Death Metal Underground

The rise of “cute metal”

July 15, 2014 –

unlocking_the_truth

It happened in the mid-1970s, then the early 1980s, then the early 1990s, and now it’s happening again: underground metal is splitting away from what the mainstream will tolerate. Except that now the window has moved so that mainstream metal includes many things once reserved to the underground.

The rise of “cute metal” exemplifies this condition. “Cute metal” is any metal that you cannot admit in public that you do not like, because to do so would violate an assumption of its innocence or moral defensibility. Cute metal does not make you like it because of the music. Cute metal makes you “like” it because of the social focus on it, and because not liking it would appear to others to be cruel on the level of kicking kittens.

History will record the progenitors of “cute metal” as saccharine concoction Babymetal (which you must like or you hate preteen girls). With the rise of Unlocking the Truth, cute metal goes into overdrive (and you must like it or you hate black preteens). The term “cute metal” and the picture come from the second article.

This situation occurs any time metal becomes popular enough that there is financial incentive to turn it into a product. Speed metal like Metallica originally shocked and offended plans, but once people saw their girlfriends toe-tapping along to “One,” a new market formed. Next stop: “Enter Sandman,” which is so mellow that you can play it at your high school and adults will say how cute it is and how it reminds them of their own youths in the turbulent 1960s. Old people music.

Cute metal takes the same position. Wouldn’t it be nice to have underground metal that you could play at your desk at work, or show around at the neighborhood watch meeting? Cute metal offends no one; in fact, it is offensive to dislike it. You must join the herd and buzz with the hive about how precious it is, how unique it is, and how different it is… in fact, you can buzz about anything except its musical qualities, which are forgettable.

Emerging from this will be a new notion of what it is to be underground. It will operate on the converse idea of cute metal: the underground distrusts whatever “most people” think is a good idea, because most people are always wrong. They indulge in fantasies and look at the surface instead of the underlying structure, and use those visions to socialize instead of experiencing a more intense vision of reality. But in the meantime, cute metal presents another twee abomination to dodge when it comes on the radio.

No mosh – No core – No trends – No fun

July 1, 2014 –

black_metal_alienation

What was the “message” of black metal? Like most interesting things, it doesn’t boil down to x=y format. Instead, we have some images on the surface that we must dig through to find the original idea.

Black metal expressed a love of nature, a dark melancholy, a feral atavism, a seeming joy in death and winter, and an embrace of predation and natural selection as a kind of litmus test for humanity. It loved cruelty, dark and degraded sounds, ancient ruins and ancient cultures. It hated McDonald’s, organized religion, trends, “fun” and social inclusion.

The essence of black metal might be described as anti-social. It loathed every circumstance where social rules — who is popular, who is pitied — took the place of raw personal emotion and a reality-based, nature-informed, history-wide view of actions and their consequences.

For those who love black metal, the genre must be evil. It must embrace chaos and nature and a world outside the “safety” of laws, police, shrink-wrapped products, rights and a social attitude of love and trust. It wants a world in constant conflict with fire to the oblivious and the stronger and nobler rising above the ruins. It wants life to be an ongoing challenge, a battle where great victory and great defeat are both possible. It wants this instead of a mediocre world where everyone is “safe” but there is nothing really to live for, nothing to strive for, only acceptance of the herd.

Black metal rejected the herd. It rejected individualism because individualism — the desire to get ahead by doing what everyone else is doing — forms the basis of the conformity that powers the herd. It embraced instead a kind of individuality of the sensitive thinker in a world searching for meaning that can only be found through self-definition through action.

As more and more people join the great “safe” consumerist society, the wisdom of black metal becomes clearer. It could not save black metal from erosion. It was not destruction of an idea so much as it was subversion of an idea by those who wanted to take part, so contorted the music to fit within a social role where they could be important individualists too. But that has not blotted out the message. Instead it has strengthened it.

No mosh – No core – No fun – No Trends

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.