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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The Failure of Revival – Pt. I

DEATHEVOKATION – The Chalice of Ages

“Old-school death metal.” What do the claims of revival amount to in this case? A confused conglomeration of tried-and-true technique; everything but the kitchen sink that 1988 through 1993 made use of, plus the whole aesthetic, with none of the unifying spirit. Too many backward glances with no actual thought to show for it. Musically, this is the simple plod of Leprosy-era DEATH at its core, melodically and rhythmically — or is it the massive wall of early GRAVE? The doom-tinged meanderings of ASPHYX? Whatever the flavor, this fails to show even a hint of having learned something from the past, and is fundamentally BORING besides.

I forget — what is it they keep saying about not learning from the past?

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Why cultural revolutions are superior

If you’ve got eyes, and a functioning brain, and the kind of warlike disposition that likes to put things into functioning order, you know: this society has become calcified, and stopped striving for abstract goals, preferring instead to divide up the material wealth among its people in ever-tighter circles of bicker.

One example is the arts. Genres stop producing more than a handful of really great objects, and produce instead many thousands of “OK – it’ll do” ones. This happens because as soon as something starts succeeding, all the people who want part of it but could not produce its greatness rush in to divide up the material wealth among themselves. This pattern happens over and over again.

To be a good metal band, you need to make lots of MySpace friends, cultivate buddies in labels and magazines, and make music that sounds roughly like everything else. That will get you success, temporarily, but not greatness. Your work will fade away because there is nothing abstract — a pattern that can be applied in any time — about it.

It’s the same with writing. Get your MFA, make buddies in the literary magazines, and crap out another story about a lost person with a dark hidden secret who discovers some external way of facing this past, and is forced to become aware and finds uplifting happiness. Easy? Yes, it’s a formula. Profound? No.

There are parallels to this in film, where you must do the indie circuit with some dark, edgy and depressing movie that everyone agrees is profound but no one wants to watch again. Academia? Find some trivial idea and make it seem like the key to the universe. Now you’re a success.

When an individual of sound body, mind and disposition sees this, the temptation is to throw the baby out with the bathwater, declare anarchy and burn all previous work. Anyone who thinks more than a step ahead of themselves knows why anarchy fails: by destroying the idea of order, along with the dead order, it reduces society to a lowest common denominator, and almost always restores the type of abuse it complained about. This is why revolutions fail. It’s why France went from feudal aristocracy to crass commercial oligarchy in one generation. It’s why the people in Cuba, despite a revolution, are still earning $17 a month. It’s why the United States went from complaining about freedom from Great Britain to having its own Alien and Sedition acts to suppress dissenters within a handful of decades. Entropy occurs and the solution is not more radical entropy.

There is an exception afforded by civilization: a cultural revolution.

These can take the form of art, philosophy or even customs. Their aim is to change the abstract goal of a society, not its methods. They work because when the underlying assumptions are changed, the way people aim their current methods changes. Over time, the methods evolve toward a greater state of organization and effectiveness as a result.

Black metal and death metal are an artistic revolution that was first obscure, and now is big. One reason we struggle here to find the best is so that we preserve its legacy accurately and deliver a realistic portrait of what its artists believed. The practical reason for this is so that a cultural revolution can occur, subverting old and dead paradigms and replacing them with more realistic — more adapted, for you Charles Darwin fans — ones.

If you think our reviews are harsh, think about why. You have one life. You have limited time. If not now, in the future. You only have time for the best. You don’t need filler; you need music and art that drives your spirit to greater heights. You don’t need “uplifting” or “realism,” which are basically two sides of the same coin (feeling strong emotion through delusional easy answers or negativity encouraging you to do nothing). You need a battle cry.

It’s the mission of this site to preserve, nurture and encourage the best of that battle cry so your time is rewarded and you can participate in the greatest change of civilization in your time. We see no reason to bloviate over the failings of the past, or over the mixed fortunes of metal now. We see a point in holding high the best of past and present and looking toward the future.

Join us.

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Interview: Unknown I (Hammemit/Emit)

Emit creates ambient art for those off the beaten path and willing to indulge a contemplate, meditative, obscure trip through undefined sound, like a convergence of Lull, Final and Harold Budd. In addition to being musical, this project is produced by minds who have critically analyzed and chosen their path. We were lucky enough to capture this interview after being blindfolded, driven in circles in a 20-year-old Toyota Tercel, screamed at in Pashtu and Altedeutsch, and finally interrogated by Unknown I while we gobbled our rice rations of the day.

Do you believe that art requires an intention behind it?

Yes, but then all art has some sort of intention behind it. Even if the intention is purely a selfish one, like making money or seeking fame (or infamy), or taking the piss, there’s still a motive no matter how questionable. Deep down there’s a reason for every action made in this world. People complain of “mindless” vandalism but never think about why it is that an ugly steel and glass bus-shelter may seem like an affront or worthless object of derision to others. The fake surroundings we spend most of our lives in are so hideous in my eyes that it was natural to become involved with the courageous cultured barbarism of black/death metal, noise music and so on. To me, these music forms aren’t fantasy escapism but reflections and expressions of deep underlying truth and reality of existence. Most things seem to want to hide reality from you, i.e. your butchers and policemen as my old friend Joseph Conrad said, but certain art exposes inevitable death and reminds you that you’re actually alive and existing. A friend of mine used to badly cut himself on a regular basis, he said that people mainly did it (in black metal circles) because it was a brutal and “evil” thing to do to yourself, but he just did it because he liked it. I suspect that he did it because when seeing his own blood spewing everywhere and feeling the pain of it, he could taste mortality and thus found confirmation of his own existence within that. Do you truly feel that you exist until you realise that you’ll die one day? When you see what usually remains invisible (in this case, that which allows you to live; the internal organs, blood etc), the abyss between merely seeing and actually existing is crossed, said Yukio Mishima, loosely paraphrased.

If so, is art decoration? Is it propaganda? Is it communication? Please explain your choice.

All art communicates something, whether it communicates something worthwhile or not is another matter. The Greeks thought that the sheer craft of even an everyday object like a chair was art by itself, but then their furniture and so on was made by hand, not mass produced to a template by chinese industrial machinery. My own house is mostly purely functional, apart from a few choice objects here and there, the personal worth and interest of which are in my eyes therefore enhanced, or more accurately, are allowed their rightful place and not drowned out by crap. Owning and listening to too many albums, for instance, devalues the really great ones. So I don’t do it. If art doesn’t say anything to me (or if something else says it better) it’s probably useless and I’ve no time to waste on it. Propaganda is for tabloid newspaper readers and decoration as an end in itself only reflects the present culture it derives from, which in our case isn’t very good, from an aesthetic sense or any other. Ancient decorative art (from nearly all ancient cultures) glorifies all that’s great about their people, mythos and culture, truly aspiring towards and reflecting something divine and vital. The likes of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (particularly the mediaeval revivalist offshoot led by William Morris and co), attempted to inject this old ethos back into the increasingly industrialised culture of the West, and with Hammemit’s crude neo-mediaeval music I follow humbly in their footsteps. By “neo-mediaeval”, I mean taking the past and adapting it to modernity, not wearing old clothes and fighting mock battles as if pretending it was still the year 1300. I don’t want to retreat back into the past, I’d rather bring the past into the present day.

Kurt Vonnegut famously referred to art as a “canary in a coal mine”, or a warning signal for society. Other artists, notably Romantics, have claimed that art serves a necessary role in celebration of life. Still others believe it should celebrate the artist. Where, if anywhere, do these views intersect, and is it possible for art to exist as a discrete one of them and not as an intersection?

I used to talk several years ago about “anti-art”, because I considered what I did to be partly a reaction against pretension and fakery where most “artists” claimed to be so very deep and meaningful, but in actual fact their art was nothing but shallow and cheap gimmickry, or entertainment. It’s easy to pretend to say a lot if you hide behind a fog of flashy imagery and other useless bric-a-brac. It’s also surprising to me how many are taken in by it, as I thought art was supposed to go beyond the superficial.

I would have laughed when I was a teenager if someone had said to me that art like that of black metal celebrated life. But ironically, being obsessed with death and general morbidity is actually a healthy state of mind in a society where no one wants to even think of the word DEATH. I found it empowering and strangely uplifting (though it didn’t occur to me that way, back then) to be thinking of death all the time and carrying bones about in my pockets, because it’s a taboo and forbidden realm not to be mentioned in polite cunting society. So to be allied to a “cult of nature processes” ironically made me feel more alive and allowed me to breathe in the cold night air more deeply. Possibly it’s why I found (and still do find) great pleasure in simple things which others don’t find particularly remarkable at all.

Nature! We are surrounded and embraced by her — powerless to leave her and powerless to enter her more deeply. Unaksed and without warning she sweeps us away in the round of her dance and dances on until we fall exhausted from her arms.

She has brought me here, she will lead me away.
I trust myself to her. She may do as she will with me.
She will not hate her work. It is not I who have spoken of her.
No, what is true and what is false, all this she has spoken.
Hers is the blame, hers the glory.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Nature, a Fragment

Quorthon of Bathory refers to his music as “atmospheric heavy metal.” What does atmospheric offer that the world of rock music, jazz, blues or techno cannot?

“Atmospheric music” as I would understand the term offers a means of connection with the hidden world beyond, the mysterious unknown. It allows the creation of certain moods, ideas and images within the mind of the imaginative listener. Certain key passages in this kind of music can suddenly infuse you with an almost indescribable transcendence from your surroundings. There are moments like this in Graveland’s “Barbarism Returns” and Enslaved’s “Heimdallr” (the demo version more so than on the album). Simple rock music or whatever is a mere temporary distraction and serves only as a kind of audial wallpaper. Rock music may passively reflect the time in which it was created and the base preoccupations of its creators but that’s it. Atmospheric music pointedly reflects the time in which it was created and also suggests possibilities for the future, or contemplation. That’s the difference between your example of Bathory (I would say spiritual music) and one of their contemporaries like Venom (secular music). Speaking of Hammemit & Emit, I’ve always wanted to create active music for active listening, not passive background decoration, as I listen to music as an activity in itself, not for any other reason. Sometimes if I’m in the car on my own I’ll listen to music to just pass the time on tedious journeys, or boost flagging spirits. I hate martial/military music (outside of its intended context the purpose and point is lost), but I have a tape of good driving tunes by the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler which encapsulates the optimistic atmosphere of the 1930’s. It makes me smile when crawling through some faceless city at 5 mph to consider that even a 25 ton Panzer IV had a top speed of 26 mph and could easily crush to pieces the cars in front and crash through the walls of the office blocks and shops lining the road, pedestrians scattering about like rural french peasants.

When you write music, do you aim for a completed concept, or develop a fragmentary concept and see where it goes?

I’ve always had a “concept” in mind but as the years went on it became more easily expressed. The Hammemit album is my most consistent work, and conveys my intended ideas simply and without any unnecessary ornamentation. My core beliefs haven’t changed radically but my opinions have changed somewhat from experience and such. I’m too young for my opinions to have fossilised into convictions yet. In order to communicate effectively, an artistic medium like an album of music needs to take a unified approach. It should have a distinct sound, a unique voice both visually and lyrically as well as musically. And this should all come naturally, not be forced in an unnatural, dishonest way like some calculated marketing campaign. A lot of bands understand this but only grasp it on the most superficial level; they have an “image” in promo photos, they use the same font on all their releases or whatever. They miss the point completely. What I want is for someone to look at the layout/images of the Hammemit album, read the lyrics, listen to the music and intuitively take from it something useful to them. That sounds dry and dull in words, but what I mean is that I ultimately aim to create with Hammemit the means for uplifting of spirit and transcendence in the listener that occurs when absorbing great art.

Many attack ambient music, like punk, for the relative lack of musical training or instrumental ability of its progenitors. Do you see this as an important criticism?

I doubt you’ll be surprised by my answer here, but no, of course it’s not at all important. Technique is merely a means through which you can express something. Lack of technique or limited musical ability just means you’re more restricted (or perhaps freer in some cases) about what you can do. Someone lacking musical ability or training couldn’t easily write or perform music like that of Morbid Angel for instance, but then some forms of expression don’t require that level of instrumental skill. Furthermore, technical ability is absolutely worthless if lacking any idea of composition. I think someone who has no real technical ability as such, may nevertheless still have an innate (possibly an unrealised, subconscious) understanding of melody and form, and thus be able to create good music. I don’t understand why it is that low technical skill is nearly always seen as a valid criticism by those who “know about music”. It’s like with these lists you see of “100 greatest guitarists ever”, ok, but how many of them made music that you actually give a shit about? Darkthrone were quite talented musicians but their best music isn’t hard to play to say the least. I bought a new guitar recently (an ostentatious act for me, but the model is not in itself ostentatious) and tried it out in the shop beforehand. I suppose that people usually have a long, showy masturbation session in music shops when trying out new instruments, but I just wanted to see how it felt to play and so on. I’ve never really wanted to drastically improve my playing skills, not through laziness or lack of ambition but because I actually fear losing my unfettered ability of expression. Over time I’ve improved gradually anyway as is natural, but I’m fond of the lack of refinement and “first take” freshness that can be found in recordings of people like Ildjarn or old Mutiilation. It lends a certain immediacy that becomes integral to the overall effect that the song produces upon the listener. For me it’s similar to the curious power of crude woodcut illustrations, which although primitive, nevertheless convey what is intended. I’m not advocating the old punk rock ethos of “anyone can have a go”, because plainly, not everyone has what it takes to create something meaningful or worthwhile. Indulge me and allow me to quote a favourite passage from a controversial figure of 1960’s England; “practically everyone believes they could write a book or compose a song if only they put their mind to it. They believe this simply because they can easily comprehend the finished products of others. It is not until they attempt the act of creation themselves that they become aware of their own limitations, lack of imagination, abysmal powers of self-expression and how unaccustomed they are to thinking deeply about anything at all. Becoming aware of the vast gap that exists between understanding and personal creativity – and the intellectual effort required to capture and express a complex idea in simple terms – is humiliating”. Technical prowess as such doesn’t necessarily hinder the creation of (good) art, but stupidity and a lack of anything to say certainly does. Just look at the music section of myspace.
black metal and ambient music seem similar in their use of layered motifs over a drone or constant beat in which syncopation is de-emphasized.

Is this from a similar world-outlook, or is it a megatrend passing through our time to aim for atmosphere instead of discrete conclusions?

In the first place that’s a really interesting hypothesis which makes a lot of sense to me, but I’m not sure if I know the answer to your question. I don’t really think that a similar world outlook necessarily leads to similar artistic output other than in terms of meaning, so it’s possible that intelligent artists who have something to communicate gravitate towards creating music that they feel speaks to the ancient man who finds himself living in the modern world.

EMIT has emitted (forgive me that) a series of releases, seeming with each to move farther from black metal in form and closer to black metal in spirit. Is that assessment correct? What has engendered this progression?

I think you’re right. With the Hammemit album, there are no percussion elements, no distorted guitar and mostly clean vocals. In previous releases there’s been a fair amount of variation with clean and distorted guitar, but ironically, I wanted to free myself from the conventions of what I used to do by limiting myself to a bare minimum as far as possible. It focused my mind and let me get to the core or essence of what I’ve already been doing for years. I believe I’m getting closer to an ideal stylistic approach, which has taken some time to reach. Now it’s a matter of utilising the approach in the most effective way possible.

When we speak of evil in music, what is its value? Is literal evil meant, or a mockery or evil, or is the metaphor being overloaded to take on new meanings? Are they recapturing the word “evil” like hip-hop groups have recaptured racial epithets? And finally, have you encountered any music you consider “evil” in the definition of your choice?

It seems to depend on whom you speak to. The religious bands of today mean literal evil in the biblical, moralistic sense. So-called “pagan” bands use the word as if to say “christianity turned our gods into devils”, recapturing the word, as you suggest. Overtly blasphemous bands like Havohej take delight in mocking the dualism and entire concept of evil with their crudely effective lyrics and stance. I don’t think I’ve come across any music that I find actually evil, only music seeking to portray that which is generally considered evil, and that isn’t the same thing as “evil music”. I said in another recent interview how I’ve never seen death and black metal as being much concerned with blaspheming, but rather praising or aspiring towards the numinous. That’s what I’ve always endeavoured to do with Emit and will continue to do with Hammemit.

Do you believe music should be mimetic, or reflect what’s found in life, or ludic, and show a playfulness with life that encourages us to experience it in depth? Do the two ever crossover?

When I listen to Hammemit, what comes to my mind is the moors, woods, rural churches, stone circles and ancient places of England as I know it. It encapsulates what I begin to think about when visiting or visualising them, and I believe that music ultimately is an artistic manifestation of thoughts and ideas. For instance, the guy from Absurd used to say that black metal was “listenable ideology”. Taking this further, I would even say that music could be broken down to something like computer language, a series of 1’s and 0’s which look like gibberish but can be understood if you have sufficient knowledge or have trained yourself over time. If you look at guitar tablature, it’s basically a series of numbers telling you where to put your fingers on the fretboard, but when you follow this on an instrument it creates something which we can understand, much like 111110010100110001111 might be code that forms a program for a computer. So if you translate thoughts and interpretations of the world around you into music, it could be said that you’re creating a program which allows other people to experience those same ideas and thoughts. I dare say this makes the whole artistic process seem less “magical”, but I like to try to get to grips with the mechanics of how important phenomena work.

I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.

– F.W. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

When you create music, do you narrow your perspective to find what you seek to express in life, and then translate it back to sound? Do you feel others do this? What are the ways an artist can approach the task of making art?

I feel I’ve sort of answered this above, but certain noise music to me, sounds like the breath of woodland in a heavy wind or even birdsong, if I’m in the right frame of mind. I’m not sure I’d actually call it music as such, in all fairness, but it’s interesting to think of these mechanistic, artificial sounds interpreted back into naturalistic ones, as if being reclaimed. Trees smashing Isengard. Any artist who wants to communicate something worthwhile will choose a form which he or she thinks is most suitable (and personally enjoys themselves). Usually I’d imagine it’s pretty much intuitive, not so much a conscious choice. I don’t know how other people might go about creating music or writing or whatever, but speaking for myself, it stems from a desire to encapsulate that initial inspiration and rush of ideas and feeling. It’s “just” a matter of working out a way in which to best make it communicable. Not being unique, I suppose this must be how it is for many others, as well.

What influences from the world of ambient music were inspirational for you?

The sound of nearby church bells, rain on the rooftops and wind in the trees is perhaps the greatest ambient music I’ve heard and has influenced me more than anything else. Some have said that the Hammemit album reminded them of work by Brian Eno and he is indeed quite a visionary, though I wouldn’t agree that he was much of an inspiration to me. I like Tangerine Dream a lot, and anything that I like a lot tends to be assimilated somehow into what I do, but there’s no conscious influence from them either. My music is mainly based around the guitar, so two particularly inspirational guitarists for me would be Snorre Ruch (of Thorns) and John Dowland, the latter being a lutenist rather than guitarist but the principle is similar. I think my influences are more in terms of ethos and aesthetic than anything concrete in form.

Like many others, you were influenced by the black metal movement coming out of Norway in the early 1990s. What did you see in that movement that inspired you artistically?

I saw another movement like that of the Pre-Raphaelites for whom “the past is alive”. The music, image, ideas and actions transcended the mundane shit of day-to-day life in the modern world, touching on things deeply buried. “How beautiful life is, now when my time has come”, sounds like a line Mishima might have written. Most black metal bands of today in comparison remind me of the difference between Dead Can Dance and fucking Cocteau Twins. In other words, idiots tell me that if I like Dead Can Dance, I’ll also like these other clowns, but I DO NOT.

The long, long road over the moors and up into the forest–who trod it into being first of all? Man, a human being, the first that came here. There was no path before he came. Afterward, some beast or other, following the faint tracks over marsh and moorland, wearing them deeper; after these again some Lapp gained scent of the path, and took that way from field to field, looking to his reindeer. Thus was made the road through great Almenning — the common tracts without an owner; no-man’s land.

– Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil (1917)

Do you have any personal ideologies? Do these inform your approach to your music? Do they provide a groundwork for the content of your music?

I once began to distrust this word “ideology”, in black metal especially it became a word used to say whether a band was “true” or not. People began to talk about “ideological black metal”, which was used to draw a line between bands who stood for something and those newcomers or fakes who stood for nothing but making scary music to amuse themselves. But unfortunately in trying to emphasise the difference, a lot of bands started becoming overtly politically affiliated as if trying too hard to prove they had something serious and important to say. For example, the Polish bands of the mid-90s did this more and more as they saw the Norwegians becoming less interesting musically and much less radical in their statements and so on. I think it was good and necessary to start with, because the normal people refused to listen to politically-incorrect music like that of Veles or Graveland and stuck with safer bands. I gather that people even sent Veles CDs back to the record label because it had the word “aryan” printed in the booklet. It created a refreshing and stimulating, iconoclastic environment similar to that of the original outbreak. But there was a point where overt nationalism and political-incorrectness became sloganeering or even protest music and that’s where I lost interest. The point is that ideas don’t need to be expressed through some existing political party/system, or so obviously. It’s just cheap and vulgar and only appeals to idiots. To be silly for a moment, Hitler wouldn’t have listened to WAR88 but he might have given later Graveland a try. My own music says, “I would prefer to see a million people machinegunned than a forest put to the chainsaw to make room for their ugly houses”, but that isn’t the title of the album.

Do you believe objective reality exists?

Tell a class of schoolchildren to look out of the window and draw a specific tree and they’ll all draw something “treelike”. Therefore you can say that objective reality exists. But each child will probably come up with various subjective interpretations of the tree. Most will try and copy it as exactly as possible (and become frustrated when they fail to do so accurately), perhaps some will try and capture the spirit of the tree, others will not observe at all and draw a generic tree, etc. Personally, I always tried to be faithful to the object in question taking meticulous care over tiny details, usually running out of time and leaving it incomplete. Sometimes I found that when translated to paper, objects looked wrong, even though they had been accurately rendered, so I’d stop looking at what I was drawing and improvise or add what I wanted. I began to think at an early age, in the simple way that children do, that reality is something which although the same for everyone, reveals more to some than it does to others. It was hard not to feel superior when faced with the fact that those around me seemed totally blind to all but their most immediate surroundings. I find it stupid when people say their music is “inspired by nature”, because it seems to me that in nearly every case, they mean a picture postcard version of nature. They see nothing beyond the obvious, they just like the “dark atmosphere” of forests or the “inspiring” sight of distant mountains (what does it inspire them with I wonder). They might as well paint a drab watercolour picture because what they see around them has already been handily interpreted for them by TV and other mass media. We learn to interpret life vicariously through other people, so that when stood in a forest you should feel X, Y or Z, because that’s the limit of human understanding so why bother thinking any different. What’s the difference between visiting Stonehenge or a desert and watching some slickly edited footage of them on TV? I may see the same things such people do, but for all intents and purposes I’m not even on the same planet, my experience of life is not the same at all.

What consciousness if any exists to the cosmos? If one does exist, does it infuse you with a sense of purpose?

Well I certainly believe in a consciousness to the cosmos. But I don’t believe that you need the church or any organised religion as intermediary. In meditations and in my whole life I’ve tried to understand even a tiny piece of this existence and wondered often, and thought deeply about all of creation and the point of it all. My beliefs in recent years have more or less followed ancient gnostic ones, as I felt the closer you got to the beginning, the nearer you got to the truth, in opposition to modern thought, where it’s believed that with each new technological progression you come further to the truth and some ultimate, elusive satisfaction. In modern society people believe that with each passing second the world naturally progresses in a linear way. Well, it’s not “natural” that we should have an industrial revolution at a certain time and I don’t think all progression is necessarily good, or indeed real progression at all. If there’s an alien civilisation out there somewhere, it’s unlikely that they’d have developed the same as we’ve done. Terms like “the Stone Age” are very misleading. Having contemplated life in the modern world it’s very easy to conclude that absolutely everything is stacked against the deep thinking, spiritual person. When you come to this point it’s also very easy to think about suicide and I’ve had periods (now forever in the past) where I’ve vaguely entertained the notion. When I was younger I used to go on walks and towards dusk smell the summer air, listen to the last birdsong and I felt something huge missing within. I had no idea what this “something” was nor any idea of how to discover what it was, but it gave me a direction to strive towards. People always tell me that I think about things too much, but then I’m a spiritual person and contemplation seems to be a key to understanding. The consciousness (what people used to call god) that exists within and without this cosmos (and therefore us) does indeed infuse me with a sense of purpose. I think that changing yourself even at a solely physical level is not something as insignificant as it might seem, because everything is interconnected so such a change is nothing short of altering the entire universe piece by piece. Believing in the interrelation between microcosm/macrocosm as I do, I wonder how anyone can believe that the universe and cosmos will exist indefinitely. Is there any example in nature that suggests this is likely? Every living thing is just a miniature cosmos in itself, so therefore if every living thing has to die at some point, the cosmos itself must have to “die” as well. I personally don’t believe in death as a finite and permanent thing, but as a change in existence, energy moving elsewhere or eventually returning to the source. Worshipping death and the ultimate Death of everything in the way that I describe, makes existence tolerable by virtue of considering its otherwise total worthlessness. Life would be pointless without death after all, but Death still exists without life. It is therefore, the ultimate and oldest form of existence, coming both before and after material manifestations. Energy can’t be destroyed, it has to go somewhere and originate from somewhere, so death is evidently not a total nothingness in the way we might understand the word, despite not being able to comprehend it. There isn’t a dualism between death and life, death is actually a continuation of life in a different (higher) form. I don’t mean an afterlife as such in the sense of “heaven”, but I believe in continuation in different forms, though it isn’t comprehensible to us. You can say that as you can’t remember anything from before your birth, why should after death be any different? Well I imagine it isn’t, but non-awareness only means non-existence in the form that we know. Let’s say the cosmos came into being when it first became aware that it existed. On a microcosmic level, using a biblical metaphor, the first humans became aware when tasting the forbidden fruit and thus realised they were naked. Before that they still existed but were unaware of themselves as entities in their own right. Therefore going back to the cosmos as a whole, one can tentatively suggest that the cosmos existed before it came into physical manifestation, despite there being apparently “nothing”. Zero is still a digit (and a relatively recent concept at that), and there are also minus numbers, meaning you can go further back than nought. Death is a realm separate from the material one, therefore it isn’t possible to experience it by means of the senses or even deep thought – it’s outside of humanity. But it is real.

Nihilists tend to break the world into two groups, those who are looking forward in time toward something intangible that constitutes a purpose, and those who lack any such abstract goal so are focused on the tangible, both in physical and mental construct. Have you observed anything of this nature and, if so, what is it?

When you first look around at the world that surrounds you, you’ll obviously only see the immediate – buildings, people, trees, stars etc. Once you recognise these things and begin to file them away in your mind, you start to allocate meaning to them from further associations that link them and a million other things together build up into a massive network of meanings, memories and so on. Taking everything at face value would mean that none of these things you’ve observed have any intrinsic value whatsoever, other than those which you’ve learned or been conditioned to accept. You would understand for instance, that the paper notes used for currency, or even the shiny yellow metal called “gold”, are not worth anything, apart from the value society has given them. And so-called “human rights” is a meaningless, purely politically expedient concept. You’re then faced with a very difficult dilemma. You can either create or accept an existing mythology to explain the world you find yourself struggling to understand, or believe that you’re on your own and have been left to your own devices. Strangely, following on from gnostic beliefs, I’m actually somewhere in the middle, ha ha.

One of the fundamental divisions of our society is whether or not it can accept relativity. some turn it into relativism; others deny it and insist on “objectivism,” which is a rather rigorous form of scientific Social Darwinism. What do you think unites methods of relativity in linking together phenomena, and the human desire to make life easy and tangible and have us each perceive that reality is as we desire, even if contrary data exist?

It’s true that people prefer to see things as they’d like them to be, and hide away from what they really know is out there. That’s why D E A T H is such a taboo that people give it all these innumerable euphemisms. It obviously sounds like a much easier and “fairer” life if everyone decides to agree to disagree, because it means less conflict and less of people’s feelings being hurt. Unfortunately for utopia, people have a tendency of saying “no, we’re absolutely right in our beliefs, and you are heretics/infidels/cretins/gay for believing otherwise, and now we want to kill you”. You’ll often hear politicians and their ilk talking about how everyone should be able to live in harmony, not afraid to believe in whatever they want to believe in. Although of course, these same people will later go on to say they’re declaring war on another country to fight for what’s “right”. Opposing beliefs and ideas are always going to cause tensions when confronted with another, because to admit that they’re “both right”, or that “no one is wrong” is an admission of uncertainty and lack of faith in your convictions. It’s also blatantly stupid because both parties know that in truth, either one or both of them are utterly wrong. It’s like saying you know for certain that grass is green but accepting that some people think it’s blue. I believe that falling trees make a sound in the forest even if no one’s there to hear them, and that the world exists outside of our perception. It will still be here when I die. As usual, what unites all these things is a fear of death. The world is a frightening place if you suddenly take away everything that shields you from it. That’s why people allow themselves to be led down the garden path, willingly oblivious to the forest that lurks at its carefully trimmed and cultivated edges.

Did black metal die, and if so, what killed it and, has ambient/electronic music gone through similar cycles?

Everything has to die. I feel that like the world itself, black metal could have remained something brilliant, but stupid, shallow people and commerce ruined it. Concerning black metal (but not only that), I think most people including many who “were there” only see an idealised version of reality. Basically they see a relatively brief outburst of creativity and good intentions contained as a single neverending era and not as a finite period of innovation witnessed over time, followed by noticeable decline and inevitable death. I imagine citizens of the Roman Empire in its last days felt that way. Maybe Americans feel like that. People need a sense of continuity and belonging in order to feel secure and black metal is now a boring youth subculture like any other, not an evolutionary artistic movement. It’s about clothes, symbols, scene orthodoxy and total lack of substance for the most part. It’s hard to admit that the dream is over, that something has come to the end of its lifespan. The people who refuse to recognise that are usually those with the most to gain from its continuation and such people are dangerous because they prevent real progress from being made. But those who do acknowledge it are the first to rise from the ashes and forge something new. When an old, beautiful and much loved building falls down, the average guy says “I’ll rebuild this building, it’ll not be quite as good as before but it’ll keep the spirit of the old building alive”. But a radical, visionary architect says “I’ll rebuild this building, and I’ve a few ideas of my own this time”. However there are quite a few people out there who think of themselves as doing something new and original, but who actually aren’t. Playing a saxophone or tambourine or banjo or flute in a black metal context doesn’t necessarily make you a creative genius (in fact I’m damn sure it doesn’t). To cite an example I’ve used before, Darkthrone were obviously a positive evolution from Bathory and Celtic Frost, and to continue the architectural metaphor; are the difference between doric and ionic columns. In other words you don’t need to do anything completely new to be original, you just need to look at what came before in a new light, which is easier said than done of course.

What’s the status of EMIT, and when do we hear new material? What inspired this new material?

Emit has evolved into Hammemit; modern music for mediaeval sensibilities, by which I mean intended for those desensitised to the general chaos of modern life yet retaining a certain spiritual awareness and closeness to the world. The new direction isn’t a sudden development but a gradual progression where I began to lean more towards the calmer works than the noisier ones. The more consistent approach which can be seen in the Hammemit album stems from deep and prolonged contemplation flowing over into a group of connected lyrics. These lyrics really opened the way into a new holistic conception and execution of my musical work. I hope that as many people as possible will read the lyrics and that some will feel a deep affinity with the music, because I know that other people look at the world in the same way that I do. My intention is that people should feel the way I felt when I read “The Centaur” by Algernon Blackwood – that they’d found a kindred spirit. I feel I should elucidate further as Mr. Blackwood isn’t well known anymore, though I believe he deserves to be. He used to be quite a popular figure in his time, and would read his stories on BBC radio and even appeared on the then new cursed medium of TV (when it was basically still radio but with pictures). Yet his books are mostly out of print nowadays and his best works can generally only be found in secondhand bookshops or not at all. Lovecraft was a fervent admirer of his work, though this wasn’t reciprocated and Lovecraft’s writing unfortunately is largely still seen as pulp trash while Blackwood’s is just forgotten. His one major attempt at fully explaining his worldview came with a full-length novel, the aforementioned “The Centaur”. His preferred medium was the short story and it becomes readily apparent when reading it, but despite its very occasional failings as literature, I found it interesting and even exciting reading. What he proposed was not new, but the manner in which he set about describing the idea that the world was a living being and everything living on it were part of one entity, made it sound like perfect sense. This being because I could clearly identify with the two main characters, both of whom seemed to articulate exactly what I myself thought and had constantly struggled with. Blackwood would have as a basis for many of his stories a central character who was enthralled so much with primal nature that they “risked” being consumed by it utterly. This is best seen in his short stories such as “The Trod”, “The Touch of Pan”, “The Man Whom the Trees Loved” and of course “The Centaur”, all of which I recommend reading. As I said, I hope to do with music and lyrics what Blackwood did with his writing, I feel a real calling to do so.

If you were able to make an album that would be given mainstream radio airplay, would you choose to make your music closer to mass tastes but subversive, or attempt to wallop people with something very far from current mass tastes?

I wouldn’t do anything different from what I’m doing now. Why would I want to water down what I do in order to get the interest of shallow people who have nothing in common with the meaning of the music? I’d just be wasting everyone’s time. Look at Dissection and their “Reinkaos” album or Watain’s new one. Why even bother? Seeds on barren rocks. Good luck to them if they think their message will be spread further by simplifying ther music, but I’d rather not pander to the lowest common denominator. I don’t see myself as some supreme and elite being, not through modesty but through thinking about it. I aspire to better myself and to achieve certain goals, and I look at myself therefore as what a human should be like, it’s those falling under that who are below human. There’s only human and underhuman, everything else is aspiration for now. I understand the limitations of the masses and know that difficult concepts are totally beyond them, not always beyond their capacity to understand, but certainly beyond their attention span. The masses are guided by base instinct and self-interest and to make them otherwise is impossible. It’s easy to trick them into believing that something bad for them is actually good for them and vice-versa. As long as they think it serves their own interests they’ll be happy. They’re mere empty vessels who’ve allowed themselves to become corrupted and mindless, a bit like Tolkien’s orcs or the zombies from “Dawn of the Living Dead”. Their greatest and apparently only desires are to eat/consume, fuck and destroy everything beautiful. The individual I quoted earlier once said that serial killers acted the way they did because they were either consciously or unconsciously deeply aware of time passing by and wanted to take action while they could, to live each moment as much as possible and push the limits of experience. The masses are not in the least aware of time passing them by, they don’t think death will happen to them. They imagine an afterlife paradise where all their sickening desires and lusts will be fulfilled for them, so might as well sit and wait for it. A consolation for me is that they will all eventually be reclaimed, as into an amorphous jigsaw with billions of missing pieces…

DEATH DEATH

If you seek the kernel, then you must break the shell. And likewise, if you would know the reality of Nature, you must destroy the appearance, and the farther you go beyond the appearance, the nearer you will be to the essence.

– Meister Johannes Eckhart

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Interview: Wolves In The Throne Room

The air rings with bloviation about “green” plans and, since black metal has always endorsed a naturalistic outlook, it’s natural to look here for some ideas on this topic. Like all ideas who are coming, it remains extremely controversial when it goes beyond the somewhat prosaic task of buying LED light bulb replacements. We were able to encounter Wolves in the Throne Room 150 feet above the ground, where they were conducting a tree-sit to stop loggers from cutting down the remaining Kirk Johnson pine in North America to make it into anal splints. They kindly answered some questions and gave their thoughts on black metal, art, environmentalism and the problem with metal fans.

In your mind, is there a difference between morality and pragmatism?

That being said, I’ll do my best to engage with your question.Let me first say that I have little knowledge of philosophy and don’t really have interest in such matters. Much like the occult mumbo-jumbo that serves to obscure simple and self-evident metaphysical realities, philosophy is often a distraction from that which is right in front of one’s face. The mission of WITTR is to work within the realm of a primal spirit. It is through the accessing of our intuition and deeper selves that our paths are chosen.

I associate pragmatism with the bland drivel spouted by Dewy and Rorty. This has nothing to do with anything I’m interested in. Maybe you use the word in another fashion?

I would define morality as a culture’s system of vices and virtues. I tend to think that the “right” way to be is, indeed, a transcendent constant. We see manifestations of this transcendent morality in every culture that has ever existed, the obvious exception being our own materialistic and short sighted mess.

On the other hand, part of my thought process and part of the mission of WITTR is to explore the idea of evolution. Within the antagonism between the “establishment” and the avant garde lays a powerful spirit of creativity and dynamism. The life I have created for myself is an odd mix of the radically evolutionary and the ancient and time-worn. I would posit that the spirit of ANUS and of Metal culture is no different. Our ventures are absolutely of the now and are our own creations.

Orthodox Black Metal says to us that things have always been a certain way – tribal, place based, caste based, etc – and we must smash modernity and return to this ancient and established way of living. But is this necessarily so? The great contradiction of Black Metal is that it urges acceptance of fear and suffering but is afraid of an utterly new possibility. The spirit of Black Metal is represented in the artwork on Burzum’s albums: apparitions of a time long gone, ghosts pulling the living into the ancient and the desiccated world of the ancestors.

Evolution and growth are biological and metaphysical constants. Rarely in nature do we see lifeforms benefit from stepping backwards. ANUS seems to assert that the lens of nihilism strips away modernist humanistic morality in order to reveal that which is timeless and transcendent. It is not that easy. I think it is possible to make a choice to accept some things from the premodern, heroic worldview and to reject others. As modern people we are in a unique and precarious position. It is the role of artists to define the possibilities.

Skimming the writings on the ANUS site, which I found interesting and thought provoking, revealed a classically conservative worldview which, if manifested in a political reality, would have little room for transgression or evolution. This is no utopia I would care to live in, or help bring about.

This is why WITTR refuse to align ourselves with “right wing” (or left wing) ideologies. The actual reality of the totalitarian, right wing state is not one of peaceful country farms carrying on in time-honored fashion and vibrant urban centers bustling with art and philosophy. It an utterly modern situation of chauvinistic nationalist frenzy, thuggish bullying and simple mindedness. Liberal democracy and fascism are both outmoded political systems that need to be left behind. The idea of returning to the premodern heroic world through modern political means is not an option.

What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?

Art expresses the transcendent and, I think, has a spiritual dimension – intentional or not. It has a reality that echoes through time. I am a believer in the otherworld, a reality that lies beyond the veil. Art affects change on this other reality.

I think that art can exist independent of the culture that created it, whereas entertainment is more closely bound to the ephemeral and transitory moment.

Do you think a genre of unpopular “popular music” like death metal and/or black metal can be a form of art?

Sure. I think we are having this discussion because we agree that black metal -sometimes- expresses truths that lie beyond fashion and the politics of the local scene. WITTR come at black metal as outsiders who are interested in “art”, not scene politics. It so happens that the art one finds in BM resonates with the other things that I do.

Nothing is permanent: certainly not the frozen images of barbarous power with which fascism now confronts us. Those images may easily be smashed by an external shock, cracked as ignominiously as the fallen Dagon, the massive idol of the heathen; or they may be melted, eventually, by the internal warmth of normal men and women. Nothing endures except life: the capacity for birth, growth, and renewal. As life becomes insurgent once more in our civilization, conquering the reckless thrust of barbarism, the culture of cities will be both instrument and goal.

– Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities (1938)

Does art have an obligation to morality? To pragmatism?

No. Black Metal, in its Satanic incarnation, must advocate for anti-morality. Going well beyond the romantic yearning for a dark, wild and feral world conjured by Burzum or Ildjarn, Satanic BM demands that we pour chemicals into the oceans, smear ourselves with feces, murder our neighbors and rape the pope. This Satanic, insane music is still “Art”. Even in a utopia, there would be a place for Art that represents the insane and the evil because these things are a part of the universe.

As someone who is interested in survival for myself and my friends, and who is interested in ecological things, I think that it is virtuous – moral – to keep a well ordered farm, rotate the crops, kill the animals with kindness and respect, help out my neighbors, etc… For this reason WITTR are often disparaged as “traitors” who do not work for the destruction of all life. I have heard that we receive quite a buffeting in the internet chat-rooms from 14 year old chronic masturbators and has-been methamphetamine addicts.

Do you think heavy metal has a distinctive worldview different from that of “normal” people? is worldview a grounding to an ideology, and can art have either? Do you think the worldviews and or ideologies of artists shape the kind of music they produce?

Worldview is everything, for it provides the metaphysical architecture upon which the art is hung. I think that we would agree that banal pop music created by the accountants at major record labels is just as much a manifestation of a worldview and an ideology as music, such as Black Metal, that is a more (self?) conscious expression.

I cannot say whether heavy metal people have a distinctive worldview. From reading material on your website I gather that ANUS posits the idea that Metal is somehow a manifestation of the long-lost heroic spirit. I don’t think there is a higher percentage of intelligence among metalheads than among any other population.

ANUS does a good job of placing metal, music that is often created by boneheads, into a coherent philosophical system that venerates traditional heroic values. However, metal could be interpreted in many other, less positive, ways. I see most metal as the pathetic mental ejaculation of marijuana addled morons.

On the whole, I am quite dismissive of the idea that metal – as a worldview and ideology – should be something to base ones life on. For me, the proof is in the pudding. Most hessians are deeply engaged with bands and fanzines (or chatrooms) and leather jackets. Often the philosophy and music is very engaging and powerful, but the focus of the hessian life usually becomes myopic and limited.

Like punk, metal is a way to introduce radical ideas that call into question the assumptions that society is governed by. I think that the ideology of Watain or G.G. Alin is not useful as roadmap for future action.

I would rather seek the heroic spirit everywhere – old hippies, bikers, rednecks… It is really more about the individual. To say that metal culture – which, indeed, has this certain romantic spirit – is the best or only way to confront our modern reality makes no sense to me. The underlying worldview which must become common to all people, if our race is to survive, is that humans must see themselves as a part of the greater biosphere. The indo-European warrior culture that ANUS sees represented in Metal is only one possible manifestation of a worldview that creates wholeness.

In the past, members of Wolves In The Throne Room have spoken pejoratively of black metal, and especially the exoteric, buy-a-CD-and-join mentality that has characterized the genre since it became popular in the late 1990s. This seems to parallel past cycles in metal’s history, where a few inventors created and then a decadent mass took over. Does this parallel any developments in human history as well? Is this a repeated pattern, an entropy, or is it something that can be changed from within? If there is a metallic rebirth, how will the genre once again escape the horde? Must things die to be reborn?

I am not convinced that those who have created innovation in the metal genre are superior human beings – they are certainly not in the neighborhood of a philosopher-king! Looking at Black Metal, I think we see a rather spoiled group of rich kids hailing from the richest and most spoiled nations on earth fucked up on methamphetamines and alcohol. Their creative nihilism is the contemporary of all of the angry, bitter and alienated music created – rightly – by youths in modern societies. The validity of the art in BM has little to do with “genius”, in that genius, by definition, is something that one is born with. I see the founding Black Metal groups as unknowing conduits for dark, wild otherworldly energies.

Do you think death metal musicians converge on the genre because it sounds like thoughts or worldviews, and if so, does this produce any compatibility between views?

Yes. I think that the intent of the artist is encoded in the music. We are moved by metal because it expresses an ancient, feral, wild, noble spirit. My problem is that what draws many people to metal is the fantasy aspect. Though one might be moved by Burzum on an emotional level, it is quite something else to make drastic changes in ones life because of that experience with the music. What would it mean to be forced to live by the system of virtue and vice that is suggested by Metal music? The hessian worldview is extreme and homogenous, but it exists in a vacuum where there is no risk of having to actually DO anything.

If one believes, as I do, that our current order is crumbling then one ought find companions who will be ready for the times ahead. I have met very few metalheads who are focused on anything beyond the fantasy- world of bands and dark imagery.

Many people have accused black and death metal musicians of being extremist, or of having a disproportionate response to the conditions of life that comes through in their excessive violent, romantic, alienated music. Do you believe these genres are extremist, or is society in extreme denial, or is there another explanation?

I think we would agree that the extreme nature of metal is a natural and warranted response to western, materialistic culture.

My problem with Metal culture is that it is usually a reaction to something, not a image of what might be. There are certainly elements in metal – veneration of a noble, heroic spirit for instance – that transcend the alienation and despair that creates the morbid and violent imagery that metal is known for.

It is a mistake to define ones self wholly as someone reacting angrily to an insane world.

Although the internet is loaded with tards, one appeal of it is that people can use computers and electrons instead of paper and physical objects. If we were to use the internet to maximum efficiency, would it change metal? Would it offset the environmental damage caused by the sheer fact of human growth?

I am not opposed to technology, but I am opposed to the use of computers and the internet in regard to black metal. Obviously I fail in upholding this principle, but I believe it to be an important notion. I think that BM is a place where we should let a more ancient spirit reign.

Stupid people then say “why do you use electric guitars”? Clearly this music is one of contradiction, struggle and striving.

Past Wolves In The Throne Room interviews have drawn a distinction between “city black metal” and a more vital, fundamental form of the genre. Is this a property of black metal, or cities? What is it about cities that makes them have a similar outlook, one that we might say is entirely human, and removed from nature, and is this why many great artists have preferred the country and unoccupied areas?

Firstly, I would say that artists tend to enjoy the company of other artists, and those artists who claim to prefer nature often spend the majority of their time in a more cosmopolitan setting. This is especially true of Black Metal. Taken as a whole, Black Metal is prone to ludicrously extreme contradiction between the radically primitivist vision of the art and the actual lifestyles of the artists. It is this chasm between art and reality in BM that I find so preposterous.

Cities are an interesting thing. I think that cities are a true expression of the luciferian, that aspect of satan which draws humans away from their source – the spiritual center which is the earth – towards a world entirely of our own creation. The laws of nature are suspended in the city and humans become weak and decadent. But it is this weakness and decadence that often spawns great art and culture. In time, these cities are destroyed and natural order is restored. This does not mean that the arrogant thrust of organized human endeavor is not valuable in its way.

Our culture has taken the idea of the city to an extreme and the crash will be all the more spectacular.

Jim Morrison sang and wrote repeatedly of a “frontier,” or a no man’s land where chaos and conflict ruled, but also open spaces were present. Was he speaking existentially, politically, or both, and how does this apply to black metal’s love of nature?

I think that he refers to the otherworld, which is the frontier of human experience that will never be colonized. In this place we are confronted with the fundamentally mysterious nature of life.

One might believe in the metaphysical “reality” of the otherworld, or see it as a metaphor for the human being’s unconscious mind. Physical frontiers – the wild west, the frozen north, deep space – are representation of this “other” plane of existence. I think it is crucial for humans to be able to have experience with these physical frontiers, with wild places. In these places we access that other(inner) world.

Black Metal is about journeying to the frontier. This is not a place where we can live and create our human world. We go there and return. Some people, often with the help of drugs, lose ones humanity by staring into that void for too long. Enveloped in a dark otherworld, the Black Metaler forgets that the human’s role in the universe to live and create.

My meditations with Black Metal are a powerful communion with forces of darkness and mystery, but I always need to turn back because I haven’t lost all hope. But I understand why one might well choose to completely loose ones self in the void.

Black metal (and heavy metal in general) seem 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 find these prevalent in yourself and your influences, or is something else your driving force?

The melancholy yearning that characterizes the romantic outlook is, on an aesthetic level, a strong part of the WITTR vision and aesthetic, but this influence does not mean that we are driven by the same things that inspired those artists two hundred years ago.

We think that our civilization, thus the world, is on the verge of great transformation. None of us know what it will be, or even what it should be. Our greatest influence is the spirit of this age, and the struggle to find a meaningful path.

Burzum’s Filosofem, which seems the largest discernible influence on Wolves In The Throne Room, has been described by many as black metal fusing with the aesthetic of shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine. What do these genres have in common, and now that the fusion has occurred, how has metal’s feral atavistic idealism fused with the more personal, more “city”-like “progressive” attitudes of shoegaze bands?

Black metal can be a guide for dreaming or journeying into the unconscious. The droning, delicately nuanced soundscape created on an album like filosofem is a portal to altered states. I suppose shoegaze has this same quality, though the spiritual or philosophical dimension is quite different. Perhaps what these dissimilar genres share is a striving to touch some transcendent place by using sound and pulsing rhythm. Maybe this facet of the music is the most important thing anyway, trumping the conscious political beliefs of the musicians.

If Black Metal is trance music that opens the door to mystery, Death metal is concerned with creating a highly masculine, crystalline order that says “this is the way it is.” To use an ANAL metaphor, death metal is the orderly, beautiful, sometimes cruel vision of the philosopher-king. Black Metal expresses the dream-time vision of the shaman: mysterious, ever changing, moon-like.

For this reason, I don’t think that the warlike, tribal spirit in BM must be taken as a war cry to forge that world through the masculine process of ordered creation. BM evokes the archetype of the wild, violent war-god but it also hints at the humor of the trickster and, at its deepest level, the oceanic wholeness of the goddess.

WITTR have absolutely tempered the uncompromising feral spirit of “true” black metal. Our band attempts to express a spirit of unity and wholeness rather than the insane violence of orthodox BM. Sometimes, as individuals, we play music that channels total blackness, but not in the context of WITTR. This band has a specific vision and purpose.

Either the non-symbolizing health that once obtained, in all its dimensions, or, madness and death. Culture has led us to betray our own aboriginal spirit and wholeness, into an everworsening realm of synthetic, isolating, impoverished estrangement. Which is not to say that there are no more everyday pleasures, without which we would lose our humanness. But as our plight deepens, we glimpse how much must be erased for our redemption.

– John Zerzan, Running on Emptiness: The Failure of Symbolic Thought

If humankind emerged from nature, and natural selection, are the processes of our minds “natural”? What is the difference between human thinking and the way nature is organized?

As I age, I become less convinced that humanity is the product of a strictly mechanistic evolutionary process. I wonder more and more if humankind does not have some “special” component that has brought us to this precarious place in history. Every mythic system draws a distinction between man and animal. I am not willing to so quickly discount this intuitive truth.

In other Wolves In The Throne Room interviews, mention has been made of the notion that black metal hates civilization. Is it possible that black metal hates not civilization, but an attitude of certain stages in civilization (as described by Plato in The Republic) or possibly, a parasitic design or organization to certain civilizations? If so, how does this correlate to black metal’s hatred of Christianity and humanism/liberalism/egalitarianism?

To answer this question one must decide whether Black Metal is best seen as a political doctrine or an expression of the intrinsically mysterious and unknowable. I go with the latter.

I contend that Black Metal, at its moments of greatest insight, hates -or, at least, rejects, all civilization including those civilizations who we might consider to be noble and heroic. I don’t care for Pagan metal or Viking metal or whatever. I listen to black metal because of the dark otherworldly energy it accesses. It should be the music of the outcast, the shaman who has journeyed too deep; not the aristocrat, farmer or tradesman, who has compromised his wild spirit in order to exist in the good society.

It is true that Black Metal (along with martial-industrial and neo-folk) often expresses the spirit of a certain vision of civilization. We might call it pagan nationalism or heroic socialism or whatever. For me, though, these political visions have little to do with any reality I am interested in helping to manifest. I loath racist and chauvinistic right wing movements.

Much of the Wolves In the Throne Room philosophy, like that of Rudolf Steiner, focuses on a primal integralism between thought, nature and a design of civilization that permits human “freedom,” but this definition seems different from our modern political one, and applies more to spiritual-existential lack of beholdenness. This seems very similar to Schopenhauerian concepts of idealism, which state that thought and matter/energy share an organizing principle or, as Christopher Alexander calls it, a “pattern language.”

It is interesting that you mention Alexander. I am quite interested in the art of building and Alexander is one of my greatest inspirations. Alexander’s notion of the pattern language is what I mean by a transcendent morality – the successful building or city represents the unity of the universe and man, everything in its place reflecting truth and wholeness.

If intelligence determines what thoughts we can perceive, and those thoughts determine what values we can discover, is there some form of cutoff point before which people cannot perceive the necessity of, say, deep ecology?

There is no clear link between smart people and good ways of living. The worst things in our world have been created by geniuses. The idiots are just along for the ride.

In his book Reverence, Paul Woodruff describes a new way of looking at life that takes into account the multiple forces present at any stage to create the causal present, and posits a contemplative worldview that is religious in outlook but not necessarily tied to a religion; how compatible is this with what you hope to achieve in your music?

I think this sounds right, although I would use a different vocabulary. We are interested in reviving an ancient, shamanic reality that acknowledges the hidden energies and forces in nature, among people and within cultures. We could also say that we desire contact with a spirituality reality that is unmediated by religious/political intermediaries. Maybe this is the same thing as the nihilism ANUS espouses, though the language you use doesn’t really resonate with me.

As modern civilization winds down, many people are like yourselves involved in homesteading, or setting up traditional family and town units in the countryside. Are there any aspects of civilization so far we would want to keep, such as technology or learning, and how would these be integrated into a homesteading viewpoint? will we end up like the end of ray bradbury’s “fahrenheit 451” (which he claims is about television) where each person has memorized a book and passes along that knowledge?
I am no luddite. I have no problem with what some call appropriate technology. I can get behind the bicycle. Computers, and the vast infrastructure they require, I could do without.

If I had my druthers we would organize ourselves around bioregions. Towns and cities would be largely self governing. Ecological laws would replace our current pitiful and corrupt system of governance. We need to stop population growth. I would rather that people stay in the regions they were born in rather than be forced by economic pressures to migrate en mass into squalid slums in the worlds megalopolises. The “Freedom” that we have come to expect in this age of late capitalism would be radically curtailed.

What differentiates this vision from a “right-wing” green utopia is a rejection of brutal authoritarianism and racism. The unifying force in any new society must be a shared reverence for natural systems, not a hastily conceived race-based pagan religion pieced together from dusty relics and half-remembered stories. The intense locality that we see in Ancient culture will develop naturally. Anything else would ring hollow and quickly fall apart.

As has been discussed in previous Wolves In The Throne Room interviews, spirituality — holism, reverence, transcendentalism — and deep ecology go hand-in-hand because to look at the central organization of the world is to see the necessity of nurturing nature. These things are (as Wolves In The Throne Room members have mentioned) also central to black metal; is there an attitude in black metal, or at least in the older bands, of this contemplative looking at the world as whole that transcends human fixations, and speaks a language of nature?

For sure. Black Metal should try to operate on a nonhuman, mythic level. Myth expresses the reality of the non human world and defines man’s relationship to that world thus our relationship to the cosmos and to the divine. This stands in sharp contrast to the “city” music we have discussed earlier which is purely concerned with the petty and the transient affairs of fashion and trend.

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?

I think we have already covered this. I think that we both agree that BM works within a certain spectrum of ideology that is expressed, to one degree or another, by all worthwhile BM groups.

Some have said that death metal and black metal use “narrative” composition, where a series of riffs are motifs that evolve toward a passage between states of mind for the listener. Is this true, and if so, how is it reflected in your songwriting?

Your analysis is quite accurate. We put quite a lot of work into the arrangement of our songs and records. The individual songs are quite long and the songs are conceived as part of the whole album. Drone and repetition are crucial elements in the narrative structure that we make use of. It is good to dwell in passages for a while in order to absorb the feelings conveyed in the music and atmosphere. (sidenote: I checked on the ANUS chat rooms about WITTR and was amused by the discussion. Not only are we communist faggots who should be killed, but our songs are long and boring)

The man of archaic societies tends to live as much as possible in the sacred or in close proximity to consecrated objects. The tendency is perfectly understandable, because, for primitives as for the man of all premodern societies, the sacred is equivalent to a power, and, in the last analysis, to reality. The sacred is saturated with being…Religious man deeply desires to be, to participate in reality, to be saturated with power…The completely profane world, the wholly desacralized cosmos, is a recent discovery in the history of the human spirit…Desacralization pervades the entire experience of the nonreligious man of modern societies and that, in consequence, he finds it increasingly difficult to rediscover the existential dimensions of religious man in the archaic societies.

– Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (1957)

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Interview: Daniel Ekeroth (Insision, writer)

When the dust settles on a scene, and its formative years are over, someone needs to chronicle how the people involved got the mental and physical place where they could create that scene. Daniel Ekeroth, bassist of Swedish death metal band Insision, wrote a mighty tome in Swedish Death Metal, a book that appeals to all of us who were ever floored by the founding works of Unleashed, At the Gates, Carnage/Dismember, Nihilist/Entombed, Merciless or Therion.

You bring up the theme of the organic development of (Swedish) death metal a few times in your book, and at one point contrast it directly with the “top-down” method that you assert birthed second-wave black metal. Can you summarize what you see the strengths and weaknesses of these two “approaches” to be with regard to metal/music?

I’m not sure it has much to do with weaknesses or strengths, it’s just different. As something new grows, you never know what will come next. I guess this is kind of exciting, yet it also means that the next direction might not be your personal taste. But the same goes for the opposite situation, where you start with a formula which then transforms into something you might not expect! Even though second wave black metal started with some “set rules”, or whatever, it kind of changed pretty soon as well. And within a few years some of it was VERY far from what bands like Burzum and Darkthrone was doing in the early 90’s. So I guess everything is constantly in change, and you can never tell what will happen. And if something is to prefer over the other, I think is just a matter of taste.

This dichotomy (top-down/bottom-up) is commonly evoked in political and social theory… Do you think any parallels can be drawn between these different approaches in metal and those at broader scales?

You probably could (you can always do that), but I guess the results would be ad-hoc.

Your book has great detail on the development of Swedish death metal as a closed system, but doesn’t touch a lot on external/social stimuli that may have affected it (outside of the mention of the assassination of Olaf Palme). Is there anything else you’ve considered that may have come into play and that you may not have been able to include in the book?

I think it was a very closed system of a few kids trying to have fun, but the system was scattered around the world (South America, Florida, the UK, Finland, Germany). The conditions in the places all over the world was very different, so I don’t think you should draw to big a conclusion about the climate in Sweden. The main thing in Sweden was probably that we had a good economy, and kids could afford instruments and get rehearsal spaces.

Have you ever read any sociologists’ “outsider” accounts (books) about death and black metal? If so, do you think they are just empty academic exercises or can they offer insight?

I’ve read everything I have found, and it is always fun to read such things. Still, the conclusions is doomed to be guesses. My experience is that metal evolves in very different places, around people with very different backgrounds. Just one example: the Stockholm scene was basically made up by working class kids, whereas the Gothenburg scene was based around kids from the upper middle class.

Your editorial choice to give your personal impression of the bands and music is refreshing, as it helps the reader to understand the subject from a perspective of quality and not necessarily popularity. Were most of your assessments fully honest?

Yes. I think this is the only way to make an interesting read. Still, many opinions are of course colored by the mood I was in when I was listening to the music. Also, I might be suffering from nostalgia in a few instances.

The truth is scandalous. But without it, nothing has any worth. An honest and naive vision of the world is already a masterpiece… As you approach the truth, your solitude will increase.

– Michel Houllebecq, To Stay Alive

Most of the insider commentary gives the impression that this was just a ride for a lot of the participants, that they were swept up in a movement bigger than themselves and simply enjoying it moment-for-moment as it came. Anders Schultz’s statements make this very clear, for one. Was this true for most of those involved, in your view?

It was a very small movement, but it was just great fun to find out a few other guys interested in the same music as you. I guess this is true of just about any underground movement of any kind anywhere. People were very young you know, and most didn’t have any clue at all about the world. Anything you did back then was basically for the hell out of it!

In your experience, is it possible to recapture the mood and creative drive (not the exact feeling) of what occurred in Sweden from 1998-1993 in metal anymore?

Certainly so, but not for old geezers like me. Newer generations will find new ways. But maybe it won’t be metal next time, I couldn’t tell.

You never mention Finnish death metal a single time in your book, though they have always had a vibrant and creative death metal “scene” and sound in their own right. How much musical cross-pollination occured between Sweden and Finland?

I think the scenes operated pretty much independently, nobody I interviewed ever mentioned the Finnish scene very much (and I sure did not know anyone from Finland at the time). The Finnish scene deserves a book on its own, bands like Xysma, Demilich and Demigod sure were fantastic.

Every substance is negatively electric to that which stands above it in the chemical tables, positively to that which stands below it. Water dissolves wood and iron and salt; air dissolves water; electric fire dissolves air, but the intellect dissolves fire, gravity, laws, method, and the subtlest unnamed relations of nature in its resistless menstruum. Intellect lies behind genius, which is intellect constructive. Intellect is the simple power anterior to all action or construction. Gladly would I unfold in calm degrees a natural history of the intellect, but what man has yet been able to mark the steps and boundaries of that transparent essence? The first questions are always to be asked, and the wisest doctor is gravelled by the inquisitiveness of a child. How can we speak of the action of the mind under any divisions, as of its knowledge, of its ethics, of its works, and so forth, since it melts will into perception, knowledge into act? Each becomes the other. Itself alone is.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: First Series

Do you think most people overlook AUTOPSY’s influence on the Swedish death metal sound, or is it overstating things to give them a big role?

They were huge in Sweden at the time, and also the first Death album has that same sludgy feeling that would characterize the original Swedish scene. Dismember would certainly not have sounded the way they do without Autopsy.

What three demo-level bands do you think would have made “history” had they recorded an album? I assume CREMATORY is one…

I would say Mefisto, Morbid and Obscurity. If these bands would have made actual records they would be far more recognized these days. But basically, most of the obscure bands from the 80’s would have been highly regarded had they made an album and gotten some attention.

Besides the emergence of black metal, was there anything else that had a ruinous effect on Swedish death metal’s vibrancy?

Age I would say! You know, people got old and faced problems with apartments, jobs, girlfriends, children and everything else concerning adulthood.

What kind of strange things occured in Sweden at the height of the genre’s popularity along the lines of ENTOMBED being featured on cheesy television programs?

Well, not very much to be honest. The “mainstream” thing has certainly been overstated. Apart from a few interviews and articles in tabloids, and the occasional review in the mainstream press, death metal basically remained underground. Black metal actually got far more attention, and was just everywhere in the mid-90’s.

Is Swedish death metal, and music like it, necessarily a youth-based movement?

Well, not any more is it? I guess today it is a genre for 30-40-year-olds. Still, the best albums have generally been made by youngsters, but this is possibly true about most genres.

Regarding youth, you mentioned multiple times in the book the sentiment that the first demo/album by any band is the best output. The fact that this feeling seems more widespread among people who actually have decent taste is enough to convince me that stereotypes are truth-based memes. Can you name some prominent exceptions to this “rule” (not necessarily limited to Swedish death metal)?

Young bands are usually hungry and use up their best riffs and ideas on their first efforts, but of course there are exceptions. Sweden’s Repugnant went out at their best, and a band like Watain is a million times better today than they were on their debut. Voivod’s third and fourth albums are far superior to their first recordings. And Grotesque’s last recording is by far their best to my ears.

What non-metal influences were most heavily represented in Swedish death metal?

Crust Punk, like Discharge. Especially the Stockholm scene was very rooted in extreme punk.

In what directions may it be possible to extend metal in the future without dismantling the essence of it?

What we need to do is to reclaim the RIFFS! Modern “metal” mainly seems like melodies and harmonies to me, whereas I always thought the riff was the thing that made it metal. Once the riff is back, I guess any direction is open for exploration. Without the riff, I am not sure we can call music metal at all…

Have you seen or read the far more obscure book of similar theme and content that was released after yours (Encyclopedia of Svensk DödsMetall)?

I visited him while he was working on it in Padova, and saw a few segments of it. I also helped him to get in contact with some bands. Still, I have not seen the finished product.

What do you strive to achieve with your own bands? Feel free to promote/summarize your musical history.

I just want to play music that I like, and make me feel good about myself. I played in many punk/progressive bands in the 80’s before I got serious with Diskonto (crust punk) and Dellamorte (death crust) around 1994. Then I joind Insision (death) in 1999, and Tyrant (black) in 2007. Today I am only a part of Tyrant, since I can’t find time for anything else. We actually sound very much like my first band, who only did Sodom and Bathory covers, so I guess my circle is closed!

Delve into the subjects that no one wants to hear about. The other side of the scenery. Insist upon sickness, agony, ugliness. Speak of death, and of oblivion. Of jealousy, of indifference, of frustration, of the absence of love. Be abject, and you will be true.

– Michel Houllebecq, To Stay Alive

Swedish death metal, in part through its sustain-heavy “fat sound” (you did a great video explaining this that showed up recently), emphasized the melodic aspects of death metal, giving a canvas for bands like Dismember and At the Gates to make melodic metal music that wasn’t “melodic” in the sense of heavy metal but interpreted it in a uniquely “death metal” style. Did this influence black metal to develop later in a more melodic direction?

I guess Dissection in particular influenced much of that melodic black metal (and death metal!) – what they did was so great. But also, I guess some of that mid-90’s black metal is so based in harmonies and melodies since the band members didn’t come from metal. They didn’t know about the riff! I am really glad for a band like Nifelheim for bringing back the riff, and that whole 80’s heavy metal touch, back into black metal.

Tusen tack för intervjun! Var snäll och påstå några sluta ord här.

Ok, thank you for your attention! I wish you all the best with all your future work!

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Stressful Music Prevents Clogged Arteries

Listening to a cheerful favourite tune has a beneficial effect on blood vessels, widening them and protecting them against heart disease, researchers found.

Stressful or disturbing music, on the other hand, narrows the arteries and may be bad for the heart.

Most participants in the American study found John Denver-style country music the most uplifting, while “heavy metal” rock made them anxious.

Joyful music was thought to trigger the release of endorphins, brain chemicals linked to emotion that are known to induce feelings of well-being.

The Telegraph

We don’t know what “heavy metal rock music” this study used, but my guess is they picked something loud and pointless like Slipknot.

On the other hand, music that shows power and beauty in darkness, like death metal and black metal, is both dark and uplifting.

It keeps the arteries from clogging by both widening and contracting them, if the study above is to be believed.

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When To Stop Listening

If the motive is to pander, not find adventure, the music will be worthless

If you’re faced with a problem, you fix it through the scientific method. You come up with a number of possible solutions, test them against reality, pick the ones that succeed — looping through a few times to refine them so they’re accurate — and use those. You throw away the ones that did not work.

Our universe is mathematically stable because it has something (reality) to test solutions against, and because it allows the discarding of bad solutions. This avoids a state of entropy, or a condition where every solution possible has about the same effectiveness. Entropy afflicts everything we do through a type of organizational decay, but when it becomes the state of a situation, all motion and change ceases. Heat death, or the lack of motion to energy and hence its dissipation, occurs.

This information logic to our world underlies natural selection just as much as it describes how our brains work. Imagine multiple ideas; pick the ones that converge; throw out the rest. In the case of heavy metal music, we strengthen the genre when we as fans pick only the best bands and albums. We weaken it when we tolerate mediocre metal, because then being mediocre is just about as important as being good, so people stop trying to be good — heat death.

While heat death is comforting because it enables us to avoid challenging ourselves, and to feel like we’re heroes and geniuses for recording any metal music, it means that we no longer have great metal music — the kind that makes you sit up, pay attention, and rediscover life through a worship of power, saying a kind of cosmic yes (in the James Joyce sense) to accepting life as constant conflict for a few rare, beautiful possible outcomes.

For those who still have red blood coursing through their veins and so aren’t so afraid of failure that they’re unwilling to try, it’s imperative to pick good metal music. This means not making the categorical mistake of buying an album just because the band that made it was good once, or because that band is trendy, has some novel implementation like flutes and tubas, or because you know the people in the band and you want to make them happy. It’s important to know when to stop listening and throw out the bad ideas.

What makes music bad?

Bad music is all the same. Most bands record music that is competent but fails to articulate anything that makes us sit up and take notice, because they’re either repeating the past or suggesting something unrealistic, which means we cannot feel that sense of the music being vital to our lives because we have to live in reality. At least 99% of music falls into this category, but perhaps more, because out of tens of thousands of metal bands, only a few hundred stand the test of time.

In that mindset, we can see that what makes “bad metal” is not that it’s unmusical, or stupid, except in a few cases. In most cases, it is simply unremarkable because it hasn’t challenged itself to find meaning in life and sing about it. This is why almost all reviews of albums that are destined to fail go like this:

This CD recombines past methods that worked, without knowledge of the reasons why they worked. Quirky as a result, it is a unique collage of instruments and techniques. Yet it is without direction because it imitates the effects of the past without knowing the causes, like someone looking into the genre from outside. Therefore, it’s not bad, but not great, and so we’ll forget it soon because time is valuable and this CD is not going to make us feel a sense of connection to life through power.

In other words, the CD is bringing us to a state of entropy. It isn’t bad, it isn’t good, which means by default that it’s not good. You will see this review format on many metal sites. It usually looks like this:

I don’t normally like ultra-brutal death metal, but this CD combines ultra-brutal death metal with hardcore vocals and black metal riffs. I have never before heard a flute used to make brutal riffs come slamming home. Guitar solos are like fire in the veins of a poisoned dragon. Although it’s really brutal, parts of this CD are riff salad where they get confused about whether they are black metal or death metal. But the end result isn’t bad, even if it won’t make my top ten for this year. If you really like brutal death metal with flutes, get this CD.

That’s a review done by a fan, a zine, or another band. What does it look like when we combine the art of making people think they should buy something — marketing — with this review type?

Brutal death metal fans have waited too long for a real masterpiece, but [ name redacted ] is going to change all that. With pummeling brutal riffs, you might think this band were closed-minded, but they have a full-time flute player who brings a progressive, liberal touch to the old and musty genre of brutal death metal. This groundbreaking act goes where no metal band has gone before! Don’t expect mercy from these powerful slamming riffs. This CD is brutal and it’ll tear your fuckin head off!

In the above, you will see something all smart marketers do. They find an audience for something, and then try to convince them that a product is better than others. If you can’t sell it on “better,” you sell it on novelty. It’s unique. It does something others don’t do. What you really want to do is avoid mentioning whether or not this is important. For example, who cares if a band uses a flute if their music is just as boring as if they did not?

What is pandering?

Most people will recognize, after hearing enough music, that while good music is made to be bought, it isn’t designed so that it will make the most money by offering the least challenging listen. If you’re not listening to radio pop, it’s because you got tired of melodic hooks and three-minute songs using verse-chorus structures. The riffs in such songs may be good, but since they achieve a state and cycle in it, but don’t really change, it’s hard to call them art — or claim they’ll inspire our lives. They’re like pretty wallpaper or television shows: background noise to make life pleasant, not give it meaning.

What separates good music from bad music is what separates scientific information from marketing: marketing is designed to appeal to a need that’s already there, and exploit it as a way of making money. Where good music/art is designed to make life more meaningful by showing us a new vision of it, marketing is designed to affirm our current vision of life so we can fit a product into it. Marketing panders. Art doesn’t.

Pandering – We use the panda image to suggest that music panders, and so has not only suspect motivations but minimal joy in listening. You may think this is sorta neat for a couple weeks, but then you’ll forget it. In the meantime, the band and others like them will start making more of this crap, so that instead of getting albums you can listen to for years, you’ll get lots of new albums you have to buy that won’t really satisfy you.

Selling Out – When a band goes from having made quality music to a state of extreme pandering, we realize that a psychological change has occurred in the artists. Instead of trying to make good music so that they can make money, they bypass the middle step and make music that makes money not because it’s good, but because it panders. We use the tombstone image to suggest that this band has left the reservation and headed for pop territory, so we’re not going to bother reviewing any of their other stuff until this changes.

Why so judgmental? — you are trained to ask. Why not just write about the music as it is? The answer is that mediocre music far outnumbers good music, and we are interested in preserving the good, and so instead of leaving you wondering about why we stopped reviewing a band, we’re just going to point out that they have changed motivation and results. It’s no different from reviewing every metal album ever made, and writing the generic review above 99% of the time and not telling you that there’s something all bad albums have in common.

You’re also trained to ask: Who made you the judge? Who are you to decide? — these questions are illogical. In a relative universe, we all decide, and our value is decided by the decisions we make, although it takes someone who has a clue to see that. Who made you the judge to decide we’re not the judge? Who are you to decide who is to decide? These questions make light of how ridiculous those common questions are.

If you want to know why a band’s CD or performance is referred to this page, it is because the above is the best that can be said about it, and we do not wish to be ironic or condescending to you, our reader. We are here to praise the art in the genre and its best incarnations, and we treat you and the artists with greater respect by having such reverence for the art.

What Makes Good Metal?

Metal is Romantic art, much as the novel Frankenstein or the opera Parsifal are: discovery of transcendent meaning in life by embracing its struggle and suffering as means to a higher end, an idea beyond material satisfaction or fear. To those who see the greatness of this idea, it is a worldview and a life-philosophy, and metal is one of its voices.

When we say metal expresses this idea, we are speaking only secondarily of imagery and lyrics (which mainstream academics prefer to study because they’re easy). We speak of the music and the spirit it evokes. Much like songs can convey sadness, fear, anger or hope, like the leitmotifs of Wagner different impulses are encoded in metal music that together suggest a Romantic worldview.

As art, heavy metal music is unique among popular genres for this viewpoint. What makes sonic art “metal” is its expression of this spirit more than any dogma or musical conceits; after all, other bands have appropriated metal riffs for years but without grasping this idea, much like innumerable Hollywood soundtracks have borrowed from Wagner without capturing his ideal.

When a metal band ceases to make Romantic art and becomes another voice for the easy, non-transcendent answers of life — material comfort, self-satiation, revengeful morality or simply self-obsession — it is no longer metal, but an imitation of metal, much like advertising jingles often “sound like” a genre without having its artistry or ideas.

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Sadistic CD Reviews, 10-30-08

Fester – Winter of Sin: As you venture through the underground, Sadhu, you will find that many of those described by others as the Ancients are in fact the regurgitated accumulation of techniques, ideas, and poses outworn long ago, and used by those who have not prospered to justify their position as Those Who Swallow What Society Spurts. Fester is one such offering. It’s a pungent mezcla of hard rock, heavy metal, proto-death metal and punk riffs, without direction or real organization. As a result it’s like stepping into a sauna: suddenly you’re warm, and at some point it ends, and you can’t really identify any particular points in the time you sat there, alone in the dark, probably bored and sweaty. Except for the sweaty part, unless you’re excited by tedium, this is that experience. Yet the black metal kiddees talk about how goddamn cult it is. Cult like Eddie Cochran but not as good by a million billion miles.

Lugubrum – Winterstones: During the halcyon years — in relative metal quality — of the mid-1990s, I picked up this CD and heard it and thought, “Aha, a Burzum clone.” At that point I wasn’t desperate for something to fill the void of quality metal. Now desperate, I groped for it again. What do I find? Mix Burzum technique with the simple-hearted and obvious songwriting of the average indie rock band. All of the familiar “Burzumy riffs” are there, from the trudge to the plod to the prismatic cycle, but they end in slight variations of the known pattern and then drop into song structures of minimal variation from a standard Motorhead or later black metal song. You will want to like this because you want Burzum. It will not deliver.

Steve von Till – A Grave is A Grim Horse: When you’ve reached the top of the innovation curve as a punk musician, your tendency is inevitably to ask: what’s more alienated, more extreme, and gives us a better explanation of where we are in history and how we got here? The inherent politics of punk is rejection of society; the emergent next step is going back to roots and making a folk album. Fusing the aggro-folk rock hybrid of Tom Waits or Roky Erickson with an almost Danzig-style verve, Steve von Till brings us an acoustic, gentle and dark album that is like the stories of a grandfather at the hearth. They aren’t all good stories, but in persistence through darkness, there’s a sexiness to morbidity and a delight in the struggle. The real superstar here is von Till’s voice, which like a Johnny Cash hummed mutter carries the dust and weight of trails both imagined and real. If you’ve got to go cowboy after your society smashing days in Neurosis, this is a good option, and my hope is that the folk-punk-country-necro indie volks don’t deny it.

Emancer – Twilight and Randomness: A lot like France’s S.U.P. except that Emancer choose the Pantera-style choppy riff arrangements amongst which they scatter odd phrase conclusions, dissonant chords and progressive metal melodic lead rhythm riffing. Influences from alternative metal, metalcore, progressive rock and indie abound, which makes this a stew more than a distinguishable, deliberate meal. Some good ideas get lost in the muddle, because these songs are so self-referential they forget about reality and the listener.

Strid – Strid: Some bloviation commends this band as inventor of the “depressive black metal” sub-sub-genre, but that’s where genre names get ridiculous. Instead, it’s appropriate to say that this band very carefully apes early Ancient while using the Paradise Lost technique of layering a melody on top of repetitive music, augmented with Burzum technique of strobing strum. Like so many other bands that followed the first wave, it has that melange tendency which suggests an imitation of end result and not the ideas that can launch a parallel result that’s as good. Some will compare to Ras Algethi or Gehenna, but where those had a spirit motivating their semi-random choices that turned out to work together, this lacks randomness and the same spark, so is lukewarm in reception and effect. Note the rip of Graveland’s “Gates the Kingdom of Darkness” on the third track. This CD is a compilation of demos in the above style, with the first being closest to Ancient, the second closest to early Bathory, and the third like a three-note version of Gorgoroth.

Grey Daturas – Return to Disruption: Did we ever leave disruption behind? Powerviolence mates with emo while smoking crack; the fetus is occasionally much more brilliant than either, but without a direction in life, relapses into playing Wii on the couch with Papa John’s on fast dial. Noise interludes mar driving emo-chorded passages, and long silences let us know when we’re supposed to be assimilating, but it’s unclear what the message is. Disruption? You want disruption? My advice to you is to make like an L.A. gangbanger during the riots and set fifteen fires across the city, then take potshots at cops, emergency personnel and news reporters. The chaos will far surpass this, which sounds a lot like guitar practice and not much like anything with shape. They’re trying for Pelican-style drone and they succeed at it, but transitions into that drone and between different riffs are tortured, and the howling wheezing creeling background noise doesn’t do much to change that. There is promise here, but only if they pony up and start writing real songs.

Black Altar – Death Fanaticism: This is the album Metallica wish they wrote instead of Death Magnetic: it’s bounding, bombastic, cheesy and hides its heavy elements well behind a whole Return To What’s True aesthetic. Even more, there is no continuity between riff changes, so it’s like a bundle of abrupt leaps to nowhere. Vocals fit the exact rhythm of guitar chords, which makes it sounds like kids music. Halfway through the third track — a pile of cliches, dated death metal riffs, and Cradle of Filthisms played more aggressively so not to reveal their deeply lisping side — Windows Explorer crashed, and for a few minutes I thought I would be unable to get this off my speakers. Suicide was considered. Not bad, not good.

Satanic Warmaster – Black Metal Kommando / Gas Chamber: This compilation does nothing to disguise the surly disgust the underground feels for Satanic Warmaster, otherwise known as “the Nargaroth of Finland.” Like other black metal vultures, they feature all the external aspects of controversy without the amazing music that made people other than the desperate metalheads notice: chiaroscuro Neo-Nazi overtones, adherence to trueness, novelty, catchy hooky songs that go nowhere, lots of talk about keeping it real, yo. When you boil it down, just about anyone can make a thrashing riff from a known archetype and then drop to kick-beat, shrilly screaming until the collapse, without having songs that go anywhere. In their favor, these are pleasant Motorhead-y songs that bounce along well if you don’t want any conclusion to ambiguous elements raised. If this band could heed any advice, it would be to ditch the black metal stylings and the pretense by implication, and just make Motorhead style rock-metal. They’re due to retire soon anyway, so we’ll need a successor, and that seems more the headspace in which this band composes.

Guapo – Elixirs: This is what could legitimately be called dub jazz, being light jazz played in layers with the intention of creating a drone or ambient effect. Keyboards and clean guitars interplay with percussion reminiscent of the third Atheist album, combining found sounds and unusual implementations of familiar ones in a style like that of Vas Deferens or other collage atmosphere projects. The second track quotes from a Fripp/Eno piece and despite bad hippie vocals later on the disc, it maintains a heritage of prog and jazz that provides interesting playing that seeks to find a mood, immerse in it, and then depart unnoticed. Sometimes I hear overtones of Thule in this. Like anything venturing in this style, it provides excellent music but not exciting music because it cannot take a direction; it’s like the Rothko chapel in that it intends to suspend you in a place like the space between dream and reality, but goes nowhere from that state.

Old Wainds – Death Nord Kult: You can tell the corpse of black metal is warming in the sun, eructating and oozing adipocere, when something like this counts as a major release among those who seem to know their stuff. It’s half speed-metal/death metal mixed in with droning black metal in the Eurasian style, with over-the-top vocals ranting counter-rhythms in a style like early Impaled Nazarene. Chord progressions are obvious, song structures undeveloped, and the rest is a riff salad of the past 25 years of metal with an emphasis on crowd pleasers. They love to try to keep that Mayhem feel alive but end up sounding more like Niden Div 187 merged with Drudkh and Nifelheim.

Testament – The Formation of Damnation: A 1980s speed metal band keeps updating itself, and ends up with a cumulative style not unlike what is in vogue among current metalcore-influenced bands: riding rhythms and harmonizing pre-choruses like a faster Iron Maiden, big heavy metal choruses with broad slow chords, the melodic leads of metalcore, and solos that imitate Kirk Hammet during his most excessive noodling on pentatonic leads. Vio-lence style hardcore influenced volley choruses and churning, chanting death metal verses add some power but don’t give it direction. You could almost sleep to it except for the constant pounding and “quirky” changes that sound like a messenger ran into the studio with a note saying, “Add that thing Deeds of Flesh do when they get bored, except slower” or “Maybe you really need to rehash that Overkill riff from The Years of Decay here.” Vocalist sounds like he worships recent Metallica.

Abdicate – Relinquish the Throne: Cut from the Cannibal Corpse mold, this CD of old-school inspired death metal sounds like a hybrid between the heavy muffled chording with blasts of Blood and the racing power chord streams of later Malevolent Creation, rendering a demonic-sounding and fast-attacking music that stands head and shoulders above others. Like all good death metal, its specialty is dynamism, or radical change between phrase form, tempo, texture, you name it, that later makes sense when the piece is considered as a whole. Songwriting here is simpler than classic death metal and less tonally-conventional but more interesting than Cannibal Corpse. As this band gets more confident, they may weave more complexity into their songs and it should end up making this a very compelling listen. For those who do not like the alternatingly bouncy and cadenced old school death metal sound, this may give you a headache, but from among the recent variations of the genre this is a good choice.

Xantotol – Liber Diabolus: Despite the alleged dates in the title, I find myself keeping this one at arm’s length. It is like a hybrid of Varathron and Ungod, in that it has the luciphagous rhythms of Varathron and the same steady progression of songs into descent, and the awkward riffing of Ungod that has two endings and then an ungainly turnaround. However, what it does not have is compositional form: songs are about the same general idea because they are composed outward from the aesthetic, and never generated a poetry (narrative) which met that aesthetic halfway toward full conception. I keep listening but so far am not knocked out of my chair by anything but distraction.

Enslaved – Vertebrae: The former gods of Nordic folk black metal have reincarnated in their new form as a rock band. Was there a word missing in that sentence? Oh, you expected me to say “progressive,” but there’s nothing progressive about this. Song structures are very straightforward. Riffs use more than power chords, but are based around writing melodic hooks and repeated them with a few breaks for ambience. There are jam parts… really… and over what chord progressions? Fairly easy ones. Songs loop and go nowhere. This isn’t progressive rock, it’s a flavor that “sounds like” progressive rock but really is the same old ear-easy singalong stuff. Barf.

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Watain, Withered, Ritual Killer and Sarcolytic in Austin, Texas

Watain, Withered, Ritual Killer and Sarcolytic
October 25, 2008
Red 7
611 E. 7th Street
Austin, Texas 78701

Austin has come by its current status as Texas’ metal capital somewhat disingenuously; San Antonio, once a world-famous metal mecca, has continued to fail the genre with a dearth of viable venues or solid attendance. The irony is that most notable Austin shows have an audience with San Antonians comprising nearly one-half, along with a considerable supplement of Houston visitors. Nevertheless, Austin has the advantage with an endless supply of mediocre but metal-receptive venues combined with its centralized location, so legitimate or not it is now the city for Texas hessians to go for shows. Red 7 itself is at least spacious with a semi-decent PA, though its current lack of air conditioning made the room sticky and uncomfortable. Vex was the first act but this reviewer chose to stand out on the street due to the aforementioned conditions, but also because the band itself is so stylistically confused they are virtually unlistenable. Local death metal stalwarts Sacrolytic came next and delivered a solid set that was sadly compromised by its muddy sound. The band presents as a convincing Suffocation variant complete with BC Rich guitars and a storm of hair from the front line, but their live shows would definitely benefit from a personal sound engineer.

Ritual Killer

Ritual Killer is a side project of Goatwhore axeman Sammy Duet, though few people are aware of this so the band was obligated to stand on its own merits. They attacked a set of songs that were one part Hellhammer and two parts Blasphemy, and while the band delivered a competent show (the dreadlocked and visibly disturbed vocalist added an enigmatic touch to the proceedings) the songs quickly ran together and monotony set in. However, they seemed aware of the limited range of their material and the thirty minute set prevented them from overstaying their welcome. They were not bad by any means, but also not nuanced enough to make any lasting impact. If the band ever moves out of side project status they may end up with more to offer. Once again this reviewer stepped outside to breathe dry air and to avoid Book of Black Earth, a band who describes themselves as “death grunge” and may quickly realize that this label reads to most people as, “ignore us, we’re not credible”. This is precisely what happened; there was no reason for this band to be on the tour.

Withered

Withered came next and drew most everyone back into the room in the process. They play a brand of driving Swedish-style death metal that invokes early Amon Amarth but with an injected dissonance and feedback manipulation that recalls “Souls at Zero”-era Neurosis. This hybridization is more effective than it may sound, as Withered succeeded in creating atmosphere with a well-rehearsed application of various effects pedals and thoughtful interchanges between guitar, bass, and drums. Vocals were standard variations of screams and growls, but the vocalists proved to be savvy in knowing when to back off and let the music speak for itself. Even more impressive was the performance of the unit’s powerhouse drummer who displayed flair and blinding velocity on a very minimal kit; his triplet blast-beats with no sign of cheating or fatigue garnered many cheers throughout the set. The band as a whole executed their songs in a manner that reflected intelligence, conviction, and an almost idealistic brightness rarely seen in the metal underground circa 2007, and for that they should be commended.

Watain

Watain was preceded by the orange funk of carrion that was hung on iron poles around the stage like some kind of perverse holiday display. A synth-orchestrated introduction brought them to an enthusiastic crowd, and then the band voraciously tore into their set. The sound was a bit anemic and the band’s musical dynamic was stripped down due to their regular second guitarist being barred from entering the US, but it was a solid execution of material predominantly from “Sworn to the Dark” with tracks from “Casus Luciferi” and a single number from “Rabid Death’s Curse” to mollify the purists. Vocalist and de facto bassist E. Watain was appropriately the center of attention with his deranged and snake-eyed countenance that is just as charismatic as it is confrontational. He is not a large man so it is always impressive to hear a such gigantic voice rising out of him. He also seemed to be speaking in tongues or perhaps reciting incantations while not on the microphone, and it helped further the sense of madness on the stage. Watain’s latest album has been derided by some as too polished and too accessible, and while these charges aren’t wholly unfair it should be noted that the band has refused to give way to brevity in their compositions; most of the songs clock in at around six minutes and as such they are allowed to build and breathe to greater effect. One of the highlights was their rendition of “I Am the Earth”, which best summarizes Watain as a whole. Grandeur, violence, and passion are all equally present in this song, and the only thing that comes close to touching it is the current album’s “Stellarvore”, which also made its massive presence known this night. Ultimately, the Swedish quartet succeeded in their mission by living up to their infamous reputation along with creating many new converts to their cause. Music aside, they deliver some of the most dangerous showmanship since an odd young man named Per Ohlin took up with a death metal band from Oslo.

– Written by David Anzalone

Bands:
Watain
Withered
Ritual Killer
Sarcolytic

Promoters:
Red 7

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