Saturday, November 2, 2013

How to Appreciate Death Metal Dialectics

Let's play a little game. Read this first.

Now, let's go down the line, one by one:

1. Pay Close Attention to the Tearing Guitars and Unusual Vocals. What could it be that urges these musicians to perform in this particular way? If they were going to play classical music, they'd have played classical music. But instead, they're playing death metal. What are they screaming about? Pay attention to the attack of the music and the particular themes of the lyrics. There's a question begged in all of this, and you shouldn't disregard any aspect of the whole to appreciate the whole. If the severity of the music or the inhumanity of the vocals annoy you, that is great. Never listen to death metal again, if you can. If you find yourself drawn again to this music though aspects of it startle or annoy you, that's good too. What does either response say about you?

2. Do Not Watch Any Live Performances by Death Metal bands. Do not observe how band members manipulate any of their instruments. There's nothing that should impress you in the process of making these sounds and it's the crutch of intellectual frauds to defend something that sounds like this by saying that it takes a lot of skill to do it. If you want to pursue something that will provide tools of understanding all music, study melody and harmony and the history of music on the whole, not idiots pressing fingers on fretboards. Studying the history and guidelines of music composition will illuminate that most death metal is too much fuss over very little. Playing in little chromatic boxes, moving hands up and down fretboards in a confused masculine performance.

3. Most Death Metal bands do not write their own music. They're regurgitating the same ten tricks that the originators of death metal came up with, with slight variations in technique or aesthetics. Most of their desire to be in a death metal band stems from 'the desire to be in a death metal band'. This means their music product itself is secondary to the performance of the role of the creator of the product. They need no more respect for indulging in their vices than any other pop music performer that's outright reproducing earlier material.

4. Take the context and subject matter completely personally. These songs are exactly about you. If they were not, they would not have reached you. In their function as products that enter the culture, their truth is communicated. There's nothing useless on a death metal product, everything about it tells you what it is. At the same time, there is nothing behind the curtain. Do not trust people that say you need to 'get' something to appreciate it. There's nothing to get. How do you feel listening to some suburban white man's fantasies of gutting prostitutes and raping the bastard Nazarene? If you're offended, take that offence seriously. If you like it, take that attraction seriously. What does it say about you?

5. Learn nothing about sub-genres. And never engage a metal fan in conversation about metal sub-genres of any other such trivia. Instead ask them how they feel when they listen to music about gutting prostitutes. Don't let them off the hook. Earnestly ask them to explain the joke, as it were, and watch them crash and burn. There are many fascinating things to explore about death metal and almost none of them have to do with the discussion of the form.

6. Show absolutely no respect for the artists.

Thumbs up.


  1. Can I just say that I LOVE wikiHow? I have no idea whether their guides are sincere or not, and I frankly don't care. They're the perfect expression of our postmodern culture. It would be really difficult to make a more shallow product.

  2. How can you not love wikiHow? It's a direct portal to the unbearable wound of existence. Gaze inside it and go mad.

  3. My favorites have always been the ''how to be gothic'' ones. The level of contradiction is mind-boggling.

  4. There is an interesting kind of omertà between metalheads in obscuring the darkest depths and significances of their music. Because, obviously, to partake in the fantasy, you need to firstly relieve yourself of the moral judgement of liking it. You'll see the same behavior in people discussing either the latest nsbm release, or the latest porn dvd or bdsm show, or whatever other "deviance". We'll pretend it isn't really important for either of us, however we'll rate it and talk about all the external stuff like what label it is out from, how many copies had been cut and how well the performers perform. All but the actual content and what our little souls felt while experiencing it.

    I thought the wikihow article was somewhat cool, in that it was at least an insider's article, trying to bring people in. Like the receptionist in a coven, showing "hey, look, we are much more innocent that you thought", haha. Unfortunately, people don't appreciate a crash course into the hidden recesses of their soul, so your approach of "what does thinking about gutting prostitutes tell about yourself?" certainly would not work. What's worse, though, is that it STILL doesn't work for the majority of veteran heavy metal listeners, who seem to hold their power fantasies in an eternal slumber mode, separating them clear-cut from reality. Like, "Dude, I work all day, go home to my family, got 2 or 4 free hours in which I'll watch a fantasy movie or listen to heavy metal. I'm not going to hear your bullshit moral judgement about my me-time!". This is what the masquerade brings: Lots of slavery, a little escapism, few if anything in-between.

    Heavy metal is not a philosophy, even though we can try externally to philosophize it, it's function is just to be a first pillar of a deeper acquaintance with ourselves, by these particular themes that is usually covers. It won't liberate humanity, because it doesn't have the tools to do anything beyond shaking up things a bit. As all philosophy and art and science that came before it, really, because they are generic and not directly translatable to a human's life; for one to do so, always demands a huge deal of personal strength.

  5. Just wanted to add something interesting that came-up to me after posting; it's very possible that all these ridiculously extreme fantasies of heavy metal work as a kind of over-compensation because of the clear distinction and imbalance between forced reality and free-without-morals-escapism.

  6. But where fantasy and reality intersect is truly in the ambiguous fields of morality and politics: that fantasy me-time that supposedly has no interference with day to day life is not as bloodless as that. People who regularly listen to music about gutting prostitutes will have their value sets informed by the power structures in this art: strong male roles who dominate weak women, in the very least.

    It would be really enlightening to take a cross section of heavy metal populace like those you describe above and cross reference their favourite metal material and their morals and politics. Obv. it's not just heavy metal that is reinforcing some moral sets, but it IS one of the vectors that contribute. And Heavy Metal is supposed to be about rebellion, and how can rebellion occur within macho masculine constructs, exactly?

  7. Of course it is not innocent and while only a 0.01% of listeners may actually end up gutting a prostitute, there will be "molecules" of this fantasy dispersed in many fields. The complexities of these relations are too veiled for me to make any kind of absolute renunciation though (after all, I am still a listener of heavy metal) so the useful thing is, for a start, to raise the awareness of the matter and pose the question as you do, to break the omertà. Still, I think the problem is not in the phantasy itself, but the absence of satisfaction, fulfillment and perhaps raison d' etre in the reality-connected portion of life.

    You know, rebellion is often a wider (or probably, more limited) concept than the 60-70's progressive notion you have of it. The army's Generals used that word too in the Greek coup. Heavy metal's limited philosophical background understands it as "me-against-the-world" not as "me-liberating-myself-and-the-world". So, a mere re-balancing of power in which the individual gets to be the alpha male, the "King" rightfully reclaiming the throne (or, more in tune with reality, stops to be society's laughing stock or omega male and gets some respect) is enough. The fact that the individual never gets to be the alpha male, or reach in a position where one feels safe without the need to constantly validate his "worth" (perhaps impossible in modern highly competitive capitalism) could be one of the reasons that many heavy metallers don't get past these individualist, self-becoming fantasies, to become interested in the social, the truly political.

  8. RE: #3

    Sometimes I feel as though listening to death metal is comparable to wandering through a rainforest blindfolded. It's difficult to navigate, and furthermore, if you were airlifted from one rainforest to another, it would be nigh impossible to ascertain whether you were in the same rainforest or a different one.

  9. Wouldn't it be weird if an entire music genre didn't conform to one or two shallow stereotypes?