Death Metal Underground

In defense of elitism

by Cory Van der Pol
January 22, 2014 –

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One good way to make a name as a writer is to disguise a begging the question fallacy as an article. That’s what happened with “Why Are Black Metal Fans Such Elitist Assholes?”, a new piece staining the otherwise semi-respectable site Vice.com.

The article starts like a bad joke: a writer walks into a bar in Brooklyn. He hears people talking about black metal. He suggests Deafheaven and everyone there, including the bartenders, tell him that’s not black metal. He then omits vital information about this bar, knowing that all of us would immediately gang-rush it in support, and goes on a lengthy tirade that uses a logical fallacy. The begging the question fallacy relies on setting up a false association, and then arguing against the object of that association with what it’s associated with. It’s like this: “Knowing the connections between black metal and airborne AIDS, it’s unbelievable to me that anyone would support black metal, unless they really like people writhing in the street from autoimmune diseases on the wind.”

The actual argument in the article is here, six paragraphs down:

There is a level of inherent elitism in every special interest group. It’s just maybe more pronounced and ingrained in something as fringe as black metal is today. This is probably the same way Sex Pistols fans felt when Green Day and the Offspring blew up in the nineties. However, at some point you need to just accept that the thing that you love may get more popular or have elements of it co-opted by other genres—and if you take a step back, that’s part of what makes music or any other art form valuable to the culture. The conflict occurs when you overlook the fact that nothing exists in a vacuum and in order for anything to thrive it has to be identifiable to people on some level, otherwise it’s just an abstract mass floating aimlessly through the conceptual ether.

What he’s done here is cleverly re-define “elitism” to mean fear of other genres using black metal’s technique. However, the example he began the article with is that of other bands pretending to be black metal. Not a single elitist has argued against bands appropriating black metal technique, so long as they do it in their same camp. The point of elitism is to keep out impostors.

Impostors, you say? Yes: genres form because small groups break away from what everyone else is doing. These small groups then do something in an unorthodox way, and it works. The large group, fearing that it has been left behind, then creates a bandwagon effect where they all start imitating the small group. If the small group wishes to survive, it needs to oust the bandwagon-jumpers and keep itself internally consistent.

This is why many groups are elitist and not just in music. They are trying to preserve their way of doing things which is different from what the herd wants to do, while the herd wants to appropriate the mantle of these rebellious groups while continuing — underneath the aesthetic — to do exactly what the herd always does. In this case, they want to dumb down black metal into emo/indie/shoegaze/rock. That’s why people hate Deafheaven.

It’s not popular to defend elitism because elitism itself is under a similar attack. The herd would love to consider themselves elitists, but in the time-honored tradition of morons everywhere, they get it wrong. To them, elitism means finding the most obscure band possible and browbeating the rest of us for not knowing about it. It’s like a shibboleth or entry code to the cool kids group. But that group only appeals to hipsters, and those are actually irrelevant, since they produce nothing except low-run memes for each other.

Actual elitism is defense of the values of a genre. Not any band and definitely not every band can be black metal. However, the anti-elitists would like to argue that just about anything can be black metal by, you know, wishing it so. That amounts to obliteration by assimilation and adulteration, and would terminate the black metal genre. It seems that like this writer, most anti-elitists aren’t actually black metal fans, and what they want isn’t black metal, but the usual music that they like to be labeled as black metal… so they can be elitist (but humble) about it.

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31 comments

      1. SwallowedInBlack

        Here’s a little pasta I wrote a while ago. Dunno if all of DMU would agree, but it’s how I feel.

        Here’s my interpretation of the whole “hipster” kerfuffle:

        A metalhead is someone who dedicates oneself to metal music and culture. A crusty is someone who dedicates oneself to crust punk music and culture. A hipster is someone who dedicates oneself to indie music and culture. That’s honestly all there is to it.

        Growing one’s hair long and whipping it around and embracing Satanic/dark imagery is not something 100% of metalheads do, but many do, and thus it has become a defining characteristic of metal culture. Not all crusties are homeless beggars, not all punks spiked their hair and got into riots, but such behavior in each scene was prevalent enough and matched the ideology enough to become associated with (crust) punk.

        Similarly, though not necessarily ALL hipsters do, many seem to delve into other cultures and scenes to appear worldly and cool, and seem to do/enjoy things ironically. The negative repercussions of such inauthenticity are obvious, but that’s another story.

        The term has become bastardized, however. A person may describe a scene such as the one depicted in Bruegel’s Triumph of Death as “metal,” due to it’s darkness and violence, which it has in common with lots of metal imagery, even if it doesn’t actually have anything to do with metal itself. Similarly, people may describe anybody who is into anything inauthentically or ironically as a “hipster,” even if that person isn’t actually into indie music or culture. Due to this, in the public eye hipsterism has less to do with an actual culture than it does with a type of behavior, thus we get things like allegations that EVERYONE is a hipster. NOT SO.

        To conclude, I will repeat: a hipster is someone who dedicates oneself to indie music and culture. That’s honestly all there is to it.

        1. SwallowedInBlack

          Perhaps I should mention that this was written in response to somebody I know sharing a video entitled “You’re probably a hipster”

        2. Count Ringworm

          Two things:

          -’indie’ is not a music genre. The term could refer to anything from Velvet Underground to Sonic Youth.

          - second, why is it that the foundational acts of the so-called ‘indie’ scene predate the hipster phenomenon by two decades?

          1. SwallowedInBlack

            Thanks for the input.

            That’s definitely true; “Indie” is indeed a rather amorphous, hard-to-define phenomenon that was invented to describe not a musical style but a modus operandi of bands, which nevertheless ended up being used to describe music instead. I suppose I will have to revise that.

            Perhaps it would technically make more sense to say that a hipster is a follower of the music and culture of “Pitchfork-core,” or whatever you want to call the stuff that gets called indie pop/rock these days (M83, Vampire Weekend, I’d name more/better examples but I haven’t kept up with that scene for a while). I could be mistaken, but “indie” as we know it today (P4K fare) seems to have coincided with hipster culture.

  • eman

    Thanks so much for this Brett. In the context of internet music bloggery, your writing is the eye in this storm. I appreciate the lucidity of analysis, and wish I could do more to express it. At the least, I make it known that you writing inspires me to continue fighting the good fight, when most days I want to throw my hands into the air and say, “Sure dude, Blink 182′s first album is easily on par with Ride the Lightning, whatever you say, hoss, this is Burger King, have it your way.”

  • Lord Mosher

    I’d like to say that I wouldn’t have heard about Deafheaven if not by this site. A few years ago a Prozak article about a fag poser band name Gojira promted a troll-jihad against their guestbook that forced their webmaster to close the book. Dominating Fucker and myself spearheaded this attack.
    Since then I learned two things:
    1) denigrate posers is a noble task all real metalheads should undertake at least twice a year. For life!
    2) educate fledgling metalheads in the arts of Bathory, Hellhammer and Darkthrone as a boundary defining path to underground black metal.
    People should understand that you either love early underground black metal for life or, well, you were never a black metal fan.

  • EDS

    This leads to two types of metal reviews. Type 1 is the “middle ground” metal review in which the writer is anti-hipster and anti-elitist. They present their review in terms of the techniques used to play the music and the production qualities. The reviewers will review many different genres and sub genres such as metalcore and shoegaze plus contemporary underground black metal and death metal acts albums. They will shy away from older, established classics aka the “retro-review”. Recently DMU did a segment on Metal Recusants and that site is a fine example of the Type 1 metal review. The Type 2 metal review is the DMU/DLA style. Considered an elitist style review, the reviewers understand the dynamics of a genre and acts/albums which established said genre. They know the proper aesthetics and techniques used to create such powerful music. They understand metal is an art form. They love a good retro-review. Shoegaze and metalcore are reviewed only to keep metal heads focused on the right pathway to metal bliss. The reviews keep the standards of a genre rigid and reviewers remind readers to continue to police the genres borders thus establishing a sort of elitism as Brett Stevens alluded to in his article.

    You pick which review style you like best.

  • Adam

    Excellent article. Actually, I’ve quite enjoyed all your articles so far. I hated seeing a lot ‘zines top 10 lists with Deafheaven near the top. I realized this was a good way to judge review sites that are catering to “mass appeal”. If you look at my review sites top 10 you’ll never see such a band. Then again… I overwhelming refuse to cater to other genres other than Black Metal and Death Metal for the most part. Naturally, my site has become known as quite “elitist”.

  • trystero

    No need to respond to a baby rant like this. Waaaaaaaahhhh why are black metal fans so elitist :( :( :(

    You try to break down an emotional appeal with reason, fair enough, but it doesnt work. Never has, never will. Liked reading it though.

    Deafhaven sucks.

  • trousers

    There is no tolerance for mediocrity in music anymore. Just put processed farting sounds in a loop and call it dubstep. Stylize radio rock in a later era black metal vein, and you have DeafHeaven. Metacritic demonstrated this by having only one failure (red) album for 2013. (Poor Megadeth). As more decades pass, the aural landfill grows exponentially, and the market value of music continues to fall. Elitism is needed more than ever.

  • Heresy is Progress

    I’ve really toned down my rhetoric the last several years; finding it a huge waste of time to try to convince anyone of anything, at any time. Everyone is entitled to their fucktarded opinions, after all.

    Just agree to disagree, or whatever.

    However, I think that an inherent characteristic that makes black metal “black metal” is a liberal dose of elitism, as a drive to create art that actually has something to say.

    Also, I think that it takes a certain set of ears tuned to a certain frequency in order to understand. Most won’t get it. That’s ok. I don’t judge. It’s an acquired taste; it takes a bit of “want to” in order to peel back the opaque static in order to see the beauty and complexity.

    On the other hand, no one loves a carpet bagger. Dilettantes and fashionistas will dabble with the novelty of it all, taking the most trite elements and exploit what they don’t understand. So, by all means, these poseur fucks should be exposed and let the truth be known.

  • Nayanezgani

    Black metal is supposed to be a break away from the normal and a worship of darkness to make oneself whole. Black metal is not some drunken idiots thrashing around on a stage actually spouting anti-elitist propaganda and praising christian morality under a guise of “filth and scum.” Black metal used to be a dark spell, but now’s its just a battle to keep faggots out of the scene who think they’re super 218 and that lawless darkness is cool.

  • Torpe Konyvek

    “Actual elitism is defense of the values of a genre.” Agreed. And to elaborate this point, this defense, by definition, is constituted not by dogmatic trumpeting but by the fidelity and honesty of one’s *electing*, i.e. continually choosing and preferring the higher principles of the genre, which means its true value, which is inherent to the thing itself and never a manner of any kind of flag waving. What I want to emphasize is that authentic elitism, as opposed to elitist posturing, is something *proven* at the level of personal integrity, depth of vision, and self-transcendence (putting the principles before one’s own ‘social’ person). External criteria, such as whether you listened to said music at said time, or whether you dress in a certain way, are at best ambivalent signs of elitism/poserism. And as we know from the spectacle of religion and other cultural formations, the faith of those who drape themselves in external trappings is very often the most hypocritical. The biggest ‘fans’ are often the least faithful. Elitism is nothing, and worse, the purest form of posturing, without its being grounded in spiritual fact, in the inner, invisible life of the elitist, the one who refuses to compromise with the world, not in an effort to change it as such, but because like a king he already lives above it: “Every traditional civilization is characterized by the presence of beings who, by virtue of their innate or acquired superiority over the human condition, embody within the temporal order of the living an efficacious presence of a power that comes from above” (Evola, “Regality,” Revolt Against the Modern World). Regality, real kingly elitism, resides above (or below) and never need bitch about the rabble that wants it for itself without having the slightest idea or real intention as to how to possess it.

  • David

    Whatever the fuck you want to call Deafheaven (put any label or genre mashing you want), I like them. I love music, all varieties, if it speaks to me. I find elitist fucking retarded just like racists. I wouldn’t say I am a black metal super fan but I love early Bathory, Dissection, Immortal, Mayhem, and Emperor. But I also love Agalloch and some dimmu Borgir and cradle of filth. I don’t need them to fit neatly into any fucking category. I feel sorry for people who stick to only one way of thinking or listening and can’t see beyond that. How boring! There’s so much out there. Making a ‘elitist’ argument makes you sound like a snob. Live a little, experience something different.

    1. Lord Mosher

      I find your rabid “anti-elitism” equally snobbish and close minded!
      .
      I feel sorry for people who stick to only the OPEN MINDED way of thinking or listening and can’t see beyond that. How boring! There’s so much out there. Making a ‘OPEN MINDED’ arguments makes you sound like a poser. Live a little, experience something different.

      1. David

        i am willing to listen to any album (and usually a number of times in order not to make a quick and rash decision) How is that close minded?!
        And what is a poser? I really don’t give a shit what anyone thinks about what I like. If I like it, I like it. I f I fucking hate it, I won’t listen to it. End of story.
        By being open to listening or watching anything I’ve found so much art that I feel passionate about, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

        1. Richard Head

          Being open-minded means rejecting any sort of art that supports some specific value or experience as being superior to other values or experiences.

          Being open-minded means you will never experience the assurance that something you are experiencing is correct, and right, in so far as it is superior in its reference to concept and purpose.

        2. Lord Mosher

          You seem to judge “elitism” with a pejorative notion while at the same time get upset if a similar judgment is applied to you.
          The thing is, this discussion is not about YOU or what YOU like; it’s about understanding two things:
          1- elitism is not a choice in itself, but a state of awareness that some metal music is artistically superior to another,
          2- this should not offend you since again, it’s not about you, you’re not the center of the Universe.
          .
          People either possess such awareness or not; and if they don’t, people may choose to seek it or not. Just don’t hate those who do though.
          .
          You’re existence and musical preferences have no effect on this instrinsic hierarchy, unless, an undescerning mass of morons flood the genre to dilute the original metal spirit.
          .
          And if that happens, well, then you’d need something to keep those people at bay.
          Something like elitism.

          1. David

            I take argument with this last paragraph of this article. I don’t think ‘anti-elitist’ care if something is labeled black metal or not. But it does seem to be a concern to ‘elitist’. The actual labeling, it seems, is the biggest difference between the two. While labels and definitions are important – especially when I started getting into black metal and I learned about the different waves of black metal and the different sounds and what it meant – to me, it is only a way to communicate with each other. It is a means to describe a new band (or one you haven’t heard before) to others – to communicate. And that is why I am at this website. i don’t care if what I listen to is labeled black metal or not. I don’t care to be labeled a black metal fan. I listen to black metal and love it. I listen to bands that have black metal influences and are pushing the genre in different directions. i also don’t see a need to protect so called ‘true black metal.” It’s there and always will be for those who wish it. Sometimes it takes years of listening and experience to really challenge yourself with certain kinds of music. Not everyone is at that stage. I think encouragement and support by the metal community would go a long way instead of labeling, name calling, or this band “sucks” shoutouts immaturity.

            I am always searching for new bands and I use sites like this to find something new and different and to challenge myself. But I find – and others have commented similarly, – I find this elitist attitude that puts down bands I do love and know – it’s no wonder I feel defensive when some of my favorite bands are being attacked. It is a superior high mighty attitude that everyone else and their bands are beneath them. While I’ll agree that their is a range of talent (and originality) in musicians, but that isn’t all there is to music. The feeling it emotes and connection it makes is one of the most important thing – and it will connect with people in different ways depending on their musical experience and general life experience – if someone is effected by a Brittany Spears song, bringing them to tears and changing the way they look at life – who am I to judge them and the music. It has made that strong connection no matter the talent involved, no matter if it was made only for profit. I’ve seen so called “sucky and sell out” music have this effect on people. Is is because these people are shallow? Are these people less than musical elitist? Perhaps but who am I to judge. Sometimes music is just more important to some people and they make it part of their life. I’m sure some people can’t understand my lack of interest in sports but I can’t understand their disregard of the arts. Another thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of new bands don’t hold my interest because of my fifteen years experience in the genre. But I wonder, if I was sixteen again, and was hearing this new band for the first time, it might have a bigger influence upon me. I remember what it was like to hear some new band that played something I had never heard before and how excited I was. I don’t feel a need to stomp on that joy and tell this youngster that have no idea what ‘true’ metal is and their new stuff sucks. If the young one finds their way to more challenging music in their adventure through life, good for them. If they don’t, and they moved on to other interests, do I need to start calling out ‘poser’ and attacking them. Maybe only If I feel inadequate in myself.

            To come to an end to this comment – I think elitism (and I’ve noticed this attitude in all forms of art and entertainment – films, books, etc.) should be used very carefully. I will say both of your comments gave me pause as to some of the importance elitism might have and my judgement might have been too quick. Some music is superior to others but in the end this is still a judgement call and open to opinion. I don’t hate those who seek challenging music. I applaud them as I am on the same journey. But I don’t feel metal music is being diluted. Music changes and evolves – for better or worse. There is so much out there, and I have so many choices, I can’t think of a better time for music. Its just takes a bit more work.

            I still see elitism as something to separate people and give the elitist a superior attitude when I believe music should be about sharing and bringing people together – not in a hippie sort of way. But there isn’t anything more bonding and exciting than finding someone who appreciates metal and being able to share new bands together. But when that person looks at you like you grew a second head when you mention a band that doesn’t follow their elitist taste, and they begin attacking your ‘metalheadness’ because you are open to other forms of music, I think “elitism” has overstayed its welcome.

            1. Lord Mosher

              I can definitely understand where you are coming from. But let me just add something. Most regulars on this site myself included will argue that Metal died or entered a state of dormancy back in 1995.
              Most metal elitists will agree to this with sadness, not a better than thou attitude.
              The way I see it, the foundational bands that helped create every subgenre since 1970 (as all wise artists), before they even start working on their music, they define a “concept” that will be the soul of their music. Sometimes it’s a really powerful concept. Thus the music is nothing but medium to express that concept; a powerful and poetic expression of said concept is the end in itself.
              .
              Late comers arrive when there’s already a textbook of techniques and although always technically superior than previous generations of musicians, are also artistically less wiser. They create music as the end in itself instead of the music being a medium to express anything. Music first, concept later. Usually, an irrelevant or poorly developed concept.
              .
              Then come the outsiders, who were never attracted to metal in the first place, and they usually care of nothing but the social rewards of being in a band. These guys are usually very competent at cross-mixing genres to create pleasant sounds. These are wise entertainers and clever product creators.
              .
              This process of cyclic decay can be observed in all genres under the umbrella of Rock music; being the 1970s progressive rock era an easy example of study because it was almost identical to what occured to Metal music.
              .
              I’ll just pose this question: if you strive for something more than just good entertaiment in music, and you have witnessed powerful art within the context of Metal, why would you settle for less? And more importantly, why would you not feel pressed to avidly attack those who appear to be diligently moving in the opposite direction of what helped create the best in metal and being rewarded for doing so?

  • David

    I thinks it important there are metal elitist like you to make people more aware of older ideologies within the framework of metal. I’ve explored – and continue to do so – older bands when the music was new and artist were uncovering undiscovered territory. I love older stuff and would encourage anyone new to metal to discover all of the older bands.

    But I disagree that Metal died in 1995 or that new bands create music first with no concept or emotion behind it. Of course, there are many bands that do (they are wise entertainers and clever product creators -I like that a lot!) But there is also many bands out there exploring new territory with a concept first. For every new band that I can’t connect with, either it feels too fake to me or their is no warmth, I find a new bands that do connect with me. For instance, I found a strong connection with Deafheaven’s sound and lyrics. I’m not settling for less because I always return to the forefathers of metal. But I am also constantly seeking out newer bands to connect with – and I do. To you, perhaps Deafheaven felt fake. But my point earlier was this – if someone does feel that strong connection to a certain type of music, who are you to judge and attack? The job of music is to make those connections and communicate feelings to another and perhaps make a greater understanding of the human condition. If the Backstreet Boys does that for someone, they have done their job. Hopefully that person can move on to something with greater perplexity and maturity. But some people don’t seem to need it. They are satisfied with the “pop” music and don’t see a need to venture out. but I also don’t see a need to go out dancing or practice and learn it. Just doesn’t interest me.

    Life is different than it was in 1972 or 1985 or 1995. Music is going to relate to those changes. It will be different. It can’t stay the same as people are having different life experiences than they were in those years. Culture has changed. Politics and technology has changed. Every generation has the older crowd bemoaning the new and young and how it isn’t as good as it was back than. But I think our jobs as the older crowd is not to attack but to share what was great about the older bands.

    And it works. I am an example of this. I wasn’t alive or didn’t listen to metal at its infancy but I have ended up listening to and appreciating the whole stream of metal history. I started, though, by listening to Slipknot, Metallica, and Limp Biscuit. Lol! That’s is what was available and popular at the time. I quickly grew tired of that and researched and found other bands. But attacking those bands that got me into music in the first place seems unappreciative to me.

    During my search for music and other arts, I find more cynicism and negativity over what sucks and how bad the state of music is right now than positivity. I’d love to read more about why someone loves their specific preferences or why certain music in the beginning is so good and why it is so loved. I’m sure it’s out there but it seems elitist are more concerned about whining about the state of affairs and how bad all the new bands are than sharing what is so good about the old or underground bands. Its just a concern I have, and when I see an article like this, i felt a need to argue against it. But your points are valid and made me thing differently. I’m not so opposed to the word elitist as it is important to defend earlier ideas. And Godamn, those early bands are so good! I would hope no one misses out on them.

    Also Richard Head’s comment made me think. Its true, because of my open mindedness, I do not believe in a superior piece of art. It’s a weakness of being open minded. I grew up in a very strict religious household where there was only one absolute truth and everything else was false. I rejected this and went the opposite way where I believe in no truth – consequently I was than rejected by my family and friends and everything I knew. But in the end this leaves you with no convictions if everything is open to interpretations. Because of this I am not very critical of art and I to try an understand or appreciate everything I experience and not judge it to harshly. I’d make a horrible critic. It comes with a price like you said. It’s something I’m working on – being open minded but have strong convictions at the same time. But I do think the other side of the coin has a weakness as well. by being judgmental and being strongly opinionated, you might miss out on truly great experiences and pieces of art. Also, throughout history and even in personal experiences, it seems very opinionated and extreme views or elitist views leaves no room for compromise and destroys relationships and causes conflict, even war on the global scale. But to have no conviction means nothing is the best or better than something else. It can leave you with no belief system. I hope I can find a happy medium in the middle.

    1. fenrir

      “But my point earlier was this – if someone does feel that strong connection to a certain type of music, who are you to judge and attack?”

      Really? that’s your argument?
      There are some kids who would gladly try to eat dog shit if you let them. Who are you to judge and attack?

      “Also, throughout history and even in personal experiences, it seems very opinionated and extreme views or elitist views leaves no room for compromise and destroys relationships and causes conflict, even war on the global scale. But to have no conviction means nothing is the best or better than something else. It can leave you with no belief system. I hope I can find a happy medium in the middle.”

      Yes, let’s all be friends, get drugged and never talk about what we disagree on or dislike about each other. Very original.

      1. David

        That’s my argument. Once the kids tries the dogs shit and spits it out, most likely they will never eat it again. Than again, you never know. Some people like shit. Not my job to police excrement. Of course, I’d suggest they eat something healthier.

        There’s a big difference between disagreeing than outright attacking people. And while I don’t support drugs, this world would be a better place if we were all a lot friendlier.

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