Heavy Metal: The Soundtrack to Your Existence

By Jin-yeong Yi

Bill Harrison - Urban decay

“The trick in my situation was that there was no trick, no matter what the movies tell you–
No rules, no secret mantra, no road map.
It wasn’t about how smart or how good you were.
It was chaos and luck, and anyone who thought different was a fool.
All you could do was to hang on madly, as long and hard as you could.”

—Max Payne, Max Payne

I got into heavy metal in the middle of high school, when a friend and avid metalhead introduced me to Metallica. At that time, I was still a Christian, so I made a point of staying away from any “Satanic” bands, particularly Slayer, which my friend was a devotee of (to the point of carving the band’s name into his arm). I remember the days in which my choices of metal songs to play on the guitar were limited to bands that weren’t “Satanic” or anti-Christian (or at least not overtly so), such as Children of Bodom, Dream Theater, Kalmah, and Megadeth. I also listened to the Christian metal bands Extol and Lengsel. No Burzum, Darkthrone, Deicide, Dissection, Emperor, Gorgoroth, Mayhem, Morbid Angel, or Slayer for me–no siree, Bob.

As I would find out before long, heavy metal is really not the kind of genre in which one can afford to be constrained by taboo. It’s like trying to avoid all of the religious composers in classical music (from Bach to Rachmaninoff)–there’s just too much to miss out on. This I came to understand very well when I discovered bands like Asphyx, Atheist, Beherit, Demoncy, Enslaved, Gorguts, Hypocrisy, Immolation, Necrophobic, Profanatica, Sacramentum, and Therion, as well as the other bands I mentioned. Even in high school, sparing listens to such taboo music, whether it was an occasional dose of Venom’s “Black Metal” or Dissection’s “Crimson Towers,” were a guilty pleasure of mine.

I avoided such music not only because it was “evil,” but also because I thought it was depressing. My friend, who suffered from bipolar disorder, denied that there was any correlation between his depression and the aural hellfire he immersed himself in day after day. I wasn’t at all convinced. I was sure that he was in denial, and that he’d be better off health-wise if he stopped listening.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that heavy metal doesn’t so much surrender to or glorify the dark side of existence as acknowledge it, face it, grapple with it, and, in a way, redeem it. Heavy metal is music that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. Where classical music embraces suffering and beauty, heavy metal embraces suffering, beauty, and ugliness. One would be hard-pressed to find a more fitting soundtrack for the grim and hideous realities of life, the hellish abomination that is the prison of the real. Heavy metal may be obsessed about the dark side of existence, but rather than driving one to an early death, it grants one the strength to cling onto life, to persist and endure in this world–out of sheer defiance, if nothing else.

We All Live on The Rack

By Jin-yeong Yi

Torture of Cuthbert Simpson

“Life is algid, life is fulgid. Life is what the least of us make the most of us feel the least of us make the most of. Life is a burgeoning, a quickening of the dim primordial urge in the murky wastes of time.”

—W. V. Quine

“LIFE: To be born in imbecility, in the midst of pain and crisis to be the plaything of ignorance, error, need, sickness, wickedness, and passions; to return step by step to imbecility, from the time of lisping to that of doting; to live among knaves and charlatans of all kinds; to die between one man who takes your pulse and another who troubles your head; never to know where you come from, why you come and where you are going! That is what is called the most important gift of our parents and nature. Life.”

—Denis Diderot, L’Encyclopédie

I think a lot of people would agree that life is neither sweet nor bitter, but bittersweet. But just about everyone would agree that to live is to suffer.

Life is a great tornado, a maelstrom. It is a monster that chews on you until your last days. You have no way of knowing whether you’ll still be in one piece when it finally spits you out.

One of my favorite songs by Asphyx is “The Rack,” which is the final song on their debut album. The lyrics are about medieval Christian torture, but to me the song means much more: both the lyrics and the music describe the human condition itself. The world is a torture chamber. The world is The Rack.

Asphyx – “The Rack”

In the dungeon
Deep under ground
A morbid fear
Palpitations, unbearable pound
Footstep outside the stairway
Executioners’s arrival
A sinister procession
Grim macabre tribunal
Heretical pervert
Inexorable judge
The sentence is death
By the grace of the church
Inside the torture chamber
The smell of blood and pain
Iron is glowing in pits of fire
Instruments of the insane
The Rack: Altar of blood
The Rack: Altar of pain
Suffocate in blood
Bones pulverized
Mutilated tissue
Evisceration
Sawed off limbs
Emasculation
Human leftovers
A smouldering mess
Atrocious perfomance
Methods of madness
Inside the torture chamber
Instruments covered with stains
The rack has taken his victim
Beyond the boundaries of pain

The Other Artistic Contribution of Christianity

By Jin-yeong Yi

Inverted pentagram (black)

“Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.”

—John Milton, Paradise Lost

“Rebellion is the salt of the earth.”

—Joseph McCabe

Who says that good things haven’t come out of Christianity? Many artistic geniuses have utilized its symbols to yield what are widely hailed as great achievements, such as Bach’s Mass in B Minor, Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor, and Dostoevsky’s The Brother’s Karamazov, to name a few. But there is another, lesser known breed of art that this religion has produced: death metal and black metal. It hardly needs to be pointed out that these musical forms would never have existed if it weren’t for Christianity.

Writing in 1905, Christian philosopher and apologist G. K. Chesterton observed:

“Blasphemy is an artistic effect, because blasphemy depends upon a philosophical conviction. Blasphemy depends upon belief and is fading with it. If any one doubts this, let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor. I think his family will find him at the end of the day in a state of some exhaustion.”[1]

Writing 102 years later, atheist conservative essayist Theodore Dalrymple protested against the increasing hostility toward religion:

“The thinness of the new atheism is evident in its approach to our civilization, which until recently was religious to its core. To regret religion is, in fact, to regret our civilization and its monuments, its achievements, and its legacy.”[2]

In the same year, atheist feminist and cultural critic Camille Paglia argued that “only religion can save the arts”:

“Great art can be made out of love for religion as well as rebellion against it. But a totally secularized society with contempt for religion sinks into materialism and self-absorption and gradually goes slack, without leaving an artistic legacy.”[3]

When one listens to diabolical masterpieces[4] such as Morbid Angel’s The Altars of Madness, Incantation’s Onward to Golgotha, Necrophobic’s The Nocturnal Silence, Profanatica’s Profanatitas de Domonatia, Havohej’s Dethrone the Son of God, Cryptopsy’s None So Vile, Demoncy’s Joined in Darkness, or Immolation’s Close to a World Below, and imbibes and delights in their unholy glory day after day, one is tempted to agree.

Would the world have been better off without Christianity? Maybe, maybe not. Part of the answer depends on subjective values and the other part depends on whether it is possible to travel back in time and conduct historical control experiments. Either way, I, for one, am thankful for the art that has been made in rebellion against it. Along with classical music and cathedrals, death metal and black metal are part of the legacy of the most beloved and most hated religion that the world has ever known.

Ah, ’tis verily a good age to be a blasphemer.

Notes

[1] Heretics by G. K. Chesterton

[2] “What the New Atheists Don’t See” by Theodore Dalrymple

[3] “Religion and the Arts in America” by Camille Paglia

[4] See the deathmetal.org article, “The most blasphemous devil metal,” for more recommended listening.

The White Race: The Immortal Blemish of Human History?

By Jin-yeong Yi

In 1967, the late Susan Sontag wrote:

“Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Balanchine ballets, et al. don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history.”

She later changed her mind about the last sentence, stating that it was an insult to cancer patients.

I’m not sure if she wasn’t just trolling, but seriously? Seriously? C’mon Ms. Sontag… You did mention some of their more recent contributions, but don’t you think you’re still selling them a bit short?

White art?

Raphael - The School of AthensVincent van Gogh - The Starry Night

White architecture?

ParthenonColosseum

White literature?

BeowulfChaucer as a pilgrim

White mathematics?

Desargues' theoremDifferential calculusIntegral calculus

White philosophy?

SocratesPlatoAristotleDemocritus

White science?

Leonardo da Vinci - Vitruvian ManCharles Darwin - The Descent of ManThomas Edison's original carbon-filament bulb

White religion?

AthenaHeinrich Fueger - Prometheus Brings Fire to MankindApollo

White classical music?

Johann Sebastian BachLudwig van BeethovenJohannes Brahms

White heavy metal?

Really, where exactly would humankind be without the “white race?”

In Memoriam: David Parland

By Jin-yeong Yi

The former guitarist of Necrophobic and Dark Funeral died last Tuesday. He was 42 years old. His cause of death has not been revealed, but I am guessing it was suicide, judging from Mikael Svanberg (Lord Ahriman)’s comments:

“During the last couple of weeks, I was in close contact with David. He was going through an extremely difficult time of life, whereof he contacted me to ask for my help.

“Even though the two of us had a bit of a complicated relationship over the years (much excessive in the media though), he knew that he could ALWAYS call or visit me when needed, which he also did once in a while.

“Last time I talked to him was when he called me on March 15. From what I could understand, things were going in the right direction. I also had some very good news for him, which he was very happy to hear about. What happened after that I simply can’t understand. And I cant understand WHY he didn’t call me (again).

“So close, so fucking close to get back on track, brother.

“Why?”[1]

I knew very little about Mr. Parland, except that he wrote and performed the guitar riffs on one of my favorite albums, The Nocturnal Silence. For me, he was and remains one of the greats in heavy metal, being among the most creative and inspiring guitarists I’ve ever heard. He may be gone physically, but as far as I’m concerned, his spirit remains alive and well in his work.

He goes to join the pantheon of Swedish metal legends, which includes Per Yngve Ohlin, Thomas Börje Forsberg, and Jon Nödtveidt.

You are missed, David Parland; see you on the other side of the fence.

Notes

[1] Quoted from http://www.blabbermouth.net/news.aspx?mode=Article&newsitemID=187878

Why I Listen to Heavy Metal

By Jin-yeong Yi

“Art, in its highest expression, explains our existence to us, both the particularities of the artist’s own time and the universals of all time, or at least of all human history. It transcends transience and therefore reconciles us to the most fundamental condition of our existence.”

—Theodore Dalrymple, Our Culture, What’s Left Of It

People seem to think that fans of heavy metal listen to it mainly to look tough or to offend their parents. In other words, they seem to think that the fans listen to metal for other people, not themselves. While I definitely suspect that there is truth to this, I think the actual reasons for listening to metal are far more complex.

Then again, fans of heavy metal listen to it for different reasons, and different combinations thereof, so I can only really speak for myself (assuming that I have an accurate understanding of the neural activity going on in my brain).

For me, the shock value and the rest are a bonus. I would still listen to heavy metal, especially death metal and black metal, if I were to spend the rest of my life on a desert island. Even if there was nothing to be stressed or angry about, I’d still subject myself to the vicious onslaught of Cryptopsy, Suffocation, Immolation, and Dismember. Even if there was no one to frighten or disturb, I’d still enter the twisted worlds of Godflesh, Infester, Beherit, and Demoncy. Even if there was no one to shock or offend, I’d still revel in the blasphemous hymns of Profanatica, Deicide, Necrophobic, and Hypocrisy. Even if there was no one to confound, I’d still immerse myself in the abstract aural labyrinths of Atheist, Demilich, and Gorguts. Even if there was no one to dazzle, I’d still mesmerize myself with the majestic grandeur of Summoning, Enslaved, and Sacramentum.

I listen to metal primarily because of what it does for me. The buzz saw guitars, the machine gun percussion, and the demonic vocals are pleasing to my ears, perhaps in a semi-masochistic way. It gives me a kind of experience that no other musical genre–including classical music–can give me. It gives musical expression to the dark side of the experience of being human, namely fear, alienation, hatred, and emptiness, as well as to a desire and determination to not only endure these things, but also transcend them. Metal helps to keep me grounded in reality (or at least what I perceive to be reality), and gives expression to my view that “real” life is not a fairy tale, but rather a nightmare that I can either make the best of or escape altogether.

By tackling ugliness, darkness, and death head-on, metal for me simultaneously and paradoxically affirms the antitheses of those things with a unique language of sublime beauty and savage brutality. Perhaps that is why I feel most alive when listening to it.

Recommended Listening 

Cryptopsy – “Benedictine Convulsions” (None So Vile)

Suffocation – “Infecting the Crypts” (Human Waste)

Immolation – “Close to a World Below” (Close to a World Below)

Dismember – “Override of the Overture” (Like an Everflowing Stream)

Godflesh – “Streetcleaner” (Streetcleaner)

Infester – “Chamber of Reunion” (To the Depths… In Degradation)

Beherit – “Six Days with Lord Diabolus” (Beast of Beherit)

Demoncy – “Impure Blessings (Dark Angel of the Four Wings)” (Joined in Darkness)

Profanatica – “A Fallen God, Dethroned in Heaven” (Profanatitas de Domonatia)

Deicide – “Satan Spawn, the Caco-Daemon” (Legion)

Necrophobic – “Where Sinners Burn” (The Nocturnal Silence

Hypocrisy – “God is a…” (Penetralia)

Atheist – “Piece of Time” (Piece of Time)

Demilich – “When the Sun Drank the Weight of Water” (Nespithe)

Gorguts – “Clouded” (Obscura)

Summoning – “Nightshade Forests” (Dol Guldur)

Enslaved – “Vetrarnott” (Vikingligr Veldi)

Sacramentum – “When Night Surrounds Me” (Far Away from the Sun)