I write classic "good vs evil" creative writing pieces with smart twists inspired by vintage action cinema, gaming, and heavy metal.
Yes, not even my favorite genre of music (metal) is safe from scrutiny; from the pseudo "edge" to desperate cries for attention using Satanism or any other "controversial" ideology; saturating and watering it down to the point of making it as evil and scary as Casper and Scooby Doo. Only kids with parental issues that haven't seen anything in their 12+ y.o lifespan need apply. I never saw the appeal of the "evil" and "dark" schtick most bands employ either to sell based on shock value or to simply tick a box in "generic metal band" template; employed in absence of creativity and true interest in the music itself. Immortal, Burzum, Mayhem, Gorgoroth and many other icons that gained their notoriety through committing crimes and media hysteria; (the people literally making money on sensationalism and fearmongering; read by ignorant/un-educated/close-minded parents who buy the rag and actively watch the news; expecting something new to be blamed for a crime; keeping the hysteria momentum flowing via interaction with like-minded people) to their credit, they are good businessmen who capitalised on those tired of the politically-correct, still church-going 1990s Western society. While I support this idea, you have to back up the talk with solid output that actually challenges the norm in substantial ways rather than scream controversial slogans to push buttons.
Trve Black Metal ov USSR
People, as ignorant and scared they were (by the aforementioned media) when members of Burzum, Emperor, and Hades did time for burning churches; instantly tied the entire genre of black metal to extremist behavior with more cases added to the pile later on with Mayhem's vocalist committing suicide and sexual assault by Jeff Whitehead/Wrest of Leviathan and Lurker of Chalice; making hype and hysteria an integral part of the movement. Obviously, records sold like cancer cure then; possibly making it clear that little to no actual effort is needed to be a black metal musician; case and point: Immortal and their oh-so-evil album "Pure Holocaust." (Give me a break!) Black metal, with time, became a drum circle of hipsters who dilute the music with questionable gimmicks and insane amounts of pretentiousness; turning the self-absorbed, conceded switch up so hard it broke off and will never be fixed; further pushing the movement into "what's so great about it?" sewer.
Long ago, I did explore black metal; starting from Realmusic.ru, a Russian music sharing portal akin to Bandcamp and Soundcloud where artists would make a profile and upload their tracks; very few bands I found were enjoyable and fascinating like a car wreck: you are always engaged and interested to see more; there was even a black metal band whose lyrical theme is Russian prison life: a VERY interesting premise. Here are the more interesting examples of black metal bands I actually like:
However, these are ex-USSR bands that no one heard or will hear in their lifetime (they had no church-burning notoriety and fearmongering media after all.) My first impression of the music was positive until I heard the more popular ones; Burzum was boring with terrible production quality that barely sounded like anything (how can I hear your meaning or music when I don't hear it?! Am I supposed to PRETEND that I get it?!) Filosofeum, another album of Burzum felt like one riff repeated throughout with me feeling no "cold" or "evil" but rather, bored to the point of comatose. This felt like classical music; noodly, self-indulgent, endless rubbing of boogers across your hand (an article for another day) where even the "best" songs felt like so because they were a respite from the rest; "War" and "Key to the Gate" were tolerable.
Varg Vikernes of Burzum has a Viking gimmick and some of his listeners claim that Burzum "upholds Norse culture." Such praise is also thrown to other bands who co-opt Viking imagery. However, the hilarious part of it is that most bands receiving said accolade have nothing but Tolkien/Lord of the Rings references (glorified fairy tales) so, how do they "uphold Norse culture" exactly?! Fantasy references suck in metal anyway. (article for another day) Finally, it is worth noting that controversy is only relevant for the first time and will only be so for the younger generation recently exposed to it; a statement that describes Burzum's cash cow church burning, Viking gimmick. To me, this makes Varg Vikerness look like a screaming brat who got denied what he wants; instead of correcting himself or even changing tactics; he just screams louder. Burzum didn't evolve as musicians or create new ideas while relying on a trite gimmick.
Moving on to more corpse-painted clowns...I mean Darkthrone who also do nothing interesting and use bad "necro" production quality (drowning their lackluster musicianship in distortions) as a crutch. The mind-numbing lifelessness of their music is punctuated by the hilarious vocals where it sounds like an emo teenager doing a Bullet for My Valentine cover. This leads us to another reason why black metal doesn't appeal to me; it's lifeless and boring for the sake of it. Let's take another moderately extreme sub-genre: melodic death metal/MDM; here, the bands try to be musically engaging with each artist having a unique sound.
Polish titans Made of Hate having technical yet driving solos punctuated by aggressive vocals sounding very sincere yet brutal at the same time. Darkthrone however, chugs a single cord, drowns it in distortion and screams Norwegian gibberish; how I hear it anyway. Let's compare Darkthrone to another black metal band for the sake of argument, another realmusic.ru artist called Eutonazia Kordax, a Russian band that plays black metal but in a livelier, riff-centric way; sounding more aggressive; fitting the nihilistic lyrics. Darkthrone is like that goth kid with a slow, always half-asleep speech pattern droning about stuff he thinks is scary.
Awesome Metal: Made of Hate
So what have we learned so far? Black metal rests on its past controversies that are centuries old by now while doing nothing musically interesting; from a mainstream point of view. Isn't it hilarious how black metal is seen as a "Norwegian" invention yet bands playing it better are from ex-USSR countries that have no controversies or Satanic gimmicks in their corner?! Mainstream black metal is just Merilyn Manson all over again. I cringed so hard when I read about Gorgoroth's "Black Mass" in Poland; goat's heads and pig blood alongside crucified models on stage; talk about ticking boxes and following a template. Gorgoroth's frontman Gaahl is one of the most cringy figures in metal; his interviews are not that different from Lady Gaga (remember her?) controversial buzzwords galore.
Finally, I want to destroy one of the vapidest, generic, pin-the-tail on the sellout Satanist wannabe cliche; Immortal. Another troupe of corpse-painted clowns whose ability to pander and follow the media-fabricated image of church burners only matches their ability to paste cookie-cutter lyrics with bad grammar. "As the holocaust sky draw near" if only that holocaust involved an English teacher with a thick ruler. Yet another example of vapid allusions to blizzards, cold weather (SCARY!), forests, crows ("ravens") and Satan. The songs are as boring and predictable as ever albeit with whisper-croaky vocals and mind-numbing instrumentals. Immortal is, effectively Jonas Brothers in clown makeup and heavier guitars; single-cord, one riff for 40+ minutes, media hype, image-first approach and unchallenging lyrics.
Overall, black metal, despite it's edgy, anti-social posturing hyped up by decade-old controversies and fearmongering headlines, it's all bark and no bite. Lackluster to mediocre musical output and no originality in lyrics and theme. Be it Burzum and their trite gimmick or Immortal; the band angry kids listen to when My Chemical Romance no longer offends their parents. However, if you want to find good bands in the genre; learn Russian and go online!
© 2018 Jake Clawson