Metal has always been actively involved with myth. Early on (heavy metal), Heidenlaerm 9
myth was a lyrical plaything, sometimes touched with light metaphor but not
taken as too much more than window dressing or interesting subject matter;
it was an archetype through which to define the imagery of a song or
occasionally an album, but never sought as broad concept for anything beyond
that. As with other art forms, fantasy and history were used interchangeably
with myth for similar purposes
Not until death metal, partially of individual accord and partially in
reaction to the increasing "earthliness" of the concepts adopted by later
speed/thrash metal did myth come to the forefront as a legitimate basis for
total concept. The Lovecraftian/"Sumerian" pantheon adopted nearly wholly
by MORBID ANGEL represents one of the earliest and most immersive uses of a
"mythological" construct to underline and define all aspects of band
identity. Fortuitously, the band's choice of myth, being in essence a
literary concept and not a "true" mythological reality per se, allowed for a
certain flexibility in approach on all levels that did not seem plastic in
its application; coupled with MORBID ANGELs bizarre musical genius and
attitude, they were able to convey principles and ideas transcending those
of the source material. "New" matter invigorated established form; living
myth was born and conditioned through musical dimensions.
Black metal attempted something similar. Starting out, of course, with any
and all kinds of primitive veneration of the Satanic/demonic, black metal is
said to have begun a new developmental path with the immersion of BATHORY in
the lore of pre-Christian Scandinavia. Chest-swelling and Romantic tunes
accompanied lyrics, mostly unstudied but heartfelt, cast in praise of the
Ęsir gods of bravery, sung directly from the perspective of one of Odin's
patrons. Despite two popular albums completely dedicated to these themes,
the second wave of black metal (with some well-known exceptions) abandoned
this approach in favor of a mythical-poetic one unhindered by any rigid
mythological/historical backdrop. It seems appropriate that those in this
wave who were most "ambiguous" about their approach were the same ones
working to create myth themselves through specific action, which had the
dual effect of elevating black metal beyond music and dragging it back to
earth as newcomers emulated the recent myth through all possible mediums but
with almost none of original spirit.
Bands in both genres continue heavy reliance on mythology in a variety of
forms: many black metal derived acts attempt revivalist/anachronistic
religious historicism a la BATHORY and ENSLAVED; others, generally death
metal acts, use myth or mythologized history to reframe certain subject
matter common to the genre, in some cases to the extent of gimmick.
Regardless of how heartfelt these explorations may still be, that they
continue to foster lyrics, image, and worldview for metal bands could either
be telltale of a deeper connection with the genre, or a purely material need
for unique approaches to the craft culled from archetypes of cultures past.
At this point, it is more of the latter, but it is difficult to deny that
the former was not true of some of the most representative and creative acts
of black and death metal. To see truths in these representations of the
past, to avoid sentimentality or overly Romantic applications thereof, and
to embody these ideals positively in a way befitting of this time and place
and of their medium of delivery is the essence of what was accomplished at
best. If it is possible or even desirable for this to be repeated in the
form in question is uncertain, but we can admire those whose efforts to do
so also embody the spirit of their creations.
Heavy metal, even the earliest stuff, got outside of the individual to address process. I'm thinking of songs like Children of the Grave, War Pigs, or Technical Ecstasy. There is a mythological dimension to this in distilling human experience as a whole to symbols the individual can understand.
Obviously, it went overdrive in black metal, but then black metal failed in part from a lack of myth when it became an endless chanting of Satanic babble.
It's possible that metal has ended a myth cycle, in the Joseph Cambellian (heh) sense. The early myth was to establish focus; death metal was deconstruction, and black metal, creation. Now there remains a need to mythologize the current struggle to make myth incarnate.