Field Reporting: Legion of Steel Metalfest & Conference Academic Presentations

An auditorium in Sacramento
Article by “AR”

The weaknesses of the San Francisco Bay Area “metal scene” have been in full display this October. The anticipated California Deathfest was thrown into disarray when death metal band DISMA was kicked out for political reasons – namely due to a past musical project of vocalist Craig Pillard (INCANTATION) which utilized imagery of the Third Reich. Besides the headliners of AUTOPSY and IMMOLATION, and a few less notable exceptions, this left the lineup of the “metal” nights filled with the grind/crust/punk mixture that is popular among a less discerning crowd. This suggested to outside observers that the interests of the promoters lay more with political agendas and popularity contests, than appreciation of metal music.

It was with interest that I heard of the “Legion of Steel Metalfest & Conference”, held over the course of four days this week and consisting of a “metal market”, “academic conferences” about heavy metal, and two night of music featuring most notably San Francisco death/speed metal stalwarts INSANITY, rock/heavy/speed metal band STONE VENGEANCE, and punks FANG, bands who never quite “made it” but who have been doggedly performing since at least the 80s. Only able to attend one night, I chose the night headlined by INSANITY, and showed up around 1PM to catch part of the conference, speculating that it might be some sinister affair where effete academics plot how to force their agenda on innocent hessians, but also open to more positive possibilities.

Missing the first three presentations, I arrived for “Becoming Death Itself: What Heavy Metal Offers Biblical Scholarship” presented by Charlotte Naylor Davis, of Great Britain. Her short presentation focused on the lyrics of METALLICA’s “Creeping Death”. Most interestingly, she pointed out that METALLICA presents the biblical story of an vengeful tribal god killing first-born children as a celebration of the power of death, and invites the audience to assume the role of the Angel of Death during the chanting climax of the song. This embrace of what is unpalatable or uncomfortable in “polite society” is part of what makes metal music powerful, and sets it apart from the happy illusions of most popular entertainment. Ms. Davis was a knowledgeable and enthusiastic presenter and I was disappointed the topic was not continued for longer.

Next was Mr. Shamma Boyarin of the University of Victoria, who first talked about Israeli “oriental metal” band ORPHANED LAND, who utilize the imagery of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. My ears perked when he mentioned how metal bands freely use themes from many different religious and occult practices, but in “obeisance to none”; i.e aesthetically, not dogmatically (paging Fred Nietzsche!). However, Mr. Boyarin chose to switch tack and talk about how ORPHANED LAND’s music was “breaking down barriers” between the religions and cultures of the Middle East, which seems to be a happy fantasy, if even desirable at all. Next was discussed an Indonesian band, MANRABUKKA, whose lyrics delve heavily into the Koran. A passage of the Koran, quoted by the band (Surat Al-Kafirun, “The Unbelievers”): “I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship… For you is your religion, and for me is my religion”, evoked the religion-rejecting lyricism of bands like MORBID ANGEL and DEICIDE, but also that such advice is poorly-followed in those areas of the world torn by dogmatic conflicts. However Mr. Boyarin somehow brought the conclusion back around to “breaking down barriers”. I would recommend developing some new conclusions and exploring these interesting ideas further!

Next was Addison Herron-Wheeler of Naropa University, who read passages from her book “Wicked Woman: Women in Metal From the 1960s to Now”. The cynics among us may sigh in expectation of the women-as-oppressed-victims narrative that is popular these days, but as her reading mainly dealt with the singer of the 60s occult pop-rock band Coven, musically far distant from metal, I zoned out during this portion and can’t report much. If women in metal are going to be discussed as a separate topic, the most deserving individual may be the fascinating Lori Bravo of NUCLEAR DEATH, who has hitherto been mostly ignored.

Next was a presentation by Dolev Zaharony of Israel. Mr. Zaharony discussed the history of metal music in Israel and how the government/media, ever-paranoid and faced with the difficult task of molding the mixed population of young Israel into a single culture, filtered out all references to heavy metal, and one assumes much else. Mr. Zaharony spoke as one who had been passionate about metal since his teens and had lived through many phases of metal culture in Israel, as well as been a musician. This presentation was enjoyable as he spoke informatively, without any attempt to politicize.

Finally was a viewing of clips from the documentary “Distorted Island”, which focuses on the heavy metal scene of Puerto Rico. This was at times interesting and at times irritating when the documentary attempted to impose narratives on the music, for example highlighting a band because they are all female (though the music sounded pretty awful), and thus an example of triumph against the sexist metal scene. This method is currently trendy in musical documentaries, and one of the many problems with it is that filmmakers end up focusing on mediocre bands at the expense of excellent ones, if the mediocre bands better fit the narrative.

This is a problem common to analyses of metal which prioritize social aspects over the music itself: they lose sight of the reason why the social scene arose in the first place – to celebrate and appreciate the MUSIC, its power and its ethos. Once any other element of the culture is made primary, the goal is lost and the music will become merely an accessory, and necessarily devolve in quality. This same effect can be seen with the hipsters who use metal aesthetic to dress up boring indie-rock, to the collectors who obsess over obscure releases that were forgotten due to their middling quality.

In the spirit of culling the mediocre, Charlotte Naylor Davis and Dolev Zaharony were the only two I witnessed whose presentations passed the bar of quality, knowledge, and true enthusiasm; as well as being free of political propaganda. I would recommend them for any future conferences. Note however the limited sampling which I was able to attend; there may have been other hidden gems.

On the difference between art and propaganda

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When issues arise like those of ideological fascists in metal, whether of the SJW or far-right types, the inevitable division between art and propaganda arises. Having written about this for over two decades, I make the following distinction: art has artistic purpose, which is to reveal; propaganda has dogmatic purpose, which is to condition and manipulate the mind through projecting a sense of self-congratulatory correctness onto the perceiver.

Luckily, others have written about this topic, and well. From Canadian author Robertson Davies writing at First Things comes this cogent analysis:

When I was a boy, I was a voracious reader. My home had plenty of moral literature on its shelves, and I was urged to read it for my betterment. There was lots of other literature, as well, but I was not forbidden, only discouraged, from reading it as it was said to be “beyond me,” which I quickly discovered meant that it dealt with life pretty much as life was, and not as the determinedly moral writers wanted me to think.

…I could not stomach Little Lord Fauntleroy, who presented me with a political puzzle especially hard for a Canadian: What was that boy, and what did he do? He was an American, but by chance he inherited a title and went to England and became a Lord, and thereafter was remorselessly democratic toward anyone who kept it firmly in mind that he was a Lord, and behaved accordingly. The Little Lord existed to hammer home two things that were presented as mighty truths: We must be democratic and we must recognize the moral superiority that goes with poverty. It was easy, I thought, to be a democrat if everybody toadied to you, and I wished that the Little Lord could spend a few days at the school I went to, where to be known as a tireless reader (for I could not conceal it) was to be an outcast. Many of my persecutors enjoyed the blessing of poverty, but it did not seem to improve their characters. They were savage, jealous, and without bowels of compassion.

My sanity was saved by the books I read on the sly. Dickens, where evil people were plentiful and often rich, successful, and attractive. Thackeray, where snobbery seemed to be the mainspring of much of the action. Thomas Hardy, where life was complicated by opposed moralities and the uncontrollable workings of Destiny, and where God was decidedly not a loving Father. I did not know it at the time, but of course these were the works of literary artists who observed life with keen eyes and wrote about what they saw, as their widely varying temperaments enabled them to see. When I myself became a writer, it was these whom I chose to follow, as best I could, and not the aggressive moralists.

SJW is a form of aggressive moralism. Nazism, which is an attempt to mold far-right values to a Leftist-style ideological structure, makes that same error (which became fatal for it). Similarly Communism and Socialism are moral appeals, meaning that they base themselves not on practical reasoning — “this works” — but on what should be, based on the feelings of individuals united into large angry groups dedicated to tearing down all people above them. Similarly, Christianity in metal attempts to be a dogmatic ideology, and so we get ludicrous songs about fighting for the Lord which like the propaganda above, present the world in black/white distinctions: one side all is goodness and purity, and the other is bad, stupid, rich and horrible.

When approaching these types in metal it is essential to see this distinction. The victimhood music of indie-rock bands for example presents us perfect, innocent, suffering victims of the type that appeared in moralist Christian literature, opposed by equally dark, evil and cruel forces of large corporations and right-wing tyrants. These overly-simplified moral models exist to make people want to be the good, and to polarize against the bad, without digging into any of the complexity of life that a realistic perspective provides. They are baby food for the brain, as manipulative as television commercials, and as deceptive as the seductions of a whore.

Art will always be better than propaganda, but people like propaganda because it makes them feel good about themselves. When you are presented with absolutes like good and evil, and those are put into simple terms of intent rather than achievement of goals, it makes every idiot shuffling in off the street into a hero just by wanting to be like the good guy in the propaganda. This is why propaganda is easily recognizable through its extreme polarization between the bad enemy scapegoat and the good virtuous long-suffering victim who is secretly a hero, just like the average person with a half-failed life wants himself to be, but will never take steps to be alone and can only do so in a large angry mob.

The assault on metal has taken many forms. During its early days, it was rock bands pretending to be metal to try to capture the authentic feel and thus the bourgeois rebel audience. Later the Christians came in, feeling that a message of evil needed to be replaced with a good one. The white power types have tried for years, often with sympathy from legitimate metal bands, but have never taken ground because metal emphasizes realism over politics. Now the SJWs — who are more similar to Communists than Nazis, but use the same methods — are trying to exact same approach. It helps to see this, recognize it as the attempted mind control that it is, and show it the door.

#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.

Help death metal ascend the throne again

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“If you live under a rock…” the old cliché begins, but the truth is that you can live in a glass house in the center of the world’s biggest city and still miss the obvious. Denial is the most universal of human traits, and without the application of discipline and honesty we are nothing more than “talking monkeys with car keys.”

Unless you live in denial, it is obvious to you that death metal is in a bit of a recession. That is to say: there are too many bands coupled with a lack of quality in all but a very few, which makes for the inflationary but bearish (negative) purchasing that marks a recession. As warned, rock ‘n roll assimilated death metal, the imitators came in, and now you have death metal flavored rock music with lite jazz mixed in to make it seem progressive and “deep.”

Very few people understand this because very few people stop to consider anything beyond their immediate wants. They want to be listening to good music, so they pretend what they have is good, and by doing so blind themselves to what is good and bad. This is a great way to walk right back down that evolutionary ladder, have your legs turn to nubs and then jump in the sea to become a fish. You have literally undone any higher thinking ability you have.

For those who want their music to be of actual quality, these times are grim. A few bands stand out — Blaspherian, War Master, Imprecation, Sammath, and Demoncy — while the rest fade into the background like hipsters, with each one trying so hard to be unique that it loses sight of the ability to express something deeper than aesthetic re-arranging of known ideas. Death metal bands today are like the guy with the beard, glasses, skinny jeans and snarky t-shirt who has ironically decided to wear an Iron Maiden jacket. He thinks he’s being different and unique and showing what a precious snowflake is, but when the camera zooms out he is in a group of special people who from a distance look like chaos. And that is what they are: they have no purpose, because they have replaced the idea of having purpose with the idea of looking like you have purpose.

By now, I have filtered out most of the human species. Very few care about the topic, being much more interested in their desires, judgments and feelings right now, a state which flatters their sense of self-worth, and very few more can handle the flow of words which would have been zero challenge to an eighth grader in 1950 but are complete bafflement and a threat to the ego to your average citizen in the 2010s. I have also pushed away those who want to be hipsters or other self-aggrandizing people, and been cruel to enough hopes and dreams of delusional people to shock and drive away the love-bunnies, kumbayas and other zombies of the postmodern intellectual landscape. This writing will also disturb those who depend on a system of rigid rules and strict obedience to dogma and money for their self-esteem; it requires humans who are willing to go beyond humanity and look toward reality itself, a.k.a. the results of actions by ourselves and others, for their meaning.

For those who remain: it is worth acting to put death metal back on top. It is surprisingly easy to do so. But you will have to get out of your comfort zones. What you must do will be revealed in the second part of this article, coming soon.

#JeSuisCharlie and #metalgate are the same battlefield

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The outrage over a relatively minor terrorist event shows us that the nerve that was hit had to do with more than terrorism. The events at the Charlie Hebdo HQ called into question many of the most basic aspects of our society.

We do not like to admit it, but the shots fired in Paris are just the latest in what can be described as an ideological war. Those who control what we see, hear and read are able to control the next generation by instructing their assumptions about life itself. Every side in this battle is fighting to get its message into the mainstream and crowd out other messages.

When talking about dystopia, people are fond of quoting this book, so I’ll do the same:

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” ― George Orwell, 1984

This is a necessary consequence of both democracy and capitalism. If you control the message, you can amass a mob to be your personal army without them knowing it. If you tell people the sky is supposed to be green, and they see this in school, on TV and in print magazines, they will consider sky-is-blue people to be dangerous lunatics and ostracize them, which squeezes them out of society and eventually achieves total consensus.

Our modern society contains many competing groups and ideologies and each wants to control the discussion. In the meantime, the authorities and big industry want to provide non-answers to force compromise and the continuation of business as usual. This is why they always talk about peace, compassion, tolerance and empathy: those methods do not rock the boat or change its course at all, because they say that the problem is not the problem, but how we think about it. Just change your thinking!

In addition, these are popular ideas because they make us feel good, which makes them perfect products. People spend a lot of money to feel good. Whether it is buying an Audi to feel successful, taking Zoloft to feel cheerful, purchasing a copy of Mother Jones (or Fox News) to feel righteous anger and the satisfaction of being “right,” people like to feel good. And feeling good is all about changing your thinking, not addressing the actual underlying problem.

While 1984 was great, Brave New World may be scarier. As Amusing Ourselves to Death depicts, in Huxley’s vision of dystopia we are not controlled by a totalitarian government, but enforce totalitarianism on ourselves… in our best interests. People pursue pleasure, become oblivious to reality, and create instead a hateful society where boredom and misery dominate, but all the problems have been “solved” by enforcing compromise through law and technology.

On the other side of the coin, ideologues — including extreme Islam or whatever we’re calling it this week — seduce us away from the world of pleasurable non-meaning by appeal to our sense of being important. We fear irrelevance most of all, and dying in a blaze of glory for jihad, the environment, the white race, etc. appeals to those who have simply noticed how boring our society is. This side is fighting hard to get its message out there too. The pleasure zombies and ideologues are both vying for ad space… in your mind.

Metal is important because it does not subscribe to either of these extremes, which it portrays as two aspects of the same thing. Metal looks at reality itself, and sees the nature of life as power, and so un-does the reasoning behind the ideological and pleasure zombie groups out there. They hate it for that. Metal is the outsider, the kid who refuses to go along with the agenda that the teacher wants everyone to follow, the actual non-conformist. And in popular music, where Baby Boomer attitudes have held sway for forty years now, metal is the ultimate minority. We do not buy into the easy solutions offered by these people.

We do not seek “tolerance.” – Erik Danielsson, Watain

99% of the voices we hear in media are repeating the same easy lies to us. They are doing this to conceal the problem and lull us into easy oblivion yet again. Since metal refuses to play along with this agenda, we are a target. They want to take over metal and turn it into a different voice repeating another angle of the same crap the other 99% are repeating. They want to use us for their propaganda, much like Charlie Hebdo was counter-propaganda to radical Islam and got shot down as a result. The only honorable course of action, and the only one that is not a path to total irrelevance, is for metal to stand up and resist these attempts by others to make us tools of their system.

The SJW strategy for #metalgate: denial

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The phenomenon of #MetalGate expands as social justice warriors (SJWs) find themselves on the defensive, so they have retaliated with their favorite accusation: “There’s no issue here!” They want you to believe that #MetalGate was drummed up in response to “just two lines” in a SPIN article.

In their spin (no pun intended) metalheads and #GamerGate veterans formulated this whole situation out of pure hype, despite these being only a few of the articles written to try to shepherd metal into bowing down, becoming sociable, adopting the dominant paradigm of its age, and in other words becoming like everything else in media and music in its endorsement of an agenda favored by some people but not most metal fans: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12. These are just a sampling of the many articles written about metal and how it is either bad and terrible because it is not PC, or how now that it has become focused on “social issues” — generally something only grindcore bands do — that it is OK for normal, soft, fluffy and well-intentioned people to like it, but only the good bands with the right opinions. You know, the opinions like those of the 1960s bands that metal rebelled against in the first place!

Now let’s look at those “just two lines” again:

Metal is still dogged by the issues that arise from its deep-seated conservative values, but thanks to an increase in conversations about racism, politics, and feminism, those on the right side of history have gained solid ground.

Two-line statements have launched wars, ended careers and brought down economies. The question is the content of those lines, and in those words the writer tells us that metal is conservative, conservative is bad, and thus metal is bad, and that metal is on “the wrong side of history” if it does not start immediately making its focus creating propaganda (and let’s be fair: preachy lyrics are propaganda) about “racism, politics, and feminism.” This assumes that metal has not addressed these issues in the past and found another way of addressing the underlying issues. When the writer at SPIN says that metal needs to adopt these issues, she means that metal needs to preach the dogma she agrees with and abandon its own take on these issues. For political fanatics, framing of the issues is everything, and they frame those issues so that their conclusions are the only ones you can reach.

What we have here, as in #GamerGate, is a small group of people who — being inclined toward media and pop music — have infiltrated the metal scene and are trying to use it to preach their own propaganda. Metal already has its own way of addressing all these issues. We do not need to be bullied into agreeing with this small group of SJWs who contribute nothing but commentary and support only the “new” metal bands which are most emphatically not the classics of the genre, nor in the views of many of us anywhere near the quality of the classics. But these bands have the “right” opinions, you see, and for these fanatics, that is all that matters. Their latest attempts to minimize #MetalGate are just an attempt to distract and deflect from that reality, but they have picked the wrong group to attack, because metalheads specialize in unpleasant realities that socially pretentious people would like to avoid.