Saturday, December 14, 2013

What's Heavy Metal still around for?

Retro-thrash, True Death Metal,  NWOBHM worship, so much god-darned black metal. For every record that you ever loved, that ever sounded vital and important to you there are now 20 clone bands that will play the same thing, dress it up in the same way and perform and produce it better. To match your expectations, no, to match your inflated recollection of how it sounded at the time. Yet, curiously empty a feeling when the music is actually played.

I finally get it. The reason these bands exist is not to cynically make money or to be famous or to get respect by their peers or anything like that (well, not primarily, at least). The reason these bands exist is because they're trying to protect metal music. They're trying to protect a tender part inside of them that resonates to it. A youthful, teen-aged part of themselves. From Watain to Municipal Waste, there's no more perfect way to explain why they're here. It's not to overcome the past or to take a tangential path outside of it for its own sake. They're here to protect a memory.

The access point of memory is in performance. To be more exact, if memory is an internal process - the reminiscing or recollecting of something - the externalization of the forces that are triggered by that memory must be a gesture, a movement, a symbolic action, in order to awaken a similar memory in others. Heavy Metal people lack the tools to make this performance radical and it is only due to their youth and the cultural zeitgeist that they ever did anything radical back in the '80s and '90s. This is clear, aside from the experience with the thing-in-itself, also from countless interviews where famed metal musicians exhibit a startling intellectual and spiritual vacuousness. Were these people really the ones making these amazing records? No. It was the time and place conspiring just as much as any one person's talent that made these records.

Ingrained in the tradition of Heavy Metal as we understand it now are none of the political or philosophical tools required to overcome the power of history itself, as nobody put them in there. The era is passed and without it the necessary analytical tools to re-contextualize the inherent pathos and rebellion of Heavy Metal are gone. Heavy Metal is now ingrained in culture as something eternal. Isn't that what we always wanted? Well... eternity's getting pretty old, you know? Olddd. It has a lawn and a mortgage.

It's a bitter thing that progressive metal, the closest we ever got to iconoclasm, is now normalized as just one more evolutionary path in the great benevolent tree of Heavy Metal where all genres like each other and the savvy metalhead picks their favorite fruit from any equal branch.

So, a performance to protect something tender inside the soul of a lonely person. The way to protect is by shielding the perimeter. Take a music that is inherently contradictory, sometimes ambiguous, vague, sometimes outright nonsensical and surgically remove all these aspects to its form and content, leave only the strong, the firm, the muscular tone, the terror of its texture. I dare you: nearly every record you love from the classic Heavy Metal pantheon has something to it that you would get embarrassed about. Tinny production. Off-key vocals. Bad drumming. Nasty solos. Idiotic cover. Questionable lyrics. Awful outfits.

New Heavy Metal music has been made robust, it has been made something to be proud of only in retrospect, only via retconning. The masculine performance that we desired our teenage years to have been, now magically is here. We can pretend that's how it always was. It's Kenn Nardi overcompressing the hell out of a weird record that was of a place and time. Of course that's how it always was, otherwise we must have been confused teenagers lost in ourselves, clutching at something, anything in the darkness sharp enough to carve a hole in our chest.

Romance is a black stone. It sits at the bottom of the mirror pool. A lying reflection of the moon that many a beautiful (and some not so much) youth followed to their drowned end. Strike the stone and blood will pour out, a river of blood that streams forever. That red mistress demands one thing of youth: "Destroy yourself, so that you may live forever".

Tall order! We can't do that! We hear the call. We're not 30, 40, 50 years old. We remember the call. But we can't do that. So we will hide this wound that will not close, we will build walls just as endless, dams infinitely big to hold the blood within. Nobody will get to our hearts if these walls are just perfect.

So, here's to occult black metal. Here's  to Incantation-clones up the wazoo. Here's to a million thrash bands playing the Exodus riff. Here's to more tenor power metal that any stomach could stomach. Here's to a million doom bands playing the same morose pentatonic riff. No weirdness. No nonsense. No ambiguity. No answer to the unanswerable question. No hubris. No exit. No point.

Modern Heavy Metal is here to make us feel better.


  1. In my mind, one question remains unanswered. Why are the teenagers of today starting neo-thrash, black metal, and old school death metal bands? Are they lost and confused or feeding off of a nostalgia for something they've never known? Could 2014 produce a genuine Hellhammer?

  2. Because they feel an obligation to their dad, to make him proud. That's the most maddening thing, because nobody made great Heavy Metal by trying to please the great Heavy Metal ghost.

  3. Do you suppose it is a coincidence that the Internet exploded right around the time Heavy Metal was getting into the last few broad things that it was doing? I don't have much perspective on the difference between pre-Internet metal culture and metal culture of today, since I was never really privy to those cultures in a real way.


  4. Ι can only share my personal perspective on this. Circa 1997 I went online. At the time I was listening to a lot of power metal, progressive metal and metallica (not a lot of other thrash, Metallica got me into metal) and had only started branching out in the other genres of metal. I couldn't stomach growly singing yet, but I was drawn to the darkness.

    The metal scene online at the time was mostly in irc channels, specifically #metal on Undernet servers, and our more local scene in #metal_gr for the Greeks.

    We had no concept that Heavy Metal was in its death throes. We would listen to the current acts of the time, (black metal and atmospheric metal, Tiamat made a huge stride with Wildhoney and the murders and arsons up north surely created a notorious scene overnight) and we would also lap up eagerly non-metal music in the periphery like, say, Swans or the Melvins and we would consider them all under the Heavy Metal prism.

    What the internet did to Heavy Metal is jumble its historical journey into a big ol' mess by making all the records available to download as mp3s. Suddenly you could have that amazing collection of ALL the records you were bred to desire by the metal media (because a collection of information = knowledge = power, so we thought). So you could have a series of NWOBHM singles and Tiamat's Wildhoney at the click of a button.

    An overabundance of riches decontextualized the flow of Heavy Metal from the beginning to the tail end of the '90s. Heavy Metal suffered the post-modern condition in a very swift, 2-3 years online.

    Who were depowered by this: 'Heavy Metal Uncles'. Let's call them that. People who were trying to instruct you in what you should listen to and when IF you want to be called a metalhead. You haven't heard of Mercyful Fate? Pfff... idiot. You really don't know your place. Come back to me 1000 years ago. This hierarchy was very much the hostile environment in which I was brought up as a metalhead and a large reason I still retain in my brain a terrifying amount of metal trivia. I have my sword and shield, come at me. Ask me where the drummer of Motorhead first made his living.

    So, now if someone told you off for not knowing Mercyful Fate, you could go and download it all and give it a cursory listen. This was - and is - empowering.

    1. to reduce evil to its appropriate size, i owned a cassette tape version of Melissa. of course, that worked out well.

  5. But it also destructured the Heavy Metal experience in the following way: we didn't pay attention to the records as much. We hadn't bought them so we didn't care so much about them and didn't try to like them, we just cared about the number of items in our collections. So before the internet if you bought a Mercyful Fate record, you would pour over information about it, study the material at hand so much because you were trying to glean some knowledge out of it all, some power, and of course you were trying to find a key to unlock and understand the weirdness inherent to the music - Mercyful Fate were super weird. To understand them, at some point you would have to understand, say, the Scorpions, or listen to the demos, or look at the cover art of the Brats material to go 'oooohhh... this is a bit like shock rock, isn't it?'. It was a gradual process rooted in history.

    We stopped doing that in the '90s because we suddenly got ALL the metal. And metal stopped doing it itself because it started to be created by people who were brought up having ALL the metal. It's a very common process of deconstruction, I think.

    So yes, there is a connection between the globalization of Heavy Metal and its demise, but it's not the only reason, I don't think. I still would take the bad with the good on this matter (give everybody all the metal, I mean. Fuck Heavy Metal Uncles) and hope those that still want to find the key to understanding this music will look at it historically at some point.

    The key to understanding modern metal however lies in understanding pre-modern metal and if it took me this long enough to get it, I am not too enthusiastic about how young people with no perspective will do. But then, they'll probably have a valid experience of their own that doesn't have much to do with mine. Perhaps the less you know of past glories in Heavy Metal will allow you to appreciate the smaller glories in today's confused metal output. Perspective and all that.

  6. postscript: a person who tried very hard to be the Internet's Heavy Metal Uncle was Spinoza Ray Prozak over at A website as old as the internet. He put in a sincere effort to structure the legacy of metal music online and present it in the way we understood it pre-internet (though not present the historical content we had, he had altered it to his own design). It is important to realize how much of a good job he did. Anus drones are all over the internet and regurgitate his ideology and language about metal music to this day. Metal musicians who were brought up with's version of metal history in mind are now creating new metal music. His version of metal history is alive and there isn't enough counterpoint to it. So, that should make us think, that the quality of historian the heavy metal scene could self-select would be a racist homophobe.

  7. I enjoyed your last comments, especially the part about knowledge=power. I was quite unsociable in my metal teen years so I never had a heavy metal uncle, instead devouring endless metal publications with information about bands that I never got to hear, awaiting for my turn to disseminate this unique and important knowledge. As en enthusiast of early (well, mid actually), perhaps it did act like a surrogate uncle now that I'm thinking about it. It was the first place I'd seen where metal mattered, was discussed intellectually and somewhat gave the promise of an esoteric worldview, a lifestyle beyond the leather & spikes thing of the "outside". Seeing this era again, there was a necessity for an ideology to be created, not just by Prozak but for all the oppressed underground. Don't forget the local "Iron" and "Forest" that tried to do the same thing from the uneducated & stupid perspective. It cannot be a coincidence that all ideological, power-seeking pursuits in heavy metal, that attempted to twist, box and objectify it came from the right-wing (Sun Knight, also?). The left-wing was probably too weak or too insular (like the Cascadian scene), one-foot-on-the-ground to make an impact. It's sad and funny to remember that when Prozak was ridiculed in mainstream forums around that era, this was being done under accusations of nerdy-ness, insularity, the unapproachable style of the reviews, and very seldom well, called out for being a nazi (or "nazi"). The psychology of the conservative is mostly defined by two things; resistance to change (what you're saying in the article) and the tough-guy attitude, both staples of the heavy metal character. So, whatever was revolutionary in heavy metal (besides willpower themed music) was internal and mostly stayed there, with the few exceptions of progressive or other "wierd" metal that created a kind of optional-space that wasn't important but one was allowed to dwell there once in a while.

  8. But it's important to note that, as much the uncle-propaganda twisted the perception of metal history, it also strengthened the subculture (even Euronymous was also another kind of right-wing uncle) by shaping it into a thing of concrete and controversial identity that continues to fascinate and bring new people into it. For mostly the wrong reasons. So, if metal is to dissolve under the fog of post-modernism, direct access and absence of mysticism and lies, it probably deserves so, for having grown like a giant with clay feet in the first place.

    1. ... grown like a giant with clay feet in the first place.

      love the vivid expression, A. i'm still thinking about it. i'm olddd, my mind is slowww. i'm curious about what the right reasons are.

    2. Hey Knifetooth, just wanted to say that I read your posts here and admire them although I didn't have much to comment until now. (I am supposed to be responding to the bigger post below, for some reason I wasn't sure if it would work). Good luck to your endeavors within heavy metal (or not) and also thanks for your upload and comment on my track (I think you know what I'm talking about).

    3. hello, A. yes, destiny's whispered tone often tells me to act on reason's doubts. too often, the coward in me rears its head in the reflection pond. ablation, then. ablation, now.

      not helm's ablation. fuck helm. fuck me. fuck you, too.

      i make my own ablation with a saw. i create my own kadath with fire released from my own blood. my blood, i command you, speak to me. i allow you. speak to my allies in tones they will hear. speak to mine enemies if they dare listen.

      there is much mediocrity in existence. in my own red vision, i am certain of this.

      i don't want to be more clever here. it's both blasphemous and creative. but to be disrespectful when kindness (a face of creation for me) of sharing comments, thoughts, posts, heart, blood....destiny...well, i think it's not a dangerous meeting. fuck my thinking.

      its past dawn but my feet are still cold. sunlight lick my toes, if you dare. others, do not block the sun.

  9. Absolutely, I agree with your comments and especially conclusion 100%

    re: metal being manipulated by the far-right, it's not just because the far right has a long history with propaganda through popular media. Heavy Metal is a continuation of a nationalist tradition in occultry, racism and sexism that runs parallel to the 20h century in total and up to today. A brief examination of the nazi ties to the occult will provide ample evidence that exactly what pulled esotericists pre-World War II towards the Nazis (and the Nazis to the esotericists), that allure of power, knowledge and darkness, is exactly what pulled us to Heavy Metal to begin with.

    Heavy Metal can't be an ally to any humanist or modernist end, at least not in its core, main stream. As you say, progressive metal and other weirdness was allowed to exist on the wayside. The main stream of metal music was, and remains about a romantisation of an ancient past, as fabricated by many generations of conservative thinkers (though they could at some point be considered revolutionary thinkers, it is as you say, conservative thought is not really about the content but the approach to the content). The power of blood. Prophecy. Immortality. The superbeing. Return to Nature.

    If Heavy Metal can be radicalized, we that can follow this line of thinking and have the means (perhaps) to contribute to that end, must play a part. It might be very necessary to actually let the Heavy Metal corpse lie, finally, and keep on playing music that is akin to it but doesn't confess it to be openly so - a sarcastic ruse, it would be, to make music that is in its absolute core defiant and rebellious like Heavy Metal is, and not admit to its identity - perhaps the only way for it to be vital again. But I am not certain.

    1. I will respond after so much time (sorry about forgetting) for what it's worth. I think it would be too far--fetched to equate it with far right esoteric-ism, just to parallel them would be enough. The core emotion of heavy metal is connected with ego and willpower and that has a definite place even in a humanist, post-capitalist society (it will be long before we all turn to Buddhist monks, or the socialist equivalent of that) so, in a way, the fight between heavy metal psychology and society-values parallels the fight between individual (to take) and collective rights (to give), which is at the core of every political situation. That means it will be always contemprorary in a way. And it's interesting to note that while the dominant economic ideology has not really changed during the last years, culturally "tribalism" and conservatism are dying, or that just happens in the western nations that produce the mainstream of the sub-genre (wouldn't be surprised at a rise of fascist or ego-driven heavy metal in Greece or Ukraine).

      There are two basic solutions to this problem that new bands face; either you shift your aesthetic preferences towards the paradox (?) of metal that does not embody power, keeping a fraction of its other elements (post-metal, see Deafheaven, Wolves in the Throne Room, Altars of Plague etc) or you have to re-define what power, willpower, desire means in the context of a humanist society. Most bands lately are taking the first route, which I suppose is the reason we are listening to less ballsy, desire-ridden bands lately. But the second route is the only one to take really, if metal as a thing of concrete identity is to survive in the upcoming 10-20 years. I have been clicking through new metal albums, wanting to hear metal, to find no metal or some-metal too many times recently. And regarding what you said, isn't it nicer and more ballsy to say "I'm a heavy metal band, I'm against racism, sexism, inequality and oh, fuck your occult" rather than play heavy metal and deny identification?

    2. I guess we'll have to see someone do it and see what the response is and how it resonates inside of us when that happens but I think it should give us some material to think about that it hasn't happened so far.

    3. no, i can't wait for someone to do it and see what the response is and how it resonates. i think there is no guarantee that the future of HM, an internal revolution, should be crafted by anyone but my own. and for my own.

      i posit, the clay footed giant is not on the outside. its inside.

      perhaps i take small steps to fix it. perhaps not. perspective and all that it empowers. i resonate to the meaning behind the saying: if you change the way you see the world (of HM) the world(of HM) changes.

      i posit, the clay footed giant is not on the outside but inside.

      What resonates for me in HM, resonates also in my sole, PERSONAL, experience.

      i like slowness now, more than ever in my ART and HM experience. i like the challenge of age: its baldness, wrinkles, its wealth. i am old by a rekoning, timeless by another.

      in contemplating the tales of Diogenes of Sinope, the Kingcat version, of the Original, that is, much HM beauty is harmonized, for me. his thoughtful agitation. his performance in a bone rummage (searching fatherly bones). his audience (a seeker, Alexander). his approach (morbidity/macabre/mortality), and influence. (I’m still reckoning his influence on HM and ME).

      I’m going to write about the Queensryche EP so I can see my own thoughts and heart. I have to bridge gaps of artifice. I must be blinded. I’m almost there but now I’m here.

      i am breaking down the walls of my own fears and ignorance on several fronts, namely, understanding HM, music craft, making artifice and living through uncertainties. i need not someone's permission or validation for HM or ART to have resonance in me.

      whats measurable to me is my guitar craft becoming more colorful due to this very post and ALL the comments. i'm inspired by the co-operating forces of POE. i'm tracking my resonance with but its not a fast distillation. I AM making progress. I AM iconoclast. there is only one of each of us.

      my reasoning is illustrated to me by the INDIVIDUAL fretted sound color on the fretboard. is there any bad note or combination of notes? which ones are vital? the un-cliche'd ones. the underused ones. the forgotten ones that summon inhumanity to remedy the human weakness in myself.

      no, i can't wait for someone to do it and see what the response is and how it resonates. i think there is no guarantee that there is future. No, someone else's hands will not fix the problem. not a hand of the prince of darkness, not Uwe, not Helm.

      i need to stop telling the mistress to feel my eyes. i need to be blind to the approval and concerns of others.

      i track resonance only if i must. that seems to be a loop of creation, for me. how absurd.

      i posit some of the metal in my head needs to become more malleable, plastic like, perhaps even like clay feet.

    4. Rest assured that both I and A. are doing our parts in actualizing our theories.

    5. thanks. it continues to be a dogged experience for me. please stay bloody and unbowed, both and All.

  10. Heavy Metal can't be an ally to any humanist or modernist end, at least not in its core, main stream.

    perhaps i live too much in paradise as the Adam song, by Mayfair, provokes. However, after what i call, reflection, i think i agree with the core of HM not being humanist or modernist. to be fair, it's not a reasoning i obtain from the Mayfair work. imnho (in my not humble opinion),...i'll have to continue this thought/comment later. i've got lot's to write and respond to within this thread and post.

    i mostly dwell in the first two Queensryche albums and i reckon much of HM from them, my examining and testing of them...and my own desires compared with artwork here and now.

    1. re: Prozac and nazi occult, well, perhaps we're judging the masks of letterforms. my eyes of silver resonate to a post called isolation he may have laid:

      MY truth, in the rune sea IS different than others' experience with Uncle.

      for now, i have Break on through to the other side of bliss.

      do not open Doors from behind your own ignorance.

  11. fuck yeah. fuck yeah. fuck fuck fuck. can can can. fuck the can. fuck the can of worms. break on through to the other side.