1.05.2010

Rock On, Grumpy!


The Nordic Black Metal scene has always fascinated me, mostly I think because it is in such aesthetic contrast to my perceptions of Norway: bright sun, bright snow, bright blonds. But perhaps it is that constant brightness that drives one to darker corners? I am not a fan of the acts of destruction wrought by black-metal heads, but my interest is piqued by the idea of this dark, primal, guttural music reflecting "a loss of faith, and the hysterical fear and sadness that come with it." (Ben Ratliff, Thank You Professor, That Was Putrid, NYT 12/15/09). Isn't that the true language of music, to speak for the aches we feel? A true transliteration of the neural to the aural.

Ben Ratliff covered the black metal symposium "Hideous Gnosis," which took place here in Brooklyn. The symposium in itself is ironic as the black metalheads find their philosophical sustenance in having nothing to deconstruct, existing is a void, like a black hole; or as one musician put it, "my music does not come from a philosophy but from a precritical compulsion." Yet critics and academics remained undeterred, saying black metal "represents decay, radical individualism, misanthropy, negativity about all systems, and awe of the natural world."

Niall Scott of the University of Central Lancashire cast this fabulous theory about black metal as part of ritual confession (from Ratliff's article):
“The black metal event is a confession without need of absolution, without need of redemption,” he said. It is, he added, “a cleaning up of the mess of others.” He invoked the old English tradition of sin eating by means of burial cakes, in which a loaf of bread was put on a funeral bier or a corpse, and a paid member of the community would eat the bread, representing sin, to absolve and comfort the deceased.

“Black metal has become the sin eater,” he intoned. “It is engaged in transgressive behavior to be rid of it.”
I am looking forward to seeing Until The Light Takes Us, an upcoming documentary on the black metal scene, as I don't think I have the fortitude to listen to the whole oeuvre to suss out the underlying philosophies. According the Andrew O'Hehir's review of the film in Salon, the scene's main mouthpiece is Varg Vikernes (aka Count Grishnackh, of the one-man band Burzum). Vikernes, a polarizing character in his own right, is supposed to be a highly articulate and intelligent murderer and arsonist who feels that the core essence of black metal was trodden down by the scores of "brain-dead heavy-metal guys" who ran to jump on the black metal bandwagon (poseurs!) and left a trail of unfocused destruction. Hmm. I have a hunch I will be seeing this flick by myself!

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