One of the paradoxes of heavy metal emerges from the fact that small European nations like Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Texas produce disproportionate amounts of quality heavy metal. It offends our egalitarian sensibility which says that all people are the same, and local scenes are luck only.
More sensible minds recognize that nature is based on variation, not uniformity. Human minds want uniformity because it rewards our individualism with the idea that we are all the same, and only our wills determine our paths in life. Reality says instead that we are varied.
Like Sisyphus in his chains, humans rage against this reality. We want to be in control and we resent the power of the mathematical order of nature — called by Plato forms — and instead want an order only of our solipsistic selves and our social scene.
In order to assert our control, we make a god of ourselves. We then worship this god as a fungible thing, like a power covering the Earth more than a discrete entity, of human-ness, and through that, conjure up the idea that all humans participate in this and so are equal.
From that, we get universalism, which is denial of the soul and the variation between human beings. For us to have souls, we must be able to choose, and that must come from within because a choice forced on us from without is not a choice, but merely following our own advantage.
Universalism holds that all people are the same and respond simply to incentives and fears. The statement “I dunno what they put in the water in Sweden, but they sure have a lot of great metal bands!” is hipster universalism covering for the fact that Swedes are different within.
In addition to having some form of ancestral knowledge and a leaning toward a fundamental naturalism that inspires excellence, Swedes also have, according to recent suicide DJ Avici, a tradition of raising their children listening to folk music which develops their sense of melody:
He once said he was shaped by the Swedish pop sensibility. “We grow up singing great folk songs, so the sense of melody is good, and you grow up with that in you. I think it moulds everybody.
Strong national culture allows a civilization to have things like a folk music tradition and the consistent attributes of it like a certain approach to melody. This way of viewing music as a story told through contrasting melodic phrases fits perfectly into the metal riff-driven compositional approach.
When most of the world was fascinated by smash ‘n bang rhythmic death metal, the Swedes innovated a melodic form which used this interplay between phrases at its core. Bands like Carnage, Sacramentum, Eucharist, Cemetary, Therion, and At The Gates brought this to the forefront of underground metal.
Imitators like Opeth and others who followed did not understand that inner dialogue, like the inner traits of human beings, and focused on the surface. We now have many “melodic metal” bands who simply play as many melodic intervals as possible, creating sugar-pop mainstream music of another variety.
As metal confronts its twenty-year losing streak, it is time to look at what made metal great. National folk cultures help, as does looking inward instead of to the surface. Perhaps future generations will carry on this tradition of metal along with their national traditions.