Black Fluxions

In his quest for accuracy and rigour eventually leading to his contributions to Calculus, Sir Isaac Newton borrowed terminology from an area of classical mechanics called Kinematics[1]. The terms fluent and fluxion incorporated eventually came to be known as variable and derivative. Each set of terms has its advantages in describing the object in question, highlighting one or another aspect. Fluxion in particular is quite useful in poetically illustrating an ‘instantaneous rate of change,’ and may serve us outside the realm of pure mathematical abstraction to bring attention to such immediate movement at each point in time. So, while the change from a measure to the next, from an idea to the next are changes in fluents, there can be said to exist fluxions in music which describe movements across a separate dimension —that of the inner experience. But such a transposition into the realm of musical description is only metaphorical, if useful to expand perception, and should be taken as a flexible mental aid.

Metal can be reduced to musical phrases, around which percussive patterns of different timbres and complimentary effects are added. In its most natural state, divested of rock and blues voicings, metal music is monophonic [2]. Many bands from the original underground throughout the eighties, constructed monophonic textures consisting of a guitar and bass playing the same notes, differing in any case by an octave, and only carefully and sparingly resorting to a separation of a fifth between the instruments. The other most common technique along this narrow bridge to the expression of power is the organum [3], albeit used in its most simplified form only, allowing for a sense of space and relative movement while limiting any weakening effects over the main phrasal line.

Metal inherited the guitar-riff from rock n’ roll [4] as part of the heritage of blues music. The phrases were already present in blues, but as short rhythmic bits that cycled obstinato-style under the characteristic explosiveness of African vocalizations. The riff passed on to rock music, which dillutes the powerful and raw effects of the blues riff. It brings these effects under the umbrella of ready-made chord-cycle recipes over which a melody line is highlighted, and which melody line is the true center of rock music. The hard blues rock of Jimmy Hendrix brought back the crudeness, & informed hard rock, as well as the earliest proto-meta, on the folk use of the guitar-riff. Black Sabbath finally took the riff and turned it into a technique in the service of a longer, more expressive phrase with echoes horror music soundtracks [5].

From the early phrasal music of Black Sabbath and its revival in eighties underground music[6] we can see how the guitar-riff, in its phrase-oriented usage, can be made to create textures that create both ambience and decisive movement beyond melodic-harmonic distinctions by focusing on its modal aspect. It can be said that when metal attempts to break into the melodic-harmonic paradigm of mature European classical music, the power of the guitar-riff is taken away, quickly dragging down metal into a mediocre form excelling at nothing. The strength of metal music lies in preserving the integrity and power of the phrasal-riff through strict commitment to balance among an overall monophonic texture, a sensible use of organum, sensible use of doubling (‘harmonizing’) and an extremely measured use of polyphonic techniques. Introduced through the medium of the phrasal guitar-riff, the movements, motif-relations and motif-variations wield an immense power.

Less obvious is the discovery that the essence, and hence potential, of metal lies beyond the guitar-riff or the phrase in itself. That is, the inner experience which metal phrases induce in themselves and in sequence is connected to a sense of both movement and permanence, relative change through immanence —change not only through time but in-time— the universe in a drop of water, eternity in an instant. This is the black fluxion that is active within and throughout albums such as Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Transilvanian Hunger, eluding as they do all concrete analysis against them but also in their favor —the bulk of which remain poetical allusions. The creation of fluxions appear to involve the testing and careful development of phrasal guitar-riffs. Effectual bringing about of the appropriate fluxion needs the clearest self-honesty of the artist regarding the rise of their inner experience and its circuit-like reflection with the musical passage created. The re-discovery of said fluxions lies beyond the first threshold of experience of the corresponding phrasal guitar-riffs, and many listeners are able to sense them while remaining unable to verbalize their experience because of the lack of an abstract and theoretical framework the terms of which can be referenced [7].

Against first appearances, we are not entirely contradicting the nonreferentialist [8] position. The idea of the centrality of a fluxion in the metal dynamic pertains the fact that there is an element of living (as opposed to written, or reduced) music that involves the inner experience in-time. The inclusion of the inner experience within a rational discussion on music aesthetics may appear to revive an empty metaphysical tendency to cite objects and events beyond perception or description, but rest assured that this is not the case at the present. The fluxion in question is specifically the perception of a rent opening, a space created, a movement realized, by the phrasal guitar-riff as a unit. Furthermore, this helps us come to the realization that historically, and in essence, metal music moves towards pieces composed of ‘flows’ [9]. Reductions of the music in metal analyses to ‘riffs’ or simply ‘phrases’, while well-founded, are always unable to approach the aforementioned essence. The concept of fluxions and their role in the concept of a music consisting of flows may provide the abstract basis for a more encompassing understanding.





[4] Particularly illustrative is the style of (raw) delta blues as exemplified by Son House. The music of enjoyable but ultimately irrelevant music like that of Motorhead proceeds directly from said raw blues music, and has little to do with the development of metal music, except as mere middle-man.

[5] The recommended recording of this is the War Pigs: Live in Paris live performance comprised of some of the best pieces from Black Sabbath’s first two albums. The band’s third album, Master of Reality, brings their musical discovery to a halt, and later albums see them back-tracking into rock-n’-roll dillution.

[6] Apart from the household names of Bathory and Hellhammer, and the pioneering early work of Morbid Angel going back at least as far as 1986, the rehearsal-demo Bestial Death by Poison is an exquisite raw demonstration of natural, flexible and almost improvisatory expression of the phrasal riff in an expressive narrative.

[7] Against what many a deficient thinker has said in the past (including the overrated Noam Chomsky), humans are able to understand and think a lot that they cannot verbalize, and they also seem to verbalize a lot about what they do not understand. Furthermore, much can be lucidly experienced and remembered without having the words or eloquence to precisely describe such an experience.


[9] Not to be confused with what has been termed “flowing black metal”, where term ‘flow’ refers to the sole reliance of this subpar style of black metal on an uninterrupted flowing melody.

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7 thoughts on “Black Fluxions”

  1. Adrian mccoy says:

    It could on terms could it not?

  2. the reader says:

    Great stuff and very informative, I learned a lot simply by trying to decipher what you were talking about and using the references you posted, which are very welcomed.

    This site is an excellent place to discover the best of extreme metal, however the justifications you guys bring for liking something are sometimes so over-the-top that they are hilarious. Either Brett Stevens’ analysis – which is basically some modern form of Platonic esthetics – or your own analysis, it all seems overkill to me. I’m pretty sure the artists never thought one single moment at anything even remotely so complex ; they’re job is to express their emotions through music, not through verbal masturbation. On the other hand, you’re perfectly right about the possibility of a transcendent experience without necessarily finding the words for it, which is, I believe, what the black metal artists were all about in their composition of music.

    So this is not to make the case for relativism – there is an obvious difference in quality and meaning and intention between say Burzum and Opera IX. While smart minds will converge towards appreciation of the quality works, finding the logical reasons behind their value judgements or the intentions of the artist in order to uncover the real meaning or form of the aural experience is simply ‘missing-the-point’ to me. Some things are better left untold or less over-analyzed (or maybe just expressed differently?), in order to understand them.

    As one art critic once remarked, he could only criticize what he didn’t like, but was left speechless before what he adored. Or in the words of a great poet-philosopher:

    “I do not crush the world’s corolla made of wonders
    and never slay –
    through reason – mysteries I meet
    along my way
    in flowers, eyes, – on lips or graves.
    The light of others
    does smother spells of the impenetrable hidden
    in depths of darkness,
    but I,
    I and my light, increase the world’s own mystery:
    much as the moon with its white beams –
    far from diminishing – , quiveringly
    enhances even more the mystery of night,
    so do I strive to enrich the darkening horizon
    with ample thrills of sacred mystery
    and what is hard to grasp
    before my eyes will change
    to even harder puzzling senses
    because I am in love
    with flowers and with eyes, with lips and graves alike.”

    1. D.A.R.G. says:

      the justifications you guys bring for liking something

      Here lies the root of your misunderstanding : we are not talking about “liking something”.

      “Liking something” is quite different from appreciating its quality in the first place, being aware of its composition (in the most general sense of the word), and also becoming aware of it at a more complete (in detail and as a unit whole) and so deeper level.

      Our concept of appreciation, which is the classical concept that has endured throughout all ime before the advent of post-modernist “everything is the same, all is taste” attitudes, goes beyond mere “liking” as a superficial “rock my boat” sensuality.

  3. Doug says:

    Good, bookmarked to read again later. Speaking of proto this or that, youtube was having a buy one get one free sale so I decided to stock up. Here’s a few links that may be of some interest if only for the spectacle:

  4. Krabapple says:

    I’d be curious to think what the author would say regarding ambient music regarding this framework. For example The Neptune Towers project Fenriz created.

    Also on the subject of non-representational character of this art, the suggestion is not so much that the riff has a corresponding ‘concept’ but that it’s movement itself, its dynamism, reflects on a totally different unit for expressing that process, but that fluxion is the a musical ‘representation’ of the form of internal experience itself in its form as time (to borrow a Kantian turn of expression), a kind of movement in stasis. This is what you mean when you say fluxion pertains to the common metal riff correct? Or am I mistaken?

    Or in other words, could we say that fluxion is the unit responsible for the overall perception of a persistent texture throughout a given song? If my understanding is correct, I’d think Massacra is one of the most fluxion-fluent bands on Enjoy the Violence.

    1. D.A.R.G. says:

      fluxion is the a musical ‘representation’ of the form of internal experience itself in its form as time (to borrow a Kantian turn of expression), a kind of movement in stasis.

      While you are onto something, I would not venture so far at this point. That said, there is value in theories as long as they move us towards empirical understanding rather than taking them as the final word.

      I would rather say that the fluxion has the power to cause a specific vector (direction and speed) change on the passion and will-power, at a point in (linear) time. That the self-honesty of the artist lies in experimenting until he gets from a riff-phrase a discovered effect at that level, which goes beyond mere ‘feeling’ (sensuality) or ‘calculating’ (abstraction).

      For this it is useful to distinguish four basic levels at which these (and any events, presumably) can take place:
      > The lowest one involving the crude movements, the actual wavelengths; the level of sensory crudeness (pain/pleasure)
      > The emotional swayings, interpreted as degree of hate/love (less raw, more processed than pain/pleasure).
      > Above it, the analytical approach to a perception of structure, and the appreciation of which causes respect or inspiration at the emotional level, perhaps.
      > Willpower, passion towards something, the actual cause and highest cause of action, and inspire direction and vitality.

      Fluxions would be the components of changing reality (and in the case of metal music, riff-phrases a units) acting at the highest of the four levels.

      It is important to say that these should not be seen as disconnected, and that there is a high degree of influence from one to the other. I surmise that the direction in which the influences mostly take place in certain individuals is due to innate disposition, training, awareness of such process, and the degree to which their will power acts out in real-life.

      Then again, these are only the results of applying certain theories intuitively and analytically to observations on perception of music and more.

      1. Krabapple says:

        Thanks for the reply.

        The reason why I brought up Kant was precisely because fluxion seems to be abstracted from the qualities you mention; ie feeling and abstraction. In this case Fluxion functions by having a reference to the barest transformative power of that sort of ‘linear motility’, the instantaneous gradient.The inner impulse of the artist is capable of arresting this inner form in favor of providing a riff or song-idea that furnishes listeners with a vital and living ‘experience’, rather than a mere sequence of images or sounds.

        Transformation in the riff is therefore a kind of ‘arresting’ of that internal form and manipulating it according to the willpower of the artist. Speaking of which, your list of four things may be taken as not unrelated to The Fourfold Root of Schopenhauer. Pardon me if I’m coming out of left field here but I couldn’t help but notice.

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