There was a discussion in the previous post in the comment section over metal lyrics, ideology and listening to bands that might be singing about concepts that do not align with ones own beliefs. Those opinion fragments got me thinking on the subject enough to inform with it a broader point of view which I now present for discussion.
I do not go to Heavy Metal to get answers to my questions, I do not go to it to make friends (real or imaginary) and I do not go to it to figure out what to vote. That doesn't mean I have not made friends through my interest in Heavy Metal, nor does it mean my sense of reality is not informed on all levels its aesthetics and themes. Those things are the gentle byproducts of an interest whose primary focus is more difficult to define. I listen to, play, and write about Heavy Metal in the way that I do now, because it engages my imagination and has a lot of ambiguous space for interpretation. I find in there, a distant, perfect self that calls me forward. It is not other, yet it is not I. A son and a father, a ghost and a god. The characteristics of that entity, though they fascinate me, I do not want to figure out and tie them down. I want to figure me out through that reflection.
However I remember puberty. Like most people, I also wanted to belong to a subculture then. I wasn't a huge joiner so I stayed (or was made to stay, depends on the point of view) on the fringes of my chosen subculture of metal. This meant that though I had ample vantage to inspect and interact with its various specimens, I never counted myself as one of them nor was I included too often in broader excursions. I never belonged to a large circle of metalheads, I never was a groupie or supporter for any local band, I never went to too many shows. These things never interested me enough to pursue. I instead wanted to find more about the music, experience more of it, form my own band and reach my ideal of its capacity.
Proponents of the metal scene however are very anxious to 'get' what metal music is for social reasons: They need to understand it to have an opinion on it and use those opinions to form a social profile. With this profile they'll approach other metalheads (or listeners of extreme music, as it were in modern lingo) and test out interactions, iterate their profile and test again. Their concern is to come out on top, make allegiances, be considered knowledgeable and interesting. Men build bridges and go to the moon for the same reasons, that's how you get - eventually and hopefully - laid. (And in the case of the super obscure metalhead elite that discusses amongst its almost-all-male body in hidden recesses of the internet, the case is of simple intimacy transference: discussing about vinyl is like getting laid without all the messy repercussions of actually getting laid).
Nothing wrong with wanting to get laid (possibly plenty wrong with intimacy transfer but who is the guy with the Heavy Metal blog to judge). However, those that are trying to 'understand' metal to get a social profile going reach for shortcuts, because there's nothing to understand in it. There's only something there to inspire, to trigger awe and hope. However talking to girls about your Heavy Metal hopes and aspirations is a risky deal (and here the guy with the Heavy Metal blog can have an opinion). Instead then, the eager scenesters (try to hear me saying this word with the minimum amount of judgment: in the abstract, a scene and its actors is what we are discussing) latch on to surface concerns about metal -or extreme- music and understand, form opinions, discuss, fight and hopefully get laid over those. Think of a popular music forum for a minute, here.
The easiest way to arouse interest on one's own person is to draw a dividing line between themselves and other people, and paint their side in flattering colors. The easiest way for metal aficionados to do this is to say band x sucks (which is much stronger than saying 'band x rules' which is an inclusive statement). Then someone who perceives themselves as being put on the other side of the line in the sand will challenge the opposition to qualify why band x sucks. This is a four hand game that can go on for much longer. The third hand is then that the instigator will qualify his statement in as impersonal a way possible. Band x sucks because of their image, because they're boring, because of the ideology they endorse, because they sold out, because they're old, or young, pretty or ugly. These qualifications must sound like facts although they're not. The person behind them is shielding themselves from scrutiny by phrasing his critique in such a way that it is impossible to reach them through it. The fourth hand is then either a personal insult (trying to circumvent the loop - the game ends, people get wound up, drama explodes, the point of the game has been reached) or idle discussion on the merits of the opinions expressed (in which case the game goes on until someone insults someone). The latter loop can go on forever, people discussing their 'music taste' (though taste is very rarely brought up, accounted for, or examined in any rigorous fashion) in lieu of actual intimacy. Onlookers rate the participants with their opinion bias (: whether or not they agreed with the abstract 'band x sucks' to begin with) and with how entertaining they found the method of argumentation. Even when the game doesn't reach a satisfactory conclusion, it serves as a secondary determinant in opinion forming for the outsiders. It is not uncommon for real-life friends to play this game online without any malice or stake against each other directly, yet reach hysterical drama for the benefit of the audience. Today the one guy will win, tomorrow the other guy. Time is structured, sociality achieved, intimacy circumvented.
The easiest way to get noticed on the internet is to be a contrarian, and entertaining about it. This is a game I call, 'This Band Sucks'.
As you've noticed, although I'm talking about a lot of bands here, I've generally kept from making damning statements about them because I'm avoiding playing this game. I'm terribly good at it and it's easy to fall into a loop. Instead I'm talking about albums (and not bands) that I love and I go to great lengths to make my love clear for what it is: personal and inspirational to my life. I do not want to be rated by some reader for my good taste, I want to engage with them, get to know them and what they love and especially what their love inspires in them to create in return.
But 'This Band Sucks' is a very popular game on the internet, and so it has become very sophisticated through repetition. What once was a crude two-hand game of '-Metallica are better than Iron Maiden!' '-But Metallica cut their hair!' now has become an elaborate construct where band affiliations, ideological conceits and crucially, concerns of integrity are commonly employed.
So, let's say I love this record by the band 'Carnivore'. It has clearly misogynistic, misanthropic and chauvinist lyrics. Would it be a surprise to you that most mentions of Carnivore on internet message boards would quickly degenerate to games of 'This Band Sucks' over these prominent surface qualities?
People want to have an opinion on metal to get laid in their metal subcultures so they must judge how they feel about Carnivore singing about misogynistic, anti-humanist and racist topics. Their opinion, whatever it may end up being, will serve to draw a line, some will be with them on the matter, some against them. They'll try to be savvy and manipulate their opinion in such a way so they end up close to the people they want to befriend or have sex with through this process, that really has nothing to do with Carnivore, or the ideological concerns themselves. It's a game. Often participants will have wildly contrasting tastes: they like this band but hate another sound-alike of it because the former one has a conceit of ideology that suits their social needs better. Outsiders to this game could feel baffled by the near-randomness of the choices of the participants until they understand that there isn't a compositional merit or melodic quality that distinguishes good bands from bad bands for them.
It is exactly because I do not play this game that I do not judge art on surface qualities. I take them into account and keep them in heart and mind while I experience it at a different depth. When I first listened to Carnivore, I was shocked and felt kinda bad over parts of it. A year later, still listening to Carnivore, I thought the shock material was mostly meant as a joke, but the music was very compelling. A year later still, I was certain that Carnivore were trying to reach out to people through their shock antics because they were depressed or paranoid, but my love for the music grew. A year later I believed Carnivore meant every word they sang and when I listened to them, I meant every word they sang too. And a year later still, I now know that all these states are valid, they occur simultaneously, the quantum state of probabilities is determined by the capacity of the onlooker for risk. Art is not a game, it is cruel magic. Those that dabble with magic risk altering the inner and the outer.
One thing's for sure, Carnivore were worth dabbling in, for me. The things I found out about myself through that process did not get me laid (and/or did not get me high fives by racist morons), nor did they have any other social effect, but they were extremely useful in building character and exciting imagination.
So, when you see someone play 'This Band Sucks', because of their ideological subject matter or image or whatever else, know that they're not really interested in the music primarily, they're interested in playing a game with you. If you want to play this game, fine. Just know you're not primarily interested in the music right then either.
Does this mean that I'll listen to anything? Yes, it does. It doesn't mean I'll keep listening to it but I'll give it a chance and if there's enough beauty in there I will stomach even the worst connections it can make to human misery and ugliness. At the end of a certain time I'll know whether I should keep this art close or not.
Most of the Nazi metal I've heard has been awful not because it's nazi metal, but because it's all it is. 'This Band Sucks' is such a popular game now that people are actively forming bands just so they can have them be the subject of the game. It's sloppy and mediocre, empty metal that annoys me most, not metal that flirts with horrid imagery and notion.
And the type of metal that is most empty is that which proclaims to be all about fun and good times. A variant of the 'This Band Sucks' game is then 'Relax Bro, it's Just Music'. The instigator there is playing (or participating) in a game of 'This Band Sucks' and is watching out for anyone that is trying to turn the discussion towards ideological merit. They reply to that with 'Relax Bro, it's Just Music'. Which is meant to connote that there isn't any deeper significance to art and that the other person is undoubtedly problematic for having divined depth in a puddle, or -perhaps- even worse, is gullible and simple for having fallen for the 'image' of the band instead of its musical merit. This game is also very popular, to the point where aggressively anti-intellectual takes on a type of music that has been customarily meaningful have surfaced, and are enjoying ironic appreciation by scenesters internet-wide.
I'd take a few nazi metal bands over this, for example. The former at least has the capacity for beauty, the latter has nothing.