I’m going to regret this. Hell, I already regret it, mainly because the critique I’m about to present will drive more clicks to the article I’m criticizing (whose main purpose was obviously to attract clicks in the first place), but also because the full back-story leading to the points I want to make is only slightly shorter than War and Peace; tedium might be the only victor in this exercise.
So why am I writing this despite those regrets? I’ll come back to the reason in due course. But first, the back story, which I’ve slightly condensed in an effort to combat tedium-induced catatonia.
The principle protagonist in this unfortunate tale is the U.S. black metal band Teratism, who have four albums to their name along with a handful of shorter releases going back to 2002. To put my cards on the table, I’m a fan of their music. I count four occasions when I’ve written about them in supportive terms, including an article in October 2017 where I was authorized by the band to share details about their next album, along with the cover art. (That album, The Second Death, has still not been released, though statements from last fall on the Teratism Facebook page forecast that it will happen this year, and that a second release of some kind is also being prepared.)
Teratism were one of the bands scheduled to appear at the fifth annual Stygian Rites festival on June 7-8, 2019, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Of the two dozen bands whose appearances have been confirmed, the vast majority are black metal bands (and the line-up is indeed an impressive one if you’re a fan of black metal), but it also includes a few purveyors of thrash, death metal, doom, and grindcore (including our buds in Seattle-based Theories). You can take a look at the line-up here (the Facebook event page) or here (the Eventbrite page where tickets can be purchased).
Despite having initially agreed to perform at Stygian Rites as one of the festival’s headliners, Teratism changed their minds. The official announcement of Teratism’s decision to withdraw from the festival appeared on the band’s Facebook page on February 17th. That statement, in its entirety, reads as follows:
After lengthy discussions recently, we have decided to cancel our appearance at Stygian Rites. We were one of the first confirmed bands(to our knowledge) and didn’t expect to be playing a show that would involve bands that want to mock or take away from the Black Metal scene. We, along with many other great musical covens, are serious practitioners who have bled and suffered greatly for their art. We do not want to share the stage with bands who exist not for the music, but to make a political statement. This is not an attack on the promoters, and we are grateful that they wanted to involve us in what they intend to be a good show. As a whole, our efforts are better aimed where our focus can remain on what matters, real Black Metal…..
Three days later the band’s bassist/lyricist Gilles de Rais posted a MUCH longer explanation on the same page, which I’m going to re-print in full at the end of this post; I infer that it might have been shorter when originally posted, but was later edited to present additional thoughts. For those who are too hurried or too disinterested to read all of it, I think the main points he makes are these:
When Teratism performs live, it’s important to the experience they wish to create to perform with other bands who share their commitment to black metal as they understand the history and ethos of the genre — bands “whose contribution to the music [is] being made seriously and in good faith” — and to do so in front of an audience who, if not “true believers” in the Satanic essence of the music, are at least “sympathetic participants”. When Teratism have tried playing events with eclectic line-ups in the past, the experiences have been disappointing.
And so, when Gilles de Rais belatedly saw the final line-up for Stygian Rites he was dismayed to see bands from genres that weren’t even metal (in his view), and was especially disturbed to see the name of Neckbeard Deathcamp, an Illinois band whom he perceived as being a “joke band” whose stock-in-trade is to satirize black metal, and thus hostile to what Teratism stands for and likely to attract an audience that would be in some measure antithetical to the experience Teratism would be trying to create. He wrote:
“[W]hether or not you think I am a fool for doing so, I take our art seriously. Perhaps we are just idiots that any of us believes any of this shit, but even if so, we still do not owe one minute of our time lending the legitimacy of this band to a lineup of bands that not only don’t take their own art seriously but make what we do ten times more difficult to pull off convincingly”.
Consequently, Gilles de Rais convinced the other members of Teratism to cancel the band’s performance. The rest of his long statement on Facebook included scorn for people on both sides of the political spectrum who were using Teratism’s cancellation as a jumping-off point for all sorts of polemics (“We may be fools for taking our art seriously, but we are not your fools. We won’t be a prop in a political stunt, nor will we be a token of currency in somebody’s culture battles.”), as well as an apology to Teratism’s fans for not acting sooner, and for the “needless drama” that the cancellation and his own remarks had spawned. He also invited Neckbeard Deathcamp to contact him if he had misjudged them as a “troll parody band”.
For those who want to read the whole statement as it exists at the time of this writing, I’ve pasted it at the end of this post. If I had been Teratism’s PR consultant, I probably would have suggested that they say nothing at all beyond the first relatively brief announcement on February 17th, because what happened next was entirely too predictable. Of course Teratism has no PR consultant, nor any apparent interest in what anyone might think of what they believe or how they manifest those beliefs through black metal, other than perhaps the musicians and fans who sincerely share their own commitments.
The final, predictable, chapter in this sordid tale is a piece of commentary that Metal Sucks published on February 21st under the headline “Super-Duper Serious Black Metal Band Teratism Refuses to Play with ‘Joke Band’ Neckbeard Deathcamp“. You might guess from the headline that before deciding to make fun of Teratism, the powers that be at Metal Sucks either knew nothing about the band or their music, or had zero interest in it. A search of the Metal Sucks archives reveals, in fact, that the site had never previously written a word about the band. Teratism’s only previous appearance at the site was on a 2010 year-end list by Krieg’s Neill Jameson, which was one of many year-end lists by musicians that MS grouped together.
Lacking any real interest in the band, and most likely having no familiarity with their music or their ethos, Metal Sucks nevertheless proceeded to ridicule Teratism’s decision to withdraw from Stygian Rites. After quoting sections of Gille de Rais‘ Facebook statement (with accompanying snarky commentary), Axl Rosenberg ended the article with these words:
So, maybe I’m just one of those “drunk frat boys laughing at guys in Halloween costumes and raccoon makeup,” but I mean, in the name of the Dark Lord, LIGHTEN THE FUCK UP, dude. The other members of Teratism use stage names like ‘Desekrator’ and ‘V. Wrath.’ How did you think anyone was going to take that 100% seriously? How do you take that 100% seriously? Nobody’s mommy and daddy gives them those names, and I don’t see any reason why Satan should have a preference for someone who thinks it’s cool to use Ks where Cs belong and not just, like, some dude named Ralph or whatever.
There are so few things in life worth taking this seriously. This is not one of those things. You can love metal and have a sense of humor about it.
You can read Gilles’ entire post below if you have 12-15 free hours and a strong stomach. Someone call me if Teratism ever do manage to conjure the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man or whatever and I’ll print an apology for being so flip.
That article of course provoked a lot of commentary by Metal Sucks‘ followers — 30 of them (so far) at MS itself, and no doubt a significant percentage of the nearly 600 comments you can now find beneath Gilles de Rais’ statement on Facebook — people choosing up sides and lobbing verbal Molotov cocktails at each other. I’ve read only a small percentage of these, but enough of them to conclude (as I could have guessed) that reading the rest of them would be a terrible waste of time and dangerous to my mental health.
Almost 10 years ago when I launched NCS, Metal Sucks was one of my main inspirations. It was light-hearted, funny (generally not in a sadistic way), and a source of musical recommendations that I then valued. I embraced the idea of not taking myself too seriously if I was going to attempt to write about music, while at the same time taking the music seriously, or at least the music I thought would be worth recommending. My early emulation of some of what MS was up to included poking fun at some bands now and then, though even then the bands in question were those who seemed to intentionally create controversy and to welcome attention, regardless of the kind of attention.
That phase of my writing at NCS didn’t last long. Even poking fun at big-name egotistical bands who seemed to invite it was inconsistent with my own conception for the site, which was to be devoted to music I enjoyed and honestly wanted to recommend, and to leave gossip-mongering, band dramas, negativity, and ridicule to other sites. As it turns out, with the passage of time, Metal Sucks seems to have become the flagship for such content, with this piece about Teratism being a prime example.
But the point of my own commentary here isn’t a condemnation of MS in its entirety, or of everyone who writes for it. It may still be a source of useful news for serious metal fans, of thought-provoking opinion, and of valuable music recommendations, but I wouldn’t know, because the rise of all that other stuff, epitomized by this Teratism article, eventually drove me away. I only know about the Teratism piece because a few of my FB friends were discussing it.
I suppose that ridiculing bands who only pretend to take their music seriously, and who profess certain beliefs and inspirations as a matter of calculation rather than conviction, can serve a useful purpose. Calling out frauds is a time-tested calling card of muck-raking journalism in politics and elsewhere, and we’re all generally better off for knowing the truth. There’s no reason why extreme metal bands should be walled off from having their pretenses punctured. But that’s not what happened here.
From everything I know about Teratism, which I’m pretty sure is more than Metal Sucks knows or bothered to learn, they aren’t posing or pretending. What they say, and what they do through their music, seems to me sincere and the result of genuine conviction and honest devotion to the path they’ve chosen. And no one could legitimately accuse them of grasping for fame or fortune.
But more to the point, that Metal Sucks article doesn’t point to any evidence to suggest that Teratism aren’t genuine. Nothing in the article provides any factual reason to believe that Teratism are anything other than what they say they are. Instead, the MS piece was just a display of extreme cynicism — of ridicule without any redeeming justification.
Ridiculing the band because the members use pseudonyms that don’t appear on their birth certificates? That certainly doesn’t distinguish Teratism from thousands of other metal bands, or for that matter from the principal writers at Metal Sucks. What difference does it make? And it’s really picking low-hanging fruit to make fun of using Ks where Cs belong (which I’m not even sure Teratism do).
But the main bone I have to pick with the Metal Sucks article is the deep cynicism that it reflects. It seems to give no credence at all to the idea that a live musical performance can be a serious endeavor designed to create, through sights as well as sounds, a transformative atmosphere. And it seems to suggest that it’s illegitimate for a band to prefer to play with certain kinds of bands and not others, and to present themselves to audiences who will understand and appreciate what they are attempting to achieve on stage rather than an audience that’s disinterested or, even worse, prone to make fun of the band or become downright hostile.
I’m going to quote from a list of U.S. black metal recommendations that Neill Jameson wrote for us in 2017 (here):
So many new bands are getting smoke blown up their ass because they use a dark occult look, mostly achieved with witch hats and an outfit that sort of looks like the KKK but that’s ok because they sing in Sanskrit. You’d think a band like Teratism, who have been around for quite some time, would be at the top of the heap of popularity but that would mean you’d also believe that most people prefer substance over style.
Teratism are a uniquely dark band, thinking-man’s black metal, who create an encapsulating atmosphere live but one where the visuals, while obviously important, are only a method of adding to the experience.
Neill made a similar point about Teratism’s live performances in that one and only piece at Metal Sucks, nine years ago, that included any mention of Teratism before the one that’s the subject of this post. The subject then was Teratism’s 2010 album, Viva Negativa:
Having known of this band and seen them live a few times in the past I never really fully appreciated them until we played together at the Samhain fest. Their performance was fucking gripping which caused me to seek this record out. Pitch black metal with an experimental ritual atmosphere. Another band that needs to be experienced live.
Metal Sucks chose to analogize such an experience to “conjur[ing] the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man or whatever”. Such cynical disrespect was unprovoked, and unwarranted. It’s one thing not to enjoy black metal in general, or the music of Teratism in particular. It’s another thing to go out of your way to contemptuously mock it, and worse still to espouse a worldview that anyone who performs metal or enjoys it should have a sense of humor about it at all times. It’s almost as if all bands should realize they’re joke bands at some level, and all fans should realize that the music, at some level, is all a joke.
I will grant you that certain aspects of Gilles de Rais‘s long statement made it easy fodder for ridicule (most of us have a visceral negative reaction to verbiage we think comes across as self-important). That doesn’t mean it deserved to be ridiculed, and it seems to me that its central message, after you strip away the more provocative rhetoric, is inarguable: A band should be able to decide with whom it will play and the kind of audience it would like to gather within the embrace of their music, to create a communion that’s important to the experience as a whole. Such wishes should be respected rather than mocked, for no evident reason other than to lay out click bait.
I would add that to respect such a decision doesn’t require you to subscribe to the band’s belief system. You can, for example, be convinced that Teratism’s embrace of black metal’s Satanic traditions is silly, or that their desire, through their performances, to create moments of “profound and terrifying conviction of the presence of real diabolical power” is a fantasy. Be derisive of that if you wish — black metal bands are used to such derision, and pretty experienced at giving it right back — but a little more respect and a little less jeering and sneering wouldn’t be a bad thing in general, would it?
And now, here’s the entirety of Gilles de Rais‘ statement on Facebook that provoked the scorn of Metal Sucks:
“Black metal, as we understand it, create it, and perform it, is the purest and most distilled manifestation of Satanism possible within the genre of metal music. This soul of black metal as a genre exists, however in a historical and musical context, lending its various iterations the tradition of a particular atmosphere and musical ethos. Therefore, in order to present a convincing performance when we play live, Teratism, and other sincere, practicing bands in this genre, must create an atmosphere of, if not *true believers*, then sympathetic participants in the audience. Through our history, we have tried whenever possible to book, and accept when invited, shows where the lineup consisted only of other sincere bands, preferably of the same rarefied genre, whose contribution to the music was being made seriously and in good faith.
“In fact, we don’t even like booking shows with death metal bands, even though several members of Teratism, myself included, have been or are currently in bands of that genre. We’ve tried playing shows with eclectic lineups. They seldom pay off. A sympathetic audience is everything: it is the difference between experiencing a moment of profound and terrifying conviction of the presence of real diabolical power, and a bunch of drunk frat boys laughing at guys in Halloween costumes and raccoon makeup. We have had to endure fistfights over exactly this kind of difference while on the road during our storied history of touring as a battle-tested and serious black metal band, and we have quite literally bled and suffered for the luxury of taking ourselves seriously when we perform live.
“So when I, who have been deactivated from social media for two months, do not book our shows, and do not follow our internet presence, was finally forwarded a flyer for the show, and saw bands from genres that aren’t even metal, and with names like “Neckbeard Deathcamp”, I was livid, and I lobbied to get us off this fucking bill. With a name like that there can be little possibility that they are anything other than a joke band with no loyalty to, investment in, or even understanding of black metal as it is defined and practiced by us.
“I have no opinion for or against joke bands per se, but, as I have just elaborated, this kind of fast and loose mixing of incompatible subgenres on a lineup is antithetical to creating and sustaining the particular atmosphere we need to pull off a convincing live performance. Few people would try and invite a comedian to do a bunch of toilet jokes as the eulogy at a funeral; to expect us to attempt to ply our solemn craft following a satire band is equally unworkable.
“If I had known that the lineup was going to be this across-the-board, let alone with bands from not only incompatible but outright hostile approaches, I would have never wanted to do the show in the first place. It’s nothing personal. We’ve tried it before. It’s not worth it for us. I built a recording studio that was a massive altar dedicated to Satan, not because I’m in it for the laughs but because, whether or not you think I am a fool for doing so, I take our art seriously. Perhaps we are just idiots that any of us believes any of this shit, but even if so, we still do not owe one minute of our time lending the legitimacy of this band to a lineup of bands that not only don’t take their own art seriously but make what we do ten times more difficult to pull off convincingly.
“After fielding a phone call from our vocalist the next afternoon, he informed me that there was a hurricane of flying gorilla shit breaking out on the internet over all this. As a result, I feel the necessity to point you all to the real culprit here. I am your man. If you want someone to hate, blame me. I was the one who most colorfully and vociferously expressed doubts about doing yet another show with a bunch of unsympathetic bands from incompatible genres.
“To make matters even more absurd, I have since heard that this band are in fact Antifa trolls. I can’t speak to that rumor because I don’t know. What I do know is, whether they have a partisan agenda underlying their trolling or not, I was just not interested in flying halfway across the country, donning full ritual garb, lighting candles and incense and then attempting to convince an audience of strangers of the palpable presence of a terrifying spirit of cosmic evil indwelling the world, after waiting for the the fake-black-metal scene’s equivalent of Weird Al Yankovic to clear their rubber chickens off the stage.
“For those looking to use us as pawns in some cynical power game you’re playing because our decision is politically expedient to you, I’m afraid, sadly, you will have to go fuck yourself. This includes the white supremacists, who, I am informed, are currently on our Facebook page claiming that one cancellation is somehow a “victory for the white race.” It also includes the masked brick throwers among you who are using the same decision to hoist us on a petard as your Bugaboo du jour with accusations that we are fascist sympathizers because we’re not keen on being used as a prop in a stunt orchestrated by cynical actors with an agenda that has nothing to do with furthering the music itself.
“Furthermore, if I understand Wrath correctly, a post made earlier by our drummer, Defiler, is largely what has caused this storm of controversy. I haven’t read it, but I’ve been given the general details. From what it sounds like, he was probably being overzealous about our discussion to to keep our shows deeply and securely within the purview of legitimate black metal, as has been our policy since pretty much the beginning, whenever possible, and it sounds like he added his own opinions to it. He has a right to have opinions. While the rest of us think it was a pretty stupid post (sorry Man) and do not share many of those opinions, we will not be throwing him under a bus over one shitty post because a mob of repressed drama queens, none of whom have ever spent a dime supporting this band, are suddenly scandalized by the revelation that we would rather not play shows with comedy acts.
“I have also just been made aware of the accusation that we withdrew from the show because we were bowing to pressure from right-wing bullies. This is a funny one. As far as I am concerned, we ARE the bullies. And within the band, *I* am the one who exerted the lion’s share of the pressure to get us off this bill, right or wrong, for reasons I’ve clearly enumerated. If cowardice is at the heart of this decision, would I be publicly taking responsibility for it? Think about it, Einstein, and then go fuck yourself.
“However, I did not intend for my private reservations to be conveyed to the public so nakedly and artlessly. So I apologize for that embarrassment. To the degree that the band I named by name are not who I believe their name suggests they are, namely, a troll parody band that mocks the very genre it claims to be contributing to, they are welcome to contact me personally through Teratism’s Facebook page. If they can succinctly show me that I misjudged them, I will, representing myself alone, happily and succinctly retract the accusation. This whole thing has already been enough of a distraction, so, please, emphasis on the word ‘succinctly’.
“As long as we’re not asked to attempt to pull off a legitimate black metal set on the same bill as these kinds of acts, I couldn’t care less what music they play, what they call themselves, or what illusions they cling to in the voting booth. They have the freedom to do what they want; we have the freedom to refuse to be a pawn in someone else’s.
“To our tiny cabal of friends and supporters around the world who have a dog in this fight, who ordered an album of ours from a legitimate distributor or dropped a sawbuck catching us at a show or buying a tee shirt: I apologize TO YOU for the needless drama. I have to say that I *do* stand by my very vocal, colorful, and emphatic decision to lobby the rest of the guys to demur, but I should have done it earlier. I dropped the ball, spoke far too late, and one member’s personal opinions, which developed in part as a reaction to my own hyperbole, were rushed to press. To everyone else: piss off. You’re only here because you‘re rubbernecking. You weren’t fans before and you won’t ever be. We owe you nothing.
“Finally: we may be fools for taking our art seriously, but we are not your fools. We won’t be a prop in a political stunt, nor will we be a token of currency in somebody’s culture battles.
Gilles de Rais