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 ├╝ber-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.

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Black Metal History

The genre that came seemingly last of all the metal genres was the one that considered its ideals the most seriously and consequently, produced a radically distinctive form of music. While black metal was somewhat of the cousin of speed and death metal during its early days, during the 1990s it bloomed into full musical form after developing a philosophy more coherent with its dark aesthetic than the hedonism and liberalism of the past. In a consequent blaze of controversy, the black metal genre streaked across the public perspective briefly before proliferating into a variety of styles and mainstream versions of its sound, forcing older variants out as a flood of similar bands absorbed the genre.

The Early Years

Black metal existed first as a singular concept in aesthetics, and later began to proliferate musically, only differentiating itself from death metal in the theoretical arena when its philosophical divergence became clear to the Norwegians in the early 1990s. A comparison from history can be found in the invention of the telephone; while Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone itself, the complex switching systems necessary to connect multiple parties within a city awaited later inventors. Similarly, the aesthetics [appearance and stylistic refinements of music] of black metal were created long before it really existed as a genre, influencing a period of long lull in the 1980s.

There is confusion as to who “invented” black metal, but it is clear that like death metal, its origins came from the same general area and were spread across creators worldwide contributing to the process. While Venom were the first band to grab headlines with their sensationally stripped down riffing and overtly occultist yet ludicrous image, it was Bathory, Sodom and Celtic Frost who gave the genre its enduring form. Where Venom was limited musically to deconstructed heavy metal, these bands took the neoclassical phrasing and minor key melodies of NWOBHM bands like Angel Witch, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and matched them up with the droning three-note roar of early crustcore as exemplified by Discharge. As both bands depended on diminished melodies in power chord riffing it was a seamless match.

During this formative era of black metal, several general styles emerged. First was Bathory with a smoothly flowing, fast-tremolo picked flow of sound over consistent throbbing drums; next was Sodom, making three-chord primitivism which moved at high speed with unsteady and abrupt changes of riff, tempo and texture; also included were Hellhammer, who specialized in droning minimalist music that often resembled hardcore punk played in minor keys, and Celtic Frost, the continuation of that band into grandiloquent constructions resembling the musical staging of operatic scenes; finally, there was Venom, who continued to produce their heavy metal/punk hybrid which delighted in using the simplest possible musical devices to convey the broadest changes available.

From this time onward, the genre slept while innovations were made in the death metal camp, with a few notable exceptions soon to be covered. The same year that Bathory unleashed its first opus brought about a small but intense wave of hardcore/metal hybrids front by Slayer but including within the next two years formative works from Sepultura, Possessed and Morbid Angel. While the basic approach of death metal was to create intricate arrangements using extended phrasing in an architectural style, its essential approach involved rhythm and chromatic progressions which did not admit much obvious melody. The tightly-woven, complex and interlocked riffing used by early death metal bands produced a sense of deconstruction and immersion but gave little new direction. As the genre wound up for its grand entrace, black metal again split from the pack in the 1987-1988 era with Sarcofago and Mayhem, and was then silent for another four years while death metal raged.

Sarcofago presented something offensive, abrupt and even ludicrous to people of the time who were schooled in the riff salad style of death metal, with stilted and broken sounding rhythm changes matching akward, nearly imbecilic riffs which fit together into songs with an uncanny, barely discernible continuity. While the majority of the formative work of Sarcofago, “I.N.R.I.,” was abrasively disassociative rhythm riffing, the album held itself together with some admirably sonorous yet barely logical melodies, seemingly as if formulated on a whim by demons of a distracted but perversely insightful mentality. Ignored at the time by most, Sarcofago in part generated the impetus toward the bizarre and primitive that spurred the next generation of black metal into action.

Simultaneous to the release of “I.N.R.I.” was the fourth release from Sweden’s Bathory, “Blood, Fire, Death,” in which the rippingly fast and simple works of earlier albums had been turned into theatrical yet emotive quasi-operatic pieces in which rasping vocals and singing coincided and song structures staged dramatic encounters of their parts more than repeating cyclic patterns. Across the water in Norway, Mayhem were putting the finishing touches on a massively incompetent but enigmatic work known as “Deathcrush,” in which tortuous guitar patterns arced over drumming with the grace of an exhausted pack animal, and horrific howling vocals textured the mix. The following year, Merciless assembled “The Awakening,” a fast speed metal album with touches of death but an undeniably morbid melodic sensation. Together these releases defined what would go into the mix of the genre coming next: the aggression and grandeur of Bathory, the abrupt and convoluted structures of Sarcofago, the rough aesthetic of Mayhem and the dramatic staging of Celtic Frost, who had just unleashed their discontiguous but impressive masterpiece “Into the Pandemonium.”

The Modern Era

Again some years went by in which death metal was the primary focus of the community and fans. Where mainstream metal had vanished under the dual onslaught of grunge and the progressive selling out of speed and heavy metal bands like Metallica and Testament, the underground shot to the forefront of the minds of those who expected metal, and consequently, became the area where development in metal occurred while the more popular bands did their best to reiterate their essential sound and presence as a means of not losing ground. As death metal became more accepted, however, it became slowly infested with the same mentality that clogged mainstream metal: an underconfident, socially dependent, accepting and undiscriminating mentality which placed excellent bands next to derivative, unimaginative acts without thinking twice.

Born of the desire to surpass this mess, the modern era of black metal began in Norway with the first releases from Darkthrone, Immortal, Emperor, Burzum and Mayhem. Each differed from the death metal before it in an emphasis on melodic composition and intricate, classically-inspired song structures which functioned as motifs, returning to not verses or choruses but clusters of riffs and musical ideas which framed their concepts in a setting, not unlike the work of an opera or ancient Greek tragedy. This new form of metal was more vivid and emotionally evocative than the thunderous assault of death metal, and also less concerned with the immediate social values around it; it embraced independent thinking, a dislike for all social dogmas and humanism, a Romanticist love of nature and predation, and a penchant for fantasy and thoughts of ancient times.

The reaction of the death metal boy’s club was unanimous: “fags!” However, the new style rapidly gained ground and soon a second generation of the modern era, including bands like Ancient, Gorgoroth, Graveland, Behemoth, Abigor and Gehenna among others landed in the crowd. Many of these bands were inspired as were original black metal pioneers Darkthrone by the melodic tremolo picking of Swedish death metal bands from the previous generation, which caused the pace to be picked up as the aggression, but the fundamental differences remained. From the reaction to the first wave of black metal, and a desire to get “purer” and farther away from the possible infestation of death metal bands, black metal bands starting with Darkthrone on “Ablaze in the Northern Sky” began to use a fuzzed-out, lo-fi sound and primal song structures similar to those of Hellhammer, early Bathory, and Venom.

While this initially drove away the more sycophantic fans, it was a failing strategy for the same reasons it failed in the production of hardcore music: it made the genre extremely easy to emulate. As demonstrated by bands such as Dark Funeral, it was easy to transition from death metal and make primitive and fast melodic black metal songs which sold in the underground, and soon there were more ex-death metal, ex-crustcore and ex-rock personnel surging into the scene. By the time of the middle 1990s, bands such as The Abyss and Marduk had joined the party, creating in their process templates which any bands could use to emulate the style – and did.

In a few short years the genre had gone from a handful of bands making distinctive music to a horde of bands making indistinguishable music identified only by novelty factors of instrumentation, voice and concept. Nothing was any longer being achieved in the central group of black metal bands, so most of the “old guard” of Norwegian bands backed out and allowed their music to dissipate, as indicated by Darkthrone claiming their “Total Death” album would be final one from the band. As the hordes of scenesters and clone rock artists gathered, bands such as Graveland, Summoning and Ildjarn began experimenting in ambient forms of the original style, writing longer melodies and integrating semi-symphonic instrumentation in digital form in some cases and making rawer, less rock-like music in the case of Ildjarn.

The Drama

Much has been said about the dramatic entry of the Norwegian scene in the early 1990s. Articles ranting about the terror the “Inner Circle” and “Black Circle” would bring to Christian society overstated the case, and so by the year 2000 most fans were tired of hearing the same stories of the genesis of the scene. These will be mentioned here only for the purpose of conveying the ideology of black metal, and its effect upon society at large that in turn reflected the response of civilization to black metal and some of the factors that contributed to its demise.

In the beginning, there were a handful of black metal bands in Norway loosely unified around some ideals and a few meeting places, including the shop Euronymous from Mayhem ran called Helvete [Hell]. There is some debate over whether or not there was a formal “Black Circle” as initially was claimed by American and British publications, but clearly the members of these bands communicated and met within the 4.5 million person country. Strange things began happening in Norway: churches burned, a homosexual man was slit open, miscellaneous assaults and grave desecrations occurred, and then to cap it off, Euronymous was stabbed one night in his apartment. Furthermore, implications of fascism and/or Nazi beliefs were pointed at many members of the underground, most of whom quickly denied them.

First, the vocalist Dead of Mayhem committed suicide with a large knife and shotgun, leaving a note “Excuse all the blood.” Some time later, Varg Vikernes of Burzum was arrested for burning churches and murdering Euronymous; at the time of this writing, he is still serving his term [when arrested, Vikernes was near famished from lack of money to buy food, yet had 150kg of explosive in his basement for use in destruction of churches]. Over 20 other black metal musicians and fans were arrested for burning churches; a total of 77 burned in Scandinavia during that time, although not all have been definitively linked to “Satanists.” Several other musicians did time for killings, assaults, desecrations or unrelated arsons, including Jon Notveidt in Sweden who served 8 years for being accessory to a killing, and Hendrik Moebus in Germany, who served several years as accessory to a murder before being arrested for making a Roman salute while on parole. While the carnage was not widespread, the effect was; Europe saw a wakeup call to some Pagan values and anti-Judeo-Christian sentiment, and America saw a chance at rebellion and consequently, marketing.

Further, the community of black metal had a chance to demonstrate its values. While most members of the scene when pressed denied they had been involved in fascist or Nazi politics, they were indifferent to the roles of others in such things. Equally noncommittal were many around Euronymous after his murder; Hellhammer, the drummer of Euronymous’ band Mayhem, shrugged and said, “One of them had to die,” when queried about the feud between Vikernes and Euronymous. Most bands interviewed spoke positively of nature, negatively of Christianity, and displayed disdain for social behavior that placed the lives of individuals above that of a collective movement. This made many uneasy, especially in tolerant, peaceful and normally quite uneventful Scandinavia.

The Aftermath

When the mainstream bands such as Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth and Marduk that attracted hundreds of thousands to black metal are confronted with the ideology of the founders of modern black metal, they quickly shake their heads and walk away. “Not for us, thanks.” In addition, their music is fundamentally different from that of the underground bands; where the originators of this style used diatonic and chromatic riffs and melodic modes, most of the “aboveground” black metal uses pentatonic scaling and much of the same riffs and rhythms of metal bands from the 1970s. Thus is exemplified a split in the genre: the bands who are doing what metal bands always have, and the bands who are moving away from traditional metal toward a more neoclassical, less rock-n-roll, more intricate musical form.

This split extends to every area of the black metal scene at the time of this writing. On one side, let’s call it the “left,” there are bands who embrace the current era and its variant aesthetics, including the mainstream genres outside of metal; a good example here would be Ulver or Sigh, both of who create postmodern metal from fragments and samples of other genres arranged into pieces delineated by key or rhythm. On the right would be the classicists, the old-schoolers who either only support black metal in the established tradition or who embrace a “purity” of both musical rawness and ideological allusion to the Greco-Roman, Viking or fascist values. For all intents and purposes this split is permanent, with the sides diverging into assimilation on the left and obscurity on the right, yet somehow they keep attracting audience, albeit a degraded one.

Some would say that there was a mystique about black metal that took a long time to die; it didn’t break in 1996, when The Abyss made an album so textbook Norwegian black metal that it provided a template for other bands to follow, and it didn’t even break in 1998 when all but a handful of the original bands had moved on to making more contented music. The year after however appears to have brought the death of black metal in a form emerging from within, similar to the story of Baldr’s death that conceptualizes a later Burzum album: betrayal from within. When the first of the more mainstream bands emerged, the underground took a clue from Darkthrone and it became de rigeur for the non-commercial bands to slap out albums with monochrome art and blindingly distorted, low-technicality music. As before however, this made it easy for further emulation to occur, diluting a genre with exactly what it opposed, and turning it from a movement where concept, music and action were joined into another form of entertainment for couchbound teenagers.

Black Metal Belief Systems

Conventional wisdom in the Judeo-Christian west holds that nature is lawless, dangerous and pointless; to give life meaning, there must be a moral goal, such as civilization itself: the conquering of natural frontiers and environments, taming of natural impulses in humans, and reduction of the law of the fittest – an equalization, as F.W. Nietzsche and later others pointed out. Nietzsche saw this equalization as a form of “revenge” on nature by depriving nature of what makes it threatening to the individual human, namely the potential imminent death – a form of judgment – for being less than capable in a situation calling for endurance and survival.

Sixty years after Nietzsche’s most influential period of work, explosions on the Polish border awakened the globe to the second world war. In this war, a conflict between the most fundamental division of ideology was established: collectivism versus individualism, with the latter favoring the kind of product-oriented, technologically-based, container-logical lifestyles currently seen in the first world nations. It was those insular and self-pleasing ways of living that first irked black metallers, and demonstrated to them a social devolution: there was no longer any competence needed, only obliviousness. Many black metallers, like Nietzsche, found greater inspiration in nature than in post-Judeo-Christian western society, and identified what Christians find horrible – the bloody, competitive, anti-individualist character of nature – to be an example of the most sublime beauty.

The ideological inclination of black metal remains disturbing to most and illegal in many countries. Yet it is not unique to black metal; as history shifted in the 1960s from a predominantly conservative society to a liberal society, thanks to the counterculture, and its effects were only felt with the children growing up in the 1980s, their response mirrors that of some who rejected the flower powery view of the politics and society. Among the thinkers and dissidents now coming back into favor are ecological fascists like Pentti Linkola and Theodore Kaczynski, as well as various stripes of nationalist and racial separatist leaders. [The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish self-defense organization, claims that National Socialist and Neo-Nazi movements are increasing “worldwide.”] It’s hard to see what the future holds but this controversy remains in the forefront of not only black metal, but international politics, as shown by the amount of air time it is given by the entertainment industry, news media and American/U.N. politicians.

Interestingly, black metal joins not only the far right, but the far left, in many of its sentiments. As the world anti-globalist and anti-capitalist movement picks up speed, it echoes many of the ideals of black metal: natural ecosystems; ethnic uniqueness; population control; an end to technology-driven, product-oriented, convenience-based lifestyles. Protestors across the world in anti-war and anti-globalism protests would be shocked to know they have something in common with a group of bloodthirsty church-burning fascists who idealize the occult, but perhaps would be glad at least for a sympathetic ear. Interestingly also, the “modern primitives” movement as seen in events like the Burning Man festival and the survivalist trend around the time of Y2K align themselves in the same general direction these ideals seem to be taking, but the final synthesis has not yet been heard.


After the initiation of modern black metal in the Scandinavian style, a fragmentation occurred along the general lines of techniques used to unify song composition, creating a number of subdivisions in the black metal subgenre [genre = metal, subgenre = black]. The following are general descriptions of these substyles and what they implied for changes in black metal as a whole.


The heavy metal style of black metal, descended directly from Venom and NWOBHM bands like Angel Witch who inspired them, is essentially rock music with some neoclassical influences in the loosest sense. Pentatonic, verse chorus music that stays within basic harmony, heavy metal/rock-styled black metal is recognizable for its radio friendly ways, redundant harmonic constructions and verse/chorus arrangements. Good examples include Venom of course, Dimmu Borgir albums after Stormblast, Cradle of Filth and Dissection.


Descended from Hellhammer and some early Bathory, this is mostly rhythm music which like hardcore punk is fashioned from the harmonic space of a basic interval between two anchoring notes, often a fifth. While this style is easy to do, it is difficult to do well, as the number of bands emulating Hellhammer and falling far short of what Hellhammer produced have found.


Symphonic styles and epic song structures often seem to go together, as seen in bands like Summoning, Graveland, Heidenreich and early Emperor. Where most bands indulge some complexity, these bands aspire to a demi-operatic state of unifying concept with staging, projecting a theatrical view of the action described in a song through the pure sound and arrangement of riffs. These bands are often the closest to classical music in types of melody and depth of layering, but it is important to note that epic is mainly a description of the complexity and arrangement of a band, not its techniques, so there is complete overlap with other styles mentioned here.


Music designed to utilize the undulating nature of the sweep picking of a guitar as suspended between unchanging percussion of a basic nature, this style is inspired by generations of metal with ambient experimentation, including Slayer, Von, Massacra, and Bathory. The most notorious band working in this group is Burzum, but other bands such as Nargaroth, I Shalt Become, Ildjarn and Darkthrone have created great works in this area.


The oldest style of modern black metal, the melodic compositional approach was first utilized by Norwegian bands looking for a way to make simple power chord music more than thudding rhythm and chromatic patterns. Immortal’s “Pure Holocaust” is the best example of this, with highspeed tremolo picking whipping distorted noise into a flood of searing yet beautiful sound, but there are also examples to be found in Behemoth, Darkthrone, Mayhem and Sacramentum.

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Quantity versus Quality in metal

We measure our lives by either quality or quantity. If it was a great steak, we say so and leave it at that; if it was mediocre, we say that sixteen ounces of it for thirty dollars was a “good deal.” The quantitative view is most popular because it is accessible to everyone, since only those who are endowed by nature with the sense to know a good steak from a crappy one can tell you its qualitative value. Since most people are not so fortunate, we talk about what a “great deal” it is that you can get something that legally qualifies as steak in prodigious amounts at a low price per pound. This is the essence of democratic liberal free enterprise society, in that it eschews all things which require a higher kind of person and replace them with the kind of assessments even a moron can follow (and congratulate himself for the “good deal” he’s getting).

But how does the qualitative work in a society? After all, say the “wise” pundits, wouldn’t it be hard to organize a society around qualitative value, since only a few can assess it? This column offers an example in the small. Peer-to-peer file sharing can take many forms, but one of the most common is that of a hub; this is a small community where people exchange files. Normally, to get on a hub, you must have some quantity of files to be shared, and without that, you can be excluded “fairly” because, of course, everyone can see that you need to have a minimum amount of stuff to get on. Like cheap steak, it might be stuff that would only appeal to morons, but it shows you’ve done the effort and therefore deserve to be on the hub – that’s “fair,” sensu liberal democracy.

The hub toward which A.N.U.S. contributes, the neoclassical hub, does not operate this way. There is no minimum share size to get on, and there is no reward for having more stuff; instead of quantity, the hub focuses on quality, because unlike liberal democracies it recognizes that unlimited moronic music is not “equal” to a small amount of quality music, no matter how much the average voter can’t tell the difference. You can get on the hub right now and start participating, but the admins who periodically peruse shares will eventually check out what you have and — Slipknot? Cradle of Filth? Pantera? — those who have moronic music get booted. I frequently get mail from these people, objecting that their ejection was not “fair,” and these mails invariably contain the line, “But I had (amount) of share!” These people are used to a quantitative, passive society, where no matter what the quality, as long as you get enough there to put a number in the blank on the form, you’re considered part of the club.

Not to say that a hub is a club, of course – a hub is a tool for sharing files, and a social space, as well. But what it is more than anything else is a reflection of the values of those who meet there. People who want to listen to crowd-pleasing music go to the bigger hubs and hang out with other people who like Britney, or cool jazz, or light rock, or even indiscriminate metal and grindcore – what the crowd wants is acceptance for mere quantitative participation, such as the number one (1) – if there is an (1) individual, then it should be equal, and admitted to the club, because – look – it exists, after all. This is what the crowd always desires, which is the paradoxical concept of group participation through pseudo-individuality. You can’t tell them their taste in music sucks, because then they’ll wail about how they’ve been wronged and it’s not “fair.”

For those who have made their way out of the biggest slice of groupthink, it’s healthier to find an enclave, or a smaller place where their views are protected from the majority view, which is the quantitative. If you have unending time and nothing better to do, it might appeal to you to listen to all 100,000 death metal, grindcore, black metal and heavy metal bands yet created. More likely, unless you’re a retarded invalid, you’ve got other things to do and so depend on finding the quality stuff through socialization and information resources. Naturally, the crowd will oppose you wherever you try to do this, as they like to believe either (a) that all music is equal or (b) that the most popular music is the best, and therefore you don’t need to actually look – just see what they’re playing on the radio now; “trust us.” The enclave ideal is naturally opposed to that of open to the public group participation.

Any social unit based on this notion of qualitative logic, and eschewing unnecessary quantitative logic, would naturally be a better place to live. Quantitative logic gets you the lowest common denominator, but if you return assessment to that of degree of quality, you instead get only the better efforts. Select the better people to be part of this community; that’s inherent to its nature. Let them pick the better art, learning, science and products, and then you’ve got less garbage (inferior products break frequently, and can rarely be repaired). When they make rules, they don’t have to worry about everyone – oh no, fat people in wheelchairs cannot fit into our new library – but those who actually make a difference. To people concerned about quality, the opinions of the mass are not important, and thus they don’t have to worry about offending people and can actually tell it like they see it – something you cannot do in our liberal democracy, or you’ll be blacklisted and investigated and eventually forced to take a job as a janitor somewhere.

A qualitative society is by nature structured toward building consensus. If you have something of quality, you hold it up as a shining example, and what is agree on is not that we should all have a similar quantity of thing, but that we should all work toward having a similar quality of character, strength, intelligence in ourselves. Since your society only admits people of quality, you don’t have to assume that every other person on the street is a moron, and thus can have compassion for random people in society – and have the option to socialize more, since you don’t have to first apply a filter to screen out the idiots. This is how society used to be, but it was lost in the populist revolt that demanded we all be equal and have an equal right to quantities of money; see what you’ve given up, in order to please the crowd? Well – at least on this hub, there’s a sliver of what once was, and what, if we work toward it, will be again.

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Metal Cult, or Metal Christ?

Way back in grade school, before you hit the age of sexual competition and thus get more rigorously socialized, one of the more exciting things to do is spend the night at a friend’s house. This means you get spoiled by well-meaning parents, can order pizza with all the toppings, and spend the night watching scary movies on the DVD player. At that time of life, it’s pretty cool, although once you’ve moved on to bigger things it seems like a parody of a really bad party. Who’s got the ranch dressing potato chips, indeed.

It’s conventional, among nice families, to keep this charade going until noon or later the following day, mainly because that’s about how long it takes the caffeinated soda pop and sugar foods to wear off, meaning that all parties are tuckered out and need to be taken home and shoved onto a sofa with homework “for your own good.” This is a kindness extended between families to each other, allowing your parents to actually have a night alone while you’re rampaging at some other kid’s house. Of course, if you spend Saturday night with a Christian family, or Friday night with a Jewish one, it means you’re going to some kind of exciting religious service in the morning.

Back in those less preference-enabled times, I’d go along to Church or Temple with my friends and wonder at the death denial of adults. There were great things about church – mainly the music, but I also liked the weird little tasteless wafers at communion – and Temple had its moments, mainly the times when they’d bring out the big old scroll of Hebrew writing and chant in languages I didn’t understand. In general, however, to young Spinoza Ray it seemed like adults getting together to agree on an excuse why we don’t actually die, and to answer at least two questions along these lines before saying something blithe like, “Fluffy is in heaven with God now, and can chase cars every day and is always happy.”

What I remember more than anything else was the expectation going into these religious services. There were the smells of adult clothing, perfumes, foods, alcohol and the flatulence and dyspeptic belches of the usual healthy specimens, mostly older, who cleave to churches like AIDS patients to retrovirals. But more than that, there was a subtle kind of excitement: it was an event, and there was an expectation, whether Jewish or Christian. You were going to a place of higher authority to receive wisdom, and it was to be a cathartic experience.

Recently, in my wandering through the smouldering ruins of the metal community, that being all people who create or appreciate the non-radio metal of our world, I was amused by how popular the term “cult” remains among those who are metal. We’re a pure metal cult! and Only metal is true! and I swear allegiance to metal! and other comedic statements of this sort are common, like a dinner opera about patriotism. These people are apparently oblivious to how disturbingly true their use of this term is.

A cult in my definition is any belief system that posits an Official Dogma and reinforces it, while sequestering all those who do not accept Official Dogma as outsiders. It’s a precursor to bureaucracy, and in the case of Christian cults, at least, it’s about like filling out a triplicate application. Do you believe in the father? (check) Son? (check) Holy Ghost? (check) Heaven and Hell mythos? (check) And are you willing at this time to sign an eternal contract to this effect?

In churches, people surge to the front of a large building while music plays and people in costumes perform ceremony to distract them (note for our alert readers: Judaism is much similar, but Christianity is a more familiar example for most North Americans, and since the two share most beliefs in common). There they take refuge in the comfortingly familiar nature of religion; you have been through this ceremony before, and you know what will happen, and at the end, your own expectation of receiving catharsis carries you through to that conclusion. Basically, it’s a lot like LSD: you find what you expected.

Rock concerts and metal concerts are very similar. You sanction the ceremony by paying money, thus you have reason to believe you are accepted unless you perform heresies, such as fistfights or too much covert marijuana smoking behind the fat guy standing up front. People in uniforms herd you into a place where people in costumes perfom onstage, playing music you have usually heard on CD. Even more, for those who are lost, every song no matter how convoluted at some point returns to the constant drumbeat, usually snare, which builds cadence and interrupts any thoughts you were having between beats, which are the loudest single element of the concert.

The metal cult, like the rock cult, is based in the idea of catharsis. You go to see some band you have heard before, and after having the music affirmed, you go away with some brilliant insight like “They really can play their instruments” or “That vocalist vomiting blood, fire, semen and feces was spectacular!” It’s not rocket science. If you’re a musician, you can feel ever-so-elite by watching the band members play and pulling from it some observation about how well the guitarist frets or drummer hits the middle of the goddamn snare twice every second. No one is left out; if you had $5 in your sweaty little hand when you went in the door, you were given the communion, allowed to join the cult, and ushered on out into the surprisingly cool and unsweaty night.

Baptised in beer, perhaps intoxicated yourself on a range of exciting substances, you even have a chance to double affirm your belief by buying tshirts and CDs, and can even talk to the band members, who periodically deliver such benedictions as, “This is another song about fucking the dead – I want to see you fuckers tear it up in the pit!” Conventional academics like Deena Weinstein periodically set aside the Chardonnay (all academics are drunks, drug addicts or perverts) and to observe what an indoctrination this ceremony is, and how it affirms membership in a group. She might as well say “…membership in a true life-hating metal cult!”

Surprisingly, black metal was a counterinsurgency opposed to this. Initially, bands like Burzum and Immortal eschewed live performance, since as they correctly observed, hordes of idiots would show up expecting everyone to accept them purely on the basis of having (a) found the venue (b) being aware of the band and (c) the benighted $5 in sweaty fist. Burzum’s composer was vehement about it, and to this day you can find credulous teens everywhere buying $20 live bootlegs of a band that never played live (but since it’s $20 and not $25, it’s a “good deal” – you get an extra $5 to go to another stimulating concert).

Much maligned, mocked and parodied, the “No mosh, no core, no fun, no trends” attitude of these early bands was a way of ending the religious service, an inclusive event, and turning instead to an esoteric event. The difference between exoteric religions like Christianity and esoteric religions like, say, Advaita Vedanta or Buddhism, is that in exoteric religions you have to show up and affirm Official Dogma, and then you get sent home with a stamp on your triplicate form, which esoteric religions are best summarized as “the truth reveals itself in varying degrees to those who seek it.”

Christianity and rock concerts are birds of a feather that give you a 100% guarantee that everything’s okay, and then convince you to turn off your mind so you can do something useful like enforce Official Doctrine on other people. They are the ultimate populist religions, and by that nature they must assert that everyone is equal because, lacking an entrance requirement, they’ve already made it fact. If you can make it to church, or find the rock club with your $5 (donations are always welcome at church, too), you’re one of the Chosen and can feel better than other people for your non-achievement.

One of the reasons I separated out Christianity from Judaism as an example, earlier, is that Judaism is controversial because it is simultaneously a religion, a culture, and an ethnicity. Whether Khazar or Ashkenazi, you’re a Jew if you have any of those three attributes (bonus points and free instant coffeemaker for all three). Among the black metal community, there are those who feel Judaism is the great downfall of Indo-Europeans, and they wish nothing of tolerance for it.

I’d like to take time here to praise some aspects of Judaism. Its emphasis on education, for example, is admirable, and far exceeds the Christian dogma that if one believes in God, it’s okay to fail at everything else in life because it doesn’t matter – what matters is the world after this one, which like a credit report, is absolute and binding and more important than whatever goes on here in our misery of animal existence. Its racism and cultural supremacy is beyond questioning, and has kept the Jewish people alive and functional through thousands of years of wandering through other peoples’ countries. In fact, until Christianity sedated Europe, Jews never had a homeland, and at this point are as European as they are Semitic/Mongoloid.

Christianity has selective praiseworthy aspects as well. As Arthur Schopenhauer pointed out, its only significant difference from Judaism is a classic Indo-European trait that can be found among the Aryan sages of ancient India, that being “quietus,” or an inner spiritual calm and contemplation to discover the blessings of this world. If you’re Arthur Schopenhauer, or Meister Eckhardt or Ralph Waldo Emerson, and thus possess not only a genius IQ but an introspective desire for truth and beauty, this will occur to you. The remaining 99.99% of Christians should simply admit they’re following non-ethnic Judaism, and cease feeling superior to Jews for having a martyr who gave his life because we’re dirty little animals who fornicate, murder, embugger and thieve from each other daily.

One reason I can’t ever be a neo-Nazi, besides my ethnic Scottish heritage which includes pre-Jewish Semitic Gaelic blood, is that they didn’t act on this crucial difference, in part because in Germany the Christians had already slaughtered anyone with a desire to resist Christ a thousand years before. In my mind, Jews are an invading culture and I have no problem drawing a sword against them, men women and children alike, to drive them back into the middle east, where they may have to actually stop feeling superior to their Abrahamic brethren and make peace with the Arabs. Not my problem. But, I feel the same way about Christianity: if you’re not Eckhardt, or Schopenhauer or Emerson, I recognize that it’s my duty to draw a sword against you, man or woman or child or dog or AI, and drive you out of Indo-European lands before you destroy what’s left of our culture.

However, I’ve come to realize that “No mosh, no core, no fun, no trends” is also part of this same militant desire which will come to any sane Indo-European who undertakes quietus long enough; rock music and metal are the same cult as Christianity and before it, sickly Judaism and its wheedling, whining culture of the lowest common denominator enshrined as benevolent love. For me, to love a culture is to defend it against its enemies, with emotional detachment and not the “hate” to which modern neo-Nazis masturbate in American History X-inspired fantasies. If you thought “the Holocaust” was bad, wait until you see what will come – and it is inevitable – when the current culture collapses and warlike people like me clear out bad Indo-European DNA, including Christ-worshippers and people whose sole contribution is to be “members of” some rock-music-based “cult.” Man, woman, child, and of course fat record producer scheming over cocaine and harlots in the back room, shall all face the sword – without hate, but without mercy, either.

With this revelation in mind, I have to ask modern metalheads who claim to hate stupidity and Christianity (and, of course, you cuddly stuffed NSBMer teddybears in your genuine NSBM tshirts and Nazi fetishist wear), why are you partaking in the same culture that you abhor? There are people among the rockers who are of noble countenance, and among Christians too, and I’d welcome these people into any future Indo-European society (Jews are ethnically excluded, along will all other non-Europeans; you have your own countries, go there and preach about your ideals and we’ll see how “superior” they indeed are). But for the most part, rock and roll is a failure at escaping Christianity. If anything, it’s a new form of Christianity that is even more accepting and less informative on the esoteric issues of spirituality, philosophy and comportment.

For this reason, both metalheads and neo-Nazis are ignored by their more studied peers. After all, who wants to get dragged into the same quagmire that has afflicted Indo-Europeans for the past millennia, albeit in a new form and with new products to buy? Advice to future rockers, metalheads, and the like: design your music and your career around something other than the glorified church service that is your modern metal “cult” concert.

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Why I am not a Satanist

Both religions have the same core: me first, reality second

Of all the subcultures to emerge following the dominance of rock over popular music, heavy metal and its associated genres remain unique in that they have maintained a counter-culture that targets not just the visible “establishment,” but also all things that hold the core values of that philosophical system; metal is a naturalistic movement opposed to the utilitarian values of modern society, but it has kept its head up and thus far mostly avoided assimilation by not taking an explicitly political stance, but an artistic and metaphorical one.

This outlook has increasing driven it out of the mainstream consciousness, which has allowed it to keep its independence in part by mostly separating itself from the crowd of hopeless people looking for an identity and an easy, one-size-fits-all solution to they subliminal angst they feel about living in a fatalistic and submissive era. Of course, it has not managed this exclusively; some of the biggest sheep, and most profound losers, of our time have been metalheads, even some who have been very influential in the genre. In this way, within the metal genre the drama of the larger society is acted out in microcosm: the few who understand pulling away from the mass which wants what they have, and would emulate it to the point of drowning out legitimate voices in the genre.

What makes the mass destructive is the nature of a crowd, by definition: it is people who come together on the basest pretense and, out of fear for their individual selves, enacts a mass-will upon society at large to remove anything that threatens the herd. When you see a crowd, you are not seeing uniform people, but vastly different people who are disorganized and thus can only accept the lowest common denominator motivation, which is usually as follows: do not criticize me for anything that I do, insofar as I do not violate this basic tenet of crowd-belief toward others; give to me everything that our best people have, as I am participating in the crowd and thus “contributing.” As with all utilitarian systems, this mentality punishes the more capable in order to keep the broader masses from feeling inferior, or that they’re missing out.

Heavy metal music, by its very nature and alienation, recognizes that society operates on two levels: a public level, which comprises the kind of things you’d tell a crowd to make them feel you have their best interests at heart, and a private level, at which actual motivations are acted upon using the tokens of the public level in such a way that their function does not match their definition. It is a lot like hacking, actually; you overload some kind of input buffer with data that appears to be harmless, but contains concealed instructions that the machine, unaware that something labeled “data” might be “code,” executes and hands control to the intruder. William S. Burroughs famously declared, “Language is a virus,” and thus explained the same concept as applies to modern mass-media psychology.

What happens in a computer is that it confuses appearance with reality; the code is reality, but the idea that it is harmless data is the appearance. Similarly in our society we are divided between appearance, which generally consists of happy nonsense to keep you distracted, and reality, which is the relentless pursuit of wealth and a spiritual emptiness that justifies it. (As mentioned here before, this takes us back to a split that the Greeks noticed, between things as they are and their abstractions, which are often mentioned as that which casts a shadow, with the shadow we see being what we know of “reality.”)

Since any tokens manipulated on the public level have dual meaning, and are thus meaningless, heavy metal targetted something more sublime: emotions and self-image. The Gothic, Romanticist, naturalistic and elitist-individualist imagery of even Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin did this, but it flowered from there into a proliferation of forms, each of which took the basic concept and developed it further, all without explicitly knowing why or what was being done. This ignorance of an articulation of what is being done allowed it to be passed, from mind to mind, through the subconscious channel of appealing imagery and concept in personal life, much as it was done in Romanticist literature, art and music: those who found greatness in the past, specifically medieval and ancient civilizations, and could process a melancholy acceptance of death and desire for personal greatness in heroic accomplishment, would naturally find the music appealing.

This is in part because, in addition to imagery, metal music literally sounds like the description of Romantic ideals above. It doesn’t embrace the centralized harmonic structures of rock music, which is Indo-European folk music simplified to the degree of fixing a harmonic center and manipulating major/minor changes for mood, over a syncopated beat so that even the dumbest person can follow it, and it doesn’t embrace the pleasing sounds and casual human vocal noises of pop. Where pop attempts to define beauty and approximate it as a medium, metal attempts to find what is beautiful in that which is, on the level of things that explicitly defined, ugly. If society exists on a level where public discourse is manipulated by private reality, metal is an inversion of that, such that the meaning of public discourse is found within private reality.

Metaphorically, metal almost exactly mirrors Romanticist literature, even down to its fascination with nature and the occult. Loneliness and alienation create independence; obsession with the forces of nature and the power of warfare creates a post-moralistic sense of seeing how life works rather than judging it; wandering into the embrace of Satan affirms the pagan belief that there can be no public level of “good” separated from “bad,” but that good and bad are forces which together create a meta-good, mainly the ongoing process of life itself. These are the values of metal, and they are almost never explicitly spelled out because to do so, in the music, would be to expose the inner workings of the subculture to manipulation by those who have not discovered this meaning on their own; emulation and cheapening would follow.

For this reason, it is important to remember that Satanism in metal is metaphor. Many of the largest proponents of Satanic imagery in metal were Deists and some were Christians, but used Satan in a way similar to that of John Milton or William Blake to describe the individual Will or Ego; when Black Sabbath wrote “War Pigs,” and described how modern society sends its workers off to die in foreign fields for abstract and mostly irrelevant political objectives masking a private reality of profit and power, they concluded it with “Satan laughing spreads his wings” not to praise Satan but to describe, in theological metaphor, what had occurred: humans had confused public reality with absolute truth, and thus been manipulated, and from that, an inner resentment and fatalism expressed itself in the confusion that followed. Satan laughing spreads his wings: a statement of the futility of our time, and in later bands, of the uselessness of religions that conflate Absolute truth with the public level of reality.

In doing this, metal attacked the fundamental Platonic split between the world of appearance and the world of structure; appearance was seen to be aesthetic, and not necessarily related to structure, which was defined by context, something which theological and occult imagery, by the nature of its cosmological outlook, expresses succinctly. While hardcore punk musicians attempted to rearrange the symbols of the public imagery into a meaningful private discourse, metal brushed past and declared the public reality defunct, urging its listeners to look instead toward their inner motivations and animal feelings. However, as with all things, the surging crowd – those who by definition did not and thus could not do it the first time around – sees something it likes and apes it furiously, producing a parody of it by only understanding the level of appearance and taking that appearance as truth, something which belongs to the domain of structure alone.

For this reason, although I have never been a Satanist, I have often employed Satanic and occult imagery in my writing, much as the smarter metal bands have done. In a world ruled by a Christian or secularized Christian (liberal) concept of absolute truth as public reality, one strikes back by upholding all that cannot be ruled by such a petty device, in the process pointing out that such dualistic thought patterns are in fact a simple rhetorical device misinterpreted by the crowd and thus used for its own purposes. In contrast, the crowd embraces Satanism as a truth in itself, and tries through silly literal rituals and laughable posing to be “truer” Satanists that the others, or more “extreme,” or some variation of attempting to find a devotional truth in life. It cannot be done, and therefore these bands and individuals tend to ring hollow to the thinker, and their works — well, let us say that in the years following 1996, there have perhaps been three black metal bands of the caliber of those who occurred 1990-1996, and it is similar in their own times with other subgenres of metal.

I can extend this concept further. National Socialism is popular in some black metal circles, but that is mainly because it’s easier to label oneself a National Socialist and start collecting gear and posing than it is to understand the core concept of National Socialism, which is a feudalistic ethnocultural post-moral revival of classical Indo-European culture. That relatively complex thought gets distilled down to, as Faulkner said, “a hatred of black skins” alone, and thus parodies itself. What kind of idiot believes that African genocide will solve humanity’s problems? Black Sabbath were more advanced in thought with “Satan laughing spreads his wings” than all the goose-stepping fools, or those from the opposite end who make the same mistake, the leftist: they assume that by labelling themselves as egalitarian and tolerant that humanity’s problems will resolve themselves on the level of public discourse. All of them are misguided, and represent waste by the roadside of a path to knowledge.

Death metal and grindcore had its own version of this comedy. Bands like Carcass and Morpheus used intricate descriptions of death and decay as a way of reminding their audience that public reality is a dream designed to deny death, and that when we realize our own mortality, we can comprehend that meaning is not found in public discourse or in liberal/conservative platitudes, but in addressing reality – yes, actual reality, including that good and bad are needed to produce meta-good – we liberate ourselves from illusion and can begin work on the real task. They were followed by unnamed and now thankfully forgotten bands who found an identity in glorifying death, bloodshed, violence, disease, perversity and disgust, all in full ignorance of the original concept. It is not surprising the music of these bands was also of a lesser nature, as their thinking was clearer on a more basic, linear level.

In my view, there is truth to be found in all of these viewpoints, if interpreted correctly. National Socialism and liberalism are not that far apart when we look at their basic motivation; both want to establish healthy cultures where people are not left to the predatory whim of speculative capital. Satan and gore both wish to affirm natural belief over that of the thing-as-named public reality. Even Christians and pagans have the same essential goal, which is to find a larger reason to have values outside the material and thus find meaning in existence. However, our time is confused, as somewhere along the path to this “great” industrial society we have lost the systems of thought that give a whole meaning to the entire process of life, instead of selecting some aspect with which to label oneself and hold up as a shield of “meaning” against death. In a confused time, only a few actually seek truth, while everyone else looks for it as they might a product on a shelf or the best fruit among the ripening burden of branches.

This article is not an attempt to discredit or assault bands who use Satan as metaphor; much like Blake, or Dante, or Eliot, or any number of artists, their quest is legitimate. It should serve, however, as an introduction to the theory of metal as an art form, and an explanation of why there are so many mediocre imitators, of “Satanist” or leftist or NSBM variety alike, and only a few leaders, and thus, a mandate for future thinkers in this genre to start with the leaders and not the followers. Metal remains under assault by both public culture and public “counter-culture” (an anti-establishment affirmation of public cultural beliefs, in trendier form) alike, and thus must keep an intellectual and artistic lead or it will be assimilated and left with Slipknot, Korn and Creed as its tombstone.

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The importance of genre in metal

Genre and subgenre identify the differing factions within metal music, which mate analytical technique to worldview and to the sound they desire. For this reason, a death metal band is not only aesthetically and musically different from a speed metal band, but is different in ideology and artistic outlook, representing together a philosophy of life.


  • Entertainment – a medium of expression that distracts from life’s negatives
  • Culture – organized intergenerational values for turning life’s negatives into positives
  • Music – organized sound
  • Art – a medium of expression that communicates culture
  • Genre – the broadest level of aesthetic, philosophical and musical similarity among artistic outputs that still distinguishes them from other groupings
  • Subgenre – within a genre, specialization of thought that results in specialized technique, philosophy and aesthetics for expressing an interpretation within the ideology of the genre but evolved further in a unique direction

Genre and subgenre, terms denoting groups related by ideology, methodology and appearance in art or culture, suggest more than a division of classification: a hierarchical system of musical evolution. These terms and their usages (in the oft-cited examples of ludicrousness with death metal, dark metal, black metal, ambient metal, doom metal, viking metal, forest metal, thrash, speed metal, grindcore, and such combination terms as brutal new york style swedish death metal and trolling dark forest folk metal) convey an extraordinary tendency of the genre to expand toward complexity and with it create from similar philosophical bases radically different diverse intellectual constructs.

For many people, genres convey the same ambience that products do: if the thing can be categorized it is one of several things that perform as it does, therefore it’s just a different face on the same essential material. Some people even extend this theory to the differences between rock and metal. This is categorical thinking and it does not reflect the usage of genre/subgenre terminology.

Heavy metal begat speed metal and thrash, which begat in crossover death metal and grindcore, which crossed over once again to make of a flowering of metal styles in the most diverse genre yet: black metal (ranging from slow percussive material to lightning fast melodic to folk-ish rhythms and acoustic guitars). It has all of the characteristics of the previous metals in some form although it ostensibly tends toward the nontechnical. It also drops some of the traditions and patternings of the older material, and through its composition suggests a chaos theory of musical composition.

Yet heavy metal bands, some speed metal bands (but not many), death metal bands, and grindcore bands continue to survive simultaneously. Genre are belief clusters apart from other forms of expression – they have their own self-defined language and topic structure – but subgenre are diversified elements of that original idea, prospering in their own tension as much as similarity to the rest of the family.

For even more kicks, the concept of genre demonstrates a philosophical difference between categorical thinking and nihilistic thinking. In the former system, each thing has a property which defines its boundaries and isolates it from the chaotic, the unknown. In the latter chaos is a natural formation of complexity in our environments which creates life, throughout the perceived boundaries of objects and in a hierarchy of systems which derive their position from placement in a position of energy exchange within the overall system. Here follow a few tips:

In metal, genre means ideas. What is the basic approach of different bands? Heavy metal: hippie-style breakdown and apocalyptic recognition; Speed metal: apocalyptic paranoia and realizations of insanity behind social oppression; Death metal: deconstruction of humanity through insanity and fear of mortality, evolution of mind toward complexity of focus; Black metal: twilight of humanity postmodern joyful mourning; Thrash: frenetic rejection and belief in core concepts; Doom metal: misery is inherent so appreciate pain as masochism of self-matyrdom in creation. Central ideology, called “metal” although there is perhaps no type of music which falls into that pure category: joy and awareness through nihilism and the separation of humanity from doubt and evil as concepts. It folds forth as music theory, structure of songs and language, lyrics, and aesthetic.

  • Theory – Reflects an approach to the science of information and communication through art, with approaches leaving the more linear and favoring the dynamic and synergistic. The language in which the band chooses to write their work expresses a faith in a certain view of appreciation and understanding of existence.
  • Structure – The types of data structures bands use reflect their opinions, conscious or not, of the method of thinking behind metaphysical and scientific theory. What type of logic and logical systems have been observed, or could be produced? Structure mirrors these intellectual developments.
  • Lyrics – It shouldn’t take a web page to remind you that bands often sing about issues they feel strongly about. Where this is poorly done, it degenerates into the self-pitying politics of the frustrated, but where it has meaning is in the translation of core ideas into the subconscious imagery of “real” art.
  • Aesthetics – How the music is encoded in a finished sound expresses much of the artist’s approach the place aesthetics itself serves in society. For example, speed metal bands aspired to a rigid and defined sound where death metal and even more so, black metal, have offered a distorted and fluid aesthetic.

With these concepts in mind, you can see how metalheads often refer to the world of light illuminating a silhouette (shadow outline) as society, where the world of light shining from within the darkness that describes the function of objects in terms of abstract workings in systemic hierarchies, or connected levels of ideas, remains a preferred method for interpreting reality. Through ideas encoded in the most seemingly unlikely package, metal expresses a new reality within what most of us have overlooked as existence.

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“Suicidal Metal” should just kill itself

Writers review individual bands to strengthen a genre by promoting the better acts, but when writers turn to address the metal genre as a whole, the “state of the metal” reports that result are an assessment of the collective mentality of the community which produces and appreciates that form of music. Currently, this writer looks wryly at the metal community and proclaims, “It is afflicted with pity.”

To put us all on the same page, we’ll synchronize our definition of pity starting with this gem from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “PITY implies tender or sometimes slightly contemptuous sorrow for one in misery”1. In other words, feeling sorry for someone from a position of being more fortunate. As F.W. Nietzsche brilliantly revealed, this is a subtle and passive way of placing oneself higher than the person being pitied; “it must suck to be him” is a relative measurement which requires that the speaker know what doesn’t suck.

Pity also plays into the “good guy” sense of self when one takes action according to pity. A burned out, feces-encrusted, proto-Simian intelligence who shuffles out of the city sewer system to ask for handouts can be pitied and handed a trivia of pocket change, making the giver feel important as the groveling lice habitat demeans himself in the presence of his benefactor. Even someone who is basically impoverished can feel richer by giving someone less fortunate a nickel; some say this explains sympathy sex from ex-girlfriends. Pity is the basis of all Abrahamic religions, including the ubiquitous and demented Christianity.

Since reality is not literally symbolic, except in certain Hollywood fairytales, pity in metal doesn’t pop up and scream its own name at the top of its lungs. However, it is clearly visible in the actions of metal as a community following the conclusion of the formative period of black metal in 1996 or so: increasingly, the goal in metal has been less to produce amazing music that a few understand, and the new goal has been to produce music that more people understand. An astute observer will note that dumbing something down for someone else is, similarly to the pity equation, a way of claiming to be smarter than that person; “here, I’ll translate it into shuffling, groveling, lice-infested prolespeak for you” is an equivalent statement of purpose. (And you wondered why the ANUS refuses to write reviews in the tongue of the common man.)

Originally, black metal was a byproduct of the genesis of death metal, something aesthetically inspired by Venom but really a derivative of melodic hardcore like Discharge, spawned in acts like Celtic Frost, Sodom, and Bathory in the early 1980s. It lay dormant until the next decade, when the Norwegians singlehandedly revived the genre by brushing aside much of the stridently-voiced social criticism (read: “complaining”) of speed and death metal and bringing out something with heroic ambitions, in which the greatest value wasn’t communicating to everyone but communicating to the part within everyone that wishes to rise above the mundane world and achieve great things; to have this spirit, you must believe that change can occur and is in the power of the individual. In this it was grand Wagnerian tragedy, the entire genre, as its practicioners knew they were hopelessly outnumbered and would be outvoted by the masses, who prefer tamer fare and resent anything that forces them off the couch.

Regardless of this adversity and sheer defeat, the Norwegian forces – we’re talking about Burzum, Emperor, Immortal, Darkthrone and Mayhem – mobilized themselves and went on the warpath to speak their piece no matter how unpopular it was. At first, although no one remembers this now, black metal was considered the retarded younger brother of death metal. Only a handful of people listened to it, and even then most of those didn’t understand it, or claimed they were doing it for the laughs. Only a few people caught on to its concept, and thus both its artistic method and ideological content. And before the old tired “music doesn’t have ideology” whining begins, we should realize that black metal was designed to sound like Gothic doom descending for a reason, and for one to believe that art should sound like that at this period in history, one must have a certain ideological bent – one that disagrees with the mainstream and foresees doom in its populist undertakings.

It was heroic, Romantic, passionate and yes, elitist; black metal was not music for the masses. Those who say at the current time that the values of the original black metal bands don’t matter, and who suggest we “progress” to other values (values that suspiciously resemble those of every other genre in its twilight years, namely values that make it more accessible to wide ranges of people because they approximate the liberal beliefs of a democratic social order), should ask themselves what over the past eight years of metal has had the impact of the original handful of bands, or attained that level of quality. The answer is: very little, if anything. The Norwegians remain absolute in their dominance of this artform, although nothing from Norway has approached that type of intensity since about 1997. We can see in the history of black metal’s descent into popularity the proof of the original concept as elitist and withdrawn from the masses.

After all, populism – or dumbing something down so that everyone in the herd can appreciate it – is a form of pity and negativity. It doesn’t have a heroic “do what must be done and damn the crowd” outlook, but cares about its status in the eyes of others and in not offending them by producing music that’s too complicated for their addled capacity. This populism is pity for the idiots who must have music tailor-made to their retarded consciousnesses, as well as being pity for the musicians themselves: the art of expression and finding reasons to believe in one’s own existence have been supplanted by keeping other people happy through being bland. Interesting how bland well describes recent black metal in the eyes of anyone but a fanatic who, thankful for some social scene that will accept him, embraces the genre like a lost parent.

Way back in the 1980s, when speed metal was first disintegrating, people talked about “selling out,” or dumbing down your music so that more people would buy it. By the time of black metal, it’s no longer “selling out” that’s the problem, but “becoming populist,” or taking a genre of archly unique neoclassical metal and turning it into the same three-chord, constant-rhythm morass into which death metal, speed metal and hardcore music before them all degenerated. This occurs in two forms, of course, the purist (“tr00 black metal”) and the avantgarde, the former trying to ape the format of the original works and the latter trying to turn them into something combined of odd parts of other genres. Neither succeeds because the focus is no longer on the music, but on the crowd.

Of course, to adopt the attitudes, values, and musical methods of every other genre out there returns metal to the level of generic music; it is assimilated by rock music, which was formed only through a desire to appeal to as many people as possible, and loses its uniqueness except in terms of the poses its fans strike and the antics and novelties its bands bring to the stage. It has lost heroism, both in music and in action, and thus has become another voice clamoring loudly of its uniqueness when that uniqueness died long ago. To persist in making such sold out and generic music, one must be negativistic to the degree that one believes no stirring music is any longer possible, thus “you might as well just make something people like.” Not only is this pity for the audience, but – as the virus of pity is wont to spread – it is pity for the self. No belief in ability to change the world makes one an emulator and, conscious of this status, one becomes miserable.

Interestingly, metal isn’t alone in this. Punk music went down this path in the late 1980s and became the totally soundalike, rubber-stamp similarity we hear today. Today’s black metal bands espouse “being the most extreme ever” and therefore like to sing about killing everybody on earth, destroying everything, killing themselves and other forms of self-pitying trash. Lacking self-confidence, these shadows of past glory have all of the “extremity” of a six-year-old’s tantrum, but none of the honesty: they’re simply out of ideas, but since they can’t socialize otherwise, are afraid to admit it and move on to something else. Like the doom metal bands who sing about the meaninglessness of life, or the punk bands who complain for forty minutes about society and then finally spit out the truth in a “love song” about being lonely and virtually stalking some unsuspecting female, these people have run to the end of the line and have nothing to offer to us but their pity and, of course, a chance to pity them – after all, they need us the crowd in order to have a meaning to exist.

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Art and ideology: inseparable

In the deconstructive age in which we live, it is considered normal to disassociate necessary parts of a mental or physical process where these parts might threaten our image of the individual as supreme decision-maker in each life. Our religions espouse the concept of a soul becoming immortal when it went to a place of perfection where (it was implied) every wish that could not be fulfilled on earth was indeed made real, by connotation escaping the interconnectedness of life and thus the inherent need to regulate resources such as time, money, energy and affection.

In a perfect world, the logic went, the interleaved order of nature was overthrown in favor of an absolute time and space where the gap between mental concept and reality was far reduced. In the same way that in the views of these religions the soul is entirely disconnected from physical presence, requiring that it either be created “before” the physical human or on another plane of existence (dualism), in the views of people in our modern time there is the concept that art is independent from the ideas and desires of its creators.

This excessively moralistic view exists most prominently in popular culture, where people fear inequity for the stigma belief in it evokes, and thus preach a constant easy solution: “It’s just music! There is no value conveyed by music other than your personal enjoyment, which is a choice made in a void or a dualistic environment in which purely abstract choices have no effect on reality.”

We can see the fallacy of this outlook immediately as it requires supernatural overtones to be made coherent at all: it assumes a plan to life outside of physical, biological, realistic existence, and therefore assumes that art like spiritualism takes place entirely outside of the realm in which we must survive — and survive by its rules and not those of the spiritualists.

Thus we come to music, and a form of music that hovers between popular music and being a legitimate artform (that which expresses ideas, instead of that which provides pleasing background noises emphasizing as its conclusions the assumptions of the crowd) in its own right, and see how damaging this view will be. If no music can convey a value system or an idea, a forcibly leveled playing field is created, and the only thing taht will distinguish one band from another is novelty or marketing, since there is no content — concept, message, belief, learning or experience — communicated to the listener.

Every sound is equal, and equally arbitrary; they are not symbols which strung together conduct a meaning between humans. There are no choices to be made, only a stream of bands to be purchased continuously. Naturally business and mediocre artists (who make up the bulk of any artistic population) love this democratic adoption, as it enables them to keep pumping out recombinant re-arrangements with clever surfacing, keeping a large flow of lackluster purchasing.

This murders genres; while the easy sales pitch will go quite far, at some point someone else somewhere introduces something more competitive, and the genre which has equalized itself to such populist mediocrity is then bypassed as it can, indeed, be stereotyped as mediocre – it has made itself so, and offers nothing another halfwit genre with a newer aesthetic does not. It has traded away quality for quantity in order to please those who wish to be part of it; each of them wants a part of it, and can have that, but only at the expense of the overall level of quality declining, because among humans only one in ten thousand will make music of any appreciable importance.

For contrast, one can for a moment imagine that one’s physical body is the seat of the “soul” and that one is created by physical circumstance more than by some mystical equality of soul defined by a religion made 2,000 years ago on another continent. Within this vision, humans are what they make themselves to be, but their impulse to make themselves into something better depends on their inherent inclination to recognize the possibility of something better existing; as many have noted, the truly stupid cannot conceive of anything different from the accepted format, and therefore cannot tell the difference between good art and garbage, as what makes art great is not some external factor — having a flute, more breakdown beats, or pipe organ solos — but an internal factor, such as how it is composed, its melodies and the ratios of cadences, and its structure formed from the sequence of musical parts that compose its whole.

Further, truly stupid parents never produce children of vastly greater intelligence, but advance incrementally only if several successive generations push themselves to greater heights and advance those among them who via fortunate accident exceed the previous standard of intelligence. Thus we can tell that body and mind are linked, much as artistic product and artists are linked. Do stupid artists make great art? Only in simplistic genres, one might think.

Returning to the question of whether or not an ideology produces art, we have only to think a moment about the process of artistic creation: an artist has some idea from which he or she produces an artistic work; there is concept, and then rendering of that concept into a sensual medium. In other words, there is a content outside the medium; great art is not achieved by randomness, or stupid people would do it. What makes art powerful is its ability to communicate, and what it transfers is the original idea of the artist as tempered through their past knowledge which like all philosophy or science is cumulative.

Based on the content to be communicated, the artist chooses style, medium and methods for conveying it, giving the work of art an enduring “meaning” for perusers to grasp. Much as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest uses an insane asylum as a metaphor for society, and White Noise makes a metaphysical statement from society’s confused internal dialogue, movies use the language of gangland to portray the workings of a modern city (Chinatown) and music lets a voice drop onto the discontent of a generation, channeling it into a symbol or feeling which unites disparate thoughts around a common central point (“Smells Like Teen Spirit” works as well here as “My Journey to the Stars”).

While not every artistic view is explictly political, any view can be interpreted politically: for example, “I just want to have my own space and have no one bother me” is a political view, if interpreted in the mechanism for achieving such a state in a world of other people; clearly this is an appeal to the liberal-democratic axis in politics, where the highest value is individual whim, wealth and comfort and social collectivism (or a holistic ideology such as Traditionalism) is not considered a viable option.

Similarly “We should stop pollution and not drive large cars” in a political sense appeals to the collectivist/fascist axis of human socio-political systems because its inherent political necessity is a decrease of personal liberty in exchange for a collective program that reduces pollution otherwise generated by many individuals in parallel caring only about the democratic-liberal aspects of politics. Even something like the faux angst whining of Kurt Cobain has its inherent liberal politics; he senses himself as oppressed by society, which is too uniform and too pointless, but that opinion is a counter-political action to that of society and thus does not differ in substance but application.

The concept that art is purely aesthetic, and thus conveys no ideas from the artist, is a means of nullifying it and reducing any differences it has from other forms of art to purely aesthetic disagreements; one band uses melody and carefully structured arrangements where another band is cyclic and uses rhythm more than tone, and this in the view of the nullifiers is no more significant than choosing to paint the sky blue in one painting and electric pink in another. This nullification is moral and democratic by its very nature, and it is only through careful sleight of hand that we are trained not to notice is condemnation of certain “political” art as what it is — a subtle but aggressive means of excluding other political views from discourse.

Originally published in “Anti-Art Manifesto #3,” 2004.

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