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The importance of self-distance in art

The importance of self-distance in art
January 21, 2009, 06:05:10 PM
One of the reasons to why most metal past the late 90s is boring, is that it lacks self-distance.

Great masters such as Burzum, Mayhem, Immortal, Possessed, Havohej and Darkthrone had this thing in common: they included humour and occasionally self-satire, in art or surrounding their art. This enabled them to joke around with stereotypes (Varg's infamous interview with Norwegian press where he claimed he knew who burnt down the churches, is one classic example), but more importantly, it showed they didn't take themselves too seriously for their own good. It gave them a more objective view of the essence and direction of the genre.

Remember when Darkthrone began putting "True Norwegian Black Metal" on their record releases? This was to separate themselves from the clones that were already beginning to increase in number. Back then, it was probably a "unique" statement. When that didn't work, unfortunately at the same time when they lost artistic direction, they began mocking themselves and the genre (and now, sadly, they are truly nothing but a joke). Varg left the scene, and Immortal released a few technically brilliant works before fading into ancient status. Beherit spaced out into electronic music and later into experimental territory. But the clones, clueless as they were, took all of this True Black Metal business seriously, and today we laugh at bands who want to be "tr00." Why? Because they take themselves TOO seriously, forgetting the playfulness and the humour of the genre. They mimick their ideals instead of achieving them. They lack self-distance and, as a consequence, become obsessed with the genre itself. Nargaroth is one example of this, and Velvet Caccoon were people who even figured they could make cash on idiots who bought it.

I was reminded of this some days ago when I heard Carl Nielsen's fifth symphony. While Nielsen integrated modernistic aspects to his music, he later seems to have become irritated at much of the modern classical composers in general--and voila, we get his fifth, where he literally mocks these composers in a playful, creative way. Again, this is a man who had self-distance. He wasn't obsessed with art itself and thus could look beyond its limitations, recognizing hipsters.

If metal bands want to succeed at being artistically creativel today and come up with something original, they need to stop taking themselves and the genre too seriously. This doesn't mean the genre is a joke, that art doesn't carry serious messages, or that the metal genre should be anarchy rather than an artistic movement. But it's impossible to be serious if you've got your head up your ass and focus on trying to align yourself with the genre at every cost. Don't follow it - BE it.

Re: The importance of self-distance in art
January 21, 2009, 09:48:07 PM
I generally agree.

One the other hand, many hipsters have a lot of self-distance. And too much (or perhaps the wrong kind of) self-awareness seems to lead to post-modernity.

Re: The importance of self-distance in art
January 22, 2009, 02:48:44 AM
I disagree with you Alexis.  In early black metal they were much more serious about their music, maybe not about the press, but black metal itself was not just fun and games (except for maybe immortal but they're probably the weakest of the older bands anyways).  Now look at bands today, there are very few bands now that really take themselves seriously and those that do are either 'avant-garde, progressive, experimental' fags or they are just trying to be Mayhem #2.  The few modern bands that deserve any respect, such as I Shalt Become and Averse Sefira, take themselves VERY seriously.  I think the humour and tongue-in-cheek cheesiness needs to disappear for this genre to get back on its feet.

asphyx667

Re: The importance of self-distance in art
January 22, 2009, 05:05:25 AM
Nah, Alexis is right.  You take life and your art seriously, but life itself is often play (if you're a nihilist).  So you are serious and completely not serious all at once.  It's actually rather difficult to express what this really means, but it is similar to how metal itself is fantastic and yet closer to reality than realism-based styles like punk, I think.

This observation reminds me of some of those classic Euronymous interviews:

" OF COURSE I took photos, wouln't you? It's not every day you get to mess around with a real corpse! Unfortunately."

"I have thought about quitting from the communist party though, but this is just because they are not brutal enough any more."

Re: The importance of self-distance in art
January 23, 2009, 06:50:45 AM
One thing that I listened to recently that blew me out of the water was Mr. Bungle's first demo "The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny" (1986). It's very competent and well-played death metal, even compared to offerings from DM's later "golden" era, but what's more is that it takes the piss out of bands who took themselves far too seriously when they sang about corpses, ghouls attacking the church or crushing the holy priest well before many of these bands even released their albums. One example of this is the track Evil Satan, the only track on the demo that isn't death metal but rather a funk-rock track over which patton growls EVIL SATAN SIX SIX SIX. Somehow Mr. Bungle got lost in the annals of death metal pioneers, probably because their fame was established on their later releases.

Re: The importance of self-distance in art
January 23, 2009, 07:06:21 AM
One thing that I listened to recently that blew me out of the water was Mr. Bungle's first demo "The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny" (1986). It's very competent and well-played death metal, even compared to offerings from DM's later "golden" era, but what's more is that it takes the piss out of bands who took themselves far too seriously when they sang about corpses, ghouls attacking the church or crushing the holy priest well before many of these bands even released their albums. One example of this is the track Evil Satan, the only track on the demo that isn't death metal but rather a funk-rock track over which patton growls EVIL SATAN SIX SIX SIX. Somehow Mr. Bungle got lost in the annals of death metal pioneers, probably because their fame was established on their later releases.

Indeed, who wants death metal bands taking action?  Irony is so much more comforting.

Re: The importance of self-distance in art
January 23, 2009, 08:11:54 AM
Seriously, I cannot state enough how much I disagree with this.  The early black metal bands were so great because of their seriousness with all of this, with that there came great naivety but that didn't matter because black metal was not about realism, it was about spirit and feeling.  When the members of the bands "grew-up" and got some "self-distance" they gained a sense of cynicism about their music which really took away what had originally made it great.  Before they were serious and optimistic and ambitious and the spirit was alive, but then that left and they were able to joke around about all of it and not take things so seriously, which KILLED the music.  I'm sure some intelligent people could take the music seriously but still be playful about life in general, but it is definitely not "important" and will only confuse and hinder those that might make great art but be a little naive.

Re: The importance of self-distance in art
January 23, 2009, 08:56:47 AM
Indeed, who wants death metal bands taking action?  Irony is so much more comforting.

I'd take a good dose of satire aimed at metal's most moronic aspects over some metalheads' brick-headed insistence that "metal is serious business" when it deals with such laughable topics. If being in a noisy metal band that sings about ghouls and satan and wears inverted crosses is "taking action", then it must be the most ineffectual action one could possibly take because it doesn't accomplish anything other than attracting people who think gore and satan are super kewl, and we all saw how well that went, right? The kind of art metalheads enjoy doesn't come out of a desire to "take action" (there's a word for art thus motivated: propaganda), it comes from catharsis and the emotional desire to make heavy, dark music and to enjoy it. Trey Azagthoth didn't make Morbid Angel to wipe the world of the Christian plague or somesuch nonsense, he made Morbid Angel because he was raised a baptist and had that emotional burden to get off his shoulders.

Re: The importance of self-distance in art
January 23, 2009, 09:47:12 AM
Whereas the discussion mostly circles around the perceived "attitude", there is also another position, art as a form of science.

That being: the will and the ability of the artist to refer to and address things outside himself and in so doing avoid self-expression and emotionally handled personality.

Re: The importance of self-distance in art
January 23, 2009, 03:10:48 PM
Whereas the discussion mostly circles around the perceived "attitude", there is also another position, art as a form of science.

That being: the will and the ability of the artist to refer to and address things outside himself and in so doing avoid self-expression and emotionally handled personality.

Yes, the artist needs an idea that he expresses, but the idea is not outside him, but in him. The idea is not solely his own, though; he participates in it and imitates and expresses it.

The artistst needs the idea, which he must participate in, before he can express it through his art.

I do not see, however, how he could not be serious in creating his work of art, except that the artist is not serious himself - but would we then take him serious, or his work?

I also do not see what this does have to do with originality, so I ask: what do you mean by originality, and why would art have to be original?
Whatever you honor above all things, that which you so honor will have dominion over you.

Re: The importance of self-distance in art
January 23, 2009, 03:57:08 PM
It's a difficult quality to define but I think Alexis is largely spot on, and has identified one of the attributes of black metal which goes almost totally overlooked by the newer, mediocre bands (much to their discredit). All of the bands named in the first post - their most iconic creations were ones of humour - Burzum's warrior poses and the song "War", Immortal's promo video, Paul Ledney 'grimming' in a meadow, Darkthrone's ridiculously over-the-top attention seeking controversies ("obvious Jewish behaviour").

That doesn't make these bands jokes. It makes them alive; believable as real people. They are not one-dimentional and boring.

I could elaborate with more in-depth analysis but I would get flamed and accused of hipsterism or irony, so there is little point. Those who are interested will look and find for themselves, the rest will drop off of their own accord. But look at BM as another life/death cult exactly like the  wild hunt, the ansuzgard(sp?), The clowns of the Hopi indians, the parade of death in The Seventh Seal. All of these have a strong element of humour attached.

There is also the psychological element involved which could even suggest that it was the very humour/fantasy which made the Norwegian scene so extreme in the first place. There was a known use of role play, ritual in the "social scene". These things - along with humour - make the terrible seem mundane and can radicalize masses. Through either repetition (ritual, roleplay) or subversion of revered symbolism (humour, mockery - humour as a weapon of propaganda to devalue the opposition. What you might cheesily call  "sardonic wrath") members of the bands were able to reject limitations of normal society. They brainwashed themselves, essentially.


Re: The importance of self-distance in art
January 23, 2009, 04:48:53 PM
they took life seriously, they took their art seriously, they DID NOT take THEMSELVES seriously.  they understood themselves IN RELATION to the rest of the world.  and the only way to understand yourself in relation to the whole, is to have "self-distance."

and the above post ^^^ is awesome, by the way.
I live in my own place
Have never copied nobody even half
And at any Master who lacks the grace
To laugh at himself, I laugh!

Re: The importance of self-distance in art
January 23, 2009, 06:58:04 PM
I wouldn't say that the problem is a lack of humor in newer metal, so much as an overabundance of ego.  The lack of self deprecation is simply a bi-product.   Metal musicians need to stop making music for themselves and instead focus on making good music. 

Re: The importance of self-distance in art
January 24, 2009, 04:52:01 AM
Indeed, who wants death metal bands taking action?  Irony is so much more comforting.

I'd take a good dose of satire aimed at metal's most moronic aspects over some metalheads' brick-headed insistence that "metal is serious business" when it deals with such laughable topics. If being in a noisy metal band that sings about ghouls and satan and wears inverted crosses is "taking action", then it must be the most ineffectual action one could possibly take because it doesn't accomplish anything other than attracting people who think gore and satan are super kewl, and we all saw how well that went, right? The kind of art metalheads enjoy doesn't come out of a desire to "take action" (there's a word for art thus motivated: propaganda), it comes from catharsis and the emotional desire to make heavy, dark music and to enjoy it. Trey Azagthoth didn't make Morbid Angel to wipe the world of the Christian plague or somesuch nonsense, he made Morbid Angel because he was raised a baptist and had that emotional burden to get off his shoulders.

You have a point, yet still, to praise something as infantile as Mr. Bungle?  In addition, I bring as a counter-example Mayhem/Burzum/ etc., who in fact did write music at least partially to take action against Christianity, and who took action within the span of their lives towards such goals, and these bands can certainly classified under "the kind of art metalheads enjoy".

Re: The importance of self-distance in art
January 24, 2009, 05:18:04 AM
You have a point, yet still, to praise something as infantile as Mr. Bungle?

I know, what a metal elitist sacrilege! *gasp*

Get over yourself, have you even listened to the demo? It's perfectly in keeping with the subject of this thread.