August 22, 2016 § Leave a comment
Black metal arose out of the maladjustment and disenchantment of a young generation with the over-the-top commercialism of the world around them. This angst found release in the techniques that black metal innovated, and the stubbornly lo-fi and inaccessible forms in which the music presented itself. The first sought to sufficiently differentiate black metal from death metal on the musical level, to evolve a more narrative style of metal that previous incarnations were incapable of. The second, however, along with accompaniments like corpse paint and pseudonyms, in many ways captured the true black metal ethic: the killing of the ego, the subordination of the personal to the external, a steadfast and impenetrable elitism, designed to be inaccessible to all but the most dedicated.
In time, both these pillars of black metal came to be thought of as pastiche, or a passiondead sine qua non. Bands, perhaps up to the early 00s even, continued reproducing both facets with diligent study, however, the impetus present to the original bands was lost. Not only did the techniques which black metal created to assert its identity lose their orientation and slide back towards the percussively choppy realm of death metal, but, in even greater contravention of its natively iconoclastic spirit, black metal came to be a by-the-numbers endeavour to be made with pristine clarity inside a state-of-the-art studio.
The public latched on to this incremental accessibility and showered their heroes with great adulation. The instant that black metal musicians themselves grasped this development sounded the ultimate death knell for the genre. When relatively slight concessions could bring in such favour, imagine the rewards that might lie further down the road of mass appeasement! Of all metal sub-genres, black metal musicians of the modern era are perhaps the most adept at tailoring their music to the demands of a varied clientele. In this pursuit, they try to democratically meet their fans’ expectations by reducing their music to a chemical experiment in the laboratory, an assiduous toying around with the beads of an ABACUS scale, to arrive at just the right compound.
Is all of this a purposely cynical fraud perpetrated by black metal bands in secret congress? That would be stretching credulity, but collective consciousness in a subculture waxes and wanes in direct relation to its environment. But isn’t the environment today, if anything, even more crass and whored-out than it was during the birthing of the genre? Where all discourse has come to be subsumed under a uniformly egalitarian, transnationalist, “intersectionalist” rubric? What stops modern black metal bands from regaining some quantum of the vitality that spurred the originals? What is it that I mean by “the impetus is lost”?
The challenges of the world don’t stay constant. What existed thirty years ago was an isolated, localized world; what exists today is far more inflated in scope, but also, paradoxically and perhaps as a direct outcome, far more intrusive on the personal and communal plane. People like Rob Darken and Varg Vikernes have realized this, in thought and in their music, with varying effectiveness, but in both cases by avoiding the stagnancy that surrounds them, by eschewing almost entirely the ambit of traditional black metal.
To the rest of the field, playing black metal has become a job, with all the stultification of the mind that a job entails. Playing black metal today is like getting up in the morning, taking a shit, brushing your teeth, putting on business casuals, and heading out for the 9-5. But what stirs the spirit in any of this? What inflames the passions? What is the one monumental, waking thought that occupies the mind? Does black metal, the way it is today, believe itself to be a catalyst for any kind of sublative, transcendent movement?
These more than anything else are the questions that black metal musicians ought to be asking of themselves. And if the answers lie outside the purview of the style, then so be it.
August 20, 2016 § Leave a comment
I think we err in thinking of values as being unimpeachably universal, homogeneous principles. Rather, consider that values aren’t atomic units, but receptacles into which aspects of the collective human experience pour into. A value ought to arise of a weighing at the scales, of discrete yet tangentially-related events and considerations, which then coalesce around each other to create a composite, namely the said value. As then follows, values aren’t eternal, static placeholders; instead, they exist in a state of flux over different epochs.
I explicitly say the collective human experience, because it is only when one begins to view a human being and his acts in conjunction with other, similarly sentient human beings and their acts, that the concept of value becomes crystallized and achieves real meaning. Good and bad are the dichotomies to which all consideration of values eventually devolves to, but what could they possibly mean to a hypothetical someone who chooses to live away from human contact?
One could say that for such a hermit, the idea, and even the practical application, of good and bad can be simplified to a binary, algorithmic choice, but this can be so only when the individual thinks in terms of his self-interest and nothing else. But what is good for one may be evil for another; such an elementary concept of values then necessarily becomes untenable as the individual’s sphere of interests expands and comes to include other individuals.
For any holistic, all-encompassing edifice of values to exist, one that can bring under its aegis a wider community – a nation – it is important to realize that the idea of good and bad cannot exist in a vacuum. Instead, it needs to be generated by a lateral dissection through layers, of both time and space, much like a metaphorical white oak spreading its roots through the undersoil, unseen to the regular eye. A course of action – and courses of action, by definition, are designed out of a desire for the greater good – needs to reconcile itself with the chain of cause and effect in historical space that has brought it to pass. This requires a shedding of the temptation to easy categories, a willingness to introspect, to confront our past, and to simultaneously circumscribe that chain of cause-effect and our sphere of interests, as they relate to each other, and pertinent to what we want our future to be.
August 6, 2016 § Leave a comment
Dark ambient from the man behind Drudkh, Rabble, Whores, Usurers is what all bands like Drudkh, purporting to be black metal but more at home with a milder form of expression, should realign their lines of sight towards. Perhaps, it is the natural path of progression for all black metal, even the more caustic strains, for what else is there to do but meditate – maybe on reconstruction, maybe on the ensuing void itself – after exposing the decrepit spirituality of organized religions in their dotage? There are no twenty-year long black metal discographies of consistent quality; surely that tells us something about the exponential erosion in vitality over time that conventional black metal is susceptible to.
Little tonal movement occurs across this album’s length, too little, perhaps, but there is a definite. uniform, melodic identity to all seven pieces here; awash in a harmonic, choral, quasi-Gregorian synthesizer drone in the background, seemingly innocuous bells and chimes, here a step up, there an octave down the scale, act as mottled daubs of color and contrast on a vast canvas. The atmosphere this simple technique creates is heavy and pensive, and, in some abstract way, indicative of the austerity of medieval Europe that forms this project’s platform theme.
Like Burzum‘s Hliðskjálf, this album is representative of music as physical frequency. Out on a jog the other day in the early morning hours, I came across a mynah bird. perched on an overhanging telephone wire, chirping away its humble song in unconscious yet naturally-tuned consonance. There was no ambition in it; well, that’s not entirely accurate, for this warbling must have been a mating call, seeing how it is the monsoons here, and so carried the ambition of life, itself. But it held no pretension of architectural grandeur, and came out as a simple mingling of sounds, of nature distilled to its elements.
I won’t say Dark Ages come close to approximating that kind of purity, nor that their music contains the sheer joy so obvious in that little bird’s singing. Rabble, Whores, Usurers is night-music, to be sure, but it works on the same minimalist principle that is found in nature.
August 3, 2016 § 1 Comment
There are many criteria for judging true fans of heavy metal, but, funnily enough, the size of somebody’s record collection has never been one to occupy first place in my book. The hows and the whys, the sincerity underlying the gimmicks, these are the things that start mattering the more you engage with the music. In any case, long-time, real fans of metal invariably end up buying metal. It’s a fait accompli to this music: METAL BREEDS LOYALTY. Though life becomes adverse to this pursuit in spurts, for a wide range of reasons, die hard fans, given large spans of time, manage to funnel enough aggregate revenue into the genre. Those that don’t, simply don’t feel strongly enough about the music, so, if you think practically about it, their abstention doesn’t comprise any real loss to the maker or the seller.
Casual, fairweather, and pirate listeners represent little more than a fictional, potential pool of income existing only in the maker-seller’s mind. Admittedly, it’s a tempting fiction to buy into; every illegal download, after all, is money that the maker-seller will never get to see. Considerations pertaining to the consumer’s ideological allegiance and sincerity – important considerations from a long-term buyer-seller perspective – don’t enter the equation, because the maker-seller begins to view his offering as a physical commodity. This purely materialistic interpretation then naturally follows into aiming to move that physical commodity off the shelves as fast as possible, so that the costs that have gone into the making-selling are recovered, thus freeing up the maker-seller to continue his business cycle.
This model makes obvious sense in a market environment with competing products. In such a setting, there is genuine incentive in selling product as fast as possible, so that returns are invested to expand the existing base of capital, continue meeting consumer demand, innovate to stand out, and, if possible, diversify.
Where the metal maker-seller errs is in conflating his product i.e. art, with a market of physical products that are fundamentally unsentimental and “mechanical” in nature. The more he subscribes to this fallacy, the more he thinks of music in the short-term, as a perishable product that has to be disposed of quickly to make room for more. Like ketchup.
But art, by definition, is imperishable! It does not have a shelf-life, it is not bound by spatial or temporal rules. It does not even have to actualize its full potential in the moment that you purchase it; it can exist for years, in limbo as it were, before finally coming into its own real effect. By not treating art so, however, the maker-seller conjures a phantom competition in an area of experience where there can’t be any competition, at least not any that can be measured by tangible means.
But the maker-seller needs this competition because of the market philosophy that he has so gleefully embraced. To that end, then, he begins selling sophist platitude and sensationalism to peddle an inferior product. The self-driving spiral that he has launched himself on requires that he flood the market with poor imitations and outright debaucheries, because, by this stage, he has stopped caring about metal, and has started obsessing over money and saving his skin, instead. Guilt-tripping and fooling the gullible into supporting his shill-like mechanisms effortlessly become his twin promotional appendages.
Metal is not pop, therefore it offers the maker-seller no guarantee of immediate compensation. It is a multi-generational, bittersweet transactional dynamic, remuneration from which the artist in question might not even see in his lifetime. To even think of entering into the making-selling “business” without adequate recognition of this fact, is pathetic naivete. To attempt twisting somebody’s impressionable, half-formed conscience so you can meet your break-even figure is a dirty con job. The overwhelming elements have to be love and respect for the music, and a zen-like acceptance of market and genre reality.