The Classical-Metal connection expands

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For 20+ years, first with the Dark Legions Archive and next with the Death Metal Underground, the writers behind this site have encouraged comparison with heavy metal and two things: European Romanticism in art, music, and literature; and European classical music, which overlapped with Romanticism both in a specific time period and in themes it revisits even to this day. The similarities are abundant and apparent but offensive to those who want to believe the blues-rock spectrum was part of an authentic tradition, when in fact it was a commercial product simplifying earlier styles, and that — of course — metalheads cannot have any associations more profound than the sacred indie rock and its origins in 1960s protest music.

Now, others are taking up the call. Perfect Sound Forever, one of the oldest e-zines on the net, addresses the metal-classical linkage in an article in its current edition:

I’m here to show you that rock and roll and classical are very much relatives in an, albeit, diverse musical family. First off, the sort of person who enjoys classical music is the same sort of person who would enjoy metal or heavy rock music. Research by scientists at Heriot-Watt University has found that not only are peoples’ personalities linked to their taste in music – classical and heavy metal listeners often have very similar dispositions.

“The general public has held a stereotype of heavy metal fans being suicidally depressed and a danger to themselves and society in general,” explained Adrian North, the professor who led the study. “But they are quite delicate things. Metal fans, like classical listeners, tend to be creative, gentle people, at ease with themselves. We think the answer is that both types of music, classical and heavy metal, have something of the spiritual about them — they’re very dramatic — a lot happens. ”

Perhaps more will be known about not only the similarities between these genres, but — because every cause has an effect — what similar ideas or emotions motivated artists to make such similar music centuries apart.

How marketing is destroying heavy metal

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A strange thing happened during the years of 1965 to 1975: advertising morphed into marketing, or the science — and rest assured, it relies in objective data™ in Excel spreadsheets — of designing products to fit people.

Never mind the old days of trying to explain to them why they need something; figure out what they will buy, and modify your product to the simplest, cheapest version of that which they will pay the most for. If a good burger costs $9, but they will take a half-soy knockoff for $6, the latter is the better product.

As a result, advertisers became scientists of a sort. They queried consumers, studied them on videotape, analyzed their purchases and made lists of “features” that customers demanded. Always their goal was to find out what the largest group would purchase at the highest price, while keeping cost lowest. Statistical mathematics had come to business.

Since that time, astute observers might note, this mentality has steadily crept into just about every field. No one is immune. And each time it does, product satisfaction jumps — but quality takes a nosedive. Beer is now sugar water, but people claim to like it. Cigarettes are ashy hot air, but they sell steadily. Heavy metal music has become angsty self-pitying radio rock, but it has more fans than ever before.

The product has improved; the object itself — in this case, the music and the artistry behind it — has degenerated.

Metal does not face this alone. Literature produces endless favorites, but no classics (or even any books that outlast a trend). The car industry cranks out limited editions but no legends. Even classical music emits a panoply of avant-garde “innovators” but none endure. The same condition even affects cigars. As blender G.L. Pease relates:

Not all change is good, or welcome.

My journey down memory lane with these old smokes is not simply a waltz with nostalgia, but something a bit more purposeful. I’ve sampled many very good cigars over the past few years, and a great many more that have not much impressed me. But, even among many of the better smokes, as much as I’ve enjoyed them, I’ve continued to find something missing, a fundamental aspect of what caused me to go geeky over cigars in the 80s, and is almost universally absent in most of the modern cigars I’ve been smoking.

…In what, to me, is a ludicrous arms race where so many makers are chasing adjectives like fatter, longer, stronger, spicier, powerful, they seem to have lost track of some of the adjectives I might apply to these old beauties; sultry, seductive, provocative. This wasn’t a rare quality, either; it was almost commonplace amongst the quality marques 30 years ago, but it’s all but gone missing in too many of the modern mash-ups of multinational leaf, rolled into burrito sized spice-bombs with enough “power” to stop a stampeding rhino dead in his tracks.

This “ludicrous arms race” comes about because, like the Clinton campaign or a user satisfaction survey, manufacturers pay attention to polls. They listen to user feedback and then plug it into computerized analyses to find out where low margin, high price and average desired features intersect. They run the calculations and out pops the ideal product. It addresses the middle segment of the Standard Distribution (a.k.a. “bell curve”) that applies to most human tendencies in most groups. The far-right of the curve, which favors quality over quantity, hates these products; the middle of the curve grudgingly finds them acceptable and in a flurry of despondent why-mes purchases them, and the far-left is both too inconsistent and too miserable to reliably purchase anything, so their patronage is entirely defined by local availability.

How might this happen in heavy metal? Every generation, marketers add up the trends of the last decade and hybridize them. In 1975 it was hard rock, blues and heavy metal combined into heavy rock; in 1985, it was heavy metal, punk and heavy rock; in 1995, it was rap, alternative rock and speed metal; in 2005, it was indie-rock, emo and underground metal. They make the product that the audience cannot recognize is a cheap alternative disguised as the New Latest Best Coolest Thing, and pump it out the door. Profits go up, quality goes down. We see it most prominently in metal, but this mentality is everywhere, and will continue to be everywhere until elitism asserts itself.

Elitism is a simple formula: quality > quantity. This cliché, while irritating, also carries a grain of truth. You can have only one or the other because to have either trait is to take things to extremes. Waffling in the middle does not work. Either the music is quality, which reduces its audience, or it is accessible, which increases the quantity of sales by expanding its audience by lowering “cognitive barriers” to appreciation. That means complexity, artistry, technicality and even relevance. The audience loves the same old thing in new clothing. People buy the same albums their grandfathers did, but with new tempi, textures, lyrics and other surface changes. This is one reason why some of us allege that rock ‘n’ roll has always been nothing more than marketing.

With elitism, people at the top of the cognitive chain — radio hosts, writers, musicians, superuser fans — gravitate toward the best stuff and everyone else imitates them. On the left end of the bell curve, confusion reigns anyway and so they just go along with the flow. On the right side, people follow others who they look up to and learn to appreciate the music that way. A few of those on the left side of middle feel left out and get angry, resentful and bratty. But, they are that way unless fed moronic pap anyway, and everyone else gets better music, so the outcome is better this way.

Except… uh oh… for labels. Labels make money not so much on the big scores as by putting out a few albums a month that consistently rake in the sales. Ever wonder why artists past their prime are still puking out albums and those albums make it into the press and stores? They sell because of name recognize. Egbert Q. Findley of West Los Angeles will keep going to his job as a middle manager at a warehouse chain and will keep on buying whatever is put out by the bands that were hip when he was 18. He wants to stay current, you see. Millions of people kept buying Neil Diamond, Liberace, U2 and REM when they drifted into pure drivel. Why? Because they’re fucking morons. — well, yes, but also because they are creatures of habit. They want something new to listen to. They do not really care what it is, or if it is good. Just something new to keep their minds off the exciting world of multi-level sales or whatever the hell it is people waste their irreplaceable time on nowadays.

Right now metal is winding up for one of its Revolutions. Each time industry comes out with its new super-product, it takes about a decade for artists to react and strike back with something new. Glam metal created speed metal, blues-metal created death metal, and now, indie-metal will force the creation of a new genre. Either that, or metal will perish, and become another flavor for rock bands of all type. Want to have a song about being a rebel? Make the chorus riff a metal one. They’ll even put a setting on the audio workstation software to do it for you, all to help you make the perfect product and live the dream — of early retirement.

Even Barack Obama disagrees with SJWs

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They called him a secret Muslim, and they called him a crypto-Socialist, and those may or may not be true, but even America’s most liberal president thinks SJWs are bunk:

Sometimes there are folks on college campuses who are liberal, and maybe even agree with me on a bunch of issues, who sometimes aren’t listening to the other side, and that’s a problem too. I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I gotta tell you, I don’t agree with that either. I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view. I think you should be able to — anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ‘em. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, “You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.” That’s not the way we learn either.

It would have been even better if he expanded the scope of his comments beyond college to the everyday life, watercooler talk, casual discussion, public debate, politics and even The Blighted Internet. We either can talk about anything, using polite language and structured argument, or we become an echo chamber. Polite language means that you use synonyms for the angry words you might want to use; structured argument means offering fact and logic instead of emotion and impulse. With those, we can have any conversation and, as our society plummets downward into chaos, clearly we need to.

This extends to me. Metal is offensive because it rejects social pretense. It wants to talk about everything you fear, the spectres that haunt your dreams, the yawning emptiness of death below, and the thought that maybe — just maybe — Charles Darwin was not wrong and we still live in times of strife, predation, extinction, warfare, violence and parasitism. Metal trusts nature more than humanity. It looks at the big picture, tens of thousands of years and the world beyond our immediate locality, and it does not care if old Aunt Mabel (or even little sister SJW Susie) is offended. Reality is reality. Human pretense contradicts reality and must be destroyed, whether that pretense is hippie-yuppie 1960s love-jive, yuppie-consumer 1980s job propaganda, hippie-consumer 1990s peace out palaver, or even 2010s special snowflake individualism. Reality is greater than humanity. Metal is the messenger of that idea, and it will never be flattering to the herd, therefore will always be opposed when found in its whole form.

Elitism is Darwinism for heavy metal

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If you are a false, do not entry. – Sarcofago

Elitism gets a bad rap because it has been appropriated by hipsters to justify their interest in low-quality but obscure bands. The obscurity of those bands makes them rare, which makes them valuable in a social situation, as you can always one up someone else by suggesting something more obscure, connoting greater knowledge, experience and “being in the know” on your part. This is the inverse of elitism however which is a simple formula of quality > quantity, which hipsters confuse with simply measuring by quantity alone in order to find the least popular and equate it with the highest quality.

Inferior substitutes replacing quality originals is after all a trope if not the defining feature of what happens over time in our society. A good idea becomes edgy, then hip, and so a dumbed-down version is made for the masses to democratically share in the hipness, at which point declining quality (dumbing down) destroys whatever made the idea important in the first place. One needs look no further than the progression of Metallica from their second album to their fourth to see this in action. Over time, the complexity and intensity erodes and is replaced by a friendly, vapid and appearance-based substitute. The story arc of black metal shows this most clearly, moving from an outlaw genre that upended all rock and pop conventions to a pale imitation in the form of indie rock with incomprehensible screaming.

It is no wonder the hipsters want elitism misunderstood. It would eliminate the entirety of hipster bands by pointing out that, instead of being quality because of their rare quantity, they are impostors and pretenders. Poseurs, if you will. Then again, what defines hipsters is the formula appearance > reality, so that entire genre of people are by nature poseurs, scenesters, day-trippers, tourists, pretenders and the like. Elitism offers cynicism with hope: that by raising our standards, we can raise quality. World-weary observers may note that this has something in common with the theories of Charles Darwin, which held that better adapted creatures reproduce more and thus over the years their traits predominate; on the other hand, traits which are not used die out. Cynicism by itself leads to a dark place where nothing has value, but cynicism with hope leads out of the confusing harangue of nonsense that most people rationalize themselves into liking, and shows instead a chance to clear the clutter, value the good, and spend life on more meaningful pursuits than what is new or obscure.

Darwin gave us a warning, however. Humans now control the index of selection, and so if we value the wrong things, those will predominate over other traits and exclude those traits. For example, in black metal it became fashionable to like the novelty of hybrids with indie-rock, and those sold more as a result, and this displaced most of the original material. In turn, the originalists attempted to preserve their music through exaggerating its external characteristics, which led to self-parody and low quality. Elitism is recognition of what our ancestors could have told us: most people, most of the time, are engaged in useless or stupid activity in order to appear important. The self-importance of the individual is the death of humanity, perhaps, but it certainly forms the death of music. One needs look no further than a thread of favorite bands where each user busily types in the most obscure bands he can think of in order to appear wise.

Misanthropy has long been a trait of metal. Compassionate misanthropy would be much like cynicism with hope, or a recognition that most people are busy with the useless, but that some are not, and if we value those good, we get more of the good; on the other hand, if we ignore them, they die out. Darwin would nod and smile at this implementation of his theory. Unfortunately for humans, only some — those with the intelligence, experience and honesty/aggression to pursue the truth — can articulate the difference between gunk and glory. These are opposed by the rest because these tastemakers will point out the the Emperor has no clothes on at all, which invalidates the posing and posturing of the majority. This in turn renders the hipster, scenester and try-hard irrelevant, and they fear this and as a result fight hard against any quality > quantity assessment, which leads them to try doubly hard to find the obscure but mediocre and champion it as the apex of the genre.

Majorities however determine the order of the day. They have more money and in democratic societies, political power; their misery is that by “winning,” they self-destruct by replacing quality with inferior substitutes. The last twenty years of heavy metal reflect this anti-Darwinian approach and quality has declined proportionately. Even record labels find that following the most recent trends — the way to success in a mass society — has stopped working for them as consistently as it used to. This intensifies the desire to replace quality with quantity, especially by claiming that a small quantity or being ironic, different, unique or contrarian signals quality. On this point, hipsters join with the bourgeois mass consumer marketers in the same theory, and through two different pathways, produce the same inferior result.

Don’t Break the Oath turns 31 today

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Mercyful Fate Don’t Break the Oath was released on September 7, 1984. Back then, you most likely purchased the album on vinyl or cassette. King Diamond, the vocalist of Mercyful Fate, expanded on the image that Kiss and Alice Cooper had adopted years earlier, but he backed it up with powerful speed/heavy metal with melodic vocals and lyrics informed by more than a passing acquaintance with the occult.

If you ask me, Don’t Break the Oath was the peak of his career. The band picked up on the speed metal techniques of rhythm and used them to expand heavy metal with more fluid tempo and riff styles, then built epic songs out of that which did not over-emphasize the vocals but let them aid the songs, much like on the second Iron Maiden album. In the 1980s, just about every metal band listened to this classic.

#metalgate: SJWs make clear the agenda is making you OBEY

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To succeed in modern society, it is best to style oneself as a victim. We live in a time of victimhood politics where the person who successfully portrays themselves as being harmed finds that society steps aside to let them ahead, handing out freebies in the process.

Rape victims — whether a rape occurred or not — become overnight celebrities. Politicians gain stature for having been opposed, not for having been right. Every celebrity and actor has a story of how life harmed them early on. In a society of equals, the only way to be more equal is to be perceived as having been made less equal, thus a recompense — and rise in moral stature to “hero” — is deserved.

For most of their careers, SJWs have stayed behind the cloak of victimhood. In their view, someone out there is harming them, despite living in the nation with the best quality of life on earth, having government incentives for their hiring and renting, and being generally privileged college students working in easy media careers. They portray their crusade as correcting injustices.

But, as any cynic or observer of human behavior knows, those who perceive themselves as victims are usually simply manipulating others. Grackles — small brownish-black birds known for raiding dumpsters — will fake an injured wing to cajole extra treats from people eating at open-air cafes. This behavior is older than humanity itself. The difference with humans is that once given power, SJWs become insatiable attackers demanding that everyone else be cleared from their way. Their agenda is revenge against anyone having a better life than they are, which — since SJWs are the cause of their own underlying misery — is anyone who is not miserable.

We can see this pathology in a recent article by Laina Dawes (who unfriended me on Facebook for having a different opinion than she did) about “Heavy Metal Feminism”. Here’s the pitch:

Despite the global appeal and presence of heavy metal culture, widespread online distribution, and increasing awareness among a diverse audience, there remains great resistance to discuss ongoing sexism, racism, and other issues that can potentially dissuade fans from actively participating in the subculture. “I don’t know why it is so hard for people to understand that not everyone is just like them,” Phillips told me. And Phillips isn’t alone; other artists and journalists are questioning the pervasiveness of discriminatory practices and beliefs within a musical culture that, ironically, not only boasts of its “inclusive community” (in which membership is predicated on fandom and not gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation), but also, because of its underground status, places an emphasis on fan participation and economic support in order to create and distribute music that will never, and doesn’t want to, receive true mainstream commercial attention.

At this point, the true message emerges: agree with us or you are bad and must be destroyed.

Never mind that what is popular is almost always wrong and corrected by the next generation, or that heavy metal might have its own way of dealing with this issues.

Despite all the citation of academic articles here, Dawes’ approach is fundamentally unscientific: cite lack of tons of female heavy metal bands as “proof,” then claim that only that will rectify the “problem,” and demand that everyone else drop everything they are doing in order to get ahead.

And throughout it all, no one answers the real question: what have these female-fronted bands done to make themselves important to metal?

After all, Lita Ford, Jo Bench, Lori Bravo, Mythic/Derketa and others have had no trouble being metalheads who also happen to be women.

But that shows us the real agenda that Dawes is pushing: she does not want women in metal, she wants propagandists. She wants women who agree with her to be shoved to the front of the line so they can drown out that bad old white male music.

Never mind that metal has never been exclusively white nor male. Never mind the legions of women who have been in bands, worked as journalists (including the underground zines that mainstream media refuses to mention), run labels or otherwise contributed vital things to metal.

They claim they are anti-fascist, these SJWs, but while they are not fascist they are authoritarians. Their goal is to replace metal with propaganda rock with the “right” opinions to cure a “problem” that is not a problem. And if you need any more reason than that to kick them to the curb, you have not been paying attention.

Literary inspirations of metal

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Fenriz (Darkthrone, Storm) unleashed his band Fenriz’ Red Planet a half-decade ago and on its first release included a song named “John Carter, Man On Mars.” This should immediately send all of you running to your search engines, where you will find that John Carter was the protagonist-hero of a number of books written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, all of which are available online.

That in turn leads to the larger question of which metal bands have shown their literary influences. If a list were made, H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien would lead the list from the 1970s onward, but perhaps the influences are subtler. Jim Morrison acknowledged Louis-Ferdinand Céline and William Blake, and this carried forward into metal through thematic elements, some of which have been picked up on by metal bands since. Many of these influences may be subtler than explicit reference, such as whatever gore-drenched literature inspired Carcass and any of the occult fringes of underground metal.

One wonders what lurks in lyrics and song ideas from the vast library of black metal, death metal and grindcore. Science fiction seems to make an appearance with the more technical bands, where the more primitive and violent prefer popular but challenging literature such as Lovecraft. It has yet to be seen whether metal bands can adapt ideas from Jane Austen or Thomas Hardy. But perhaps some are working on it. If you can think of any literary references in metal, drop them in the comments.

Revisiting: Cemetary An Evil Shade Of Grey

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Some albums have an inherently nocturnal mood to them, a form of parent moods to all others; Cemetary combines the sensation of doom metal with a heavy metal twist with the lighter and more ethereal vein of death metal to create an album of suspension of the world to venture into an exploration of nocturnal, ambiguous and excitingly lawless worlds.

Like the primeval forest, the world of thought outside of what Society demands must be true is an unnerving place full of possibility and danger, and Cemetary tempers this with a more traditional heavy metal compositional style but uses some of the death metal method of song structure as a means of emotional conveyance, much like opera does in theater. Songs break to reconstruct themselves, and then burrow deeper into a circular wending of riffs that culminates in a collision of internal forces which forces the dormant mood to the surface, by reflexive contrast relegating the previous sensations of personable melancholy to the background and uncovering a more unsettling feel of indirect, invisible forces at work.

Featuring use of a left-hand technique that seems to achieve a two-note vibrato for a further ghostly sound, these songs betray an Iron Maiden-styled heavy metal background in both progression and harmonic structure, but augment this with extensive internal evolution in the death metal style. Many will recognize this band (and fellow travelers Tiamat) as the inspiration behind Opeth, who realized if they kept the death metal to choruses and added some bouncy self-pitying pretentious folk rock for the verses they could convince the basement NEETs of the world to pompously parade around telling others how Opeth was perhaps too deep for them, by reflex incarnating themselves as agents of profundity. Cemetary avoids that fate with a simple pragmatism in that its destabilizing obscurity and isolated emotion pairs itself with good times heavy metal, converting both so that the familiar becomes self-critical and the darkness warms so that it gains a friendly touch. This gives the album a perfect mental feel for an evening with friends and a pipe of dark tobacco, perhaps Dunhill Nightcap or one of the dark flakes that conceal their high strength behind matured harvest flavors.

As in a good tobacco, the power of An Evil Shade Of Grey blooms from within the darkness, appearing first as a light alternative but then taking on a demonic sense of perverting the familiar into the uncertain. This bloom then matures in its own darkness, and reintegrates with the more friendly sounds, creating a continuum which releases expectations and allows the blended moods of solitary introspection and vigilance against imminent camouflaged threats to become themselves a type of familiarity. Through that device, this simultaneously conventional and oddball album achieves a deep subconscious effect on the listener, like all good death metal unfolding so that past riffs shift context dramatically and create the sense of discovery for the listener.

Most remember this album for its selective use of acoustic guitar in with the death metal riffs, and its parallels of listenability and challenging emptiness, but its surface traits only serve to propel it deeper into its own brooding ambiguity. An Evil Shade Of Grey recently celebrated 23 years since its introduction, and remains as perfect for nighttime perambulation and contemplation as it did then, joining albums like the first Darkthrone and early doom metal in stimulating both the mind and the heart in a study of the dark spaces of existence.

Romanticism in heavy metal

For over twenty years, this site and its predecessors have advanced the idea that heavy metal bears much in common thematically with the Romantic movement in literature, arts and music. Multiple parallels exist between what metal idealizes, and what the Romantics did.

Consider one of the better summaries of Romantic philosophy available:

Romanticism can be seen as a rejection of the precepts of order, calm, harmony, balance, idealization, and rationality that typified Classicism in general and late 18th-century Neoclassicism in particular. It was also to some extent a reaction against the Enlightenment and against 18th-century rationalism and physical materialism in general. Romanticism emphasized the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental.

Among the characteristic attitudes of Romanticism were the following: a deepened appreciation of the beauties of nature; a general exaltation of emotion over reason and of the senses over intellect; a turning in upon the self and a heightened examination of human personality and its moods and mental potentialities; a preoccupation with the genius, the hero, and the exceptional figure in general, and a focus on his passions and inner struggles; a new view of the artist as a supremely individual creator, whose creative spirit is more important than strict adherence to formal rules and traditional procedures; an emphasis upon imagination as a gateway to transcendent experience and spiritual truth; an obsessive interest in folk culture, national and ethnic cultural origins, and the medieval era; and a predilection for the exotic, the remote, the mysterious, the weird, the occult, the monstrous, the diseased, and even the satanic.

Let us put those attributes in simplified form:

  • Naturalism
  • Anti-rationalism
  • Introspection
  • Elitism
  • Anti-formalism
  • Transcendentalism
  • Nationalism
  • Occultism

At this point, the argument makes itself, because metal frequently exhibits all of these. Naturalism manifests itself along with introspection, or a reliance on the beast within over the reasoning that becomes external when codified. Anti-rationalism and anti-formalism become a similar crossover, with a distrust of justification, rules, laws, public morals and arbitrary versions of abstract theory. Elitism is apparent both in metal’s innate hierarchy, manifested in both its quest for the hardest and heaviest music possible, and the tiered layers of importance signaled through what band is on a metalhead’s t-shirt. Occultism has been with metal from its early days, both through the horror movie and religion-inspired metaphysical explorations of Black Sabbath and the creation of epic, Tolkien-style spiritual mythology from Slayer through black metal.

Finally, we come to nationalism, which proves a troubling subject because of the ghost of Adolf Hitler which seems to loom large over all modern endeavors. While the National Socialists were nationalists (nationalism + socialism = national socialism), they were not alone in this, nor was their interpretation universal. Most saw nationalism as a glorification of national culture and a reason to turn away foreigners and not genocide them, although the numerous black and death metal lyrics about mass killing and WWII confuse the issue. Clearly Slayer were not pro-Nazi as their pejorative lyrics to “Angel of Death” illustrate, and while much of black metal — Burzum, Darkthrone, Graveland, and Emperor among others — endorsed outright national socialism, most bands took a more traditional nationalist path through pride in their identity and by reflex action, the rejection of anything which would dilute it. As the multicultural states of the West roil themselves yet again with ethnic unrest, we have to wonder if the “middle path” of Immortal, Mayhem, Enslaved and Storm might not have been a better one.

Yet nationalism is only one part of the bigger picture, although an inseparable one. People who favor a surface reading of history tend to opine that nationalism only occurred with the Enlightenment, confusing the formation of nation-states with the existence of nations, which are in fact the opposite of nation-states. A nation-state defines itself politically; a nation, both ethnically and culturally. Where the Nazis believed they could define a nation via a state with an exclusive ethnic delineation — although they had no problem admitting those who were mixed, and consequently 150,000 soldiers of mixed-Jewish heritage fought for Hitler — the Romantic-era nationalists tended to be more like Elias Lönnrot in focusing on a positive method of unification by strengthening culture against the dual onslaught of the Enlightement and the Industrial Revolution. In black metal, the form of elitism known as misanthropy crosses over with this nationalism, which seems it could be summarized as preserving the best of an ethnic group and killing off the cultureless, valueless, soft-handed beta cuck city dwellers who litter the countryside when on vacation and do nothing of value in their cubicle jobs.

The important point about Romanticism as noted above is that it rejected the Enlightenment. That dogma held that the human being itself was the highest good; Romanticism held that specific human beings, denoted by their ability to have specific thought process and mental abilities, was the highest form. Where the Enlightenment mandated a mob, the Romanticists demanded a hierarchy of realists (introspection leads to “know thyself” and thus a better understanding of reality itself). This puts Romanticism in perpetual clash with the dominant paradigm of our time, even if it is also popular with silly people who want to pretend to be deep for a few years from high school until their second job. We might distinguish between actual Romanticism and theater department Romanticism, or even “#yolo Romanticism,” which comprises the latter category.

Where do we see Romanticism in metal? First and foremost, in topic: metal bands tend to visualize life as a conflict between a thoughtless herd and a few realists who bring the heavy reality. It also shows up in the lyrics frequently, although not as clearly as in Romantic poetry. But let us begin our exploration of Romanticism with one of those classics, albeit a very popular one:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
– The World is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth (1789)

From that we venture to a rather Romantic composition by Black Sabbath which seems out of place considering the stereotype of metal lyrics. Its poetic imagery is nearly pastoral, but still incorporates at least some of the rage of nature (“red sun” & cockerels cry”).

Red sun rising in the sky
Sleeping village, cockerels cry
Soft breeze blowing in the trees
Peace of mind, feel at ease
– Black Sabbath, “Sleeping Village,” Black Sabbath (1970)

Then, for a mixed Enlightenment/Romanticism approach, there is this rather defiant piece by Metallica which takes teenage resentment of incompetent adulthood and a one-size-fits-all egalitarian and utilitarian society and channels that anger into a statement of defiance based in the individual, but reasoning from objective problems with society at large:

Rape my mind and destroy my feelings
Don’t tell my what to do
I don’t care now, ’cause I’m on my side
And I can see through you
Feed my brain with your so called standards
Who says that I ain’t right
Break away from your common fashion
See through your blurry sight

Out of my own, out to be free
One with my mind, they just can’t see
No need to hear things that they say
Life is for my own to live my own way
– Metallica, “Escape,” Ride the Lightning (1984)

Slayer took this general approach and converted it into a mythology that was as much Christian — avoidance of Satan, and fascination with the mythos of The Fall — as it was occult, incorporating elements of both alongside some defiant egotism. In this piece, the individual declares himself the opposition of all that is approved of (symbolized by “God” and “lie”) and takes on a mystical, spectral and vengeful presence:

Screams and nightmares
Of a life I want
Can’t see living this lie no
A world I haunt
You’ve lost all control of my
Heart and soul
Satan holds my future
Watch it unfold

I am the Antichrist
It’s what I was meant to be
Your God left me behind
And set my soul to be free
– Slayer, “The Antichrist,” Show No Mercy (1983)

Perhaps the most evocative lyric to my mind, and recalling scenes from another southern writer, William Faulkner, the Texas thrash band Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (DRI) wrote this paean to resistance to modern society on the basis of its ugliness and numbness. Again, the utilitarian — a culmination of Enlightenment thought — shows itself to be the enemy of the individual, but the individual points to larger things of importance (nature, beauty) as the reason for his enmity:

They block out the landscape with giant signs
Covered with pretty girls and catchy lines
Put up fences and cement the ground
To dull my senses, keep the flowers down
– Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (D.R.I.), “Give My Taxes,” Dealing With It (1985)

Finally, we come to a more stylized statement of the Slayer/DRI approach, in which the individual has like Friedrich Nietzsche rejected the definition of “good” used by the dying civilization. Instead, he is the enemy of humankind for having “(mis)understood” “this romantic place.” The usage of “romantic” here clearly refers to Romantic, and not lowercase-r romantic as in the rather icky novels with Thomas Kinkade covers. Much like Zarathustra, this individual rejects love (“hateful”) and civilization itself (“savages”) with a form of evil that originates in nature versus human delusion. Its call to destroy the excess of society and replace it with woods evokes the elitism and misanthropy of black metal, in that it sees most humans as “talking monkeys with car keys” (Kam Lee, Massacre).

Hateful savages, strong black minds
Out of the forest, kill the human kind
Burn the settlements and grow the woods
Until this romantic place is understood!
– Absurd, “Green Heart,” Raubritter/Grimmige Volksmusik (2007)

Perhaps this subject will receive future study instead of the rather politically-inclined pieces about race and gender in metal, neither of which seem to matter to metalheads except at the level of the political. Men and women of all races and creeds happily mix at metal shows, completely disagreeing with each other but, because they see civilization as failed, realizing they are not defending a social order but maintaining their own separate ones. This Romantic view sees the modern state as a parasite and modern society as a corrupt bourgeois entity dedicated to its own pleasure and wealth at the expense of shared good things like woods and truth. With that outlook, almost every metalhead can agree at least.

Invention versus novelty in metal

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There is an experience like deja vu which feels more like parallax motion. This sensation is that of seeing parallels between two things which, visually at least, seem to have nothing in common. And yet it also feels like racing over open ground in a landscape of discovery. Consider this observation from a pipe collecting writer:

Some innovations are not innovative at all. They are ideas that have been explored–and even made–long before. That the current experimenter is ignorant of previous attempts does not make the effort novel. It also does not make revising an idea or revisiting a solution unworthy. But don’t make untrue claims. Socrates’ observation that “There is nothing new under the sun” is almost always true.

Other “innovations” are transparent attempts at attention-getting. Putting products out there that exclaim “Look at me! I’m SO leading edge! I’m an artist!” might work for Miley Cyrus, but the average pipemaker’s target audience is somewhat less naïve nor impressionable, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at some of the work being touted on Facebook pipe groups these days.

What amazes me even more is that the work on the ridiculous end of the sublime-to-ridiculous continuum attracts its champions, and they seem eager to whoop and hurrah without engaging in any critical discourse at all. It’s hype, hype, hype. In my view, hyping isn’t helpful because it inhibits thoughtful conversations that might contribute to improving or at least refining the innovations being touted.

He draws a distinction between what we might call invention, or application of new ideas to a realistic use, as distinct from novelty, which is the creation of “new” ideas for newness’ sake. In metal terms, it takes some brains and guts to create a sublime form of a metal genre, but any idiot can add ska, jazz and rockabilly to Pantera and come up with something “new.”

Metalcore in particular is consumed by this view of novelty as a target. Since its songs are built in the post-hardcore random collage style, just about anything fits into a metalcore band, which is why it has aesthetically-diverse but musically-similar acts like Animals as Leaders, Obscura, Behemoth, The Haunted and The Red Chord under the same genre banner. Each riff is like a different act in a variety show. This is why it has the “carnival music” approach: its compositional structure is verse chorus with an extended musical appositive in which the random is prized more than the coherent, or that which flows from one point to another in a sensible narrative.

Some would say this is its artistic appeal, that metalcore expresses the randomness and purposeless directionless consumption of our time. That may be true, but the best art does not merely protest, but forms beauty out of sense and makes it compelling in a new way. Others might defend metalcore as “open-minded,” as was popular with bad gimmick death metal bands in the early 1990s, and even early mathcore experiments. Yet randomness is not open-mindedness; it is refusal to make up one’s mind, and by burying the audience under different elements, essentially hiding what one thinks and hedging one’s bests. How do you criticize a band that has a riff from every imaginable style in each song, except to note that greater randomness produces greater proximity to background noise? Andy Warhol might sell metalcore as an avant garde representation of the background noise of the city.

And yet, we had two-riffs plus breakdowns bands back in the day. Metalcore itself is an extension of post-hardcore, which was a late 1980s thing. None of this “innovation” is in fact new; it is merely recycling the same old sad elements, like the clichés in movies where every rebellious character has to ride a Harley, drink Jack Daniels, smoke Reds and listen to heavy metal. Generally the pattern for metalcore bands is that they find something that people want but do not understand, then make a simplified — in this case, random — version of it, and then pimp it out. Opeth for example made their career off the idea of being too deep for most people, but were basically a re-hash of what Cemetary and Tiamat did five years before. Meshuggah took what Exhorder and Vio-lence did with speed metal riffs but made it more obvious, simplified and put it to a jazz-style complex offbeat structure, but added nothing new musically, and in fact took away most of the musicality. Cradle of Filth figured out that if someone made a heavy metal band that sounded like black metal, it would outsell the original. And so on.

Here is a useful definition regarding metalcore:

A blend of hardcore and metal music that evolved in the mid-to-late 90’s with bands like Unbroken, Earth Crisis, Harvest, Endeavor, Poison The Well and Unearth. There is a liberal use of breakdowns in the music and the lyrical themes range from the political to the personal.

Compare to a similar definition for deathcore:

Deathcore is a style of extreme music often confused by its fans with death metal. Deathcore draws heavily from the “malcore” style of metalcore in the sense that elements of its sound, both in composition and production, are rejected by the more conservative metal culture (ex. death/black/thrash/sludge metal). Deathcore differs from metalcore in the sense that it is generally faster, more heavy, and tending toward darker themes such as are present in death metal. Deathcore is also notorious for the excessive use of breakdowns, an element also present (but less frequent) in death metal and other ‘true’ metal genres. Hardcore dancing, a dance style in which fans swing their arms and legs violently in rhythm, has become hugely popular among deathcore fans, and is a trademark of live deathcore shows.

Despite many fans’ beliefs, deathcore is vastly different from traditional death metal. Musically, the deathcore song structure is generally much more formulaic than that of death metal; songs tend to have one or two guitar riffs, several breakdowns, and possibly a chorus. Deathcore composition is also much less complex, many songs featuring doubled guitar parts or simple guitar harmonies, with the bass guitar being almost entirely indistinguishable.

Our normal impulse is to say “Well, you listen to what you like, and I will listen to what I like.” That is the socially correct answer at least which is one reason why it is wrong: social preference selects for the unreal because people prefer illusion. The problem is that when idiot music shows up, idiots show up, and they outnumber anyone competent. If they can appropriate the style of your genre and make a dumbed-down sugar, salt and fat added version of it, they will replace you. You will not keep listening to what you like because no new versions of it will come out because no musician will touch a genre infested by idiots unless he or she wants to profit from idiots. Your genre will be assimilated and replaced. That is exactly what happened to metal since 1994.

Some people moan any time a person wants to connect metal with social trends, history or other traditional forms of analysis. that is because those people want to keep metal as a hobby, a product and something special removed from everything else that is just there to be enjoyed. But on the other hand, many artists have given up more comfortable lives cranking out alt-country, indie rock or rap to spend their time trying to make quality metal, and it seems pointless to disrespect and ignore that. If we look at metal through the historical development of an artistic movement, it becomes clear that it offers not just another version of the same rock ‘n’ roll idea, but an entirely different idea. Rock is, like all post-Enlightenment thought, about the primacy of the individual. Metal rebels against that with hard realism.

Perhaps the hard realism is right. After all, this society is miserable — another one of those things that metal reminds us of daily — and besotted with lies, committing ecocide against nature, forcing people into miserable jobs, and specializes in tearing down beautiful things to replace them with strip malls and endless rules. I would go so far as to say this is the worst age of humanity, except for the mindlessly selfish, who sure love that 500-channel cable and easy jobs and fast credit that make them feel like kings in the tiny little fraction of the universe that they notice. Over time I have come to observe that the smarter someone is, the more aware they are not just of particular ideas or facts but of space, area, time and their own smallness. An idiot thinks he is the sole occupant of the planet; a medium-intelligence person is aware of his community; a genius is aware of the cosmos, the past and future of humanity as a whole, and the people even far from him. Metal rebels against our society both on the basis that it is formed of affectionate-sounding lies, and that it is ugly, pointless, boring and crass.

But that is “alternative history” to the majority of people. They believe — because they want to believe — that our time is the apex of humanity. And technologically, surely it is, although most of this stuff seems like fumbly-fidgety rehashes of 1970s inventions like UNIX and networking. They ignore the vast misery not just among the impoverished, but among the successful, and the utter boredom of the purposeless nature of modern life. Every generation, social order decays further and people become more like witches, of dishonest, selfish, petty, and oblivious character. Each generation can say to the one after, “Stuff’s worse than when I was a kid, so have an iPod and we’ll call it even, OK?” As long as we stick with official history there is nothing we can do with that. As others have noted, perhaps the root of invention as opposed to novelty is a willingness to leap off the platform of official history and look into other reasons, not new but realistic and truthful instead of merely socially popular ones.

Speaking of alternative history, I encountered this passage today. You might call it Libertarians for Monarchy. It takes an economist’s view of the change in history, and shows how alternative history might have been right, after all, and how we might all just be living in denial and cruising on the wealth of the past (Hans-Hermann Hoppe via Outside In:

A king owned the territory and could hand it on to his son, and thus tried to preserve its value. A democratic ruler was and is a temporary caretaker and thus tries to maximize current government income of all sorts at the expense of capital values, and thus wastes. […] Here are some of the consequences: during the monarchical age before World War I, government expenditure as a percent of GNP was rarely higher than 5%. Since then it has typically risen to around 50%. Prior to World War I, government employment was typically less than 3% of total employment. Since then it has increased to between 15 and 20%. The monarchical age was characterized by a commodity money (gold) and the purchasing power of money gradually increased. In contrast, the democratic age is the age of paper money whose purchasing power has permanently decreased. […] Kings went deeper and deeper into debt, but at least during peacetime they typically reduced their debt load. During the democratic era government debt has increased in war and in peace to incredible heights. Real interest rates during the monarchical age had gradually fallen to somewhere around 2½%. Since then, real interest rates (nominal rates adjusted for inflation) have risen to somewhere around 5% — equal to 15th-century rates. Legislation virtually did not exist until the end of the 19th century. Today, in a single year, tens of thousands of laws and regulations are passed. Savings rates are declining instead of increasing with increasing incomes, and indicators of family disintegration and crime are moving constantly upward.

In a time when popularity determines success, appearance is more important than reality. This is what gives rise to novelty, or essentially — as our pipe smoker above reminded us — re-visiting of old ideas in bizarre new forms that entice the herd because they are different and unique, which is how all of those bonobos view themselves and want to assert as their reason for having importance. We call most of them hipsters, but the phenomenon is broader than that; we live in a time that is appearance-over-substance, and as long as metal panders to that demographic, its fortunes will not improve.