I wrote about a young and promising hardcore band earlier today, but ever since then have drowned myself in the sounds of bands like Funebre, Necrony, and Soulside Journey-time Darkthrone. And the one thing that comes over like the warm embrace of revelation is the great intellectual divide that separates populist forms of music from metal, but good extreme metal in particular. And that is an aspect which is not stressed and defended enough by fans of extreme metal when confronted by the smug, caricaturesque chorus of “metchul” orchestrated by those who would have this music mean less than the revolution in thought and ambition that it really is.
This is no slight towards punk, hardcore, rock, or pop; they are what they are, and play to the best of their abilities according to the rules of the board. But, as touched on in the previous post, these are fundamentally egoistical forms of expression. Their chief concern is the individual and his immediate sphere of relations, thus they regularly serve as his mouth organ and report his experiences in the manner of a gonzo, first-person poetry from the field of action. In keeping with a prosaic memo like this, the music that such “bands of the people” create has to be suitably accessible and streamlined in order to communicate its earthly agenda to the masses with clarity. The idealisms remain embedded in the message, whereas the music itself becomes a clinical demonstration in virtuosity and appeasement.
But extreme metal – and this should not bear stressing by this point in time, but by extreme metal I almost exclusively refer to that of the classic vintage – reverses this relationship between message and music. Great extreme metal trusts and respects the intelligence of its audiences enough to allow them to draw their own inferences. Though fine lyrics and peripheral agendas no doubt exist here, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding; extreme metal purposefully distorts its delivery, and embraces, in spirit. the ethos of progressive rock and by association the classical canons, striving to create a music in bloom, morbid though its external demeanour may be.
Make no mistake; the keystone always is, and has to be, aggressive and extreme. Death is extreme, it is the last stop before negation, and what better negativizing feeling to express this than violence and aggression? But like the famous Metallica song says, ‘To Live Is To Die‘; every instant lived entails a simultaneous death, for that instant lived recedes into the past, never to be lived again. One life, and a multitude of deaths to be endured. The revolutionarily obsessive mandate of death metal and black metal, however, so different from all music that has gone before, is to not think of death – either as successive increments, or ultimate punctuation – as a phenomena to be suffered, but rather to be reveled in.
I’m hearing Necrony‘s Pathological Performances as I write this, a band whose drummer would go on to form the highly influential, but to-the-point Nasum. And yet, Necrony were anything but to-the-point. The reaction of the hipster when he sees the song titles of a band such as this and others would be to roll his eyes and say “here we go again!“. But Necrony‘s music was a rich, continuously undulating tapestry of strategically implanted phrases, one that, to err on the far side of hyperbole, would perhaps make an interesting case study for musical linguistics if such a field existed. The casual listener might remark surprisedly at the jazz-tinged guitar solos if they make it in so far, but even before those scene-stealers make an appearance, the band has made its point. And it makes one wonder: what could possibly impel a group of drink-sodden teenagers to make music so complex, layered, and abstract in tenor?
Ambition. I hear Minor Threat, then I hear Soulside Journey, and I can’t help but be struck by the sheer expansion of musical scope so obvious in the latter, and it certainly doesn’t need an Ian Mackaye haranguing at my back to register. Extreme metal, in direct opposition to popular music, is a spreading outwards. Everything it does is on a grander scale. Times are considered in the span of ages, space is dealt with as the endless cosmic expanse that it truly is. Extreme metal encapsulates that stirring of the young spirit as it realizes that the limits it once perceived against itself can and should be trespassed, by degrees, for something a little more transcendent.
Which also leads me to question bands who have once known such transcendent space, but who are now content to pay simple homage to their influences. At what stage does man decide that he is content with his lot in life, at least as pertains the things he says he loves? At what point does he stop trying to better himself, in thought or deed, and if he does indeed do so, does he even fit the label of man anymore? At least that has never been the extreme metal spirit apparent to me, which is why the actions of a latter day Darkthrone seem so inexplicable; how does a band that has known just such a transcendent space suddenly become content with offering watered down tributes to an era which they themselves asserted an ideological superiority over? To respect one’s elder foundations is admirable, don’t get me wrong; but those influences should be encapsulated as an abstraction in how you conduct yourself and your art, not be pandered to in pale imitation.
Maybe – sardonically, to wax ironic – in this too, extreme metal emulates life. Elders reaching dotage seemingly slip back into infantility; an extreme metal band like Darkthrone, perhaps, once it has reached the end of its tether, longs, too, for the safe cushion of the womb from which it once drew sustenance. But this wrestling with nostalgia does not warrant respect from a mindset that is truly extreme metal. Forever upwards, forever onwards; that, if anything, should be the motto for this music.
It really is a philosophy for life if you invest enough thought and energy into it. To know it, don’t look at what has become of this scene today. commercialized and beset by identity politics as it is. The old bands, though, conceal immense treasures of sublimely iconoclastic thought and aspiration, as relevant now as they ever were. What makes such a space of mind accessible? Whether one believes that this music warrants such overwrought mastication. There are only two answers to that question, and they lie at incompatible extremes.