Some art is here to remind the audience of positive past memories and to provide a comfortable space in which to re-approach them from slightly different vantages. The interest in that type of art rests on those reconfigurations being inventive enough for the familiarized audience to want to follow them for a duration, but not so derivative as to make the effort seem not worth it. At the end, this type of art is at best supplementary to the original material: it might be conducive to an enjoyable time, but the exact tool it uses to be approachable (its reference of past art forms) serves also as the main reason for it being inessential.
How essential art may be could be judged by how the audience is drawn to repeated experiencing of it and/or of how enduring the internal representation of the art is, how it connects with various strands of one's psychic web. Most people do not rush to re-experience art that is strongly referential to past glories. They go instead, directly to those past glories. What identity is left for this strongly referential modern art artifact, is that of yet-another product. Inoffensive, taking up bitspace and perhaps hoarded by collectors of artifacts.
When compulsive consumers-cum-critics praise this or that modern piece of referential art, they're pretending that they're spending a lot of time with it and that this is a testament to the quality of the material (they're making a claim then, of the art being essential, as explained above). Do not trust them, divide their claims of how much they've experienced the object of art by ten or more. If they say they've been listening to a record for two months straight, this means they've given it a half-dozen incomplete listens while surfing the internet, perhaps. The reason they're lying is because they know nobody will pay any attention to their recommendations if they were truthful about how they're using the product. Art is still sold on the basis of essentialism even when both critic and consumer do not consume the product with mind to its essential quality. The merit of art has been sidestepped, it has become at best a selling point on a marketing sheet. What is sold and bought instead, is a brief feeling of elation, belonging, an experience of something one already is prepared to experience.
Art that builds strongly on past foundation often becomes blurred together in the minds of the audience; in this way often Heavy Metal bands are no longer interpreted as if they're making confident strides forward with their musical offerings to the form, instead their - often decades long - contributions are slight and non-cumulative. This band introduced more orchestral elements, perhaps that one plays faster than most. This one has some kickass graphic design to go with their extreme metal. These aren't innovations, they're safe variations. There is no 'one album' that cuts through the mists as a definitive statement. Ergo, listeners do not come to these bands to be immersed in a singular world, to feel as if the only thing that exists at that moment is themselves and the Entity summoned by this mythical piece of art. They listen to this music instead on shuffle, a record's as good as any other, all from a distance. They can appreciate what the band may be bringing to the table on some intellectual level, but they're not enchanted by the music to the degree that they suspend the language through which they categorize and codify their experience. This art is just not startling enough to achieve that. It is in this way that say, a black metal band in 2011 becomes just a black metal band in 2011. The riffs might be nice, the songs might flow well, the black mountains and treetop frost cover is pleasant to look at but... all these aesthetic signifiers are gazed upon from a distance. With distance comes irony. The feeling of being outside and afar from what one feels is a defining aspect of modern life. Art, romantic art in particular, was intended as a remedy of exactly that. If it fails at eradicating the distance between host and emotion, it has failed completely as romance. What is left is mostly a comfortable, safe product.
There's also a different type of art. Strongly iconoclastic, it channels most of its strength through violence, an eventual destruction of all past reason, 'artistic norm' and audience expectation. Often this music is abrasive and extreme, it likens in its assault the psychosexual charges of sado-masochism. It aims to destroy boundaries. Appreciators of this type of art endlessly try to negotiate what this music means to them and its seeming resistance to pacification. This type of art means the audience harm. It means to strike at their core and watch how the organism mutates to cope with the reminder of mortality. The purpose of the subculture around this type of art is one of understanding, applying of meaning and eventual pacification. When someone says "oh yeah, I love listening to noise music" what they're saying is "I am fascinated by how this music startles and shocks me, and I'm trying to wrestle some meaning out of this by owning these feelings and fashioning an identity out of my weakness".
This type of art is more difficult to commercialize because its benefits are less obvious to the distanced consumer. It's very difficult to keep one's distance when they're being raped, though modern culture is trying its best to achieve this.
Art that doesn't rest well in the mold of commerce struggles to find a place in a capitalist society. Some is branded 'outsider art' (whatever that means), or often it is forgotten as some curious evolutionary dead-end buried in some niche of extremity.
Both tendencies described above exist in Heavy Metal music. I'd go as far as to say that the most successful examples of Heavy Metal music are found in bands that straddle the space between these two impulses: to build and to destroy. They make music to be enjoyed, but not to be enjoyed too much. They make music that suggests, but doesn't make itself a slave to suggestion. Heavy Metal failure is often the inability to keep this balance. Some of it is strongly classicist in its self-considered place in musical history. It draws directly from past sources with reverence and docility. There is nothing extreme in an Iron Maiden clone band in 2011, nothing startling, nothing to crush the distance of the disaffected consumer. Those that appreciate it do so because it reminds them of something that once was startling and strong. That's as much as they need from this music anymore. Other is so bent on extremity and destruction that it forgets that to ensnare a listener there needs to be a promise of enjoyment on the surface. In either case, there seems to be a market for the debris of this friction between extremes.
Heavy Metal is intensely commodified and this is easy to see by how its treated by the internet world: blogs upload product, reviewers talk about 'value for money' and aesthetic considerations are bypassed as so much as homework: "we're here to tell you this might be worth listening to once, the work of what it means is best left to the consumer". Pretender taste-makers rush to exclaim how much they care about lyrics and cover art and meanings only to so clearly show how little they actually do. Their reflex is to shift through product, catalogue any reaction slightly above complete apathy, and (through detestable hyperbole of said slight emotions) shift the public's gaze towards anything that isn't bare nothing. You should totally listen to this, dude. It's your new favourite band, trust me. I've been blasting it while working out for like, two months now.
In this climate, even Heavy Metal music bent to startle, to rape, to destroy, is promptly de-fanged. When the listener has no stake in what they're perusing, when there's so much distance to be thwarted, even the most savage voices in Heavy Metal will be muted. In this climate, what has become the outmost savagery, is a return to the human, a return to ambiguity and a challenge to the consumer to stop consuming and start reinterpreting.
So much extreme metal, in this sense, is anything but. It's safe, it's comfortable. The consumer that buys a goregrind or a national socialist black metal cd knows what they're getting. There's nothing to interpet. If there's anything scary, anything startling in this process is how willingly they indulge their consumer vices. The music itself is just a reference to a time where blood and guts and crematoriums were briefly shocking for their teenage psyche. The consumer is building an identity as an eater of woes. Gulping down the worst psychic wounds of humanity in prepackaged, easy-to-swallow artistic representations. They're pretending to grow up by eating harm and shitting distance. Sideways glances into a wound that would be insufferable to gaze directly inside of.
But romantic art is made to push you beyond your limits.
As I've explained, the artists themselves feel these things and they try to negotiate a path through it all, and there's much valid critique to be made of what they come up with. But also, at some point, the art itself is blameless. Even if an artist is doing their best to transcend the debris of commercialization (though most are not even trying), the eaters will eat them all the same and feel a slight heartburn perhaps, something that classifies as barely above the nothing. And then they'll burp their transient opinions on some blog. The only remedy to this for someone who wishes to use art to better themselves, is an aesthetic diet: to stop eating so much horror so as to remember what horror means. To stop eating so much comfortable referential-exultant reprise of the past so as to remember what the original emotion felt like. As one rids extraneous fat and toxin, they will lose the taste for most extravagant perversions. Then, when they return to listen to the few great records and they will be again shocked by them. They will fear them. They will be touched by them. And they will have again to live with them, not just consume and pass them as they're trained to.
So, my suggestion is to consume less art. Download less of it. Have less to say on every new thing that comes out. Hone taste until taste doesn't matter. Spend more time with less to focus on, get to the bottom of what it means inside. I know this is not a fashionable opinion and that it potentially robs a lot of bloggers of a hobby, but perhaps that's for the best in the long run. Perhaps if one feels so burning a desire to share something new with the world every day, they should look into sharing cooking recipes instead, there can never be enough of those.