Monthly Archives: January 2012

Metal And Satan

The history of metal iconography and lyrics is littered with references to the left-hand path: worship of or allusion to the slanderer, the adversary, Ba’al Zabul, the great deceiver, Satan is more common in metal than in any other genre of music.

Not all metal bands mention Satan; not all bands who mention Satan approve of Satan; not all bands which express approval of Satan believe in a literal Satan. Finally, few to none of the bands which believe in a literal Satan believe in its existence in the same form as it exists in traditional Judaeo-Christian teachings — most take their spiritual-mystical influences from gnostic sects and cults, Thelema, or occasionally from a sense one’s self as a sort of god or spirit.

Satanic design with goat, snake and open eye.

Whatever Satan is, animal, vegetable or metaphor, he is an undeniable presence in many metal genres. The reasons for the presence of Satan in metal are many and complex. After all, the devil is supposedly the great enemy of man, responsible in many accounts for man’s fall, and for all the evil in the world. For many, it is incomprehensible that any could respect him — medieval traditions, for instance, portray him as a ridiculous, almost-pitiful hunchback composed of mismatched features, hideous in appearance.

The most predominant reason in extreme metal, as opposed to mainstream or traditional forms of metal, is outright opposition to Christianity. Satan is seen as a vehicle through which one can safely express a dislike for the faith and teachings of Christianity.

Of course, this raises the question why hate Christianity?

For metal from the Scandinavian countries, this is quite easy to answer. Christian culture resulted in churches being built on historic pagan sites, a bowdlerisation of swathes of epics whose original forms are now probably lost to us forever, and quite a lot of conflict. The grudge is partly philosophical enmity towards Christian teachings, and partly historically inspired.

For other parts of the world, it’s mostly a philosophical opposition, often expressed in something in the approximate vein of LaVeyan Satanism. The hate, which is occasionally too strong a term, is based on frustration at being a minority in, for instance, predominantly Christian America.

Musicians who take an atheist approach to Satanism are often quite disdainful of those who truly believe in Satan as a real entity. The post-Christian devil is only a symbol to them of what they believe is wrong with Christianity; suppression of personal pride, independent reasoning and the pursuit of knowledge (symbolised in Satan’s fall and in the serpent (who may be Satan) tempting Eve in the Garden).

Religious Satanism is, therefore, something of an oxymoron to these people: Satan and Religion are antithetical concepts. Atheist Satanists often assign the concept of Satan to such things as free will or the ‘god inside’; essentially, the true self of a person. I’ve seen it most commonly in sludge, stoner, grind, early death metal & blackened death metal, but some psychedelic rock and metal bands have also invoked Satan to imply opposition to conventional Christian morality (especially the whole “Not allowing free love all the time” thing).

Examples of ‘Atheist Satanists’ include Gaahl of the band Gorgoroth. Gaahl has in the past appeared to suggest that Satan represents the entire natural world outside Christianity, which Christianity treats simply as ‘the adversary’ to Christian, civilised life.

Black metal has its fair share of Atheist Satanists. However, due to the inherently mystical nature of black metal’s building of textures and bleak, hollow sound, black metal is most notable for the (relatively) large number of religious satanists involved in the scene.

Truly religious satanists are much harder to find in metal.

They’re even harder to pin down to a set of beliefs than atheists. Some simply identify with the poorly defined image of the devil as laid out in the Judaeo-Christian holy texts, some are in love with the idea of destruction (including self-destruction), and some are effectively from a different mythological tradition entirely, so different is their conception of the Devil and God.

Some gnostic sects rejected the god of the Old Testament as part of a corrupt demi-urge, and considered the devil, although not a pure good, at least on a moral par with the “god” of this world. These gnostic sects have influenced some of the more mystic and black magic-oriented black metal bands.

Psychedelic, stoner, and trad metal acts that worship Satan religiously often figure him as an animal spirit, a pagan deity similar to a Satyr. Lovecraftian influences can creep in and confuse the issue, referencing, for instance, “The Great God Pan” — but then, Lovecraft was the quintessential uptight Christian. The lines between Religious and Atheist Satanism are often blurred with the more tie-died new age-y Satanists, as sometimes they take Satan as a powerful Jungian psychological archetype rather than a literal being.

Finally, metal often uses Satan as a general symbol. Of what? Having a good time (by throwing off ‘Christian’ inhibitions about sex and drugs), rebellion (Satan being, of course, the ultimate rebel), and the black magick[sic] of metal itself.

Satan is often portrayed as an animal, fuelled by hormones and instinct; he’s reminiscent of the Dionysian archetype Nietzsche outlined, the “hairy-legged goat-god greeting the dawn”. He’s a figure of subversion, rebellion and freedom — and also of animal lust. This is why he has had such an influence on, and has such a presence in, the development of metal.

And that’s all the Satan I can Satan today.

See you next week probably maybe, I’m off to Brighton.

Now we listen to this one.

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Is Black Metal Krieg? A Handy Visual Guide

For centuries, man has pondered the most profound question of all, a question which has a spiritual and philosophical relevance that belies its simple formulation and construction.

Is black metal krieg?

Shrewd commentator and investigative journalist Nargaroth posits that Ja, in fact, it ist.*

But ist it?

To definitively answer this question, I have taken the liberty of putting together a useful flowchart, that can help to determine whether or not black metal is krieg in an emergency, such as a panther attack or the sudden onset of hayfever(s).

Black Metal Ist Krieg

Black Metal is, in fact, Krieg

*Disclaimer: German and facts subject to substantial margin of error.

The Luciferan Adversary Of Heck

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Five Things I Want From Poetry In 2012

It can be tough defending poetry from its critics.

Self-indulgence, pretension and arrogance are all common in the poetry world at all levels, from the local poetry open mic all the way up to the legends in their own lifetime.

The poetry world has many problems, and these are some that I hope to see lessen, or perhaps even disappear, during 2012. There are also some good things that I’d like to see more of, of course, but we’ll start with a few of the problems…

1. (The Wrong) Poems Being Taught To Schoolkids

Many poems, poems that are famous, poems that are forced down schoolkids throats as soon as they’re old enough to think, are technically competent — and that’s all that can be said for them.

You finish these poems, at that age, and you don’t think to yourself “Huh, well I disagree with the point, and they clearly know nothing about the subject matter, and the thought behind the poem is both dull and trite, but I like the cheeky subversion of traditional meters they achieved in the 12th line.”

You’re told to think that, by your English teacher, but you don’t actually think that.

This is many people’s first encounter with poetry, and almost as many people’s last. The poetry that is chosen to represent modern poetry as a whole is bafflingly shit and, which is worse for most teenagers with bright eyes and lively minds, it is unforgivably bland.

If poetry is to be taught, and I think that it should be, it cannot be taught in this way. It is not sustainable to pay lipservice to poetry by choosing the most blandly mainstream poet of the day, hoisting them up on an awkward pedestal, and leaving them there as an example to others. People will just lose interest and wander off.

The works on the curriculum need to be chosen by somebody genuinely interested in poetry, and cover the complete diverse spectrum of poetry ‘types’, from the academic ponderthon to the witty and brash, but often very tender, work of the Def Poetry poets. That shouldn’t be too hard, right?

2. People Should Start Confronting Douchebags At Poetry Nights

It’s not “polite” to sit there in silence and listen to some shiny, perma-tanned stoner complain about the working classes and women, and why they’re all such nasty little shits. And yet I have done exactly that, in a crowd of some twenty-thirty odd people all doing the same thing, coughing nervously and trying not to meet each others’ eyes.

Being the other side of the microphone doesn’t give you the right to speak uninterrupted if what you have to say is hateful bullshit. For some reason that magical mic attracts a whole load of distinctly obnoxious individuals, who now feel that their idiotic and poorly thought-out rants about why they’re incredible and everyone else is just a bit thick, really, deserve a thorough and public airings.

As for who is to do this confronting? Well, ahem, after you, I insist.

No, but seriously, the next arsehole I see at a poetry night gets a stern talking-to. And no biscuits.

3. No More Squabbles, Infighting And Blatant Careerism

Hahaha, just my little joke. You guys go nuts, I’m past caring.

4. More Principled Stands

Stands against what?

Heh, I honestly do not care. It was simply edifying to see a poet stand up to the establishment in an age when, in the writing community, “laureate” is not universally considered a snide term of abuse.

A friend of mine pointed out that a Tory government (or perhaps any government) is hardly a worthier benefactor of the arts than a hedge fund. Indeed, renowned investor Warren Buffett is something of a philanthropist, one of the most generous the world has seen in quite some time, whereas the same cannot be said of any Tory that I am aware of  (Lords don’t count, they have naff-all else to do but philanthropy and snoring loudly).

I’m certainly not sure that rejecting cultural aid is the best way to get hedge funds to behave in a more socially and culturally responsible manner, not that I seriously believe that any such action will have much effect on the hedge fund in question. Nor am I sure that it presents poetry in a particularly great light to a casual reader of the story.

It might seem like a move typical of artists, perhaps naive, perhaps a knee-jerk reaction: and I’m sure that the move’s been misrepresented in the more bloodthirsty of the baying tabloids by now.

Whatever the finicky details, the gesture was, and remains, fundamentally noble. Poets standing up for what they believe in makes poetry look as good as it’s supposed to.

Unless they’re Nazis, obviously, but I don’t know of any Nazi poets, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

5. Poetry With More Blood And Boldness To It

Poetry sometimes seems like a neutered sort of beast. Whimsy and the bizarre can only substitute for really meaty ideas, striking imagery and abyssal emotional depth on a very temporary, ad hoc basis.

My favourite poets are the ones who take risks with language, who infuse their work with genuine feeling rather than words, who include the body and flesh and blood even in their most abstract thoughts. In this I have been strongly influenced by one of my tutors from the course I took at Bath Spa University, but I feel it myself too: it’s a big part of the reason I love metal so much, too.

Some of the most intellectual and difficult poets succeed at this, too. Intellectual and difficult does not have to mean dry, not by a long shot.

Sometimes it seems as though these “bloody” poets are neglected for the very biggest prizes in favour of poets who are more restrained, or who paint nice little stereotypical idylls of various parts of the world (mostly bits of Great Britain, in terms of what I personally come across), or who are so utterly entrenched at the top of the poetry world that they cannot be shaken from their perch by any means.

So there you have it. The lowdown on what some guy thinks poetry as a big amorphous blob should somehow conspire to do over the next twelve months. Now celebrate, and dance for me.

In case anyone’s interested, I would try to put Simon Armitage, Janet Sutherland, Robin Robertson and Sekou Tha Misfit on the curriculum to represent modern poetry. That’s just off the top of my head, of course, and partly it’s just people who I like at the moment.

Oh, and 6 — anyone who tries to make poetry COOL, or worse, RELEVANT by chucking swearwords about like candy, shouting, saying poetry is like textspeak or instant messaging, saying poetry is like hip-hop, or generally acting like an embarrassingly lame supply teacher are to be subjected to scaphism until they are very, very sorry.


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Mastodon – Are They Taking The Piss?

This post is coming out on a Friday because I really wanted to write something about poetry and soon (hence its coming out on a Saturday), but I also really wanted to write about Mastodon, because I find their new album “The Hunter”  very interesting indeed.

I recently got the album The Hunter, by prog metal/hard rock band Mastodon, and it is genuinely amazing. Not only for the songs, which are as well-crafted, precise and exciting as anything that was released in 2011. It’s also inspiring because of the sense throughout the album that Mastodon are really pushing their luck just exactly as far as it will go.

To help explain what I mean, here is the track Blasteroid from that album.

For me, this track instantly sounded like it had strong hardcore and even metalcore influences. For many of the people commenting on the video, the vocals sounded like the Foo Fighters. The point of commenting on this isn’t to find out who was right, as this is a subjective issue, but simply to note that neither of these influences are particularly popular with the metal/prog rock crowd.

As to why I asked whether they’re taking the piss a bit, this isn’t just down to them sounding, in some randoms’ opinions, a little bit Grohlshy. In the past, Mastodon have frequently taken on positions contrary to the metal mainstream, whatever that mainstream’s stance has been at the time. At one point, they insisted blind that they weren’t even a metal band, to metal magazines — this might be false memory syndrome, but I seem to recall that they were even a little disdainful of the genre in an interview with Metal Hammer magazine about a year or more ago.

Admittedly, this was during their even more psychedelic Crack The Skye phase, but they were definitely trawling for responses with both their new direction and their statements, and they certainly got responses. Are they doing the same thing now?

I’ve not seen any mind-bendingly provocative interviews, but listening to the album, it sounds as though they are listening to what ‘proper’ metalheads hate, taking it, and making it awesome. At several points during The Hunter I was suddenly and inexplicably reminded of Avenged Sevenfold’s A Little Piece Of Heaven, while the much-maligned genre of the rock opera seemed to be a huge influence on many parts of the album, most noticeably Creature Lives.

“Taking the piss” is the wrong phrase, undoubtedly. They’re trying to be challenging, I feel, more than provocative. However, I definitely feel as though their choices of influence are choices that have been made with an image of an ‘average’ metalhead in mind — and they are not choices which that ‘average’ metalhead should, in theory, approve of.

There are a fair few more predictable influences on the album. Pink Floyd is visible almost everywhere you look, and Spectrelight (my favourite track initially, although others are coming up strong) is pretty pure metal. I couldn’t tell you what genre, maybe sludge metal with a touch of black and prog, but it’s recognisably a very metal song.

In the end, though, what struck me most about the album wasn’t how awesome the drumming was, the purity of the tone or the complete mastery of mood and atmosphere, and it certainly wasn’t the conventional prog metal touchstones.

What struck me about Mastodon’s latest album, and what will compel me to keep listening to The Hunter over and over again with a real sense of wonder and joy, were the sounds that came from true, trve and tr00 metal’s traditional pariahs, the enemies of the faith. Mastodon are truly interesting artists, and I can think of few higher terms of praise.

Sunshine, lollipops and…

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And Now For Something Completely Different…

Well, it’s a new year, I’ve got new albums (Immolation, Trelldom and Mastodon), I’m moving into a new house, I’m in a new job, and my new girlfriend is being great. So I thought I’d post something new. Or, well, different, at least.

For the past few weeks, I have been messing about with (a photoshop-like program, available through the link).

A couple of things to clarify first:

1) It is not MS Paint.

It is far superior to MS Paint in many ways, the most obvious improvements being the clone stamp and the layering options, as well as the infinitely useful magic wand selection tool.

2) It is not Photoshop.

It is designed for creating new things, mostly. Consequently, it’s much easier to draw something on it than it is in Photoshop (for me, anyway), but not nearly as sophisticated if you want to mess about with an existing photo.

The userbase have come up with some nice mods and add-ons if you visit the forums, though, and those are well worth a look for their helpful tutorials and cool little widgets to download.

3) The site is riddled with deceptive and dubious adverts.

Hover your mouse over all download buttons to make sure it’s not a Google Ad disguised as a download button. I’m not sure if it’s dangerous to click ’em or not, but I certainly wouldn’t risk it. So long as you’re careful, though, the site is entirely legit.

I do recommend downloading, especially if you don’t have the cash for Photoshop.

Anyway, here is some of the stuff I made on PDN. Hoping to use some of these images (or variations on them) on some other projects eventually!

Blazing Skull With Organic Celtic Design

Skulls are awesome. Fact.

Organic Celtic Design With Dragon And Hooded Troll Figure

However they are not as awesome as either dragons or vengeful nature spirits. This one was much more fun to plan out and draw, and took absolutely ages. The actual time in PDN couldn’t have been more than a half hour to an hour.

Geometric And Celtic Organic Pattern Featuring Bees

This last one has a little border on each side. I’m hoping to use it as the cover for something, one day. I’m pretty happy with this one, too.

I hope to continue making little things like these, but I do have other things to focus on. Currently moving house, doing my work and keeping this blog generally up to date are my main focal points, with an option on editing my novel and poems, secondarily writing new poems, and then on writing and completing some science fiction short stories I’ve had on the go or in my head for quite some time. Consequently, getting better at and continuing to create these designs is not at the top of the list.

Also, I happen to like symmetricality. So I will carry on making them symmetrical.

Chung…chung chung…chang (chang chang chang chang chang chang…)…

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