On an intuitive level, we can tell that some black metal sucks, and some is good. The difference mostly has to do with the state of mind of the musicians.
When a musician is in a sane frame of mind, they want to show us a journey that parallels life. They are passing along learning, as all art does, but they’re doing it in a form that shows us the experience, and not the conclusions.
Lazy musicians, propagandists and idiots take another approach. They view a song as a binary proposition, with a good and a bad represented directly by parts of a song.
You can see this in all boring or pointless art: there is no journey, no struggle, no learning. The characters or objects in the art face a dark evil, then suddenly see the light, go to the other side and everything is OK. That light can be God, Satan, liberalism, Nazism, sex, drugs or any ideal. It’s just a very basic technique that’s common to people who haven’t thought through the whole “art” side of music.
To them, it’s just music. You find something that sounds cool and hey, that’s all there is to it. This is what mature artists hate about jazz and avantgarde music. They hate “music for music’s sake” that it means nothing, so it either comes with some baggage of theory to “explain” it, or is like that art exhibit where you see a stuffed rabbit impaled with a dildo sitting on a Bible wrapped in a condom, and you’re supposed to think it’s profound.
And when you think about it, all really great art resembles some struggle we’ve faced in our lives. Early black metal sounded like social isolation and a yearning for more in life. It sounded like a rejection of the comfortable sounds of the blues and church music, replacing it with minor key distorted hellhavoc from which elegant melodies somehow emerged. Not what you expected? Or more likely, what you experienced: when you get away from the crazy crowd, and look at nature and your own soul, you find something of greater value than the callow affirmation of “we can all get along, honest” peers.
Bad black metal — and bad metal in general — suffers under what I call the “hot tub” syndrome. Because it is binary, and has a good state and a bad state, and wants us to go from bad to good, the song can have only one major event: the transition. Because that transition cannot be explained by the art itself, but requires added “theory,” it’s random. As a result, the song needs a lot more embellishment to make the transition believable at all.
The result is a lot like this:
We sing a song of the hot tub — how great it will be to be in the hot tub, how cold it is out here, how lonely we are outside the hot tub, etc. ad nauseam. Then we get into the hot tub, and how warm it is! And then the song ends.
Watch your favorite terrible black metal bands and pay attention to how they compose the songs you hear. Are they two-tone, in/out of the hot tub songs, or like early black metal, are they epics that slowly and subtly build to a point where you are ready to make whatever steps are necessary to get in the hot tub?