Sadistic Metal Reviews 8-2-09

On May 21, 2008, a man got into a bus in Seattle, Washington. Upon seeing the blind woman sitting up front, he shouted “The sick must die,” and began pounding her at full force. Before being restrained by bystanders, he made a powerful statement that shocked all who saw it. Here at Sadistic Metal Reviews, we apply his logic to bad metal. 99.9% of everything in this world is shit, metal included. Our job is to beat, rape, slash, punch, pummel, gut, pound and rip into the bad metal, and tip our hats to the good metal. Because if you love metal… you want the best to prevail! Help us kill the sick with this week’s update.

The Bakerton Group – El Rojo

This album really nails what Phish wanted to be all those years ago. Instead of going into the easy Grateful Dead retro jams, this band sums up the 1960s and 1970s by making a funkier version of King Crimson and the Doors, without vocals, so the open jams can expand like a jazz album — and in doing so, they’ve created a work of intense but thoughtful semi-improvised music that is what the brainier rock listeners have been seeking all these years. It’s easier jazz fusion with more structure, or instrumental rock with a soul. Songs start with basic riffs that expand as guitar and then organ takes the lead, finally culminating in a fusion of lead and rhythm guitar not like what Satriani was trying to do, but with more of an influence from the rich and yet offbeat sounds of the late 1960s. It’s not quite prog but it takes many of the best elements of prog, like the lacing of King Crimson style aggro riffing that pulls it back from the happy void, and puts them into a format that lures you in before you realize you’ve left the vocals behind and in doing so, gained a more flexible, varied and nuanced style of music. This is my pick of this review batch.

Israthoum – Monument of Brimstone

Although this band is listed as being from the Netherlands, they are Portguese in origin and sound like a cross between Primigenium and Gehenna. The second-wave black metal sound dominates this record, with cleanly picked chords and notes using updated versions of Darkthrone rhythms under vocals that owe their rhythms and pacing to the slicker versions of At the Gates-inspired death metal that came out in the late 1990s. Musically, Monument of Brimstone competes with the best of its generation, building its songs from basic riffs that through variations harmonize and rise to a peak of intensity. Even though there are newer touches on here like clean vocals and precision, the pacing of each song and their indulgence in a lush atmosphere of melody reveals the heritage of this band among the ideals of the past. In keeping with its style, this music is simple sometimes to the point of being simple-minded, but much of that perception lies in the refusal of the band to dress up simple songs in all sorts of tech wiz trickery that goes nowhere (metalcore, I’m looking at you). This disc may never approach the all-seeing personality of a Beherit, but stands neck-to-neck with the new Profanatica.

Goes Cube – Another Day Has Passed

Imagine crossing Corrosion of Conformity’s “Animosity” with Soundgarden and assorted punk bands, and you get this mixture of rock, metal riffs and newer generation punk aesthetics. Most sounds are founded in the sludgy crossover riffs and bounding, energetic choruses of later COC, but clean-voiced punk and alternative style bittersweet verses really accelerate these songs, giving them sweet pop hooks while backing that up with some surging guitar. This band is more musical than most, having a better sense of harmony and order, but that can’t save them from the lack of direction their basic style endorses. Clean/dirty dualism benefits Linkin Park, but Goes Cube clearly have higher ambitions. My advice is just to make a harmonically-interesting version of later COC and ditch the alt-rock pretensions; that crowd isn’t going to like anything with a metal riff, anyway.

Carpticon – Master Morality

Of all the attributes required to have a killer album, this CD exhibits 95% of them but doesn’t make it on the final 5%. That final bit is the most important: the science of writing melody and putting together melodies to make a song that resembles an attitude toward reality. Everything else is perfect: production, appropriation from Marduk and Antaeus of their strengths in riffing and rhythm, guitar sound, vocals. This album is like a finely made Swiss watch, with perfect appearance and beautiful shiny gears, but it’s always five minutes off. We want to like it but when it turns off we forget it was on, and never somehow manage to reach for it again. Oof.

Asphyx – Death… The Brutal Way

Metal bands coming back from the dead (the old school, swallowed up by the demand of metalcore fans for digestible products) either try to re-state the past, as our Editor kontinual is fond of saying, or they try to pick up where they left off, either trying to “modernize” their sound or develop their old sound. Asphyx go right down the middle. This is a poppier, more bombastic, simpler verse/chorus version of the sound on their self-titled album, and makes nods to some of the song constructions (epic breaks, staggered processionals) from their earlier works. It’s halfway to the Hail of Bullets sound without the metalcore-styled insistence on constant high intensity and chaotic style, and halfway to older Asphyx, but although it is simplified it is nonetheless powerful. If you can imagine The Rack, Asphyx and On the Wings of Infero hybridized with Hail of Bullets or the new Seance, you have the basic idea. Interestingly, at these mid-tempo speeds and simpler arrangements, the punk roots of Asphyx show through, but their punk is also old school, specifically old school hardcore. They break out enough doom metal riffs and slamming death metal riffs to be satisfying, but the ethereal cloudless sky traveling tremolo speed riffs are gone, as are the more involved theatrical constructions that mimicked the topics of song and actually sounded like a march to an altar of doom, or an unhonoured funeral. As a result, I can wholeheartedly recommend this album with the caveat that it’s an A+ take on Asphyx “lite” and as such, a B+ version of older Asphyx that loses some of the great subtlety and grandeur the old school had.

Virus – The Black Flux

It’s really easy to fool metal fans. Just tell them something is unique, and point out what it does that “most metal” doesn’t, and they’ll buy it like labradors eyeing a hot dog. This is goofy, pseudo-gothic rock with semi-technical playing, but shows no distinction in melody or rhythm; in short, it’d be thrown out if it tried to compete in its genre. But you get a bunch of underconfident metalheads looking for mainstream affirmation, and apparently, they buy it, although they will only enjoy it for two weeks of telling other people they “just don’t get it” due (the implication goes) to their inferior mentation. How tiresome. It’s like Opeth but even less distinguished from normal rock music. Fail.

United Nations – United Nations

When nu-metal died, it went straight into alternative rock and picked up that post-Descendents clean-voice punk sound. United Nations start with really gentle punk songs and then put in raging, distorted-vocals choruses, and pick up the pace with adept jazz/metal drumming. The ensuing lack of direction means the band sounds like a punk band that runs into hard times and confusion every thirty seconds, and as a result, the band fails to strengthen either their punk side or their more rock ‘n’ roll side, leaving us the listeners stranded in a middle ground that is quite honestly really simply annoying on an aesthetic level. While musicianship is at a higher level than average, it is also not particularly directed, and so ends up being just very competent guitar playing. I’ll take the punk with spirit and incompetence instead.

Fatal – Retrospective from Hell

Like that kid in the back of your sophomore year English class, Fatal create a true retrospective from Hell by throwing too much into their music all at once. I can appreciate bits of it but I hope I never have to listen to it again (it’s how al-Qaeda will torture me, no doubt). These songs rush at you with vocals and guitar rhythm synchronized, or restate their themes too apparently and too repetitively, hoping the speed will rocket you past the repetition. Lead guitar is surprisingly versatile, sounding like a cross between Thanatopsis and Gorefest. Often times this band sounds like a young Brutal Truth, and indeed one of its more interesting factors is how much it gets away from the heavy metal queso that blights most early death metal attempts, and there’s a clearly interesting convergence of cultural influences from the different metal subgenres here but it’s unclear whether any direction it produces can communicate something eternal, or even something I’d like to hear again. Essentially, this band is a heavy metal band that has disguised itself in death metal camouflage. If you’re one of those fucking idiots who think death metal only got good when it started resembling the rock music it painfully broke away from, you might think this is “progress,” but to the rest of us, it’s a staggering cliche sliding out from a husk of real metal.

Don the Reader – Humanesque

This is off the shelf metalcore. Percussion section is better than average, and there’s a slight Pantera influence that leads to some Southern fried sound bends added to otherwise rigidly square-cut material. The problem this band faces is that it is flamingly obvious. You can pretty much guess not only where every song is going to go, but also, the riffs are just extremely obvious variations on known patterns. If these guys know what’s good for them, they’ll just become a doom metal version of Pantera. We all know metalcore has entered its twilight days, so why not buck the trend and jump the curve?

Creepmime – Chiaroscuro

Every artist has “go to” albums when they run out of ideas, and many of them are obscure works that were full of ideas but for some reason never found an audience. For technical metal, Chiaroscuro must be a go-to for many others, because this band wrote the book on this style far before it became popular. Creepmime on this CD inevitably compare to later Obliveon, Cynic, Voivod, Supuration and Samael: this is technical music using jazzy drumming, indie rock minor-key progressions, death metal lead rhythm riffing and periodically, technical heavy metal flair. It is far better than the second Cynic album because each song here is centered around exploring and expressing an idea, so they remain distinct in our minds. Like Voivod, an infectious rhythm guides us between open chords or sweep-picked fills, with dissonant and inverted chording guiding us through a bouncy but linearly-directed rhythm. Tempi shift not abruptly but sensibly, like undertow tucked into a wave. While each song uses varied basslines, techniques, and multiple riffs, they hold together because Creepmime know how to keep the focus on content. While this early experiment in “modern metal” never caught on, it kept the faith of older metal in the newer style better than anyone save perhaps Demigod, and if re-released today would find its audience finally grew into it.

Mictlantecuhtli – Warriors of the Black Sun

This melodic death metal band writes from the perspective of ancient Amerindian warriors, and while using a modern style, convey that spirit through high-intensity music that makes good use of the template bands like Unanimated, Dissection and Intestine Baalism created to immerse us in a mood of thoughtful, aggressive, and serious engagement with the world. Not without personality, Mictlatecuhtli carefully weave the punchy motivational riffing of later Sepultura into this format, giving it a compelling forward direction. While there’s nothing here that will surprise a metal fan, this release stays closer to the heart of the motivation behind this type of metal music than any recent release. At the very least, there’s no excuse for your Dark Tranquility, In Flames, and Amon Amarth CDs when the real deal comes to you from Mictlantecuhtli.

Solstafir – Köld

Remember when it was really hip and trendy to use the word “shambolic” a year or so ago? Metal has its trends to as people look for some direction that’s proven to “work,” or get them on the bestseller list. Solstafir stumble in with last year’s trend, which is to mix a whole lot of shoegaze into your metal. However, the band make one salient and brilliant decision, which is to keep the pace fast and thus not aggressive as much as energetic and seemingly important. Yet chord progressions and general sensibility tell another tale, as do the production and “why, God, why” vocals. The problem is that metal is so distinctive and clear in its motivations, like a headstrong style, that mixing it with just about anything results in that anything “with a few metal riffs.” That’s about what it sounds like here. Unfortunately, they do so without any real grace, using well-known chord progressions and rhythmic changes in atmospheric songs that hold together mainly because of the rote pounding of that atmosphere. This will not satisfy metal fans, but people accustomed to shoegaze might find it an interesting deviation of aesthetic.

Divine Heresy – Bringer of Plagues

Modern death metal is a lot like the modern time: throw everything into a bowl, pour dressing over it, and call the resulting salad “distinct” even though it has made itself as generic as possible. With too many different tastes, you end up with a background hum of all the same intensity. This CD is no exception, with metalcore composition and generally melodic technical death metal riffing, but vocal chanting like a combination between Pantera and Biohazard; then, each song must break into clean vocals that are a combination between the cheesiest moments of (new) Metallica and something like Coldplay. It tries to be emotional, but since there’s no direction and every different ingredient in its salad is turned up to 11, you end up with a wash of different stuff that never forms into a shape or takes a stand. You could compare it to a sitcom: the story (songwriting) is the background, but you need a different scene or distraction every two minutes so the audience can keep laughing even though they’re only watching with one eye. I think this CD like so many modern metal ones is designed to be heard with half an ear, with the TV and GAIM going in the background, maybe while eating something really sticky. Flee.

Negura Bunget – Maiastru Sfetnic

When people talk about how black metal has been “band of the month” since 1994, this album comes to mind because it was massively feted, and then fell off the radar. In it we can see why most second-wave black metal failed, which is that these bands try to mix so many different styles into one they end up with an ambiguous voice, in addition to by emulating the past having nothing to do but recombine older elements, which further dilutes any idea for a song they might have had. Songs should be like poetry; based on a feeling, or about an experience, they are there to convey the change in mood that made that experience memorable. This album conveys the experience of flipping through a catalog of metal CDs, and hearing samples of random parts of each, which are then tied together into a dramatic black metal style that has so little contrast it’s like going through Disney’s “The Haunted Mansion” at 60 mph, repeatedly. Dangerous because it’s so close to good, at least if you listen to a minute at a time, this album goes nowhere ultimately and so leaves us feeling like we’ve just eaten 3,000 calories of junk food — like a steak, but less satisfying. There’s a good reason this was popular: they can play their instruments, and the production is good if primitive. But there’s an equally good reason we so quickly forgot it.

Ajattara – Noitumaa

This all-acoustic album resembles the attempts of other black metal bands to rediscover a folk-ish sound, like Wardruna and Lord Wind, by leaving behind the rock instrumentation and focusing on writing melodies like those in the indigenous cultural songs of their youths. Interestingly, their refusal to ditch the black metal vocals makes them stand out further as harsh and unyielding, and slices a vicious element deep into this music, which is about as far from the blues-folk of radio indie that you can get. These are simple songs with savage rhythms and complex emotions. While song structures are cyclic and so wear down the listener after some time, and many of the riffs here sound like they were originally composed for distorted guitar, the acoustic guitar offers dynamics unavailable to black metal and this enables this band to immerse themselves in a musical subtlety that gives these songs depth. By far better than this band’s black metal releases, this album of occult, pagan, primitive campfire songs is worth hearing.

Weapon – Drakonian Paradigm

The first track, “Weapon,” uses an introductory riff/solo pair that resembles the first track on Unanimated’s In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead album, a minor-key bluesy sound; the rest of the album does not improve on this: Weapon are trying to merge heavy metal and war metal and as a result have made a kind of pop music that might be interesting if it’s your first metal album. This album is musically well-executed, but that’s only a means of tying together its parts, not make them express anything. And express nothing they do, except that sense of “you’re listening to some kind of metal” that comes with simple beats, solos so fast they sound like eunuchs on speed mumbling, and raspy vocals. Every single song here uses well-known patterns with no new interpretation. It panders to the audience by delivering what they expect, in sloppy underground fashion aping a version of the same mainstream heavy metal most of us hide from if given a chance. The problem is that it’s boring. It’s basically 1970s heavy metal, kind of sloppy like Venom, with bouncy rhythms. If I wanted to listen to pop music disguised as the avantgarde, I’d just hook up with some DEERHOOF and tight jeans. This is everything I hate about heavy metal: an insular culture that rewards repetitive pointless music so they can have an identity, clustered in products like jean jackets and CDs, that has nothing to do with experiencing life — but rather, hiding from it.

Monstrosity – Spiritual Apocalypse

Take the faster parts from earlier Cannibal Corpse, put bluesy solos on half of them, and have them rush into foreboding riffs like Immolation makes, complete with the pinch harmonics and harmonizing that gives that band its dark sound. Toss in a few bouncy heavy metal riffs. The real problem with this CD is that songs don’t fit into songs. They are cyclic riff pairs joined by the aforementioned dark rushing riffs. The intensity of percussion and speed confuses the direction of songs as well by compressing their dynamics and limiting their vocabulary of tempos, so riffs sound similar by the sheer basis of rushing by so quickly. Some of the riff writing and melodic work on this is fantastic, reminiscent of early Brutality, but the “modern death metal” tendency to shift randomly between riffs and styles creates a headache in the making, which is why old schoolers are probably going to avoid this thing. The album is catchy and hookish but the sensation is dulled as it pounds its way into your head. The individual riffs, rhythms and transitions are of quality, but they are assembled without subtlety, making this hard to listen to for long.

Satyricon – Now, Diabolical

This CD reminds me of Coroner’s “Grin” meeting later Samael. The beats are groovy, with a strong disco influence that extends to song structure, and riffs are pleasantly arranged around harmonic structures of a basic nature, making it really easy to listen to, but hard to really immerse yourself in, because it’s basically no different than alternative metal like later Prong or Filter. Unlike early Satyricon, which tried long melodies it couldn’t quite pull off, this album rushes headfirst into rock and, like early Danzig albums, delivers a pleasant listening experience, even if not one memorable enough to reach for time after time.

Massacre – The Second Coming

Huge for a moment in the 1990s because they inherited Death’s rhythm section and lead rhythm guitarist, Massacre somehow dropped off the radar with The Promise, a CD so bad it defies description. Now they’ve released this tribute to their early years with a demo of an album from before their post-death lineup. It’s in a different style that can be best described as a fusion of technical speed metal (Dark Angel) and old school death metal like Master or Nunslaughter, which results in a periodically very musical work that nonetheless plods ahead with heavy repetition and little harmony. The sense of this music being unformed, like most death metal from the 1980s, is palpable; there are bits of heavy metal, speed metal, punk and nascent death metal in a kind of salad that makes no sense, like a journey through radically different terrain. Interestingly, it sounds a lot like the Mantas demos from the early 1980s, which also had Kam Lee on them. Which way did the influence flow? We will probably never know. It is also worth mentioning that after they recorded this, they stored it underwater near a radio transmitter, so the sound quality is slightly worse than the average demo. Songwriting shows promise but is not mature. In contrast, the live recording of “From Beyond” seems otherwordly good. If I could send a wish into the universe, it’s that Kam Lee re-records/re-constructs this album with musicians more versed in early 1990s death metal.

Vorum – Grim Death Awaits

Mix old Seance with the Funeral Mist style of forward-grinding death metal, and you get Vorum: almost a tribute to Grave-cum-Florida-DM, but rapidly degenerating into heavy metal cliches. The problem with bands of this level is that they don’t understand that turning everything up to 11 sounds really cool but gets completely uniform after awhile, as does the inability to make a melody longer than three notes, because it condemns them to repeating known riff patterns at top speed. All of this is thoroughly competent, mind you, but it’s what Michael Crichton called “thin intelligence”: a large amount of ability, but thinking limited to that ability, and so no ability to get the bigger picture and make art of it. Spare me.

Mgla – Presence

Black metal “standards” since 1994 have plummeted like a rock, which is why year to year, people mention different favorite bands. It’s as if memory has been erased in information overload. Mgla have studied the canon of black metal carefully, and then, have made the same boring rock music you can find in a million other forms — but it’s dressed up as black metal. For starters, they have no conception of how black metal melodies are written, but they know how to use different chord shapes for that “black metal effect”! Next, there’s zero ability to comprehend black metal dynamics. This CD is like a cage of monkeys constantly shouting for attention. There is no lead-up, no building, no suspense and no contrast — just constant shrieking and Burzum technique wrapped around melodies and happy offbeat riffs that would be apt for a Coldplay album. Burn this farce.

Kroda – Towards the Firmaments Verge of Life

These guys produce their vocals like Summoning, and their guitar distortion like the band down the street. Who convinced them this cheap, hollow digital sound would go anywhere? Their songwriting is great except for two factors: (1) a dependency on verse chorus and every third iteration, an interruption with an interlude or non-harmonic bridge; (2) the melodies they write are both happy and simple, like pop with ancient overtones. It’s not bad but it’s somewhat irritating and not a resonant keeper, although it’s fair to mention this band is more interesting than 98% of what comes over my desk. I hope they fix the production, write in varying modes, and fit song structure to the form of its content, and then they’ll be rocking.

Abaroth – The Mountain Gate

So many people grasp so much of black metal but not the ability to use it expressively. This excessively rhythmically chant-aligned album shows a good working knowledge of the black metal aesthetic — and songs that go nowhere. They start, enter us into a cycle of two riffs, interrupt the cycle and return and then end, seemingly abruptly, without much having changed. They are like summer electrical storms from a distance in that there’s a bunch of flickering and frenetic activity, and then everything is just as it was. It’s hard to summon the courage to down releases like this, and there are many, because there’s nothing “wrong” with them — but there’s also nothing so right you’d want to pull it off the shelf and listen to it, and the core of that “tl;dr” impulse is that they don’t express anything unique. They’re variations on the known, and even if they’re more competent there’s nothing to make you want to return to them.

Militia – The Sybling

Someone mentioned this as a classic of great rarity. It may be rare — but it should be rarer. Did you want 1980s style power metal, with disconnected vocals floating above some standard riffs spewed from downtuned guitars? Yeah, it’s about like that. The result is dischordant and not particularly memorable, although I’m certain it’s rare. Hopefully they’ll box up the remaining copies and exile them to Skull Island so no one has to hear this. It’s NWOBHM with speed metal riffs and none of the grace.

Isis – Wavering Radiant

The hardest part about modern society is keeping a straight face. Someone will hand you something misbegotten, tell you it’s good and that many people really dig it. Your job is then to keep from laughing or crying until you’re out of the room. Isis sounds to me like Jawbreaker’s Bivouac — lots of different stuff going on, but none of it develops on the other stuff; it’s all just a sampler plate, and it relishes the “differentness” of its parts as proof that it has great breadth and thus universal wisdom — as done by an indie rock band or shoegaze allstar. I guess that’s what floors me most: how little “different” is going on here, and how much of well-camouflaged “same” is present. There are periodic indie metal riffs, meaning they’re not twisty phrases of interest like death metal but a lot of strumming with sudden breaks. But it’s different, you see, because it’s all mixed together, and even though everything else is made of mixed-together stuff, this mix is different. The clean singing reminds me of Christian rock bands. The melodies are jazzy pop but stay localized in different parts of each song, making the whole thing an incoherent salad of bits that try so hard to be like a style that they end up being stylish but having no distinct voice of their own. This album is truly the triumph in metal of insincere people — call them poseurs, scenesters, hipsters or consumers if you’d like — who can only see surface appearance because they fear what lurks beneath, so they specialize in making the same old stuff but accessorizing it as something cosmic and groundbreaking. Apparently this is popular and I should not laugh at it.

Mayhem – Ordo ad Chao

For some reason this reminds me of Portal or Molested: a lush texture of harmony, in which variances drop out some sounds and augment others, like a pure harmonic tuner of mood. This de-emphasizes rhythm, although there’s plenty of rhythm work present, but usually to work the song up to that state of harmonic wall of noise. I think it’s a response to Burzum’s rhythmic sweep-picking technique. Either way, it is a really interesting sound that approximates some of the odd chord shapes and thus non-standard harmony to semi-standard progressions that defined Thorns; it gives this music a depth and mystery that no previous Mayhem album has had. In fact, this is the best thing they’ve done since De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, although artistically it’s probably only about a quarter as powerful as that album. Its Achilles heel is that repetition of technique and similar rhythms makes the songs indistinguishable from each other and ruins the dramatic effect of contrast. Like many black metal releases post-1994, I don’t mind this but feel no reason to take it off the shelf and listen to it.

Impiety – Terroreign

The trends come and go. One year it’s Velvet Caccoon, the next Cemetary, and then everyone wants to get back to their roots so the trend is the anti-trend. Impiety tuned in to the anti-trend by going back to Grave, Repulsion and other really simple versions of the death metal paradigm. They do OK at this because they are able to write really compelling rhythms. Unfortunately, no melody or sense of structure emerges from that, so these are very box-cut songs with rather predictable progressions. The band themselves seem to know this, and kill as much time as possible with guitar squeals, noise, and stop/start rhythmic passages designed to make us think something exciting is going to happen. It doesn’t.

There you have it — another set of reviews that accurately reflects like: 90% of it sucks, 9% is OK, and 1% is what you really live for. It’s the same with metal. Unlike other review sites, we can’t be bought and won’t write a lie in a review, so you get the pure skinny on what sucks and the occasional floater that rises above the dense, shadowy turds that lurk in the murky shallow pool of metal. If you go out there and buy only the best, the weak will starve and metal will be stronger, which is why we write sadistic metal reviews.

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Iconoclasm Sweeps Norvegia: Impressions of Norwegian Death Metal

1. Introduction
2. Pure Fucking Metal: The 80′s Underground
3. Vomit: Still Rotting CD
4. Mayhem: Deathcrush MLP
5. Cadaver: Hallucinating Anxiety LP
6. Darkthrone: Soulside Journey LP
7. Mortem: Slow Death EP
8. Old Funeral: The Older Ones CD
9. Thou Shalt Suffer: Into The Woods Of Belial CD
10. Arcturus: My Angel EP
11. Thyabhorrent: Death Rides At Dawn EP
12. Generalization: A Statement Of The End

Written by Devamitra with Fenriz (Darkthrone), Anders (Cadaver) and Manheim (Mayhem)

Introduction

 

I have had this Vision
of a voyage in mind and soul
Through silent Somniferous scenes
within the enclosed chambers of my
untouched spiritual experiences
Soaring through damp air
Seeing faces, twisting, plunging through my colour

– Darkthrone, Soulside Journey

 

From the downbeat plays by Henrik Ibsen to the introverted nightmare paintings of Edvard Munch, the Expressionist era of Norwegian art had a hundred years ago remembered the voices of the dead and listened to the weeping of the living.

Art connoisseurs took note of the summoned ancestors and the frozen shades of the Norse era, that had been united into jagged juxtapositions of a modern life and an industrializing society – a world of pain. As Norway rose in material wealth throughout the 20th century and discovered the dubious ideals of social democracy, the nation was forced to hide their deep embedded pride, honour and dignity into the bottomless domains of subconscious and hidden symbolism. Ghosts of the Nazi occupation haunted and shame caused people to understand moral problems. If grandmothers and grandfathers still had remembered the rites of witchcraft, the oaths spoken to the wallowing mist of the fjords, they were now abandoned to a worldview committed to science, humanism and well-being.

Pure Fucking Metal: The 80’s Underground

Young minds were seething with fury, anxiety and barely contained stellar potency of creation. Norway around them was filled with McDonalds, idiotic TV programs and insipid pop by A-Ha. The generation between 16 and 19 years of age had integrated into their worldview the stylistic tenets of punk, thrash and heavy metal, whose nexuses in the beginning were the heavy capitalist societies of the USA and the UK. The resulting chemistry was to inspire the manifestation of the most evil and brutal sounds possible, in retaliation towards the satiated ideal of “peace” that reeked of old, dying people and blasphemed the Viking ideal of death through battle.

Sweden, always ahead in trends of Western Europe and America, had led the path towards the Scandinavian idea of death metal with the original black metal sorcery of Bathory and followed with a string of demo-level bands (Corpse, Hellfire, Obscurity, Morbid and Sorcery to name some) years before death metal mania exploded. Finland lagged behind with Norway until Xysma and Abhorrence opened the gates of Hell there and death metal bands formed by school pals and neighbours surged from even the quietest suburbs that barely knew about heavy metal, as in Sweden.

Fenriz: There was no scene in Norway. For instance the Swedish punk scene wasn’t only 10 times as strong as Norway in early 80′s… try thirty times bigger! Finland was just a bit better with metal, but much better with punk. So we were like a third world country, and it was Mayhem and the Slayer mag that put us on the map originally in ’84-’88 (more intensely ’85-’87). Then a bunch of us others joined the underground with our bands too.

One without the experience of death metal life without public attention can not dive into the extreme and alienated emotion of a morbid artist who is intent on creating noisy demos with batches of cruel artwork, releasing only tapes or meager 7″ EP’s on mostly rip-off labels and this has to be kept in mind when the eternal “rock star” accusations are levelled towards the same people now. The spiritual impact of what these misfits created in the 80′s was as extreme of a phenomenon, if not more, than to commit crimes known to everyone in the vicinity. They were practically admitting to being insane.

Fenriz: There weren’t any fans. Everyone had own bands and were because of this isolation of course total maniacs. We had to make our own fans here, ha ha. But punks liked us, and we played good show at Blitz, famous Oslo punk house in 1990. Norway was not important, it was only underground work with snail mail that was important to me. That was 90% of my work.

Anders: This was before the Internet and to get a hold of an album like “Reek of Putrefaction” by Carcass meant
you had something truly extreme in your hands. The whole idea of being true and anti-normal came mostly from Euronymous and his developing Black metal philosophy. He had a strong impact on all of us and it was hard to get away from his force so to speak.

Manheim: It felt good, I can tell you that much. People didn’t understand it much. A lot of musicians and friends around us told us that we wasted our talent, and it wasn’t music that the average listener liked. But we didn’t make the music for the masses, we did it for our selves and for the few around the world that liked extreme music. We tried to make something new, and I do think we succeeded on that one.

In musical respect, the kickstart of the scene was from the capital Oslo, a violent clash between the anti-social, minimalist riff of hardcore and the agility exercise of speed metal; these sounds can particularly be heard in the demos of Vomit. Mayhem, also from Oslo, initially represented a similar style of music and Vomit members sometimes filled positions in Mayhem and vice versa, but it was soon to be conjoined with the extreme attitudes belonging to black metal, far before any other band in the world adhered to them. Small town (Kolbotn) thrash kids Gylve Fenris, Ivar and Anders created Black Death, which combined the speed metal of Destruction or Dark Angel with humorous lyrics relating to their daily life and later developed into the extreme entity that is Darkthrone.

Fenriz: 80′s metal scene was nothing in Norway, we made it ourselves, and broke away from all (lack of) standard here. Global underground was everything to us. Norway was not important, but became much better in ’89. Impostor was also a cool band, but had nothing to do with death metal.

Vomit: Still Rotting CD

The hyperactive Vomit was never to get a professional release for their material back in the day; this recent compilation hosts demos and rehearsals and the same line-up also reformed as Kvikksolvguttene in the 90′s to play some old and new songs. This CD contains several demo versions of the same tracks but it’s easy to listen all the way to such basic, catchy and hilarious manifests. Surprisingly sensitive, like a much simpler Slayer, this hyper-organic sequence of thrash aims its nuclear warheads towards society because of the realization that it is malfunctioning. It gives memories of early COC and Cryptic Slaughter, even Minor Threat in its high energy fueled rebellion – just check “Demonoid”‘s violence. The assaulting harsh vocals ranting about the legions from Hell remember Venom.

Musical cues from Kreator and Sodom in tracks such as “Rotting Flesh”, while rudimentary, suggest the evil power of proto death metal — confrontational punk metal in the spirit of Sepultura’s first album: non-produced and immature. When slowing down to groovy and grinding, the chaotic leads and chromatic chord progressions sound like a band from the old Earache catalogue. The primal energy in tracks such as “Armies of Hell” is simply infectious, inspiring to action for the sake of feeling, thrill and power, like this was a middle finger against the city, these kids were hanging out, overturning police cars and breaking windows. Overall it’s much better than today’s retro bands in a similar style.

FenrizVomit was the rawest well played band in mid-80′s, death thrash, completely awesome, as good as “Hell Awaits” or Dark Angel’s “Darkness Descends”.

AndersThe first Mayhem EP “Deathcrush” came out in 1987 and this is by far the most interesting release of the time.

Mayhem: Deathcrush MLP

Mayhem overturned the Norwegian underground with their maniacal proto-black metal, with an air reeking of chainsaw murders, snuff movies and glue sniffing. The barbaric simplicity of the songs defies even the logic of Hellhammer. We are witnessing the birth-gasps of the BM underground here as krautrock’s Conrad Schnitzler’s magniloquent, twisted avantgarde intro leads into an infernal journey through vistas of butchered early black metal. The recipe is mixing together the primal elements of speed metal and punk, then mangling them as unrecognizable traces of rock music that used to be “fun” but now torn to sarcastic pieces in the hands of bestial psychopaths. Any kind of elegance or progression was unknown to these guys. They make up for this bluntness by organizing with raw vitality and a clear purpose for doing it this way as the pieces of the image fit together. While Euronymous’ riffing is primitive-inventive and Manheim’s heavy drumming is perfect for the material, one can hear that the songs are still mostly in the level of demo versions for a band of Mayhem’s stature developing slowly towards their full potential. The impudently vicious lyrical side centered on gore and blasphemy would fare better through the mouth of the next vocalist Dead while on these recordings Messiah (not Marcolin!) stands out as the superior of Maniac of the two featured voices, as his Sodom-influenced pacing lends power to the old demo track “Pure Fucking Armageddon”.

ManheimThe band image and style was something that came quite early. But it wasn’t the reason for the formation of the band. We started the band because we shared the same ambition to make something different and extreme. I’ve tried to explain it on my blog post “Am I evil”. I recommend that you watch the documentaries “Pure Fucking Mayhem” and “Once Upon a Time in Norway”. The main musical influences were of course metal related, in combination with extreme musical genres. Lyrics were inspired by many sources, but were specifically designed to fit the musical soundscape and the aggressive image surrounding the Mayhem concept. The interest for avantgarde music was something Euro and I shared. We also formed a project we called L.E.G.O. where we explored ideas and concepts within noise and experimental music.

FenrizMayhem was unique, but not an inspiration for death metal. Euronymous only liked death metal up to “Scream Bloody Gore”. He was sceptical to Autopsy when I played him the demo in ’89. But we loved and still love Autopsy of course.

Cadaver was the next major band to heed the call to arms, from the small coastal town of Råde nearer to Sweden, playing a version of death metal not too far removed from the bass heavy, electric sound that was already becoming huge in Sweden and not surprisingly, Cadaver was to be the first Norwegian death metal band to release a full-length album on a label, racing past Darkthrone who still continued developing through a serious of demos in death, doom and black metal style incorporating a psychedelic tendency that was unique, Norwegian and unforgettable, actually sounding more like the Munch paintings come to life than loud rock rebels. By this time various other death metal bands were spawned by the soil which had absorbed the blood of the sacrifices to Odin. Like mushrooms bands such as Old Funeral from the pagan and occultist infested Bergen, Thou Shalt Suffer from the sports and music obsessed Telemark countryside and Mortem from “global” Oslo sprung up, all being practicing grounds for a legion of musicians destined to fame and glory in future projects.

Cadaver: Hallucinating Anxiety LP

The viral and persistent Cadaver took the death metal art in Norway to a new level: besides violating the listener with speed, the intricate composition aims to rip through artificial examinations of reality through morbid revelations. This controlled and logical death metal experience is not quite the absolute psychic expressionism of Darkthrone’s masterpiece but musically soars high above the previous releases and most of what was to follow. Quoting Celtic Frost and Morbid Angel for listenability, hardcore influenced beats underpin a consistently brutal and bludgeoning riffwork in Carcass’ minimalist vein, bringing to mind images of an industrial age wasteland. Vocals are harsh, grating commands in the rhythm of Brazilian bands, promising continuity of experience all the way into grim death. While hateful, arrogant and mid-paced, centered around gore and loss of hope, some of the most beautiful tendencies of Scandinavian death metal already arise on this release and are made all the better by incorporating the best of the deconstructivist tendencies from grindcore music. Twisted and narrative in arrangement, the barbarous and thundering old school death metal riffs of Cadaver proceed to explain the magic of reality in their series of devastating conclusions, proving the album a long lasting gem.

AndersWe had a variety of favorite bands that inspired us at the time. Apart from the bands mentioned we were all into Napalm Death, Kreator, Sodom, Slayer, Death, Autopsy, Paradise Lost, Mayhem, Equinox and not forget Voivod. We were a part of the scene and into all the stuff that came out on demos etc. too so it is not right to say we were influenced by just a few bands. We were into hardcore stuff like A.O.D., S.O.D., Carnivore etc. as well as black metal bands. It was a wild mix.

FenrizCadaver was absolutely great in ’88 and ’89, we played with them and saw them live many, many times! Cadaver was the first Norwegian death metal release, we came right after with the 2nd.

Darkthrone: Soulside Journey LP

An album released 20 years ahead of its time, it’s one of those timeless classics that defy description and comparison. Even today it’s impossible to find death metal that sounds quite like it. It somewhat escaped people’s attention back in the day and has existed on the verge of rediscovery with the sporadic bootleg and official releases of the Darkthrone demos but is still not very widely known among the Darkthrone fanbase. Resembling Celtic Frost taken by the hand of a witch doctor through a series of cosmogonic explanations while on an LSD trip, what starts as gnarly and crawling doomdeath becomes an experience from the beyond. The album has very little in the way of the overbearing brutality of Florida death metal or the catchy Slayer-punk riffing of the Swedes, but it is full of parts that stick to mind and make you come back to its sequences of mystical, foreboding and inconclusive themes and landscapes. Some of the resolutions of its parts are almost disgusting in their divergence from habitual speed metal, death and thrash and they wrack the mind. The evil and brooding melodies crawl over your neck like alien insectoids. Nocturno Culto’s vocals already show their depth and power and so do Fenriz’ inimitable lyrics. On this release Fenriz’ unique drumming skills are the most apparent; pure cult in the making. The eerie use of synths heard on this album would undoubtedly have spiced up some of the later Darkthrone material too. This is the birth of “death metal for the intellectual”.

FenrizThere’s only one Celtic Frost riff on “Soulside Journey”! We were inspired by Possessed, Autopsy, Death, Nihilist, Sepultura (“Schizophrenia” album only), Nocturnus (2nd demo), Devastation (Chicago) and such, Black Sabbath too… but most importantly we had a mission statement: all the riffs should be able to slow down and play on a synth as horror movie effects. So we played technical horror death metal with doom elements and also our eternal inspiration, visions of the universe: even our first demo in early ’88 had an outer space painting as cover.

AndersThe Darkthrone debut album has some great songs in it and it blew me away at the time. It sounds very Swedish and if it had the grim sound of lets say Autopsy it could have showed a different path for Norwegian death metal along with us for young bands at the time. Who knows?

Mortem: Slow Death EP

Mortem’s seldom heard EP boasted some of the most catchy riffs of Norway’s early death metal and one of drum legend Hellhammer’s earliest performances on record. Mortem joins the company of Vomit in aiming to produce the death metal experience with hardcore-like simplicity. Tracks such as “Milena” and “Slow Death” are pure headbanging mania, not much else, though the latter also has an interesting modal type of guitar solo. Considering the general sound quality, drums are surprisingly clear and powerful and show Hellhammer’s early skill in arranging rhythm. Such elements and the beautiful intro to “Nightmare” leave one wondering a bit how it would have been if this band had recorded an album. The heavily distorted vocal performance is of a dubious benefit, like an overblown imitation of Maniac’s already annoying screams on “Deathcrush”. However, they lend a chaotic, absurd and insane element to the proceedings of what is rather usual demo level death metal from a young band.

Old Funeral: The Older Ones CD

At times nearly reminiscent of “Soulside Journey” in enwrapping the listener with pure twisted melody riffs, its surprising that this compilation of material from some of the most interesting line-ups (future Immortal, Burzum and Hades members) of death metal is not too much celebrated. It’s easy to already hear traces of the epic ambient guitar that would characterize the members’ later bands – the Wagnerian “My Tyrant Grace” could easily be an early Immortal recording. Old Funeral’s recordings do often fall short of brilliance, songs having good parts but being incomplete. Old Funeral had potential to be a magnificent band but sadly never got a stable enough line-up or enough work and attention to make it happen. At worst (“Lyktemenn”) the material is unorganized and thrashy, emotionally anguished in a selfish way and using half written heavy metal influenced melodies in a despicable way, inconclusively jumping from one phrase to the next – obscure but not visionary or evolving, just a collection of moods. “Into Hades” approximates early doomdeath. “Abduction of Limbs” is inspired by technical US death metal and succeeds in building an evil ambience. “Devoured Carcass” is more obviously Scandinavian in manufacture, akin to the barbarous blasphemies of Treblinka or Beherit as microbic riffs intone trances of darkness in a nightmare of lost souls. Slower funereal passages on the compilation echo traces of ancient Cemetary and Therion. The black thrashing of “Skin and Bone” reminds of Bathory or early Voivod while throwing some sparkling, clever leads into the mix, creating a surprisingly war metal-like high energy plutonium explosion. This ripping and rocking track manages to approximate brilliance. The core simplicity of most of Old Funeral’s material will hinder the pleasure of the elitist metal listener, but much of it remains highly listenable as even the live recordings work surprisingly well.

Thou Shalt Suffer: Into The Woods Of Belial CD

Thou Shalt Suffer was the product of an already long development from band formations such as Dark Device, Xerasia and Embryonic, composed of future music-magicians who would form Emperor, Ildjarn and the Akkerhaugen sound studio. Mostly early 90′s Swedish satanic death metal in style, Thou Shalt Suffer assaulted the listener with disorganized yet compelling demo level death metal noise with submerged, intense and evil soundscape. Seriously brutal in nature, interlocking chromatic riffs in the vein of Incantation or early Amorphis race on, sporadically bursting into uncontrolled grind. Vocals are super-dramatic in Ihsahn’s craziest early style, ranging from humorously weird to total evil and synths repeat a few doomy patterns, foreshadowing Ihsahn’s later neo-symphonic obsessions. The songs are expectedly not quite there and everything sounds unplanned and spontaneous but for pure spirit it can be quite exhilarating to listen to it today. The discordant, fractured and genius stream of melody of the main riffing recalls ideas later developed further in beautiful way while the expert rhythm guitar is able to create the texture of an infernal landscape. Fragmented but compelling, it should go without saying that it has already done more than most of today’s death metal releases. A special award should be presented for the long experimental outro track “Obscurity Supreme”, seething with a truly avantgarde ambition beyond the later “art metal” habits, worthy of its title.

Arcturus: My Angel EP

The Mortem line-up returned with this piece of madness before plunging into black metal sounds using this band name. Arcturus started its career reminiscent of Swedish second tier satanic death metal bands in the vein of Tiamat, cutting through the intricacies of the narrative death metal of Cadaver and Darkthrone to hammer out Wagnerian power chord doom, with not much appreciation for subtle nuances. The first track “My Angel” starts out psychedelic and impressive, foreshadowing the deep symbolic exploration of the internal cosmos done later by bands such as Tartaros. However, in Arcturus it remains as just another eclectic act, as the dramatic development proceeds in an expected way. While the impressive parts are there it doesn’t reach the magnanimous stature it’s trying to achieve, with the keyboard melodies from film soundtracks and the evil vocals reminiscent of early Samael. “Morax” is a track with gothic, Cathedral-inspired doomdeath wrapped in a synth layer of Nocturnus. Arcturus attempted to obtain a complex, insane atmosphere of invocation but it was not to be their forte; the careening splendour of “Aspera Hiems Symfonia” would be better music.

Thyabhorrent: Death Rides At Dawn EP

Thyabhorrent, led by Occultus (another figure from the early black metal history around Mayhem and Helvete), specialized in simple death metal which used some speed metal riffs and emotive lead guitar interludes. Occasionally similar to Dissection, it seems to carry an eerie foreshadow of Gothenburg and today’s mainstream death metal style while still proudly enwrapped in the mystique of the Norwegian underground. The catchy metal riffing and try-hard vocals in “Condemnation” are halfway to serious power, falling short of the atmosphere obtained by almost all other works of the era. The good riffs are wasted by the very simplistic construction of songs and the unfortunate tendency to rip a wrong context: heavy metal. “Occultus Brujeria” displays an elegantly romantic tendency which could have been something with more development: doomy clean vocals herald simple black metal of expressive, gothic, über-dramatic character. Some of the interludes suggest ideas that could have turned this into an elaborate progressive black metal band but as it stands, it’s a much weaker and tamer version of the kind of material released by Necromantia, Burzum or Isengard early on.

Generalization: A Statement Of The End

The original death metal underground of Norway was alienated, silent and private and thus gave a chance to develop all these ideas towards their full fruition. When the scene burst into the attention of a million of trendy fans, it dealt a blow to the atmosphere that could not be recovered from it. The sanity of the fragile artistic mindset required that the adherents move away towards new areas of quietude and purity (“away from the noise of the marketplace” in the words of Nietzsche) to continue the serious contemplation of darkness. What follows is the history of the early 90′s black metal phenomenon; Cadaver remains the sole band of the ancient underground that is still around cranking out evil death metal.

Anders: We split up in 2004 – so no, we are not around. To call Death Metal trendy is a sidetracking of the whole thing. I don’t share the idea that we ever played something trendy. To play death metal in 1999 was as un-trendy as it could be. I call what I play death metal still because it is my playing style. Death metal can mean much more that most people think. I am a death metal man by hand and a black metal man by soul.

Fenriz: I can with my hand on my heart say that I only bought like 5-6 death metal releases in 1990, and maybe 2 in 1991… or none. The studios like Morrisound and Sunlight were fresh in the very beginning, but organic sound is the best and I quickly learnt to hate these click click bass drum sounds that started to ruin metal in ’89 and have completely ruined generations of metalheads later on. In ’89 death metal compilation tapes were overflowing the underground, I had already been through hard rock and heavy metal and power and thrash and everything possible, then I saw that thrash metal got boring and too copied and the same thing happened with death metal, it was too many bands, but the sound was good in ’89. But to me, I heard Hungarian Tormentor on one of those tapes, and got back into more “evil” sound again, like Destruction “Infernal Overkill” and such, as I hadn’t listened to them for a while. I saw it as just thrash, but after getting an evil revelation with Tormentor, I saw a lot of the thrash I had from before in a new black light, and I got more and more into Bathory. And in 1990 I mostly listened to the more primitive stuff, but our craft was technical death metal and we needed to complete our album. Even after our album we had lots of material pouring out of us (became “Goatlord” album) but it had to stop with this technical style, we were all agreeing on this except Dag. We took a U-turn unto the primitive lane in 1991.

Even a cursory investigation to the workings of the early Norwegian metal underground should dissolve one of the most persistent illusions about Norwegian black metal bands such as Burzum and Immortal: that they did not know how to handle their instruments, or did not have an extensive background in musical expression. Do you think they simply wanted to pose evil with corpsepaint? They were talented musicians who had years of experience playing technical styles of death metal before the black metal explosion. The simplified sound of black metal was due to the ethics of black metal and the spirit of black metal. The black metal resurgence intended to develop metal music to a new level of intensity and create a purer atmosphere, unpolluted by the social agreements of the new death metal people.

For most metal fans Norwegian death metal means either black metal or the new digitally produced bands in the vein of Zyklon and Blood Red Throne. The intent of this excursion has been to show how pure death metal was the fundamental force in establishing the original Norwegian underground metal scene and how it ultimately grew into the most vital and archaic musical movement of the 90′s, Norwegian black metal.

Anders: The bands such as Darkthrone, Mayhem and Immortal were in fact very inspired by death metal. If you listen to the latest Emperor, Satyricon, Dimmu Borgir albums they all have strong elements of death metal in them. The scene that was to become the Norwegian black metal scene was never a “one-way-street”. The issues with Swedish bands in ’91-’93 was mainly about the fact that death metal became conformed, predictable and non-dangerous. The strong standing of the black metal scene overshadowed any death metal band for many many years and this is still the case.

Manheim: I of course felt and feel proud of being responsible for giving people inspiration. That so many people in Norway and around the globe have taken this further is of the good. Of course there’s a lot of bands that appeared that didn’t do anything else than copying those before them, but the development of genres like Norwegian BM and others shows that there’s a lot of creativity and wonderful musical contribution that has been done after Mayhem released its first demos and “Deathcrush”. My personal favorite releases are Darkthrone’s early works – and if I have to choose, “Under a Funeral Moon”.

Fenriz still works on Darkthrone, promotes his favorite underground bands and speaks against forest industry. Anders has been playing live guitar and bass for major bands such as Celtic Frost and Satyricon. Manheim composes and performs experimental music and writes a good blog on culture and music. Deathmetal.org thanks them all for their kind contribution.

Cosmic Fear arrives, I hold a dead one,
Surrounded by my many candles
(I burn to cleanse the air)
Rotten Unclean Sacrifice Nightmares
Unreal Psychedelic Journey
Ride The Darkside
Search The Soulside

– Darkthrone, Soulside Journey

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Interview: Nuclear Holocausto (Beherit)

The Syriac language provided the greatest historical conduit for Christianity, and early Christians knew its words as literal symbols from the world beyond. Beherit was its name for the god of evil, sometimes called Satan. Fast forward two thousand years and occult-literate Finns made this ancient word a conduit for a new form of aural evil, a simultaneously deconstructive and reconstructive ambient aura of apocalypse and a literal, fearful reality hiding beneath the neurotic cloak of our modern society. We were fortunate to be able to speak to Nuclear Holocausto about his motivations, the nature of music, and the forthcoming 2009 Beherit album.

For a musician in this time who has understood his own experience, what are the most important aspects of art? (Or is it even possible to create a universal list?)

It’s a bio harmonic resonance, but BEHERIT is back to destroy art. I had very intensive two months, by writing new songs and re-creating the spirit of the BEHERIT sound. I think it turned out to be quite okay, kind of a mixture of all previous releases. It’s yet to be mastered and is missing booklet artwork… but hopefully will be released in the second quarter of 2009 by Spinefarm Records. I don’t have plans to reveal any detailed information regarding the coming album, its style or maneuvers behind the concept before the release.

You’ve just created a new BEHERIT album. Did you design it to be like previous BEHERIT albums, a continuation of an idea, or something new entirely?

Yes, the album is called ENGRAM. It’s a time warp to THE LORD DIABOLUS continuum.

How did you record the new album? Did you write all of it, and then meet collaborators to get it on tape?

I wrote and composed the album by myself. I recorded a demo version in my home studio with tablatures and a few written notes about what kind of spirit I was looking for in that song. Then we went to the rehearsal room and for the next week I made some small changes in song structure that made it easier and more natural to play live. Rehearsal period was about three months. We had 60 minutes of raw material when entering the studio. Couple of tracks we didn’t have time to finish.

Outside of music, how are you exploring the concepts which motivated you to create BEHERIT?

I recently bought a new video camera and have found this hobby very compelling, the use of sound and visuals to create deep atmospheres/altered states.

Why do you usually work and release things in the phases of the moon, or is it something you cannot control?

I like to plan my projects in the phases of the moon. For me, there is a natural difference between the things you process on waxing or waning gibbous. Especially on nights of the full moon, it’s good to pay extra attention on your karma.

With Suuri Shamaani, you are playing with raw sound, but the question becomes not your tools (raw sound, or scales) but the organization of that sound to express some difference of outlook achieved through experience. How do you organize this sound, and how does this process compare to that of writing metal?

I am very fascinated by the potential to experience some ueber-crossover between genres like black metal, dubstep, doom metal and ambient. There’s some artists who have successfully melded electronic music to rock, but I think most of their audience is still very average type of people (whom see the music more like entertainment or a consumer product of show business). Perhaps the biggest challenge is in a composition. For a basic metal head, it could be pretty challenging to listen (much less to write) non-standard music, I mean something outside of popular radio song structure (verse/chorus/bridge…)

What degree of familiarity with music theory do you have, and has this changed since Drawing Down the Moon?

I know only very little of music in theory. Maybe I have learned to tune my guitar faster, but not much else. In BEHERIT, we keep things primitive.

When you write songs, do you start with a (visual, musical, lyrical) concept for the whole song, or do you save up riff ideas and fit them together?

After the initial idea, I have a riff and couple of variations. Then some words that stimulate my mind to visualize the atmosphere. Later some variation in tempo, bassline and rhythm. The last part is to rewrite some lyrical content. This may vary a lot depending on the project.

Do humans live through experience?

Living entities look for happiness, and to avoid suffering. This is true not only for humans, but animals as well. I think this is the very basic principle. Animals have a hard enough time getting their food and avoiding getting killed, but humans seek their happiness from materialism or very temporary states of happiness, like sex, drugs or love…

I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?

All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape.

Whoever is the wisest among you is also a mere conflict and cross between plant and ghost. But do I bid you become ghosts or plants?

Behold, I teach you the overman! The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go!

– Friedrich W. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1885)

Do you compose on keyboard, guitar or in your head?

New BEHERIT songs emerge and are developed in my head. That material I try to save as quickly as possible by guitar or keys to a recorder. A year ago I invested to Ableton Live software. It did help a lot in my productivity. For a musician like me, there’s a big difference with Ableton compared to older, a linear time scale based sequencer.

On Drawing Down the Moon, you achieved a unique dark and bassy sound which was not in favor in black metal at the time. How was this done? Did you replicate it on the new album?

Back in 1993, recording studios were still mostly analog. The guitar sound was as simple as Boss Heavy Metal guitar distortion pedal through an old Marshall bass amplifier and cabinet. I don’t remember what microphones were used, but everything was done in a few days. No time to remake or mix, thus the raw sound. The studio is still up and running. Very professional people there. The home of Tarot.

We didn’t want to reproduce the sound of Drawing Down the Moon, but as always try look for new soundspheres.

How was the early blackmetal scene different from how people perceive it now, and what were some challenges you faced as one of the few early blackmetal bands?

People used to describe our bands, like “some satanic stuff”, but today Black Metal has become a well known symbol for the majority, mostly because of the Internet. Most of these younger fans have pretty twisted image of the scene of old days. People didn’t like black metal at all, everything was so small, you kind of know all the music makers in the scene (via flyers in tape trading scene, + fanzines) Most of the people fucking hated us BEHERIT, IMPALED NAZARENE… Drawing Down The Moon was self-funded by me and I had to sell my car, became homeless, and everything I had was that master tape and no label interested to release it, before Spinefarm. I am still thankful to ’em, because of the advance royalty.

Do you think that given the same stimulus, two logical beings will have similar responses?

The response to given stimulus is much about the previous experience to similar contact in sense.

And if this is so, does it not mean that anyone who encounters a similar experience to someone else, has the same forces interacting on them? That if we have one stood out in the rain, we can all know what it is like? Maybe this shows how experience and intuition can exist on the same level. Experience is also important, because it enables us to store memories as symbols, and then trade on those symbols in law, art and conversation.

Like those others have never experienced of getting wet in the rain? They would still feel the same as the one who’s in the rain? Then there should be a sense contact within this tribe that can somehow communicate lower/higher states. I know this is possible, but very rare in normal conditions… we cannot “release the self” that easily, because of our fear (of dying).

What are your influences, and are these shared among band members, and if not wholly, what other influences do they have? Other metal musicians have mentioned Kraftwerk, for example; were there metal and ambient works that influenced you more than anything else? Any classical or folk music?

We all four are big fans of BLASPHEMY, BLACK WITCHERY, IMPIETY, MANTICORE and other fast stuff. Sodomatic plays drums in punk bands and listens to industrial music. He’s a vinyl collector. Abyss, the bassist is very much into Viking stuff, like BATHORY and FALKENBACH. He has also his own projects, more technical style, like he could have more riffs per song than BEHERIT on entire album. Serpent is working on Spikefarm and listens mostly to rehearsal and demo material from unsigned bands. THE LORD DIABOLUS was the biggest influence on this new album.

Is our fear of “evil” hardwired? For example, humans seem to fear snakes without having ever seen one, suggesting that fear of snakes is wired into our genetic code.

The fear of reptiles might be encoded in DNA — I don’t know. But when a man walks in the dark woods, fear of the unknown makes a wooden stick or a rope to appear like an image of dangerous snake. That’s why we should not trust our senses.

Is it possible then that some experiences are defined by the similarity of contact, and are inherent (in the sense of “emergent”) to the design of the universe itself?

I do understand the logic in fractality of universe, like many universes in smaller scales. The most of the cultures of our civilization is based on wrong believes of gods and myths. We simply have wrong views of life. The problem is that only very few people have seen the truth, the nature of time existence. Parents put their kids to school to teach ’em reading and mathematics, but too often they think it’s enough to make those kids to survive in a modern world.

We have built our cultures to praise the bold and the beautiful; the weak and ugly easily drops out from the so-called “easy life” because of the competition (evolution). I don’t care much about this, because it’s somehow universal, “natural evolution.” But this system leads to very problematic scenarios in the world we have built, because the weaker get many and they can get temporarily very strong by modern weapons.

From that comes “terrorism” and “the police state.” And all this mostly happens because society is from the very beginning based on incorrect views. Ouch, I am getting to off topic now…Yes, the nature of the world of the senses is polycausal, indeed.

Human ability, even really stupid humans, to retain music has always seemed magical to me, as if it had some inherent function in the universe. What do you think it is that humans unconsciously perceive?

The resonance.

Heavy metal seems to share many values with Romantic art and literature from two centuries ago, right before Nietzsche began writing: reverence for nature, belief in a transcendental but not dualistic life, independence from humanist morality, desire to create the beautiful and eternal, searching for truth with the self as the lens but not the focus. Do you feel any of these in your own creation?

I have an artistic desire, but haven’t thought much of connection to Romanticism. I think most of my creations are born in some sort abstract space with no human wrong or right. I don’t have a personal manifesto or any political interest in my music, but this does not necessarily mean that our songs are utter headlessness. I always try to be very mindful in a work I am doing. Even with BEHERIT.

After the initial BEHERIT surge, did you continue liking metal music?

I end up liking new fake bands that turn out to be nothing but boring. I did not stop listening to metal music entirely, but I found more interesting and deeper aspects of art in noise and electronic music.

“Behold this gateway, dwarf!” I continued. “It has two faces. Two paths meet here; no one has yet followed either to its end. This long lane stretches back for an eternity. And the long lane out there, that is another eternity. They contradict each other, these paths; they offend each other face to face; and it is here at this gateway that they come together. The name of the gateway is inscribed above: ‘Moment.’ But whoever would follow one of them on and on, farther and farther — do you believe, dwarf, that these paths contradict each other eternally?”

“All that is straight lies,” the dwarf murmured contemptuously. “All truth is crooked; time itself is a circle.”

– Friedrich W. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1885)

Have you ever considered writing a symphony (or: quartet, trio, sonata, et al)?

Yes, but I have yet to find people and a unique concept worth to start such a big project. Especially interested in video, together with musical performance on the front of live audience.

Ambient is a broad category; dubstep is more limited. How would you combine black metal’s cadenced rhythm with the jauntier, syncopated-expectation structures of dubstep?

On various layers of soundscape. I think there will come such a crossover projects in this near future. It may not please the old school metal purist, but the next generation of audience who search for an aural experience rather than a general idol worship of rock band.

Electric Doom Synthesis was black metal thematics in violent EBM, with metal song structures. How do you envision a future fusion between metal and ambient music?

I didn’t have much knowledge of making electronic music at the time of recording Electric Doom Synthesis. I composed it on the very simple sequencer of E-Mu Emax II sampler. Of course if I had to do it again now I would do some parts in a different way, but the album has a lock on time and atmosphere that I was living that time. After that my interest moved towards the other edge of music, experimental sounds, drone and minimalism, thus the release of Suuri Shamaani which were recorded without any real instruments, most of the sounds sampled from radio frequencies.

I used to listen to hours and hours of simple waveforms on evolving space, not so called music at all, more like mathematics and experience of altered states. Calculating planetary system and trying to put these parameters to sounds. I even did some gigs playing those test frequencies to large audiences, but quite soon I found myself playing on the front of max. twenty people. Soon I was kicked out from every chill out room because people complained my stuff was more like brain fuck than any chill out. I think they were right, I went way too far with that shit.

Nowadays I try to keep these things more in a balance. I am interested for some thing like a band playing metal music with no riffs or metal song structure, but it’s not easy with people who lack experience of the dub of deep house, AND who also understand The Black Metal aesthetics. I’m not sure of this last word in English, but I mean understanding what is “cool” and what is not. The last one is where 99.9% of those demos fail that are otherwise potential to make a major success. Quite likely that it will happen in the industrial music scene, but it’s still yet to come?

What distinguishes great music from bad? Can it be distilled into technique, or is it something less easily defined?

I think it’s not about technique or a lack of it. For me, it’s about originality and functionality.

Do you think that those who have similar values, and express them to similar degrees, will find similar voices in music?

Okay, this sounds very likely. But due the polycausal nature of life, there’s always some variation in detail… I couldn’t make any final conclusion. I even went through the conditional nature of sounds, acoustic waves that are frequencies like all the other objects in the universe. The sound object itself has no clear “soul,” but it’s fascinating to think of a scenario where the creator (composer) has a causal relation to soundwork put in a distribution, and that the listener receive the given mental sight by this kind of energy transformation, as they both (artist + listener) have same focus point… Something like used on those shamanistic journeys or people told to get a trance-like state on live concerts.

Emotion in music shares one thing with words: it is a language,and when the words have meaning, they create feeling. There is no feeling to the sound itself. It is twelve symbols in three octaves. But it has an inherent symbolism which makes our nerves twitch, like words resemble our thoughts and video, our dreams. From what comes the “meaning” in music?

Mental objects. I was hoping to put this in action on the upcoming BEHERIT album, but it turned to be a way more complex than I first thought. I decided to make an another project for this one, conveying extrasensory perception (ESP) through the sound itself. Coil had this album Time Machine in the early nineties, one of my favorites, that included a pack of cards/ESP stickers…And I had an idea to transfer these mental symbols for listener, but in the studio I found we were running out of time, and that it would work better with more minimalistic material. Well, it’s good to have some ideas + concepts for future projects.

Are there symbols which do not convey experience, but things inherent to the cosmos or wired into our consciousness (intuition)?

Yes and no. Somehow it would be disappointing if humankind doesn’t have a single symbol beyond this life experience, destiny. Even, this symbol of destiny that he created by himself in a past, it is yet to be experienced, in the cosmos? I know the meditators use techniques to visualize the symbol to guide the soul entity on bardo1 states.

Most people are born in ignorance, but it is said the arahant2 ones are able to recall past life experiences. The maya3 of self is generated in microseconds and is stuck in time, when the other end of the string in the cosmos, is in the dimension with no linear time scale. Therefore it’s logical to have symbolism without one’s own experience, but the watcher has to be on the same resonance in space where the manifestation of certain symbol is created.

The world hasn’t changed, nor in the bigger picture, has human life since we were cavemen. Does this mean that our old symbols are accurate, but their meaning unknown, or that we need new symbols? Can the association of a symbol change over time?

We have been drowned into abuse of symbols in logos and trademarks of modern time. The Swastika is a good example of how differently people may feel when seeing it. In older cultures it’s still a holy and very respected symbol painted in important buildings, but in Europe it’s a bit different case. I think the way of life has change quite alot in the last century. You don’t need skills to hunt or make fire, survive in the woods. Now it’s about being a beauty and famous. Anyway, the very basic principles of life are still the same, thus humankind would need no new symbols.

With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

– John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn (1819)

If sound is like paint, and we use different techniques and portray different things in our paintings, what does it say when a genre sounds similar and has similar topic matter and imagery? Can the genre be said to have a philosophy or culture of its own?

Yes, perhaps we could call the true black metal movement a subculture, because of its extremity in narrowness. If you go deeper with other genres you will find they have quite similar group policies, but black metal has developed it very strictly and merciless, elitism? Happily I am already old enough that I don’t care to belong to any groups. But for new bands, I can see how it would be serious business. How true they can be, and for how long? Is evilness restricted only to their internet communication or also to other depths?

Some suggest there is a God outside of this world, and others suggest, in response, that there is no God. If music moves like nerve impulses, and music is inherent to the universe, is it possible the universe itself has a consciousness?

The universe may therefore need an other parallel universe? I think everything is possible, but not necessary.

A friend I respect greatly referred to black metal as possibly the only viable artistic movement of our generation (births 1970-1978). My question would be: what was the fundamental artistic statement of black metal? For example, the Romantics wanted to create a type of existentialism that aimed for an aesthetic and not moral goal, so that it did not fall into either individualism or collectivism, but stayed focused on the beautiful as a way of summarizing multiple aspects and avoiding falling into linear thinking. Is there such a statement for black metal?

Not so long time ago, I wrote to internet forum that black metal is antichristian, but some fellows denied it totally and went to politics, racism and other weird NSBM topics that had nothing to do with black metal of old days. Nowadays everything seem to be much more complicated when kids are seeding their own beliefs and opinions to the scene, even if they are not music makers themselves. We (BEHERIT) wanted to create the most severe and bizarre sound dealing with the dark side of occultism. That’s still one of my main points when writing a new song, but I don’t mind if they label it black metal or not.

Do you think a genre of unpopular “popular music” like death metal and/or black metal can be a form of art? What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?

Yes, at least in opinion of real music lovers, but artists of today live in poverty and are likely to die in poverty. Entertainers try to maximize money making in every way. It’s very rare to see any art happen in entertainment business.

There seems to be a relatively stable, cyclic effect of black/death/speed metal bands breaking up and then reforming for new material approximately 10 years later. What is the cause of this?

It’s the great wheel of artistry. Girls have their periods, sun has its spots, Chinese astrology is a cycle of twelve. Artists have been cursed by the desire of creation.

Is there necessarily a disconnect between how metal viewed things in 1992 and today?

No.

BEHERIT’s dooming sound reminds me of how William Gibson spoke of his post-apocalyptic Neuromancer: it is a horrible world, but you can see yourself wanting to live there, if for nothing else to finish the fight you see characters embarking on. Does this fit in your worldview?

I like William Gibson.

Some argue that love is “sui generis,” or an invention of itself that justifies itself and has no precursor. Others tie love to some form of God and claim he/she/it metes out love where appropriate. Some slightly cynical people see love as a biochemical reaction and nothing more. Still others (cynics) see love as something one can only have for life itself, and as being more of a thought process that unites the irrational (emotions) with rational (thoughts) to give a balanced view of the unquantifiable, and that one has love for life and in it, love for people and places and things. Since the symbol of love is worn out by years of popular music, does it have any meaning now, or must each artist define love before speaking of it, or risk becoming an elaborately removed Britney Spears?

Love is a very powerful state for beings in these sense worlds. For sure it has moments in lucid oneness, beyond time, like loving kindness (metta)4 is a good technique for entities looking for happier abodes. But “love and loving of lovers” represented in popular culture is a broad highway to misery and sadness, endless craving in the wheel of Samsara5. Loving life is not a right way. My advice is to see the conditional structure of love. Go and see the mutilated, dead bodies. Go and get a part time job in a local hospital or at coroner’s office.

Mankind does not represent a development of the better of the stronger in the way that it is believed today. ‘Progress’ is merely a modern idea, that is to say a false idea. The European of today is of far less value than the European of the Renaissance; onward development is not by any means, by any necessity the same thing as elevation, advance, strengthening.

In another sense there are cases of individual success constantly appearing in the most various parts of the earth and fro the most various cultures in which a high type does manifest itself: something which in relation to collective mankind is a sort of superman. Such chance occurrences of great success have always been possible and perhaps always will be possible.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ (1895)

Do you separate intent/goal from method, in that a goal can be good and methods “evil,” and how does that influence your view of good and evil?

Things we intentionally do (with a will), speak or think are wholesome or unwholesome in causal perspective of self. I am very trustworthy and generous man in my friendhood. I would not recommend strangers to come with me, if they are not pure in their hearts.

Environmentalists argue for preserving the earth, but many black metal musicians argue for its destruction. Yet earth permits consciousness, and enjoyment of among other things, black metal. Is the statement “blow up the world, I don’t care” a symbol or a real wish?

It’s a perfect time to enlighten oneself. It’s crazy that still, only very few people ask real questions in meaning of their existence. There’s a fucking internet where one can research the occult, but they rather go see funny movie clips? I would not hesitate a second to detonate this planet to pieces6. Things are already pretty fucked up, but it’s just a beginning of the end times. There has to become more disease and virus, that force ’em to take their precious time much more seriously.

Metal music could be construed as a duality, one side being that which attracts a big audience like Def Leppard and the other side being crypto-art like early Gorgoroth which is “outsider art,” or that which does not base its arguments on the idea that our society as it stands now is doing OK. Outsider art however does not tend to be “protest art,” which issues a negative political statement on aspects of society. Def Leppard and others however can be seen as making negative statements through escapism. Does this duality hold metal back?

A good point. I was thinking about other rock genres, like punk, but there even the smallest underground bands usually have a political manifesto. What about electronic music? Underground techno acts hardly never have a message, but the bigger they get the lyrics become to statements of better world. Actually I don’t know much about normal music they play on the radio. Hmm…

The eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love.

– Johannes Eckhart, Sermon IV

Richard Wagner both turned classical music toward ancient themes and, by using leitmotifs7 that resembled more the way plays and later, radio,would work, liberalized it and laid the foundation for the movie music that would later inspire Black Sabbath. Is this some type of universal balance where each thing contains its opposites, or was his intent even more cryptic than that, in that he knew what would result and wanted to hurry it up?

Usually, it’s enough that the man intends to create something original.

Is art a celebration of life, a social guardian, or a celebration of the artist?

Some artists may think art is a sickness. Are they reborn entertainers?

Schizophrenia, or having a divided mind, is seen by many as being the major psychological disease of the modern time. Is there a way to benefit from the perspective of schizophrenia?

I am not sure of a benefit; it probably depends on the person and the social network around them? This is an area which should be studied: two steps beyond nibbana8, in hallucination of self existence. We are all doomed!

Have you had contact with the underground music of any parts of the world other than Finland?

I have spent a lot of time in South-East Asia. I see young people are in general pretty much same, but for example their lack of (Western) music culture, their understanding in extreme music usually fall down to those major bands shown on MTV. But then on the other hand, there’s real underground vibes, especially in punk scene, f.ex. Bangkok Alcohol and those young punks are well aware of their original roots. The Black Metal scene is much smaller, but I know the guys from Surrender Of Divinity, and they are cool. There’s no much need to antichristian movement here. Hahaha!

Can you describe some of the early influences on the band that might not be obvious? Specifically, where do BLASPHEMY, HOLOCAUSTO and SARCOFAGO fit in?

In the very beginning, under the name of PSEUDOCHRIST, we rehearsed with cover songs from bands like DEATH, SODOM and SLAYER. Later that summer of 1989, I started to trade vinyls from Brazil and Cogumelo Records. Those bands were so primitive and brutal in a style of music we didn’t know existed. They had this unique sound of underground metal.

We changed our name to BEHERIT, started to paint our faces and radically simplify our songs and playing technique. No more pussycat rock mentality with dreams of large audience or positive feedback, and understanding from society.

I remember the day we got BLASPHEMY Blood Upon The Altar cassette in postal package. We kept listening that tape over and over again on our rehearsal room. We all three came to the conclusion that it was the most fucking severe black metal ever made, and it’s still true after 20 years. We recorded our second demo to honor these Canadian godz of brutality. Three months later we went to the studio for Dawn Of Satan’s Millennium, which had a bit more of our own sound. SARCOFAGO and BLASPHEMY, together with BATHORY have been the greatest influences in the history of BEHERIT. No doubt.

When did you start playing guitar, and was it your first instrument?

Electric guitar was my first instrument. I was 13 years old.

Did you listen to any of these: Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Einsturezende Neubauten, Autechre, Biosphere. Did they influence you?

Sure. I did produce an ambient radio station for five years, so I have a quite nice ambient music collection. Kraftwerk and Autechre I have seen playing live and they were cool. About influences, not much on this new album.

The feel of Drawing Down the Moon is one of ritual; the atmosphere commands a hypnotic ambience, and the entire creation, down to minor details of the presentation, is meticulously interconnected. How did you achieve such a vision, one that seemingly has not been mimicked since?

That winter I listened often to the discography of BATHORY, and read books on Odinism and Asatru. We held pagan rituals. I hardly had any contact to normal society. In the door of my apartment, it read on big letters: EMBASSY OF EVIL.

Individualism: The basis of its error is to mistake the notion of the person with that of the individual and to claim for the latter, unconditionally and according to egalitarian premises, some values that should rather be attributed solely to the former, and then only conditionally. Because of this transposition, these values are transformed into errors, or into something absurd and harmful.

– Julias Evola, Men Among the Ruins (1953)

Can you please summarize the history of GOAT VULVA and the ways which it was relevant to BEHERIT?

Hahaha! Goat Vulva was only a booze project. I recorded those demos on normal C-cassette recorder by putting a piece of tape over the eraser head. I don’t remember how many so-called demos were released, but they came in very limited quantities, perhaps 10 or 20 copies of each. Messe Des Morts was recorded in same studios where Erotic Worshipwas, but otherwise, it was very much a project of its own.

Is it important that metal be considered as “serious” (in any sense) by the outside world?

I don’t mind outsiders. I see them in busses and walking on the city streets, but I never talk to ’em nor do they come talk to me, and even more rarely do we discuss music.

If you are in a metal band, that nobody — of the people who you think should — takes seriously, there’s something wrong with your music, image or both. Make the difference, make the art happen. I don’t mean to murder or burn the church, but use your imagination and live in it. The mind is the strongest weapon.

Are you in Thailand permanently?

I am on a long journey. Now in Thailand, but leaving next week down to Malaysia and then to Oceania. At first, I will meet the people from PORTAL in Brisbane. They have a new project called OLDE GUARDE. Nomad life, traveling with a notebook + ultramobile music studio.

How do the lunar and solar tendencies manifest themselves in your life and art?

I try my best to arrange all our contracts and release dates on lunar dates, not to forget numerology and other aspects of magic. I have done that for years. Life would be boring without little of superstition.


 

1Bardo states: transitional states of consciousness that correspond to stages of life or the development of awareness
2Arahant: a spiritual initiate who has realized nirvana and so no longer needs to be be reincarnated into the karmic cycle
3Maya: the illusion that people and objects exist independently from a continuum of interacting, inter-related and contiguous causes
4Metta: “love without attachment,” meaning a benevolent kindness toward the world that also accepts the chaotic nature of existence and so does not seek the perpetuation of its object
5Samsara: the karmic cycle of reincarnation and death in which individuals attempt to move “up” a karmic ladder toward higher states of consciousness
6Because I don’t have children, otherwise I would use a human logic and say the anger is a symbol. “Because, I just fucking hate this world.”
7Leitmotif: a musical phrase symbolically associated with a character or idea that is reintroduced in a narrative piece whenever that object is referenced.
8Nibbana or nirvana: a psychological state of being free from attachment to earthly resentments, namely anger, greed, craving and television.

 

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The Heavy Metal F.A.Q.

slayer

About

The Heavy Metal FAQ explores the development of heavy metal as a musical movement through its context in popular culture, and reflects upon the ideological and sociological circumstances that motivated that development. These circumstances are tracked through music theory, symbolism, and behavior.

Contents

Version: 2.0 / September 8, 2014

I. What is Heavy Metal?

  • Heavy metal originated as a counter-reaction to the hippie rock of the 1960s and was intended to sound like a horror movie soundtrack
  • Heavy metal fused progressive rock, hard rock, and soundtrack styles using the power chord to make phrasal composition
  • Heavy metal culture and lyrics resemble European literary Romanticism in its emphasis on the individual and nature, not social mores, dictating value in life
  • Heavy metal ideology is an active form of nihilism, in which the individual believes in nothing because belief is not needed as much as a creative, intuitive, warlike principle of vir
  • The musical and cultural influences of heavy metal suggest this idea has been injected into the mainstream, but that a constant struggle exists to "norm" it to social mores

1.1 Music

slayer-live-tom_araya Defining heavy metal requires we look at its many attributes as part of a whole. Heavy metal is is a musical style with certain compositional tenets without which music cannot be said to be heavy metal; however, even more profoundly, it is also a set of ideas that shape its composition, and without those you can have something that "sounds like" metal but does not fit the whole profile of heavy metal. Musically it can be described by the following:
  1. Composed using forms of the power chord, or a fifth chord lacking a third, in a moveable form based normally on the low E chord. Since these chords lack a third, they are neither major nor minor, and can be played in any position, which lends itself to writing longer, more dynamically melodic or lengthier phrasal riffs.
  2. Musically "heavy" derived from a songwriting style that emphasizes a return to unison after a resolution of motifs. The promenade-style riffs and theatrical conclusions of metal songs derive from this need, which forms a heavy (emotionally significant) moment later in each song.
  3. Dark subject matter, and use of heavy distortion, vocal distortion, intensely fast or slow tempos, and other ways of converting that which appears noisy and ugly into a musical language, as if attempting to find beauty in darkness.
  4. Familiarity with the past musical language of metal riffs and imagery, and ability to build on it, both musically and ideologically.
  5. A preference for cadence where rock bands would use rhythmic expectation in the pattern of syncopation extended to the beats themselves. Although metal beats are syncopated, this is used internally within cadenced beats and reduces drums to a constant -- or "timekeeping" role -- which ends phrases on the downbeat.
Emerging from the ruins of rock music, heavy metal grew from the conventions of that genre, which possessed an international flair in its use of Anglo-Celtic song structures, European music theory, Middle Eastern and Asian scales, an Arab instrument converted by Spaniards and electrified by Americans, and timbral singing from Africa. These remnants were tempered by a tendency toward progressive rock song structures which approximate those of European classical music; the rhythms of garage punk bands, which come from the first two guitar lessons of an aggressive teenager; and finally, the thematic tendencies of horror movie music, which are generally borrowed from Modernist- and Romantic-era classical composers such as Anton Bruckner, Richard Wagner, Camille Saint-Saens, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann and Ottorino Respighi. The traits of this modernist music -- mobile fifths, unison, thematic repetition with inflected motifs, layered harmony and inversion -- extend heavy metal beyond its classical roots but also step further backward in time toward the origins of Western music, in that by liberating itself harmonic structures used to identify scale, it returns to the modal, melodically-structured, narrative compositional form originally pioneered by earlier civilizations like the ancient Greeks. When classical music emerged from the rigor of Baroque styling, and ventured into the theoretical but passionate world of the Romantics as defined by Beethoven, it reached a height that demanded a further gesture to continue its artistic specialization. The final point of departure was to liberate melody from the intricate harmonic structure of Romantic music and in doing so to make melody more than harmony the leading compositional tool, so that pieces were defined by the evolution of melody instead of strictly harmonic structure. In this form, which resulted in music that tended toward a nearly chromatic base scale with motifs clustered around it in varied modalities imposed on contact points in that progression of tones, the narrative method of composition reached its most flexible voice. Music became more motif-driven, spurred on by the "leitmotifs" of Richard Wagner, and united a juncture of music, narrative, theatricism and architecture -- Bruckner famously referred to his works as "sonic cathedrals" -- in which it evolved to within a step away from becoming the rigorously correlated drama, ritual and music of the Greek theatre. Heavy metal inherited all of this through a modern form because of its desire to escape the cognitive dissonance reaction to modern life. In part, this impulse comes from the metalhead who realizes that the individual is basically powerless, except in a future time when predictions about the negative nature of modern society will come true. Of course, in the now, parents brush that aside and go shopping, stockpiling retirement funds so they can carelessly wish their children a good life before disappearing into managed care facilities with 24-hour cable movie channels. A more fundamental part of this dissident realism is creative. People who see most of society going into denial because they cannot handle their low social status, the dire future of human overpopulation and industrialization, and the negative motivations hiding beneath social pretense, aka "cognitive dissonance," will often mourn most for the opportunities lost when people value putting their heads in the sand more than finding beauty in life. It is the convergence of these ideas that creates the violent and masculine but sensitive, Romantic side to metal: it is a genre of finding beauty in darkness, order in chaos, wisdom in horror, and restoring humanity to a path of sanity -- by paying attention to the "heavy" things in life that, because they are socially denied, are left out of the discussion but continue to shape it through most people's desire to avoid mentioning them. This same principle underlies classic European and Greco-Roman art and music, the idea of an aggressive and warlike but wise and sensitive motivation that is both religious and scientific, peaceful and belligerent, because it understands a principle of order to the universe and asserts it because it is beautiful in that it is a "meta-good," or the harmonious result of darkness and light in conflict. For this reason, it is not moral in the sense of judging as good or evil, and neither fits into the hippie "peace, love and hedonism" approach nor the conservative, market-bound ignorance-is-bliss smoke and mirrors of mainstream music and bourgeois art. Unlike any other musical principle, the one thing that unites the varied borrowings from baroque, rock, jazz, blues, folk, country, classical and electronic music that form heavy metal is this Romantic principle of doing what is right not in a moral sense to the individual, but in a sense of the larger questions of human adaptation to the universe, the conceptual root of "heavy" in metal and what throughout history has been called by a simple syllable: "vir," the root of virtue in a sense older than a modern moral interpretation as chastity. Vir is doing what is right by the order of the universe discerned by asking the "heavy" questions, and speaks to an abstract structure of right as opposed to an aesthetic one, where the individual picks the non-threatening as an option to the threatening.
It's a concept album about what once was before the light took us and we rode into the castle of the dream. Into emptiness. It's something like; beware the Christian light, it will take you away into degeneracy and nothingness. What others call light I call darkness. Seek the darkness and hell and you will find nothing but evolution. - Varg Vikernes, http://www.burzum.com/
For these reasons, where rock has simpler unifying principles (tension between pentatonic and harmonic minor scale) and other forms of music have more clearly genre-specific technique, like funk, which supports a variation not musically much distinct from rock and jazz, metal is both a polyglot and a theory of its own, helped greatly by the flexibility which the power chord bestows. The ability to move chords rapidly without harmonic obstruction led to a desire to write more evocatively phrasal riffs, which led to the riff as basis of composition, which in turn led to longer song structures using a modal sense to unite motifs in an otherwise disparate, chromatic context. This process evolved through the proliferation of sub-genres that marks the development of metal since 1970. Heavy metal music, as a genre, encloses sub-genres which implement the above list with varying degrees of proficiency, leaving behind rock conventions as they do so for a uniquely metal musical language. While much of this change occurred within speed metal, it was enhanced during death metal and perfected with black metal, and can be seen as an ongoing stratum of concept developed with the first proto-metal album, and continuing in refinement toward a higher vision of itself.

2.2 History

black-sabbath-band_photo-5
I've never thought it an accident that Tolkien's works waited more than ten years to explode into popularity almost overnight. The Sixties were no fouler a decade than the Fifties -- they merely repead the Fifties' foul harvest -- but they were the years when millions of people grew aware that the industrial society had become paradoxically unlivable, incalculably immoral, and ultimately deadly. In terms of passwords, the Sixties where the time when the word progress lost its ancient holiness, and escape stopped being comically obscene. The impulse is being called reactionary now, but lovers of Middle-earth want to go there...[Tolkien] is a great enough magician to tap our most common nightmares, daydreams and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either: he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day's madness here in a poisoned world. We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discoverers -- thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams. -- Peter S. Beagle, introduction to _The Hobbit_, 1973
Heavy metal emerged as a distinct musical form with the first proto-metal introduced in 1970 by Black Sabbath. The UK band created a new style of music, equally influenced by extreme rock and horror movie music, that strung together power chords into longer phrases which gave the music a dense and morbid atmosphere. The hippie lexicon of the day referred to it as "heavy" because of the sensations of dark realism and confrontation with reality hidden beneath the human world formed of the consensual reality of socializing, laws and morals. Hippie culture, in full flower at the time, based its music on popular sentiments of pacifism and love. This was a negative reaction to the innocent but wholesome rock of the 1950s. In contrast, proto-metal brought a dirge of the insignificance of the individual, the brutality of life and the ominous unknown of the future. Where rock bands wrote about personal and political topics (sometimes referred to as "karmic drama") proto-metal dug into the broader worlds of history, mythology and metaphysics. The new music instantly attracted those who found both 1950s culture and 1960s culture to be unrealistic, including bored kids from the suburbs where reality was deliberately kept in quarantine and nothing an adult said could be trusted. This upset the music establishment who, despite its criticism of other industries as obsolete and oppressive, was as much a force of calcified "conservative" thinking as was the factory and agriculture establishment before it. Proto-metal made the rock elites look as fat, stuffed-shirty and retrograde as the suited bankers they replaced when the first Black Sabbath album reached number 8 on the UK charts and number 23 in the USA. Since its inception, the heavy metal genre matured through several generations, sorted by time period:
  1. Proto-Metal (1970-1974)
  2. Heavy Metal, Hard Rock/Glam Metal and NWOBHM (1975-1980)
  3. Speed Metal, Proto-Underground and Thrash (1981-1987)
  4. Underground Metal: Death Metal, Grindcore and Black Metal (1985-1993)
  5. Metalcore and Nu-Metal (1995-2005)
  6. Hybrid Metal: Melodic Metal, Power Metal and Indie-Metal (2005-present)
Proto-metal (1970-1974) Black Sabbath changed direction -- mixing heavy guitar rock, progressive rock, dark apocalyptic rock and horror movie soundtracks -- when Ozzy Osbourne observed that it was "strange that people spend so much money to see scary movies" and wondered if Black Sabbath (then named Earth) could make music with the same effect.
As musicians in the fertile UK rock community, Black Sabbath experienced wide-ranging influences, but heavy guitar rock like The Stooges, progressive rock like Jethro Tull and King Crimson, and apocalyptic rock like The Doors all made their impact on the new music. From the heavy rock, Black Sabbath took its basic power chord sound, from horror movie soundtracks its extended melodies, and from progressive rock its varied and complex song structures. The Nietzschean and apocalyptic themes of the music came from The Doors. Together this mix forged a new style which grew out of rock but by its different approach, also rejected rock. Through both the horror movie soundtracks that inspired its new sound and the progressive rock desire to approximate the classics of generations past, Black Sabbath inherited a heavy classical influence. This influence eventually absorbed others because the type of chord used in heavy metal, the power chord, can be easily played with the same finger position in any part of the fret board. That ability lends itself to a technique of writing riffs with more phrasal development than rock riffs, which tend to bounce to a rhythm with a very basic harmony; metal riffs could and did move dynamically and approximate a melodic style of composing, and their dramatic horror movie underpinnings encouraged these riffs to imitate what they were portraying, giving them a neo-Wagnerian, operatic feel. This more complex style of distinctive riffing, and its "heavy" tendency to run through multiple motifs on its way toward a theatrical conclusion, was what above all else was to define heavy metal music. Heavy Metal, Hard Rock/Glam Metal and NWOBHM (1975-1985) Heavy Metal The term "heavy metal" refers to both the genre as a whole and a sub-genre of the first wave of 1970s metal music. The successive generation of metal bands streamlined the variety of Black Sabbath into an identifiable set of conventions while merging it with the hard rock influences of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Heavy metal shortened the longer power-chord riffs of Black Sabbath and instead used rock-influenced riffing, melodic lead-picked fills and harmonized guitars to produce a similar sense of structured riff without having to use the full phrasal riffs that require the music to move at a slower pace. This produced two waves of heavy metal, first a basic rock-metal hybrid, and second a revival in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM).
  • UFO
  • Thin Lizzy
  • Kiss
Hard Rock Hard rock can be identified by its surface resemblance to heavy metal but use of riffs in the rock style as harmony and rhythm without the dependence on phrase that defines most metal riffs. In addition, hard rock bands tend to stay toward the pentatonic-harmonic minor transitions that define most of rock music, eschewing the darker modes and minor key focus of metal. Hard rock emerged with Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and The Who which remain its most iconic acts. It also created a hybrid in the form of "stadium metal" or "glam metal" which fused the guitar-oriented stadium rock of the 1970s with early heavy metal, producing bands with a big studio sound and professional songwriting but some of the metal edge.
  • Van Halen
  • AC/DC
  • Guns N' Roses
Glam Metal Predominantly a UK movement, heavy metal crossed the pond and landed in Los Angeles where during the early late 1970s and 1980s it became "glam metal," similar to some of the "stadium metal" or crowd-pleasing variants of heavy metal. This sub-variant of heavy metal distinguished itself by applying Hollywood theatrics and the stadium rock sound to heavy metal, as well as some of the gender-bending aesthetics of big city art rock. In a theme that would become part of the bedrock of internal dialogue among heavy metal bands and fans, metalheads critiqued glam metal for "selling out," or placing appearance and image before substance in order to become more popular with a vapid and uncritical public. Already a division emerged in metal paralleling the division between "punk rock" and "hardcore punk" in the punk community: many people listened to metal, but its fanatical fanbase wanted music like that of Black Sabbath but more intense. They did not want heavy metal to become hybridized with rock to become a lighter, more socially acceptable and more commercial form of itself. They wanted to get outside of the consensual reality created by social agreement and wanted the music to lead them. Instead, society wanted to assimilate them and make them "safe," removing the elements of the music that were not socially acceptable. This fracture spurred the next movement within the heavy metal genre.
  • Motley Crue
  • Poison
  • Skid Row
NWOBHM In response to the influence of "stadium heavy metal" on both shores of the Atlantic, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) attempted to exceed the power of Black Sabbath by incorporating faster punk-influenced tempos and the grander song arrangements of prog-rock bands. Much as proto-metal derived an influence both from proto-punk (Iggy and the Stooges) and progressive rock (King Crimson, Jethro Tull), NWOBHM appropriated the dramatic flair and long song structures of heavy guitar prog-rock bands like Jade Warrior, Greenslade, Aphrodite's Child and Yes in addition to the rock flair of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Where Black Sabbath tuned down its instruments however the NWOBHM kept theirs in standard tuning and opted for a mid-range sound instead of the sprawling cavernous darkness of the extensive riffs of the proto-metal band. In addition, riffs showed the influence of heavy metal by being less phrasal using power chords, but instead implementing lead guitar -- often harmonized as in Judas Priest and Iron Maiden -- to create melody between complex patterns of strummed chords. The new sub-genre also borrowed its intensity from the rising punk movement as well as a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) approach to publishing, promoting and recording its music. The DIY aesthetic in both punk and metal arose in response to the intense commercialization of heavy metal that resulted from a handful of record labels releasing all of the music the public experienced, and that music -- like Black Sabbath had in its later albums -- tending to become softer, more personal and less critical of larger movements in social change. Instead of relying on major labels, NWOBHM released their own material, promoted with flyers and word-of-mouth, and cultivated an audience who instinctively distrusted commercial and socially-approved material. As a result, NWOBHM maintained its underground status and avoided being inundated by commercialism, and instead sent its most popular bands up into the mainstream where they influenced just about everything else.
  • Iron Maiden
  • Judas Priest
  • Motorhead
  • Venom
Styles Styles refer to aesthetic conventions adopted within multiple genres and do not constitute a musical deviation from that genre but apply a different aesthetic. "Black Metal" (I) While musically within the heavy metal realm, aesthetic divisions within that sub-genre inspired future generations to expand upon the concept. Starting with NWOBHM and heavy metal bands Venom and Coven in the 1970s, this style of heavy metal used attitudes and techniques from punk to make a simple but surprisingly dark and expressive form of anti-life art. At first humorously Satanic for the shock value of offending an uptight world, these bands quickly found an audience interested in their blasphemic worldview, which in later generations expanded into the obsession with negativity that is a hallmark of postmodern consciousness, paranoia, and drone existence in western nations.
According to rock journalist Joel McIver’s 2004 book ‘Justice for All: The Truth About Metallica’, the origins of King Diamond’s look can be traced to a September 1975 Copenhagen stop on American shock-rocker Alice Cooper’s first solo tour: “It was Alice Cooper. I saw the ‘Welcome to My Nightmare’ tour in Copenhagen in 1975. Even though there wasn’t that much make-up ... it changed him completely. He became unreal. I remember the show so well. I was up front – and I thought if I could just reach out and touch his boot, he would probably disappear.” King Diamond’s theatrics, when combined with music heavier than that of Cooper, in turn paved the way for the legions of face-painted metal bands that dot the landscape today. It also subjected King Diamond and Mercyful Fate to accusations of Satanism, which Diamond addressed in ‘Justice for All’.
  • Venom
  • Coven
  • Mercyful Fate
"Doom metal" When bands focus on the slow and moribund, dragging riffs that create atmosphere through resonance of repeated patterns that induce a sense of hopelessness and despair, they continue the Black Sabbath tradition of "heavy" in a new form. Doom metal bands come in two varieties, a heavy metal based sound derived from proto-metal, and a darker chromatic approach which owes its germinal material to death metal. These bands prefer detuned guitars, moaning vocals and lengthy songs which resemble dark passages of sound resonating through subterranean caverns.
  • Pentagram
  • Saint Vitus
  • Witchfinder General
"Power metal" (I) The marketing department came up with this tasty term for energetic heavy metal that owes its musical essence to a cross between speed metal and prog-ish heavy metal, with bouncy rhythms and jazz-inspired double-hit percussion. At first this style referred to a somewhat emotional, exuberant and over-indulgent form of heavy metal, but as time went on, the style moved to include other genres. In the current time, power metal hybrizes its original heavy metal form with speed metal and injects death metal technique.
  • Helloween
  • Iced Earth
  • Helstar
Speed Metal, Proto-Underground and Thrash (1981-1987) Speed Metal After heavy metal became absorbed by the mainstream, upcoming metal bands sought to be faster and more extreme in order to avoid being assimilated, believing that radio and social pressures would impose a dividing line that would keep overly loud, fast and distorted music from reaching a mainstream audience. Speed metal arose from two influences: the NWOBHM bands who usurped the metal community in its last generation and the newly intense sounds of hardcore punk. The pattern of a new genre becoming popular, and changing itself to be marketable even though the result was "false" or "sold out" music, and in turn causing underground musicians to retaliate with a more extreme form, repeats through the history of metal. The borrowing from hardcore punk gave speed metal a new edge. Hardcore punk bands wrote in the chromatic scale and used impromptu melodies with abrupt tempo and melodic shifts in aggressive, stripped down music that entirely obliterated rock conventions like use of pentatonic scales, pop song structure and frequent tempo and key changes. Unlike pop music or its progenitor punk rock, hardcore punk was "about something," namely the condition of humanity and human thought. Metal bands from this moment on adopted this more skeptical view of society and its place in history as a whole, which translated the political realism of punk into the mythological-historical view of metal. Photo of Cliff BURTON and METALLICA and Kirk HAMMETT and James HETFIELD and Lars ULRICH Using the muted strum, in which the pick hand rests gently across the strings and produces a shorter and more explosive sound, speed metal bands wrote faster and more complex riffs which they fit into complex song structures derived from progressive rock. The faster speed required more aggressive vocals that were closer to shouting than singing and encouraged a different kind of technicality which emphasized less of harmony and more the construction of riffs and radical shifts in tempo. With the more complex riffing packing more detail into songs, speed metal bands expanded song formats beyond the cyclic verse-chorus that worked so well for metal genres before them and instead diverged into the progressive rock structures that had frequently intruded but never found a uniquely metal expression. With speed metal albums like Metallica _Ride the Lightning_, songs became mazes of riffs. As a result, bands looked for a way to make their riffs "talk" to one another through an internal dialogue. The result caused riffs to find compatiblity with one another on the level of "shape" or similarity of phrase. Riffs aimed to contrast each other but to keep a narrative going, with each successive riff revealing a new aspect to the underlying truth like a voyage of discovery or the denouement of a horror movie. Late speed metal began its turn toward something more explicitly artistic with Slayer _South of Heaven_ and Prong _Beg to Differ_, and soon other bands were modifying their own sound to reach this "high concept" goal. Speed metal suffered a fatal flaw in that, as extreme as it was, it was also rhythmically hookish like a pop song, and soon lesser bands had adopted the style and were making pop music within it. That in turn drove speed metal bands into the public light, and by 1988 it was apparent that the formative days of the genre were over and the long slow descent into selling out had begun. The crucial moment came when Metallica, the band that swore never to release a video, released a video for a song with soft verses and distorted choruses, "One." Pantera followed this with "Cemetery Gates" which used a soft/hard dichotomy as well. A year later, Metallica unleashed a self-titled album with a new logo and less disturbing lyrics with simplified song structures. The era of speed metal was over. Thrash Much as speed metal crafted itself from a hybrid of hardcore punk and NWOBHM, thrash music arose arose from the hybrid of hardcore punk and heavy metal. Where speed metal leaned toward NWOBHM, thrash based itself on more extreme hardcore and the older metal of Black Sabbath. Named after "thrashers" or skateboarders who were prone to like both metal and extreme punk, thrash bands wrote short songs comprised of bursts of metal riffs in punk song format. Lyrics criticized society as a whole and avoided specific political viewpoints for the most part. Where a punk band would criticize the hold that industry or the army had on politics, thrash bands wrote from the perspective of one of the most disenfranchised members of society, the suburban skateboard punk. With no money, no adulthood, and no escape from the miles of lookalike homes on the floodplain, thrashers criticized society itself as a mistake and pointed out its inhumanities and glaring deficiencies with funny, acerbic lyrics. Songs were often as short as a few seconds and the bands crammed four times as many songs on a CD or LP as your average metal or punk band. For the first time, an underground genre embraced alienation, speaking as if it found no meaning in society and would not want to be allied with it. Although the thrash genre consisted of only a handful of bands and died out after only a half-decade, its influence spread throughout both metal and punk undergrounds, effectively ending punk by being more extreme and forcing metal to race to catch up. Bands took the humor of the genre and isolated it, producing joke bands like Stormtroopers of Death and Method of Destruction whose sound cleaned up the original messy and abrasive thrash and replaced it with cleanly-defined chords and standardized song structures. Despite innovation in both genres, speed metal was destined to collide with corporate megaculture and thrash was to burn out its intensity as audiences moved away from the extreme to the more commercial in both hardcore and metal genres. Proto-Underground Another movement developed in parallel to speed metal and thrash. In 1982, a UK hardcore punk band named Discharge released an album entitled _Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing_. Unlike most hardcore bands, who carefully tied their riffs to their drums, Discharge let the drums play freely as timekeepers in the background while riffs changed independently. The resulting sound liberated the melodic power of the guitar to be entirely riff-driven and allowed the guitar to lead drums as the primary driver of change in each song. While the punk music that Discharge emanated tended toward a chromatic sound, the new flexibility of this format inspired many metal bands, including speed metal and "proto-underground" bands who established the basic techniques of two genres to come, death metal and black metal. The new sound inspired bands who straddled the genres which would become black metal and death metal. Although they retained many of the elements of speed metal, these faded away as time went on, as did the use of the muted strum. Instead, bands of this type used a fast tremolo strum in the Discharge style and added extreme vocals caused by shouting or screaming while limiting the sound to highs or lows, producing a natural distortion effect. This type of vocalization originated with bands like Motorhead, The Exploited and Amebix. The new style built their songs around the internal dialogue of riffs that resulted in unique song structures fitting the content of each song, the use of "ambient" techniques where riffs changed independent of drums and instruments supported the riff in layers, and the tendency toward the mythological view of metal fused with the total social alienation of hardcore punk. Underground Metal: Death Metal, Grindcore and Black Metal (1985-1993) Where previous generations of metal hoped for acceptance, underground metal hoped for the opposite: it wished to remove itself from the mainstream mentality in addition to being too extreme to be sold out. Instead, underground bands wanted to create an alternate system of recording, publishing and distributing music. Spreading news and music through tape-trading and small "zines" or homemade, xeroxed and low distribution magazines, underground metal gained a worldwide audience of fanatical fans. Death Metal The first to emerge from the raw material of Slayer, Hellhammer, Bathory and Sodom was the nascent death metal genre. Death metal strung together chromatic riffs using the tremolo technique to create intricate shapes, or phrasal riffs, that then fit together through a process of "riff-gluing" which fit riffs together like puzzles so that they complement each other while contrasting, causing the mental impression of an expanding landscape or labyrinth as the song progresses. This creates a sensation for the listener of discovery as each new riff puts the previous patterns in contrast in a version of the "prismatic" composition used by Modernist classical composers to make repetition grow more intense through atmosphere. This includes a motif-style arrangement where songs return to themes and riffs fit the atmosphere altered by the meaning of the lyrics, which incorporates a theatrical element like the music of Richard Wagner or ancient Greek tragedies. celtic_frost-band-original The first wave of this technique with Slayer (1983) kept its roots in the combination of NWOBHM and hardcore punk but evolved to become faster, ripping-strum styled metal that shifted with muscle over rigid, ambient repetitive beats. However the second wave -- Morbid Angel (1986), Celtic Frost (1985), Sepultura (1985), Deathstrike (1985) -- were more obscurely and bizarrely formed from raw innovation and chromatic scales. As the decade waned and humanity seemed further flung into the pit of materialism, death metal reached toward the progressive and explored the extremes of melody (At the Gates), ambience (Obituary), percussion (Suffocation), atonality (Deicide), and progressive music (Atheist). Bands created intricate compositions in which song structure reflected song content as foreshadowed by the sigils of the riff forms themselves, with each successive riff changing context and expanding atmosphere to create a sensation of constant discovery. Death metal successfully evaded assimilation from extrinsic forces, but instead degenerated within. As more bands entered the genre as the underground grew, the bulk of death metal shifted toward a more percussive and chromatic style, composing their material visually from power chord forms along the bottom three strings of the guitar. This lowered the requirements for entry as did the expanding world of labels and zines which supported them, and standards fell. This in turn compelled bands to turn to novelty to distinguish themselves, and bands began voluntarily incorporating mainstream conventions. Labels seized on this as a chance to form death metal hybrids with rock music, which produced "death n' roll" and a form of proto-indie metal that left behind the power of death metal for socially acceptable ideas, musical conventions and aesthetics. Grindcore Descended from thrash, grindcore took the hardcore punk and metal hybrid and applied to it the death metal tendency to down-tune guitars and distort vocals. Like thrash, it featured short songs with unique "shapes" or structures built around the riff. Unlike death metal, it tended to follow the punk style of essentially cyclic verse-chorus songs with some detours. The genre birthed itself in 1985 with Repulsion and Napalm Death both releasing demos. The more rigid and technical playing of Repulsion contrasted the earthy, organic and chaotic -- deliberately off-timed, absurdly down-tuned and discoordinated -- style of Napalm Death. From the fusion of these bands modern grindcore was born, but other than a few late entrants was done with its creative output by the early 1990s. An important side effect of thrash and grindcore appeared in its influence on punk. Toward the middle-1980s, punk bands had spent their fury, and explored instrumentally adventurous and more mainstream-oriented angles like later Black Flag and Fugazi (ex-Minor Threat). Many bands, such as Amebix, Discharge and Cro-Mags, drifted closer to Slayer-styled speed/death metal hybrids. The vast majority built together a hybrid of the more progressive punk styles, the rock-infused styles, and borrowings from grindcore. The result formed a pop-punk variant best exhibited by Jawbreaker, which took the poppy songs of The Descendents and built into the them a convoluted song structure. The most profound change was "emo," which was punk music that focused on self-pity, sadness and compassion instead of rage. This music verged on indie rock in sound and developed a devout following before it was absorbed by pop and progressive punk. An important genetic component of death metal, grindcore arose from the ashes of hardcore and thrash as the alienated punk-rockers and sociopathic metalheads of the world sought something more extreme, more evocative of the discompatibility they felt as a process of soul. In 1994, Napalm Death _Fear, Emptiness, Despair_ sounded almost the last note for grindcore as its course of innovation started to veer from the minimalistic to abrasively coarse and simple, death metal-like music with complex jazz-y rhythms. Grindcore, like hardcore, thrash, speed metal and early forms of death metal, continues to this day, but most innovation remains at the aesthetic level and the original thrust has been lost. Black Metal (II) Black metal, born to uncertainty and neglected for nearly a decade, flowered in the early 1990s. Arising from proto-underground metal, black metal took its primary influence from Hellhammer/Celtic Frost and Bathory. During the later 1980s the genre essentially suspended itself while bands attempted to find a new sound for the underground metal era. Since death metal had explored a form of structuralism, or phrase-based highly structured music, black metal aimed for ambience. Its earliest acts in its fully realized form detached guitars from drums such that drums kept constant time while riffs changed in an extreme version of the lexicon of Discharge -- seen most profoundly on Immortal _Pure Holocaust_, Graveland _The Celtic Winter_ and Darkthrone _Transilvanian Hunger_ -- and pitched the classic biologically distorted guttural death metal vocals into a high pitched whispery rasping scream. The bands of this generation deliberately engineered their production to sound like the worst of garage engineering and incorporated the noise and distortion into their music by allowing resonant frequencies to carry their simple melodies in layers like an ambient composition.
I told the producer, 'Give me the worst microphone you have.' The sound of the drums, we didn't do anything to make the sound of the song special. Ten minutes and everything was ready. And he was asking, 'Don't you want to do anything, you know, you always have to adjust the sound.' No! Because it was a rebellion against this 'good production.' We called it necro-sound, 'corpse sound,' because it was supposed to sound the worst possible. I ended up with a headset as a microphone, because that was the worst I could find. I used this tiny Marshall amplifier, you know this big, because that was the worst we could find.
Black metal arose in part in response to the degradation and assimilation by mainstream intentions that began to crush death metal in the early 1990s. With the rise of black metal, underground metal inherited the rejection of industrial society that marked thrash and some death metal and expanded it into opposition to modernity itself. Frustration with an increasingly liberal West that had become as oppressive as the conservative version, and a new global economy that seemed to be removing culture as fast as it attempted to make every corner of earth safe for business, as well as a Romantic desire for ancient times in which, it was perceived, meaning was more readily attained through tradition and struggle, drove black metal to become not only the most articulated form of metal yet, but the most popular to rise from the underground. After a dramatic series of church burnings, murders, and taboo politics which affected all but a few of the original Norse, Greek and American black metal bands, the genre was captured by hipsters who pandered to a market who wanted the image of extremity without the socially unacceptable views and behavior. Black metal gained notoriety not only for its acts of guerrilla warfare and urban terrorism against churches but its negativity toward the "fun" culture of rock music that was pervading metal and assimilating it. Deathlike Silence Records, the label started by Euronymous of Mayhem, imprinted its releases with the famous slogan: "No mosh, no core, no trends, no fun." Black metal band members gave interviews where they decried the "jogging suit" culture that had taken over death metal with safe, solely humorous and pointless lyrics. In the view of black metallers, modern society represented a series of trends which took good sub-genres and exploited them, removing their essence and making them into a standard product like a McDonald's hamburger. This outlook fit within the desire to make the music as obscure, lo-fi and violent as possible. The goal was total alienation from the herd and its morality. After its peak in the early to mid-1990s with the Nordic black metal explosion, the genre fell prey to bands who adapted the black metal sound to other genres and made easily-digestible versions of the sound. This flowered into a synthesis with indie rock in the late 1990s, at which point the genre had become little more than an aesthetic style and was essentially abandoned by the original bands, fans and community. Styles "Doom Metal" (II) During this time period, former Napalm Death vocalist Lee Dorrian started Cathedral, a band that borrowed from both NWOBHM band Witchfinder General and death metal to produce a new sound. While doom metal bands of the proto-metal variety such as Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus and Pentagram (US) had existed since the 1970s, this new form of doom metal based itself in death metal theory more than the inclusive rock hybrid of proto-metal. Doom metal thus serves not as a sub-genre, but as a style or technique by which bands play exhausting slow and ponderous music which creates an enhanced sense of darkness and mortal weight among the audience. Doom metal can be either of the heavy/proto-metal variety or the death metal variety. Following Cathedral in the death metal variety were Thergothon, Skepticism and Divine Eve. "Speed/Death" Early in the genre, most bands had trouble leaving speed metal behind and some formed a hybrid zone which mixed the techniques of both genres in the form defined by speed metal. A movement to combine speed metal ideals with a more abstract and logical, dark sequence of tones took hold in the form of bands such as Kreator and Destruction, who put together deathy speed metal, or intense hardcore-inspired extremists like Sodom who built three-chord high-speed songs to accustom an audience to enjoying a fast and violent melody. In addition, bands in the United States like Rigor Mortis and Sadus mixed the styles with an infusion of technical playing, which can also be seen on the first Atheist album. "Industrial Grindcore" One of the most influential offshoots of grindcore proved to be industrial grindcore as developed by Godflesh in 1991 with _Streetcleaner_. Combining machine-like electronic percussion with layers of distorted guitars, Godflesh created a spacious sound in which intense distortion gave rise to gentle melody and layers of melody created a harmonic landscape through which the motion of the song progressed. The possibilities of this new style stimulated minds in the upcoming black metal and later death metal works, causing many bands to work toward atmosphere and layers of sound in their otherwise traditional metal. Metalcore: Metalcore and Nu-Metal: (1995-2005) By 1994, black metal culminated in the most iconic and ambitious releases of its era, most notably Burzum _Hvis Lyset Tar Oss_ and later Darkthrone. At the same time both death metal and black metal languished, a new audience inspired by the headlines of black metal murder and the raw parent-shocking extremity of death metal surged into the genre. This created a financial opportunity for those willing to make music that was death metal or black metal on the surface, but underneath, was something safer and recognized. This new music specialized in avoiding the disturbing political and social themes of black metal and toned down the extreme mortalistic pessimism of death metal to a humorous focus on gore lyrics as exemplified by Cannibal Corpse, who lifted much of this from early grindcore pioneer Carcass. Metalcore The new post-underground metal music combined a new style of technical grindcore with groove, "mathcore," best seen in Dillinger Escape Plan, with the hard rock and heavy metal styles of yesteryear and fitted these to the type of rock-punk hybrid of later hardcore, which evoked a "progressive" style in a punk way by insisting on the highest contrast between riffs to the point of randomness, such that songs cycled as if going between different exhibits in a carnival (and the music often resembled carnival music with its emphasis on polka-like beats and extended cyclic fills). In addition, black metal degenerated into what was called "war metal" which referred to exclusively chromatic, highly rhythmic music which imitated the primitive music of Beherit and Blasphemy without the emotional intensity, resembling more than anything else mid-period hardcore punk given metal rhythms. Some even took this hybridization to its next logical step and mixed crustcore, the genre which linearly inherited from Discharge and Amebix, with nominal black metal to produce "black punk." Another form mixed with deathgrind to form "deathcore" and "slam," which emphasized percussive riffing and heavy groove with numerous "breakdowns" or rhythm breaks leading to a half-speed groove. Nu-metal Mainstream metal added funk and hip-hop influences to death metal to create a rock-based variant known as "nu-metal." Using the vocal rhythms of hip-hop in a style inherited from the "brocore" metal of Pantera and its descendants, nu-metal used rock song format and metal distortion to make riffs which were essentially funk- and rock-based but used metal techniques of chromatic fills and strum techniques. Perhaps the biggest nu-metal band appeared in the form of Slipknot, but related acts such as Rage Against the Machine and Marilyn Manson also incorporated these elements. Nu-metal added nothing to metal that hybrid bands had not attempted in the 1980s, but with death metal minimalism and the extremity and imagery of black metal, it became a marketable force at stores like Hot Topic which catered to rebellious teens who wanted to avoid stepping over lines of social acceptance and thus actually damaging their futures. Much as a famous ad campaign related "Banker by Day, Bacardi by Night," the nu-rebels wanted to have both the merits of sociability with the appearance of alienation. Blackened Death Metal In the underground, some tried a new marketing technique and created "blackened death metal" or "black/death metal" which distilled to simple rock-style songs with the simplest form of death metal riffing with melody added. This trend peaked early because of the lack of stylistic distinction of these bands which cultivated rejection by existing black metal and death metal audiences, and their refusal to go all the way to socially safe material as nu-metal and alternative metal had, depriving them of an audience beyond an underground which only grudgingly accepted them. Others reverted to a previously successful form in the percussive death metal of Suffocation but streamlined the result into simpler song structures and added groove in the Pantera style, producing a variant of commercial metal known as "slam" which while it had underground aesthetics failed to uphold the structural and philosophical conventions of the genre and was for the most part quickly discarded. Hybrid Metal: Melodic Metal, Power Metal and Indie-Metal (2005-present) By the time the 21st century dawned, metal had almost four decades of evolution under its belt but to most, it became clear that it had stalled. No new genre ideas had emerged and people were rehashing the past. And so it came to pass that what the 1970s metalheads had feared was in process: metal was being assimilated by rock n' roll and reverting to the mean. All of the sub-genres mentioned in this section fall within the rock world more than metal because they reverse and remove the unique metal method of narrative composition, and replace it with the cyclic harmony-based approach of mainstream rock music, no matter how "extreme" the aesthetic in which it is draped. During this age, metal recombined and hybridized but essentially failed to move forward. Melodic Metal Starting with At the Gates _Slaughter of the Soul_ and related releases from Dissection imitators such as In Flames and Dark Tranquility, metal bands realized that they could capitalize on what Sentenced had pioneered in death metal: mixing in the Iron Maiden/Judas Priest dual guitar harmony of melodic leads. While Sentenced took a death metal outlook, and Dissection tended more toward heavy metal in song structure and sensibility, the new genre stirred interest in many because it softened the extremity of death metal and attracted an audience with a more even balance between genders. With the next generation, bands reduced death metal to technique alone and followed a heavy metal/hard rock format. The result then hybridized with metalcore to produce "melodeath" or melodic heavy metal with death metal vocals and metalcore song structure. Bands like Archenemy forged into this new domain which rapidly synthesized itself with the type of high-speed chaotic metalcore produced by bands like The Haunted (ex-At the Gates). This style reached its logical conclusion in Gridlink, who applied thrash aesthetics to technical melodic riffing and came up with 13-minute albums with more riffs than most bands put in hour-long works. Power Metal (II) Many metalheads expressed a desire for the relative straightforward approach, riff-centric music and compositional integration of 1980s speed metal. They felt that subgenre avoided the excess and dangerous thought of underground metal while preserving what had eternally made metal rewarding to listen to, namely the strong musicality and structural patchwork that produced a sense of ongoing development. Power metal worked in marginal death metal technique and adopted many of the more rock-oriented riff styles from the NWOBHM, sometimes using death vocals and hard rock riffs. Often these bands developed songs from verse-chorus loops but added transitional or bridge riffs to adopt greater complexity. Picking up on a black metal influence, most power metal bands tended toward fantasy-oriented lyrics heavy on medievalist and Tolkien symbology, although those had some precursor in 1980s heavy metal bands like Helloween and Omen. Many modern power metal bands of the Blind Guardian style also feature a use of vocal melodies that resemble those found in gospel and inspirational music, tending toward an upward tonal swing at the end of each phrase. Indie-Metal During the 1990s as death metal and black metal surged, indie rock had also gone underground while alternative rock dominated the radio and video channels. Originally born of the migration of DIY punk bands upward into a form of simple, folksy and low-fi rock, indie rock expanded in the 1980s as a method for bands to achieve a reach outside their local communities without becoming dependent on major labels for the same reason that punk bands opted for self-release. At the time and throughout the 1990s, releases that were not on major label imprints found themselves relegated to specialty stores and mail order. As indie matured it crossed-over with another minor-key genre that in opposition to the bombastic and egotist of mainstream rock became self-effacing and even self-pitying, emo. With the emo-indie fusion independent music expanded from a category in the 1980s to a sub-genre of rock music in the 1990s with its distinct sound. Many noticed that indie bands like My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth were very close to black metal, as both used high sustain distorted guitar to create ambient waves of sound, and hoped to find a way to bridge the two despite radical differences in composition, outlook and spirit. As black metal burned itself out, first with imitators and then substitutes like war metal, indie-metal arose first in the black metal genre with crust/indie/emo/black hybrids. This idea spread when Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore joined "black metal supergroup" Twilight, whose sound resembled drone/indie more than black metal. The headquarters of this scene was San Francisco record store Amoeba Records, which began stocking black metal in the late 1990s and recommending it to its clientele of urban indie-rock hipsters. Another big influence starting in 1995 was Swedish band Opeth who took on the death metal label but whose music, with its acoustic verses and distorted choruses, more resembled nu-metal or alternative-metal without the bouncy rhythms and served itself with a certain projected ostentation -- "you wouldn't understand this, it's too deep and technically advanced" -- that won it many fans among the lowered self-esteem youth who shop at Hot Topic. slipknot-band_photo The first salvo of the indie-metal revolution came through bands like Isis, Gojira and Mastodon who combined proto-metal with indie rock and progressive pop punk, creating longer songs that used metal riffs and aesthetics but other than superficially entirely resembled what the previous generation of indie rock and emo, notably Fugazi, Jawbreaker and Rites of Spring, had made the mainstay of their own successful careers. As the "melting pot" of indie metal continued, other styles emerged, such as "sludge" which erupted from Eyehategod's punk rock take on the slowed-down dirges of Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus. Other bands took inspiration from the rising "progressive metal" movement which Dream Theater popularized with its mix of heavy metal and light progressive like Rush, and as bands like Cynic and Atheist drifted further into jazz technique, this snowballed together and formed a set of techniques which were recognized as more difficult than standard rock playing thus desirable. Further indie rock crossover occurred when Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl formed Probot, a metal band that sounded more like alternative rock (Grohl's former bandmate, Kurt Cobain, identified Celtic Frost as the major influence on Nirvana). Eventually this spread outward through "technical death metal" which, inspired by Gorguts _Obscura_ and other works in the death metal genre, applied death metal aesthetics and technical playing to an indie/death metal/metalcore hybrid. At this point an aggregate, this music followed more of the mainstream path, mixing the light jazz of the 1970s and 1980s with progressive heavy metal technique and indie rock. Its sense of technicality arose from the percussive death metal bands following Suffocation, Incantation, Malevolent Creation, Immolation, Gorguts, Pestilence and Deicide who incorporated intricate rhythms and "sweeps" which sound notes cleanly moving from lower to higher strings on the fretboard, but in the newer form this technicality fit into the late hardcore model of songs which aim for maximal contrast and minimal coherence beween riffs. With that in mind, this style was probably always misnamed as "technical death metal" because it has little in common beneath the surface with death metal, and much more in common with indie-metal.
  • Filter
  • Pelican
  • Opeth

2.3 Styles

slayer-jeff_hanneman Rhythmic Percussive The major innovation of speed metal was the muffled, explosive strumming of power chords to produce a sound of impact and resurrect the power of rhythm guitar in rock music. This creates a sound that is both conclusive and demanding, which in turn requires greater coordination with drums and for rhythms to end toward a hard conclusion, not an open cadence. This style defined speed metal, but spread into death metal and other genres as a secondary technique.
  • Exodus
  • Prong
  • Suffocation
Phrasal Riffs can be played with a tremolo strum to increase sustain on each note creating an effect much like that of playing the riff on a violin, which then makes its melodic component and "shape" or the patterns of its tonal motion and rhythm combined define the meaning of the riff. Phrasal bands use fast strumming to make riffs that talk to each other on the basis of contrast and similarity in phrase, allowing the band to fit together different riffs to make an internal dialogue so that the sound moves forward by successive revelations from the contrast of riffs. This creates a clear narrative structure and allows more riffs per song.
  • Slayer
  • Morbid Angel
  • Incantation
  • Immortal
Textural Some bands use multiple speeds in the way they strum their riffs, producing a texture within the ostensible riff composed of notes, which in turn creates an ambient effect by relegating drums to timekeeper and taking over the lead role for rhythm with the guitar. Textural riffs tend to emphasize internal divisions of rhythm and create consistency through using these textures like motifs shared between riffs, advancing the song through internal dialogue between the textures.
  • Unleashed
  • Fleshcrawl
  • Bolt Thrower
Trance A trance rhythm uses repetition of a simple phrase to create atmosphere through expectation and then layers additional compositional elements on top or (or texturally, within) that phrase. Like metal itself, this style is easy to do, and hard to do well. It requires a spacious and basic chord progression to work with and an ability to use texture, melody and structure to expand upon that initial setup. As with prismatic construction, the "sonic cathedral" effect creates a sound tapestry through addition or subtraction of harmony, and provides powerful but somewhat linear song structures.
  • Burzum
  • Molested
  • Von
Structure Cyclic In the most common type of song structure, songs are constructed around a verse-chorus pair that has a turnaround, bridge or solo section before returning to repetition of its main theme. This somewhat binary construction alters that cycle only to provide some sense of peak before returning to the norm. In such songs, conclusions are equal to precepts; that is, the song returns to the same position where it started. This is ideal for songs that express emotion about personal issues, like love and sex, because the singer does not want the world to change; he wishes it to remain static, but for this one alteration, which is the acquisition of the beloved/belusted, which is often seen as fulfillment in lieu of the world around him becoming something he enjoys more. "If I only had you, I could put up with the rest" might describe this mentality. Verse-chorus song construction also finds popularity for its ease of construction, because like opposite ends of a piston cycle the two parts of the binary reinforce each other, which allows artists to focus on harmony and soloing.
  • Venom
  • Motorhead
  • Exodus
Narrative As the craft of songwriting becomes more complex, a need arises to organize riffs internally by their relationship to one another instead of by their general relation to a harmonic principle as can be done with binary cyclic songs. This requires that the riffs create an internal dialogue in which the shape of each riff comments on each other and shows a chance in relationship to an underlying idea, so that each new riff expands on the context of the old and allows them to be repeated -- albeit less than in a cyclic form -- in a way that takes advantage of an expanded context so that each successive riff reveals more of a slowly emerging idea. In this style, which more resembles a topography than the neat circles of binary songwriting, songs tend to take narrative form of either a purely motif-driven type which conforms to a story told within the content, or in a more abstract form where the narrative appears in immanent form from the interaction of the riffs themselves. In narrative songs, structure fits content rather than adapting to a pre-ordained form; in some classical music, form is highly articulated to reflect a certain type of story that is to be told, and there the two impulses find parity. In death metal, where the highest evolution of the narrative form occurred in metal, initial riff shape approximates a metaphor for the germinal content, which then in turn shapes song structure around it, more like a form of power chord poetry than a strictly symbolic use.
  • Demilich
  • Incantation
  • Morbid Angel
Layered A song format brought to its height by technology, layered songs create a single unifying element and then place additional instrumentation around it both in support of it and by doing so, as a method of subtly altering context to change the overall impression of each cycle. Originally the province of collaborative improvisation which by necessity incepted through a simple, repetitive and harmonically open phrase played by one instrument so that others could join at will, with electronic music this form appeared as "dub" built around a sampled and sequenced significant element to which other repetitive sounds were added. Layered music allows the addition and subtraction of layers to manipulate the sonic form as a whole and influences its audience by atmosphere, or the sensation of each cycle as changed by the alteration of its layers which builds upon the trance-like unifying element. This shows up in metal more as a technique, such as allowing a riff to gradually find support in drums, bass and vocals, and saw its predominant use in death metal as this form. Frequently, bands break to a riff, mirror it in other instruments, then double the pace of at least one of those instruments and possibly add a second but closely related riff over the top to build intensity without breaking from a riff form.
  • Bolt Thrower
  • Dismember
  • Monstrosity
Flavors New York Death Metal (NYDM) Building on the techniques of speed metal, these bands mixed the percussive style of explosive muted-strum riffing with dark and morbid riffing exhibiting doom metal influences. Often song structures took a more literal direction and resembled musical essays commenting on different aspects of a form before peaking and then returning to stability. This style takes two forms, the guttural blasting death metal variety and the more intricate but mid-paced style. Florida Death Metal Florida death metal bands created a style which emphasized repetitive riffs closely mated to drums and pulsing rhythms. The result borrowed more from heavy metal and speed metal than most death metal, but provided an easily-grasped form which increased the renown of the genre through defiant, monstrously simple and direct metal.
  • Deicide
  • Monstrosity
  • Death
Swedish Death Metal Bands of this variety used a new type of spikily distorted guitar, formed by applying high-intensity distortion via pedal and overdriving it at the amplifier as well, which created high sustain to the guitar and facilitated development of melody. In addition, the early bands in this style borrowed the "d-beat" (a broken rhythm between snare and bass drums) from Discharge and applied it to simple melodic riffing to create a style both savage and beautiful. Bands initially applied the traditional Swedish melodic aptitude toward death metal that initially favored complex riffing, but later reverted to a heavy metal form with speed metal influences that used cyclic song structures to make the most popular version of this style.
  • Carnage
  • At the Gates
  • Entombed
Progressive Continuing the progressive tradition in metal from its influences in late 1960s progressive rock, death metal bands upgraded the wily fingered "technical" death metal of a previous generation with influences from jazz, classical and 1980s guitar shredder music like Joe Satriani. For a time, many of these bands found a unique voice for application of progressive rock ideas in metal without simply recapitulating past works, but with the popularity of Dream Theater it became clear that a huge audience existed for that which facially resembled classic progressive rock and had simpler internal structures underneath. Thus progressive music in metal had two generations, a native one and an externalized one which gradually became a more rock-like form that retained metal riffing and lost all other influences.
  • Atheist
  • Gorguts
  • Pestilence
  • Obliveon
Göthenburg/Melodic From Göthenberg, Sweden, came a series of bands emulating At the Gates by making technical death metal with heavy metal influences and technical riffing. After At the Gates released _Slaughter of the Soul_, this form changed into mostly heavy metal with death metal tremolo strum and lots of melodic intervals. At that point, it essentially became assimilated by power metal.
  • Dissection
  • Sacramentum
  • Unanimated
Deconstructivist Chaotic and nihilistic blasts of short information in three-note riffs founded this style, which through reduction of assumed musicality focused on the information it communicated, but ultimately recapitulated the punk tendency toward disorder and thus became assimilated by punk styles or the art-rock tendencies to which punk migrated. This style differs from the rest of metal in that it attempts to break down or deconstruct attention to a single point of focus, rather than enwrapping multiple points of focus into a single narrative, but resembles early thrash and grindcore in its construction and the arc of its evolution.
  • Impaled Nazarene
  • Havohej
  • Ildjarn
Epic Descended from the devotees of Bathory "_Blood, Fire, Death_, this style aims to create a mini-opera out of albums made with grand concept, "symphonic" instrumentation or added layers of keyboards and synthesized voices, and song structures which emphasize aggression rushing into vast and spacious processionals resembling the coronades of classical music. Often like its forebear Richard Wagner this style focuses on a fusion of folk tales, nationalism and mythology.
  • Emperor
  • Bathory
  • Graveland
Folk Arising later in the metal canon but within the 1990s, this style took folk forms and hybridized them with metal. In this instance, folk refers more to the European music tradition of songs passed along in local areas over the generations, and less to the rock-infused variant of American country which derives influences from Anglo-Germanic folk music adapted to the simplest cyclic form possible.
  • Enslaved
  • Empyrium
  • Skyforger
Neoclassical Deriving many of its influences from the late-period synthpop like Dead Can Dance that fused ambient/industrial with world music, rock and classical influences, neoclassical influences in metal attempt to resurrect classical song structure and spirit in metal music. In heavy metal genres, it tended to manifest in borrowings from classic melody used in lead guitar solos; in death metal, it manifested in structure that emulated the grandeur, power and breadth of classical music. Some bands, such as Massacra, described themselves as "neo-classical death metal" while others alluded to this influence only in interviews.

II. Metal as Concept

  • Metal is a form of composition rather than a specific music theory unique to metal but also found in classical music.
  • Metal bases its beliefs around the concept of _vir_, or aggressively doing right without reference to individual preferences.
  • Metal culture is not counter-culture, but a rejection of it and mainstream establishment culture alike.
  • Metal theory involves a number of techniques used to make sonic texture and narrative composition.

2.1 Theory

sheet_music-beethoven
"All music is the same." - Paul Ledney (Profanatica, Havohej, Incantation, Revenant, Contravisti)
Heavy metal music uses the same music theory that propels all Western music: the diatonic scale and its harmony, the same rhythmic divisions and calibration, and the same instrumentation. Rock music arose from polyglot influences; heavy metal injected Modernist classical via horror movie soundtracks and then in the next generation stripped down composition to the barest elements and then built it up again into a language of its own. Thus much like rock exists within Western music, metal exists within rock, but by dint of its entirely different approach and outlook constitutes a separate genre. What distinguishes metal is its use of riffs as motifs or phrases. These allow metal musicians to unite two highly contrasting points through an intermediate journey composed of dialogue between riffs in (usually) the same key. Through internal dialogue, these riffs negotiate a balance such that the song arrives at conclusions different from its starting point and can repeat its main themes in a new context established by the changing shape of the riff. As a result, metal song structures vary more than those of any other popular genre and contort themselves to the unique needs of each song. However, since metal is still a form of popular music, this variation occurs as an addition to the dominant verse-chorus structure, much as metal is an augmentation to culture as opposed to a counter-reactive, revolutionary force. Through this method heavy metal inherits the technique of modernist classical composers like Anton Bruckner and Richard Wagner, who used both leitmotifs and the prismatic technique of repeating themes after variation to increase intensity of mood, fused with the technique of hardcore punk musicians that stripped aside the conventions of rock to write in keyless chromatic phrases. It inherits its song structure from the progressive rock like King Crimson or Jethro Tull that was part of its founding inspiration, but wraps it around these phrasal compositions inspired byhorror movie soundtracks that were derived directly from modern classical. Using the instrumentation of rock, metal is able to channel its more traditional heritage and, like its founders Black Sabbath, oppose the dominant illusions of a time where pleasant mental escapism pretends it is combating a dominant undercurrent of decay based in human evasion of reality. Metal is not just "not rock"; it is anti-rock. In this sense, heavy metal may be the first "informational" genre of music in that its riffs act more as a pattern language or design pattern to signal the intent of each motif than they serve in the rock music role of filling harmonic space to accompany a vocal which defines the melodic progress of the song. These motifs emerge from a sense of mimesis, or imitation of what exists in reality, but in the case of metal this imitation seems to be not of physical objects but logical objects. Metal is about information; information forms a level that unites thought, matter and energy by putting them in the same arrangements and thus having the same informational outcome. Thus a dream can metaphorically resemble reality, and the objects in reality can be re-shaped by the actions of the dreamer corresponding to events in the dream, and even the cycling of energy can be changed by an alteration in form of physical objects based on their abstract design or thought-based properties. This Platonic similarity explains much of the evocative power of metal: its riffs resemble sensations of reality if not reality itself, much like how horror movies speak through metaphor about the horrors of life itself. The intensely ritualized vocabulary of metal riffs resembles other types of design where repeated patterns are used in similar fashions; the difference is that in metal this language of patterns is used toward fantastic and not functional ends. Architect Christopher Alexander, who designated the term "pattern language" to describe how similar needs produced similar architectures and how those in turn effected the layout of whole communities, explained the importance of pattern languages and their use in producing spaces for humans to live in:
When I first constructed the pattern language, it was based on certain generative schemes that exist in traditional cultures. These generative schemes are sets of instructions which, if carried out sequentially, will allow a person or persons to create a coherent artifact, beautifully and simply. The number of steps vary: there may be as few as a half-dozen steps, or as many as twenty or fifty. When the generative scheme is carried out, the results are always different, because the generative scheme always generates structure that starts with the existing context, and creates things which relate directly and specifically to that context. Thus the beautiful organic variety which was commonplace in traditional society, could exist because these generative schemes were used by thousands of different people, and allowed people to create houses, or rooms or windows, unique to their circumstances.
Each pattern is a three-part rule, which expresses a relation between a certain context, a problem, and a solution. As an element in the world, each pattern is a relationship between a certain context, a certain system of forces which occurs repeatedly in that context, and a certain spatial configuration which allows these forces to resolve themselves. As an element of language, a pattern is an instruction, which shows how this spatial configuration can be used, over and over again, to resolve the given system of forces, wherever the context makes it relevant.
This sense of a pattern language producing design patterns specific to a certain function and adaptive to context resembles the descriptions of another great thinker. The Greek philosopher Plato wrote of divine forms which explained the patterns behind everyday objects and the reasoning for their existence. He viewed these forms as a truer representation of reality than a focus on the tangible and immediate material example of any given object. His description of these forms is as follows:
[There are] men passing along the wall carrying above their heads all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals...which appear over the wall. Some of them are talking, others silent...[The prisoners] see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave...And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them? And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow? To them...the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.
In this metaphor, Plato describes what forms are by describing what they are not. In the context of metal, the forms of riffs are not strictly mimetic; they do not imitate, for example, a chair. They imitate the mental experience of someone perceiving an object in an event or process and the resulting unity between that thought and the experience. The narrative riff style encourages the expression of a process through a story, such as how a person came to a realization, and the interlocking prismatic riff constructions emphasize this condition of change restoring order but amplifying its context and thus meaning. In this sense, metal reveals the underlying content to objects and experience as is relevant to the narrator. This fits with the metal idea -- derived from Romanticism -- of the lone individual trusting an "inner self" where truth and lie can be discerned and meaning can be found. The metal habit of knitting together riffs to tell an evolving story exemplifies this idea. The narrative construction of heavy metal -- especially underground metal, in which the genre found full expression after three generations -- joins it with an elite fraternity of other genres in which song structure is specific to context. In particular, classical music, cosmic ambient bands and progressive rock tend to use this structuring scheme. It enables them to both experiment within a rule-based system where a language is shared with the audience and thus can be used by reference to incorporate a wide variety of ideas, and also to adapt their music as specifically as possible to its topic. This creates a certain "poetry" of the song where the lyrics explain what occurs and lead changes in guitar which determine the directional change of the song. In classical music, the song forms that developed over centuries reflected the generative patterns required for certain types of context, which in art means "content" and "topic." Metal creates an extremely naturalistic form of information music as a result. Its songs, like structures found in nature, use simple ideas expanded upon by their interaction over time so that through the internal dialogue of riffs, a journey unfolds and reveals the intent behind the content as framed by the artists. Much like in a poem, where the meaning is not "spelled out" but must be decrypted by the mind of the reader who compares it to past experience and uses analysis to unconver its relevance and metaphor, metal songs resemble subconscious ideas or even the shapes of memories and experiences in our minds. Like abstract art, the unconscious metaphor indicates a similarity and creates a connection between listener and topic.
A physicist, conceiving systems of differential equations, would call their mathematical movements a "flow." Flow was a Platonic idea, assuming the change in systems reflected some reality independent of the particular instant. Libchaber embraced Plato's sense that hidden forms fill the universe. 'But you know they do! You have seen leaves. When you look at all the leaves, aren't you struck by the fact that the number of shapes is limited?'
Narrative construction empowers each song to have a unique "shape," much as riffs have shapes based on the phrase they repeat and the different tonal directions it takes. Heavy metal creates a type of mental symbol in each song such that it evokes a sense not just of the immediate but of the timeless archetypes of human life. Lyrics underscore this by avoiding the personal and sensual that rock music favors, and instead looking at life through a lens of mythology, history and fantasy. If a source of modern myth exists, it might be found in heavy metal, where not only words and images but also the shape of riff and song like sigils encode a type of not universal but particular experience that resonates with all who have undergone it and amplifies context from the immediate to the eternal. In this heavy metal also resembles Greek tragedy and other types of drama in which music plays a central role. In its role as an outsider, metal opposes both current culture and anti-culture, preferring the intangible view of history external to the perspective of our society and the daily mundane ideologies and rituals we use to re-assure ourselves. Its "heavy" content shows us where there is a more fundamental truth; we bind truth up in words, and in stories of the individual, and obscure the larger picture. For this reason, its neo-Wagnerian motifs and narrative composition reveal an underlying need that our society cannot address. It conjures up visions of ancient greatness, and metaphorical myths of fantasy lands, to show us the world outside of the human definitions, rules, morals, laws and mental constructs that we use to self-congratulate on our importance. This in turn brings up vir, which is the notion of doing what is right; this differs from modern morality, which is focused on defense of the individual against imposition of the will of another, because vir focuses on what is right according to the mythic or cosmic order as a whole, and frequently involves acts that modern people would say are "wrong" because they involve the sacrifice of one or more individuals. The mythic-historical view of metal allows it to take this non-human perspective and from it, to create myth:
[Myths] are the world's dreams. They are the archetypal dreams and deal with great human problems. I know when I come to one of these thresholds now. The myth tells me about it, how to respond to certain crises of disappointment or delight or failure or success. The myths tell me who I am.
Although it takes some analysis to spot its origins, this mythic nature is the essence of heavy metal and its choice to use longer riffs in narrative structures. This tendency has grown over time from a way of writing riffs to a way of thinking and in doing so, lives up to the original influence of horror movies on metal. Horror movies demonstrate the influence of mythmakers, notably the greatest literary inspirations of metal including H.P. Lovecraft, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, John Milton, Friedrich Nietzsche and E.A. Poe. In pursing this mythological voice, heavy metal displays a number of technical innovations or other changes from popular music:
  • Technique --> Structure
    Technique, which normally serves to embellish, became under metal the science of structure by creating ways for guitar to lead composition independent of drums and vocals, which lead in rock music. Heavy metal worked through the austerity of power chords and a jazzlike rhythm to a deeply chaotic and abstract blues. Speed metal used muted-palm picking to create a mechanical, grinding sound, where death metal bands began to use a flutterstrum which would turn a chord into a stream of undulating sound with a massive tremelo effect, building a powerful tool for ambient melody.
  • Harmony --> Melody
    Harmony in metal is used to unify a number of melodies to a sequence of tone centers which represent the parts of the idea being manipulated by the song. The riffs which metal bands use are structuralistic in that they describe rather than categorize, by the nature of their wandering phrases which use structural similarity for coherence rather than tonal unison. Where harmony serves to preformat a range of emotions for rock bands, in metal, melody drives harmony, letting the composer take the music into whatever direction he/she desires by dynamically associating tone centers with contrapuntal arrangements, layering strips of reference to narrative and joining them with harmonies.
  • Tonality --> Dynamicism
    The major element of the evolution of heavy metal is a progression in tonality from the blues-rock extrapolationist grab bag to the chromatic, dark and almost mystically nihilistic tone patterns of death and black metal. The ability to change from a fixed-tonal system to a system which, like the Doppler effect, is based on proximity and speed to establish a current point of reference, provides for a basis of composition which is more specialized for systemic expression than for linear expression.
Metal musicians have frequently cited classical composers, such as Johannes Sebastian Bach (Bathory, Dawning), Richard Wagner (Burzum, Necrodemon), Ludwig van Beethoven (Bathory, Condor, Organic), W.A. Mozart (Morbid Angel, Organic), Niccolo Paganini (Organic), Modest Mussorgski (Sammath), Franz Liszt (Dawning), Bedrich Smetana (Condor), Antonio Vivaldi (Organic), .
"Strife is evolution, peace is degeneration." - Varg Vikernes, http://www.burzum.com/

2.2 Philosophy

mayhem-dead
That depends on how you see Utopia. In a sense, an ideal society would be a static society, and any such society is an evolutionary dead end. Happiness is a byproduct of function, purpose, and conflict; those who seek happiness for itself seek victory without war. -- William S Burroughs
On the surface, heavy metal appears a distant from philosophy as one can imagine. A genre of long-haired, beer-swilling, dope-smoking maniacs screaming lyrics about death, war and the occult seems far removed from any pretense of structured thought. Yet under the surface something else lurks. The word "occult" -- original meaning: concealed -- denotes hidden truths of an esoteric nature which cannot be learned from symbols, but must be experienced in layers with each layer giving rise to the ability to understand the next. It also applies to any genre like heavy metal that conceals its truths in such layers. The occult resembles art itself which takes a narrative form in contrast to the representative form of symbols. The earliest art -- a cave painting of a hunt perhaps -- told stories: an attempt, a struggle, pitfalls and failures that were overcome to achieve a goal. The outcome of these tales was not the interesting part since it was already known; hunts were either successes or fatalities. What made them interesting was the struggle in each, and the overcoming, and the prototypical version of a "moral" -- what was learned in the process -- which meant that the teller revealed in narrative a change in his own mental state through experience in the physical world. As humanity grew, this story-telling attribute of art grew with it.
I grew up in an idyllic society, really. Homogeneous, no crime; everything was basically perfect. We had stables with girls riding horses, who were playing on the outside... there were no problems. Whatever. At some point, when we grew older, of course there were problems but we didn't see them thus. Basically the truth, eh? But when you grow older, you see that things are not the way you want them to be. McDonald's didn't appear until 1991 or 1992, and when it did, we actually took a rifle and bicycles, we rode our bikes up to McDonald's, and we sat down and started to fire on the windows. We were sneaking up and shooting at McDonald's, we stockpiled weapons and munitions to prepare for war, because we not only suspected that there might be a third world war, but we hoped that there would be a third world war. Not because we enjoyed destruction so much, but because we knew that if you want to build something new, you have to destroy the old first.
Most philosophies take a utilitarian view of life and measure actions by whether a group of people would see them as "good" or "bad." But that utilitarian view has an Achilles heel. Categories like good/bad become symbols. Symbols can take many forms: political, commercial, moral and most importantly, social. A social symbol conveys membership in a group or status within the group. For those who want to manipulate others, specifically groups of other people, symbols serve a role art cannot. When they associate a symbol like "good" with an act, they can trigger mass obedience, and by labeling other things as "bad," can wage war against them using the superior numbers of the herd. Heavy metal -- which finds beauty in darkness, clarity in distortion, and justice in violence -- constructs itself from contrasted patterns to reveal an underlying truth and a rejection of symbolism and utilitarianism. It worships power and nature, not morality. Its view strikes away from the modern utilitarian notion of good as that which pleases the group, and returns instead to the individualism tempered by nature worship expressed by the European Romantics in art, literature and music during roughly 1600-1900 AD. M.H. Abrams provides us with a definition of Romanticism.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. External nature (landscape, plants, animals) became a persistent subject.
  4. Often written with the poet or writer as protagonist.
  5. A sense of progress, or of limitless good achievable by use of the imagination, instead of reliance upon past methods.
He contrasts this to the values of the neoclassical period that immediately preceded the Romantic:
  1. A strong traditionalism rooted in their respect for Greco-Roman classical writers, and a distrust of radical innovation.
  2. Literature was seen as being primarily an art, or a skillset created by nurturing innate talents through directed work. For this reason, complex formal rules and conventions were highly important.
  3. Art was seen as an imitation of nature, with human life being its prime subject and the communication of ideals toward humanity its goal.
  4. Emphasis was placed on what humans possess in common, such as characteristics, shared experiences, thoughts, feelings and tastes. The goal was to express common truths in an enlightening way.
  5. Humans were viewed as limited and having specific places in a hierarchy of natural events and beings, called The Great Chain of Being. It was considered best to find the appropriate place in this and not go above it.
The most important part of this may be the "own feelings instead of a universal emotion shared among all humanity" and "sense of discovery through intuition" which are complementary parts. A metalhead does not seek knowledge in the ideas of the crowd or the universal feelings of humanity, but in the experience of the individual and the inner truths revealed. The purpose is to find an order in nature both inside the self and in the outside world, and as a result, a way to escape the judgment of the herd and know not only what is true, for crowds lie to cover their misdeeds, but also what is important. Among other attributes, metal is a proactive and valuative philosophy which seeks to find an optimal experience in life.
They block out the landscape with giant signs Covered with pretty girls and catchy lines Put up the fences and cement the ground To dull my senses, keep the flowers down -- Give My Taxes Back, Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (Dealing With It)
Hateful savages Strong black minds Out of the forest Kill the human kind Burn the settlements and grow the woods Until this romantic place is understood -- Absurd, "Green Heart," (Out of the Dungeon)
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche draws a distinction between "Apollonian" or rigidly order-based thinking and "Dionysian" thought which resorts more to an expression of the human id, a chaotic and emotional force.
With Romanticism, Western thinkers rejected the order, balance, harmony and rationality of Classicism and replaced it with a tempestuous focus on the human individual. While this reflected the thought of the Enlightenment, in which the human form replaced the notion of a divine order to all life, Romantics tempered this with a strong suspicion and distrust of what is socially popular. The figure of the Romantic era is the lone actor who understands his or her world through inner passion and finds it reflected outwardly in nature. As part of this new discipline, Romantics emphasized "the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental."
Among the characteristic attitudes of Romanticism were the following: a deepened appreciation of the beauties of nature; a general exaltation of emotion over reason and of the senses over intellect; a turning in upon the self and a heightened examination of human personality and its moods and mental potentialities; a preoccupation with the genius, the hero, and the exceptional figure in general, and a focus on his passions and inner struggles; a new view of the artist as a supremely individual creator, whose creative spirit is more important than strict adherence to formal rules and traditional procedures.
Romanticism produced some of the greatest works of literature the Western world has in its canon, many of which evoked form and content similar to that of ancient Greco-Roman literature without the surface formalism of the preceding Classicist generation. Among the important contributions of Romantic literature were poetry from William Wordsworth and Percy Bysshe Shelley, an epic poem about the fall of Satan entitled _Paradise Lost_ by John Milton, and from the later Romantics, _Frankenstein_ by Mary Shelley, _Dracula_ by Bram Stoker and _The Sorrows of Young Werther_ by Johannes Wolfgang von Goethe. In addition, later writers such as Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft borrowed from Romantic themes. Stoker, Mary Shelley, Poe and Lovecraft contributed the raw material of the horror story which is the basis of the horror film genre from which heavy metal received its first and ongoing most fundamental inspiration. caspar_david_friedrich-the_wanderer_above_the_sea_of_fog In particular, the works by Mary Shelley, Milton and Stoker deserve further analysis in the context of metal. In _Frankenstein_, which contained many allusions to the French Revolution
, a scientist becomes intoxicated by his own power and creates a "perfect being" who then turns on human society; in _Paradise Lost_, Milton tells the story of Satan from the perspective of that fallen angel, revealing the depths of a human-like ego; in _Dracula_, a parasite attacks society and must be destroyed by chasing it to its Eastern lair and exterminating it. In that story, the parasite grew out of the changes in a local prince who rejected God after his kingdom was assaulted by Muslims and his wife slain. These books cover a huge span of European history and fundamentally reject not just Classicism, but much of the Enlightenment and French Revolutionary rhetoric of the time. Where the Enlightenment and Revolution saw all humans as valid decision-makers, and thus equal, the Romantics saw a society out of control that had left behind principles of reality found in nature to pursue its own swelling, monstrous ego.
The "new form" of her novel is more subjective, complex, and problematic than earlier monster fictions in the political tradition. Mary Shelley translates politics into psychology. She uses revolutionary symbolism, but she is writing in a postrevolutionary era when collective political movements no longer appear viable. Consequently, she internalizes political debates. Her characters reenact earlier political polemics on the level of personal psychology. In the 1790s, writers like Edmund Burke had warned of a collective, parricidal monster -- the revolutionary regime in France -- that was haunting all of Europe; in the aftermath of the revolution, Mary Shelley scales this symbolism down to domestic size. Her novel reenacts the monster icon, but it does so from the perspective of isolated and subjective narrators who are locked in parricidal struggles of their own.
Heavy metal picked up this theme with its embrace of "heaviness" itself: a hidden, or occult and esoteric notion, that truth is not accessible to the crowd. Ideas become heavy because they resurrect truths which are known to nature, but not the human social mass which chooses only ideas that flatter it and its sense of self-importance. To find these truths, the individual must look within to what they know is true and reject that which the crowd embraces. Much as in _Dracula_ and _Frankenstein_, the individual finds that others are unwilling to believe that anything out of the ordinary is going on, and must tackle the problem on their own without many resources.
Rape my mind and destroy my feelings Don't tell my what to do I don't care now, 'cause I'm on my side And I can see through you Feed my brain with your so-called standards Who says that I ain't right Break away from your common fashion See through your blurry sight -- Escape, Metallica (_Ride the Lightning_)
The social philosophy of heavy metal can be described as "antisocialism." Metal embraces everything that normally we exclude from social conversation -- death, ugliness, terror, genocide, disease, warfare, perversion -- and somehow channels it into music that lacks beauty in the decorative sense but makes from these repellent conditions an appealing conflict in which we wish to see the best outcome push down the rest through those same dark methods. This view remains socially unacceptable in both liberal democracies and conservative theocracies, which is why the public view of metal disregards it and characterizes it as angry teenagers protesting early bedtimes. That description would apply if heavy metal uniformly rejected everything before it, but it tends to reject social illusion and human illusion and embraces forces of nature and objective change such as history and its codification in myth. Antisocialism can be seen in metal on a musical level as well as in its lyrics. Rock music is based in harmony, or the idea of setting up a basic melody and then using vocals and change in key or shift to minor key as a means of inducing emotion, usually of a contrasting/combined form like sadness and delight simultaneously. This bittersweet feeling pervades most rock with a heavy sense of emotion focused in the individual. Metal distances itself by basing the song around the riff where changes in riff induce emotion instead. In that compositional method, what creates emotional intensity is the relative change in riff as part of an ongoing song structure, more like a poem than a pulsing constant sound. This inconstancy in metal proves essential to its method: instead of creating an emotional state and then manipulating the listener with it, metal creates a context and then adjusts this such that the change in riff and relation between riffs provokes in the listener a recognition of a resemblance to some facet of life or experience. This establishes one of the fundamental thoughts implicit in metal philosophy: the individual as inconsequential in a world without inherent rules or an order above nature, in which meaning is derived not from individual desires and judgments, but the process of interaction within the whole. Metal adopts a certain kind of positive nihilism in this regard in that it sees life as a series of choices based on options that emerge, not a process of following a built-in path to acceptance. The esoteric nature of metal thought, inherited in part from its fascination with the occult, holds that there is no one path for everyone only paths that some may opt to follow which have different results from the others. Metalheads often draw a distinction between mainstream culture and their own beliefs, or use terms like "poseur" to exclude those who are of the mainstream mindset. That mentality originates in this division between private truth and public illusion.
According to the Romantic conception, the lost unity could not be restored by external means; it had rather to grow out of man's inner spiritual urge and then gradually to ripen. The romantics were firmly convinced that in the soul of the people the memory of that state of former perfection still slumbered. But that inner source had been choked and had first to be freed again before the silent intuition could once more become alive in the minds of men. So they searched for the hidden sources and lost themselves ever deeper in the mystic dusk of a past age whose strange magic had intoxicated their minds. The German medieval age with its colorful variety and its inexhaustible power of creation was for them a new revelation. They believed themselves to have found there that unity of life which humanity had lost. Now the old cities and the Gothic cathedrals spoke a special language and testified to that 'verlorene Heimat' (lost homeland) on which the longing of romanticism spent itself. The Rhine with its legend-rich castles, its cloisters and mountains, became Germany's sacred stream; all the past took on a new character, a glorified meaning.
Heavy metal rejects modern morality which aims mostly at protecting the individual from a requirement to conform to social standards, but at the same time asserts that the individual can reject any morality which is inconsistent with nature, history and mythology. Before this modern morality, the idea of doing right possessed a different meaning: "vir," or a sense of aggressive putting of things to right according to a natural, cosmic or metaphysical order. Where modern morality is designed to preserve the individual against society, the ancient way sought to promote healthy in society and surrounding nature as a whole as a means of preserving the individual. The expression of this belief in metal takes on a Faustian nature. A German Romantic writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, wrote his immortal epic _Faust_ about a man who makes a bargain with the devil and in it encoded the metaphor of the Faustian spirit: humankind struggling with the necessary evils of suffering and death, yet aware of the great things to be achieved once one accepts them in the bargain. As a result, the Faustian spirit describes any individual who does not seek to explain away suffering, but wants to accept life as a whole, and thus feels extreme passions in both pleasure and pain. It is the antithesis of the passive and world-negating spirit of not only far-east philosophy and populist Christianity, but also our modern notion of Utopian fantasies of making the world "safe." Metal rejects safety, morality and the idea of "normalcy" or a single standard that tempers the nature inside of us. The raging spirit of metal that embraces the dark side of life is Faustian in its very nature, as is the tendency of black metal bands to glorify both death and the exultant experience of victory in combat. Goethe emerged from the Romantic time period and outlook, but so did another group of writers who expressed "naturalism" or a belief in the order of nature as more realistic and often, more accurate and divinely inspired, than that of humankind. For misanthropes at a structural level, naturalism rejects human morality and invented religions and replaces it with substitutes derived from patterns found in nature, often through transcendental thought. Best exemplified by William Blake (a major influence on The Doors) and Ralph Waldo Emerson, this movement seeks to understand nature and its wisdom by recognizing that it is superior to human orders for the purpose of adapting to and maintaing a high quality of life. Naturalists do not cringe at the red talons of the predatory hawk tearing the mouse; instead, they praise the greater strength of the mouse and hawk populations achieved as a result, and the trees which will be fertilized by hawk droppings. It is an organic, gritty philosophy with deep links to cosmicism, or acceptance of the universe as an order in itself which needs no remaking; this is in dramatic contrast to Judeo-Christian moralism, which inherently finds fault with nature and seeks to replace it with an morality designed to pacify fear of insufficiency, death and suffering. Blake's concept of "the path of excess leading to the road of wisdom" is an esoteric statement of this belief, and clearly influenced early heavy metal and is an unstated influence behind death metal and black metal. Whether born yesterday, or an older person, the individual faces a world in which many things happen, and some turn out positive for that individual, while others are negative. Herein is the reason humans philosophize. We live because to some degree, we believe in living, but it is a balance between emotions incurred by the positive and the negative aspects of life. In this the fundamental question of philosophy can be seen, which is, "Why do I live, and why is it that life includes negativity?" There are several approaches to this question:
  1. Deny suffering. Whether through stoicism, or numbness, or a belief that the individual does not exist, one can minimize the value of suffering to the individual. However, when one destroys suffering in the representation of the world that every individual has, one also reduces the impact of joy, and thus a stable norm is achieved but great deeds, which require great passions and enjoyment of life, are stultified. The problem of far-east philosophies comes to mind here.
  2. Embrace suffering. Self-pity is a fundamental notion to all humans, because by making the impact of suffering congratulatory to the individual, it allows the individual to endure suffering, but also converts the individual into a masochist. When this happens, the individual loses any higher impulse, and becomes fixated on the self and ways to keep it afloat through additional suffering and, as a palliative, reward, which usually takes the form of pity for others. This is the way of middle eastern religions, including Christianity.
  3. Explain suffering. Without finding a way to resolve the fact that it is real and its impact will inexorably be felt, suffering can be interpreted as not only logical but as a kind of logical optimum. In this view, one finds a reason that suffering exists, such as the notion that because there is negativity there is space for change, and that which is not fit for the future is eliminated. It is a naturalistic view, and this is common to all Pagan beliefs: they understand suffering as a mechanism by which nature maintains itself and encourages, gently when you consider how large the natural world is compared to the individual, the growth of individuals and species.
The only philosophy that expresses vir is (c), because in this one subsumes the role of suffering to that of a creative force, and thus does not lessen either suffering of joy, but finds it natural and right that one might pursue enjoyment (and what it encourages: creative achievement, whether writing better music or building bigger banquet halls) and also experience suffering. There is no need or ability to explain away suffering; suffering is simply suffering, or negativity, associated with empty spaces and "clearing" forces such as winter and death. The individual following this philosophy must accept that some things, such as mortality and suffering, are part of life as a whole, and while the individual will suffer and die, the whole will continue and it is right that it do so, because the whole is the source of both the individual and enjoyment. In this, metal approximates the knowledge of hermetic, Pagan, Hindu and other occult sects more than the exoteric vision of Western religion and morality. Metal music serves as a popular target for those disturbed by evil, Satanism and occultism, only in part because those views are taboo; the bigger sin is refutation of the accepted view with something that may admit the taboo. During the 1980s when more people held Christian views, one of the primary charges against metal at events like the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) hearings was that it encouraged Satanism. This occurred during a time when people were being convicted of child molestation under a theory of "Satanic ritual abuse" and the mainstream media never blinked at the accusation. Since its inception in Black Sabbath, metal has expressed a fascination with both evil and the occult. At the point of its origin however this fascination mostly dealt with the threat of evil coming to pass. Its thought verges close to Milton and Blake in this regard by showing a utility of evil, and an experience of Satan which reveals the conflict in the human soul between ego and world. Unlike most descriptions of evil, early metal lyrics focused on evil as an explanation for the mass trends and politics shaping society. Black Sabbath portrayed evil as a negative force controlling humanity behind the facade of civilization and its institutions. Over the generations of heavy metal, the genre has changed its outlook on these the role of evil.
Now in darkness, world stops turning Ashes where their bodies burning No more war pigs have the power Hand of God has struck the hour Day of Judgement, God is calling On their knees the war pigs crawling Begging mercy for their sins Satan, laughing, spreads his wings Oh, Lord yeah! -- Black Sabbath, "War Pigs" (_Paranoid_)
During the speed metal years, metal kept essentially this same concept. In the hands of popular culture and politics, evil found a way to corrupt good. However, the blame for this rested on external parties and those with wealth and power. This both continued the Black Sabbath view of "war pigs" controlling society and pointing it toward evil ends which culminate in the destruction of all for their sins, and modified it such that the forces of evil were seen as controlling that which was otherwise good. Witness this late-career summation from Metallica:
Lady Justice Has Been Raped Truth Assassin Rolls of Red Tape Seal Your Lips Now You're Done in Their Money Tips Her Scales Again Make Your Deal Just What Is Truth? I Cannot Tell Cannot Feel -- Metallica, "...And Justice For All" (_...And Justice For All_)
The death metal generation took over next but showed some overlap with the speed metal years through bands such as Slayer. In their vision, evil corrupted good because what was seen as "good" actually served to enable evil through the delusion, laziness and narcissism of humanity as a group. This view combines the historical and the mythological to create a "mythological-historical" perspective in which views changes in human experience as the result of a shifting of underlying ideas, in this case a tendency for evil to be considered good. Slayer express a vision of a society that has corrupted itself through "good" which was actually evil in hidden intent, resulting in an insufferable world:
Fear runs wild in the veins of the world The hate turns the skies jet black Death is assured in future plans Why live if there's nothing there Spectors of doom await the moment The mallet is sure and precise Cover the crypts of all mankind With cloven hoove begone -- Slayer, "Hardening of the Arteries" (_Hell Awaits_)
The following generation took the mythic view of history expressed by Slayer and made it into an identity. In this view, the world is rotten and good is the source of this ill; the solution is to destroy good, invert the cross, and let the churches burn. In this view, Christians and others who affirm morality of the herd are the negative and corrupting force of evil, and good can be found in doing evil to them. The idea of those who proclaim themselves as "good" being fundamentally manipulative, hypocritical and deceptive emerges during this time.
Chant the blasphemy Mockery of the messiah We curse the holy ghost Enslaver of the weak God of lies and greed God of hypocrisy We laugh at your bastard child No god shall come before me ...Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law Rebel against the church Drink from the chalice of blasphemy Rise up against the enslaver -- Morbid Angel, "Blasphemy" (_Altars of Madness_)
At its extreme end, this philosophy begins to resemble advocacy for a Satanic holy war. In this crucial step, good is not so much corrupted as it is wrong; the idea of goodness is illogical and inherently manipulated and must be destroyed. This creates an important precursor to the philosophical leap taken by black metal bands in the next half-generation.
We deny God and his rule We defy his supreme force Crucified by the dark power His death was a glory Forgotten by our mind forever He's left the churches to torment us We'll destroy the high altar Until we see the ashes of pain -- Sepultura, "Crucifixion" (_Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation_)
When black metal approached this topic, it evolved its dislike of good to a final stage: not only was good corrupt, but it was illogical. Love, trust, equality, acceptance and universality were illogical not by their own rules but by the rules of nature. Christianity was -- as Nietzsche saw it -- the origin of humanism and liberalism which constituted a form of control of humanity through social influence, a method of using guilt and shame to tame the exceptional so they could be humbled before the herd. As a result, black metal created the first metal genre to not only reject corrupted good, but to reject the notion of good, and to build within the concept of "evil" a philosophy of natural selection, conflict, war and racial isolation. Naturally the latter became the most controversial as since the end of WWII the Western nations have adopted a policy of inclusivity and diversity. The embrace of nationalism that came with black metal -- Mayhem practiced under Nazi flags, Darkthrone and Burzum advocated racial withdrawal if not supremacy, even mild-mannered Enslaved sang of their Nordic land as separate from all other peoples -- shocked and appalled many which seemed to prove the black metal approach to evil: "good" makes people afraid to do what would be logical in nature, which is self-preserve and allow natural selection to weed out the stupid instead of soliciting them for votes and selling them products.
Run from this fire It will burn your very soul Its flames reaching higher Comed this far there is no hold O, all small creatures It is the twilight if the gods - Twilight of the Gods, Bathory (_Twilight of the Gods_)
Not all bands took these highly articulated approaches. During the death metal years, some bands took a mere atheist/materialist stance:
Drown your sorrows in prayer But your prayers will never change the world I separate myself From those who chase the spirit I can't fall to my knees And pretend like all the rest This is a soul that doesn't need saving -- Immolation, "I Feel Nothing" (_Here In After_)
It is unclear whether Christianity is the actual target, or whether that target is "herd morality" as Nietzsche would call it. Many metal bands, such as Slayer and Black Sabbath, have Christian members who do not hide this orientation; few if any metal bands wish to be identified as "Christian metal," in part because of the existence of a parallel underground within the Christian community for popular music with an exclusively Christian message. Within metalheads there is a distrust for selling out or joining an institution such that one would benefit from it because then objectivity is occluded by the resulting self-interest. They apply that vision equally to commercial interests, political interests and of course mainstream religion. Much like the Romantic poets before them, many metal bands embrace occult and pagan beliefs, including almost all of black metal and death metal. The Romantic poets found interest mostly in the European traditions of occultism including Greco-Roman paganism and, with the rise of nationalist sentiment in late Romanticism, the indigenous European cultures and their ancient gods. The interest of the Romanticists centered around the possibility of a wisdom with levels of revelaton as opposed to the single-level of modern Christianity which was then too easily taken over by social trends, the whims of its audience or political influences. Others used occultism and pagan beliefs as metaphor, including to explore a more naturalistic morality and to symbolize a past era.
The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon, The winds that will be howling at all hours, And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers, For this, for everything, we are out of tune; It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn. -- "The World is Too Much With Us," William Wordsworth, English Romantic poet (1789)
Heavy metal beliefs might be described as "transcendental." Transcendentalists hold that an order pervades all of the universe which can be perceived by the individual and through its understanding, the individual can come to understand the logicality of the cosmos and thus discover the divinity within it. This order opposes the notion of "faith," where the individual accepts as true what religious dogma says must be true, and dualism, which presupposes that whatever spiritual order exists must do so in an entirely different world where the essential laws of construction of that world differ radically from our own. Metal spirituality tends to take a transcendental view, usually that by observing nature and reality, the individual can find deep within themselves a revelation of the meaning and importance of existence. Selecting for where they have more in common than not, certain ancestral beliefs can be grouped together as "pagan" (a term originally designating their prevalence in the countryside). Pagan and occult beliefs are similar on a structural level, with some arguing their origins in Hindu and Greco-Roman traditions have a single ancestor, and differ from Christianity in several key ways:
  1. A lack of official doctrine and ideological qualification for entry (exotericism).
  2. Good and evil as collaborative complements rather than oppositional.
  3. Process and eternal renewal instead of judgment and final states.
  4. Disbelief that a sacrament or magic words can substitute for knowledge or ability (esotericism).
  5. Nature-worship instead of worship of idealized humanity.
As if inspired by Dionysos, the crafty god of wine of the Greek era, or by Fenris, the wolf of apocalypse of the Norse, metal bands have rejected order in favor of chaos and impulses of the raw id. This dovetails with the naturalism of paganism and its refusal to adopt a written orthodoxy let it be co-opted into an exoteric philosophy capable of manipulation like the mainstream organized religions including the "New Age" neo-Pagan ones. Paganism at its heart embraces secrecy, hidden knowledge and elitism. Metal plays to this ideal with its own tendency to obscure its meanings behind a wave of riffs but to leave the meaning plain for those who can undergo a few levels of analysis to bring it out. Metal bands incorporate occult, mythological, Pagan, Satanic, Norse and polytheistic imagery in a number of ways. Some incorporate ideas of it into their lyrics; others use numerological formulae in composing riffs; still others explore sacred ideas within their imagery or writing. With the rise of death metal, this became more common with Rudra (Hinduism) and Asgard (Asatru), but with black metal the use of lyrics expanded, including bands quoting from Eddas (Burzum, Enslaved) and outright Satanic texts or practice (Acheron, Dissection). As black metal faded, the rising power metal genre took up much of this material in a gentler form but remained fervently nationalistic and separated in identity from Christianity. Heavy metal touches on another taboo thought which is the idea of nihilism. Nihilism is not so much an advocacy as it is an issue that most people tiptoe around. Is life meaningless? Our lurking fear is that nothing we do has any significance beyond our own experience which vanishes at death and that we are at best only physical bodies with impulsive needs. The gateway to this question and related lines of thought is found in nihilism. Nihilism states a triad of anti-beliefs: no truth, no values and no knowledge.
Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy.
F.W. Nietzsche introduced the concept of nihilism with his dichotomy between the "last man" and the "overman": the last man is a pure materialist who cares only about his own comfort and wealth, where the overman wishes to overcome the conditions of human life including its transient temporality and create greatness and beauty far beyond the bounds of self. In many ways, metalheads resemble the overman by discarding concerns for what is popular thus profitable thus conducive to personal comfort and convenience, and instead laboring in darkness to produce music that is meaningful to possibly themselves only. The problem most metalheads find is that they encounter a world of self-destruction. A society that validates itself with its own theories, unproven because of the vast wave of technological wealth upon which we ride, has made itself into a crass mess of fast food, obedience-oriented jobs, flattery and pandering to special interest groups. The only option seems to be to drop out and live in relative poverty while avoiding its commitments, which then leads to evolutionary destruction of those who drop out. Modern life gives us a choice of giving and becoming last men, or constantly struggling to stay outsiders in order to strive toward being overmen.
"In our contemporary, youth are pretty much lost. They have no direction. Nobody is telling them what to do. That is, people are telling them what to do, but the youth have instincts telling them, 'This is wrong.' People are telling that Christianity is good, people are telling them that the USA is good, NATO is good, our democracy is good. But we know -- if not intellectually -- we know instinctively that this is wrong."
Nietzsche saw last men as being a symptom of "nihilism," which he defined as a lack of importance assigned to anything beyond material comfort because of the lack of inherent characteristics -- truth, God, knowledge, values -- requiring us to be otherwise. Metal retaliates with a form of "active nihilism" that instead acknowledges the void and seeks to find meaning in the possibilities of life instead. Metal bands routinely reject the mores and morals of society around them, but instead of replacing them with an ethic of convenience, replace them with morals of their own. The first and most important of these is the distinction between "poseurs," or those who use music as a means to socializing with others and being popular, and those who are "true metal" and find meaning in the music for its own sake. Metal identifies primarily as outsider art and always has. Its perspective views society as an error and sees the basis of this error in the pleasant illusions most people tell each other in conversation, hear from the television or read in advertisements. Like the Romantics, it scorns mass society and sees it as based in people flattering each other with what they want to hear, not what they need to hear, which is what they find within themselves -- if they are brave enough to look. In this sense, metal opposes nihilism of the passive or fatalistic sort, and replaces it with an active nihilism that acknowledges the lack of inherent truth but suggests that we can find a truth in survival itself, in prevalence through conflict, and in searching our inner selves. friedrich_wilhelm_nietzsche The reliance on instinct hearkens to both the examination of inner truths that the Romantics explored and the reliance of early Idealist philosophers such as Kant on intuition as the basis of knowledge. It also dovetails with the Nietzschean idea of most morality as a control mechanism by those who need an external reference to avoid infringing. In his view, the moral questions that trouble the average person are not only common knowledge but unexceptional to a person of higher ability. For this reason, the law of social morality constrains those more able people and ultimately enslaves them to the problems of those below them in ability, producing an accelerating factor for nihilism.
Notwithstanding his frequent characterization as a nihilist, therefore, Nietzsche in fact sought to counter and overcome the nihilism he expected to prevail in the aftermath o the collapse and abandonment of traditional religious and metaphysical modes of interpretation and evaluation. While he was highly critical of the latter, it was not his intention merely to oppose them; for he further attempted to make out the possibility of forms of truth and knowledge to which philosophical interpreters of life and the world might aspire, and espoused as "Dionysian value-standard" in place of all non-naturalistic modes of valuation. In keeping with his interpretation of life and the world in terms of his conception of the will to power, Nietzsche framed this standard in terms of his interpretation of them. The only tenable alternative to nihilism must be based upon a recognition and affirmation of the world's fundamental character. This meant positing as a general standard of value the attainment of the kind of life in which the will to power as the creative transformation of existence is raised to its highest possible intensity and qualitative expression. This in turn led him to take the "enhancement of life" and creativity to be the guiding ideas of his revaluation of values and development of a naturalistic value theory. This way of thinking carried over into Nietzsche's thinking about morality. Insisting that moralities as well as other traditional modes of valuation ought to be assessed "in the perspective of life," he argued that most of them were contrary to the enhancement of life, reflecting the all-too-human needs and weaknesses and fears of less favored human groups and types. Distinguishing between "master" and "slave" moralities, he found the latter to have become the dominant type of morality in the modern world. He regarded present-day morality as "herd-animal morality," well suited to the requirements and vulnerabilities of the mediocre who are the human rule, but stultifying and detrimental to the development of potential exceptions to that rule. Accordingly, he drew attention to the origins and functions of this type of morality (As a social-control mechanism and device by which the weak defend and avenge and assert themselves against the actually or potentially stronger). He further suggested the desirability of a "higher morality" for the exceptions, in which the contrast of the basic "slave/herd morality" categories of "good and evil" would be replaced by categories more akin to the "good and bad" contrast characteristic of "master morality," with a revised (and variable) content better attuned to the conditions and attainable qualities of the enhanced forms of life such exceptional human beings can achieve.
From this view, Nietzsche was not overly fond of nihilism, but some have posited that the "active nihilism" is in fact what he argued for: an acceptance of the unimportance of life beyond its immediate value, and from that, a desire to expand it and make it improve the experience of life itself. This focus on experience translates into much of the hedonism and adventurism of heavy metal, with its creative side channeled toward the music itself, and its sense of improvement based on bringing what is "heavy" -- or real despite human everyday denial -- back into focus. The idea behind this version of nihilism is that it liberates us from the "slave morality" and allows us to see reality clearly, thus make decisions based on what is actually happening. With its focus on results alone, and viewing them from the broader context of history, heavy metal posits a new form of active nihilism: that instead of judging our decisions by good and bad, we judge them by outcomes and whether those outcomes fit with what we find not just acceptable, but "excellent" (in the immortal words of Bill and Ted). We know how past acts have turned out and what resulted from them, so when we go shopping for actions to fulfill our goals, we can compare past outcomes to desired outcomes and pick which actions fit best. This creates a kind of table where we see that action A made result B, and A(1) -> B(1) and so forth, and thus lets us index these backward by looking down the column of outcomes and seeing which B(x) most closely approximates our chosen outcome. As metal puts this into a historical view, it changes the focus from what we want as a personal result to what we desire not just for today, but for ages hence. This also encourages us to see ourselves in the context of history and compare the calibre of our acts to those who have come before us.
Only death is real. - Hellhammer
Metal's virus comes wrapped in the appearance of death, meaning that where there is a weakness to death, it equalizes and penetrates. The morbidity, paranoia, passion and politics of metal over the years has shown a passage by which one accepts death, and the nihilistic chaos of material reality, and in doing so lays down the foundation for transcending it. Metal, by introducing structure and spirituality and Romanticist individualism and nihilism, issues to its listeners a challenge to explore it deeper and bond with what causes it to be, rather than what it "is."
Mankind does not represent a development of the better or the stronger in the way that it is believed today. 'Progress' is merely a modern idea, that is to say a false idea. The European of today is of far less value than the European of the Renaissance; onward development is not by any means, by any necessity the same thing as elevation, advance, strengthening. In another sense there are cases of individual success constantly appearing in the most various parts of the earth and from the most various cultures in which a high type does manifest itself: something which in relation to collective mankind is a sort of superman. Such chance occurrences of great success have always been possible and perhaps always will be possible. And even entire races, tribes, nations can under certain circumstances represent such a lucky hit. - Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ
By rejecting inherent truths, metal explores an existential viewpoint in which the experience of life itself is the goal. The choices we make define who we are, and some live epic lives above the mundanity of the herd. This outlook emphasizes the experience of life itself rather than an external reward, whether monetary or in some dualistic metaphysical realm. In other words, the goal of humans is to find the best in life and to improve themselves by living not just well in a material sense, but finding health in their spirits and an enjoyment in life. Any metalhead who has noticed that most people appear depressed, lonely, beaten down, exhausted and generally at odds with existence will sympathize with this point of view.
It's been my dream To enter the stream To let carnates know What life really means If one understands That's all I can ask Life to you is such a wretched task! - An Incarnation's Dream, Atheist
In black metal, Romanticism took a turn toward its later forms which were explicitly nationalistic and naturalistic in defiance of the tendency of popular morality to "make safe" what nature once relegated to lawless conflict. As societies passed more laws, and focused more on defense of the individual against nature and social forces, the amount of control these societies had over their citizens increased. To black metal musicians, this was a sign of decline and a dying civilization because it favored the weak over the strong and produced a non-culture based on safety, shopping and politically correct opinions.
Romanticism though in its beginning little concerned with politics or the state, prepared the rise of German nationalism after 1800. It was an aesthetic revolution, a resort to imagination, almost feminine in its sensibility; it was poetry more deeply indebted to the spirit of music than the poetry of the eighteenth century had been, rich in emotional depth, more potent in magic evocation. But German romanticism was and wished to be more than poetry. It was an interpretation of life, nature and history—and this philosophic character distinguished it from romanticism in other lands. It was sharply opposed to the rationalism of the eighteenth century; it mobilized the fascination of the past to fight against the principles of 1789.
Black metal expressed this sentiment through strong nationalism. On the lesser end, bands like Enslaved and Immortal wrote songs about their homeland, its traditions and legends. Even death metal bands like Amorphis joined in this activity by writing albums based on the national epic, the Kalevala. On the more extreme end, bands like Graveland, Darkthrone, Burzum and Emperor expressed far-right sentiments and endorsed a strong nationalistic spirit. Even bands caught in the middle, like Mayhem, were rumored to perform in a room decked with not only Norwegian flags, but the flags of both Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Heavy metal utilizes a method of uniting riffs so that no linear truth exists, but an immanent truth is discovered as the listener connects the associations of those riffs. This is similar to the postmodern novels of James Joyce and William S Burroughs, where a series of divergent threads unified unspoken topics indicated by metaphorical assonance with consensual reality experience. The inversion of value so that its inside might be seen, postmodernism serves as a philosophical hall of mirrors by showing many potential truths as equivalent to a single truth at once. What makes postmodernism most distinctive is its absorption of intensely "chaotic" theories such as quantum physics or non-linear mathematics, by virtue of its foundation in technology and looking past superstition, but also peering beyond the intellectual process of illusion to see how the universe functions as organism, with universal principles of growth. Afflicted with knowledge, postmodernism tends to emphasize the "subtext" of each situation, where there is an acknowledged reality and an underlying larger picture which often has nothing to do with the material props at hand. As such, dreams of death and great journeys past the land of the dead are complex and intriguing material.
Postmodernist philosophers ask us to carefully consider how the statements of the most persuasive or politically influential people become accepted as the “common truths”. Although everyone would agree that influential people – the movers and shakers – have profound effects upon the beliefs of other persons, the controversy revolves around whether the acceptance by others of their beliefs is wholly a matter of their personal or institutional prominence. The most radical postmodernists do not distinguish acceptance as true from being true; they claim that the social negotiations among influential people “construct” the truth. The truth, they argue, is not something lying outside of human collective decisions; it is not, in particular, a “reflection” of an objective reality. Or, to put it another way, to the extent that there is an objective reality it is nothing more nor less than what we say it is. We human beings are, then, the ultimate arbiters of what is true. Consensus is truth. The “subjective” and the “objective” are rolled into one inseparable compound.
Heavy metal explores this subject through first fantasy and second, the demand arising from any good story that it be at least plausible in comparison to what we know of existing reality. For a fantasy story such as _The Lord of the Rings_ to work, it must be sufficiently removed from our experience and yet congruent with it in parallel so that the world is plausible and the fantasy can be interesting to beings such as ourselves with our struggles in this world. Much like the conditions for metaphor and art itself, this requires both the postmodernist sense of truth and a tempering of it with cold hard reality as experienced in life here. This also parallels the metal view of dualistic religious faiths, easily summarized by "wishing does not make it true." In contrast to dualism, metal offers a sense of transcendent mysticism which shadows that offered by late Romantics and thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson. The basic belief of a mystic is that events and objects are interconnected in a structure that is larger than immediate material parameters and as such can be accessed if one is open to transcendence, or letting go of the visible for the abstract. The mystic finds significant experience in interpretation of everyday events because in the mystical view, all events are connected by an underlying order, even if not an inherent one. To the mystic, cause/effect reasoning dips deeper than the material and can exist on a purely informational level, much as how sacred symbols and sigils are presumed to grant a power over the objects they reference.
While we may believe our world - our reality to be that is - is but one manifestation of the essence Other planes lie beyond the reach of normal sense and common roads But they are no less real than what we see or touch or feel -- Burzum, "Lost Wisdom" (_Burzum_)
Heavy metal tends to find order beyond where most look for it. It possesses a tendency to see chaos as a form of order or a precondition for order. The tendency of mathematical systems to go from the linear, or vector measurement, to chaotic multidirectional entities is a measure of its organicism, or the point at which it moves from chartable projections to the zone decided only by theory. Organicism is a philosophy of information science which holds that in order for something to articulate itself independently, it must be of an unmeasurable state of chaotic motion. This calls to mind one of the instigations to the rise of chaos theory, the research of Werner Heisenberg. His "uncertainty principle" is summarized as follows:
The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa.
Among other things, this means that those who inspect reality are in turn influencing the system they are measuring. There are no impartial observers, only those who see what is presented to them in response to their presence. This means the observer becomes integrated into a system in which all measurements are variable in chaotic patterns without linearly predictable jumps. A pattern with linear jumps suggests the order is evident within that pattern, where a pattern with chaotic jumps suggests an order behind the evident pattern. Hence an emergent organicism appears in many things, including metal, which approach problems in which binary solutions (those composed of yes or no, off or on, right or "wrong") lead to illusion, since the binary nature is a projection of the intelligences observing the situation and not emergent from the properties and methods of the system itself. This returns to the metal and Romantic conception of the individual knowing the world through the inner self, or as Immanuel Kant referred to it, "intuition." Kant saw intuition as the basis of our a priori knowledge of the working of the world and its causality. However, this line of thought remains distinct from individualism in both metal and Romanticism. Metal favors individualism but also devoutly rejects it in its present form. As embraced by modern society, individualism means the ability to make arbitrary decisions and still be defended. As seen by metal, individualism resides in the ability to reject the insane arbitrary decisions of others. Strongly in favor of the independent evolution of individuals so to allow them space to grow without the persistent damage of scar tissue formed to avoid intervention by the arbitrary appearances of demands by others, the individualist genre metal has developed a subculture with focus on the development of the individual as a force of chaos and change in the otherwise patterned material/causal world.
When night falls she cloaks the world in impenetrable darkness. A chill rises from the soil and contaminates the air suddenly... life has new meaning. -- Dunkelheit, Burzum (_Filosofem_)
The reasons for individualist thought usually center around the idea that those who know what they want for personal fulfillment will not project that on to others for purposes of control. Individualism is a property of art and any other discipline which demands independence and focus; systemic and/or chaos thinkers understand it as a form of parallelism, where individuals in parallel discover the same truths by exploring their inner selves. Much like the Romantic notion of the lone wanderer above the mist, this notion of individualism shows metal encouraging the exploration of self to get over the self, in contrast to those unrealized souls out there who know only desires of the basest (and most commercially lucrative) nature, and thus enslave themselves to their desires.
Betraying and playing dirty, you think you'll win But someday you'll fall and I'll be waiting Laughs of an insane man you'll hear Personality is my weapon against your envy Walking these dirty streets With hate in my mind Feeling the scorn of the world I won't follow your rules Nonconformity in my inner self Only I guide my inner self -- Sepultura, "Inner Self" (_Beneath the Remains_)
As a method of interpretation, this metallic perspective verges on structuralism. Structuralism posits that no exoteric or face-value interpretation of truth exists, but that all truth is emergent and found from the analysis in the mind of the individual:
Since language is the foremost instance of social sign systems in general, the structural account might serve as an exemplary model of understanding the very intelligibility of social systems as such -- hence, its obvious relecance to the broader concerns of the social and human sciences. This implication was raised by Saussure himself, in his _Course on General Linguistics_ (1916), but it was advanced dramatically by the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss -- who is generally acknowledged to be the founder of modern structuralism -- in his extensive analyses in the area of social anthropology, beginning with his _Elementary Structures of Kinship_ (1949). Levi-Strauss argued that society is itself organized according to one form or another of significant communication and exchange -- whether this be of information, knowledge, or myths, or even of its members themselves. The organization of social phenomena could thus be clarified through a detailed elaboration of their subtending structures, which, collectively, testify to a deeper and all-inclusive, social rationality. As with the analysis of language, these social structures would be disclosed, not by direct observation, but by inference and deduation from the observed empirical data.
Structuralism describes a method for perceiving structure that requires interaction to be revealed. This applies well to language or reverse-debugging of computer code, but as a proactive measure applies to the methods that can be used to construct logical objects such that they do not have linear structure but an internally-balanced emergent structure. This describes the metal method of writing interlocking riffs as well as the method that listeners use to decode them and perceive an order to the song as a whole. Unlike rock 'n roll, which has a linear structure in a cyclic arrangement, death metal has a layered structure based on internal correspondence between riffs that can only be perceived through observation and comparison in reference to the whole.
How do you account for the vision of the man possessed on stage, and the man sitting before me? We are quite the opposite to what is personified on stage. Every band has it's own way of dealing with shit and if they play this kind of music, or even just any extreme music, maybe they are like that full time, maybe not. Like we always say, people like Rick Astley are probably the biggest wankers in the world. They probably come off stage, and wanna kill kids. With us, its the contrary, on stage we are executing the whole other persona, in regular social conditions we are pretty straight forward. -- Lemmy Kilmister, Motorhead
Influences
  • H.P. Lovecraft
    Lovecraft developed mythologies from simple brutality and built a spiritual structure of a phenomenology of evil from the myths of Ancient Sumeria combined with his perceptions of pre-religious darkness and fear. His imaginative and lurid tales not only inspired many horror films, but provided the basis of metal lyrics for every generation of metal. Of all the writers cited by metal bands, Lovecraft not only ranks as most frequent but as most esoteric.
  • J.R.R. Tolkien
    John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was a professor of the English language at Oxford during the first half of the twentieth century, infusing his fascination with Germanic themes of honor and ancient mythology into a fantasy series involving a "middle earth" where magic and science were one. Like many metalheads, he saw humanity as in decline and in need of a unifying quest to give it purpose and to restore a sense of activities worth doing more than attending jobs, shopping and downloading free internet porn.
  • Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
    The most influential philosopher in metal, Nietzsche shifted philosophy from the somewhat inward-focused idealism to an existentialism that contained a practical component. To Nietzsche, Christian morality of good/bad was irrelevant because the universe thrived on conflict as a result of its will toward life, and this imbues each person with a will to power. In those who can clearly articulate their own will, this turns into a desire to do outward good; in those who do not self-actualize, it becomes a consumptive and narcissistic impulse. Through his rejection of social morality and affirmation of the lone individual striving against the herd and struggling to understand a reality best expressed in constant warfare and predation, Nietzsche created the grandfather of all heavy metal philosophy.
  • William S. Burroughs
    Heavy metal got its name from a William S. Burroughs writing. The infamous writer of _Naked Lunch_, is known as much for his heroin addiction as for his contributions to literature, including what might be called the first truly postmodern novel in _Naked Lunch_. However, his contributions were vast, starting with his "cut up" style of literature which would weave a complexity of connections between granular sections of text randomly recontextualized in a chronological narrative. The philosophies of individual freedom, control, darkness and politics contained within "Naked Lunch" and subsequent works (_The Nova Express_,_The Ticket that Exploded_,_Cities of the Red Night_) provided an unfathomably universalist basis to metallion rejection of authority, conformity, and materialist aesthetics.
  • William Blake
    One of the first transcendental poets to articulate his ideas in a structured metaphorology designed to transcend the calcification of Christianity, Blake spoke of sensual and intellectual excess as salvation for the soul and invented a form of morality based in joy which used its romanticism as a basis for its respect and fascination with life. Blake's detailed exposures of human reason and fear at its most primal and yet most symbolologic delivered a scientific mysticism to those who came after him (including Jim Morrison and William S Burroughs!) a shadow in which motion was possible, a darkness which mostly concealed a limitless beauty of freedom.
  • John Milton
    An English minister and poet, John Milton conceived and wrote the epic poem, "Paradise Lost," in which Satan is portrayed as a beautiful angel who rejects servitude in heaven and is exiled in flame, only to learn how to love the barren but self-decisional realm of Hell. The phrase "to reign in hell" from various metal recordings references his classic line spoken by Satan, "It is better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."
It's a concept album about what once was before the light took us and we rode into the castle of the dream. Into emptiness. It's something like; beware the Christian light, it will take you away into degeneracy and nothingness. What others call light I call darkness. Seek the darkness and hell and you will find nothing but evolution. -- Varg Vikernes, http://www.burzum.com/
Heavy metal can be seen as a subculture, or culture within a larger culture, as opposed to a counterculture, or oppositional culture within a larger culture. The reason for this distinction is that while heavy metal is rebellious it does not exclusively define itself as being the opposite of what exists, but sees itself as a modification (or "fork" to the brachitic hierarchy of revisions) to existing society, mainly because it operates on a level lower than that of institution -- it is a spiritual re-alignment through a re-arrangement of values, or maybe we should say, a re-evaluation of all values. In that light, it also makes sense to consider heavy metal to be a series of ethnocultures, because each nation produces music of a unique sound and attitude, often with a unique subset of the values and situations discussed in death metal. A fan can instantly tell the difference between South American black-death and Swedish death metal, or Japanese grindcore and American thrash. There are clear conventions to each that correspond to culture and ritual, which correspond to ethnicity and geographic area. Since heavy metal was created in response to the counter-culture, and was negative about the counter-culture but not enamored enough of the dominant order to be a reactionary counter-counter-culture, we consider it a subculture but refer to it generically as a "culture," because it has all aspects of culture: values, rituals, symbols, clothing, lifestyles and art. Metalheads measure their worth through fulfillment of their roles in this culture, not by tangible symbols of the same.
The world may be explained in sociological terms. David Riesman describes three basic social personalities in _The Lonely Crowd_. 'Other-directed' people pattern their behavior on what their peers expect of them. Suburban America's men in gray-flannel suits are other-directed. 'Inner-directed' people are guided by what they have been trained to expect of themselves. [General Douglas] MacArthur was inner-directed. The third type, the 'tradition-directed,' has not been seen in the West since the Middle Ages. Tradition-directed people hardly think of themselves as individuals; their conduct is determined by folk rituals handed down from the past. -- William Manchester, _American Caesar_
The heavy metal subculture makes itself instantly recognizable through its heavily codified visual appearance: youth in black t-shirts with logos across the top and cover art below that, with long hair and possibly tattoos, gathered away from society at events involving metal music and places where metal is distributed. They resemble a small army in public, which has caused many a hipster or journalist to wax poetic about the lack of individualism in the culture. It seems instead that in coherence with the concept of "heavy," metal culture has placed itself zenlike beyond a simple division into individualist/conformist. It recognizes the need for unity in belief to make power. Within that, it allows for variation, as can be found in the proliferation of diverse tattoos and the variation in shirts that metalheads wear, with a type of caste and preference system formed by who appreciates what band, with those who like the brainier music being the unacknowledged elite. It has rituals -- concert behavior, meetings for listening to new music, record store power structures, friendship and courtship -- that borrow from their parent cultures, composed of both traditional culture and its modern adaptation, although they borrow more from the ancient remnants than the contemporary hybrid. This culture was so distinctive at American high schools in the 1970s during the first generation of heavy metal that it was branded with a variety of names: heshers, threshers, Hessians, headbangers, metalheads. In Europe, other names came about from similar impulses, including metallion, metaller and metalist, although these grated on American sensibilities and did not transfer. The name mutated into "thrasher" for those who listened to thrash, a type of music formed of the hybrid of hardcore punk and metal riffing, exemplified by D.R.I. and Cryptic Slaughter. For this reason, metal culture became known as "Hessian" or "thrasher" culture, with most people outside recognizing its members by site without much knowledge of the music or values behind their behavior. Much of the reason for this approach originates in the attitudes of mainstream society, somewhat correctly, toward standard teenager behavior: spoiled by an indulgent attitude toward parenting, yet forced into rigid behavior to compete for future jobs, teenagers rebel but very few do so in a way that both asserts childhood and adulthood as metalheads, generally ludic types, do. Metal culture, or Hessian culture, involves loud heavy metal music made in the postmodern interpretation of classical music and rock n roll arrangement, creating a disturbing noise and profound motion in its practice and social implications. Author Kurt Vonnegut likens the role of an artist to society as the role of the canaries miners brought into the coal tunnels to warn for the presence of gas: when the birdsong changes or stops, death is near. At the end of the twentieth century, as we suffocate in the meaninglessness of the social machine we have made, metal and punk music are striking alarms of misery and fear hidden beneath the commercially-viable good assurances which have more than once prompted the adage, "Talk is cheap." This sense of "role" pervades everything, including instilling a sense of honor relative to the materialism of society. Metal culture is what keeps the music from becoming like everything else that's in the consumer market: products. Products want to do something so visibly, it is entirely distinctive, while not doing anything beyond the norm so there are no objections to purchase. Culture keeps spirit alive by serving as an interpretive landmark of existential questions, delivering to the interpreter a sense of combining the metaphor of the art with the catalogue of past experiences in life that might be relevant. In metal, the culture does not value making music for people who want entertainment; it rewards the creation of epic and powerful things out of the forces and remnants of destruction. As if it embraced paradox itself at the same time it attacked paradox as a notion, metal invents itself out of nothing and creates a Romantic, transcendental sense of the good through living according to its own tenets, untamed and not pandering to anyone or anything else.
"No jobs!" - Demonaz Doom Occulta, Immortal

2.3. Context

nuclear_detonation Early Influences Heavy metal arose in the 1960s when Western civilization re-examined itself in the light of two disastrous world wars and an ongoing struggle against communism. As the victor of both world wars, the United States led the world in thought and industry and its influence dominated the post-war world. Originally formed of colonies which first attempted to self-organize as a confederation, the new nation quickly committed to central authority in order to act as a single entity. This caused a conflict between the rural South and industrial North over what type of rule would prevail and after a disastrous Civil War, a strong federal entity was selected and embarked on a series of programs ostensibly to improve living standards. Over the next forty years the United States unified itself with expansion of the founding concepts of the nation in accordance with the decisions of the Civil War. The highest power was the Federal State, but the Individual was its currency, and therefore America came to embrace its image as the "melting pot" in which the "poor, huddled masses" might find refuge. America invited and enfranchised new groups of people, starting with recently-freed African slaves and continuing to an acceptance of previously unwanted immigrant groups, such as Irish, Italians, Jews and Eastern Europeans. After the second world war, Americans began to reconsider their mission in light of their opposition to both fascism and communism, and opted for a purely inclusive society which facilitated the individual desires of its members. A similar outpouring of sentiment emerged in Europe, especially in France which had been the birth of these theories in its Revolution of 1789 when the ideals of the Enlightenment were put into political form. That union produced a period of massive instability in France followed by the Napoleonic wars which, foreshadowing the conflicts of a century later, involved an ideological struggle between liberal democratic forces and those who opposed them for majority control of Europe. The alliances that eventually triggered the first world war, which in turn triggered the second, emerged from the jockeying for power that created unstable alliances between European nations. As the 1960s dawned, Europeans and Americans began to assimilate the Revolutionary rhetoric much as the Napoleonic French did, and extended this to social engineering. As the forces of Revolution battled with the Establishment, a movement of youth arose which embraced with great fervor the new revolutionary outlook. Before it gained any social status, the cultural force of this revolution -- a "counterculture" -- possessed "outsider" authenticity and cachet which made it a sought-after cultural force across the West, in part because of its contrarian status and its lack of acceptance among the cultural and social mechanisms of the day. Like a high school revolt riot, the counterculture united previously disenfranchised groups under the Countercultural banner. As this group became dominant, it adopted freely from both the "new left," the 1930s pre-war socialism, traditional American individualism and the new science of managerial society. Rock music became the banner and motivating force behind this youth-oriented movement. Industry invented rock music from existing forms but in the classic habit of industry, streamlined them into a simple product which could be inexpensively created and differentiated on the basis not of internal variation, but surface variations. This allowed industry to recruit a lower quality of musician and improve profits through novelty, advertising, and recording technique alone, which widened the margins on this new form of music. Rock mixed country folk, derived from English drinking songs, Celtic folk music, German popular music including waltzes and the proto-gospel singing of Scottish immigrants, with blues music. The blues was not formalized until it was recorded, and at that point in time, a fixed structure was imposed on it based on the interpretations of others. Broadly stated, it used a minor pentatonic scale with a flatted fifth, constant syncopation, and distinctive "emotional" vocal styles including call-and-response vocalization. Of all of its components, none were unique, nor was its I-IV-V chord progression. To view it from an ethnomusical perspective, the blues is an aesthetic (not musical) variation on the English, Scottish, Irish and German folk music which made up the American colloquial sonic art perspective since its inception. From a marketing perspective, however, the blues had to be marketed as a revelation from the downtrodden and suffering African-American slaves, so that it might maintain an "outsider" perspective which, to people bored with a society based on money and lacking heroic values, might appear more "authentic" than their own. The birth of rock was the birth of the counterculture and the establishment of the dichotomy: the marginalized, outsider and ignored versus the vapid, boring and soulless mainstream. When country music was re-introduced to the then-standardized blues form, the result was called rock music. Its primary difference from country was in its use of vocals which emphasized timbre over tonal accuracy, and the adoption of a more insistent, constant syncopated beat. While German waltz and popular music bands had invented the modern drum kit and developed most techniques for percussion, their music and that of their country counterparts in America tended to use drums sparsely, much more in the style of modern jazz bands than in the ranting, repetitive, dominant methods of rock music. However, it is hard to find someone in a crowd of mixed gender, race, class and intellect for whom a constant beat is intellectually and sensually inaccessible, so it was adopted as a convention. Much as the standardization of the blues took diverse song forms and brought them into a single style, rock swept a wide range of influences into a monochromatic form. It seemed that industry had created the perfect universal musical form. However it arrived, blues-country became "rock" in the 1930s-1950s mainly because of technology. Adolph Rickenbacker invented the electric guitar in 1931, and recording equipment advanced from the primitive to the cheaper and more portable units brought on by vacuum tube and then transistor technology. Additionally, microphones improved, especially those which could capture the nuances of voice. Louder guitars and vocals required the simple shuffle beats of blues drumming to gain volume, prompting a revolution in drum kit assembly. As a result, the simple blues-country hybrid became a marketing standard known as "rock 'n' roll," then "rock," as it was absorbed into the American mainstream. The earliest bands lacked much in the way of style, but wrote complacently harmonizing pieces based on the European popular music of clubs in the 1930s (much of jazz is based upon the same music). As time went on, the stylings -- appearance, performance and cultural positioning -- of the music became more advanced, and the songs themselves became simpler and more like advertising jingles. The 1960s: the Hippie Revolution Rock music presented itself as an oppositional alternative to the "traditional, boring" life of "the Establishment" and quickly became a galvanizing force for the counter-culture. The innocent pop of the 1950s gave way to an angry voice that endorsed liberal politics, sexual liberation, and general hedonism; these traits had been a mainstay of Western revolutionaries since the 1600s, but starting in the early 1900s gained new force and after the wars and the alliance with the Soviet Union, became seen as a positive counteraction to industrial society, capitalism and authoritarianism. The problem offered by this new format lay in its simplicity: because the songs were simple, which enabled them to be mass-produced and sold through advertising alone, they also did not have staying power. A recording had to be made once, and musicians throughout history have never read contracts, so labels could just about print money with each additional copy made. The problem was that since the music was interchangeable at an underlying level, it was also unsatisfying, so record companies looked for new external aspects to add to the music in order to give it novelty, authenticity and thus the "cachet of cool" sought by its audience. In the mid-1960s, rock exploded with a new variety that was both musically more advanced and possessed more of a rebellious streak. The Beatles took the forefront of this movement and created music which was melodically advanced (although saccharine) and took on more explicitly sexual topics with a stance of disaffected youth. Much of the posturing of this new rock music took its style from the 1930s alienated youth novels of the UK and the outsider lifestyles of the Beats in the USA. With this was born the counterculture in music: rock music distinguished by authenticity derived from its challenge to existing authority, including social standards and morals. The more it tweaked the nose of the Establishment, the more power it gained in the media and thus the more the product sold. The Beatles proved masters at this, inciting controvery and adulation wherever they went, and making edgy statements like "We're more popular than Jesus Christ" which the outrage-hungry press dutifully reported. As the 1960s advanced, the power of television combined with the intensity of the political situation led to a melding of the political counterculture and its rock music. It became essential for rock musicians to talk about peace, love and the happiness that was possible in a Utopian world of kindergarten-style sharing, all while amassing vast fortunes and living in mansions. When the Beatles sang "All you need is love" they were already on their second marriages, having covertly exiled one band member and possibly kicked another one to death. And yet the vision of "love" versus a mechanical automatron world of 1950s style career advancement, shopping as an activity and making war on the "misunderstood" Communists, as a gambit that enabled its audience to envision themselves as revolutionaries changing society from a primitive past toward an enlightened future, sold records like never before. The 1970s: Mainstreaming the Dissidents As the 1960s came to a close, it became clear that rock music had reached the end of its arc. Bands took the music to the extremes of progressive rock on on hand, and toward the dark primitive sounds of Iggy and the Stooges and Black Sabbath on the other. Everything that could be done had been done in its most elemental form. This spurred experimentation in the 1970s with both form and content. In this decade, progressive rock ventured farther from the norm, and new forms such as disco and punk appeared. In response, rock music took on a new populist edge as it went from the somewhat grubby hippie fringe to a mainstream hedonism that fused feel-good politics with digestible, slickly produced material. New forms of music entered the pop lexicon as reggae and a modern, rock-infused form of country music intruded. Even jazz found itself a rock hybrid with "fusion" music that applied rock percussion and song structure to jazz, translating the intricately plotted musical density of progressive rock into free-form jams that fit into rock songs like extended guitar solos.
No three words connote "PROG ROCK" more negatively than Emerson Lake & Palmer. Their music is incredibly pompous, for they are incredibly pompous individuals. One of them (does it matter which?) famously said their goal was to create "a pure white European music with no black influences."
Culture responded to the tumult of the 1960s by making a safer mainstream version of it. Corporations staffed by unexciting men in suits adopted radical hippie slogans and used them to sell mundane products. Even more, all of popular culture got behind appropriating the hedonism of the 1960s and translating it into the everyday. Technological futurism without ideological structure mated the sensual lifestyles of the 1960s with the commercial values of the 1940s. "Free love" became swinger parties, psychedelic exploration became better living through chemistry, and pacifism became a popular fashion of self-expression but no longer as much of a political statement. The radicalism of 1968 gave way to consumerism with benefits of 1978. Commerce and conservatism assimilated the forces that once opposed them. Similarly, rock lost its edge, and while many people explored fusion, synthpop, disco or reggae, the most radical drifted toward punk. Stripping rock down to its basics using power chords, punk destroyed the rules and democratized the art form even further. Now it was no longer necessary to play an instrument for months or years in order to become famous; you could play for six weeks, make a catchy (but edgy) song and make it onto the radio. The driving impetus toward punk was, much like that of early heavy metal, to remove the artificiality of rock music and replace it with something more elemental. Although many bands developed the sound, starting with 1960s bands like The Stooges, punk rock formalized itself with The Ramones in 1976. Their goal was to remove influences and escape the rock world, in part to avoid being commercialized and assimilated as they viewed 1960s and 1970s rock as having been.
Mr. Ramone once described his guitar style as "pure, white rock 'n' roll, with no blues influence." "I wanted our sound to be as original as possible,'' he said. "I stopped listening to everything."
Despite this brave statement, punk became quickly assimilated because its low threshold of instrumental ability and recording quality allowed just about anyone to make it. In response thousands of bands erupted so that by the end of the 1970s, punk consisted of thousands of bands with interchangeable names, songs, attitudes and recordings. What was first the work of pioneers became a big party where anyone could join in. Much as rock music itself democratized and streamlined genres as diverse as country, blues, big band and folk into a single entity, punk also became a snowball that picked up the flavor of the month and rolled it into a new easily-digestible format. As the decade clicked over into the 1980s, a genre known as "pop punk" emerged as college students began picking up instruments and making softer, gentler and more introspective versions of punk songs. The result assimilated punk rock into the mainstream rock industry. The 1980s: the Material World In outrage, punks reclaimed their territory with hardcore punk at the end of the 1970s and early 1980s. This music went even more extreme, using chromatic scales and two-chord songs, and added more savage vocals that used the distorted voices that folk singers applied at parts of their songs when bad characters or negative events entered the fray. Punk hardcore changed music for two reasons: first, it removed itself from rock by deconstructing even the marginal rules of rock, and second, it designed itself to avoid the mainstream music industry entirely with a do-it-yourself (DIY) aesthetic and the creation of a separate network of zines, radio stations, tape traders and clubs who catered to this music and its fanbase and excluded everything else. For the first time, a sub-culture challenged the counter-culture and threatened to entirely drop out of society at large. Punks lived in squats, or appropriated empty buildings, and survived by foraging while they dedicated their time to not becoming either suit and tie guys or burnout hippies who thought peace would save the world. Punk had a message: society was terrible because people were terrible, and no easy solution like "love" would save the day. Instead, it was time for war! Hardcore punk formed a parallel world to that of metal during this period. An innovation on either side passed to the other, and drove the next evolution of that side. Thus hardcore picked up on metal drumming, then sent it back with additional simplification, where it was adopted; metal adopted hardcore vocals, then made them more extreme, and sent those back where they were enthusiastically received. During the mid-1970s metal went through its own flirtation with stadium rock and was almost assimilated, but came back through a DIY underground movement in the NWOBHM who paralleled the punk attempts to do the same. Even more, both genres borrowed from tropes of the rock world and adapted those to their own forms, albeit in such customized form that they were unrecognizable. Metal adopted the lengthy complex solos of stadium rock but passed them through a hardcore punk filter to make them chaotic and violent, and converted the extended bridges of post-progressive stadium rock into new song structures. In turn, rock picked up on the idea of distortion and punk rhythms. During the 1980s, the only relevant symbols were monetary and social success, meaning a modern adaptation of the white picket house in the suburbs, the minivan, local church and school groups and happy children with no cares in the world. A decade of overextension and massive expenditure on cold war buildup shattered most of this and replaced it with a literal reality of subservience, slowly flipping the power balance to a sublimated leftism. As the smiley futurism came to a close at the turn of the eighties it was clear the alienation was not an affliction but a condition of the system, and more extreme responses arose. Both the old-school conservative system and the hippie "revolution" had failed in their aims. In the mainstream, the previously "new left" leanings of our culture were overshadowed by the pragmatism of gaining money and power, and in the underground, a new series of dissidents found themselves in desperate paranoia against the industrial society slowly surrounding them. Slowly, the pragmatic "eat and assert needs" conservativism of America flowered with Ronald Reagan, and the underground new left moved toward media and went mainstream to combat the money and power of old school interests. The defining aspect of the 1980s was the Cold War and its attendant threat of nuclear annihilation. Where 1950s and 1960s children feared bombers in the sky, 1970s and 1980s children feared first ICBMs and then cruise missiles and submarine-launched nuclear holocaust. Folklore absorbed the legends of the nuclear Cold War: seven minutes between detection and detonation, nuclear winter, doomsday machines and computers waging cancelation warfare across the globe. In the West, conservative politicians took office and began the biggest military buildup since WWII in preparation for either land war in Europe or a Naval/Air battle for dominance of the oceans. No one knew how long the Cold War would last, and each side over-estimated the other. For those growing up during this time, the threat of immediate obliteration proved a driving force behind the music they listened to, and musicians heard this call and made their rhetoric even more extreme. The result was a decade which outwardly tried to affirm all that the people in their 30s and 40s found meaningful, namely a white picket fence vision of America from the 1950s but wrapped in a cushion of safety and removal from the internal problems of the West. It was a bracingly reactionary time, in which "Communist" was once again a career-threatening insult, and in which the Christian religion and the process of making money for oneself again became the way in which social importance was reckoned. Naturally, this provoked a resurrection of the Counterculture and its strongest incarnation yet, since it had been absorbed in the 1970s and, since popular opinion was close to its own values, had been assimilated. Now that it once again had something to rebel against, it manifested itself in a growing cadre of die-hard liberal specialist movements and alternative art, literature and music scenes. This gave metal a new commitment which was resistance to the dominant warlike culture and its tendencies toward control as the battle between revolutionaries and Establishment wore on into its second decade. By the mid-1980s however hardcore punk waned because it both had exhausted its repertoire of simple songs and needed to be more complex to avoid overlapping with previous material to such a degree as to be seen as a variant of it, and it had been assimilated from within by those who, seeing how easy it was to make hardcore punk, opportunistically created their own bands despite a lack of artistic content or actual talent. The result was a flood of "DIY" sound-alike bands who promptly drove most of the serious fans away from the genre and replaced them with "fanboys" or those who wanted to be in the scene for the purpose of being in the scene, and saw music as incidental to that process. Metal had its own version of these, both "sellouts" who used the music for personal monetary gain, and "poseurs" who used the music to gain social prestige and from that gain personal importance. Toward the end of the 1980s, hardcore bands converted themselves to either post-hardcore bands like Fugazi, emo bands like Rites of Spring, or pop punk bands like Jawbreaker. During the 1980s, rock downgraded its intensity from stadium levels for a flirtation with synthpop which created the archetypal 1980s sound: electronic drums, lush keyboards, distorted but soft guitar and stark vocals. As this sound gradually became assimilated by the type of shiny pop that American radio stations had perfected in the 1950s, a quasi-underground "indie" (independent) rock community came to life. Borrowing the DIY attitude and simple aesthetics of punk, this genre produced simple rock music with heavy emotional overtones of alienation, melancholy, loneliness and uncertainty. It styled itself as a form of counterculture toward the positive, financially-geared, strong and militaristic spirit of the politics of the time. Led by bands like REM and Yo La Teno, indie rock eventually became a fairly mainstream style, but for a few years in the 1980s it was the rebel of the rock world, doing everything exactly the opposite of what conventional wisdom dictated. The indie scene cemented the "new" dichotomy in music: one was either with the mainstream attitude and tastes, or went underground and catered to something else. The biggest influence on music during the 1980s was not sound, but video. In 1981, the first music videos began rolling out over cable channels. Because they were on cable, and not regular TV, they could be more risque than what went on television sets. Songs had to fit within the format defined by the video, which was essentially a three- to five-minute movie revealing a storyline with some kind of ironic or otherwise high-contrast ending, interspersed (usually) with the band playing or lip synching within a scene. During the 1980s, a successful video greatly helped launch a song into the slipstream and soon became necessary for all bands hoping to make it in the mainstream. Indie rock bands were able to avoid this for some time, but as soon as they migrated to larger labels, the demand existed for them to also put out videos, which in turn influenced their songwriting to fit into the "MTV format" of slick verse-chorus with a lengthy bridge or other space for concluding action in the mini-movie.
Watch as flowers decay On cryptic life that died The wisdom of the wizards Is only a neutered lie Black knights of Hell's domain Walk upon the dead Satanas sits upon The blood on which he feeds. -- Slayer, "Die by the Sword" (_Show No Mercy_)
Also during this time arose the worst of the governmental attempts to limit the expression of rock music. Politicians had been itching to limit this music since the 1960s since, with the voting age lowered to 18 and television broadcasting constant entertainment into every home, rock music had become a more formidable method of changing public opinion than the New York Times and MacNeil-Lehrer report combined. In 1985, the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) campaigned for warning labels on rock albums; in 1990, Judas Priest was sued under the theory that they had encoded "backward masked" or reverse-order sound in their music that encouraged fans to commit suicide, based on a 1985 suicide-pact shooting by two teenagers. This was also the era of the "Satanic panic" that involved teachers at the Virginia McMartin preschool going to trial on the theory that they had sexually molested their students as part of the rituals of a Satanic cult. This paranoid outlook reflected much of the politics and political reality of the time, as society tore itself apart both from counter-culture remnants of the 1960s and a Soviet nuclear threat that had its citizens living in terror. The 1990s: Counter-Culture becomes Culture This changed in the 1990s. That decade dawned with the maturation and assumption of the reins of power by those who had been students during the tumultous, counterculture-dominated 1960s. In chasing the symbols of peace, happiness, love and tranquility, the "youth counterculture" of the 1960s and 1970s embraced its oppressors and soon the peace sign became another icon of commercial culture. Capitalism and socialism became bonded in a new form of government, "globalism," which felt that the industrial mix of capitalism, liberal democracy and social welfare was the ultimate form of government and the final evolution of human society. Post-coldwar instability arose when the sudden collapse of communism under Western economic pressure created a vacuum of social direction which was eventually resolved in unity between moral emotion and needs for power. As little had changed, social boredom increased and with the official ideology of non-change created the most nihilistic, disposable society ever. Entertainment media became prevalent as CDs, VCRs, and stereos of a high-performance nature became common. The large screen TV lit America at night and warmed her power grids with the drooling inattention of a stagnant, functional land. Worldwide, America was seen as a cultural leader and thus was embraced despite the horrifying failures of the American system. The focus of world leaders turned inward to militarize against drugs, racism and separatism.
There is more chaos, war, pollution now than ever before in our recorded history. Of course, we might have known a period with even worse conditions, but the Christians burned all the records that could tell us about it anyway. Like in the library of Alexandria, wherever the Catholics or Protestants or Christians came, they destroyed the culture. They ruined the culture. They burned the culture. And they burned the records of these cultures. That includes the European cultures. That includes African cultures, Asian cultures, American cultures; wherever they were, they destroyed everything. They want to replace our culture with Americanization, with the Judeo-Christian cultures. Christianity is the root of all problems in the modern world.
Any analysis of this time will reveal the increasing presence of television, cable television, movies and radio in the collective consciousness of Americans. In addition, the Internet, a defense communications subsystem, exploded into public life with AOL and dot-coms clamoring for inflated market share. The new Clinton economy raced up to meet it with token appeals for heart-tugging issues but a fundamentally sound economic policy which fostered growth, allowing an increase in corporate power and correspondingly, distrust of corporations especially the multi-national corporations that globalism favors. World culture sighed a collective disbelief of ideology and iconography except as applied to hedonism, entertainment and public status. Belief in any meaning toward a cause was seen as a method of getting killed, and conflict avoidance for both commercial and moral purposes became the public standard of behavior in America and other countries in its economic model. The hedonistic culture of the 1960s merged with the consumer culture of the 1950s. And while the edges of boredom on this vision showed, to many the classic 1960s archetype of the population being oppressed in being kept from the fulfillment of their urges, as a means of expressing a template of life, came true in the ability to have a job, make money and express hedonistic outpourings. People began talking about their careers in emotional terms when in fact they were signaling social status. With culture dead, religion dead, and no historical consciousness to speak of, what remained was being better than someone else or some other group. Underneath the positive pluralistic propaganda a new society appeared in which the goal was to improve personal wealth and power at the expense of others with whom it was assumed nothing was held in common. hippies The result was the "Me generation" turned into an ideal for new generations and created a new era of narcissism, where little allegiance existed even among family members. Broken homes, degenerate and abusive marriages, parents working until late at night and a constant stream of media emphasizing human failure and conflict took its toll. Almost aphasic in their approach to politics and ideology, the generations arising in this time were entirely temporal in their approach to values and without belief in any form of ideal, as all ideals had behind them a commercial engine. As if in sick replay of the Vietnam conflict, human intentions seemed "good" but turned out "bad" - through something we brought with us no matter where we went. Emotional nihilism approached, and raging spirits sought reason to live or, in other ranges, significance of death. With the election of Bill Clinton, a sensation of new directions suffused the Western world. The world shifted toward Utopia plans just in time for the Soviet Union to fall. When the walls came down in 1991, people assumed that a new era had arrived in which the old threats no longer existed. Counterculture merged with mainstream culture yet again, incorporating the 1980s capitalist ideal with the 1960s liberal idealism. The result was that bands found endorsing counterculture themes no longer elicited the authenticity they craved, and turned toward other ways to oppose the dominant mostly-liberal power hierarchy. Indie rock merged with metal and punk to form a kind of primitive but hook-laden sub-genre known as "alternative rock." Borrowing heavily from the 1960s, this sub-genre nonetheless injected itself with the cynicism and world-weariness of those who feel the promised Utopia was nothing but. Alternative rock essentially absorbed indie.
Welcome citizen of our adorable nation Serve and be a part of us in modern time Parents have never existed; your blood, state property Leave personality; total trust will make security Your ears - our information Your eyes - our sight Implanted in society - only for the security From childhood to the grave Every step will be safe as we are behind Guided through life blessed in our birth So our secret son welcome to the promised life... -- Carbonized, "For the Security" (_For the Security_)
Perhaps the biggest explosion of the 1990s was techno. Invented in the 1970s by fusing disco structure and synthpop technique, techno mutated two decades later as people began to use dual turntables to mix existing albums into a form of dub. Frequently, they combined techno and chill-out or ambient musics to create intricate layered dub "sets" lasting around an hour that took listeners through the stages of ritual: initiation, ego dissolution, orientation, union, deepening, clarification and absorption. By taking users through these "journeys" or "adventures," techno sets extended music beyond a listening experience to a participatory experience. While not everyone enjoyed techno, the appeal and power of this approach influenced many other genres who wanted to incorporate the sense of unity and action in their work. Some of the most prominent music of this era, notably indie and electronica, distinguished itself by being minor-key and having high energy, creating an atmosphere of wistful sadness as one finds in Autechre or Nirvana. As the Clinton years wore on, confidence increased. Cheap labor from Asia enabled vast profits to roll in, and then the internet created a new industry in which people invested and made fortunes. It seemed like life had finally returned to normal after the world wars and turbulence of the 1960s, but toward the end of this period, doubts intervened. The remarkable smugness of the globalist capitalist liberal democracy grated on many people, and the countries who were not participating in the great first world gold rush alarmed many who saw a minefield of future enemies being sewn. Music reflected this by turning the downcast mentality of alternative rock into a truly outcast and depressed mentality. Genres like doom metal and "suicidal black metal" thrived. The world wanted a negative trip and it found musical expression in genres with the sense of negated possibility of a bad situation being otherwise. As this new generation assumed hold, the rules of the 1980s faded. No longer was it enough of a commitment to rebel against perceived authoritarianism, since the people in control were the anti-authoritarians. Nor could there be any compromise with counter-culture, since that also had won, nor with industrial society and its materialistic and consumerist urges, since that had either been assimilated by or had assimilated the counter-culture. Heavy metal had to invent a new path and chose, through black metal and death metal, that of rejecting modern society as a whole. This provided a new and more extreme direction that involved revolt against Christianity, the concept of equality, and even the notions of love and trust. Heavy metal reached maturity in its nihilism and at the same time invented its own path. Black metal blazed a path for itself through church arsons, murder and violence, but equally shocking reclaimed authenticity by proclaiming a love for Nietzschean natural selection, nationalism (and sometimes outright racial exclusion), anti-Christianity and anti-liberalism. Black metal rejected the entire postwar tendency toward liberalism and governments as protectors and guidance of citizens, and turned back to culture, nationalism and Social Darwinism which were in the 1990s the most powerful taboo one could invoke. The 2000s: Interregnum As the Clinton years drew to a close, it became apparent that the dot-com bubble was about to detonate and it did, creating a recession that damaged some of the mood. This was followed shortly by terror attacks across the world, including the "9-11" attacks in New York, and a resulting war on terror. During this time, most of rock music saw an opportunity to re-live the Reagan years: Bush II was in office, and the Soviets had been conveniently replaced by world terror. Music took a turn toward the rebellious at the same time that many of the 1990s genres began to appear visibly exhausted of any potential, but kept going through the motions because of a necessary faith that answers could be fond in this direction. This created an undercurrent of "counterculture II" during the George W. Bush years, but it remained unconvincing and faded quickly.
More than three decades after Black Sabbath conjured images of the dark arts, heavy metal is growing up. The genre is increasingly incorporating social and political messages into its dense power chords. Cattle Decapitation vocalist Travis Ryan said his San Diego band's mix of charging guitars and an animal rights message is drawing a diverse crowd that includes activists as well as traditional metal fans.
During this time pop music came to somewhat of a standstill, paused for a moment, and then began to explore past directions which had not quite been fully developed. Nu-metal rose as bands revisited rap/rock from the past two decades and made a more virulent form; pop recombined 1980s instrumentation, 1990s emotions and 1970s stadium rock to make a new form of pop. This in turn hybridized with rap and hip-hop, changing its rhythm and subject matter. As hip-hop became an accepted form of music in the mainstream pop community, rock and pop began a convergence which resulted in forms that were different on the surface but very similar at an underlying level.
It's very hard to recognize the truth when you are bombarded by lies all the time, every minute of the day. Even in sleep, because you dream of the places you have during the day. You are bombarded by commercials and completely senseless information every minute of the day. If you turn on the TV, you are bombarded; if you turn your head in some direction, you see some sign or some commercial. If you read magazines, newspapers... senseless information. The news are themselves products being sold. Everything is meaningless. Sure, the truth is out there -- not to sound like some 'X-files' but -- the truth is of course to be found, but in a sea of lies. It's just impossible to find it unless you know how to look, where to look and when to look. Of course, it's not possible to just get up in the morning and just say 'OK, I'm going to go find the truth this day,' and go find it. You have to try, and fail, and eventually you will weed out all the lies and you end up with something at least similar to the truth. The truth is hidden, under grass, under some rocks, in a hidden trail, a forgotten trail in a forest. And when you are trying to find these trails, you will stumble, you will get snagged on branches in your face, you will make mistakes before you finally find it.
With the rise of personal computer technology, home recording had become simpler and more affordable. In the 2000s, the drive to get people on the internet manifested itself in vastly cheaper computer hardware and software. This caused a new generation of music to possess much more advanced production and to streamline toward variants of known styles that could be easily grafted on to a base of techno or dub. As a result, greater emphasis fell on the instrumental ability of those bands who chose to go the "organic" or semi-organic route. Coupled with an explosion in American education in the 1990s, including music education and a greater diversity of training materials, the technical ability of musicians and producers rose in tandem. The 2010s: Instability Returns When the Bush presidency ended in what seemed like universal disapproval, society launched itself in the opposite direction mandated by counterculture II and elected the first African-American President in the USA while pushing further to expand the European Union to include groups outside of Western Europe. At this point, popular music found itself unable to take a stance which reflected alienation other than on a personal level. Music became more introspective and emotional, focusing on specific issues such as environmental crises that were popularly approved, but generally tying these to a personal narrative. With the vast democratization of recording technology enabling people to produce full albums from a single computer and piece of software, more music flooded the market than ever before. The years after that time brought great indecision to metal. It had achieved total taboo status and yet, as industry and popular desires took hold, had lost that same outlook and become assimilated by the norm. As a result, metal bands turned toward hybridization with rock and related genres, and began to adopt a more friendly attitude toward the former counter-culture values that were now mainstream. By the time Barack Obama was elected in 2008, heavy metal had been entirely absorbed by the culture around it except for a few die-hards. This impacted its creativity and threw the genre into a slump. At the same time, the popularity wave caused by the huge upheaval and consequent popularity of black metal for its perceived authenticity pushed metal further into the public eye. To meet this new demand, metal produced more refined versions of existing genres, mutating death metal into "technical death metal" which was essentially later hardcore merged with progressive rock and lite jazz, and fusing black metal with indie-rock, a move formalized by the transition of Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore into black metal supergroup Twilight. The resulting cultural abyss assimilated all music which it encountered, subverting it to feed the dominant paradigm of the age which rewarded utilitarian and moral tokens based in narcissism above all else. The word "compassion" became popular as a way of gaining entry to a now-dominant counter-culture whose ideas threatened no one and thus as uncontroversial, did not assert any form of authenticity. The remaining authenticity was sought in the personal and the social, where artists addressed conditions of life without enwrapping them in any broader purpose than emotion. However, stormclouds obscured the horizon. Despite the modern assertion that all problems could be solved with education, science and technology, society appeared to be disintegrating from within. Artists had no way to address this other than to notice it, which was controversial enough that it achieved authenticity but not popularity, or to go further into re-iterating the dominant dogma through more and more personal perspectives. Becalmed in confusion, artists look toward greater extremity in an uncertain future.

III. Encountering Metal

3.1 Concerts

heavy_metal_concert Metal concerts are generally advertised in local circulars and weekly newspapers like the _LA Weekly_ or _Houston Press_. Promoters advertise in the backs of these publications, or in rare cases metal-specific magazines or papers, so fans can find concerts. When you locate a concert, call the venue, as often you can save some money buying tickets in advance or through a broker, but beware of "resale" outfits that are legal scalping agencies. Ear protection Amplified systems within clubs sometimes go over 120 dB in terms of effect on the listener, so it is wise to purchase intelligent ear plugs (either the silicon blobs or the compressible sponge probes). Anyone who scorns you for doing this is probably deaf already, so don't bother replying. Social interaction If you walk with respect for self, others, and world, and do not interfere with the needs and spaces of others, you will almost universally be fine. You may witness violent cultures such as skinheads, cholos, or deranged Hessians on speed and the best way to handle it is gently. Provocative behavior usually will result in violence. If you get a tshirt Longstanding metal tradition holds that if you go to a show and purchase a tshirt, it should be worn proudly the next day to explain your bruises, new cast, dark circles under your eyes and general exhaustion.
  • (Preferred) As your sole garment except black pants all day on the following day.
  • (Acceptable) Underneath your uniform of slavery the next working or school day, hopefully wearing some mark of violence/evil as well.
  • (Deprecated) As your sole garment all day for the next three days.
Rules of evidence Keep all "evidence" (things that are likely to be confiscated) on your person in soft objects rather than cases and put them either in obvious places (pockets) or in places that will not be found during a manual search. One is often frisked at the door and all strange hard objects explored to see if they are weapons. For example, if you are carrying smoking materials, a good place would be under the scrotum if a bag, in the wallet if rolled joints, or in your shoes if a pipe. If you are smoking during the show, you want no flame to be visible near the scent of your smoke, so curl your hand around the joint and cup it to your mouth like you are holding your chin or clearing your throat. Always pass it to friends below the line of sight, e.g. at waist level, and blow smoke toward the floor. Merchandise Bands generally sell CDs and tshirts for $10-35. Bands often make their money touring on merchandise sales alone, but if you purchase during the show or within the club, the club owner may get a percentage. The preferred way to buy is before or after the show as the band is loading in or out when they can sell it to you for ready money and be free and clear. This does not work with bigger bands who have a merchandising contract. Labels often give bands a certain number of CDs in lieu of direct payment so purchasing those can keep the band on the road with the fewest additional hands extracting payment. Here is the order of preference for buying objects in terms of how much money is returned to the band:
  1. From band at show after official merch period is over
  2. From band at show
  3. From band website or mail order
  4. From label website or mail order
  5. From underground distro
  6. From specialty record store
  7. From chain record store or large distro
If you purchase from the band directly, more of the money goes to the band; the more parties involved in any transaction, the more is skimmed off the top to those intermediate parties. For this reason, purchasing from a large generic store or mail order is the last resort, as that merch is sold by label to distributor to the final seller. Distribution Metal uses an internal network of underground distributors, activists, and content architects in order to ensure the distribution of music. It is a remarkably efficient chaotic machine. Most of these distros advertise in zines or magazines with contacts and price lists, but most are online at this point. A definitive list is no longer possible owing to the frequency of their appearance and disappearance. Person to Person Sales Net sales are common as they allow the seller to receive $6-12 for a CD that would otherwise return $2-4 at a record store or $0.50-2 at a corporate music outlet. Most transactions occur through a posted trade/sale list online. To purchase, a buyer contacts the seller and works out an arrangement through email or private message, then transfers funds via check, cash, money order or online banking. The seller then ships within a few weeks and the buyer adds that seller to a list of successful transactions; often these lists are publicized. Remember that how you treat others influences the likelihood of how you will be treated. Tape Trading The time-honored tradition of tape trading has allowed metalheads to find new music for the last four decades. With the rise of the internet and decline of cassette tapes, this form is less prominent. Originally it involved parties sending each other dubbed cassettes with all of their recent musical discoveries. Each party would send a tape to the other, and then dub those on to other people. This is how many early recordings got that "third generation copy" sound that was prized by black metal bands. At this time, with cassettes and recorders scarce, tape trading mostly lives on through podcasts, or short radio shows recorded live and published on the internet, either at a specific time or archived for later download. Used CDs Used CDs provide a good way to get a metal collection inexpensively if you trust the buyer or can inspect the CD beforehand. Record stores often make more money on used CD's -- for which they pay $2-$5 and sell for $6-$10 -- than shrink-wrapped brand new versions. Hence most of them now have some form of used music display. Netwise buyers sell mostly used merchandise at often better prices especially if you buy in bulk. These also transfer any proceeds of the sale toward buying more metal. A newer breed of record stores exist which specialize in bulk resale, e.g. they have a ton of stock in a warehouse environment. These often will sell you two decades of metal for $25 or thereabouts. Large sellers like Amazon who have resale programs will often host third-party sellers posting classic metal for as little as $1-2 per disc.

3.2 Recordings

Terminology of Metal Recordings
  • Audio. Audio is any recorded sound, whether live (bootleg or live album) or studio (recorded with intent for release).
  • Live. Live sound is either a live album released by one of the band's labels, or a bootleg recording which is released by a fan or sometimes for profit bootlegger.
  • Studio. Studio music is produced by agreement between band and label as pushed as the regular "product" containing the music of the band.
  • Video. Video is any recorded motion picture imagery, whether live (bootleg or official concert performance) or studio (recorded with intent for release as a separate production).
"I have always loved the Swede death metal guitar sound above all. Maxing the highs and lows on an old BOSS 'Heavy Metal' gets that heavy Entombed 'Left Hand Path' sound. Put the Level and Distortion each at half, then just adjust your EQ's in your amp accordingly. You are more likely to find a BOSS 'Heavy Metal' at a pawn shop or something of that sort, seeing as how BOSS discontinued them a couple years ago..." - Gary (Morgion)
Recommended Works Heavy Metal
  1. Witchfinder General - Live '83
  2. Saint Vitus - Mournful Cries
  3. Candlemass - Ancient Dreams
Speed Metal
  1. Metallica - Ride the Lightning
  2. Nuclear Assault - Game Over/The Plague
  3. Prong - Beg to Differ
  4. Voivod - War and Pain
Thrash
  1. Dirty Rotten Imbeciles - Dealing With It
  2. Cryptic Slaughter - Convicted
  3. Dead Horse - Horsecore: An Unrelated Story That's Time Consuming
  4. Corrosion of Conformity - Eye for an Eye
Proto-Underground
  1. Bathory - The Return...
  2. Hellhammer - Apocalyptic Raids
  3. Slayer - Hell Awaits
Speed/Death
  1. Rigor Mortis - Freaks
  2. Kreator - Extreme Aggression
Death Metal
  1. Massacra - Final Holocaust
  2. Deicide - Legion
  3. Morbid Angel - Blessed Are the Sick
  4. Therion - Beyond Sanctorum
  5. Sepultura - Morbid Visions
  6. Incantation - Onward to Golgotha
  7. Morpheus Descends - Ritual of Infinity
  8. Necrophobic - The Nocturnal Silence
  9. Obituary - Cause of Death
  10. Suffocation - Effigy of the Forgotten
  11. Atheist - Unquestionable Presence
  12. Dismember - Like an Ever-Flowing Stream
  13. Amorphis - The Karelian Isthmus
  14. At the Gates - The Red in the Sky is Ours
  15. Demilich - Nespithe
  16. Asphyx - The Rack
  17. Carnage - Dark Recollections
  18. Pestilence - Consuming Impulse
Grindcore
  1. Repulsion - Horrified
  2. Terrorizer - World Downfall
  3. Carbonized - For the Security
  4. Napalm Death - Fear, Emptiness, Despair
  5. Blood - Impulse to Destroy
  6. Pathologist - Grinding Opus of Forensic Medical Problems
  7. Carcass - Reek of Putrefaction
  8. Cianide - A Descent Into Hell
  9. Bolt Thrower - ...For Victory
Black Metal
  1. Burzum - Hvis Lyset Tar Oss
  2. Immortal - Pure Holocaust
  3. Emperor - In the Nightside Eclipse
  4. Darkthrone - Transylvanian Hunger
  5. Graveland - The Celtic Winter
  6. Bathory - Blood, Fire, Death
  7. Ildjarn - Det Frysende Nordariket
  8. Summoning - Dol Guldur
  9. Gorgoroth - Antichrist
  10. Beherit - Drawing Down the Moon
  11. Enslaved - Vikinglgr Veldi
  12. Havohej - Dethrone the Son of God
  13. Mayhem - De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
  14. Sacramentum - Far Away From the Sun
  15. Mutiilation - Remains of a Dead, Ruined, Cursed Soul
  16. Varathron - His Majesty at the Swamp

3.3 Resources

crimson_ghost For someone concerned with historical accuracy, most of the internet provides nothing of value. Offered as underground and outsider opinion, the perspectives offered there for the most part repeat what larger media have said and distort according to the conventions of labels, but because these are popular illusions they are granted perceived authoritative status. Instead, we suggest the following resources from the old underground: For acquiring used or out of print (OOP) CDs, cassettes and vinyls:

IV. Meta

4.1 About

About this FAQ During the early days of the internet, a form of distributed bulletin board existed for the whole net, called USENET. One of the earliest USENET hierarchies was the alt.rock-n-roll hierarchy, started to complement alt.sex and alt.drugs in the middle eighties. By the next decade, a .metal had been added and by the early nineties a new group, .metal.heavy was added to accomodate "heavier" metal, not knowing that "heavy metal" is a keyword for more commercial, rock-based offerings. Somewhere in this time alt.thrash was created for skateboarders and taken over by crossover music fans. In order to advance this hierarchy to a contemporary state of metal knowledge, in 1993 I created the newsgroup alt.rock-n-roll.metal.death, which was followed by .progressive, .doom, and the newer hierarchy of alt.music.black-metal in the middle 1990s. Many users contributed texts during this time which encapsulated frequently sought knowledge, so I mixed those texts with my own texts that I had been developing since the late 1980s on the topic of metal. The result was the USENET version of The Heavy Metal FAQ. As the internet has evolved, USENET has virtually disappeared and been replaced by a duality between small blogs and large sponsored sites. During this time, the need for accurate knowledge about heavy metal has accelerated because larger sites push their for-profit (or for-ideology) agenda on users, and smaller sites not only offer only fragmentary knowledge, but frequently vanish from the net. Each website now is like a user was on USENET, an atomized commodity. The most recent edit of this FAQ addresses the changes in metal since the 1988-1996 period in which it was penned and updates the text to address a wider and more formal audience. This change is designed to counteract the predominance of non-information (marketing, propaganda) and pseudo-information (partial truths, social preferences) that currently dominates both on the internet and in the media products sold in stores. About the Author Brett Stevens began his life as a metal writer by writing and uploading lyrics files and record reviews to underground hacker websites like The Metal AE in the late 1980s. Since that time, he has branched out into heavy metal radio from 1992-1998, online radio, and writing about underground metal and the related communities. He has served as editor of The Dark Legions Archive, which first went online in 1991 as an open FTP directory, then Gopher server and finally a website on a series of webhosts. As the oldest and longest-running metal website, The Dark Legions Archive provides information about metal without either commercial bias or conformity to "non-conformity" based in socializing with participants in a "scene." You can read more here: Inspiration Call the Metal AE! +1 201 879 6668 (8N1) PW: KILL

4.2 Contact

http://www.deathmetal.org/ Death Metal Underground PO Box 1004 Alief, TX 77411 (512) 553-4544 editor@deathmetal.org

4.3 References

  1. Gabriella, "Ozzy Osbourne: The Godfather of Metal," NY Rock, June 2002. Retrieved from http://www.nyrock.com/interviews/2002/ozzy_int.asp on September 8, 2014.
  2. J Cremer, "The birth of black metal: through the Mercyful Fate of our king," The Copenhagen Post, October 27, 2013. Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20131101030359/http://cphpost.dk//through-looking-glass/birth-black-metal-through-mercyful-fate-our-king on September 8, 2014.
  3. Varg Vikernes interview, Until the Light Takes Us, Factory 25, 2009.
  4. J. McIver, Extreme Metal II, Omnibus Press, London, 2005, p. 110.
  5. C. Alexander, "The origins of pattern theory, the future of the theory, and the generation of a living world," speech to the 1996 ACM conference on Object-Oriented Programs, Systems, Languages and Applications (OOPSLA), San Diego, CA.
  6. C. Alexander, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, retrieved from http://www.stcsig.org/usability/topics/patterns.html on September 8, 2014
  7. Plato, The Republic, trans. Benjamin Jowett, Book VII, retrieved from http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.html on September 8, 2014.
  8. J. Gleick, Chaos, Penguin Books, New York, 1987, p 195.
  9. J. Campbell, The Power of Myth, Anchor, Rockland, MA, 1991, p. 14.
  10. Vikernes.
  11. M.H. Abrams, "Neoclassic and Romantic" in A Glossary of Literary Terms, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Orlando, FL 1993, pp. 125-129.
  12. A. Gatherer, "The Dionysian and the Apollonian in Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy," The Oxford Philosopher, August 25, 2014. Retrieved from http://theoxfordphilosopher.com/2014/08/25/the-dionysian-and-the-apollonian-in-nietzsche-the-birth-of-tragedy/ on September 8, 2014.
  13. "Romanticism," The Encyclopedia Brittanica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/508675/Romanticism on September 8, 2014.
  14. Ibid.
  15. L. Sterrenburg, "Mary Shelley's Monster: Politics and Psyche in Frankenstein," In The Endurance of "Frankenstein": Essays on Mary Shelley's Novel, ed. George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: Univ. of California Press, 1979, pp. 143-71. Retrieved from http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/Articles/sterren.html on September 8, 2014.
  16. Ibid.
  17. R. Rocker, "Romanticism and Nationalism." Retrieved from http://flag.blackened.net/rocker/roman.htm on September 8, 2014.
  18. "Nihilism," The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/nihilism/ on September 8, 2014.
  19. Vikernes.
  20. Cambridge, 616
  21. H. Kohn, "Romanticism and the Rise of German Nationalism," The Review of Politics, Volume 12 / Issue 04 / October 1950, pp 443-472. Retrieved from http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=5378456 on September 8, 2014.
  22. "Truth," The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/truth/#SH5a on September 8, 2014.
  23. W. Heisenberg, "Über den anschaulichen Inhalt der quantentheoretischen Kinematik und Mechanik", Zeitschrift für Physik, Issue 43, Volumes 3–4, 1927, pp. 172–198.
  24. D. Allison, "Structuralism," The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, Cambridge Press, Cambridge, UK, 1999, p 883.
  25. Dog 3000, "Emerson Lake & Palmer Trilogy," Head Heritage. Retrieved from http://www.headheritage.co.uk/unsung/review/1133/ on September 8, 2014.
  26. B. Sisario, "Johnny Ramone, Pioneer Punk Guitarist, Is Dead at 55," The New York Times, September 17, 2004. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/17/arts/music/17ramone.html?pagewanted=print&position=&_r=0 on September 8, 2014.
  27. Vikernes.
  28. J Norton, "Heavy Metal Gets Socially Conscious," The New York Times, August 10, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/10/AR2006081000925.html on September 8, 2014.
  29. Vikernes.
26 Comments

Assimilation

What makes metal heavy also makes the mainstream want to absorb it

In the night, one can hear many noises. Some sound scary, and others signal scary events. For example, the roar of an animal is disturbing, but to someone alone in a house a stealthy footfall or the click of a lock is scarier. Similarly in art, the context of a sound defines its significance, and what makes music frightening is the meaning it encodes.

Among all forms of art, what makes heavy metal unique is that it embraces disturbing sounds which are not ugly but which portend disturbing patterns found in reality. Heavy metal is the music of the apocalypse, and whether warning it off or cheering it on or both, achieves this heaviness through the context it conveys.

What makes heavy metal heavy?

Both fantastic and literal, heavy metal explores the ideas our society will not endorse. It is not protest music, whining “it should not be” into a secondhand microphone, but a war-like genre which describes destruction with the joy of a painter who could use it as a color in a new epic landscape. Metal is about the experience of life, but it disciplines that with a clear sense of reality and consequence, as is appropriate for “heavy” conversation. Where society hides from fear and allies itself with the threat of the consequences of fears, metal allies itself with death to dispense fear.

When metal first arrived, new fans began to understand what made Black Sabbath “heavy”: the patterns which revealed the thinking behind such noises, putting context to the fear they instilled. Thundering distorted riffs were not new; Blue Cheer had done that. Neither was aggression; Iggy Pop had done that. But Black Sabbath, inspired by horror movie soundtracks, came up with a new style of music that used melodic phrases played in power chords, and by targetting the weighty topics that social conversation did not admit, creating a terrifying form of art.

Rock music had grown through the 1960s from simple boyfriend-girlfriend pop to apocalyptic rock like the Doors or King Crimson in the same way the Beatles rejected their sugarpop roots to become morbid and political. Whenever given a chance, the music reverted to a simple, tolerant, peaceful hedonism that hid its escapism and narcissism. The future members of Black Sabbath, upon seeing a horror movie and wondering if people would ever pay to have that experience in rock music, created the antithesis to distracting escapism: a descent into the complex and violent world of reality.

Its heaviness migrated into a different style of composition: other bands wrote songs around open chords which were strummed in a repeated pattern, and then modulated, while Black Sabbath used moveable power chords to make phrases into riffs and it was the change in those phrases that communicated a difference in outlook. It was more like classical music, where harmony is so well-studied that it is used as a device toward “narrative” compositions where the change in motifs and their accompaniment conveys a string of moods that like a mythology or a fable convey the idea of a journey from one point to another.

With this development, they gave meaning to the sound. Its context of topics gave its heaviness form, but musically it was heavy as well, using thundering chords that stripped out traditional harmony and made the riff instead, like the nihilistic voice of an angry god, speak the truth that completed the poetry of contrast in each song. By throwing away form, and the form of socialization which “peace” and “love” implied, Black Sabbath brought danger back into a stagnant modern life — specifically, the danger that in all the attempts to stay away from the darkness, we as a civilization had missed an essential truth.

What does metal believe?

As an art form, metal has continuously developed visions of a human apocalypse lingering in the absence of our willingness to face reality. Reality is, as the saying goes, not entirely pleasant, and so is less popular than simple partial truths called “symbols,” which create an illusion of completeness by super-simplifying reality. Morality is not scientifically accurate but it is more comforting to our minds to have two options instead of nearly infinite ones.

During its maturation, metal wavered in and out of the public illusion, called “consensual reality,” which is the alternate reality of values most people use to navigate their lives. Consensual reality includes the symbols people want to believe in and, reinforced by preference-enabling activities like democracy and consumerism, makes itself “real” by the fact that most people believe it to be true. This public illusion takes many forms and metal has not been immune, but is strongest when it kicks aside the illusion and goes for the kind of heavy contexts that always made good ambiguous truth.

One view of metal is as a reality mediator showing the darkness underlying our pleasant illusions, and that in doing so, it is not deconstructive but attempts to make clarity of life by finding beauty in the dark and heavy as well as the light. As a holistic approach, this outlook negates both dualistic worlds (heaven, hell) and secular morality in favor of a scientific, historical and abstract design-oriented perspective on life. This then returns us to the idea of metal as orthodoxy, or a genre in which there is a clear direction and those who deviate from it are parasitizing on the popularity of the genre while weakening it with ideas that oppose it.

The terms “sell out” and “poseur” arose in the 1970s to refer to those of this intention, most specifically the bands like Def Leppard who turned their heavy metal roots into radio trash that was essentially rock music with power chords. A poseur was someone dishonest who adopted the most rigorous pose, or identity-affirming lifestyle and opinions, of a genre but was like all hipsters using it for his or her own benefit and believed none of it. These terms persist to this day.

Any ideology is necessarily orthodox, in that if it does not assert a right way and wrong way of doing things, it is not an ideology at all but an ethic of convenience much like the opinionless, directionless motions of rock music or its deferential humanistic political counterpart. Rock stands for a big party and everyone having it their way; this is a meta-orthodoxy that opposes all orthodoxy.

Metal on the other hand is orthodox and opposes meta-orthodoxy because an orthodoxy of no orthodoxy is a lack of direction. Directionless self-assertion does not address the apocalyptic or religious aspects necessary to unite human thinking toward survival in an apocalyptic time. To clarify reality, metal music embraces nihilism and worships power and beauty, because these things connect us to a reality that will forever seem flawed to us because it is full of horror, doubt, fear and death. However, the metal outlook shows us the wisdom of these things and makes living with them seem “fun,” where rock music and other anti-orthodoxies retreat into human activities and social realities, pushing reality itself far away.

As a result, metal is sandwiched between protest music of the anarchic left and the wisdom of the conservative ancients, forming itself through fantasy into a vision of a more realistic and more enjoyable vision of life. Rock music is a product of the wealth and convenience of a modern time that allows us to have inconsequential lifestyles and opinions, while metal is a revolution against that outlook, a seemingly deconstructive art form that in actuality opposes deconstruction.

We can trace these ideas through consistent beliefs found across metal generations:

  1. Beauty in darkness. It is not ugly, pounding music but music which discovers beauty in distortion, in anger and terror, in violence and foreboding dark restless relativistic power chords. The point is not to deconstruct, but to go through deconstruction and find meaning. This is evident in the works of Black Sabbath and every metal band since, and is what distinguishes “real” metal from hard rock.
  2. Worship of power. Unlike pacifying rock music and jazz and “new music” classical, metal music adores powerful, vast and broad simple strokes; it loves the majesty of nature and its crushing final word. It does not have love songs. Instead, its love is directed to forces of nature, including physical forces like storms and intense human experience like war or loss, as if trying to find meaning in these.
  3. Worship of nature. Linked to metal’s adoration of power is its appreciation for the function, including its “red in tooth and claw” aspects, of the natural world. Where most are repulsed by the idea that combat exists between animals in which one is victor, and one is prey, metal idolizes it. It finds beauty in ruins, in destruction, and in death, as if praising the cycle of life they engender again.
  4. Independent thinking. Metal does not buy into the individualism of a modern time where the only goal is material pleasure of the self (materialism) and keeping others away by granting them the same (humanism). It prefers the independent thinking that looks for higher values in life, mountains to climb and challenges to be met. Where punk music enmeshed itself in a callow “I wanna do what I wanna do,” metal saw this as part of the same gesture of rock music and discarded it.

These are expressed artistically by the following:

  1. Dark, morbid themes that clashed with the “love will save us” hippie mentality. These are explained by Black Sabbath as being derived from the horror movies of the day, a genre which features a union between technology and the occult (zombies, werewolves) producing a force humans cannot oppose. Normal technologies and methods cannot defeat it. They struggle against this force but their emotional instability causes them to sabotage one another, and often the dark force wins. Examples from this genre: Mothra, Dawn of the Dead, Alien, The Exorcist, The Shining, War of the Worlds.
  2. Songs written from short cyclic phrases called riffs, which unlike rock riffs used moveable chords of inspecific harmonic bonding, making the melody and rhythm of the phrase more important than key or voicing. Metal bands tend to use more riffs per song, and not in the traditional cycle of verse-chorus, in a way quite similar to progressive bands like King Crimson and Yes, both of whom used aggressive distortion.
  3. A focus on the holism of the human effort as determined by our moral state as individuals in a way that can only be described as “religious.” Metal, in addition to sounding eerily like angry Bach-scripted church music, has a similar focus to dogmatic transcendentalism Christianity: what is our future as human beings, and how does how we shape our personalities effect it?
  4. Bass-enhanced overdriven guitar sound, or distortion, which encloses the primary instrument used in making heavy metal. In rock, guitars and drums come together to emphasize a vocal melodic line; in metal, guitars lead a melodic line for which vocals are a complement and drums a timekeeper, enclosing it in a regularity to give listeners context. The guitar is the loudest single instrument heard and the one that invokes changes in song.

These beliefs and musical techniques reinforce each other. Using distortion and loud music, yet finding beauty in it. Using longer narrative phrases so as to tell a story, creating a holistic view in which emotion emerges, instead of citing pre-configured emotions like rock music does. A darkness and melancholy exhibited in lyrics and imagery, corresponding to aggressive music, expressing a desire to seize all of reality, good and bad together, and make something better of it.

Heavy Metal as Romanticism

We have seen ideas similar to these before in the form of a genre that, once birthed, refused to die, even as history moved on. In fact, it has re-emerged throughout the modern time because it was the step before this new type of rationalism,

Although metal borrows from both classical and Romantic periods of classical music, its most intense similarity is to the Romantic period in literature, which in its later years diverged into Gothic horror and transcendental idealism. Much as embryological theory tells us that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, or that a fetus goes through the same stages of evolution as its species did to arrive at its current state, metal theory shows us that metal — as a revolt against what rock music stood for, e.g. distraction — forms an embryo which rediscovers its musical past. In this sense, metal is starting with classical and venturing through late Romanticism toward modernism.

According to the experts, Romanticism in literature and music has several tenets:

  • It is not clearly defined as a single thing, or several versions of this thing1. Most of Romanticism existed before it became a concrete movement, and heavily overlapped with classicism2.
  • A desire to explore organic culture instead of high culture, especially tales of the medieval age and its feudal society3
  • Worship of the imagination, and of creative and individual truthfulness in emotion4.
  • Reverence for nature as “an organically unified whole,”5 and intuition, instincts, and feelings were seen as necessary complements to reason in contrast to “mechanical” rationalism6.
  • Symbolism and myth were given great prominence7.
  • Rejection of the universalism in exchange for study of the individual as distinct from others8.
  • Shift from a mimetic to an expressive orientation, meaning that art no longer imitated life, but expressed a truth found in it9.
  • A willingness to strive “for the unattainable beyond the morally permitted,” and a rejection of morality for situational or naturalistic interpretation10.
  • An appreciation for the melancholy, remote and ancient11.

Romanticism was a response to neo-classicism, which was the most recent form of the surge in rationalism brought about by The Age of Enlightenment. Where the Enlightenment rationale brought individual rights, focus on personal emotion, and a linear logical process by which one could dissect the world and find an absolute response to it, Romanticism both inherited that tradition and began dissolving it. It is for this reason that we can find Romanticist themes abundant, in everything from Star Wars to presidential speeches: the conflict of rationalism-versus-Romanticism has never been resolved.

Unlike modern individualism, Romanticist individualism meant using yourself as the justification for your own wants, instead of trying to find some external justification. As Nietzsche phrased it, “I prefer” and “I find beauty in” are more important than all the equations, statistical summaries, studies cited and popular votes in the world; Romanticism (of which Nietzsche was an ambiguous defender but spiritual comrade) rejects the idea of externalized truths and knowing, and instead prefers a sense of unity between the individual’s aesthetics and a “mythic imagination” which lets them see possibilities in the world using holistic logic, instead of the linear (single-factor) logic used by rationalists.13

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
The World is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth (1789)

~

Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist.

And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no additional mission which would lead it beyond human life. Rather, it is human, and only its possessor and begetter takes it so solemnly-as though the world’s axis turned within it. But if we could communicate with the gnat, we would learn that he likewise flies through the air with the same solemnity, that he feels the flying center of the universe within himself. There is nothing so reprehensible and unimportant in nature that it would not immediately swell up like a balloon at the slightest puff of this power of knowing.

On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense, Friedrich Nietzsche (1873)

Heavy metal inherits this conflict because in order to be “heavy,” it must tackle the dark issues everyone fears. What makes these issues dark is that our normal methods cannot defeat them. We then must ask what we exclude from our methods, and we see that any anti-social information — that which might offend someone, or mention death, or suggest that morality is an imposed and artificial condition — is excluded from our methods. As a result, heavy metal becomes a kind of peering behind the curtain of an externally-imposed reality, and in seeing the horrors within, finding a new desire for both warlike apocalyptic intensity and a beauty discovered in darkness.

Romanticism re-occurs because it is generally seen as the only idea which can oppose modernism, which is like neo-classicism but even more insistent upon rationalism and the hybrid between individualism and groupthink that is utilitarianism. Metal, as a genre exploring Romanticism with a masculine and warlike approach, most closely approximates the philosophies of Nietzsche and other post-Romantic writers who wanted to escape the bureaucratic approach to society and restore a sense of adventure.

Metal is fantasy that can be applied to reality, neatly briding the two categories of art as entertainment/mimesis and art as politics. It is not protest music, nor is it the kind of wallpaper-like distracting pleasant activity that we see on most television shows. Instead, it is a manifestation of the Faustian desire for forbidden knowledge. From classical literature and music, it borrows a rigid sense of structure and a desire for resurrection, Tolkien-esque, of the ancient times of honor, blood, warfare and magic. From Romantic literature and music, it takes its major themes, including the sense of an individual trapped in a moribund society reaching out and the idea that when the individual escapes society to nature, reality can be seen for the first time. The most similar Romanticists to metal lyrics are probably the following:

  • William Blake – wrote about metaphysical topics from the perspective of the universe, and mocked humans for being weak and obsessed with the trivial.
  • John Milton – wrote Paradise Lost, in which Satan is an anti-hero who rejects the rule of heaven in order to discover life for himself.
  • William Wordsworth – enshrined anti-social behavior with his classic The World is Too Much With Us, which calls for rejecting society in favor of mythic imagination.
  • Mary Shelley – wrote Frankenstein, in which technology creates a new form of life which discovers it has no place in the world, and it turns destructive.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – a realist who did not shy from horror, Goethe believed in a universe where human perception was a small and unnecessary part of its divine function.14

If we had to summarize metal as an artistic movement, it would be fair to say it has more in common with European Romantic art than the popular music and boutique art of our present era. Like the Romantics, it sought a transcendence in accepting the world’s inequality and horror and using it as a relative opposite against which to project challenges; it wants to bring back the fighting spirit of an ancient time, and give us independent thinking and goals instead of buying us off with the humanist-materialist tripe that the mainstream media proclaims — dogma which, interestingly, has failed to solve a single widespread problem of humanity.

Even more interesting is that the genre of horror movies, an intersection of proto-science fiction and occult lore, was born of the Romantic movement. Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein, was the wife of Percy Shelley, a Romantic poet. Bram Stoker’s Dracula came from the Gothic fringe of the Romantic movement as well. One of the greatest descriptions of Satan ever, Paradise Lost by John Milton, was also a Romantic work.

“I believe in tragedies…
I believe in desecration…”
The Sun No Longer Rises, Immortal (1993)

Like its Romantic forebears, metal music desires transcendence: finding the beauty in darkness by accepting the physical struggle that is life, and instead of trying to run away from that struggle into personal material comfort, accepting it as something that gives significance to our existences. Metal music desires to overcome our fear of death and of nature, and by accepting them, to show us a new world of meaning. In this, it is both a continuation of Romanticism and an evolution of it to a more coherent state.

How did this change for underground metal?

Appearing in the early 1980s, underground metal arose from a hybrid between crustcore/hardcore (Discharge) and the structuralist, neo-classical heavy metal of the previous generation (Judas Priest, Black Sabbath). It took the Romantic themes of earlier metal and made them more extreme. If underground metal has one unifying concept, it is the one emphasized by Hellhammer, “Only death is real.”

After heavy metal blew out by getting absorbed into its own popularity, and then speed metal copped out by softening its stance and sound to be more popular, underground metal roared away with pure nihilism: facing life as it is without a thought that anyone or thing in the universe cares if we collectively or individually survive. This was orthodoxy retaliating against anti-orthodoxy, which always takes the form of individuals preferring to avoid reality and so passive revenging themselves against those disciplined enough to want, in the time-honoured method of survival common to all creatures, to adapt to reality. In overcoming the anti-orthodoxy of individualism, underground metal became the first popular music genre ready to face ego-death.

The question, of course, could be asked: Why did you ever try narcotics? Why did you continue using it long enough to become an addict? You become a narcotics addict because you do not have strong motivations in any other direction. Junk wins by default. – William S. Burroughs, Junky

Ego-death is a concept that psychedelics and zen monks alike discovered. In it, the person realizes they are one part of a giant system, and stop seeing the world through themselves. They see themselves in the world, but they see the bigger process first. Ego-death tends to lead to a transcendent state where one sees all of consciousness as a continuum, and becomes less afraid of d-y-i-n-g. Ego-death forces us to see life through a filter that is super-realistic, or dedicated to bringing people into a moment of realization that what they are touching and doing is real and they need to grasp command of their own minds to survive. It opposes panic and illusion, moral and social judgment (“knowing” from Nietzsche above), fear and pleasant unrealistic thoughts.

Not coincidentally, “only death is real” resembles topics from “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad and “Paradise Lost” by John Milton. In both, as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the protagonist is thrust into a delusional, dysfunctional, chaotic world that he alone can see is wrecked, and takes a long journey in which she or he can see that the nothingness is very real and pervades everything, and that our denial of this emptiness of life makes a greater emptiness, or a hollow illusion that cannot satisfy us. As we try to live in this illusion, we see reality peeking through, and so become neurotic.

The characters in these books overcome their situations only by throwing away the rule book, avoiding what other people tell them is the truth, and acting on their animal intuition. Conrad’s protagonist Marlowe begins the book impotent and ends it with a powerful tool, like a sword or fire, to explain why what he sees is as impotent as he once was. It’s like an adolescent story, but for humanity, growing out of its moral illusion and seeing reality as a pragmatic task. In Paradise Lost, Satan is appealing but has made an error in opposing the order of nature/God, yet still he has to make this decision, to explore the world in a Promethean sense of fearlessness and self-command. His undoing is too much self and not enough command.

Underground metal recognized this duality of human thought. Official knowing was bad news; unguided knowing was chaotic and destructive; therefore, a new type of knowledge had to be created, and this knowledge was nihilistic literalism as found in hardcore punk merged with the fantasy and epic worldview of heavy metal. The political nature of punk had made it easy for foolish people to slap anarchy stickers on their rockabilly guitars and start repeating the same old stuff, like the aged activists who whine “why can’t they just see” when life has passed them by.

Underground metal was not political or social, but philosophical: it viewed the world from outside human eyes, seeing it like a large scientific experiment in which history was the result, and based its knowledge on the abrupt interruption to human illusion created by death. When we see that wisdom, we recognize that we are tiny and inconsequential, and that adapting to life is more important than the moral, social, media and political worlds made of human agreement to have a symbol stand for something.

“Only Death is Real” conveyed ego-death: no matter how big you think you are or how important, death is more real than your visions, so you must accept nothingness. To accept nothingness is to cast aside the unhealthy parts of the ego and to give it context, so that the ego is a motivic force but only one of many on a planet. To see only death as real is to wonder what else can be real. The answer is right past the end of our noses: the world is real, and it’s a continuum that renews itself, so it’s worth working for. If you like life, you work to make it better. If you hate life, you deny the reality of the world and you go further inward into the self and its desires, which has never worked for making anyone happy no matter how stupid.

We are social creatures, and it is as mathematically logical why that is so as the collaboration between parts of a computer program. We are all of the same thing, and we want to take our part in this thing, which includes nature and our fellow humans, and if we like being alive, we want to do what’s best not just for ourselves or for humanity but for the whole thing. What a stream of interesting thoughts “Only Death is Real” can unleash, in part because our society does everything it can to deny the reality of death.

The archetypal death metal bands — Hellhammer, Bathory, Slayer — all used occult imagery much as Blake, Milton and Goethe did. With that in mind, we can re-interpret Slayer’s Satanic imagery as more than being opposition to Christianity. For one, they do not seem to oppose Christianity. If anything, lyrics like “South of Heaven” or “The Final Command” illustrate, like Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” before them, a world in the grips of evil based in power based on an illusion. In Slayer’s complex theology, Christianity is Satanic because like political strength and industry it is a false outward power when inward the person is underconfident and weak. Christianity however is seen as often accurate, in that the apocalypse does come from selfishness, and Christian morality (“bastard sons beget your cunting daughters”) is the best way to live, but a way that makes no sense in a world addicted to the power of illusion.

As in Milton, Slayer’s Satan is a rebel against a singular order encroaching upon the world, a necessary force like magnetism that opposes any such centralization. In Slayer and Milton’s view, to have any single power controlling the universe is to bring the universe toward sameness, something thermodynamicists call “entropy,” or a state when any direction yields the same results as any other because of the uniformity of the universe. Milton was edging toward a transcendental view of God as being a property of the universe, and not an ego or personality such as that overbearing one against which Satan revolts, himself a victim of his own excessive egoism.

I feel there is some hideous new force loose in the world like a creeping sickness, spreading, blighting. Remoter parts of the world seem better now, because they are less touched by it. Control, bureaucracy, regimentation, these are merely symptoms of a deeper sickness that no political or economic program can touch. What is the sickness itself? – William S. Burroughs

In the Milton-Slayer worldview, “God” encompasses both bad and good, because together these create a reality in which we can strive for better things. Similarly, in Conrad, the tokens of good and profit are chased in such a way that they create an illusion sustained by greed, in which the only heroes are amoralists like Mr. Kurtz who use brutality and combat effectively, but are conflicted over the underlying reasoning for their goal, namely the need to produce income through ivory when greater challenges await. In the worldview these artists offer, profit motive and morality are a going-inward into the protective mantle of fear, and morality is something we impose on the world to avoid the heroic challenge of leaving that inward sanctum and achieving goals that are not justified by physical survival (morality) or material comfort (profit).

When we look at metal with these opened eyes, the sound and imagery and lyrics are far less random. Distortion is a finding of beauty in darkness, a clarity emerging not when one looks at individual grains of sound but when one hears the blurry whole and deducts from it both pure tone and the harmony of randomness to that clarity; distortion forces us to take a view from above, and see the whole picture in order to understand what occurs at any moment. It is also a metaphor for our inability to ever fully perceive the universe, telling us that if we look at the center of the distortion we will find what is occurring, even if we cannot see it perfectly. The gritty, chaotic sound of distortion defies our logical containers that look for purity and instead finds a reality that although hazy is as clear as it if were pure.

The “riff salad” of metal bands is a way of establishing that music is not a cyclic loop of verse-chorus, resembling our going inward to the world of our own thoughts and preferences, but a journey in which our inward struggle parallels our outward struggle (much like the jihads of Islam: the lesser Jihad is the war against ignorance/infidels, and the greater Jihad is the war for spiritual clarity in oneself). Metal is art because it does not preach a political solution, but shows us the reasons for it. When that sort of higher thinking fails, metal relapses to liking noise and hedonism but little else.

It is one thing to preach, as if politically, against the ego. It is another thing to show a path beyond the ego. “Only Death is Real,” like nihilism itself, is a way of dispensing with “belief” in order to begin the journey to discover what is real and what is supra-real. The supra-real is that dimension where heroism and creativity lie, where one has accepted the feared attributes of life (d-y-i-n-g, disease, sodomy) and has transcended them by seeing what is not material/tangible yet is also important. It is this journey that metal music, classical music, and all great art describes. It is starting from nothing, like Satan exiled from Heaven, and getting over resentment of life and fear of death to see the beauty in darkness and to return to life with a desire to make it better. It is a recognition of the inherent distortion of our perception, and tuning our ears and minds to see past that faltering.

When only death is real, the ego dies for a moment and we see the world as a whole, and can get out of the prison of our limited perspective and re-bond to the life that produced us and produces all we value. It is a hedonic state higher than hedonism, to love life and want to make it better through better design. This is where death metal broke from heavy metal, and it is where all thinking that rewards strong souls begins.

The Evolution of Black Metal

Death metal brought images of impending doom and a fascination with the macabre into a dark world. It built upon what speed metal and grindcore had already established: an apocalyptic epic where the only future was decay. Death metal incorporated the righteous integrity of speed metal and the nihilism of punk into a musical onslaught warning of destruction. It fit into Kurt Vonnegut’s famous metaphor for art: that artists are to society what canaries were to the coalminers who brought them into the depths of the mine as warnings. When the song of the canary turned weak or stopped, it meant that suffocating coal gas was flooding the mine.

Death metal is an extension of the complexity of speed metal, partially arising from the attitude of that genre that any large problem can be solved by reason. Speed metal and thrash believed in rationality, and preached insanity as a negative characteristic. Death metal became the science of understanding insanity and breakdown, not preaching against it as speed metal often did but explicating it in epic songs and vivid imagery. Black metal, as a response to the failure of death metal to avoid the crowd, was an embrace of all things destructive to human illusion: natural selection, warfare, predation, violence, cruelty and tyranny.

Black metal restored romantic side of metal as its primary vehicle; its emotion is more obvious as that is its obsession. A death metal band would never argue destruction of the world, calling it irrational, where a black metal band would call for destruction of all life on emotional grounds. Black metal’s sadness comes from its emotional entrapment in a mechanistic world, and for that reason it rebels against order, whether in Heaven, on Earth, or in Death Metal. Black metal is in many ways a return to the mission metal left when exploring the scientific mindset of the technological age (as computers revolutionized life in the eighties, quantitative rationalism experienced a resurgance of influence).

If we look at metal’s history, we can see how this conflict brewed. Black Sabbath retaliated against the hippie music of their time as unrealistic and distracting. The following generation of metal turned it into more of a party for alienated kids, which punk retaliated against by returning the focus to all the negative aspects of reality. The next generation of metal, speed metal, picked up the punk outlook but channeled it into the heroic stories of past heavy metal, creating a less lamentatory and more assertive, masculine “we can fix this” outlook. When speed metal collapsed into its own popularity, death metal returned with pure nihilism balanced by a structuralism that suggested life was understandable but denied by the individual. Grindcore rose simultaneously with death metal and restored the punk/hippie attitude of tolerance toward the individual. Black metal retaliated against this just as Black Sabbath condemned the hippies of their day by brushing aside morality for an awareness of horror and our impotence against the real threats in this world; it rejected all protest rock and literal music for a spiritual conditioning which embraced struggle, darkness, melancholy and other Romantic traits.

Black metal grew exponentially since its emergence as a distinct musical style in the early 1990s; previous “black metal,” from Venom through Hellhammer, had been a variant on the dominant style of the time and often indistinguishable from death metal. Like a new civilization, it grew from a small group of innovators who were disgusted by the “jogging suit” mentality: people who were essentially products of a modern time, who blindly bleated its ideas, figuring out how to play death metal and becoming popular in the genre by making their music more like what audiences accustomed to rock music expected. In essence, the crowd had infested death metal as it had speed metal before that, and black metal was a response to this.

Recognizing that no matter how they dressed up the music as something “new,” appearances could be cloned, black metal musicians decided to go where the crowd could not follow: they would write music that expressed a grandeur of nature and feral amorality, hearkening more to the values of Samurai or European knights than to the disposable ideals of modern time. Since such a topic requires music that infuses the listener with a sense of awe and beauty in the cycle of destruction and creation that renders our world, they could no longer rely on “three chords and the truth,” but had to actually put the truth in the music, and write more poetic and complex songs.

The small civilization within civilization that was black metal was united more by ideals than by aesthetic or musical tenets, although all of its music by aiming to express the same kind of idea had similarities, mainly in its use of poetic complexity and truth within the music (and not necessarily the lyrics; you listen to black metal, and because of its intense artistry, find truth there). Because we are surrounded by infinite voices repeating the same few ideas in many different forms, here are the basic ideas of black metal that are distinct from the mass:

  1. Nature as a supreme, rational and all-pervasive order. Natural selection and an embrace of struggle took the center stage through celebration of predation and death. Even more, black metal celebrated the nature “within,” or our inner feral nihilism that made a mockery of morality.
  2. Anti-Christianity/Crowdism. Crowdism is the idea that respecting the will of individuals is more important than finding a realistic idea. It is a form of backward logic where we see the individual as the cause, and not the effect, of all that is around us and so convince ourselves that a human social consensual reality can override nature. Crowdism is secular Christian morality.
  3. Introspection. The only meaning comes from what the individual can interpret; there are no boundaries between individuals and the world (nature) as whole, but individual perception is limited to natural abilities and learning from experience. This is the opposite of the “if it feels good, do it” rhetoric of hippie rock.
  4. Morbidity. Viewed as an essential giver of meaning. Where most view death paranoiacally, and see it as a great entropy removing all value, black metal musicians viewed it as something giving meaning to life.
  5. Organicism. Like Romantic poets, black metal musicians tended to place more faith in organic growth than imposed social order. A sense of differentiation from the herd, hatred toward the incompetent and delusional, pride in unique ethnic origins and a celebration of older culture makes this a huge part of the genre.

To any student of European history or art, these values are not new; they are traditional to all Romantic forms of art, whether literature or visual art or symphonies, and were upheld by artists as disparate as William Wordsworth, Anton Bruckner, John Keats, Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Lord Byron and William Shakespeare. For all of these artists, nature was a higher form of order than the rules of civilization, and civilization had become decadent by praising its own “equal” order more than the “unequal” order of nature. Many philosophers, including the celebrated F.W. Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer, explicated these sentiments in their own work. Black metal’s ideology is nothing new.

What was new was an expression of these ideas in popular music, because rock music and blues and all of the associated disposable art has always been a manifestation of the crowd revolt mentality: simple music so that everyone in a room could get it, diametrically opposed to the grand works of classical music which were too complex and emotionally involved for a crowd to appreciate (or even to have the attention span to endure). Rock music focuses on one emotion per song, bangs it out in riff and chorus, and makes it very simple by using a relatively fixed number of scales and chord progressions. Rock music is the perfect product because it’s easy to make, is appreciated by customers of all ages and not limited by intelligence, and is inoffensive on a certain level in that it has nothing to say that will disturb. The basic message of rock music is to include everyone equally, to appreciate them for being alive and not for their inherent traits, and to come together on simple human values and not higher ideals; rock is inclusivity. Black metal is not.

Much like when watching Lord of the Rings, Braveheart or Apocalypse Now one has a sense of an ancient warlike order, when listening to black metal one sensed a realistic and amoral entity underneath the Romanticized skin of the music. This eternal form of the human spirit grows from the naturalism of black metal as well through its belief in a karmic cycle based on natural selection. At the lowest level, humans are little more than animals. If they exert a form of natural selection upon themselves, and attempt to rise above that level, those who survive will be apt for it; if they do this for several levels, they eventually rise to a state of having a higher intelligence, degree of physical strength and beauty, and moral character (“nobility”: the ability to see what is correct for the natural order of society as a whole, and not to get distracted by personal or emotional issues). At the very top are those who are fit to lead by the nature of having a transcendent consciousness; it is thought that these much higher IQ than most modern people and were far less fearful, neurotic and self-obsessed. This, too, derived from Romanticism.

Underground metal goes mainstream

Underground metal reigned in part through its mystique. Hated by almost everyone, in and out of jail, preaching ideas which were anathema to both heads of state and hippies in the gutter, underground metal seemed a fragile and rare thing. This mystique faded as the economy shifted again, as it had done in the early 1980s allowing a rush of “indie” bands, and distribution contracts loosened up in the late 1990s.

Where once there had been “import” racks for CDs from abroad, and it was hard to find music, starting in 1997, underground metal became available in mall stores and through Amazon.com. Its identity as a separate entity became difficult to maintain, and the process of assimilation began. In response, metalheads attempted to rally around an identity as “different,” but in doing so, they focused on external aspects (distortion, imagery, indie status) instead of what did make the music distinct: it saw hope for the future in ideas outside of the same accepted dogma all the mainstream newspapers, television and radio sell to us because it is a popular product. If the truth is difficult and therefore unpopular, metal rebelled against popularity as a selection matrix, and from that developed a range of thought which made it a genre distinct from all others.

Far from being alone in this, underground metal has fallen into a general trend of independent art producers seceding from reality. “Literature” has collapsed into a few thousand tiny magazines read by no one but MFA candidates in creative writing, and “visual art” has become a network of small galleries selling cute expensive paintings to uninformed patrons. Even classical music has gotten in on the decline, with “new music” — micro-symphonies of human voices, squeaking dissonant noise, and other trendy types of sound — appreciated by a diehard cult following who need a raison d’etre outside of their civil service jobs.

These genres used to speak an independent voice, but now they repeat lockstep the strange formulation of modern liberal democracy — a “neo-conservative” viewpoint which both champions civil rights and “social issues,” but also affirms the need for a strong economy and constant warfare against evil enemies. Political theorists might try to make sense of it, but it is more direct to understand it this way: popularity sells.

“One could argue that American fiction has ghettoized itself by insisting on a self-reifying view (humanist/materialist?) in which all answers are known, the political binary is carved in stoned, we all have swallowed whole certain orthodoxies, and the purpose of the fiction is just to reinforce these. At the heart of this lies a selfish agenda, that has (one could arge) really ceased seeing the world as a unity, and has begun aggressively internalizing certain capitalist dogmas that say: Of course you are the most important thing, of course you exist separate from the rest of the world.” – George Saunders, The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers

In this situation we find a repeated structure from metal itself, and even, larger society. Metal music goes through cycles where a new idea comes about, is looked down upon by others, and then fully expresses itself, at which point it is cloned to death by the same people who were speaking badly about it earlier (by this I mean new subgenres, not recombinations of existing genres like – eh – “nu-metal”). If you look at it as a conflict between people of able character, and those who are by nature followers, what you see is that the able create; the followers imitate, and in so doing, drown it and condemn what was created to being of the same mediocrity it helped to escape.

Indeed, the death metal of today more musically resembles rock than that of ten years ago; same with black metal. They have been assimilated, but from within the metal genre, by people whose character is so low that their highest values are to esteem what is valued by the larger society, and thus to reproduce it in the appearance of something which is not larger society, assuming that by controlling appearance, they control content. They are wrong, and they drag down everything they touch. It is this way with the creation of music, the promotion of music, and the choice of who runs hubs; most run them for the popularity, and don’t mind if there’s a whole bunch of support for moronic rock music thrown into the mix. In fact, they encourage it, as by appealing to everyone, they feel like Christ on the cross, being both a victim and a conqueror by the sheer fact of being needed.

This conflict repeats itself in all human endeavors: one group starts a process that creates benefit, and then others surge in and, not understanding the struggle of creation, parasitize it and destroy it. We can see this in the tendency of sequels to intelligent movies being junk; in the revolutions of the masses against the elites that leave nations with lower average IQs and third world levels of dysfunction; in the killing of Socrates by democratic Athens; in the denial of reality that lets Americans run up record debt, or our species to deplete fish stocks, pollute the ocean with floating plastics, and poison our open waterways with enough chemicals to turn amphibians hermaphroditic. The eternal human struggle for clarity of reality, versus withdrawing into our own perspectives and becoming oblivious, is repeated in metal and its struggle to resist assimilation.

The ‘heat-death’ of the universe is when the universe has reached a state of maximum entropy. This happens when all available energy (such as from a hot source) has moved to places of less energy (such as a colder source). Once this has happened, no more work can be extracted from the universe. Since heat ceases to flow, no more work can be acquired from heat transfer. This same kind of equilibrium state will also happen with all other forms of energy (mechanical, electrical, etc.). Since no more work can be extracted from the universe at that point, it is effectively dead, especially for the purposes of humankind.
— Andreas Birkedal-Hansen, M.A., Physics Grad Student, UC Berkeley12

With human beings, our tendency to act for ourselves alone — individualism, or selfishness — divides up our civilization and encourages entropy. Metal, as a perspective beyond the individual and the ego-drama that rock bands promote through love songs and peace dogma, encourages us instead to get over ourselves, transcend our egos, and look at reality for the potential beauty within it. In this, we enact a familiar drama to any post-agrarian-civilization art, which is that of the lone individual versus the crowd. The individual wants to do what is right, but the crowd wants him to be selfish like them, so that together they do not challenge each other and no one can ever be wrong, or face conflict, or be lonely. But in the end, the crowd always makes itself miserable because its vice is essentially cowardice. Metal reintroduces some clarity through a simple formulation: either one goes inward, and tries to know reality through oneself, or one looks outward and tries to know oneself through external opinions, and as a result, loses oneself in the crowd and its lowest common denominator inclinations, namely fear, selfishness and narcissism.

Assimilation of metal

Whether this larger conflict will be resolved is not yet certain – definitely, however, metal is a reaction against it. When people sang hippie songs, Black Sabbath brought in dark reality, and woke many out of the stupor that assumed extending democratic liberties to all humans would solve far deeper-rooted problems. As rock music headed toward an effete protest against Reagan in the 1980s, metal retaliated by condemning left and right for their ignorance of basic human dissatisfaction and the threat of nuclear warfare. Finally, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, death metal and black metal arose to remind us that we are mortal, and that there are greater values than that which society can bestow, such as nature, the upholding of tradition, and pride in our national origins.

The clones have closed in fast on those, since they are indirectly the greatest threat to clone culture to ever arise in metal. For this reason among others, it’s worth upholding in them what gave people hope: the belief that someday the war of clones versus leaders, masses versus elites, would come to an end. Some keep trying to dumb it down into a political trend that gives us a partial truth and tries to make it represent all of reality, effectively blinding us to the big picture so we can focus on a vicarious struggle:

More than three decades after Black Sabbath conjured images of the dark arts, heavy metal is growing up. The genre is increasingly incorporating social and political messages into its dense power chords.

“Metal is expanding and evolving and becoming more diverse,” said Canadian anthropologist and filmmaker Sam Dunn, who directed “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,” released on DVD this summer. “It’s at a much more vibrant state than it was even five or 10 years ago.”

“It’s becoming global and it’s becoming a tool for social and political commentary,” Dunn said. “It takes on a greater meaning in countries where people have had to struggle to survive. It takes on a much stronger political tone.”

Metal music in the 1980s was often homophobic and “very white,” she said, but current bands tend to be socially conscious and suspicious of political power. There’s also more women in the audience — and fronting the bands.

The lyrics on Lamb of God’s two most recent albums have been expressly political, and the politics lean heavily to the left.

Napalm Death’s Greenway is considering work as a political activist when his metal days are over, but he doesn’t think metal will ever completely stray from hedonistic and supernatural themes.

MSN

It is not surprising that mainstream media misunderstands underground metal. After all, they virtually forced its creation, since any band darker or heavier than Metallica received no recognition; the media wanted to sell us metal as party-lovin’, loud and crazy rock music. And so while the underground bloomed in 1985 to 1996, they praised stadium heavy metal and hard rock bands. During the current time, they embrace as “metal” music that is mostly emo hardcore: metalcore and nu-metal.

To an observer of the recent black metal scene, it’s tempting to get bitter. The newest style and trend appears to be “black hardcore,” or bands putting together two three-note riffs in a standard song format in recombinant order, and even the most ambitious bands are succumbing to this influence. Reminiscent of when hardcore punk music bloated itself into entropy and collapsed because no one could tell any two bands apart, this is like gangrene creeping up the legs and finally into the bloodstream of the genre.

When the genre is healthiest, the winds of coming winter oppose all new bands with brutal hardship, so only the most determined make it to the stage of releasing an album. This encourages others who have talent and brains to take a stab. If a lone artist looks at a genre, and sees a thousand albums of which two are good, the conclusion will be that the genre is fattened and the fans thus unable to tell the difference between good music and bad.

If the genre seen has a handful of albums, most of which are excellent, it is instead a compelling argument for further exploration. This is how genres rise and fall, and is why hardcore punk and death metal both eventually fattened themselves into insignificance to the point that now, once you’ve heard one band, you’ve heard them all. So for the health of the genre, it’s better that fewer albums of a higher quality are released.

Ideals of assimilated metal:

  1. Everyone must get it. It must be simple, not challenging, and most of all not have any poetic essence to its soul, as most fans can’t get that and thus will not buy it.
  2. Appearance over structure. It must have a unique appearance, but say the same old things philosophically and use familiar musical ideas so that even the dumbest fans can understand it and buy it. Even more, it must be upheld as dogma truth that adding a flute or screeching spotted owl to the same old music somehow makes it “unique” and worth owning.
  3. Form doesn’t apply to content. In other words, appearance is more important than structure, which is the form that moulds itself to the content, in the same way a story about a rescue at sea has a different flow and arrangement than a story about contemplating death in the bathtub.
  4. Simplistic emotions are important. Forget the depth of “Inno A Satana”; blindly praise Satan with roaring, consistent anger, because that way every fan, even the ones with Down’s Syndrome, can get what it’s about and get into it. Start a big singular emotion party, and make it simple so everyone can buy the CD and come along.
  5. Everyone can participate. Black metal clones are not specific to a certain land or belief system, as they are essentially musically the same and are designed so that even a retarded outer space alien could “get it” and start tapping its feet and wearing Darkthrone-brand jogging suits immediately. Nationalism, even elitism, eugenics or belief in anything at all is out; what’s in is having some music that sounds angry, is written like punk rock, and can be appreciated by everyone so they can buy the CDs or praise the “underground” scene queens who created it.

The average black metal fan today has not heard the formative works of the genre: Immortal, Emperor, Burzum, Gorgoroth, Enslaved, Darkthrone, Beherit and Varathron when they were making essential, complex, beautiful music. All they’ve heard are the newcomers, both of the blatantly commercial Cradle of Filth variety, and the scene whore “loud, fast and antisocial” type of band. The newcomers are uniformly worthless, as they express nothing that rock music does not, and by giving it an extreme aesthetic, allow their fans to convince themselves that they are “part of” some movement against the dominant trend of society, even though much like Democrats and Republicans in America agree on the same core values, newcomer “black metal” repeats the same empty rhetoric that rock music has been feeding us for fifty years. Newcomer black metal is black metal only in the world of appearance; in terms of musical and artistic structure, it’s closer to punk rock or even Dave Matthews Band. It’s rock music.

Agents of Assimilation: The Hipster

Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.

But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”

An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization — a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” — a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.

Ad Busters — Hipsters: The Dead End of Western Civilization

Adbusters doesn’t mention this, but there’s a simple pattern:

Normal, healthy people pick music they want to listen to.

Hipsters pick music to make themselves look good.

A hipster is defined by this reversed cause/effect, and this is why they parallel our society: like people looking for political handouts, they are justifying themselves to others instead of acting as they know is right.

In metal, the hipster is the person always trying to be different, to pick music that is brainy or “authentic” (simple), the person spreading trends and fads. Instead of being an authentic fan who picks the music he or she thinks is best, the hipster is using the music as adornment to conceal their ordinariness.

What’s the damage, you ask? Hipsters bloat genres with people who don’t understand them and, in the ensuing confusion, pick the lowest common denominator. So heavy metal returns to rock, death metal returns to heavy metal, folk becomes punk, and so on.

Healthy societies work from cause to effect. We need an empire, so we build it (cause) and then it appears (effect). Dying societies work from effect to cause. We want an empire, so we create the appearance of an empire (effect) and hope it will show up (cause). This is why old black metallers fear trends, hipsters, fads and mass media like the plague: they promote this unhealthy psychology.

In the postmortem over humanity’s failure, our new reptilian overlords will discuss this issue, and conclude that humans had two modes of thought: a healthy forward-thinking one, and a negative and sick backward-thinking one. The hipster, like every other form of decay in our society, is backward thinking.

Metal is currently awash in hipsters because hipsters use something called irony to disguise their low self-esteem. If they’re listening to IRON MAIDEN, it’s because they find it amusing — not because they believe in it. In fact, they believe in nothing except what others believe in within their social group, which makes them always right. If someone makes fun of them for liking IRON MAIDEN, they can always claim their enjoyment is ironic. It’s a race to the bottom with the hipster, because believing in anything but illusion and evasion makes you a target, so they believe in nothing except “ironically,” and that’s how they infiltrated metal.

In the same way hipsters find trailer parks quaint and amusing, they found death metal and black metal intriguing. It was untamed, unsocialized material, and a threat to everything the hipster stood for. So they assimilated it, and moved in by taking positions in the community. Start buying metal, or selling metal, and others depend on you. From that they branched out by using the hipster tactic of focusing on the external. “Well, this could be more unique if we added a flute…”

When you focus on the external, and don’t pay attention to the fundamental quality of music that distinguishes it, which is how well it communicates, you end up norming the music. Structurally, it becomes all the same, but externally, it’s all tricked out in motley so it appears “different” and “new.” But the real name of the game is not being different, but being the same so you are universally accepted, while having enough adornments that you stand out in a crowd… just like the hipster.

We’ve seen this steadily increasing in metal since 1994 or so, and it was helped by some in metal who would rather leave a bad legacy with a full wallet than the inverse, such as Death and Cannibal Corpse. It will reverse, but only as soon as metal bands and fans start communing on the idea of forward-logic instead of backward, negative logic.

The end result of complete cellular representation is cancer. Democracy is cancerous, and bureaus are its cancer. A bureau takes root anywhere in the state, turns malignant like the Narcotic Bureau, and grows and grows, always reproducing more of its own kind, until it chokes the host if not controlled or excised. Bureaus cannot live without a host, being true parasitic organisms. (A cooperative on the other hand can live without the state. That is the road to follow. The building up of independent units to meet needs of the people who participate in the functioning of the unit. A bureau operates on opposite principle of inventing needs to justify its existence.) Bureaucracy is wrong as a cancer, a turning away from the human evolutionary direction of infinite potentials and differentiation and independent spontaneous action, to the complete parasitism of a virus.

(It is thought that the virus is a degeneration from more complex life form. It may at one time have been capable of independent life. Now has fallen to the borderline between living and dead matter. It can exhibit living qualities only in a host, by using the life of another — the renunciation of life itself, a falling towards inorganic, inflexible machine, towards dead matter.)

Bureaus die when the structure of the state collapses. They are as helpless and unfit for independent existences as a displaced tapeworm, or a virus that has killed the host. – William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

Hipsterism is reality-avoidance, in the same way Crowdism or any other mass movement is: the assimilation of the individual by the crowd in order to destroy reality, which in turn destroys the collective. Societies, genres of music, groups of friends and businesses all fit this pattern, which is fundamental to human psychology. Either the individual stands up for what is true in reality, not what the individual prefers, or the crowd declares its own reality and then the collective veers off course because it has lost touch with reality. Assimilation is a byproduct of individualism without reality, just like bad music is the product of people pandering to each other and not finding a beauty in reality, including its darkness and horror, as heavy metal has throughout its four decades.

Resisting Assimilation

The problem with combatting assimilation is that assimilation is less an act than a passive lack of acting. When good metal is not made, and people do not assert what makes metal unique, assimilation surges in like water filling the space where it was swept out of the way. Like all things in humanity, the default state is one of disorganization and failure, and it is only when wise minds step in and re-direct the chaos that prosperity of any kind happens.

We have learned what does not stop assimilation. Trying to keep the music rare means hipsters buy it on eBay. Trying to keep it indie and obscure means that hipsters only prize it more. Trying to make it more offensive or extreme just makes it more novel. These methods do not work. What also does not work is trusting a “scene” or “underground” to keep away the mainstream, because underground scenes are an advanced form of maintaining rarity through social networks.

A “scene” means music that is consistent enough for people not to care what band is playing, so they can socialize in the same environment time and time again. A “scene” is clubs that play music that sounds very similar time and time again so they know they can draw an audience each time. A “scene” are sellers of music who find bands that sound like each other so they can compare past successes to the next generation, getting a crop of already-proven fans to come buy it all again. The variation is dead – the conformity is absolute. And worst of all, it’s voluntary and in a moral facilitative society there are few arguments accepted against it.

That kind of consistency kills music by raising the level of expectation to an entry requirement. The hardcore “scene” murdered hardcore by making it consistent – acceptable – “fun” and extremely similar. Bands who used to fight for a living could suddenly find central places to play, sell and broadcast their music – but in order to do so, they had to make it fit within expectations. Metal will die with a scene or without some form of one.

The problem with this flood isn’t its quality in itself. The problem is that when there is a flood of undistinctive material, (a) anything that does not conform to the pattern is not recognized and (b) the information overload is so great than any excellent band that does rise will be ignored. In essence, the underground has replicated the errors made by gigantic record labels in the 1980s.

Interestingly, the same thing happened in hardcore music in the 1980s when it became cheap and easy to release seven-inch records. Suddenly, there were no “fans”: everyone had a band, zine, label or distro. Consequently, quality went down, because no leaders were picked, and a great averaging occurred. Everyone could participate, but because there was no specialized fanbase, the farthest they got was participation, getting their share. No one great rose above and therefore, the great people stopped trying. There was no direction.

Analogous to the effects of democracy and consumerism on the quality of people in society as a whole? You bet it was. Analogy to egocentricism of the west, and its own cultural failings? You bet: the same mechanism was in effect: a lack of appreciation for quality because popularity/social pressures dictated participation, an external factor, not hierarchy, which requires a measurement of amorphous qualities such as “artistic worth” which are unrecognizable to most people in the crowd. Consequently, hardcore declined to the point where, in 1985, all the bands sounded exactly the same and there were no leaders.

Another concept, that perhaps will embitter some because of its practicality, is that of your personal landfill. What you produce on compact disc or vinyl or tape doesn’t magically disappear. It ends up in the landfills, with all the other waste you produce, to rot in insignificance, slowly leeching poisons into the earth. You like being alive, right, or you’d be dead — why create more personal landfill if it won’t achieve something you desire? For every CD you buy, there’s one more CD in that landfill. Buy the best, ignore the rest, and your personal landfill will not only be small, but will possibly not exist as others enjoy those CDs, since good CDs can be enjoyed in any age while trends are temporal.

My suggestion to all those who love metal is simple: stop supporting bands that are OK instead of great.

Few genres demand as much long-term allegiance as metal, and get it. Of styles likely found in a record store, only metal, industrial, country, jazz and classical have enduring audiences. Other genres are bigger, but people stay with them for fewer years. As history has shown us, metal is too easily absorbed by the mainstream. Black metal selling out and the rise of nu-metal occurred at the same time – is anything in the universe “coincidental”? It’s interesting to note that a similar absorption afflicted death metal, heavy metal and hardcore punk, all of whom relied on popular-music-style short song formats.

The Case for Metal to Follow Classical

However, there is one guaranteed way to take metal out of the mainstream: leave behind the mainstream song format. Most songs are three minutes of a verse-chorus nature, and they use devices such as rhythmic predictability on the offbeat (“expectation”) and melodic hooks. If metal were to expand on its riff salad nature, it would join genres like jazz and classical in a musically distinct form, and become inaccessible to those who want to make or consume bite-sized music. Every other metal band aspires to classical guitar anyway; why not liberate our impulses toward something that is clearly enjoyed and valued?

For example, consider these micro-symphonies:

When people tell you what they want, they usually tell you what appearance or experience they want — the effect — and do not understand the device for achieving that effect — the cause. They think in terms of the appearance of what they want and not the underlying structure.

For example, when people say they want simplicity, what they really want is organization. It’s why “My Journey to the Stars” works even though it’s “complex” in theory — complex means having a central idea that is simple and clear, and then manifesting it in different forms so people can compare them like metaphors and see the abstraction. People will tell you they want raw, fast, brutal, simple but they’re talking about the one riff they remember, kind of how most people can identify the opening riff to Beethoven’s Symphony Number 5 — it’s the simplest, most memorable part of a complex music experience.

The role of art is to be a silent philosopher, meaning that it does not make explicit commands and references to everyday objects, but gives us a clear spiritual commandment and its corresponding aesthetic from which to work. Art organizes our spirits and approach to reality. It is important that art does this because most people know the end result they’d like to see, but are completely unaware of the context in which it exists. They see a riff, and figure that if they just heard that riff, they’d have the whole experience, or they think of one moment when they were happy and assume that correlations which occurred simultaneously to that moment — a cigarette, a postcard, a summer day — are the cause when the real cause was the sequence of events that led up to that one moment having great significance, or that one cigarette being the break that really helped them find mental clarity. It wasn’t the cigarette — it was the context.

In human life, once civilization is established, we face a causal breakdown. Person A does something, and Person B sees the results, and tries to work backward toward the cause. Metal bands see how others have succeeded, and try to imitate the outward aspects — faster drums, harsher vocals, floaty keyboards — without understanding that it’s the songwriting and beneath that, the ability to reference “meaning” in experience shared between artist and listener, that makes the song great and not just average with above-average execution.

At this point, the genre doesn’t understand its own spirit or aesthetics, so bands make salads where they throw together unrelated stuff and figure that since it has everything, it must be good. This “carnival style” metal is a salad of distractions from which each piece returns to a few exactly repeated themes. As a result, there’s a lot going on, like riding a merry-go-round and seeing the world outside flash by in disorienting random order, but there’s no development of theme; it’s just a more complex version of verse/chorus pop music.

People can’t put into words what they want. When shown what they want, they will initially resist it because it doesn’t “look like” or “sound like” what they want — people in 1990 “wanted” simpler, catchier, groovier speed metal, and that movement went nowhere. While sub-sub-genres like metalcore, deathcore, or “black punk” (hybrid of pop-punk, shoegaze, emo and black metal) have momentary peaks of popularity, these seem to fade quickly, unlike the lasting appeal of the best of death and black metal. They’re popular, but no one seems to love them like true classics.

However, there is still great room in this genre for those who can translate the spirit, aesthetics and organization of classical music — narrative motives — into death/black metal. That’s the real ground to conquer. Whoever does that will be initially unpopular, like death metal and later black metal were, but later acknowledged as a hero. Like the songs listed above, such music will be passionate but leave the repetitive, formulaic, simplistic structure of pop music behind.

Metal music will never fit into the framework of other genres. Where other music might sound scary, metal communicates the meaning of scary, and this means that it will always oppose the anti-orthodoxy of mainstream logic. For those who understand its message and the power of its sound, assimilation of a distinct genre into the indistinct mass will always remain a threat.


  • 1

    Romanticism, on the other hand, is what the writers of the Romantic Period practiced: there is not much agreement about what that is exactly, and there is in fact a longstanding debate about whether there is such a thing or only Romanticisms. See A. O. Lovejoy, “On the Discrimination of Romanticisms,” PMLA, 1924; Ren� Wellek, “The Concept of `Romanticism’ in Literary History,” Comparative Literature, 1949; and finally, Jerome McGann’s Introduction to The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse (revised edition). – http://www.users.muohio.edu/mandellc/eng441/urllist.htm

  • 2

    A movement in art and literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in revolt against the Neoclassicism of the previous centuries…The German poet Friedrich Schlegel, who is given credit for first using the term romantic to describe literature, defined it as “literature depicting emotional matter in an imaginative form.” This is as accurate a general definition as can be accomplished, although Victor Hugo’s phrase “liberalism in literature” is also apt. Imagination, emotion, and freedom are certainly the focal points of romanticism. Any list of particular characteristics of the literature of romanticism includes subjectivity and an emphasis on individualism; spontaneity; freedom from rules; solitary life rather than life in society; the beliefs that imagination is superior to reason and devotion to beauty; love of and worship of nature; and fascination with the past, especially the myths and mysticism of the middle ages. – http://www.uh.edu/engines/romanticism/introduction.html

  • 3

    Some of the earliest stirrings of the Romantic movement are conventionally traced back to the mid-18th-century interest in folklore which arose in Germany–with Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm collecting popular fairy tales and other scholars like Johann Gottfried von Herder studying folk songs–and in England with Joseph Addison and Richard Steele treating old ballads as if they were high poetry. These activities set the tone for one aspect of Romanticism: the belief that products of the uncultivated popular imagination could equal or even surpass those of the educated court poets and composers who had previously monopolized the attentions of scholars and connoisseurs.

    Whereas during much of the 17th and 18th centuries learned allusions, complexity and grandiosity were prized, the new romantic taste favored simplicity and naturalness; and these were thought to flow most clearly and abundantly from the “spontaneous” outpourings of the untutored common people. In Germany in particular, the idea of a collective Volk (people) dominated a good deal of thinking about the arts. Rather than paying attention to the individual authors of popular works, these scholars celebrated the anonymous masses who invented and transmuted these works as if from their very souls. – http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/hum_303/romanticism.html

  • 4

    Emphasis on the activity of the imagination was accompanied by greater emphasis on the importance of intuition, instincts, and feelings, and Romantics generally called for greater attention to the emotions as a necessary supplement to purely logical reason. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 5

    While particular perspectives with regard to nature varied considerably–nature as a healing power, nature as a source of subject and image, nature as a refuge from the artificial constructs of civilization, including artificial language–the prevailing views accorded nature the status of an organically unified whole. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 6

    It was viewed as “organic,” rather than, as in the scientific or rationalist view, as a system of “mechanical” laws, for Romanticism displaced the rationalist view of the universe as a machine (e.g., the deistic image of a clock) with the analogue of an “organic” image, a living tree or mankind itself. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 7

    Symbolism and myth were given great prominence in the Romantic conception of art. In the Romantic view, symbols were the human aesthetic correlatives of nature’s emblematic language. They were valued too because they could simultaneously suggest many things, and were thus thought superior to the one-to-one communications of allegory. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 8

    In addition, neoclassicism had prescribed for art the idea that the general or universal characteristics of human behavior were more suitable subject matter than the peculiarly individual manifestations of human activity. From at least the opening statement of Rousseau’s Confessions, first published in 1781–“I am not made like anyone I have seen; I dare believe that I am not made like anyone in existence. If I am not superior, at least I am different.”–this view was challenged. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 9

    Certain special features of Romanticism may still be highlighted by this contrast. We have already noted two major differences: the replacement of reason by the imagination for primary place among the human faculties and the shift from a mimetic to an expressive orientation for poetry, and indeed all literature. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 10

    The hero-artist has already been mentioned; there were also heaven-storming types from Prometheus to Captain Ahab, outcasts from Cain to the Ancient Mariner and even Hester Prynne, and there was Faust, who wins salvation in Goethe’s great drama for the very reasons–his characteristic striving for the unattainable beyond the morally permitted and his insatiable thirst for activity–that earlier had been viewed as the components of his tragic sin. (It was in fact Shelley’s opinion that Satan, in his noble defiance, was the real hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost.) – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 11

    a literary, artistic, and philosophical movement originating in the 18th century, characterized chiefly by a reaction against neoclassicism and an emphasis on the imagination and emotions, and marked especially in English literature by sensibility and the use of autobiographical material, an exaltation of the primitive and the common man, an appreciation of external nature, an interest in the remote, a predilection for melancholy, and the use in poetry of older verse forms. – http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/romanticism

  • 12

    The ‘heat-death’ of the universe is when the universe has reached a state of maximum entropy. This happens when all available energy (such as from a hot source) has moved to places of less energy (such as a colder source). Once this has happened, no more work can be extracted from the universe. Since heat ceases to flow, no more work can be acquired from heat transfer. This same kind of equilibrium state will also happen with all other forms of energy (mechanical, electrical, etc.). Since no more work can be extracted from the universe at that point, it is effectively dead, especially for the purposes of humankind. – http://www.physlink.com/Education/AskExperts/ae181.cfm

  • 13

    But the rising materialism and focus on business at the cost of the mind and the spirit was spawning reform movements all over America…Many felt a psychic dislocation, that the bottom had dropped out of their world since traditional values and conventional reality were just not enough for them. They tried to impose meaning individually, for institutions and dogmas seemed to possess little truth. Philosophically, they reacted against the materialistic educational theories of Locke and rationalism. They found Truth more a matter of intuition and imagination than logic and reason. They rejected the mechanistic view of the universe so dear to Franklin and Deists and opted for a more organic view, seeing the world more as dynamic and living. – http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/eng372/intro.htm

  • 14

    “He was recognized as a leading figure in the Sturm und Drang, which celebrated the energetic Promethean restlessness of spirit as opposed to the ideal of calm rationalism of the Enlightenment. Goethe’s poem ‘Prometheus’, with its insistence that man must believe not in gods but in himself, might be seen as a motto for the whole movement.” – http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/goethe.htm

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What is heavy metal?

In the night, one can hear many noises. Some sound scary, and others signal scary events. For example, the roar of an animal is disturbing, but to someone alone in a house a stealthy footfall or the click of a lock is scarier. Similarly in art, the context of a sound defines its significance, and what makes music frightening is the meaning it encodes.

Among all forms of art, what makes heavy metal unique is that it embraces disturbing sounds which are not ugly but which portend disturbing patterns found in reality. Heavy metal is the music of the apocalypse, and whether warning it off or cheering it on or both, achieves this heaviness through the context it conveys.

What makes heavy metal heavy?

Both fantastic and literal, heavy metal explores the ideas our society will not endorse. It is not protest music, whining “it should not be” into a secondhand microphone, but a war-like genre which describes destruction with the joy of a painter who could use it as a color in a new epic landscape. Metal is about the experience of life, but it disciplines that with a clear sense of reality and consequence, as is appropriate for “heavy” conversation. Where society hides from fear and allies itself with the threat of the consequences of fears, metal allies itself with death to dispense fear.

When metal first arrived, new fans began to understand what made Black Sabbath “heavy”: the patterns which revealed the thinking behind such noises, putting context to the fear they instilled. Thundering distorted riffs were not new; Blue Cheer had done that. Neither was aggression; Iggy Pop had done that. But Black Sabbath, inspired by horror movie soundtracks, came up with a new style of music that used melodic phrases played in power chords, and by targetting the weighty topics that social conversation did not admit, creating a terrifying form of art.

Rock music had grown through the 1960s from simple boyfriend-girlfriend pop to apocalyptic rock like the Doors or King Crimson in the same way the Beatles rejected their sugarpop roots to become morbid and political. Whenever given a chance, the music reverted to a simple, tolerant, peaceful hedonism that hid its escapism and narcissism. The future members of Black Sabbath, upon seeing a horror movie and wondering if people would ever pay to have that experience in rock music, created the antithesis to distracting escapism: a descent into the complex and violent world of reality.

Its heaviness migrated into a different style of composition: other bands wrote songs around open chords which were strummed in a repeated pattern, and then modulated, while Black Sabbath used moveable power chords to make phrases into riffs and it was the change in those phrases that communicated a difference in outlook. It was more like classical music, where harmony is so well-studied that it is used as a device toward “narrative,” through-composed pieces where the change in motifs and their accompaniment conveys a string of moods that like a mythology or a fable convey the idea of a journey from one point to another.

With this development, they gave meaning to the sound. Its context of topics gave its heaviness form, but musically it was heavy as well, using thundering chords that stripped out traditional harmony and made the riff instead, like the nihilistic voice of an angry god, speak the truth that completed the poetry of contrast in each song. By throwing away form, and the form of socialization which “peace” and “love” implied, Black Sabbath brought danger back into a stagnant modern life — specifically, the danger that in all the attempts to stay away from the darkness, we as a civilization had missed an essential truth.

What does metal believe?

As an art form, metal has continuously developed visions of a human apocalypse lingering in the absence of our willingness to face reality. Reality is, as the saying goes, not entirely pleasant, and so is less popular than simple partial truths called “symbols,” which create an illusion of completeness by super-simplifying reality. Morality is not scientifically accurate but it is more comforting to our minds to have two options instead of nearly infinite ones.

During its maturation, metal wavered in and out of the public illusion, called “consensual reality,” which is the alternate reality of values most people use to navigate their lives. Consensual reality includes the symbols people want to believe in and, reinforced by preference-enabling activities like democracy and consumerism, makes itself “real” by the fact that most people believe it to be true. This public illusion takes many forms and metal has not been immune, but is strongest when it kicks aside the illusion and goes for the kind of heavy contexts that always made good ambiguous truth.

One view of metal is as a reality mediator showing the darkness underlying our pleasant illusions, and that in doing so, it is not deconstructive but attempts to make clarity of life by finding beauty in the dark and heavy as well as the light. As a holistic approach, this outlook negates both dualistic worlds (heaven, hell) and secular morality in favor of a scientific, historical and abstract design-oriented perspective on life. This then returns us to the idea of metal as orthodoxy, or a genre in which there is a clear direction and those who deviate from it are parasitizing on the popularity of the genre while weakening it with ideas that oppose it.

The terms “sell out” and “poseur” arose in the 1970s to refer to those of this intention, most specifically the bands like Def Leppard who turned their heavy metal roots into radio trash that was essentially rock music with power chords. A poseur was someone dishonest who adopted the most rigorous pose, or identity-affirming lifestyle and opinions, of a genre but was like all hipsters using it for his or her own benefit and believed none of it. These terms persist to this day.

Any ideology is necessarily orthodox, in that if it does not assert a right way and wrong way of doing things, it is not an ideology at all but an ethic of convenience much like the opinionless, directionless motions of rock music or its deferential humanistic political counterpart. Rock stands for a big party and everyone having it their way; this is a meta-orthodoxy that opposes all orthodoxy.

Metal on the other hand is orthodox and opposes meta-orthodoxy because an orthodoxy of no orthodoxy is a lack of direction. Directionless self-assertion does not address the apocalyptic or religious aspects necessary to unite human thinking toward survival in an apocalyptic time. To clarify reality, metal music embraces nihilism and worships power and beauty, because these things connect us to a reality that will forever seem flawed to us because it is full of horror, doubt, fear and death. However, the metal outlook shows us the wisdom of these things and makes living with them seem “fun,” where rock music and other anti-orthodoxies retreat into human activities and social realities, pushing reality itself far away.

As a result, metal is sandwiched between protest music of the anarchic left and the wisdom of the conservative ancients, forming itself through fantasy into a vision of a more realistic and more enjoyable vision of life. Rock music is a product of the wealth and convenience of a modern time that allows us to have inconsequential lifestyles and opinions, while metal is a revolution against that outlook, a seemingly deconstructive art form that in actuality opposes deconstruction.

We can trace these ideas through consistent beliefs found across metal generations:

  1. Beauty in darkness. It is not ugly, pounding music but music which discovers beauty in distortion, in anger and terror, in violence and foreboding dark restless relativistic power chords. The point is not to deconstruct, but to go through deconstruction and find meaning. This is evident in the works of Black Sabbath and every metal band since, and is what distinguishes “real” metal from hard rock.
  2. Worship of power. Unlike pacifying rock music and jazz and “new music” classical, metal music adores powerful, vast and broad simple strokes; it loves the majesty of nature and its crushing final word. It does not have love songs. Instead, its love is directed to forces of nature, including physical forces like storms and intense human experience like war or loss, as if trying to find meaning in these.
  3. Worship of nature. Linked to metal’s adoration of power is its appreciation for the function, including its “red in tooth and claw” aspects, of the natural world. Where most are repulsed by the idea that combat exists between animals in which one is victor, and one is prey, metal idolizes it. It finds beauty in ruins, in destruction, and in death, as if praising the cycle of life they engender again.
  4. Independent thinking. Metal does not buy into the individualism of a modern time where the only goal is material pleasure of the self (materialism) and keeping others away by granting them the same (humanism). It prefers the independent thinking that looks for higher values in life, mountains to climb and challenges to be met. Where punk music enmeshed itself in a callow “I wanna do what I wanna do,” metal saw this as part of the same gesture of rock music and discarded it.

These are expressed artistically by the following:

  1. Dark, morbid themes that clashed with the “love will save us” hippie mentality. These are explained by Black Sabbath as being derived from the horror movies of the day, a genre which features a union between technology and the occult (zombies, werewolves) producing a force humans cannot oppose. Normal technologies and methods cannot defeat it. They struggle against this force but their emotional instability causes them to sabotage one another, and often the dark force wins. Examples from this genre: Mothra, Dawn of the Dead, Alien, The Exorcist, The Shining, War of the Worlds.
  2. Songs written from short cyclic phrases called riffs, which unlike rock riffs used moveable chords of inspecific harmonic bonding, making the melody and rhythm of the phrase more important than key or voicing. Metal bands tend to use more riffs per song, and not in the traditional cycle of verse-chorus, in a way quite similar to progressive bands like King Crimson and Yes, both of whom used aggressive distortion.
  3. A focus on the holism of the human effort as determined by our moral state as individuals in a way that can only be described as “religious.” Metal, in addition to sounding eerily like angry Bach-scripted church music, has a similar focus to dogmatic transcendentalism Christianity: what is our future as human beings, and how does how we shape our personalities effect it?
  4. Bass-enhanced overdriven guitar sound, or distortion, which encloses the primary instrument used in making heavy metal. In rock, guitars and drums come together to emphasize a vocal melodic line; in metal, guitars lead a melodic line for which vocals are a complement and drums a timekeeper, enclosing it in a regularity to give listeners context. The guitar is the loudest single instrument heard and the one that invokes changes in song.

These beliefs and musical techniques reinforce each other. Using distortion and loud music, yet finding beauty in it. Using longer narrative phrases so as to tell a story, creating a holistic view in which emotion emerges, instead of citing pre-configured emotions like rock music does. A darkness and melancholy exhibited in lyrics and imagery, corresponding to aggressive music, expressing a desire to seize all of reality, good and bad together, and make something better of it.

Heavy Metal as Romanticism

We have seen ideas similar to these before in the form of a genre that, once birthed, refused to die, even as history moved on. In fact, it has re-emerged throughout the modern time because it was the step before this new type of rationalism,

Although metal borrows from both classical and Romantic periods of classical music, its most intense similarity is to the Romantic period in literature, which in its later years diverged into Gothic horror and transcendental idealism. Much as embryological theory tells us that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, or that a fetus goes through the same stages of evolution as its species did to arrive at its current state, metal theory shows us that metal — as a revolt against what rock music stood for, e.g. distraction — forms an embryo which rediscovers its musical past. In this sense, metal is starting with classical and venturing through late Romanticism toward modernism.

According to the experts, Romanticism in literature and music has several tenets:

  • It is not clearly defined as a single thing, or several versions of this thing.1 Most of Romanticism existed before it became a concrete movement, and heavily overlapped with classicism.2
  • A desire to explore organic culture instead of high culture, especially tales of the medieval age and its feudal society.3
  • Worship of the imagination, and of creative and individual truthfulness in emotion.4
  • Reverence for nature as “an organically unified whole,”5 and intuition, instincts, and feelings were seen as necessary complements to reason in contrast to “mechanical” rationalism.6
  • Symbolism and myth were given great prominence.7
  • Rejection of the universalism in exchange for study of the individual as distinct from others.8
  • Shift from a mimetic to an expressive orientation, meaning that art no longer imitated life, but expressed a truth found in it.9
  • A willingness to strive “for the unattainable beyond the morally permitted,” and a rejection of morality for situational or naturalistic interpretation.10
  • An appreciation for the melancholy, remote and ancient.11

Romanticism was a response to neo-classicism, which was the most recent form of the surge in rationalism brought about by The Age of Enlightenment. Where the Enlightenment rationale brought individual rights, focus on personal emotion, and a linear logical process by which one could dissect the world and find an absolute response to it, Romanticism both inherited that tradition and began dissolving it. It is for this reason that we can find Romanticist themes abundant, in everything from Star Wars to presidential speeches: the conflict of rationalism-versus-Romanticism has never been resolved.

Unlike modern individualism, Romanticist individualism meant using yourself as the justification for your own wants, instead of trying to find some external justification. As Nietzsche phrased it, “I prefer” and “I find beauty in” are more important than all the equations, statistical summaries, studies cited and popular votes in the world; Romanticism (of which Nietzsche was an ambiguous defender but spiritual comrade) rejects the idea of externalized truths and knowing, and instead prefers a sense of unity between the individual’s aesthetics and a “mythic imagination” which lets them see possibilities in the world using holistic logic, instead of the linear (single-factor) logic used by rationalists.13

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

The World is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth (1789)

Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist.

And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no additional mission which would lead it beyond human life. Rather, it is human, and only its possessor and begetter takes it so solemnly-as though the world’s axis turned within it. But if we could communicate with the gnat, we would learn that he likewise flies through the air with the same solemnity, that he feels the flying center of the universe within himself. There is nothing so reprehensible and unimportant in nature that it would not immediately swell up like a balloon at the slightest puff of this power of knowing.

On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense, Friedrich Nietzsche (1873)

Heavy metal inherits this conflict because in order to be “heavy,” it must tackle the dark issues everyone fears. What makes these issues dark is that our normal methods cannot defeat them. We then must ask what we exclude from our methods, and we see that any anti-social information — that which might offend someone, or mention death, or suggest that morality is an imposed and artificial condition — is excluded from our methods. As a result, heavy metal becomes a kind of peering behind the curtain of an externally-imposed reality, and in seeing the horrors within, finding a new desire for both warlike apocalyptic intensity and a beauty discovered in darkness.

Romanticism re-occurs because it is generally seen as the only idea which can oppose modernism, which is like neo-classicism but even more insistent upon rationalism and the hybrid between individualism and groupthink that is utilitarianism. Metal, as a genre exploring Romanticism with a masculine and warlike approach, most closely approximates the philosophies of Nietzsche and other post-Romantic writers who wanted to escape the bureaucratic approach to society and restore a sense of adventure.

Metal is fantasy that can be applied to reality, neatly briding the two categories of art as entertainment/mimesis and art as politics. It is not protest music, nor is it the kind of wallpaper-like distracting pleasant activity that we see on most television shows. Instead, it is a manifestation of the Faustian desire for forbidden knowledge. From classical literature and music, it borrows a rigid sense of structure and a desire for resurrection, Tolkien-esque, of the ancient times of honor, blood, warfare and magic. From Romantic literature and music, it takes its major themes, including the sense of an individual trapped in a moribund society reaching out and the idea that when the individual escapes society to nature, reality can be seen for the first time. The most similar Romanticists to metal lyrics are probably the following:

  • William Blake – wrote about metaphysical topics from the perspective of the universe, and mocked humans for being weak and obsessed with the trivial.
  • John Milton – wrote Paradise Lost, in which Satan is an anti-hero who rejects the rule of heaven in order to discover life for himself.
  • William Wordsworth – enshrined anti-social behavior with his classic The World is Too Much With Us, which calls for rejecting society in favor of mythic imagination.
  • Mary Shelley – wrote Frankenstein, in which technology creates a new form of life which discovers it has no place in the world, and it turns destructive.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – a realist who did not shy from horror, Goethe believed in a universe where human perception was a small and unnecessary part of its divine function.14

If we had to summarize metal as an artistic movement, it would be fair to say it has more in common with European Romantic art than the popular music and boutique art of our present era. Like the Romantics, it sought a transcendence in accepting the world’s inequality and horror and using it as a relative opposite against which to project challenges; it wants to bring back the fighting spirit of an ancient time, and give us independent thinking and goals instead of buying us off with the humanist-materialist tripe that the mainstream media proclaims — dogma which, interestingly, has failed to solve a single widespread problem of humanity.

Even more interesting is that the genre of horror movies, an intersection of proto-science fiction and occult lore, was born of the Romantic movement. Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein, was the wife of Percy Shelley, a Romantic poet. Bram Stoker’s Dracula came from the Gothic fringe of the Romantic movement as well. One of the greatest descriptions of Satan ever, Paradise Lost by John Milton, was also a Romantic work.

“I believe in tragedies…
I believe in desecration…”

The Sun No Longer Rises, Immortal (1993)

Like its Romantic forebears, metal music desires transcendence: finding the beauty in darkness by accepting the physical struggle that is life, and instead of trying to run away from that struggle into personal material comfort, accepting it as something that gives significance to our existences. Metal music desires to overcome our fear of death and of nature, and by accepting them, to show us a new world of meaning. In this, it is both a continuation of Romanticism and an evolution of it to a more coherent state.

How did this change for underground metal?

Appearing in the early 1980s, underground metal arose from a hybrid between crustcore/hardcore (Discharge) and the structuralist, neo-classical heavy metal of the previous generation (Judas Priest, Black Sabbath). It took the Romantic themes of earlier metal and made them more extreme. If underground metal has one unifying concept, it is the one emphasized by Hellhammer, “Only death is real.”

After heavy metal blew out by getting absorbed into its own popularity, and then speed metal copped out by softening its stance and sound to be more popular, underground metal roared away with pure nihilism: facing life as it is without a thought that anyone or thing in the universe cares if we collectively or individually survive. This was orthodoxy retaliating against anti-orthodoxy, which always takes the form of individuals preferring to avoid reality and so passive revenging themselves against those disciplined enough to want, in the time-honoured method of survival common to all creatures, to adapt to reality. In overcoming the anti-orthodoxy of individualism, underground metal became the first popular music genre ready to face ego-death.

The question, of course, could be asked: Why did you ever try narcotics? Why did you continue using it long enough to become an addict? You become a narcotics addict because you do not have strong motivations in any other direction. Junk wins by default.

– William S. Burroughs, Junky

Ego-death is a concept that psychedelics and zen monks alike discovered. In it, the person realizes they are one part of a giant system, and stop seeing the world through themselves. They see themselves in the world, but they see the bigger process first. Ego-death tends to lead to a transcendent state where one sees all of consciousness as a continuum, and becomes less afraid of d-y-i-n-g. Ego-death forces us to see life through a filter that is super-realistic, or dedicated to bringing people into a moment of realization that what they are touching and doing is real and they need to grasp command of their own minds to survive. It opposes panic and illusion, moral and social judgment (“knowing” from Nietzsche above), fear and pleasant unrealistic thoughts.

Not coincidentally, “only death is real” resembles topics from “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad and “Paradise Lost” by John Milton. In both, as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the protagonist is thrust into a delusional, dysfunctional, chaotic world that he alone can see is wrecked, and takes a long journey in which she or he can see that the nothingness is very real and pervades everything, and that our denial of this emptiness of life makes a greater emptiness, or a hollow illusion that cannot satisfy us. As we try to live in this illusion, we see reality peeking through, and so become neurotic.

The characters in these books overcome their situations only by throwing away the rule book, avoiding what other people tell them is the truth, and acting on their animal intuition. Conrad’s protagonist Marlowe begins the book impotent and ends it with a powerful tool, like a sword or fire, to explain why what he sees is as impotent as he once was. It’s like an adolescent story, but for humanity, growing out of its moral illusion and seeing reality as a pragmatic task. In Paradise Lost, Satan is appealing but has made an error in opposing the order of nature/God, yet still he has to make this decision, to explore the world in a Promethean sense of fearlessness and self-command. His undoing is too much self and not enough command.

Underground metal recognized this duality of human thought. Official knowing was bad news; unguided knowing was chaotic and destructive; therefore, a new type of knowledge had to be created, and this knowledge was nihilistic literalism as found in hardcore punk merged with the fantasy and epic worldview of heavy metal. The political nature of punk had made it easy for foolish people to slap anarchy stickers on their rockabilly guitars and start repeating the same old stuff, like the aged activists who whine “why can’t they just see” when life has passed them by.

Underground metal was not political or social, but philosophical: it viewed the world from outside human eyes, seeing it like a large scientific experiment in which history was the result, and based its knowledge on the abrupt interruption to human illusion created by death. When we see that wisdom, we recognize that we are tiny and inconsequential, and that adapting to life is more important than the moral, social, media and political worlds made of human agreement to have a symbol stand for something.

“Only Death is Real” conveyed ego-death: no matter how big you think you are or how important, death is more real than your visions, so you must accept nothingness. To accept nothingness is to cast aside the unhealthy parts of the ego and to give it context, so that the ego is a motivic force but only one of many on a planet. To see only death as real is to wonder what else can be real. The answer is right past the end of our noses: the world is real, and it’s a continuum that renews itself, so it’s worth working for. If you like life, you work to make it better. If you hate life, you deny the reality of the world and you go further inward into the self and its desires, which has never worked for making anyone happy no matter how stupid.

We are social creatures, and it is as mathematically logical why that is so as the collaboration between parts of a computer program. We are all of the same thing, and we want to take our part in this thing, which includes nature and our fellow humans, and if we like being alive, we want to do what’s best not just for ourselves or for humanity but for the whole thing. What a stream of interesting thoughts “Only Death is Real” can unleash, in part because our society does everything it can to deny the reality of death.

The archetypal death metal bands — Hellhammer, Bathory, Slayer — all used occult imagery much as Blake, Milton and Goethe did. With that in mind, we can re-interpret Slayer’s Satanic imagery as more than being opposition to Christianity. For one, they do not seem to oppose Christianity. If anything, lyrics like “South of Heaven” or “The Final Command” illustrate, like Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” before them, a world in the grips of evil based in power based on an illusion. In Slayer’s complex theology, Christianity is Satanic because like political strength and industry it is a false outward power when inward the person is underconfident and weak. Christianity however is seen as often accurate, in that the apocalypse does come from selfishness, and Christian morality (“bastard sons beget your cunting daughters”) is the best way to live, but a way that makes no sense in a world addicted to the power of illusion.

As in Milton, Slayer’s Satan is a rebel against a singular order encroaching upon the world, a necessary force like magnetism that opposes any such centralization. In Slayer and Milton’s view, to have any single power controlling the universe is to bring the universe toward sameness, something thermodynamicists call “entropy,” or a state when any direction yields the same results as any other because of the uniformity of the universe. Milton was edging toward a transcendental view of God as being a property of the universe, and not an ego or personality such as that overbearing one against which Satan revolts, himself a victim of his own excessive egoism.

I feel there is some hideous new force loose in the world like a creeping sickness, spreading, blighting. Remoter parts of the world seem better now, because they are less touched by it. Control, bureaucracy, regimentation, these are merely symptoms of a deeper sickness that no political or economic program can touch. What is the sickness itself?

– William S. Burroughs

In the Milton-Slayer worldview, “God” encompasses both bad and good, because together these create a reality in which we can strive for better things. Similarly, in Conrad, the tokens of good and profit are chased in such a way that they create an illusion sustained by greed, in which the only heroes are amoralists like Mr. Kurtz who use brutality and combat effectively, but are conflicted over the underlying reasoning for their goal, namely the need to produce income through ivory when greater challenges await. In the worldview these artists offer, profit motive and morality are a going-inward into the protective mantle of fear, and morality is something we impose on the world to avoid the heroic challenge of leaving that inward sanctum and achieving goals that are not justified by physical survival (morality) or material comfort (profit).

When we look at metal with these opened eyes, the sound and imagery and lyrics are far less random. Distortion is a finding of beauty in darkness, a clarity emerging not when one looks at individual grains of sound but when one hears the blurry whole and deducts from it both pure tone and the harmony of randomness to that clarity; distortion forces us to take a view from above, and see the whole picture in order to understand what occurs at any moment. It is also a metaphor for our inability to ever fully perceive the universe, telling us that if we look at the center of the distortion we will find what is occurring, even if we cannot see it perfectly. The gritty, chaotic sound of distortion defies our logical containers that look for purity and instead finds a reality that although hazy is as clear as it if were pure.

The “riff salad” of metal bands is a way of establishing that music is not a cyclic loop of verse-chorus, resembling our going inward to the world of our own thoughts and preferences, but a journey in which our inward struggle parallels our outward struggle (much like the jihads of Islam: the lesser Jihad is the war against ignorance/infidels, and the greater Jihad is the war for spiritual clarity in oneself). Metal is art because it does not preach a political solution, but shows us the reasons for it. When that sort of higher thinking fails, metal relapses to liking noise and hedonism but little else.

It is one thing to preach, as if politically, against the ego. It is another thing to show a path beyond the ego. “Only Death is Real,” like nihilism itself, is a way of dispensing with “belief” in order to begin the journey to discover what is real and what is supra-real. The supra-real is that dimension where heroism and creativity lie, where one has accepted the feared attributes of life (d-y-i-n-g, disease, sodomy) and has transcended them by seeing what is not material/tangible yet is also important. It is this journey that metal music, classical music, and all great art describes. It is starting from nothing, like Satan exiled from Heaven, and getting over resentment of life and fear of death to see the beauty in darkness and to return to life with a desire to make it better. It is a recognition of the inherent distortion of our perception, and tuning our ears and minds to see past that faltering.

When only death is real, the ego dies for a moment and we see the world as a whole, and can get out of the prison of our limited perspective and re-bond to the life that produced us and produces all we value. It is a hedonic state higher than hedonism, to love life and want to make it better through better design. This is where death metal broke from heavy metal, and it is where all thinking that rewards strong souls begins.

The Evolution of Black Metal

Death metal brought images of impending doom and a fascination with the macabre into a dark world. It built upon what speed metal and grindcore had already established: an apocalyptic epic where the only future was decay. Death metal incorporated the righteous integrity of speed metal and the nihilism of punk into a musical onslaught warning of destruction. It fit into Kurt Vonnegut’s famous metaphor for art: that artists are to society what canaries were to the coalminers who brought them into the depths of the mine as warnings. When the song of the canary turned weak or stopped, it meant that suffocating coal gas was flooding the mine.

Death metal is an extension of the complexity of speed metal, partially arising from the attitude of that genre that any large problem can be solved by reason. Speed metal and thrash believed in rationality, and preached insanity as a negative characteristic. Death metal became the science of understanding insanity and breakdown, not preaching against it as speed metal often did but explicating it in epic songs and vivid imagery. Black metal, as a response to the failure of death metal to avoid the crowd, was an embrace of all things destructive to human illusion: natural selection, warfare, predation, violence, cruelty and tyranny.

Black metal restored romantic side of metal as its primary vehicle; its emotion is more obvious as that is its obsession. A death metal band would never argue destruction of the world, calling it irrational, where a black metal band would call for destruction of all life on emotional grounds. Black metal’s sadness comes from its emotional entrapment in a mechanistic world, and for that reason it rebels against order, whether in Heaven, on Earth, or in Death Metal. Black metal is in many ways a return to the mission metal left when exploring the scientific mindset of the technological age (as computers revolutionized life in the eighties, quantitative rationalism experienced a resurgance of influence).

If we look at metal’s history, we can see how this conflict brewed. Black Sabbath retaliated against the hippie music of their time as unrealistic and distracting. The following generation of metal turned it into more of a party for alienated kids, which punk retaliated against by returning the focus to all the negative aspects of reality. The next generation of metal, speed metal, picked up the punk outlook but channeled it into the heroic stories of past heavy metal, creating a less lamentatory and more assertive, masculine “we can fix this” outlook. When speed metal collapsed into its own popularity, death metal returned with pure nihilism balanced by a structuralism that suggested life was understandable but denied by the individual. Grindcore rose simultaneously with death metal and restored the punk/hippie attitude of tolerance toward the individual. Black metal retaliated against this just as Black Sabbath condemned the hippies of their day by brushing aside morality for an awareness of horror and our impotence against the real threats in this world; it rejected all protest rock and literal music for a spiritual conditioning which embraced struggle, darkness, melancholy and other Romantic traits.

Black metal grew exponentially since its emergence as a distinct musical style in the early 1990s; previous “black metal,” from Venom through Hellhammer, had been a variant on the dominant style of the time and often indistinguishable from death metal. Like a new civilization, it grew from a small group of innovators who were disgusted by the “jogging suit” mentality: people who were essentially products of a modern time, who blindly bleated its ideas, figuring out how to play death metal and becoming popular in the genre by making their music more like what audiences accustomed to rock music expected. In essence, the crowd had infested death metal as it had speed metal before that, and black metal was a response to this.

Recognizing that no matter how they dressed up the music as something “new,” appearances could be cloned, black metal musicians decided to go where the crowd could not follow: they would write music that expressed a grandeur of nature and feral amorality, hearkening more to the values of Samurai or European knights than to the disposable ideals of modern time. Since such a topic requires music that infuses the listener with a sense of awe and beauty in the cycle of destruction and creation that renders our world, they could no longer rely on “three chords and the truth,” but had to actually put the truth in the music, and write more poetic and complex songs.

The small civilization within civilization that was black metal was united more by ideals than by aesthetic or musical tenets, although all of its music by aiming to express the same kind of idea had similarities, mainly in its use of poetic complexity and truth within the music (and not necessarily the lyrics; you listen to black metal, and because of its intense artistry, find truth there). Because we are surrounded by infinite voices repeating the same few ideas in many different forms, here are the basic ideas of black metal that are distinct from the mass:

  1. Nature as a supreme, rational and all-pervasive order. Natural selection and an embrace of struggle took the center stage through celebration of predation and death. Even more, black metal celebrated the nature “within,” or our inner feral nihilism that made a mockery of morality.
  2. Anti-Christianity/Crowdism. Crowdism is the idea that respecting the will of individuals is more important than finding a realistic idea. It is a form of backward logic where we see the individual as the cause, and not the effect, of all that is around us and so convince ourselves that a human social consensual reality can override nature. Crowdism is secular Christian morality.
  3. Introspection. The only meaning comes from what the individual can interpret; there are no boundaries between individuals and the world (nature) as whole, but individual perception is limited to natural abilities and learning from experience. This is the opposite of the “if it feels good, do it” rhetoric of hippie rock.
  4. Morbidity. Viewed as an essential giver of meaning. Where most view death paranoiacally, and see it as a great entropy removing all value, black metal musicians viewed it as something giving meaning to life.
  5. Organicism. Like Romantic poets, black metal musicians tended to place more faith in organic growth than imposed social order. A sense of differentiation from the herd, hatred toward the incompetent and delusional, pride in unique ethnic origins and a celebration of older culture makes this a huge part of the genre.

To any student of European history or art, these values are not new; they are traditional to all Romantic forms of art, whether literature or visual art or symphonies, and were upheld by artists as disparate as William Wordsworth, Anton Bruckner, John Keats, Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Lord Byron and William Shakespeare. For all of these artists, nature was a higher form of order than the rules of civilization, and civilization had become decadent by praising its own “equal” order more than the “unequal” order of nature. Many philosophers, including the celebrated F.W. Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer, explicated these sentiments in their own work. Black metal’s ideology is nothing new.

What was new was an expression of these ideas in popular music, because rock music and blues and all of the associated disposable art has always been a manifestation of the crowd revolt mentality: simple music so that everyone in a room could get it, diametrically opposed to the grand works of classical music which were too complex and emotionally involved for a crowd to appreciate (or even to have the attention span to endure). Rock music focuses on one emotion per song, bangs it out in riff and chorus, and makes it very simple by using a relatively fixed number of scales and chord progressions. Rock music is the perfect product because it’s easy to make, is appreciated by customers of all ages and not limited by intelligence, and is inoffensive on a certain level in that it has nothing to say that will disturb. The basic message of rock music is to include everyone equally, to appreciate them for being alive and not for their inherent traits, and to come together on simple human values and not higher ideals; rock is inclusivity. Black metal is not.

Much like when watching Lord of the Rings, Braveheart or Apocalypse Now one has a sense of an ancient warlike order, when listening to black metal one sensed a realistic and amoral entity underneath the Romanticized skin of the music. This eternal form of the human spirit grows from the naturalism of black metal as well through its belief in a karmic cycle based on natural selection. At the lowest level, humans are little more than animals. If they exert a form of natural selection upon themselves, and attempt to rise above that level, those who survive will be apt for it; if they do this for several levels, they eventually rise to a state of having a higher intelligence, degree of physical strength and beauty, and moral character (“nobility”: the ability to see what is correct for the natural order of society as a whole, and not to get distracted by personal or emotional issues). At the very top are those who are fit to lead by the nature of having a transcendent consciousness; it is thought that these much higher IQ than most modern people and were far less fearful, neurotic and self-obsessed. This, too, derived from Romanticism.

Underground metal goes mainstream

Underground metal reigned in part through its mystique. Hated by almost everyone, in and out of jail, preaching ideas which were anathema to both heads of state and hippies in the gutter, underground metal seemed a fragile and rare thing. This mystique faded as the economy shifted again, as it had done in the early 1980s allowing a rush of “indie” bands, and distribution contracts loosened up in the late 1990s.

Where once there had been “import” racks for CDs from abroad, and it was hard to find music, starting in 1997, underground metal became available in mall stores and through Amazon.com. Its identity as a separate entity became difficult to maintain, and the process of assimilation began. In response, metalheads attempted to rally around an identity as “different,” but in doing so, they focused on external aspects (distortion, imagery, indie status) instead of what did make the music distinct: it saw hope for the future in ideas outside of the same accepted dogma all the mainstream newspapers, television and radio sell to us because it is a popular product. If the truth is difficult and therefore unpopular, metal rebelled against popularity as a selection matrix, and from that developed a range of thought which made it a genre distinct from all others.

Far from being alone in this, underground metal has fallen into a general trend of independent art producers seceding from reality. “Literature” has collapsed into a few thousand tiny magazines read by no one but MFA candidates in creative writing, and “visual art” has become a network of small galleries selling cute expensive paintings to uninformed patrons. Even classical music has gotten in on the decline, with “new music” — micro-symphonies of human voices, squeaking dissonant noise, and other trendy types of sound — appreciated by a diehard cult following who need a raison d’etre outside of their civil service jobs.

These genres used to speak an independent voice, but now they repeat lockstep the strange formulation of modern liberal democracy — a “neo-conservative” viewpoint which both champions civil rights and “social issues,” but also affirms the need for a strong economy and constant warfare against evil enemies. Political theorists might try to make sense of it, but it is more direct to understand it this way: popularity sells.

“One could argue that American fiction has ghettoized itself by insisting on a self-reifying view (humanist/materialist?) in which all answers are known, the political binary is carved in stone, we all have swallowed whole certain orthodoxies, and the purpose of the fiction is just to reinforce these. At the heart of this lies a selfish agenda, that has (one could arge) really ceased seeing the world as a unity, and has begun aggressively internalizing certain capitalist dogmas that say: Of course you are the most important thing, of course you exist separate from the rest of the world.”

– George Saunders, The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers

In this situation we find a repeated structure from metal itself, and even, larger society. Metal music goes through cycles where a new idea comes about, is looked down upon by others, and then fully expresses itself, at which point it is cloned to death by the same people who were speaking badly about it earlier (by this I mean new subgenres, not recombinations of existing genres like – eh – “nu-metal”). If you look at it as a conflict between people of able character, and those who are by nature followers, what you see is that the able create; the followers imitate, and in so doing, drown it and condemn what was created to being of the same mediocrity it helped to escape.

Indeed, the death metal of today more musically resembles rock than that of ten years ago; same with black metal. They have been assimilated, but from within the metal genre, by people whose character is so low that their highest values are to esteem what is valued by the larger society, and thus to reproduce it in the appearance of something which is not larger society, assuming that by controlling appearance, they control content. They are wrong, and they drag down everything they touch. It is this way with the creation of music, the promotion of music, and the choice of who runs hubs; most run them for the popularity, and don’t mind if there’s a whole bunch of support for moronic rock music thrown into the mix. In fact, they encourage it, as by appealing to everyone, they feel like Christ on the cross, being both a victim and a conqueror by the sheer fact of being needed.

This conflict repeats itself in all human endeavors: one group starts a process that creates benefit, and then others surge in and, not understanding the struggle of creation, parasitize it and destroy it. We can see this in the tendency of sequels to intelligent movies being junk; in the revolutions of the masses against the elites that leave nations with lower average IQs and third world levels of dysfunction; in the killing of Socrates by democratic Athens; in the denial of reality that lets Americans run up record debt, or our species to deplete fish stocks, pollute the ocean with floating plastics, and poison our open waterways with enough chemicals to turn amphibians hermaphroditic. The eternal human struggle for clarity of reality, versus withdrawing into our own perspectives and becoming oblivious, is repeated in metal and its struggle to resist assimilation.

The ‘heat-death’ of the universe is when the universe has reached a state of maximum entropy. This happens when all available energy (such as from a hot source) has moved to places of less energy (such as a colder source). Once this has happened, no more work can be extracted from the universe. Since heat ceases to flow, no more work can be acquired from heat transfer. This same kind of equilibrium state will also happen with all other forms of energy (mechanical, electrical, etc.). Since no more work can be extracted from the universe at that point, it is effectively dead, especially for the purposes of humankind.

— Andreas Birkedal-Hansen, M.A., Physics Grad Student, UC Berkeley12

With human beings, our tendency to act for ourselves alone — individualism, or selfishness — divides up our civilization and encourages entropy. Metal, as a perspective beyond the individual and the ego-drama that rock bands promote through love songs and peace dogma, encourages us instead to get over ourselves, transcend our egos, and look at reality for the potential beauty within it. In this, we enact a familiar drama to any post-agrarian-civilization art, which is that of the lone individual versus the crowd. The individual wants to do what is right, but the crowd wants him to be selfish like them, so that together they do not challenge each other and no one can ever be wrong, or face conflict, or be lonely. But in the end, the crowd always makes itself miserable because its vice is essentially cowardice. Metal reintroduces some clarity through a simple formulation: either one goes inward, and tries to know reality through oneself, or one looks outward and tries to know oneself through external opinions, and as a result, loses oneself in the crowd and its lowest common denominator inclinations, namely fear, selfishness and narcissism.

Assimilation of metal

Whether this larger conflict will be resolved is not yet certain – definitely, however, metal is a reaction against it. When people sang hippie songs, Black Sabbath brought in dark reality, and woke many out of the stupor that assumed extending democratic liberties to all humans would solve far deeper-rooted problems. As rock music headed toward an effete protest against Reagan in the 1980s, metal retaliated by condemning left and right for their ignorance of basic human dissatisfaction and the threat of nuclear warfare. Finally, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, death metal and black metal arose to remind us that we are mortal, and that there are greater values than that which society can bestow, such as nature, the upholding of tradition, and pride in our national origins.

The clones have closed in fast on those, since they are indirectly the greatest threat to clone culture to ever arise in metal. For this reason among others, it’s worth upholding in them what gave people hope: the belief that someday the war of clones versus leaders, masses versus elites, would come to an end. Some keep trying to dumb it down into a political trend that gives us a partial truth and tries to make it represent all of reality, effectively blinding us to the big picture so we can focus on a vicarious struggle:

More than three decades after Black Sabbath conjured images of the dark arts, heavy metal is growing up. The genre is increasingly incorporating social and political messages into its dense power chords.

“Metal is expanding and evolving and becoming more diverse,” said Canadian anthropologist and filmmaker Sam Dunn, who directed “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,” released on DVD this summer. “It’s at a much more vibrant state than it was even five or 10 years ago.”

“It’s becoming global and it’s becoming a tool for social and political commentary,” Dunn said. “It takes on a greater meaning in countries where people have had to struggle to survive. It takes on a much stronger political tone.”

Metal music in the 1980s was often homophobic and “very white,” she said, but current bands tend to be socially conscious and suspicious of political power. There’s also more women in the audience — and fronting the bands.

The lyrics on Lamb of God’s two most recent albums have been expressly political, and the politics lean heavily to the left.

Napalm Death’s Greenway is considering work as a political activist when his metal days are over, but he doesn’t think metal will ever completely stray from hedonistic and supernatural themes.

MSN

It is not surprising that mainstream media misunderstands underground metal. After all, they virtually forced its creation, since any band darker or heavier than Metallica received no recognition; the media wanted to sell us metal as party-lovin’, loud and crazy rock music. And so while the underground bloomed in 1985 to 1996, they praised stadium heavy metal and hard rock bands. During the current time, they embrace as “metal” music that is mostly emo hardcore: metalcore and nu-metal.

To an observer of the recent black metal scene, it’s tempting to get bitter. The newest style and trend appears to be “black hardcore,” or bands putting together two three-note riffs in a standard song format in recombinant order, and even the most ambitious bands are succumbing to this influence. Reminiscent of when hardcore punk music bloated itself into entropy and collapsed because no one could tell any two bands apart, this is like gangrene creeping up the legs and finally into the bloodstream of the genre.

When the genre is healthiest, the winds of coming winter oppose all new bands with brutal hardship, so only the most determined make it to the stage of releasing an album. This encourages others who have talent and brains to take a stab. If a lone artist looks at a genre, and sees a thousand albums of which two are good, the conclusion will be that the genre is fattened and the fans thus unable to tell the difference between good music and bad.

If the genre seen has a handful of albums, most of which are excellent, it is instead a compelling argument for further exploration. This is how genres rise and fall, and is why hardcore punk and death metal both eventually fattened themselves into insignificance to the point that now, once you’ve heard one band, you’ve heard them all. So for the health of the genre, it’s better that fewer albums of a higher quality are released.

Ideals of assimilated metal:

  1. Everyone must get it. It must be simple, not challenging, and most of all not have any poetic essence to its soul, as most fans can’t get that and thus will not buy it.
  2. Appearance over structure. It must have a unique appearance, but say the same old things philosophically and use familiar musical ideas so that even the dumbest fans can understand it and buy it. Even more, it must be upheld as dogma truth that adding a flute or screeching spotted owl to the same old music somehow makes it “unique” and worth owning.
  3. Form doesn’t apply to content. In other words, appearance is more important than structure, which is the form that moulds itself to the content, in the same way a story about a rescue at sea has a different flow and arrangement than a story about contemplating death in the bathtub.
  4. Simplistic emotions are important. Forget the depth of “Inno A Satana”; blindly praise Satan with roaring, consistent anger, because that way every fan, even the ones with Down’s Syndrome, can get what it’s about and get into it. Start a big singular emotion party, and make it simple so everyone can buy the CD and come along.
  5. Everyone can participate. Black metal clones are not specific to a certain land or belief system, as they are essentially musically the same and are designed so that even a retarded outer space alien could “get it” and start tapping its feet and wearing Darkthrone-brand jogging suits immediately. Nationalism, even elitism, eugenics or belief in anything at all is out; what’s in is having some music that sounds angry, is written like punk rock, and can be appreciated by everyone so they can buy the CDs or praise the “underground” scene queens who created it.

The average black metal fan today has not heard the formative works of the genre: Immortal, Emperor, Burzum, Gorgoroth, Enslaved, Darkthrone, Beherit and Varathron when they were making essential, complex, beautiful music. All they’ve heard are the newcomers, both of the blatantly commercial Cradle of Filth variety, and the scene whore “loud, fast and antisocial” type of band. The newcomers are uniformly worthless, as they express nothing that rock music does not, and by giving it an extreme aesthetic, allow their fans to convince themselves that they are “part of” some movement against the dominant trend of society, even though much like Democrats and Republicans in America agree on the same core values, newcomer “black metal” repeats the same empty rhetoric that rock music has been feeding us for fifty years. Newcomer black metal is black metal only in the world of appearance; in terms of musical and artistic structure, it’s closer to punk rock or even Dave Matthews Band. It’s rock music.

Agents of Assimilation: The Hipster

Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.

But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”

An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization — a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” — a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.

Ad Busters — Hipsters: The Dead End of Western Civilization

Adbusters doesn’t mention this, but there’s a simple pattern:

Normal, healthy people pick music they want to listen to.

Hipsters pick music to make themselves look good.

A hipster is defined by this reversed cause/effect, and this is why they parallel our society: like people looking for political handouts, they are justifying themselves to others instead of acting as they know is right.

In metal, the hipster is the person always trying to be different, to pick music that is brainy or “authentic” (simple), the person spreading trends and fads. Instead of being an authentic fan who picks the music he or she thinks is best, the hipster is using the music as adornment to conceal their ordinariness.

What’s the damage, you ask? Hipsters bloat genres with people who don’t understand them and, in the ensuing confusion, pick the lowest common denominator. So heavy metal returns to rock, death metal returns to heavy metal, folk becomes punk, and so on.

Healthy societies work from cause to effect. We need an empire, so we build it (cause) and then it appears (effect). Dying societies work from effect to cause. We want an empire, so we create the appearance of an empire (effect) and hope it will show up (cause). This is why old black metallers fear trends, hipsters, fads and mass media like the plague: they promote this unhealthy psychology.

In the postmortem over humanity’s failure, our new reptilian overlords will discuss this issue, and conclude that humans had two modes of thought: a healthy forward-thinking one, and a negative and sick backward-thinking one. The hipster, like every other form of decay in our society, is backward thinking.

Metal is currently awash in hipsters because hipsters use something called irony to disguise their low self-esteem. If they’re listening to IRON MAIDEN, it’s because they find it amusing — not because they believe in it. In fact, they believe in nothing except what others believe in within their social group, which makes them always right. If someone makes fun of them for liking IRON MAIDEN, they can always claim their enjoyment is ironic. It’s a race to the bottom with the hipster, because believing in anything but illusion and evasion makes you a target, so they believe in nothing except “ironically,” and that’s how they infiltrated metal.

In the same way hipsters find trailer parks quaint and amusing, they found death metal and black metal intriguing. It was untamed, unsocialized material, and a threat to everything the hipster stood for. So they assimilated it, and moved in by taking positions in the community. Start buying metal, or selling metal, and others depend on you. From that they branched out by using the hipster tactic of focusing on the external. “Well, this could be more unique if we added a flute…”

When you focus on the external, and don’t pay attention to the fundamental quality of music that distinguishes it, which is how well it communicates, you end up norming the music. Structurally, it becomes all the same, but externally, it’s all tricked out in motley so it appears “different” and “new.” But the real name of the game is not being different, but being the same so you are universally accepted, while having enough adornments that you stand out in a crowd… just like the hipster.

We’ve seen this steadily increasing in metal since 1994 or so, and it was helped by some in metal who would rather leave a bad legacy with a full wallet than the inverse, such as Death and Cannibal Corpse. It will reverse, but only as soon as metal bands and fans start communing on the idea of forward-logic instead of backward, negative logic.

The end result of complete cellular representation is cancer. Democracy is cancerous, and bureaus are its cancer. A bureau takes root anywhere in the state, turns malignant like the Narcotic Bureau, and grows and grows, always reproducing more of its own kind, until it chokes the host if not controlled or excised. Bureaus cannot live without a host, being true parasitic organisms. (A cooperative on the other hand can live without the state. That is the road to follow. The building up of independent units to meet needs of the people who participate in the functioning of the unit. A bureau operates on opposite principle of inventing needs to justify its existence.) Bureaucracy is wrong as a cancer, a turning away from the human evolutionary direction of infinite potentials and differentiation and independent spontaneous action, to the complete parasitism of a virus.

(It is thought that the virus is a degeneration from more complex life form. It may at one time have been capable of independent life. Now has fallen to the borderline between living and dead matter. It can exhibit living qualities only in a host, by using the life of another — the renunciation of life itself, a falling towards inorganic, inflexible machine, towards dead matter.)

Bureaus die when the structure of the state collapses. They are as helpless and unfit for independent existences as a displaced tapeworm, or a virus that has killed the host.

– William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

Hipsterism is reality-avoidance, in the same way Crowdism or any other mass movement is: the assimilation of the individual by the crowd in order to destroy reality, which in turn destroys the collective. Societies, genres of music, groups of friends and businesses all fit this pattern, which is fundamental to human psychology. Either the individual stands up for what is true in reality, not what the individual prefers, or the crowd declares its own reality and then the collective veers off course because it has lost touch with reality. Assimilation is a byproduct of individualism without reality, just like bad music is the product of people pandering to each other and not finding a beauty in reality, including its darkness and horror, as heavy metal has throughout its four decades.

Resisting Assimilation

The problem with combatting assimilation is that assimilation is less an act than a passive lack of acting. When good metal is not made, and people do not assert what makes metal unique, assimilation surges in like water filling the space where it was swept out of the way. Like all things in humanity, the default state is one of disorganization and failure, and it is only when wise minds step in and re-direct the chaos that prosperity of any kind happens.

We have learned what does not stop assimilation. Trying to keep the music rare means hipsters buy it on eBay. Trying to keep it indie and obscure means that hipsters only prize it more. Trying to make it more offensive or extreme just makes it more novel. These methods do not work. What also does not work is trusting a “scene” or “underground” to keep away the mainstream, because underground scenes are an advanced form of maintaining rarity through social networks.

A “scene” means music that is consistent enough for people not to care what band is playing, so they can socialize in the same environment time and time again. A “scene” is clubs that play music that sounds very similar time and time again so they know they can draw an audience each time. A “scene” are sellers of music who find bands that sound like each other so they can compare past successes to the next generation, getting a crop of already-proven fans to come buy it all again. The variation is dead – the conformity is absolute. And worst of all, it’s voluntary and in a moral facilitative society there are few arguments accepted against it.

That kind of consistency kills music by raising the level of expectation to an entry requirement. The hardcore “scene” murdered hardcore by making it consistent – acceptable – “fun” and extremely similar. Bands who used to fight for a living could suddenly find central places to play, sell and broadcast their music – but in order to do so, they had to make it fit within expectations. Metal will die with a scene or without some form of one.

The problem with this flood isn’t its quality in itself. The problem is that when there is a flood of undistinctive material, (a) anything that does not conform to the pattern is not recognized and (b) the information overload is so great than any excellent band that does rise will be ignored. In essence, the underground has replicated the errors made by gigantic record labels in the 1980s.

Interestingly, the same thing happened in hardcore music in the 1980s when it became cheap and easy to release seven-inch records. Suddenly, there were no “fans”: everyone had a band, zine, label or distro. Consequently, quality went down, because no leaders were picked, and a great averaging occurred. Everyone could participate, but because there was no specialized fanbase, the farthest they got was participation, getting their share. No one great rose above and therefore, the great people stopped trying. There was no direction.

Analogous to the effects of democracy and consumerism on the quality of people in society as a whole? You bet it was. Analogy to egocentricism of the west, and its own cultural failings? You bet: the same mechanism was in effect: a lack of appreciation for quality because popularity/social pressures dictated participation, an external factor, not hierarchy, which requires a measurement of amorphous qualities such as “artistic worth” which are unrecognizable to most people in the crowd. Consequently, hardcore declined to the point where, in 1985, all the bands sounded exactly the same and there were no leaders.

Another concept, that perhaps will embitter some because of its practicality, is that of your personal landfill. What you produce on compact disc or vinyl or tape doesn’t magically disappear. It ends up in the landfills, with all the other waste you produce, to rot in insignificance, slowly leeching poisons into the earth. You like being alive, right, or you’d be dead — why create more personal landfill if it won’t achieve something you desire? For every CD you buy, there’s one more CD in that landfill. Buy the best, ignore the rest, and your personal landfill will not only be small, but will possibly not exist as others enjoy those CDs, since good CDs can be enjoyed in any age while trends are temporal.

My suggestion to all those who love metal is simple: stop supporting bands that are OK instead of great.

Few genres demand as much long-term allegiance as metal, and get it. Of styles likely found in a record store, only metal, industrial, country, jazz and classical have enduring audiences. Other genres are bigger, but people stay with them for fewer years. As history has shown us, metal is too easily absorbed by the mainstream. Black metal selling out and the rise of nu-metal occurred at the same time – is anything in the universe “coincidental”? It’s interesting to note that a similar absorption afflicted death metal, heavy metal and hardcore punk, all of whom relied on popular-music-style short song formats.

The Case for Metal to Follow Classical

However, there is one guaranteed way to take metal out of the mainstream: leave behind the mainstream song format. Most songs are three minutes of a verse-chorus nature, and they use devices such as rhythmic predictability on the offbeat (“expectation”) and melodic hooks. If metal were to expand on its riff salad nature, it would join genres like jazz and classical in a musically distinct form, and become inaccessible to those who want to make or consume bite-sized music. Every other metal band aspires to classical guitar anyway; why not liberate our impulses toward something that is clearly enjoyed and valued?

For example, consider these micro-symphonies:

When people tell you what they want, they usually tell you what appearance or experience they want — the effect — and do not understand the device for achieving that effect — the cause. They think in terms of the appearance of what they want and not the underlying structure.

For example, when people say they want simplicity, what they really want is organization. It’s why “My Journey to the Stars” works even though it’s “complex” in theory — complex means having a central idea that is simple and clear, and then manifesting it in different forms so people can compare them like metaphors and see the abstraction. People will tell you they want raw, fast, brutal, simple but they’re talking about the one riff they remember, kind of how most people can identify the opening riff to Beethoven’s Symphony Number 5 — it’s the simplest, most memorable part of a complex music experience.

The role of art is to be a silent philosopher, meaning that it does not make explicit commands and references to everyday objects, but gives us a clear spiritual commandment and its corresponding aesthetic from which to work. Art organizes our spirits and approach to reality. It is important that art does this because most people know the end result they’d like to see, but are completely unaware of the context in which it exists. They see a riff, and figure that if they just heard that riff, they’d have the whole experience, or they think of one moment when they were happy and assume that correlations which occurred simultaneously to that moment — a cigarette, a postcard, a summer day — are the cause when the real cause was the sequence of events that led up to that one moment having great significance, or that one cigarette being the break that really helped them find mental clarity. It wasn’t the cigarette — it was the context.

In human life, once civilization is established, we face a causal breakdown. Person A does something, and Person B sees the results, and tries to work backward toward the cause. Metal bands see how others have succeeded, and try to imitate the outward aspects — faster drums, harsher vocals, floaty keyboards — without understanding that it’s the songwriting and beneath that, the ability to reference “meaning” in experience shared between artist and listener, that makes the song great and not just average with above-average execution.

At this point, the genre doesn’t understand its own spirit or aesthetics, so bands make salads where they throw together unrelated stuff and figure that since it has everything, it must be good. This “carnival style” metal is a salad of distractions from which each piece returns to a few exactly repeated themes. As a result, there’s a lot going on, like riding a merry-go-round and seeing the world outside flash by in disorienting random order, but there’s no development of theme; it’s just a more complex version of verse/chorus pop music.

People can’t put into words what they want. When shown what they want, they will initially resist it because it doesn’t “look like” or “sound like” what they want — people in 1990 “wanted” simpler, catchier, groovier speed metal, and that movement went nowhere. While sub-sub-genres like metalcore, deathcore, or “black punk” (hybrid of pop-punk, shoegaze, emo and black metal) have momentary peaks of popularity, these seem to fade quickly, unlike the lasting appeal of the best of death and black metal. They’re popular, but no one seems to love them like true classics.

However, there is still great room in this genre for those who can translate the spirit, aesthetics and organization of classical music — narrative motives — into death/black metal. That’s the real ground to conquer. Whoever does that will be initially unpopular, like death metal and later black metal were, but later acknowledged as a hero. Like the songs listed above, such music will be passionate but leave the repetitive, formulaic, simplistic structure of pop music behind.

Metal music will never fit into the framework of other genres. Where other music might sound scary, metal communicates the meaning of scary, and this means that it will always oppose the anti-orthodoxy of mainstream logic. For those who understand its message and the power of its sound, assimilation of a distinct genre into the indistinct mass will always remain a threat.


  1. Romanticism, on the other hand, is what the writers of the Romantic Period practiced: there is not much agreement about what that is exactly, and there is in fact a longstanding debate about whether there is such a thing or only Romanticisms. See A. O. Lovejoy, “On the Discrimination of Romanticisms,” PMLA, 1924; René Wellek, “The Concept of `Romanticism’ in Literary History,” Comparative Literature, 1949; and finally, Jerome McGann’s Introduction to The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse (revised edition). – http://www.users.muohio.edu/mandellc/eng441/urllist.htm
  2. A movement in art and literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in revolt against the Neoclassicism of the previous centuries…The German poet Friedrich Schlegel, who is given credit for first using the term romantic to describe literature, defined it as “literature depicting emotional matter in an imaginative form.” This is as accurate a general definition as can be accomplished, although Victor Hugo’s phrase “liberalism in literature” is also apt. Imagination, emotion, and freedom are certainly the focal points of romanticism. Any list of particular characteristics of the literature of romanticism includes subjectivity and an emphasis on individualism; spontaneity; freedom from rules; solitary life rather than life in society; the beliefs that imagination is superior to reason and devotion to beauty; love of and worship of nature; and fascination with the past, especially the myths and mysticism of the middle ages. – http://www.uh.edu/engines/romanticism/introduction.html
  3. Some of the earliest stirrings of the Romantic movement are conventionally traced back to the mid-18th-century interest in folklore which arose in Germany–with Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm collecting popular fairy tales and other scholars like Johann Gottfried von Herder studying folk songs–and in England with Joseph Addison and Richard Steele treating old ballads as if they were high poetry. These activities set the tone for one aspect of Romanticism: the belief that products of the uncultivated popular imagination could equal or even surpass those of the educated court poets and composers who had previously monopolized the attentions of scholars and connoisseurs.

    Whereas during much of the 17th and 18th centuries learned allusions, complexity and grandiosity were prized, the new romantic taste favored simplicity and naturalness; and these were thought to flow most clearly and abundantly from the “spontaneous” outpourings of the untutored common people. In Germany in particular, the idea of a collective Volk (people) dominated a good deal of thinking about the arts. Rather than paying attention to the individual authors of popular works, these scholars celebrated the anonymous masses who invented and transmuted these works as if from their very souls.
    http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/hum_303/romanticism.html

  4. Emphasis on the activity of the imagination was accompanied by greater emphasis on the importance of intuition, instincts, and feelings, and Romantics generally called for greater attention to the emotions as a necessary supplement to purely logical reason. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  5. While particular perspectives with regard to nature varied considerably–nature as a healing power, nature as a source of subject and image, nature as a refuge from the artificial constructs of civilization, including artificial language–the prevailing views accorded nature the status of an organically unified whole.
    http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  6. It was viewed as “organic,” rather than, as in the scientific or rationalist view, as a system of “mechanical” laws, for Romanticism displaced the rationalist view of the universe as a machine (e.g., the deistic image of a clock) with the analogue of an “organic” image, a living tree or mankind itself. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  7. Symbolism and myth were given great prominence in the Romantic conception of art. In the Romantic view, symbols were the human aesthetic correlatives of nature’s emblematic language. They were valued too because they could simultaneously suggest many things, and were thus thought superior to the one-to-one communications of allegory.
    http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  8. In addition, neoclassicism had prescribed for art the idea that the general or universal characteristics of human behavior were more suitable subject matter than the peculiarly individual manifestations of human activity. From at least the opening statement of Rousseau’s Confessions, first published in 1781–“I am not made like anyone I have seen; I dare believe that I am not made like anyone in existence. If I am not superior, at least I am different.”–this view was challenged.
    http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  9. Certain special features of Romanticism may still be highlighted by this contrast. We have already noted two major differences: the replacement of reason by the imagination for primary place among the human faculties and the shift from a mimetic to an expressive orientation for poetry, and indeed all literature. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  10. The hero-artist has already been mentioned; there were also heaven-storming types from Prometheus to Captain Ahab, outcasts from Cain to the Ancient Mariner and even Hester Prynne, and there was Faust, who wins salvation in Goethe’s great drama for the very reasons–his characteristic striving for the unattainable beyond the morally permitted and his insatiable thirst for activity–that earlier had been viewed as the components of his tragic sin. (It was in fact Shelley’s opinion that Satan, in his noble defiance, was the real hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost.)
    http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  11. A literary, artistic, and philosophical movement originating in the 18th century, characterized chiefly by a reaction against neoclassicism and an emphasis on the imagination and emotions, and marked especially in English literature by sensibility and the use of autobiographical material, an exaltation of the primitive and the common man, an appreciation of external nature, an interest in the remote, a predilection for melancholy, and the use in poetry of older verse forms. – http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/romanticism
  12. The ‘heat-death’ of the universe is when the universe has reached a state of maximum entropy. This happens when all available energy (such as from a hot source) has moved to places of less energy (such as a colder source). Once this has happened, no more work can be extracted from the universe. Since heat ceases to flow, no more work can be acquired from heat transfer. This same kind of equilibrium state will also happen with all other forms of energy (mechanical, electrical, etc.). Since no more work can be extracted from the universe at that point, it is effectively dead, especially for the purposes of humankind.
    http://www.physlink.com/Education/AskExperts/ae181.cfm
  13. But the rising materialism and focus on business at the cost of the mind and the spirit was spawning reform movements all over America…Many felt a psychic dislocation, that the bottom had dropped out of their world since traditional values and conventional reality were just not enough for them. They tried to impose meaning individually, for institutions and dogmas seemed to possess little truth. Philosophically, they reacted against the materialistic educational theories of Locke and rationalism. They found Truth more a matter of intuition and imagination than logic and reason. They rejected the mechanistic view of the universe so dear to Franklin and Deists and opted for a more organic view, seeing the world more as dynamic and living. – http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/eng372/intro.htm
  14. “He was recognized as a leading figure in the Sturm und Drang, which celebrated the energetic Promethean restlessness of spirit as opposed to the ideal of calm rationalism of the Enlightenment. Goethe’s poem ‘Prometheus’, with its insistence that man must believe not in gods but in himself, might be seen as a motto for the whole movement.”
    http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/goethe.htm
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Whitechapel – This is Exile

Whitechapel – This is Exile

Whitechapel - This is Exile

I had a flashback to the early days of 1993. Death metal had just about peaked, and many people were looking for the next big thing — in terms of style. Brutality was the catchphrase, and since millions of American kids had just rediscovered early Napalm Death thanks to a desperate search for the roots of underground metal, new bands were popping up that promised to be more brutal than before, usually by playing much faster and eliminating all melody. This flashback was prompted by hearing the hype about Whitechapel in one ear, and the reality played in the other.

Cycles repeat because there are usually relatively few different options in life, but infinite ways to pull off the winning option. After death metal croaked and black metal blew itself out, the usual retro cycle came in, where the remnants of the last decade are swept into a dustpan, recombined, and out comes the “new” solution. What has happened in the merging of metal and emo, pop punk, alternative and new hardcore is a lot like what happened in 1983 when the first thrash bands formed: metal riffs in punk song structures. But punk has grown up, gotten more technical, and in order to justify its dystopian nature, has taken the aesthetic from 1960s protest songs — jarring, slightly dissonant, poignant bittersweet, etc — and blended it with technicality, creating what I refer to as The Cinema of Discontinuous Image. Much of this is the influence of MTV, which specialized in videos in which rapid cutaways from radically different imagery were seen as desirable; these later influenced how Hollywood films dialogue, so it’s not inconceivable they influenced metal. The new hardcore is technical, melodic, and like carnival music in that it moves between ludicrous extremes without building continuity, because being deconstructive is its political fashion.

Whitechapel isn’t alone in being part of this new genre — let’s call it metalcore — that embraces many variants, some as “death metal” as the recent Behemoth CDs, and others as punk as Fugazi but obviously more mile-a-minute. Do people ever get tired of hearing the next most extreme thing? They should, since this stuff isn’t extreme; it’s sped up, and not in any meaningful way from the first Morbid Angel album. It’s like shredders showing off without knowing how to write songs, and since its basic concept of being protest deconstructive is fundamentally opposed to the ideas of songwriting anyway, this music ends up being a random pile of stuff that’s hard to play mixed in with stuff that, like Meshuggah, sounds hard to play until you realize it’s rhythm noodling on a chord. Whitechapel lives by this variation, where fast scalar single note playing is followed by five-position power chord shred riffs, and then the song collapses into some percussive geometries from the E chord, then repeats with keyboards added, this time. Songs build up to a peak frenzy, and then just end. Nothing is learned, nothing is created, but it has political authenticity — comrade Stalin is pleased! — because it is deconstructive protest music that emphasizes the following tenets: life is terrible, there’s nothing we can do, give up now, wail and whine instead of doing anything, it’s not my fault, it’s not your fault.

The synthesized faux death vocals don’t help either. I can see how this CD would impress someone new to the genre because it tries to “break barriers,” but these are all stylistic. It has nothing to say except perhaps to add on to The Brat Manifesto, which is a giant scroll containing all of the justifications created by the human species for doing nothing about its problems, personal or collective. Whitechapel screams out a kind of fetishism with child abuse, poverty, self-destruction and failure, because these excuse the heavy weight of having to take on life. Hint to Whitechapel: all of the great bands became great because they took on that heavy weight like a charging bull and found a way to convert it into positive enemy, like inverse aikido where the attack ends up converting his own momentum into a throw of his hapless prey. You, on the other hand, have run from it, and that is why you are this season’s trend and tomorrow’s ash on the wind.

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Interview: Eisen (Blood)

Of the many grindcore, hardcore and punk bands that pass through the world, very few have any staying power. Their music, in simplifying itself, also lost any form of uniqueness not in the hipster sense of accessorizing and randomization, but in the sense of a sentence or poem: expressing something that is its own and is both distinctive and relevant. An exception to this random bleaching of meaning is Germany’s Blood, who have pumped out quality material for years without particularly caring that they weren’t on the cover of glossy magazines. Thanks to guitarist Eisen, who kindly granted us not one but two interview sessions, we have the skinny on the unique mix of death metal, grindcore and early black metal that is Blood.

Do you view the music of BLOOD as death metal, grindcore or something else?

It’s a mixture of both: Grindcore and Death Metal. Generally more Death Metal, but almost always very fast with short songs as in the typical Grindcore-vein.

BLOOD lyrics are more like stories, using metaphor, or are insights into psychological and religious topics instead of political topics; why did you take this approach?

We have no fixed concept for the lyrics. We write about the things that disturb us. Sometimes also political things, but mostly horrible stories, bloodbaths, less serious things – also against god and stupid religions.

BLOOD lyrics portray a world where physical power and ancient psychic motivations prevail over civility and finance; this is a lot like horror movies, where supernatural forces defeat technology and law enforcement. What do you hope to communicate to the audience this way, and is designed to get past some of their expectations?

We have NO special message for the people – we only want to shout out what’s our meaning about those themes. Lyrics have to fit to the music, so you won’t get lovestories from Blood.

Your music sometimes seems to rest at an intersection of genres, being in song form like thrash or grindcore but in topic and riff style more like a death metal band with black metal overtones (like Hellhammer). What were your influences, and how did you reach this unusual style?

We were always into oldschool Death/Grind. Bands like Death, Exodus, Hellhammer, Possessed, Messiah, Napalm Death, later Impetigo, Morbid Angel, Unleashed, Terrorizer and thousands of others influenced us. That’s the music we are into and that’s the music for what our heart beats, so this is the music for which Blood stands!

Do you think it is easier or harder to write short songs than long songs?

It’s much easier to write shorter songs, especially when you are older than 40 *laughing* – no: It mostly bored me to listen to very long songs, so we prefer shorter ones with a clear and easy structure… right in your face!

You recorded your first demo in 1987. The world has changed a lot since then. Has the BLOOD vision changed? Has it needed to, or is the same process going on that was happening then, in the world?

We recorded our first demos back in 1986. From the very beginning the underlying concept of Blood never changed. We were always strongly rooted in the underground and never wanted to be “big.” Only we have learned how to use our instruments much more over the years.

For a band that is as blunt and confrontational as BLOOD is, there is a lot of subtlety in your lyrics and the way your songs are structured. How do people respond to this? Do they “get it”?

Do you think so? Well – we think a lot about our lyrics. We don’t wanna use the same stories again and again, but the major thing is our music. I think people love us or people hate us for what we do. There is not much between those two poles. We are very pleased with this situation.

By the data to date, there is only one animal in the Galaxy dangerous to man–man himself. So he must supply his own indispensable competition. He has no enemy to help him.

Any priest or shaman must be presumed guilty until proved innocent.

If it can’t be expressed in figures, it is not science; it is opinion.

A “pacifist male” is a contradiction in terms. Most self-described “pacifists” are not pacific; they simply assume false colors. When the wind changes, they hoist the Jolly Roger.

History does not record anywhere at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help. But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it.

Of all the strange “crimes” that human beings have legislated out of nothing, “blasphemy” is the most amazing–with “obscenity” and “indecent exposure” fighting it out for second and third place.

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded–here and there, now and then–are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as “bad luck.”

– Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love (Notebooks of Lazarus Long)

When you write songs, do you start with a concept, or a riff, or something else?

Mostly we start with a cool riff, or a drum-section, than we are jamming around for a while and test different rhythms and riffings. If a song isn’t ready in a short time, it’s usually shit and we throw it away. The lyrics will always follow after the song is ready.

When Hellhammer said, “Only Death is Real,” it launched legions of death metal and grindcore bands who showed us through sickness, misery and sudden doom (in their lyrics) that life is short, manipulations are false, and we need to get back to reality. Only DEAD INFECTION and BLOOD seem to do it by writing short stories and setting them to music, as if trying to show people a state of mind, and not the conclusions of their thoughts. Why do you think you both arrived at this method?

Hmm – do you think so? We try to let a lyric stand for itself… not as a small part of a “big” thing. I don’t like concept-records, nor do the others in Blood. Only in “Gas Flames Bones” we went a bit in that direction. I can’t say that much about DEAD INFECTION’s lyrics only that they are very cool persons and their music fucking rules!

Your music is very consistent, but the ability to make it keeps improving. Do you think bands need to change? Is it possible for bands to change both outward (style) and inward (content) without outward/inward influencing each other?

Yes – we stand for the same style over those many years. NO Band really needs a change, but most bands who try to change their style became crap. It looks like a band is totally fake and false if they play a different style holding the same bandname. A good example how a style change works is Malignant Tumour. They found a way to get their own sound, the lack of which was their problem in the early years. I really love their actualized stuff.

Is there a relationship between how an artist sees the world, and the type of music he or she will then make? Do people who see the world in similar ways make similar music?

No. I think both things are totally different from each other. Lyrics could be in the same way, but the sound/style could be absolutely different.

Grindcore seems to be composed of both metal music and punk music, just more extreme. What do you think grindcore inherited from punk, and what did it inherit from metal?

Grindcore is not the same as grindcore – there are many different shades. From Punk grindcore gets the short songs and mostly the lyrics and the attitude. From Death Metal it gets its brutality and also a part of its lyrics (for the Goregrind corner).

Is VENTILATOR’s name a joke about the name of the drummer from Kreator? (sorry, had to ask)

Ventor? No way. He’s called Ventilator because he rotates as fast with his sticks as the blades of a fan/ventilator.

BLOOD’s work and image has consistently assaulted Christianity, while most grindcore bands are political and most death/black metal bands are about gore, or take a “satanic” approach. Why do you take this approach, and what are you hoping to change in the minds of your fans?

We are no Satanists, so why pray the book of Satan? But we are totally against the manipulations of the church. A free human who stands in life only needs his own mind to know what is good for him, and what he prefers in life. So why not write lyrics about this theme? We hope to change nothing in the minds of our fans, ‘coz our fans are not religious!

BLOOD has released great CDs for almost 20 years, but is less well-known in USA than TERRORIZER, REPULSION, NAPALM DEATH, etc. yet, American fans respond positively to BLOOD when it is played on the radio. The only other early band slighted this much is CARBONIZED. How are these great works overlooked? Is it a cultural difference (American culture, such as it is) in what is expected from bands?

No! It’s because we never wanted to be big. We never wanted to play big tours or lick anyone’s ass. We have great fans in the USA, but bad distribution of our records.

A self does not amount to much, but no self is an island; each exists in a fabric of relations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before. Young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, a person is always located at “nodal points” of specific communication circuits, however tiny these may be. Or better: one is always located at a post through which various kinds of messages pass. No one, not even the least privileged among us, is ever entirely powerless over the messages that traverse and position him at the post of sender, addressee, or referent. One’s mobility in relation to these language game effects (language games, of course, are what this is all about) is tolerable, at least within certain limits (and the limits are vague); it is even solicited by regulatory mechanisms, and in particular by the self-adjustments the system undertakes in order to improve its performance. It may even be said that the system can and must encourage such movement to the extent that it combats its own entropy, the novelty of an unexpected “move,” with its correlative displacement of a partner or group of partners, can supply the system with that increased performativity it forever demands and consumes.

– The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge by Jean-Francois Lyotard

What brought about the concept behind the song Sodomize the Weak?

It’s a song inspired by Leatherface and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre mixed with my own pervert ideas back in 1993, so it seems to be a bit funny and not that serious at all.

Do you think that people use categories like genre names (black metal, death metal) to obscure the finer details of experience itself, like saying ‘that experience was bad’ or ‘that experience was good’?”

The whole world is full of categorisation. A person needs this to comparing things. Also I need such categorisation. In the Metal genre many bands coined words to define their style to show others, that they created this style – but most of them are ordinary and fake! In my early days of Metal, there also were different styles, but since I’ve been into metal, I only know good music and bad music in Death Metal, in Black Metal, in Hardcore, in Grindcore, in Rock, in Metal…

Dysangelium was released in 2003, and in 2007, Impulse to Destroy got re-released. What’s next for BLOOD? Are you going to tour Texas ever?

Since 2004 our situation has been a bit different. I (Eisen) moved to another city for private reasons. So now we can only rehearse a very few times a year or at the shows. That’s the reason why we have no new songs and it seems that we will not have a new record very soon. Since 2007 we have added another guitar player, maybe he gives the others in Blood some impulses.

When I listen to Blood, I feel like I am watching some action happen, in the same way that bands like Hellhammer or (early) Belial made me think of a movie or opera. You have captured the feeling one gets of watching a drama, in that the music is very visual and sounds like someone experiencing something. How did this come about?

Thanxx for this compliment, but I don’t know how this will appear. We write our kind of music, because it’s deep in our heart and come from the feeling, we get on this music. And also on stage we try to give people more than only playing our songs and that’s it. We try to show them fire, blood and horror!

“Bokanovsky’s Process,” repeated the Director, and the students underlined the words in their little notebooks.

One egg, one embryo, one adult-normality. But a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide. From eight to ninety-six buds, and every bud will grow into a perfectly formed embryo, and every embryo into a full-sized adult. Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress.

“Essentially,” the D.H.C. concluded, “bokanovskification consists of a series of arrests of development. We check the normal growth and, paradoxically enough, the egg responds by budding.”

Responds by budding. The pencils were busy.

– Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

Many thanks to Blood for the interview!

Blood homepage

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