Saturday, May 15, 2010

Total Exhaustion

The End of The Second Year of Erebus

For a magazine that throughout its two year history (which might as well be forever in the terms - term limits - of the metal underground) has concentrated mainly on trying to feature black metal bands, interview them, review their work, and delve a little deeper into their motivations, beliefs, convictions, influences, etc. this past year can only be seen as one of momentous changes...and I use that word both in its literal and applied (or 'poetic') sense, because the changes that we went through in the black metal movement this year were not only very important for the progress and thematic direction of dark music in the future, they also happened very quickly, and their results or direct consequences were absorbed, assimilated, commented on, and/or dismissed almost immediately. Like it or not, the world continues to increase its tempo of thought (which is not to say the profundity of this thought has in any way increased), to the point now where most of us seem to feel like we are lost behind the general 'progress' of any artistic movement if we are not constantly in contact with the aesthetic principles eagerly being propounded by the leading artists of the genre, or the prime theorists of the movement. I believe, actually, that this is a terrible fallacy, yet another way in which the lowest common denominators of the world (and I mean that in a stylistic sense only, really referring to the 'intelligence' of these objects on a tangent) completely avoid the rigorous trials of originality. Yet that feeling is still there - perhaps a consequence of globalism as a whole - where one can't help but sense that the reins of this movement have been given over to artists who have lost control over their own experimentation. 'Experimentation' itself has become almost a synonym for commercialism these days, thanks to the efforts of record label writers or tactless artists, or the critics who are themselves only manifestations of corruption within aesthetics or the general (meaning most widespread) misunderstanding of black metal's original aims, desires, and objects of pursuit. This is, yet again, a way in which commercialism breeds contempt for true artistic profundity, or at the very least the inspiration that moves music forward into new spheres.

So, in the last year we have seen a major split in the black metal scene resolve itself into two camps which are now as far apart in belief as they possibly could be, and which have been pitted against each other in a senseless war not for the domination of a movement and its direction in aesthetics, but rather for completely sociopolitical reasons, all resolved under the banner of record sales. You could call these two groups the 'traditionalists' or 'right-winged' and the 'experimenters' or 'left-winged', or, indeed, the 'liberal'. The political designations are just as important as the aesthetic in this movement, as both of these reserves of thought seem to be aligned in directions which make the two (usually separate) streams of belief run parallel to each other, sharing ideas and the power of conviction. Throughout last year, and indeed in this year almost primarily, the black metal movement has seen the death of the essential idea that the progress of the genre could still be equated with (or at least accomplished alongside) innovation in aesthetics and compositional principles. This is very, very important, for it is at this stage in the history of a musical style that true experimentation (meaning variation in the possibilities of subjective, personal expression) usually falls to the side and becomes corrupted into commercialism. Notice here that I am also implying that 'commercialism' is synonymous with 'repetition' in its negative aspects...

It is because of this threat of repetition that I am particularly wary of the traditionalists in black metal, who seem to feel that 'too much of a good thing' is the only way to save the integrity (political) of the movement they inherited. This is understandable, but also very the point of utter saturation, when we have a majority of groups within the scene all sounding exactly alike due to their fears concerning the political implications of commercial experimentation (and you can see here how commercialism corrupts both through repetition and changing the meaning of 'experimentation'), the majority of enthusiasts within the movement, in turn, naturally lose interest through a completely understandable sense of boredom. This leaves the creation of music in the hands of the traditionalists...when they, also, leave the music because of boredom or whatever reasons they may have, the movement dies.

The solution to this is, of course, to maintain a certain respect for personal, subjective expression within music as it is allied with the aesthetics of compositional innovation. If we have learning anything from the Norwegians over the past decade, it is that a single movement can be spread apart into the musical efforts of many different individuals who are working towards similar ends using completely different means. Without this variation, freedom of expression, and stylistic leniency in unified efforts, we only have the repetition of the tried-and-true, which once again, over time, either collapses on itself through sheer boredom, or (disgusted with its own inability to express the original in each composer that inherits its methods) gives in at last to commercialism, and destroys itself in the white heat of a corrosion of essential artistic/aesthetic values. So what I am offering is mainly this: black metal should stay traditional, in a certain sense, in that it must surely focus on realms of emotion or belief that are not open to expression through other musical styles or compositional methods, but the manner in which it is composed should not be held back or frozen in time, in any way, outside of allowing a great amount of respect for the appearance of the subjective in the music. Black metal, I feel (and this is especially true of the early part of this past decade, concerning the Norwegians) has always been mainly concerned with the exploration of personal darkness, outside of political concerns. It should be reserved for the areas of the individual psyches of the musicians involved that are not open to other forms of musical expression. Above all (and this is one of the essential lessons I have taken from my Burzum obsession), black metal must not be pressed into accepting compositional principles or traditions that limit its ability to pierce into the soul of the musician and listener alike, and present ever darker, ever deeper views of that eternal split between the artist and the suffering man, the creator and destroyer in all of us. We must learn from what has come before and then take it even farther (this is a natural evolution), not preserve it under glass because we are afraid of disrespecting what has come to mean so much for us. In short, if we end up destroying, in its turn, everything that has taken us to this point so far, in the process of pushing even further into the unknown, into the individual, into subjectivity, into the unconscious, then that music has served its purpose, and we treat it with the utmost respect in at last disregarding it for something that is even closer to our hearts.

Over the past year, we have been turning even farther away from bands, for example, who in any way were concerned with the mainstream in the underground - that strange group of people are 'into' underground music yet who always follow the trends, the stylistic explosions of the moment, or the swaying of the record industry itself. Within the underground, of course, there are varying strata to explore, all the way down to the individual artists who write music for themselves, release it themselves (for whatever reasons: vanity, the need to communicate, a sense of obligation, etc.), 'promote' it themselves, and who exercise (quite naturally) the utmost control over their own compositional principles, not being in any kind of situation where they have to make compromises, on whatever level. In this sense, we seem to be becoming even more intolerant, I suppose, but Erebus has always been about the search for a certain form of purity, especially the integrity present in individual artists who are exploring their own psyches for their own benefit and the enlightenment (and let's be honest, also the entertainment - although that word in underground music has completely different implications) of others. This can only continue, as I don't see a return to covering more 'exposed' bands unless I give in to commercialism through a sense of despair or self-negating cynicism. When I say 'purity' it's important to understand that I don't mean any kind of 'truth' outside of the beliefs/status of artists who can not (or will not) bow to commercialism in order to achieve ends that are best left outside the reach of art. I can at times be exceedingly dogmatic, but you, as the reader in these situations, and the one who I am focusing my seduction on, must surely perceive that it is only out of a sense of frustration in the face of the form of music I love more than any other slowly losing its soul...people just react to loss in different ways.

It can not be denied any longer that black metal, as a musical movement, a system or loosely-aligned collection of aesthetic principles, or a political/philosophical cause, has finally begun to come apart at the seams. Either this is because it has finally achieved its objectives, and now can only expend its excess energy in self-destruction, or it is through the frustration of essential desires finally overcoming the beliefs that first gave rise to their creation. It is still difficult to say what is happening at this point, but I do know that Norway, for example, has completely lost the artistic impetus it once had, and through the fault of its main proponents or 'leading' musicians (yes, that's sarcasm) it has embraced commercialism wholeheartedly. This eventually happens in every artistic movement, in the process of disseminating ideas or values to the mainstream, who as consumers are ever-hungry for new themes/ideas/values to peruse, digest, or toss aside. In one sense, if it causes others to go back and examine what has come before, it is a success. In all other areas, this new friendliness of Norway towards more 'acceptable' or easily digestible art is just shouldn't surprise anyone. What is special to the few becomes common to the wider numbers of the masses, ironically mainly through the efforts of the few to express their love for what they find worth examining...this is a natural process.

While this entire corrosion of Norway's aesthetics or personal art has of course made me extremely bitter when I have considered how much the older music of that generation pleases me, I can no longer make myself angry enough to defend 'traditionalism' in any sense...I know that that is a trap as well. Art must decay, new art must rise to take its place. It is not through preserving what is already dead that we maintain what is special to us: the entire process of artistic communication, what is created between listener and musician, the memories of those moments, the feelings first evoked, not the artificially maintained, pale forms of what has come before. Art is transition, brevity, belief, but it also must be a constant process of becoming, or we revere only death and its mute spirits.

So, at the end of this exhausting second year of Erebus, and as we move into the third year, I am convinced that as a magazine that must focus on dark music in order to align itself with the souls of its creators, Erebus can only turn to other forms of music outside black metal in order to stay relevant - not only to its readers, but to its writers as well. Arkadin started this some time ago, I will soon follow. As to what this will ultimately mean I can only guess, but it is exciting to consider what moving outside the close confines we have set down for ourselves so far will create, not only in the exchange of ideas, but in the new worlds that will be opened up for all of to explore...

Here's to another year of excellence in art and music,


U. Amtey
Halloween, 31 October 2001, The Full Moon waxing near...
Completed 4:09 PM CST