"What do you wish to hear now? The things that almost all will say? That they are actually normal people and their corpse-painted faces are only artistic attributes? The fact that we cross the street on the traffic lights or visit the post office doesn't mean that we are the members of society."
Khlyst of Lucifugum, 2006
This is the third time I've attempted to start this piece after deleting reams of unfocused, circular commentary about nothing. Let's see if I can make it work this time.
In a response to a comment by regular reader Flemming, I talked about my intrinsic suspicion of black metal subcultural narratives which make the genre out to be a response to something in mainstream culture: Christianity, democracy, egalitarianism, whatever your pet demon of the moment may be. I think the more intellectual sect of the metal scene has gotten way, way ahead of itself when it thinks of black metal as some thought-out pagan retaliation against Judeo-Christian culture. It's not as thought I don't appreciate this sort of perspective on the genre, and it does have (in my opinion) some roots in reality, but it's also way too refined, precise, and conscious for my liking. The origins of black metal are probably not too far from death metal's origins in teenagers from Tampa doing bong rips and drawing skulls in the margins of their high school textbooks: probably not as glamorous and intelligent as we'd like to imagine.
I understand and to some degree agree with Pavel's ruminations on what black metal is, but his summation of things is still a bit more antagonistic than I perceive it. I've never seen black metal as being so necessarily oppositional in nature; this may be because I've never felt like a "black metal guy" so much as one in tune with death and grind (a topic for another writeup.) As a young teenager getting into black metal for the first time, it never sounded to me like the sound of hate, aggression, or violence, as dark and stormy as the music might inherently be. I had death and grind for that sort of emotional catharsis. Black metal had a much more fun, purely aesthetic sort of feeling to me; it was the soundtrack to fantasy novels and daydreams and pretend-fights I had in the woods with my friends as a nine year old. The misanthropy and anti-Christianity never felt very material to me, and even today, I never get a particular sense of ideological fervor while listening to black metal. Instead, the best black metal gives me a sense of invigoration, joy, and quixotic enthusiasm. I don't want to burn down a church; I want to go hiking and take pictures of mountain vistas to make into Vinterriket album covers.
In a nutshell, I agree with Pavel that black metal inherently stands against the egalitarian, permissive dogma of modern society, but where we diverge is in what that stance materially means. While it seems to me that Pavel suggests black metal's ideal form is in a sort of retaliatory, revolutionary gesture against modern culture, I see the ideal form as one that simply dismisses that culture, choosing to isolate itself and create the sort of world it desires, ignoring the pressures and concerns of the mainstream. Why smash Christendom when it's so much more effective and obtainable to simply live a life without it- establish a community in which Jesus is irrelevant. In fact, my very favorite black metal (on a lyrical and ideological level) tends to be the sort where overt commentary on society is wholly absent- Taake, Spite Extreme Wing, Hirilorn- choosing instead to create its own world rather that bother with the content of someone else's.
It occurs to me that where Pavel and I diverge on the nature of black metal is just about the exact place where we diverge politically. Eep. Makes you wonder how your perceptions of art are colored by your experiences, doesn't it.
I suppose all of this works back around to my words on how I feel black metal should reboot its aesthetics- I feel that the style is getting bogged down in an oppositional stance that most of its constituents can't even remember the purpose of. Perhaps paradoxically, I've always seen black metal as perhaps the most positive face of extreme metal; for all its trappings, I see black metal as a much more creative sort of style than a destructive one. While I love Marduk and Dark Funeral as much as the next guy, the black metal bands that resonate with me are the boundless, fervent ones that I connect with on an emotional level rather than an ideological one. "Goat Horns" doesn't impact me or inform my actions to a hundredth of the degree that "Magnificat" does, and for me, the sooner black metal starts defining itself rather than painting itself as merely the opposite of the mainstream, the sooner we'll get back to the fecund creative territory of Norway circa '91 than we will otherwise.