After something happens, people have to talk it to death to figure out what it meant. What they’re really asking is: What caused this, and what was its goal or ideal in response?
What they are looking for at that time is a summary, a “main point” which can be used to explain the movement in a broader historical context (most artistic and political movements being, only a few decades past their eventiture, minor footnotes in a larger narrative).
They want to know its relevance, in other words.
Napoleon attacked Russia? Fine: a battle; what caused it? Napoleon wanted to conquer Russia… to establish hegemony of the new post-monarchic order… and to ensure French imperial supremacy… which had fallen into disrepair… and been exploited by the monarchs… — so we have multiple factors here, centering on a restoration of power after a failure. Right, a desperate move. The significance is more than what Napoleon “wanted”; it’s the historical context in which he exists.
In the same way, we’re looking at black metal and our society offers a number of failure-prone ways to look at it. First there’s the rock-n-roll industry way, which is predictably airheaded: these dudes just wanted to make the most intense music ever, man, and so they turned to Satan and extremism. OK, that’s useless — only a true retard would accept that as a complete answer. Then there’s the inarticulate musician answer, which is that they were inspired by Venom and so copied their heroes. On top of that, we have the useless academic answer, which is that they were altering the heuristic of their neuro-linguistic token integration in order to re-interpret the world as simulacra through new, opened eyes — that’s crap. Then you have interesting side observations, like the Until the Light Takes Us filmmakers wanting to make a movie about the decomposition of an idea — that definitely happened, and it’s true, but tells us nothing about how the phenomenon came about.
And what might a historian or a philosopher say?
The Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc fell in 1990-1991. That ended the post-WWII order, and the Communism-versus-Capitalism narrative which splintered off into many degrees of socialism, conservatism, greens and others duking it out. But even more, there was no longer a reason for society to strive. The war was over — what was left? The worst of the 1980s, except now we didn’t even have conservative politicians to reign us in. The McDonald’s, the Coca-Cola, the women turning themselves into plastic whores, the men living for novelty and not bravery, the large corporations controlling more of what we think, the democratic governments so easily purchased… that is the background to black metal.
And against all of these ideas, it offered a simple solution:
- Modern society: Everyone is equal. Everyone is important. What is most valuable is not pushing yourself to new heights, but getting along with others. When everyone is included, there will be no war or suffering, and we can all live good lives thanks to these excessive rights and these plasticized corporate products.
- Black metal: No peace can exist, and nothing is equal or pure. Morality is garbage invented by the weak. What matters is making yourself better, pushing yourself farther than ever before. War is our destiny, and this is good, because it cures stagnation and indecision. What matters most is the best rising, the supremacy of the conqueror and predator, so that we do not become weak.
In this rebellion, black metal was revolting against the beliefs of its parents, which were that once the evil Cold War was over, we would finally have reached the promised land.
This was a promised land, incidentally, that they started promising in 1914… or rather, in 1789, because it’s the same narrative. We beat back the privileged, make everything equal, all conflict ends, peace and justice reign, yay!
Except that every age has people that think this way, and they’re always wrong, in part because if you think about such a society, it would be miserable. Paralyzed, because avoiding conflict means not finding answers. Permissive, which both cheapens everything and makes sins not a pleasure but almost a mechanical duty, like our porn and its ever-expanding quest for new extremes (where do we go, really, after the A2M explosion, enema milkshake and 919 man gang bang followed by riot bukkake?).
It sounds like something out of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World: an artificial, pandering, whorelike world without a soul, but you have no reason to object, because materially, you are provided for.
That’s kind of how Baby Boomer parents treated their Generation X (and black metal was a Gen X thing entirely) kids — here’s some money, you live in a nice house and have the best options our society can offer. What are you upset about? Oh the minor fact that we inherited a first-world nation and left you a third-world one, sheerly by our Idiocracy-style tolerance and in fact encouraging of the reproduction of idiots, our fast food, our television nation, and so? That’s a minor fact. Minor. Don’t complain. Kids in the third world don’t have toilet paper.
Black metal was throwing off all of this: the vapidity, the obliviousness, the guilt and the manipulation.
It was saying we cannot all get along; in fact, most of us are shitheads. We need natural selection. What matters most is not peace, happiness, love, etc. but a warlike desire to get things done right according to a higher standard, and along the way, a Romantic contemplation of what it is to be an individual in the world, melancholy and isolated from the false cheer of society.
This fits right in with what Wordsworth, Blake, Emerson, Keats, Byron, Sterne, Shelley (Mary) and other Romantics wrote about only 200 years earlier, during the last great outbreak of culture in the West.
It also fit into the narrative developed by Plato and expanded on by Oswald Spengler, which says that societies go through life cycles, and when they get corrupted by “too much socialization,” they die in slow passage into third world status: low hygiene, corruption, disorganization, dysfunction and immoralism. Remember that other great mystery figure from the 1990s, the Unabomber? He said similar things.
None of this stuff was new. It was what the foremost intellectuals talked about in the 1960s and 1970s, before they wrote the books and recorded the music that influenced the PARENTS of the black metal generation; these were the artifacts they found, wrapped away carefully as if treasured but denied in a quest to pursue “adult” responsibilities, in attics and garages. And absorbed wide-eyed, as children do.
From that we got black metal.
Is it nationalistic? (Nationalism = one nation, one ethnic group, with a single culture, religion and philosophy to match. Don’t confuse it with patriotism, which is political loyalty to whatever State happens to control the land you’re on right now.)
Yes, it is, as the Romantics were. Not in a bigoted way like the neo-Nazis, but proud of their nations, and aware of the need for each nation to fix itself. We can’t kumbaya, glom together and fix each other. We have to go it alone.
From this view, NSBM is what black metal degenerated into, not its ultimate expression. Of course, not everyone agrees — Alex Kurtagic has a different take on things:
Black Metal artists also emphasize nature and landscape, but a morbid and mystical sensibility is evident even here. Whether inspired by völkisch thought or mere Satanic occultism, nature is always conceived in spiritual, mystical, and Romantic terms. The Black Metal aesthetic dictactes that night and winter are eternal. Coniferous forests are preferred to tilled fields and manicured gardens. Where the glorification of war merges with nature mysticism, the emphasis remains on the latter. Viking and Folk Metal bands, in contrast, adopt a more obviously völkisch approach to nature, allowing daylight in their landscapes and generally emphasizing the idyllic as opposed to counter-Enlightenment Sturm und Drang.
The Black Metal sensibility does not reject culture in favor of nature, but instead valorizes culture and nature, both conceived organically, over civilization, which is conceived in mechanistic and materialistic terms. In the Black Metal universe, cities were never built, the Industrial Revolution never occurred, and modernity never arrived. For all its belligerence, Black Metal is inherently nostalgic, a comprehensive negation of modernity. – Alex Kurtagic at Counter-Currents
I find his second paragraph interesting: the enemy is the senescence of civilization itself, which is conceived — well, here I split — from a desire to please the herd. The herd doesn’t create civilization; it destroys it. Rare individuals overcoming their own dysfunction and rising above the herd, that’s what creates and maintains civilization. But then civilization suicides: in an effort to make life better, it protects those incompetents, and soon creates a giant herd of Homer Simpsons, all subject to the Dunning-Kruger effect where they reject anything more complex than they can understand, and are confident in that rejection.
But that’s a study of methods, not of cause.
The cause is a lack of spirit, and the solution is to reject “safety” and “peace,” and explore the edge of risk. Feel the terror, the pain, the glory and the joy, again. Right now, we’re a society on anti-depressants that barely feels a thing, glad for the comforting numbness but also missing out on lives that, if we were paying attention, offer a lot more than we partake. Instead we pursue the same mechanical pleasures.
We are scheming on modern society, cruising on the wealth of the industrial revolution, to make us all materially fat and happy by removing our fears; our Satans, our Hitlers, and even our fears that there is no moral God guiding us, or no Utopian moral Society guiding us, but only a space in which we must make what we desire. Because we have no idea what we desire. We are living in a plastic simulation of a real world, built from the memories of our media lords and writers of government pamphlets, based on a morality that is dysfunctional and a dream of an empty, sterile pointless existence that we desire because it is both safe and greedy, letting us indulge our fantasies. Yet all of this is part of a power structure that undermines us.
Black metal is a revolution in culture against economics, politics, popularity and other forms of deferring the ideal for the tangible:
Certain performers like Orkis and Bylsma are also preferred for their ability to interpret certain ideas that — like genres have ideas in common and as a result, sounds in common — composers explored as part of their collective membership in certain time periods or recurring ideas, like the Faustian, the Romantic and the reverent/sublime outlook, all of which are shared between metal and classical.
These similarities in composition explain why metal and classical have a lot in common — and this is why the correct interpretors are needed. Rock is harmonic-rhythmic, metal is phrasal-narrative. When making rock music, you pick a rhythm, and then use a standard song form or variation to fit it into a scale, which in turn determines harmony. Rock riffs are not as active or as shaped as metal riffs, because generally they are variations within a scale whose goal is to return to the chord being played; they are based around open chords and lead rhythm playing of the scale. Metal is phrasal, meaning that its riffs take the form of phrases made of power chords, and narrative, which means that metal song structure is determined by content of each song more than by a standard form — that’s the infamous “riff salad” rock musicians bemoan in metal.
Classical music also uses narrative composition. While imbeciles will focus on its fixed forms — sonata, fugue, aria — the more important idea here is that the song follows the poetic content being expressed. This mirrors the epic poetry of ancient European and Indian civilizations, where it was understood that each adventure had stages of ritual, much like we have stages in acceptance of death or change. As a result, there was a need for an overture, a reconsideration, some changes and a recapitulation and synthesis of themes, and these got formalized in the song structures that today imbeciles regard as iron laws. The narrative style however is the common thread in classical music from its beginning to the present.
In rock music, you write to fit the scale to the rhythm, and then melody is added to accentuate that. This is easier work because all of the real variables are defined by the form. Similarly, in jazz, the form is fixed and within it the player riffs off harmony and rhythm, and inserts fragments of melody to that end — this is why most jazz artists make thousands of recordings of a song, and only one or two are considered “the real deal” by collectors: without the artist making it happen, cerebrally, the pieces fit together by random convenience. Classical works by the opposite principle, which is creating or adapting a general form to the poetic needs of a piece — expressing the change in both listener and “actor” within the story or feeling being related — and then designing a combination of rhythm, melody, theme, motif and form to express it well.
Metal is similar, although less schooled in this regard, because it seeks to express a similar worldview — underlying philosophical assumptions about life — to that of classical. Metal is reverent for the sublime; it sees the power and the horror of nature as necessary for its perpetuation, and is like nature intolerant of the oblivious and unrealistic because they create a parasitic slowdown of the exciting experiences in life. It derives much of its thematic development from the pace of horror movies, in which a few “awakened” people realize that they face a supernatural — or invisible pattern underlying all reality — foe against which technology and their oblivious, unrealistic social partners are useless. Finally, metal like classical expresses the Faustian spirit, or a sense of struggling for the rare and inconvenient beauty life offers, and fighting back those who submit to static obedience or dogma; this sense of purity through struggle is called vir, or the virtuous warlike acts of ancient man. These themes repeat throughout classical music, like metal, and while there are exceptions, it’s more than a coincidence that the best among metal and classical use these themes repeatedly. – Classical Music for Metal Fans
It’s a philosophy of triumph through living not for safety, but for adventure:
Where modern society in a desire for safety imposes values designed for an average person onto all of us, and assumes that our material and humanist wellbeing constitutes meaning in life, Romanticism explodes from within. It is not a philosophy of cautions, but of desires for the intangible, and as so it worships risk and conquest and a lack of fear toward the karmic existence. It transcends the desire to either live karmically, or live akarmically, because it sees karmicism as a means to an end and concerns itself only with the end: the ideal.
In this, Romanticism constitutes a philosophy because it posits intangible ideals as a balance weight to the certainty of death. It seeks a sense of unfolding; the discovery of something new in a prismatic space hiding behind the mundane. In doing so, it renovates life itself by working from within and renewing the brain in its aspiration and heroic transcendence of the karmic drag, in the exact opposite principle to modernity, which is materialism/humanism as supported by technology and populist political systems. – Metal as Prismatic Motion
And although we can show how it is connected to Romanticism and classical music, its bigger connection is to an ideal of transcendentalism which has been discovered and forgotten innumerable times — when societies are healthy, they discover it; when they are not, they forget it. This is the Tradition that writers like Rene Guenon refer to:
As a result, metal is sandwiched between protest music of the anarchic left and the wisdom of the conservative ancients, forming itself through fantasy into a vision of a more realistic and more enjoyable vision of life. Rock music is a product of the wealth and convenience of a modern time that allows us to have inconsequential lifestyles and opinions, while metal is a revolution against that outlook, a seemingly deconstructive art form that in actuality opposes deconstruction.
We can trace these ideas through consistent beliefs found across metal generations:
- Beauty in darkness. It is not ugly, pounding music but music which discovers beauty in distortion, in anger and terror, in violence and foreboding dark restless relativistic power chords. The point is not to deconstruct, but to go through deconstruction and find meaning. This is evident in the works of Black Sabbath and every metal band since, and is what distinguishes “real” metal from hard rock.
- Worship of power. Unlike pacifying rock music and jazz and “new music” classical, metal music adores powerful, vast and broad simple strokes; it loves the majesty of nature and its crushing final word. It does not have love songs. Instead, its love is directed to forces of nature, including physical forces like storms and intense human experience like war or loss, as if trying to find meaning in these.
- Worship of nature. Linked to metal’s adoration of power is its appreciation for the function, including its “red in tooth and claw” aspects, of the natural world. Where most are repulsed by the idea that combat exists between animals in which one is victor, and one is prey, metal idolizes it. It finds beauty in ruins, in destruction, and in death, as if praising the cycle of life they engender again.
- Independent thinking. Metal does not buy into the individualism of a modern time where the only goal is material pleasure of the self (materialism) and keeping others away by granting them the same (humanism). It prefers the independent thinking that looks for higher values in life, mountains to climb and challenges to be met. Where punk music enmeshed itself in a callow “I wanna do what I wanna do,” metal saw this as part of the same gesture of rock music and discarded it.
These are expressed artistically by the following:
- Dark, morbid themes that clashed with the “love will save us” hippie mentality. These are explained by Black Sabbath as being derived from the horror movies of the day, a genre which features a union between technology and the occult (zombies, werewolves) producing a force humans cannot oppose. Normal technologies and methods cannot defeat it. They struggle against this force but their emotional instability causes them to sabotage one another, and often the dark force wins. Examples from this genre: Mothra, Dawn of the Dead, Alien, The Exorcist, The Shining, War of the Worlds.
- Songs written from short cyclic phrases called riffs, which unlike rock riffs used movable chords of inspecific harmonic bonding, making the melody and rhythm of the phrase more important than key or voicing. Metal bands tend to use more riffs per song, and not in the traditional cycle of verse-chorus, in a way quite similar to progressive bands like King Crimson and Yes, both of whom used aggressive distortion.
- A focus on the holism of the human effort as determined by our moral state as individuals in a way that can only be described as “religious.” Metal, in addition to sounding eerily like angry Bach-scripted church music, has a similar focus to dogmatic transcendentalism Christianity: what is our future as human beings, and how does how we shape our personalities effect it?
- Bass-enhanced overdriven guitar sound, or distortion, which encloses the primary instrument used in making heavy metal. In rock, guitars and drums come together to emphasize a vocal melodic line; in metal, guitars lead a melodic line for which vocals are a complement and drums a timekeeper, enclosing it in a regularity to give listeners context. The guitar is the loudest single instrument heard and the one that invokes changes in song.
These beliefs and musical techniques reinforce each other. Using distortion and loud music, yet finding beauty in it. Using longer narrative phrases so as to tell a story, creating a holistic view in which emotion emerges, instead of citing pre-configured emotions like rock music does. A darkness and melancholy exhibited in lyrics and imagery, corresponding to aggressive music, expressing a desire to seize all of reality, good and bad together, and make something better of it. – Assimilation
Metal finds beauty in darkness.
Modern society tries to shut out darkness and, in doing so, removes beauty.
Coca-Cola or wandering in the woods, wondering if you’ll find fresh water or die of thirst.
One is safe, one is exciting.
Does black metal flirt with fascism? Black metal is conservative, and conservatism is a spectrum from libertarianism through national socialism, just like liberalism is a spectrum from anarchy through Communism.
Black metal implies that our modern time is as totalitarian as fascism or Communism, it’s just that the mechanisms are hidden from us. We are trapped in boring jobs, in ugly cities, in blight-ridden streets that are covered in commercial messages and obscene graffiti. We are not controlled directly; rather, we are sabotaged by society itself, which removes good options from us and replaces them with ever-lowering standards, so we both cannot rebel (hey, you can do ANYTHING, man) and cannot aspire. One way of doing things rules across the globe, and it controls our lives, even if it does so by making sure that the majority prefer dumb options and thus make those into law.
Modern society is a series of bad options because those are what the equal proles prefer; as the rot spreads, the controllers laugh from their ivory towers, watching civilization defeat itself because it cannot enact impulse control, and have preferences for long-term goods instead of short-term personal gain or recognition. We destroy ourselves. We do their work for them, and since most people are too dumb to figure this out, you can shout the truth on streetcorners and you will be ignored. It is a perfect system of control.
In the process we commit ecocide by growing like an obese cancer. Is black metal green? In a way that Garrett Hardin, Pentti Linkola and Arne Naess are green.
Is it fascist? In the way that Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin were: when you are in a society of idiots, you might as well carve it up and do some conquering because these people will do nothing but pursue their hollow pleasures, live callow lives of pointless misery, and then blame whoever is in charge for their own failings.
Our world is stagnating; entropy is upon us. The old methods of 1968 will not work because they did not work, and never work. They sound good, but they, too, are hollow.
Black metal is many things. It is religious; in a pagan, transcendentalist sense that maybe the most profound Christian mystics (Eckhart, Emerson) would have understood. It is violent, and it is fascist, but not totalitarian. It is nationalist, but not racist, per se. It is an assertion of the inward spirit of humanity that wants to rise above its own fear and desire for safety, and carve from an empty wilderness of a world a new civilization, one that achieves love not by commanding it through law, but through creating it by making things worth loving.
Black metal is all that this world is not, and the order that will replace it. The next thousand years are ours.
Oh wait, I was supposed to write about NSBM. Well, it’s nothing, really. It’s what happens when the RAC people claim black metal for their own. The original bands — Burzum, Emperor, Mayhem, Darkthrone, Enslaved, Immortal — they all endorsed nationalism, like Bathory did. For them, the point was to rebuild culture; for others, the idea is to wage race war. You can see there’s a difference.