It seems like such an innocent question. But when I hear people ask it of me, I sense a certain derision and even contempt in their voice that cannot help but make me angry. But it is also a reasonable question when approached correctly. The truth of the matter is that although I define myself a great deal by what I despise, have contempt for, or outright hate, I also define myself by the things I enjoy, or more specifically, why I enjoy them.
One unusual aspect of my childhood is that, for all of his flaws (and believe me, if you read for long enough, you may learn that they are legion), one of the first things my male parent introduced me to is a band from Birmingham called Black Sabbath. I do not remember hearing any album before Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, which means that I was either very young when I first heard it, or my memory is fragmenting even worse than I fear lately. And although it took me a long time after that first hearing, I became so acquainted with the music of Black Sabbath that doom metal is like a science to me now.
Before I continue, however, there needs to be a bit of a qualification. Whilst there is a certain sense of what constitutes doom metal or black metal, I think the (paraphrased here) words of Jello Biafra work best here. A rigid and conservative definition of doom metal sure as hell is not what got me into doom metal in the first place. If a band like Cathedral or Electric Wizard can add a kazoo solo to a song and make it work in context, I am all about it.
Which brings me to the music we like to refer to as Black Metal. Like its elder sibling, Black Metal has a number of different forms, styles, and crossovers that can suit any intelligent listener. Probably the earliest and best example of Black Metal as it is known today is the Swedish band/solo act (depending on how you look at it) called Bathory. Bathory‘s catalogue runs the entire gamut of more widely-accepted Black Metal styles, from low-fi songs that sound more like rock-n-roll artists trying to be more hardcore to sweeping epics about the beauty and majesty of the Viking world. Whilst I only have a nodding acquaintance with the history of the Viking era, much of the sound of this music inspires my writings. In fact, I have been not-writing a novel about a war between nations with competing philosophies of life for some time now, to which the music of Bathory is the soundtrack in my head.
There are many other artists in both subgroups that I truly enjoy the work of. In Doom Metal, there is a band that makes a slow, traditional form of the music going by the name Electric Wizard. Although their last album (Black Masses) is still not that easy for me to listen to, part of the fun in listening to Electric Wizard is speculating about the quantities of drugs they consumed, and which Black Sabbath album they listened to, prior to commencing the recording process. Therion, a band from Sweden with a lineup that changes with as much frequency as Napalm Death‘s did, make an example of orchestral and operatic Doom Metal that has to be heard to be believed. In Black Metal, you have everything from fusing the traditional elements with traditional folk music to acoustic Black Metal that is profoundly concerned with sending up some of the genre’s conventions. My favourite example is Impaled Northern Moonforest, but there’s plenty of others.
One example of just how awesome Black Metal can be is Sigh. One of their new songs, The Transfiguration Fear, exemplifies what I like to call the Japan Effect. You see, when you send a cultural phenon to Japan, often what the Japanese will do is send it back in a form that reflects it in a certain way. Japanese Rock N’ Roll, for instance, is typically an artistically lethargic piece of hooey that reflects the fact that for its American or British makers, it has become more of a welfare cheque than a direct challenge to social convention. And therein lies the rub: Black Metal, just like Doom Metal, is still a very active challenge to social convention. Although none of the people making either can agree on exactly what it is they are challenging, we can both agree that as long as social policy continues to regress towards the state it was in when it provoked the Great Depression, Doom Metal and to a lesser extent Black Metal will grow more relevant (this is far from the only thing they have in common with films like RoboCop, by the way). Take an outsider art like violent comic books, super-violent films, or Black Metal, and send it to Japan, and often that outsider art will come back with the outsider aspect ramped up to three hundred. I defy you to come to me with a better example of a Black Metal music video than that which was made in 2010 for Prelude To The Oracle. Not because the video itself is particularly well made (it is not), but because the visuals match the song so well. The whole theme of the album is being in hell (it is called Scenes From Hell, after all), and this is just the first of several songs that keep the listener well-appraised of what being there is really like.
People try to draw Sigh away from Black Metal and call them things like avant-garde and such. Like I said, if I had encountered rigid definitions (“this, and only this, is Black Metal”) when I first started to investigate Black Metal, or Doom Metal for that matter, I would have walked away. One of the reasons I have walked away from all forms of pop is because if I listen for long enough, I can start to think that I am psychic because I can predict every note that comes out of such a “song” a good fifteen minutes in advance, even when my blood glucose is 0.7 mmol/l. (As a guide, normal blood glucose levels in this scale are 5.0 to 10.0 mmol/l – 0.7 is “how the hell are you even standing, leave alone walking out of here?” level.) One moron from a pop act that came and went so fast that the Internet probably has no record of them at all said, and I quote, “Whether they admit it or not, everyone likes pop”. This is such a moronic statement that it defies description. This is like saying that everyone likes ice cream, or everyone likes chocolate. Nice idea in a commercialist’s wet dream, but not even in the same universe as reality. In fact, I kind of wonder if the quote I just referenced got around and hurt their commercial prospects so badly that the pop machine just basically told them they were finished. (As the magic of search engines has informed me, it is a bit more complicated than that, but the quote in question indicates such a shitty attitude that any commercial misfortunes they had were pretty much brought on by themselves.)
A question that I get asked when I describe how disgusted I am with Australia as a society is whether there are any positive aspects to it. The short version is that there are parts of the place that I remember as being vaguely positive. Parramatta, the city of my birth, is still far more open and cross-cultured than any other part of the country I have been to save maybe Sydney’s inner circle. And whilst there are good musical acts from all over that country, the best examples, Cruciform, Avrigus, and Sadistik Exekution, all hail from around Sydney. And when a band makes up song titles like Transneobathasaurikaldelusionsoftheunknown (no, I am not making that up), you know they are anything but conventional. As much as I despise John Travolta (well, duh), one part of the opening credits theme from Grease that stuck in my head as Frankie Valli sang them is “Conventionality belongs to yesterday”. Damned right, Frankie.
Anyway, I have gone on a wee bit too long for what was supposed to be a simplistic, surface-scratching answer to a somewhat complex question. So I will bid you all a good… however long it takes for me to start writing something else. I hope that reading this essay widens your view of your world. Good night, and good luck.
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