Death Metal Underground

How the internet ruined metal

April 21, 2014 –

the_internet

A common sentiment expressed by “diehards” (or as cynics call them “tryhards”) is that the internet ruined metal. It was a paradise before, they say. You bought zines, traded tapes, bought from small labels, and everything was pure and innocent. The demon of convenience and commerce had not yet reared its ugly head.

With the internet, it is said, all of that ended because it became easy to acquire a band by just typing the name into a search engine. There was no commitment that way, the story goes. People became accustomed to everything being easy and no longer cared about quality. They stopped going to shows and “supporting the scene.” Underground metal became armchair metal.

While I don’t doubt there is some legitimacy to those complaints, I offer another view: what made the internet kill metal was that it turned the process of being a fan inside out. In the old days, you picked bands you liked. Now, you pick bands to make your online personality look good. When someone asks a question about a type of music, you want to have something unique to answer with.

The result is blog posts and threads on forums which are dedicated to “being different.” You get zero scene cred for stating the obvious top ten, and that list can be found anywhere, so people are now craving bands that are more obscure. But the problem is that wanting something for a trait unrelated to its content means you no longer care about quality. Thus quality has plummeted as people seek novelty.

For the aboveground metalheads, this novelty-seeking manifests itself in the same trends that black metal talked about. This week it’s shoegaze; next week it will be “industrial black metal” again, or maybe punkish black metal, or ironic ABBA covers by grindcore bands, who knows. For diehards, the novelty-seeking is obscurity bias: a desire to dig back in the vault and find something that no one else knows about, then make it your favorite band ever.

The point is that no one is a fan anymore. Fans decide what’s good and celebrate it. But hipsters and scenesters have a different approach. They look for ways to make a name for themselves. “That’s my man Bill, he’s an expert in Seattle drone metal.” This is why there are ludicrous genre names in the post-internet arena, and why the advice you get on metal from the internet is almost universally garbage. It’s hipsters being hip, not people talking about quality or relevance.

The internet has made us all into hipsters. To get people to pay attention to your online profile or blog, you need to invent something “important” whether it’s there or not. You to find novelty either in the past or the present. The last thing you’re going to do is offer up some honest opinion. It’ll never get you Google AdWords dollars. It’s not unique and different enough for the social environment the internet has to offer.

Diehards need to quit complaining about the internet. It has had no different effect than moving all of metal into a dense, high social and cosmopolitan city like New York City would. City culture has always rewarded the “different,” which is why cities have always had hipsters. Bands struggled against that culture, not succeeded because of it.

What’s ironic about this whole situation is that complaining about the internet is another way of being “different.” That in turn serves to conceal the fact that since 1994, metal has produced little worth writing home about. Why has that been, you wonder? The black metallers told us: when hipsters appear, trends arrive, and then quality leaves the hall.

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.

The underground realizes it is infested with hipsters… from within

June 30, 2013 –

satan_laughs_as_you_eternally_rotMuch as I love the title From Beyond, I think an altogether scarier title would be “From Within.” The things that really get you are the ones you can’t see because they’re behind your eyes. Metal got blindsided by one of these in the last decade.

What happened was that black metal ran out of ideas, and death metal ran out of energy, in about 1995 or 1998 depending on who you talk to. What came after that was metalcore and nu-metal, which are so close in compositional style — both very much closer to rock than metal — that we group them together as nu-core.

The response of metal was unfortunate. Ignoring the advice of sage elders, the metal fans who remained circled the wagons and insisted on ideological purity. No, not of the kind that excludes stuff incompatible with metal, like rock and rap. But literally, a hell-bent desire to repeat the past nearly exactly as it happened.

It’s like tourism. Charlemagne fought here, so you stand here and take a picture. Leonardo da Vinci sketched here, so you eat pizza here and Instagram it to your colleagues back home. Metal tourism involves pretending you’re Darkthone and it’s 1991 for the first time and you’re being a massive innovator by coming up with a new sound.

Except you’re not. It’s 1999 or 2013 and you’re in a bedroom with garage band, making another recombinant album for another recombinant audience. They’ll praise it to the skies for two weeks, then drift on to something else because basically it’s generic, and then popularity becomes a game of making people like your stuff by being their internet buddies.

This kind of toxic environment gave the Full Moon Productions bulletin board such a bad name the label basically quit. FMPers could be counted on to buy lots of records, but that’s like 1000 per pressing, and since they’re so elite and rare, spend a lot of money on them. Other than that, it was favoritism, infighting, backstabbing, and other pointless activity.

Now, in the unlikeliest of places, Nuclear War Now! productions forum has come to face the same problem — and it’s dawning on metalheads that this isn’t limited to a specific place or time, but is a universal human failing like hipsterism:

From the Devil’s Tomb was pretty good imo, but of course the tryhards will disagree. These fags change taste like underwear. Just look at the recent Wrathprayer thread. Now it is “overrated”, but a year ago these same poseurs were worshipping it like it’s the best thing ever since sex. – Candlemass

The vitriol picked up speed:

I’ve come to understand this board is full of kvltist wanna-be’s who are in fact a bunch of hipsters trying to follow trends to appear “elite”, though only a fractional minority truly “gets it”. Thoth

This post isn’t designed to mock the NWN board, or even the FMP board, or the people involved. They’re important because they’ve been perceptive enough to notice something that’s gone wrong with the metal community: it went within, and in doing so, lost its sense of what made it great. Now it’s the emotional equivalent of burnt-out old men, either repeating the past or cynically making derivative crap because they can sell it.

Our future lies beyond these barriers.

The war on hipsters is accelerating

March 30, 2013 –

Taylor Swift

Many don’t see this as a metal topic, but as Cianide would say, “Metal never bends!” What does bend, to trends? The hipster and all other people who think a surface-level view of life is important.

A hipster is someone who leverages all aspects of their personality, art and social group for the kind of invisible magic karma points that “popularity” and “notoriety” confer upon the narcissistic personality. Like cultists, hipsters have shattered self-esteem and seek to compensate by knowing things that other people don’t know, specifically traded in artistic and cultural artifacts that are special — like the hipsters themselves — for being unique, odd, “different,” unconventional, distinctive, etc.

Notice what’s missing in there: realistic, accurate, informative and/or useful.

Hipsters originally shunned metal because metal is by nature a warlike genre. We look past the surface level of life’s drama, expressed dually by individual narcissism and social group zombie hive mind thinking, and instead pay attention to the situation beyond the individual. The heavy stuff: war, death, metaphysics, infinity, disease, history, the occult and the esoteric.

In 2008, Adbusters magazine blew the lid off the rising millennial hipster epidemic by proclaiming hipsters the dead end of Western civilization. An excerpt:

Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.

But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”

An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.

Since that time, the hipster epidemic has only become more pervasive. Famous for being ironic, in order to be unconventional and different, hipsters wander through life making art out of garbage, Instagraming their oddball tastes in food, liveblogging their personal drama, treating their children like press agents for themselves, and generally making society more vapid, plastic, superficial, oblivious, trivial and vain.

Luckily, world leaders and authority figures are stepping in to help out.

First, North Korea is helping by threatening immediate war. But this isn’t a war on the USA. It’s a war on hipsters:

Some Texans, however, suggested the path in fact led 95 miles south to Austin, the state’s capital, and speculated that Mr Kim had taken against the liberal enclave’s young “hipster” population.

North Korea probably doesn’t get a lot of US papers. They probably don’t get too many Americans over there who aren’t credulous tourists or formal State Department types. However, they do get the internet. To them, America is an unending stream of Pinterest, Facebook, Reddit and FourSquare. From their point of view, the US = hipsters. So they’re taking out the real hipster capital of this place, and hope that will kill our culture like an ant mound poisoned with cianide.

From a completely different angle, Taylor Swift is mocking hipsters with her new single, including Instagram-style photographs, ironic hipster classes, and bittersweet lyrics that are poignant through indecision. She is hoping to curry her fanbase, composed of legions of young women with disposable income, to wage war on the hipster. This might succeed even better than Kim Jong-un’s nuclear attack.

And covering the domestic front, Boston’s police department are cracking down on hipster house parties featuring boring two-note pop punk bands with ironic themes about getting lost on life’s highway. Apparently, the officers are impersonating trendy hipsters in order to figure out where the hip ones are congregating in suburban houses, where they and their bad bands and PBR make noise until 4 am, prompting not one but many homeowners to open fire with rusty old weapons from the last real war.

While by themselves none of these seem significant, when added up these commonalities point to one thing: a world-wide backlash against the hipster and its superficial, ironic and selfish ways. As the hipster falls, metal rises, so we’re glad to see this development.

The Funderground irks longtime fans

February 13, 2013 –

rttp_fundergroundA tension has been simmering under the surface in metal for the better part of a decade now and shows no signs of calming down. It concerns the division of metal into old and new.

Up through the late 1990s, metal was fairly consistent: it was music based on riff Jenga and distrust of society’s pleasant illusions. It was not protest music, but it was outsider music.

Then came an influx of people who were “alternative,” meaning that they wanted to escape the mainstream, but still wanted what it offered, which was essentially protest music.

In our society, popular music tends to take only a few forms. One is the standard song of individual gratification, usually love or longing. Another is protest at how people are treated.

Hardcore music was a breath of fresh air. While it was opposed to society, it did not protest how people were treated. It protested an insane existence. There was no bad guy, only a dying society.

Metal picked up on this vibe and mixed in the metaphorical and otherworldly approach of early Black Sabbath lyrics. The result was something truly outside of any perspective that was mainstream or alternative.

Now the alternative types have recaptured metal, using their superior numbers to reduce it to something palatable for mainstream and/or alternative consumption.

A counter-revolution against this tendency burst onto the underground recently when pro-OldSchool trolls took over longstanding New England metal blog “Return to the Pit”:

A place where metal is happy and not disgusting. A place where somebody would rather message you on Facebook or text you when you’re nowhere near them in the show.
A place where one man’s smile is another man’s laughter.
A place where the boisterous voices of jokes and YouTube discussion outweigh any serious topic.
A place where it’s okay to have star tattoos covering your flabby forearm.
A place where MetalArchives reviews are that of a fact.
A place where moshing and dancing lost their edge.
A place where everybody knows your name and is friends with you on Facebook.
A place where threads are made about you on a dying board that is absolutely horrible now thanks to the FUNDERGROUND.

While we can’t lend our stamp of approval to the trolling which has essentially devastated this forum, we can point out that there’s some truth in these allegations.

Since 2000, metal has increased in popularity by a vast degree. There are more fans, and more bands, than there ever have been before.

However, these aren’t the same type of bands. They sound more like late hardcore bands, who specialized in putting unrelated riffs together to achieve a “carnival music” or “variety show” effect.

Modern metal seems to have lost sight of who it is, and instead borrows its personality from crowd-pleasers like *core, indie, emo, lite jazz and rock.

The term “Funderground” refers to people who are using the underground as a way to socialize, instead of a way to make music that expresses their viewpoint on the world.

When you think about it, metal has always been anti-social and distrustful of social impulses. We can now see why: when socialization comes out, good music goes away, and with it, the best of metal fans also disappear.