|||||Impaled Nazarene - Ugra Karma||]|
The average listener will rarely hear in “extreme” metal anything beyond the most superficial level of aesthetics; abrasive sound and aggression. In this crude way, many perceive metal to be little more than a wall of frenetic sound with “some guy trying to sound like a monster” over it all. And sadly, many metalheads are similarly limited, giving rise not only to the proliferation of bands like Dying Fetus and the vast majority of groups that fall under the category of “goregrind”, but also to the popularity of nu-metal acts such as Slipknot. While the aforementioned are little more than hollow exercises in technicality and the comically shocking, the latter may be described as a sort of hyper-defensive emo (“DON’T EVER JUDGE ME”) which occasionally borrows some of the stylistics of metal; double bass, tremolo-picking, a growl here and there. Nevertheless, due to the ever increasing decay of popular music and the resulting inability of individuals to really listen, most folks will not recognize the essential difference between the previously mentioned acts and something like Incantation or Emperor. Except that these latter sound “mushy and old”.
So, wherein lies the difference? Romantic horror author Arthur Machen once described literature as “the sensual art of creating exquisite impressions through words”. Utilizing sound, metal attempts something similar. All that is excellent within death and black metal is that which reaches for the sublime. Whether it is the decrepit and visceral meanderings of Autopsy, the arrogantly resurgent naturalism of Morbid Angel, the awe-stricken nocturnal majesty of Emperor or the potent, ocean-spray integrity and savageness of Enslaved, this music recognizes, interprets and celebrates the awesome and numinous in the world.
The majority of contemporary music is inane and commercially oriented. Most mainstream and sub-cultural music, (hip-hop, grunge, “indy”, punk, etc.) tends to fetishize the mundane, the everday, the common and in short, the lowest common denominator of experience; boredom, jobs, wistful puppy-love, serious relationships, depression, contemporary politics, vague yearnings, “being unique”, money and all the other garbage that everything is already so saturated with. Metal, however, attempts to explore that which is timeless and exists independently of the social paradigm. Informing its violent and demonic symbolism is the realm of instinct and intellect, nature and spirit. Here, these dualisms are overcome. Like the Baphomet so recurrent in it’s iconography, it is an organic synthesis of forces which have been separated into dichotomies by modernity; violence and love, beast and man, order and chaos, joy and despair, decay and vitality, life and death. The divine hybrid is part wolf and part wise man, sorcerer and serpent, demon and angel. The transcendent and the chthonic are synthesized into a whole, the multifaceted and intricate principle of cosmic order. It peers into the world of meta-harmony, where conflict and discord are part of the means by which Life shapes itself. Nature and world affirming, metal is the skyward gaze of feral eyes and the grinning and howling of a primal maw.
Like the music of old, metal does not rely solely on it’s lyrics to achieve this. It is implicit in its very sound. On looking at the album covers of many of the greats, one finds alien, baroque geography, images of mortal conflict, occult symbolism or the profound beauty of a night-lit forest. This is in fact exactly how the very best metal sounds, abstract and concrete at the same time. Labyrinthine guitar riffs are textured like coils of vertebrae, lines of trees, or rolling hills, while the subterranean distortion of the bass is the language of mud and molten earth. The roaring and rasping of the vocals is evocative of the very earth opening up to speak, or the utterances of pagan deities riding the wind, while the intricate monotony of the drums mimics the crashing of waves or the rattling of arms and armor.
This is the grand, sonic poetry of the sacred, the impassioned acknowledgement of the principle of power that resides at the heart of things. It is the veneration of all that is ancient, awesome, eternal and hidden in plain-view. Here, beauty is just as easily recognized in the decay of human corpse as it is in the rising sun. This is truly “occult” art.
For those who are unfamiliar with metal, or for those who are inspired similarly, the following websites provide a great deal of high quality information as well as a means for connecting with others in order to support the excellent and attack the mediocre.