Feb 212015


(An old subject, and probably not much new to say about it. I get like this when I’ve had too much to drink. At least there’s some good metal at the end.)

We’re not an overtly political site. I emphasize the word “overtly”, because if you’ve been paying attention, you can probably figure out that we have our views, and they influence what we write and what we write about.

But it’s not the result of any kind of editorial edict. We all write what we want to write about. There are no assignments here, there are no litmus tests. Maybe that’s a strength, maybe that’s a weakness. But somehow, I think we do have a basic world view, one that all the writers subscribe to. It’s a minimalist communion, because we are far from clones of each other. The only communion is the worship of art. Our goddess is The Muse, our god is Pan. Except, those are metaphors — we have no god in what we do here, we praise the achievement of human inspiration and talent.

Up to a point. For many music fans it’s impossible to separate the creator from the creation. And to varying degrees, we have trouble doing that, too. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s not an issue — 99% of the time we don’t really know what bands believe, and 99% of the time their music isn’t dedicated to any controversial philosophies. Resistance to authority, rebellion against the imposition of structure by people who mean nothing to you, revulsion against religious dogma — those really aren’t radical views, and they’re increasingly less marginal, even in society as a whole. That view of the world might be a revelation to 18-year-old’s, but it’s old hat to most 40-year-old’s. It means very little in judgments about the quality of metal.

That’s not a criticism. If you’re 18 years old and you don’t feel intensely about every goddamn thing, then you’re wasting your life. It’s really a criticism — partially — of the people who are 40 years and older who are already running out of gas, and the people who are 18 and think they’ve run out of gas. But only partially. I’ll come back to that.

There is a dividing line among music fans, certainly one among fans of metal. On one side are fans whose beliefs about the world — their politics — are inseparable from their tastes in music. If the lives of the creators of music, or the lyrical themes of what they create, are at odds with the strongly held views of the observer, then the creators might as well not exist. If you are anti-fascist, anti-racist, straight-edge, atheist, Christian, Satanist, nihilist — and you hold those views in your heart, somewhere down in the molten core of your being — then it can’t help but influence the music you love, and the music you reject.

On the other side of the dividing line are uncomfortable people like me. We believe what we believe, we’d like to rigorously apply what we believe to the creators of music, but we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s not so cut-and-dried. I think it’s largely a function of age, but not simply that. Some people are set in their ways, they don’t really change in any fundamental way as they grow older. Other people, like me, as they grow older and older, they convince themselves that all people are flawed, some more than others, and that most people are also beautiful despite their flaws (at least if you look hard enough). We convince ourselves that creative genius is to be admired even when it comes from someone you wouldn’t want to spend five minutes with over a strong drink. Speaking for myself, I’ve become more tolerant, more forgiving, over time. I try to respect intensity of belief, as long as it doesn’t harm others, even when I scratch my head about it.

And so people like me, we admire the music of Burzum despite the deplorable personal views of the genius behind the music. We don’t dig too deeply or dwell too seriously on the personal philosophies of other creators, even when we hear uncomfortable rumors (or even more than rumors) about what they believe. Life is full of pain, and life is full of people who want to divide us for their own purposes, when the consequence of that egoistic strategy is simply more pain. So why should we do one damned thing to support that philosophy?

And yet, The Muse beckons. Art conquers all, or almost all. Life is but a candle flame, snuffed out way too soon. Art is immortal, and exists as itself, independent of the creator. What do any of us leave behind that survives the silencing of our own breath but the effect we have on others who still live, and who have not yet been born? Art is not the only way that people have that effect, it’s not the only way we can say to ourselves that our life has had meaning, but it’s certainly one very tangible testament.

What I’ve just said is a highly debatable proposition. I know other metal writers who have come to the realization that there is simply no persuasive reason to support the art of people who have no respect for the equal dignity of their [dead and rotting] brothers and sisters, and who don’t accept that every [dead] man is their brother and every [rotting] woman is their sister. And that’s why I’m uncomfortable — because that kind of principled approach to judgments about the worth of art holds a strong appeal. If it doesn’t make you uncomfortable to think about it when you praise the art of people who are bigoted and intolerant, then that’s worrisome.

So, I go back and forth. As I said, 99% of the time, it’s not an issue. The other 1% of the time, I knot myself up. I squirm over the sacrifice of my principles, if that’s what it is. I guess that in my old age I care almost more than anything else about passion and the fire that it lights under the cauldron of creativity. I turn a blind eye, and I simply feel the heat in my bones.

If it isn’t obvious, I wrote this under the influence of alcohol while thinking about a particular album that I don’t need to mention. So feel free to explain in the Comments all the ways I’ve gone wrong. I’ll have found many of my own when I sober up after a good night’s sleep.


P.S. I really hate writing anything on this site without music, and so I leave you this, which has nothing to do with the issues at the heart of this post… except it’s full of passion and I was listening to it as I wrote the blather above. The first piece below is is a teaser reel for Umbras de Barbagia, a forthcoming album to be released in March by Avantgarde Music by the Argentinian band Downfall of Nur. It cuts to the bone, it heats the blood, it quickens the breath, it pulls you out of your mundane surroundings and sends you soaring on astral waves, it floats you down to earth on the wings of sublime violin strings. It’s the kind of music that makes you feel life worth living, even in dark days. And it’s not even one full song.

But in the second player below you can hear full songs from the same band. It’s a 38-minute EP released last August. In my current state of mind I’m thinking this should outlast all of us, if there is any justice in this damned world. It’s a brilliant record, and one that deserves far more words than I have time to lay on its altar right now.



P.P.S. Having read this again in the cold, sober light of day (the part before I got to the music), I think I need to have a breathalyzer interlock device attached to my keyboard. Jeez, I do get sappy when I’m wasted. I do still really like that Downfall of Nur, though.



  40 Responses to “POLITICS?”

  1. I also don’t tend to sweat others’ beliefs much as long as they don’t hurt anyone. But it puzzles me that you wrote that sentence right above the mention of Burzum. This guy actually killed his onetime friend (his laughable “self-defense” justification in Until the Light Takes Us is one of the most oblivious moments I’ve ever seen on film, like he traveled six hours in a blizzard to kill Euronymous in self-defense, then chases him down the stairs to finish him off in self-defense, mind-boggling levels of denial at work here) and burned down places that–whatever your opinion of Christianity–were acknowledged architectural masterpieces that had stood in many cases for hundreds of years. His beliefs actually did hurt people, which is why I’ll never spend a dime of my money on his music. I’m older and still pay for music if the artist is asking for payment, and the one real means of protest I have is withholding that means of endorsement.

    Worthwhile piece of writing, though. These things do matter, because when I “squirm over the sacrifice of my principles” long enough, I realize that I’m either wasting a lot of time squirming–or I don’t have any principles left.

  2. “the equal dignity of their brothers and sisters…every man is their brother and every woman is their sister.”
    This is the least metal thing I have ever heard.

    • I guess that does come across pretty sappy — and I hasten to add that, as explained in the article, I tend not to apply any political litmus test to the music I like — but how would you change that to make it more metal?

    • I’d argue the exact opposite. More often than not, metal has been and continues to be rebellious and countercultural. And when has “love thy sisters and brothers” ever really been humanity’s strong suit? Even the religions that espouse that sentiment in theory very rarely show that in practice. Isalnder’s statement is, in a sad but very real way, countercultural. I’d say that trying to honor our kindred spirits is very metal.

      I think that’s what a lot of this incredibly stupid #metalgate crap has completely missed. “Metal” isn’t some junior high mentality of “lol, slagging on women, gay people, and brown people is totally cool and kvlt.” I think it’s in direct opposition to that. To me, metal is about catharsis and releasing negativity, not rolling around in it like a moron. The rage comes from recognizing what shouldn’t be, not perpetuating it.

      But maybe I’ve become a hippie in my old age. And not the “let’s take a bunch of LSD, then become bankers when we grow up” kind, either.

      • Well said, as usual.

      • In what possible way in what Western nation is unqualified multiculturalism and egalitarianism counter-cultural? You can literally be arrested and imprisoned in most of Europe for disagreeing with this ‘love everybody’ ideology.
        “Honor our kindred spirits?” Jesus. What, everybody? They’re all kindred spirits to you?
        Metal is (should be) about recognizing the sickness of the world and rising above it, not blowing off some steam and then getting back to wallowing together in mud with the fucking rainbow coalition.
        The overwhelming majority of people in this world are not my fucking brothers nor anyone I’d want to associate with. Saying that straight and unapologetically is the most honest and “rebellious” thing going.

        • I’ll admit that I’m not familiar with the laws of every nation in western Europe, but I find it very hard to believe that saying, “I don’t like everybody” is literally an offense that results in prison in any of them.

          • Considering some of the anti-Semitism that has creeped back into some parts of Europe recently, and the complicated relationship it has with its Muslim population, I would highly doubt that it’s a criminal offense to disagree with the love-everybody ideology in Europe. And it certainly isn’t against the law in the states.

        • It isn’t egalitarian if it enforced like that. That’s authoritarian. The problem with telling everyone how to act instead of letting them realize it themselves is that no wants to listen to a “higher” authority that’s out of touch. Also, a fairly metal social position. Some Destruction lyrics are floating through my mind now.

        • Just to be clear, I’m not telling anyone what to listen to or not listen to. I’m talking about my own thoughts and feelings — which are just as fucking metal as yours, to be clear.

  3. I think it’s completely reasonable to struggle with these kinds of issues. Like Bill Flo talked about, I have no time (or money) for Burzum, especially after looking into his dead, sociopathic eyes in “Until the Light Takes Us.” Maybe in some weird, alternate universe art could be judged solely on its own merits, but we’re human beings–it’s near impossible to banish artistic judgment and moral/ethical questions in one’s brain. I know that I probably listen to music or appreciate art made by people I would find repugnant in real life, and the line I draw between art I can appreciate anyway and art I can’t is often arbitrary, and in some cases is based on very incomplete information. Hell, for all I know, if Bach were on social media right now, he might be saying, “LOL, u know what I hate? Jews. #baroquethuglife.” What would I do as a listener and performer of his music in that case? We now have unprecedented access to what musicians think via the interhole, and what gives us access to all that music also gives us access to uncomfortable feelings about what we can and can’t support. But even if it’s mostly an intractable problem, tthe debate is still worth it unless you’re completely dead inside.

  4. Interesting piece.

    “99% of the time, it’s not an issue. The other 1% of the time, I knot myself up. I squirm over the sacrifice of my principles”. I think that ambivalence you describe is something to be cherished – nothing is ever black and white, and there’s this human desire to get the answer to everything – ‘surely there must be a right answer here somewhere?’ – but I think it’s when you start heading down that path of thinking ‘I know what the answer is, I know what is right’ and thinking that you know what is right *all the time, in every circumstance* then that’s when you start coming up with religious doctrines where anyone disobeying is cast to hell, or start committing acts of genocide. In a way, it’s that level of doubt that retains us with some sense of humility. So strangely, it torments us with its lack of certainty, but in the end saves us from extremity.

    “If it isn’t obvious, I wrote this under the influence of alcohol while thinking about a particular album that I don’t need to mention.” Noel Gallagher’s new album? Don’t worry this one *is* black and white – he’s just a dick 😉

    • I appreciate the support, and agree with the idea that being willing to entertain doubt and avoid dogmatism is usually the right way to be. There are some exceptions, but that’s a subject for another article the next time I get really fucked up. And no, not Noel Gallagher, I’m afraid I don’t have any interest in that one.

  5. I think for me, as the token near-18-year-old around here, a lot of it comes down to how educated I am with something – I try not to judge either way unless I have enough familiarity and background with a given issue or philosophy to make a decision. With Vikernes, that obviously isn’t too hard, and I probably won’t ever drop a dime on anything he does. But in his case, his philosophy was not only unable to be disentangled from his music, but was unable to be disentangled from his criminal acts; what I’m getting at here is that I have the most trouble in deciding whether to support an artist that, though they have what might be considered a hostile ideology, are ultimately impotent as far as any ability to carry out that ideology.

    Particularly, I know that I have a painfully strong aversion to pretense in people, to the point that I can often mistake purpose for pretense (I specifically remember doing that with regard to Thy Darkened Shrine, despite their fantastic music). Maybe, hopefully, my overly quick judgment regarding things like this will eventually cool to a more calm, understanding wisdom as I age.

    Reading my comment over again, I’m realizing that it probably is entirely incoherent, despite the fact that I’m stone cold sober. Oh well – hopefully there’s some sense to be gleaned from it by others here.

  6. i’ve had to remove bands from my catalog due to the political/religous/social views of the artist only a few times. breaking up with a band i love is never a pleasant experience but once i’ve become aware of an attitude or belief that directly contradicts my own it becomes impossible for me to hear said band’s music without thinking about whatever it is they’ve said or done that bothers me. i can forgive some things such as an old song or interview that no longer represents the artist’s worldview or lyrics that were written as a story as opposed to an expression of the songwriter’s personal beliefs. i don’t like giving the impression that i see myself as morally superior or that i spend all my time looking for flaws in musicians so i can ban them from my playlist. once i become aware of the ugly side of an artist’s personality it becomes like a glaring disfigurement that my mind won’t let me forget.

  7. When I was a wee lad, I idolized the front men of all the bands I liked. In the epochs of yore, long before the dawn of YouTube, you had to read interviews in magazines. Or watch them on television. I can’t tell you how many untold hours I spent on message boards and the FAQ of toolshed.down.net trying to decode all of Tool’s lyrics. I saw metal front men like prophets. I believed that they spoke truth, that it applied to me, and would tell me how to live my life. I never followed sports, so metal vocalists were my mentors.

    With time, I realized that I was ascribing far too much power to these men. How many times do you listen to a song and think, “Wow. This is my life.” ? So you develop an emotional connection with the creator of that song. An emotional connection with a person whom you have never met. A person who does not know you and likely never will. Not as intimately as you know their song, anyhow. That doesn’t take the power out of the art. In fact, it makes it more profound. Music is a way for people who have never met to have a deep connection. A similar past experience, or an emotional state.

    Age taught me to separate the creator from the creation. I think a healthy boundary like this is necessary. Here’s a non-musical example. One of my favorite authors, Hunter S. Thompson, committed suicide the day after my birthday in 2005. I had just turned 20. I felt personally let down. Betrayed even. Thompson was a captivating character. He WAS his writing. He wrote just like he spoke. After his suicide, I lost interest in his writing for several years. His death cast a morbid shadow over all of his work. I couldn’t read it. But then, I realized that his personal choice was not connected to his work. His choice was his choice. It didn’t soil his writing. I projected his act onto his work. I was looking at his work through the lens of his suicide. His work has endured, even if he did not. After I put a boundary between creator and creation, I was able to see Thompson’s work in a new light. Almost for the first time.

    Music is no different. Sure, I draw the line at lyrics glorifying vivid descriptions of rape and child molestation/pedophilia. Those topics don’t bother me by themselves, but when I read specific anatomical descriptions involving the mutilation of any particular orifice, I’m done. I’m married and I have a son; I have some standards. But beyond that, I’ll listen to just about anything once. Notwithstanding my previous objection, I recognize that lyrics are DEscriptive rather than PREscriptive. Just because someone is giving graphic details about something does not mean that they endorse or condone it. Nor does the narrative in the lyrics indicate that the listener should “go and do likewise.”

    As far as Burzum are concerned, I’m a Tolkien fan. So I appreciate the name. I don’t know much about Varg, but what little I have read leads me to believe he’s not exactly a nice guy. Burzum’s style never really grabbed me. It’s not bad music, just not for me.

    Musicians are people. They have beliefs, hopes, dream, goals, and worldviews. Those things influence the music that they make. Still, there is a definitive gulf between the creator and the creation.

    • ” I recognize that lyrics are DEscriptive rather than PREscriptive. Just because someone is giving graphic details about something does not mean that they endorse or condone it.” That’s a point worth remembering — I think almost all metal fans get that, but people from outside metal who come across certain kinds of songs and lyrics seem to take it literally, without understanding that shock value and outrageousness have always been a big part of metal.

    • HA! Someone remembers TDN. holy shit.

  8. I’d be a borderline Neo-marxist. And yet that does not dissuade me from listening to the likes of Burzum.

    One has to understand that that despite whatever we listen to within the broad contours of what passes as metal today, we look for that primal spirit. Say for instance I am enjoying, Burzum, spouting random Nationalist drek lyrically. And in my case one might ask, what is that to do with anyone who comes from a near obscure part of India? and that too contrary to my personal political leanings? The reason being I do so is because I share with him his spirit. That very intensity of his drive to create that music in the first place. Those hidden feelings that find space in yourself of belonging, earth, motherland but know it for a fact that embracing it outright is pressing one’s thought over others. In fact it is a more an embracing of how contradictory we all are in our beliefs, than anything. Metal is the conduit through which you embrace those contradictions and satiate oneself without harming anybody.

    And on that note, Burzum’s personal life is irrelevant but ours is.

  9. “And on that note, Burzum’s personal life is irrelevant”

    I beg to disagree. Given that you pay for your music, you are actively supporting a racist, homophobe, and unappologetic murderer; by providing him with royalties and financial means to continue his quest to spread his racist bullshit. In a capitalist society one of the ways we individuals can show our opinion is through our buying choices. Or lack there of.

    If you don’t pay for his music, then ignore whatever I said. 🙂

    I think this piece was very interesting and while often discussed, always relevant. I appreciate your stance Islander, but I think I’m a bit more hardline than you in my listening choices. The tricky part is when you get to ambiguous cases like Wrest of Leviarhan. Im not really sure what transpired between him and his ex, other than that it was nothing positive at all. As such I’m not sure if Leviathan is something I should actively support.

    • I’ve done just enough reading about that incident involving Wrest, both at the time of his arrest and since then, to realize that I’d have to do a lot more reading to get a clear view of what happened. Though he was convicted of aggravated domestic battery, there’s still a lot of controversy about the event.


      This is probably another example of me preferring to turn a blind eye because I’m such a fan of Leviathan’s music.

    • “If you don’t pay for his music, then ignore whatever I said..” Obviously I don’t pay.
      I am very selective about what I buy as well and Burzum is not my favorite artist. I’d rather buy a record from The Summoning (an ‘influenced’ band) than any of his, for I enjoy them more.

      “racist, homophobe, and unappologetic murderer” we have them for leaders in different countries and mine is no exception. This one man, if he attempts anything will just be brutally swept aside by society. But I get your point, and I agree by purchasing his record you’d be subsidizing his schemes. And yet that does not qualify as reason enough to stop you from listening to and admiring some of his seminal work.

      • Your last paragraph is a very good point, and I hope I didn’t come off as slamming you. But for me personally being a blithering idiot does disqualify certain artists from being enjoyable to me. Personal opinion.

  10. And this is why, as a general rule, I actively avoid reading interviews of artists. I’m interested in their artistic creations, and nothing more. I could care less about their beliefs and motivations, not because I don’t respect them, but because I’d rather continue enjoying their music in blissful ignorance. And after all, I listen to their music for the aural stimulation/beauty/melody/cacophony, not in order to adopt or make a statement. That said, when the Internet hubbub shoves their idiocy into my face (eg Burzum, Megadeth), I simply can’t ignore it and find myself losing a taste for their music.
    Only occasionally do I get curious about what an artist is trying to express, and only in cases where their music resonates with me in a much deeper, more personal way. In those cases, thanfully, I’ve always found the artists to also be driven by something that I find interesting and articulate (eg Opeth, Anathema, Katatonia).

    • I feel the same way about interviews of professional athletes, movie stars, and other “celebrities”. The fact that someone is very talented at one thing doesn’t mean their thinking about anything else is worth hearing, and when they happen to be idiots (or worse) and I happen to discover that, it inevitably colors how I feel about their achievements, even if maybe it shouldn’t. There is something to be said for blissful ignorance. 🙂

      • I think it’s even more important in athletics to be honest. My youngest son — six years old — is a huge Patriots fan, and when Aaron Hernandez turned into a murderer it was a good chance to explain to him, love the play, not the player. We know nothing about these men as people, so all we can do is enjoy their efforts and not confuse athletic prowess with being a good person.

        • It’s a good lesson to learn, even though it’s a hard one. It’s so easy when you’re young (and especially for children) to idolize sports figures and other people whose talents you admire, and such a huge disappointment at those times when you find out they’re really not admirable as people.

  11. Amen.
    the first “thing” that popped in my head while reading this article is; yes, what else; PRIMORDIAL

  12. Just wanted to add that the lyrics and the concept are inspired by the ancient Nur, the people who lived in the Italian island of Sardinia before the Roman colonization. In fact the guy behind the project, Antonio Sanna, is an Italian from Sardinia who relocated in Argentina.

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