In Jane Austen’s Emma, the pragmatic Mr. Knightley holds discourse on the relative virtues of the art of fine dancing with the novel’s scheming protagonist. In Mr. Knightley’s opinion, dancing is undoubtedly an act of primal release but at the same time one which is overwhelmingly localized in nature. Meaning that the energy dissipated through dancing is shared and restricted solely between the primary participants; for all intents and purposes, the audience are secondary or even lesser citizens whenever dancing is elevated to the status of social engagement, admiring their betters through a transparent but impenetrable division.
My cynicism dovetails with the curmudgeonly Mr. Knightley’s on the subject of dancing but that is little more than personal bias. Besides, by that token, one might be tempted into including all spectator events under the same dismissive aegis; yet it is obvious that there are public displays of prowess capable of stirring the collective spirit, at least within the concerned demographic. Be it Adolf Hitler addressing German youth, Sachin Tendulkar flaying the Australian bowlers in Sharjah in the middle of a descending dust storm, five thousand Valencians breaking out in unison to the coda of Judas Priest’s ‘Diamonds And Rust‘, or indeed, as most of the globe would giddily profess allegiance to, a young Michael Jackson moonwalking his way to immortality, such things break through manacles, cultural, political, and self-imposed, and stimulate a primitive core innate among us as a species.
But switch fine dancing with brutal death metal, and I tend to agree with Mr. Knightley’s views, staid and prejudiced though they may be. A sub-genre that has long outlived its relevance – if it ever had any beyond the formative works of Suffocation, Cryptopsy, and Deeds Of Flesh, and those bands, to me, are sui generis anyway – brutal death metal still continues to sell in a certain segment, a segment whose ideas on metal are very different from those expressed on this blog and other like-minded places. Indeed, it feels strange to approach a brutal death metal recording from the perspective of idealistic bravado or narrative skill, such qualities don’t tally with the style’s methods or even aspirations. Spontaneous and mechanically instinctive song-writing, technical skill, and explosive feats of musical endurance, instead, are the calling cards here.
Now, I’ll be the first to put my hand up and say that it must require phenomenal levels of commitment to be capable of playing with the sheer physicality that brutal death metal demands. It is also obvious that playing with said amount of ferocity must be little short of cathartic to the people involved; draining beyond compare, but a release like few others. Granted and with good grace.
But an art that is so self-centered and unmindful of what it conveys to its audience, when it leaves them completely numb and alienated on culmination, essentially, when it gives them so little as one half of a producer-consumer dynamic set against the nobler backdrop of music; does such a…performance even qualify as art? You can admire the clockwork proficiency involved in it, you can appreciate the human effort that it has been imbued with, you can even be inspired to go back home and slog your butt over your instrument of choice, but can you, as a thinking, feeling human being, be a part of it in any form, however liberally interpreted?
Maybe these are the things that brutal death metal dreams of after all, to be a dry, vapid, but also strangely benevolent force in shaping young musicians’ slow and sloppy chops. But I don’t think so, nor do I think brutal death metal musicians would like to be thought of in such condescending terms. Unfortunate for them, then, that their chosen brand of noise still represents little more than a barometer for gauging current levels of musical stamina and ambidexterity. It isn’t the amusicality that acts as a deterrent to cultivating interest in brutal death metal, it is the miasma of vanity and selfishness in which the style is swamped that instantly renders it irrelevant. Mr. Knightley would concur.