How to be a Black Metal Fan in 2005
Don't Listen to Black Metal
Black metal as a community has grown exponentially since it emerged as a musical style in its own right in the early 1990s. Like a new civilization, it grew from a small group of innovators who were disgusted by the "jogging suit" mentality: people who were essentially products of a modern time, who blindly bleated its ideas, figuring out how to play death metal and becoming popular in the genre by making their music more like what audiences accustomed to rock music expected. In essence, the crowd had infested death metal as it had speed metal before that, and black metal was a response to this.
Recognizing that no matter how they dressed up the music as something "new," appearances could be cloned, black metal musicians decided to go where the crowd could not follow: they would write music that expressed a grandeur of nature and feral amorality, hearkening more to the values of Samurai or European knights than to the disposable ideals of modern time. Since such a topic requires music that infuses the listener with a sense of awe and beauty in the cycle of destruction and creation that renders our world, they could no longer rely on "three chords and the truth," but had to actually put the truth in the music, and write more poetic and complex songs.
"Complexity" is a difficult term here, because it can be made into aesthetic as well; almost every failed progressive rock band in the universe has done this, by adding fills and "technical" parts that contribute little to the music as a whole. "Truth" is a difficult term because Ani DiFranco thinks she has truth and that it's in her lyrics, which she puts over entirely forgettable lyrics - don't mention to her that, to a philosopher, the ideals she espouses are no different than what George Bush rants about in his spacy speeches.
Black metal took a new direction and put the truth into the music, independent of lyrics, making sweeping mini-symphonies which covered a range of emotions and brought the listener from alienation to a unity with nature. An alert reader might note that almost all poetry does the same, by finding mundane details and abstracting them to higher principles, then translating them into an experience which narrates the reader from an initial position to a sense of having learned something and, more importantly, having learned to appreciate it. "Political" music like Ani DiFranco and Napalm Death can't do that for you.
The small civilization within civilization that was black metal was united more by ideals than by aesthetic or musical tenets, although all of its music by aiming to express the same kind of idea had similarities, mainly in its use of poetic complexity and truth within the music (and not necessarily the lyrics; you listen to black metal, and because of its intense artistry, find truth there). Because even educated and thoughtful people are brick-stupid these days, since they're surrounded by infinite voices repeating the same few ideas in many different forms, here are the basic ideas of black metal:
1. Nature as supreme order, where nature like thought is a process of evolution whereby a proliferation of ideas are filtered down by their adaptation to reality as a whole. Many potential designs start out, and those that match their surroundings the best persist.
2. Thought and ideal as more important than physicality. Like the values of knights, of Mahatma Gandhi and Jesus Christ as well as Adolf Hitler, black metal musicians saw it as more important that a functional order geared toward higher evolution persist on earth. They cared at a distant second place how many lives were lost, or what pains were endured, and were primarily concerned that better ideas - forms of organization, designs, personal ideals - endured over the lesser ideas, generally construed as materialism and Judeo-Christian morality, in which loss of life is terrible no matter what is achieved.
3. Introspection. In black metal lore, the only meaning comes from what the individual can interpret; there are no boundaries between individuals and the world (nature) as whole, but the individual can only perceive what he or she can through natural abilities and learning from experience. Not everyone can see all of the truth; we all get it in degrees, but what is most important in black metal is the individual inspecting him or herself for internal values and finding a way to connect these to the world. It's the exact opposite of "if it feels good, do it" rhetoric from the rock-n-roll crowd and American politicians.
4. Morbidity as not only important, but essential, and a giver of meaning. Where most view death paranoiacally, and see it as a great entropy removing all value, black metal musicians viewed it as something giving meaning to life. That we die means we must find value in life (see point 3) and must do that which is rewarding not just to our physical selves, but to our unique and ephemeral souls (see point 2).
5. Nationalism. Racism is a preference for one race above all others, worldwide. Nationalism is pride in one's country, and its native ethnicity, language and culture. Nationalism is a subset of naturalism because, much as one appreciates the diversity of species on earth, one appreciates the diversity of humans and wishes to preserve that by isolating nations from one another. Some black metal musicians are racist, and others not, but all agreed that ethnic separation was necessary for the preservation of their native lands.
6. Holistic morality and spirituality. In Judeo-Christian spirituality, the center of belief is the relationship between the individual and God, and anyone can have it. In ancient faiths, the gods were impersonal and nonjudgmental, and the individual forged a path through life based on the upholding of higher ideals and understanding nature. Judeo-Christian spirituality is a product; ancient faiths are esoteric and little more than elaborate forms of philosophical learning and martial discipline. Occultist, Satanist, Hindu, Nordic and Greco-Roman mythological references abound in black metal.
To any student of European history or art, these values are not new; they are traditional to all Romantic forms of art, whether literature or visual art or symphonies, and were upheld by artists as disparate as William Wordsworth, Anton Bruckner, John Keats, Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Lord Byron and William Shakespeare. For all of these artists, nature was a higher form of order than the rules of civilization, and civilization had become decadent by praising its own "equal" order more than the "unequal" order of nature. Many philosophers, including the celebrated F.W. Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer, explicated these sentiments in their own work. Black metal's ideology is nothing new.
What was new was an expression of these ideas in popular music, because rock music and blues and all of the associated disposable art has always been a manifestation of the crowd revolt mentality: simple music so that everyone in a room could get it, diametrically opposed to the grand works of classical music which were too complex and emotionally involved for a crowd to appreciate (or even to have the attention span to endure). Rock music focuses on one emotion per song, bangs it out in riff and chorus, and makes it very simple by using a relatively fixed number of scales and chord progressions. Rock music is the perfect product because it's easy to make, is appreciated by customers of all ages and not limited by intelligence, and is inoffensive on a certain level in that it has nothing to say that will disturb. The basic message of rock music is to include everyone equally, to appreciate them for being alive and not for their inherent traits, and to come together on simple human values and not higher ideals; rock is inclusivity. Black metal is not.
The "jogging suit" people who infested death metal, a genre devoted to the nihilism of recognizing that death alone is predominant so we, and not our products or warm fuzzy feelings, must define the meaning of life for our mortal selves, were an offshoot of this inclusive impulse of modern music. When death metal was new (1983-1987) it was exclusively an embrace of the light to be found at the other side of this dark tunnel, which is that when one gets over the fear of death that unites modern society, one can return to that which is more important than material comfort or popularity: ideals, nature and real experience. Where black metal was pure Romanticism, death metal was a form of scientific existentialism bonded to a brawler's resentment of those given positions because of their obsequious acceptance of the moronic logic that is popular.
When black metal emerged, it was ridiculed, mocked, hated, and excluded from popularity in metal circles. From 1990-1993, it was hard to find anyone who even thought it had artistic merit: it was simply unpopular, in part because it did not embrace the root of all popularity from movie stars to politicians to drug dealers, which is an inclusiveness that says anyone who comes in the door and appreciates a simple experience is one of the crowd, one of the in-group that then defines itself as important to civilization. After the events in Norway, involving burning churches and murders, black metal was suddenly popular because it suggested there was an "other side" and, the crowd reasoned, by buying CDs they could be part of it.
Much as civilizations are started by a brave few and later, when following generations lose their sense of ruthless struggle against disorder so that civilization can be created, degenerate into societies where popularity and luxury are more important than truth, black metal fell apart shortly after that because of the invasion of the crowd. Suddenly a band like Cradle of Filth, who are basically a bad Iron Maiden cover band playing fast heavy metal with black metal vocals, could be vastly popular and introduce hundreds of thousands of people to the new genre. And they came, expecting more bands like Cradle of Filth, and buying them, and thus drowning out the few bands of merit. If you became a black metal musician, there was no longer safe haven from the crowd, and thus you had a choice between making traditional black metal and being ignored, or making Cradle of Filth style heavy rock and getting rich. The original bands cracked under the pressure, and broke up or sold out, and the newcomers came in.
The average black metal fan today has not heard the formative works of the genre: Immortal, Emperor, Burzum, Gorgoroth, Enslaved, Darkthrone, Beherit and Varathron when they were making essential, complex, beautiful music. All they've heard are the newcomers, both of the blatantly commercial Cradle of Filth variety, and the scene whore "loud, fast and antisocial" type of band that Black Witchery represents. The newcomers are uniformly worthless, as they express nothing that rock music does not, and by giving it an extreme aesthetic, allow their fans to convince themselves that they are "part of" some movement against the dominant trend of society, even though much like Democrats and Republicans in America agree on the same core values, newcomer "black metal" repeats the same empty rhetoric that rock music has been feeding us for fifty years. Newcomer black metal is black metal only in the world of appearance; in terms of musical and artistic structure, it's closer to punk rock or even Dave Matthews Band. It's rock music.
The aesthetic of black metal is easy to clone. Put screeching vocals, midtone guitars, fast drums and heavy distortion on top of fast rock music, and it "sounds like" black metal, even if the dumbest fan can see that somehow it misses the vastness and emotional depth of Det Som Engang Var or In the Nightside Eclipse. The structure of art - its Romanticism, its poetry, its depth - eludes those who clone black metal. And, as we see in hindsight, the original black metal bands like the original death metal bands were not a natural thing, but an aberration in a steady stream of bands that have been cloning the same ideas since early rock'n'roll. Black metal and early death metal were the exception, not the rule.
What we have now is not black metal, although it calls itself "black metal," in the same way that rock music will never be a symphony even if it calls itself so. I tend to refer to the mainstream stuff like Six Feet Under or Cradle of Filth as "heavy metal," since musically it's closer to Motorhead and Led Zeppelin than death or black metal; I tend to refer to the "underground" black metal like Black Witchery or Velvet Caccoon as "black hardcore," since musically it resembles late model hardcore music with black metal aesthetics. None of this is black metal.
Ideals of black metal clones:
1. Everyone must get it. It must be simple, not challenging, and most of all not have any poetic essence to its soul, as most fans can't get that and thus will not buy it.
2. Appearance over structure. It must have a unique appearance, but say the same old things philosophically and use familiar musical ideas so that even the dumbest fans can understand it and buy it. Even more, it must be upheld as dogma truth that adding a flute or screeching spotted owl to the same old music somehow makes it "unique" and worth owning.
3. Simplistic emotions are important. Forget the depth of "Inno A Satana"; blindly praise Satan with roaring, consistent anger, because that way every fan, even the ones with Down's Syndrome, can get what it's about and get into it. Start a big singular emotion party, and make it simple so everyone can buy the CD and come along.
4. Everyone can get it. Black metal clones are not specific to a certain land or belief system, as they are essentially musically the same and are designed so that even a retarded outer space alien could "get it" and start tapping its feet and wearing Darkthrone-brand jogging suits immediately. Nationalism, even elitism, eugenics or belief in anything at all is out; what's in is having some music that sounds angry, is written like punk rock, and can be appreciated by everyone so they can buy the CDs or praise the "underground" scene queens who created it.
The problem with black metal now is that fans, out of a desire to have something contemporary, are buying and praising the mediocre music of right now and thus are diluting any distinctiveness black metal ever had, slowly turning the genre as a community and art form into the same ol' rock music. They are misinformed, or uniformed, and therefore buy the best of what they can find and try to pretend they like it, but even a crowd of uneducated fans can sense that it is empty, so they try buying more and more of it, and going for novelty factors like location or obscurity, but still cannot find the essence of black metal and what made it great. That is because quite simply it is not made anymore; a musician looking at today's black metal scene will recognize quickly that the competition is for novelty and not for quality art, and thus will take his or her skills elsewhere. Black metal is now a trend.
My suggestion to all those who love black metal is simple: stop supporting band that are OK instead of great. If that means there's no black metal that's new to listen to, then accept that like a warrior, and listen to the older stuff or branch out into different genres. Uphold black metal in spirit and not by buying mediocre products that are a cancer eating away at whatever legitimacy the genre once had. If you really care about black metal, you care more about its ideas than your own comfortable existence of buying lots of little CDs so you have something to gossip about with your little friends. To want to understand and care about black metal is to care about its spirit, not the disposable art that now dresses itself up in black metal's appearance. You might even explore other Romantic art instead. The path is clear: you either support black metal's "life" as a mediocre rock genre, or you encourage the mediocre music to die so black metal can be reborn from within, when the intangible elements such as poetry and musical quality once again predominate. Until that happens, black metal will continue to be absorbed the same generic stuff that its creators hated. http://www.anus.com/metal/about/metal/blackmetal/