Thoughts On Bragason’s Málmhaus (2013)


Article by David Rosales

I. Overview

While a hessian might rightful sneer at the mainstream idea of metal music being the result of unsatisfied teenagers, Ragnar Bragason has created in Málmhaus (Metalhead) an accurate depiction of the sad reality faced by many first-world kids that are emotionally neglected by their parents. It seems that there are two main elements needed to be present for an alienated teenager to turn to metal as a refuge under these conditions. The first is that metal music be available in his range of perception in one way or other. Secondly, and more often than not, the minds that are most receptive to this art of dark tones lean towards a romantic disposition1.

After portraying the death of main protagonist Hera’s older brother, Bragason proceeds to tell us how the girl takes refuge in adopting his image and diving head-first into his metal persona. As she grows into a young adult, Hera becomes increasingly conflictive, to the point that she goes out of her way to create trouble for its own sake. Most of the movie at this point is a big tantrum with a few scenes in which the main character is writing and recording some angsty rock with harsh vocals. Basically, for Bragason extreme underground metal is virtually indistinguishable from emo rock at its core and motivating sentiment.

Aside from these outsider misconceptions, Málmhaus is a pleasant movie to watch with patient pacing that does not drag, convincing acting and a desolate feeling that only Nordic (and perhaps Slavic) settings really produce and which is more than suitable as backdrop for a metal scenery. Furthermore, and unfortunately for the metal movement, this picture of the pseudo-metal emo-poser is not at odds with the reality of many would be musicians in the medium. In this respect, the movie is objectively deserving.

II. Against the Vulgarization of the Metal Ideal

You may be wondering what beef I would have with this idea if the movie is in fact revealing a truthful picture of the scene. The answer is that metal art that most accurately and authentically reflects transcendental metal ideals are those produced by strong minds with a realist mentality. The emo posers in question usually produce music that is a thin veneer of emotionally outspoken yet ultimately safe and empty hogwash. From the outside, the product of the poser mind is similar to that of the authentic metal artist, because the imitator will always try to look like their idols on the exterior, but without becoming a threat to the society it claims to oppose. A true metal artist, however, represents a threat.

True metal is not an agent of social change. It is a rejection of social norms. True metal is not protest music that seeks to “create conscience”. It is the proud sneering of nihilists who see above and beyond the trappings of human convention. However, metal does not seek to destroy traditions but rather to exalt their realist underpinnings. It is not about destroying what is, because metal is realism, but rather about getting rid of the meta-reality created by humans who need an illusion to feel safe. Safe from uncertainty, safe from evil, safe from death.

Those making deconstructionist garbage music with the excuse of “destroying conventions” miss the point altogether. Yes, metal has evolved through innovation, but in a natural away in which the newly created sound is a construction and a depuration, not a musical negation, which by definition cannot be about anything because it attempts to be about something that is not, a mere abstract and near all-encompassing generalization that can never attain a definite form. This is why metal today needs to stop trying to be new and different. This is why it also needs to stop being a mere superficial rehashing of past formulas.

To reject musical convention or imitate it has never been the point. Black Sabbath gave birth to new music as it painted a stark picture that opposed flower power through its own being, but they were not defined by the latter’s non-being. New musicians need to start creating tradition, instead of attempting to dissolve it or trying to be what something else is not. Moreover, metal today needs to continue classic metal tradition if it is to be metal at all. Rejecting said tradition would essentially imply not being metal.

Death and black metal were jewels of their own time, as movements they were one of a kind and today they are, for all intents and purposes, dead, as the conditions that created and propelled them are not present today2. This does not mean that a new generation metalheads cannot be inspired and learn from it, in fact, they should. But this is the same as being inspired by Mozart or Wagner: it never calls for a copy-paste application of their surface traits.

One could describe the climaxing trilogy of Burzum3 as a concoction of Tolkien-filtered Destruction and Dead Can Dance4. But we may clearly observe that Vikernes never sought to suppress these influences nor did he try to simply make updated versions of them; he created something completely new with ideas produced from his own digestion. Part of the beauty of Burzum is how self-contained it is despite its borrowings in technique and method. Vikernes’ successfully-achieved objective in Burzum was the mystical recreation of the experience of reaching out to the ancestral knowledge ingrained genetically within the unconscious.

Immolation may serve as a different kind of example as they come from a background in early U.S. death metal from the north-east. Some say that Immolation is deconstructionist, but this is based on superficial impressions of the music, which is mistakenly considered atonal by laymen (most metalheads) who have never even heard truly atonal music. Immolation’s music is modal, but heavily emphasizes dissonant intervals as well as diminished and augmented arpeggios. In the long haul, Immolation’s approach is pretty much standard and proper death metal5 with a very unique approach to melody and an exertion of crucial control in the rhythm section.

III. The “Understood” (Assimilated) Metalhead, the Eviscerated Soul

Towards the end of Málmhaus, Hera goes through a period of introspection and redefinition after which she is understood not only by her parents but also by her whole community. She even participates in the rebuilding the church that she burned down earlier in the movie. She is no longer a threat. She even plays an alternative rock version of her “black metal” demo for the people in her little town. The wolf has been turned into the whimpering dog.

One of the main problems faced by metal today is that it no longer boasts of the outsider status enjoyed by its predecessors. A condition that lent them a unique perspective is utterly missing from most of today’s circles. Today’s apparently most rebellious metalheads are best compared to gimmicky Marilyn Manson; those that express genuine anti-establishment ideas are ostracized by their own “fellow metalheads”. There is no extremism in extreme metal today.

Today’s metalheads conflate cowardice and sheepish compliance with maturity, while they indulge in childish vices as expressions of their “freedom”. Somewhere along the road, man-made law and society’s comforts became the reality of these assimilated metalheads, and their “rebellion” is today only an echo of leftist humanism while they support a hypocritical system that fights bigotry with bigotry while denying it. They are completely locked inside the fence–inside the cave, convinced that the shadows on the wall are real, and that Plato is talking nonsense. Only the shadows are objective, they say, the shadows we can see and measure, the “sun” that is “outside” is only an idea.

Those who wisely choose to isolate themselves from the distractions of the modern world, the banal entertainment and the “metal scene”‘s circle jerk are mockingly tagged as “kvlt” or “trve”. This in itself is a terrible sign that metal has been assimilated into a safe space that forces it to be politically correct in the worst cases and representing tongue-in-cheek darkness in the best of cases 6. Monastic devotion is ridiculed as strange fanaticism, while mediocre and inline thinking coupled with a superficial extroversion is expected. Metalheads are “normal” now. They have grown up into their accepted slavery.

The truth is that this is what lies at the root of modern metal’s sterility – its inability to produce a new tradition because its own values have been supplanted by those of an assimilated portion of the mainstream. That those creating meaningful metal are only a handful of exceptions in a time when there has never before been a larger number of self-identifying metalheads indicates that the movement is at a loss. There was promise in the idea of war metal, but with the exception of black metal – flavoured acts like Kaeck, it is largely a dead medium. Cóndor is virtually sui generis, and the likes of Graveland and Summoning are the sole survivors and curators of a dead tradition way past its heyday.

I hope you’ll excuse me for bringing Vikernes back into the conversation, but it seems to me that his movement away from metal aesthetics during the mid 1990s was only the escape of a clever sailor from a fast-sinking ship. Although we should not mix politics with the judgement of music quality, the observation that deliberate ideologies (or lack thereof, supposedly) directly affect the kind and quality of music that is produced is pretty obvious to anyone watching intently. It is therefore only honorable that Vikernes should wholly embrace the ambient aspect of his music, the side that has remained truly underground to this day.

Once black metal becomes the cash cow of sell-out clowns like Abbath or Ihsahn, it no longer represents, in the eyes of the world-perception, what Burzum was about. There is no boundlessness. There is no escape from the idiocy of modern society in black metal anymore. It is only a show, it is not dangerous because it is not real, actually, it is fun. It is obvious that there is no other option but to move away from the symbol that has become a sign for ridiculousness and poserism. A symbol is only as good as what it transmits, and an artist cannot be excluded from context as the dreamers within the ivory towers of academia think (and contradict by trying to insert politically-correct statements in their garbage modernist compositions which hold no meaning in themselves).

The solution to metal’s plight is that circles of metalheads arise who can truly think outside the constraints and mandates of what is considered “good” or “proper” by the status quo. How they achieve that is less important to metal itself than that they actually accomplish it. This is not rebelliousness for its own sake, though it could be mistaken for it, but the idea that nobody else should in control of your mind and thoughts, and that the only truth lies in our mortality, and in man’s natural multiplicity of mind which makes his reality material and psychic at once without either being more important than the other7.

It is important that metal stands outside any such constraints to be what it is, otherwise it is like a caged predator: it ceases to be one as soon as it is shackled. Furthermore, metal loses its edge if it is not under pressure, because that is its whole purpose, it is a counter culture. Without nothing to counter, it simply loses its essential raison d’être. Therefore, this is not a call to the comformist to accept extremism, to understand those few who actually step outside the bounds of what is permitted. This is an encouragement to those who would attain higher understanding and see metal come alive again to become extremist in thought themselves, because in a sick and decadent world, it is those who are healthy of mind who are willing to act insanely.

1 Anyone who is new to this idea might need some clarification here. By romantic we do not mean someone who is the perfect womanizer, but more of a neo-dark romanticist, a revivalist of 19th century romanticism with a Nietzschean twist. People in our society who are commonly referred to as such are usually not so much romantics as whiny weaklings who cannot face up to reality. Metalheads do not avoid reality, they reject the images created by the delusions of modern man, who conveniently assumes their truthfulness: his own refusal to accept life in its full-fledged manifestation and the place of MAN within it.

2 It is my contention that the capacity for almost complete isolation experienced by young musicians during the late eightees and early nineties is made void today by the effects of the Internet and inescapable (for those living in urban and suburban areas) fast-paced life.

3 Namely Det Som Engang Var, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Filosofem

4 The reader may refer to Destruction’s Infernal Overkill from 1985 and Dead Can Dance’s Within the Realm of a Dying Sun from 1987.

5 Both Immolation’s Close to a World Below and Obscura by Gorguts are outstanding examples of this. Also, seemingly unbeknownst to the masses, well-developed death metal falls into the category of properly progressive music, while so-called “progressive death metal” (a redundant term) outfits are surface-oriented bands that produce disparaged songs as a result of poor musical judgement. A painful example of this would be The Sound of Perseverance, Death’s final album and an awkward affair that would make anyone with ears for proper music cringe in empathic embarrassment.

6 There was tongue-in-cheekness in the past, even during the golden years, but you can trace a distinction between these clowns and the best bands who used imagery to drive points home in a non-ironic way. Sincere nihilism and non-pretentious occultism stared right out of the classic albums, while today, these concepts are flat images worn on the outside only, as musicians try to cash in on people’s expectations.

7 The young science of psychology approaches these conclusions even as its mainstream-dictated values orders it to not make these findings, to try to make void the importance of the unconscious and subjective perception and will.

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26 thoughts on “Thoughts On Bragason’s Málmhaus (2013)”

  1. OliveFox says:

    To quote Swamp Thing: “…the dark corners are being pushed back…a little more every day. We are things of shadows…and there isn’t as much shadow…as there used to be.”

  2. OliveFox says:

    Also, Dead Can Dance is referenced a lot when it comes to Burzum….never had the pleasure of discovering them, and don’t understand their connection to metal (I am assuming it has to do with the ambient side of Burzum). Any albums to seek out specifically to “unlock” the connection? I guess I can start with the one mentioned in the article, of course.

    1. Oh, it’s more than just the outright (or obviously?) ambient Burzum composition. I would say that underlying most if not all of Burzum’s music is an ambient undercurrent. The influence of Dead Can Dance in the lingering, simple spaciousness and multi’line melodies in simple but powerful usage in that very particular way seem to be indicators. I think I read that Vikernes was also into electronic music, which might influence his beat and insistence, I guess.

      With Dead Can Dance, try albums in this order: The Serpent’s Egg, Within the Realm of a Dying Sun,
      then, if you really like them, you can go with the simpler but nonetheless enjoyable comeback Anastasis.

  3. vOddy says:

    How is metal a counter culture? Explain.

    Things that I find interesting and appealing, my nature itself, and my values, which are inherent to my nature, can be well described by metal. I am not drawn to it because of the culture I live in, but because of my innate trait.
    I want to clarify that I am drawn to the things that metal is good at describing, and therefore indirectly drawn to metal, but the point is that it is inherent in me, like being drawn to music, rather than produced from a dissatisfaction with society.

    1. David Rosales says:

      noun: counter-culture
      a way of life and set of attitudes opposed to or at variance with the prevailing social norm.

      Not sure how you fail to see metal as such.

      1. vOddy says:

        It is in opposition to mainstream culture, but that does not make it a counter culture.
        As far as I know, a counter culture is defined by what it counters, not by its own traits and values.

        Metal may have started out as a counter culture, against the hippie ideology and against the cubicle life style, both of which it still opposes, but it is its own culture with its own traditions, rituals, and values, and that is what defines it.

        1. as far as I am aware, “having no traditions of its own” is not a requirement for a counter culture, otherwise it would not be a culture at all.

          There us truth to what you say, but I think it is incorrect to take metal out of its context. It’s no real renaissance or even a second romanticism, it’s a longing for them and a rejection of what we perceive as the failure and falsehood of modernity.

          1. vOddy says:

            I’m not going to argue, because the only thing we disagree on is the definition of counter culture; not on what metal actually is, which is what matters.
            And now I’m not even sure that I’m right. I’ll look it up and try to find out.

    2. David Rosales says:

      Nobody said that you had to be drawn to it because of your dissatisfaction with society. You are mixing things up.

  4. Matt Risnes says:

    I enjoyed reading this a great deal and think there is much truth in what it says. I tend not to agree with very much of the musical tastes and stiffly academic posturing of the actual musical criticism of this site. I come here primarily for the philosophical bent to it and the harsh light it casts on the insipid modern nature of genre journalism and groupthink.

    I loved the line about indulging in childish vices as an expression of “freedom”. This brings to mind the recent deification of Lemmy simply for the fact that he liked to drink and smoke, never mind that his self destructive choices lead to the deterioration of his health and ultimately his death. It’s what’s cool for the moment that counts and that you can make a reductive meme or ironic mash up to post on social media so people know you think he’s cool and imagine yourself to be a part of his contained, predictable rebellion.

    In any case, thank you for continuing to be an original voice amidst the maelstrom of neutered nonsense currently passing itself off as metal journalism.

    1. It’s a pity you don’t see any value in our “stiff criticism”. We do not do so from a position of pretension, but of one that seeks to encourage quality instead of inclusion for the sake of everyone’s happiness.

      I think Lemmy deserves some credit for speaking his mind, not for indulging in his vices..

      Thank you for appreciating our attempt at sincerity and providing actual content. I am the first to be disappointed at having to report “news” as well, but apparently it is a necessary evil if presence is to be maintained.

      1. Matt Risnes says:

        It’s not necessarily that I don’t see any value in your approach to music criticism, but I find it a narrow criteria by which to judge such evocative, chaotic and powerful music. But as we all know, writing about music is like dancing about architecture, so you’re already fighting an uphill battle on that one. You deserve kudos for coming at it from a uniquely analytical angle as opposed to resorting to bluster, hyperbole and hero worship.

        I know nothing of what Lemmy spoke of his mind. I know that his music has never done much for me and I find his cult of personality grating.

        I see reporting news not as a “necessary evil” for the site so much as an opportunity for its strong voice to cut through the mediocre din of modern metal journalism and fandom and expose it for the shrill tedium it truly is.

      2. I beg to differ in the “dancing about architecture”, as funny as the comment is, haha.

        Writing about music is like… writing about architecture, actually.
        I would say writing about music or art in general is about describing communication of emotions and effects on the unconscious and the human being as an organism. It is difficult and of course you cannot give a complete rational account of music, but that is the open-ended side of our approach, I think.

        Many have opposed my view, out of a misunderstanding and probably ignorance of what I am actually talking about, but I often compare transcendental art making, transcendental music to the understanding of the occult as exemplified by the likes of Paracelsus or Agrippa, and as explained by Carl Jung. This is because art in general speaks to MORE THAN just our conscious minds (art is not wholly irrational or rational, it is both, just like our whole being), then a discussion of art requires us to dive in willingly so that you get not only a rational and partial view of things but also a necessarily intuitive impression.

        I do want to stress that it is a mistake to think that music cannot be discussed at all. Music cannot be replicated or wholly explained in writing, but the way to its grasping can be signaled, and that is why I make the reference to a mystical tradition, because through them, the practitioner needs to incite himself to “drive through” rather than just remain outside as a spectator.

        1. vOddy says:

          “art is not wholly irrational or rational, it is both, just like our whole being”

          – David Rosales 2016

          Nice quote

          1. thomasw_ says:

            Surely you mean not irrational but non-rational?

            1. vOddy says:

              Aren’t those the same thing?
              Irrational doesn’t have to mean anti rational. It can just mean not rational.

              1. thomasw says:

                both the non-rational and irrational are understood by rational beings as being ‘not of reason’. however the irrational does mean anti-rational, illogical, admitting of self-contradiction and perhaps other flaws of rationality. Whereas non-rational knowledge is understood as being sourced from outside the normal inductive or deductive use of reason. Non-rational information has traditionally been linked to mystics, contemplatives, prophets, and even to artists like Mozart whose inspiration for certain compositions came to him in a mere ‘glance’ or ‘fruitful’ intuitive moment.

                1. vOddy says:


                  I don’t think that music is irrational, just partially non rational.
                  We will see if my mind changes as I become more musically proficient.

        2. vOddy says:

          Is the rational part of music the aesthetic and logical? The structures, the patterns themselves, and so on?

          And is the other part what they describe, express, or communicate?

          Elaborate, please. You have brought out my interest.

        3. Blake Jugg says:

          “Dancing about architecture” was apt.

        4. Matt Risnes says:

          See now what you wrote here is fascinating. Referring to music and writing about it in terms of Jung’s subconscious explorations. Exploring it through the lens of how it taps into our esoteric, atavistic and primal nature (incidentally that is what draws me to metal and has nearly my whole life). But I see less of that and more of the clinical detailing of structure. I understand I’ve only been reading this site a short while and structure absolutely informs the emotional impact. I guess I just feel there isn’t enough of the emotional connection explored. But hey, it’s the Internet. Everybody’s gotta complain about something. This site and your writin is more than excellent enough.

          1. C. M. says:

            Far from me to speak for David but Jung’s approach to psychology was to examine the similarities in the depth of human subconscious (or unconscious on Jung’s words). With this in mind we can approach an objective analysis of music, basing judgment on whether the music accomplishes what it sets out to do (in other words, the objective of the music).

            Since all (sane) humans follow logical threads to come up with or come to understand ideas, music needs to follow a logical thread in order to express an idea. That’s why you’ll see a rejection of music that does not present a narrative that begins with an introduction to an idea and then develops the idea until it has been “explained”, so to speak. The difficulty in analyzing music this way is that relationships between audible tones do not refer to objects as explicitly and specifically as do words. It takes some faith, in fact, to approach music as a language that has codified symbols. This perspective of musical language is unpopular because it suggests that some people are just not able to “get” the symbols that are being expressed in the music, and some will argue that the individual subjectivity of each musical experience, therefore there can be no objective relation to symbols present in the music. This is a populist position though, and DMU has always rejected populist ideals.

            1. This exactly, and more importantly, the concept of archetypes, which are not fixed symbols, but liquid ones which crystallize differently in different contexts for each person but retaining a limited range with respect to our evolved minds as we are all humans with a distinct set of instincts that go beyond feeding or having sex. This also points to the fact that you probably would have instincts that are more similar to those who are closer to your gene pool than those that are far away… but this is mere speculation, although founded on fact.

              Now, if you put together the concept of archetypes of Jung with the concepts of form and intention of A.B. Marx, and you got yourself a very interesting lead on how to conduct music critique in a knowledheable way that is in contact with the whole of reality. Forms are not supposed to be entirely fixed, we never judge them as such here, but we do try to judge them as reflection of something deeper. A disorganized, unfocused mind will produce such music. A mind looking for fun and catchy music instead of seeking to communicate will produce avant garde jazz instead of the more contemplative forms of classical music like religious renaissance music.

  5. Matt Risnes says:

    I appreciate the context and expanded explanation from both CM and David. I have been attempting to apply this methodology in appreciating the new Cirith Gorgor and it is yieldin some results, albeit fleeting ones. I keep going back tithe emotional effect the music has on me and the innate aesthetic appeal its atmospheric nature has on me personally. Fascinating stuff though and I shall continue to soldier on in my attempts to also contemplate music from more of this perspective.

  6. Great movie, thanks for writing about it. Would NEVER had known about it otherwise.
    When you see the (social, and/or geographical) isolation of the main actor (or actress, whatever people call her), it helps explain how & why European black metal exploded in the late 1980s / early 1990s.

  7. federico7979 says:

    As another pal said before, I always dig into this site not for the music but for the great philosophical articles it has. This is another one.

    I think nowadays-metal still is a counter-culture, may be not only to the whole society but also to the whole so-called metal scene in each country, which are not nihilistic nor defiant to anything, is pure empty aesthetics.

    In my opinion the movie was really bad. I tried to analyse it not believing it was made for Black Metal, just as a Metalhead in general, I found the main character really wimp.

    Now you made me think that may be that was the point. This is something I haven’t thought before. May be the whole point of the movie is to expose that the Metal culture as it was, now it’s dead.
    I haven’t read the Director’s aim on this movie. If that was the aim, the movie is good.


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