Sunday, May 16, 2010

Spilling the Black Blood - Catharsis in Black Metal

The pictures of Maniac from the band Mayhem immediately come to mind, cutting himself with his hunting knife, bowing in the light of his own self-immolation, reaching back to embrace the ecstasy of fulfilling a cultural archetype, spilling the black blood to offer to the forces that await such spectacles or sacrifices one more impetus to add to the chaos. Of course it is a spectacle - but is it only spectacle, or to make it clearer: only egotism, showmanship, an ephemeral action? What is the value of such a spectacle? What messages does it spread, inculcate, or bring into being? What is the realistic impact and import of such offerings?

Of course black metal is almost always linked to a united effort on the part of the musicians and their audience (I am speaking of a live situation here, a performance) to transcend certain 'normal' barriers of action, communication, expression, and realization. The effort must be made, at least, to take the watcher or listener to a realm completely different from his usual accepted environment and when placed in that highly selective atmosphere, messages of intent, policy, or ethics are transmitted to him at increasingly intense speeds or levels of indoctrinative power. The musicians create a separate reality, or musical world, where their rules of power or their convictions become the motives for existence: their world is fashioned as an alternative to our own, a realm to look to, to inspire, a place where the laws of nature or cause and effect are warped to suit personal ends or reflect the will of the musicians. The action of these created, or artificial, worlds (only artificial in that they do not directly reflect reality - not artificial in that they are bereft of meaning), colliding with separate realities, dominant paradigms, and the reality of the status quo, or the accepted reality, are the movements that spark transcendence.

Catharsis is the basic element and tool of this transcendence, it is the engine that drives the collective wills of the audience and musicians towards escaping the accepted reality and embracing a new ethic of interpretation, realization, and action: a new growth, something transmitted, learned, carried across, a new way of looking at the world. Catharsis is the shedding of the old skin, the embryo of unrealized ambitions and realizations taking form - the witnessing of a new self being birthed.

And because the accepted reality, the dominant paradigm, is often so well-entrenched, battered, scarred, torn, and above all strong in its experience of overwhelming attempts to displace it the catharsis must be correspondingly powerful. The violence in black metal is the side-effect of this cathartic process. It is the exercise of abundant power, the enjoyment of personal strength and the will to madness (the final escape of all boundaries, even reality).

If the motive or theme of sacrifice and its near relation, suicide, are not pushed to the fore in the music, the musicians embrace it through showmanship: but it is not the thought behind the display that really matters, only its effect on the audience. Consumed and taken within the artificial world of a performance, the line between real actions and staged events blurs considerably: metaphors are mixed, distorted, real becomes illusion, and illusion takes on some of the vital import of reality. What is it then, that is being sacrificed? Is it the body, the soul, the will to live, the drives that spur us forward as human beings? Or is the sacrifice symbolic in some fashion - as a reigning king in this pageantry of metaphorical concepts? Is sacrifice not the ultimate ritual - the action that all rituals point to or take their meaning from? And what does 'sacrifice' really mean? The willful ending of past realities or paradigms, the cutting of ties, the turning towards a new reality, the wish to embrace a novel set of convictions and beliefs at all cost. Sacrifice then, and understood as such, is an act of despair - but what of that? Who, in everyday life, has not despaired of the mundane reality he has constructed for himself, or the relations and complications of a reality that has been thrust upon him? The mood of despair is just a summary and distillation of the minute disappointments we encounter every hour of our life, and in every single hour of those days the ethics of despair prompt a sacrifice, a change, a fleeing and rediscovering, a violent break with the past - the turning of the clock, the passing of time mark these microscopic rituals.

Black metal as a ritual, as a planned and imperiously constructed set of actions to summon energies and direct them towards a certain end - is this thought foreign to you? Are the glimpses of occult worlds, of mysterious realms and shades of darkened realities that black metal gives you - are these not a reflection of that future paradigm that you search for? The realm of your hidden potential - the basic drives and eccentricities of your character made manifest as univeral law, the face of your personality transmuted into a landscape, a world, an alternate reality? The blackened power, the dark mystical reflection of the best music, becomes a mirror to show you your own hidden impulses - the motives that drive you, and the depths of madness they are capable of. Is there not a singular feeling of recognization when in the grip of these melodies, among all this alien darkness?

U. Amtey
January 11, 2000