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CFP: Heavy Metal and Popular Culture


This website is not officially related to the conference. I know a couple of the people in charge of organization and I am passing along this great call for presentations to any potential readers of the site. A link is easier for me to share via Twitter/Facebook than a pdf or e-mail.

If you have any questions about this conference, leave a comment and I will either answer it myself (as I am somewhat in the know) or forward the proper contact information to you.  I hesitate to leave anyone’s email on here without permission (besides where to send your abstract).

Heavy Metal and Popular Culture
April 4 – 7, 2013
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, Ohio, USA

The Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University, in collaboration with Heavy Fundametalisms: Metal, Music and Politics and the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS), announce the International Conference on Heavy Metal and Popular Culture. The Program Committee of the International Conference on Heavy Metal and Popular Culture invites proposals for papers, organized panels of 3-4 papers, and scholarly posters. The online submission deadline for all proposals is 1 December 2012. The conference will take place on the campus of Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, April 4-7, 2013.

We envision a highly selective conference featuring cutting-edge scholarship on heavy metal’s many facets and forms. Papers will be organized into a single track of programming over four days—there will be no overlapping sessions. Featured at the conference will be keynote lectures by Robert Walser, Laina Dawes, and Keith Kahn-Harris, a screening of the film Motörhead Matters, three roundtables featuring Niall Scott, Steve Waksman, Deena Weinstein and other international metal scholars to be announced, and a special exhibit on facepaint and masks.

We welcome proposals involving all facets of heavy metal musical life throughout the world, with a focus on the intersections, circuits, and mutual imbrications of heavy metal and popular culture, globally and locally. We especially welcome proposals addressing the following themes:

  • Heavy Metal Consumption: In what ways has mainstream popular culture changed, prefigured or reversed the consumption of heavy metal? How has heavy metal, as a subculture, sound or style, affected popular culture? Are there new forms of popular culture for which heavy metal has become an influence? Is the intersection of heavy metal, popular culture and consumption creating new questions about authenticity, aesthetics, and soundscape? (In other words, what does it mean when obscure 1980s thrash metal tracks wind up on Guitar Hero?)
  • Heavy Metal, Popular Culture and New Media: Given the rise of new media for heavy metal (social networking media, music and video systems online, gaming, music downloading technology), how has heavy metal further saturated the landscape of popular culture? Are the sounds of heavy metal changing with new technologies and popular media?
  • Heavy Metal Clothing Style: From the fantastic costumes of bands such as Gwar to the ubiquitous heavy metal t-shirt, the fashion of heavy metal is a vital part of its allure, its popularity, and its criticism. Why is heavy metal style both controversial and popular? Where and how has heavy metal style intersected with fashion locally and globally?
  • American Heavy Metal Popular Culture and Its Circuits: From films such as Heavy Metal Parking Lot to Kiss’ commercialism and the Osbourne family’s reality television programs, mainstream American popular culture has held a particular fascination for heavy metal, fomenting moral panics against it one day and celebrating its integrity and authenticity the next. How did American popular culture and heavy metal become so mutually imbricated? Are American popular culture’s heavy metal appropriations altering the scenes in other countries and cultures? Do local scenes, including those within the United States, seek to resist mainstream popular culture or embrace it?

Research Poster Sessions
The poster format provides an opportunity for conference attendees to meet informally with authors and discuss research. Each author attends her/his respective 60-minute session, distributes abstracts, and answers questions. Supporting sound and/or video examples (on personal computers and utilizing battery, rather than A/C power) will be coordinated with other presenters once the Program Committee has formed sessions.

General Guidelines
Accepted presenters will not be required to pay conference attendance registration fees. The committee encourages proposals from graduate students and independent scholars. An individual may submit only one proposal. All proposals must be submitted through the online electronic submission process.

Proposals must specify whether the proposal is for 1) paper, 2) poster, or 3) either presentation format, the latter to be determined by the Program Committee as it builds sessions. Individual or joint papers should be no longer than twenty minutes. Posters will be organized in block sessions. For complete session proposals, the organizer must include an initial statement of 100 words explaining the rationale for the session, in addition to proposals and abstract files for each paper.
Include the following for all submissions:

  • Proposer’s name, e-mail address, and institutional affiliation or city of residence
  • 250-word proposal
  • 100-word version of your proposal suitable for publication in the conference program (.doc, .docx, .txt, or .rtf format). Include proposer’s name and email, and the proposal title in this file.
  • Audio and visual needs: CD player, DVD player, digital projector. Please also specify IBM or Mac platforms, and any special needs. Request of special audio and visual needs does not guarantee their availability, but presenters will be notified if their requests cannot be met.
  • Specify whether you are a student.

All materials must be electronically date-stamped by December 1, 2012 at midnight CST and emailed to Clifford (at) ucmo (dot) edu with “HMPC Submission” in the subject line and required documents attached. For further information regarding the submission process: Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone, Chair, HM&PC 2013 Program Committee, Wood 136B, Department of History and Anthropology, University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, MO 64093, USA.



PCA/ACA 2012 Author Update

We will all be presenting at this year’s PCA/ACA national conference this week in Boston.

Check out our abstracts and show up if you are interested.


Nicholas Ware:
Pitching the Pitch’s Pitch: The Hyperreal Aesthetics of Sports Video Games

In his Simulacra and Simulation, Jean Baudrillard posits that “the real is no longer what it was,” and that simulation is “a strategy of the real, of the neoreal and the hyperreal.” Sports video games have often been labeled “sports simulations,” but they are hardly games that simply simulate sport–competition with rules played by players. Rather, they are games that simulate sports–institutions of exhibited competition that connect to geography, history, and economy. Sports is a transmedia product for fans in which the game that is played–on a field, in a cage, or on a pitch–is only a single part of the reality of the “game” that becomes the video game.

Sports video games do not—and perhaps should not—simply represent the experience of playing a professional sport at a pro-player-level. Instead, they offer a remediated experience of sports culture consumption. Sports video games rarely place the player fully in an embodied position within the game world, rather the aesthetic elements—largely centered around the television broadcast, but also including the use of pop music and non-diegetic gameplay elements—situate the player as a viewer-god who with control of the outcome of team, yet never taking them out of their comfort zone. In playing a sports video game, a player pays at watching—and controlling—the experiences of consuming “sports.” Using theories from sound, visual, game, and consumer studies, this paper will examine how the sports game genre’s aesthetics affect the player and the innovations of the genre.


Brandi Venable
Failing to Satisfy: Craving Moral Dilemmas in The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, the first book in a trilogy by author Suzanne Collins, is intended to engage the reader in a dialogue about the consequences of war. In order to achieve this end, it is set in the post-apocalyptic landscape of Panem. Though the genre invites discussions of morality and amorality, these issues are only superficially addressed throughout Collins’ novel. In acclamatory reviews, the heroine Katniss Everdeen is lauded as memorable for her attempts to do the right thing in the face of insurmountable opposition; she is inscribed with agentic power. In contrast, I argue that her character relies too heavily on passive inaction and thereby avoids most moral dilemmas that arise, evoking questions about Collins’ choice to set the story in a post-apocalyptic world. By over-emphasizing the reality TV genre, the theme of violence and its relation to morality are weakened in order to accentuate ideas about popular entertainment and romance instead. This positions Katniss not as a strong and self-reliant female lead, but as the all-too-familiar passive heroine who is ultimately saved through her inaction and her lack of engagement with moral conundrums. This presentation seeks to address what kind of childhood is best projected through the character of Katniss, and how a post-apocalyptic landscape plays into that figuration.


Tim Bavlnka
Meta(l)textual Madness – Exploring the Transcendence of H.P. Lovecraft’s Horror in Extreme Music

In a 2004 interview with Arthur magazine, famed comic writer and self-described shaman Grant Morrison suggests other shamanic authors, including H.P. Lovecraft. Morrison states that Lovecraft was too terrified of the visions that he experienced to gain shamanic knowledge. But, this implies an interpretation of Lovecraft as one negotiating with the unknown, perhaps explaining the richness of his texts.

The shaman is one who is connected to both spiritual and natural worlds and thus the narratives produced by them express that duality. Adaptions of Lovecraft’s works have proven difficult to impossible, but many have focused entirely on content, as opposed to his dark aesthetic. Australia’s avant-garde death metal band Portal works with the narratives of Lovecraft, but in non-traditional adaptions.

When seen in public, the band is cloaked in black costumes, obfuscating their human forms. Their music is harsh to the ear, bombarding the listener with lengthy tracks of extremely low tones of monoaural assault. This juxtaposition between representations of human/inhuman are solidified by the music itself – the audience sees that there are instruments present, but noise of the band is wholly unrecognizable. There is immense technicality as we watch the human hands of the black forms manipulate the necks of guitars and basses, but the sound is a deep non-Euclidian blur, causing a rift between visual perceptions of performance, the knowledge of the music’s existence, and the new realities that have been horrifyingly thrust upon witnesses. 

Leviathan and the Ethics of Consumption

… the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. … The condition of man … is a condition of war of everyone against everyone. (Hobbes, Leviathan)

[Update: The more I think about this post, the more compelled I am to preface it. The basic argument stands as a ‘people are able to think critical about the media they like’ approach, which isn’t terribly new, complicated, or even an interesting point to make. I wanted to emphasize my own moral complications about the horror of his action versus being a fan of someone’s music for several years. There was an attempt to highlight the ways in which black metal has been celebrated over the recent years for its artistic authenticity and to contrast that with the fact that it is still a rather violent, bleak, and problematic subculture. It complicates a lot of cultural perspectives about consumption and art. Some of the comments nail the complications better than I did, and I appreciate the fact that people have read the piece and have added to it. Leviathan was and still is a rather difficult topic to handle. He was eventually found guilty of some of his charges. Something certainly happened in his assault arrest, but it doesn’t seem to be as horrendous as the original charge against him. Noisey also released their 3-part One Man Metal documentary series featuring Wrest. And he comes off much different than he does in interviews, particularly part 3.]

I am going to write about the new Leviathan album, even though I have not yet listened to it. In the context of this article, I do not think I need to – I am discussing True Traitor, True Whore as a cultural object, not as a piece of music. I have been a fan of Leviathan (and the various and entirely different projects of Wrest (aka Jef Whitehead) – Twilight, Lurker of Chalice) since I made a special order for The Tenth Sublevel of Suicide album at my local music shop in my first year of college. He is responsible for some of my favorite music, black metal or not. All of his albums are haunting and leave an impact on the listener in some way (if they listen to black metal, or are brave enough to try). His latest release is looking to be no exception, and has many people declaring it the album of the year (considering the releases so far, that is absolutely no easy task).

But, this article is not directly about this new album. I am insanely excited to hear it, but a review/deconstruction will have to come later.

Regardless of the name of this site, and the misconceptions of popular culture being entirely mainstream culture, it is not my intention to define black metal (or even metal) to a potentially unknowing audience. As a genre, black metal has been around (arguably) since the late 70s/early 80s and has been global since the mid-to-late 80s. It is notorious for murder, church burnings, upsetting politics, radical imagery, and for its sound alone. It is not appealing to a mass audience, and was never intended to be. However, it is a cultural trend that has existed for nearly 30 years, and someone should have some minimal exposure to it, even if it is just jokes from Adult Swim’s Metalacolypse or humorous internet lists. The genre has managed to escape a large portion of cultural exposure, but you can walk into a Hot Topic and buy tee-shirts from a number of more mainstream acts (Cradle of Filth, for example).

As a bit of a primer for any future posts on the topic of black metal, I am aware that many people may not be particularly aware about the historical, cultural, and musical developments of the genre. Black metal has made its way into academia, which means that it has some tangible amount of mainstream exposure. There are some fantastic academic sources on the topic (covering history, culture, philosophy, globalization, etc):

  • Lords of ChaosA good start at the history of black metal. It sometimes romanticizes intention and ideology, as well as some potentially problematic issues with the writers (in terms of being participants rather than objective historians), but it does a great job at discussing the genre’s roots.
  • Extreme Metal – This is probably my favorite book on metal, as it deals with a holistic approach to multiple genres. It is constantly interesting and very well written.
  • Hideous Gnosis – Notorious in the black metal scene for being full of shit (and it mostly is…), but an important work of philosophy that is at least trying to engage the essence of black metal in different ways. The collection suffers from being overly disjointed and non-applicable, but some pieces stand out.
  • Metal Rules the Globe – This book is technically not out yet, but a good collection of essays about metal and how a genre and culture develops on a global and local scale. Metal is a global genre, and this volume offers a lot of great insight on perspectives that are not generally considered.
  • Metal A Headbangers Journey / Global MetalTwo important anthropological documentaries on the genre. Accessible and well worth the time. They strive to discuss the function and purpose of metal music in peoples’ lives.

But, I should get back to Leviathan and Wrest. His music has always had a big impact on me. While it is a one-man project (which is not all that rare in black metal), all the music is well constructed, atmospheric (even if that is a cliché description), and he develops his sound in an interesting way from album to album. Wrest’s voice is almost always indecipherable, but being able to understand lyrical content has never appealed to me. This is, in part, due to metal’s inherent way of being emotionally evocative rather than lyrically illuminative. This is not the genre of singer-songwriters spinning narratives of nostalgia, love, and ennui.

As I said above, I am here to talk about the upcoming album, and again, I have yet to hear it (though, if you would like to send me future advance copies of any upcoming music for the purpose of a similarly elaborate article, I’d be thrilled). So, this article is less about the album as a piece of music, and more about the album as a cultural object. This particular context is important to discuss because of the controversy of events leading to its creation and release, as well as the intense cultural capital surrounding its distribution.

Things get complicated from here.

In January of 2011, Wrest was arrested for allegedly choking his at-the-time girlfriend, and beating her unconscious. He allegedly sexually assaulted her with his tattooing equipment, and beat her unconscious again. The article linked above is quick to mention Wrest’s physical appearance, noting his beard and tattoos, and wearing all black. For any Foucault fans out there, this is a classic example of the panoptic gaze, declaring his guilt through the judgement of his character. The crimes are deplorable and it is not difficult to put guilt on someone accused for this sort of assault – especially when someone is a black metal musician. Black metal is not unfamiliar with artists and crime, and the rhetoric of Leviathan’s albums and song titles have always had an uncomfortable air of violence and sexual aggression – including Fucking Her Ghost in Chains of Ice”, “Mouth Orifice Bizarre”, “The History of Rape” and others. So, it is increasingly difficult to separate Wrest’s work from his actions, considering his upcoming album is entitled True Traitor, True Whore and features album art prominently displaying the hand he allegedly used to assault the woman in question.

Black metal has also always capitalized on the actions of individuals – either in directly making Varg Virkernes one of the most recognizable names in the genre, or by bands simply building cachet from the sensationalized authenticity. But, generally speaking, the actions that have stood out by these musicians have been rare. Only a small handful of black metal musicians have done anything of questionable morality.

Colleagues and friends of Wrest have spoken out in his defense, stating that he didn’t do the crime of which he is accused. They claim they saw the woman hit herself, and that she has a history of falsely accusing people of rape. When Blake Judd speaks so candidly and honestly about his own life in the interview, it is hard to imagine he is making things up about Wrest. Though, it is also difficult to take everything as truth when speaking in defense about a friend and colleague. One should be aware of both sides of the story.

Ultimately, Wrest has not been convicted, and little more about the case has come to light. Wrest had time to record a new album and approached metal’s most prestigious record label to release it. Profound Lore consistently puts out amazing albums that gain serious critical acclaim, even from unlikely sources like NPR. Generally speaking, if PL releases it, it has to be good. Invisible Oranges and Pitchfork have released exclusive tracks from the upcoming release, and they sound incredible, different, and interesting.  The album is pushing the genre down creative roads and each song is intensely fascinating. But, the aura of Wrest certainly helps to put the listener into a particular state of mind when listening. Guilt or innocence aside, the crime haunts the album and artist, and thus, haunts the mind of the listener. When metal is often about making the listener feel something, and when black metal is an extreme of that goal, it is difficult to consider that this affect on the listener is deliberate – either in the construction of the album or in the culture that surrounds it. In that context, is it not successful? Is it not an accomplishment? You are not supposed to necessarily like the feeling – and this goes for any art, in a general sense – but it is supposed to make consider it. While, I do not associate the songs I have heard so far to be evocative of violence (physical or sexual), there is something profound in these tracks, and that alone is both enjoyable and important.

Within the press for the upcoming album, there is also a certain amount of discomfort with journalists and reviewers. Due to the allegations against him, people have already stated their disavowal with Wrest and his work, or choosing to only discuss the album as a piece of music alone.

Obviously, alleged sexual assault is a serious issue– one that put Whitehead in the category of Burzum (the project of convicted murderer Varg Vikernes) as a band to boycott. As music writer Chris Weingarten Tweeted (and I Retweeted) at the time: “ATTN Metal fans, today is the day you throw your Leviathan and Twilight records in the trash.” I did feel that way. I was disgusted by the details of the alleged crime. And I still am.


[Though it should be noted that the writer of above (Brandon Stosuy) continued on to ignore this particular perspective and declares, “I’d prefer to confront controversial art instead of brushing it under the rug.” There are people who do not share this point of view.]

For most of us, it is difficult to separate the life of the creator with the art they create. This is not necessarily bad or unthoughtful, but simply something that occurs. Keith Kahn-Harris, writer of Extreme Metal and MetalJew.com often discusses the work of Burzum and the conflicts he feels when listening to the music, both as a Jew and as a fan. He states:

[T]here’s no way of ignoring the context of which Burzum emerged – a violent, misanthropic world of church burnings, suicide and murder. Even if the history of the early 1990s Norwegian black metal is often romanticised, sensationalized and its extremity exaggerated, you cannot ignore the fact that Vikernes burned down several historic churches and murdered his erstwhile friend Euronymous of the band Mayhem. Nor can you ignore the fact that even before his imprisonment, Vikernes embraced pagan neo-Nazism and once even sent a letter bomb to the Israeli band Salem.

One may view this as a rant against Burzum, but he prefaces this acknowledgement of Burzum by review his latest album – “Vikernes produced something cold, sublime and ineffably beautiful.” Again, Kahn-Harris is a fan of Burzum. One might see potential conflict in this, but he concludes his piece with this particularly apt statement:

The acceptance of Burzum within much of the contemporary metal scene provides ample illustration of the ways in which an overriding love of music can cause people to overlook or collude in dangerous politics. The flipside of this though is that Burzum’s music can also undermine Vikernes dangerousness. It may be then that leftist Burzum fans should feel no guilt. The more albums Vikernes produces, the less he will be a threat to anyone or anything.

Justin Davisson goes on further to discuss this tenuous relationship between artist and audience in his essay “Extreme Politics and Extreme Metal: Strange Bedfellows or Fellow Travelers?” (which can be found in the amazing collection of essays in The Metal Void: First Gathering – a clear predecessor to Hideous Gnosis, but with actual intent, purpose, and application). He states:

Music from bands like Graveland, Absurd, Nokturnal Mortum and many other like-minded bands can easily be found in record stores in the traditionally liberal cities of San Francisco and Berkeley, California.

This is not really surprising or shocking in any way, but uses some interviews with shop keepers to help explain the point, stating that music buyers can be extremely conscious of the politics in the music they buy, but that this is not always the case.

[W]e have a couple of older Jewish guys, who both wrestled over Burzum to begin with but both eventually decided they love the music and have chosen to just ignore the politics. I think that stuff is abhorrent, but a lot of the music is amazing.

H.P. Lovecraft wrote stories warning America about the dangers of race mixing. Richard Wagner was an anti-Semite. Ezra Pound was a fascist. We forgive a lot of these thoughts and actions because of their historical and cultural context. And, quite frankly, they are all amazing artists, worthy of our praise.

But, there are just as many artists today with questionable politics. Famed science fiction writer Orson Scott Card opposed gay rights (this is a particularly good article on how video game fans reacted to a highly-rated game for Xbox that was based off of a story of Card’s). Roman Polanski raped a child. Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, posted some bizarre and extremely misogynist rants on his website. These actions always shock their unknowing fans, but Card is still a best-seller, Polanski is still making critically acclaimed films, and Dilbert is still in most newspapers.

You’ll have to excuse the divergence away from Leviathan here, but I’m going somewhere with it.

Chicago’s Nachtmystium, fronted by Blake Judd, is known for pushing their music into new directions. Their earlier albums represented a traditional form of black metal, but their music has been growing increasingly “psychedelic” in nature, pulling in clear influences from very non-metal genres. Nachtmystium embodies what Kahn-Harris (applying Foucault’s concept) describes as transgression, “implying a sense of testing and crossing boundaries and limits” (Kahn-Harris Extreme Metal, 28). Nachtmystium’s most recent album, Addicts: Black Meddle part II (the album name a plays on Pink Floyd), describes itself on the album’s cover as “[continuing] to blur the chopped lines of metal and psychedelia, only this time cutting in a little bit of dark wave to help bring you down.” This contrasts to the advertising of Swedish contemporaries, Watain, who released Lawless Darkness a week before Addicts. The album describes itself as “up-to-date Bathory worship,” implying a traditional black metal sound. Nachtmystium boldly transgresses away from the notion of an “authentic” black metal sound, and admits it right on the front of their albums. Judd states, “I just feel that those bands are marketed for what has happened outside of the music, not so much involving the music. There’s guys selling crack in Chicago that are scarier to me than [Gaahl of Gorgoroth],” Nachtmystium rejects the idea of marketing their albums based on the actions of past bands that made their genre notorious, and chooses to focus on their own music, transgressing away from the idea of marketing on the aura of the past, and of limiting their own creative output to the historical standard of music for the genre. Addicts is described as including “dance beats, juddery eighth-note alternative rock, psychedelia,” and is described as including influences from Neil Young, Joy Division, and Interpol as well as “[a cross] between extreme metal and music recognizable as ‘pop.’” This review emphasizes the way in which Nachtmystium has brought in outside influences and has created hybridic music away from the clichéd sound of tradition.

Black metal has traditionally been associated with “corpse paint” – white face paint and blackened eyes, Satanic symbols, and “infernal names” – referring to yourself as a demonic pseudonym (Kahn-Harris, Extreme Metal, 38). These iconographic symbols, along with the particularly hateful worldview, are frequent throughout the culture, and particularly heavy among Scandinavian bands, and have become defining features of a black metal band. Judd formerly referred to himself as “Azentrius,” and subscribed to these symbols of black metal, but has removed all from his band, transgressing away from the traditional notions of what it means to be black metal.

These symbolic notions of black metal has haunted Judd’s recent career, particularly accusations of racism and bigotry. The band was dropped from the Scion Rock Fest in 2009, a large extreme metal festival, because Toyota Motor Corporation did not want a racist band on their tour. Judd has a long past in the black metal scene, starting when he was in his teens, and the actions of his youth have haunted his career. During an interview in 2005, Judd was fully encapsulated with the traditional black metal lifestyle, including using a pseudonym, wearing corpse paint, and subscribing to an aggressive view of the world. Judd was quoted in the interview discussing the talent of his influences versus, “something not found in 99% of TV-fed ‘bands’ through MTV and other Zionist means of demoralizing young American’s artistic standards.” In reaction to this, Judd states, “I probably didn’t realize exactly what I was saying. I made a stupid comment as a kid,” Judd admits to his words, but also is aware of the ideologies prevalent in black metal culture. In his youth, Judd subscribed to the notions of black metal, including many of the negative aspects of the genre. Though he is clearly aware of the boundaries and limits of the genre, particularly in the ways one must act to be an authentic member of the culture, Judd’s transgression away from these boundaries is embodied in his rejection of traditional black metal ideology, discourse and ultimately in the rejection of traditional black metal culture.

This is also combined with two early Nachtmystium albums being released on Vinland Winds and Unholy Records and Regimental Records, labels noted for connections to white supremacist organizations. Judd stats that the releases were not authorized, as Miles Raymer explains, “[the album] was a CD-R, and Vinland simply burned more copies without the band’s permission.” Judd claims he simply didn’t know Regimental Records was affiliated with racism, as it was a small D.I.Y. organization, and when he found out he demanded they stopped distribution. These controversies have been detrimental to Nachtmystium’s ability to tour, as promoters are unwilling to be associated with the band. Raymer is quick to counter these weak allegations of bigotry with several simple facts, “Judd collaborated with Robert Lowe of Lichens, who’s black…Bruce Finkelman, his [former] boss at the Empty Bottle [bar], is Jewish, as is Nachtmystium’s manager, Merrick Jarmulowicz.” (All quotes from this paragraph are from this article – it is particularly good).

The band furthers to comment on the allegations with their new logo for merchandise stating the slogan, “White Powder Not White Power,” rejecting the associations of black metal and hatred, and playing on the notions of drug use with the band’s musical experimentation. Judd does not just comment on the ideas of racist allegations, like some Scandinavian bands, but openly and aggressively rejects the ideology and its cultural connections to black metal, again, actively transgressing away from the standard approach of traditional black metal.

Point being – Nachtmystium is not and should not be wholly represented by their actions, past, present, or future. Neither should Leviathan, or any other artist.

As creatively transgressive as Nachtmystium is, Metalsucks.net is still prone to criticize Judd for his drug use. Critics and academics have latched onto black metal for its authenticity, its creativity and constant development, and its unignorable presence (both in sound and in the aura of its creators). This has romanticized the genre and its history and culture to a certain extent. We are horrified at the supposed actions of Wrest – but forget that black metal is a big “fuck you” in almost every possible meaning. We can glorify the genre all we want, but one shouldn’t forget that there are some seriously bad dudes (again, in a general sense – Wrest has yet to be convicted). Blake Judd is there to remind us about black metal

We are not your leaders
We are not your friends
We are thieves and cheaters
We live at the end

We don’t want your loyalty
We reject your trust
We ignore your sympathy
We do what we must

– High on Hate – Addicts: Black Meddle pt II

While black metal is worthy of our critical attention, it is also constantly there to remind us of this sometimes mortally troubling relationship between artist and audience. In the case of black metal, it is easy for us not involved to separate ourselves from the things we do not like and to celebrate what we do. For the artists, it is very much their entire lives condensed into their work, and one can not glorify and ignore parts of a life on a whim.

A friend of mine once described her thoughts on art to me, after she had read a book for a class. I can’t remember the title, but that is not important, her words stuck in my head. They are thoughtful, sincere, and powerfully apt (as she usually is).

I do like the way that this author describes the way that art works. It gives form to the immaterial, confronting the viewer with new interactions with the materials that surround us, thereby creating new thought processes rather than objects of knowledge.

I have always been drawn to more formalist approaches to things, as I like to work with processes of intent and purpose, and I think that this really nails down the purpose of art. Though I could certainly go into Benjamin or Adorno, I like the simplicity of this statement more and it focuses on the audience, rather than the artist. It gives the consumer agency in the artistic process.

The Tweet mentioned above is destructive for several reasons. It removes the idea that audience is able to think critically about what they are consuming. It strips the listener from being able to enjoy any type of art, and it revokes their ability to acknowledge and think critically about those responsible for the things they like. This is probably why the stance was later rejected by Pitchfork’s Brandon Stosuy. Keith Kahn-Harris can like Burzum, and I can continue to like Leviathan.

In a sense, Leviathan’s TTTW is a perfect example of why cultural literacy is important, and how badly it is ignored in contemporary education. Though we should be aware of the aura surrounding of a piece of art, never should it be able to overshadow the consumer’s ability to interpret, negotiate, criticize, or enjoy a piece of art. A piece of art is not attempting to convince us of any particular ideology, but only to make us think. Our ability to critically engage a piece of art is not entirely dependent on role of the artist and we should not allow the creator to have all the social and cultural power in this dynamic relationship. Negating the ability of the consumer to think critically is damningly destructive and ignores the purpose of art in the first place.

The ability to be critical is an ethical action. Geoffrey Harpham states in his book Shadows of Ethics that:

It is also the office of criticism to promote literature’s immediacy, concreteness, vitality, and affective richness, and so to assert the claims of literature as a way of understanding human life that is superior to philosophy. –Harpham, iiiiv

It is not unreasonable to replace “literature” with “art” or even “culture”. The study of culture, art, media, music, or any related concept is important, and these can all tell us something about the understanding of human life – even True Traitor, True Whore. Good art (and I use that phrase begrudgingly) should make us feel and think, but exactly what is up to the consumer. It is not unethical to consume art by seemingly unethical individuals as long as you are able to think critically about what you are consuming. One should not feel troubled about buying a Leviathan album, but one should be aware of the context in which it was created.

I can’t wait to buy this album and listen to it very loudly in my car.

Stuff to Read – 06/25/11

LulzSec, Anonymous, & #AntiSec: Thoughts on Lulz and Ethical Hacking  – 

It’s 5:00 a.m. and these are the questions keeping me up right now:  Why is it so easy for LulzSec to gain access to these sites and leak this kind of info using such simplistic methods? Why does it take this kind of public-profile hacking and media attention for these breaches to be corrected? Why are people trusting enough on the Internet–where social engineering is commonplace and fairly easy to pull off–to use the same login information everywhere? Why are most media outlets quick to assume rather than verify information through fact-checking? What constitutes ethical hacking? When do grayhats become blackhats? When does it become “cyberterrorism” that merits quicker, harder scrutiny than, say, the way in which bin Laden was finally taken down?

Vyshali is sort of becoming my favorite blogger. She does a great job defining the terminology of a relatively easy thing to ignore, and reminds us why we shouldn’t. I can’t help but smile at the description of events feeling very much like a crime noir. Suspense. Betrayal. Vengeance.

‘Mega Man’ Is All-Ages Comic That Deals With War and the Nature of Humanity. Seriously.

And while I expected it to offer up some nostalgia-fueled fun, what surprised me was that it’s actually one of the best all-ages comics coming out right now, and one that deals with some pretty intense issues of guilt, death and humanity…Flynn examines the character in a way that I’ve never thought about, even as a lifelong fan, showing him as someone caught between a desire to help people by defeating the enemies that threaten him and the guilt that comes from killing other robots.

Chris Sims nails this one. A fantastic description and analysis of what would have been an overlooked comic that helps to illustrate why comics are so important in the first place. He dares us to actually think about what we read. Seriously.

“Visions Of American Black Metal”: Liturgy’s Hunter Hunt-Hendrix Responds

If you have any interest in underground metal, black or otherwise, you’re aware of the uproar created by Brooklyn quartet Liturgy. Much of the disdain’s focused on frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, and what people view as his “pretentious” reading of black metal (American and otherwise.

I wrote a piece on American black metal and I used Hunt-Hendrix’s treatise featured in Hideous Gnosis as a framing of developing authenticity and genre. I’m considering going about and editing the piece to post here. Anyway, Liturgy is a band that people love to hate (pardon the cliche), and even though I was not a huge fan of their new album (I should maybe give it another listen…), I do think that what they are doing and saying is rather important.

A lot of people don’t take metal seriously as art, and a lot of people don’t take art seriously as ethics. That’s fine, I guess — but as for myself, I do both.

It is an interesting statement, and something I tend to agree with.

Scion Rock Fest 2011 – Dark Castle Interview from Scion A/V on Vimeo.

This is the way to go.

Dark Castle is a very interesting band. I once got a package of a bunch of their merch from a friend of mine, and I still wear the shirt regularly. I’m a little bummed that the video doesn’t embed, but whatever. Anyway, I’m not posting them in relation to the above metal article. There is something very different going on here. It is equal parts “Why metal is important” and why we should always be willing to risk change and development in something we hold dear.

Post-Black Metal-Shoegaze

So, I haven’t talked about music very much on here, but I am into weird extreme stuff. Mostly metal, electronic, industrial or rock. I tend to hop around lots of different stuff, though. I’ve written about metal music academically, it wasn’t a terribly solid paper, but my professor liked it, so I may post it up online at some point. I’m a big fan of black metal, which is a hard thing to say in an academic world, or if you are trying to hit on women. But, I follow the music that I enjoy very closely. I don’t think I’m telling any tales out of school here, but academics are usually a few years behind what is happening in the underground, or at the very least, a few years behind the developing mainstream. Regardless, I try to stay connected. I have a very good local metal store, follow particular labels, jump around Youtube, and have some very hip friends who send me new music.

But, this is summer, and I’ve been very bored. So, I’ve taken to being annoying on Facebook as one of my new hobbies. The other day I posted this status update:

Basically, I was bullshitting. Completely and totally. I was simply trying to be annoying and say something completely absurd that my friends will look at and think me weird. It is a hobby. But then, a friend called me on my bluff, which I suppose by being a bullshitter, you are constantly asking for. I had to explain myself.

I had noticed a particular grouping of ‘French Post-Black Metal-Shoegaze’ artists being posted online in various different places. So, my status wasn’t coming out of no-where. And, for the record, I’ve only listened to a couple of the above mentioned bands. But, I had a bit of a Baader-Meinhoff moment. I saw all several bands from France with this very particular, somewhat bullshit genre title. The very idea of Post-black metal-shoegaze made me laugh, and that so many were from France made me laugh even further. Thus, the stupid status update.

However, I realized that some of the music I had been listening to in the last few days was falling into this genre distinction more and more. It wasn’t the bands above, but some other strange stuff that I downloaded just for the sake of trying something new.

So, for such a bullshit genre, why was I liking it so much? Shoegaze and Black Metal should NOT go together. Never ever. But this stuff works so well together, it blows me away.

I mean, just look at these totally hip dudes:


It isn’t exactly black metal. Even though it is just music, black metal isn’t about cool dudes with nice hair and ironed shirts.

And really, it isn’t all that dissimilar from the traditions that black metal has established for itself in the past, particularly the suicidal black metal sub-genre. Long, droning songs, incredible bleakness, and the general sense of melancholy that black metal and shoegaze are both known for. And yet, there is something very romantic to both genres. Romantic in the literary sense. To help define that, let’s go to Wikipedia:

In part, it was a revolt against aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature.[2] The movement validated strong emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as trepidation, horror and terror and awe—especially that which is experienced in confronting the sublimity of untamed nature and its picturesque qualities, both new aesthetic categories. It elevated folk art and ancient custom to something noble, made of spontaneity a desirable character (as in the musical impromptu), and argued for a “natural” epistemology of human activities as conditioned by nature in the form of language and customary usage.


An early post-black metal-shoegaze fan.

Strange bedfellows indeed, but perhaps not as strange as one would think. Is Deafheaven all that different from Xasthur?

Well, maybe a bit. Xasthur falls very firmly into the ‘suicidal black metal’ sub-genre. Some of the markers are there and some aren’t. The aesthetic is slightly different, but you can hear the basic framework, I think. But mix equal parts Xasthur with My Bloody Valentine…

I’m not listening to the French, however. That part is still bullshit to me. I’ll get to them someday (I’ll admit that French black metal is often overlooked and unappreciated…). I’m really loving two bands in this rather long and specific subgenre: Deafheaven from California (posted above), Cold Body Radiation from Holland, and Woods of Desolation from Australia. Hell, I’ll even throw in The Angelic Process as a similar act. Though, maybe it was Justin Broadrick’s band Jesu that helped to make Shoegaze a little more extreme. I’m sure he isn’t the first, but I remember a lot of cross-genre appeal to the Jesu releases (and I remember thinking that very strange).

And what makes something post-anything? Well you got me there. I’m not terribly sure. Taking the aesthetic of a particular genre, but doing something else with it? Post-punk isn’t very punk, now is it?

So, that is where I am right now. There is without a doubt more to be explored in this genre, and more to be discussed, but if I can at least share a couple of bands and the direction that music is going, I’ll be happy.

Not a terribly insightful post, but whatever. There are some excellent songs here.

And yes, Michael questioning the validity of shoegaze as a genre onto itself is rather humorous to me. And honestly, I couldn’t really think of many shoegaze bands to post in this in order to compare, but I remember the genre being very popular when I was an undgergrad in college (not popular at my college, but with cool people, as the genre had a bit of an emo-inspired resurgence).


I keep coming back to this article for some reason. I think there are a lot of questions here worth exploring. Is it black metal? Is it even metal? How do we determine the differences and why? I might come back to this more later in a separate post, but these are just some notes.

Undoubtedly, I would say that this stuff is not black metal. At all. We all know that there is more to how we define music other than just its sound. I’m not sure I would even bother asking if my local metal shop had Deafheaven in stock, as opposed to a more traditional local music location. Maybe that is my own insecurities, though. I don’t know…I’ll figure something out later.

Kornwolf –

Since I’ve finished my thesis, I’ve taken to reading for pleasure again. I have a nice pile of books I’ve been meaning to read or re-read, and I’ve decided to start by re-reading Tristian Egolf’s Kornwolf.

Tristian Egolf killed himself a few years back, and I think it is one of the great tragedies in contemporary fiction. His novels may not have been as polished as Dave Eggers or Michael Chabon, but I think that was a part of his greatness. It is a shame that he hasn’t been hoisted up to their level, as I think they would have challenged each other in very interesting ways. I always like to joke about how he could have taken them all in a fight. Sort of like Hemingway or Kerouac, he seemed like he lived a bit more than most writers. Apparently he finished the first draft of this book and ended his own life. Some comments on Amazon, perhaps rightly, suggest that it could have been fantastic after just a bit more work. Perhaps so. I’ve always loved and recommended it, even with some of its imperfections.

His prose is convincing. He implements a lot of folklore research and makes you believe in Amish werewolf lore in a way I haven’t encountered in other fantastical narratives. What would happen if an Amish boy, rebellious and struggling with puberty, accidentially stumbled upon a cassette tape of Slayer’s Reign in Blood, and played it secretly in his Rumspringa approved tape player? What if that boy may have been genetically linked to the cursed blood of folk legend? There is also a deep satire that runs rampant throughout, but never insulting the wrong people. I always respect that. The bitter journalist who left the townies behind, forced to return to earn money and write for the local paper, all while trying to figure out the weirdness that has boiling up in the town he grew to hate.

Also, one of the best descriptions of a Slayer (or any metal song) in any body of literary work:

This equipment had never emitted such grating, cacophonic belches. It sounded like a chain saw, whining and rising in sharp, sporadic bursts, then leveling….till the bashing commenced: like a trash can lid being whacked with a crowbar —ONE, overtop of the chainsaw, then — ONE, TWO — more menacing now, more deliberate —ONE —as a serpent coiled to strike — ONE, TWO — the strike giving way to a gallop: the pound of a broken fan belt slapping the underside of an engine hood: approaching, over the fields, preparing to sack and pillage and raze and defile — ONE, TWO — with the chain saws winding, the crowbar, the fan belt, pushing to a head, then: “AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGHHHHHHH” — a scream, like ten thousand demons plummeting hell-bound, end over end…

I can’t embed the song, so click here to hear it.

Brilliant, long winded, exciting, dangerous, curious. Just like a teenage boy, growing up in a secluded and separate community. As if the author was listening to Slayer for the first time, having never heard any other form of music before. The music is beautifully described, and metaphorical in terms of plot and character of the young lad, Ephraim.

Anyway, I recommend it.