Kshatriya‘s Vsque ad Sidera Vsque ad Inferos is a black metal album celebrating the prehistoric conquest of everything from Ireland to India by pastoral Proto-Indo-European peoples from their urheimat located in the northern reaches of the Pontic-Caspian steppe in what is now Russia and Ukraine. The Indo-Europeans were a martial race among the first peoples to domesticate horses, worshiped the sky father Dyeus Pater, and spoke antecessor of most European languages.
This dissection was contributed to Death Metal Underground by Neil Sigmundsson.
Although the song that is the subject of this article differs considerably in tone from most funeral doom metal, and indeed from most of Evoken’s own work, it utilizes the basic style of that genre: open, sustained, low register power chords played at very slow tempi. In “Omniscient,” clean guitar melodies and synthesizers provide the music with detail, color, and different senses of spaciousness. Layering, interplay between instruments, and timbre play important roles in developing themes and emphasizing different aspects of emotions. The song has no human voice, a feature that facilitates listener immersion and an unharnessed imagination. The structure is simple and linear: A B C D. The four sections are described sequentially below in terms of one interpretation of the piece; this is an attempt to put into words a somewhat vague combination of images, thoughts, feelings, and emotions that occurs when listening to it. If this descriptive method comes across as tedious or unappealing, consider it the shortcoming of the writer and let the music speak for itself.
Section A: The introduction revolves around a melody played on clean guitar, the tonality of which gives a vague feeling of uneasiness and of mystery. The technique of sliding into and between notes is used as ornamentation, presumably to make the melody more evocative. The slow tempo lends a sense of low energy, and the synthesizer adds a haziness to the atmosphere. When the electric guitar and percussion enter the song, the resulting sensation is similar to stepping from an inside room, where one can sense the heat outside, into the open air, or of transitioning from the awakening state of half-consciousness to that of complete alertness and awareness. The synthesizer then plays its part an octave higher than before, overpowering like the sharp glare of the sun and evoking an image of barrenness, vastness, and lifelessness. The timbre greatly increases the effect. After the synthesizer descends back to its original register, the theme is fully developed and the scene completely comprehended.
Section B: After a short silence, the music resumes at a crawl, as if an oppressive heat is sapping away all energy. The guitars reach up and play a short sequence with conviction, but fall back down in response to the synthesizer, as if defeated by the overwhelming wretchedness and aridity of existence. The entire pattern temporarily falls to a slightly lower register, conveying a sense of sinking to greater depths, though it musters enough energy to return to its original place. Listening to this section feels like crossing a desert, wondering whether the farther side will ever be reached with so little energy, when suddenly…
Section C: Great vigor and motivation well up from an unknown source, generating forward and upward motion from stagnation. The tempo increases, as does the speed of the drum pattern. The power chords are no longer relegated to the far lowest notes. The synthesizer, which represented the oppressive force, disappears and is replaced by a slowly rising clean guitar pattern. The overall tone here is energetic and anticipatory, and there is a sense of striving and of willpower where previously there was none. However, in the guitars there is a moment that balances this nature with sobriety and gravity, a few slightly dissonant notes that signify that all adversity has not been overcome. Like a reminder of the continued presence of the antagonistic element, this slight dissonance checks the melody, which falls accordingly (though it maintains its pace and energy) and dwells at its lowest point before steadily rising again.
Section D: Section C trails off at its highest stable point, and at this point the music slows down again and “opens up,” signifying that a plateau or a destination has been reached. Indeed, in the final and longest section of the song, a realization occurs. The first hint of this realization is a sequence of four notes played on the keyboard and accompanied by percussion. The “breathy” timbre and relatively low volume give a sense of distance and of large scale. This part evokes the emotions associated with pausing one’s toils, looking up at the clouds, and realizing their beauty. The electric guitars then enter enthusiastically, mimicking the four note pattern with power chords, and the aforementioned keyboard sequence gives way to a second one. This new keyboard part starts with a heart-warming tone that rises slightly and then settles into a sobering note of gravity, though even this last bit of weight and resistance falls away at the end of the sequence.
The full realization is represented by a blissful clean guitar melody that acts as an additional layer atop the second keyboard part and the power chords. The keyboards color the guitar melody in different ways with each note and with swells in volume, highlighting various nuances of the newfound conviction and peace of mind: solace, tranquility, the hugeness of nature and the cosmos and corresponding miniscule stature of man, the passing away of all things, and finally an understanding and acceptance that leads to release from all doubts and worries. The timbre of the synthesizers provides an airy nature to the conclusion of the song, yet this quality is light and fresh and differs greatly from the heavy, burdensome atmosphere of the introduction. The clean guitars eventually stop and the keyboards return to a fuller version of the first hint of the realization, the image that catalyzed the epiphany being revisited in terms of the new insight obtained. The full realization then resumes. By this point, all tension is completely resolved. Additional synthesizer effects give a sense of dissolving and of passing away, and the song begins to fade in volume. The clean guitar ends on an uplifting note.
In the above description of “Omniscient,” the instruments symbolize different aspects of human experience. The electric guitar and the percussion represent the visceral sensations of the body, the clean guitar the movements of the mind, and the synthesizer the perception of the external environment. The role of the synthesizer in portraying an external oppressive force in sections A and B has already been described: it can be seen as a sort of indifferent but nevertheless harmful natural phenomenon. Of the four parts of the song, section B is the only one with no clean guitar, perhaps symbolizing how during an onerous experience in which the willpower of the mind has been defeated, the focus of consciousness oscillates between the suffering of the body and the alleged cause of that suffering. In section C the synthesizer disappears, but the sobering, slightly dissonant notes in both the clean guitar and the underlying power chords acknowledge that the environment/situation has not changed. Rather, the upwelling of energy from within is so powerful that it dominates the field of perception, as reflected in the dramatic increase in percussion activity. This section can be viewed as finding motivation to fight and overcome an oppositional force.
Section D resolves all conflict and tension in the song, not through external triumph – towards which section C seems directed – but through internal release. Maintaining the established symbolism and looking at the clean guitar parts (and lack thereof) throughout the song, there is a series that outlines a transformation of mind: A mind confused (A) becomes a mind completely defeated (B), which in turn is revitalized and invigorated (C) and finally becomes purified and instilled with confidence and peace (D). Considering the keyboards, as mentioned previously, the role and the qualities of those in section D are significantly different from those in sections A and B. Yet even at the very end of the song, there is still a sobering effect and a sense of gravity in the keyboards; the elation does not go unchecked. As in section C, this is the clue that the external environment has not changed, only the perception of that environment. Thus, the mind has undergone a change and as a result, the perception of life has changed even though life situations have not. Recalling the words of Marcus Aurelius: “Things do not touch the soul, for they are external and remain immovable; but our perturbations come only from the opinion which is within…Take away thy opinion, and then there is taken away the complaint, “I have been harmed.” Take away the complaint, “I have been harmed,” and the harm is taken away.” This is the essence of the realization in “Omniscient”: It is the knowledge that, though we may feel pain and discomfort, and though we may endure hardship, suffering is not inextricably bound up with these experiences. The power that external events claim on personal wellbeing is dictated by the mind and by the will. In this way can man go through life as an invincible force, as a “promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.” With this spirit and conviction does the clean guitar sail calmly over the keyboards in section D, giving a sense of total peace and affirming that everything is alright.
Along with Skepticism – Stormcrowfleet and Monolithe – Monolithe I, “Omniscient” shows that the funeral doom style lends itself naturally to compositions that are not funereal in tone. This style has been used as a means of wallowing and despairing, and it could be argued that despondence, hopelessness, etc. are “heavy” emotions, but the self-obsessed state of depression, being a state of stress and contraction, shrinks the scale of the music to the personal level. This effect is contrary to the “big” sound of the funeral doom style, and to the powerful fighting spirit of metal in general, indicating that perhaps the style is more suitable for large-scale, impersonal topics.
Regarding musical composition, the careful and directed development of a select set of ideas maximizes the evocative quality of music by allowing themes to blossom to their full expressive potential. Furthermore, this increases the coherence of compositions, even when the composer does not intend a specific meaning or message, because new ideas arise only when the old ones are exhausted. Thus, in musical composition, as in life, it is wiser to look to necessity than to extremity. Extremes of technical musicianship, speed, and structural complexity, though sometimes useful, are generally not necessary for metal music to be heavy (in the meaning of bearing existential weight, of having deep content as opposed to shallowness, and of communicating an aspect of reality that transcends the individual). “Omniscient,” in its beautiful simplicity, is evidence in favor of this point. In its logical and complete development, its highly evocative sounds, its clear depiction of an inspiring and uplifting transformation, and the reward and reminder that its conclusion bestow upon the listener, “Omniscient” is a superlative work of art.
1. Evoken recorded Promo 2002 “in 1 day on a cheap-o 8 track recorder.” “Omniscient” stands far above the other four songs on the promo, although “Reverie in Tears” is also well composed. Dario Derna, who was the adept drummer of the death metal band Infester, played the keyboards on this release.
2. A rerecorded version of “Omniscient” with lyrics appeared on the 2010 split between Evoken and Beneath the Frozen Soil.
On a small ship in the Sea of Sardinia, I watched my companion cautiously. I had just seen him kill two men, one with a silenced pistol hidden under his battered sweater, and the other with his bare hands. We had changed cars five times since I left the airport, walked through a dozen train stations and busy stores, always leaving through the back door with a whispered command: Hurry!.
Now our journey had taken its final stage, leaving the coast on a small boat and nipping through a series of coves, always watching land, water and air for any who might follow us. As I wondered this, a ripple on the horizon announced another small boat approaching. On it was a solitary figure, menace and fire in his cold eyes.
I gathered up my notebooks and prepared to meet the obscure and sinister personality behind Italian black metal cult band Infamous…
Is there any point to making black metal — or any music like it — in 2015?
Black Metal is a radical form of expression and, in my opinion, the most expressive form of musical art. It is an essential need to express myself!
It is my belief that this form of art can be conceived and understood only by “particular” souls. Surely, if you try to get rich or famous with this music genre, you have done everything wrong! Black metal is not for the masses and not for the bourgeois defeated by their lives. Black metal is a fire that burns inside of you! It is a weapon against weakness, a spiritual enlightenment, and the hammer that smashes this world of worms and disgusting merchants.
If you don’t feel this inside you, maybe you should change genre!
Your latest, Rovine e Disparazione, seems much closer to traditional black metal than previous works. What prompted this change?
I think that the reason of this “change” is linked to the departure of Alessandro. With his keyboards, he created a great amount of “mystic” atmosphere in the first releases, especially in Of Solitude and Silence. The guitar riffs and the other songs structures, instead, are born from the same inspiration and move in the same way of the previous works.
So far, there are three Infamous releases — Of Solitude and Silence, Abisso and Rovine e Disparazione — of which this reviewer is aware. Can you tell us what you intended to do with each one, and how it turned out? For example, did you hope to create a new style of black metal, refine your own style, or expand upon earlier ideas (of your own) or introduce new ideas?
Each song which makes part of the three different Infamous releases is born thanks to a precise inspiration aiming at translating my emotional state in music.
I have no ambition to start a new subgenre of the black metal style. What I really like is the most traditional way in this kind of music and I’m going to follow this traditional path, but with my personal sense of melody and “aesthetic.”
Many times, some reviewers have compared my project with other bands of this world. What is interesting is the fact that, at the end, they have recognized that Infamous sounds personal!
I mean, what is important is not to create a new style but a good and emotional song in a traditional way. In short, the creation of a perfect synthesis of traditional and personal music, which is not necessarily innovative!
This is sort of a silly question, but people will wonder, so I ask. There seem to be two versions of Of Solitude and Silence: a CD-R with an excellent cover, and a pro-CD with a more “regular” black metal cover that looks like a quicker job. How did these two editions come about? Is this album still in print? If not, will it be re-editioned?
The first edition was published by a small underground Italian label (Novecento Produzioni) and limited to 200 copies. No one wants to print a Pro-CD in Europe in this small quantity. However, this first edition is definitely sold out. The second edition was published by the excellent German label Obscure Abhorrence in Pro-CD, limited to 500 copies. It is true that the artwork looks different from the first one, but the reason is that they were created by two different persons… I prefer the first artwork but also the second is not bad!
The second edition is still available from the Internet site of the label or directly from me!
What I really like is the most traditional way in this kind of music and I’m going to follow this traditional path, but with my personal sense of melody and “aesthetic.”
In addition, recently, the Italian label Bylec-Tum has published, on limited tape format, the third version of this album with a series of exclusives bonus tracks.
Can you tell us where Infamous was founded, by whom, and who is in the band? Do you perform live or is this a studio band only? Do you choose anonymity for any reason other than longstanding black metal tradition (musicians calling themselves Quorthon, Warrior and Angelripper)?
Infamous was born in the Sardinian hills in the torrid summer of 2009, with the recording of the first demo “Torrid Summer Misanthropy.” Infamous is a one man band, obviously it is impossible to play live…
I choose semi-anonymity; S.A. is the acronym of my name and surname.
I thought that it would have been more serious to avoid the grotesque nicknames typical of the Satanic B.M. scene.
What are the influences on your style, both metal and non-metal, and both musical and non-musical? Are there influences from any punk genres in your work? Since the question will inevitably be asked anyway, is there an influence from Ildjarn on your work?
I’m surely influenced by “modern” Finnish Black metal. For me, this is the most important scene and I’m heavily influenced by the sense of sinister melody which is typical of their style.
But this is not my unique influence. When I was more young I listened to tons of Oi!, R.A.C., and other metal sub-genres. I think that Oi! and R.A.C., in particular, have forged my compositional style and my sense of “melody.”
Now, I turn my attention to your question, concerning Ildjarn. I was really shaped by his previous works, especially by his first demos and the first full-length. I listened to his art hundreds of times… Together with other Norwegian 90s bands, Ildjarn is one of my preferred bands!
In line with the non-musical influences, I think I am influenced by all my open-air activities like mountains or woods trekking, fishing and sports in general. I consider myself as hunter of natural landscapes. Obviously, this aspect has a huge impact on my music!
Do you listen to Ottorino Respighi, an Italian composer from the last century? The style of Of Solitude and Silence reminds me of his most popular work, “The Pines of Rome.”
Um… no! This is the first time I have heard the name of this composer.
Maybe, at the time of Of Solitude and Silence Alessandro took his inspiration from this composer, but I don’t know…
Why did you switch to title(s) in Italian? Abisso and Rovine e Disparazione are in Italian in contrast to Of Solitude and Silence which is in English. Do you write lyrics in Italian as well?
Of Solitude and Silence, outside of the title, has songs half in Italian (“Rex Verminorum” is in Sardinian language, a local variant of the ancient Latin) and half in English.
Abisso has only the title in Italian language. Each song, in fact, is written (from the session musician WLKN, not by me) in English.
Starting with Rovine e Disperazione, I have begun to use only Italian language because it is more easy and spontaneous for me; while, English language is more “melodic” and easy to insert in the music but, obviously, is not my language.
What influences your sense of melody? It seems unique, like a mixture of black metal, folk, Oi and sentimental 1980s Goth-pop, but also with its own inspiration that’s nowhere on the map.
As I have mentioned above, I’m influenced by Oi!-R.A.C. and Black Metal, but not by “1980s Goth-pop.” I think the Northern European Oi! scene of the 90s is my second main influence, obviously after Black Metal. Maybe, a little bit by Neo-folk but in my music, at the same time, there are not large spaces where I could insert neo-folk. It is possible that in the future this component will be increased.
What do you attempt to capture, express or communicate through your music? Or… is this even the goal of music? Is music communication or decoration? What is the goal of your art?
When I started, I was interested to vomit my hate and my need of destruction for this rotten world.
Infamous was born to give voice to this emotional war, misanthropic destructive hatred and the contemplation of nature, especially its beauty-purity.
Now, everything is evolved into an anti-modern propaganda and into a search of values for resist to this decaying world!
Do you think there is a sound in black metal that is specific to Southern Europe? And to the countries individually such as Greece, Italy and Spain?
In my opinion, each population has its land and each land has its traditions, sensibility and so on… According to this view, it is perfectly normal that every nation or geographic area has a common way of expression. Generally, everyone can distinguish a Norwegian disc from a French release, and a Swedish album from a Greek one!
I consider myself as hunter of natural landscapes. Obviously, this aspect has a huge impact on my music!
I think that Italy has developed its own personal style which is not very similar to the other Southern European scenes. However, it is undeniable to admit cultural and stylistic convergences with the rest of Southern Europe.
Personally, I love old and contemporary Greek Black Metal!
Do you have a long-term plan of what you want to achieve from album to album and as a body of work?
Ahaha, absolutely not! Inspiration to create music comes suddenly and, for me, it is impossible to have a long-term plan!
Rovine e Disperazione consists of five tracks named after either “Rovine” (ruins) or “Disperazione” (despair). Why did you decide to do a sequence like this? Are these numbered tracks part of the same song, or impressions of the same thing?
Rovine e Disperazione is comprised of different songs about a single concept!
The concept of this album concerns the disgust for the modern world, its spiritual decadence and the ideology of materialism (“Disperazione” I, II). It is the rebellion that has the aim of embracing a superior and heroic way of life, based not in the cult of the decadence, but in the traditional (pre-Christian era) values of Honor, Strength and Spiritual rectitude (“Rovine” I, II, III)!
This is my manifesto for the maximal resistance against the modern decaying world!
In the booklet, there are two important phrases (written in Italian) to understand this concept:
“Lascia agli altri le vie dell’infamia” = Let the others go through the ways of infamy
“Vi siete inchinati abbastanza davanti ai mercanti, ora ergetevi! Sfidate i ratti e i vermi che stanno ai vostri piedi!” = You have bowed enough to the merchants, now it’s time to stand up! You have to defy rats and worms that are at your feet!
Do these have any influence in your musical world? Ancient, Varathron, Burzum, Sentenced, Sacramentum, Landser, Summoning, Kvist, Eucharist.
Each band that you have mentioned has had an influence on my music. However, the most important influence comes from Finnish bands like Sargeist, Horna, Satanic Warmaster, Hammer, Nekrokrist SS or non-Finnish bands like Drowning the Light, Mutiilation, Xasthur and many others…
How do you compose a song? Do you start with a melody and develop structure/arrangement from that, or do you start with riffs and add melodies to them? Or is there an idea, lyrical or visual, before you start even making the music?
First of all, I compose music, starting from a simple riff and then slowly, or sometimes very fast, the rest emerges spontaneously. When a musical composition is definitely ended, I start writing texts; generally, each text follows a concept!
This is the path that allows me to recognize immediately if a riff has the emotional power to be part of a song…
For people new to your music, how should they get to know Infamous and how should they stay on top of band news, contact, and music?
You’ve just recorded a new album, Tempesta. What is the theme of this album? How does it differ from the past? Where did you record it, how long did it take, and did you have other musicians involved?
About the concept for Tempesta, in the booklet you can read this:
Tempesta (Storm) is a radical hate declaration against all the subhumans defeated from the disvalues of this decaying modern society. I hope, therefore, a “Storm” that will destroy everything that continues to infect our blood and our minds.
The main enemies in this concept are the economicist view, the bourgeois way of life and modern human weakness in general!
Tempesta follows a natural and spontaneous “evolution” of the classic Infamous style!
On this album you can hear a more powerful sound, an atmosphere of struggle and victory that extols to the revolt! The recordings lasted half a year at various sessions, and I used the voice of Filippo Magri in “Tempesta II”, who is a friend and someone I respect!
Your previous album, Rovine e Disperazione, seemed to take a more Ildjarn-influenced direction as opposed to earlier works, which had longer melodies and remind me of Varathron Walpurgisnacht if it were expressed with a stronger, more naturalistic mentality. Does Tempesta continue this pattern?
In this album I think that the Ildjarn influences are implemented, especially in “Tempesta II” where percussion is heavily influenced by the Norwegian artist. Also for the harsh sound and radical extremism of disgust against the modern man, Ildjarn represents a landmark!
From the progression from early works through Tempesta the general atmosphere of mysticism, which refers to the idea of a primordial nature in its purest form, is partially changed. I have radicalized certain sounds and the general attitude and probably now everything sounds more agressive. This is a natural and spontaneous evolution.
As I understand it, this release is limited to 100 CD-Rs. Why did you choose to go this route, as opposed to a larger label? Will you ever seek a label to do bigger re-issues of your discography?
Yes, only 100 copies!
This is a radical anti-commercial choice!
I’m not interested in big productions!
This is the path that allows me to recognize immediately if a riff has the emotional power to be part of a song.
I consider that nowadays those who want to listen a CD, generally, can download it from internet…
Then I took a radical decision and I chose to produce everything by me; every step is taken personally and the choice of the number of copies to be printed is now proportionate to the copies that I can sell. Simply, if I had printed 1000 copies, 900 would remain collecting dust in my basement.
Few are willing to buy original CDs, especially for bands not yet known. This happens a bit “everywhere” but in Italy the situation is even worse.
Why do you think black metal is in such a slump these days? Vattnet Viskar and Myrkur get a ton of publicity, and good underground bands get ignored; is this related?
Everything is for sale in this world and if you try to be famous you have to spend some money! This is the only key to a successful career! You have to consider your band as a company and your music-art as a business. I’m about to throw up as I write this… But this is the truth!
Obviously I am not interested to take a part in this circus, I never dreamed the fame and do not want to look like a rock star. All this is so pathetic! I would destroy all this! I use my music to sing my hate against those that spoil the Black Metal and trying to making it a cute, harmless and fashionable music genre.
In regards to the Deiphago incident, rest assured that Hells Headbangers, the Agora and everyone else involved in bringing you this event are very upset and disappointed. There is NO excuse to justify Sidapa’s action – he fucked up hard. An incident report was filed and the victim declined to press charges. Although the new Deiphago LP is due to arrive soon, this incident will undoubtedly have a negative impact on its’ sale and the bands reputation has permanently been scarred. Such a shame! Further ramifications will be dealt with internally.
Although the label was just trying to do what it thought was the right thing, this statement reveals the core of SJW: it is driven by commerce and designed to signal safety. Just like big corporations spend millions to show that their cars, vacuum cleaners and toxic foods are safe, metal bands, labels and media are trying to expand their reach beyond the “scary” realm of the underground by making it “safe.” This was the same thing that selling out did in the 1980s, which was to take all those dangerous violent heavy metal bands and channel them into glam metal, which was offensive but not dangerous. There was nothing there that would sidetrack your child from going to school, getting good grades and going on to a career. Sure, he might have a bit more sex, and the bands took tons of drugs, but there were no ideas there that fundamentally challenged the bourgeois view of the world.
In the 1990s, death metal and black metal were far from safe as well. They rejected the dominant ideology of their time, committed actual crimes and more importantly, embraced political and philosophical viewpoints that are incompatible with democratic society and bourgeois existence. Forget the petit rebels of hip-hop and heavy metal, black metal bands actually scared people, and by doing so they upped the ante for what a band had to do to actually rebel. In many ways all heavy music has been stagnant since that time because no one can figure out how to be more extreme, and so they sigh and content themselves with being merely outrageous. “Selling out” meant that process where a band stops trying to have authenticity in its music and outlook on the world, and instead settles for whatever brings in a consistent audience.
In our current time, SJW is the method of selling out. If you go SJW, you will offend no one. People feel comfortable around businesses who promise that they are motivated by ideology, not profit. This also seems to guarantee that everyone will be accepted. Of course it does none of those things, being like all public relations exercises a series of cheap promises whose compliance can never be verified, but people like to be told comforting things. It calms them down and then they feel complacently optimistic when shopping at that store. This is why companies — again with shades of SJW — will fire controversial employees, hire private security, put up spikes to drive away the homeless and put up happy signs talking about diversity and how the uranium they use to flavor their food is 100% organic. Safety sells, or rather, lack of safety precludes sales.
Just like glam metal in the 1980s was preferred to hardcore punk, thrash and early death metal by parents who were afraid it was unsafe for their precious snowflakes to hear, and might lead them to a life lived in a van down by the river, precious snowflakes now want to be safe in their music. They want to be rebels… well, no they don’t. They want to appear to be rebels and at the same time, incur as little actual risk as possible. That way they can talk it up at the water cooler at work about how wild they are, and still not have to pay the price for wildness, like endangering their easy transition into the middle classes. It is not surprising that as metal has sold out in the 2010s with SJW, quality has plummeted. Who can make good music about such insincere topics?
Luckily a backlash has commenced. Using the tag line “Make Metal Great Again,” a small group of metal musicians have declared their intent to drive out SJWs by indirect methods, namely by demanding higher quality metal. Sell-out metal is poseur metal, which means that it is both fake and replaces real metal. Metal thrives when it replaces the fake with the real. That could in fact be metal’s mission statement. Poseur metal is fake because it is designed to signal “safety” instead of opening the can of worms of truth, realism, history, violence, disease, horror and existential doubt. Labels love poseur metal because it has high margins: cheap, without risk, and easy to clone, it returns on investment every time even if less than an out of the ballpark hit like a really great band can be. Magazines love poseur metal because they can re-type the same story every month. Web sites love it because no review is ever wrong when all the music is the same under the skin.
If you wonder why metalgate has hit such a nerve, it is that it has threatened the profit model of the entire industry. Metal ca. 2015 depends on a constant flow of mediocre poseur metal bands to make sure that all the journalists, label people, PR people, bands and studios get paid. The market has shifted from the smaller, more agile environment it was in the middle 1990s. Now metal is big business, and like Microsoft or Apple, it’s in middle age. It aims for conservative successes that do not alter the formula and will not take the risk on anything outside of the norm. Since the music is crap, the labels need some other way to sell it to people, and they came up with “safe rebellion”: it looks all leather and motorcycles, but in fact it is a PC nanny who will tell you that everything is fine so long as you keep buying SJW products and ignoring the obvious signs of impending social collapse.
There’s a lot of pushback out there against those who push against boundaries. This is to be expected, but you can tell who are the cowards in the room by the people who won’t call it what it is. It is resistance by those who are growing fat and lazy off of the easy money chain formed by mediocre metal. It is no wonder they get nasty. This is why David Ingram has a temper tantrum when other people commit the grave sin of failing to agree with him. It’s also why Viranesir, the band banned from BandCamp, found itself on the receiving end of quite a bit of vitriol:
In theory, SJWs and the like would be above such behavior. But that is the key to understanding them: their political opinions are advertising, not something they actually believe, just like what businesses say in television commercials are things designed to make you buy the product, not truths. The advertisements lie and SJW is an advertisement. This is why SJWs are so hell-bent on controlling what others see, hear and think. It would be a corporate wet-dream to have mind control, but with SJWs, they have a type of advertising that simply takes over like a virus or plague. Is is to surprising that many SJWs have connections to racist and fascist groups? As authoritarians, they appear to have switched sides, but really what they have done is changed their justification from ideology to commerce, and are now getting paid to advertise for their new corporate masters.
To succeed in modern society, it is best to style oneself as a victim. We live in a time of victimhood politics where the person who successfully portrays themselves as being harmed finds that society steps aside to let them ahead, handing out freebies in the process.
Rape victims — whether a rape occurred or not — become overnight celebrities. Politicians gain stature for having been opposed, not for having been right. Every celebrity and actor has a story of how life harmed them early on. In a society of equals, the only way to be more equal is to be perceived as having been made less equal, thus a recompense — and rise in moral stature to “hero” — is deserved.
For most of their careers, SJWs have stayed behind the cloak of victimhood. In their view, someone out there is harming them, despite living in the nation with the best quality of life on earth, having government incentives for their hiring and renting, and being generally privileged college students working in easy media careers. They portray their crusade as correcting injustices.
But, as any cynic or observer of human behavior knows, those who perceive themselves as victims are usually simply manipulating others. Grackles — small brownish-black birds known for raiding dumpsters — will fake an injured wing to cajole extra treats from people eating at open-air cafes. This behavior is older than humanity itself. The difference with humans is that once given power, SJWs become insatiable attackers demanding that everyone else be cleared from their way. Their agenda is revenge against anyone having a better life than they are, which — since SJWs are the cause of their own underlying misery — is anyone who is not miserable.
We can see this pathology in a recent article by Laina Dawes (who unfriended me on Facebook for having a different opinion than she did) about “Heavy Metal Feminism”. Here’s the pitch:
Despite the global appeal and presence of heavy metal culture, widespread online distribution, and increasing awareness among a diverse audience, there remains great resistance to discuss ongoing sexism, racism, and other issues that can potentially dissuade fans from actively participating in the subculture. “I don’t know why it is so hard for people to understand that not everyone is just like them,” Phillips told me. And Phillips isn’t alone; other artists and journalists are questioning the pervasiveness of discriminatory practices and beliefs within a musical culture that, ironically, not only boasts of its “inclusive community” (in which membership is predicated on fandom and not gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation), but also, because of its underground status, places an emphasis on fan participation and economic support in order to create and distribute music that will never, and doesn’t want to, receive true mainstream commercial attention.
At this point, the true message emerges: agree with us or you are bad and must be destroyed.
Never mind that what is popular is almost always wrong and corrected by the next generation, or that heavy metal might have its own way of dealing with this issues.
Despite all the citation of academic articles here, Dawes’ approach is fundamentally unscientific: cite lack of tons of female heavy metal bands as “proof,” then claim that only that will rectify the “problem,” and demand that everyone else drop everything they are doing in order to get ahead.
And throughout it all, no one answers the real question: what have these female-fronted bands done to make themselves important to metal?
After all, Lita Ford, Jo Bench, Lori Bravo, Mythic/Derketa and others have had no trouble being metalheads who also happen to be women.
But that shows us the real agenda that Dawes is pushing: she does not want women in metal, she wants propagandists. She wants women who agree with her to be shoved to the front of the line so they can drown out that bad old white male music.
Never mind that metal has never been exclusively white nor male. Never mind the legions of women who have been in bands, worked as journalists (including the underground zines that mainstream media refuses to mention), run labels or otherwise contributed vital things to metal.
They claim they are anti-fascist, these SJWs, but while they are not fascist they are authoritarians. Their goal is to replace metal with propaganda rock with the “right” opinions to cure a “problem” that is not a problem. And if you need any more reason than that to kick them to the curb, you have not been paying attention.
In Book I of Plato’s The Republic, Socrates is engaged in an exchange of ideas with Thrasymachus regarding the nature of justice. In this debate, Thrasymachus is noticeably anxious to drive a point that justifies his views rather than finding out the truth. In between the sarcastic remarks and false humility that characterize Socrates, the older philosopher puts forward questions and comparisons that shed light on the topic in interesting angles.
One of the most interesting arguments came after Socrates’ opponent declared that justice could be defined as “the interest of the stronger”. Socrates’ response came to a point where he postulated that all art (which he uses as an equivalent to “talent” or “occupation”) acts rather in the interest of the receiver of his work. So the true art of the physician is neither in the receiving of money nor in a perfection of medicine in itself, but in the curing of maladies and keeping the body healthy.
Socrates then extrapolated this to illustrate how justice was what a ruler imparted in the interest of the people. A ruler is given power to lead and impart justice to the best interest of the people they govern. That rulers may often become corrupt is a different matter.
This got me thinking, what about music? What is the purpose of music? What is music for? From history, we know music has served different roles, from religious expression, conducive to a form of indoctrination, to aristocratic caprice, to romantic ideology, nationalist propaganda and every other conceivable use of music as ambiance or a vehicle for anything else.
We should make it clear that not only were these approaches different, but not all were equally close to the truth about music. Most do not understand that it can only evoke sentiments, even if detailed and vivid, but not particular scenes. It can speak to the human subconscious through the filter of the conscious (which is why you cannot “get” a music that is completely new in style to you — for example, the “learning process” one goes through when getting into death and black metal). More importantly, it cannot speak of individual ideas without the aid of words because it belongs to the instinctive understanding of humans as a species. Human nature and education mold these perceptions.
The most empty of all the interpretations was that art should be done for its own sake. A laughable oxymoron, if ever there was one. As Socrates correctly argued, art is done for the sake of the less powerful that receives it, the object of its mercy. For music, that is the human spirit, the subconscious and the conscious as a whole, your state of mind, whatever you wish to call it.
II. The options that metal has at its disposal
In his Fifth Heretical Essay, “Is Technological Civilization Decadent, and Why?”, Jan Patočka briefly goes over the topic of pre-history (which he clarifies does not mean non-history), its transition into history and humanity’s ascending from an animalistic lifestyle to one where one’s considerations extend beyond personal immediate necessities.
Pre-history for humans was characterized by having survival itself as a main preoccupation. Life for life’s sake. Setting the conditions for historical life, humans moved into settlements and gradually were able to afford independence from the every-day fight for one’s life. The price of this was work. This work became a responsibility in exchange for safety and space to indulge in pleasurable activities. Patočka refers to the second one of these as the the orgiastic, a release and exchange from the toil of responsibility that provides an escape from a life of pure survival.
This sort of life could still be considered as life for its own sake. The clever reader may observe that in the previous description a full circle is described. Each activity on the stack is concerned with an individual trying to escape the previous state in order to keep going, to ensure survival.
It is then that the transcendental, the sacred, the divine, the ulterior, makes an entrance into human awareness. This is not to be confused with religion, which is only a systematic arranging of rituals and beliefs which may or may not be a way to the divine. Independently of the system chosen or the disavowal of all systems, keeping something larger than ourselves in perspective can make us redefine the way we see our individual lives. Our lives are no longer lived in redundancy, just in order to keep living, but are charged with energy and will power to build or attain something without the intention of receiving personal reward. (Remark: It is common for people to have kids in order escape their mundane lives, but their intentions are equally mundane and selfish, mostly bringing children they cannot properly raise to an overpopulated world in order to satisfy their empty lives. The transcendent ideal goes beyond such gimmicks of self-deception .)
Thus we can descry three possible avenues for music:
For mere function in context (responsibility)
For pleasure itself (the orgiastic)
As a medium to perceive and keep in sight something larger than our individual human lives (the transcendental)
The nature and goals of different music, perhaps to different degrees rather than in straight-up black-and-white distinctions, can be classified using these three elements. Music that is deemed superficial is that which lacks in transcendence. Mainstream (a term that only makes any sense from the 20th century on) music, specially, can be said to work in the primitive paradigm of responsibility on the side of the artist and pure orgiastic pleasure on the side of the listener. In most music, this activity is usually a combination of both on the side of the musician, responsibility to norms in order to get his pay and an attention to how much pleasure the music provides him. A reflection of life for life’s sake in an empty music devoid of any transcendent meaning.
Transcendental music and art in general would imply musicians being invested in the music for something larger than their own personal profit (monetary or otherwise) and an audience similarly invested and discerning of music that gives them that sense of going-beyond their individual lives. All the songs about common love, friendship and equality notwithstanding as they only serve to comfort weak individuals in their self-pity, not propel them forward to greater heights were the self is at least partially dissolved.
An example of a middle-of-the-road agreement would be Johan Sebastian Bach, who, like any man living off of music has to fill certain requirements. At the same time, he is renowned to have constantly searched for an ideal in music that would reflect the divine through proportions and relations, guided as well through a crystallization of rules in smoothness and logic that results from a fastidious attention to natural human perception of intervals (artists two hundred years later did the opposite…). In practice, he often got into trouble and wasn’t the best “worker” in the sense that what he produced was seldom exactly what was expected of someone in his post. But he survived, was honored by the clergy and royalty alike and his music outlasted him because the society in which he lived (Germany in the late 17th and early 18th centuries) valued the transcendent, the divine, above anything else. Cynics can stop laughing, of course Germans at the time also fought wars and had to take care of business, and so did Bach. Following a transcendental path does not mean you are exempt from the toil and eventualities of life.
That metal’s nature is that of a transcendental art can be proven by pointing out the way in which it developed. As we have previously described before, each metal stylistic development had to do with a shedding of aesthetics in which it lurched forward away from the mainstream and into more distinct characteristics that would set it apart from rock music and in a rebellious statement of intention that stated its anti-establishment position. But in contrast to punk and other protest music, metal was not anti-authoritarian out of a social revolutionary sentiment, but from a nihilist-realist point of view. It was a reducing of humans to ants in an uncaring universe by using Satanic, pagan or occult imagery to depict concepts that stay true from antiquity to this day. This is the same reason why metal is so prone to using fantasy fiction themes. Metal is not an escape, it is reducing of this pseudo-reality to what it actually is: one of many possible constructs.
Individually, this or that artist may believe or use the imagery and language they adopt, but as a whole, metal is none but that transcendent essence that refuses to bow to the arbitrariness of present human status quo. In its place it does not propose anarchy or freedom, but calls for an awareness of reality as existing outside human expectation, want, need or hope. It is a confronting of reality instead of a twisting of truths for the shielding of and maintaining of mundane activities for the sake of staying alive peacefully and pleasurably. More importantly, this confronting of reality does not imply a fatalism, but a way to emerge triumphantly, seeing through individual situations and times, recognizing our place in nature and our dependence on it.
III. Implications in Practice
How does this translate into music? Is art more than just its intention or its random interpretation by an audience?
In his discussion, Patočka made three important distinctions in order to better attack the problem of the decadent. The separation between meaning, significance and purpose was stated functionally different. Meaning is the most difficult of these to grasp. It is not a value, nor is it the same as purpose although they could fill a same role in certain circumstances. Meaning is said to make something open to reading, to a sense, to understanding of something that is as it is. Purpose itself is the reason or intention why something is carried out or why it is brought into being. Significance is concerned with its relative role or function in relation to a particular context.
Purpose and significance are subject to times and context. Meaning is not. The meaning of something can be interpreted to have different significance in different places, or it can be used for different purposes. But what it is does not change, and so its meaning does not. The distinction between purpose and significance is of the utmost importance when it comes to understanding and judging music. The purpose of musical devices is often confused by individualists and relativists to be one of the other two. The purpose of music matters little to the music critic who is charged with judging its quality and not its good intentions. The music critic cares only about significance.
But I propose a slightly different mapping in which the human mind, not the rest of the universe, is the world of action for music. After all, music is artificial, it is made by us, for us and it is its effect over us that matters. Therefore, meaning can be redefined in the context of universally perceivable effects in patterns, textures and intervals. Universally as in across the human species. It is to be expected that there is a variance in the effect, but that does not detract from the existence and relevance of a mean.
The definition of purpose need not change, it still lies in the reason why a certain music would be made. Now, significance would shift to being the acquired role of structures and relations in different music paradigms, different genres, different traditions. That means that just as different spoken languages, music can have its own rules arising from conventions between human perception and arbitrary organization. But the more arbitrary it is and the less it conforms to natural human perception, the less capable of transcendence a music is. This does not mean that education cannot be involved. But education can reinforce and deepen what comes naturally and follows the path of human potential (Common Practice Period), or it can be capricious arbitrariness arising from the fallacy of the human mindas a blank slate (see Serialism).
Two things need to happen for a transcendental music tradition to be sustainable. The first is artists that are devoted to the transcendental aspects of music. The second is a discerning audience. Part of this discernment is a certain trust in musicians, their own vision and values as well as their abilities. This is the same sort of trust we have for leaders of any kind, be them rulers or scientists.
The reason why we do not have this trust in musicians in modern times is because as a result of historical processes, they have come to disgrace themselves. The sort of respect for artistry and trust in their distinction above ours survives today only in very dark corners of human action like specific classical music niches and extremely underground metal and ambient circles. In metal, these are the sort of circles that remain willingly untouched by labels in order to keep their art at away from vulgar and unworthy reception. These remain the last bastion of metal against the taint of the mainstream.
It is in understanding there is something more to human nature and human experience that is both innate to us and that we share with other human beings, that we can also come to respect the power of transcendental music: music that taps into these aspects. Music that has the power of directing human conscience in a particular direction, as well. Today, underground metal is one of the few musics that go beyond the merely functional or the pleasurable. This is music that has the power of cultivation, of expanding the mind, of looking beyond your own fear of the unknown, of inevitable death and into the future of humans as a species and not just you as an individual, but as an individual channeling the species into a more aware future.
IV. The Transcendental: Art for the Sake of Human Evolution
It is no surprise that we can trace a very clear line from the 18th century to the 21st at the beginning of which art is universally sponsored by the ruling classes and institutions of power that through gradual changes becomes increasingly independent (19th century) and later on less connected to human nature (20th century). This culminates in a complete stagnation in the 21st century, our times…
The question of true transcendental art being underground or not depends on the current values of society. In the case of our modern society, its purely materialist and ultra-democratic outlook that dictates that personal caprices matter more than reality is the antithesis of the environment where a transcendental — one that reflects enduring meaning — art can be fostered.
By definition, a materialist civilization that attributes no meaning to anything except the massing of perceived riches or power, cannot produce such an art. That is to say, such a civilization does not even believe there is such a thing as the trascendental. Furthermore, this materialist outlook is based on an absurd pushing of boundaries through a rational point of view taken to an extreme. But anything taken to any extreme loses contact with reality, which is itself an amalgam of degrees of many different qualities — compromises between opposites.
A rejection of reality in favor of an artificial extreme such as materialism is then enabled to brush aside and subvert anything that does not conform to itself. This includes human nature itself. In fact, the materialist position claims there is no such thing as human nature. This enables the power-hungry, the greedy and anyone else to try and clean their conscience through a pandering of the idea that we are only the result of the cultures into which we are born and values are only social constructs. The dogma then becomes: power is the only objective measure of success. A side effect of materialism is the idea that everything we perceive is subjective and therefore not subject to judgement or control. All that matters is if I think this or I like that. The weakling’s alternative to the dogma becomes: happiness is the only subjective measure of success.
Both of these emphasize an enlarged “living in the moment” that favors egoism that, as proven by history, results in an almost complete disregard for others’ living in this same present and those yet to be born — unless an immediate reward/punishment is offered to the materialist individual. The transcendental provides precisely the opposite: a view into the characteristics that make you human, that dictate our nature, that both unite us and make us different. As Steven Pinker summarizes in his book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, this flies in the face of research that has in turn been suppressed and vilified by an establishment eager to maintain the status quo in a similar gesture to a superficial Church censoring scientific discoveries centuries ago.
Also contrary to a short-sighted reading, this should not result in us embracing the understanding of one’s own nature as licence to indulge in it, but rather a precise knowledge of how to control it and channel it in order to become better. A transcendental view of time and values applied to our species may pave the way for not only a widespread search for individual enlightenment but a species-wide one. One in which humanity works together for its own good, which at this point would translate into a caring for the planet it is destroying in the vulgar self-interest dictated by materialism.
The importance of metal as this transcendental art is its power to maintain this knowledge and to promote universal values and even more importantly, their understanding. The reaction of materialism and the religion of scientism against the notions of transcendental value are emotional to their very core but also based on observations of how values defined arbitrarily in the past lead to social disasters. This, combined with their own superficial and strictly functional misunderstanding of the values prevented them from fully becoming aware of the underlying human need and impulse to reach for something beyond the material and the every-day.
This is why those who understand such transcendentalism treat the mainstream with opprobrium and an extreme disgust. As with anything else, the attitude of those who understand can be confused with those who follow and do not understand, those who adopt attitudes — even pseudo transcendental ones — with the ulterior motivation of immediate reward to themselves. And thus elitism and the upholding of all that is truly excellent is marred and disgraced by a civilization of insecure and selfish individuals who cannot see past their own self-interest, a selfishness that is then projected onto those who they judge because they cannot conceive of anyone actually believing and acting for the sake of something larger than themselves.
Nietzsche is reviled by the religious (who, in general, have never read him, let alone understand him) and by the materialists (or at least those have read him, those who haven’t or do not understand seem to think him some sort of atheist hero). The main reason why materialists despise him is because he is a realist. Realism flies in the face of extreme and delusional reality-deforming conceptions of life such as materialism. As a realist, Nietzsche recognizes the inherent human need to believe in something outside himself. For those who have been paying attention, it is obvious this does not necessarily imply some sort of superstition or dogma.
Nietzsche’s Übermensch (the “superman”, the “overman”, the superior human) as described in Thus Spake Zarathustra, is one that sees and goes beyond his own times. One that is not trapped by the paradigm of his contemporary society and that furthermore excels himself above his peers in a work. This sort of talking can be taken metaphorically, but it is not meant to be. Going beyond one’s own times has to do with recognizing history as a set of changing variables within a timeline on an unchanging or slowly-changing human nature where a set of set meanings remain constant for us but are, perhaps, difficult to see.
It is in the of going over and overcoming of common man who is little more than a tamed beast, that we humankind can continue on their learning and growing path as a species. This is the nature of the transcendental. The individual transcends in his perception of his people and time and contributes to a flow of which he is only a part. Only then can the species attain a transcendental vision in which it is not only looking at its immediate problems but at its long-term development ten or twenty generations in the future. Would that we could see such a civilization arise, it would be a beautiful sight to behold.
V. The Transcendental in Action through Metal
Arising from the context of popular rock music in the late 1960s with a different musical method and a realist mentality, metal veiled its message behind mystic frontispieces that became whole with the dark romantic aura behind its motif-driven music. The classical romantic tradition that so influences it has as one of its focal points the return to an intelligibility and “naturalness” that was most readily searched for in taking hints from folk music melodies and rhythms from different rural landscapes around the world (primarily from Europe, unsurprisingly). This did not mean a ridiculous simplification of music to banal catchy lines, but a simplicity of which Plato’s Socrates spoke.
Then beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity,–I mean the true simplicity of a rightly and nobly ordered mind and character, not that other simplicity which is only an euphemism for folly.
— The Republic, Book III
Musically, what is transcendental must necessarily be atemporal, it must have the capacity to communicate with human beings from any historical (or pre-historical, for that matter) period, age or walk of life. This does not mean that the connection has to be instant or that the listener does not need to go through a “learning process”. In fact, in the particular case of metal as a veiled teaching, it is only through maturity in understanding it in a holistic manner that one comes to understand the truths that several great musicians with piercing views about what it is to be human reflected through it.
Despite the influence, there is a very sharp contrast between classical romantic music and metal. The difference is a consequence of the historical context, particular social class and sentiment out of which they each arose. Romantic art came from both the need of the individual to find a place and expression of his own, not in the modern selfishness of the individualist, but a place in nature and in reverence to it. A connection to what it is to be human. As classical music, its prestige and the station of those making it allowed it to pursue such things in broad daylight. To this, we should add the nontrivial matter of the nonexistence of recorded music or other conveniences that flood and distract listeners. The expression of the romantic artist could be full and undisclosed.
Metal, on the other hand, comes in a time where popular culture reigns in saturation of kitsch: superficiality and banality for the immediate pleasure of the distracted and manipulated masses. Less important but worth mentioning is that it originated in strong and independent-thinking middle-class individuals who saw through the deception of their times. Several choices in its underground character come from this. As an art form that subverts the ruling falsehood, it is not allowed to be displayed directly. The fact that being an intellectual resistance also means that not all can understand it and that its concerns go beyond the present manifestation of human society and its dogmas require that it is not fully out in the open. It must assume a mask that reflects an outer and simple intent that keeps most at bay to guard what it contains. Its identity must be more distinct and defined than its predecessor and so, willingly, metal takes on a much more limited range of expression than classical romantic music from the 19th century.
Of the harmonies I know nothing, but I want to have one warlike, to sound the note or accent which a brave man utters in the hour of danger and stern resolve, or when his cause is failing, and he is going to wounds or death or is overtaken by some other evil, and at every such crisis meets the blows of fortune with firm step and a determination to endure; and another to be used by him in times of peace and freedom of action, when there is no pressure of necessity, and he is seeking to persuade God by prayer, or man by instruction and admonition, or on the other hand, when he is expressing his willingness to yield to persuasion or entreaty or admonition, and which represents him when by prudent conduct he has attained his end, not carried away by his success, but acting moderately and wisely under the circumstances, and acquiescing in the event. These two harmonies I ask you to leave; the strain of necessity and the strain of freedom, the strain of the unfortunate and the strain of the fortunate, the strain of courage, and the strain of temperance; these, I say, leave.
– The Republic, Book III
It is also important to understand the outer and the inner manifestations of the spirit of music. There is a learning process to each kind of music, because outside is manifested the tropes of a region, culture, group, perhaps a particular “language” or set of conventions. By basing itself on patterns and harmonies the human ear feels naturally drawn to, the music is aligning itself to what is permanent to human perception, at least in this point of our evolution. But all these are developed, “discussed” in a music that speaks a very particular mind. Just as Plato might have spoken in ancient Greek about similar things we would speak of today in modern English, so it is that transcendental music from music separated by centuries might be speaking the same message under different grammatical guises — tropes and conventions of times and style. The act of the Dionysian manifesting itself through the Apollonian as the young Nietzsche described to us in The Birth of Tragedy.
Someone might ask if it isn’t better to disavow all conventions and try to speak in “plainspoken transcendental”. The innocence of such a suggestion comes from the incorrect belief that what is felt, what is understood and experienced wholly as a human being can be put purely, clearly and unambiguously into words. Necessity dictates that emotion and experience be transmitted to the innermost core of the individual– a penetrating of various layers of prejudice and consciousness in order to move the primal and ripple back through to the higher, if possible. Neither mere words in their plain meaning nor musical structures on their own, in the beauty of orderly symmetry and mathematical correctness can achieve this. These only speak to the higher intellect, which may or may not translate this to the deeper self.
Reaching the innermost sanctum of metal, though, requires much more than being touched by it. For that to happen, metal cannot just be a passing entertainment or the object of devoted fanhood alone. It needs to be taken seriously and read correctly in its contradictions and flagrant imagery that bespeak a connection to the transcendental beyond mere unambiguous pattern codification. It is not a science in the modern sense and is more akin to occultism and its voluntary hiding-away. Following from that, we may infer that it is far more esoteric than exoteric, this latter being ridiculous or incomprehensible when taken at face value. Only treading the serpentine and treacherous paths through cycles of internalization and externalization does the metal fan become the metal initiate.
Extreme metal, specifically grindcore music from the beginning of the 21st century to the present day, has been composed and distributed between digital-communities. Grindcore has often existed exclusively within online communities and abandons its previous ‘live’ traditions. This online phenomenon is sometimes described as ‘cybergrind’, defined only partly by its musicality (i.e. rhythm, structure, notation), but more importantly by the cyberspace in which extreme metal music is staged through the Internet. This will detail a brief history of grindcore’s online migration and transient occupation of various cyberspaces on the Internet. I will discuss a few of the reasons for grindcore’s online relocation and evaluate the more discursive nature of the music that warrants it’s suggestively ‘non-musical’ prefix (cyber) in an attempt to provide a more encompassing study surrounding the music.
Space – Cyber
The beginning of the 21st Century saw an online musical phenomenon that made a serious impression on the music business. Grindcore’s online relocation was indeed partly an impression if not a reaction against commercial music businesses and provided a community for self-published and non-profit grindcore to exist. Rosemary Overell’s book,
In an interview with Mike Glenn, ‘programmer’ for Myspace based grindcore band, ‘wecamewithbrokenteeth’; “It was definitely an internet phenomena, although I really don’t keep up with the ‘scene’ anymore. I believe WCWBT kinda took the ‘cybergrind’ thing to a new level and spread it to the masses more so than other acts … our online fan base was definitely our strongest”. My interview was undertaken on Facebook, whereby the ‘wecamewithbrokenteeth’ page is located and acts as their ‘official’ cyberspace. Benedict Anderson may have described this online phenomenon as an ‘Imagined Community’, or self-conceived nation (1991). However, the music’s online exclusivity suggests that it was far from imagined, but as close to a real environment as necessary (for both artist and consumer); the transient nature of cyberspace is more freely adaptable than the set-in-stone physicality of the ‘stage’. In Lysloff René’s, Musical Community on the Internet, he states that:
Many websites do represent the loci of complex networks and social relationships that are in fact dispersed in geographical space. What bought us all together were the metaphorical places that stood as monuments to the social relationships created through them. Thus, Internet research entails a form of travel, in a metaphorical sense to radically different kinds of social place … I argue that on-line communities … are as ‘real’ (or imagined) as those off line. – René, L. (2003)
‘Cybergrind’ exists as a non-profit community whereby free distribution amongst fans is encouraged to promote the music to a wider audience. This was also articulated by Glenn, “The few things we did release were free, I’m a heavy music pirate myself, so why the fuck not? I’m cool with YouTube and all that, anyway, to get your name out there is a plus in my eyes.” An online record label, ‘Grindcore Karaoke’ (2011), enable free downloads for all of their featured-artists. Vocalist for ‘Agorophobic Nosebleed’, J Randall, initiated this non-profit organization. This label ‘employs’ grindcore artists globally, such as Birmingham based ‘Kuntpuncher’, and Japan based ‘Self Deconstruction’. Their first release was ‘Grindcore Lu’au’ by ‘Wadge’ and advertised weekly uploads; their last upload was ‘CLVB DRVGS’ ‘Beach Blanket Bong Out’, published on the 10th March, 2014, however the music remains available for download (last accessed 22/04/15). Tom Bradfield, owner of Grindethic records, has expressed how online relocation has inevitably affected the industry, specifically record labels; “I suspect that even if piracy was somehow eradicated (which it won’t be), then the move to downloading would still have happened anyway. The hard thing is convincing people to pay for something they can easily get for free.” Therefore, the power the Internet has provided a convenient platform for artist self-promotion, but potentially threatens industry establishments such as Grindethic records.
René (2003) describes this phenomenon as a ‘new materiality’; “On-line music production and dissemination set up the conditions for a prestige economy in which ‘goods’ … are exchanged by electronic means. As with other on-line communities … the Internet provides a new materiality through which social interaction and group formation can take place and from which new possibilities for subjectivity and group identity can emerge.” Therefore, grindcore labels/artists may still be adapting to this ‘new materiality’ the Internet continues to provide.
‘Extreme Metal in Lebanon’, as researched by Mark LeVine, exists on the Internet for political reasons. In his book, Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam (2008),LeVine describes the band, ‘Oath to Vanquish’, as one of the “most distinctive Death Metal/Grind bands in the MENA”. The Lebanese government banned certain Heavy Metal CD’s at the beginning of the 21st Century, however they remained increasingly available on the Internet, a platform less hindered by political censorship. LeVine describes the Internet as a ‘liberating Power’ and musicians as part of a “cyber-intifada”. The band tackle political issues in their music lyrically, “through the veil of allegory and unsettling imagery”. ‘Oath to vanquish’ are signed to UK-based ‘Grindethic’ records, however according to LeVine, “the farther you are from the mainstream in Lebanon, the greater the risk of persecution.” According to LeVine, extreme metal in Egypt is similarly restricted, “many young Egyptians found more useful things on the web, from political blogs to heavy metal forums, that help them resist or at least survive, government oppression.”
The absence of ‘live performance’ due to a rise in online-presence has raised certain authenticity debates, some of which I shall discuss now. In my own interview with Tom Bradfield (Grindethic), he wrote that:
The Myspace era was probably the turning point for underground bands being able to exist outside of the live environment. Before the Internet there was no point in having a band that didn’t play gigs … Now there was a way to expose yourself to potential fans and build a support base without needing to play live. This coincided with home recording becoming more affordable so bands could produce demos of ever increasing quality without studio time necessarily being a prohibitive cost. – Tom Bradfield.
The absence of live performance and the internet-as-stage may be what Chanan describes a loss of authenticity due to various techniques of reproduction:
Technique of reproduction detaches the musical work from the domain of the tradition that gave birth to it, and destroys what Benjamin calls the aura which signals its authenticity; except that it also creates new types of musical object which do not belong to a particular domain but rather anywhere that a loudspeaker (or earphone) may be found – some of these recordings cannot be performed live at all. This process also redefines the audience, which comes to be constituted quite differently from before. It is no longer limited to traditional concepts of community. – Chanan, M. (1997)
However I believe that the ‘aura’ is still present in a cyberspace, but I agree that there is obviously a detachment from traditional conceptions of ‘liveness’ and ‘community’. Grindcore has therefore transcended this barrier of authenticity by its often-unfeasible existence in a ‘live’ and ‘real world’ environment. This further points to grindcore’s inherent anti-establishment disregard for previous ‘formats’ (I will later discuss this in relation to musicality) and is therefore a liberating factor for both musicians and listeners. In the same way that the Beatles’ never performed ‘Sgt. Peppers’, whereby live performance wasn’t felt necessary or wasn’t possible; Glenn states, “We never actually played live shows, although I’ve heard stories of people claiming to be us and playing shows under the name, haha. WCWBT was strictly an online thing.” Similarly, Tom Bradfield told me about one of his own bands:
I joined a band called Repulsive Dissection where the members had come together for the first time over Myspace. We were variously located in Ukraine, Japan, UK and Sweden, so the idea of playing live was never seriously considered … The internet allowed us to send material backwards and forwards online and collaborate on writing. We could all record separately and compile our efforts at the end, and to this day I’ve never met the guitarist in person. – Tom Bradfield.
Weinstein (2000) states that, “Most bands never sign a record contract. They are the losers in a Darwinian struggle for access to the facilities of the mediators: The record companies and the concert promoters”. However, Bradfield argues that it is in fact; the record labels are now equally involved in a ‘Darwinian Struggle’, although they’re power as ‘gatekeepers’ (or trend-setters) within the industry are still apparent in providing a ‘stamp of approval’:
I’m sure mass consumption of music, and all media in general, can only be heading towards streaming everything online, but a new generation of artists will embrace this and find new ways to present their music. How labels will survive this change is harder to foresee. I think there will still be a need for labels to exist as a way of putting a stamp of approval on the top bands and helping to raise them above the rest. – Tom Bradfield.
Australian grindcore band, ‘The Bezerker’, existed online for both performance limitations and to simultaneously self-promote through successful social media such as Myspace and their own website. They also departed from ‘Earache Records’, famed for signing traditional grindcore artists such as, ‘Napalm Death’ and ‘Carcass’. This short text by Brian Fischer is the first time I have seen the term, ‘cyber-grind’ used in any published writing, although does little to describe what ‘cybergrind’ actually is:
The bezerker is an extreme metal entity from Melbourne that plays a noise form of cyber-grind. The band is the brainchild of … Luke Kenny, a one time metal and grind drummer who was forced to give up his instrument after sustaining near-fatal injuries in a motor vehicle accident… Kenny began to produce music that was a cross between “gabba” techno and industrial grind … The Berzerker split from Earache in 2008 and their fifth album came out on September 1, 2008 through the band’s website exclusively. – Fischer-Giffin, B. (2002)
‘The Bezerker’ may have departed from the established ‘Earache Records’ due to the apparent trend towards the self-sufficient sustainability of Internet based promotion and publication.
Musicality – Grindcore
The Oxford dictionary defines ‘Cyber’ as, “Relating to or characteristic of the culture of computers, information technology, and virtual reality”. In which case, one could argue that grindcore music is now in a ‘cyber age’, where computers are an interface not only for music production, but also for mediation, collaboration, and consumption. Certain musical aspects can be attributed to the style as a contributory defining factor:
“I’m proud to say it’s the fastest, and nothing can be faster, sorry Dave, [Dave Lombardo, Slayer] but it’s just not fast enough mate” – Mick Harris, Napalm Death
Derek Roddy (2007) describes ‘blast beats’, a traditional musical signifier of grindcore as a genre defining feature: “Until now, blast beats have been a musical myth … a part of musical expression since the 1980s with the European grindcore movement … a form of musical expression on it’s way to becoming it’s own genre.” The speed and physical performance of grindcore ‘blast beats’ could be seen as, “a fulfilling achievement that one can be proud of”. Drum machines are often programmed to perform ‘blast beats’ at a speed and metronomic precision previously unachievable in ‘human performance’. Drum machines are used as an instrumental signifier of the ‘post-human’ speed and technical precision predominantly unachievable in human performance. (Refer to my transcriptions of ‘Wecamewithbrokenteeth’ and ‘Malodorous’). This renders Mick Harris’ (Napalm Death) statement that ‘nothing can be faster’ as limited to a ‘live’ grindcore tradition. The processual nature of genre shows a dramatic transformation of opinion to what constitutes ‘grindcore performance’, when drum machines replace human; ‘Sorry Mick, it’s just not fast enough mate’!
“We’ve sort of abandoned musical standards, we don’t write songs to the ‘rock’ sort of format. We’re pretty much the end of the line, I don’t think you’re going to get a band that’s more extreme than us.” – Shane Embury, Napalm Death
Napalm Death, along with the other grindcore artists strive to be the most ‘extreme’ in terms of musicality. Overell (2014) describes this as a sense of ’more-than-ness’. If the performance is then eradicated from the ‘brutal’ experience, surely this lack of ‘liveness’ constitutes less extremity. The ubiquitous use of drum-machines in cybergrind is a way of sonically identifying the music as ‘digital’ or ‘cyber’. Thus the music’s existence is inherently impossible in a real-world environment such as a stage; it is also reliant on computer based interfaces i.e. VST instruments, DAW’s, Audio Interfaces which are becoming increasingly more popular. Harris (2006) states that, “Only in slower forms of extreme metal is ‘putting on a [live] show’, in a conventional sense, possible.” Harris does not elaborate on his use of the word ‘conventional’, although could be referring to the use of electronic instruments and physical constraints of an ‘acoustic’ musical performance. ‘Wecamewithbrokenteeth’, gained popularity through Myspace around 2005 and built their fan base through social networking. Their music was produced on FL Studio, and until 2006, only used computer generated instruments, minus vocals, such as FLslayer for synthesized Guitar tracks; the low-end pitches would have been impossible to effectively produce on a detuned electric guitar. The vocal parts are the only ‘live’ recorded part of the music.
There are many ways in which ‘extremity’ is now raised within the Genre. The first is musicality, where musicians are striving to make the fastest, shortest or most sonically dense Grindcore possible. (Refer to my transcriptions of Napalm Death and Clotted Symmetric Sexual Organ). The second and more controversial way in which extremity is pushed is lyrical subject matter, resulting in subgenres such as ‘Porogrind’ and ‘Goregrind’. As mentioned in Nasum’s online biography, a change in aesthetic and lyrical content results in a deviation from ‘true grindcore’. Tom Bradfield states, “The one thing I’m bored of is all the misogynistic rape/gore type lyrics that are still pretty prevalent.” Bradfield is more concerned with ‘punkier origins’ or traditional grindcore aesthetic, “For many though I think the punkier origins of grindcore lend it to a more political direction which I still think works well with the inherent aggression in the music.”
Despite this, the lyrics in Grindcore music are often unidentifiable due to the vocal style. This is however, unimportant; Simon Frith’s (2007) theory on Metal vocal style; “ The tone of voice is more important … than the actual articulation of particular lyrics. We can thus identify with a song whether we understand the words or not, whether we already know the singer or not, because it is the voice – not the lyrics – to which we immediately respond.” Weinstein (2000) adds that, “Special sounds, especially screams, serve to emphasize the power and the emotionality of the voice”. Tom Bradfield states that, “To be honest I’m not particularly interested in the lyrical content of bands, even if it aligns with something I personally believe in. First and foremost I care about the music itself, and the concepts or message behind the band doesn’t sway me too much either way when it comes to signing them.”
There were many complex eco-systems in action during the emergence of Grindcore, of which I will give a brief description now. Common belief is that grindcore was initiated in Birmingham with Napalm Death. The local aspect of Birmingham’s grindcore is often romanticised but its rapid globalization was apparent from its early years. I have provided one a brief case study into the globalisation and subsequent migration of grindcore into cyberspace. Popat (2005) argues that the nature of the Internet is solipsistic, “Communities of interest [Music] are most likely to arise since communities of locality and social structure, for example, mean little in the remoteness of the online environment.” However, I feel that this could be conceived as creating some form of online social ‘locality’. The locality is in this case, a specificity of taste and tied by interest. She continues, “Although a vast number of people with different interests and concerns may be using the Internet, it is likely that they will only tend to communicate with others sharing their interests”.
‘Clotted Symmetric Sexual Organ’ (C.S.S.O) were a Japanese grindcore band active from 1993 – 2001. Their composition, ‘P.S. I Love You’, was released on a compilation or ‘Split’ CD entitled ‘Grindworks’, featuring other grindcore artists Nasum (Sweden), Retaliation (Sweden), Vivisection (Japan) and C.C.S.O (Japan). The CD was released in Sweden on the label, ‘Grindwork Productions’, whom only ever released two albums; the compilation mentioned and Swedish group, Nasum’s ‘Domedagen’ (1994). ‘P.S. I Love You’, resonates with the jazz standard by Gordon Jenkins (1934), and later the Beatles (1962). As articulated by Shane Embury, grindcore abandons previous ‘rock formats’, and therefore the reclaiming of ‘P.S. I Love You’ is a way in which C.C.S.O subverted the ubiquitous ‘love song’ as a reaction against conformity and ‘popular’ musical idioms. The total length of the composition, 10 seconds, also suggests a reactionary musical form established by Napalm Death as a grindcore idiom. This particular case demonstrates the global impact of grindcore in 1994, and how it’s ‘rarity’ elicited an online re-release through the ‘The Grind Show” on YouTube (3 October 2011). The video has 124 views (last accessed 14 February 2015) and published by ‘The Grind Show’, a YouTube channel and cyberspace seemingly dedicated to sharing rare grindcore recordings. The obscurity and lack of popularity for this particular track is by no means a reflection of cybergrind’s popularity in general (I will demonstrate this in later case studies), but more a reflection of a communal effort in preserving grindcore of the past, or ‘non-cyber’ grindcore into a virtual and residual ‘mosh-pit’ or communal appreciation and canonization of ‘extreme’ music that is no longer active as a ‘Live’ tradition (C.C.S.O haven’t performed live since 2001).
This canonization within cyberspace also exhibits bands such as ‘Napalm Death’ despite their ongoing ‘live’ presence and commercial releases. This is quite often an exception whereby ‘Napalm Death’ transcends both ‘live’ and ‘cyber’ communities, most likely due to their wide acceptance as satisfying the definition of ‘grindcore’. This online existence is celebrated as a further disassociation from previous ‘rock formats’. Ironically this music has now fallen into a Cyberspace, and more importantly, it has been canonized within ‘The Grind Show’ musical-program, thus adopting an extra-musical narrative as part of a contemporary grindcore community. Of course, most ‘popular music’ can be found somewhere on the Internet, but it’s online exclusivity (apart from several hard-copies available second hand on Discogs) could infer it’s belonging to a cybergrind community. This dissemination could also be seen metaphorically as a larger scale ‘split’ recording, whereby Artists share a physical platform or space for economic viability, building a larger fanbase, and generally building a larger sense of community.
Following on from talking about musicality, collaborative techniques used in a traditional group environment are varied in online grindcore. Tom Bradfield spoke to me about his experience collaborating over the Internet:
I joined a band called Repulsive Dissection where the members had come together for the first time over Myspace. We were variously located in Ukraine, Japan, UK and Sweden, so the idea of playing live was never seriously considered. We came close once but a visa issue scuppered plans at the last minute. The Internet allowed us to send material backwards and forwards online and collaborate on writing. We could all record separately and compile our efforts at the end, and to this day I’ve never met the guitarist in person. – Tom Bradfield.
A similar musical experience was realized by grindcore artists, ‘Malodorous’, who compose in remote geographical locations for a ‘web-based’ collaboration. Sita Popat argues the Internet as an enabling factor for opportunities in remote interaction and collaboration “on a scale never before imaginable”. She explains that the possibility to communicate and transfer media “simply, quickly and relatively cheaply between people around the globe.” She also believes that the Internet provides a uniquely asynchronous collaborative process can potentially work in favour of creativity. “This process promotes ‘reflective’ communications and the considered response. It does not rush the communication into a reaction, and as such it allows time for crossing that proscenium thoughtfully.”
Overell’s writing, although partly focused on affective space, does not mention the Internet as a space in itself, although focuses exclusively on grindcore as a ‘live’ tradition. She discusses the benefits of long distance communication for organisation of international events, “Via email, Sensei nominated suitable dates and Joel organized gigs at Melbourne venues.” Rene describes the ‘culture of simulation’ to what Arturo Escobar calls ‘cyberculture’. Rene goes on to describe that, “although the Internet may be rooted in familiar terrain, it still holds the promise of new cultural narratives and social formations.” The Internet has proven to be as much of a social phenomenon, if not more than grindcore music itself. Popat quotes Dix et al, “[The Internet] is much more a social phenomenon than anything else, with users attracted to the idea that computers are now boxes that connect them with interesting people and exciting places to go, rather than soulless cases that deny social contact”.
This implies that our methods of communication and interaction are transient, and as a consequence, musical output evolves accordingly to its situation. I have argued that ‘extreme metal’, for aforementioned political and economical reasons, has particularly settled in an online environment for what Overell might call ‘brutal belonging’, within an affective space. Despite the more traditional ‘live’ setting for grindcore music, Tom Bradfield agrees that, “for most underground bands, the majority of fans they make online will dwarf the number of total number of people that ever see them play live.”
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Coming from the fusion of d-beat crust, hard rock and melodic heavy metal, Martyrdöd demonstrate a greater ability to write songs than your average underground band, both through musical knowledge and the instinct to know how to complete a song convincingly. The problem that appears out of the chaos is that these are basically all the same song since the band has such a broad approach that making it successful requires narrowing the eventual product.
Songs start over the high-speed Disfear-style modified d-beat that is played more rigidly than its original UK inspiration and so fosters a healthy environment for driving music, which Elddop offers in mixed metal and bluesy hard rock riffs for verses and At the Gates style melodic twists and turns for choruses. Over this the vocalist approximates a decent black metal vocal with varied emphasis except at the end of each phrase where he reverts to hardcore phrasing to emphasize the rhythmic hook. It is not unpleasant to listen to, and thanks to the superior musical abilities of these players is in fact a bit of fun, but it lacks anything to make a listener pick this album up again. Martyrdöd does not nail a certain feeling, a moment, an experience or an idea but rather makes sonic wallpaper of the intersection of ideas in a single experience of vague resistance but basically a desire for some hard rock riffs in a new form.
Naturally this opinion will be controversial because it is hard to argue with the better musical knowledge on this album. But in art, as in music, technical knowledge is a means to an end, and when it becomes an end in itself, it eclipses the purpose of art which is to communicate a profound realization in an aesthetically pleasing way. Elddop nails aesthetically pleasing, but by doing so in the empty aggregate intersection of many styles, creates merely a high-tech form of elevator music with crust and metal flavoring.
Yesterday’s post on Romanticism reminded me of how long the Death Metal Underground has been making the comparison between Romanticism and heavy metal. The Heavy Metal FAQ has mentioned this association since its formulation in the early 1990s, but before that, it was written on the early versions of this website.
We continue to write about it because the linkage is and always has been inevitable, although it is clearest from literature — such as Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Blake and John Milton — that the metaphorical comparison can be made. On a subtler level, one can find connections between Romantic imagery in every generation of classical music, including the “Romantic era” which produced Franz Berwald, Niccolo Paganini and Franz Schubert in addition to the oft-mentioned Beethoven.
But “beneath all the grim vibes of Black Metal,” Hunt-Hendrix insists, “there’s this kind of spiritual ecstasy.” The tremolo picking creates the effect of “a string orchestra.” The great “unacknowledged influence” of the genre? Nineteenth century Romanticism.
…Byron, as did many other Romantics, courted what scholars have since come to refer to as “Satanic aesthetics,” a rebellious and sinister dandyism that manifested not only in their artistic creations but also in their personalities. Romantic violinist Niccolo Paganini–whose successor Franz Lizst maintained an “unbelievable” yet strictly heterosexual “passion” for fellow-heartthrob Byron—was rumored to have perfected his musical technique while imprisoned for the murder of his mistress, a skein of whose intestine had been repurposed as his G-string. The bejeweled and frequently open-shirted Bryon was the pointed inspiration for Lord Ruthven in John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819), whose “Byronic look” was marked by “the curl of the upper lip, and the scowl of the brow.”
Black Metal, of course, has a penchant for Satanic aesthetics as well. In the hooded, sword-wielding visage of Rob Darken of Poland’s National-Socialist-leaning Graveland we see a medieval specter worthy of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), or one that might have been conceived during the famous 1816 idyll of Byron, Polidori, and the Shelleys on Lake Geneva, which ultimately yielded Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.
Much of the resistance to this idea comes from metalheads who wish to believe that their genre is sui generis, a term popular among hipsters used to mean “unique” in the sense of a style of yarn-bombing that no one else in Williamsburg thought of, and having the genre related to Romanticism diminishes its uniqueness. Others fear entryism if metal is associated with any other movement, hence the high hostility of metal to politics and organized religion entering its ranks (in addition to generalized hostility to feel-good illusions, of which organized religion is often considered one). Still others rage at the thought of heavy metal having anything “artistic” to it, and yet another group opposes this idea because it wants to find sociological (i.e. unconscious to the participants) motivations behind metal, not artistic ones which show some degree of alertness by the participants.
Among those who do investigate the link between Romanticism and metal, many look into the German writers. After all, DRI named an album after a Herman Hesse novel, and the term “heavy metal” was partially popularized by a band who took their name from another one of his works. Alistair McCartney, in The End of the World Book, writes about the connection between death metal and Romanticism:
Back in the late 20th century, specifically in the decades that have come to be known as the 1980s and 1990s, it seemed that every other day, teenage boys, tired of the sturm und drang of adolescence and inspired by the death-positive lyrics of so-called death-metal bands, were taking their own lives in very violent ways, which, according to sociologists, was typical of young men: a gun in the mouth and a car over a cliff were the preferred modes of suicide.
We can see these young North American men who were infatuated with death as direct descendants of the young European men, who, in the late eighteenth century, read Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, which ends with the lovesick hero with the supremely heavy heart taking his own life. Upon its publication in 1774, the book inspired two crazes on the continent: one for wearing blue coats, just like the coat the moody Werther wears; and one for suicide.
In this sense, although the first death-metal album did not technically appear on the horizon until 1985, with the release of Seven Churches by the band Possessed, this genre or subdivision of heavy metal was already getting slowly underway in 1772 when the then twenty-three-year-old Goethe, in residency at the Court at Wetzlar and fresh from a failed love affair, began writing the book to ease his own heavy heart.
…Historians argue that death metal’s popularity peaked in 1994. Similarly, not quite as many fans of death metal are taking their own lives — historians argue that this trend also peaked in 1994.
However, it seems the connection between Romanticism and metal is gaining momentum in the mainstream discourse. The bigger question is where we go from this point of realization. Romanticism was itself a reaction to the Enlightenment, and German Idealism a reaction to the reaction. History seems to be dancing around some idea it cannot quite get a handle on, and balances this with eternal sentiments like those of the Romantics: ideas that appear wherever society is “too much with us” and the individual is squeezed out by judgment of the herd.
Romanticism defined resistance to social pressures in the post-Enlightenment world, but also caved to the pressure to accept the fundamental ideals of that earlier era.
Where the Enlightenment placed emphasis on individual choice and emotion, so did the Romantics, although they tempered this with a strong attachment to ancient values and the ruined forms of a prior world. It had a number of salient attributes:
A revolt against accepted form: democratization of subject and language, a less formal poetic voice, and a new range of subjects such as the supernatural and “the far away and the long ago” adopted by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats and others; the visionary mode of poetry adopted by William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Blake; and the use of metaphysical symbolism.
Focus on the poet’s or writer’s own feelings instead of a universal emotion shared among all humanity. This emphasized spontaneity, meditative stillness, and a sense of discovery through intuition. Imagination was seen as more important than fact.
External nature (landscape, plants, animals) became a persistent subject.
Often written with the poet or writer as protagonist.
A sense of progress, or of limitless good achievable by use of the imagination, instead of reliance upon past methods. — (M.H. Abrams, “Neoclassic and Romantic” in A Glossary of Literary Terms, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Orlando, FL 1993, pp. 125-129.)
While it was an affirmation of the individualism of the Enlightenment, it also rebelled against the group-think thus created, and emphasized the thoughts of the exceptional individual — personified in the writer — over the “universal emotion shared among all humanity.” This template provided the basis for any number of tropes among pop culture including the “rock star” himself, who is assumed to have messianic powers of insight which he conveys through the ritual of the concert.
Metal began with a mixed heritage arising from rock and soundtrack music. Among the rock influences were The Doors, Jethro Tull and King Crimson, all of whom emphasized apocalyptic themes beginning in a crisis of direction in the human individual. These dystopian rockers showed us that under the progress of technology and advancement of society lurked a dark undercurrent, which was our lack of faith in our own future. Since the future is determined by the present, they looked to sources of doubt and fear in humanity. Metal carried this onward in a mythological H.P. Lovecraft inspired form.
This caused a clash with Enlightenment values. What are those? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides a handy summation of the values of the Enlightenment:
In his famous definition of “enlightenment” in his essay “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (1784), which is his contribution to this debate, Immanuel Kant expresses many of the tendencies shared among Enlightenment philosophies of divergent doctrines. Kant defines “enlightenment” as humankind’s release from its self-incurred immaturity; “immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another.” Enlightenment is the process of undertaking to think for oneself, to employ and rely on one’s own intellectual capacities in determining what to believe and how to act. Enlightenment philosophers from across the geographical and temporal spectrum tend to have a great deal of confidence in humanity’s intellectual powers, both to achieve systematic knowledge of nature and to serve as an authoritative guide in practical life. This confidence is generally paired with suspicion or hostility toward other forms or carriers of authority (such as tradition, superstition, prejudice, myth and miracles), insofar as these are seen to compete with the authority of reason.
Metal brought a counter-Enlightenment mythos, as did much of the Romantics including writers like Mary Shelley and William Wordsworth: people are delusional and tend to prefer happy realities, and so they are not “guiding themselves” so much as choosing illusions that deny the fundamental nature of life as conflict. In the metal universe, conflict is a good thing as it leads to the rise of the stronger above the rest, and thus improves the quality of what is there. From Black Sabbath to Slayer and beyond, metal has criticized the happy hippie “love” mythos and replaced it with one where, in contrast to the Enlightenment, individual judgment does not reign supreme but instead misleads.
Death Metal Underground has advocated the belief that metal is a Romantic art form for over two decades now. In our prior incarnation as other web sites, FTP sites and even g-files during the bulletin board days, we emphasized the Romantic nature of this music as an explanation for its occultism, warlike outlook and amoral or nihilistic worldview. Now it seems that metal journalism has caught up with this idea somewhat, as an article on urban metal site Invisible Oranges mentions it:
Beethoven’s music was less a road map through musical theory and more a guide to the very center of the human psyche. And history has rewarded his efforts; the name Beethoven is now known to a significant portion of the world’s population. His music was still recognizably Classical, but it introduced a host of new compositional techniques that shook the entire creative world.
And you know what? The same thing is happening to metal. Right now. And it’s not just a single band or album that’s leading the charge, either; Deafheaven, and Ihsahn, as well as less prominent artists like Aquilus, have also become what I’ll affectionately call “musically uninhibited.”
Other than the premise of this article being badly flawed, which is that anything “new” equals Romantic, and that recycling burned-out 1990s rock tropes through black metal and death metal is somehow “new,” it leads us to question the nature of the Romantic in metal. Metal displays many attributes of Romantic thinking but, like Mary Shelley or later Romantic Gothic writers including those in the Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft traditions, also displays skepticism about the “Enlightened” future. Specifically, it knows most people are purposeless and weak, that most “truths” are lies, and that society covers up its inner core of decay and desire for conflict. That’s perhaps the most useful way to frame this question, instead of “does nu-indie constitute a Romantic revolution in metal?”