Death Metal Underground

In defense of elitism

January 22, 2014 –

motorhead_kid

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.

Why I am a douchebag elitist

September 20, 2013 –

black_metal_in_quotesSince 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.