Thursday, October 23, 2008

Metal for One Please

I was staring out the bathroom window today, taking notice of the tree across the street. Autumn seems to be so gradual at first as if it might never arrive but then before you know it you find yourself staring at a blazing orange and gold tree in your neighbor's yard and wearing a flannel shirt nearly every day. It's been month's since I've written anything in full. I have a bad habit of starting a review or an essay on an enthusiastic whim and days later I'm four paragraphs in and stumped. I could easily blame it on the ever flowing stream of thoughts that run through my mind resulting in a failure to focus. I guess I could also blame it on current events,depression,laziness,the list could go on. Plainly spoken,it's been a general lack of good content that's to blame. When it comes to reviews I could spout my personal reasons for liking such and such an album any old time but I intend on making each review above average. If I find myself just repeating a lot of what's already been written elsewhere I end up being frustrated and tend to watch the cursor blink persistently on notepad while daydreaming. It would be easy to sit on the computer all day,fantasizing,reading,peeking in on various forum threads, but I grow restless and want to make use of my time. If writer's block manifests itself then I had better move along to the next project while it's still early. Since I haven't been working my part time money gathering job I've been painting,practicing guitar and trying to gain some ground battling my constant overworked brain through meditation. Early last Thursday morning(after 12:30 sometime)I captured a fleeting moment of thoughtlessness. I had no sense of sitting cross legged in the dark living room but rather felt as if I were floating in a swirling void. Being the meditation novice that I am, I registered the "I DID IT!" thought and that sent my mind back into normal mode,out of any such void,back into the living room,back to anticipating the cuckoo clock cuckooing and I then remembered that it was nearly 1 am. This speck of time was the highlight of last week. I'm glad I am able to comfortably experiment like that. Glad I spend around 85% of my time with my brain and myself. It's throughout my daily "routine"(or at least my daily unemployed routine)that I THINK about THINKING or analyze and plan actions..and of recently I try to just "BE" at least once a day. I have grown so used to this living style that I would be easily annoyed or even hostile if I had someone else constantly buzzing around and intruding on my thoughts and time. Sounds a bit extreme if you're a social extrovert but I have developed a lot as a person under conditions of maximum alone time. Often I come to realizations about important things by myself and it's hard to communicate them to friends or family a week later. An element which has aided me in contemplation and been my companion throughout is heavy metal(grave metallum:the music of the gods)

*Metal,most notably the extreme cast of metal,is most rewarding when listened to in solitude. The live show while being an intense and moving aural and visual experience experience..a social "bonding" moment for some. However, surrendering your undivided attention to a full album in a relaxed state of mind yields far greater appreciation and understanding.

I have never been a mingling,chit chat type of human being. I'd moved around a lot in my childhood years which made long lasting friendships pretty hard to keep. Once I was in my late teens, and settled down, I had broken out of my shell somewhat and had best friends,friends and those unsure types(I called them school friends).
Life was nearly DEFINED by a group of people at one point which resulted in a lot of temporary happiness but foolish infighting and easily damaged egos(a lot of low self esteem) often resulted in self hatred. I felt like a goofball most of the time. Downsizing that group of friends of lesser known friends and acquaintances was a good move but so much of me was still based around other people. When I moved out west more circles of "friends" came around. I'd smashed through the small town prison walls and entered the BIG CITY to find exactly what you'd expect. Loose attention whores,greasy hipster types who bummed off of rich college brats,artists and "musicians" out to kiss ass and gain notoriety. Feeling at odds with this majority, I steadily spent more time alone and my friends spent more time involved in their new lives. Towards the end of my Texas stint I was home by myself almost every day. This was the first time in a long time that I'd truly been left alone..and I wasn't fully dependent on friends. Tiring pop/rock songs made me sad as they typically discourage solitude. When one is alone so often and not used to it they usually become lonely..and loneliness results in pity partying and depression. Therefore many people fear solitude(and find hermits to be batshit crazy). I had bouts of depression stemming from loneliness,"nobody wants me" syndrome and poor self image issues..the lack of peers around to validate my existence and importance was hard to get used to. Moving back to the previously rejected small town intensified all of those issues.
My relationship with metal was very fickle before entering this slow zone. I was previously in search of adventure and instant gratification and would hardly ever sit and contemplate life or reality. Most of what I listened to acted in the same way..those old familiar chord progressions and accessible melodies that easily trigger basic emotions..acting as instant gratification in a sense. Music you needn't really hold a magnifying glass up to because it's whole shtick is being simple and easy to tap your foot to. Pop and rock call out to the lonely individual by predictably tugging the usual heartstrings,"I feel your pain","I'm so lonely too man..I gotta find myself some action."At their worst they act as a soundtrack for the lives of the masses who weep over sappy songs and schmaltzy ballads or feel uplifted by one dimensional "I"m gonna make it" songs. Pop and rock weren't complimenting my life but rather depressing it. What worked well in a group setting failed miserably when listened to in my chilly upstairs bedroom back home.

Metal seems tailor made for one,that so called loneliest number. A rebellious spirit fighting against the world,never giving up,encouraging and genuinely empowering the dedicated listener. It's almost a beacon for loners. To enter the realms of extreme metal and gain transcendence one must first develop an ear. It's hard to do so at first but little by little you will "get it." The best metal requires much listening,ear developing, and thinking..something that cannot properly be done with lots of people around yapping it up. Many people will talk about how much they understand death and black metal without ever having really sat down and listened to full albums. It's usually easy to identify hipster parasites within metal because they are all about the shuffle feature. Listening to a mix match of random black,death and "doom" metal tracks on your ipod while sitting in Starbucks,spending about 10 minutes talking on your cellphone or LOL'ing with a bunch of people online..this is not the way one listens to and appreciates extreme metal. I suppose if you are listening to a bunch of mediocre SHIT then it might serve you well to listen to it in shuffle format while not fully concentrating upon it. Don't get me wrong here..a good mixtape is nice to have around and sometimes you might be in the mood to hear just one particular tune...but nothing beats a good quality album from start to finish. Deep and intermediate listening separates the wheat from the chaff so to speak. There is little room for mediocrity in vinyl,cassette,cd or mp3 collections when you are listening in a full sitting with a critical ear. That 46 song pornogrind cd doesn't sound so good now does it? But so many will enjoy metal as a hobby or a social networking tool. This greatly depreciates the power of metal and lowers it to radio rock becomes nothing but background noise or strings of songs that stick in your head and remind you of certain people or situations. A lot of common folk don't take metal seriously because they don't seriously listen to it. I recall the days of sitting in the family living room at the slow PC around 2004/2005..particularly one time,hunched over the speakers and listening to a track from Immortal's "Full Moon Mysticism." Just giving it a try..only one song you know? To these ears then it was basically noise ..I picked out some notes under the Orc-like vocals and tinny "thwack thwack thwack" of the snare drum but didn't care to focus any real attention on it because it didn't appeal to my brain on instant. Of course it didn't help that I seldom had any peace and quiet or time to stretch my mind. After simplifying my life situation and living conditions years later I was able to focus in on such well known extreme metal classics and was knocked head over heels by their sheer power and ability to really stimulate my mind on a higher level. I was soon able to hear past the common butchered production jobs and Darkthronian recording techniques..grasping the essence with enthusiasm.

Besides reaping the aural benefits of extreme metal listening,I also became turned on to a lot of previously ignored literature and philosophy. I might have had a keen interest in outer space overload of extreme metal listening enhanced it. Realizing you are but a microscopic fragment of dust in the universe is vital,as is realizing the inevitability of your death. Death metal(most notably the more evolved and advanced of it's kind)was a powerful tool in terms of death contemplation. Thinking of death as less of an enemy and as more of an ever present fog that drifts behind each of may envelop some suddenly but it gradually covers and devours us all..and no biological organism shall escape it. I find it healthy to fixate my mind on death often as it's fascinating and seldom thought about in a rational way. How to imagine the actual end of YOU,snuffed out and no longer anything? Quite a difficult thought to ponder because I,like you and everyone else,have only existed being conscious and cannot imagine otherwise(not that anything exists after death). People tend to deny themselves such thoughts especially when they are alone. Death is pushed to the attic of the mind or covered up with the comfort blanket of religion. I enjoy talking about these things with close friends but it's of utmost importance to arrive at such ideas on your own since we can all be our own masters. Life is rich thinking material too of course,no need to zoom in solely on death. Even the most basic pioneering metal acts championed the individual and the glory in living life to the fullest by your own set of rules. Inspiring introspection. So in short,metal got my mind working a lot more and gave me a lot of self confidence in thinking and in being. Not self confidence stemming from compliments of friends,girlfriends,family members,co-workers but self confidence originating inside..awakening to aspects of myself that had gone unnoticed or been unappreciated. Perhaps extreme metal won't spark the same fire inside of everyone. For those with naturally non-metal ears I suggest classical music or some traditional folk.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Extreme Metal - The Exercise of a Thinking Mind


This essay has been germinating since April and I’ve finally gotten around to typing it. I decided to compile these thoughts into an essay on one of the first truly hot days this spring while trudging through the cement jungle of Boston on my way to a favorite record haunt. Listening to a tape I have for such situations I started thinking about my distaste of heat, how that’s related to my personal philosophies, and how it boosts my already substantial intake of extreme metal.

Besides being uncomfortable, I’m bombarded by more people doing more things I dislike. Spring brings blooming and celebrating a rebirth in the natural world, but it also brings families crowding the sidewalks, loud children covered in ice cream, people flopping around in oversized sunglasses obnoxiously proclaiming their love for the “great weather,” and artificial or deliberate suntans to name a few. These things may seem trivial, but they are a reflection of things in direct opposition to all I hold dear. As a result, I’m more hostile which is reflected in the heavier rotation of extreme metal. The heat and humidity of summer are ever-present dislikes from which there is no escape, which makes other, more serious distastes, only more bitter.

Bitterness towards what exactly? There are a lot of things about the current state of humanity that make me squeamish, but for the most part all of them are a product/element of the following three things: the herd mentality of the populace, the double-edged sword of monotheistic morality dominating the West, and humanity’s destruction of its only home. These interrelated attacks on the human mind are the primary causes and targets of my aggression.

The general sheepdom of the populace is evident in the physical and mental laziness of a large segment of it. Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, and either the inability to or desire not to think make people easy targets for control. For the most part it is not the inability to think, but fear and the lack of want or knowledge on how to think. The human mind, as exemplified by the great thoughts, music, and artistic creations of humans throughout history, is capable of great things. The minds of many intelligent are dormant and have been for too long. Not all minds have the ability to create something as majestic as Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony, but most have the potential to think.

A dormant mind makes it easy to consume food that is nutritionally lacking, culture lacking substance, the blatant lies of politicians, the existence and omnipotence of a supreme anthropomorphic desert deity, and to accept all of these as fundamental truths. Many people question, but never break away from the necessity and security of belief in god or the Democratic and Republican parties. The human brain is a complex thing with the ability to process and reflect; to not exercise the brain is to not live up to our potential as human beings.

One of the biggest culprit in the enslaving of the mind has been monotheism, in the form of Judeo-Christianity in the West. The doctrines and morality of monotheism comprise a sword with two equally sharp edges. On the one hand there is the preaching of humility and unending submission, which when compounded with the sense of entitlement felt by the practitioners and products of monotheism on the opposing edge, is a recipe for cerebral inactivity and herd mentality.

According the Judeo-Christian bible, human beings were created by a supreme god in the image of said supreme god, therefore they must live in eternal fear, guilt, and submission to their creator. This vile bastard of a creator demands unquestioned obedience, which discourages thinking. Free thought and the expansion of personal knowledge is either a) blasphemous or b) impossible because humans can never truly know all that god does. There are many people who still follow this path openly, yet there are many lackluster believers and nonbelievers alike who similarly don’t think because the anti-intellectual ideology of Judeo-Christianity has been force-fed to their ancestors for centuries. This stifling of thought and uniqueness has been exhibited in many ways over the past 2000 years in the West in the burning of pagan libraries, the destruction of heathen shrines and co-opting of festivals, the Inquisition and witch trials, censorship of scientific and artistic ideas not inline with doctrine, and in the creation of a global uniculture which has largely replaced genuine local cultures. Those who have accomplished great feats of art, literature, philosophy, etc have done so in spite of this: those with the ability and passion to rise above an intellectually bankrupt order. Monotheism greatly aided in the destruction of unique human culture around the world by spreading its agenda via crusades, colonization, and missionaries. Not only has this happened, it has been championed by the very people who’s culture is being destroyed!

While the tradition of monotheism has played a significant role in suffocating intellectual freedom and creating a culture of laziness, it has also put the notion of entitlement into the heads of said lazy populace. Being created specially by god as the only intelligent beings on the only planet, which is of course the center of the universe, has created a false superiority complex in humans. If one believes they are specially created and that they are the pinnacle of all creation, it makes sense they should feel the planet has been created for them and is theirs to use and abuse as they see fit. Created as a separate entity, Man not only has the ability, but the duty, to dominate his surroundings, the planet, and other species (including segments of his own).

As the divinely appointed stewards of Earth, humans have pillaged and destroyed the only home they’ve ever known. For the believer it doesn’t matter because this life is temporary and there is eternity in heaven, but for the secular and less serious religious folk its the feeling of control embedded by the same monotheism that perpetuates the destruction, even in the face of impending doom. It isn’t the use of the natural world by Man that is the problem, but the abuse. Human beings are animals, and all animals must use their environment to suit their fundamental needs. Humans have gone above and beyond the fundamental needs of food, shelter, resources and have been driven by greed. Exploiting more resources means gaining more paper. More paper means more things. More things means more status and happiness.

The core issue is that for centuries the majority of the populace in the West, largely due to monotheism, have viewed themselves as “above the law” when it comes to the natural world. They do not view themselves as part of the animal kingdom and a strand (albeit the only known one with the ability for complex thought) in the web of life, but as being separate from the entire web itself. Massive discoveries have rocked the collective mind of humans; from learning that they are not the center of the solar system, that in fact there are billions of solar systems in billions of galaxies and possibly more than one universe, to learning the complexities of evolution, yet many still retain the “I am the center of the universe” complex, which makes destruction and mental inaction inevitable. A strong sense of self and individual autonomy is important, and I take pride in my own individuality, but do so without losing sight of that fact that I am a part of the whole of nature and a community, not a whole in and of myself. Only upon understanding this was I then able to embark on a quest for personal betterment.

Now how is metal related to any of this? Metal in general is a big “fuck you” to mainstream modern society and makes a conscious effort at separating from it. The music is loud, fast, and harsh; lyrics deal with “touchy” subjects; songs break away from the cyclical structure of popular forms; and similarly, many adherents purposely set themselves apart by their appearance.

Interest in metal begins with disenchantment, and some use that to strengthen themselves in the face of the society they are at odds with. Given that this essay is supposed to deal with extreme metal, I will limit the discussion to death and black metal. I don’t plan to write an illuminating study of extreme metal because plenty of those exist and that’s not my intention. My purpose is to explain the appeal and importance of extreme metal to me, what I get from it, and how it relates to the “bigger picture.”

Death metal is more than lax disaffection administered through an ugly wall of sound - it is the exercise of a thinking mind. It’s easy for the average humanoid to dismiss metal, especially extreme metal, as “just noise” but it is anything but. Death metal recognizes the decay, falsity, and inherent emptiness in modern society and embraces the inevitability of death, destruction, famine, etc., thus rejecting it [society] wholeheartedly. Instead of being angered, reverting to fatalism or altruism, death metal constructs music that is brutal, violent, and ugly but also complex, intelligent, and beautiful.

The term “death metal” applies to a wide range of music, and the genre is one the most expansive in metal. Whether it be the technical innovation and fusion of Atheist, the off-kilter rhythms and inhuman vocals of Demilich, or the blasting assault of Immolation, death metal (in it’s true and unadulterated form) is unified in expanding beyond the confines of popular music and a culture of stagnancy.

The first step is detachment, which death metal achieves. From the embracing of decay and negation of the mainstream it is then necessary to secure an existence amidst the surge of consumerism and whittling away of human uniqueness. Black metal uses this detachment as the foundation for rediscovering connections with nature, culture, past musical achievements and the strength and will of a healthy human spirit striving for personal betterment. If death metal is a fist in the face of society, black metal is the foot that holds it down allowing the mind to flourish. Black metal embraces and glorifies the power and beauty of the natural world and Man’s undeniable connection to it and to the past.

Death and black metal appeal to my disaffection with the above mentioned “big three” and my constant strive toward personal betterment. Extreme metal, and all of the music I like, stimulates my artistic pursuits, musical knowledge, and is an exercise in appreciation by an intelligent human mind.

Forging an existence in a world beyond my control is not easy because, ultimately, it is just that - beyond my control. That does not mean I should give up and become a zombified dimwit, but that I should try my damnedest to improve my physical and mental health to better cope with the world, to be as prepared as possible for whatever it should throw at me, and to not forfeit my potential as a human being with a working mind. By making healthy living choices, expanding knowledge through reading and engaging in stimulating conversation, physical activity, and artistic endeavors I can better relate to and appreciate my surroundings and the people I care about while hoping and working for a healthier future. I don’t know if I will ever experience a fully transcendent moment or see bonds of Judeo-Christian morality broken in my lifetime, but I will never stop working for personal betterment because I respect myself, my origins, and my sometimes overactive brain.

DISCLAIMER: I do not hold any value, philosophy, or ideal that I do because of the music I listen to - I listen to it because of the ideals I hold. Furthermore, I refer to authentic extreme heavy metal - absolutely NOT to trend-ridden, herd-appealing iPod diet metal.