Travels Into Black Metal Theory Land

Story online since:  24.08.2011 / 16:49:10

Is it only a fashion of academics or really serious artistic endeavour?

Whatís that theory, that black metal theory, that beast bastardization of theory and music listening, all about? Do musicians of that style contribute to that phenomenon or do only bored academics play hide-and-seek for a new challenge to their cultural studies? Oh yes, a new topic to scrutinize on, a new bastard to tame, a new animal to ride and a new pipe to smoke. And most of all, what about the fans of this exclusive style of extreme metal? Can they accept being introduced to the halls of academy?

So, where to start best? Stop with questioning, I guess.
First, there was a symposium in Brooklyn (New York City, USA) in December 2009 dealing with Hideous Gnosis, with something that strives for knowledge (gnosis) and yet it is hideous. So a decent philosopher should avoid this cruel thing called Hideous Gnosis. And that is connected to black metal theory, as the first book was published under this title. It compiles several essays on different streams of the music and the scene. The essays featured in that book seem to speculate much on the nature of black metal. They base their findings on an initial experience and then they walk the path of inspiration. Let me elaborate on one prototype story: Darkthroneís "Transylvanian Hunger". The cover artwork shows a black/white photography of a corpse-painted warrior in the loneliness of nite. The song speaks about a hunger, a lust for becoming a "Morbid Count". Apparently, Fenriz got inspired by a horror tradition. Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, vampires, Count Vlad Tepes called the Impaler. Admittingly, weíre still safe in metal territories. We havenít left homebase yet. However, what does lurk beyond? This is where black metal theory drops in. Starting from a Count Dracula, you are certainly soon head over heels into the literary tradition, in combination with a lo-fi production and raging black metal the old school way. What is being created in this coupling, ends up under the microscope of black metal theory.

The second symposium was held in London in January 2011 in a local pub, Kingston University was linked to that event. Their professor Scott Wilson actively listens to black metal and has read the one or the other book in his life. The second symposium dealt with melancholy and ecology: how do black metal musicians deal with landscapes and are they influenced by their surroundings (maybe depressed or even delighted at)?
Scott Wilson writes in his essay in the book Hideous Gnosis: "Black metal and academic discourse are no doubt heterogeneous and cannot be conjoined, but in bringing one into proximity with the other it is essential that this clash should result less in the academic illumination of black metal than in the blackening of discourse itself wherein the forces of black metal restore some of the powers and dangers of discourse which the procedures of academic institutions seek to ward off and master by controlling and delimiting them."
You can even intensify Wilsonís claims by introducing musicians from the black metal genre starting their own researches into the occult and the specifications of the sound theyíre playing. Just study this website here and youíll get a quite vivid impression. The self-reflection on black metal has already started and some listeners might get intrigued to participate. Why should they? Black metal was never only about music, ideology has taken an important role in the music eversince. Ideology is a problematic term in the end, so some philosophical cure on the use of the word in black metal circles would help to understand their biases and maybe create more self-reflected art. Of course, there is the impulsive instinct heavily roaring underground and that should persist, no doubt. Rome wasnít built on one day. And so the shape of black to come has first to be found.

My own career started in 1994 when I began editing my first metal fanzine which then changed into another one which is still going: Mystical Music. I dropped off the editorial board and then besides metal, poetry obsessed my mind. At times, metal didnít offer enough nutritional value for my hungry inspiration, so I focused on literature and my university studies. By chance I got again into the metal scene because I realized there were some writers involved as well who searched more than only leather, spikes and neats. Metal always meant to find your own way, despite the shaking heads that might follow your decision to get more reflected. Whatís the crime in that? Tell me, Iím listening.
Currently, the Art Militia which is based in Norway and has branches in the US and Germany, searches for a new aesthetic in extreme metal because some of its originators feel that they might lost something on their way through years of scene routine. Something intriguing, appealing that cannot be expressed in down-tuned guitars and double-bass attacks all the time. People evolve, most of all wolves evolve in revolting words. When being teenager, lyrics full of gore impress you but then after you had experienced your first disappointments in love, there is no way back to gore because some listeners just feel awkward when reading about massacres in Northern countries and then listening to some juvenile fantasies about murdering women and fucking them with knives. Why aggravate worldís sorrow? Must metal always be brutal and violent? Arenít there other ways? Of course there are, some of the bands featured at show that you can deal with other topics as well. Maybe thatís the reason why there is no death metal theory. In the writings of the black metal theorists they talk about death metal as a brother-in-crime to black metal. There are historic reasons for a strong separation between those two genres, as we all know, the second black metal wave (most of all in Norway) resented the commercialization of (US) death metal and rejected the full-coloured glossy cover artworks and the appearance of musicians in short trousers on stage. It was too relaxed and lost some of the vital danger metal was supposed to show to outside society. Then again, this phase of black metal has turned into something else, into a more urbanized style of dealing with psychological issues ( The Quietus ). Most of all, there is another atmosphere to death metal: it is more carnal, it is linked to (corporeal) death. Black metal wants to mystify.
Then black is a colour, itís a quality, itís a process in alchemy: nigredo Ė the blackening. Blackening of whom or what? Of matter heart and world. Bands especially from France, like Deathspell Omega, Antaeus and Aosoth specialize in philosophical ponderings on worldís specimens. Of course, thatís not the whole bag. There are enough bands in black metal itself who couldnít care less than yesterdayís digestion. For example, Gorgorothís satanic lyrics donít seem to have gone through an illumination of such writers as Milton, Blake, Huysmans and Baudelaire. They scream their anti-religious anger out without further hesitation (read: reflection). However I must deeply disappoint all of you readers now who hoped for a fast end to black metal theory. It is different, way different. Black metal theory isnít interested in gathering another list of metal specifications. Those theorists aim at a more inspirational approach to this kind of music. Maybe it is the nurturing bed for poetry? Until recent years, it has happened to exist a strong seperation between extreme metal music and culturally versatile minds who happen to take a pencil instead of a guitar to express themselves. Or letís put it differently: listeners to metal were only interested in the music and some random talks on the contents of that style. However, over years some musicians along with their listeners have grown into more interested explorers of new sounds. So here we are: arrived at the black metal theory that tries to merge the reading of challenging books with the fervent interest in harsh tones.
In the following weeks, there will be new episodes of my travels to black metal theory land. You can meet different persons, music groups, artists and theorists who might all share a common interest: the high-pitched guitars of black metal and some disturbing screams and scratches on the surface.

Dominik Irtenkauf

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