Assimilation

What makes metal heavy also makes the mainstream want to absorb it

In the night, one can hear many noises. Some sound scary, and others signal scary events. For example, the roar of an animal is disturbing, but to someone alone in a house a stealthy footfall or the click of a lock is scarier. Similarly in art, the context of a sound defines its significance, and what makes music frightening is the meaning it encodes.

Among all forms of art, what makes heavy metal unique is that it embraces disturbing sounds which are not ugly but which portend disturbing patterns found in reality. Heavy metal is the music of the apocalypse, and whether warning it off or cheering it on or both, achieves this heaviness through the context it conveys.

What makes heavy metal heavy?

Both fantastic and literal, heavy metal explores the ideas our society will not endorse. It is not protest music, whining “it should not be” into a secondhand microphone, but a war-like genre which describes destruction with the joy of a painter who could use it as a color in a new epic landscape. Metal is about the experience of life, but it disciplines that with a clear sense of reality and consequence, as is appropriate for “heavy” conversation. Where society hides from fear and allies itself with the threat of the consequences of fears, metal allies itself with death to dispense fear.

When metal first arrived, new fans began to understand what made Black Sabbath “heavy”: the patterns which revealed the thinking behind such noises, putting context to the fear they instilled. Thundering distorted riffs were not new; Blue Cheer had done that. Neither was aggression; Iggy Pop had done that. But Black Sabbath, inspired by horror movie soundtracks, came up with a new style of music that used melodic phrases played in power chords, and by targetting the weighty topics that social conversation did not admit, creating a terrifying form of art.

Rock music had grown through the 1960s from simple boyfriend-girlfriend pop to apocalyptic rock like the Doors or King Crimson in the same way the Beatles rejected their sugarpop roots to become morbid and political. Whenever given a chance, the music reverted to a simple, tolerant, peaceful hedonism that hid its escapism and narcissism. The future members of Black Sabbath, upon seeing a horror movie and wondering if people would ever pay to have that experience in rock music, created the antithesis to distracting escapism: a descent into the complex and violent world of reality.

Its heaviness migrated into a different style of composition: other bands wrote songs around open chords which were strummed in a repeated pattern, and then modulated, while Black Sabbath used moveable power chords to make phrases into riffs and it was the change in those phrases that communicated a difference in outlook. It was more like classical music, where harmony is so well-studied that it is used as a device toward “narrative” compositions where the change in motifs and their accompaniment conveys a string of moods that like a mythology or a fable convey the idea of a journey from one point to another.

With this development, they gave meaning to the sound. Its context of topics gave its heaviness form, but musically it was heavy as well, using thundering chords that stripped out traditional harmony and made the riff instead, like the nihilistic voice of an angry god, speak the truth that completed the poetry of contrast in each song. By throwing away form, and the form of socialization which “peace” and “love” implied, Black Sabbath brought danger back into a stagnant modern life — specifically, the danger that in all the attempts to stay away from the darkness, we as a civilization had missed an essential truth.

What does metal believe?

As an art form, metal has continuously developed visions of a human apocalypse lingering in the absence of our willingness to face reality. Reality is, as the saying goes, not entirely pleasant, and so is less popular than simple partial truths called “symbols,” which create an illusion of completeness by super-simplifying reality. Morality is not scientifically accurate but it is more comforting to our minds to have two options instead of nearly infinite ones.

During its maturation, metal wavered in and out of the public illusion, called “consensual reality,” which is the alternate reality of values most people use to navigate their lives. Consensual reality includes the symbols people want to believe in and, reinforced by preference-enabling activities like democracy and consumerism, makes itself “real” by the fact that most people believe it to be true. This public illusion takes many forms and metal has not been immune, but is strongest when it kicks aside the illusion and goes for the kind of heavy contexts that always made good ambiguous truth.

One view of metal is as a reality mediator showing the darkness underlying our pleasant illusions, and that in doing so, it is not deconstructive but attempts to make clarity of life by finding beauty in the dark and heavy as well as the light. As a holistic approach, this outlook negates both dualistic worlds (heaven, hell) and secular morality in favor of a scientific, historical and abstract design-oriented perspective on life. This then returns us to the idea of metal as orthodoxy, or a genre in which there is a clear direction and those who deviate from it are parasitizing on the popularity of the genre while weakening it with ideas that oppose it.

The terms “sell out” and “poseur” arose in the 1970s to refer to those of this intention, most specifically the bands like Def Leppard who turned their heavy metal roots into radio trash that was essentially rock music with power chords. A poseur was someone dishonest who adopted the most rigorous pose, or identity-affirming lifestyle and opinions, of a genre but was like all hipsters using it for his or her own benefit and believed none of it. These terms persist to this day.

Any ideology is necessarily orthodox, in that if it does not assert a right way and wrong way of doing things, it is not an ideology at all but an ethic of convenience much like the opinionless, directionless motions of rock music or its deferential humanistic political counterpart. Rock stands for a big party and everyone having it their way; this is a meta-orthodoxy that opposes all orthodoxy.

Metal on the other hand is orthodox and opposes meta-orthodoxy because an orthodoxy of no orthodoxy is a lack of direction. Directionless self-assertion does not address the apocalyptic or religious aspects necessary to unite human thinking toward survival in an apocalyptic time. To clarify reality, metal music embraces nihilism and worships power and beauty, because these things connect us to a reality that will forever seem flawed to us because it is full of horror, doubt, fear and death. However, the metal outlook shows us the wisdom of these things and makes living with them seem “fun,” where rock music and other anti-orthodoxies retreat into human activities and social realities, pushing reality itself far away.

As a result, metal is sandwiched between protest music of the anarchic left and the wisdom of the conservative ancients, forming itself through fantasy into a vision of a more realistic and more enjoyable vision of life. Rock music is a product of the wealth and convenience of a modern time that allows us to have inconsequential lifestyles and opinions, while metal is a revolution against that outlook, a seemingly deconstructive art form that in actuality opposes deconstruction.

We can trace these ideas through consistent beliefs found across metal generations:

  1. Beauty in darkness. It is not ugly, pounding music but music which discovers beauty in distortion, in anger and terror, in violence and foreboding dark restless relativistic power chords. The point is not to deconstruct, but to go through deconstruction and find meaning. This is evident in the works of Black Sabbath and every metal band since, and is what distinguishes “real” metal from hard rock.
  2. Worship of power. Unlike pacifying rock music and jazz and “new music” classical, metal music adores powerful, vast and broad simple strokes; it loves the majesty of nature and its crushing final word. It does not have love songs. Instead, its love is directed to forces of nature, including physical forces like storms and intense human experience like war or loss, as if trying to find meaning in these.
  3. Worship of nature. Linked to metal’s adoration of power is its appreciation for the function, including its “red in tooth and claw” aspects, of the natural world. Where most are repulsed by the idea that combat exists between animals in which one is victor, and one is prey, metal idolizes it. It finds beauty in ruins, in destruction, and in death, as if praising the cycle of life they engender again.
  4. Independent thinking. Metal does not buy into the individualism of a modern time where the only goal is material pleasure of the self (materialism) and keeping others away by granting them the same (humanism). It prefers the independent thinking that looks for higher values in life, mountains to climb and challenges to be met. Where punk music enmeshed itself in a callow “I wanna do what I wanna do,” metal saw this as part of the same gesture of rock music and discarded it.

These are expressed artistically by the following:

  1. Dark, morbid themes that clashed with the “love will save us” hippie mentality. These are explained by Black Sabbath as being derived from the horror movies of the day, a genre which features a union between technology and the occult (zombies, werewolves) producing a force humans cannot oppose. Normal technologies and methods cannot defeat it. They struggle against this force but their emotional instability causes them to sabotage one another, and often the dark force wins. Examples from this genre: Mothra, Dawn of the Dead, Alien, The Exorcist, The Shining, War of the Worlds.
  2. Songs written from short cyclic phrases called riffs, which unlike rock riffs used moveable chords of inspecific harmonic bonding, making the melody and rhythm of the phrase more important than key or voicing. Metal bands tend to use more riffs per song, and not in the traditional cycle of verse-chorus, in a way quite similar to progressive bands like King Crimson and Yes, both of whom used aggressive distortion.
  3. A focus on the holism of the human effort as determined by our moral state as individuals in a way that can only be described as “religious.” Metal, in addition to sounding eerily like angry Bach-scripted church music, has a similar focus to dogmatic transcendentalism Christianity: what is our future as human beings, and how does how we shape our personalities effect it?
  4. Bass-enhanced overdriven guitar sound, or distortion, which encloses the primary instrument used in making heavy metal. In rock, guitars and drums come together to emphasize a vocal melodic line; in metal, guitars lead a melodic line for which vocals are a complement and drums a timekeeper, enclosing it in a regularity to give listeners context. The guitar is the loudest single instrument heard and the one that invokes changes in song.

These beliefs and musical techniques reinforce each other. Using distortion and loud music, yet finding beauty in it. Using longer narrative phrases so as to tell a story, creating a holistic view in which emotion emerges, instead of citing pre-configured emotions like rock music does. A darkness and melancholy exhibited in lyrics and imagery, corresponding to aggressive music, expressing a desire to seize all of reality, good and bad together, and make something better of it.

Heavy Metal as Romanticism

We have seen ideas similar to these before in the form of a genre that, once birthed, refused to die, even as history moved on. In fact, it has re-emerged throughout the modern time because it was the step before this new type of rationalism,

Although metal borrows from both classical and Romantic periods of classical music, its most intense similarity is to the Romantic period in literature, which in its later years diverged into Gothic horror and transcendental idealism. Much as embryological theory tells us that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, or that a fetus goes through the same stages of evolution as its species did to arrive at its current state, metal theory shows us that metal — as a revolt against what rock music stood for, e.g. distraction — forms an embryo which rediscovers its musical past. In this sense, metal is starting with classical and venturing through late Romanticism toward modernism.

According to the experts, Romanticism in literature and music has several tenets:

  • It is not clearly defined as a single thing, or several versions of this thing1. Most of Romanticism existed before it became a concrete movement, and heavily overlapped with classicism2.
  • A desire to explore organic culture instead of high culture, especially tales of the medieval age and its feudal society3
  • Worship of the imagination, and of creative and individual truthfulness in emotion4.
  • Reverence for nature as “an organically unified whole,”5 and intuition, instincts, and feelings were seen as necessary complements to reason in contrast to “mechanical” rationalism6.
  • Symbolism and myth were given great prominence7.
  • Rejection of the universalism in exchange for study of the individual as distinct from others8.
  • Shift from a mimetic to an expressive orientation, meaning that art no longer imitated life, but expressed a truth found in it9.
  • A willingness to strive “for the unattainable beyond the morally permitted,” and a rejection of morality for situational or naturalistic interpretation10.
  • An appreciation for the melancholy, remote and ancient11.

Romanticism was a response to neo-classicism, which was the most recent form of the surge in rationalism brought about by The Age of Enlightenment. Where the Enlightenment rationale brought individual rights, focus on personal emotion, and a linear logical process by which one could dissect the world and find an absolute response to it, Romanticism both inherited that tradition and began dissolving it. It is for this reason that we can find Romanticist themes abundant, in everything from Star Wars to presidential speeches: the conflict of rationalism-versus-Romanticism has never been resolved.

Unlike modern individualism, Romanticist individualism meant using yourself as the justification for your own wants, instead of trying to find some external justification. As Nietzsche phrased it, “I prefer” and “I find beauty in” are more important than all the equations, statistical summaries, studies cited and popular votes in the world; Romanticism (of which Nietzsche was an ambiguous defender but spiritual comrade) rejects the idea of externalized truths and knowing, and instead prefers a sense of unity between the individual’s aesthetics and a “mythic imagination” which lets them see possibilities in the world using holistic logic, instead of the linear (single-factor) logic used by rationalists.13

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
The World is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth (1789)

~

Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist.

And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no additional mission which would lead it beyond human life. Rather, it is human, and only its possessor and begetter takes it so solemnly-as though the world’s axis turned within it. But if we could communicate with the gnat, we would learn that he likewise flies through the air with the same solemnity, that he feels the flying center of the universe within himself. There is nothing so reprehensible and unimportant in nature that it would not immediately swell up like a balloon at the slightest puff of this power of knowing.

On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense, Friedrich Nietzsche (1873)

Heavy metal inherits this conflict because in order to be “heavy,” it must tackle the dark issues everyone fears. What makes these issues dark is that our normal methods cannot defeat them. We then must ask what we exclude from our methods, and we see that any anti-social information — that which might offend someone, or mention death, or suggest that morality is an imposed and artificial condition — is excluded from our methods. As a result, heavy metal becomes a kind of peering behind the curtain of an externally-imposed reality, and in seeing the horrors within, finding a new desire for both warlike apocalyptic intensity and a beauty discovered in darkness.

Romanticism re-occurs because it is generally seen as the only idea which can oppose modernism, which is like neo-classicism but even more insistent upon rationalism and the hybrid between individualism and groupthink that is utilitarianism. Metal, as a genre exploring Romanticism with a masculine and warlike approach, most closely approximates the philosophies of Nietzsche and other post-Romantic writers who wanted to escape the bureaucratic approach to society and restore a sense of adventure.

Metal is fantasy that can be applied to reality, neatly briding the two categories of art as entertainment/mimesis and art as politics. It is not protest music, nor is it the kind of wallpaper-like distracting pleasant activity that we see on most television shows. Instead, it is a manifestation of the Faustian desire for forbidden knowledge. From classical literature and music, it borrows a rigid sense of structure and a desire for resurrection, Tolkien-esque, of the ancient times of honor, blood, warfare and magic. From Romantic literature and music, it takes its major themes, including the sense of an individual trapped in a moribund society reaching out and the idea that when the individual escapes society to nature, reality can be seen for the first time. The most similar Romanticists to metal lyrics are probably the following:

  • William Blake – wrote about metaphysical topics from the perspective of the universe, and mocked humans for being weak and obsessed with the trivial.
  • John Milton – wrote Paradise Lost, in which Satan is an anti-hero who rejects the rule of heaven in order to discover life for himself.
  • William Wordsworth – enshrined anti-social behavior with his classic The World is Too Much With Us, which calls for rejecting society in favor of mythic imagination.
  • Mary Shelley – wrote Frankenstein, in which technology creates a new form of life which discovers it has no place in the world, and it turns destructive.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – a realist who did not shy from horror, Goethe believed in a universe where human perception was a small and unnecessary part of its divine function.14

If we had to summarize metal as an artistic movement, it would be fair to say it has more in common with European Romantic art than the popular music and boutique art of our present era. Like the Romantics, it sought a transcendence in accepting the world’s inequality and horror and using it as a relative opposite against which to project challenges; it wants to bring back the fighting spirit of an ancient time, and give us independent thinking and goals instead of buying us off with the humanist-materialist tripe that the mainstream media proclaims — dogma which, interestingly, has failed to solve a single widespread problem of humanity.

Even more interesting is that the genre of horror movies, an intersection of proto-science fiction and occult lore, was born of the Romantic movement. Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein, was the wife of Percy Shelley, a Romantic poet. Bram Stoker’s Dracula came from the Gothic fringe of the Romantic movement as well. One of the greatest descriptions of Satan ever, Paradise Lost by John Milton, was also a Romantic work.

“I believe in tragedies…
I believe in desecration…”
The Sun No Longer Rises, Immortal (1993)

Like its Romantic forebears, metal music desires transcendence: finding the beauty in darkness by accepting the physical struggle that is life, and instead of trying to run away from that struggle into personal material comfort, accepting it as something that gives significance to our existences. Metal music desires to overcome our fear of death and of nature, and by accepting them, to show us a new world of meaning. In this, it is both a continuation of Romanticism and an evolution of it to a more coherent state.

How did this change for underground metal?

Appearing in the early 1980s, underground metal arose from a hybrid between crustcore/hardcore (Discharge) and the structuralist, neo-classical heavy metal of the previous generation (Judas Priest, Black Sabbath). It took the Romantic themes of earlier metal and made them more extreme. If underground metal has one unifying concept, it is the one emphasized by Hellhammer, “Only death is real.”

After heavy metal blew out by getting absorbed into its own popularity, and then speed metal copped out by softening its stance and sound to be more popular, underground metal roared away with pure nihilism: facing life as it is without a thought that anyone or thing in the universe cares if we collectively or individually survive. This was orthodoxy retaliating against anti-orthodoxy, which always takes the form of individuals preferring to avoid reality and so passive revenging themselves against those disciplined enough to want, in the time-honoured method of survival common to all creatures, to adapt to reality. In overcoming the anti-orthodoxy of individualism, underground metal became the first popular music genre ready to face ego-death.

The question, of course, could be asked: Why did you ever try narcotics? Why did you continue using it long enough to become an addict? You become a narcotics addict because you do not have strong motivations in any other direction. Junk wins by default. – William S. Burroughs, Junky

Ego-death is a concept that psychedelics and zen monks alike discovered. In it, the person realizes they are one part of a giant system, and stop seeing the world through themselves. They see themselves in the world, but they see the bigger process first. Ego-death tends to lead to a transcendent state where one sees all of consciousness as a continuum, and becomes less afraid of d-y-i-n-g. Ego-death forces us to see life through a filter that is super-realistic, or dedicated to bringing people into a moment of realization that what they are touching and doing is real and they need to grasp command of their own minds to survive. It opposes panic and illusion, moral and social judgment (“knowing” from Nietzsche above), fear and pleasant unrealistic thoughts.

Not coincidentally, “only death is real” resembles topics from “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad and “Paradise Lost” by John Milton. In both, as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the protagonist is thrust into a delusional, dysfunctional, chaotic world that he alone can see is wrecked, and takes a long journey in which she or he can see that the nothingness is very real and pervades everything, and that our denial of this emptiness of life makes a greater emptiness, or a hollow illusion that cannot satisfy us. As we try to live in this illusion, we see reality peeking through, and so become neurotic.

The characters in these books overcome their situations only by throwing away the rule book, avoiding what other people tell them is the truth, and acting on their animal intuition. Conrad’s protagonist Marlowe begins the book impotent and ends it with a powerful tool, like a sword or fire, to explain why what he sees is as impotent as he once was. It’s like an adolescent story, but for humanity, growing out of its moral illusion and seeing reality as a pragmatic task. In Paradise Lost, Satan is appealing but has made an error in opposing the order of nature/God, yet still he has to make this decision, to explore the world in a Promethean sense of fearlessness and self-command. His undoing is too much self and not enough command.

Underground metal recognized this duality of human thought. Official knowing was bad news; unguided knowing was chaotic and destructive; therefore, a new type of knowledge had to be created, and this knowledge was nihilistic literalism as found in hardcore punk merged with the fantasy and epic worldview of heavy metal. The political nature of punk had made it easy for foolish people to slap anarchy stickers on their rockabilly guitars and start repeating the same old stuff, like the aged activists who whine “why can’t they just see” when life has passed them by.

Underground metal was not political or social, but philosophical: it viewed the world from outside human eyes, seeing it like a large scientific experiment in which history was the result, and based its knowledge on the abrupt interruption to human illusion created by death. When we see that wisdom, we recognize that we are tiny and inconsequential, and that adapting to life is more important than the moral, social, media and political worlds made of human agreement to have a symbol stand for something.

“Only Death is Real” conveyed ego-death: no matter how big you think you are or how important, death is more real than your visions, so you must accept nothingness. To accept nothingness is to cast aside the unhealthy parts of the ego and to give it context, so that the ego is a motivic force but only one of many on a planet. To see only death as real is to wonder what else can be real. The answer is right past the end of our noses: the world is real, and it’s a continuum that renews itself, so it’s worth working for. If you like life, you work to make it better. If you hate life, you deny the reality of the world and you go further inward into the self and its desires, which has never worked for making anyone happy no matter how stupid.

We are social creatures, and it is as mathematically logical why that is so as the collaboration between parts of a computer program. We are all of the same thing, and we want to take our part in this thing, which includes nature and our fellow humans, and if we like being alive, we want to do what’s best not just for ourselves or for humanity but for the whole thing. What a stream of interesting thoughts “Only Death is Real” can unleash, in part because our society does everything it can to deny the reality of death.

The archetypal death metal bands — Hellhammer, Bathory, Slayer — all used occult imagery much as Blake, Milton and Goethe did. With that in mind, we can re-interpret Slayer’s Satanic imagery as more than being opposition to Christianity. For one, they do not seem to oppose Christianity. If anything, lyrics like “South of Heaven” or “The Final Command” illustrate, like Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” before them, a world in the grips of evil based in power based on an illusion. In Slayer’s complex theology, Christianity is Satanic because like political strength and industry it is a false outward power when inward the person is underconfident and weak. Christianity however is seen as often accurate, in that the apocalypse does come from selfishness, and Christian morality (“bastard sons beget your cunting daughters”) is the best way to live, but a way that makes no sense in a world addicted to the power of illusion.

As in Milton, Slayer’s Satan is a rebel against a singular order encroaching upon the world, a necessary force like magnetism that opposes any such centralization. In Slayer and Milton’s view, to have any single power controlling the universe is to bring the universe toward sameness, something thermodynamicists call “entropy,” or a state when any direction yields the same results as any other because of the uniformity of the universe. Milton was edging toward a transcendental view of God as being a property of the universe, and not an ego or personality such as that overbearing one against which Satan revolts, himself a victim of his own excessive egoism.

I feel there is some hideous new force loose in the world like a creeping sickness, spreading, blighting. Remoter parts of the world seem better now, because they are less touched by it. Control, bureaucracy, regimentation, these are merely symptoms of a deeper sickness that no political or economic program can touch. What is the sickness itself? – William S. Burroughs

In the Milton-Slayer worldview, “God” encompasses both bad and good, because together these create a reality in which we can strive for better things. Similarly, in Conrad, the tokens of good and profit are chased in such a way that they create an illusion sustained by greed, in which the only heroes are amoralists like Mr. Kurtz who use brutality and combat effectively, but are conflicted over the underlying reasoning for their goal, namely the need to produce income through ivory when greater challenges await. In the worldview these artists offer, profit motive and morality are a going-inward into the protective mantle of fear, and morality is something we impose on the world to avoid the heroic challenge of leaving that inward sanctum and achieving goals that are not justified by physical survival (morality) or material comfort (profit).

When we look at metal with these opened eyes, the sound and imagery and lyrics are far less random. Distortion is a finding of beauty in darkness, a clarity emerging not when one looks at individual grains of sound but when one hears the blurry whole and deducts from it both pure tone and the harmony of randomness to that clarity; distortion forces us to take a view from above, and see the whole picture in order to understand what occurs at any moment. It is also a metaphor for our inability to ever fully perceive the universe, telling us that if we look at the center of the distortion we will find what is occurring, even if we cannot see it perfectly. The gritty, chaotic sound of distortion defies our logical containers that look for purity and instead finds a reality that although hazy is as clear as it if were pure.

The “riff salad” of metal bands is a way of establishing that music is not a cyclic loop of verse-chorus, resembling our going inward to the world of our own thoughts and preferences, but a journey in which our inward struggle parallels our outward struggle (much like the jihads of Islam: the lesser Jihad is the war against ignorance/infidels, and the greater Jihad is the war for spiritual clarity in oneself). Metal is art because it does not preach a political solution, but shows us the reasons for it. When that sort of higher thinking fails, metal relapses to liking noise and hedonism but little else.

It is one thing to preach, as if politically, against the ego. It is another thing to show a path beyond the ego. “Only Death is Real,” like nihilism itself, is a way of dispensing with “belief” in order to begin the journey to discover what is real and what is supra-real. The supra-real is that dimension where heroism and creativity lie, where one has accepted the feared attributes of life (d-y-i-n-g, disease, sodomy) and has transcended them by seeing what is not material/tangible yet is also important. It is this journey that metal music, classical music, and all great art describes. It is starting from nothing, like Satan exiled from Heaven, and getting over resentment of life and fear of death to see the beauty in darkness and to return to life with a desire to make it better. It is a recognition of the inherent distortion of our perception, and tuning our ears and minds to see past that faltering.

When only death is real, the ego dies for a moment and we see the world as a whole, and can get out of the prison of our limited perspective and re-bond to the life that produced us and produces all we value. It is a hedonic state higher than hedonism, to love life and want to make it better through better design. This is where death metal broke from heavy metal, and it is where all thinking that rewards strong souls begins.

The Evolution of Black Metal

Death metal brought images of impending doom and a fascination with the macabre into a dark world. It built upon what speed metal and grindcore had already established: an apocalyptic epic where the only future was decay. Death metal incorporated the righteous integrity of speed metal and the nihilism of punk into a musical onslaught warning of destruction. It fit into Kurt Vonnegut’s famous metaphor for art: that artists are to society what canaries were to the coalminers who brought them into the depths of the mine as warnings. When the song of the canary turned weak or stopped, it meant that suffocating coal gas was flooding the mine.

Death metal is an extension of the complexity of speed metal, partially arising from the attitude of that genre that any large problem can be solved by reason. Speed metal and thrash believed in rationality, and preached insanity as a negative characteristic. Death metal became the science of understanding insanity and breakdown, not preaching against it as speed metal often did but explicating it in epic songs and vivid imagery. Black metal, as a response to the failure of death metal to avoid the crowd, was an embrace of all things destructive to human illusion: natural selection, warfare, predation, violence, cruelty and tyranny.

Black metal restored romantic side of metal as its primary vehicle; its emotion is more obvious as that is its obsession. A death metal band would never argue destruction of the world, calling it irrational, where a black metal band would call for destruction of all life on emotional grounds. Black metal’s sadness comes from its emotional entrapment in a mechanistic world, and for that reason it rebels against order, whether in Heaven, on Earth, or in Death Metal. Black metal is in many ways a return to the mission metal left when exploring the scientific mindset of the technological age (as computers revolutionized life in the eighties, quantitative rationalism experienced a resurgance of influence).

If we look at metal’s history, we can see how this conflict brewed. Black Sabbath retaliated against the hippie music of their time as unrealistic and distracting. The following generation of metal turned it into more of a party for alienated kids, which punk retaliated against by returning the focus to all the negative aspects of reality. The next generation of metal, speed metal, picked up the punk outlook but channeled it into the heroic stories of past heavy metal, creating a less lamentatory and more assertive, masculine “we can fix this” outlook. When speed metal collapsed into its own popularity, death metal returned with pure nihilism balanced by a structuralism that suggested life was understandable but denied by the individual. Grindcore rose simultaneously with death metal and restored the punk/hippie attitude of tolerance toward the individual. Black metal retaliated against this just as Black Sabbath condemned the hippies of their day by brushing aside morality for an awareness of horror and our impotence against the real threats in this world; it rejected all protest rock and literal music for a spiritual conditioning which embraced struggle, darkness, melancholy and other Romantic traits.

Black metal grew exponentially since its emergence as a distinct musical style in the early 1990s; previous “black metal,” from Venom through Hellhammer, had been a variant on the dominant style of the time and often indistinguishable from death metal. Like a new civilization, it grew from a small group of innovators who were disgusted by the “jogging suit” mentality: people who were essentially products of a modern time, who blindly bleated its ideas, figuring out how to play death metal and becoming popular in the genre by making their music more like what audiences accustomed to rock music expected. In essence, the crowd had infested death metal as it had speed metal before that, and black metal was a response to this.

Recognizing that no matter how they dressed up the music as something “new,” appearances could be cloned, black metal musicians decided to go where the crowd could not follow: they would write music that expressed a grandeur of nature and feral amorality, hearkening more to the values of Samurai or European knights than to the disposable ideals of modern time. Since such a topic requires music that infuses the listener with a sense of awe and beauty in the cycle of destruction and creation that renders our world, they could no longer rely on “three chords and the truth,” but had to actually put the truth in the music, and write more poetic and complex songs.

The small civilization within civilization that was black metal was united more by ideals than by aesthetic or musical tenets, although all of its music by aiming to express the same kind of idea had similarities, mainly in its use of poetic complexity and truth within the music (and not necessarily the lyrics; you listen to black metal, and because of its intense artistry, find truth there). Because we are surrounded by infinite voices repeating the same few ideas in many different forms, here are the basic ideas of black metal that are distinct from the mass:

  1. Nature as a supreme, rational and all-pervasive order. Natural selection and an embrace of struggle took the center stage through celebration of predation and death. Even more, black metal celebrated the nature “within,” or our inner feral nihilism that made a mockery of morality.
  2. Anti-Christianity/Crowdism. Crowdism is the idea that respecting the will of individuals is more important than finding a realistic idea. It is a form of backward logic where we see the individual as the cause, and not the effect, of all that is around us and so convince ourselves that a human social consensual reality can override nature. Crowdism is secular Christian morality.
  3. Introspection. The only meaning comes from what the individual can interpret; there are no boundaries between individuals and the world (nature) as whole, but individual perception is limited to natural abilities and learning from experience. This is the opposite of the “if it feels good, do it” rhetoric of hippie rock.
  4. Morbidity. Viewed as an essential giver of meaning. Where most view death paranoiacally, and see it as a great entropy removing all value, black metal musicians viewed it as something giving meaning to life.
  5. Organicism. Like Romantic poets, black metal musicians tended to place more faith in organic growth than imposed social order. A sense of differentiation from the herd, hatred toward the incompetent and delusional, pride in unique ethnic origins and a celebration of older culture makes this a huge part of the genre.

To any student of European history or art, these values are not new; they are traditional to all Romantic forms of art, whether literature or visual art or symphonies, and were upheld by artists as disparate as William Wordsworth, Anton Bruckner, John Keats, Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Lord Byron and William Shakespeare. For all of these artists, nature was a higher form of order than the rules of civilization, and civilization had become decadent by praising its own “equal” order more than the “unequal” order of nature. Many philosophers, including the celebrated F.W. Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer, explicated these sentiments in their own work. Black metal’s ideology is nothing new.

What was new was an expression of these ideas in popular music, because rock music and blues and all of the associated disposable art has always been a manifestation of the crowd revolt mentality: simple music so that everyone in a room could get it, diametrically opposed to the grand works of classical music which were too complex and emotionally involved for a crowd to appreciate (or even to have the attention span to endure). Rock music focuses on one emotion per song, bangs it out in riff and chorus, and makes it very simple by using a relatively fixed number of scales and chord progressions. Rock music is the perfect product because it’s easy to make, is appreciated by customers of all ages and not limited by intelligence, and is inoffensive on a certain level in that it has nothing to say that will disturb. The basic message of rock music is to include everyone equally, to appreciate them for being alive and not for their inherent traits, and to come together on simple human values and not higher ideals; rock is inclusivity. Black metal is not.

Much like when watching Lord of the Rings, Braveheart or Apocalypse Now one has a sense of an ancient warlike order, when listening to black metal one sensed a realistic and amoral entity underneath the Romanticized skin of the music. This eternal form of the human spirit grows from the naturalism of black metal as well through its belief in a karmic cycle based on natural selection. At the lowest level, humans are little more than animals. If they exert a form of natural selection upon themselves, and attempt to rise above that level, those who survive will be apt for it; if they do this for several levels, they eventually rise to a state of having a higher intelligence, degree of physical strength and beauty, and moral character (“nobility”: the ability to see what is correct for the natural order of society as a whole, and not to get distracted by personal or emotional issues). At the very top are those who are fit to lead by the nature of having a transcendent consciousness; it is thought that these much higher IQ than most modern people and were far less fearful, neurotic and self-obsessed. This, too, derived from Romanticism.

Underground metal goes mainstream

Underground metal reigned in part through its mystique. Hated by almost everyone, in and out of jail, preaching ideas which were anathema to both heads of state and hippies in the gutter, underground metal seemed a fragile and rare thing. This mystique faded as the economy shifted again, as it had done in the early 1980s allowing a rush of “indie” bands, and distribution contracts loosened up in the late 1990s.

Where once there had been “import” racks for CDs from abroad, and it was hard to find music, starting in 1997, underground metal became available in mall stores and through Amazon.com. Its identity as a separate entity became difficult to maintain, and the process of assimilation began. In response, metalheads attempted to rally around an identity as “different,” but in doing so, they focused on external aspects (distortion, imagery, indie status) instead of what did make the music distinct: it saw hope for the future in ideas outside of the same accepted dogma all the mainstream newspapers, television and radio sell to us because it is a popular product. If the truth is difficult and therefore unpopular, metal rebelled against popularity as a selection matrix, and from that developed a range of thought which made it a genre distinct from all others.

Far from being alone in this, underground metal has fallen into a general trend of independent art producers seceding from reality. “Literature” has collapsed into a few thousand tiny magazines read by no one but MFA candidates in creative writing, and “visual art” has become a network of small galleries selling cute expensive paintings to uninformed patrons. Even classical music has gotten in on the decline, with “new music” — micro-symphonies of human voices, squeaking dissonant noise, and other trendy types of sound — appreciated by a diehard cult following who need a raison d’etre outside of their civil service jobs.

These genres used to speak an independent voice, but now they repeat lockstep the strange formulation of modern liberal democracy — a “neo-conservative” viewpoint which both champions civil rights and “social issues,” but also affirms the need for a strong economy and constant warfare against evil enemies. Political theorists might try to make sense of it, but it is more direct to understand it this way: popularity sells.

“One could argue that American fiction has ghettoized itself by insisting on a self-reifying view (humanist/materialist?) in which all answers are known, the political binary is carved in stoned, we all have swallowed whole certain orthodoxies, and the purpose of the fiction is just to reinforce these. At the heart of this lies a selfish agenda, that has (one could arge) really ceased seeing the world as a unity, and has begun aggressively internalizing certain capitalist dogmas that say: Of course you are the most important thing, of course you exist separate from the rest of the world.” – George Saunders, The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers

In this situation we find a repeated structure from metal itself, and even, larger society. Metal music goes through cycles where a new idea comes about, is looked down upon by others, and then fully expresses itself, at which point it is cloned to death by the same people who were speaking badly about it earlier (by this I mean new subgenres, not recombinations of existing genres like – eh – “nu-metal”). If you look at it as a conflict between people of able character, and those who are by nature followers, what you see is that the able create; the followers imitate, and in so doing, drown it and condemn what was created to being of the same mediocrity it helped to escape.

Indeed, the death metal of today more musically resembles rock than that of ten years ago; same with black metal. They have been assimilated, but from within the metal genre, by people whose character is so low that their highest values are to esteem what is valued by the larger society, and thus to reproduce it in the appearance of something which is not larger society, assuming that by controlling appearance, they control content. They are wrong, and they drag down everything they touch. It is this way with the creation of music, the promotion of music, and the choice of who runs hubs; most run them for the popularity, and don’t mind if there’s a whole bunch of support for moronic rock music thrown into the mix. In fact, they encourage it, as by appealing to everyone, they feel like Christ on the cross, being both a victim and a conqueror by the sheer fact of being needed.

This conflict repeats itself in all human endeavors: one group starts a process that creates benefit, and then others surge in and, not understanding the struggle of creation, parasitize it and destroy it. We can see this in the tendency of sequels to intelligent movies being junk; in the revolutions of the masses against the elites that leave nations with lower average IQs and third world levels of dysfunction; in the killing of Socrates by democratic Athens; in the denial of reality that lets Americans run up record debt, or our species to deplete fish stocks, pollute the ocean with floating plastics, and poison our open waterways with enough chemicals to turn amphibians hermaphroditic. The eternal human struggle for clarity of reality, versus withdrawing into our own perspectives and becoming oblivious, is repeated in metal and its struggle to resist assimilation.

The ‘heat-death’ of the universe is when the universe has reached a state of maximum entropy. This happens when all available energy (such as from a hot source) has moved to places of less energy (such as a colder source). Once this has happened, no more work can be extracted from the universe. Since heat ceases to flow, no more work can be acquired from heat transfer. This same kind of equilibrium state will also happen with all other forms of energy (mechanical, electrical, etc.). Since no more work can be extracted from the universe at that point, it is effectively dead, especially for the purposes of humankind.
— Andreas Birkedal-Hansen, M.A., Physics Grad Student, UC Berkeley12

With human beings, our tendency to act for ourselves alone — individualism, or selfishness — divides up our civilization and encourages entropy. Metal, as a perspective beyond the individual and the ego-drama that rock bands promote through love songs and peace dogma, encourages us instead to get over ourselves, transcend our egos, and look at reality for the potential beauty within it. In this, we enact a familiar drama to any post-agrarian-civilization art, which is that of the lone individual versus the crowd. The individual wants to do what is right, but the crowd wants him to be selfish like them, so that together they do not challenge each other and no one can ever be wrong, or face conflict, or be lonely. But in the end, the crowd always makes itself miserable because its vice is essentially cowardice. Metal reintroduces some clarity through a simple formulation: either one goes inward, and tries to know reality through oneself, or one looks outward and tries to know oneself through external opinions, and as a result, loses oneself in the crowd and its lowest common denominator inclinations, namely fear, selfishness and narcissism.

Assimilation of metal

Whether this larger conflict will be resolved is not yet certain – definitely, however, metal is a reaction against it. When people sang hippie songs, Black Sabbath brought in dark reality, and woke many out of the stupor that assumed extending democratic liberties to all humans would solve far deeper-rooted problems. As rock music headed toward an effete protest against Reagan in the 1980s, metal retaliated by condemning left and right for their ignorance of basic human dissatisfaction and the threat of nuclear warfare. Finally, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, death metal and black metal arose to remind us that we are mortal, and that there are greater values than that which society can bestow, such as nature, the upholding of tradition, and pride in our national origins.

The clones have closed in fast on those, since they are indirectly the greatest threat to clone culture to ever arise in metal. For this reason among others, it’s worth upholding in them what gave people hope: the belief that someday the war of clones versus leaders, masses versus elites, would come to an end. Some keep trying to dumb it down into a political trend that gives us a partial truth and tries to make it represent all of reality, effectively blinding us to the big picture so we can focus on a vicarious struggle:

More than three decades after Black Sabbath conjured images of the dark arts, heavy metal is growing up. The genre is increasingly incorporating social and political messages into its dense power chords.

“Metal is expanding and evolving and becoming more diverse,” said Canadian anthropologist and filmmaker Sam Dunn, who directed “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,” released on DVD this summer. “It’s at a much more vibrant state than it was even five or 10 years ago.”

“It’s becoming global and it’s becoming a tool for social and political commentary,” Dunn said. “It takes on a greater meaning in countries where people have had to struggle to survive. It takes on a much stronger political tone.”

Metal music in the 1980s was often homophobic and “very white,” she said, but current bands tend to be socially conscious and suspicious of political power. There’s also more women in the audience — and fronting the bands.

The lyrics on Lamb of God’s two most recent albums have been expressly political, and the politics lean heavily to the left.

Napalm Death’s Greenway is considering work as a political activist when his metal days are over, but he doesn’t think metal will ever completely stray from hedonistic and supernatural themes.

MSN

It is not surprising that mainstream media misunderstands underground metal. After all, they virtually forced its creation, since any band darker or heavier than Metallica received no recognition; the media wanted to sell us metal as party-lovin’, loud and crazy rock music. And so while the underground bloomed in 1985 to 1996, they praised stadium heavy metal and hard rock bands. During the current time, they embrace as “metal” music that is mostly emo hardcore: metalcore and nu-metal.

To an observer of the recent black metal scene, it’s tempting to get bitter. The newest style and trend appears to be “black hardcore,” or bands putting together two three-note riffs in a standard song format in recombinant order, and even the most ambitious bands are succumbing to this influence. Reminiscent of when hardcore punk music bloated itself into entropy and collapsed because no one could tell any two bands apart, this is like gangrene creeping up the legs and finally into the bloodstream of the genre.

When the genre is healthiest, the winds of coming winter oppose all new bands with brutal hardship, so only the most determined make it to the stage of releasing an album. This encourages others who have talent and brains to take a stab. If a lone artist looks at a genre, and sees a thousand albums of which two are good, the conclusion will be that the genre is fattened and the fans thus unable to tell the difference between good music and bad.

If the genre seen has a handful of albums, most of which are excellent, it is instead a compelling argument for further exploration. This is how genres rise and fall, and is why hardcore punk and death metal both eventually fattened themselves into insignificance to the point that now, once you’ve heard one band, you’ve heard them all. So for the health of the genre, it’s better that fewer albums of a higher quality are released.

Ideals of assimilated metal:

  1. Everyone must get it. It must be simple, not challenging, and most of all not have any poetic essence to its soul, as most fans can’t get that and thus will not buy it.
  2. Appearance over structure. It must have a unique appearance, but say the same old things philosophically and use familiar musical ideas so that even the dumbest fans can understand it and buy it. Even more, it must be upheld as dogma truth that adding a flute or screeching spotted owl to the same old music somehow makes it “unique” and worth owning.
  3. Form doesn’t apply to content. In other words, appearance is more important than structure, which is the form that moulds itself to the content, in the same way a story about a rescue at sea has a different flow and arrangement than a story about contemplating death in the bathtub.
  4. Simplistic emotions are important. Forget the depth of “Inno A Satana”; blindly praise Satan with roaring, consistent anger, because that way every fan, even the ones with Down’s Syndrome, can get what it’s about and get into it. Start a big singular emotion party, and make it simple so everyone can buy the CD and come along.
  5. Everyone can participate. Black metal clones are not specific to a certain land or belief system, as they are essentially musically the same and are designed so that even a retarded outer space alien could “get it” and start tapping its feet and wearing Darkthrone-brand jogging suits immediately. Nationalism, even elitism, eugenics or belief in anything at all is out; what’s in is having some music that sounds angry, is written like punk rock, and can be appreciated by everyone so they can buy the CDs or praise the “underground” scene queens who created it.

The average black metal fan today has not heard the formative works of the genre: Immortal, Emperor, Burzum, Gorgoroth, Enslaved, Darkthrone, Beherit and Varathron when they were making essential, complex, beautiful music. All they’ve heard are the newcomers, both of the blatantly commercial Cradle of Filth variety, and the scene whore “loud, fast and antisocial” type of band. The newcomers are uniformly worthless, as they express nothing that rock music does not, and by giving it an extreme aesthetic, allow their fans to convince themselves that they are “part of” some movement against the dominant trend of society, even though much like Democrats and Republicans in America agree on the same core values, newcomer “black metal” repeats the same empty rhetoric that rock music has been feeding us for fifty years. Newcomer black metal is black metal only in the world of appearance; in terms of musical and artistic structure, it’s closer to punk rock or even Dave Matthews Band. It’s rock music.

Agents of Assimilation: The Hipster

Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.

But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”

An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization — a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” — a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.

Ad Busters — Hipsters: The Dead End of Western Civilization

Adbusters doesn’t mention this, but there’s a simple pattern:

Normal, healthy people pick music they want to listen to.

Hipsters pick music to make themselves look good.

A hipster is defined by this reversed cause/effect, and this is why they parallel our society: like people looking for political handouts, they are justifying themselves to others instead of acting as they know is right.

In metal, the hipster is the person always trying to be different, to pick music that is brainy or “authentic” (simple), the person spreading trends and fads. Instead of being an authentic fan who picks the music he or she thinks is best, the hipster is using the music as adornment to conceal their ordinariness.

What’s the damage, you ask? Hipsters bloat genres with people who don’t understand them and, in the ensuing confusion, pick the lowest common denominator. So heavy metal returns to rock, death metal returns to heavy metal, folk becomes punk, and so on.

Healthy societies work from cause to effect. We need an empire, so we build it (cause) and then it appears (effect). Dying societies work from effect to cause. We want an empire, so we create the appearance of an empire (effect) and hope it will show up (cause). This is why old black metallers fear trends, hipsters, fads and mass media like the plague: they promote this unhealthy psychology.

In the postmortem over humanity’s failure, our new reptilian overlords will discuss this issue, and conclude that humans had two modes of thought: a healthy forward-thinking one, and a negative and sick backward-thinking one. The hipster, like every other form of decay in our society, is backward thinking.

Metal is currently awash in hipsters because hipsters use something called irony to disguise their low self-esteem. If they’re listening to IRON MAIDEN, it’s because they find it amusing — not because they believe in it. In fact, they believe in nothing except what others believe in within their social group, which makes them always right. If someone makes fun of them for liking IRON MAIDEN, they can always claim their enjoyment is ironic. It’s a race to the bottom with the hipster, because believing in anything but illusion and evasion makes you a target, so they believe in nothing except “ironically,” and that’s how they infiltrated metal.

In the same way hipsters find trailer parks quaint and amusing, they found death metal and black metal intriguing. It was untamed, unsocialized material, and a threat to everything the hipster stood for. So they assimilated it, and moved in by taking positions in the community. Start buying metal, or selling metal, and others depend on you. From that they branched out by using the hipster tactic of focusing on the external. “Well, this could be more unique if we added a flute…”

When you focus on the external, and don’t pay attention to the fundamental quality of music that distinguishes it, which is how well it communicates, you end up norming the music. Structurally, it becomes all the same, but externally, it’s all tricked out in motley so it appears “different” and “new.” But the real name of the game is not being different, but being the same so you are universally accepted, while having enough adornments that you stand out in a crowd… just like the hipster.

We’ve seen this steadily increasing in metal since 1994 or so, and it was helped by some in metal who would rather leave a bad legacy with a full wallet than the inverse, such as Death and Cannibal Corpse. It will reverse, but only as soon as metal bands and fans start communing on the idea of forward-logic instead of backward, negative logic.

The end result of complete cellular representation is cancer. Democracy is cancerous, and bureaus are its cancer. A bureau takes root anywhere in the state, turns malignant like the Narcotic Bureau, and grows and grows, always reproducing more of its own kind, until it chokes the host if not controlled or excised. Bureaus cannot live without a host, being true parasitic organisms. (A cooperative on the other hand can live without the state. That is the road to follow. The building up of independent units to meet needs of the people who participate in the functioning of the unit. A bureau operates on opposite principle of inventing needs to justify its existence.) Bureaucracy is wrong as a cancer, a turning away from the human evolutionary direction of infinite potentials and differentiation and independent spontaneous action, to the complete parasitism of a virus.

(It is thought that the virus is a degeneration from more complex life form. It may at one time have been capable of independent life. Now has fallen to the borderline between living and dead matter. It can exhibit living qualities only in a host, by using the life of another — the renunciation of life itself, a falling towards inorganic, inflexible machine, towards dead matter.)

Bureaus die when the structure of the state collapses. They are as helpless and unfit for independent existences as a displaced tapeworm, or a virus that has killed the host. – William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

Hipsterism is reality-avoidance, in the same way Crowdism or any other mass movement is: the assimilation of the individual by the crowd in order to destroy reality, which in turn destroys the collective. Societies, genres of music, groups of friends and businesses all fit this pattern, which is fundamental to human psychology. Either the individual stands up for what is true in reality, not what the individual prefers, or the crowd declares its own reality and then the collective veers off course because it has lost touch with reality. Assimilation is a byproduct of individualism without reality, just like bad music is the product of people pandering to each other and not finding a beauty in reality, including its darkness and horror, as heavy metal has throughout its four decades.

Resisting Assimilation

The problem with combatting assimilation is that assimilation is less an act than a passive lack of acting. When good metal is not made, and people do not assert what makes metal unique, assimilation surges in like water filling the space where it was swept out of the way. Like all things in humanity, the default state is one of disorganization and failure, and it is only when wise minds step in and re-direct the chaos that prosperity of any kind happens.

We have learned what does not stop assimilation. Trying to keep the music rare means hipsters buy it on eBay. Trying to keep it indie and obscure means that hipsters only prize it more. Trying to make it more offensive or extreme just makes it more novel. These methods do not work. What also does not work is trusting a “scene” or “underground” to keep away the mainstream, because underground scenes are an advanced form of maintaining rarity through social networks.

A “scene” means music that is consistent enough for people not to care what band is playing, so they can socialize in the same environment time and time again. A “scene” is clubs that play music that sounds very similar time and time again so they know they can draw an audience each time. A “scene” are sellers of music who find bands that sound like each other so they can compare past successes to the next generation, getting a crop of already-proven fans to come buy it all again. The variation is dead – the conformity is absolute. And worst of all, it’s voluntary and in a moral facilitative society there are few arguments accepted against it.

That kind of consistency kills music by raising the level of expectation to an entry requirement. The hardcore “scene” murdered hardcore by making it consistent – acceptable – “fun” and extremely similar. Bands who used to fight for a living could suddenly find central places to play, sell and broadcast their music – but in order to do so, they had to make it fit within expectations. Metal will die with a scene or without some form of one.

The problem with this flood isn’t its quality in itself. The problem is that when there is a flood of undistinctive material, (a) anything that does not conform to the pattern is not recognized and (b) the information overload is so great than any excellent band that does rise will be ignored. In essence, the underground has replicated the errors made by gigantic record labels in the 1980s.

Interestingly, the same thing happened in hardcore music in the 1980s when it became cheap and easy to release seven-inch records. Suddenly, there were no “fans”: everyone had a band, zine, label or distro. Consequently, quality went down, because no leaders were picked, and a great averaging occurred. Everyone could participate, but because there was no specialized fanbase, the farthest they got was participation, getting their share. No one great rose above and therefore, the great people stopped trying. There was no direction.

Analogous to the effects of democracy and consumerism on the quality of people in society as a whole? You bet it was. Analogy to egocentricism of the west, and its own cultural failings? You bet: the same mechanism was in effect: a lack of appreciation for quality because popularity/social pressures dictated participation, an external factor, not hierarchy, which requires a measurement of amorphous qualities such as “artistic worth” which are unrecognizable to most people in the crowd. Consequently, hardcore declined to the point where, in 1985, all the bands sounded exactly the same and there were no leaders.

Another concept, that perhaps will embitter some because of its practicality, is that of your personal landfill. What you produce on compact disc or vinyl or tape doesn’t magically disappear. It ends up in the landfills, with all the other waste you produce, to rot in insignificance, slowly leeching poisons into the earth. You like being alive, right, or you’d be dead — why create more personal landfill if it won’t achieve something you desire? For every CD you buy, there’s one more CD in that landfill. Buy the best, ignore the rest, and your personal landfill will not only be small, but will possibly not exist as others enjoy those CDs, since good CDs can be enjoyed in any age while trends are temporal.

My suggestion to all those who love metal is simple: stop supporting bands that are OK instead of great.

Few genres demand as much long-term allegiance as metal, and get it. Of styles likely found in a record store, only metal, industrial, country, jazz and classical have enduring audiences. Other genres are bigger, but people stay with them for fewer years. As history has shown us, metal is too easily absorbed by the mainstream. Black metal selling out and the rise of nu-metal occurred at the same time – is anything in the universe “coincidental”? It’s interesting to note that a similar absorption afflicted death metal, heavy metal and hardcore punk, all of whom relied on popular-music-style short song formats.

The Case for Metal to Follow Classical

However, there is one guaranteed way to take metal out of the mainstream: leave behind the mainstream song format. Most songs are three minutes of a verse-chorus nature, and they use devices such as rhythmic predictability on the offbeat (“expectation”) and melodic hooks. If metal were to expand on its riff salad nature, it would join genres like jazz and classical in a musically distinct form, and become inaccessible to those who want to make or consume bite-sized music. Every other metal band aspires to classical guitar anyway; why not liberate our impulses toward something that is clearly enjoyed and valued?

For example, consider these micro-symphonies:

When people tell you what they want, they usually tell you what appearance or experience they want — the effect — and do not understand the device for achieving that effect — the cause. They think in terms of the appearance of what they want and not the underlying structure.

For example, when people say they want simplicity, what they really want is organization. It’s why “My Journey to the Stars” works even though it’s “complex” in theory — complex means having a central idea that is simple and clear, and then manifesting it in different forms so people can compare them like metaphors and see the abstraction. People will tell you they want raw, fast, brutal, simple but they’re talking about the one riff they remember, kind of how most people can identify the opening riff to Beethoven’s Symphony Number 5 — it’s the simplest, most memorable part of a complex music experience.

The role of art is to be a silent philosopher, meaning that it does not make explicit commands and references to everyday objects, but gives us a clear spiritual commandment and its corresponding aesthetic from which to work. Art organizes our spirits and approach to reality. It is important that art does this because most people know the end result they’d like to see, but are completely unaware of the context in which it exists. They see a riff, and figure that if they just heard that riff, they’d have the whole experience, or they think of one moment when they were happy and assume that correlations which occurred simultaneously to that moment — a cigarette, a postcard, a summer day — are the cause when the real cause was the sequence of events that led up to that one moment having great significance, or that one cigarette being the break that really helped them find mental clarity. It wasn’t the cigarette — it was the context.

In human life, once civilization is established, we face a causal breakdown. Person A does something, and Person B sees the results, and tries to work backward toward the cause. Metal bands see how others have succeeded, and try to imitate the outward aspects — faster drums, harsher vocals, floaty keyboards — without understanding that it’s the songwriting and beneath that, the ability to reference “meaning” in experience shared between artist and listener, that makes the song great and not just average with above-average execution.

At this point, the genre doesn’t understand its own spirit or aesthetics, so bands make salads where they throw together unrelated stuff and figure that since it has everything, it must be good. This “carnival style” metal is a salad of distractions from which each piece returns to a few exactly repeated themes. As a result, there’s a lot going on, like riding a merry-go-round and seeing the world outside flash by in disorienting random order, but there’s no development of theme; it’s just a more complex version of verse/chorus pop music.

People can’t put into words what they want. When shown what they want, they will initially resist it because it doesn’t “look like” or “sound like” what they want — people in 1990 “wanted” simpler, catchier, groovier speed metal, and that movement went nowhere. While sub-sub-genres like metalcore, deathcore, or “black punk” (hybrid of pop-punk, shoegaze, emo and black metal) have momentary peaks of popularity, these seem to fade quickly, unlike the lasting appeal of the best of death and black metal. They’re popular, but no one seems to love them like true classics.

However, there is still great room in this genre for those who can translate the spirit, aesthetics and organization of classical music — narrative motives — into death/black metal. That’s the real ground to conquer. Whoever does that will be initially unpopular, like death metal and later black metal were, but later acknowledged as a hero. Like the songs listed above, such music will be passionate but leave the repetitive, formulaic, simplistic structure of pop music behind.

Metal music will never fit into the framework of other genres. Where other music might sound scary, metal communicates the meaning of scary, and this means that it will always oppose the anti-orthodoxy of mainstream logic. For those who understand its message and the power of its sound, assimilation of a distinct genre into the indistinct mass will always remain a threat.


  • 1

    Romanticism, on the other hand, is what the writers of the Romantic Period practiced: there is not much agreement about what that is exactly, and there is in fact a longstanding debate about whether there is such a thing or only Romanticisms. See A. O. Lovejoy, “On the Discrimination of Romanticisms,” PMLA, 1924; Ren� Wellek, “The Concept of `Romanticism’ in Literary History,” Comparative Literature, 1949; and finally, Jerome McGann’s Introduction to The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse (revised edition). – http://www.users.muohio.edu/mandellc/eng441/urllist.htm

  • 2

    A movement in art and literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in revolt against the Neoclassicism of the previous centuries…The German poet Friedrich Schlegel, who is given credit for first using the term romantic to describe literature, defined it as “literature depicting emotional matter in an imaginative form.” This is as accurate a general definition as can be accomplished, although Victor Hugo’s phrase “liberalism in literature” is also apt. Imagination, emotion, and freedom are certainly the focal points of romanticism. Any list of particular characteristics of the literature of romanticism includes subjectivity and an emphasis on individualism; spontaneity; freedom from rules; solitary life rather than life in society; the beliefs that imagination is superior to reason and devotion to beauty; love of and worship of nature; and fascination with the past, especially the myths and mysticism of the middle ages. – http://www.uh.edu/engines/romanticism/introduction.html

  • 3

    Some of the earliest stirrings of the Romantic movement are conventionally traced back to the mid-18th-century interest in folklore which arose in Germany–with Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm collecting popular fairy tales and other scholars like Johann Gottfried von Herder studying folk songs–and in England with Joseph Addison and Richard Steele treating old ballads as if they were high poetry. These activities set the tone for one aspect of Romanticism: the belief that products of the uncultivated popular imagination could equal or even surpass those of the educated court poets and composers who had previously monopolized the attentions of scholars and connoisseurs.

    Whereas during much of the 17th and 18th centuries learned allusions, complexity and grandiosity were prized, the new romantic taste favored simplicity and naturalness; and these were thought to flow most clearly and abundantly from the “spontaneous” outpourings of the untutored common people. In Germany in particular, the idea of a collective Volk (people) dominated a good deal of thinking about the arts. Rather than paying attention to the individual authors of popular works, these scholars celebrated the anonymous masses who invented and transmuted these works as if from their very souls. – http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/hum_303/romanticism.html

  • 4

    Emphasis on the activity of the imagination was accompanied by greater emphasis on the importance of intuition, instincts, and feelings, and Romantics generally called for greater attention to the emotions as a necessary supplement to purely logical reason. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 5

    While particular perspectives with regard to nature varied considerably–nature as a healing power, nature as a source of subject and image, nature as a refuge from the artificial constructs of civilization, including artificial language–the prevailing views accorded nature the status of an organically unified whole. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 6

    It was viewed as “organic,” rather than, as in the scientific or rationalist view, as a system of “mechanical” laws, for Romanticism displaced the rationalist view of the universe as a machine (e.g., the deistic image of a clock) with the analogue of an “organic” image, a living tree or mankind itself. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 7

    Symbolism and myth were given great prominence in the Romantic conception of art. In the Romantic view, symbols were the human aesthetic correlatives of nature’s emblematic language. They were valued too because they could simultaneously suggest many things, and were thus thought superior to the one-to-one communications of allegory. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 8

    In addition, neoclassicism had prescribed for art the idea that the general or universal characteristics of human behavior were more suitable subject matter than the peculiarly individual manifestations of human activity. From at least the opening statement of Rousseau’s Confessions, first published in 1781–“I am not made like anyone I have seen; I dare believe that I am not made like anyone in existence. If I am not superior, at least I am different.”–this view was challenged. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 9

    Certain special features of Romanticism may still be highlighted by this contrast. We have already noted two major differences: the replacement of reason by the imagination for primary place among the human faculties and the shift from a mimetic to an expressive orientation for poetry, and indeed all literature. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 10

    The hero-artist has already been mentioned; there were also heaven-storming types from Prometheus to Captain Ahab, outcasts from Cain to the Ancient Mariner and even Hester Prynne, and there was Faust, who wins salvation in Goethe’s great drama for the very reasons–his characteristic striving for the unattainable beyond the morally permitted and his insatiable thirst for activity–that earlier had been viewed as the components of his tragic sin. (It was in fact Shelley’s opinion that Satan, in his noble defiance, was the real hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost.) – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html

  • 11

    a literary, artistic, and philosophical movement originating in the 18th century, characterized chiefly by a reaction against neoclassicism and an emphasis on the imagination and emotions, and marked especially in English literature by sensibility and the use of autobiographical material, an exaltation of the primitive and the common man, an appreciation of external nature, an interest in the remote, a predilection for melancholy, and the use in poetry of older verse forms. – http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/romanticism

  • 12

    The ‘heat-death’ of the universe is when the universe has reached a state of maximum entropy. This happens when all available energy (such as from a hot source) has moved to places of less energy (such as a colder source). Once this has happened, no more work can be extracted from the universe. Since heat ceases to flow, no more work can be acquired from heat transfer. This same kind of equilibrium state will also happen with all other forms of energy (mechanical, electrical, etc.). Since no more work can be extracted from the universe at that point, it is effectively dead, especially for the purposes of humankind. – http://www.physlink.com/Education/AskExperts/ae181.cfm

  • 13

    But the rising materialism and focus on business at the cost of the mind and the spirit was spawning reform movements all over America…Many felt a psychic dislocation, that the bottom had dropped out of their world since traditional values and conventional reality were just not enough for them. They tried to impose meaning individually, for institutions and dogmas seemed to possess little truth. Philosophically, they reacted against the materialistic educational theories of Locke and rationalism. They found Truth more a matter of intuition and imagination than logic and reason. They rejected the mechanistic view of the universe so dear to Franklin and Deists and opted for a more organic view, seeing the world more as dynamic and living. – http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/eng372/intro.htm

  • 14

    “He was recognized as a leading figure in the Sturm und Drang, which celebrated the energetic Promethean restlessness of spirit as opposed to the ideal of calm rationalism of the Enlightenment. Goethe’s poem ‘Prometheus’, with its insistence that man must believe not in gods but in himself, might be seen as a motto for the whole movement.” – http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/goethe.htm

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What is heavy metal?

In the night, one can hear many noises. Some sound scary, and others signal scary events. For example, the roar of an animal is disturbing, but to someone alone in a house a stealthy footfall or the click of a lock is scarier. Similarly in art, the context of a sound defines its significance, and what makes music frightening is the meaning it encodes.

Among all forms of art, what makes heavy metal unique is that it embraces disturbing sounds which are not ugly but which portend disturbing patterns found in reality. Heavy metal is the music of the apocalypse, and whether warning it off or cheering it on or both, achieves this heaviness through the context it conveys.

What makes heavy metal heavy?

Both fantastic and literal, heavy metal explores the ideas our society will not endorse. It is not protest music, whining “it should not be” into a secondhand microphone, but a war-like genre which describes destruction with the joy of a painter who could use it as a color in a new epic landscape. Metal is about the experience of life, but it disciplines that with a clear sense of reality and consequence, as is appropriate for “heavy” conversation. Where society hides from fear and allies itself with the threat of the consequences of fears, metal allies itself with death to dispense fear.

When metal first arrived, new fans began to understand what made Black Sabbath “heavy”: the patterns which revealed the thinking behind such noises, putting context to the fear they instilled. Thundering distorted riffs were not new; Blue Cheer had done that. Neither was aggression; Iggy Pop had done that. But Black Sabbath, inspired by horror movie soundtracks, came up with a new style of music that used melodic phrases played in power chords, and by targetting the weighty topics that social conversation did not admit, creating a terrifying form of art.

Rock music had grown through the 1960s from simple boyfriend-girlfriend pop to apocalyptic rock like the Doors or King Crimson in the same way the Beatles rejected their sugarpop roots to become morbid and political. Whenever given a chance, the music reverted to a simple, tolerant, peaceful hedonism that hid its escapism and narcissism. The future members of Black Sabbath, upon seeing a horror movie and wondering if people would ever pay to have that experience in rock music, created the antithesis to distracting escapism: a descent into the complex and violent world of reality.

Its heaviness migrated into a different style of composition: other bands wrote songs around open chords which were strummed in a repeated pattern, and then modulated, while Black Sabbath used moveable power chords to make phrases into riffs and it was the change in those phrases that communicated a difference in outlook. It was more like classical music, where harmony is so well-studied that it is used as a device toward “narrative,” through-composed pieces where the change in motifs and their accompaniment conveys a string of moods that like a mythology or a fable convey the idea of a journey from one point to another.

With this development, they gave meaning to the sound. Its context of topics gave its heaviness form, but musically it was heavy as well, using thundering chords that stripped out traditional harmony and made the riff instead, like the nihilistic voice of an angry god, speak the truth that completed the poetry of contrast in each song. By throwing away form, and the form of socialization which “peace” and “love” implied, Black Sabbath brought danger back into a stagnant modern life — specifically, the danger that in all the attempts to stay away from the darkness, we as a civilization had missed an essential truth.

What does metal believe?

As an art form, metal has continuously developed visions of a human apocalypse lingering in the absence of our willingness to face reality. Reality is, as the saying goes, not entirely pleasant, and so is less popular than simple partial truths called “symbols,” which create an illusion of completeness by super-simplifying reality. Morality is not scientifically accurate but it is more comforting to our minds to have two options instead of nearly infinite ones.

During its maturation, metal wavered in and out of the public illusion, called “consensual reality,” which is the alternate reality of values most people use to navigate their lives. Consensual reality includes the symbols people want to believe in and, reinforced by preference-enabling activities like democracy and consumerism, makes itself “real” by the fact that most people believe it to be true. This public illusion takes many forms and metal has not been immune, but is strongest when it kicks aside the illusion and goes for the kind of heavy contexts that always made good ambiguous truth.

One view of metal is as a reality mediator showing the darkness underlying our pleasant illusions, and that in doing so, it is not deconstructive but attempts to make clarity of life by finding beauty in the dark and heavy as well as the light. As a holistic approach, this outlook negates both dualistic worlds (heaven, hell) and secular morality in favor of a scientific, historical and abstract design-oriented perspective on life. This then returns us to the idea of metal as orthodoxy, or a genre in which there is a clear direction and those who deviate from it are parasitizing on the popularity of the genre while weakening it with ideas that oppose it.

The terms “sell out” and “poseur” arose in the 1970s to refer to those of this intention, most specifically the bands like Def Leppard who turned their heavy metal roots into radio trash that was essentially rock music with power chords. A poseur was someone dishonest who adopted the most rigorous pose, or identity-affirming lifestyle and opinions, of a genre but was like all hipsters using it for his or her own benefit and believed none of it. These terms persist to this day.

Any ideology is necessarily orthodox, in that if it does not assert a right way and wrong way of doing things, it is not an ideology at all but an ethic of convenience much like the opinionless, directionless motions of rock music or its deferential humanistic political counterpart. Rock stands for a big party and everyone having it their way; this is a meta-orthodoxy that opposes all orthodoxy.

Metal on the other hand is orthodox and opposes meta-orthodoxy because an orthodoxy of no orthodoxy is a lack of direction. Directionless self-assertion does not address the apocalyptic or religious aspects necessary to unite human thinking toward survival in an apocalyptic time. To clarify reality, metal music embraces nihilism and worships power and beauty, because these things connect us to a reality that will forever seem flawed to us because it is full of horror, doubt, fear and death. However, the metal outlook shows us the wisdom of these things and makes living with them seem “fun,” where rock music and other anti-orthodoxies retreat into human activities and social realities, pushing reality itself far away.

As a result, metal is sandwiched between protest music of the anarchic left and the wisdom of the conservative ancients, forming itself through fantasy into a vision of a more realistic and more enjoyable vision of life. Rock music is a product of the wealth and convenience of a modern time that allows us to have inconsequential lifestyles and opinions, while metal is a revolution against that outlook, a seemingly deconstructive art form that in actuality opposes deconstruction.

We can trace these ideas through consistent beliefs found across metal generations:

  1. Beauty in darkness. It is not ugly, pounding music but music which discovers beauty in distortion, in anger and terror, in violence and foreboding dark restless relativistic power chords. The point is not to deconstruct, but to go through deconstruction and find meaning. This is evident in the works of Black Sabbath and every metal band since, and is what distinguishes “real” metal from hard rock.
  2. Worship of power. Unlike pacifying rock music and jazz and “new music” classical, metal music adores powerful, vast and broad simple strokes; it loves the majesty of nature and its crushing final word. It does not have love songs. Instead, its love is directed to forces of nature, including physical forces like storms and intense human experience like war or loss, as if trying to find meaning in these.
  3. Worship of nature. Linked to metal’s adoration of power is its appreciation for the function, including its “red in tooth and claw” aspects, of the natural world. Where most are repulsed by the idea that combat exists between animals in which one is victor, and one is prey, metal idolizes it. It finds beauty in ruins, in destruction, and in death, as if praising the cycle of life they engender again.
  4. Independent thinking. Metal does not buy into the individualism of a modern time where the only goal is material pleasure of the self (materialism) and keeping others away by granting them the same (humanism). It prefers the independent thinking that looks for higher values in life, mountains to climb and challenges to be met. Where punk music enmeshed itself in a callow “I wanna do what I wanna do,” metal saw this as part of the same gesture of rock music and discarded it.

These are expressed artistically by the following:

  1. Dark, morbid themes that clashed with the “love will save us” hippie mentality. These are explained by Black Sabbath as being derived from the horror movies of the day, a genre which features a union between technology and the occult (zombies, werewolves) producing a force humans cannot oppose. Normal technologies and methods cannot defeat it. They struggle against this force but their emotional instability causes them to sabotage one another, and often the dark force wins. Examples from this genre: Mothra, Dawn of the Dead, Alien, The Exorcist, The Shining, War of the Worlds.
  2. Songs written from short cyclic phrases called riffs, which unlike rock riffs used moveable chords of inspecific harmonic bonding, making the melody and rhythm of the phrase more important than key or voicing. Metal bands tend to use more riffs per song, and not in the traditional cycle of verse-chorus, in a way quite similar to progressive bands like King Crimson and Yes, both of whom used aggressive distortion.
  3. A focus on the holism of the human effort as determined by our moral state as individuals in a way that can only be described as “religious.” Metal, in addition to sounding eerily like angry Bach-scripted church music, has a similar focus to dogmatic transcendentalism Christianity: what is our future as human beings, and how does how we shape our personalities effect it?
  4. Bass-enhanced overdriven guitar sound, or distortion, which encloses the primary instrument used in making heavy metal. In rock, guitars and drums come together to emphasize a vocal melodic line; in metal, guitars lead a melodic line for which vocals are a complement and drums a timekeeper, enclosing it in a regularity to give listeners context. The guitar is the loudest single instrument heard and the one that invokes changes in song.

These beliefs and musical techniques reinforce each other. Using distortion and loud music, yet finding beauty in it. Using longer narrative phrases so as to tell a story, creating a holistic view in which emotion emerges, instead of citing pre-configured emotions like rock music does. A darkness and melancholy exhibited in lyrics and imagery, corresponding to aggressive music, expressing a desire to seize all of reality, good and bad together, and make something better of it.

Heavy Metal as Romanticism

We have seen ideas similar to these before in the form of a genre that, once birthed, refused to die, even as history moved on. In fact, it has re-emerged throughout the modern time because it was the step before this new type of rationalism,

Although metal borrows from both classical and Romantic periods of classical music, its most intense similarity is to the Romantic period in literature, which in its later years diverged into Gothic horror and transcendental idealism. Much as embryological theory tells us that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, or that a fetus goes through the same stages of evolution as its species did to arrive at its current state, metal theory shows us that metal — as a revolt against what rock music stood for, e.g. distraction — forms an embryo which rediscovers its musical past. In this sense, metal is starting with classical and venturing through late Romanticism toward modernism.

According to the experts, Romanticism in literature and music has several tenets:

  • It is not clearly defined as a single thing, or several versions of this thing.1 Most of Romanticism existed before it became a concrete movement, and heavily overlapped with classicism.2
  • A desire to explore organic culture instead of high culture, especially tales of the medieval age and its feudal society.3
  • Worship of the imagination, and of creative and individual truthfulness in emotion.4
  • Reverence for nature as “an organically unified whole,”5 and intuition, instincts, and feelings were seen as necessary complements to reason in contrast to “mechanical” rationalism.6
  • Symbolism and myth were given great prominence.7
  • Rejection of the universalism in exchange for study of the individual as distinct from others.8
  • Shift from a mimetic to an expressive orientation, meaning that art no longer imitated life, but expressed a truth found in it.9
  • A willingness to strive “for the unattainable beyond the morally permitted,” and a rejection of morality for situational or naturalistic interpretation.10
  • An appreciation for the melancholy, remote and ancient.11

Romanticism was a response to neo-classicism, which was the most recent form of the surge in rationalism brought about by The Age of Enlightenment. Where the Enlightenment rationale brought individual rights, focus on personal emotion, and a linear logical process by which one could dissect the world and find an absolute response to it, Romanticism both inherited that tradition and began dissolving it. It is for this reason that we can find Romanticist themes abundant, in everything from Star Wars to presidential speeches: the conflict of rationalism-versus-Romanticism has never been resolved.

Unlike modern individualism, Romanticist individualism meant using yourself as the justification for your own wants, instead of trying to find some external justification. As Nietzsche phrased it, “I prefer” and “I find beauty in” are more important than all the equations, statistical summaries, studies cited and popular votes in the world; Romanticism (of which Nietzsche was an ambiguous defender but spiritual comrade) rejects the idea of externalized truths and knowing, and instead prefers a sense of unity between the individual’s aesthetics and a “mythic imagination” which lets them see possibilities in the world using holistic logic, instead of the linear (single-factor) logic used by rationalists.13

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

The World is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth (1789)

Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist.

And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no additional mission which would lead it beyond human life. Rather, it is human, and only its possessor and begetter takes it so solemnly-as though the world’s axis turned within it. But if we could communicate with the gnat, we would learn that he likewise flies through the air with the same solemnity, that he feels the flying center of the universe within himself. There is nothing so reprehensible and unimportant in nature that it would not immediately swell up like a balloon at the slightest puff of this power of knowing.

On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense, Friedrich Nietzsche (1873)

Heavy metal inherits this conflict because in order to be “heavy,” it must tackle the dark issues everyone fears. What makes these issues dark is that our normal methods cannot defeat them. We then must ask what we exclude from our methods, and we see that any anti-social information — that which might offend someone, or mention death, or suggest that morality is an imposed and artificial condition — is excluded from our methods. As a result, heavy metal becomes a kind of peering behind the curtain of an externally-imposed reality, and in seeing the horrors within, finding a new desire for both warlike apocalyptic intensity and a beauty discovered in darkness.

Romanticism re-occurs because it is generally seen as the only idea which can oppose modernism, which is like neo-classicism but even more insistent upon rationalism and the hybrid between individualism and groupthink that is utilitarianism. Metal, as a genre exploring Romanticism with a masculine and warlike approach, most closely approximates the philosophies of Nietzsche and other post-Romantic writers who wanted to escape the bureaucratic approach to society and restore a sense of adventure.

Metal is fantasy that can be applied to reality, neatly briding the two categories of art as entertainment/mimesis and art as politics. It is not protest music, nor is it the kind of wallpaper-like distracting pleasant activity that we see on most television shows. Instead, it is a manifestation of the Faustian desire for forbidden knowledge. From classical literature and music, it borrows a rigid sense of structure and a desire for resurrection, Tolkien-esque, of the ancient times of honor, blood, warfare and magic. From Romantic literature and music, it takes its major themes, including the sense of an individual trapped in a moribund society reaching out and the idea that when the individual escapes society to nature, reality can be seen for the first time. The most similar Romanticists to metal lyrics are probably the following:

  • William Blake – wrote about metaphysical topics from the perspective of the universe, and mocked humans for being weak and obsessed with the trivial.
  • John Milton – wrote Paradise Lost, in which Satan is an anti-hero who rejects the rule of heaven in order to discover life for himself.
  • William Wordsworth – enshrined anti-social behavior with his classic The World is Too Much With Us, which calls for rejecting society in favor of mythic imagination.
  • Mary Shelley – wrote Frankenstein, in which technology creates a new form of life which discovers it has no place in the world, and it turns destructive.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – a realist who did not shy from horror, Goethe believed in a universe where human perception was a small and unnecessary part of its divine function.14

If we had to summarize metal as an artistic movement, it would be fair to say it has more in common with European Romantic art than the popular music and boutique art of our present era. Like the Romantics, it sought a transcendence in accepting the world’s inequality and horror and using it as a relative opposite against which to project challenges; it wants to bring back the fighting spirit of an ancient time, and give us independent thinking and goals instead of buying us off with the humanist-materialist tripe that the mainstream media proclaims — dogma which, interestingly, has failed to solve a single widespread problem of humanity.

Even more interesting is that the genre of horror movies, an intersection of proto-science fiction and occult lore, was born of the Romantic movement. Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein, was the wife of Percy Shelley, a Romantic poet. Bram Stoker’s Dracula came from the Gothic fringe of the Romantic movement as well. One of the greatest descriptions of Satan ever, Paradise Lost by John Milton, was also a Romantic work.

“I believe in tragedies…
I believe in desecration…”

The Sun No Longer Rises, Immortal (1993)

Like its Romantic forebears, metal music desires transcendence: finding the beauty in darkness by accepting the physical struggle that is life, and instead of trying to run away from that struggle into personal material comfort, accepting it as something that gives significance to our existences. Metal music desires to overcome our fear of death and of nature, and by accepting them, to show us a new world of meaning. In this, it is both a continuation of Romanticism and an evolution of it to a more coherent state.

How did this change for underground metal?

Appearing in the early 1980s, underground metal arose from a hybrid between crustcore/hardcore (Discharge) and the structuralist, neo-classical heavy metal of the previous generation (Judas Priest, Black Sabbath). It took the Romantic themes of earlier metal and made them more extreme. If underground metal has one unifying concept, it is the one emphasized by Hellhammer, “Only death is real.”

After heavy metal blew out by getting absorbed into its own popularity, and then speed metal copped out by softening its stance and sound to be more popular, underground metal roared away with pure nihilism: facing life as it is without a thought that anyone or thing in the universe cares if we collectively or individually survive. This was orthodoxy retaliating against anti-orthodoxy, which always takes the form of individuals preferring to avoid reality and so passive revenging themselves against those disciplined enough to want, in the time-honoured method of survival common to all creatures, to adapt to reality. In overcoming the anti-orthodoxy of individualism, underground metal became the first popular music genre ready to face ego-death.

The question, of course, could be asked: Why did you ever try narcotics? Why did you continue using it long enough to become an addict? You become a narcotics addict because you do not have strong motivations in any other direction. Junk wins by default.

– William S. Burroughs, Junky

Ego-death is a concept that psychedelics and zen monks alike discovered. In it, the person realizes they are one part of a giant system, and stop seeing the world through themselves. They see themselves in the world, but they see the bigger process first. Ego-death tends to lead to a transcendent state where one sees all of consciousness as a continuum, and becomes less afraid of d-y-i-n-g. Ego-death forces us to see life through a filter that is super-realistic, or dedicated to bringing people into a moment of realization that what they are touching and doing is real and they need to grasp command of their own minds to survive. It opposes panic and illusion, moral and social judgment (“knowing” from Nietzsche above), fear and pleasant unrealistic thoughts.

Not coincidentally, “only death is real” resembles topics from “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad and “Paradise Lost” by John Milton. In both, as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the protagonist is thrust into a delusional, dysfunctional, chaotic world that he alone can see is wrecked, and takes a long journey in which she or he can see that the nothingness is very real and pervades everything, and that our denial of this emptiness of life makes a greater emptiness, or a hollow illusion that cannot satisfy us. As we try to live in this illusion, we see reality peeking through, and so become neurotic.

The characters in these books overcome their situations only by throwing away the rule book, avoiding what other people tell them is the truth, and acting on their animal intuition. Conrad’s protagonist Marlowe begins the book impotent and ends it with a powerful tool, like a sword or fire, to explain why what he sees is as impotent as he once was. It’s like an adolescent story, but for humanity, growing out of its moral illusion and seeing reality as a pragmatic task. In Paradise Lost, Satan is appealing but has made an error in opposing the order of nature/God, yet still he has to make this decision, to explore the world in a Promethean sense of fearlessness and self-command. His undoing is too much self and not enough command.

Underground metal recognized this duality of human thought. Official knowing was bad news; unguided knowing was chaotic and destructive; therefore, a new type of knowledge had to be created, and this knowledge was nihilistic literalism as found in hardcore punk merged with the fantasy and epic worldview of heavy metal. The political nature of punk had made it easy for foolish people to slap anarchy stickers on their rockabilly guitars and start repeating the same old stuff, like the aged activists who whine “why can’t they just see” when life has passed them by.

Underground metal was not political or social, but philosophical: it viewed the world from outside human eyes, seeing it like a large scientific experiment in which history was the result, and based its knowledge on the abrupt interruption to human illusion created by death. When we see that wisdom, we recognize that we are tiny and inconsequential, and that adapting to life is more important than the moral, social, media and political worlds made of human agreement to have a symbol stand for something.

“Only Death is Real” conveyed ego-death: no matter how big you think you are or how important, death is more real than your visions, so you must accept nothingness. To accept nothingness is to cast aside the unhealthy parts of the ego and to give it context, so that the ego is a motivic force but only one of many on a planet. To see only death as real is to wonder what else can be real. The answer is right past the end of our noses: the world is real, and it’s a continuum that renews itself, so it’s worth working for. If you like life, you work to make it better. If you hate life, you deny the reality of the world and you go further inward into the self and its desires, which has never worked for making anyone happy no matter how stupid.

We are social creatures, and it is as mathematically logical why that is so as the collaboration between parts of a computer program. We are all of the same thing, and we want to take our part in this thing, which includes nature and our fellow humans, and if we like being alive, we want to do what’s best not just for ourselves or for humanity but for the whole thing. What a stream of interesting thoughts “Only Death is Real” can unleash, in part because our society does everything it can to deny the reality of death.

The archetypal death metal bands — Hellhammer, Bathory, Slayer — all used occult imagery much as Blake, Milton and Goethe did. With that in mind, we can re-interpret Slayer’s Satanic imagery as more than being opposition to Christianity. For one, they do not seem to oppose Christianity. If anything, lyrics like “South of Heaven” or “The Final Command” illustrate, like Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” before them, a world in the grips of evil based in power based on an illusion. In Slayer’s complex theology, Christianity is Satanic because like political strength and industry it is a false outward power when inward the person is underconfident and weak. Christianity however is seen as often accurate, in that the apocalypse does come from selfishness, and Christian morality (“bastard sons beget your cunting daughters”) is the best way to live, but a way that makes no sense in a world addicted to the power of illusion.

As in Milton, Slayer’s Satan is a rebel against a singular order encroaching upon the world, a necessary force like magnetism that opposes any such centralization. In Slayer and Milton’s view, to have any single power controlling the universe is to bring the universe toward sameness, something thermodynamicists call “entropy,” or a state when any direction yields the same results as any other because of the uniformity of the universe. Milton was edging toward a transcendental view of God as being a property of the universe, and not an ego or personality such as that overbearing one against which Satan revolts, himself a victim of his own excessive egoism.

I feel there is some hideous new force loose in the world like a creeping sickness, spreading, blighting. Remoter parts of the world seem better now, because they are less touched by it. Control, bureaucracy, regimentation, these are merely symptoms of a deeper sickness that no political or economic program can touch. What is the sickness itself?

– William S. Burroughs

In the Milton-Slayer worldview, “God” encompasses both bad and good, because together these create a reality in which we can strive for better things. Similarly, in Conrad, the tokens of good and profit are chased in such a way that they create an illusion sustained by greed, in which the only heroes are amoralists like Mr. Kurtz who use brutality and combat effectively, but are conflicted over the underlying reasoning for their goal, namely the need to produce income through ivory when greater challenges await. In the worldview these artists offer, profit motive and morality are a going-inward into the protective mantle of fear, and morality is something we impose on the world to avoid the heroic challenge of leaving that inward sanctum and achieving goals that are not justified by physical survival (morality) or material comfort (profit).

When we look at metal with these opened eyes, the sound and imagery and lyrics are far less random. Distortion is a finding of beauty in darkness, a clarity emerging not when one looks at individual grains of sound but when one hears the blurry whole and deducts from it both pure tone and the harmony of randomness to that clarity; distortion forces us to take a view from above, and see the whole picture in order to understand what occurs at any moment. It is also a metaphor for our inability to ever fully perceive the universe, telling us that if we look at the center of the distortion we will find what is occurring, even if we cannot see it perfectly. The gritty, chaotic sound of distortion defies our logical containers that look for purity and instead finds a reality that although hazy is as clear as it if were pure.

The “riff salad” of metal bands is a way of establishing that music is not a cyclic loop of verse-chorus, resembling our going inward to the world of our own thoughts and preferences, but a journey in which our inward struggle parallels our outward struggle (much like the jihads of Islam: the lesser Jihad is the war against ignorance/infidels, and the greater Jihad is the war for spiritual clarity in oneself). Metal is art because it does not preach a political solution, but shows us the reasons for it. When that sort of higher thinking fails, metal relapses to liking noise and hedonism but little else.

It is one thing to preach, as if politically, against the ego. It is another thing to show a path beyond the ego. “Only Death is Real,” like nihilism itself, is a way of dispensing with “belief” in order to begin the journey to discover what is real and what is supra-real. The supra-real is that dimension where heroism and creativity lie, where one has accepted the feared attributes of life (d-y-i-n-g, disease, sodomy) and has transcended them by seeing what is not material/tangible yet is also important. It is this journey that metal music, classical music, and all great art describes. It is starting from nothing, like Satan exiled from Heaven, and getting over resentment of life and fear of death to see the beauty in darkness and to return to life with a desire to make it better. It is a recognition of the inherent distortion of our perception, and tuning our ears and minds to see past that faltering.

When only death is real, the ego dies for a moment and we see the world as a whole, and can get out of the prison of our limited perspective and re-bond to the life that produced us and produces all we value. It is a hedonic state higher than hedonism, to love life and want to make it better through better design. This is where death metal broke from heavy metal, and it is where all thinking that rewards strong souls begins.

The Evolution of Black Metal

Death metal brought images of impending doom and a fascination with the macabre into a dark world. It built upon what speed metal and grindcore had already established: an apocalyptic epic where the only future was decay. Death metal incorporated the righteous integrity of speed metal and the nihilism of punk into a musical onslaught warning of destruction. It fit into Kurt Vonnegut’s famous metaphor for art: that artists are to society what canaries were to the coalminers who brought them into the depths of the mine as warnings. When the song of the canary turned weak or stopped, it meant that suffocating coal gas was flooding the mine.

Death metal is an extension of the complexity of speed metal, partially arising from the attitude of that genre that any large problem can be solved by reason. Speed metal and thrash believed in rationality, and preached insanity as a negative characteristic. Death metal became the science of understanding insanity and breakdown, not preaching against it as speed metal often did but explicating it in epic songs and vivid imagery. Black metal, as a response to the failure of death metal to avoid the crowd, was an embrace of all things destructive to human illusion: natural selection, warfare, predation, violence, cruelty and tyranny.

Black metal restored romantic side of metal as its primary vehicle; its emotion is more obvious as that is its obsession. A death metal band would never argue destruction of the world, calling it irrational, where a black metal band would call for destruction of all life on emotional grounds. Black metal’s sadness comes from its emotional entrapment in a mechanistic world, and for that reason it rebels against order, whether in Heaven, on Earth, or in Death Metal. Black metal is in many ways a return to the mission metal left when exploring the scientific mindset of the technological age (as computers revolutionized life in the eighties, quantitative rationalism experienced a resurgance of influence).

If we look at metal’s history, we can see how this conflict brewed. Black Sabbath retaliated against the hippie music of their time as unrealistic and distracting. The following generation of metal turned it into more of a party for alienated kids, which punk retaliated against by returning the focus to all the negative aspects of reality. The next generation of metal, speed metal, picked up the punk outlook but channeled it into the heroic stories of past heavy metal, creating a less lamentatory and more assertive, masculine “we can fix this” outlook. When speed metal collapsed into its own popularity, death metal returned with pure nihilism balanced by a structuralism that suggested life was understandable but denied by the individual. Grindcore rose simultaneously with death metal and restored the punk/hippie attitude of tolerance toward the individual. Black metal retaliated against this just as Black Sabbath condemned the hippies of their day by brushing aside morality for an awareness of horror and our impotence against the real threats in this world; it rejected all protest rock and literal music for a spiritual conditioning which embraced struggle, darkness, melancholy and other Romantic traits.

Black metal grew exponentially since its emergence as a distinct musical style in the early 1990s; previous “black metal,” from Venom through Hellhammer, had been a variant on the dominant style of the time and often indistinguishable from death metal. Like a new civilization, it grew from a small group of innovators who were disgusted by the “jogging suit” mentality: people who were essentially products of a modern time, who blindly bleated its ideas, figuring out how to play death metal and becoming popular in the genre by making their music more like what audiences accustomed to rock music expected. In essence, the crowd had infested death metal as it had speed metal before that, and black metal was a response to this.

Recognizing that no matter how they dressed up the music as something “new,” appearances could be cloned, black metal musicians decided to go where the crowd could not follow: they would write music that expressed a grandeur of nature and feral amorality, hearkening more to the values of Samurai or European knights than to the disposable ideals of modern time. Since such a topic requires music that infuses the listener with a sense of awe and beauty in the cycle of destruction and creation that renders our world, they could no longer rely on “three chords and the truth,” but had to actually put the truth in the music, and write more poetic and complex songs.

The small civilization within civilization that was black metal was united more by ideals than by aesthetic or musical tenets, although all of its music by aiming to express the same kind of idea had similarities, mainly in its use of poetic complexity and truth within the music (and not necessarily the lyrics; you listen to black metal, and because of its intense artistry, find truth there). Because we are surrounded by infinite voices repeating the same few ideas in many different forms, here are the basic ideas of black metal that are distinct from the mass:

  1. Nature as a supreme, rational and all-pervasive order. Natural selection and an embrace of struggle took the center stage through celebration of predation and death. Even more, black metal celebrated the nature “within,” or our inner feral nihilism that made a mockery of morality.
  2. Anti-Christianity/Crowdism. Crowdism is the idea that respecting the will of individuals is more important than finding a realistic idea. It is a form of backward logic where we see the individual as the cause, and not the effect, of all that is around us and so convince ourselves that a human social consensual reality can override nature. Crowdism is secular Christian morality.
  3. Introspection. The only meaning comes from what the individual can interpret; there are no boundaries between individuals and the world (nature) as whole, but individual perception is limited to natural abilities and learning from experience. This is the opposite of the “if it feels good, do it” rhetoric of hippie rock.
  4. Morbidity. Viewed as an essential giver of meaning. Where most view death paranoiacally, and see it as a great entropy removing all value, black metal musicians viewed it as something giving meaning to life.
  5. Organicism. Like Romantic poets, black metal musicians tended to place more faith in organic growth than imposed social order. A sense of differentiation from the herd, hatred toward the incompetent and delusional, pride in unique ethnic origins and a celebration of older culture makes this a huge part of the genre.

To any student of European history or art, these values are not new; they are traditional to all Romantic forms of art, whether literature or visual art or symphonies, and were upheld by artists as disparate as William Wordsworth, Anton Bruckner, John Keats, Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Lord Byron and William Shakespeare. For all of these artists, nature was a higher form of order than the rules of civilization, and civilization had become decadent by praising its own “equal” order more than the “unequal” order of nature. Many philosophers, including the celebrated F.W. Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer, explicated these sentiments in their own work. Black metal’s ideology is nothing new.

What was new was an expression of these ideas in popular music, because rock music and blues and all of the associated disposable art has always been a manifestation of the crowd revolt mentality: simple music so that everyone in a room could get it, diametrically opposed to the grand works of classical music which were too complex and emotionally involved for a crowd to appreciate (or even to have the attention span to endure). Rock music focuses on one emotion per song, bangs it out in riff and chorus, and makes it very simple by using a relatively fixed number of scales and chord progressions. Rock music is the perfect product because it’s easy to make, is appreciated by customers of all ages and not limited by intelligence, and is inoffensive on a certain level in that it has nothing to say that will disturb. The basic message of rock music is to include everyone equally, to appreciate them for being alive and not for their inherent traits, and to come together on simple human values and not higher ideals; rock is inclusivity. Black metal is not.

Much like when watching Lord of the Rings, Braveheart or Apocalypse Now one has a sense of an ancient warlike order, when listening to black metal one sensed a realistic and amoral entity underneath the Romanticized skin of the music. This eternal form of the human spirit grows from the naturalism of black metal as well through its belief in a karmic cycle based on natural selection. At the lowest level, humans are little more than animals. If they exert a form of natural selection upon themselves, and attempt to rise above that level, those who survive will be apt for it; if they do this for several levels, they eventually rise to a state of having a higher intelligence, degree of physical strength and beauty, and moral character (“nobility”: the ability to see what is correct for the natural order of society as a whole, and not to get distracted by personal or emotional issues). At the very top are those who are fit to lead by the nature of having a transcendent consciousness; it is thought that these much higher IQ than most modern people and were far less fearful, neurotic and self-obsessed. This, too, derived from Romanticism.

Underground metal goes mainstream

Underground metal reigned in part through its mystique. Hated by almost everyone, in and out of jail, preaching ideas which were anathema to both heads of state and hippies in the gutter, underground metal seemed a fragile and rare thing. This mystique faded as the economy shifted again, as it had done in the early 1980s allowing a rush of “indie” bands, and distribution contracts loosened up in the late 1990s.

Where once there had been “import” racks for CDs from abroad, and it was hard to find music, starting in 1997, underground metal became available in mall stores and through Amazon.com. Its identity as a separate entity became difficult to maintain, and the process of assimilation began. In response, metalheads attempted to rally around an identity as “different,” but in doing so, they focused on external aspects (distortion, imagery, indie status) instead of what did make the music distinct: it saw hope for the future in ideas outside of the same accepted dogma all the mainstream newspapers, television and radio sell to us because it is a popular product. If the truth is difficult and therefore unpopular, metal rebelled against popularity as a selection matrix, and from that developed a range of thought which made it a genre distinct from all others.

Far from being alone in this, underground metal has fallen into a general trend of independent art producers seceding from reality. “Literature” has collapsed into a few thousand tiny magazines read by no one but MFA candidates in creative writing, and “visual art” has become a network of small galleries selling cute expensive paintings to uninformed patrons. Even classical music has gotten in on the decline, with “new music” — micro-symphonies of human voices, squeaking dissonant noise, and other trendy types of sound — appreciated by a diehard cult following who need a raison d’etre outside of their civil service jobs.

These genres used to speak an independent voice, but now they repeat lockstep the strange formulation of modern liberal democracy — a “neo-conservative” viewpoint which both champions civil rights and “social issues,” but also affirms the need for a strong economy and constant warfare against evil enemies. Political theorists might try to make sense of it, but it is more direct to understand it this way: popularity sells.

“One could argue that American fiction has ghettoized itself by insisting on a self-reifying view (humanist/materialist?) in which all answers are known, the political binary is carved in stone, we all have swallowed whole certain orthodoxies, and the purpose of the fiction is just to reinforce these. At the heart of this lies a selfish agenda, that has (one could arge) really ceased seeing the world as a unity, and has begun aggressively internalizing certain capitalist dogmas that say: Of course you are the most important thing, of course you exist separate from the rest of the world.”

– George Saunders, The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers

In this situation we find a repeated structure from metal itself, and even, larger society. Metal music goes through cycles where a new idea comes about, is looked down upon by others, and then fully expresses itself, at which point it is cloned to death by the same people who were speaking badly about it earlier (by this I mean new subgenres, not recombinations of existing genres like – eh – “nu-metal”). If you look at it as a conflict between people of able character, and those who are by nature followers, what you see is that the able create; the followers imitate, and in so doing, drown it and condemn what was created to being of the same mediocrity it helped to escape.

Indeed, the death metal of today more musically resembles rock than that of ten years ago; same with black metal. They have been assimilated, but from within the metal genre, by people whose character is so low that their highest values are to esteem what is valued by the larger society, and thus to reproduce it in the appearance of something which is not larger society, assuming that by controlling appearance, they control content. They are wrong, and they drag down everything they touch. It is this way with the creation of music, the promotion of music, and the choice of who runs hubs; most run them for the popularity, and don’t mind if there’s a whole bunch of support for moronic rock music thrown into the mix. In fact, they encourage it, as by appealing to everyone, they feel like Christ on the cross, being both a victim and a conqueror by the sheer fact of being needed.

This conflict repeats itself in all human endeavors: one group starts a process that creates benefit, and then others surge in and, not understanding the struggle of creation, parasitize it and destroy it. We can see this in the tendency of sequels to intelligent movies being junk; in the revolutions of the masses against the elites that leave nations with lower average IQs and third world levels of dysfunction; in the killing of Socrates by democratic Athens; in the denial of reality that lets Americans run up record debt, or our species to deplete fish stocks, pollute the ocean with floating plastics, and poison our open waterways with enough chemicals to turn amphibians hermaphroditic. The eternal human struggle for clarity of reality, versus withdrawing into our own perspectives and becoming oblivious, is repeated in metal and its struggle to resist assimilation.

The ‘heat-death’ of the universe is when the universe has reached a state of maximum entropy. This happens when all available energy (such as from a hot source) has moved to places of less energy (such as a colder source). Once this has happened, no more work can be extracted from the universe. Since heat ceases to flow, no more work can be acquired from heat transfer. This same kind of equilibrium state will also happen with all other forms of energy (mechanical, electrical, etc.). Since no more work can be extracted from the universe at that point, it is effectively dead, especially for the purposes of humankind.

— Andreas Birkedal-Hansen, M.A., Physics Grad Student, UC Berkeley12

With human beings, our tendency to act for ourselves alone — individualism, or selfishness — divides up our civilization and encourages entropy. Metal, as a perspective beyond the individual and the ego-drama that rock bands promote through love songs and peace dogma, encourages us instead to get over ourselves, transcend our egos, and look at reality for the potential beauty within it. In this, we enact a familiar drama to any post-agrarian-civilization art, which is that of the lone individual versus the crowd. The individual wants to do what is right, but the crowd wants him to be selfish like them, so that together they do not challenge each other and no one can ever be wrong, or face conflict, or be lonely. But in the end, the crowd always makes itself miserable because its vice is essentially cowardice. Metal reintroduces some clarity through a simple formulation: either one goes inward, and tries to know reality through oneself, or one looks outward and tries to know oneself through external opinions, and as a result, loses oneself in the crowd and its lowest common denominator inclinations, namely fear, selfishness and narcissism.

Assimilation of metal

Whether this larger conflict will be resolved is not yet certain – definitely, however, metal is a reaction against it. When people sang hippie songs, Black Sabbath brought in dark reality, and woke many out of the stupor that assumed extending democratic liberties to all humans would solve far deeper-rooted problems. As rock music headed toward an effete protest against Reagan in the 1980s, metal retaliated by condemning left and right for their ignorance of basic human dissatisfaction and the threat of nuclear warfare. Finally, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, death metal and black metal arose to remind us that we are mortal, and that there are greater values than that which society can bestow, such as nature, the upholding of tradition, and pride in our national origins.

The clones have closed in fast on those, since they are indirectly the greatest threat to clone culture to ever arise in metal. For this reason among others, it’s worth upholding in them what gave people hope: the belief that someday the war of clones versus leaders, masses versus elites, would come to an end. Some keep trying to dumb it down into a political trend that gives us a partial truth and tries to make it represent all of reality, effectively blinding us to the big picture so we can focus on a vicarious struggle:

More than three decades after Black Sabbath conjured images of the dark arts, heavy metal is growing up. The genre is increasingly incorporating social and political messages into its dense power chords.

“Metal is expanding and evolving and becoming more diverse,” said Canadian anthropologist and filmmaker Sam Dunn, who directed “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,” released on DVD this summer. “It’s at a much more vibrant state than it was even five or 10 years ago.”

“It’s becoming global and it’s becoming a tool for social and political commentary,” Dunn said. “It takes on a greater meaning in countries where people have had to struggle to survive. It takes on a much stronger political tone.”

Metal music in the 1980s was often homophobic and “very white,” she said, but current bands tend to be socially conscious and suspicious of political power. There’s also more women in the audience — and fronting the bands.

The lyrics on Lamb of God’s two most recent albums have been expressly political, and the politics lean heavily to the left.

Napalm Death’s Greenway is considering work as a political activist when his metal days are over, but he doesn’t think metal will ever completely stray from hedonistic and supernatural themes.

MSN

It is not surprising that mainstream media misunderstands underground metal. After all, they virtually forced its creation, since any band darker or heavier than Metallica received no recognition; the media wanted to sell us metal as party-lovin’, loud and crazy rock music. And so while the underground bloomed in 1985 to 1996, they praised stadium heavy metal and hard rock bands. During the current time, they embrace as “metal” music that is mostly emo hardcore: metalcore and nu-metal.

To an observer of the recent black metal scene, it’s tempting to get bitter. The newest style and trend appears to be “black hardcore,” or bands putting together two three-note riffs in a standard song format in recombinant order, and even the most ambitious bands are succumbing to this influence. Reminiscent of when hardcore punk music bloated itself into entropy and collapsed because no one could tell any two bands apart, this is like gangrene creeping up the legs and finally into the bloodstream of the genre.

When the genre is healthiest, the winds of coming winter oppose all new bands with brutal hardship, so only the most determined make it to the stage of releasing an album. This encourages others who have talent and brains to take a stab. If a lone artist looks at a genre, and sees a thousand albums of which two are good, the conclusion will be that the genre is fattened and the fans thus unable to tell the difference between good music and bad.

If the genre seen has a handful of albums, most of which are excellent, it is instead a compelling argument for further exploration. This is how genres rise and fall, and is why hardcore punk and death metal both eventually fattened themselves into insignificance to the point that now, once you’ve heard one band, you’ve heard them all. So for the health of the genre, it’s better that fewer albums of a higher quality are released.

Ideals of assimilated metal:

  1. Everyone must get it. It must be simple, not challenging, and most of all not have any poetic essence to its soul, as most fans can’t get that and thus will not buy it.
  2. Appearance over structure. It must have a unique appearance, but say the same old things philosophically and use familiar musical ideas so that even the dumbest fans can understand it and buy it. Even more, it must be upheld as dogma truth that adding a flute or screeching spotted owl to the same old music somehow makes it “unique” and worth owning.
  3. Form doesn’t apply to content. In other words, appearance is more important than structure, which is the form that moulds itself to the content, in the same way a story about a rescue at sea has a different flow and arrangement than a story about contemplating death in the bathtub.
  4. Simplistic emotions are important. Forget the depth of “Inno A Satana”; blindly praise Satan with roaring, consistent anger, because that way every fan, even the ones with Down’s Syndrome, can get what it’s about and get into it. Start a big singular emotion party, and make it simple so everyone can buy the CD and come along.
  5. Everyone can participate. Black metal clones are not specific to a certain land or belief system, as they are essentially musically the same and are designed so that even a retarded outer space alien could “get it” and start tapping its feet and wearing Darkthrone-brand jogging suits immediately. Nationalism, even elitism, eugenics or belief in anything at all is out; what’s in is having some music that sounds angry, is written like punk rock, and can be appreciated by everyone so they can buy the CDs or praise the “underground” scene queens who created it.

The average black metal fan today has not heard the formative works of the genre: Immortal, Emperor, Burzum, Gorgoroth, Enslaved, Darkthrone, Beherit and Varathron when they were making essential, complex, beautiful music. All they’ve heard are the newcomers, both of the blatantly commercial Cradle of Filth variety, and the scene whore “loud, fast and antisocial” type of band. The newcomers are uniformly worthless, as they express nothing that rock music does not, and by giving it an extreme aesthetic, allow their fans to convince themselves that they are “part of” some movement against the dominant trend of society, even though much like Democrats and Republicans in America agree on the same core values, newcomer “black metal” repeats the same empty rhetoric that rock music has been feeding us for fifty years. Newcomer black metal is black metal only in the world of appearance; in terms of musical and artistic structure, it’s closer to punk rock or even Dave Matthews Band. It’s rock music.

Agents of Assimilation: The Hipster

Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.

But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”

An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization — a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” — a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.

Ad Busters — Hipsters: The Dead End of Western Civilization

Adbusters doesn’t mention this, but there’s a simple pattern:

Normal, healthy people pick music they want to listen to.

Hipsters pick music to make themselves look good.

A hipster is defined by this reversed cause/effect, and this is why they parallel our society: like people looking for political handouts, they are justifying themselves to others instead of acting as they know is right.

In metal, the hipster is the person always trying to be different, to pick music that is brainy or “authentic” (simple), the person spreading trends and fads. Instead of being an authentic fan who picks the music he or she thinks is best, the hipster is using the music as adornment to conceal their ordinariness.

What’s the damage, you ask? Hipsters bloat genres with people who don’t understand them and, in the ensuing confusion, pick the lowest common denominator. So heavy metal returns to rock, death metal returns to heavy metal, folk becomes punk, and so on.

Healthy societies work from cause to effect. We need an empire, so we build it (cause) and then it appears (effect). Dying societies work from effect to cause. We want an empire, so we create the appearance of an empire (effect) and hope it will show up (cause). This is why old black metallers fear trends, hipsters, fads and mass media like the plague: they promote this unhealthy psychology.

In the postmortem over humanity’s failure, our new reptilian overlords will discuss this issue, and conclude that humans had two modes of thought: a healthy forward-thinking one, and a negative and sick backward-thinking one. The hipster, like every other form of decay in our society, is backward thinking.

Metal is currently awash in hipsters because hipsters use something called irony to disguise their low self-esteem. If they’re listening to IRON MAIDEN, it’s because they find it amusing — not because they believe in it. In fact, they believe in nothing except what others believe in within their social group, which makes them always right. If someone makes fun of them for liking IRON MAIDEN, they can always claim their enjoyment is ironic. It’s a race to the bottom with the hipster, because believing in anything but illusion and evasion makes you a target, so they believe in nothing except “ironically,” and that’s how they infiltrated metal.

In the same way hipsters find trailer parks quaint and amusing, they found death metal and black metal intriguing. It was untamed, unsocialized material, and a threat to everything the hipster stood for. So they assimilated it, and moved in by taking positions in the community. Start buying metal, or selling metal, and others depend on you. From that they branched out by using the hipster tactic of focusing on the external. “Well, this could be more unique if we added a flute…”

When you focus on the external, and don’t pay attention to the fundamental quality of music that distinguishes it, which is how well it communicates, you end up norming the music. Structurally, it becomes all the same, but externally, it’s all tricked out in motley so it appears “different” and “new.” But the real name of the game is not being different, but being the same so you are universally accepted, while having enough adornments that you stand out in a crowd… just like the hipster.

We’ve seen this steadily increasing in metal since 1994 or so, and it was helped by some in metal who would rather leave a bad legacy with a full wallet than the inverse, such as Death and Cannibal Corpse. It will reverse, but only as soon as metal bands and fans start communing on the idea of forward-logic instead of backward, negative logic.

The end result of complete cellular representation is cancer. Democracy is cancerous, and bureaus are its cancer. A bureau takes root anywhere in the state, turns malignant like the Narcotic Bureau, and grows and grows, always reproducing more of its own kind, until it chokes the host if not controlled or excised. Bureaus cannot live without a host, being true parasitic organisms. (A cooperative on the other hand can live without the state. That is the road to follow. The building up of independent units to meet needs of the people who participate in the functioning of the unit. A bureau operates on opposite principle of inventing needs to justify its existence.) Bureaucracy is wrong as a cancer, a turning away from the human evolutionary direction of infinite potentials and differentiation and independent spontaneous action, to the complete parasitism of a virus.

(It is thought that the virus is a degeneration from more complex life form. It may at one time have been capable of independent life. Now has fallen to the borderline between living and dead matter. It can exhibit living qualities only in a host, by using the life of another — the renunciation of life itself, a falling towards inorganic, inflexible machine, towards dead matter.)

Bureaus die when the structure of the state collapses. They are as helpless and unfit for independent existences as a displaced tapeworm, or a virus that has killed the host.

– William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

Hipsterism is reality-avoidance, in the same way Crowdism or any other mass movement is: the assimilation of the individual by the crowd in order to destroy reality, which in turn destroys the collective. Societies, genres of music, groups of friends and businesses all fit this pattern, which is fundamental to human psychology. Either the individual stands up for what is true in reality, not what the individual prefers, or the crowd declares its own reality and then the collective veers off course because it has lost touch with reality. Assimilation is a byproduct of individualism without reality, just like bad music is the product of people pandering to each other and not finding a beauty in reality, including its darkness and horror, as heavy metal has throughout its four decades.

Resisting Assimilation

The problem with combatting assimilation is that assimilation is less an act than a passive lack of acting. When good metal is not made, and people do not assert what makes metal unique, assimilation surges in like water filling the space where it was swept out of the way. Like all things in humanity, the default state is one of disorganization and failure, and it is only when wise minds step in and re-direct the chaos that prosperity of any kind happens.

We have learned what does not stop assimilation. Trying to keep the music rare means hipsters buy it on eBay. Trying to keep it indie and obscure means that hipsters only prize it more. Trying to make it more offensive or extreme just makes it more novel. These methods do not work. What also does not work is trusting a “scene” or “underground” to keep away the mainstream, because underground scenes are an advanced form of maintaining rarity through social networks.

A “scene” means music that is consistent enough for people not to care what band is playing, so they can socialize in the same environment time and time again. A “scene” is clubs that play music that sounds very similar time and time again so they know they can draw an audience each time. A “scene” are sellers of music who find bands that sound like each other so they can compare past successes to the next generation, getting a crop of already-proven fans to come buy it all again. The variation is dead – the conformity is absolute. And worst of all, it’s voluntary and in a moral facilitative society there are few arguments accepted against it.

That kind of consistency kills music by raising the level of expectation to an entry requirement. The hardcore “scene” murdered hardcore by making it consistent – acceptable – “fun” and extremely similar. Bands who used to fight for a living could suddenly find central places to play, sell and broadcast their music – but in order to do so, they had to make it fit within expectations. Metal will die with a scene or without some form of one.

The problem with this flood isn’t its quality in itself. The problem is that when there is a flood of undistinctive material, (a) anything that does not conform to the pattern is not recognized and (b) the information overload is so great than any excellent band that does rise will be ignored. In essence, the underground has replicated the errors made by gigantic record labels in the 1980s.

Interestingly, the same thing happened in hardcore music in the 1980s when it became cheap and easy to release seven-inch records. Suddenly, there were no “fans”: everyone had a band, zine, label or distro. Consequently, quality went down, because no leaders were picked, and a great averaging occurred. Everyone could participate, but because there was no specialized fanbase, the farthest they got was participation, getting their share. No one great rose above and therefore, the great people stopped trying. There was no direction.

Analogous to the effects of democracy and consumerism on the quality of people in society as a whole? You bet it was. Analogy to egocentricism of the west, and its own cultural failings? You bet: the same mechanism was in effect: a lack of appreciation for quality because popularity/social pressures dictated participation, an external factor, not hierarchy, which requires a measurement of amorphous qualities such as “artistic worth” which are unrecognizable to most people in the crowd. Consequently, hardcore declined to the point where, in 1985, all the bands sounded exactly the same and there were no leaders.

Another concept, that perhaps will embitter some because of its practicality, is that of your personal landfill. What you produce on compact disc or vinyl or tape doesn’t magically disappear. It ends up in the landfills, with all the other waste you produce, to rot in insignificance, slowly leeching poisons into the earth. You like being alive, right, or you’d be dead — why create more personal landfill if it won’t achieve something you desire? For every CD you buy, there’s one more CD in that landfill. Buy the best, ignore the rest, and your personal landfill will not only be small, but will possibly not exist as others enjoy those CDs, since good CDs can be enjoyed in any age while trends are temporal.

My suggestion to all those who love metal is simple: stop supporting bands that are OK instead of great.

Few genres demand as much long-term allegiance as metal, and get it. Of styles likely found in a record store, only metal, industrial, country, jazz and classical have enduring audiences. Other genres are bigger, but people stay with them for fewer years. As history has shown us, metal is too easily absorbed by the mainstream. Black metal selling out and the rise of nu-metal occurred at the same time – is anything in the universe “coincidental”? It’s interesting to note that a similar absorption afflicted death metal, heavy metal and hardcore punk, all of whom relied on popular-music-style short song formats.

The Case for Metal to Follow Classical

However, there is one guaranteed way to take metal out of the mainstream: leave behind the mainstream song format. Most songs are three minutes of a verse-chorus nature, and they use devices such as rhythmic predictability on the offbeat (“expectation”) and melodic hooks. If metal were to expand on its riff salad nature, it would join genres like jazz and classical in a musically distinct form, and become inaccessible to those who want to make or consume bite-sized music. Every other metal band aspires to classical guitar anyway; why not liberate our impulses toward something that is clearly enjoyed and valued?

For example, consider these micro-symphonies:

When people tell you what they want, they usually tell you what appearance or experience they want — the effect — and do not understand the device for achieving that effect — the cause. They think in terms of the appearance of what they want and not the underlying structure.

For example, when people say they want simplicity, what they really want is organization. It’s why “My Journey to the Stars” works even though it’s “complex” in theory — complex means having a central idea that is simple and clear, and then manifesting it in different forms so people can compare them like metaphors and see the abstraction. People will tell you they want raw, fast, brutal, simple but they’re talking about the one riff they remember, kind of how most people can identify the opening riff to Beethoven’s Symphony Number 5 — it’s the simplest, most memorable part of a complex music experience.

The role of art is to be a silent philosopher, meaning that it does not make explicit commands and references to everyday objects, but gives us a clear spiritual commandment and its corresponding aesthetic from which to work. Art organizes our spirits and approach to reality. It is important that art does this because most people know the end result they’d like to see, but are completely unaware of the context in which it exists. They see a riff, and figure that if they just heard that riff, they’d have the whole experience, or they think of one moment when they were happy and assume that correlations which occurred simultaneously to that moment — a cigarette, a postcard, a summer day — are the cause when the real cause was the sequence of events that led up to that one moment having great significance, or that one cigarette being the break that really helped them find mental clarity. It wasn’t the cigarette — it was the context.

In human life, once civilization is established, we face a causal breakdown. Person A does something, and Person B sees the results, and tries to work backward toward the cause. Metal bands see how others have succeeded, and try to imitate the outward aspects — faster drums, harsher vocals, floaty keyboards — without understanding that it’s the songwriting and beneath that, the ability to reference “meaning” in experience shared between artist and listener, that makes the song great and not just average with above-average execution.

At this point, the genre doesn’t understand its own spirit or aesthetics, so bands make salads where they throw together unrelated stuff and figure that since it has everything, it must be good. This “carnival style” metal is a salad of distractions from which each piece returns to a few exactly repeated themes. As a result, there’s a lot going on, like riding a merry-go-round and seeing the world outside flash by in disorienting random order, but there’s no development of theme; it’s just a more complex version of verse/chorus pop music.

People can’t put into words what they want. When shown what they want, they will initially resist it because it doesn’t “look like” or “sound like” what they want — people in 1990 “wanted” simpler, catchier, groovier speed metal, and that movement went nowhere. While sub-sub-genres like metalcore, deathcore, or “black punk” (hybrid of pop-punk, shoegaze, emo and black metal) have momentary peaks of popularity, these seem to fade quickly, unlike the lasting appeal of the best of death and black metal. They’re popular, but no one seems to love them like true classics.

However, there is still great room in this genre for those who can translate the spirit, aesthetics and organization of classical music — narrative motives — into death/black metal. That’s the real ground to conquer. Whoever does that will be initially unpopular, like death metal and later black metal were, but later acknowledged as a hero. Like the songs listed above, such music will be passionate but leave the repetitive, formulaic, simplistic structure of pop music behind.

Metal music will never fit into the framework of other genres. Where other music might sound scary, metal communicates the meaning of scary, and this means that it will always oppose the anti-orthodoxy of mainstream logic. For those who understand its message and the power of its sound, assimilation of a distinct genre into the indistinct mass will always remain a threat.


  1. Romanticism, on the other hand, is what the writers of the Romantic Period practiced: there is not much agreement about what that is exactly, and there is in fact a longstanding debate about whether there is such a thing or only Romanticisms. See A. O. Lovejoy, “On the Discrimination of Romanticisms,” PMLA, 1924; René Wellek, “The Concept of `Romanticism’ in Literary History,” Comparative Literature, 1949; and finally, Jerome McGann’s Introduction to The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse (revised edition). – http://www.users.muohio.edu/mandellc/eng441/urllist.htm
  2. A movement in art and literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in revolt against the Neoclassicism of the previous centuries…The German poet Friedrich Schlegel, who is given credit for first using the term romantic to describe literature, defined it as “literature depicting emotional matter in an imaginative form.” This is as accurate a general definition as can be accomplished, although Victor Hugo’s phrase “liberalism in literature” is also apt. Imagination, emotion, and freedom are certainly the focal points of romanticism. Any list of particular characteristics of the literature of romanticism includes subjectivity and an emphasis on individualism; spontaneity; freedom from rules; solitary life rather than life in society; the beliefs that imagination is superior to reason and devotion to beauty; love of and worship of nature; and fascination with the past, especially the myths and mysticism of the middle ages. – http://www.uh.edu/engines/romanticism/introduction.html
  3. Some of the earliest stirrings of the Romantic movement are conventionally traced back to the mid-18th-century interest in folklore which arose in Germany–with Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm collecting popular fairy tales and other scholars like Johann Gottfried von Herder studying folk songs–and in England with Joseph Addison and Richard Steele treating old ballads as if they were high poetry. These activities set the tone for one aspect of Romanticism: the belief that products of the uncultivated popular imagination could equal or even surpass those of the educated court poets and composers who had previously monopolized the attentions of scholars and connoisseurs.

    Whereas during much of the 17th and 18th centuries learned allusions, complexity and grandiosity were prized, the new romantic taste favored simplicity and naturalness; and these were thought to flow most clearly and abundantly from the “spontaneous” outpourings of the untutored common people. In Germany in particular, the idea of a collective Volk (people) dominated a good deal of thinking about the arts. Rather than paying attention to the individual authors of popular works, these scholars celebrated the anonymous masses who invented and transmuted these works as if from their very souls.
    http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/hum_303/romanticism.html

  4. Emphasis on the activity of the imagination was accompanied by greater emphasis on the importance of intuition, instincts, and feelings, and Romantics generally called for greater attention to the emotions as a necessary supplement to purely logical reason. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  5. While particular perspectives with regard to nature varied considerably–nature as a healing power, nature as a source of subject and image, nature as a refuge from the artificial constructs of civilization, including artificial language–the prevailing views accorded nature the status of an organically unified whole.
    http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  6. It was viewed as “organic,” rather than, as in the scientific or rationalist view, as a system of “mechanical” laws, for Romanticism displaced the rationalist view of the universe as a machine (e.g., the deistic image of a clock) with the analogue of an “organic” image, a living tree or mankind itself. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  7. Symbolism and myth were given great prominence in the Romantic conception of art. In the Romantic view, symbols were the human aesthetic correlatives of nature’s emblematic language. They were valued too because they could simultaneously suggest many things, and were thus thought superior to the one-to-one communications of allegory.
    http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  8. In addition, neoclassicism had prescribed for art the idea that the general or universal characteristics of human behavior were more suitable subject matter than the peculiarly individual manifestations of human activity. From at least the opening statement of Rousseau’s Confessions, first published in 1781–“I am not made like anyone I have seen; I dare believe that I am not made like anyone in existence. If I am not superior, at least I am different.”–this view was challenged.
    http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  9. Certain special features of Romanticism may still be highlighted by this contrast. We have already noted two major differences: the replacement of reason by the imagination for primary place among the human faculties and the shift from a mimetic to an expressive orientation for poetry, and indeed all literature. – http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  10. The hero-artist has already been mentioned; there were also heaven-storming types from Prometheus to Captain Ahab, outcasts from Cain to the Ancient Mariner and even Hester Prynne, and there was Faust, who wins salvation in Goethe’s great drama for the very reasons–his characteristic striving for the unattainable beyond the morally permitted and his insatiable thirst for activity–that earlier had been viewed as the components of his tragic sin. (It was in fact Shelley’s opinion that Satan, in his noble defiance, was the real hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost.)
    http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html
  11. A literary, artistic, and philosophical movement originating in the 18th century, characterized chiefly by a reaction against neoclassicism and an emphasis on the imagination and emotions, and marked especially in English literature by sensibility and the use of autobiographical material, an exaltation of the primitive and the common man, an appreciation of external nature, an interest in the remote, a predilection for melancholy, and the use in poetry of older verse forms. – http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/romanticism
  12. The ‘heat-death’ of the universe is when the universe has reached a state of maximum entropy. This happens when all available energy (such as from a hot source) has moved to places of less energy (such as a colder source). Once this has happened, no more work can be extracted from the universe. Since heat ceases to flow, no more work can be acquired from heat transfer. This same kind of equilibrium state will also happen with all other forms of energy (mechanical, electrical, etc.). Since no more work can be extracted from the universe at that point, it is effectively dead, especially for the purposes of humankind.
    http://www.physlink.com/Education/AskExperts/ae181.cfm
  13. But the rising materialism and focus on business at the cost of the mind and the spirit was spawning reform movements all over America…Many felt a psychic dislocation, that the bottom had dropped out of their world since traditional values and conventional reality were just not enough for them. They tried to impose meaning individually, for institutions and dogmas seemed to possess little truth. Philosophically, they reacted against the materialistic educational theories of Locke and rationalism. They found Truth more a matter of intuition and imagination than logic and reason. They rejected the mechanistic view of the universe so dear to Franklin and Deists and opted for a more organic view, seeing the world more as dynamic and living. – http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/eng372/intro.htm
  14. “He was recognized as a leading figure in the Sturm und Drang, which celebrated the energetic Promethean restlessness of spirit as opposed to the ideal of calm rationalism of the Enlightenment. Goethe’s poem ‘Prometheus’, with its insistence that man must believe not in gods but in himself, might be seen as a motto for the whole movement.”
    http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/goethe.htm
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Sadistic Metal Reviews 11-07-08

AC/DC – Black Ice: This has to be my pick of this batch. It lacks any pretense toward being anything but what it is, which is high octane rock music with a diverse set of influences on its lead guitar and total mastery of rhythm and songwriting. Each of these songs rolls off the mind as if buttered, lingering just long enough, composed to fit pentatonic scales but not in a brainless way. Melodies are mostly of the guitar nature because of the ashen-voice monotone in which they are mostly sung. The throbbing bass drives them, drumming keeps a pocket moving, and the rhythm riffs are inventive and topped by guitar that is more like a singing voice than fireworks, although it’s technically advanced. There’s a bit too much of three chord and turnaround songwriting formula for this to really endure in any meaningful sense, but for a band to be in the world this long and still so consistently listenable is impressive. No song will fully insult your intelligence although each will put it on hold, especially if you try to listen to the drunken babble that is the lyrics. AC/DC has gotten more Led Zeppelin over the years, with a few lifts here and there, and continues to incorporate a gnarly blues influence that reminds me of Eric Clapton working with punchier rhythms. Still, hard work shows in how well these pieces fit together like finely planed wood, and how each song keeps its mood with power and lacks any fat and confusion. There are not as many truly distinctive moments as there were on say, Back in Black, but none of these songs fade into the woodwork entirely either. Even if we pre-postmodern metalheads may not dig the motivations, one has to respect the craft at work here.

Disfear – Live the Storm: Motorhead with a D-beat and metalcore choruses and breakdowns, aspiring to the kind of melodic songwriting that made both Led Zeppelin and U2 household favorites. Unfortunately, the technique used reduce this to blurring noise interrupted by hookish choruses. Gone is the energetic punk of the past and now this band is falling into the worst habit of any act, which is to try to pander to your audience and so to incorporate enough of what has worked for others to drown out whatever might work for you. Vocals are underutilized, because this vocalist is clearly capable of some range and melody, but he’s afraid to open up and be sensitive in a meaningful way so we get the omnidirectional, pointless, nullifying Pantera-style rage. Musically this is derivative; artistically it is as hollow as corporate advertising. “Soul Scars” is a masterpiece. “Live the Storm” is a pretentious wannabe. Avoid.

Kataklysm – Prevail: this is pure chant cadence, repetition ad nauseam, with some death metal/hardcore hybrid riffs. Composition is stronger than most metalcore, but it’s also much simpler, which allows them to work out a couple really good riff patterns in interaction and then have the rest be something so repetitive it would even make Phil Anselmo nod off. It reminds me of Deicide’s “Once Upon the Cross” but even more sing-song, in a riot chorus kind of way. It’s not bad but I couldn’t listen to this. It’s like hearing someone each day come home from work and tell you exactly what went wrong, every single detail. First the copier was busted. Then I had to get paper from upstairs. Then I took a dump and it hurt. There were no sandwiches at lunch. It’s like a complaint anthem that pounds your head until you basically submit to apathy with a smile. same creepy mix of melodic and heavy chugging that alternates like linkin park between acoustic and distorted; really fucking basic.

Cynic – Traced in Air: When death metal was born, people said that death metal was incompetent musicianship and crass subject matter. The second generation of death metal, led by Pestilence and Atheist, tried to disprove that with technical music that incorporated the influences of progressive rock, jazz and classical. Since that time, progressive metal has become a big hit with people who want to think they’re musically educated. Most of it leans toward the jazz side, because this requires less of an ability to plan into the future and make a unique structure; you add a jam session to metal, which is easy and fun, so musicians love it and fans have something to be pompous about. “Traced in Air” plays into the worst of this tendency. Cynic has genericized themselves by pandering to an audience they know drools more over technicality than songwriting, and so have taken their technique from focus, mixed it up with generic jazz-prog-death, and have overplayed every single aspect of it so the CD is literally dripping with “prog moments” — but like a stew, the more stuff you toss in, the less distinctive the flavor is. We now have generic jazz prog-metal, complete with cliches. Drums are ridiculously overplayed; subtlety is dead, but you’ll spot that technique even if you’re dumb as a lichen. These musicians seem less interested in writing metal than in playing jazz under the guise of metal. You can hear the conversation now: “They went nuts over the last album, and now the market is finally huge! Let’s make it big with this next album, just make it jazzier and stuff it full of hot licks and drum fills.” I think people will listen to this for six weeks, then six months later be unsure when they stopped listening to it and why, yet not want to pick it up again. What a disappointment.

Speirling – The Piper: This reminds me of Ulver crossed with Satyricon with huge elements of a bombastic heavy metal doom metal hybrid like The Obsessed. Broad superstructure riffs crash into each other, recharging from their difference in conflict, and then drain to the ocean through a nice linear atmospheric riff. Repeat x 7. If you got into metal music so that you could find a way to dress up rock music as something rebellious, like a Priest in tranny French maid prostitute outfits, then this is great. Otherwise, why bother.

Apollyon Sun – Sub: Tom G. Warrior of Celtic Frost does Nine Inch Nails with an EBM/Industrial record that lets vocals guide its developments, which is a shame when contrasted to the power of industrial without a vocal lead, like Beherit’s Electric Doom Synthesis or Scorn’s “Evanescence.” As Warrior prepares to move past Celtic Frost and its triumphant return with Monotheist, his past work — this CD came out in 2000 — shows us much of where he might move. It’s much more rock, gothic and sleaze than Celtic Frost, more sardonic in melody, and the faster riff style is more triumphant and powerful. Above all else, it is catchy and follows modified pop and techno song structures, which means it’s both easy to remember and has a few surprises here and there. The vinegar vocals are less than listenable but not as terrible as much of Nine Inch Nails.

The Funeral Pyre – Wounds: Someone tries to resurrect classic At the Gates, but mixes in a little too much The Haunted. Melodic riffs reconnoiter after driving pure rhythm, a lot like Slaughter Lord, and the melodic riffs have more in common with “Slaughter of the Soul” or Niden Div 187 than early At the Gates. This gets a solid alright, especially for the periodic later Gorgoroth technique, but the melodies are too basic to really go anywhere. Lyrics sound like Dead Infection crossed with Neurosis, with DRI in the wings. It’s salady enough to be modern death/black, a/k/a metalcore. like The Abyss hybridized with Slaughter of the Soul, like Watain but better, still a lot of the indie/metalcore influence which makes it kind of simplistic.

Bilskirnir – Hyperborea: This is a very clever EP. Hybridize the Infernum style Iron Maiden/Graveland mix with the more Burzumy black metal clones, and you have something that sounds OK and bounces a long a lot like indie rock, not particularly distinguished unless the image, words or scene-significance gives you a reason to like it. If this is your first black metal, you will dig it, especially since it is very heavy metal. But over time, you will wonder why you bother.

Demonizer – Triumphator: So class, what’s black/death? Answer: when we run out of ideas, make speed metal and dress it up as black/death hybrid. I don’t see the point. Just make your Slayer/Metal Church tribute band and tell everyone you play fast because you love meth. This is like a simpler version of Sweden’s Merciless or Triumphator, with fast chromatic riffs leading into melodic chorus riffs. It’s pretty well done, actually, but in a style that makes even retarded kids bored after a few minutes. Clap your flippers and bob your heads.

Scott Kelly – The Wake: This Neurosis member also wants to make an acoustic album, and makes an intriguing one — is this a reference to Finnegans Wake, or just a wake? Because it sounds like one. Droning acoustic songs are blocky like hardcore, without much change or dynamic, but they plod on until they ingratiate themselves and have a primitive sincerity to them. The sensation is like the stunned moment after an impact when you’re not sure if your bones hurt or if the air around you is doing the hurting, and you just feel it. It will be interesting to see where he develops this style.

Devourment – 1.3.8: It’s hard not to like this at first because it is so relentlessly hookish in the weird way death metal bands lure you in with a cadence, and then make expectation of its fulfillment an ongoing necessary event in order to make sense of the otherwise overwhelming barrage of noise. Devourment switch between slow and chugging riffs and blasting mayhem religiously, downshifting with “breakdowns,” or deconstruction of a tempo by using internal attributes of a drum pattern to play off one another and slow it down, and upshifting with leaps in tempo that build up like a walk up stairs carrying a heavy automatic weapon. Much of it resembles the work of Suffocation, Malevolent Creation, Deicide, Deeds of Flesh and others who have worked within the percussive model of death metal, which inherits the palm-muted technique of speed metal and adds density of complexity. Here complexity and variation are necessary for this music to have staying power; its production is awful and tinny, and its songwriting is very similar between songs, which creates an onslaught of monolithic sound that few listeners will distinguish over time. Varying the technique and types of tempo changes would greatly improve this otherwise engaging, satisfyingly destructive band.

Agent Orange – Living in Darkness: Dug this out of the classics closet and have to say I like it. It’s melodic vocal punk like the Descendents, lots of bouncy stop-rhythms to guitar riffs and wandering, emo-style vocals that manage enough melody to keep themselves going. Would I listen to this stuff over Kraftwerk? No, but like the Descendents, the Minutemen, etc. it’s a part of the heritage of this music, and it’s a billion times better than punk now.

Diapsiquir – Virus S.T.N.: Say, what if Deathspell Omega were a lot simpler and incorporated the collage-of-garbage sound approach that WAR used? And maybe if they used lots of bouncy riffs and harmonized vocals? This sounds like a metal dog that has been kicked in the ribs singing how beautiful its death would be. Every clique and novelty possible has been employed to keep you from seeing that this band and this album slap themselves with limp wrists, gurgle and poo themselves.

Gridlink – Amber Gray: Containing ex-Discordance Axis personnel, this band aims to continue the fast-fingered assault of riffs that fit together like Tetris pieces and create a whole that, while like hardcore and grindcore is predictable in song structure, delivers the thrills with raw speed and dynamic phrase change like sigils flashing by in a mirror. Luckily this band has the wisdom to keep its work simple and to focus on what it does well, which is blasting slightly melodic versions of classic riffs. What I like about it is that it recalls the power violence and crossover music of the past which wanted to saturate us in insane energy as a motivic force, and with this CD, it works. Clocking in at 11 minutes it is nonetheless a full-length, albeit one that passes before you can recognize it. This CD has much more spirit than other CDs and while it claims to be grindcore, that’s grindcore like later Napalm Death with lots of metal influences in the formation of riffs and very punk song structures, except more jagged in this case which makes it tastier.

Shape of Despair – Shades Of…: Let’s make a Burzum clone but shape it into a doom band a lot like Skepticism, except even more entrenched in the vestiges of heavy metal? We’ll add a twist: play a rhythm lead, very simple, on a keyboard over the strobing riffs sound it sounds like a movie soundtrack to the proles. Fully competent, this band goes nowhere that Paradise Lost didn’t, and not only is less catchy, but depends on boring you into a stupor with Burzum-cum-Pelican drone technique that leaves most of us hoping to flatulate in harmony for variation. The most annoying parts are the rock rhythm, based on expectation like jazz or funk, so very bouncy and reliant upon us to care whether the returning rhythm catches the outgoing one. In fact, there are many good techniques throughout, but it’s basically verse-chorus music — with the simpleminded catchiness of a lullabye — that occasionally goes into extended overtime.

Equilibrium – Sagas: This album is simultaneously one of the better things I’ve heard this year, and one of the most completely ludicrous things I’ve heard. It vamps like a polka, bouncing with keyboards and guitars hitting together just before the beat, giving it a carnival atmosphere. Plenty of quality guitar work and overactive but competent keyboards, and songs with nice but very rock-ish two part melodic development, and hoarse death metal style vocals come together in a stew of confusion that has however very tasty bits. For strict songwriting assessment, this band is on par with later Iron Maiden and makes good songs. Aesthetically… if anyone heard me listening to this, I’d die of shame.

Soulfly – Conquer: This CD is Spinoza Ray Prozak musical hell. Every terrible idea in metal, recycled into a smoothly-written but directionless series of songs, has been offered up here in very loud production with a very angrily clueless vocalist. This is worse than shit. Feces at least decomposes in silence. Soulfly offer up generic Meshuggah/Pantera angry bounce-riffing, where any single impact is doubled so you expect its syncopated response, and the band hopes the catchy vocal ranting and bounce will lead you to care what happens next. It is battering, not heavy. It is a mile wide and an inch deep, with production that clearly cost a ton of money. I thought the whole idea of being revolutionaries was to be DIY and have the truth on your side. This album is propaganda for (a) Cavalera’s politics and (b) a vapid distillation of speed metal, death metal and punk hardcore into the most generic form of pointless angry music you can imagine. I use this CD to drive rats out of the attic but only the smarter rats leave.

Fullmoon – United Aryan Evil: While I generally detest neo-Nazi bands on principle, just like I refuse to listen to boilerplate leftist propaganda like The Dead Kennedys, looking for good metal these days means you run into bands who interpret the Romanticist Nationalism inherent to all good black metal as a narrow political ideal. It’s not much different than how punk bands translate being against mechanistic society into braindead liberalism. It’s hard to hate this band, but equally hard to listen again. They make paint-by-the-numbers melodic droning NSBM, and then interrupt it with slower melodic transitions, but the repetition waxes painful and the technique is a clearly lifted hybrid of Darkthrone, Graveland and Burzum. It reminds me of music for children, except that this tries to sound as deliberately blown out as possible, which with the tools available at this point is an obvious contrivance like Ulver’s “Nattens Madrigal.” When your best riffs sound like Burzum classics with one or two notes changed, something else must be done.

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Interview: Protector / Richard Lederer (Summoning, Ice Ages, Die Verbannten Kinder Eva’s)

When black metal went more toward an orthodoxy that by nature of emphasizing its strengths, simplified its technique to the point of crumbling complexity, Summoning went another direction, and made slower, reverent music about a former (and possibly future) time of honor and conflict. In the history of metal, Summoning represents one of the more potent variants of ambient metal and an encouraging aesthetic for anyone tired of modern time. Protector, one half of the dynamic duo that Summoning became, went on to participate in several other projects focusing on a classic theme of black metal: an ambient consciousness from which a sense of beauty and thus meaning in life emerges.

You have created music in several bands, and have been moving toward ambient material throughout this career. What inspires you to work with this medium instead of more concrete one?

My music can be surely described as ambient music, but for me that term is not an opposite to the word “concrete.” I always take care to make concrete melodies and rhythms which you could even create well with more traditional instrument or transcribe into notes. Un-concrete music is for me rather music based only on soundscapes and noises which don’t transport melodic or rhythmic information like many real ambient bands do. I always tried to be melody- and rhythm-oriented and always use sounds as carrier of that; I rarely use a sound just for the sake of the sound.

What definitively makes music ambient is the slower tempo and the multi-layered structure. Instead of playing a lot of super fast short riffs in fast succession, I prefer to create longer harmonic structures and build up a song by repeating them and adding more and more layers to it. That might sound monotonous for people used to fast breaks and tempo changes but that’s for me the way music has the most intense effect. Hearing different musical information at the same time is for me far more interesting than hearing bits of information in succession because that way I have more the feeling of a long huge song and not the feeling as if I were listening to 10 short simple songs that are combined into one long song.

When you write songs, do you start with a visual concept, or a riff, or something else?

The music is always the most important thing during the composing process. I neither think about anything visual nor about lyrics until the very end of a song creating process. With Ice Ages, I start from deep sounds while the higher ones appear the more the song grows. In Ice Ages I often have some kind of bass drum sound or a mighty bass line and with the keys I play around without any special musical aim. I think the less fixed the mind is during the early songwriting the better results I get. This does not mean that I never work in a structured way; on the contrary, structured work is one of the most important things for me, but structure without some kind of chaos (or creativity in another word) is not possible. After I have a nice bass drum or bass line part I see if I like it and if I like it the competition of that song fragment is already clear. I easily find new sounds and new layers which I add after each loop and in most cases after 1-2 hours I already have a full musical arrangement in full length.

Summoning seems to rest at an intersection of genres. What were your influences, and how did they urge you to reach for this unusual style?

I never considered my way of working as a mix of different musical styles. Actually, the crossover idea that was birthed already 22 years ago with bands like Faith No More is for me rather something old fashioned than anything progressive. So I never tried to take any existing musical styles and mix them together to pretend to create something new; I just make the music I have inside and see what comes out. When I was a child I learned classical drums, including kettle drums and march drums before I started to learn rock drums. My rhythmic style surely came from this part of my life. Also, the idea to create orchestral sounds is rather close at hand if you play the first time with a keyboard and check the different sounds. Another important part is the mentioned love for slower tempos which naturally grew at the time when super fast death metal was popular. It was a time where fast tempi started to bore me. So all in all you can see that the style is not the result of a wish to confuse people with style mixes but rather an expression of my musical taste and the musical experiences I have had during my life.

When Hellhammer said, “Only Death is Real,” it launched legions of death metal and grindcore bands who showed us through sickness, misery and sudden doom (in their lyrics) that life is short, manipulations are false, and we need to get back to reality. Where should the genre go from there?

I cannot see much reality in metal of today. Apart from some hardcore bands for me most of the metal (specially black metal) music is more a kind of fantasy music even if they don’t have fantasy lyrics. Even if some black metal bands try to spread some political views it’s also just a kind of fantasy as it mainly deals with some 1000 year old tribes that don’t have much in common with the present world. And also singing about death is not really dealing with reality because no one can know he feels after death.

But it should be particularly noted that if a public that was first placed in this yoke by the guardians is suitably aroused by some of those who are altogether incapable of enlightenment, it may force the guardians themselves to remain under the yoke–so pernicious is it to instill prejudices, for they finally take revenge upon their originators, or on their descendants. Thus a public can only attain enlightenment slowly. Perhaps a revolution can overthrow autocratic despotism and profiteering or power-grabbing oppression, but it can never truly reform a manner of thinking; instead, new prejudices, just like the old ones they replace, will serve as a leash for the great unthinking mass.

– Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment?

What are the goals of your art? Is there a goal to art itself?

I don’t think so much in goals, or better said, not in distant goals. The goal is each time to make a perfect album and to add as much music and passion to it as possible. I don’t have any goal concerning “success” for example. I think goals that are too huge are rather disturbing. Specifically, the aforementioned success goal would be a very disturbing one, because it would mean to try to adapt the music to the taste of the masses — which we never did. I think the more a person makes music for the sake of music, the more pure and honest that music becomes. I don’t want the music to become a kind of tool for any other aspects apart from music.

If sound is like paint, and we use different techniques and portray different things in our paintings, what does it say when a genre sounds similar and has similar topic matter and imagery? Can the genre be said to have a philosophy or culture (“subculture”) of its own?

Sure. For example, Ice Ages is always dark and negative, so the spectrum might be limited, but I think that life and the world is something endless so even if you limit the aspect used for your music you still have endless things to sing about. I prefer to focus on special parts than to integrate as many elements as possible. There is not so much super dark slow music around on the world, so it’s a natural thing to deal with that for me.

Ice Ages often sounds like ambient music, soundtracks, and the epic warlike feel of black metal rolled into one style. What sort of “space” are you trying to create for the imagination of your listeners?

In one way the music is different from black metal and in another, it’s similar. As I mentioned, before black metal is also a music far away from reality. Even if they sing about historic battles they still sing about a time long ago which most probably don’t know well and surely never experienced. The farther away a theme is from current reality the more it’s inspiring for fantasy. If you look at people of today they are just people (and in most cases quite boring ones ;-) but if you look on ancient people who were actually the same you can much better let your fantasy grow and imagine what god-like creatures they must have been and put any attitude you like into them.

Ice Ages does not deal with historic themes, but creates moods that make the listener feel as if he would be in a dark future which is far away from present times. And that’s the common thing between black metal and Ice Ages. They both don’t take place in the present world and therefore are both the best way to let your fantasy grow. For me dealing with a dark future world is even more inspiring for fantasy as you are even free from history and can imagine anything you want. When I hear Ice Ages, I often think about a world after humanity, where only the machines remain and rule the world. But that’s of course just my view on it and as music is something totally subjective and any listener will imagine something different in it.

Some have said that death metal and black metal use “narrative” composition, where a series of riffs are motifs that evolve toward a passage between states of mind for the listener. Is this true, and if so, how is it reflected in your songwriting?

If music is considered as narrative then it’s rather a matter of the lyrics than of the music. I know that musicians often want to tell stories just with music, but I think without lyrics that does not work. For example if folk metal bands sing about the nature of their country they surely feel those images in their music but if I would play that music to my mother she what rather say “oh, what evil noise music from hell” and surely not “oh, what a nice landscape I imagine when I close my eyes” :-) music is always totally subjective and depending on your preferences you might imagine totally different things to the same music. The lyrics are the only real concrete thing in a song.

As in all of my projects, the lyrics are always the very last thing we add. We always just think in tunes and harmonies and just think how much they can move our hearts but we don’t really think about stories during the song composition process. Only at the end we add this narrative aspect by adding the lyrics.

Now in what way is the lover to be distinguished from the non-lover? Let us note that in every one of us there are two guiding and ruling principles which lead us whither they will; one is the natural desire of pleasure, the other is an acquired opinion which aspires after the best; and these two are sometimes in harmony and then again at war, and sometimes the one, sometimes the other conquers. When opinion by the help of reason leads us to the best, the conquering principle is called temperance; but when desire, which is devoid of reason, rules in us and drags us to pleasure, that power of misrule is called excess. Now excess has many names, and many members, and many forms, and any of these forms when very marked gives a name, neither honourable nor creditable, to the bearer of the name. The desire of eating, for example, which gets the better of the higher reason and the other desires, is called gluttony, and he who is possessed by it is called a glutton; the tyrannical desire of drink, which inclines the possessor of the desire to drink, has a name which is only too obvious, and there can be as little doubt by what name any other appetite of the same family would be called; — it will be the name of that which happens to be dominant. And now I think that you will perceive the drift of my discourse; but as every spoken word is in a manner plainer than the unspoken, I had better say further that the irrational desire which overcomes the tendency of opinion towards right, and is led away to the enjoyment of beauty, and especially of personal beauty, by the desires which are her own kindred — that supreme desire, I say, which by leading conquers and by the force of passion is reinforced, from this very force, receiving a name, is called love (erromenos eros).

– Plato, Phaedrus

Like in the late 1970s, metal feels to many people like it has lost direction and become hollow. Is a change in direction needed, and if so, will that come from within metal?

I think the problem about metal is that it became a quite conservative scene that lost its rebellious attitude. True, especially in black metal, the bands still try to shock the audience with political incorrectness etc, but concerning just the music the shock effect is lower than ever before. You have now in the metal scene so many neo-bands. Neo-power metal, neo-death metal, even neo-old school black metal but hardly really something new. To be honest, I have not heard anything that surprised me in the last years of metal, while in the past every step from one metal sub genre to the next one was a huge thunder. I remember when I was used to thrash metal and for the first time heard grindcore / death metal; it was really very shocking and took a while to understand that style. Things like that don’t happen any more in the metal scene. For me the metal sound is some kind of complete and finished and there is not much to add to it. But on the other hand I think that people in the late 1970s also might have thought the same while they were proven wrong in the following decades.

I think metal music is maybe just a bit burned out because music with hard guitars already entered already the mainstream the years before. Apart from very conservative people a super hard guitar chord is no considered as noise as in the past. I remember clearly 15 years ago when I was walking with long hair and a dark metal shirt through the streets I often was considered as a mentally ill decadent maniac by old conservatives; now metal with harsh guitars has become far more socially acceptable.

How do you record Ice Ages material? Have you gone digital, or are you using a traditional studio?

I am a fan of working strictly in digital. The music is created in a digital way and therefore digital recording is the most suitable way for my taste. Meanwhile I even switched to pure software synthesiser and sampler solutions as they are far more powerful and flexible. I really don’t miss those analog days, and enjoy the possibilities to create a fine album just with a PC in a small room and to be able to store several of versions of a song-mix and continue with each of them whenever I like. I don’t miss all those dusty wires on the floor like in the past.

What kind of community (or “scene,” I suppose) is most nurturing to the development of excellent music? Is one required to have a critical mass of artists working in the same area and supporting each other? Or do communities create an expectation of clone music?

I was never really in any community. When I started listening to metal music at the age of 15 I think I was almost the only one who listened to that music in my school and for a long times I did not know a single person that did not consider that kind of music as pure noise. The same goes for dark electronic music; I am not really in contact with people who are into that music as well and I discovered it on my own as well. And I think I don’t need any communities to make my music, I rather prefer the possibilities that keyboards offer to be able to make music alone without being dependent on a band. Of course, I like to talk about music as well, but for me more than two people in a band is often more disturbing than useful and is the reason for many band splits.

I also usually play the songs to others before they are released, but not in order to get comments about the quality of the songs, rather about the sound, which is something more objective than melodies or rhythms. External opinions about something as subjective as musical taste can really limit the creative freedom and confused mind, so I try to avoid it.

Summoning steadily moved from somewhat traditional black metal to a new style where guitars and keyboards were equally important. This was a first for black metal, and opened up a new style. How did you maintain a consistent sound and outlook with the style changing so much?

I don’t think that what you say suits the difference between the debut and the second CD :-)

The debut was quite a pure black metal release with all the typical elements like double bass, and with few keyboard parts; for all other releases your question is valid. I think if a band really know what music it wants to create the surface is not so important anymore. I have a few aspects in my music that are essential for me (like huge songs, multi-layered song structures) that will always be the fundament of my music, so even if I were to use totally different instruments I still would transport the essence of what I like in music. It does not really matter so much if I play the guitars in a rhythmic staccato way as I did on Summoning – Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame or in an opened way as I did with Summoning – Oath Bound as long as I don’t forget about long melodic parts.

If so, is art decoration? Is it propaganda? Or is it a communication between artist and listener? Please explain your choice.

Art can be all of the things you mentioned; it depends on the artist which aspect is valid for him. For some people music is rather a tool to spread messages, for others the music is already the message. I definitely belong to the second group of people and would consider my music as degraded if it would just exist to tell people messages which I could much better relate with words and arguments. The less messages you want to spread with music the more pure the music can be.

Music is for me more like cooking. You cook to get a fine meal which shall tastes brilliant, but I hardly know any cook who wants to spread messages with the food; that’s how it should be with music.

Although I really care about people who listen to my music and write me, and answer each email I get, I don’t see the music as communication between artist and listener because during the song creation process I don’t think about any listeners for a single moment. As explained above, thoughts like that would subconsciously manipulate my music and might turn it into a mainstream direction. I know that lots of people like the music I do where I never care about the taste of the others, so the best way to keep on making music they like is not to care about any other tastes.

The author Kurt Vonnegut famously referred to art as a canary in a coal mine, or a warning signal for society. Other artists, notably romantics, have claimed that art serves a necessary role in celebration of life. still others believe it should celebrate the artist. Where, if anywhere, do these views intersect, and is it possible for art to exist as a discrete one of them and not as an intersection?

As I said I make music just for the sake of music not to spread messages or to change the world, but that does not mean that I don’t care about the world. I care about it very much but I don’t think that the music is the right media for it. But anyway I think that politics, music and life can never be separate. No matter what you do, it’s in a way political as it influences others and therefore the world. For example the fact that in my projects I make music far away from the mainstream expresses my resistance to conformity and sheepness. By creating long songs, I am in opposition to the super fast capitalistic advertisement lifestyle of these days where everything is fast, bright and blinking. I know what I am telling now is not really happening consciously, but that’s how art normally happens.

Anyway, I certainly don’t see my music as celebration of myself. I don’t like arrogance, for example, as arrogance is just a result of narrow mindedness and in most cases of inferiority complexes. For me, it’s completely clear that if I were living in a different time or in a different place my music might not be known at all, or even I might not ever have started making music while others that are totally unknown might now be the well-known ones.

Quorthon of Bathory refers to his music as “atmospheric heavy metal.” What does atmospheric composition offer that the world of rock music, jazz, blues or techno cannot?

For me the question is not atmospheric versus concrete music, but electronic music versus “handmade” music but I think those two differences are related to each other.

Real handmade music like jazz or metal music is more a kind of music that’s made for the musician but it’s not so much composer oriented. Lots of the musical elements you hear there are the result of presenting your abilities as musicians rather than a product of your musical mind. Let’s take super fast double bass drums or super fast progressive guitar solos. Such things cause thoughts like “wow, what a great guy, a true hero, how can he move his feet/fingers so fast,” but they are very often not meant to be a serious musical idea. With electronic music it makes no sense to play super fast double bass drums for example, as this will not impress anyone. You can increase the tempo of any drum endlessly so that the speed of the drums is nothing challenging; the same goes to super fast melody lines. Therefore the challenge of music based on electronic devices can never be to show your bodily abilities, so the ability for composing music is the only thing that remains. All those elements like the slow tempo, the repeating loops, the lack of tempo or bar changes is a result of that electronic aproach and way of thinking.

Do you believe music should be mimetic, or reflect what’s found in life, or ludic, and show a playfulness with life that encourages us to experience it in depth? Do the two ever cross over?

Well, it’s obvious that my music belongs to a style that does not reflect real life. I think both approaches are OK and necessary, but I prefer to use music as something that’s in contrast to normal life. We have real life all the time so I don’t see the need to deal with real life in music as well. Modern technological times are pure logic and quite sober so I think especially in these times completely unreal music is more necessary than ever before. I can imagine that if I were to live in the medieval times where thoughts of people were controlled by religions and mystic beliefs far away from the logical mind, I might would try to make music for real life, but as this is not the case there is no need for that.

What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?

I don’t really think in that distinction.

In the past I got quite angry when all of those conservative classical musicians told the people what’s good, serious and intelligent music, and what’s low, entertaining music. Anything that did not wholly match the strict classical rules of the centuries before was just stupid entertainment, and specifically metal was just some noise for them that makes people stupid. So I associate this distinction very much with conservative arrogance that was always the enemy to metal music. I think all kind of music must be entertaining! Sure the word entertaining has a negative sound, but I mean more that music must cause some kind of fire in your soul, make your heart beat faster or slower, make you shiver, cry or scream depending on the musical style. Anything that really moves the heart must be for me the basic of any music. If there is ever music that people just listen to with a pseudo-intellectual face just to show off with their musical high education but without any passion inside, I would recommend them to stop listening to music because its a waste of time in their cases.

You’ve just released a new Ice Ages album. What’s next — will there be a tour, or are you already at work on new projects?

Due to the long unwanted rest, I had some years before I could not fulfil many musical ideas I had in mind, and now that I am able again to make music I feel all this creativity come back to me in a super mighty fast way. This is the reason why, unlike usual, after a release I am still able to work on songs and don’t need a rest. I already made a new Ice Ages song and seven Summoning song fragments, and am waiting for my co-member to complete them. So I don’t think that the next releases will take a very long time if a serious tragedy doesn’t happen.

I am never focused on tours. With Summoning we don’t play live at all, but with Ice Ages, I gave a concert in Romania (for example) but there are no new concerts planned to far.

In fact, it is absolutely impossible to make out by experience with complete certainty a single case in which the maxim of an action, however right in itself, rested simply on moral grounds and on the conception of duty. Sometimes it happens that with the sharpest self-examination we can find nothing beside the moral principle of duty which could have been powerful enough to move us to this or that action and to so great a sacrifice; yet we cannot from this infer with certainty that it was not really some secret impulse of self-love, under the false appearance of duty, that was the actual determining cause of the will. We like them to flatter ourselves
by falsely taking credit for a more noble motive; whereas in fact we can never, even by the strictest examination, get completely behind the secret springs of action; since, when the question is of moral worth, it is not with the actions which we see that we are concerned, but with those inward principles of them which we do not see.

– Immanuel Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals

Thanks to Protector for an informative interview. You can discover his work here:

Summoning
Ice Ages

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Classical Music for Metalheads

Classical music offers what everyone secretly wishes metal would: an unbroken cultural tradition untamed by the modern whore, untouchable by the mediocre tools who seem to thrive in our industrial cities.

Here’s a few favorites:

1. Brahms, Johannes – Get your Romanticism on. Flowing, diving, surging passages which storm through tyrannical opposition to reach some of the most Zen states ever put to music. 4 Symph. (2CD)

2. Respighi, Ottorino – Italian music is normally inconsequential. This has an ancient feeling, a sense of weight that can only be borne out in an urge to reconquest the present with the past. Pines, Birds, Fountains of Rome

3. Saint-Saens, Camille – Like DeBussy, but with a much wider range, this modernist Romantic rediscovers all that is worth living in the most warlike and bleak of circumstances. Symph. 3

4. Bruckner, Anton – Writing symphonic music in the spirit of Wagner, Bruckner makes colossal caverns of sound which evolve to a sense of great spiritual contemplation, the first “heaviness” on record.Romantic Symphony

5. Schubert, Franz – A sense of power emerging from darkness, and a clarity coming from looking into the halls of eternity, as translated by the facile hand of a composer who wrote many great pieces before dying young. Symph. 8 & 9

6. Paganini, Niccolo – Perhaps the original Hessian, this long-haired virtuoso wore white face paint, had a rumored deal with the devil, and made short often violent pieces that made people question their lives and their churches. 24 Caprices

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Why metal needs frontiers

Evolutionary skips like humanity do not occur without the introduction of a radical new method. In the case of humans, it was language, which allowed us to form societies of larger than familial groups, specialize in certain tasks, and so preserve a massive knowledge of tools and methods that would overwhelm any human. As a result, we are smarter chimps with socialization in our blood.

From this origin, it is easy to see why humans crave company, but approach it with an unease rooted in the need to keep a balance over social obligation and personal obligation. Too much obligation to society, and we become Stalinist slaves; too much obligation to the individual, and we become modern Americans shuttling between the shopping mall and the psychologist, wondering why we cannot fill the holes our souls with our rank, our wealth, and the possessions we pile up in our castle retreats before shipping them to third world landfills.

Too many people around us creates a hubbub that drowns out our own thoughts. In such situations, we get overwhelmed and it becomes harder to hear our own minds and memories because as we are concentrating, other voices intervene. It is like having someone talking to you when you type; inevitably, you type pieces of the conversation instead of what you meant to scribe. When we are overwhelmed by socialization, we get beaten down into accepting external trends and ideas as our own thoughts.

Someday this condition will be recognized as belonging to that indefinite area between disease and pathology where alcoholism, drug abuse, promiscuity, compulsive gambling, religious delusion and overeating fall. Just as the right dose of a compound has medicinal effect, but too much is poison, and too little is apathy, we need some degree of socialization: murder is wrong (except when necessary), don’t defecate in the water supply, help your neighbor if her house is on fire.

These thoughts are helpful when we can take them into ourselves as a logical conclusion, and realize their necessity, but when societies get too big and too unequal in the abilities of their populations, large centralized institutions or social movements occur which try to hammer these thoughts into our head. The fine line between “murder without reason creates anarchy” and “murder is bad in an absolute sense, and you’ll go to hell” is where things go wrong. If we get afraid for ourselves, and insist on making ever more rigid rules, we take American individualism and turn it into Stalinist persecution of those who step out of line.

In the same way that suffocation might be viewed as CO2 crowding out oxygen, this social overdose might be seen as nature, abhorring a vacuum as the cliche goes, flooding our minds with the will of others which magnified by the credence we give external objects for their self-evidence, take on a higher weight of appearance than our own thoughts — or observations which, while not our own, ring true with what we know from experience and analysis. Civilization can drown us in what makes it strong, which is its support network for us.

Nature thrives on complexity, and like most patterns in nature, this sequence of logical events is repeated in any situation where individual brains must form one brain for the purpose of supporting greater knowledge. One such case is that of musical genres, especially those which derive much of their power from their claim that they are an alternative view to the dominant cliche, which may be either Stalinism or Americanism, or the hybrid of the two mentioned above. Neither Stalin nor Americans invented these two extremes; they are repeated patterns formed by the constraints of nature itself in the task of uniting individuals to perform the functions required for civilization.

When such patterns form in a musical genre, equality results, because when there are too many people in a cycle they make an unspoken agreement to treat each other equally so that none are seen as aggressors. This is similar to Americanized Stalinism in that it is the fear of the individual which motivates a stronger society with more rigid rules, such that the rules themselves become the goal, instead of the avoidance or promotion of consequence that the rules were intended to cause. Fear is the cause, and the result is a type of negative thinking that presupposes bad consequences to justify radical and extreme actions taken against its possibility. As the negative thinking spreads, it dominates every form of social and political discourse, and becomes accepted as a fact of civilization itself and not an option.

This negative thinking aims to nullify possible threats instead of treat the source of threat, so it has a neutralizing effect, and soon standards lower. From the best of civilized intentions, collaboration, we produce unending compromise. The compromise arises from our fear of transgressing against well-intentioned but rigid rules, and because the rules are irrational, all other thinking becomes irrational. The individual becomes the root of all justification, and so even if the individual produces mediocrity, there is a demand that all respect that individual for the sole reason of he or she being an individual — otherwise, the negative thinking is violated, and we all will descend into anarchy (the thinking goes).

In an artistic genre, this results in tolerance for all artists which means an information overload so great that none can rise above the crowd. As a result, you have many people happy to have achieved mediocre success, because that’s where 99% of all artists are going anyway, and 1% of the artists who could do better standing alone, longing for a frontier. All suffer because they can’t promote this 1%, because those are the superstars who keep new people coming into a genre, which is necessary because fans age and drop out or die. However, they prefer on an individual level to be rockstars of their block instead of allowing others to be recognized artists who lead.

This pattern repeats itself time and again. It’s how nature sloughs off the dead and dying before they actually exterminate itself, kind of like the sudden summer colds the gods wisely designed to erode the elderly population (think quickly: die for months in a hospital bed, or get the sniffles, go to sleep and kick off in a matter of hours? if the two were methods of execution, we’d quickly decide the latter was more “humane”). If any society cannot find a balance between individual and collective, it tends toward the extremes, becomes rigid and collapses into the kind of third-world entropy we see in the ruins of past superstar civilizations and, hehe, black and death metal today.

One on extreme, in black and death metal, you’ve got the “let’s be one unit” people, or Stalinists, who call themselves “true” but are true to looking like they’re the past, but not understanding, because they’re actually there to be rockstars of the block (note that the first pose adopted by rockstars of the block is humility; it lets them manipulate other people into supporting their own mediocrity, under the guise of “helping one another” and when no one’s looking, taking advantage of the situation; a community of rockstars of the block would rapidly starve itself: “I swear, Jimbo, there was a whole bushel of grain there we were going to share! I don’t know how it got so small, but let’s split it anyway”). The faux true contingent of death metal and black metal bands take the past, put it in a blender, and then drift toward whatever their childhood influences were, which is what they were going to do anything. As a result you have Suffocation-style death metal with black metal choruses mixed into what sounds, at its core, like a Def Leppard ballad. You should buy it because it’s unique.

The other extreme are those who want to embrace the crowdthink through individualism people, or Americans, who want to make that uniqueness be the central feature of the music, but they also tend to play exactly what their childhood influences were, and spend a good deal of time neurotically trying to cover it up. To them, good music has a combination of instruments, images, or quirks never done before, so they specialize in making funk-based death metal with black metal face paint and electric tuba solos. These combinations are inherently unstable, and if you listen carefully, you can hear the Def Leppard peeking through underneath. These musicians deal exclusively in re-combined aesthetic, but never change the structure, form, or musical language of the music. It remains Def Leppard, cut up by jazz breaks and horn solos, grindcore blast beats and disco choruses.

Both extremes share one thing in common: Because the music they make is blatantly ludicrous, and at its essential level unremarkable and in fact in agonized neurotic contortions to hide its ordinariness, the “artists” adopt a pose of self-reflexive irony: “It’s supposed to be entertainment, and between you and me, most of them don’t get it. We’re laughing at ourselves! The people in the audience who know the hip joints are laughing with us, at themselves and ourselves. It’s a big, UNIQUE, party!” Unfortunately for humanity, most people are barely entering maturity when they start listening to this stuff, and it can take them another decade to take a long hard look at what they were listening to, cough, and throw in the towel. At that point, most are so cynical they expect all forms of potential truth or vision to be scams, and so embrace a Gene Simmons-style “it’s all entertainment, don’t take it so seriously” attitude. Doubly unfortunate is that they approach religion and taxes with the same attitude.

The interesting thing about patterns however is that they do not have a central controller. Instead, they emerge from a situation when multiple conditions are correct. The horde of people making stupid music would like you to believe that at some point, the hand of G-d descended upon Earth and wrote in clear Spanglish that all metal must be insincere, and either imitate the past or combine motley cliches to make a new horror of self-analytical but unprofound music. Like all things in the modern time, the pattern of clueless music emerges when a genre makes a name for itself, and then the hordes of bored kids accustomed to being lied to in the suburbs surges into the genre with the assumption that it should be as lie-ridden, popularity-dominated, and self-marketing like their parents as every other media they encounter is.

Ocean streams are another example of emergent patterns. They flow a certain way because that way is the path of least resistance for water to flow, guided by gravity and tides, shaped by shorelines and underwater formations, channeled by differentials in temperature; the paths of ocean streams are not inherent, but appear again and again because the needs of their waters are met by the situation. It’s like horses and open barn doors: you don’t need to tell them to leave, because any creature cooped in a barn wants to leave and will do so, given (a) an aperture and (b) the promise of relative impunity in escape.

What is common about emergent systems is the need for an attractor, which can either be something valuable (atoms bonding with atoms to form stable molecules) or something empty, like a void or frontier (horses rushing toward open barn door). There is in nothingness always possibility; in somethingness, there is safety, but at the expense of variability. It’s like picking a boring day job over a more chaotic self-employment, or choosing to be a domesticated dog instead of a wolf, filling your head with television instead of thinking, or deciding to stay single instead of risking a relationship in which real work must be required. Metal music requires a frontier, unfilled in nothingness, so it can have space to expand.

In this however we see the parallel roles of creation and destruction. For creation to occur, there must be empty spaces but these are only acquired through the removal of something that exists. This principle underlies both natural selection and our tendency toward, in boredom, smashing boring things. When there is too much somethingness, we must make nothingness by removing that which is and is also unsatisfying. For example, if we burned every death and black metal recording but that top slice of really profound works, would the genre be stronger or weaker? Weaker in quantity, stronger in quality, with lots of empty space in which others can visualize their musical/artistic dreams being fulfilled.

Underground metal flourished in a brief period of frontier. Indie labels were a creation of the 1980s when, with digital recording technology becoming affordable just around the corner, printing plants began to more widely open up the new digital technology of compact discs to smaller businesses. As it became possible to print just a few thousand CDs, it became possible to run a small label without it being a complete financial loss, and so indie rock and eventually, indie metal (known as underground metal: thrash, death metal, black metal, grindcore, doom metal) expanded. To distance themselves from mainstream rock, and to compensate for their lack of big bucks for flashy studios, both indie rock and underground metal embraced a gritty aesthetic that made them unpalatable to the average consumer.

However, the average consumer wants to buy something that is intangible, which is that hipness or cachet of authenticity of which rock writers rave. This is why white kids bought forbidden “race music” called the blues, even though it was essential Celtic-Germanic folk music repackaged with a constant beat and gritty vocals. This is why punk music grew rapidly once people living boring lives saw it as a chance to walk on “the other side.” This is why freaks of nature and often pointless artist from Klaus Nomi to Insane Clown Posse have always attracted an audience, because they’re “unique” and “different.” The history of rock music is of one undending scam that sells inferior music to bored kids who are seeking an alternative to the staid social lifestyle of compliance that they see in their parents, who because of their dysfunctional attitudes, treat their children like objects and are consequently covertly hated.

In metal, this desire for the other side manifested itself in Pantera making death-metal-like albums for the real meatheads out there, Cannibal Corpse making a parody of death metal (later parodied by art rock band Fetid Zombie) that had enough groove and bounce for the masses, and eventually, in boutique black metal like Ulver and trend-oriented death metal like Opeth, as well as a horde of “blender bands” who throw past successes into a blender, make an incomprehensible melange, and then wrap it around the same three-chord boring moron rock music that has afflicted the “culture” of industrialized nations since the 1950s.

Frontiers are the antidote to this, but they must begin in destruction. Idiots will tell you destruction is bad, because in their view, more metal means more power in metal. However, life is a science of pattern organization, and this is why patterns of higher organization (complexity) trump those of lower organization; this is why one Beethoven outshines 6,000,000 rock bands and forces their fans into denial of their inferiority. Idiots naturally feel defensive when they develop the resulting inferiority complex, so they come up with endless insincere excuses for why they should continue to listen to stupid music instead of facing reality and finding better music: we like it, it’s unique, every person has musical taste that is unrelated to their mental capacity, it’s our right to like garbage if we want, stupid music is more profound because it has a perspective contrary to the ruling classes, and so on. It’s all mental chewing gum that will keep a brain noshing, trying to find the substance, until it realizes that these statements are broken tautologies of the form “this is important because it claims to be important,” and then moves on.

Artists long for frontiers because they understand the odd relationship between creativity and power. We all want to feel power in life so we can think that our time was well spent as we lie on our deathbeds, and before, as we question daily whether we should keep going. Power is felt by having the ability to change things for the better, and this ability is afforded by looking at life, understanding the rules of nature, and using our creativity to find a way to work greatness within those rules. Freedom is not the answer, because freedom in human minds means no rules, which means our creativity has nothing to chew on, so we make garish “unique” and uniquely useless melanges instead. For creativity to thrive, we need an empty space in which to exert our power, like ancient men approaching their fields and streams and leaving behind farms and windmills irrigating them.

For those who want a frontier in metal, the path is clear. We must laugh at the now-dead past of fifteen years of unsuccessful metal which was “good enough” but never really good, and as we laugh, smash it aside. We do not need greater numbers. We need better fighters. We need bands on the level of Black Sabbath, Slayer, Morbid Angel, Burzum and Gorguts in order to make for ourselves a new space in which healthier metal can grow. For those of us who are not active musicians, this starts in intolerance of garbage music, progresses to its destruction, and then manifests itself in the tolerance of a gardener: we accept everything, but ignore all but the exceptional, and since we water that exceptional and nurture it, we let nature carry off the rest to an early death. This is both natural selection and common sense: if you tolerate everything, you will never have great things, but if you focus on the great, you will bring more of it upon yourselves.

Metal exists in a dual state of brain/body because of its hybrid origin in soundtracks/rock music, even though it was a fundamental rebellion against the careless hippie music of the time which introduced non-solutions as a good way to stay oblivious and justify personal profit, sexual conquest and hedonism despite the obvious need for hard work to resurrect a confused and dying civilization. Metal brought us back to the heavy, but because people living pointless lives like easy solutions and would like to think that buying a CD means they can “walk on the wild side” and feel OK with their mediocrity, it fights this dual nature. It’s 25% Demilich-Burzum fans, and 75% Cannibal Corpse-Skinless fans. However, as the morons fill every available space with garbage, there’s room for the 25% to return in vengeful fashion, mocking and burning the stupid, and opening up a frontier horizon for exploration.

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Sanity and Metal

There’s two ways to look at sanity.

If I’m starting a band, and I’m a realist, I see a bleak future. Thanks to technology, life always gets more expensive. You have tools to save time, but they cost more, so you either earn cash or go into the ghetto and work food service for the rest of your life. So if you’re starting a band, it needs to be a career. Make songs many people want to hear. Make money from those songs. Then you can be a musician your whole life.

On the other hand, there’s another kind of sanity. If you’re going to be a musician, you recognize there’s two levels to that: being able to play music, and being able to create — write — music that is evocative and powerful. Of course, the masses want distraction from living in ghettoes, so you’re not going to demean yourself by making that. Instead, you’ll make great art, and feed your soul if not your body. You might even find a way to sell enough of it to live on the fringes of the ghetto.

Both perspectives are valid. However, the first leads to a society chasing its own tail in decline, and the second leads toward building something greater which will continue to get better, and may transcend its meanspiritedness enough to no longer be a ghetto/rich whore division. Metal is fundamentally geared toward the latter because metal is about taking something that is offensive to most people (loud noise, heavy dark topics, bassy violence) and making it into something beautiful, even if most people are blind to that beauty because they fear it. The metal way is nto following the sheep.

Now do you see why there’s such a binary division between true bands and sell outs?

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Why “Christian metal” is an oxymoron

Any genre of music can be said to have an ideology, or ideological range. The musicians and fans had to pick the music because it sounded like something they wanted in their lives. With a really dumb genre, that would be distraction or posing like a slacker or a pimp. With more complex genres, the aesthetics and organization of the music suggest ideals people desire. For metal, the aesthetic — finding beauty in dischordant darkness — and organization — a “riff salad” that narrates like a poem — suggests a rejection of the human perspective for a more holistic reality.

It is this style of metal, from its first riffs derived from the modernist-classical-lite melodies of horror movie soundtracks, which, by eschewing fixed “meaning” for a sense of fitting together as a whole and having an architectonic clarity as the songs, shows us a world from the perspective of a movie, or a scientist, or history: the camera pans back and we no longer think of individuals involved as being important in their own right. We think of the story, the situation, and the outcome, but with our knowledge we cannot be limited to an anthropocentric position.

This is how, without even reading the lyrics, we can tell what metal has in the way of values and worldview, which if you believe in them enough to think they’d make a good organization for civilization, you call an “ideology.” The ideology of Britney Spears is “what the hell, who cares”; the ideology of jazz is cosmopolitanism; the ideology of techno is vibrant distraction; the ideology of classical music is a respect for intensity and attention span. All forms of art have some form of ideology, although sometimes it is hard to recognize because it is subtle or, in many cases, non-challenging (see “Britney Spears” some words ago).

The Metal Ideology

With a little more analysis, we can enumerate the metal ideology as follows:

  • Feral naturalism – Horror, predation, violence, and battle are praised for their intensity as experience and their power. Morality is thrown away in favor of this appreciation for the mechanisms of reality.
  • Technofutilism – As in horror films, technology and social institutions are useless for dealing with the problems we face.
  • Realistic individualism – The wisdom of crowds is feared and seen as false, since they pander to each other (poseurs, sell-outs). However, the individualist is realistic and so knows that everyone in a crowd is an individualist, and that’s how a crowd forms.
  • Nihilism – Morality is a human imposition, as are value and purpose. Nature doesn’t care what happens to us, and neither do the gods. We’re in the driver’s seat and whether we sink or swim is 100% up to us.
  • Holism – There is a frustration with the tendency of modern society to break down experiences and concepts by using exclusive logical OR operations in a categorical context; it is either a truth OR an opinion, but can’t be both, and so on. Metal is a genre of logical AND, in that it sees all of our judgments as attributes and reality as the only arbitrer.
  • Ludic, absurdist materialism – In a metal view, we are only fleshy bodies and we can have transcendent thoughts, but we will always be what we are. From that, we can clear aside pretense and enjoy life, which is inherently absurd, gross, terrifying, crass, insane and beautiful, the most rational design ever, rewarding.

Evidence for each of these assertions can be found in metal lyrics, imagery and through a thoughtful perspective on the sounds and structures used in metal songs. You could claim “the past is alive” and “only death is real” as good starting points, but even early Black Sabbath lyrics have the romanticist, naturalistic, holistic and nihilistic tendencies that create the above values system. In this, metal bands are not dissimilar to European Romantic poetry and classical music, which was also post-moral, saw the individual as a means and not an end, nationalistic, and playful.

Christianity, on the other hand, is more complex because it is open to wide interpretations. Narrowing in on what most people believe, we can see it has several basic tenets, originating in its idea of individual equality in the eyes of God. To a metalhead, this interpretation of Christianity seems anti-nature, because we are not equal in ability and any interpretation of equality is a human imposition that does not exist in nature; further, metalheads distrust the creation of alternate realities like God, heaven and hell. Not all interpretations of Christianity have these tenets, and some in fact are closer to what metal believes (the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Johannes Eckhart or Arthur Schopenhauer come to mind). But for the mass religion that conquered much of Europe, these are its beliefs:

  • Dualism – Christianity believes in a second reality that exists outside of this one. This reality, in which there is pure moral “good,” is called Heaven and we are supposed to impose it on earth; Hell exists in this same spirit realm.
  • Morality/peace/benevolence – In Christian lore, the best possible method of living is one that is peaceful, as that way you do not interrupt others. To a metalhead, this is ridiculous because people can be doing things that while not explicitly immoral cause bad consequences, and so of course you interrupt them.
  • Discrete individualism – Christian dogma supports the idea of the individual as absolute in that they are to be granted as much freedom as possible, and can be judged only by God, and should be forgiven when they screw up. This is to a metalhead imposition of the will of the Crowd on the individual and a type of slavery, as it retards those who do have a clue from acting to keep the clueless from dominating via superior numbers.

The common root of these Christian beliefs is humanism, or belief in the predominance of the human form and its incarnations, individuals. The Christian God is shaped like a human; Christian morality rewards never harming or killing humans even if they’re doing insane things; Christian morality emphasizes how we’re all equal. We can see how the elaborate dance of morality and theology supports a much simpler human truth, which is the desire of the ego of each one of us to be independent from forces which can humble it with reality. We want to be free from the consequences of making bad decisions and the social judgment of others, because either can show us to be incorrect or to have a weakness, and that scares us in a social setting and makes us lose social status. The root of Christianity is affirming the ego’s power; the root of metal is affirming the power of nature and by unintentional consequence, decreasing the supremacy of the ego.

Romanticism

Romanticism, the parent belief of metal, originates in a more naturalistic time before beliefs like Christianity separated the self-valuation of the human individual from nature, and gave them an imaginary reality (morality) with which to compensate. Although Christianity means well, the unintended consequence is that it makes people more selfish because instead of just trying to live their lives, they are now trying to prove and justify their worth in a moral context. The resulting drama creates many social problems because it ultimately boils down to a denial of reality in favor of individual withdrawl from reality, and it creates neurosis and ego competition.

For this reason art — which tries to affirm our bonds to reality, or through unitivity remove us from false worlds and the withdrawl into our own perspective — has been at odds with society for at least a millenium, perhaps longer. Where social control, power, law and religion require external affirmation for the individual to justify themselves, art confronts the accepted vision of reality with a fantasy that is metaphorically more accurate than the “scientific” and “objective” beliefs of a dying society. Art reconnects us with cause/effect reasoning by taking us out of a false context, and through a new context, showing us where our values lie.

Both Romanticist art and metal are therefore in conflict with Christianity as 99% of its audience practices it, and they have run into additional conflict through Christian propaganda trying to emulate the original art forms. When a Christian or secular humanist (atheistic version of Christian morality) sees metal, which is a value system that not only denies their own but makes it look like an arbitrary fantasy into which people escape their fear of mortality and failure, they have a tendency to do what any good propagandist would do: make their own version of the art in question, and then point to that new creation which did not emerge from the artistic movement but was imposed upon it, and use its existence to claim that consensus does not exist in the artistic movement.

We call this imposed, false, externalized metal “Christian metal” because its defining factor is that it is Christian. It is not a genre, but can appear in any genre; it is an ideological tag with a parallel in neo-Nazi music in that what matters most is its message, and it uses metal as a conduit for that message, instead of wanting to create metal for metal’s sake and therefore explore the values of metal.

A History of Christian Metal

Metal is a romanticist movement which was inspired by the classical era of European humanity, including as part of its view many Romantic philosophical ideals which are pre-Christian in their derivation and anti-Christian in their values.

  • Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath were originally a blues band who later shifted to metal to reflect an interest in the occult. After three albums in which massive drug use and public outcry over their beliefs battered them down, they created an album which had several pro-Christian songs. This does not necessarily reflect their beliefs, nor is likely to do so, but illustrates the confusion and doubt they encountered at the time and the religion of their youth to whose programming they returned. Further, their songs which had a “warning” about the occult were a product of their having an interest in occultist themes, but not necessarily a propagandistic outlook on it (where in contrast, every single “Christian metal” band that has ever existed has taken a preachy, condescending, demagogic tone toward their audience).
  • Metal – Metal, in Black Sabbath and related bands of that era including King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, and Blue Cheer, reflected a tendency toward darker worldviews which could best be described as Romanticist in the spirit of the literature, art and music of the post-Renaissance in which artists disaffected with the humanism of the time sought a greater meaning than a moralization to existence through art. Poets like Keats, Wordsworth, and Shelley were a revolution against a secular Christian movement in which, despite little talk of afterlife and spirituality, a tendency existed for the first time in European art to preach a secular morality to which one adhered or drifted into the ambiguous, obscure and “evil.” The works of those poets and others from the modern Romanticist movement were invoked by the similar themes of early proto-metal bands, including a fascination with the morbid and with ancient times, a desire for transcendence within the world itself, a ruthless sense of self-discipline and heroic character, and a desire for more significance in life itself more than a concern for post-death salvation.After some years of heavy metal, the movement had solidified much of its artistic technique but had degenerated into hedonism, and fortunately was able to merge with the more dogmatic punk to form the first generation of speed metal. These bands were alarmingly preachy and leftist and as a result quickly self-destructed, prompting the extreme side of metal to go “underground” and dispense entirely with morality and, in the lead of heroes like Bathory and Slayer, who arguably invented the next generation, to preach an imaginative, Romantic “Satanic” outlook which like Black Sabbath was more fascinated with the occult than with preaching its values. The music of Slayer for example uses metaphorical Satanism to describe the errors and horrors of war, disease, violence and crime. Following these bands was a genre made more alienated by the increasing failures of society to recognize its error, and made somewhat bitter by the increasing resentment rising from a society (America at least) that in 80% of its members found an affinity for Judeo-Christian beliefs. Death metal and following it, black metal, as a result were more violent and more dogmatic toward Christ and Judea; part of this was inherited from their “hidden” ancestors in hardcore punk music, who as part of their alienated nihilism recognized religion as the social control mechanism which many of us allege it is.

    From the No Right to Disagree With Us Department:

    The national poll of 1,000 American adults conducted April 26 through May 6, 2002 found that 17% of Americans – or about 35 million adults – hold views about Jews that are “unquestionably anti-Semitic.” source

    With the state of metal now, virtually every formative band in the underground has taken a negative stance on Christianity (and many have attacked Judaism and Islam as well). This is a result of the evolutionary process within the genre detailed above. Times have changed since Black Sabbath, and to a perceptive youth of today the strengthening role of religion and secular moral symbolism derived from religion is not only clear but alarming. Consequently, the most popular metal genre ever, black metal, is unanimous in its destructive impulses toward Christianity and its parent religion, Judaism from the middle east.

  • Why Christian metal is destructive – The Christian — or to a philosopher, humanist, whether secular or ecclesiastical — worldview is the underlying outlook of our society. That means that anything which is not Christian or secular humanist is the rarity, not the other way around. Christians confuse a lack of symbolic agreement with Christianity — saying “I am a Christian” or similar — with a lack of agreement. Essentially, secular humanism and Christianity are the same philosophy and they’re what all but a few people in our society take for granted as “correct.”With this in mind, it makes almost no sense that Christians would attempt to subvert metal for their own dogma, yet they attempt it because symbolically, metal is threatening to the Christian outlook because it endorses a theory in which good and evil are necessary balance, yet does not endorse true “evil” (selfish, deconstructive, callow acts). We should be cynical toward the Christian metal perspective and question it at all times, because it is paradoxical for the following reasons:
    • First, if people should write about what they really believe in, why should they spread the dogma of a religion that they didn’t invent?
    • If they really believe this religion, then metal – as a movement with overwhelming occultist, nihilistic, fascistic overtones – is something they should avoid. Why would they choose to join a genre which contradicts what they believe?
    • Is there no greater “trend” than the 2,000 years in which Judeo-Christian religions have been gaining prominence in the west? What is “un-trendy” about following the same religion that at least 80% of the people in your country follow?
    • Why should metal desire “a lot more of the youth” to be interested in it, if conformity is not our goal? Metal is like many genres self-selecting, and does not aim to be broad. By your logic, we should start making music like Britney Spears (except with a Christian message!) in order to get a wider audience.
    • How can one “truly feel” something which one has to be taught in order to regard it as true? A man raised alone in the forest may invent a religion, but perhaps not the whole dogma of Christ.

    There is obviously more to be said along these lines of questioning, but it’s not necessary here. I’d like to close by mentioning something else: that every single “Christian metal” band that has ever existed has been a poor copy of a “secular” band. Even the most popular, “Believer,” were a ripoff of an Atheist album coming out a year earlier. The separate nature of “Christian metal,” and that the genre itself draws a clear distinction between “secular” and religious music, demonstrates how Christians view “Christian metal”: a tool for preaching acceptable lyrics into a genre that has otherwise on the whole rejected Christ.

In 1990, ninety percent of the adult population identified with one or another religion group. source

In our current time, Judeo-Christianity is not only dominant in social thinking but has become secularized and dominant there as well. Prior to Judeo-Christianity’s arrival, concepts such as “morality” and “equality” and dualism were rejected by the inhabitants of Europe as insane or alien. After years of slowly working its way into that culture, Christianity became the dominant religion through its influence among the poor, the downtrodden, the pathetic, the less-capable and the spiteful. Currently, Judaism and Christianity are the dominant religions in America and most of the Western World. For example, both presidential candidates in the last election spoke extensively of their relationships to “God” and of the “morality” of their ideas, including vice-Presidential candidate Joseph Liebermann who considers himself “the moral voice of the Senate.”

“From these two religions we find at least all of our last ten presidents and their ancestors, and among the believers we find the owners of every major media establishment in the country as well as most of the smaller ones. Virtually every Congressperson has prominently featured in his or her campaign propaganda the Christian or Jewish nature of his or her morality, and most television anchors will make reference to secularized Christian moral concepts or the Judaic “God” in the midst of a supposedly objective broadcast. Before Judeo-Christianity, these concepts did not exist in the Western world; their sole origin is in the religions of Christ and Moses (who were both born Jewish).

This article is not an attempt to smear the people ensnared by these sick ideas; on the contrary, I view them as “victims” also in that their consciousness has had a control mechanism implanted within it. This goes for secular people like yourself, who in good faith sit down and write me a letter like the one quoted above in which you espouse humanist ideals of “individual choice” and “belief.” In the cases of believers however, those ideals do not exist; what does exist is conformity to an ideal of social control, and metal rightly rejects it.

Christians see themselves as very tolerant of people of other faiths, with 81% of Christians saying that Christians in the United States are “very” or “somewhat” tolerant of people of other faiths. People who are not Christians agree with this view for the most part, but not nearly as many of them are fully convinced of Christian tolerance. Only 54% of non-Christians see Christians as being tolerant of people of other faiths. source

Another Form of Humanism: Satanism

Satanism in black metal, death metal, “doom metal,” heavy metal, evil metal, speed metal, thrash and grindcore/metal hybrids arises from the need of metal musicians to understand emptiness in the universe and find a metaphor for its acceptance, a trait in evidence in death metal, black metal, heavy metal and ambient metal to extremes. Much like Romantic poets John Milton or William Blake explored the occult, evil and Satan as metaphor, metal bands find Satan a tempting metaphor for a society against which you can rebel without escaping its psychological trap.

Many of society’s abused denizens, looking at the over-the-top exultation in Satanism, Evil, deviant or degenerate behavior in metal, find themselvs turning back in disgust: “Awk! These kids are just trying to piss me off – contrarians, they only want to invert what is, and to create attention for themselves.”

One could not be more wrong. Contrarians wish to behave “badly” to grab the attention that comes from swimming the wrong way up the stream, but to get that attention, they depend on a cousin of pity: the belief that those who choose a different path are lost and looking for the others to bring them back in to a hearth of comfort and goodness. In short, a contrarian affirms the belief system she is rejecting.

Satanism, as practiced by death metal and black metal bands, does not involve an inversion but a surpassing of moral norms and social custom. To understand this, one must first understand the nihilism of metal bands: they do not believe there is “good” or “evil,” but see events as disconnected from any form of absolute other than their inherent function – that is to say, metal bands believe that events do not have a face value and instead view existence with a scientific eye that traces a complexity of causes, reactions, and similarities but does not attempt to ascribe any of it to absolute forces except logical tendencies.

Where Satanism exists for metal bands it functions as metaphor in following the footsteps of the Master: in each mythology where he touches, the Satan-figure is the youthful and ambiguous rebel who rejects what has come before in favor of his own path, and despite his consequent exile from society, finds truth in what he has created and found. The cry from Milton of Satan’s independence – “I will not serve!” – echoes in a genre that insists on finding out its own answers, and creating its own paths, on an individual basis. Unfortunately, that leads to the ego-basis of Christianity and secular humanism, and shortly afterwards, the sickening morals that constrain begin again.

Resistance

You can strengthen the genre of metal by resisting this form of social control in form of boycotts, public awareness of its true intention, and a refusal to accept it as metal. If it is played on the radio, call in to speak the truth about its agenda. If a friend plays it on a stereo, speak out against the controlling mindset of the music. If someone tells you that it’s “open-minded” to accept music that attempts to destroy the philosophies of the genre to which it theoretically belongs, tell them that art does not reprogram human souls toward giving in to a fear of death, and that true metal will liberate them from their fear of existence.

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History of the band Mayhem

Like a dark breath of forbidden fantasy, black metal came into a world of orderly containers and sprayed them with foaming blood, black bile, and most of all a poisonous uncertainty about the safely egalitarian but boring lifestyle of the first world. In this genre, Mayhem were the band that by sheer persistence evolved into being one of the founders of the new black metal style, but only after years of thrashing in the dark and confusion of the fatalistic tendencies that eventually brought the band to artistic collapse.

Formed in the early 1980s by Oystein Aarseth, or Euronymous, the band released two demos which built upon what Bathory and Celtic Frost had achieved by making it more minimal, less coherent, and less friendly to the ears; in truth, the first anti-social music. The latter of these, “Pure Fucking Armageddon,” had attributes of extreme crustcore infused into its fractured heavy metal stylings, bringing criticism from a metal world which was then just beginning to accept Morbid Angel, Kreator, Destruction and others as a new form of “music.”

As time went on, two important things happened: first, Mayhem released “Deathcrush,” their first release and the best snapshot of the musical style they were attempting to produce, and second, the vocalist “Dead” [Per Yngwe Ohlin] from the Swedish band Morbid joined Mayhem to replace previous vocalist Maniac. The underground was slow at first to embrace the newer music, but soon there was a firm niche carved out for Mayhem: those who rejected the desire for logicality, in the modernist style, that death metal represented. As Euronymous said, “Black Metal is so extreme that not anyone can get into it. This isn’t any funny hobby which stupid kids shall have after they comes home from school.”

With the introduction of Dead, the conceptual impetus behind the band changed, and soon the blocky and deliberately awkward music of “Deathcrush” was metamorphosizing into a sleeker, melodic variant with more dynamic change in the songs, producing different “settings” to tell a tale, somewhat like a micro-opera in harsh guitars and howling vocals. Similarly, the appearance of the band went from t-shirts and jeans to black clothing, black boots and facepaint – corpsepaint – in black and white. In concert, Dead cut himself onstage, surrounded by the carcasses and heads of slaughtered animals. A full rejection of the positivity, pity and focus on individual lives of democratic humanism, the new appearance and music of Mayhem emphasized the bold, terrifying, morally ambiguous and deathlike in life itself. To understand it, one had to realize that the passion given to the music was an affirmation of life, but a different form of life, than that endorsed by the nominally Christian Nordic countries.

With this change, the following of Mayhem increased, especially as their recognizably different image placed them ahead of other musical efforts in the world of metal as less socialized and thus more extreme. Mayhem played a series of concerts across Europe, but recording and songwriting were sporadic, thus little material emerged from this period. At the end of it, Dead, in a moment of nihilism and darkness in 1991, slashed both his wrists and blew out his brains with a shotgun, leaving only a note: “Please excuse all the blood.” Euronymous, upon returning to the band’s shared dwellingspace to discover the cold corpse, took pieces of the brain and integrated them in a stew of ham and vegetables for the pleasure of eating human flesh; the band’s drummer, Hellhammer, took pieces of the shattered skullcap and made them into a necklace. As if a primitive ritual, the members of Mayhem paid their respects in death as in life: with coldness, feral opportunism, and a denial of any “sanctity” or “feelings” toward life, even that of a friend and collaborator. As Euronymous said later, about his form of “evil,” “It is basically hate to humankind. I have no friends, just the guys I’m allied with. If my girlfriend dies I won’t cry, I will missuse the corpse.”

During this time, Euronymous and his band were instrumental in the forming of a new black metal social group, or “scene,” centered around his record store in Oslo called Helvete [Hell]; the downstairs was a necrotic and bleak excuse for a commercial establishment in which the hatred and disassociation from commercial process was as much a barrier to purchase as anything else, but the upstairs was a practice room where Nazi flags and weapons hung over instruments decorated with inverted crosses. During the daytime, the store was a gathering place for musicians and fans of an anti-social nature; at night, Euronymous indoctrinated those who might be useful to the scene by inviting them to wild parties in which orgiastic appetites for alcohol fueled self-mutilation and eventually, rampant church and graveyard desecration [in Europe and many older American towns, the graveyard surrounds the church – a strangely forthright admission of the role of religion in society!]. Euronymous also started the first record label of the modern black metal movement, Deathlike Silence Productions. While these events stood against everything that Norwegian society of the time valued, authorities were permissive and did not “connect the dots” until far later.

It was at this time that many of extremist views, such as the skinhead-turned-rocker Kristian Vikernes – also performing in Burzum, joined the circle – and joined Mayhem on bass. Vikernes was an interesting counterpoint to those in the association so far; he was a hater of life but, like Dead, had an uncanny passion for life through art, and seemed to value his time in nature, away from people and their imaginary rules. His intent could be summarized in his most clarion statement, “I see Burzum as a dream without holds in reality. It is to stimulate the fantasy of mortals, to make them dream” – a replacement of morality with the über-Romanticist ethos of adventure and heroic classicism. Between the Gothic neoclassicism of Dead and the postmodern Romanticism of Vikernes, black metal became more than a style of music, but an ideological and social tool for change away from a highly regimented, moralistic society. Vikernes again: “We want to create the most possible fear, chaos and agony so that the idiotic and friendly Christian society can break down. We are overall not interested in that the truth comes through. When we spread lies we cause confusion and confusion leads to chaos and at last breakdown. People shall be oppressed and we support everything that oppresses man and takes from him his feelings as free individuals.”

It was part of this denial of the supremacy of the lives of individuals over ideas, emotions and even real-world activities that helped what happened next to occur. Two polar opposites existed in black metal, the fatalism and negativity of Euronymous versus the political and violent doctrine of Vikernes, and these were brought into conflict through the personalities. Vikernes claims Euronymous delayed the release of Burzum albums [on Deathlike Silence] by spending the money instead on degenerate pursuits; Euronymous presumably did not care and was more interested in the upcoming Mayhem release, which was moving slowly because of the personality conflicts in the band. Eventually, reality followed imaginary projections: on the night of August 10, 1993, Euronymous was stabbed to death by Vikernes; of 26 knife wounds, 2 were to the head, five to the neck and 19 to the back. Thus began the projection of Mayhem into legend, since it provided black metal in the modern sense with not only its first model of technique and imagery, but also its first martyrs. Dead was eulogized in a 1992 release, “Live in Leipzig,” which recorded an excessively bloody and violent Mayhem concert in East Germany. Teaming up with Attila Csihar of Tormentor, the remaining members of Mayhem put out “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas,” one of the most impassioned black metal albums released, yet one with its feet firmly grounded in old-school Venom/Bathory heavy metal styles. Their nihilism was so great they left Vikernes’ bass tracks on the album next to the guitar work of the man he killed, claiming in the press to have removed them so not to attract unwelcome attention from his family.

While the lives of its members had mostly run their course, and its most epic work had been produced, at least in conceptual form, before these deaths, afterwards the social and political importance of Mayhem was fully recognized. First, it gave many a central point with which to identify the new movement, and generated a wave of publicity especially in unison with the news of 22 churches burned in Norway, mostly by black metal “Satanists.” Even more importantly, Euronymous himself became a central figure, and his ideas [and those of Dead and Vikernes, who heavily influenced him] became dissected and discussed across the globe. Not only was this influential in the fanbase, but labels and bands worldwide began to see the importance of the new black metal movement: unlike anything from popular music since the 1960s, this was shocking; the people in black metal lived on the edge and fought to the death, something metal bands had always sung about but never acted out, much to the derision of punkers and other underground fans. The image of Helvete – the church of the anti-life – became predominant in the minds of many when conceptualizing new forms of social expression to the anti-oversocialization impetus that black metal and heavy metal share. In the years following the death of Euronymous, the focus he brought to the scene brought it to a dramatic rise and sudden death, as in late 1997 the genre became swamped with commercial bands in the mainstream style.

Mayhem itself continued on in the form of two major works, “Wolf’s Lair Abyss” in 1997 and “A Grand Declaration of War” in 2000, interspersed with numerous live albums and re-releases. where “De Mysteriis…” continues to be their most popular work, “Wolf’s Lair Abyss” is regarded by many as a highly proficient black metal album in the style of Satyricon mixed with old Mayhem, producing something with the same rhythmic thrust as “De Mysteriis” but with less of the operatic lack of total consistency in songs. “A Grand Declaration of War” is more problematic, taking a divergence into math-metal and pseudo-progressive stylings, which creates an album which sounds more like soundtrack than foreground listening, with Marilyn Manson influences in both songwriting and image. Because of this, and other factors such as the vast commercialization of black metal during the last six years, Mayhem is effectively dead in the underground and a small player with a devoted fanbase in the mainstream metal scene at this time. However, for every person who gets into black metal, the chorus of voices suggesting “De Mysteriis…” has an effect, for people continue to buy it at a great rate and praise it as immortal metal music and unmatched spirit in a genre filled mostly with angry people of little imagination.

Regardless of the current tedium of record sales and popularity contests, Mayhem contributed an indelible influence on not only metal, but music of resistance to socialization as a whole. Their ideology – part blank-faced fatalism, part fascism and part feral atavism – was carried upwards by the voices of many who were similarly frustrated with the pity-oriented egalitarian society of the first world, which preached that avoiding death was more important than achieving heroic or passionate things. Against this belief system black metal, and Mayhem most visibly, agitated. “True satanists are superhumans,” stated Euronymous in a now-infamous interview. A few years later, Vikernes gave a clearer view: “Strife is evolution, peace is degeneration.” This did not sit well with not only Christians and Jews, but also many people who had become dependent upon society and its pity toward those who are less-able as a whole, thus raising a cry against black metal as music of “hate” or “intolerance.” While those would clearly like to file black metal into a wholly political category, the raw artistry and imagination of bands like Mayhem make that appear a one-dimensional look at the story. As Ihsahn from fellow Nordic rockers Emperor said, “You’ll never understand me because you sit in the audience at a horror movie. I’m up on the screen.” There is no place in the current society for bands like Mayhem; they are beyond its rules and mental conditioning, and always will be. And for this, wherever anguish at social predominance grinds, there will be new fans of the fundamental works of Mayhem, which not only outlive their creators but will forever be a mythos larger than life itself.

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Permafrost, Gates of Enoch, Vex and Averse Sefira in Austin, Texas

Averse Sefira, Vex, Gates of Enoch and Permafrost
April 9, 2005
Live at the Backroom
Austin, Texas

What is it that makes people become headbangers? After all, it can’t be the material reward. Every person at this show who was identifiably a metal person (for lack of better term) had given up something: jobs that longhairs can’t have, tattoos that scare off landlords, preferences for the loud that keep away friends and potential mates. It can’t be as easy as it seems, even for the high schoolers, who are different from adults mainly in that they don’t have to constantly pacify the system of money and image that drives this sad excuse for a society. They’re probably sick of hearing it from their peers.

Most academics who study metal make a big deal of the concert “ritual,” but this is generally a product of academia itself, which builds upon established ideas and finds it difficult to take new directions, and since academia started its study of rock music with the notion that concerts are a cathartic ritual, they extend it to metal as well. They’re not entirely wrong, but I think they miss most of the metal experience, which begins before the concert. After all, the fans choose which concert they wish to attend, and which bands they pick says a lot about what they’re thinking. This is why metalheads wear tshirts: your taste in bands reflects what you can comprehend, and thus is a good basic guide to the person beneath the shirt.

Before the show, these people decided to become headbangers. The vast majority of metal fans are sluggish minds moving sheeplike toward something that promises what they couldn’t otherwise have, whether it is a spotlight in a local community or a steady pot connection. The few who think tend to be selective about what they hear; it has to have, more than a certain sound, a certain spirit, and these discerning fans eschew that which falls short of their goals. Terms like “sellout” and “trendy” are used as pejoratives to dismiss those that fail. Much as metalheads pay a price for being metalheads, these selective fans pay a price for being choosy within the metal community. But to the concert they come anyway.

It would be hard to give an assessment of metal as a whole, then, but let’s focus on the interesting fans: those who look for something and give a damn. Those are the ones who willingly make sacrifices to their subculture, knowing they will never fit into the mass no matter what they do. They like the bold bands, the ones that step away from repeating the tired cliches and create a world of their own imaginations – a world that possibly looks in some ways enough like this one to be a comment on it. They like the loud, and vigorously assert their intention to deny the foolish and temporary illusions that people drift into. They affirm imagination, but as a basis for it, they also demand reality.

Forget the amateurs posing as “evil.” Look past the posturing people who lack self-confidence and compensate with beer, drugs, or obnoxiousness. In any crowd, there are a few who for reasons inarticulable, know what’s going on. These are the ones you look toward. They show us that there’s a reality to being a Hessian, a reason to stand proud and independent, to cast aside all reality except a few slices of idea expressed in music and to say, this is closest to my ideals. As televisions and politicians alike babble on incoherently, the few who think take their stand, and often do it by picking of the thousands of metal bands the smart ones to support.

This could be seen at tonight’s show, both in positive impression and its inverse. The ones who were there for the music and the spirit were focused on the music, and maybe it approached the ritual described by academes – not a cathartic one, but a ritual of bonding to a certain vision of reality, of affirming it and vowing to live by it. In the photonegative, there were the clueless ones, drifting lost in a haze of beer and awkward, socially retarded actions that are pathetic only to those who know the contrast. When bands took the stage, it was revealing to see toward which audience they played.

Permafrost

In truth, this reviewer did not make it to the venue in time for Permafrost, but can relate secondhand what occurred: this young band were happy for a chance to prove themselves, and showed their passion by working past adversity to get that difficult first big show over with. While the name is terrible, and the music has a ways to go, Permafrost made up for that to some degree with a lack of rockstar attitude and genuine caring about the music. It made the experienced fans glad at least to see that recognition of the reality of metal: adversity is your friend, as in struggling against it, you get better. Those who care about the music value getting better, while others are simply there to look like they’re important. It’s a crucial distinction.

Gates of Enoch

Although this band showed energy and technical poise, there was something missing in the complex puzzle of black metallic art that unites thought and emotion, structure and substance. While clearly they are fine instrumentalists, and can execute complex rhythms and passages with ease, Gates of Enoch linearize the concept of black metal into a rigid and numerical exercise. As a result, their songs have power as parts, but not as a whole, and the sum of the parts is less than the whole as each element leads the whole in a contradictory direction. It makes sense to define art, “objectively,” as a process of communication between artist and listener, and if that is the case, Gates of Enoch communicate disorganization and lack of purpose, without the intent to use that as an artistic statement.

For that reason, the band was able to punch out a competent set that meant nothing to those listening except a few cool riffs. Like most metal music past 1996, the experience was therefore one that was not bad, but was not memorable either, and thus left one feeling an appreciation for the skill of the band but not their vision. Instrumentalism was competent but unsubtle, and this was not demonstrated more effectively than in their choice of covers, a song from later Dissection and “I am the Black Wizards” by Emperor. The Dissection cover, being like Iron Maiden a slightly more informed type of rock music hybridized with metal, went off well and benefitted from their dispassionate regularity in playing; on the other hand, the Emperor cover was a disaster.

Where the point of the original was to have guitars detach themselves in diaphanous fronds of frothy sound from the animalistic battering of drums, and to then develop the song with subtlety, Gates of Enoch slash and bash a rigid and unyieldingly obvious version that while still beautiful misses the gently interwoven emotions of the original delivery. It sounded like a deathgrind band covering Emperor. A similar critique could be applied to their songs: the drummer rode his snare too hard at the end of each phrase, and composition tends to follow a two-step pattern of melodic decoration crashing into percussive anchor riff. Guitarists play like they’re reading tab, but with plenty of energy, which is gratifying. The vocalist clearly listens to a lot of Gorgoroth.

In reality, there are only two types of music reviews: “it’s good” or “needs work,” no matter what permutations we invent to euphemize those extremes. This reviewer is not crafty enough to disguise the truth as I see it and too experienced to lie: Gates of Enoch needs work. I do not say this to discourage them, however; depending on where they are in their development, it is possible they have far better things ahead. My advice to them is to stop studying their black metal favorites as technique, and begin studying them as effects on the listener, working backward to diagnose in that context the function of technique.

Vex

Hybridized from death metal, power metal and black metal, Vex is a band with a great name and plenty of promise, but remains disconnected from producing great art because the focus seems divided between the music and secondary elements. For their age group, these musicians are impressive, having mastered not only playing the notes but a range of techniques to add tension, emphasis and texture to each phrase. However, there’s a lack of artistic consensus, which shows not only in how they perform, but how they compose.

Live, Vex sounds most like a death metal band with black metal elements, although a diverse lineage of metal can be discerned from among their winding riffs. It shows an impressive knowledge of metal, but ties together poorly, being reliant on a duality of elements that unite in chorus and then potentially shift through a series of “unexpected” riff changes to convey to the audience — well, what? Mostly what comes across is the contribution of individuals in the band, or so it seems, as sweet riffs get piled onto one another without regard for the sound as a whole, or any concept of organization to the piece in question.

The vocalist needs to change his sense of rhythm and vocal texture, as currently he sounds like an emo or metalcore vocalist, and the effect is one to offset the already busy rhythmic background with a cadence more appropriate to an Iraq war protest than a metal concert – and for those of you who are thinking about open-mindedness, it also fails to lift or augment the music. Guitar playing is fabulous, as is bass and drums, but their integration is one of mathematical timing and little else. Their stage presence however is energetic and appealing.

Ultimately, Vex is another “needs work.” Rhythmically the band integrates its work fairly well, and thus to most listeners, these disadvantages are not apparent, but over repeated listens, they’ll become apparent. This is not an attempt to discourage, because the impression one gets is that this band is perfectly capable and if they could all agree on what each song they’re writing hopes to express, the raw tools they have at hand are overabundant for the purpose. It reeks like a collision of personalities. This may not come in the form of disagreement, but perhaps too much tolerance for cramming in admittedly excellent pieces, soup style, into what eventually emerges as a formless and indistinct mass of sound.

Averse Sefira

Taking to the stage with customary elan, Averse Sefira stepped out of the blackness and proceded to abrade their audience with slicing aural intensity delivered in a disciplined and natural style. In perhaps one of the fastest black metal sets on record, they performed the entirety of their new work, “Tetragrammatical Astygmata,” followed by an encore of three of their most popular songs from previous albums. Although there were two pauses in the rendering of the new album, and one lengthy break before encore, the songs themselves were ripped out in a martial style at high speed with only a few seconds separating them.

A smooth continuation of previous works, the newest songs from Averse Sefira are, like those on the previous album, “Battle’s Clarion,” a hybrid between the fast melodic work of Immortal and the relentless aggression of maniacal bands like Demoncy, resulting in a type of black metal that uses the foreboding and oppressive speed of death metal in the context of songs which interleave moods through streams of notes changing color like a singing human voice. An addition from the last album is the use of simpler riffs at times, giving the music a primitive and unsettled feel, and the circuitous redirection of song structures to replace repetition with a cycle of gained intensity. It is both highly listenable and challenging in its mystical architecture of symbols, tones, and textures.

Drummer The Carcass has upgraded his technique to use a lighter touch on the drums without dropping precision or helicopter blade cadence, extending his stamina and allowing drums to sound at a volume which integrates more cleanly with guitars. The result is a style less like an execution and more like a battle, allowing the organic ambiguity of rhythmic inflection to smoothly reinforce guitars. Bass playing has reached beyond doubling the riff and now counterpoints it with internal rhythms and explosive underscores, sometimes surging along calmly before degrading into pure noise from which it returns with a mechnical plunge to take up the motif of the riff.

For a band with one guitarist, Averse Sefira create a wall of sound that leaves no doubt as to its allegiance to Apollo and worship of Dionysos, constructed rigidly with plenty of chaos in the naturalistic, erratic rhythms of strumming and the use of Burzum-style sweeps of harmonizing notes, like an underwater arpeggio heard through the resonance of metal and water. Guitarist Sanguine A. Nocturne pauses strategically and then not so much plays but leaps into the guitar, causing it to splinter from silence and rise in dopplerizing melodies which shudder downward like collapsing escarpments. The guitar is both creator of abstraction and death hiding in an open but twilight-shrouded landscape.

The result of this battering ensemble of morbidity and passion was not lost on the audience, most of whom appeared to be motivated specifically to see the headlining band. While there was action and violence in the pit, most eyes were on the instruments and the personae who played them. The band rounded out the show with “Ad Infinitum,” “Battle’s Clarion” and “Fallen Beneath the Earth,” at faster speeds than on the albums, and at that point, an exhausted audience was grateful for their abrupt exit and the fading of the lights.

Bands:
Permafrost
Gates of Enoch
Vex
Averse Sefira

Promotors:
Extreme Texas Metal
Morbid Thoughts
The Backroom

The organization of this show was professional; the club did an adequate job. Thanks to the staff at Extreme Texas Metal, Rigor Mortis Records, and Morbid Thoughts for their work.

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