Of metal's many splintered offshoots, tangents, cores and sub-cores, black metal is the one that's attracted perhaps the most academic attention. For starters, there's Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind's history of Norwegian black metal, Lords of Chaos. Then there are treatises and essays carrying around titles like "Anti-Cosmosis: Black Mahapralaya" and "The Counter-Reformation in Stone and Metal: Spiritual Substances." Back in December, a group of musicians, critics and professors from schools that charge hefty tuition for the privilege of being taught by their professors participated in Hideous Gnosis — something they described as "a black metal theory symposium."
The initial attraction to black metal for many is likely the now-mythic tales of murders, suicide and arson that follow any mention of Norwegian black metal. There's also the intrigue of a musical style that's often militantly asocial and initially appeared to be about as uncommercial as anything underground metal could ever muster. But that anti-social behavior also carries with it a protective instinct on the part of the genre's most ardent zealots — a notion of purity that's too easily tainted by outside meddling.
Italian musician Ovskum pretty well encapsulates a lot of the purists' reactions to academic interest in black metal: "My music does not come from a philosophy but from a pre-critical compulsion." And with that you get a glimpse at the inherent problem with the criticism black metal protectors levy against the eggheads. They invite these inquiries by taking themselves too goddamn seriously.
But the things the genre's trailblazers took seriously aren't necessarily the same things stressed by the growing and increasingly unique American version. While misanthropy and general negativity are in no danger of losing their place, concerns of tribalism and ancient rites are less stressed by the pillars of the new wave of U.S. black metal, which includes Krallice, Nachtmystium, Wolves in the Throne Room and the Brooklyn-based Liturgy.
Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, guitarist and vocalist for Liturgy, spoke at last year's symposium with a lecture called "Transcendental Black Metal." According to a New York Times account, Hunt-Hendrix challenged Nordic black metal traditions by asserting that the philosophical modes of the American counterpart should reflect the "joyful experience of the continuity of existence." When challenged during a Q&A session that this idea of transcendental black metal basically amounted to "all you need is love," Hunt-Hendrix's response was, "I only like to be judged on whether or not it's interesting."
His response, from an intellectual standpoint, was a fucking cop-out. But his band sounds like the real deal, though others may debate the existential qualities of what is, you know, real. The quantifiable qualities of Liturgy are these: Ridiculous speeds, piercing tremolo picking and the massive amount of stamina required to maintain both. Like the other three USBM bands listed above, Liturgy give the purists fits. Along with Krallice, they also place a higher priority on musicianship than what's often found in black metal. And instead of corpse paint and album covers depicting grim landscapes, Liturgy's aesthetic includes white and fluffy clouds. If there's anything less metal than love, it's a cloud. There's not even a remote chance of lightning in those cloudscapes. But despite the potential objections raised by those protecting this scene against outside meddling, there's little mistaking Liturgy for anything other than a black metal band — and a very good one at that.
Though the band's leader may have loftier ideals, their latest album Renihilation (the first Liturgy album since Hunt-Hendrix expanded the band beyond a one-man bedroom project) is probably best absorbed without all that extra heavy lifting. But that doesn't mean there's no reason to think about it, either.
well fuck you anon! Go and Catch fire!
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