Dec 152009


I don’t read The New York Times regularly. I’ll make a wild guess: I bet most visitors to this site don’t read it either. If you do, you need to rearrange your priorities. There are only so many hours in the day, and you’d be happier if you spent more time here at NO CLEAN SINGING, or any of the linked sites over to the right, and less on The New York Times. But though I don’t read that paper regularly, I’ve got friends who do, and three of them e-mailed me about an article that appeared there today entitled “Thank You Professor, That Was Putrid.”

The word that first came to mind after I read it was “bizarre.” The second word was “fucking pretentious.” The article describes a six-hour symposium on black metal held last Saturday afternoon at Public Assembly, a bar and nigthtclub in Brooklyn. The symposium, called “Hideous Gnosis,” was attended by an odd combination of pointy-headed academics (including two who traveled from England for the event), music critics, and at least one actual black metal musician, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, the frontman and guitarist from Liturgy. (That can’t possibly be his real name, can it?  Gotta be a black metal stage-name.)

The academics presented papers with such mouth-watering titles as “The Counter-Reformation in Stone and Metal: Spiritual Substances,” “Anti-Cosmosis: Black Mahapralaya,” and “Perpetual Rot: Obsessive Cycles of Deterioration.” I can sum up my reaction like this: “Reading About Hideous Gnosis: Regurgitating in My Lap.”

It appears Mr. Hunt-Hendrix from Liturgy also gave a lecture entitled “Transcendental Black Metal.” At least he didn’t use a colon in his lecture title. I’ve read some of his black metal philosophizing previously, courtesy of a Metal Sucks interview, which you can find here (if you really hate yourself). These are a couple of semi-random quotes from that interview:

The meaning of “Transcendental” is pretty free floating. One thought I have is that black metal is absolutely pure, and yet at the same time it is absolutely corrupt. It is a space for honoring heritage and tradition, and also for the obliteration of all culture. For me the meaning of black metal has something to do with a longing for ecstatic annihilation, a perfect void. An obliteration that brings about purity. The absolute, impossible, contradictory limit. Whether this transcendent realm is a cosmic unity or a silent void, and whether those things are different, I’m not sure.

My view is that the individual is epiphenomenal, a mirage, and that attachment to individuality is a disease. Especially when I’m, say, making music, I am not an individual; I’m not responsible for what I do – I’m channeling social, cultural, technological forces which work through me in ways I don’t understand. Liturgy is more interested in subjectivity than individuality. The Subject listens to himself, to the urges he has but doesn’t understand, and he follows what’s interesting to him with courage and fidelity. That’s when new things are created. So Liturgy is an opponent of the Individual and a proponent of the Subject.

Based on this blather (and shitloads more of it in that interview), I would say Mr. Hunt-Hendrix found a home last Saturday at the “Hideous Gnosis” symposium.

But seriously, give me a fucking break. This is fucking extreme, underground metal. It’s for headbanging. It’s for taking yourself out of this world for a little while and losing yourself in a tidal wave of loud, fast, powerful noise. It’s a vehicle for expressing emotions and sometimes even ideas. But to be brutally honest (and that’s the only kind of honest we are here at NCS), even black metal just isn’t that fucking profound. I’m a fan of black metal bands like Rotting Christ, Marduk, Behemoth, and Nachtmystium, but it’s got precious little to do with what they’re saying. Besides, why would anyone in their right mind seek philosophical education from guys who wear corpsepaint and porcupine bands?

But hey, if people would rather spend their time mentally dissecting black metal into tiny little pieces and trying to link it up with ancient roots of human existence or a mystical formula for achieving personal freedom, instead of just blasting the shit into their eardrums, what can I say? It’s a free country, and I’ll fight to the death for their right to be douchebags.

By the way, if you haven’t listened to Liturgy I’ll give you a preview. It sounds pretty much exactly like what you’d expect from a guy who talks like Hunter Hunt-Hendrix: boring, pretentious, soulless noise.

For black metal, we much prefer these Greeks bearing gifts (who by the way have just finished recording their latest album, called AEALO, which the band calls “by far our best and most soulful album in our career”):

[Editor’s note: This post is the first of a 3-part series. For part 2, go here. For part 3, go here.]

  10 Responses to “BLACK METAL NAVEL-GAZING”

  1. Papers and podcasts from the symposium now available on the blog:

    Bang your *head*!

  2. I would disagree with your assertion that metal, particularly black metal, is about expressing emotion. What characterises a lot of BM, for me, is the absence of emotion, it is the creation of a timelessness, of being in suspension, depressive logic and numbness. I think although you scoff at anything remotely ‘intellectual’ you’re espousing a theory of your own, you may not of clarified it, backed it up with references to philosophy, or bloated it with long words, but you’re still coming from a theoretical viewpoint all the same.

    That is the contradiction of metal, it claims to be primal, atavistic, earthy, of the body, but in reality it is so controlled, has so many codes, rules and boundaries that the fans in a supposedly unthinking manner enforce at every level. I love to be obliterated in a churning morass of blast beats, feedback, growls and whatever the fuck else, but this whole ‘be dumb’ thing in metal is a joke, its not spontaneous or relying on our innermost urges, its a well honed aesthetic and conscious action that is very much thought about.

    • I think you make a lot of good points — including the point that I was too flip in my commentary. I particularly like your observation about the contradiction of metal. I’m certainly one of those people who give the genre a lot of thought, and this whole site is organized around those codes, rules, and boundaries you write about. But although I agree with you that a lot of BM is about the absence of emotion, I do think there’s a big emotional component to a lot of BM, even in the case of bands who would pretend otherwise.

      I think your comment is worthy of broader discussion, and if you’ll give me permission, I’d like to use it as the jumping off point for a new post and see if we can generate a dialogue. Please reply or message me at:

    • My fingers aren’t working very well this morning. Here’s the e-mail address I meant to type:

  3. I definitely like the idea of the symposium.. whether or not I agree with what was said, only time will tell. But I would also like to link to the presentations on my website, and I am wondering if there are any written transcripts of the presentations? I know there are two posted on the authors’ respective blogs, but what about for the other presentations? Listening via audio is just such a tediously lengthy affair, I can read it much faster.

    Alternatively, would I be allowed to transcribe the audio myself and host the transcripts? I believe the presentations are govenred by this creative commons copyright:

    It’s just that I assume others would have already transcribed it if it were possible.. unless I’m the only one who hates listening to audio. Plus I would have assumed the original paper could just be released, I mean it must be written down somewhere…

  4. I have heard that written transcripts will be released in a few months here:

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