Sunday, February 27, 2011

Metal Consumerism part the second

"I think I'm cool because I chose to have something done to me."

For as long as I've been communicating with music aficionados of any type, that's what I've been sensing their tastes mean to them. They derive a sense of self-worth over belonging in a subculture rotating around this genre or type of music, as opposed to that other one. The most recent development is that subculture with so hybridized tastes that they take pride in not belonging in any traditional musical subculture because their tastes are so eclectic, that they therefore create the ultimate antagonistic subculture, that which denies it itself exists, yet very neurotically clings to their ultimate status as knowers-of-taste. Though the post-modern definition of such a group is tricky, how it functions is ageless, it's how any societal in-group functions. We are better. The Other is worse. Those people that listen to that other type of music are lame, obviously. Music taste as an ornament, not much different from having body piercings or an ironic tattoo, only even easier.

Listening to music is the easiest thing a person can do on this earth. It's actually almost not even an action. Music is done to you. Easier than watching a movie because there's no plot to follow and it can be done completely passively and in the background. Easier than reading a lowbrow romance novel because you don't even have to turn the pages with your fingers. Music demands almost nothing from you, and even the few requests it may project are subject to the consumer's adventurousness. You don't even have to pay for music anymore. And in return you can now claim to be better than other people that have different, 'less advanced' tastes than you.

Self-definition based on what a person chooses to be a willing victim to is problematic. If this or that music means something more to you, figure it out. Explain it to yourself, and to others. Be proactive about what you learned through art, put your theories to the test.

Taste is meaningless. Actually, let me qualify that, taste is very meaningful when one is searching internally to see what their aesthetic sense will lead them to. When that has occurred, taste is now bereft of function. You are you, your tastes are just a reflection of you. You can't talk about tastes without talking about yourself. Yet people try. They use their disembodied taste, socially, to maneuver around others and ultimately hide themselves. This is counter to the function of aesthetics. What type of music moves you is not useful to anyone unless it's in conjuncture to an explanation on how that music moved you. For such an explanation, the focus shifts inevitably from the 'music', to the 'you'.

There's been a critique on Poetry of Subculture that it's too subjective, too based on my own experiences with the music. I find that critique absolutely fitting, and I encourage anyone who's looking for faux-objective reviews of records to move along. What type of music I've allowed to have happened to me is not very important. What I got from it, is. If there's anything I want to encourage with this blog, it's a dialogue on the characters (myself and commentators) behind the tastes, the human beings that are trying to negotiate what a "Heavy Metal" might mean to them. The equal process could be done with a "punk rock" instead. The only reason it's not is that I can't talk about punk rock because I haven't been exposed to a lot of it. I'm sure there's a blog out there somewhere trying similar things with that, and with whatever else type of art.

I have a Heavy Metal blog because I spent many years listening to Heavy Metal. Not because Heavy Metal is better than any other type of music around. That sort of antagonism is diverting from the function of aesthetics: a common language to discuss intuitions and personal philosophy.

There's a few social reasons people what art to be just something that they 'chose to be a victim to'. First of all, the modern concept of art is that it's the product of some sort of savant geniuses, who, eschewing societal norms, choose to dedicate themselves to the Great Art. Towards them the consuming public feels constantly inferior. They listen to the loud music and they feel raped by their betters and they love that place of powerlessness, the small death of having someone else's will completely envelop them for a few minutes a day. Obviously artists play up to this role, there's much to gain by pretending to be a god. People do not love art and the artist and therefore make them successful, people love the artist and their art because they are successful. Artistic failure is the subject of the cruelest mockery instead. First the rape, then the Stockholm syndrome. A rapist with a flaccid penis is a failure of ontological proportions.

Deep down inside, the consumer loathes the power of the art over them. They then try to play it off as if it's just entertainment. They pretend art is a toy. What is the functional definition of a toy? An approximation of a real thing, a fakery that is given animation only at the hands of a proactive party. Music isn't a toy because the listener is not giving it life with their will. They're just pressing a button and the art takes over. The listener is the plaything of the art.

Either vantage towards art is distant, it bridges no space towards the center. It's just an endless revolution around an inscrutable core, obfuscated through social reinforcement of the 'art' as something simultaneously frivolous and beyond the capacity of the consumer to achieve on their own.

I do not know if every person has it in them to become artists. And when I hear absurdly talented and very successful artists such as Steve Vai go on about how 'making music is a human right and every person should know how to play an instrument' I get sickened by the distance between what he's describing and what my reality is as much as any consumer around me that hasn't even touched a guitar. The issue is much more systemic: what are the systems of authority and power in our western world that want art (and not mere performance, which has been subverted to commonality over reality talent shows and other such debris over the last decade) to be both unreachable but powerful, frivolous yet mystical? Is this because this is the best way to keep people buying product? When they at once feel that they never could create this art on their own, that it's special, but at the same time that it's a consumable commodity that needs be replenished as soon as possible?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Metal Consumerism

Some art is here to remind the audience of positive past memories and to provide a comfortable space in which to re-approach them from slightly different vantages. The interest in that type of art rests on those reconfigurations being inventive enough for the familiarized audience to want to follow them for a duration, but not so derivative as to make the effort seem not worth it. At the end, this type of art is at best supplementary to the original material: it might be conducive to an enjoyable time, but the exact tool it uses to be approachable (its reference of past art forms) serves also as the main reason for it being inessential.

How essential art may be could be judged by how the audience is drawn to repeated experiencing of it and/or of how enduring the internal representation of the art is, how it connects with various strands of one's psychic web. Most people do not rush to re-experience art that is strongly referential to past glories. They go instead, directly to those past glories. What identity is left for this strongly referential modern art artifact, is that of yet-another product. Inoffensive, taking up bitspace and perhaps hoarded by collectors of artifacts.

When compulsive consumers-cum-critics praise this or that modern piece of referential art, they're pretending that they're spending a lot of time with it and that this is a testament to the quality of the material (they're making a claim then, of the art being essential, as explained above). Do not trust them, divide their claims of how much they've experienced the object of art by ten or more. If they say they've been listening to a record for two months straight, this means they've given it a half-dozen incomplete listens while surfing the internet, perhaps. The reason they're lying is because they know nobody will pay any attention to their recommendations if they were truthful about how they're using the product. Art is still sold on the basis of essentialism even when both critic and consumer do not consume the product with mind to its essential quality. The merit of art has been sidestepped, it has become at best a selling point on a marketing sheet. What is sold and bought instead, is a brief feeling of elation, belonging, an experience of something one already is prepared to experience.

Art that builds strongly on past foundation often becomes blurred together in the minds of the audience; in this way often Heavy Metal bands are no longer interpreted as if they're making confident strides forward with their musical offerings to the form, instead their - often decades long - contributions are slight and non-cumulative. This band introduced more orchestral elements, perhaps that one plays faster than most. This one has some kickass graphic design to go with their extreme metal. These aren't innovations, they're safe variations. There is no 'one album' that cuts through the mists as a definitive statement. Ergo, listeners do not come to these bands to be immersed in a singular world, to feel as if the only thing that exists at that moment is themselves and the Entity summoned by this mythical piece of art. They listen to this music instead on shuffle, a record's as good as any other, all from a distance. They can appreciate what the band may be bringing to the table on some intellectual level, but they're not enchanted by the music to the degree that they suspend the language through which they categorize and codify their experience. This art is just not startling enough to achieve that. It is in this way that say, a black metal band in 2011 becomes just a black metal band in 2011. The riffs might be nice, the songs might flow well, the black mountains and treetop frost cover is pleasant to look at but... all these aesthetic signifiers are gazed upon from a distance. With distance comes irony. The feeling of being outside and afar from what one feels is a defining aspect of modern life. Art, romantic art in particular, was intended as a remedy of exactly that. If it fails at eradicating the distance between host and emotion, it has failed completely as romance. What is left is mostly a comfortable, safe product.

There's also a different type of art. Strongly iconoclastic, it channels most of its strength through violence, an eventual destruction of all past reason, 'artistic norm' and audience expectation. Often this music is abrasive and extreme, it likens in its assault the psychosexual charges of sado-masochism. It aims to destroy boundaries. Appreciators of this type of art endlessly try to negotiate what this music means to them and its seeming resistance to pacification. This type of art means the audience harm. It means to strike at their core and watch how the organism mutates to cope with the reminder of mortality. The purpose of the subculture around this type of art is one of understanding, applying of meaning and eventual pacification. When someone says "oh yeah, I love listening to noise music" what they're saying is "I am fascinated by how this music startles and shocks me, and I'm trying to wrestle some meaning out of this by owning these feelings and fashioning an identity out of my weakness".

This type of art is more difficult to commercialize because its benefits are less obvious to the distanced consumer. It's very difficult to keep one's distance when they're being raped, though modern culture is trying its best to achieve this.

Art that doesn't rest well in the mold of commerce struggles to find a place in a capitalist society. Some is branded 'outsider art' (whatever that means), or often it is forgotten as some curious evolutionary dead-end buried in some niche of extremity.

Both tendencies described above exist in Heavy Metal music. I'd go as far as to say that the most successful examples of Heavy Metal music are found in bands that straddle the space between these two impulses: to build and to destroy. They make music to be enjoyed, but not to be enjoyed too much. They make music that suggests, but doesn't make itself a slave to suggestion. Heavy Metal failure is often the inability to keep this balance. Some of it is strongly classicist in its self-considered place in musical history. It draws directly from past sources with reverence and docility. There is nothing extreme in an Iron Maiden clone band in 2011, nothing startling, nothing to crush the distance of the disaffected consumer. Those that appreciate it do so because it reminds them of something that once was startling and strong. That's as much as they need from this music anymore. Other is so bent on extremity and destruction that it forgets that to ensnare a listener there needs to be a promise of enjoyment on the surface. In either case, there seems to be a market for the debris of this friction between extremes.

Heavy Metal is intensely commodified and this is easy to see by how its treated by the internet world: blogs upload product, reviewers talk about 'value for money' and aesthetic considerations are bypassed as so much as homework: "we're here to tell you this might be worth listening to once, the work of what it means is best left to the consumer". Pretender taste-makers rush to exclaim how much they care about lyrics and cover art and meanings only to so clearly show how little they actually do. Their reflex is to shift through product, catalogue any reaction slightly above complete apathy, and (through detestable hyperbole of said slight emotions) shift the public's gaze towards anything that isn't bare nothing. You should totally listen to this, dude. It's your new favourite band, trust me. I've been blasting it while working out for like, two months now.

In this climate, even Heavy Metal music bent to startle, to rape, to destroy, is promptly de-fanged. When the listener has no stake in what they're perusing, when there's so much distance to be thwarted, even the most savage voices in Heavy Metal will be muted. In this climate, what has become the outmost savagery, is a return to the human, a return to ambiguity and a challenge to the consumer to stop consuming and start reinterpreting.

So much extreme metal, in this sense, is anything but. It's safe, it's comfortable. The consumer that buys a goregrind or a national socialist black metal cd knows what they're getting. There's nothing to interpet. If there's anything scary, anything startling in this process is how willingly they indulge their consumer vices. The music itself is just a reference to a time where blood and guts and crematoriums were briefly shocking for their teenage psyche. The consumer is building an identity as an eater of woes. Gulping down the worst psychic wounds of humanity in prepackaged, easy-to-swallow artistic representations. They're pretending to grow up by eating harm and shitting distance. Sideways glances into a wound that would be insufferable to gaze directly inside of.

But romantic art is made to push you beyond your limits.

As I've explained, the artists themselves feel these things and they try to negotiate a path through it all, and there's much valid critique to be made of what they come up with. But also, at some point, the art itself is blameless. Even if an artist is doing their best to transcend the debris of commercialization (though most are not even trying), the eaters will eat them all the same and feel a slight heartburn perhaps, something that classifies as barely above the nothing. And then they'll burp their transient opinions on some blog. The only remedy to this for someone who wishes to use art to better themselves, is an aesthetic diet: to stop eating so much horror so as to remember what horror means. To stop eating so much comfortable referential-exultant reprise of the past so as to remember what the original emotion felt like. As one rids extraneous fat and toxin, they will lose the taste for most extravagant perversions. Then, when they return to listen to the few great records and they will be again shocked by them. They will fear them. They will be touched by them. And they will have again to live with them, not just consume and pass them as they're trained to.

So, my suggestion is to consume less art. Download less of it. Have less to say on every new thing that comes out. Hone taste until taste doesn't matter. Spend more time with less to focus on, get to the bottom of what it means inside. I know this is not a fashionable opinion and that it potentially robs a lot of bloggers of a hobby, but perhaps that's for the best in the long run. Perhaps if one feels so burning a desire to share something new with the world every day, they should look into sharing cooking recipes instead, there can never be enough of those.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Black Sabbath


I write to you of dread. A fear that I suspect is close to unknowable from your enlightened, future vantage. I need your ear, I need to recount my experience not for the sake of your intellectual curiosity, but in hopes that the retelling of what - already - feels more akin to the dream-imaginings of a fevered patient long past the point of no return, will help burdensome emotions dislodge from my thoughts, so that a narration might stabilize, overcome the senselessness that thins my blood. I do not write to you to save myself, I am already dead - no, it is worse than dead... I hope to trace the outline of horror, for the sake of your future, the future that so once repulsed me from your side. Furthermore, Brother, I have no one else to write to. Humor me this missive, let there have been at least some purpose to my madness.

I was wrong. I will concede this not to appeal to your pride (and take my word, as you did on that day, I never will return). I was wrong as you were also. Though I once scoffed at your mundane desires, blinded as they were by these newfangled 'mysteries of logic', for a life dictated by reason and causality, it is my path that has taken me to the precipice of nothingness instead. Far beyond my dreaming inspiration for an unnamed God- do you remember, our discussions? I remember every word.

How you said the ancient, green luminescence of sacral decrees, for whatever reason they came to be, has long been extinguished in the grey waters of history, there were nothing can by itself explain any other one thing. How it is now a burden -- no, a responsibility of the community of man to shape a common reality, where one light will shine from many sources to extinguish utterly, the shadows of unreason. I thought that future to be one of a different terror, a surgical one. Where the innards of the human being, dissected on the stone slab would dispel the grand mystery of life. A man and a woman separated only by their altered machines in their bellies, it disgusts me still, this idea, I hide it not. A world where one knows all and all know one, what occulted meaning can there hide? In what shadow can a secret garden flourish?

I have secrets. I did not find them easily but I didn't find them with great difficulty either. I did not plunge into the darkness with a light heart, but neither was I ready for what I found there. It is a song of irony then, that the resources I perused in my lorn path were made available by inventions of your future world. The printing press, brother, it changed everything. Words of masters of ancient wisdom... I did not have to kill a lord for a glimpse of them, I did not have to cross unknown lands for a fragile Alexandrian scroll, made incomprehensible by the ravages of entropy. In books, printed with a typeset perverted form its sacral function, mass-produced, brother. There I found plenty mysteries. And trust in me that what I did have to destroy for them will be missed by no one.

In the thirty years we have been strangers, I have pursued greater art, I have become a sorcerer whose dreams shape the dreams of others. You were right, brother, the worldly domain is made of marble that cannot be chipped with willpower alone, it is there, it is what it is and the analytical tools that you so fell enamored with can help in divining its purpose. It takes the might of many to move that will, I will concede you that. It is instead, in the hearts of men that mystery still lives, it is in the deepest crevice of sentience that no light will ever shine. Tell me brother, if you're brave, what do you know of a man's soul? How has your dissection of the brain informed your understanding of what it is to feel and experience? Has any of your 'philosophers of the light' anything to offer that would explain the atavist stench, the pull towards violence and lust? I am certain you feel it too, you know what experience drove us apart, you know what experience binds us still.

The light cannot guide you to the cathedral of the soul. Nothing can guide any of us there. Nothing can help us live in that darkness. Now I know.

It was no more than ten days ago, brother, though it feels a withered age instead. After the consumption of the sacred flower (do not pretend you do not understand me, surgeon!) and the utterance of prayers which you would not fathom even if every word were categorically defined for you in common language, I lay to sleep, much as I have done for decades. With certainty to dream of darkness. I do not know what it was that made my dream quest behind the walls of sleep different that night, it could be the ringing of the church bells, curse the mad monks and their perverted tastes for inversion, I never understood them: is it not enough to worship a warped reflection of the demiurge, do we have to flaunt it as well by striking the bell at the hour of the witch? It could have been the storm, Brother. No, it must have been the storm. Do you remember the oldest of our gods, thunder? It was at his command that I met the messenger.

Power over dreams is a bittersweet fruit. At once addictive for what one experiences in the mist is of the same potency as what resides in the killing light of your reason, you learn that well and certain, surgeon. But at once, there is the disappointment (and knowledge of further disappointment for those more experienced in the ways of darkness) of the waking; Though the power is real and what you feel is real, it is not forever. The sleeping village awakens. If there is a teaching I can impart on you is that, contrary to what your Aristotelian 'logic' would desire, the darkness must be tended to with the same reverence that the priests offer to their pity candles and incense to the Autocrat above. Darkness doesn't merely occur in the absence of light, no... that is instead, nothingness.

That is what I met, brother. Excuse my long road to this, I cannot bear to recount it. What I found in the mist of dreams this time was not what there I had left before me. My power words of flight could not take me to the castle in the skies at will, my power was robbed of me. Instead I lay grounded, crushed, to walk in a dead forest for what felt like two lifetimes. I grew so desperate, for you see, there is neither thirst nor hunger in dreams, and worst there is no tiredness to schedule time around. I walked forever, it seemed, my only beacon a fluttering black light in the distance. Before I reached it it reached me, it overtook me with a swiftness that your physical experience may not parse. It was there before I knew it, it felt like it was always there. A black shape with eyes of fire, it points at me. There is no scorn that your evangelists warned of, in the presence of the Lord below. There is only a smile and a question. What is it that I desire?

You will laugh from your ivory tower brother, but you know well what I asked for once I recovered my wits like a good sorcerer. It is what you would have as well. Knowledge. Awareness. Truth. I longed to write to you with absolute certainty a different letter, one where I would in perfect speech convey the supremacy of the inner world against the outer. I wished you would wield to the inexorable conclusion and perhaps then brother, we could be brothers again, I cannot lie on this, not with my last breath. My lust, displaced as you well know from the flesh of women for decades now, towards this higher goal of awareness, it drove me to this hubris. The messenger paused for an eternity, then made it known me that this knowledge is forbidden, it told me that what I seek is what tore the world apart in the beginning of time, not between 'above' and 'below' but between inside and outside. Yet it did not scold me, there was no grandeur to its mist shape at all. Only onyx flame, raising ever higher, waiting for my impossible desire. I still wanted to know what prizes lay hidden in the darkness. And it is in this way that I learned the only truth there is, brother. I cannot impart to you its realization, only in common words describe it and I know it is meaningless, worthless. You will not understand it, you cannot understand it, it is better that you never do. Bear it even so.

The truth is there is nothing. Nothing exists, nothing has ever existed. Nothing has lived, nothing has died. We have never lived, we haven't died. We never existed. Dreams is all there ever was, and the dreams may pass. There is no romance to the Earth, brother, no higher beauty to the animals or stones. There is no idol that a god might reside in, even for a time. There is no idea, there is no hope, there is nothing. Nothing at all.

And yet I hope, as I am sure you have divined by the purpose of this missive, still. I hope to dissuade you and more importantly your children from ever seeking the truth in darkness. The cruel joke is on me, your light is a lie, but it's a useful one. Let not your children seek the darkness, it will, if they are strong, and I know our blood is strong, lead only to something worse than their death. Oblivion. If you can, destroy the power of Art over man, make it an entertainment, a consumption safe, robbed of its eldritch potency. Parlor magics for a generation drowning in luxury. They will be unhappy but at least they will continue to be. In your future world, make the pursuit of Great Art a masturbation intended for fools and narcissists alone. Neuter all talk of souls and Gods, they are useless to us, they are only a symbol of our own inexistence. Where there is beauty, hide it behind reason. Where there is force, pretend it belongs to the many. Where there is hope, cling to it, appropriate it, enforce it with your ethics and social programming, enforce the desire for man to exist, to never understand he has never existed.

As I write this I feel my will extinguishing, my last hope is fading, as I am fading too. My hands are neither old nor young, my knowledge spectral. My severed head is bloodless white with eyes silver, blind.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Intercontinental Jealousy

Heavy Metal is born in the UK, the first time as a passing notion in the '70s and the second time, for real, with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Great music comes from the UK is the cliché. The US looks with reverence to the old country and also jealousy. "I can do that as well" they say, "and I can do it better!". There you have your Jag Panzer, with their three Judas Priest album's worth of riffs in their one song. Succeeding with excess.

The United States are a country constantly searching for history. One needs watch only a couple of the newer Scorsese films like "Gangs of New York" or "The Aviator" to see the great pains their psyche goes through to evangelize and invent upon some would say paltry two hundred years of recent activity. A country of immigrants trying to do the world one better: let's invent the perfect nation.

This is a weakness and a strength. Shoulders unburdened with the weight of an Aristotle or a Nietzsche, when the US get in on some cultural action, they do it with such earnestness and desire to augment ("put on steroids" is the ugly cliché I'm trying to avoid) that the mutant results are equally grotesque and fascinating. Yet, for all their enthusiasm, they usually move on to the next thing in increasingly brief allotments of time. Five years in the maximum.

Such was their involvement with metal music, between 1984 and 1990 or so. They took the basic formula of Heavy Metal and made it faster (speed metal), made it punkier (thrash metal) made it more shocking and weird (death metal) and they even tried to make it modernist (progressive metal). And then they were bored and done with it, they moved on to reinventing and augmenting different musics. Only very recently have they returned to savage the corpse of past inspirations again, I guess we must be running out of 'new' things to make 'newer'.

Here's where it becomes complicated, however. Europe isn't just the United Kingdom. Other countries around these parts that were in the sphere of cultural influence of America, due to the language barrier and other reasons did not notice the incongruity between NWOBHM and US metal, they took everything prima facie, a real history and an invented one both together, the grand Heavy Metal tree with all its various co-habitual branches. This was a misunderstanding, for as far as the US type of cultural thinking goes, once you augment the music you started with, once you take Heavy Metal and you create out of it 'Power Metal', then Power Metal has killed Heavy Metal. This is the anxiety of a country with little history: how to carve out a niche for oneself, how to ascertain one's continued existence. Roots must be invented, exploited, discarded, start again. "Thrash metal" wasn't meant to live side to side with old world metal, it was meant to replace it.

Europeans, due to naivety and perhaps lack-of-naivety as well, do not think in this way. They were impressed and inspired by the US boom of metal sub-genres and they took them and expanded on them infinitely, they found a place for invented history in real history, and that's how the story goes. Where the US is jealous of the artistry that comes with the management of the weight of history, the old world vampires are jealous of the spontinaety and vitality of the US.