Why I am a douchebag elitist

by Brett Stevens
September 20, 2013 –

black_metal_in_quotesSince metal is caught within the regime of popular entertainment, it speaks the language of socialization exclusively. Thus, if you have an unpopular opinion, it’s because you’re mean or a douchebag. Thus it is that people frequently refer to people who have standards as “douchebag elitists.”

Listening to a release by what I’ll call a respectable band, I was reminded of the reasons for my douchebag elitism. This CD is after all mostly right. It has all the right elements, knows the conventions of the genre, and has a number of sentiment and somewhat obvious but effective riffs. Should be good, right?

Except that it’s not good enough. It’s close, but not the same. Where Graveland — its primary influence — had a unique personality and a clear direction, this respectable band is derived from Graveland and Darkthrone and that basis is audible. The basis for Graveland was reality itself; the basis for the respectable band is music.

As a result, it misses on what black metal was. Even more importantly, it misses out on a standard of quality that lets blackmetal be of that level. When we are elitist, and admit only the bands which have a distinct and amazing perspective on the world, we see the genre as it is: the product of independent minds with purpose.

When we let that purpose fall, and allow those who simply want to partake of that vision to be part of the genre, standards plummet. Those bands are imitating from outside and trying to reproduce what was, but in doing so, they’re losing the most essential part of it, which is its motivation as a whole.

For a band to be black metal, it needs to discover the motivating ideas that made black metal what it was. Then, it must have its own take on those ideas, and in addition to that, do what everyone can do these days, which is play well and have good production.

It’s interesting how few people are actually required to make a genre. Graveland is immortal; while Woodtemple sounds good at a distance, and I know from the word of close friends that the person behind it is a good fellow, it would be an adulteration and sacrifice of what black metal is to endorse this album.

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26 comments

  • Lockhart

    I end up dealing with a lot of emotional people, whilst discussing pros and cons, and criticisms of certain albums by classic or new and trendy bands. I have upset a lot of people by adhering to certain standards (my own tastes–but drawing from a spectrum of eternal and immutable ideals that are relevant to music-metal, and black metal). There are bands that play Black Metal that have no idea what you describe as “motivating ideas” are. There are Black Metal fans who solely digest the trends and ideals set forth by the media (abundant satanic imagery and the basal music characteristics). I would like to see more bands be serious about the driving force behind the music. Too often I see Hair Metal Philosophy strewn about (Nothin’ But A Good Time).

    Until that point, I will also accept the dub of a douche bag elitist title.

  • Steven Cannon

    TRUE art is about NOT accepting limitations or boundaries. When someone tells you you cannot accept keyboards or female vocals in music, they are trying to impose THEIR will upon your creative frame of mind… The black metal bands that have “strayed” from their purpose have broken free of the limitations of their own genres. For 21 years I have been doing a music magazine, and from my earliest inceptions have incorporated reviews of gothic, electronica, punk and hardcore, and our black metal forefathers did the same. Ask Varg Vikernes what he listened to driving back from the murder of Eronymous. Dead Can Dance. Ask Euronymous what influenced his cold, harsh mechanical stares, he will tell you: the German electronic group Kraftwerk. The black metal pioneers long ago recognized the avant garde and unique nature of Japanese black metal band Sigh LONG before The End Records signed them for their fifth album. They had the vision and foresight to see far beyond the borders of a style of music that hadn’t even become well known yet.

    Do not perceive to tell me how I should “think” or feel, because I am a true rebel, and in true Left Hand fashion, I will curse you and blaspheme your shitty gods…

    1. Dismal Ventriloquist

      They were influenced by other artists to create their own expression, not creating a pastiche out of everything they heard for the sake of popularity, fashion, novelty, etc. I think this article enforces your views actually.

      As a side note, Sigh turned to shit by the time The End signed them. Now they sound like a mix between the jingles played during dishwasher detergent commercials and anime theme songs. Expressive or novelty?

    2. Brett Stevens Post author

      For 21 years I have been doing a music magazine, and from my earliest inceptions have incorporated reviews of gothic, electronica, punk and hardcore, and our black metal forefathers did the same. Ask Varg Vikernes what he listened to driving back from the murder of Eronymous. Dead Can Dance. Ask Euronymous what influenced his cold, harsh mechanical stares, he will tell you: the German electronic group Kraftwerk.

      Hey, Steve. Good to hear from you again; I remember you from back in the day. I think you’ve totally misinterpreted the article. This is about bands who do 100% metal wrongly, not bands adulterating metal with outside influences. That’s a separate story. Also, you might want to note that Kraftwerk started out as a guitar band, using lots of noise and doing at least one Black Sabbath cover. Dead Can Dance’s first album also used distorted guitars and showed an influence from what sounded like the Doors and perhaps early NWOBHM. You also might want to mention Tangerine Dream, a huge influence on black metal, and classical music, which influenced both Bathory and Celtic Frost. It’s also worth noting that this site has been talking about all of those bands, and reviewing bands like the Doors and Dead Can Dance, since the mid-1990s. Hope to hear from you again soon.

    3. fallot

      Keyboards and female vocals are superficialities, the bands that have strayed have in truth never been a part of what made black metal special in the first place. It would be more accurate to say that they have copied the form while missing the content, and alteration of the form is thereafter called progression of some sort. In this case it is regression, since these bands went back to abrasive heavy metal and punk music or dressed up extant non-metal genres (indie, post-rock etc.) as metal music.

  • Mark

    This attitude is BS. “it misses on what black metal was” well, so what? Music does something called “evolve”, and that’s a good thing; Black Sabbath was deeply influenced by the Beatles, yet THEY SOUNDED ENTIRELY DIFFERENT. I was a die-hard metalhead back in the early/mid-eighties, and guess what? What you kids are calling “Black Metal” today sounds NOTHING like Venom. I guess all these modern “Black Metal” bands are complete fail? Why is it that I can’t stand most modern metal? Is it because I’m an old fart, or because the majority of it sucks? Corpse paint and vocals that are basically belching into a mic does not music make… Also, the entire metal genre has become a ridiculous parody of itself. You people need to get a sense of humor or something.
    Sincerely, Mark

    1. fallot

      Since it misses on what black metal was, it cant go any further; how can you build on something you dont understand? Black Metal had a lot of potential too, still does, but this will remain unexplored until someone who doesnt miss this stuff steps up. All these modern Black Metal bands are complete fail yes, well noted.

      Venom is not a black metal band, so naturally black metal bands dont sound much like it.

      1. fallot

        To add: Words like `evolve` are liberally thrown out by people in discussions such as this, mostly in a dismissive, somewhat smug and partially defensive fashion. I have never understood why anyone should feel threatened by standards, perhaps it is a testament to the power of music that its superficial aspects are so internalized that they become a part of someone`s identity.

      2. West

        I think that Mark is making a good point, although i disagree with him that it is a sign of evolution. Black Sabbath was a novel, unexpected appearance in the history of music. They looked to the past for musical inspiration (obviously, its the only place that it is possible to look), but whatever it is that they found they did not employ it in a way that built upon it either musically or aesthetically. Black Sabbath was more than just the continuation of previous musical forms, it was a revolution.

        Maybe hessians and metalheads should stop looking towards metal as something that is going in a direction, either good or bad, which are ultimately superficial judgments anyway, and simply listen to with with an ear for that rare thing which guides and inspires great music – a thing which I doubt has any relationship with music history. Why is there any need for metal musicians to understand what metal was or is to create more of it? Or even better, something new?

    2. Brett Stevens Post author

      Music does something called “evolve”, and that’s a good thing

      That’s the point: music doesn’t evolve by imitating the past.

      This wasn’t an essay about the necessity of not having music evolve or change. Did you read it?

      1. West

        *Does* music evolve? Different circumstances conspire to allow for the appearance of new musical forms, and it is true that much can be said about the history of music in retrospect, but that in no way means that there is a spirit guiding the many changes it has gone through, that is reaching towards anything, or even that any one part of metal’s history has anything to do with another. And isn’t this really the most nihilistic perspective? The most in tune with the “spirit” of metal?

  • Lord Mosher

    With all due respect Brett, you seem to contradict yourself sometimes. You did it with Immortal – Battles in the North, giving it a good review on the DLA and tearing it to pieces on your Amazon Reviews. You did the same thing for Dissection – Storm of the Lights Bane. Let me quote your review for Woodtemple on the Sadistic Metal Reviews:

    source quote: http://www.deathmetal.org/meta/sadistic-metal-reviews-8-16-09/

    .
    ” Woodtemple – Voices of Pagan Mountains
    I am told by reliable sources that other CDs from this band are not as good. However, this one stays on my B-list of metal and will eventually be purchased. In the 2000s, buying something you’ve had kicking around on mp3 forever is a sure sign it’s destined for repeated listening. In style, this disc is like Graveland Following the Voice of Blood re-done in the style of Thousand Swords, but as if informed by early Ancient, say, Trolltaar. Longer riff-melodies and repetition interrupted by a kind of prismatic re-use and re-contexting of past riffs makes this an engrossing, labyrinthine listen. There’s some hilarious intrusions from later Bathory (Hammerheart), including experimentation with percussive riffing, but on the whole, this is a great disc and one of my favorites from post-entropy (1994) black metal, even if in style it’s a total tribute to the past. ”

    So what is up with that?

    1. Brett Stevens Post author

      I reserve the right to be inconsistent. However, that’s from a later Woodtemple CD that may be better. Also, I continue to become more curmudgeonly as days go by, and sometimes in a pique fit of Englishness, I throw tantrums.

      1. Lord Mosher

        “Also, I continue to become more curmudgeonly as days go by,”
        :(
        Yikes! That sucks. I would hope that a person like you would become more zen-like as you become wiser.
        And, no… you don’t have the right to be inconsistent; not when hessians look up to you for metal enlightment.
        Cheers!
        Any chance you’ll have the time for a late 70s Tangerine Dream discography post?