Blogging over at Examiner.com, which I use to introduce metal to the “new media” through a popular site that wouldn’t normally care about metal at all, I review the literature about hipster metal and get us a working definition of hipsters and hipster metal:
A hipster is someone entirely dominated by society. Trends, how they look to other people, what they’re eating and how they’re entertaining themselves — these are what a hipster thinks about. They are the ultimate surface people, never seeking a greater meaning in life but only the appearance of it. They are also the ultimate consumers, because they’re always chasing the latest trend (and buying lots of stuff to that end) hoping that it will keep them “hip,” or current, young, savvy and exciting.
Hipster metal is just as shallow. Hipster metal is metal that has been assimilated by the mainstream. Hipsters like trendy new surfaces on the same old stuff. So they make metal-flavored indie rock, and in doing so, hope to make mainstream indie rock assimilate or swallow up metal. That also makes it easier for them because that way, they don’t need to feel bad about us being different. They want us to join the Crowd, to be just like them. – “Hipster Metal,” Examiner.com, July 12, 2010
A hipster is just a trendy version of the average modern citizen. These people are disconnected from any sense of hierarchy or values except an ethic of convenience toward personal comfort. When one of these boring ordinary soulless drones feels that he or she is completely forgotten by the world, they dress themselves up funny, talk funny, and start being “artistic” to show us they’re more important than us. That’s the hipster in a nutshell: a status climber by pretense, especially that what’s “new” is more important than what’s realistic, correct or sane.
In the article “Hipsters:The Dead End of Western Civilization”, adbusters describes the hipster: an ordinary person, a little nerdy, who decides to become a Big Deal drama llama egomaniac and so becomes even less useful than you average modern person and starts pretending to be the undiscovered artistic genius of the millennium.
These people are death for real art. They hate the real; they like the shallow that appears to be deep, and appears to be new, because their goal is to use that art to make other people feel small. When others feel small, and un-hip, the hipster triumphs through self-importance. All of the rest of you who work jobs and take care of your families are idiots, the hipster says. I’m the real deal.
And of course they’re not, and in metal, their hipster moron bands (The Sword, Boris, Mastodon, Isis) are insipid crap you’re supposed to swallow or be considered ignorant. Of course, that’s laughable. They’re trying to take the one thing that took a different path — metal — and convert it to the norm, and they accuse us of being normative if we don’t go along with the great crusade to be average in an ironic shirt with “unique” tattoos.
In addition, we bring you the uncanny association between Republicans, death metal, and knowitall lesbian news anchors who got promoted for the novelty of hey-did-you-know-she’s-a-lesbian-and-my-grandmother-thinks-it’s-shocking:
At least that’s what some dude at Anus.com (American Nihilist Underground Society, oh ok) would have you believe when he rips into several other well-respected metal bands that we like because, ya know, we like their music: Opeth, Cynic, Baroness, In Flames, Cannibal Corpse and many others.
His arguments against every band basically follow this format:
Band X is stupid because all they did was combine what Band Y and Band Z already did. Their first self-released EP was pretty cool, but after that they sold out. People listen to Band X to appeal to a certain lifestyle, not because they actually like the music, and they’re duped into doing so by superficial musical tricks. Only non-thinking automatons follow this band!
This article smacks of the self-important elitist attitude perpetuated by all-knowing “my taste is scientifically provable as ‘good’ music” message board trolls like Ziltoid. – MetalSucks.net
Well, it’s nice to have someone understand us. There’s two basic takes on life, music and everything: either there’s one reality and so there’s some standard of behavior, or everything is arbitrary and hey whatever you want is cool, man.
We’re from the “objective reality exists” camp, which Vince Neilstein alludes to with “my taste is scientifically provable as ‘good’ music.” Some music is just dumb; if you respect yourself, you owe something better to yourself. Your time is valuable.
It’s not a matter of intellekshual cogitation, either. Music is experienced at the level of the nerves, and plays directly with our emotions. But like anything in our world, we can analyze it and realize that if it’s vapid, we’re conditioning our brains to be stupider.
But here’s our basic review format for bands we don’t like, since Vince’s take was a little bit off:
Band X offers nothing unique stylistically or in content. In fact, it’s a derivation of known successes, but dumbed down so that more people will think they like it, not knowing better. Like good advertising, or the sermons of televangelist, it preaches to your weakness and not your strength. Feeling bad about yourself, you’ll comfort yourself with this insipid music, which appeals to a certain demographic which has weakness Y. If you listen to this, you’re going to make your life more miserable under the guise of enjoying it.
Let’s look at that for the favorite target around here, which is ARE YOU TALKIN TO ME? — sorry, I meant “Pantera”:
Pantera rips off the aesthetic style of Exhorder, Exodus, and Prong, and mixes it into the same Metallica-derivative crap they put out with Cowboys From Hell. That in itself would be bad, except this is music that dumbs down life into a few emotions: self-pity, righteous anger, and a desire to get loaded. Like a commercial for watery beer, it’s there to convince you that if your life sucks, a few cold ones and some tits swingin’ by in the breeze will make everything alright. Never mind that when you sober up, your life still sucks. But this album is basically Lady Gaga with guitars. It’s catchy, songs go nowhere, and it leaves you right where you started. People like it because it appeals to the psychology that says “Life has done me wrong and I want to be angry about it, but not really fix it.” As a result, this band mainly appeals to AOR fans with frustrating lives who want to claim they let loose on the weekends.
It’s not as far-fetched as Vince might think that what music we like is determined by our needs. If you respect yourself, and take yourself seriously, you’re going to want the most high-intensity stuff you can find. If you hate yourself, you’re going to want music that panders to you like a prostitute, tells you it’s not your fault, and lets you vent some very simple emotions before returning you to work the next day.
We intellectualize music here because we’re geeks — we love to read, program computers, climb mountains, build stuff, shoot guns and talk about philosophy. That’s our medium for understanding music and everything else. But we like any music that’s good, meaning it has a presence and something to communicate; we don’t like music that panders to our weaknesses under the guise of empowering us.
I do agree with this guy’s assessment of Sunn O))), however, so there’s that.
Good man. We think Sunn O))) is hollow plastic trash disguised as profundity so that people can get elitist and tell their friends, “You’re still listening to that low-brow death metal shit? Well I’ve moved up in the world into avant-garde, like this band that uses orchestras and mathematical theories and shit to be all cool. You’re still down there, but I’m up here. I’m fucking profound!”
And this is from people who like Stephen O’Malley and his other projects.
In the meantime, his arch nemesis (or animus?) Ziltoid says this:
As to the ANUS article (ha…”anus”), frankly, it’s not as wrong as you may think. The criticisms of In Flames (especially In Flames…), CoF, Cannibal Corpse, and Necrophagist are spot on and not worded nearly as badly as you make them out to sound. – Ziltoid
At this site, you’ll find lots of praise for At the Gates and Demilich, but also bands that the experts are gonna poo-poo for their simplicity and violence, like Ildjarn, Cianide, Master and Profanatica. We’re not elitists by format or instrumentation, but by the quality of the end product.
And if you’re reading this, I can guarantee that you already believe there’s an objective standard to music. Everyone hates something, whether it’s rap or noise or pop, and will base that opinion in some reason, such as “it’s not music” or “nothing happens.” If you disagreed, you’d be as happy listening to blower noise as the most fantastic metal band ever. Something to think about ;)
Experience dictates that the modern black metal listener is in essence a “hipster”; a self referential, individualist, egocentric and more or less self-pitying individual. Moreover, experience also dictates that the modern and profane black metal musician has more in common with the lowly pop artist than with the principles and individuals that helped to create the original Norwegian black metal movement.
There was once a moment in time when black metal, like all great artistic movements strove to express something eternal, whether that was the paradoxical juxtaposition of beauty and death, the joy in battle and the growth that ensues due to struggle, or the essentially inexpressible infinite cosmos.
One of the more salient features of the nascent black metal scenes was the romantic obsession those involved had with the past. Black metal’s obsession with bygone ages pointed to a nascent, articulated, although perhaps not fully defined, desire to rediscover traditional knowledge, including the mythology, and the social and traditional norms that defined their venerable, Indo-European culture, namely Norse. As these individuals invaded the undergrowth of wisdom distilled in the remaining works of bygone ages, listeners, onlookers and now later historians were and are provided with a glimpse into the workings of a movement that pre-eminently strove to rediscover lost wisdom and to participate and explore the multifaceted plains of reality, and its highest level therein, namely the Supreme Principle.
This desire to participate in the highest level of reality can be used to shed light on the enigmatic drive to self-imposed anonymity, such that these original European Mystics indeed strove towards. As we traverse the iconography and interviews, or lack thereof, of the original black metal scene we are forced to recognize the tools by which these individuals imposed anonymity among themselves; one recalls the corpse paint, used primarily although not exclusively to obscure their physical attributes. Indeed, we recall, the use of pseudonym to obscure, nay to eschew their name and ego. Recall lastly, the ambiguous relationship these individuals had with media, in itself the pre-emptive tool for modern ego worship, as either non-existent or outright hostile. Regardless of later sensational developments in the scene, the originators reveled in a mystique of anonymity that pointed not to a new marketing gimmick but rather to the participation in a higher principle or reality, from which peek their ego and its gratification seemed comic.
Awaiting the sign of the horns
A thousand black clouds storms
Blasphemous Northern rites
– Immortal, Unholy Forces of Evil
The Main purveyors of the early black metal scene, and especially the Scandinavian Mystic Varg Vikernes seemed to be in fact consciously aware of this higher reality, from whence all proceeds. Commenting on the “illusory” nature of material reality, and its reliance upon a higher principle for its substantial and formal manifestation, the lyrics of “Lost Wisdom” proclaim:
While we may believe, our World, our reality
to be that is, is but one manifestation of the Essence
– Burzum, Lost Wisdom
Although such an outright recognition of the Supreme Principle is rarely encountered as explicitly in other black metal bands of the time, the anonymity and symbolism utilized by many of the protagonists within the scene, for example Enslaved and their conscious decision to explore the themes surrounding the Norse gods and the profound metaphysical symbolism implied therein, seems to point to an implicit recognition of higher principles, and perhaps the higher principle itself, from whence an expression of anonymity logically follows.
Rene Guenon teaches us that it is a mere modern deviation from the Supreme Principle and traditional doctrine that has led to current notions of crass individualism, ego worship and “originality”. Current artists are very nearly obsessed with having works attributed to their ego, and such modern profanities have even led scholars on an endless search to provide the public, and novelty seekers, with the names of those artists who completed Medieval masterpieces. Of course these Medieval artists, due to their participation in the higher Principle from which all things emanate, had not the hubris to associate their works solely with their own ego. Likewise, a search for traditional knowledge and the participation of and recognition of a supreme Principle led to a general anonymity amongst the original black metal adherents from Norway. This participation precludes the notion of anonymity described as “infra-human”, implying the dissolution of a particular in a crowd, but entails rather a participation in a higher supra-individual order. Consider the words of Rene Guenon:
The being that has attained a supra-individual state is by that fact alone, released from all the limiting conditions of individuality, that is to say it is beyond determinations of name and form that constitute the essence and the substance of its individuality as such; thus it is truly anonymous because in it the ‘ego’ has effaced itself and disappeared completely before the ’Self’
– Rene Guenon, The Reign of Quantity and The Signs of the Time
The key to understanding what has been said above is to recognize that in this case the Ego has effaced itself in the face of the higher Principle from which it has emanated, nay from which all things, states and possibilities emanate, while in itself remaining unaffected and unchanged by this manifestation. It is the ego that produces the “subject vs. object” sensation and produces the dichotomy of “I and Thou”. However, participation in the Supreme Principle implies a transformation, in which one becomes consciously aware that all of existence is indeed one, and that all must fundamentally be attributed to It, the Supreme Principle. Indeed, all dichotomies will have been overcome, the barriers of subject versus object will have been overcome, and one will attain immortality. Hence, in aspiring to this reality and perhaps participating in it, Black Metal musicians were quick to live among the shadows, obscure, nameless, formless, recognizing themselves and their works as naught but one of the infinite possibilities inherent in the supreme principle. It should therefore come as no surprise in connection with these thoughts that certain musicians chose such pseudonym’s as if to reflect cosmic principles, representative of the venerable Indo-European tradition of the Norsemen.
Brahman cannot be realized by those who are subject to greed, fear and anger.
Brahman cannot be realized by those who are subject to the pride of name and fame.
– Tejobindu Upanishad
Delving deep into primordial traditions long forgotten, those Scandinavian mystics seem to have uncovered long forgotten mystic truths, hidden within the depths of the most primordial of the Indo-European traditions – Hinduism. It should come as no surprise to those familiar with Indo-European traditions that a study of, and adherence to strict Traditional principles, a fascination with the Norse Legends combined with some occult influences, however badly understood, would lead the black metal warrior down the road of ‘Self’ discovery. It is well known that Odin himself is etymologically derived from Gwoden, another name for Indra, a God venerated as the leader of God’s in the Hindu Pantheon. With the inherent and complimentary relationship between these two Indo European worldviews, namely Hinduism and Norse Mythology established, not only etymologically but through the recognition that all true traditions aspire to the same essential goal, realization of the Supreme Priciple, it is fair to conclude that both contain within themselves the seed for mystical realization, or a knowledge of the “essence”. Of necessity, we turn to Hinduism, a more complete metaphysical system to fill in some of the blanks as to what Vikernes and company were aspiring to during the apex of the black metal phenomenon.
Return to the ring of our forefathers gods
The flames of Midgard’s fires and ancient mysticism still are
– Enslaved, Fires of Midgard
According to Hindu tradition the purpose of life is to become united with the ‘Self’, Brahman, the Supreme Principle, that which is enshrined in the hearts of all, according to ones station in life and capacity to do so. Again, this is the same Supreme Principle alluded to above, from which participation in, a true supra-individual anonymity necessarily springs. Although the original black metal purveyors may not have been consciously aware of the heights to which they were ascending, nor of the full traditional implications of what they were doing, it comes as no surprise that when re-discovering their traditional legends that they would inadvertently ascribe to the goal of, and rediscover some of the outstanding tenants of a more primordial, and complete Indo-European tradition, Hinduism, whose purpose again, much like that of the ancient Norse religion, was and still is to help facilitate the discovery of ‘Self’ knowledge, participation therein and the realization that all proceeds from the Supreme Principle.
Once again, truth is one, and it is the same for all those who, by whatever way, have attained to its understanding.
On an intuitive level, we can tell that some black metal sucks, and some is good. The difference mostly has to do with the state of mind of the musicians.
When a musician is in a sane frame of mind, they want to show us a journey that parallels life. They are passing along learning, as all art does, but they’re doing it in a form that shows us the experience, and not the conclusions.
Lazy musicians, propagandists and idiots take another approach. They view a song as a binary proposition, with a good and a bad represented directly by parts of a song.
You can see this in all boring or pointless art: there is no journey, no struggle, no learning. The characters or objects in the art face a dark evil, then suddenly see the light, go to the other side and everything is OK. That light can be God, Satan, liberalism, Nazism, sex, drugs or any ideal. It’s just a very basic technique that’s common to people who haven’t thought through the whole “art” side of music.
To them, it’s just music. You find something that sounds cool and hey, that’s all there is to it. This is what mature artists hate about jazz and avantgarde music. They hate “music for music’s sake” that it means nothing, so it either comes with some baggage of theory to “explain” it, or is like that art exhibit where you see a stuffed rabbit impaled with a dildo sitting on a Bible wrapped in a condom, and you’re supposed to think it’s profound.
And when you think about it, all really great art resembles some struggle we’ve faced in our lives. Early black metal sounded like social isolation and a yearning for more in life. It sounded like a rejection of the comfortable sounds of the blues and church music, replacing it with minor key distorted hellhavoc from which elegant melodies somehow emerged. Not what you expected? Or more likely, what you experienced: when you get away from the crazy crowd, and look at nature and your own soul, you find something of greater value than the callow affirmation of “we can all get along, honest” peers.
Bad black metal — and bad metal in general — suffers under what I call the “hot tub” syndrome. Because it is binary, and has a good state and a bad state, and wants us to go from bad to good, the song can have only one major event: the transition. Because that transition cannot be explained by the art itself, but requires added “theory,” it’s random. As a result, the song needs a lot more embellishment to make the transition believable at all.
We sing a song of the hot tub — how great it will be to be in the hot tub, how cold it is out here, how lonely we are outside the hot tub, etc. ad nauseam. Then we get into the hot tub, and how warm it is! And then the song ends.
Watch your favorite terrible black metal bands and pay attention to how they compose the songs you hear. Are they two-tone, in/out of the hot tub songs, or like early black metal, are they epics that slowly and subtly build to a point where you are ready to make whatever steps are necessary to get in the hot tub?
Swedish Death Metal by Daniel Ekeroth is an easy and enjoyable read that recounts the glory years of Swedish Death Metal told in large part through the mouths of those who actually lived it. Ekeroth presents the history of Swedish death metal, focusing mainly on the release of seminal albums and demos, and the means by which fanzines and tape trading played a role in the development and proliferation of the Swedish death metal genre. This is definitely a worthwhile read if one is looking for a chronology of all of the important bands, namely Bathory, Nihilist/Entombed, Dismember, At the Gates, and Therion, that played an important role in the development and consolidation of Swedish Death Metal. Additionally, the layout of the book is such that it is easily navigable, making use of handy headings, subheadings and band headings, which also make this a great quick-reference text. However compelling, it is a slight draw back that the various snapshots throughout the book interrupt the flow of the read, and are laid out in such a way as to provide a distraction. One may be better off reading the book through and then returning to the snapshots at a later date.
In addition to analyzing the careers of many important Swedish Death Metal bands, Ekeroth indulges the curiosity of the reader and earns additional merit for mentioning important non-Swedish bands such as Master and Deathstrike, and for emphasizing the role of Morbid Angel in the overall development of Death Metal. Interestingly, the author seems at pains to make sure that the reader understands the relationship between Crustcore, Punk, and Metal and adds some welcome depth to his account of Swedish Death Metal by mentioning Discharge, whose strumming style and melody would influence countless metal bands. If you are looking for a chronology of the glory days of Swedish Death Metal, this book proves enlightening. Thankfully, there is little mention of Slaughter of the Soul and second rate Swedish bands such as In Flames and Soilwork that would later hijack, dilute and all but destroy this once living art form.
With that said, readers beware! Ekeroth has a tendency to try and convince his reader that death metal was all about “fun” back in the day and tends to present the extracurricular activities, namely drinking and partying, as the highlights of many bands careers. Although Ekeroth’s goal was to tell the history of important bands, releases and tours, I believe this book could have been improved had Ekeroth attempted to explore the philosophical underpinnings of this genre and refrained from presenting Metal culture as simply an offshoot or replication of self-indulgent rock culture. New frontiers await those willing to explore this aspect of Swedish Death Metal and Ekeroth’s book may in fact prove to be a trailblazer. Time Shall Tell.
Promised Land of Heavy Metal is a documentary about the history and philosophy of Heavy Metal and how it became such a big deal in a small country called Finland.
We tell the story of Finnish Metal, from its early “underground” days to the present success stories, by interviewing famous musicians, experts and events organizers, a psychiatrist and a doctor of theology. The film takes us literally from the graveyard to the Finnish President’s palace!
Why is Metal a religion for so many? What are it’s links to satanism and ritualistic murders? What made Metal mainstream in Finland? Why does the Finnish Church have Metal Masses? What’s the future of Metal, after LORDI won the Eurovision song contest and even the President approves? We hear strong opinions: some see Metal as the new folk music, while others detest it’s commercial aspect.
The film is narrated by Kimmo Kuusniemi, a filmmaker, Sarcofagus guitarist and a forefather of Finnish Metal. Kimmo has lived in England for 16 years, and sees the current popularity of Heavy Metal as a strange phenomenon. He was the one who fought for the metal message 30 years ago! What happened in Finland in his absence?
One of our aims over the years has been to prove how the vital undercurrents of Finland produced cultivated metal sensations over the years from the earliest heavy metal days, best exemplified by the inimitable Sarcofagus, to thrash and the Finnish death metal movement, finally creating a discharge of consciousness that erupted in mainstream metal sensations all over the world, leaving most of the more focused and gloomy explorers to repose in the depths.
Kimmo Kuusniemi, the founder of Sarcofagus, the earliest Finnish metal band, has aggregated his unique vision into a documentary giving sporadic but meaningful glimpses into metal culture in search of the ultimate question: why?
Remember that book that was a list of every heavy metal band name gleaned from MySpace and Metal-Archives? You can get the real deal here instead: author Blair Gibson went out there to active bands and asked them to describe the origins of their names. And he gets them, time after time, for a fascinating study of detail that also reveals quite a bit about heavy metal. For example, the number of bands who picked word lengths and vowel distributions to make a good logo, or the number of tributes to earlier bands. Some stories are just bizarre and show us how bands ended up with enigmatic band names that are meaningless to the rest of us. Others make perfect sense and show a systematic approach to finding names that fit multiple criteria. For the casual reader, this book is probably doomed to the coffee table because it’s so easy to read if you pick up and start on a random page, or skim for favorite bands. However, it provides such a rich background of insight that it will fascinate die-hard metalheads and rock historians alike.
For good or ill, there is an obvious old-school revival afoot. Amidst all the vinyl lust and reformation mania, the hocking of the dusted-off thoughts and artifacts of the first generation of death metal ‘zine writers was probably an inevitability. Glorious Times, then, makes Alan Moses (Buttface ‘zine) and Brian Pattison (Chainsaw Abortions ‘zine) the trendsetters in what could easily become a highly active take on the metal nostalgia game (see the forthcoming Slayer ‘zine compilation and excitement surrounding it for proof).
Despite the “pictorial” label, Glorious Times instead features dozens of exclusive, band-submitted narratives and pictures supported by the authors’ collections of rare photographs. The tales look to be included in the book warts-and-all — editing, grammar and spelling — as submitted by the contributors in text form, and were solicited from a number of closely-related US bands, with a few stragglers from Europe called on to fill in the gaps. This creates something of a thread to be followed: one sees several names and faces pop up throughout the book regardless of the focus at any given point, which enforces a sense of camaraderie and makes a lot of the tour horror stories and rehearsal anecdotes that much more personally appealing and amusing.
While the above makes for enjoyable casual reading, the layout is unfortunately disjointed, rendering the “pictorial” side of the book distracting from the literary effect. The photo subjects are mostly well chosen, and the originals of high quality, but many of the images are bafflingly distorted from their original aspect ratios, are confusingly labeled or are oriented hastily with little regard to their context in the space of the book. It’s really too bad, as it undermines a lot of the documentary potential; a bit of caution with the aesthetic aspect, particularly for such an emphatically visual work, and this could have been legendary. Instead, it comes across as a fine idea with some haphazard execution that hurts its lifelong bookshelf appeal.
There are many books, movies and CDs that float through our lives.
When we really like many of a certain type, we may identify with them. “I like Romance novels! I like disco!”
If you like the music, you’re a metalhead. You like to buy certain things and listen to them.
If you like the ideas behind the music — the lifestyle, the worldview, the imagery and most importantly, the spirit — you need to use a word that means you are more than a consumer of metal music.
You’re a Hessian. Derived from California slang from the time when Slayer were starting out, this term refers to the mercenaries who fought for both sides during the Revolutionary War — from Hesse, in Germany, they had long hair and fought like demons.
Obviously, this term belongs with the person who loves the abstract ideals of metal!
Anyone can be a metalhead. For under $100 you can get a starter collection, and if you hit the thrift stores, you can pick up some classic ironic metal tshirts for under ten bucks.
If you really want to appear extreme, you can go the ‘kvlt’ route and buy up classic releases on ebay, then refuse to like anything that has more than two chords.
Or you can be an Opeth fan and talk about how profound and progressive your music is.
Either way, you’ve bought yourself an identity with your cash and time.
But is that really a commitment? Nope, because you can whip that identity off in 30 seconds. Put the CDs back on ebay (where they seem to recycle; wonder why). Give the tshirts to Goodwill (same situation). Take the posters off your walls, buy a Miles Davis CD and a beret and you’ve got a new lifestyle.
But to be a Hessian means you identify with the ideas and have made them your own, just like when you find a philosopher who answers part of the question of life for you. You become a Schopenhauerian, or Nietzscheian, or Kantian — perhaps all at the same time.
Being a metalhead is just too easy. Being a Hessian takes commitment. I don’t begrudge those who want to pass through metal on their way somewhere else, and in fact cheer them on if they recognize this fact. But it’s the Hessians who always impress me.