Thursday, 17 November 2011

Black Metal – Old World vs New World

I came very late to the world of black metal. In my mind the scene was dominated by Scandinavian, pseudo-pagan misanthropists (on re-reading, I have to wonder why that prevented me from listening). In fact, more than anything, it was the anti-Christian aspect of the genre which did not sit well with me. I am not Christian but neither am I necessarily “against” Christianity. Back in university I got neurologically rearranged by Derrida and Spivak. Poststructuralism and feminism exploded the concept of binary opposition. Put simply one is always defined by the other and therefore the non-other one can never be a pure, monolithic position. Basically, by opposing Christianity, one continues to utter its name and invoke its ghosts. Much like internet “haters” who vehemently criticise whatever it is that displeases them, oppositional positions simply reinforce existing hegemonies. If you hate the new Lou Reed and Metallica album Lulu, why spend your precious, limited energy on writing a treatise against it? Just like your mother always said, and truer even more so in this internet age: if you ignore it, it will go away. By contributing to the zeitgeist, even as negative output all we achieve is an ensuring of the hated object’s position at the top of a list of search results.

The same goes for black metal. For me, the greatest irony is that in supposedly post-Christian Europe, a certain type of European anti-Christian left over from the early 90s still predominates. Corpse paint and grainy monochrome photography, unreadable scribbly logos, the occasional appropriation of grotesque true crime photographs or otherwise staged scenes of shock, hand drawn sharpie artwork or else unreflexlive tributes to a bygone age are a persistent aesthetic.

Meanwhile in the hyper-Christian US, much black metal dispenses with anti-Christian sentiment and instead turns the focus to urban depression (Nachtmystium, Leviathan, Xasthur) and psychosis (Black Anvil), environmentalism (Wolves in the Throne Room), mysticism and the occult (Unearthly Trance, while perhaps more doom than black metal definitely share the strange/uncanny vibe of the latter) and contemporary wars (Cobalt).

Once black metal is dragged biting and shrieking out of the Old World and into the New World(s), it loses its preoccupation with nostalgia for an ancient, non-existent, impossible past and instead adapts to the environmental and cultural contours of its new place. A perfect example of this is Australia. The development of black metal in places such as Australia (Mournful Congregation, Striborg, Stargazer, Portal) shows how new conceptual vistas, incorporating local feeling and concerns into the music can draw both on the tightly defined historical origins of the genre and adapt it to place in order to create something original and exciting.

Thus if we look to Europe for orthodox black metal authenticity, it is in the non-Euro world that we find innovation, originality and risk.
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