Shamus and I met a few years ago through mutual friends at university. Aside from the odd party, or the occasional uni catch up, we didn't really hang out that much. At that time 'friend' was perhaps not the most appropriate label. I always thought he was a rad/interesting dude. But we just never hung out that much.
Fast forward to the beginning of this year. I haven't seen Shamus for months, possibly more than a year. Up pops a Facebook conversation, from none other than the man himself.
"Hey James. Do you know much about the Cascadian Black Metal scene?"
I inhaled sharply. Not only did no one I knew like this music much, I had no idea Shamus was even into metal, let alone the stuff that had so utterly and completely captured my imagination for the past year or two.
We chatted for a long time that night, swapping bands, and vague impressions as to what the music meant to us. It was exhilarating. I couldn't talk to anyone about this stuff, because I always came off sounding like a total nut-job. Even I was suspicious of the things I was beginning to say in regards to how this music made me feel.
Shamus obviously felt the same way, and the excitement on behalf of both of us was pretty clear. We've been communicating online for months now (he's overseas). Since that cool March night when the world of Cascadian black metal suddenly exploded from being inhabited solely by me, to Shamus as well, Shamus has released a solo record.
Inspired by the Cascadian scene, Shamus has taken the music that means so much to him, and has attempted to transform it and apply it to what surrounds him, here in Australia. Shamus did me the honour of consulting me in regards to some of the demos, and has even credited me in the tape sleeve, which is to be released this coming October I believe.
Here is Shamus' band. While perhaps not a perfect record, as the first attempt of a solo artist, it is breathtaking.
Since the release of the record, Shamus has travelled to the Cascadian region, and has since met up with almost every single artist I would, without hyperbole, give my left something or other, to simply shake their hand.
From discussing split demos with established bands, to staying with the members of Wolves In The Throne Room at their farmstead (!!), Shamus has, it's fair to say, so far lived the dream.
I'm incredibly inspired by Shamus' actions, not simply due to reflexive star struck notions, but also in part at my total admiration at his ability to utterly change his life in the space of six months, based purely on his fervent, passionate, perhaps almost violent, love for this music.
Please support Shamus, his band Cicadan, and any action or protest that seems like it might support the idea that we, as people, are somehow vastly and disastrously disconnected from the Natural World.
It's with some amazement that I type the above. My support for Shamus is non-controversial, but it's my changed world view that's hinted at that leaves me reeling. Please indulge me for a little longer. The italics are simply to separate this from the above.
I know a lot of people who like, for want of a better term, 'hipster black metal.' Namely enviro/anarcho inspired black metal. What seperated Shamus from the rest of the trendies is, I suspect, his total conviction that this music has somehow created a sonic landscape that does in fact touch us on a deeper level than any other music. I felt the same. But I didn't want to.
I had grown up, as a child, utterly engrossed in false and imaginary worlds. Through literature, gaming and various embarrassing miniature driven hobbies, I came to view the normal, pragmatic world as something of a bore. What was the fun in realism, i suppose i asked myself, when the metaphysics of the soul can take you anywhere?
This all changed in university when, bludgeoned into the analytic way of thinking, I came to believe that philosophy (my study of choice) was the process of sorting out confusions in language and that language, by the same token, was only meaningful if it referred directly to something a priori (true by virtue of itself, rather than by virtue of the world (eg. 2+2=4) or something scientifically verifiable. Any other, perhaps more metaphysical considerations were, for want of a better term literally meaningless, insofar as they did not refer to anything in the world. No object could be picked out (eg. 'soul' is as a term meaningless because there is no soul to verify it's truth status....'God' is another good one.) To put it crudely, the majik was killed, and i revelled in this new, simplified, beautiful world. You know the type. The smug bastard who reads a lot of Richard Dawkins, is convinced the scientific method is the path to finding out capital T truth (ie, how the world is. Most scientists of course deny this, they say that theories are simply the best way to describe the current data at the present time, waiting for that particular theory to be falsified (see Karl Popper), but you would be hard pressed to find a scientist who doesn't, in his hear of hearts, believe that what he is uncovering is in fact Truth, the way the world is).
Punk rock and thrash/death metal are good music tastes to have with this world view. Militant realism goes hand in hand with reactionary politics/social consciousness/basically giving a damn. Ie. 'Enough with this philosophy bullshit, and this mumbo jumbo, there are real people/animals starving/being tortured/murdered, and we don't have the luxury to speculate from our armchairs'. I listened to black metal casually (the conventional European stuff) with a tongue firmly planted in cheek. I scoffed at the mythology, the rhetoric, the white boy angst that came out of the early 90s movement. It wasn't real. it was a bunch of kids pretending to be wizards. It was bullshit.
Wolves In The Throne Room changed all this for me. In the same way that Metallica changed my world view forever on that early Winter day in 2005, so too did WIITR in late 2009. The spasm of excitement when i heard the opening riffs in 'Diadem of 12 Stars' has largely remained with me since. Suddenly, the militant rational walls that I had built up in my mind to fend off any fears that, perhaps the World was more mysterious than Science allowed us to think. The majik returned. Images of ancient forests, whispered myths, shamanic ritual were swirling through my consciousness.
How could i possibly feel nostalgia for a time I never experienced, for a place I have never been too?!
What the fuck is going on?
How am I so certain that the screams coming from the pressed vinyl are somehow summoning an ancient sadness that we, as people, all somehow feel. How can i know that it represents the dying cries to be reunited, somehow, to an older world?
Anarcho primitivists have long spoken about this. It doesn't mean destroying your iPhone and living in a yurt. It is more about (and we return to my disbelief at my own words) a spirit or soul that has been lost. A way of seeing the world.
Almost every time I listen to this kind of music I am overwhelmed with a sadness I didn't know I had, for a place of which I have only seen pictures.
Shamus feels this majik too. It's gotten to the point where I don't give a fuck if I sound like a white city kid pining for the fjords. That my romanticism of this music has reached crescendo/absurdity. Ultimately it doesn't matter.
What matters is that this music has utterly, fundamentally changed the way i see the World, and my place in it. Suddenly, I'm not so certain about all the Truths i held closely. Ritual and myth (even religious ones) suddenly make much more sense, and are calming to me, rather than subject for hatred. My strong sense is that the World is a much larger, more confusing place than we give it credit for, and I am suddenly much less quick to judge how others deal with this fundamental existential fear/dilemma.
This isn't necessarily about believing in ghosts, or hobgoblins. It's more about being open to the idea that we, as human beings, somehow need to feel spiritually connected to a power larger than ourselves. It's ideas of Humanity, God, Nature, the World that come into play here. Maybe we can't divide and break down everything into atoms and particles, genus and species. Perhaps some things can't be explained.
Maybe that's ok. Maybe it's crucial.
I'm much more comfortable, now, with allowing spirits to dance on the peripheries of my vision.
Suddenly, my heart stirs, and I feel the majik again.
Somewhere, in the Cascadian wilderness, I know Shamus does too.