WE’RE LIVING IN A TRUE SATANIC BLACK METAL WORLD IN 2020
Our most recent episode of Black Mass Appeal delved into the history of Scandinavian Black Metal–my most extensive exposure to that regional culture since I finally learned what “smörgåsbord” means.
I do not have interesting or insightful opinions about music. Previously, I couldn’t have distinguished between any metal subgenre, and I’m at the age now where I’m at peace with such things.
But the premise of Black Metal intrigued me: I wanted to see what was at the root of its often very negative reputation. And perhaps now I do have a little bit of insight: It’s not the affect of Satanism, nor even the shockingly violent hate crimes committed by some of the genre’s most influential artists.
(That, ah, obviously doesn’t help though…)
To a degree, it’s not even that the music courts such an antisocial public image. Instead, the problem (if there is a problem) lies in what kind of material our societies consider upsetting to begin with.
You might call Black Metal a touch antagonistic. Israeli band Svpremacist recently released an album titled Black Fuck You Metal--which is also, in their words, the “exclusive” style they play.
But in reality, I perceive much of this music as not antagonizing but antagonized, a response to what the musicians perceive as the shallow, bankrupt, meaningless affect of the surrounding culture.
“Stupid people must fear Black Metal” the late founder of pioneering Black Metal band Mayhem said in a 1991 interview, railing against “shitty bands,” “jogging suits,” and “false metal.” (I too am animated by an abiding hatred of pyrite.)
“I hope many people will hate me after this interview and consider it personal,” he said in another piece. The vibe is clear: The world is hostile, we’re under attack, rage is the only just response, and nothing we say or do can approach a fraction of what’s inflicted on us.
At some points in my life I might have called that attitude juvenile. But today I would probably characterize it as…normal. Because it’s 2020, and I pay attention.
In May, Loudwire’s Graham Hartmann asked, “Why is metal so angry?” citing precedent-setting music history going back to blues standards that emerged from (and were appropriated by) racist American power structures up through 20th century protest anthems and punk rock.
Of metal mayhem particularly, Metallica frontman James Hetfield credits “a feeling of not being heard, a feeling of manipulation,” while Sepultura lead Max Cavalera (a big influence on early Black Metal) cites his experiences with third-world poverty. In 2016, Pantera lead Phil Anselmo told Rolling Stone in a deeply weird interview about his history of childhood sexual abuse.
And Liturgy frontwoman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s apparently controversial manifesto Transcendental Black Metal cites more abstract but no less real problems like existential alienation, spiritual poverty, and, after she first presented her ideas at a 2005 symposium, years upon years of angry Internet harassment that has left her ankle-deep in digital shit.
“We were against everything,” Mayhem bassist Necrobutcher told Kerrang! in 2019. “We saw something wrong in society, the scene grew, and it spiraled out of control.”
These day I’d say it’s not a question of, “Didn’t we all feel that way once?” Rather, don’t most of us feel that way now? SHOULDN’T we feel that way now?
People are dying en masse for no reason; others are cast down into poverty from which they’ll never escape despite relatively easy solutions on tap; and the brazenness of public and private corruption has never been higher in our lifetime.
One may respond that these things have always been true, and that all that changed this year is the degree and, um, the fact that it’s now happening to us instead of even poorer people.
But that’s only more provoking. In this environment, anger is not juvenile; anger is the only mature thing.
I wouldn’t say that we don’t have enough anger in America today. Your one uncle who stands outside of Walgreens and screams because he’s not allowed in without a mask is, ah, certainly empowered in his anger. He’s also low on his blood-pressure meds, which could be a problem.
But this is a luxury only for some. “Society holds that when a person is angry, they are not rational, and thus should not be taken seriously,” Char Adams wrote in Bustle in 2017, and “when this line of thinking is applied to Black women, it’s even more hurtful.”
“When men get angry, their power grows. When women do, it shrinks,” Soraya Chamely observed on Medium. But this standard too can be racialized, as black, Arab, and Latino men must often retreat from anger for fear of provoking dangerous stereotypes of their own.
There are other reasons you may be marginalized away from your feelings: Maybe you’re too poor or too young or too radical, or in some other way inconvenient. Nobody can prevent you from feeling emotions, but they can shut off all the valves to potentially express them.
In Black Metal music I distinguish not just anger and disaffection, but a basic assertion of the right to be angry and dissatisfied, or maybe just the right to BE at all.
Romans 12 preaches, “Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: Vengeance is mine, saith the lord.”
But in my estimation, gods have no place in wrath; it’s a fundamentally human endeavor. And one we can’t risk being alienated from, lest we become divorced from our own worth.