The meaning of black metal
The guitarist/vocalist of Atomizer, Jason Healey, has started writing a book about the meaning and purpose of black metal. As he says on the site:
When I first discovered Black Metal in the early 90’s it was as though some invincible force confronted me. Never had I witnessed a sound so primitive and raw, yet so atmospheric and bombastic. An essence that ran so much deeper than its fiendish visual and caustic tone would alone suggest. A bizarre paradox of ugliness, contempt and barbarism awash in philosophical revelation and profane religious fervor. Life, death, salvation and sacrifice – Black Metal truly is the malignant paradigm.
The Stench of Black Metal will attempt to corral the seemingly divergent positions its legions have granted it and provide what is hoped to be the definitive statement. This is not to suggest that the words of any one individual will bestow this, though readers may find divinity in a single declaration. It is not intended to be a guide or an explanation; rather a gateway to the determination of what dwells at its core. The quest to unveil its quintessence.
He’s soliciting contributions from bands, zines, labels and fans. You can send in your statement at the website, The Stench of Black Metal, if you can address the following questions:
- Describe in your own words the quintessence of Black Metal.
- Is this point of view representative of a specific time, and if so at what point did this view manifest? (ie: March 1991)
- Has the definitive Black Metal statement been made and what is it?
- What purpose is Black Metal yet to serve?
For kicks, here’s an outtake from my answer:
Quintessence to my mind means the indefinable abstract as it applies to the context of the universe as a whole. This means that an idea is needed that gets you to the starting point just before the main show. To my mind, this is a conflict between ego and id.
The ego is the agent of our consciousness about ourselves; self-awareness/self-consciousness is what separates us from animals and lets us look at reality and think how we might change it. That’s the essence of our technology, which is how we have evolved out of ape status. At the same time, the ego is limited by having to put into a present tense, single-focus stream a complex reality of many factors. It does this by subtracting out all factors but one, and then focusing on that factor as a means to a single desired result. This really limits logic.
The id is less limited. It is not self-controlling like our ego, and in contrast is a wild west of impulses and emotions and aesthetic notions. When our ego is put into a social situation, it starts treating the world like a personality, which screws up our sense of cause/effect logic. The ego then becomes overactive because it sees humans as the cause of the world, not vice-versa, and so we get caught up in social notions like popularity, democracy, “safety,” social status and abstract moral conceptions.
Social thinking uses negative logic to organize us against what we fear to deny it or banish it. This long chain of events means that we get ruled by fear, through our ego as it interacts with other egos. The id knows no such boundaries. It likes what it likes because it seems cool, or epic, or beautiful, so it’s not always trying to censor itself to avoid threats. It just goes ahead and does what it thinks is a pleasurable mental experience, even if that means horror or cruelty or amoral acts.
Black metal resembles European literary Romanticism — stuff like Blake, Goethe, Wordsworth and Coleridge — because both see the individual destroying the individual as a gateway to the id. Lose yourself in the beauty of contemplating ancient ruins, or in martial arts, or in meditative thought and soon you are beyond good and evil. You are no longer self-aware, but aware of the abstract structure of reality and how its goods and evils interact to produce a constant, renewing reality. That is beauty and it’s the domain of the id, not the ego, which fears beauty that might be deadly.
If you had to try to put the quintessence of black metal into two words, it would be just that “deadly beauty” or “lawless beauty.” Like all metal, it views the world from a historical sense of the epic, in which the individual is a means of seeing truth but not a goal in itself. This anti-human view lets us escape our self-awareness and social thinking to see reality as a series of logical processes.
Nature is a process that ignores the individual. It is a blind, simplistic process that works like a big organic machine. It tries everything, and then kills off the failures. This is why nature seems cruel to us, because we’re thinking from the view of the individual. “What if I were the mouse in the Eagle’s claws?” Yet it’s that cruelty that gets us not only life itself, but higher form of life, because each puzzle in our environment that we beat made us more intelligent, more capable as a species.
All of our social thinking is in denial of this fact. We detest predation, inequality, death, defecation, disease, horror and fear. Metal has since 1969 been reminding us that these things exist, and we cannot just shut them out of our minds, or we blind ourselves to the good and bad in life. Black metal took this furthest by using the emphasis on logical structure that came from death metal, and adding to it a sense of melody and atmosphere.
In doing so, it fulfilled an archetype of European art that has been struggling for a voice for centuries: the primal Romantic outlook. In this view, we must live for what is beautiful, and we must not be afraid to see some things as better than others and — some would say “arbitrarily” to please their friends — select those and praise those highly while letting the others suffer in the dark.
Romantic literature can be summed up in this phrase from Blake: “The cut worm forgives the plough.” Forget morality, because it’s focused on the means, which are individuals. Focus on the ends — what is beauty? How do we create it? If we do that, we find life isn’t a plodding process of obedience but an onward quest for improving ourselves through adversity and a basic reverence for the process of life itself. That’s the meaning of black metal that I see.
I hope this project makes it to print. It has obstacles ahead. But it’s a worthy goal, putting into words what the vague images of music and visual arts made us feel.