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Heavy Metal Music

Genre: Metal Music

Popular music was recorded and marketed as a Counterculture which opposed the normal, functional, and unexciting Culture that was dominant in society; by being outside of that which was in power, Counterculturalists argued, they were able to see what was "real" and to implement a "progressive" worldview in which moral correctness brought us gradually closer to a utopian state.

This marketing mirrored the process of adolescents, the main audience for popular music, who first reject the world of their parents, then once independent re-assess their own values, and finally, rejoin society on the terms of these recreated values. This determines "reality" as they will act to create it, based upon their values system.

While dominant Culture sought what was pragmatic, and Counterculture pursued the moral, metal music became its own movement because it could not agree with either of those approaches, preferring instead to try to seek what was "real," or meaningful and "heavy" (in the LSD-influenced vernacular of the time). Their approach did not aim at correctness, but assertion of subjective meaning.

jeff hanneman, a founding member of slayer, described their music as a mix between old british heavy metal and melodic hardcore punkEarly metal bands, in emulation of popular music as a whole, hoped to discover what was real by finding out first what was not. This attitude, over the course of four generations of music, took metal beyond the grounds of "good" versus "evil" into nihilism, where nothing had inherent value or classification, but could be described in terms of experience.

Nihilism is a frightening belief system for those in societies organized by dualistic (heaven versus earth) and liberal (individualistic, egalitarian) societies, as it denies that our values systems are more real than events in natural reality. To a nihilist, truth is a way we describe some things in reality, but there is no eternal life nor eternal truth which exists separate from immortality. Nihilism means accepting mortality, and experience as what we have in place of a religious or moral truth.

These ideas exceed limits of social acceptability, which in a capitalist liberal democracy threatens the self-marketing which individuals use to gain business partners, social groups and mates. As a result, metal was forced to wholly transcend the artificial consensual reality shared by Culture and Counterculture, and to create its own value system including its nihilism.

Seeking the real, and not the moral, this value system in turn surpassed its own nihilism by moving from a negative logical viewpoint to an assertive one, looking not for something objectively determined to be "eternal" but for that which will be true in any age past or present, discovering through personal experience and acceptance of nihilism (a symbolic analogue for mortality) that which society will not recognize, completing the process of adolescence in a state of actual outsidership.

Metal music began as the work of the youth born after the superpower age began, during a highly developmental period for Western civilization in which it, having defeated fascism and nationalism and other old-world evolution-based systems of government, considered itself highly evolved in a humanistic state of liberal democracy which benefitted the individual more than any system previously on record. During this era, society served citizens in their quest for the most convenient lifestyle possible, and any questions or goals outside of this worldview were not considered: it was considered a "progressive" continuation of human development from a primitive evolutionary "red in tooth and claw" state to one in which social concepts of justice and morality defined the life of the individual. The individual has triumphed over the natural world, and faces none of the uncertainty of mortal existence brought about by physical competition and predation.

Politically (the global quest for egalitarian society) and socially (the empowerment of new groups and loss of consensus) humanity viewed itself as getting ahead and being superior to other forms of civilization, including the equally egalitarian but totalitarian Communist empires of the Soviet Union and China, but as the thermonuclear age dawned in the 1950s, this dichotomy came to define the "free West" as much as its enemies.

Iwo Jima dawned a new age of moral supremacy in the postwar superpower USAThe first generation after WWII created early proto-metal in a time when all older knowledge and social order was being overturned in the wake of an impulse to redesign the world to avoid the "evils" of the previous generation. The people of this age, and coming ages, were new in that they could not recall a time of direct experience of nature as necessary; the grocery stores, modern medicine and industrial economies of their time took care of all of their needs, and no unbroken natural world could any longer be found except on specialty tours. Their civilization had become exclusively introspective and was losing contact with the (natural) world beyond its self-defined boundaries.

During this time, a "peace" movement which embraced pacifism and egalitarian individualism was gaining popularity at the forefront of the counterculture, a phenomenon which had existed since in the 1950s smart marketers (namely Allen Freed) had promoted rock music as an alternative to the staid, traditional, monogamous and sober lives of Protestant, Anglo-Saxon Americans. With WWII polarizing the world against first German and later Russian "enemies," and Viet Nam revealing the moral bankruptcy of benevolent superpowers motivated by their economies, society was becoming more dependent upon the ideological tradition building over the last 2,000 years: focus on the individual, or individualism, as politically expressed in egalitarianism and liberal democracy. This was expressed in both culture and counterculture.

In contrast, metal music emphasized morbidity and glorified ancient civilizations as well as heroic struggles, merging the gothic attitudes of art rock with the broad scope of progressive rock, but most of all, its sound emphasized heavy: a literal reality that cut through all of our words and symbols and grand theories, to remind us that we are mortal and not ultimately able to control our lifespan or the inherent abilities we have. This clashed drastically with both the pacifist hippie movement and the religious and industrial sentiments of the broader society surrounding it.


This was a confrontation with the "abyss" as first described by existentialist F.W Nietzsche: the awareness that life is finite and of functional, transactional maintenance; that we are both predator and prey, and that we have no control over our lives or death. To Nietzsche, and thinkers such as Arthur Schopenhauer before him, to realize this was an "undergoing," or embracing of nihilism: the belief that there is no value other than the inherent, physical interaction of the natural world. To a nihilist, there is no inherent morality or value, thus there is no reason to view social status and financial success as ultimate goals, only as methods to a path ranked by subjectively-derived importance. This view threatens the beliefs and punishments used to hold Western society together since roughly AD 1000.

Regardless of benevolent social objectives, Nietzsche argued, religion and society were cults that banished death through the "revenge" that morality offered in giving the individual a vector by which to be "better" than the world itself, and by being "equal" to all others, immune to comparison (a symbolic form of predation triggered by Charles Darwin's arguments on "survival of the fittest). In essence, Nietzsche saw social behavior itself as an enemy of reality recognition in the individual and thus, like morality, an ingrained influence that would prompt rebellion and instability within a society that would know no other recourse than moral norming.

Heavy metal, as the music most visibly fascinated with death and suffering (and most likely to mention Nietzsche), addresses the sublimated issue of Nietzsche's abyss in Western society, which has based its founding principles and individual social and mystical values upon the polarity of "good" and "evil," is an identification with the enemy. In the Judeo-Christian view, death and suffering are an enemy which is banished with "good" behavior in the hopes of heavenly (and earthly) reward. In secular form, egalitarian capitalist liberal democracy "empowers" the individual and gives him or her the moral "freedom" to act without regard for the natural world, thus being immune to predation and any form of assessment outside of the social and fiscal. When one embraces the breadth of history (outside of the current civilization), the nihilistic lack of eternal presence of value, the predominance of death and predation, and the logic of feral impulse, one has directly challenged both modern capitalist liberal democracy and the extensive religious (Judeo-Christian) and secular (liberalism) heritage upon which it is built.

8,000 years before Christ there was a religion in Northern India which addressed these issues in a sense without dualism; it believed that life is known to humans through sensual (eyes, ears, taste, smell, touch) perception of a reality composed of ideas which was similar in structure to both nature and the process of thought itself. In this religion the Faustian spirit was clearly present, as while a heroic deed was more important than survival, personal mortality was clearly affirmed. Thus there was both meaning and death, and no absolute God or Heaven to reconcile the two. This required the individual to declare values worthy of filling a life, and worth dying for, and from this origin the ancient heroic civilizations were spawned. Metal's belief system is closer to this than to any modern equivalent, thus it is sensible to posit a closure of the cycle and its renewal in the ideas gestured by heavy metal music.

Heavy Metal Music

Art does not exist in a vacuum within the minds of its creators. If a concept is applied to music, there is a corresponding concept in structure and the worldview of the artist that creates the frame of mind in which the artist creates music which sounds like its desired value system. Art is too complex to be created without any prior thought as to what it expresses; this concept is common in literature and visual art, but ignored in popular music (perhaps because in most popular music, the concept - and the music - reflect crass materialism and futile neurosis and not much else).

At the end of an age of moral symbolism and technological norming, metal is recreating the language of music to reflect heroic values, formulated from the nihilistic mandate of "now that you believe in nothing, find something worth believing in." The ease of social and political identification found in rock music is eschewed, as are aesthetics which endorse the myopic neurosis of first world lifestyles. And while metal has evolved over several generations, several musical facets remain the same, suggesting a corresponding shared conceptual underpinning.

This "design form" of metal differs from popular music in one simple way, but from this arise any number of techniques and attributes which allow composers to create in this method. Its primary distinguishing characteristic is that metal embraces structure more than any other form of popular music; while rock is notorious for its verse-chorus-verse structure and jazz emphasizes a looser version of the same allowing unfetter improvisation, metal emphasizes a motivic, melodic narrative structure in the same way that classical and baroque music do. Each piece may utilize other techniques, but what holds it together is a melodic progression between ideas that do not fit into simple verse-chorus descriptors. Even in 1960s proto-heavy metal, use of motives not repeated as part of the verse-chorus cycle and transitional riffing suggested a poetic form of music in which song structure was derived from what needed to be communicated.

Synthesis of HeavyMetal

Arthur Schopenhauer, one of the few humans with any cognitive abilityIn this structuralism, metal music asserts a concern for the underlying mechanism of the universe as a whole, instead of limiting its focus to human social concerns. This degrades the public image fascination begun in the West with absolutist morality; in its use of power chords, the most harmonically flexible chord shape, and a tendency toward melodic composition, metal music emphasizes an experience, where rock can articulate at best a moment and then put it into a repeating loop. While rock uses more open chords and aesthetic variation, its outlook is ultimately a utopic form of the counterculture: progressive trends leading to some ultimate state of an absolute, such as "freedom" or "joy" or "popularity."

By way of contrast, metal music is a portrait of the post-humanist mindset: concerned more about natural reality than social symbolism, addressing experience instead of moral conclusion, and, when it seeks a context of meaning, oriented toward the subjective experience than an "objectivity" derived from shared societal concept. It is aware that leaving behind the comforting alternate reality of social assessment returns to a natural state in which the individual is ranked among others according to ability, much as predation did years ago, and is forced to accept mortality and limits of personal control. This thought demonstrates the modern era of Western civilization facing the ideas of the ancients while eschewing the consensual social reality of industrial capitalist liberal democracies, and, as said societies collapse from lack of consensus, a potential future direction for Indo-European culture.

Music - (Proto-metal)

Since 1950s rock had been such whitebread wholesomeness, centered mainly around puppy love and going to the beach or the sock hop, the revenge of those who had been left out focused angrily on dissident and alienated themes, but expressed them to some degree in the civility of the day, leading to forms that in our current time of literal and material thought are tame, but in their time were offensive by the nature of their existence. These came in three forms, one crude, one arty, and one technique-oriented.

iggy pop and the stooges renovated rock to be stripped down, dead of harmony and ruthlessly nihilisticThe first was the advent of loud, distorted blues, which was pioneered by a mess of a band called Blue Cheer, who made braying, droning, grinding blues rock with the aid of deformed amplifiers and a passion for crudity. They were the vanguard of a range of electric blues bands from Cream to Jimi Hendrix to ZZ Top, and inspired much of the loud rock which followed, including proto-punk-rockers the Kinks and the Who. Much can be said about these bands, but what is most important is that they took the traditions of folk and blues improvisation and turned them into something technically on par with the jazz and big band acts of the day, adding guitar fireworks and lengthy songs to a genre that was otherwise strictly radio-play ditties.

The second tine of the fork was progressive rock, which in 1968 found its most extreme act in King Crimson, but which truly flowered during the early middle 1970s. Arguably, this genre was given impetus by a band overmentioned in any history of popular music because they were among the first to leave standard rock format, overcoming its novelty, namely, the Beatles. Their work was one of many that allowed bands to mix classical and jazz training into their rock, resulting in longer song structures, many of which were narrative or neo-operatic (Camel, Genesis, Yes) and the use of distortion and dissonance in artful ways. While these bands ultimately choked on their own "virtuosity," being nestled in a genre that could barely appreciate them but not reaching the level of complexity of classical works (in part because of a need to service the unending drumbeats and syncopated rhythms common to rock), they lived on in contributions to other genres.

Finally, there was a tradition of bands who grew from the surf and garage rock traditions into a technique-oriented neo-proto-punk-rock format, beginning with half-American Indian guitarist Link Wray and leading through surf guitar champion Dick Dale, both of whom were users of distortion. Psychedelic bands such as the 13th Floor Elevators and semi-punkers like Love and The Trees are worth mentioning here, but these bands had a foot as well in inspiration from the first dark rock band to exist, the Doors. Where other rock bands had focused on love or peace, the Doors brought a Nietzsche-inspired morbid subconscious psychedelia to rock music, and were the origins of much of the neo-Romanticism which later bloomed into metal, as well as many of the more inspired moments of progressive and punk rock.

By 1969, the influence of these artists had saturated the forms of public consciousness which were focused on rock music as a developing artform, and contributed to the explosion of hard rock (Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple) and proto-metal (Black Sabbath), both of which occurred simultaneously to the development of distorted, power-chord based technical music from King Crimson. This year was thus the watershed for loud forms of rock, as it started three threads which would run concurrently during the 1970s and hybridize in the next decade.

robert fripp in king crimson and as a solo artist contributed much of the theory to metal before 1969In many ways taking up where the Doors left off, Black Sabbath were originally a British electric blues band named Earth, but after guitarist Toni Iommi had a stint in progressive rock band Jethro Tull (and not coincidentally, members of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath participated in each other's projects), the quartet surged foward with a new sound, inspired by horror movies and the same morbid, neo-Gothic animal nihilism that had made the Doors strikingly out of place. Using perhaps the most extreme distortion heard so far, and reducing the flowery instrumentalism of the time to the basics, Black Sabbath combined progressive rock with electric blues and created something that differed from its contemporaries in several ways: it almost exclusively used power chords; it used bassier distortion; it had narrative song structures like a progressive band, but relied on gut-simple riffs for the majority of its air time; it was morbid, occult and negative in its lyrical outlook. For all of the political change fomented by 1960s rock, Black Sabbath were a shock -- but even more surprising was their consequent success on radio and in record stores. They had tuned into something their worldwide audience found relevant, if not appealing.

Legend relates that the members of Black Sabbath, looking for a new "angle" (trend) in rock music, drove past a marquee for the horror movie titled Black Sabbath in English speaking countries. H.P. Lovecraft, arguably the founder of that genre, once stated that in life he had not observed good or evil, but an abundance of horror - meaning that there was no moral classification for the "bad" things that happened, but that the experience would be horrific. Black Sabbath as a band, in adopting their new image, sought to express the experience of horror and truth, eschewing for a moment the rigid morality of rock bands around them.

if you keep your hippies dry, they smell betterIt is important to note that most of this occurred with notice - by the members of Black Sabbath. They wanted to be musicians and fit in somewhere between power blues and progressive rock, and despite drug use, psychological mishaps and basic personal instability, they created a "sound" that was ahead of its time - and ahead of its musicians. Much less articulated than Led Zeppelin (and farther from the rock norm of the time), they launched themselves ahead of the crowd and then had to look back and gather some sense of direction, causing the band to collapse artistically by 1978. At that point, however, the formula for 1970s heavy metal was established: a smidgen of the King Crimson esoteric weirdness, the dark Gothic haunting cavernous sound of Black Sabbath, the guitar wizardry of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, the physical thunder and brash insane hedonism of Blue Cheer. At this point in history, "heavy metal" (a term borrowed from beat writer William S. Burroughs' 1962 novel, The Soft Machine) was viewed as somewhere between prog rock and psychedelia, but already its content was starting to differentiate itself.

Primarily, mainstream radio music will always follow the same song format that was the basis of the English drinking songs and Scots hymns that inspired the blues, including some degree of instrumental vocal shadowing ("call and response"), repetitive verse chorus form, and a bridge taking the song to a brief melodic counterpoint and then resolution. The more intricate Black Sabbath songs were thus mostly lost to radio, encouraging any artists wishing to develop those concepts to do so elsewhere. Further, the morality of the time and the counterculture was offended by the occultism Black Sabbath had chosen as an aesthetic image, yet had found it loomed larger than life (aided by the semi-serious occultism of Led Zeppelin's Jimi Page). Occult beliefs are distinguished from "normal" (Christian, Jewish) religions by the occult's tendency to accept good and evil as forcing balancing the universe, both being necessary, as in the gnostic tradition. This doesn't sit well with church elders nor with Counterculture members trying to come up with a universal, absolute reason why change and empowerment of the less-fortunate must occur. Years later, even highly political punkers were often skeptical and repulsed by the amorphous, indefinite stance of heavy metal, as if they fear the reaction of an occult mystic to their rule-based logic.

Metal - (Speed Metal / Thrash)

Metal aged and so did the generation that produced the hippies, drifting into commercialdom and then self-hatred for losing sight of basic goals. Having lost both of their fundamental systems of iconography (traditional + hippie "revolution" and New Left) within a decade while most of the population remained ignorant to both, the youth of the 1960s and 1970s were more cynical and materialist as they aged than any previous group. This awakened a scavenger coming to carcass in the 1980s which rolled into glorious rehash of the commercial ambition of the 1950s, leading to a wave of denial and an ever-present conformity in face of new fears: drugs, technological warfare, disease.

A desperate paranoid climate emerged underneath the murmuring denial neurosis of commercial social doctrine. Ideology in popular music became an intense moral crusade of horror at the history of humanity to that point, hearkening back to WWI-era dissent. In this environment, metal updated itself with the aggression and simplicity of hardcore, and came back for the attack in at first two hybrid genres: speed metal and thrash.

tipper gore led a crusade against profanity and lewdness in heavy metal and rap throughout the 1980s only to hide it during the 1996 electionsSpeed metal took the classically-influenced structures of neoclassical progressive heavy metal from the 1970s and merged them with the palm-muted, choppy strum of violent British hardcore, as well as the whipping speed-strum of the more fluid crustcore genre. An example of the first influence can be found in violently alienated bands like The Exploited and Black Flag, where the latter originated in Amebix and Discharge, who twisted three chords into a song where the guitar playing was fast but the drumming and vocal delivery slower, creating like ambient music a disorientation of pace and thus of activity. Thrash was crossover music based more in hardcore, so unlike speed metal, which added hardcore riff stylings to metal song forms, it added metal riff stylings to hardcore song forms.

Classic speed metal bands were Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, Slayer, Anthrax and Prong, but these were the largest and most commercial and many others existed concurrently. Thrash remained underground and lasted for less than a decade, thus it retained its primal trio of Cryptic Slaughter, the Dirty Rotten Imbeciles and Corrosion of Conformity, although it is academically interestin to mention offshoots like Suicidal Tendencies and Fearless Iranians From Hell, both of which were more punk rock and rock'n'roll than the core of the thrash genre. Although toward the end of the 1980s people began referring to bands like Destruction and Kreator as "thrash metal," it makes more sense to identify them as essentially speed metal bands which borrowed attributes from thrash and nascent death metal bands.

cliff burton taught many members of metallica music theory At one point praised by Robert Fripp for remaining apart from mainstream culture, these bands faced a growing divide in the music industry, namely the availability of cheaper recording technology (thanks to advances in digital and manufacturing ability) as well as, for the first time, the ability to press records and CDs in small runs, giving rise to a horde of smaller labels. While hardcore punk bands had maintained the DIY aspect for years, they were unwilling and unable to make any money doing so, but in the 1980s the ease of access to these technologies meant that small, independent ("indie") labels could both publish ecclectic rarities and not go bankrupt in the process.

For youth growing up during this time period, life was an uncertain and duty-bound prospect, threatened on one side by ICBMs which could arrive in a matter of minutes and vaporize cities, and on another by a tide of reactionary politics and social conformity which forced people into norms to avoid the risk of standing out and being tacitly avoided by employers and potential social contacts alike. Speed metal and thrash bands, who were in the crux of generational exchange, experienced both worlds: the public image and the private reality, including political dissidence.

angel witch were a vanguard of new wave of british heavy metal structuralismTheir hardcoresque anthems of social and political dissent are leftist but even more so, "rejectivist." The world is pushed back and its mechanisms declared incompetent. Many began the slow spiral into fatalism, where either through belief in religious mechanisms behind historical growth or a lack of ability to apply their passion, lapsing into a hedonism of self-destructive principle. The hedonistic attitudes and hail-satan paeans to deviant creativity evaporated as a politicized theory of what ought to be done, inherited both from hardcore punk and the surrounding public culture, seized metal. Songs were written about the evils of drugs, the mistreatment of American Indians, the oppression of minorities by a WASP majority, the desire for individualist independence from the conformist horde, and the abuse of our natural environment.

At its inception a genre of palm-muted, Morse-codish riffs and epic song structures the speed metal of the 1980s held out until the 1990s before being absorbed. Speed metal and "social consciousness" dimmed many fantasies; it had become as moralistic as both the conservative society and self-righteous countermovement against which 1969 metal had rebelled. This caused dissent among those who felt that both commercialism and this moralistic trend were absorbing the "free spirit" they had admired in the music previously, and that it was becoming predictable and self-destructive in its tendency to sound like everything else. In contrast, electronic music was exploring increasingly existential themes and broader questions of intent, eschewing the moralistic humanism which overran speed metal and thrash.

This conflict led to change in the form of the rise of metal's dual underground genres, which by 1987 had established themselves in nascent form as a handful of ideas and techniques each. These would await another generation to be brought into much focus, as the transitional time of the end of the 1980s and the dominant liberalism of the early 1990s caused further ideological confusion in metal (and essentially eliminated punk hardcore as an artform, since it drowned in the same ideological conformity). At first, these two genres were the same musical formation, but over time differences in scope and belief separated them.

the original group hellhammer who brought a new aesthetic and conceptual focus to the genreEarly bands which explored this new territory fused the melodic, elemental speedy hardcore of Discharge or The Exploited with the more architectural song forms, as developed initially by bands like Judas Priest and Angel Witch, and added to them an emphasis on chromatic intervals, both for their simplicity and the dead sound they gave to any melodic temperment to the song as a whole. After Discharge's "See Nothing, Hear Nothing, Say Nothing" came out in 1982, metal responded the following year, with new bands Bathory, Sodom and Hellhammer developing morbid Goth-Romantic versions of the new style, embracing death and evil and nothingness, as if channeling the apocalyptic thermonuclear fears of the previous generation of metal into a certainty of existential doom. Their essential thesis seemed to be thus: the world had become obsessed with its own power and political-moral attitudes, but had forgotten the finity of human life and thus the need to pick things that were important and eternal, such as nature and strong emotions, which had been obscured by the need to avoid threats and defend against philosophical enemies.

In the mainstream, Slayer produced their own version of this style in 1983, but did not differentiate much beyond a fusion of Judas Priest, Angel Witch and Discharge until their album of 1987, "Raining Blood." By that time, Celtic Frost had emerged from Hellhammer with a mock operatic drama of searching for value in T.S. Eliot's wasteland, Bathory had unleashed a Viking rock spectacular which identified strongly with the heroic values of ancient societies, and Sodom had gone from praising Satan to warning of environmental holocaust and dicatorship. Further bands had joined the fray, most notably Sepultura, Possessed and Massacra, each of whom added a degree of interpretation of a style coming to be known as death metal. Of note also were Necrovore and Morbid Angel who created similar styles of acerbic, abstract death metal.

Metal - (Death Metal)

"Certain individuals I like, but people as a whole suck!
Nothing but talking monkeys with car keys." - Kam Lee, Massacre

Death metal existed without a name for many years, being influenced by both the extremes of speed metal (Destruction) and Thrash (Cryptic Slaughter), as well as carrying forward influences from hardcore (The Exploited) and Gothic influences to original heavy metal and industrial. In fact, like a genetic profile, the genre is not identifiable by a single trait alone, but by a collection of traits and the common ideas that allow them to be organized as such. Riffs from The Exploited, for example, could be transplanted into modern death metal without being out of place (especially from their "Let's have a war..." album); similarly, distortion and song structures from Destruction can be played "in style" by death metal bands without seeming out of place. However, what unified these concepts, and gave the genre its name, was its literal morbidity: it did not praise death, nor warn of it, but explored it in a strange obsession designed to reinforce the existence of "ultimate reality": the physical, natural, objective world in which we live, and in which we die. In fact, the early death metal especially can be explained almost exclusively by the Hellhammer slogan, "Only death is real."

This outlook, a primitive denial of all that asserted the existence of society on a level above or more important than natural reality, was not explicitly political, nor was it identifiable with any social movement except perhaps fragments of existentialism, nihilism and naturalism; it was certaintly not studied to that degree by the majority of death metal bands and fans. However, by taking this route, death metal avoided the increasing politicization of post-hardcore music which was occurring around it, and the consequent "internalization" of dialogue to the point where a genre only existed by the barest of aesthetic commonality: it used the same instrumentation and distorted, but shared no culture or musical direction or belief system. Over the next two decades, this litmus test for a genre would be reinforced time and again, with genres that could not maintain shared direction collapsing into commerce.

nuclear explosion blasting the hell out of some test site whose irradiated inhabitants are long forgotten by people magazine, the hollywood gossip columnists and the sierra clubMany bands applied the styles -- chromatic progressions, fast strumming, ambient rhythms -- into different incarnations of a new genre, death metal. The mainstream-moral/underground-nihilist dichotomy was illustrated in the songwriting of older metal bands, which followed too much of the friendly rock music format and allowed itself to anticipate the conditioned desires of the listener, as contrasted to the new music which emphasized structural change (narrative) over finding a convenient harmony and riff and sticking with it. The innovations of Discharge, allowing chromatic riffing to be used in the context of melodic songwriting, and of Bathory, in building song structure around the shape of its riffing, were applied in the works of bands obsessed with death, mortality, and the obscurist predictions of mythology. Apocalypticism, which in speed metal bands had been a dire warning, was here a foundational assumption. As part rebel and part insurgent structuralist, metal broke the scale into broad tonal leaps and chromatic rhythm playing where the structure was the message, not the root note to which it was harmonized or the conventions of such construction followed; key is used carelessly if at all at focal points of intersecting themes in motif development, eschewing the cyclic silhouette of rock form.

This was most clearly defined in the second generation of the new style, which began with Sepultura, Massacra, Possessed, Necrovore and Morbid Angel, whose music was both a radical primitivism and a futurist adaptation of classical theory. Although many elements of metal and hard rock remained, what was emerging that made the genre distinct from all others was a way of taking a "riff salad" and shaping it into a changing pattern which eventually revealed a conclusion. Much as Mozart's music would dance through motivic change for most of its duration, finally uncovering its central theme, a gentle melody, in death metal a thunderous barrage of chromatic riffs prepared the listener for certain expectations in tone and phrase shape, then brought out the conclusion, like the last stanza of a poem: that which explained the journey and why its conclusion was apt. This style was most reminiscent of past centuries of Romantic and Naturalistic European poetry, art and music, but was missed by all but a few death metal fans - not, however, by the innovators creating music in the genre.

Aesthetically, death metal was abrupt and disturbing to most because of the vocals, which were organically distorted by pitching the voice either lower or higher than normal and forcing it to volumes not normally invoked except in an open-throat shout. It was a guttural growl, like that of a defensive animal, and it matched the often-downtowned guitars and layers of thick distortion which as often as not cut out the middle ranges of sound in favor of low-end and high-end. Drums used an extreme form of syncopation known as double bass, in which two bass drums were played alternatingly at high speed, destroying the syncopatic effect in the context of the song but providing a buffetting, urgent constant rhythm. In this genre, power chords exclusively were used, and new forms were incorporated including dissonance. Further, rhythmically the genre operated more as ambient bands do, with percussion framing the music but not leading it on, avoiding the expectation-based "funky" rhythms of rock, bluess and jazz. The result was that even without analyzing the music most listeners identified it with something unearthly, morbid, malevolent and antisocial.

From here the genre bloomed, splitting into several different styles. Massacra was representative of the flowing, liquid, high-speed strumming style that rapidly included bands like Incantation, Hypocrisy, Vader, and later, the heavy-tremolo and electric blistering distortion-clad bands from Sweden, including Dismember and Entombed; Morpheus (later Morpheus Descends to avoid legal conflicts with the hard rock band from Sweden) established the percussive speed-metal-influenced style of choppy, muted riffs and precise drum patterning, a subgroup that included Sinister, Suffocation, Suffer and Cryptopsy; Possessed created a style somewhere in the middle that eventually included bands like Therion, Demigod, Monstrosity, Deicide and Unleashed. Sepultura reverted to being a speed metal band before getting in touch with their punk and world music roots, and Celtic Frost veered into glam rock before calling it a day. Sodom remained consistent, but gained instrumental prowess, making their new music unrecognizable to older fans. For each of these styles, diversification occurred, sometimes with interesting results.

Some blended jazz with death metal, as did Atheist and Cynic; others mixed in grindcore for an aggressive but often blockheaded style called "deathgrind." Some tried to work ambient into the mix, as did Kong, and a few worked on hybrids with past versions of metal and rock, most of which were absorbed by their rock half and thus were unpalatable to metal fans, and equally unrecognizable to rock fans, causing the bands to either shift fully to rock music or to give up entirely. Some found a balance between the faster and mid-paced styles of death metal, to which they added simple but spectacularly effective melodic composition; good examples here would be Amorphis and Demilich. In summary, this was the genre of metal so far which created the greatest room for variation, in part because it was unified by a belief system more than a lifestyle choice, and in part as a result of its broad range of musical applications and few "rules" or genre conventions, despite having a clear musical identity in its nearly-keyless, atonal-and-dissonant friendly melodic structural form of composition.

Death metal had taken the style underground, but also generated a flood of "angry" mainstream imitators and sellouts. Bands like Pantera, Cannibal Corpse, and Tool made use of death metal imagery or technique in the format of complacent suburban music designed to fill lives with distraction. For many, death metal died with the explosion of the Swedish scene and lyrics like those to the first Therion album - selfconscious, moral, and pious while being anti-religious and "metal," in a conflict that while not touching the music defined the decomposition of focus in the genre. Morality was "safe." So were rock hybrids like Entombed's "Clandestine." Flamboyant useless stylings of rock music and stadium heavy metal crept in alongside a dearth of ideas and repetition of known formulae. It seemed as if growth had made the genre too self-conscious, and as a result, it had abandoned itself to the methods of its antagonists.

Worth mentioning in the context of death metal is the rise of a similar genre, grindcore, which grew from punk and thrash melded by convenience, to which the guttural vocals and detuned guitars of death metal were added. While the earliest bands such as Master and Carcass achieved some success, they eventually felt pressure to diversify and found themselves constrained by the emphasis on constant slamming rhythms, like rock based around expectation and not continuity as death metal was, as well as the need to be "extreme" (interestingly, Carcass spawned Napalm Death which in turn spawned Godflesh, leaving a trail behind its creators in search of a flexible but aggressive yet musical artform). Lyrics from Carcass were baffling to most as they consisted of humorous descriptions of illness soaked in the language of medical doctors, with latinate words falling into the gurgling voice like a radio broadcast from the land of the dead. Bolt Thrower, from England like Carcass, adopted a more "epic" style, describing conflict in both ancient and modern times, and Blood, from Germany, who took on a mythological-occultist view, added to a genre that was otherwise strikingly literal like punk bands; Napalm Death and Terrorizer provide examples of this general direction.

In its own way, this music was both deconstructive and constructive. Its nihilism and alienation escaped the rules of society entirely and exceeded the limits of religion and conventional morality; it was born to be offensive and thus marked itself as not only not belonging to society but happy in that alienated view, preferring a separate truth to a compromise with something it saw as false and in denial of mortality, thus unable to seek any meaningful values (when life is infinite, and the self is the limits of perception, is there any reason to care about anything but gratification?). Unlike most genres of the time, however, its deconstruction was predicated on the notion that if enough of society were removed, a truth could be seen which was less constricting and less without value. This was years later a fulfillment of the Jim Morrison summary of William Blake's basic theory that if humankind could remove its perceptive confusion, it would see the world as it is - infinite.

Metal - (Black Metal)

The black metal genre however, dormant since the burst of creativity that brought Celtic Frost, Sodom and Bathory together in roughly the same year, roared into life with a modernization that encompassed all of what death metal had done in a compositional framework unified by melody, creating music requiring a longer attention span but delivering a greater sensibility. Darkthrone, Immortal, Emperor, Burzum, Enslaved, Havohej, Gorgoroth and Graveland created more than an imposing sound in music: they used the rough textures of alienated music to create structural music that, unlike the rhythmic and mostly chromatic composition of death metal, used a range of intervals and harmonies to render melodic structure. It continued the tradition of using motivic, narrative construction, but added to it the complexity of uniting a song in tone as well as rhythmic shape. The result was some of the most majestic metal with sonorous aesthetic and deepening feeling for the listener, almost all of it emerging from Scandinavia between 1991-1994.

venom the british blackmetal sensation explode forth in blasphemyArtistically, black metal sought to exceed the narrow direction of reaction to mainstream events that the increasing trend toward morality in death metal brought. Resentment over "jogging suit death metal," which reduced lyrical focus to politically acceptable social sentiments, boiled through black metal. Its original concept revolved around "evil" and occult mysticism, from which it got the name "black" (as in "black magic"), but this rapidly gave way to its Romantic and Naturalistic side, which soon united several concepts around a general idea: the natural world is more important than a society which has no values except money and not offending anyone, and meaning is discovered when one accepts death (a form of occultism in itself) and is willing to look outside the boundaries of the self. Vast, metaphorical songs with epic titles ("I am the black wizards" and "My journey to the stars" come to mind) resembled small classical pieces more than popular music, with multiple themes converging over the course of poetic movements, and the values espoused in aesthetic and interview hearkened back to Pagan Europe and in some cases, to the Vedantic religion of Indo-Europeans before that.

Ignored were moral concerns over the survival and political rights of the whole of humanity, supplanted by a concern for the natural environment and pre-Christian tradition, as well as an appeal to the "eternal" - that which existed outside of a "progressive" society and its politicized march toward individualistic utopia. While these musicians were strongly independent, they distrusted illusions such as total autonomy of the individual, immortality and universal absolutes such as "freedom" and "justice." Theirs was the world of the wolf, the blizzard, and the indefinable idealism of those who exist alone in nature. Ideology and causes of intellectual desire drowned out the hedonism and lack of discipline of previous eras. Black metal was responsible to nothing but itself, and the fantasy combined with reality to ferment a neo-terrorist movement.

black metal bands burned churchesMuch has been said about the burning of churches and killing of people that occurred in Norway and Sweden, but one thing is clear: where previous metal bands performed stunts to draw attention to themselves, the church burnings and killings were originally not intended for public consumption; they were private acts intended as ideological statements, not promotions for the personalities or bands behind them. That indictment and capture eventually occurred is more a product of the youth and inexperience of teenagers regarding crime than a "me, me, look at me!" approach to publicity. Whatever the intention, as soon as news stories broke that over 70 churches had been burned, and at least five people killed, public attention took to black metal as it never had before. What kept the stories from being something other than human interest novelties was the music: unlike any form of metal or popular music previous, it was epic and spoke grandly of emotional values of a nature not limited to the 15 minutes of fame accorded modern acts.

As black metal grew, from roughly 1991 to 1996, its impetus toward majestic music forced its lyricists and inspirational minds to devise new concepts for creation, spawning a range of sub-styles which each polarized around an ideology: self over all, destroy all, or the variance of ideas within pagan or naturalistic/fascist directions. These each took a different approach to aesthetics, coloring the raw sensation of whole perception of their work in the textures and constructions of different needs. Over time the fire of black metal spent itself, as most of these can only state their apocalypticism once. Astute historians might note that the insistence of black metal bands upon paradox in music and idea produced a massively different aesthetic for the time but spent it instantly once others cloned it with nonsense content in stylistic imitation, as hardcore had fallen.

Where initially many including the creators of black metal viewed its artistic content as being polemic for occult war against Christianity, over time divergences appeared within the same general areas of mysticism, philosophy or politics. As is traditional, Romantic music in any culture tends toward a worship of nature and appreciation for the whole of the past, including Pagan tradition; because of its adulation for natural diversity, it also tends to be nationalistic, or believing that countries should not be "nation-states" composed of political boundaries but should be "nations" composed of unified ethnicities and cultures, as that is how one maintains the different points of view that constitute diversity. However, when one explores dangerous and forbidden ideas, with it come the symbols and concepts which are demonized by a multicultural, liberal democratic society.

hellhammer and Bathory invented much of black metal from oi punk and melodic heavy metalNSBM, or National Socialist Black Metal, became a phenomenon after Norway unloaded a surprise dawn attack and swept the genre, but the extremist tradition in thought had been present for far longer than that. Where Iggy Pop's guitarists may have worn Nazi emblems out of pure provocation, or Slayer displayed emblems of both Satan and Hitler for an antisocial reaction, the new bands stated what many in the community had been thinking for years and further, invited it into their thought process to influence their music through am embrace of pan-European and Greco-Roman classicist ideals. They affirmed their need to exist as national populations, and condemned the invasion of Judeo-Christian belief and non-native peoples into Europe, as well as praised forbidden figures such as Adolf Hitler, Ted Kaczynski and Pentti Linkola. Fascism and eco-fascism were endorsed as an alternative to the weakness of individualism, which in the eyes of these bands had with Christian thought led to a separation of modern humanity from nature, tradition and honor.

The romantic streak of metal recurred with many destructive acts, and then amazingly fast black metal sold out in 1995 and death metal returned as longstanding artists improved technicality and specialized artistically. To say "sold out" in this context means to reveal the fundamental principles of an effort to be motivated by short term human desires, most commonly monetary greed or public image. Making extreme music is a fine line between art and "entertainment," where in the latter media pander to the anticipations, weaknesses, lowest common drives and energies of the general population. As black metal's indulgences went from obscure opera to dinnertime comedy circus (Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth, Dark Funeral), the faith of the public in the genre began to wane, and a new range of fans began to replace the old.

As it collapsed black metal reverted to a surefire crowd-pleaser: 1970s style heavy metal and simpler forms of fixed harmony music. As the older bands who were "true" to what had once powered their works, after years of band and social interaction as a result of their art, became repetitive or commercialized, the playing field was equal for any entertainer. This egalitarian style of black metal pandered to the crowd and became the most popular genre of any "underground" metal, ever. The results of the first wave of "entertainment black metal" became mixed with underground styles, and the genre was inundated by simians imitating media icons and classics toward which a morality of "true"ness exists. By 1997, the consumer could buy black metal in the flavor of his or her caprice: underground, melodic, punkish, electronic. Content no longer mattered. Novelty in style dominated with the exception of a few dedicated souls.

Heavy Metal Summary

The metal movement migrated from a position among the Counterculture as a rebel to one of denying everything the Counterculture stood for, prefer to eschew the intermediate tradition and hail what occurred thousands of years before the modern world. The domain of rugged individuals, it went from hedonism to rejecting the individual-over-all preference so that it might find meaning in the process of life itself. And finally, it grew from a position of denying all value to inventing value where society has publically declared that none exists. What brought about this extraordinary journey?

christian morality and behind it the learning of judaism had become secularized to serve the new left Since its genesis, metal music has been "outsider art," looking inside society from the basic position of "I don't like what I see." In a time of absolutes and universals, it looked for the ultimate answer, the truth that laid waste to all else, in part to reconcile its members to their position outside of society but in part in a desperate search for something to hold on to, and in which to find meaning. Over the course of several generations it distilled this value system and found its connections to knowledge outside of the realm of popular music.

Oddly enough, it has done this by embracing the lack of meaning in a nihilistic deconstruction that presupposed significance existed elsewhere, since that which had public meaning made no sense to someone who could recognize the importance of the morbid end awaiting each of us. Its outsidership, unlike the political and lifestyle alternativs others chose, was based in feeling and not tangible elements or ideas within society. This brought it full cycle from a rebellious adolescence to a warlike but life-affirming adulthood.

In this transition there is hope, as for every adolescent who takes one look at the adult world and says, "Take it back - it's broken!" there is this path of learning. While for now metal music has lost its impetus and been assimilated, this path isn't unique to metal, and in many ways, metal can be considered one vector of re-introducing this truth to a forgetful (15 minutes, Orwellian memory hole) modern industrial society based on the convenience and wealth of individuals. One can hope for the future in following this transition, and as an epitaph to metal, organize the ideas with which any future generations would start:

# Nihilism - from Vedic and European transcendental idealism, the idea that nothing has any significance or value inherently, only by the valuation of a human mind.
# Ethnic pride - from Latin America to the Nordics to the American Indians to Malaysians to Chinese to Hispanics worldwide, metallions recognize natural ethnicities as the only vehicle for their unique national culture.
# Environmentalism - a great horror of humanity is the destruction of earth and anti-corporatism and environmentalism are part of this.
# Melodic poesy - the sense of melody and layering of the same as central to any complexity in composition, developed further toward a language in which uniqueness is appreciated over novelty of form.
# Anti-moralism - a fear and resentment of morality as a construct at all, preferring nihilistic and deontological moralities.
# Heroism - personal pride and passion for honor in existence will be seen as more important than social approbation.

Any future movement that hopes to transcend the ills of this era must heed well to what metal has discovered: one cannot use external force (carrot and stick) to force things to fit into a framework or worldview; the force must come from within. Without a culture emerging to support a consensus of values, one is left with yammering monkeys using authority to beat on each other for the gratification of their own sense of self-importance. This is "absolutism," and it is represented in things ranging from money to morality to the war on drugs to the crusade against "racists" and "terrorists." Metal discovered by exploring experience that this absolutist, universal, mechanistic viewpoint was illusion, and that what was real was the life that all along we as modern humans have hidden past layers of interpretation and religious dogma derived from dualism.

ralph waldo emerson an american transcendentalist philosopher who inspired many including f.w. nietzscheSchopenhauer wrote the philosophy of the "will," urging awake a force to life in each person that aims toward a refinement of the human being and a focusing of ambition toward life and desire for existence. Nietzsche's "Will to Power" is a technical restatement of this to clarify that while the will is indeed all, presupposing a lack of external world that may resist your will is ignorant. Nietzsche rightfully brushes aside the trivial question of "Is reality real?" by suggesting that a system of consistent reactions and structure will always be "real" in that it has effected us, and our interaction with it affects our survival which in turn is important to the system. He rails against contentment and moral dogma, and suggests the evolution of humans to übermensch status - people fully accepting the nihilism of life and moving forward to embrace what design, evolution and passion have to offer.

This cuts aside much of the guilt and ineffective action of the world voting public. Someone told to save the planet will join an organization for saving baby seals that mails stamps around the world to collect donations, but will not be able to tell you a single action except "drastic change" that would actually solve the problem. A postmoral person will correctly respond that most sufferings are tied to a few central problems, and that the largest is general disregard for the environment. The übermensch that Nietzsche wrote of could arise, but by the suffocating nature of a media-fed democracy will be an extremist; after that, the next generation is to be a lone wolf for forms of radical change through thought.

Heavy Metal Music News

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