If there’s one trend that can be relied on to unite some of the ugliest, most hate-filled bands in metal, from sludgy apocalyptic bastards to black metal straight from the darkest, wettest Norwegian forests, it’s the environment. Even the most misanthropic of bands appear to view man’s mistreatment of nature as a source of outrage. What is it about mother nature that turns snarling nihilists into advocates of peace, love and harmony?
Well, first off, there are very few true nihilists making music, let alone metal. To make something artistic you have to be passionate about it — if you are angry about the absence of meaning in one thing, then you are comparing it to the presence of meaning in something elsewhere, in some capacity. Metal is full of anger.
Mmm-bop by Hanson was a nihilist masterpiece. Grey by Emperor, by way of contrast, has real passion. Metalheads are very rarely true nihilists, even if some claim that they are in magazine articles and the like.
There’s no reason why metal shouldn’t be environmentally conscious, then, any more than other music, but that doesn’t explain why metal is so very conscious of the destruction of nature.
Part of the explanation is probably a certain degree of misanthropy, for some bands. Varg Vikernes especially is an incredibly hate-filled individual, and his hate for humanity makes it easier for him to identify with movements that seek to downplay the impact of humanity.
His solution is probably over-the-top, to say the least. I believe the gist of it was “Systematically eradicate 99% of the human race”, the 99% being his figure. He’s not alone, though, there are many bands who despise the industry of humankind, some of whom hold fringe political beliefs, some of whom do not. Black metal bands often arrive at this praise-nature-hate-man attitude through a number of routes, but the main influencing factors are, in my opinion, depression and self-hatred, externally directed hatred, nationalism and localism,and shamanic mysticism.
Another reason, linking to the shamanic mysticism I just mentioned, is that some metal bands are fond of certain herbal remedies. This, for some reason, tends to lend many people into a deep appreciation of nature, as there’s some degree of cross-over with certain elements of hippy culture. I’ve definitely heard fans of sludgy stoner metal band Electric Wizard describe themselves as the “anti-hippies”, and there’s a fair amount of similarity between the two groups.
The appeal of apocalypse further adds to the likelihood that metal bands will be, to an extent, green. Whether zombies, mutants, nukes or aliens, almost every apocalyptic parable tends to have a message of “you reap what you sow”. The grisly and immediate impact of the end of the world, and the frustrated anger that comes with it, is great fodder for a typical metal band.
The most substantial reason, though, in my view, is that metal bands are traditionally political, and that green, environmental issues are implicit every time we make a decision about how we change the space we live in, whether as individuals or as a society, whatever decision you choose to make. This means that environmental issues are hugely important political issues to most people in their every-day life.
It explains why groove-laden death metal band Gojira focus almost entirely on eco-issues a lot more, that’s for sure — long before it was the done thing to up the brutality and tech, early death metal bands like, well, Death, were focussing on social and political issues.
A predisposition of angry music towards politics is also what lies behind most of the reasons black metal bands often embrace eco-consciousness so fully (nationalism, elitism, etc.), while thrash metal bands, far from the cartoonishly over-the-top image the mainstream might have of them, have always been involved in politics in some way. Megadeth are only the most visible exponent of political thrash metal.
All-in-all, it strikes me as odd that I’ve never, or only very rarely, seen commentary on just how damn green metal is before. From Alcest to Burzum, from death metal lyrics like “I still don’t get the point, what’s worth destroying all the world,” to alt metal lyrics like “Eating seeds is a past time activity,” environmental consciousness is a rare unifying theme in metal, to the point where it begins to get a little unnerving.