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In defense of metal

by Ben Salmon
June 8, 2013 –

heavy_metal_audienceI think if you’d ask most hessians, they would say that we live in the age of kali yuga. If you get a chance to speak with lower-case-c conservative people, they express the same feeling: that something is lost. That some form of refinement, culture, and civility is gone from modern culture, if you could even call it that.

One of the complaints that repeats itself regards the state of the arts, and more specifically, music. It is simplistic, they complain. It is crass, uncultured, fatalistic, naval gazing, hedonistic, idiotic and stupefying. None of these is wrong.

It saddens me, then, when people complain about rap, rock, and Lady Gaga, they usually lump metal along with the complaint. I get it, though. The way metal appears to most of the world is not as a refined style. Some of it is also the product of the vast machine of idiocy that turned music into the nightmare that it is today. They made it safe, by making it mockable.

But some of the fault lies with hessians. Not all bands are Pantera and Slipknot. There is an entire world encapsulated in the metal genera. It is one of the only styles that keeps on expanding and developing. We have some commitment, as hessians, to support metal, in the great cultural discussion that extends through the generations.

Good metal will always be there, and will always be a legitimate art form. It would be sad, however, if those who could appreciate it (they don’t have to like it) would appreciate it, instead of buying into this elaborate hoax by the impetus of insignificance espoused by commercial music.

First and foremost, metal is a legitimate art form. A legitimate form of music. Yes, there is metal which is certainly not music. Pantera and Slipknot come to mind.

However, there is something in metal, a movement that existed since its advent in Black Sabbath’s first album, which expresses immortal truths. It feels as a sort of pessimistic conservative message.

Are things running down? Is there a process of degradation, a willful suicide enacted by modern culture? This observation was expressed by Black Sabbath, in an attempt to rain on the hippy party. We won’t go into why hippies are the end of civilization right now, but know that if some movement, since its advent, was diametrically opposed to such movement, there already is some root credibility to it. The hippies wanted to create a world without values, without temples or transcendence. Metal, on the other hand, constantly seeks transcendence, enlightenment, and a form of holiness. It is not base and animalistic, but in fact, a deeply religious experience.

In metal, there is encapsulated an idea that holiness cannot exist in a vacuum. If there is holiness in life, it must be whole. Blasphemy became an act of holiness and worship of life in its fullest.

To truly love life, you must love it completely, including the scary, red in tooth and claw parts. Metal expresses these aspects in purity and vicarious form. There is no need to describe beauty, truth, and love, because you cannot accept them until you have delved into pain, struggle, overcoming, violence, exposing hypocrisy, self reliance, heroism and individuality. These ideas are the bread and butter of metal music. It is not individualism, but individuality.

Undeniably, there is a nihilistic streak in metal. It is not the passive, fatalistic kind of nihilism, but the nihilism that views happiness, success and overcoming as dependent upon choices made by the self. No avoidance of consequences, looking ugly truths in the eye. There are inescapable things in life. Death, pain, lies, predators, and all the degeneration that arises from the human condition.

Do you deny these exist? Deny their necessity? It would be like denying rot and defecation. Ignore them and you’re in for a mess. Accept their inevitability, and you get a daily battle which never ends. It’s like mowing the lawn.

Metal is the tool which shapes this view of life. It might seem bleak, but the happy warrior never despairs. It’s an existential battle, and metal is the fuel, the blood in its veins, the fire burning in its soul.

I wouldn’t be who I am today without metal. Without these immortal truths as my guides and friends. I could be there, smoking the pipe-dreams of modernity. Drinking the kool-aid. Why chose suffering and a constant fight?

Maybe because I believe in tragedies.

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9 comments

  • Carg

    Good post, though the Nietzschean “life is a struggle” trope is being worn thin. I should hope that the Hessians around here were beginning to realise that there is no “struggle”, in the sense that one must exert force upon the world in order to have it conform to one’s desires; the opposite is true, in that, if any force need be exerted, it must be exerted upon oneself that one might become comfortable with the reality that is being presented to the observer.

    I hope we’ve all accepted the reality of determinism, the illusory nature of “free will”, and the recognition of phenomena as maya. There is clearly nothing that can be “done” by any individual to affect his surroundings that was not inspired and propelled by those surroundings; the distinction between “individual” and “environment” is confusing and baseless. Reality occurs as it will occur, and the only choice we appear to have (as far as Krishna is concerned) is as to whether we accept it or not. In denial, the world becomes a burden: we tense up, hold onto things, carry our losses into the future. In acceptance, what’s happening now is just fine. This is the way of wisdom, and should be the Hessian way, if we’re to be of use to the world.

    Man must fit into the World around him; the World will not fit into Man. Don’t fight the Universe; embrace it.

    Reply
    1. Jim Nelson

      I definitely know what you’re getting at Carg, but at the same time it is a fine line. You cannot rage against reality, but people [i]have[/i] changed the social landscape throughout history, it happens all the time for better or for worse. When a vision is in sync with the dictates of reality it is only proper that one exerts and imposes this vision upon the social landscape and manifests it in the world.

      Reply
  • Jim Nelson

    Metal is all or nothing. For every 1 legendary band there are 100 duds, for every 1 legendary album there are 100 wrecks. Bad metal is the worst music ever produced in the history of the planet. Bad metal is actually worse than Lady Gaga. But when metal is good, it is supreme. It is religious indeed, I believe the word is numinous. Terrible and awful yet sublime and divine.

    Reply
    1. bitterman

      This reminds me of a documentary I watched on “Thrash” (really, it was speed metal) where Slayer back then blew peoples minds. They raised the bar for everyone, yet, going by the musicians comments in the movie after that point, no one seemed to want to take charge. They showed an Anthrax video clip where metal was all about “fun and moshing”. Slayer was too serious, everyone wanted a good time. The solution for them, of course, was to create inferior versions of what had already existed in the name of fun and the joy of energetic live performances, not substance. One musician made a comment where he said “Slayer was so serious, but then I saw Anthrax and thought, man, I could do that”! Scott Ian later said he saw his band as the “everyman” or “peoples” band and not this otherworldly entity. So what, then? If Slayer is the very definition of what metal always wanted to be, is Anthrax the sound of people giving up? Why would people reward the Scott Ian amateur hour? Is it some way for people to pat themselves on the back by proxy? Bad metal is the worst. Now we bear witness to “metal” people flocking to NWN boards citing Bathory ripoffs for “scene points”, when Bathory itself is really the final word on that music. Incantation had questionable or boring releases that are praised simply for “sounding like Incantation”, but the fact is Onward to Golgotha has secured their status as a legend. So why then the support for also ran Incan-clones who play Malevolent Creation baseball cap death metal (i.e. have a good time fun death metal) under the guise of obscure productions and demented logos and artwork with Craig Pillard vocals? Take a look at the early Swedish scene. When Nihilist got big, underground hc punk bands started down tuning, using the HM-2 distortion effect, and using growl vocals, yet their music remained the same. People called the aesthetically rearranged 3 chord rock music death metal, even in the time of Altars of Madness or their native Carnage and Dismember demos. A couple years later, the labels intervene and even something as amateurish and trend following as Comecon’s debut (made by ex-crust thrashers given merit by an L-G Petrov vocal appearance) was given the Century Media promo treatment. Over saturation of the scene, too many also rans, but also too many people who didn’t believe in what they were doing. Maybe the masses are always destined to create “pat on the back” inferior versions of something that already existed to fit in with a group that will fill a temporary void in life which will soon be replaced by the bar hopping pop music and STDs scene? Looking at bands like Satyricon, this seems to be the case.

      Reply
  • AJ Specia

    The misconceptions of metal often arise from the failure to distinguish alt-rock/punk masquerading as metal, such as Slipknot, from the genuine article. Metal certainly has its variations of quality, and certainly has its share of those falsely applying the label to themselves, but in the long run these misconceptions matter not. Metal is entrenched, it is pervasive, and it is only growing. Society is incapable of uprooting it, and the success of imitators is by its very nature temporary; they will die off in due time.

    Metal operates from the shadows and away from the public eye; in this sense, it is now in a golden age. Most attempts to make metal mainstream fail horribly(the most successful *core act’s fortunes pale in comparison the the pop stars they descended from) and social watchdogs have long since given up on their futile attempts at curbing the growth of metal.

    Metal needs no defense, as it is unassailable.

    Reply
    1. fallot

      The apologist does not seek to defend or justify, he is already a true believer. His arguments are propaganda of the best kind, the propaganda of the truth.

      Reply
  • TheeOldeOnee

    I’m a 63 year old guy who was a dedicated hippy. Now I champion metal as continuing the exploration we hippies had. I assure you that we looked for transcendence.

    Reply
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