If you like metal, why tolerate weak metal?

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April 15, 2009 –
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Once upon a time, black metal had a mystical component. Its bands tried to write songs about an idea, and shied away from writing songs that were variations on a known form.

This is a split as big as the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning for rock music, which got popular because it’s easy for anyone to make a variant on a template. That way, everyone could participate.

People now like to act as if black metal is still a mystical genre. They take themselves seriously, use ancient and blasphemous language, and claim grand importance for CDs that sell to 50 people who can’t tell them apart from any of their other CDs.

There is no unity in the genre, just a lot of people using it for their own ends, namely to have something to do and some reason to claim they’re important. “But I am Gezagorath of Impietorturous Blasphemic Anal Mayehm!”

I think it’s time to just declare it rock ‘n roll. It’s no longer far from rock music in structure or theory; it’s variations on the pop song format with pentatonic solos, minor/major shifting, and three-chord riffs about the same handful of tired symbols. Not even grandmothers are frightened by Satan and corpsepaint anymore.

It’s also changed in outlook. It used to be the genre of the frontier, of singing about that which was both lawless and a terrifying confrontation with mortality, but also permitted exploration outside the narrow-minded humanist herd mentality. Now people say blatantly humanistic things to keep their music safe, and wonder why we’re all bored.

Yep, it’s just all rock ‘n roll to me now. I don’t see the point pretending the post-1994 black metal is anything more than another variation on hardcore punk, a genre which also lost its mystique and got really normal only a few years after blossoming.

Everyone can participate, and so there is nothing mysterious or unusual about black metal now. We need to start treating it like any other rock or punk music, and stop posturing and pretending we’re true to some ideal that ended long ago. Burn all the idols, not just the convenient ones.

Either you make music to communicate something unique, in which case form is shaped by substance, or you make music to fit within the form that’s popular, in which case substance is shaped by form.

The paradox is that all substance comes from observing the world, not from within the self (a form), so the only substance comes from reality itself. Songs about self-motivations are about the form of human beings, not the profundity of life itself. They’re narcissistic and fall into the same problem as songs where substance is shaped by any other type of form.

Like hardcore punk before it, and speed metal and death metal, black metal fell into the trap of letting in the masses. At that point, the level of quality declined because the goal was inclusivity and not the art in itself. So now we have a lot of black metal that is basically dressed-up garage rock.

The solution is to be intolerant of weak metal. If you love anything, don’t coddle its failures. Instead, nurture its successes, even to the point of radicalism. Acceptance is another word for lower standards, and lowest common denominator genres converge on that optimal utilitarian pop style known as rock ‘n roll.

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  • nate

    Everyone has to start somewhere. You can’t expect people to be making excellent and unique metal when they first start writing, especially after extensive exposure to known forms.

    A more reasonable approach is to just ignore poor metal instead of demonstrating outright intolerance; some of those musicians might go somewhere someday.