors of war, disease, violence and crime. Following these bands was a genre made more alienated by the increasing failures of society to recognize its error, and made somewhat bitter by the increasing resentment rising from a society (America at least) that in 80% of its members found an affinity for Judeo-Christian beliefs. Death metal and following it, black metal, as a result were more violent and more dogmatic toward Christ and Judea; part of this was inherited from their “hidden” ancestors in hardcore punk music, who as part of their alienated nihilism recognized religion as the social control mechanism which many of us allege it is.

    From the No Right to Disagree With Us Department:

    The national poll of 1,000 American adults conducted April 26 through May 6, 2002 found that 17% of Americans – or about 35 million adults – hold views about Jews that are “unquestionably anti-Semitic.” source

    With the state of metal now, virtually every formative band in the underground has taken a negative stance on Christianity (and many have attacked Judaism and Islam as well). This is a result of the evolutionary process within the genre detailed above. Times have changed since Black Sabbath, and to a perceptive youth of today the strengthening role of religion and secular moral symbolism derived from religion is not only clear but alarming. Consequently, the most popular metal genre ever, black metal, is unanimous in its destructive impulses toward Christianity and its parent religion, Judaism from the middle east.

  • Why Christian metal is destructive – The Christian — or to a philosopher, humanist, whether secular or ecclesiastical — worldview is the underlying outlook of our society. That means that anything which is not Christian or secular humanist is the rarity, not the other way around. Christians confuse a lack of symbolic agreement with Christianity — saying “I am a Christian” or similar — with a lack of agreement. Essentially, secular humanism and Christianity are the same philosophy and they’re what all but a few people in our society take for granted as “correct.”With this in mind, it makes almost no sense that Christians would attempt to subvert metal for their own dogma, yet they attempt it because symbolically, metal is threatening to the Christian outlook because it endorses a theory in which good and evil are necessary balance, yet does not endorse true “evil” (selfish, deconstructive, callow acts). We should be cynical toward the Christian metal perspective and question it at all times, because it is paradoxical for the following reasons:
    • First, if people should write about what they really believe in, why should they spread the dogma of a religion that they didn’t invent?
    • If they really believe this religion, then metal – as a movement with overwhelming occultist, nihilistic, fascistic overtones – is something they should avoid. Why would they choose to join a genre which contradicts what they believe?
    • Is there no greater “trend” than the 2,000 years in which Judeo-Christian religions have been gaining prominence in the west? What is “un-trendy” about following the same religion that at least 80% of the people in your country follow?
    • Why should metal desire “a lot more of the youth” to be interested in it, if conformity is not our goal? Metal is like many genres self-selecting, and does not aim to be broad. By your logic, we should start making music like Britney Spears (except with a Christian message!) in order to get a wider audience.
    • How can one “truly feel” something which one has to be taught in order to regard it as true? A man raised alone in the forest may invent a religion, but perhaps not the whole dogma of Christ.

    There is obviously more to be said along these lines of questioning, but it’s not necessary here. I’d like to close by mentioning something else: that every single “Christian metal” band that has ever existed has been a poor copy of a “secular” band. Even the most popular, “Believer,” were a ripoff of an Atheist album coming out a year earlier. The separate nature of “Christian metal,” and that the genre itself draws a clear distinction between “secular” and religious music, demonstrates how Christians view “Christian metal”: a tool for preaching acceptable lyrics into a genre that has otherwise on the whole rejected Christ.

In 1990, ninety percent of the adult population identified with one or another religion group. source

In our current time, Judeo-Christianity is not only dominant in social thinking but has become secularized and dominant there as well. Prior to Judeo-Christianity’s arrival, concepts such as “morality” and “equality” and dualism were rejected by the inhabitants of Europe as insane or alien. After years of slowly working its way into that culture, Christianity became the dominant religion through its influence among the poor, the downtrodden, the pathetic, the less-capable and the spiteful. Currently, Judaism and Christianity are the dominant religions in America and most of the Western World. For example, both presidential candidates in the last election spoke extensively of their relationships to “God” and of the “morality” of their ideas, including vice-Presidential candidate Joseph Liebermann who considers himself “the moral voice of the Senate.”

“From these two religions we find at least all of our last ten presidents and their ancestors, and among the believers we find the owners of every major media establishment in the country as well as most of the smaller ones. Virtually every Congressperson has prominently featured in his or her campaign propaganda the Christian or Jewish nature of his or her morality, and most television anchors will make reference to secularized Christian moral concepts or the Judaic “God” in the midst of a supposedly objective broadcast. Before Judeo-Christianity, these concepts did not exist in the Western world; their sole origin is in the religions of Christ and Moses (who were both born Jewish).

This article is not an attempt to smear the people ensnared by these sick ideas; on the contrary, I view them as “victims” also in that their consciousness has had a control mechanism implanted within it. This goes for secular people like yourself, who in good faith sit down and write me a letter like the one quoted above in which you espouse humanist ideals of “individual choice” and “belief.” In the cases of believers however, those ideals do not exist; what does exist is conformity to an ideal of social control, and metal rightly rejects it.

Christians see themselves as very tolerant of people of other faiths, with 81% of Christians saying that Christians in the United States are “very” or “somewhat” tolerant of people of other faiths. People who are not Christians agree with this view for the most part, but not nearly as many of them are fully convinced of Christian tolerance. Only 54% of non-Christians see Christians as being tolerant of people of other faiths. source

Another Form of Humanism: Satanism

Satanism in black metal, death metal, “doom metal,” heavy metal, evil metal, speed metal, thrash and grindcore/metal hybrids arises from the need of metal musicians to understand emptiness in the universe and find a metaphor for its acceptance, a trait in evidence in death metal, black metal, heavy metal and ambient metal to extremes. Much like Romantic poets John Milton or William Blake explored the occult, evil and Satan as metaphor, metal bands find Satan a tempting metaphor for a society against which you can rebel without escaping its psychological trap.

Many of society’s abused denizens, looking at the over-the-top exultation in Satanism, Evil, deviant or degenerate behavior in metal, find themselvs turning back in disgust: “Awk! These kids are just trying to piss me off – contrarians, they only want to invert what is, and to create attention for themselves.”

One could not be more wrong. Contrarians wish to behave “badly” to grab the attention that comes from swimming the wrong way up the stream, but to get that attention, they depend on a cousin of pity: the belief that those who choose a different path are lost and looking for the others to bring them back in to a hearth of comfort and goodness. In short, a contrarian affirms the belief system she is rejecting.

Satanism, as practiced by death metal and black metal bands, does not involve an inversion but a surpassing of moral norms and social custom. To understand this, one must first understand the nihilism of metal bands: they do not believe there is “good” or “evil,” but see events as disconnected from any form of absolute other than their inherent function – that is to say, metal bands believe that events do not have a face value and instead view existence with a scientific eye that traces a complexity of causes, reactions, and similarities but does not attempt to ascribe any of it to absolute forces except logical tendencies.

Where Satanism exists for metal bands it functions as metaphor in following the footsteps of the Master: in each mythology where he touches, the Satan-figure is the youthful and ambiguous rebel who rejects what has come before in favor of his own path, and despite his consequent exile from society, finds truth in what he has created and found. The cry from Milton of Satan’s independence – “I will not serve!” – echoes in a genre that insists on finding out its own answers, and creating its own paths, on an individual basis. Unfortunately, that leads to the ego-basis of Christianity and secular humanism, and shortly afterwards, the sickening morals that constrain begin again.

Resistance

You can strengthen the genre of metal by resisting this form of social control in form of boycotts, public awareness of its true intention, and a refusal to accept it as metal. If it is played on the radio, call in to speak the truth about its agenda. If a friend plays it on a stereo, speak out against the controlling mindset of the music. If someone tells you that it’s “open-minded” to accept music that attempts to destroy the philosophies of the genre to which it theoretically belongs, tell them that art does not reprogram human souls toward giving in to a fear of death, and that true metal will liberate them from their fear of existence.

The Mythology of Black Metal

Black metal arose at the end of the previous decade but was able to get itself published in the 1990s; this decade was characterized by the fall of the Soviet Union, a corresponding resurgence in liberalism in the West now that no leftist enemy existed, and a decade of prosperity as the profits of Cold War expansion were consumed. Black metal injected its viral DNA with a message of extreme occult opposition to the norm, hatred of Christianity, national-ethnic pride and loathing for normal, trend-oriented humans.

To most, it seemed like an excessively dischordant voice. After all, the good times had arrived — hadn’t they? The big evil was gone, and only good remained, and with our new good intentions for all — liberalism — we were sure to make friends, raise the wealth of the world to our level, and (some assumed) end war, suffering, tragedy, racism and religious hate forever. Black metal idealized all of those things and to most at first seemed a movement for lost teenagers looking for an identity outside of the suburban lifestyle sure to assimilate them.

However, as the 1990s drew to a close, black metal no longer seemed a voice in the wilderness. The loss of US-USSR detente fractured the two former political blocs into wildly disparate and conflicted groups, swarming the world with unrest, ethnic cleansing and jihad. After years of being a Christian nation supporting the Jewish state against its Islamic neighbors, the United States brought religious conflict home through the guerrilla attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.

What made black metal so dissident — and so prophetic? After all, it had come to public awareness in 1994 as the progenitor of church burnings, a few racial slayings, numerous arrests and several suicides. Its adherents appeared lost in a world of imagination in which occult figures and ancient gods were as real as Wal-Mart, a Gothic diatribe in which death was positive and a madding crowd, unseeing and unthinking, dominated a world from which the independent mind must escape.

In this, black metal seemed constructed of modern allusions to a genre which had flourished two hundred years earlier: the European Romantic movement in art, music and literature. Famed for such classics as Ode to a Grecian Urn, Frankenstein and Paradise Lost, this genre had been an outpouring of resistance as the effects of industrial revolution hit Europe: a newly important lower middle class, corporate feudal property and labor wealth, and a series of popular rebellions which overthrew aristocratic governments and replaced them with democracies.

The principles of the Romantics were simple: the transient physical world had replaced the immortal and abstract world of meaning, and that invisible world needed to be re-discovered by brave souls willing to face the challenges of mortality and finding meaning in a time when physical survival was increasingly easy. Like archaeologists, the Romantics plumbed our souls to uncover artifacts that made life significant, like romantic love and adoration of the eternal as seen in ancient societies. They also, in books like Frankenstein and Dracula, warned of technology having occult-like consequences of unseen but pervasive power in our world.

To a Romantic, most people see only a fragment of life, the visible. They deny the world of meaning and spirit which requires one conquer fear of death and recognize its utility in making our life precious, something which cannot be spent on merely material pursuits but must be expended in the discovery of great ideas or accomplishment of great challenges. While the Romantics failed to enact political change, mainly because the newly-empowered voting masses were manufactured without the intellectual circuits necessary to grasp these concepts, their ideas remain pervasive among contemplative people to this day.

Black metal, in resurrecting this belief in full form, idealized the ancients and the pagan transcendentalist faith of ancient Europe, a spiritual belief which unlike dualism (good/evil, a pure Heaven versus an impure earth) found spiritual meaning in our physical lives and by finding that meaning, balanced the emptiness of death with something of eternal value to the individual. Romantics were nationalistic, embraced mortality as both giver of significance and deliverance, found beauty in ancient ruins and solitude, and disdained the crowd empowered by technology and its primitive, brainless pleasures.

To a Romantic, Wal-Mart is hell and there is no heaven.

As the decade rolled into a new millennium, the precepts of black metal as established during its formative years of 1990-1994 became a prophecy fulfilled. The Christian and Jewish West engaged in war with Islam, ready to fight the Buddhist East when the current conflict ends, and the oil supplies and natural resources that empowered technology showed visible signs of decline, as anyone with a brain could have predicted. Further, the influence of mass media, mass taste, and popular opinion began to show its frailty in how easily it could be manipulated by fear of terrorism, religious symbolism and individual economic motivations.

Currently, most of what original black metal bands espoused remains taboo, and the genre has been infiltrated by groupthink in the form of thousands of bands that emulate the founders in appearance while holding none of their challenging ideas. It, too, is now a product. However, as the travesty of the decline of the West unfolds, the ideas of black metal not only take on new meaning but become realized before our eyes.

History of the band Mayhem

Like a dark breath of forbidden fantasy, black metal came into a world of orderly containers and sprayed them with foaming blood, black bile, and most of all a poisonous uncertainty about the safely egalitarian but boring lifestyle of the first world. In this genre, Mayhem were the band that by sheer persistence evolved into being one of the founders of the new black metal style, but only after years of thrashing in the dark and confusion of the fatalistic tendencies that eventually brought the band to artistic collapse.

Formed in the early 1980s by Oystein Aarseth, or Euronymous, the band released two demos which built upon what Bathory and Celtic Frost had achieved by making it more minimal, less coherent, and less friendly to the ears; in truth, the first anti-social music. The latter of these, “Pure Fucking Armageddon,” had attributes of extreme crustcore infused into its fractured heavy metal stylings, bringing criticism from a metal world which was then just beginning to accept Morbid Angel, Kreator, Destruction and others as a new form of “music.”

As time went on, two important things happened: first, Mayhem released “Deathcrush,” their first release and the best snapshot of the musical style they were attempting to produce, and second, the vocalist “Dead” [Per Yngwe Ohlin] from the Swedish band Morbid joined Mayhem to replace previous vocalist Maniac. The underground was slow at first to embrace the newer music, but soon there was a firm niche carved out for Mayhem: those who rejected the desire for logicality, in the modernist style, that death metal represented. As Euronymous said, “Black Metal is so extreme that not anyone can get into it. This isn’t any funny hobby which stupid kids shall have after they comes home from school.”

With the introduction of Dead, the conceptual impetus behind the band changed, and soon the blocky and deliberately awkward music of “Deathcrush” was metamorphosizing into a sleeker, melodic variant with more dynamic change in the songs, producing different “settings” to tell a tale, somewhat like a micro-opera in harsh guitars and howling vocals. Similarly, the appearance of the band went from t-shirts and jeans to black clothing, black boots and facepaint – corpsepaint – in black and white. In concert, Dead cut himself onstage, surrounded by the carcasses and heads of slaughtered animals. A full rejection of the positivity, pity and focus on individual lives of democratic humanism, the new appearance and music of Mayhem emphasized the bold, terrifying, morally ambiguous and deathlike in life itself. To understand it, one had to realize that the passion given to the music was an affirmation of life, but a different form of life, than that endorsed by the nominally Christian Nordic countries.

With this change, the following of Mayhem increased, especially as their recognizably different image placed them ahead of other musical efforts in the world of metal as less socialized and thus more extreme. Mayhem played a series of concerts across Europe, but recording and songwriting were sporadic, thus little material emerged from this period. At the end of it, Dead, in a moment of nihilism and darkness in 1991, slashed both his wrists and blew out his brains with a shotgun, leaving only a note: “Please excuse all the blood.” Euronymous, upon returning to the band’s shared dwellingspace to discover the cold corpse, took pieces of the brain and integrated them in a stew of ham and vegetables for the pleasure of eating human flesh; the band’s drummer, Hellhammer, took pieces of the shattered skullcap and made them into a necklace. As if a primitive ritual, the members of Mayhem paid their respects in death as in life: with coldness, feral opportunism, and a denial of any “sanctity” or “feelings” toward life, even that of a friend and collaborator. As Euronymous said later, about his form of “evil,” “It is basically hate to humankind. I have no friends, just the guys I’m allied with. If my girlfriend dies I won’t cry, I will missuse the corpse.”

During this time, Euronymous and his band were instrumental in the forming of a new black metal social group, or “scene,” centered around his record store in Oslo called Helvete [Hell]; the downstairs was a necrotic and bleak excuse for a commercial establishment in which the hatred and disassociation from commercial process was as much a barrier to purchase as anything else, but the upstairs was a practice room where Nazi flags and weapons hung over instruments decorated with inverted crosses. During the daytime, the store was a gathering place for musicians and fans of an anti-social nature; at night, Euronymous indoctrinated those who might be useful to the scene by inviting them to wild parties in which orgiastic appetites for alcohol fueled self-mutilation and eventually, rampant church and graveyard desecration [in Europe and many older American towns, the graveyard surrounds the church - a strangely forthright admission of the role of religion in society!]. Euronymous also started the first record label of the modern black metal movement, Deathlike Silence Productions. While these events stood against everything that Norwegian society of the time valued, authorities were permissive and did not “connect the dots” until far later.

It was at this time that many of extremist views, such as the skinhead-turned-rocker Kristian Vikernes – also performing in Burzum, joined the circle – and joined Mayhem on bass. Vikernes was an interesting counterpoint to those in the association so far; he was a hater of life but, like Dead, had an uncanny passion for life through art, and seemed to value his time in nature, away from people and their imaginary rules. His intent could be summarized in his most clarion statement, “I see Burzum as a dream without holds in reality. It is to stimulate the fantasy of mortals, to make them dream” – a replacement of morality with the über-Romanticist ethos of adventure and heroic classicism. Between the Gothic neoclassicism of Dead and the postmodern Romanticism of Vikernes, black metal became more than a style of music, but an ideological and social tool for change away from a highly regimented, moralistic society. Vikernes again: “We want to create the most possible fear, chaos and agony so that the idiotic and friendly Christian society can break down. We are overall not interested in that the truth comes through. When we spread lies we cause confusion and confusion leads to chaos and at last breakdown. People shall be oppressed and we support everything that oppresses man and takes from him his feelings as free individuals.”

It was part of this denial of the supremacy of the lives of individuals over ideas, emotions and even real-world activities that helped what happened next to occur. Two polar opposites existed in black metal, the fatalism and negativity of Euronymous versus the political and violent doctrine of Vikernes, and these were brought into conflict through the personalities. Vikernes claims Euronymous delayed the release of Burzum albums [on Deathlike Silence] by spending the money instead on degenerate pursuits; Euronymous presumably did not care and was more interested in the upcoming Mayhem release, which was moving slowly because of the personality conflicts in the band. Eventually, reality followed imaginary projections: on the night of August 10, 1993, Euronymous was stabbed to death by Vikernes; of 26 knife wounds, 2 were to the head, five to the neck and 19 to the back. Thus began the projection of Mayhem into legend, since it provided black metal in the modern sense with not only its first model of technique and imagery, but also its first martyrs. Dead was eulogized in a 1992 release, “Live in Leipzig,” which recorded an excessively bloody and violent Mayhem concert in East Germany. Teaming up with Attila Csihar of Tormentor, the remaining members of Mayhem put out “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas,” one of the most impassioned black metal albums released, yet one with its feet firmly grounded in old-school Venom/Bathory heavy metal styles. Their nihilism was so great they left Vikernes’ bass tracks on the album next to the guitar work of the man he killed, claiming in the press to have removed them so not to attract unwelcome attention from his family.

While the lives of its members had mostly run their course, and its most epic work had been produced, at least in conceptual form, before these deaths, afterwards the social and political importance of Mayhem was fully recognized. First, it gave many a central point with which to identify the new movement, and generated a wave of publicity especially in unison with the news of 22 churches burned in Norway, mostly by black metal “Satanists.” Even more importantly, Euronymous himself became a central figure, and his ideas [and those of Dead and Vikernes, who heavily influenced him] became dissected and discussed across the globe. Not only was this influential in the fanbase, but labels and bands worldwide began to see the importance of the new black metal movement: unlike anything from popular music since the 1960s, this was shocking; the people in black metal lived on the edge and fought to the death, something metal bands had always sung about but never acted out, much to the derision of punkers and other underground fans. The image of Helvete – the church of the anti-life – became predominant in the minds of many when conceptualizing new forms of social expression to the anti-oversocialization impetus that black metal and heavy metal share. In the years following the death of Euronymous, the focus he brought to the scene brought it to a dramatic rise and sudden death, as in late 1997 the genre became swamped with commercial bands in the mainstream style.

Mayhem itself continued on in the form of two major works, “Wolf’s Lair Abyss” in 1997 and “A Grand Declaration of War” in 2000, interspersed with numerous live albums and re-releases. where “De Mysteriis…” continues to be their most popular work, “Wolf’s Lair Abyss” is regarded by many as a highly proficient black metal album in the style of Satyricon mixed with old Mayhem, producing something with the same rhythmic thrust as “De Mysteriis” but with less of the operatic lack of total consistency in songs. “A Grand Declaration of War” is more problematic, taking a divergence into math-metal and pseudo-progressive stylings, which creates an album which sounds more like soundtrack than foreground listening, with Marilyn Manson influences in both songwriting and image. Because of this, and other factors such as the vast commercialization of black metal during the last six years, Mayhem is effectively dead in the underground and a small player with a devoted fanbase in the mainstream metal scene at this time. However, for every person who gets into black metal, the chorus of voices suggesting “De Mysteriis…” has an effect, for people continue to buy it at a great rate and praise it as immortal metal music and unmatched spirit in a genre filled mostly with angry people of little imagination.

Regardless of the current tedium of record sales and popularity contests, Mayhem contributed an indelible influence on not only metal, but music of resistance to socialization as a whole. Their ideology – part blank-faced fatalism, part fascism and part feral atavism – was carried upwards by the voices of many who were similarly frustrated with the pity-oriented egalitarian society of the first world, which preached that avoiding death was more important than achieving heroic or passionate things. Against this belief system black metal, and Mayhem most visibly, agitated. “True satanists are superhumans,” stated Euronymous in a now-infamous interview. A few years later, Vikernes gave a clearer view: “Strife is evolution, peace is degeneration.” This did not sit well with not only Christians and Jews, but also many people who had become dependent upon society and its pity toward those who are less-able as a whole, thus raising a cry against black metal as music of “hate” or “intolerance.” While those would clearly like to file black metal into a wholly political category, the raw artistry and imagination of bands like Mayhem make that appear a one-dimensional look at the story. As Ihsahn from fellow Nordic rockers Emperor said, “You’ll never understand me because you sit in the audience at a horror movie. I’m up on the screen.” There is no place in the current society for bands like Mayhem; they are beyond its rules and mental conditioning, and always will be. And for this, wherever anguish at social predominance grinds, there will be new fans of the fundamental works of Mayhem, which not only outlive their creators but will forever be a mythos larger than life itself.