On Black Metal, gatekeeping, and a possible future project...

I'm a huge fan of black metal.  I played in numerous black metal projects early in my career.  Most of them absolutely terrible, some of them alright, none of them incredibly serious.  It was a lot of fun (I know, that's a dirty word in kvlt circles) and I learned a lot about myself as a person and a musician.  Eventually I moved on, out of a desire to play different styles of metal that I felt allowed for a bit more musical (and lyrical) diversity.  But I also moved on because of the toxicity of the community and the fact that the "scene", if there even was one, was disjointed and bizarre.

On one hand, there's the elitists that are stuck in 1993, and believe that incorporating black metal elements into any other subgenre (or vice versa) is heresy...as is listening to, or being a fan, of any other style of music.  They take it faaaar too seriously, and they stifle the genre's growth, creativity, and style.

On the other hand, there's the people that consider it a joke and treat it as such, doing a terrible disservice to the people that actually put their hearts and souls into the music they make and take it seriously.

And lastly, there's the people that don't even know what black metal really is, where it came from, or what it was really about.  And the truth is, that has drastically changed over the years...some of it for the better, some of it for the worst.

I've been guilty of being a bit of all of the above, especially in my early years.  Now that I'm older and a bit more advanced in my musical career, I can reflect with a bit more objectivity and common sense.  The first question that should be asked at this point, though, is "What is black metal to you?"

Ask ten different black metal fans (or random metal fans) this question, and you'll get a million different answers. The beauty of music (and art in general) is that it's open to interpretation, and it affects different people (both fans and musicians) differently.  But what's really interesting is the varied answers you'll get to that and related questions from the heavyweights who really made the scene...Varge, Hellhammer, Fenriz, etc.  It's quite interesting to watch/listen to the interviews from all of these guys 25+ years after they made themselves icons in the scene.

A lot can be said about what black metal was, how it came about, what the original intent and goal was, what it's become, etc.  And it's certainly changed from that, much to the chagrin of some people (cough Varg cough).  But that's not all bad.

Look, I'll be straightforward.  To me, these days, black metal is simply a particular expression of musicality.  It's a fucking style of metal, and an attitude.  Nothing more.  It doesn't have to be attached to a certain ideology;  I think we get so caught up sometimes in attaching a catch-all identity to a scene or a style of music that we forget that it's fucking music....sounds coming out of your fucking speaker that manifest themselves in a certain way.  People like Varg will sit and lament until the cows come home about how it (and it's reputation) changed ideologically; it went from anti-Christianity and rebellion to over-the-top "Satanism" (not even remotely the same thing), to kids just regurgitating the same shit without even understanding the history and the basis for the movement in general.  And you know what?  That's all true.  It did largely become a parody of itself and a fucking joke, ideologically, for a long time...and I can totally understand the resentment some people...especially those who were in the scene, made it what it was, etc...have about that.

But you know what?  At the end of the day, it's still just fucking music.  And the purpose of it, and ideas behind it, are going to change over time...no matter how specific its ideological and political origins were.

To me, there's nothing more satisfying sometimes than just laying down an obnoxious blast beat, trem picking some evil sounding shit, and shrieking uncontrollably about whatever ideological shit pisses me off that day.  Who the fuck is somebody to tell me that because I'm an American, because I'm not of 100% Scandinavian blood, because I wasn't a part of the scene in the early 90s, because I also play death metal, because it's 2018, or anything else, that I can't play black metal (or a variant thereof)...or that it's not "trve" black metal?  Fuck outta here with that gatekeeping bullshit.

What really pisses me off, though, is the assholes that throw a hissyfit when you incorporate BM elements into other styles of metal.  I love blackened death; it allows me to utilize some of the elements of the BM style while still having the heaviness, melody, and versatility of various death metal styles. (You can hear that a lot on the more recent Agony By Default material;  Catastrophes of the Mind and the AbD side of the Chaos and Cataclysm split both had a lot of BM influence but still had so much versatility.  I had gone quite some time without utilizing some of the blackened elements that I enjoy, and it was a blast to get back to my roots a bit and incorporate that into Agony By Default.)  The desire for versatility is what has kept me away from making strictly black metal, though.  Honestly, that's a sentiment I expressed in my last post about deathcore...I hate being pigeonholed, but I also don't want to be guilty of trying to change something that's pretty good in its original form.  So I don't commit to any particular original style or subgenre anymore.

Anyway, I've made this point a lot, but it's absolutely astounding to me that a scene, a genre, that thrived so much on not giving a shit, having no fucking rules, etc. actually ended up being the most egregious motherfuckers when it came to rules and what's "trve" or "kvlt".  These motherfuckers are half the reason the scene became a joke.

Fingers get pointed and blame gets thrown around all the time.  Varg will blame Euronymous for having a particular vision of how he wanted the scene to be, and will claim that it really all started there...but Varg was one of the most guilty gatekeepers around after his [Euronymous's] death. And bands and fans will argue all day long about what BM should be, what it was, how and why it changed, who should be allowed to play it, etc....but I can't even begin to express how monumentally fucking stupid this entire thing is.

[Note: I was, and still am, a huge Burzum fan, and I have a great deal of respect for much of what Varg has said and done, and he has possibly more authority to speak on the matter of the black metal of 20,30 years ago than anyone.  However, I also disagree with much of what he has said or does say, and want to point out that I don't necessarily endorse all of his views.  As with any two human beings, we agree on some things and disagree on others.  It is also important to note that Varg himself has stated numerous times that he has no association with black metal or metalheads anymore, is completely detached from the scene, and is no authority on modern BM and doesn't give two shits about it.  Which is fine by me, and I honestly have a supreme level of respect for that.]

Moving on though...as with anything, it's dangerous to take something too seriously, but it's also an injustice to treat it like a complete joke too.  I'm guilty of getting pissy about the newest or latest black metal parody or joke band.  While on one hand, people should do whatever the fuck they want; on the other hand...as I mentioned before...I think it's a disservice to the people who actually enjoy the music or put some time and effort into their craft...musically or lyrically.  And I think it's sad that black metal has just become a big running fucking joke in metal in modern times.

And then, there's the odd breed of black metal musician who takes it so seriously that they come across as if they actually think it's a joke, and there's always that motherfucker (as is the case of a drummer I once knew) that's almost a goddamned parody of themselves.  At some point, a real-life version of Poe's Law takes effect.  As Varg once said, there's a difference between corpse paint and clown paint.  I'll take that further by saying there's a difference between being serious and being over-the-top pretentious...which extends to lyrics, image, etc.  In my younger days, I hadn't quite figured that out yet...and to be honest, I deserve every bit of ridicule I can be dished over it.  Even I cringe when looking at super old photos, or listening to some of my old BM demos, haha.

Whatever.  I guess the point of all this incoherent rambling is that it's fucking sad how much ridiculousness there is surrounding black metal.  Again...and this cannot be repeated enough....it's fucking music.  Do whatever the fuck you want, but at least try to be genuine about it...and be honest with yourself about why you're doing certain things.  And don't half-ass it, or do it just to spite others...and don't pigeonhole yourself into doing something a certain way just because you think that's the way it's supposed to be done or you want brownie points from elitists. 

I will likely do a black metal album (or entire project) again in the future...because fuck you, I do what I want and I love me some BM.  Some people will like it, most will probably hate it, and it'll likely overall be irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.  Then again, isn't that what we're all doing?  Random shit that we love, because we love it and fuck everyone else?