Alternatively: "On the topic of death metal, black metal and why death/black is (mostly) a sham."
For those of you that haven't managed to penetrate into the aesthetic of the more extreme genres of Heavy Metal, this piece might serve as a key. For those that are well versed in and enjoy these genres, it might help to further illuminate why there's such a sizable disparity between them though they appear on the surface to be easily interchangeable.
To get anywhere with this I will provide a semi-historical definition of genres that are, on the whole, more nebulous that I make them appear. I say this to preempt notions that there is black and death metal quite outside the modern paradigm. I know. But in that there exists a paradigm to begin with should provide enough basis to examine it. This world is the best world there is by the virtue that it is the only world that exists and so forth.
Death metal, as examined here is of the American mold (though not necessarily from the US). Muscular, very compressed and given to violent swifts in tempo. Dense composition, usually very chromatic and emphasizing chaos more than velocity. There is no respite. Melodic sections are easily throwaway if the band feels like it. There is no center or showpiece. The vocals are usually deep and growled as with Suffocation and Immolation, or in middle, menacing drawn-out and unintelligible grunt as with Obituary or Autopsy.
Black metal, as examined here is of the early '90s Scandinavian type, as typified by Dark Throne, Burzum and Mayhem. It grows in reaction to the death metal described above. It appropriates some of its technique (indeed, the teenagers that pioneered black metal's second wave mostly played in 'trendy' death metal bands before that - when they were twelve). Its characteristic remains a return to the romantic core of Heavy Metal of old, or a further romanticized understanding of it by Norwegian teenagers, as it were. Long tremolo phrases in minor keys, with a restrained and normative use of disharmony (malformation versus beauty). Repetition and drone, a floating atmosphere. The vocals are predominantly raspy or screamed.
Let's also peruse two audio examples before we move forward.
In popular perception, this is what 'Death Metal' summons:
In popular perception, this is what 'Black metal' summons:
Death metal has ill intent towards you, dear listener. Were it a psychic force capable of manifesting physically as in some '80s b-movie, it would gut you and devour your entrails. It would symbolically make you into a womb to enter once again, and eat back out of from the inside. Its malice is that of the sociopath. It doesn't understand you and it has no interest to. If it has a fascination with you, it is to make your 'inside' come to the outside so that you, the hypocrite that you are, that is so taken with the idea of any metaphysic quality or spirit residing inside you, will finally concede the point that 'only meat is real' with your passing. No, not death. Death is not real, it is no more real than life is. There are no metaphysics when the worms eat your flesh. What there is is nonsense and pain.
Death metal is for the socially impaired. Manchildren, neckbeards and other nerds that do not know how to talk to a girl. Their gateway into understanding comes through shock treatment. They imagine a vicarious violence not because they desire to inflict it but because it is at least quantifiable. Why? Because it's funny. How? Painfully. They empathize with the victim-as-victim, not the victim-as-human. The bitch was asking for it. These people are mostly harmless for what they do best is write otherwise. Those you should fear are those that haven't written a word and are just smiling at you, ever-smiling, fitting in. There is a sociopath in your workplace. Someone in your family has tortured small animals for fun.
The cookie monster vocals that the genre favors bring into stark relief the truth of the genre. It is a man trying to appear inhuman by lowering the pitch of their growl. When was the last time you've heard a person, consumed by a murdering rage, growl like a demon in a film that they will kill someone? That's right, never. That voice is not normative, it is how a social introvert imagines rage to manifest. They will never test their growly voice in the highschool cafe-- excuse me, while they "gut that prostitute". This is how the social critique against the questionable subject matter of death metal is explained away by its audience: never tested. Pure fantasy. Leave us alone. Boys only in this tree-house.
The monster in death metal is a monster of sociopathy, of loneliness and stress, of delusions of grandeur. It is very life-affirming to play with the symbol of death and alienation. To make it as clear as possible, Death metal is the imagination a serial killer, as perceived by a mostly-normal introverted teenager.
Black metal has ill intent towards your world, dear listener. Were it a psychic force capable of manifesting physically it would be your ruthless philosopher autocrat, cruelly sentencing you to darkness and imprisonment while all the while explaining to you why it must be done. And you would agree. It would strip you of your humanly characteristics because you do not deserve them. In that it can imagine these characteristics it follows that they exist and they are of value. It, then, understands you, or at least has tried enough to exist besides you. It knows of no other way to contribute to this world, it has never felt the transcendental value of offering something to the world with no wish to see returns, besides perhaps its new black metal CD (in hand-numbered copies, to be sure).
The piercing scream of black metal is that moment when that entity gives up on your world, and the resulting triumph in its minor-key dirge is that of autonomy, of being unchained from your conventions. Metaphysics are all that exist. The flesh is a nuisance, in fact it might be there expressly to not be touched. To be resisted, as all temptations besides the call of death. Many of these teenagers wrote their peans to dark gods and spirits before having felt a man or woman's sexual touch. Most that listen to it certainly can attest to what thrill came first, that of the Awe of Death or the Cry of Passion.
Black metal is for the socially impaired. Pale-faced peter pans and outcasts, the 'weirdos'. Their gateway into self-actualization (or fantasy thereof) is through the triumph of will, through the blood-red flowing romance inherent in Heavy Metal. Any violence they imagine has no real external object, it is not about you; It is self-inflicted. The 'depressive black metal' trend was the final, crass (and of course American) realization of what all black metal ever was. The mistress has a high price, she demands holocaust. The voice of black metal, the piercing shriek or grating rasp are the manifestations of hysteria. A hysterical person might end up killing you, but only because they didn't manage to destroy themselves first.
The monster in black metal is the ultimate representation of social alienation. It is the capitalist Atom-person, outside social context, its burning romance without avenue to offer to the world. It is not a careless automation, all blades and pincers, mangling all flesh, living and otherwise in its path like death metal is. It is a painted scowl on rosy cheeks, a constant dialectic between life, the value of life and the tragedy of mortality. Black metal doesn't want to die, but it will if it has to in order to live forever.
From the above point of view it can be easily extrapolated why it is almost impossible to have effective and convincing black/death metal. Furthermore, it is very clear why black metal had to come out of death metal, and why black metal bands that in later age return to death metal were, and are, mostly laughable for it. Choose a side, lonely man.
Or at least, so I posit. I welcome contradiction, discussion and examples.
The gardens of this Subculture will be watered with some regularity again.