One last thing about production values in general: whether the production sound is good or bad is very closely connected to the music itself. Some albums simply need great production to be able to appreciate the music for what it is, for instance In The Nightside Eclipse which barely even makes it through production. While other albums such as Transilvian Hunger would probably lose their magical shine if they had good production.
Yes! I'd like to elaborate on this.
The issue can be split into two questions, with different answers.
The first is: why do bad
contemporary pagan black metal bands choose a poorer sound quality than what is available to them?
The answer to this
question is fairly simple; here it is:
In a genre of music which includes such a strong respect and advocacy for tradition, it makes since that its unintelligent, illogical, and image-focused participators would be very sensitive to how things were done by the originators (for the purposes of this article, the 'orignators' means the Norwegian second wave: Burzum, Mayhem, Darkthrone, Emperor, Gorgoroth, Ildjarn etc.). Because many of the first black metal bands sounded a certain way, allegiance to bad production, bad equipment, and sometime bad songs, became a feature of pagan metal as an extension of the respect for tradition in that genre
It also functions as a sort of hero worship. We should not forget that prior to internet resources, even accessible Norwegian black metal was very difficult to buy or find in the U.S., until the drama and associated media exposure of the church burnings. Many who are part of the scene now were originally inspired to listen to and write black metal because of the actions of one man who hated Christians as much we all wished we could express, and the careers of those who went on to become black metal musicians can also be seen as a way of vicariously carrying out violent acts against Christian institutions.
Allegiance to a lo-fi sound can therefore be seen as a tribute to the genre's ultimate and undisputed hero, Varg. I find it amusing that similar behavior is to be witnessed in fanatical Christians when they choose to be ritually crucified (non-lethally) as part of religious observance. I trust the ironic parallels are not lost on you.
These are of course an appeal to history, and an appeal to authority, respectively, both logical fallacies, but bad pagan black metal bands aren't exactly grooming themselves to participate in logical discourse; I'm not condoning this type of mindless romanticizing (that is, fetishizing) of past bands and musical models, but explaining it for what it is; an outgrowth of a common logical error committed every day by hundreds of millions of people on this earth, and from which black metallers are not exempt. This is one of the contributing factors to why the majority of music produced by these people is unoriginal, and therefore uninteresting.
Now the second, more interesting question:
Why do good
pagan black metal bands, contemporary as well as defunct, also insist on poor sound quality?
Firstly, it's worth beginning by saying that not all of them do. Summoning is an excellent example of a band whose sound quality is competitive not only with orthodox satanic black metal (a fairly recent phenomenon of black metal that anyone with a decent academic education will find amusing), but also with contemporary pop and club music. However, we can point to elements even in these bands that hint at the outrageously lo-fi sounds of the mid 90's Norwegian bands. For example, on the last release by Summoning, 'Oath Bound', the guitar consistently plays in a broken arpeggiated style, whose sound is a studio produced counterfeit of the 15-watt-bad-peavey-combo distortion used by Burzum and others on their enduring albums. So what's really at play here if a band as technically and technologically competent as Summoning chooses to use poor sound quality even as we breach the second decade of the new millennium? The answer brings me to my next point, which is that for many bands in this style, including the originators, the lo-fi sound was not only unnecessary to convey the music they were writing, but actively hindered it. Consider the following.
Historically, black metal can be seen partly as a rebellion against the enthronement of physical violence in death metal, which found full fruition in the percussive style death metal which matured in the U.S.A. just previous to the release of the first demos from the second wave of black metal. Percussive death metal is designed to be experienced as a physical phenomenon, by detuning the guitars (lower frequencies are felt more than heard) and playing and recording at extremely high volumes (again, high amplitude increases the physical sensation of sound). There has been commentary from black metal originators from this period to the effect that part of the black metal sound was about escaping the "jogging-suite" death metal of the U.S. In this light, we can see the focus on bad production and lo-fi sounds as part of an impulse away from the physical and towards the cerebral, which explains also the use of schreeched as opposed to growled vocals in black metal music.
Further, good production became associated with death metal bands that had achieved a comparatively huge amount of commercial success (Morbid Angel), and therefore it was also avoided as a way of distancing black metal from commercial tendencies which could allow it to be easily commodified. This is close to being a logical error on the part of our hypothetical pagan-black metal warriors , but it's achieved its goal of insulating the genre from idiots for a long time, and continues to do so in some instances of the practice (Horn's production is, contrary to what some others have said here about this band, god-awful, and I think this is partly why I haven't met a stupid person who listens to Horn) so I'm inclined to let this slide.
However, the final reason, and the most important one, why pagan black metal does not use "good" production its inconsistency with the aesthetics of the genre. The droning, densley harmonic and naturally resonant guitar parts found in black metal songs would be butchered
by a resonant, bassy, well defined, tube-saturated guitar tone that is standard in modern death AND black metal. The musical elements in this genre blend together, to purposefully mimic the ambiguity of sounds in nature, and also to obfuscate the sonic tapestry in general for the purpose of achieving the mysterious atmosphere which is the prime communicative element in black metal. If your aim is to achieve this integration of all sounds, then why would you use technology whose purpose is to make individual sounds
The sound of "pagan" black metal is often indistinguishable from a broken refrigerator unless you pay close attention, and the gradual aquisition of these ugly, veiled, and mysterious
sounds, over the course of the actual song, is part of the aesthetic experience of so called "pagan" black metal. Because ultimately we know that, because of the near complete lack of written or material evidence that would tell us who northern European pagans actually were
, to communicate "paganism" must always include an aspect of mystery. In fact, the vehicle of paganism is in this sense similar to the vehicle of "orthodox" satanism in modern black metal, in that they both serve as vehicles into the shunned unknown.
I've explained how lo-fi sound in pagan black metal is part of a generalized impulse in that genre away from the physical, and towards the cerebral. I've also shown how it was partly a way of delaying the commodification of the music, and finally that it is a conscious decision made to facilitate certain musical textures. I've also shown some ways in which this corresponds to the aesthetics and aims of "pagan" metal generally, and how at least one of these aims is shared by orthodox satanic black metal, even if the two genres differ in their methodology.
But there is one difference between these two vehicles: none of your ancestors were satanists, but chances are some of them were pagans. To listen to pagan black metal implies that you have an interest in the past, and if you are the same race as the creators of the music, into your
past. This leads inevitably to the issue of identity; who were your ancestors? what is a pagan? what is nature, and how did pagans interact with it? who am I when considered in the context of these questions?
There's a resultant deeply personal and human quality to pagan black metal that is simply not there in orthodox satanic black metal. Humanistic introspection is implied in the very concept of pagan black metal, and to distract from this by appealing to world-effacing impulses (death metal; "this song's is all about killing people...", that is "[other] people") or self-effacing ones (orthodox satanic black metal; "cut your flesh and worship Satan") would destroy this art.
And to think: you get all this by turning down the bass on your amp.