Metal as Anti-Modernism

metal as anti-modernism

Article by David Rosales.

I. A Romantic Art

In the past, we have likened the spirit of metal that culminates in death and black metal to that of the literary, romantic movement in Europe. Romanticism was meant to embody ideals of naturalism and individualism in a return to primeval spirituality connecting us with our origins, our surroundings, and a more conscious future. The romantic character of the 19th century stands in glaring opposition to the heavy industrialist upsurge and man-centered utilitarianism of that time. Epitomized metal contrasts with this idea in one important aspect: while artists two centuries ago strived to bring attention to the importance of human subjectivity, underground metal stressed irrelevance of the human vantage point.

In describing metal as a neo-romantic artform we may well be undermining the aspects that define it in its historical and psychological contexts. Historical as each movement is encased in a flow of events linked by causality and psychological, on the other hand because of the relative independence and unpredictability with which leading individuals affront these inevitable developments. Together, these two factors account for freedom of choice within predestination. Even though romanticism and metal were both reactions to the same decadence at different points in time, the latter rejects the former’s inclination towards universal human rights and other products of higher civilization in exchange for a nihilistic realism arising from the laws of nature. Underground metal is a detached representation of a Dark Age; one where power and violence are the rule in which all forms of humanism are hopelessly deluded or simply hypocritical.

The uncontrolled and contrarian character of metal stands at odds with the more self-aware and progressive bent of romanticism. Metal, at least in its purest incarnations, can never be assimilated – something that cannot be said of the older art movement. Pathetic attempts at dragging metal under the mainstream umbrella that abides by status quo ideals often fail catastrophically. When forcefully drawn out before dawn’s break it will inevitably miserably perish upon contact with the sun’s rays like a creature of catacombs and dark night-forests.

Attempting to define metal is as elusive as trying to pinpoint ‘magic’. Outsiders cannot even begin to recognize its boundaries. The mystical, ungraspable, and intuitive nature it possesses attests to this and sets it apart from romanticism in that not even those belonging to it are able to crystallize a proper description. The very substance of the genre is felt everywhere but the innermost sanctum always dissipates under the gaze of the mind’s eye.

II. Romantic Anti-Modernism

Even though it cannot be said that the one defines or encompasses the other, the connection between romanticism and metal nevertheless exists. Aside from the concrete musical link between them which helps us describe metal as a minimalist and electronic romantic art, the abstract connection is more tenuous and related to cyclic recurrence1. Metal is not a revival of romanticism nor its evolution, but perhaps something more akin to its rebellious disciple: a romantic anti-modernism.

The foundation of this anti-modernism is a Nietzschean nihilism standing in stark contrast with hypocritical modernist dogma; it spits in the face of the semantic stupidity of post-modernism. This is a sensible and ever-searching nihilism2 that does not attach itself to a particular point of view but parts from a point of disbelief in any authority. It is a scientific and mystic nihilism for those who can understand this juxtaposition of terms. It does not specialize in what is known as critical thinking but in the empirical openness to possibilities taken with a grain of salt. The first dismisses anything that does not conform to its rigid schemata; the second one allows relativism as a tool with the intention of having subjective views float around while transcending all of them and moving towards unattainable objectivity.

Such transcendentalism connects metal with Plato and Theodoric the Great rather than with Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius. Metal looks beyond modern illusions of so-called freedom and the pleasure-based seeking of happiness. It recognizes that without struggle there can be no treasure and that today’s perennial slack will only lead to complacent self-annihilation. This is why, instead of representing the blossoming of nature in man through the sentimentalisms of romanticism in its attitude above time, to use the words of a wise woman, metal stands stoutly as a form of art against time.

III. Essential Reading for the Metal Nihilist

As an attempt to communicate our understanding of the essence and spirit of underground metal, below are some books through which to start the abstract journey through metal and the metaphysics that moves it.

Industrial Society and Its Future
Theodore John Kaczynski – Industrial Society and Its Future

Choosing Death
Albert MudrianChoosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore

the illiad
Homer – The Illiad

bhagavad gita
The Bhagavad Gita

Tolkein Children of Hurin
J.R.R. TolkeinThe Children of Húrin

critique of pure reason
Immanuel Kant – Critique of Pure Reason

IV. Some Music Recommendations for the Metal Nihilist

We have traditionally presented a certain pantheon of underground death and black metal to which most readers can be redirected at any moment. A different set is presented below that is nonetheless consistent with the writer’s interpretation of Death Metal Underground’s vision.

bruckner salone romantic
Esa-Pekka Salonen – Bruckner: Symphony No. 4 in E-Flat Major “Romantic

sammath-godless_arrogance-cover_photo
SammathGodless Arrogance

condor-nadia
CóndorNadia

bulgarian state choir
Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir – Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares

julian bream portada
Julian Bream – La Guitarra Barroca

timeghoul
Timeghoul1992-1994 Discography

iron maiden somewhere in time
Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time

bathory-twilight_of_the_gods
BathoryTwilight of the Gods

V. Films

Not being a connoisseur of cinema in general, the following is but a friendly gesture. This is a loose collection for the transmission of a basic underground metal pathos.

tout les matins du monde
Tous les Matins du Monde

the witch
The Witch: A New-England Folktale

martyrs-movie-poster12
Martyrs

until_the_light_takes_us.jpg

untilbox
Until the Light Takes Us
A 2008 documentary film by Aaron Aites
and Audrey Ewellabout the early 90s
black metal scene in Norway.

tarkovsky stalker
Andrei Tarkovsky – Stalker

Notes

1This is not the re-happening of the exact same universe that Nietzsche is supposed to have been talking about, but a transcendental recurrence of sorts. What I am trying to express here is the cyclic reappearance of abstract and collective concepts among humans, because they are also part of this universe and as such are subject to such underlying pendulum swings in the forces that move it. Perhaps a better descriptor could have been abstract collective concept reincarnation, but that seemed to convoluted, and cyclic recurrence captures the wider phenomenon, irrespective of what definition academia wants to adhere to.

2This somewhat liberal use of the term nihilism deserves to be explained a little further in order to avoid confusion. By this it is not meant that metal’s outlook consists of nihilism in the ultra-pessimistic sense, in the sense of total defeat, which seems to be the expectancy of most people from nihilism. The idea here is that as an art movement born in the post-modern era, in a civilization that has already been ravaged by nihilism, stripped from relevant cults, metal begins from a posture of extreme skepticism that is extended to everything and everyone. This skepticism is nihilistic because no intrinsic value is placed on anything, yet it is scientific because it is curious and will experiment. Metal’s development dances between nihilism and individualistic transcendentalism.

Heavy metal is not a blank slate

skull

People do not realize that our society is in the midst of a war. A memetic war, in which one ideology will win out over the other. As we see time and time again, the different worldviews are entirely incompatible, causing the type of internal conflict that destroys empires.

Heavy metal is caught in the middle of this. Those who want to push their ideology on you have discovered it, and try to use it as a “blank slate” on which to write their messages. We found out in the 1980s that Christians did this, in the 1990s that the far-right tried, and now in the 2010s, that an echo chamber of “social justice” agitators wants to use metal as its personal billboard. Mainstream metal media — staffed mostly by such people — agrees with them. The variety of hipster known as SJWs are hoping to take over metal and use it for their own ends.

As Old Disgruntled Bastard writes:

The modern state of metal writing, as is the case with much of modern metal, has to do with the wrong kind of people being attracted to the music. Those who don’t identify metal with a higher ideal will only think of this subject as so much faffing and will continue drowning themselves in anodyne cliches, self-referential and flippant by turn. Worse yet, in a show of incredible egotism, they will expect the music to fall in line with whatever personal agenda they might be touting at that moment. It speaks of a stunted, unadventurous, and dishonest bent of mind to outright dismiss ideas that may be pariah to our own and then to run down, ad hominem, those that dare think differently.

He hits on a vital point: their goal is not to crusade against a specific evil, but to eliminate everyone who does not dedicate their life to advancing the same agenda the SJWs do. As many people have pointed out, SJWs are a bit hypocritical. They whine about injustices to women and minorities, but night after night they are in front of their computers, putting other people down instead of working in the ghettos or middle east where women are being raped and executed en masse.

This reveals the agenda of SJWs, while it surely overlaps with their left-wing political views and hipster lifestyles in which activism is ironic and fresh, is actually to make themselves appear to superior to others. SJWs are the new master race, in their own minds. By day, they are cubicle drudges with unimportant jobs who live in expensive city apartments and spend themselves into debt buying organic free-trade wine and artisanal wall hangings. By night, they are transformed into warriors, heroes, Anne Franks and Mother Theresas combined. They find their importance in “social justice” because it allows them to pretend they are better than other people, and to experience the delicious revengeful joy of forcing others to be silent and apologize. That is the thrill of SJW: subjugating others with words from the comfort of your computer, with a glass of Malaysian Anisette Merlot and a rare live Deerhoof set on the radio.

What obstructs them is the very fact that metal is not a blank slate. It has its own beliefs, which deal with the world and its problems from an entirely different angle than SJW solutions do. Its basic rule, non-conformity with society for the purpose of discovering the raw unfiltered power of nature and truth, opposes the very notion of collective action for some slogan or political issue. Metal is against politics itself. It sees politics as an outgrowth of social thinking, not an end in itself. In the metal world, politics is a distraction and SJWs are more nagging nannies who distract us from the real problems. As MetalReviews writes:

Let’s lay it down as law, if in the confines of this editorial only: Black Metal ist krieg, waging war on all, and Black Metal that isn’t krieg, that doesn’t wage war on man, god, musical boundaries and every living creature whatever colour or creed isn’t proper Black Metal – there’s more spiritual closeness between Transilvanian Hunger and La Masquerade Infernale, between De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and 666 International than there is with something like Panopticon’s Collapse or Eldrig’s Mysterion. They may all be great albums, but the spiritual difference is greater than that of the music itself – Arcturus and Dødheimsgard are no more trying to convert you to Anarchism or Ariosophy than Darkthrone and Mayhem are.

Metal has a culture of its own. SJWs are attempting to genocide that culture and replace it with the watered-down indie rock to which metal riffs have been added that the mainstream media media have been pimping for some time. They achieve this by coordinating among themselves. Someone once plotted the communications between two groups, GamerGate and its opposition. The opposition show a trend toward conformity, where GamerGate was more chaotic and open. The SJWs of today were the authoritarians and Nazis of yesterday. A short demonstration follows.

gamergate_plot

Krieg frontman Neil Jameson — who like Decibel editor Albert Mudrian unfriended our previous Editor on Facebook for what can only be assumed to be political reasons — recently wrote a piece in which he opines on the condition of women in metal. Like most SJW articles, it begins with a justification for its demands on your attention, and threatens you with guilt:

I recently realized that I’ve been having more and more discussions with people about how women are treated within the metal scene, and music in general. Turns out my knee-jerk reaction to throw jokes at the problem wasn’t the best way to address it. This goes a lot deeper, and regardless of how it may make people uncomfortable, it’s a discourse we need to have—and keep having—because the problem isn’t going away; in fact, it’s getting worse.

This is politician-speak like might be used for the wars on terror, drugs or drunk-driving. There’s this problem, see, and it requires immediate attention. Not only that, but it’s getting worse the more we just sit here. Leap into action right now and do whatever I tell you! He goes on from there to make his big point:

As a man, I’ve never gone to a show worried that someone was going to grab my dick or give me a drink with some bullshit drug in it. It’s not because I don’t think I’m pretty; it’s because this is shit that doesn’t happen to men (I understand someone in the comments section will have a story saying that it does, but for the sake of argument, please shut the fuck up). It’s just not something we have to worry about. Women have to shrug this behavior off because they’re afraid if they speak up that it’s going to be turned around on them due to what they’re wearing, or their sexual history, or the simple fucking reason they have a vagina and guys are taught from a young age through marketing and media that we’re entitled to that. Movies and other forms of storytelling glamorize women going to shows to fuck and nothing else. The idea that they’re there because they love the music seems as absurd as a cop telling the truth during a trial.

In addition to the type of terrible writing that thinks throwing in the word “fucking” for unnecessary emphasis somehow makes it edgy, this piece shows us a lot of guilt — and no facts. We all know that there are some badly behaved people at shows, and their bad behavior takes many forms. People throwing beers, pulling non-participants into the pit, fighting with bouncers, or just being general doofuses are common enough, but not accepted nor the norm. In my experience, metalheads have generally stood up for personal boundaries to anyone transgressing them, without checking to see if the victim was a white male first. But in the Jameson piece, the rambling story goes on with reasoning about how we should stop everything to fight a problem he supposes is somehow very serious, despite no assessment of how wide of a problem this is or even whether it is a problem with metal or simply dickheads being dickheads at rock shows.

But really, the plight of women in metal is not the point. The point is that Jameson has joined the SJWs and wants their approval so he can sell them the “new” version of Krieg, which takes pride in being “open-minded,” a term that means not metal if you analyze it. As he says himself:

“We were one of the first geographical groups to really tie in non–black metal inspiration, like my covers of the Velvet Underground/The Stooges, etc., Leviathan/Lurker of Chalice’s Joy Division and Black Flag influences and covers, Nachtmystium’s interest in psychedelics and more blues-based ideas, etc.”

In other words, innovation by devolution. These bands are much older than metal and fit more into the rock paradigm than metal has. This is like stepping backward a generation and claiming “progress” as a result. Why would he pick this approach? In the SJW world, metal is bad and anything that pretends to be metal but is not is good. Therefore, bands that claim to be innovators for re-hashing older genres — which most metalheads want to escape — are to be praised, and anyone who makes metal for metal’s sake is bad and should be avoided. They need this argument to advance the illusion that metal is a blank slate, instead of the vibrant culture that it is.

What else might Jameson be doing here? Others have defined this pathology before:

A gaming term used to describe a male gamer who, in a desperate attempt to get himself laid, will attempt to woo or impress any female gamer he comes across online by being overly defensive of her and giving her special attention, such as playing as a healing class and only healing her.

That is White Knighting. In other words, men who publicly proclaim themselves sensitive to women’s issues are doing it to get laid or be accepted by a new social group. You may remember this from high school or college. At the mid-point of freshmen year, guys figure out that they can attend feminist workshops, get misty-eyed about how oppressive they are, and go home with a new girl each night. This has little to do with ideology and everything to do with human behavior. People who want acceptance into a group will memorize and repeat the appropriate chants to get what they want.

Is this what the former Lord Imperial, now short-haired Neil Jameson of The Velvet Krieg is doing? Let’s look at some of his statements from the past.

Wikipedia recalls an interview by Jameson in which he expressed a different viewpoint. Although the Wikipedia article was edited mysteriously (moderator notes: “Unexplained removal of content”) on July 5, 2013 at about the time Jameson started writing for Decibel, it can be found at the Project Gutenberg wiki. Jameson — who had just gotten out of his band Weltmacht which had pro-Nazi themes, even getting signed to pro-far-right label No Colours — was heading in an entirely different direction just seven years ago:

Krieg were boycotted in Switzerland “because I freely use offensive words like ‘nigger’ in regards to the disgusting double standards and politically correct nonsense that has spread through the world black metal scene. This is a scene that encourages violence and hatred, but if you say something against anyone besides Christians it sends a lot of people into crying fits. There was one person who wrote me saying he didn’t approve of my life ‘affirmation’ on the Satanic Warmaster split in which I, I felt very blatantly, criticised both the life loving movements and the politically correct movements, but I guess these people are too fucking involved in down syndrome to notice IRONY. Well fuck them, I don’t want the support of people who cannot read the entire idea, but rather pick at ‘dangerous’ words. When the fuck did this stupid concern for hurting people’s feelings become an issue in black metal? […] ALL PEOPLE ARE SHIT […]. As for Switzerland, we got banned from the country for using ‘nigger’ on this 7 inch, which as I stated before, was anti political correctness, NOT PRO FACIST.” Imperial added that “[u]nderneath the abrasive offensiveness lies a much greater meaning that many would take the time to inspect and study. Beneath such a bitter shell lies enlightenment. IF you can fight through my venom, then you will find truly what I am spreading through the words of Krieg.”

This viewpoints sounds like those in GamerGate and MetalGate, except that we do not use racial slurs to denigrate other groups to make our points. We just speak up for what is true against the onslaught of SJWs. Jameson’s case is probably quite normal; he has simply joined the hive mind so that he can meet more people, be cool with the other SJWs at Decibel, and advance his own career, in defiance of the heavy metal genre he once found inspiration in. In other words, SJWs in metal are simply another form of selling out and assimilation into the mainstream herd.

Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces

albert_mudrian-precious_metal_decibel_presents_the_stories_behind_25_extreme_metal_masterpiecesIn our heavy metal books section today, there’s a review of Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces, by Albert Mudrian.

This lengthy exploration of heavy metal classics collects the highlights of interviews with bands about classic albums and assembles them into a single Q&A session. In doing so, the writers of Decibel have assembled a formidable amount of information and answered many of the hanging questions about these metal epics.

Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces covers twenty-five band/album pairings and, while not all will be enjoyed by everyone, the wizardry of its selection is that just about everyone can find at least a dozen that will interest them. It brings the classics to life in a new form.

Read our review of Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces, by Albert Mudrian.

Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces, by Albert Mudrian


Precious Metal:
Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces
edited by Albert Mudrian
365 pages, Da Capo Press, $14

The 25 Masterpieces
Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell
Diamond Head – Lightning to the Nations
Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales
Slayer – Reign in Blood
Napalm Death – Scum
Repulsion – Horrified
Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness
Obituary – Cause of Death
Entombed – Left Hand Path
Paradise Lost – Gothic
Carcass – Necroticism — Descanting the Insalubrious
Cannibal Corpse – Tomb of the Mutilated
Darkthrone – Transilvanian Hunger
Kyuss – Welcome to Sky Valley
Meshuggah – Destroy Erase Improve
Monster Magnet – Dopes to Infinity
At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul
Opeth – Orchid
Down – NOLA
Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse
Sleep – Jerusalem
The Dillinger Escape Plan – Calculating Infinity
Botch – We Are the Romans
Converge – Jane Doe
Eyehategod – Take as Needed for Pain

 

albert_mudrian-precious_metal_decibel_presents_the_stories_behind_25_extreme_metal_masterpiecesRock journalism challenges even the bravest writer. Musicians are not known for being articulate, nor is it easy to pin them down, and lore snowballs in that vacuum. For this reason it’s great to see the series of in-depth explorations that have come about recently regarding many classic events of metal. As musicians age, given that musicians have a shorter life-span than average, this is also a race against time in many cases.

Albert Mudrian’s Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces presents a welcome addition to the genre of historical metal journalism. Combing through archives, the writers of each piece compiled band statements about the album and put them together in linear form, like a conversation. The result is a whole lot of information delivered in a very digestible form, with the extraneous confusion of live interviews edited right out of the picture. It’s a good starting point for anyone looking into these historical nodal points in the evolution of metal.

Mudrian seems aware how easily a book like this could become repetitive. Not just in the answers, where musicians might make roughly similar statements about touring, band formation, the troubles of collaboration and so forth, but in the similarity of bands. If for example he added another three Swedish death metal bands, it might start to get a little bit stuffy in the virtual room he’s created. Instead, he gives us space between acts and a wide variety of acts, but avoids the really awful nu-metal and tek-deth. However, the price of that spaciousness is that he includes bands like Monster Magnet and Kyuss which really aren’t metal at all.

There are some shockers in content, too. Some of these bands, despite their professions of various depraved behaviors, are insanely business-like in how they go about getting recorded and published. Sleep, Cannibal Corpse, Dillinger Escape Plan, Botch and Converge really had their act together. For a few moments, it was more like reading Forbes than Decibel, but it’s really gratifying to see this side of the business portrayed honestly. If you want your music heard, there’s a certain amount of business activity that must precede that event.

On the whole, these chapters are extremely well edited including the choice of material. They are in question-answer form, where the questions are usually prompts about historical events or general questions applied to specific moments or activities. When an incidental or minor character is cited, he or she speaks up for a few questions and then fades out. The bulk of the material favors the most articulate band members and major actors, but the writers shoehorn in as many diverse perspectives as they can. This makes reading Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces feel like being in a comfortable pub with these bands, on a rainy day, with a tape recorder next to the ashtray.

Each chapter corresponds to a classic album and comes with an intro paragraph. If anything, here’s where the book could benefit from some uniformity and toning down the “rock journalism” aspects. Perhaps not a just-the-facts-ma’am approach, but more of an assessment of where the band fits into history and why people like them, and leave it at that. Some of these were over the top for the actual function they serve. However, among the bombast is a lot of good information.

At that point the interview(s) compiled into a single form take over. Most of Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces is the bands speaking, and that is the power of Mudrian’s editing and the work of his colleagues. They’ve trimmed out the transient stuff, the window dressing and repetition, and left us with clear statements from the bands that show them in their own voices and approaching the situation at their own angle. This also helps create an epic feel to the epic interviews because it’s a compilation of the best moments of the band commenting on this album, put into one form that flows naturally.

Was the intro, “Human,” something you had conceived of before you went into the studio?
Ain: Yes, we had the idea before we went into the studio — we wanted to loop a scream and make it perpetual. We also wanted to use it as an intro for the live shows. A regular human scream would never last that long, so we wanted to loop it and make it sound like a scream from hell, like how you would scream if the pain was everlasting.
Warrior: We had talked about it, but we were basically still laymen, so we had no idea how we could put it together. So we told Horst what we wanted to do, and he proposed how to do it. But as I said, we only had six days to do everything. If one thing failed, we would’ve gone over budget or had to go home. So, in hindsight, it’s a miracle that tracks like “Human” or “Danse Macabre” came out the way we wanted them to. We couldn’t rehearse some of those parts, you know? I have no idea how we did that in just a few days, especially given our lack of experience. But therein lies one of the strengths of Celtic Frost to this day: Martin and I usually visualize certain pieces of music down to the last detail without even touching an instrument.

This excerpt reveals the power of Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces. In the midst of the mundane description of studio struggles, Tom Warrior articulates part of the essence of his band. Many such moments of insight, casually and offhandedly mentioned in describing some rather ordinary thing, flesh out this book and make it more than a fan’s quest but a resource for musicians and anyone else curious about the origins and process of creating extreme metal.

Not everyone will agree on certain aspects of this book and naturally any choices made along these lines are divisive. However, the book has enough to offer just about anyone who loves metal so that the purchase will not be regretted, even if there are chapters you skipped. In fact, I recommend skipping those chapters and approaching this book as a buffet. No matter what sub-genres you adore, you’re going to have at least five you’re dying to read, another five you’re very excited to read, and another five you’re curious about, and the rest will be uncertain but you might find some interesting information there, as I did.

It is impossible to find just 25 to represent metal. Some of these choices are nods to the music industry and mainstream fanbase, like Dillinger Escape Plan, or to history, like Botch, who were the vanguard of the metalcore movement. Some are near-misses like the apologetic At the Gates treatment of their best-seller, but this interview also confirms a lot that reviewers said about this album, namely that it was retro to the past generation of metal and somewhat hasty. Some others, like Converge and Eyehategod, seem marginal in that these bands spent a lot of time disclaiming metal back in the day.

On the whole however Precious Metal: Decibel Presents the Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces offers a good pan-and-scan perspective of what was going on in metal at the time, and by showing us the fly-over accumulation of variety, Mudrian and Decibel show us not only what these bands were doing, but the forces against which they were struggling to define themselves. The result is a treasure hunt of a book, bristling with secrets and previously undiscovered pathways, for those who enjoy extreme heavy metal.