Transcending “metal” as it is now
Black metal is in the process of being legitimized. This is what Until the Light Takes Us and Hideous Gnosis represent. This is not inherently bad, as long as we remain critical of these outsiders. Its growth will allow for us to split off again and continue down the dark path. Black metal’s path to transcendence is in leaving metal behind.
Black metal’s real problem originates in its desire to stay true to its roots. The reason for this is that the roots transcended metal, but bands are over and over again attempting to recreate that by following the exact same musical structure. This is absolutely the wrong way to approach it. What made black metal great was not distorted guitars and gremlin vocals, but the spirit that led to those musical choices.
I think the problem isn’t too much black metal, but too much metal. The “metal” that most people know is bought and paid for, an image sold to them by Hollywood movies, satellite radio, and record labels. With the existence of the internet and file-sharing we are now able to reach a whole new niche with music, the ordinary educated middle-class person. Let this new crowd reject the leather jackets, drug dependency, and zero social mobility of the metalhead primate.
If we want for metal to transcend what metalness means in the hands of those groups, we need to take two steps:
First, the music itself needs to change. This is not nearly as complex as it may seem. All the arts are simply sets of limitations; the artist works within the limitations to create something profound. The limitations of the art-forms drastically change the potential of the works within. These limitations are referred to as structures, such as the verse-chorus structure of rock, or the strict syllable rules of a haiku. A simple enough change will completely alter the genre of black metal. Let us remove percussion entirely. This is not a superficial fix. In fact, its tendency to take away the value of vocals and percussion is what originally gave black metal its power. This was the path Darkthrone took in the simplification of its percussion in Transylvanian Hunger. Let’s continue down this road and remove the drums entirely. Listen to Burzum’s Dominus Sathanas or Judas Iscariot’s The Clear Moon, and the Glory of the Darkness. Both songs greatly transcend most of the other works of the artists. By removing drums, artists are forced to compensate by improving the other elements of the songwriting and make them more complex, and in this way this kind of music will further focus upon and emphasize where it shines in the first place and that is in melodies and atmospheres. Alongside this it will clearly distinguish itself from those metal artists who are not capable of creating powerful music without the use of drums. This will distinguish the fans since most of the meatheads in the metal crowd wouldn’t be able to appreciate such music.
The next step is to create a backing mythos. This is absolutely necessary to allow the genre to gain steam and helps the artist to enter into the transcendental creative state. What I mean by backing mythos, is something, anything that can exist behind the work itself, giving it depth. Dante had the cosmology and widespread acceptance of the Bible. Tolkien had history, maps, and languages behind the adventures of his characters in Middle Earth. Lovecraft had the hostile cosmic worldview that allowed for entities infinitely different from us, of which nature equipped us with no means of comprehension. Black metal has a rich mythos of crimes and political statements backing the music. It doesn’t matter what it is, but there needs to be something behind the music if it’s going to really stick. I personally feel that the best backing mythos for this new transcendent offshoot of black metal should be intense philosophical discussion of some sort. With the internet we now have a platform for giving and receiving enormous amounts of information. This could allow the artists to explain and discuss their works and the works of others to try and penetrate the meaning and discover which works have real power and which don’t. Also this sort of discussion will captivate the imagination of the audience who wants something real. If they see that the artists actually care enough to participate in philosophical observation of their art-form, then they will be much more inclined to take it in at a deeper level.
Metal turned away from the conventional path of music. It decided to be adventurous instead of entertaining, and that led it to some strange places. Then black metal took hold, and it was no longer about adventuring in the fun, dangerous places; it was now about stepping into the cold, dark, and hostile unknown. We can continue on that path if we’d like. We must now reject the comforting foundation of percussion and see where that takes us. It will undoubtedly touch upon even more powerful extremes of horror and beauty than black metal ever did, but will also take more effort from us to comprehend and integrate (not to mention for the artists to create). Transcending black metal will only happen by our own effort and bravery.