From my blog:
The state of discourse regarding metal’s experiential nature from philosophical or spiritual perspectives (full title did not fit in forum subject bar above)
Philosophical or spiritual examination of metal’s experiential nature seems lacking in the marketplace of ideas. The lack of consensus as to the nature of the human condition, and the extent to which complicated subjective experiences are involved, makes it very difficult to converse in this area of thought. People are motivated to listen to metal for a variety of reasons such as emotional catharsis, entertainment, socialization, rebellion, etc, and while these motivations should all be recognized they do not pertain to the present topic. Just as the state of human consciousness in the world today is very poor, in corollary these motivations for listening to metal do not pertain to the music’s higher experiential potential, which certainly helps explain why so little discourse about it exists. A text examining the experiential nature of metal from a philosophical or spiritual perspective would need also examine the nature of the human condition, and moreover it would have to argue for a certain view of the human condition, it would have to create a space for itself in an inhospitable marketplace of ideas almost as magically as metal engages the listener.
Music can be a very powerful thing, in its impact on consciousness and as an expression of or banner for philosophical or spiritual paradigms, and I firmly believe the potential exists for music and paradigm to evolve mutually. This potential is frequently echoed in the very accounts and commentaries of metal musicians themselves, the artwork and symbols they employ, the theater they perform, the lyrics they choose and, indeed I would submit, the very sounds they craft. Certainly in some cases the affair may admittedly have more to do with branding and marketing. But in other cases, if anything is to help metal tackle and rise above the poverty of human consciousness—metal the product of this consciousness in the first place—is it not precisely the music itself, in the musician’s dissociatively-inspired conception of it, which tends to circumvent the conscious mind altogether, and be uniquely capable of expressing that fateful essence not capturable by rigid conventions of image, word or ritual? The trouble is, then, to with an earthly consciousness actually recognize and identify musical qualities specifically, lest every teenager’s exclamation of metal’s awesomeness be taken without a grain of salt.
The distinction between the metal critic and the metal academic is significant, yet underlying both occupations is largely the same stuff in what the listener’s personality type and paradigm are, how different metal affects different personality types and paradigms differently, and what metal is enjoyable and healthy for which personality types and paradigms. Yet in their reviews and recommendations the critic has only subjective tastes and arbitrary value judgements to offer, as if musical preference hinges on something resembling luck without deep and complex processes of causation underneath, and in their studies and publications academics have only objective, tangible analysis and speculative exploration to offer. It is very difficult to bring into the picture that common denominator shared by all people, as political correctness insists on tolerance and the lines delineating academic fields of study are dissociatively secular. In my view the problem is not tolerance or secularism, it is that the questions of philosophy and spirituality are abstracted, removed from all equations and routinely hidden in the blindness of faith, in a hopeless and perverse marketplace of ideas convinced the answers are beyond reach.
I would submit the aspect of metal’s growling vocals as one example of philosophical and spiritual ignorance towards the music’s experiential nature. While many people say all growling vocals sound the same (and cringe at the sound of them), serious metal listeners recognize a wide variety of growling vocal styles exist. At the same time, where the human voice in music can convey emotion exceptionally well, perhaps better than any instrument, and where growling vocals are particularly distinctive and intense, serious metal listeners tend to be strangely incapable of articulating why they like certain styles of growling vocals and dislike, sometimes passionately, other styles of growling vocals. When metal critics comment on growling vocals they usually describe them by comparing them to those of other bands, or by indicating their sonal qualities such as volume, raspiness, level of pitch, etc. At the same time, we have all probably scratched our heads on numerous occasions wondering why bands producing otherwise great music would employ such awful growling vocals, how there could be such a disconnect.
Metal’s emotional content is highly complex and often relates back to underlying paradigms sought to be expressed by the musicians, yet rarely do metal listeners express their preference for certain growling vocal styles over others in terms of emotional content and corresponding philosophical or spiritual integrity. For example, while many metal listeners often denounce emo music, at the same time they may profess to love black metal bands featuring horrific, agonized, desparaging shrieks that could certainly be argued to be emo-esque. More broadly, if according to one’s paradigm one values in life for instance such things as immortality, strength, determination, courage, passion and nobility, then in much black metal one would find only the antithesis of these values in such things as fear, mortality and death, unconditional surrender, chaos, sorrow, hate, wretchedness and disgust, etc. I for one walk the left-hand path and hold the former set of values, find utterly unappealing the latter set, and find it most remarkable how the two sets, while practically opposite, occupy similar spaces in the black metal sub-genre without many questions being raised about it. (Examples of black metal songs I love would include Moonblood’s Blut Und Krieg, Satyricon’s Mother North, and Ulver’s entire Bergtatt album.)
While I only listen to metal that appeals to me on the level of my left-hand path paradigm, in much of the music I listen to I find the underlying paradigm and lyrics quite unappealing, except I interpret the music much differently than how the musicians intended—purely the sound resonates in brilliant harmony with my left-hand path paradigm, I ignore what I may be aware of about the musician’s underlying paradigm, and thankfully I am usually unable to decipher the lyrics within the distortion of the growling vocals. This indicates to me that even the makers of the music, the musicians themselves, are often somewhat ignorant of the music’s deeper core, and at the same time it reinforces in me the notion that the realm of aggression—shared by basically all darker metal bands regardless of their more specific value sets—is an enormously complex, subtle and rich space capturing a wide range of value sets and indeed possessing transformative capacity from more ‘poor’ value sets to more ‘enlightened’ value sets, as exemplified in the not-uncommon accounts of black metal listeners reporting Zen-like experiences of catharsis and transcendence. By the same token, surely aggressive music also has the capacity to impact one’s consciousness negatively, yet when academics debate whether or not metal can be linked to things like depression or delinquency rarely if ever do they distinguish between the various philosophical and spiritual impulses that profoundly characterize different types of metal.
It is no wonder these things are rarely talked about as, to recapitulate, humanity is terribly ignorant and divided about matters of the spirit. But it would be foolish to consider metal only in isolation from its deeper essence, considering the sheer power of music which begs to be better understood, respected and manipulated. Perhaps more than any other musical genre metal values authenticity, so when the musicians themselves frequently place great importance on aspects of philosophy, spirituality, religion or occultism incorporated into their art, are we to examine the matter further or rather take the genre to be something of a sham? Where a few minutes may be (well-)spent denouncing the mind-dumbing, spirit-numbing garbage generated in the mainstream music industry, entire evenings may be spent examining and arguing about the magic offered rather uniquely from metal. In fact entire symposiums were occupied with such discourse, Black Metal Theory symposiums which since 2009 represent an important foray into this area of thought.