Sunday, July 29, 2012

This Entire Fucking Battlefield

"And the reality is that there’s a lot of stupid fucking crap about black metal, but it’s not a joke!"

John Gossard, from the band Weakling.

I struggle with black metal.  I really do.  I have this totally aware of its shortcomings but simultaneously utterly, head over heels, outrageously in love with what it does relationship with it.  You're aware of the pomp, the pretentiousness, the at times simply boring passages of music.  You try and explain it to people you respect and you see their eyes glaze over, the nodding of the head becomes rhythmic, trance like, as you discover that in fact they don't care at all about your musings on this music.  You begin to sound, you realise with a sudden rush of anger, just like that guy you hate who talks about Shakespeare in a manner that suggests that you, as the guy who-isn't-that-into-Shakespeare, doesn't really get it.  You awake with a start one night and wonder whether this music that means perhaps too much to you is in fact, perhaps, utter crap, and you have bought into the bullshit, and are so far down the rabbit hole that you can't reach the muddy sides, such is the speed that you're falling.


You think about that indescribable, almost other-worldy tingle down the spine the music gives you, which you want to think is entirely unique to you but you in fact know everyone feels about different kinds of music.  You settle, therefore, for just shrugging your shoulders, and suggesting that other's simply, 'don't get it'.  And so you're back at square one.  You are, it emerges, that guy.

Arguing with Brendan last night, trying to fend of the elitist moniker, I concluded that where punk, for example, is about community, the sharing of ideas, black metal is entirely about the self.  It is intensely private.  That doesn't mean it isn't for everyone...simply that it manifests itself entirely differently for everyone, making it impossible to 'compare notes' so to speak.  

To return to the example from the last post, it's a bit like concepts of pain, or colour.  No matter how sure we are that my pain, and yours, my red and your red, are in fact the very same, there is no way to verify it.  If I point to a red patch and say hey that's red, and someone else agrees with me, for all i know his red is my green, but we both agree that that certain point at which we point is what we call red.  Concepts of colour are entirely private, they are inaccessible to anyone else.

It's the same with black metal.  The very same riffs probably mean something entirely different, perhaps radically different, from person to person.  Go to a black metal show, you'll see a lot of people with their eyes closed.  There is an unwillingness to let anyone else into this world that you yourself have fabricated entirely.  

Most people who like black metal protect themselves by acknowledging the absurd qualities of the music.  They joke along with others about corpse paint, about church burnings, of sacrificial suicide which, by the way, only applies to a a small sub-set of bands.  But here's what Gossard was getting at, when trying to explain his feelings about black metal.  He was in a band called Weakling, with members from The Fucking Champs.  Gossard felt the jokes came too thick and fast from the post punk guys, that perhaps he was a metalhead stuck in the middle of a hipster joke band.  Where he looked for sincerity, he found perhaps a tongue firmly in cheek.

They released Dead As Dreams and in so doing created the blueprint for American black metal for the next ten years.  Was it a joke band to the other members, Gossard wondered?  Was his sincerity being mocked by those who only saw absurd posturing?  Listening to the record, I find it hard to believe the other members were't also caught in the spell.  So transfixing, so other-wordly are the songs, it seems impossible that hipster irony could penetrate the languished wails.

But that's just it.  Despite all the bullshit, black metal isn't a joke.  It touches something in us, or at least some of us.  Something that is inexpressible in words, or at least something that loses all its profundity once vocalised.  

We could wax lyrical about perhaps it being the music touching the infinite, or the soul, but that would be a mistake.  It wouldn't do the music justice.  

A lot of North-West American BM bands, caught up as they are with concepts of humans interaction with the natural world, suggest that their music is perhaps the sound of a long forgotten desire to reunite ourselves with mother nature.  The death rattle, if you will, of our longing to live in harmony with a world we have long since become entirely alienated from.  

I have no idea if this is true.  Maybe it's just pretentious bullshit to sell records to gullible Earth-First hipster kids.  

But what if it's true?  What if the intense, darkly melancholic, yet strangely hopeful mood this music puts me in is in fact, I don't know, somehow taking me somewhere else?  Maybe it is the sound of the infinite.  Maybe it's just the sound of humanities' anguished screams, reverberating around an un-caring, or dying world.

Maybe it's the sound of the dying world.


And there it is.  At the point at which I think, yes, finally, I've got black metal nailed, the crux of why you love this music so fucking much...it's gone.  Nothing but ranting, pseudo philosophy, and a slightly embarrassed, (as in, look what you wrote fuckhead) kid.  All that's left is the music, you, and the World.

But that's just me.  It's probably something entirely different to you.



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