Monday, January 7, 2013

Do you want Heavy Metal to survive?

There are possibly as many motives for music listeners to become interested in this type of music instead of that as there are human beings, but I am going to present a simpler structure here because it will be an illuminating tool.

Let's suppose that there are only two prime motivations for someone who enters a musical subculture. One of them is for them to become proponents of a scene. To feed that scene, to interact with it, to grow, socially, to extend their network, to belong to a family, to help it recruit others and to feed itself as an end in itself.

The other enters a scene in order to best scrutinize the thing of Beauty itself, to understand their own fascination with it through the warped mirrors that are other listeners, to ultimately absorb the core of the genre.

Let's now consider the possibility that any member of any sub-cultural music scene is either one or the other. Let's examine their actions as if their motivations either arise from a need to further cultivate an externality, or to understand and conquer an internal drive.

This is a good time to think of your own self in these terms and see where you stand.

The reason I write this is because after all this time I've realized something about myself by using this simple tool: Most Heavy Metal listeners seem very preoccupied with the continued existence of Heavy Metal. With the influx of new listeners. With whether the new listeners are listening to the 'right shit'. With whether Heavy Metal is taking a down or up turn. With whether the mainstream is paying more or less attention to 'us'. With the quality of releases this year versus last year.

I do not wish for Heavy Metal to survive. I could care less about new bands - or to put it in a clearer way, I am interested in new bands that are great in the same way that I am interested in old bands that are great; In fact, I often wait for new bands to become old bands before I actively listen to them. If they're great, they'll be great forever.

I clearly remember that this hasn't been always so. As a young listener I would prefer to listen to a record that just came out than a record from the '70s, even if the '70s one was historically more important. I would voraciously devour metal mags for info. I know who Heathen are and I never liked a single note by that band. Truly useless information to me - now. The shift has been gradual, I suspect it's something most people go through, that is, if they allow themselves to grow up. Now, almost 29, I actively avoid listening to new bands unless they come very highly recommended, and enduringly so. If people tell me to listen to Vektor for a couple of years (as they did) then I do so. Though there is some schizophrenic swaying back and forth on this (which I think shows in the content of my writing, too) I can say that for the last five years at least, I have not actively been interested in New Heavy Metal. I keep current because I am interested in the subculture instead. But that feeds in my interest in the swirling chaos core of the genre itself. New warped mirrors to the same centre  New bands are a shaking kaledroscope, for me. They're not furthering Heavy Metal, they're not giving it 'new life'. Heavy Metal is 1970-1995 or so, the rest, so far, have been kaledroscopic recombinations, post-modern exercises and earnest if meagre-in-spirit civil war re-enactments. Heavy Metal might be done, and that's fine with me. I am just not done with Heavy Metal.

I posit that proponents of a scene want to keep themselves (or a youthful part of themselves) alive forever. A vital, bristling scene with new blood doing new things that sound quasi-metallic-but-aren't-really means they get to be young for a few more years. If something sounds closer to the real thing (neo-thrash, for example, for as real as thrash ever was in any case) all the better! If not, drone will do, sure. Grunge revival? At least it has heavy guitars! They love to be in the centre of mainstream attention, be it as devils or angels. Is there really a difference between posers loving you and posers hating you?. In that sense, the recent upswing of pop media interest in Heavy Metal is a veritable renaissance, for them. The blood is the life.

This is why I found the recent neo-thrash boom so frustrating. Because the music itself isn't good. Even if the sounds sound good, if the riffs are good, if the playing is superhuman, if the cover is Repka-perfect, thrash happened at a specific point in time, it came from NWOBHM and punk, it moved into techno-thrash, then progressive metal and death metal. The path is beautiful because it is a path from a million births to a million deaths. There is weight there. There is, if not truth, the best prime material from which someone moulds A truth with their imagination and willpower.

Now we must be excited because Vektor are almost re-inventing the wheel (playing more than basic thrash riffs in a row and having a Voivod logo) because, hey, he haven't heard that in a while.

Only we have - I have. I listen to Voivod all the time. Voivod's guitarist, Piggy, is dead now. He was alive when I finally wrapped my head around Nothingface. Weight.

Those that are like me recognise the beauty in Heavy Metal growing old and eventually dying. They want to be able to imagine 'rest', to imagine 'telos'. Living forever is a cruel imagination. They want to understand what Heavy Metal does to them and as the words are expressed (be it in prose or music or whatever other method) the color will leave their faces with them and they can finally become a stone. They must give up their own soul, to read their own minds.

If this sounds tragic (or worse, melodramatic) I urge you to not worry. That I 'wish to die' means little in  practical terms or even less in existential, we all have a death drive. To realize how it functions and to what imaginative ends it urges us is, instead, a delight. It is a brave move forward for me to realize that I don't really want for Heavy Metal to symbolize my eternal youth.

And in a very roundabout way, here's a silver lining for the folks that are resolutely in the 'METAL FOR EVER' camp, whom I alienate to no end. If there is 'old person Heavy Metal' to be created - and we haven't yet seen it be done successfully, we do not know what it would be - it would have to be created by people that are no longer chasing to recapture that youthful zest that got them into this subculture to begin with. Perhaps the only New Heavy Metal that would interest me (and as a by-product those that aren't like me) would be made by people whose love affair with this music has been coloured by the experience of shock, anger, grief, acceptance and rest that comes with the dying bride finally becoming a rotting bride.

And you? Do you want Heavy Metal to survive, readers?