Right now, above the metal underground there is what was coined, I believe originally by Pogrom from Arghoslent, the “Funderground”. The funderground consists of independent labels, sometimes mainstream distributed, releasing thousands of albums each year full of rehashed material or rebranded three-chord hardcore with different superficial aesthetics to fuel a bar show audience’s drunken moshing or make hipsters feel smart for liking an indie rock release with a dirty production. One can see this divide in most of the popular “underground” web forums such as those of Nuclear War Now! and Full Moon Productions. The most popular “underground” “metal” releases of each year are all older metal rehashed into pop-rock structures or rebranded hardcore. This divide is similar to what is felt in mainstream Western culture with the leftist “elites”‘ constant Marxist virtue signaling and branding freethinkers with various epithets for refusing to chant the praises of socialism mandated by the vanguard party.
Article by David Rosales
In ancient times, a transcendental and reverential cosmological vision made of the hardships of reality a way to elevate intellectual life to the status of the divine. The power to speculate, explore and decode reality around us was considered a gift.The time given to pursue such enterprises was considered invaluable.
What we now call history is the constant decaying of civilizations, an ebbing of true understanding, followed by a wave of revolutions, one after the other in relatively rapid succession as a drowning man desperately clutching for air. Scrapping whatever he could, man acquired dominion over the material while all sense of meaning was gradually lost.
“…for the powerful children of natural emotion will be replaced by the miserable creatures of financial expediency.”
The following is a list of four artworks of the greatest refinement, be it formal or otherwise, achieved through experience or birthed by the innerworkings of an innate calling. The first three are metal and of a minimalist stripe. The third is a Baroque religious vocal work. These are the echoes of what once was.
However, if there ever was an art for the elite, this is it. It will challenge each of the shortcomings of the fickle man. The first will call into question the superficial appreciation of aesthetics and will render the disavowal of prejudices compulsory. The second will require self-internment and the ability to perceive higher truths. The third will furthermore force those with a mind for the complex and an aversion to clear, straight lines to look beyond these and settle down in an openness to the expression. Finally, the last and most ancient will bring to bear the capacity of imaginatively layered music to quickly wear down the animal mind. This will be the bane of the simple-minded.
Disdained by most metalheads and followed with unthinking loyalty by kvlt fanatics, Ildjarn has achieved an infamous reputation in one way or another. Either of these camps considers the project to be non-music, with polarized opinions divided between “far from filling the requirements of music” and “simply beyond music”. The former point of view assumes a position of authority on technique whence it presumes to judge what music is. The latter is the inexcusable blindness of spineless and undiscerning individuals who place image before content.
While one could easily disarm the first argument on philosophical grounds, an unbiased judgement of the performance itself leaves any knowledgeable instrumentalist with no option but to accept that this is certainly not the weakness of the music. If issue were taken directly with the arrangement — the composition — of the music, there could be a worthwhile side to these attacks. More often than not, though, these critics arise from the new funderground camp, who have a notorious obsession with sheer standard behemoth-sounding production values, and so the argument usually runs along the lines of Ildjarn’s music being buried too deep in noise to have any value to speak of.
However, Ildjarn at its peak is far more than the jumbled improvisations the early recordings let through. The extreme punk channeling raw energy that this music consists of took some time to be harnessed. Det Frysende Nordariket (“The Frozen Northern-Kingdom”) shows us a refinement and redirecting of these ideas. While the self-titled was barely more than a collection of scattered ideas, intuitive impulses and visceral cadences, it is in this release that Ildjarn develops these ideas into mature extensions which make efficient use of the strengths of the original riffs, thereby burying the relevance of their shortcomings.
Coming to an aural absorption or a gnosis, so to speak, of Ildjarn’s rougher side necessitates not only the listener’s amiability towards ultra-minimalist and long-winded ambient music, but also a positive familiarity with low-fi punk and metal production and its use of what are normally considered sound artifacts as tones and colors on the palette of the artist. Once this is understood and the raw texture is successfully digested, one can start to appreciate the unique ideas presented in each track. The genius of Ildjarn lies in the masterful ultra-minimalist manipulation of the original ideas that can be likened to a stretching and contracting, which is occasionally accompanied by a seamless expansion that is so shy it is barely noticeable if the listener is not attentive.
1994 marks the turning point in metal history when innovation stops and a gradual degeneration starts to take place. This year is also the highest point in black metal, seeing the release of what we can consider the quintessential genre masterpieces. First among them is Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss.
The meteoric ascent of Vikernes’ previous works from varied yet focused ideas to the purest synthesis of elements in Hvis Lyset Tar Oss could only have one possible outcome. The groundbreaking impact this had on the genre can only be compared to that of albums like Onward to Golgotha or Legion on death metal. While some argue that Vikernes single-handedly “developed” or “defined” black metal, the truth is that he brought it to an end in this album. It is the kind of album that has the words “THIS IS IT” written all over it. There is nothing for us, mortals, beyond the incognizable infinite.
While there is much dark beauty in other works in the genre, works that may serve as veritable portals to hidden corridors of existence, when it comes to the art of composition, there is no other that brings this black romanticism to a more perfect incarnation. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss addresses all facets of black metal and gives them an equally important place in a masterfully balanced music.
The often-used descriptor “ambient black metal” falls criminally short of what this album has to offer. That this “atmospheric” feeling is the only thing blind men can perceive is empiric evidence of its extant layers penetrable to their last consequence only by esoteric means. The least trained will only hear repetition (variation details are lost on them), while those into ambient music will sense the fog around them. He who decries structures and can, to some extent, understand their relations, will be able to delineate muscle fibers and bones — an objective confirmation of content. Further and higher lie realms to be walked but never shared.
Navigating the waters of this ocean, we see indomitable and gargantuan waves slowly rise before us, we experience the placid breeze under a dark-grey sky streaked by clouds mutilated by the rays of a moribund sun, and we face the wrathful tempest. Battered and sucked into a timeless maelstrom, all that remains at the very end is the essence, the ultimate undifferentiated mother of creation.
On The Rack
Asphyx’s debut garners “historical” respect, but is often deemed to be the preparative stage before more refined ones. This argument appears to be supported on two pillars. The first is that a later Asphyx was more technically outspoken, and the second, that the band managed to narrow down their style into a more focused expression. Both of these are true, yet they did not result in higher artistic merit as later works became increasingly sterile. The fact that people get “a feeling” from them is besides the point. Yet, when it comes to art and especially to music, some might confuse these visceral reactions with effective communication through the intuitive.
The Rack presents a style that is both minimalist in its building blocks but displays a progressive tendency in the overall arrangement of parts. Here, Asphyx goes beyond style fetishization and instead uses characteristic phrases and riffs as symbols standing for moods and points in a storyline. This vision places it alongside classic albums that work at a higher level than the merely technical or the grossly emotional. However, it is important to keep in mind that all this intellectual dissection is only a way to uncover this work’s secrets and must not be confused with the end.
The color palette with which Asphyx plays has a narrow enough range that its extreme opposites are not as contrasting that they incur in an incoherent string of topic changes, yet the individual strokes that riffs represent are distinctive enough that they form clear statements and unambiguously show the way. The triumph of The Rack lies, furthermore, in that it not only signals these inclinations but actually follows them to their last consequence without derailing.
These progressions may seem too clear-cut, leading to them being perceived as ‘blocky’. But when inspected closely, they are shown to be not so much as separate stones in alignment, but as rock-hewn steps in a massive staircase of which each stage is birthed from the underskin of the last. Other ‘brutal’ albums constitute a string of emotions, but here we find an ancient megalithic maze that dwarves petty human creations.
Switching between thematic solos and motific riffs, grindlike attack and doomlike arrest, this first Asphyx takes us through savage plains and forbidden peaks in a barbarian’s world. Now we hear the rage of souls crushed, the karmic cruelty thence resulting, now the ecstatic state following the release of unrestrained fury as we claw our way through this arid wasteland of unmercy.
A baroque religious work might at first seem like an odd addition to a metal compendium, especially one featuring such corrosive albums. A sympathetic relation may nonetheless be found in deeper metaphysical recesses. This hidden concept being the most relevant connection that merits mention does not stop us from discussing other outer traits that surface from that common source, even though their materialized natures lie at antagonizing angles.
The homogeneous, cloudy exterior of Schütz’s offering to the highest being is a continuous exaltation in which each moment is as much a unique apparition as it is an illusory shadow in a sequence of conditioned stages. A flow through condensation, solidification and dispersion let the listener on to the infinite possibilities arising from the two, who are themselves from the one.
Dense, saturated and appreciable only as a mass, Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi will only reflect a clear image if the listener is standing in the right place (at the right time?). This same is true of the Ildjarn, the Burzum and the Asphyx as well. They represent mental spaces within which they are as palpable and engulfing as daylight itself. But places must be traveled to, gates must be unlocked and the decision to step through them is a voluntary one.
Seeds being planted,
guarded by the old ones below.
Against the sky they lay roots,
Once to bloom with signs.
One good way to make a name as a writer is to disguise a begging the question fallacy as an article. That’s what happened with “Why Are Black Metal Fans Such Elitist Assholes?”, a new piece staining the otherwise semi-respectable site Vice.com.
The article starts like a bad joke: a writer walks into a bar in Brooklyn. He hears people talking about black metal. He suggests Deafheaven and everyone there, including the bartenders, tell him that’s not black metal. He then omits vital information about this bar, knowing that all of us would immediately gang-rush it in support, and goes on a lengthy tirade that uses a logical fallacy. The begging the question fallacy relies on setting up a false association, and then arguing against the object of that association with what it’s associated with. It’s like this: “Knowing the connections between black metal and airborne AIDS, it’s unbelievable to me that anyone would support black metal, unless they really like people writhing in the street from autoimmune diseases on the wind.”
The actual argument in the article is here, six paragraphs down:
There is a level of inherent elitism in every special interest group. It’s just maybe more pronounced and ingrained in something as fringe as black metal is today. This is probably the same way Sex Pistols fans felt when Green Day and the Offspring blew up in the nineties. However, at some point you need to just accept that the thing that you love may get more popular or have elements of it co-opted by other genres—and if you take a step back, that’s part of what makes music or any other art form valuable to the culture. The conflict occurs when you overlook the fact that nothing exists in a vacuum and in order for anything to thrive it has to be identifiable to people on some level, otherwise it’s just an abstract mass floating aimlessly through the conceptual ether.
What he’s done here is cleverly re-define “elitism” to mean fear of other genres using black metal’s technique. However, the example he began the article with is that of other bands pretending to be black metal. Not a single elitist has argued against bands appropriating black metal technique, so long as they do it in their same camp. The point of elitism is to keep out impostors.
Impostors, you say? Yes: genres form because small groups break away from what everyone else is doing. These small groups then do something in an unorthodox way, and it works. The large group, fearing that it has been left behind, then creates a bandwagon effect where they all start imitating the small group. If the small group wishes to survive, it needs to oust the bandwagon-jumpers and keep itself internally consistent.
This is why many groups are elitist and not just in music. They are trying to preserve their way of doing things which is different from what the herd wants to do, while the herd wants to appropriate the mantle of these rebellious groups while continuing — underneath the aesthetic — to do exactly what the herd always does. In this case, they want to dumb down black metal into emo/indie/shoegaze/rock. That’s why people hate Deafheaven.
It’s not popular to defend elitism because elitism itself is under a similar attack. The herd would love to consider themselves elitists, but in the time-honored tradition of morons everywhere, they get it wrong. To them, elitism means finding the most obscure band possible and browbeating the rest of us for not knowing about it. It’s like a shibboleth or entry code to the cool kids group. But that group only appeals to hipsters, and those are actually irrelevant, since they produce nothing except low-run memes for each other.
Actual elitism is defense of the values of a genre. Not any band and definitely not every band can be black metal. However, the anti-elitists would like to argue that just about anything can be black metal by, you know, wishing it so. That amounts to obliteration by assimilation and adulteration, and would terminate the black metal genre. It seems that like this writer, most anti-elitists aren’t actually black metal fans, and what they want isn’t black metal, but the usual music that they like to be labeled as black metal… so they can be elitist (but humble) about it.
Since metal is caught within the regime of popular entertainment, it speaks the language of socialization exclusively. Thus, if you have an unpopular opinion, it’s because you’re mean or a douchebag. Thus it is that people frequently refer to people who have standards as “douchebag elitists.”
Listening to a release by what I’ll call a respectable band, I was reminded of the reasons for my douchebag elitism. This CD is after all mostly right. It has all the right elements, knows the conventions of the genre, and has a number of sentiment and somewhat obvious but effective riffs. Should be good, right?
Except that it’s not good enough. It’s close, but not the same. Where Graveland — its primary influence — had a unique personality and a clear direction, this respectable band is derived from Graveland and Darkthrone and that basis is audible. The basis for Graveland was reality itself; the basis for the respectable band is music.
As a result, it misses on what black metal was. Even more importantly, it misses out on a standard of quality that lets blackmetal be of that level. When we are elitist, and admit only the bands which have a distinct and amazing perspective on the world, we see the genre as it is: the product of independent minds with purpose.
When we let that purpose fall, and allow those who simply want to partake of that vision to be part of the genre, standards plummet. Those bands are imitating from outside and trying to reproduce what was, but in doing so, they’re losing the most essential part of it, which is its motivation as a whole.
For a band to be black metal, it needs to discover the motivating ideas that made black metal what it was. Then, it must have its own take on those ideas, and in addition to that, do what everyone can do these days, which is play well and have good production.
It’s interesting how few people are actually required to make a genre. Graveland is immortal; while Woodtemple sounds good at a distance, and I know from the word of close friends that the person behind it is a good fellow, it would be an adulteration and sacrifice of what black metal is to endorse this album.
Thanks to a reader, who pointed this out:
THIS GUY HATES ALL THE BANDS WE LIKE
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!
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 ;)