Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Problem of Power in Extreme Metal

Why the attraction of 'power' in modern metal? What does 'power' mean to the musicians who play extreme metal or who are involved in the scene? How do bands strive to create an 'powerful' atmosphere, and why do they try? What is so attractive about 'power' in this form of music, as opposed to the Christian 'humility'?

As usual, I will blame it all on the modern ethics of power, the will to such, and the overwhelming fascination 'power' and aggression (in all its aspects) has for metal musicians. 'What is good in life? Whatever increases the feeling of power.' But what exactly does 'power' mean in this respect? Any novice freshly facing extreme metal could tell you two things: the music is about expressing the need for (and fascination with) power in all its forms (lyrical, sociological, societal, sonic) and the main derivative of 'extremity' is always manifested through an aggressive intent. Aggression signifies power - it usually only comes into being to correct what is perceived as a disharmony in the balance of power. So where along the line did the extreme metal musician experience what he now sees is a debt of power on his part? Why the concentration on 'righting' or balancing again this harmony of might through artistic creation and not through other means?

It is beyond the scope of my powers (sorry) to pierce into the heart of every extreme metal musician and discover what lurks within. But ask yourself this - why were you first attracted to this sort of music? How does it make you feel, and why?

Taking a closer look at this topic only spawns more questions.

Extreme metal, it seems to me, is about violence, but violence made representational by music's concentration on abstractions. Rarely does the music itself create violence except through performance or through the interpretation and action of the listener. How can abstractions enter reality except through interpretation or a symbolic performance and demonstration of their importance? Violence is about shifts in the balance of power - either a negative shift, a loss in your sense of power, or positive - an increase in your feeling of power. But what does 'power' mean in this respect? The ability to overwhelm and force your perception of reality on others, and in doing so place yourself as the center of power - to force others to recognize your perception as the 'right', the 'true' - as the foundation of truth throughout ALL perceptions of reality.

Weak aside - no place for those
Our struggle leaves behind
Our Lord won't tolerate those
Whom through attrition fall

- from Morbid Angel's 'Dominate'

'Perception' is always linked to power, as power and effectiveness can be perceived in many ways by many different people. Always, however, your perception of your own power will rule the day, and take precedence over any others. What hurts more than discovering another perception, outside your own, that limits your power or makes you see your ideal for what it is - an isolated phenomena colored by emotion? And what pleases more than the compliments that make you increase your own perception of personal power, your self-esteem (literally: how you 'measure' yourself on the balance of power)?

Violence, then, enters reality to counter an awareness of the decrease in personal power. Violence is nothing more than that, and when viewed as an abstraction it loses the absurd colors of personal prejudice or the illusions of self-justification. Why would I, as a musician, want to write music or create art that offered the listeners violence (or through the abstraction of the 'audience' the entire world - i.e., reality itself) unless there is at first somewhere a perception of my own inadequacy in a balance of power? But why does this violence enter reality through music, and not through personal action? Are personal action (brute violence) and artistic creation (violence in the realm of thought) both means of personal expression? Of course. When you commits acts of violence you are making a statement - always. There is no such thing as 'random' violence - all violence is an attack on the limits or manifestations of reality as it is understood by the persecutor. When you attack a person physically it is not just a means for self-defense or a demonstration of your strength (your biological imperative) but an attack on that person's perception of your power. That perception, you rationalize very quickly, has to be changed in order to balance ALL the perceptions of power, and when change happens suddenly it always appears as violence - in personal action, in nature, in physics...it is a law of the universe. In fact another easy definition for violence is 'sudden change or upset'. Music IS then a demonstration or form of violence, especially in performance - where it comes closest to escaping the boundaries of abstraction and approaches the realm of reality. And the truth remains that artistic violence remains more socially acceptable (and more easily digestible by society - even in the form of extreme metal) than personal physical violence.

Extreme metal is a constant display of the flexibility, methodology, and perceptions of power. If the display of violence is an art, or a demonstration of the manifestations of the will to power as it encounters reality, extreme metal is its self-elected avatar. What are the melodies and harmonies of the music other than demonstrations (in the realm of abstraction) of the ceaseless variety through which the immutable laws of power make themselves known?

If power, then, is the main concentration of extreme metal - to what end is it being displayed if not merely for the purpose of self-esteem? Are there reasons other than the personal needs known only to the artists? Or are the agendas obvious, if political or societal? What is the focus of the music's overwhelming statement? Because music is an abstraction, and deals solely with the realm of abstractions and their derivations, it can only be placed under the science of aesthetics. But the studied concentration of aesthetics has never realized a clear statement of its purpose or importance - it is still a neglected discipline. But for the purpose of this article, consider the concentration of aesthetics as being a register of impressions received by an artistÕs audience, the 'value' or abstract worth of those impressions, and the categories into which these values naturally fall. The power and violent means of extreme metal is most often a display of the artist's personal preferences, or a demonstration of an aesthetic agenda - once again a will to power in the attempt at forcing the artist's aesthetic judgements upon the audience. 'This is the way music should be played,' a guitarist is always saying THROUGH his instrument, 'this is the way it was meant to be played - this is the form through which it is most expressive, this is the STYLE that allows me to say what I need to say.' And that's all I can find to say right now on the matter.

U. Amtey
25 August 1999