Yury Arkadin is not only a good friend of mine, he is a widely respected music journalist and an absolute expert when it comes to obscure strains of dark music, no matter where they may be found. Over the years he has introduced me to the work of a number of excellent musicians laboring in the worldwide underground, and this is possibly one of the greatest gifts that he could have given me as a friend. Readers who have been with me for a while now will remember that he used to write for Erebus, and I'm sure a great number of you miss his excellent work. If you were not able to track down his writing before now in print magazines or in other places, you will be relieved to know that he has his own outlet for criticism and investigation now, the production Convivial Hermit, a magazine of sterling quality now in the preparation stages for its second (no doubt highly anticipated) issue. I was able to finally put together an interesting interview for Yury and capture some of his thoughts for historical purposes. I was looking forward to doing this for quite some time.
When did you first get involved in writing for underground publications, and why did you first decide to review metal albums or interview metal bands? Do you remember the first review you ever wrote? Are you still involved with publications (other than your own) that readers may recognize you from, or do you mainly just work with Convivial Hermit now?
I first began writing in underground publications back in around 1997, if I remember correctly. The first band I had ever interviewed, and in effect my first 'journalistic' project in the underground, was Skepticism, and that interview was published in the American magazine, Metal Curse Magazine. It's no longer published, although I believe the Metal Curse distribution is still around. I haven't talked to Ray Miller, who originally gave me the idea to write, in years. You might remember him from his band Adversary. The first review I ever wrote was featured in a webzine called Zodiac Chronicle... I have no idea what it was now. Possibly Incantation, Septic Flesh or Hypocrisy... one of the bands I was really interested in at the time.
The decision to write in these metal magazines is one that, looking back now, I feel as though I never made consciously. This can only be a silly judgment, of course, but it has been so long since I've been doing this that I can no longer crisply define the mind-state I was in those seven years ago, and neither can I tell you why, exactly, it was metal and not something else, outside of the obvious. What I can tell you is that when we first decided to collaborate for Erebus in 1999, I was going through a difficult time, having in the recent past suffered a very heavy trauma, and I needed some way of expressing myself in writing, keeping myself afloat, so to speak, above the turbid waters of madness, while at the same time having some material, external reference by which to measure my progress or deterioration. The idea of writing articles on various topics of concern was always very attractive to me, as well as the prospect of talking to artists whose works I enjoy, with no restrictions on what I can ask or what information I could offer. That was very satisfying.
Now, as some people already know, I am publishing my own magazine. I've decided to cease my collaboration with Unrestrained! and other magazines in order to focus on this project exclusively. Currently, I am gathering material for a second issue, which, I'm afraid, will take a lot of time to finish given my other obligations. I've flirted with the idea of writing for experimental and electronic magazines, also, and perhaps something will come of it some day, but for now I'm focusing on Convivial Hermit exclusively.
What are your goals for Convivial Hermit - or at least, what were your main goals for the first issue? What did you want to accomplish with this new magazine? How is CH different from other magazines in the underground? Who should seek it out? How long do you plan to work on it?
I don't think I had any defined 'plan' for the first issue of CH, except to compile all of my earlier work together and publish it in the paper format, committing these miscellaneous chunks of information to posterity now that they were unavailable elsewhere. It took its shape as it went along. Of course I wanted it to have an intelligent presentation, with good writing, and a completely sincere approach, regardless of how stupid I may sound in the process to another person; in other words, I wanted it to possess all of the values and traits that established metal media like Anvil, Pit or even Terrorizer, for example, lack completely. Not a difficult goal, I know! I didn't even intend on making a second issue; that came about by all of the positive feedback I received for the first issue and the fact that so many distributors have decided to carry it.
The question of who should seek it out is a difficult one. I've never really thought about that. A taste for underground black metal would be beneficial, I suppose, since that's where my main focus has always been. Also, a propensity for the obscure and the imaginative in works of music as well as art would probably be essential. I don't pretend as though I am the most open-minded person with regard to music, but I always value a unique approach, an original presentation, and I think that carries into my writing and tastes.
How long I will continue with the magazine is a great question best not to be asked. As I said, I wanted to pull away from this subject altogether with the first issue of my magazine, to focus on other projects, but I was carried back into it in recent months, partly due to the feedback, but also because I feel there is a huge space for improvement from the first issue. I think this all depends on my tastes. If I lose interest in metal then there will no longer be any reason to continue in CH. Instead I will move on to other things.
You and I have been talking about the decline of metal as an art form for quite some time now. Just for the record, what exactly do you feel are the direct causes of this decline? When did you first start noticing symptoms of this general decline or "decadence" and why did it first concern you? Do you think there are reasons outside of the metal scene and the lives of metal musicians that have contributed to this decline? Do you think that the metal scene, so far, has only existed as a series of aesthetic or stylistic stages, and that we are just coming to the end of a certain stage here? Will we see something new and another period of growth soon?
A really packed question you ask here. Where do I even begin? The reasons for the aesthetic and creative decline of metal in the past few years are so manifold that to give a simple answer would be ridiculous. Everything special is bound to terminate at some point and grow tedious over prolonged exposure, even the most beautiful and fulfilling experiences. But this is not simply about repetition and becoming bored. Something fundamental had changed in the metal world in the very late 1990s and I think we (meaning those that listen to metal) were all affected by it, whether we admit it or not. The digital information revolution is one contributing factor. Back when I first began listening to music most of the distributors would send out catalogs via mail. There was really no such thing as a distributor's website. There were less record labels, less networking between one seller and another, and so there was less competition and overlap in the marketplace. There were fewer bands in existence also (at least it seems that way) and the ones that were active, most importantly, sounded fresh. 1995, for example, was a very exciting period of metal for myself. A new form of music was taking shape and I was firsthand witness to it. But this period did not last for long. Once the music had been defined and shaped and the original bands began to fall apart and lose interest in their own work, it began to lose its charm, and the underground lost something - a 'direction' perhaps? It is around this time when a few important labels began to expand and consolidate with other labels, snapping their hungry jaws at the few 'success stories' to reap the material advantages. But I think this happens with all kinds of music. I believe the worst part of all of this is that people don't learn anything from what's already occurred in the past. Examine the history of heavy metal, thrash metal, grindcore, death metal, and so on. I am not a musician, nor would I pretend to understand all of the work that goes into a composition, but I would feel awkward, to say the least, spending years practicing my musical skills and rehearsing with a band only to write completely derivative music, imitating the works of my favorite artists. We all must start somewhere, but at least in the past, when there were fewer bands, there was more of a concentrated effort at doing something different, at being independent. Most bands now are content with burying themselves in strictly 'traditional' frameworks when there is so much more than can be done, or - more to the point - that can be done better. Standards have fallen with the multiplicity of bands. It's become extremely acceptable to write stagnant, second-rate music. I don't quite understand why.
But I'm generally avoiding your question, aren't I? What exactly have been the causes of the decline of metal as an art form over the years? I am not really sure. There are so many factors, as I've said. I've enumerated a few of them above: technological advances, information, the number of bands, the general 'outlook' of musicians right now, the 'accepted' standards of what is good and what is not, the illusions that come out of this, and so on. But if you want my honest opinion, I believe there are a lot of excellent bands still around, despite a lot of the crap that's been happening, and actually if we factor in the ratio of good to weak music, I think the number hasn't changed all that dramatically over the years. I think we should be pleased with this state of affairs. Imagine if all or most of the bands putting out music now were producing brilliant work - you and I would lose our minds completely! Whether there will be anything extraordinarily 'new' in times to come? I very much doubt it. I tend to look upon this from a very 'relativistic' perspective. What constitutes 'new' music? There are new configurations, various microevolutions taking place constantly. That's clear. Take this whole electronica/industrial/black metal synthesis in recent years... this is a fairly recent invention. Or the technical death metal of today... it has its antecedents but can one really compare a band like Disgorge or Deeds of Flesh to something from the early 1990s? Generally speaking, I think the answer would be no. In a way, I'm happy that the boundaries have been so sharply defined today between genres - I speculate that this will facilitate more experimentation - but in another, I'm unsatisfied over the apparent lack of musical inventiveness. For me this comes and goes in waves, depending in large part on my latest discoveries...
What first attracted you to underground metal, or any kind of underground music? What first attracted you to black metal? Can you remember the first black metal album you heard, and what your response to it was like? Did it take you some time to appreciate black metal, or did you just have an intuitive grasp of it or attraction towards it from the beginning?
As well as feeling like an outcast from society my entire life, I've always been attracted to and fascinated by morbid, bizarre or 'confrontational' (whatever you like to call it - 'subversive') subjects. Underground metal seemed to have been an intuitive choice for me when taking this in mind. I can relate to it on many levels... perhaps not as many as when I first discovered it, but the attraction still remains. I believe it is partly an 'acquired taste,' also, which demands no further explanation.
The first black metal album I have ever heard was Darkthrone's "A Blaze In The Northern Sky". This music immediately captured my attention and imagination... to me, it was like I discovered a new world, an entirely new dimension... but it was especially when I found "Transylvanian Hunger" through the recommendation of a friend of mine and allowed it some weeks to sink in that I understood just how much black metal means to me. That album was just alien... I never heard anything like it before. And yes, it did take some time for me to appreciate it in full. No doubt it has had a profound influence on my tastes to this day. It was not only a new style of music, but the power it had over me was simply beyond words. Perhaps I am exaggerating all of this now, creatively revising the past, as usually happens when one recalls a particularly pleasurable or meaningful memory, but the fact remains: Darkthrone changed my whole conception of music. And if it is Darkthrone that changed my conception of music, Immortal's first three albums are the ones that truly solidified that change. I still absolutely love all of these albums. "Transylvanian Hunger", "Pure Holocaust", "Dark Medieval Times", "Det Som Engang Var," "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas"... the Norwegian black metal underground of the early to mid-1990s is untouchable. If you ask me what it is that attracts me to black metal, I'm tempted to say 'everything'... the sound, the art, everything... even the puerile posturing if it's done tastefully!
Do you believe that black metal is mainly a musical or purely aesthetic field of expression and communication, or that it carries with it certain ideological beliefs or underlying convictions that raise it from the level of abstract art to the status of a philosophy, or just a lifestyle? Is it possible, in your opinion, to be completely in tune with the "spirit" of black metal and yet be alienated from the musicians in the scene, their beliefs, their obsessions, etc.? Do you believe that there is a certain "primal" or "savage" quality to black metal's aesthetics which finds a place in listener's hearts, or do you believe that sophisticated, compositionally advanced, emotional complex music can also be termed "black metal" and yet still share the same attractive spirit to potential listeners - that behind all of the gloss and technical know-how (I'm thinking of bands like Abigor and Emperor here) there is something shared between all of these musical forms? What makes them all "black metal"? Can black metal be seen, at times, to be a sort of concentration, purification, or essential expression of the tenets, spirit, and aesthetic convictions that penetrate all genres of metal?
I think that black metal is not only a musical field of expression, and that's been evidenced over the years in numerous ways, from the early church burnings and murders in Norway to all of the pagan and Nazi references that it symbolically imparts today. These are heterogeneous traits, and they cannot be applied ubiquitously, but I think they hold in abstract as a rooted conceptualization of what black metal has represented throughout its existence in its imagery and lyricism. I mean, clearly, black metal is anti-religious music, something I have always loved dearly about it, and thus a philosophical or ideological movement as well, but I am not so sure of the extent to which it can be deemed a 'lifestyle'. I love black metal, but do I 'live' black metal? What does that even mean? Howling at the moon at night? Going grocery shopping with corpsepaint on?
As for being alienated from the musicians and yet being 'in tune' with black metal, I think this is possible to the extent to which you allow it to be possible. This is a matter of volition. To take a hypothetical situation, the first thing that comes to my mind, I am sitting here typing out these answers on a computer. The computer I bought is from a company whose employees - chances are - I may very well detest, but that doesn't make a difference to me. The usefulness or pleasure I derive from using this computer remains the same. I have no reason to be affected by any external factor, except for the fact that I am perhaps supporting the computer company and their products by buying and using their brand name computer. The same can apply to a software program. If it serves your purposes, and you aren't aiding or abetting a vile organization or party, what does it matter? A software program is an object and not a subject... it has no inner life. It's free, I think, toward any personal interpretation you give it. In the same way, I may love a form of music but have no interest in the people who play it or their lives... it's possible.
About the primal or savage quality in black metal, it is a universal one, I think. Black metal does not necessarily have to be either primitive or complex (structurally) in order to be what it is - there are other qualities that bind it. But I think that distorted guitars and percussion are pretty much necessary, or else the music is no longer "black metal". There are some people, like Satyr of Satyricon, for instance, who would like to change the definition of black metal to include techno music, his own watered-down thrash metal, or pretty much anything, but I generally disagree with such people. The two basic elements I've mentioned above cannot be avoided, yet the music also must, at least to be consistent with what I've said a few paragraphs above, be anti-religious in nature, either openly or unexpressed. I think this is tacit in black metal by this point. There can be no mistake. Whether the music must follow some set of strict compositional rules, I have no idea. I'm already speaking well beyond my domain. There is a certain 'feel' to black metal that I cannot express in words, a feel generally found in all of these bands. One must hear it to understand it. So there you have it, the drums, the guitars, and the 'feel'...
I do not believe that black metal shares the aesthetic convictions of all genres of metal, but it may possibly possess similarities to the tenets and 'spirit' of the entire spectrum of metal taken as a whole; to be specific, the rebellious, 'bacchic' traits, the spirit of confrontation concentrated down to its 'essential' characteristics, a channeling of the 'primal or savage' emotions you mentioned above... provided it's all done well, of course.
Should music be completely divorced from the realm of religion? Is it possible to speak about music that does not have any kind of spiritual or ideological link for someone? Does music have meaning outside of the meaning we give to it, as listeners? Is music (especially metal) somehow "weaker" when it does not take place within the context and confines of a mass movement like black or death metal? Do you think that metal musicians are confined, from the very beginning, and limited, by the stylistic necessities of belonging to a certain "form" of music - one that stretches across genre boundaries, it's true, but also one that seems to be constantly trying to work outside influences into metal's framework instead of expanding the stylistic range of metal as a whole? What does a musical work need in order to be called "metal"? How much of this essence can it lose before it is no longer part of the greater metal musical movement/association/accepted form?
I'm not sure if music 'should' be divorced from religion. I don't think there should be a 'should be' (funny, isn't it?) applied to any type of music, and I don't think that anyone has any right to deprive another person of invoking religious themes (unless they're Christian, of course!) into their lyrics or imagery if they so desire. I simply feel that this is a matter, again, of personal choice. That's speaking in the general sense. If you want my personal opinion, I ultimately prefer music to be neutral, because this gives more space for the imagination. Noise, for example, has no ideological references, no pointers to say 'this' and 'that'... it is simply there. We interpret its language or feel from it whatever we like. Why not? I think that nothing has any 'absolute' value outside of the meaning that we confer to it, and this includes music as well. We read the language, musical or textual, and we interpret it according to our weaknesses or strengths, our senses and the store of knowledge we've 'collected' throughout our life. That's how all art is. I don't take an objectivist approach to art...
Is music inferior when it does not take place within the confines of some defined mass movement? I think this is an absurd question, because it's a question that we resolve ourselves through our faculty of judgment. Black and death metal have been defined over time socially; they have their set associations. If something exists outside of the accepted domain, it must still follow a set of rules, intrinsic or otherwise, inapplicable to the other two traditions, which is not a necessarily negative imputation. In the end, I think it all depends, again, on one's tastes. I prefer black metal over death metal most of the time because there are certain patterns within this music that highly attract me and that I seek. If there are elements in another style of music that do the same, I will listen to that then.
I do believe that metal musicians are confined and limited by the stylistic necessities that they impose on themselves from the very beginning. It's a tautological reasoning. But I cannot blame them for it, because there must be some kind of platform from which to build and develop one's own independent voice. There has to be some tradition, some set of 'rules' in place, at the onset. Once they are studied and learned, then the process can follow of breaking them or re-arranging them or whatever. People like to complain of the narrow-mindedness of metal but if you look upon metal in perspective, the metal movement has really been extremely flexible over the years. Look at the many forms of metal that exist... from rap metal to techno metal to folk metal to hardcore metal to polka metal to whatever you like! There is a lot of room in metal for expansion. It's almost like, to use programmer's jargon, an integrated development environment that accepts any macro within the framework, provided that there is some fundamental linkage in the compiler language, the understanding. The irony of all of this, I think, is that metal has always been divided into extreme, almost 'warring' factions. On the one hand, you have the purists who refuse to change no matter what, the 'retro' and conservative movements, and on the other you have the progressive artists who are ready to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals.
Do you think it's possible to really write metal music that is "positive" in lyrical direction or spiritual/emotional impact, and still have a powerful work? Is metal forever bound to what the majority of people assume are "negative" emotions? Does metal music mainly draw its emotional drive or sympathetic authority from these emotions? Why do you think the idea of "power" is so central to metal's aesthetics and ethics?
Yes, I think it's possible to write metal music with a positive lyrical approach and feel to it and still have a powerful work. People react differently to music... in my case there is certain classical music that people would describe as 'joyful' that only succeeds in depressing me horribly, and vice versa. There is some cheery music that can be delightful, but, in general, most 'positive' music just outright disgusts me. That is all it does, since I can't relate to it. I feel like the music is mocking me, or as if it is trying to speak to me through a brick wall, in a totally meaningless language. But to follow the rest of your question, I don't believe that all metal is 'negative' in character... some of it is quite cheerful and optimistic. Metal originally spawned from rock and roll, after all. Does the majority understand this? I don't know what the majority thinks about metal. Most likely you are right - they think of it as a negative form of music. Perhaps they are correct. Metal, especially the kind of metal that you and I like, is not very 'positive music', meaning that it does not provoke in the listener the desire to dance or throw a party.
I do agree with you that the idea of power is central to metal's aesthetics and 'ethics'. I don't know from where this development 'originated'. But it's arguable that metal is not the only form of music where power is so central. It is not as central as it is in rap, for instance. It is more conspicuous and dominant in metal than in many other forms of music. This is perhaps due in part to its aesthetics, its imagery, its obsession with violence... I don't think there is any clear and definite answer. It's like asking why the English language has developed into the form it has today. Chance, necessity...? Why are the continents shaped the way they are? Why are there are only nine planets in our solar system?
Do you ever think about the limitations of art forms? For example, examine the different forms of aesthetic expression that have developed through civilization's history and their connection to the five senses. All art forms speak either to one sense or to another, or to a combination of two or more. In your opinion are human beings forever limited in their expressive range because of the corresponding limitations of the senses? Or are there art forms (such as philosophy) that are related directly to cognition and reason/thought, independent of the senses? Do you consider "lifestyle", or the way a man lives his life, to be a form of art? Is the entire history of a man's life just another form of art? Do you think human beings have instincts towards expression and communication that are constantly trying to reach beyond the grasp of our own senses? Is this even possible? In your opinion, what is art (speaking personally) and what can it mean in a man's life?
I do think very often about the limitations of art forms, and how it should be the goal of each artist to strive to find new ways of expanding upon those boundaries, breaking free of them, or even imposing them upon oneself, if only to benefit in the long run, when need be. We are all limited to our five senses, true, but I believe that each of our five senses have themselves an unlimited range of possibilities. I doubt that philosophy, or any other forms of art - if, indeed, you would like to call philosophy an art - can still be coherent independent of the senses. Philosophy, which in the classical definition was a form of therapy, should be used, in my opinion, as a means of clarifying and organizing ideas. So there is a set goal with a certain set of conditions. There are types of philosophical systems that are purely logical, as they say, that exist in a 'logical space' apart from the reality of our senses, but they are still, in my opinion, wedded to the senses, because the senses are what attribute to them meaning. I can't prove to you or anyone else that there are art forms that exist independently of the senses. If mathematics can be described as an art form, perhaps I would use that as an example, but mathematics is nevertheless bound to the laws of the universe, I would imagine, to the laws of physics and to the phenomenology of the senses, the way in which we interpret the events that take place around us.
Yes, I do think that a person's lifestyle can be considered a form of art. To be honest with you, I think that just about anything can be considered a form of art, provided that it is a product of an individual human will, and not a corporation. I think Marcel Duchamp, who claimed to 'live his life as art', gives us a good example of this with his urinal. It was originally used as a sign of protest, but eventually became a kind of defining symbol for the 'ready-made' artwork that followed. But what is not a ready-made? A man's life cannot be re-done or touched up as it progresses. It's an arrow that only moves forward. Therefore, I believe it is best to develop a good sense of the extemporaneous.
The final two parts of your question are pretty interesting. I think that music is a medium, a form of communication, a language that constantly strives - in the figurative sense - to reach beyond itself and its limitations in order to have an affect upon the listener. There is a great difference, however, between music and our spoken language, since the spaces of music are so much more obscure and indefinite. It is like the difference between music composed using traditional methods, and that composed using tones and noises... tonal versus atonal music. In other words, it is a vast difference.
Art to me is many things, but I can sum it up in one word: experience. According to Tolstoy, who wrote an essay on this topic, it has nothing to do with aesthetics, but rather with the ability to communicate some feeling or experience. He packed the concept, already blurry and indistinct to our comprehension, with all kinds of dubious religious meanings that make no sense to me. I tend to look upon it from a different, more 'open' perspective, I guess. Art for me is virtually everything expressive of an individual's consciousness, and I don't mean this only from the point of view of the spectator, but the creator as well. All of my life I've been engaged creatively in art... I can't imagine how bleak my life could have been without it, without an appreciation for art, for the world, and the incredible heightened sense of awareness that it brings. Art truly opens your senses. I would feel blind and numb to the world without it!
How often do you think about death - either your own death or the deaths of others? Would you say it was an obsession, an interest, or just another subject which you find yourself contemplating at odd moments? Why do you think so many human beings consider thinking about death to be unnatural or unhealthy in some way? Do you think that a man's death is an "act" or an experience? Would you condemn a man if you witnessed him dying in a pitiful or disgraceful manner, or would you praise him if he died with dignity, almost "magnificently", even though you knew the rest of his life didn't match his death? Do you think death is something a man can prepare for? Do you think it's ever possible to "understand" or come to terms with one's death? It is possible to understand another person's suicide?
At some point in my life, in my later teenage years, I began to think less of death as I thought there was no point in doing so, but early in my life, I used to think about death all the time, almost obsessively, worrying myself sick over it. I not only felt dwarfed and overwhelmed by an impersonal universe that could stamp me out of existence at any moment, but I felt deeply aware of the fact that I was - or, rather, that I still am - alive, which is, to me, quite a disturbing piece of knowledge. Here I am, spit into this existence, forced to deal with it, and then, when all is said and done, crushed back into the nothing from which I was formed. Perhaps that sounds silly when I write it down and express it in words, but it was, and in part remains, the case. I never had any belief in God or immortality. To me it was, and still is, the clearest possible thing that when a man dies, his ego and his awareness die with him, flicking off like a switch. There is no afterlife. There is nothing. As there was no consciousness before birth, so it is logical to assume - as the brain is a physical object just like any other - that there will be no consciousness afterward. I am not absolutely sure of this, of course, but I see no reason, given my experiences in this life and the knowledge that I've gathered in my reading, to think otherwise.
The reason why people consider thinking about death unhealthy is primarily due to codes of conduct in our society, I think, our traditions and accepted modes of behavior - our culture, in a word. There are certain civilizations, tribes, where death is at the heart of the culture, is accepted and even praised and adored. In the West, things have developed differently. Man in the West is living his death... what need does he have to talk about it when it's visible in his face and actions each day? Actually, many people might not want to discuss this issue and draw away from it, but I believe that, privately, it is a thought that gnaws at the brains of many. The fictions of religion offer prospects of a glorious afterlife, but if these stories were actually believed and trusted, I think there would be mass suicides everywhere. The prohibitions of their favorite Gods and Goddesses would not stop them from jumping off the bridge, or hanging themselves. What is a short, temporary bout of intense pain compared to an eternity of pleasure? Imagine all the toys you can get for free...
I'm not quite sure what you mean about a man's death being an act or an experience. There is no way to actually physically experience death, at least according to the common physiological understanding of the word, since death, and this goes by the definition, is the strict absence of awareness, conscious and unconscious. There has been a debate in philosophy in the last several decades as to whether consciousness is a physical process or not. I don't think there has been any 'scientific' or empirical consensus on this made as of yet, although I think it's evident, unless one takes a solipsistic or irrational point of view, that brain activity is always concurrent with phenomenological events, that these match one another. I think it's been proven, actually, through experimentation, though I'm not a brain scientist... I can't speak on this with any authority.
If I would condemn or praise a man for dying in some way... Among the types of people I despise the most in this world, judges, legislators, and 'law-makers' are high on the shit list, so I think that the answer to this should be clear. I don't feel as though I have any right to 'condemn' a man for dying in some way. But I know you don't intend this word in such strong a sense. This is really impossible to answer without deceiving you or myself. I can only judge this on an individual basis.
I don't honestly know if a man is capable of preparing himself for death, or if the question is itself coherent. There seem to be certain people who are capable of 'living at death's door', if you forgive the platitude, on a daily basis, who have no fear of death. It is difficult to determine whether this is on account of stupidity or actual bravery on their part. Then there are those who will do all in their power to sterilize themselves of all danger, even have their heads lopped off and placed into a freezer in the hopes that it can be screwed onto a new body in the future, in order to 'cheat death'.
As for the final part of this question, I will answer no. I don't believe it is possible to understand another person's suicide unless one is suicidal and has tried, personally, to kill oneself. And even then this does not mean anything.
Pseudoscience: I have a personal theory that says that shyness is actually just a differentiation in a person's mind (I don't want to call it an adaption, or a mutation - whether the connotation is positive or negative) that allows them (or makes them) feel the natural psychological stress of interpersonal contacts, meetings, conflicts, friction, etc. with much more acuity and power than so-called "normal people". Feeling this stress so much more powerfully, and not being able to adapt directly to that negative "feedback", they instead form an entire complex of behaviors and beliefs that allow them to flee stressful situations in a rapid manner or escape them all together. In this way biochemistry and brain function/structure can be seen not only as a cause of "personality", but as a foundation of entire belief structures...views of the universe, of society, of reality. Now clearly, people become who they are (at any given time) over the course of their lives by responding to their environment and their experiences. One of these realms of experience, for example, is the constantly resident resource of memory. Do you think there are "types" of human personality, or human beings, that are programmed by their own environments for extinction? Do you think that there is a certain "allowable" percentage of such personalities in a social construct or community, and that in any group of humans gathered together in one environment there will always be a small percentage of them that just can not seem to adapt to life in way? If so, why does life (nature, the world, time, history, etc.) produce these odd creatures? Are they just "mistakes" in the reckoning of the entire biological organism that is human civilization? In the evolution of a society, what role, really, could painfully shy people play?
This is a good question, as it illustrates the way in which we humans unconsciously dress up the world to suit our needs and desires. It is true that music, for example, actually changes the neural processing of the brain, our ability to respond to certain stimuli in one way or another, the joy we draw from certain sounds, the sadness. This is an unconscious process. It's easy to extrapolate this further into other avenues of existence. According to Wittgenstein, psychology is just as important in understanding the world as physics, since psychology, the way in which we live our lives, determines the structure of our awareness.
(Actually, the idea of memory being something like a 'resident resource', like a file cabinet that we come back to to retrieve information, has been highly contested in the last few years by modern neurological theorists. They are saying now that it is more like a constantly refurbished and amorphous space that changes as we change, over time, reinforcing certain inputs. It's pretty interesting!)
But yes, to answer your question, it does seem possible that there are certain types of human beings who are - I would not use the word 'programmed', but perhaps behaviorally or hereditarily - conditioned to phase out of existence. There are certain people who cannot live in this society. The greater percentage of these people, to borrow from Thoreau, lead lives of silent desperation, while the smaller percentage seek the final exit, self-inflicted. These 'outsiders', these misfits, are able to coexist with other groups of humans in so far as they are able to follow the guidelines and behave themselves in an orderly fashion. I think that as long as one is able to adapt to this network, even if it's a superficial adaptation and not a 'real' one, they will be able to survive. But this is not a simple process for them.
Why life produces such creatures is a question, I believe, that cannot be answered. These creatures are anomalies, surely, and yet some of them become the most important and most revolutionary of all creatures in the race. If they had no usefulness whatsoever, and if they weren't capable of maintaining themselves, they would have died a long time ago in the great span of our species evolution. In today's world in particular, it is difficult to understand, sometimes, what 'productive' role a timid person could have, but, in fact, there is much that he can still do, without interacting with other people directly and feeling pain in the process.
I'm sure you have noticed the epidemic of clinical depression in this country over the last 5-10 years, if not going back even further. Now, do you think this massive influx of depressed souls has been registered and numbered because of a willingness on the part of psychiatrists to diagnose depression even when it may not exist in its truly virulent form, or is there actually an increase that people should be concerned about? What do you think about the general idea that this depression is a response to the so-called "secularization" of America and the corresponding loss (which may or may not exist) of traditional "values", or traditional religion and feelings of community or group cohesion? Do you think this epidemic (real or imaginary) is related to an increase in people's feelings of isolation, or alienation? Has this underground current of despair and/or constant doubt and fear always existed? Do you think that this current problem with depression and "negative" emotions in our society could be linked to the environment, pollution, diet, or politics?
The most cynical answer would go something like: "How the fuck would I know?" But, if you want my opinion, which will no doubt serve more as an illustration of my own personality and perspective upon the world than anything of an even remotely objective merit, I think the epidemic of depression is in large part due to the willingness of psychiatrists to diagnose this illness over something else. You see, I think most psychiatrists are not fit for their jobs. I think these are people with problems, people who should, in the words of Nietzsche, operate on themselves. But at the same time, it is plausible to believe that depression has increased over the last few years... especially since George W. Bush was re-elected.
I think depression has myriad catalysts, although hereditary, so-called behavioral factors I think are most culpable for its emergence. By 'secularization' I assume you mean the loss of spiritual, or non-material, values. This is certainly possible. Traditional values are holding strong and are being formed as we speak by the masters of society, the sheep-men that rule over our public lives, so I don't believe that traditional values or morality is at stake here... directly. I do believe that the feeling of isolation in man has risen - at least it has for myself - over the past few years or decades, in inverse proportion to the so-called 'progress' that civilization has made through the succeeding generations. There has been a marked technological progress made over the years, I believe this is irreproachable, but it is arguable whether that progress has bettered our lives or only made it worse. This is different for different people, but I like to take the side of simplicity in my life; the less I have to rely on 'things', on 'objects', for my happiness and security the better.
Yes, perhaps this despair has always existed - this is also quite plausible to me. Perhaps we are only noticing it more now since we hear more about it via various communication channels that have through the centuries never existed. The problem of depression and negative emotions in our society is not necessarily a current phenomenon. I think it's always existed. In the end, I'd say that the current climate of our society has served a large role in both exacerbating depression in people and bringing it out more fully into the open.
Do you ever think that the common American understanding of life as a "pursuit of happiness" might be a terribly incorrect interpretation of not only what is possible, but what is healthy for the human organism? Is it possible, in your opinion, to live a "happy" life? Or, when people mention this, are they misunderstanding or misinterpreting the role of happiness in human psychology, and in fact labeling other states as happiness...say, security, or smugness? Also, since "happiness" is obviously a completely relative term and depends on one's own personality, desires, temperament, possibilities, etc. is universal (seen from the inside-out, meaning: selfishness) happiness even possible? Or will an environment where every single cell or individual seeks its own subjective rewards always result in chaos, and eventual dissolution? Does the imposition of "order" in fact create a state of being where an objective happiness must be delineated and absorbed as the subjective in order to insure that desiring beings will proceed with life along similar lines? In this way, are individuality and individual happiness always in the political realm, and is the pursuit of individual, subjective happiness always a political act?
I think the common American understanding of life as the 'pursuit of happiness' is stupid. All of us would like to lead satisfying lives but I believe there is more to existence than fulfilling primitive urges. Life is not only about filling your stomach with food and having sex as often as possible... it is a voyage of discovery, an adventure full of various successes and failures, none of which should generally be 'looked down upon', but rather understood as rungs on a ladder, or steps on a staircase. With each step, there is no turning back. What is failure? The only kind of failure is not stumbling or tripping over in the process, but not learning anything from one's mistakes. That's true failure. For how else do we reach our truths? How else do we know where we are going and if it's the right place for us? How else do we know what makes us happy, truly happy, and what doesn't?
The search for universal happiness was a major theme in literature and philosophy some time ago, in particular during the age of the Enlightenment, if I'm not mistaken. Books and books, volumes upon volumes, were written on this subject, but has a clear solution been found? No, there has not. Everyone ought to find his or her own path to happiness. I don't believe in 'utopian' solutions, if you have that in mind. An environment in which every single organism seeks it own subjective reward is possible, but only in a limited way. When each individual lives for nothing but his own benefit then a society cannot hold for long - I learned this from Rousseau! - at least when taking in mind the way most humans behave themselves. If we were to condition each person to think in some particularly harmless, selfless fashion, if we were to make docile lab rats of human beings, then I would argue otherwise. But that's not going to happen.
Yes, perhaps an imposition of order does imply an objective happiness, or at least an objective compliance, in order to sustain itself and prosper. It would be difficult to imagine why a society would want to impose unhappiness on itself as a universal condition if we did not have to live in such a society, which I think this one, ours is - in other words, a completely and totally fucking absurd society... but one which, by all appearances, works. Welcome to the human race!
Who was it that said that man is a political animal? If man is a social creature, which he indubitably is, then it follows that he is a political creature as well, since reaching a compromise with other human beings is virtually impossible to avoid in waking life. Even if you are the reigning king of the universe, you have to bargain with people and deal with them in appropriate ways. I think this is irrefutable.
Why do you think human beings constantly search for permanent things or "permanent" situations, static, unchanging environments, in a universe where it seems nothing at all is ever permanent? Where does this instinct come from? Is it social, religious, psychological? In your opinion, is this fundamental, ironic schism in humans typical of a flaw in their nature, a disharmony, a disconnection from the patterns of the universe, or is it in fact a symbolic representation of much deeper laws of creation and destruction in the universe, symbolic of an eternal "coming and going" that always exists in reality? If the universe is truly in flux at all times, would a more stable human psychology even be possible? How could a human being ever possibly act in harmony with what he understood of nature? Also, in your opinion, is this desire for an unchanging permanence, a quietude, just another symbolic attraction towards the "purity" of death?
This instinct seems to have a complex origin, rooted in the social environment, religious institutions and teachings, as you mention, as well as behavioral or psychological needs. It is impossible, in my opinion, to delineate a simple solution for the need of lasting situations and things in people. Permanence is comfort, ease, a return, so to speak, to the warmth of the mother's womb. It is also, I think, an instinctual imposition of order upon reality, an order that reality, at least from our point of view, lacks without our unique interpretation and understanding. So I think the need for lasting events is an instinctual and social need, but for the most part instinctual. I don't believe that this is a 'flaw' in the nature of a man. Rather the opposite.
The desire for an unchanging permanence or peace is very close to me, so in theory I should be able to answer your question directly and succinctly. But... I can't. I will give you this much, however. When I feel at peace with my self and my surroundings, death is not one of the things I am thinking about. I feel full of life instead... I'm thinking of life and not death, the joy of reflection and of simply being alive.
I was thinking about an interesting paradox the other day...this was the idea that musical movements, as the expression of group wills or group thinking, do not become truly expressive or musically potent (meaning that they reach a certain perfection of style, desire, ideology, imaginative or creative prowess, etc.) until they completely turn away from a concentration on fulfilling the expectations of outsiders and dive inward, seeking only to express the reality of their own most fundamental fantasies, emotions, thoughts, or self-created culture. This is to say that the only musical cultures that have value, later, for outsiders (and this listening value pales in comparison to the personal value the music has for its creators), are the ones which turn completely away from the world and reject the possibility of outsiders ever understanding the meaning behind the music. Meaning, and thus beauty, true communication and "spirit", are created only inwardly, in introspection and self-obsession. First of all, it seems, there has to be a sort of "revolving" away from the world, and then a later turn back towards it when one has discovered something tangible and essential in the self. The paradox is that only in this turning away is there created the condition for an eventual return and spiritual identification with the Other, with the Outside, and in this introspection there is something found that is universal, or transcendently expressive. Do you think this is true, or is this is just an interpretation that I am placing over the music? Can permanent meaning and true expression (expression which is essential and meaningful to the self) be as easily created in musical movements (or individual artists) that never turn away from reality, from society, from the Other?
I'm thinking of Hegel's philosophy when you mention these things, revolving away from the world, reuniting with it, reintegrating what one has learned in the process... the thesis, the antithesis and the eventual reconciliation of opposites in the synthesis. I have to be frank with you that I don't believe this is true. I think it's your own interpretation of what is happening. In my experience, talking to the musicians behind many of the bands that are extremely meaningful to me, I have discovered that most do not spend so much time pondering upon themselves and their music as perhaps you do, their being, as you say, 'introspective.' I don't argue that they invest a great deal of time and put a lot of passion into their work, but I wonder sometimes of their depth and their ability to really reflect on what they are doing, rather than spewing out these fantastic songs like slot machines, working on them until they hit three lemons. It's almost scary to think that such amazing music could be created by people who, in casual conversation, I would consider as shallow human beings, but this sometimes is really the case. About music and isolation, I must say that, to me, from what I have gathered over the years, the art that is most meaningful and most expressive seems to only be possible when achieved through isolation. As I said before, the music that I enjoy the most is not intended for communal listening, for parties and even concerts. The artists involved tend to move away from the banal to come closer to the fantastic, to the world of dreams and unlimited possibility, and it just so happens that that is where I feel most comfortable.
What, in your opinion, are the spiritual, personal, or philosophical benefits of solitude and/or isolation? What are the negative consequences? Why do you think some people are naturally attracted to solitude, and others fear it? If someone had never felt solitude, or was completely terrified of its effects, or possible consequences, would you be able to identify with them? Would you trust them, personally?
Solitude is essential for keeping yourself balanced and healthy if you are unhappy being around most people, as I am. From an artist's point of view, this is also beneficial as staying isolated keeps one's ideas independent and free of any manipulating influence. That is what people do: they manipulate each other into thinking or behaving in such and such way. The negative consequences only come, I believe, if you isolate yourself for too long, or you make it into an ingrained habit not to communicate with anyone... ever! I think it is too hard on a person to maintain this state for too long. I know I can't do it. And I doubt that people who claim that they can do it can do it for long. People are attracted to solitude partly for the two reasons I've mentioned above, though there can be plenty more. The imagination is the limit! If I met a person who was terrified of solitude, or has claimed never to have felt it, and I have met many such people (I think I am one of them to a degree), I believe I still would be able to identify with them. The need for solitude can be strong in a person, but what is this feeling, truly, that comes and goes? To be actually alone, with no one to depend upon, no friends, no family, is, I imagine, a hard way of living life. As much as I love being alone, sharing moments with my good friends is something I would never want denied from me.
Do you ever think about the incompatability between the utterly violent and chaotic nature of some forms of metal and the "atmospheric" or ambient character of the same material? For example, even the most rigorously harsh music, if prolonged in a suitable manner, can become soothing and conducive to a sort of self-hypnosis which leads right into introspective or imaginative reveries. Do you think an artistic paradox is created in music that seeks to be both "beautiful" and savagely violent at the same time? Is "beauty" a completely relative term? In another sense underground metal or experimental music enthusiasts can become so attached to their favorite recordings of what is supposed to be a "corrosive" or "poisonous" form of music that they find constant relief in playing them, tending to become so acclimated to the violence in the music that they regard it almost as a well-wishing, a blessing, a benevolent addition to their psychic upkeep. Is this just centered on a desensitization? Why do you think people are instinctively drawn to violent music? Do you subscribe to the "catharsis" theory of violent music in that it is summoned in order to release energy in both the musician and audience, and direct it in a "positive" manner, or do you think of music, rather, as a sort of reserve of potential violence and an irritant or incitement - constantly seeking to increase the level of violence around it, and feeding off of this?
I know of what you're saying and it's one of the things that I really treasure in this music, its ability to combine beauty and violence, chaos and order, and still remain complete and meaningful. That is the difference between music and noise as it's ordinarily defined, in my opinion - the one lacks sense, while the other does not. There are some noise pieces I have heard that have an extraordinarily placating effect on the mind. It is as if, after some time, you are sitting in the eye of the storm, immune to the elements, hypnotized by the gale-force winds. I could be relaxed and sent into a placid trance by the most violent piece of music. I don't think this is a paradox, necessarily. Why must beauty fall into some kind of commonly accepted guidelines? Who writes the rules for beauty? I don't believe in any 'Platonic ideals', of there being some absolute form of beauty, of justice, of wisdom, or whatever else...
But in regard to desensitization, I do think it's a very real process. I mentioned earlier that music changes the way the brain works. After some period of time, after being pressed in one particular direction for long enough, the individual will feel relief from even the most violent piece of music. Why this happens, and why people seek satisfaction through violent art, is an interesting question. I think it has something to do, oddly enough, with the individual's inability to control his environment. If I tried to explain this I would likely make a fool out of myself, but I can try... bear with me now, my friends! When a person is in distress and is in unable to lash out at the world physically - for whatever reason, an infirmity, shyness, anything - he tends to direct this energy inward. The energy is there but it is in a potential state, sort of like a cancer, or a lion in a cage. Violent music has the ability of, perhaps not extirpating the source of the problem, but at least temporarily alleviating it by offering a kind of empathic mirror, a conciliatory second voice. In addition, we are able to 'imagine' that the source of our problem is being dealt with in the appropriate fashion. I think that this is where our corresponding language comes from. How often do you hear critics say, for example, that a piece of music has "kicked their ass," or "punched their teeth in"? I don't mean to suggest that all people who listen to aggressive music are fruitcakes who need professional therapy. But it's an interesting theory, this internalization, this self-afflicted austerity and reversal of aggression. It seems to beg the corresponding question: how many people who listen to violent and extreme music are actually placid and harmless individuals in real life? How many are as violent in their behavior as the music they listen to? Is it all just a stage? Questions with no simple and direct solutions, I'm sure. So what am I saying with all of this? Am I a supporter of the 'cathartic release' theory? I think it's a tenable theory, even if it's highly debatable the extent to which it is a 'positive' release, but not the only theory. We ought not to forget that music is an extremely powerful medium, with the capability to affect the sensibilities in all sorts of unpredictable ways.
Well, I think that will do for now...please add whatever else you would like Erebus's readers to see here. Thanks so much for answering this interview, Yury.
Thank you for the interview, and thank you to the courageous reader who was able to sit through the entire text and miraculously come out alive. I don't know why a person would be interested in what I have to say, but I appreciate the attention anyway. What more is there to add? Everything I have said up to this point has been false. Check out the second issue of my magazine when it is finally released. Issue #1 has already been sold out completely. Thanks to everyone who has ordered a copy. The second issue is in progress and should be far less conventional and predictable than the first. It should be interesting... time will tell.