What does it mean to be Metal? (Re)(de)constructing a definition of Metalness. \m/


UPDATE: FINAL VERSION: Inner Piece Through Metal

Here’s the (very) rough draft. I’d love feedback, but only if it’s constructive. Otherwise it gets deleted and ignored 🙂

I’m collecting perspectives for a creative nonfiction piece that I’m writing about Heavy Metal.

Continue reading “What does it mean to be Metal? (Re)(de)constructing a definition of Metalness. \m/”

Metal Manifesto Part I: The Beginning

So. It all began some time between the third and fifth grades. I seem to remember things from this period by grades. Each year is divided by that one major change–moving to the next level in school; like the next level of a video game the enemies get craftier and stronger, the bosses more lethal, and your weapons more potent. Or something. So there are several possible beginnings. Or perhaps it’s a series of events…

  • I saw the music video for the Smashing Pumpkins’, Tonight, Tonight and was, for some reason, struck by it. Logically, I went out and bought the CD, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. I wouldn’t understand the title of the album for at least five years. At least, I wouldn’t know that I’d understood the title. The meaning is a bit hard to miss when you hear the music. The album was released on October 24, 1995; so I was around 10 years old. Which is like, third grade, right? I always have to recount from the beginning to figure that out. So I bought the CD, a double album, despite the fact that the one song I knew was nothing like anything else on the album. Yet I don’t remember realizing that, or particularly caring at the time. But the songs I listened to most where the heavy ones. Like the buzz-sawing, Zero; the crushingly distorted Bodies; the ever-classic, Bullet With Butterfly Wings, with the timeless chorus, “Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage”. Etc.
  • The most random segment of the story; I saw the music video for Breakfast at Tiffany’s before a movie at the local theater. I liked the song, and borrowed the CD from a friend/babysitter. I distinctly remember the chill I felt upon realizing just what it was about the songs on the album (by Deep Blue Something) that spoke to me. The aggressive distortedness. But I wanted more.
  • My friend bought it. Someone brought it into school on their discman. I was intrigued. So I bought Smash by the Offspring. It 0wn3d me. It still does.
  • Thus began The First Era. And it was Pretty Good. But the Second Era would be Better.

    Racism in Metal: The current state, and its philosophical underpinnings

    SO, I decided to just post this article in its entirety on this blog, since it really is a piece of non-fiction, though I can’t say its so creative. But hey, just read it.

    Something I’ve been following under the radar for a number of years is the disturbing Hate Rock movement. My interest began years ago when hanging around on random metal channels on IRC. I was disturbed by the degree of baseline homophobia and racism (and anti-semitism), though homophobia is far more widespread and serious in the metal community (due to its masculine posturing).

    More troubling, however, is the steady stream of Metal bands (especially Black Metal from Norway et al.) and Hardcore bands dedicated more directly to spreading messages of hate and anti-multiculturalism, even blatant National Socialism. In fact, as officials from the current leading White Supremacist organization have mentioned in interviews, this music is being actively used as a marketing tool to promote hate: hategroups, hatecrimes, and whatever else you get when you combine angst, alienation, and angry music (not so bad), then add in a healthy dose of violence and vitriol (not a good formula).

    As is often the case with hatespeach, the first amendment is used by many as a means to shelter racist propaganda. I’m not advocating criminalization, necessarily, but private organizations and groups can decide whether to allow such material. It raises interesting questions, should forums dedicated to sharing music allow racist material to be shared? One particular forum (left unnamed) draws the line between discussion and music (sounds like the National Alliance marketers have found a loophole after all. Suddenly they have access to a huge distribution channel, one that claims to be squarely opposed to such messages.

    Racism will not be tolerated by any of members. Racial topics, insults, images, or signs will be removed upon sight and dealt with on a case by case basis. Torrent releases that contain racial over/undertones will be allowed as they are considered musical releases, but replying with any type of racial glorification or anti-racial soapboxing will be cause for editing, warning level increases or even board dismissal. If you don’t like it, don’t download it; and don’t get YOURSELF in trouble for it.

    It seems strange to allow racism to hide behind the label of music. If you’re going to allow racism, why not let people talk about it? Or if you can’t talk about, why let people distribute it? Whether it seems like it or not (no active discussion, so “seems” like its not happening), why allow your forum to become a distribution network for racist propaganda? Of course, there are cases where it is less clear, and I’d advocate a restrained approach to any such censorship, but some stuff is just blatantly racist; and it might be a hint if the record label is owned by the White Supremacist National Alliance, and sold from their online store!

    Now, a quote from an ADL report on the National Alliance:

    Pierce appointed Erich Gliebe, who heads the NA unit in Cleveland, Ohio, to manage and promote Resistance Records. In the Winter 2000 issue of Resistance, Gliebe discussed the effectiveness of white power music in “awakening and mobilizing the White Youth of today into a revolutionary force to destroy the system.”

    Pierce has been quick to understand the potential power of new technologies as they emerge and to take aggressive steps to incorporate these technologies into the NA’s propaganda arsenal. In an interview in Barbarian, a [National Socialist Black Metal] zine, Pierce said, “Our goal now is to build ourselves into the most effective educational instrument that we can for reaching and educating and inspiring our people. We want to be able to express our message through every medium which we can use effectively and communicate on a continuing basis with all of our people.”

    It was refreshing to hear that VH1 has done a documentary on the subject, below is a quote from the review by Freemuse.org:

    Far more dispiriting than the freakish, tattooed skinhead bands blurting white supremacist lyrics is the image of two pristine-looking little blond girls throwing their arms in a Nazi salute and singing, ”Strike force, white survival.” They are all under the influence of so-called hatecore, music that proselytizes an ugly neo-Nazi message in clubs, on CD’s and on the Internet.

    The documentary does not overplay how many people follow hate rock. Record sales are in the thousands, not the millions. But the Internet gives such groups an extended reach and generates an outsize sense of power in their audiences. They may be the fringe, but they should not be dismissed.

    [From Freemuse: Hate music: Music With a Heart Full of Hatred]

    Alright, so we’ve established that racism is a growing presence in music, “even” in the U.S. (which has to deal with multiculturalism whether it wants to or not. Europe has had it pretty easy until recently, and don’t seem to be faring too well with all the ethnic reshuffling (due to basic economics. But I digress)). SO, that’s all well and good, but what about METAL?

    A quick perusal of the websites above, show that there are indeed a decent number of racist metal bands; at least racist enough to be supported by the NA. But what does the metal community think?

    METAL and Racism


    To begin, I’d like to mention the American Nihilist Underground Society, or ANUS.com, whose extremely well thought-out and well written (though, oddly, ignorant at the same time) treatises on Metal culture and philosophy give a very heady and, to me, scary justification for what basically amounts to… well, racism. As has happened with the mainstreaming of racism in US politics, instead of hating the other, it becomes about “separate, but equal”. Yet even that isn’t enough, the argument still needs to somehow justify why such separatism is necessary?! Then the purism is revealed, and the strange paranoid delusion that “inter-breeding” will create a world full of inferior, cultureless “mud people”.

    To make things even more curious, and to take their intellectualizing to yet a higher level, they host the website of a movement called “anti-humanism”, which claims to oppose BOTH fascism and anti-racism. What? Oh, and they hate the UN and “government control organizations like the USA”. *cough* um sound familiar? Can someone say whackjob conspiracy theorists? So much for them maintaining a façade of unbiased intellectualism!
    To Here’s the actual language that they use:

    Metal has never been about following the herd. From American Indians to ethnic minorities it Japan, it has signalled a pride in self and ancestors and the ancient ways of blood, honor and pride. Furthermore, metal has always been anti-social and against the “we’re doing it in your best interests” people who seek to control your mind, much as these anti-fascists do.
    We hold the following truths to be self-evident:
    1. No people are created equal, nor is there any basis for linear “equality” between people, experiences, or ideas.
    2. Multi-culturalism is unnatural and will destroy our cultures and turn us into generic brown people instead of four races of exciting different shades of color.
    3. The metal scene is not open to those who would wield the power of society against the free spirits, and whose fundamental motivation is fear of difference.

    It’s obvious that these “multiculturalists” and “anti-fascists” are full of fear and want nothing more than safety in conformity, and in normative ideas like making all people, ideologies, ideas and sensations normal. We suggest something different: that making us all the same will bring about a total tedium and lack of change in our natural world.

    Does this make ANY sense? I don’t think a single point follows logically from ANYTHING they claim to believe. I mean come ON! I’m trying to find something here! The world will become boring because we’re letting different races intermingle? Or something? Anyways. (Note: I’m not sure how affiliated this “movement” is with ANUS.com, so I’ll take a look at the actual “Nihilism” side of things next.)

    Their musings on Nihilism are quite engaging and interesting, not to mention intelligently written. Though not really related to the current discussion, I’d recommend a read of their Nihilism page for that reason alone. When I first discovered their page, I was happy to find a well-articulated explanation of a philosophy with real intellectual discussion affiliated with Metal (in my quest to “validate” metal. My latest theory is through Buddhism… stay tuned) But then I read on and on, and hit one snag… a snag that is significant and subtle enough to allow an ulterior motive into an otherwise well written piece.

    History tells us that human races evolved under different climates and different pressures, and therefore have different abilities.

    Ok, stop. What? a.) There is no such thing as race. b.) culture ≠ race. c.) there are no clear delineations between cultures!

    We cannot “prove,” objectively, that any one collection of abilities is superior to another. Communities are united by common belief, and some communities will opt for this to be a unification of culture, language and heritage. Some communities will opt to be cosmopolitan, mixed-race communities like New York City. Others will choose to be ethnocentric and to defend their ethnic-cultural heritage as necessary to their future; this preserves their uniqueness, and is the only realistic basis for true diversity. Without this bond, you have Disneyland-style fake communities which give nods to heritage but are basically products of modern time. Let there always be Finns, Zulus, Germans, Basques, Cherokee, Aztec, Norwegian, and even Irish – this is diversity; this is multiculture; this is all of the good things that exposure to different cultures can provide. This is the only mature attitude toward race, instead of trying to produce, as the Bush administration has, one global standard of liberal mixed-ethnic democracy that essentially destroys culture and replaces it with malls and television. The race taboo is propelled by those without a clear cultural heritage who want to revenge themselves upon those who do, much as in high school those with low self-esteem tried to antagonize both nerds and class leaders.

    Alright, so it devolves into… nonsense. Kind of a shame. Moving on…

    The Crowd creates a reality to serve its fears, and by imposing it, crushes realism, because to point out that the emperor wears no clothes is to offend and disturb the crowd. Why might a nihilist insist on accuracy in taboo matters such as eugenics, race and environmental needs to reduce population? — because the Crowd will go to its death before it will ever do such a thing.

    So now we’re leaving it up to the “Nihilist” to decide for themselves what is “accurate”, and thus impose that as their “Truth” (though, of course, there is no truth, right? Oh…) From another article on Nihilism that continues on this point:

    -Culture and racism: People on TV say that those who oppose the idea behind multiculturalism, are racists and full of hate, even if multiculturalism has created ethnic conflicts, killed a lot of native culture, and continues to systematically discriminate other races. The nihilist explains his view on this: “It seems to me that there indeed are differences between cultures and races, and that these differences make life interesting. But if you force two or more cultures to adhere to the same norms in society, you destroy these differences, which creates a grey mass without identity, other than McDonald’s and corporate jobs. What if each culture and each race had its own space? Then they would be able to develop themselves freely without the intervention of other cultures and people.”

    [From Center for Nihilist and Nihilism Studies @ nihil.org]

    For the last, and final connection, to finish the line of thought that has only been hinted at throughout… and this really is a pity because lots of the ideas used to supposedly justify these conclusions are pretty neat (italic emphasis from original):

    It creeps up on you. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Lacking a goal, and thus a consensus to our society, we elected for pity instead, and yes, we did bring many of the impoverished and women and minorities and criminals to a higher state of living – at the expense of any hope or future we have of our own. Because society decided to average itself, and not reward excellence but reward profit and equality, we have effectively destroyed all that made people unique and worthy of self-esteem. Diversity? Indeed, we now have the same mixed-race population that follows every collapsed empire, from Mexico to Egypt to India to Greece. This society is not just broken, but its core values and assumptions are contrary to any meaningful or natural life. [From Center for Nihilist and Nihilism Studies @ nihil.org]

    So the bold line basically speaks for itself. And sure, ANUS.com didn’t write the words explicitly, but I think the connections (and the fact that the “Center for Nihilist and Nihilism Studies seems to be basically one guy, and is linked to from ANUS.com. Oh, and to return the favor, the reference is returned with a quotation on http://www.nihil.org/nihilism/) It’s interesting that a philosophy that claims to believe in nothingness, and pure reality etc… seems to subscribe to a pretty slanted, and scientifically UN-rigorous view of the world. So perhaps the philosophy itself is not at fault, just the individuals who find it a close enough fit to justify their preexisting notions of the “ills of the world” and the causes for those ills (in this case the lazy categorization along cultural and “racial” lines, and somehow associating that with ability, intelligence, and culture… Cultures mix on their own! Wasn’t the Mongolian empire the most powerful empire the world has ever seen, despite Chinggis Khaan’s main achievement was his forceful unification of all Mongolia’s tribes? Thus “elminating” their cultural “specialness” and causing all the Mongols to fall into depressed states of stupor. Poor fellas.)

    So enough of this intellectual garbage from a select minority… Though it is important. I mean hey, Hitler got way excited when he read Nietzsche (the Nihilist) but what do Real Metalheads think?

    The Metal Community

    There are plenty of Metalheads who are not so pleased with these developments, and are making it loud and clear. Leading the charge is Metalheads Against Racism
    What is Metalheads Against Racism?

    Metalheads Against Racism is a loose association of members of the Heavy Metal scene who are sick of the infiltration of the Metal scene by racists, bigots and nazis. Though rebellious, Heavy Metal has never really been “political” in the narrow sense. But now that our Metal scene is becoming overrun by racists, it has become necessary to make a clear statement against racism. To keep the racist scum out of our scene, and to make it clear to the whole world that Heavy Metal is NOT racist, and we will NOT tolerate racism among us. Metalheads Against Racism offers a way to make this statement. By putting the Metalheads Against Racism banner on your publications, you declare that you support our anti-racist declaration.

    So load up on the banners to show your support. Yeah, the banners they have are pretty much all ugly and overstated, so I made my own. I tried to send it to them, but I guess they’re busy? So feel free to use this wherever/republish/etc… just give credit where it’s due:

    In closing, a refreshing quote from a letter they received, which could be described, I guess, as anti-hatemail:

    hey mike, i stumbled across your site and i must say its good to see something positive like this in the metal scene. For all those morons that say..but metals about hate, and you guys aren’t metal heads, your politically correct wah wah wah, and then list napalm death as a favourite band have got to be fucking kidding right?

    Metal is about whatever the fuck you want it to be, it doesn’t have to be “evil” and hateful tripe. If you don’t agree i suggest you go to a Napalm Death gig and confront the band, im sure you will receive an interesting response.

    Does Race Matter in Metal? The Fans Speak

    There is a series of rants/statements/essays on race and metal at Metal-Rules.com (from July 2001) that are quite remarkable. Not only are they vehemently anti-racist (and I doubt it was censored), but each statement oozes honesty and authenticity. They are lacking the self-conscious Political Correctness one would find in a more “intellectual” discussion, especially in Academia. These are from people whose love for metal runs deep, and who truly believe it to be a force for Good, one that unifies, rather than divides.

    The first statement, by Michael De Los Muertos is especially eloquent and direct. It begins by stating flat-out that “Race is absolutely irrelevant to metal. Period.” He then takes on racism head-on, and delivers a damming verdict: “To me racism is a very cut-and-dried issue. It is wrong. Racism is completely unjustifiable in any form, period.” The final step in the rant is the connection between metal, as an institution and a scene, and racism, as a movement and as a philosophy. He describes the two main forms of racism in or near the scene:

    Some bands from the Northern European scene, and/or fans of such bands, have forwarded ideas that such bands (particularly black metal bands) somehow support or advance neo-pagan or “Aryan” supremacy, and should be seen as rallying points for people to “take back” white homelands “threatened” by inferior peoples. In North America, racism in metal seems a little less prominent, if one discounts the ugly scene of Nazi hardcore, punk and ambient outfits which aren’t really metal anyway, but it undoubtedly still exists. Thankfully these kinds of ideas tend to occupy a lunatic fringe of the metal scene, as I don’t feel that the majority of metal fans or metal bands embrace, or even tolerate, racist tendencies.

    Then, as a final treat, he addresses the basic incompatability between racist ideology and heavy metal philosophy, if one allows for such a generalization to be made:

    To the extent a guiding philosophy can be ascribed to metal as a whole – and such a thing can’t be done without making generalizations, to be sure – it would seem that individualism and self-determination are basic ideas to most metalheads. Racism by definition conflicts with these ideas, so I doubt there’s too much chance of the metal scene as a whole becoming predominantly or substantially infected by the poison of racism.

    In closing, I leave you with several quotes from the comments posted on the Metal-Rules page:

    Keith: Music is universal. It’s emotion, feel, and what’s in your heart…not on your skin.

    EvilG: Racism is so silly anyway. We’re all people, we all are pretty much the same… What will racists do when the aliens come to town and they are green, purple, blue…?

    Rick: Does Race play a part in metal? Sure it does!! The only race that should listen to metal is the human race.

    Waspman: Unless you are a hermit, you’ve probably had many conversations with other metalheads. In my experience metal fans are, by and large, a very open-minded group where racism is generally not tolerated. Every group will have its share of misinformed idiots who like to stir of trouble but I’m proud to know that metalheads are one of the most tolerant groups around. A perfect example of this can be seen right here at our home. Our message board is filled with a variety of cool people while bigots are quickly put in their place.

    Nicholas Cervenka (aka Fiddler on the Green): In the end what does it matter. Red or Yellow, black or white, if they like metal, its alright!! 🙂

    Further Reading:
    Related Posts on A Yuletide Apocalypse:
    Metal = Homophobia?
    Century Media = The Homophobic Metal Posterchild?
    From my Metal Radio Show’s blog : My Metalheads Against Racism banner
    Metal-Rules.com, Columns: From Hell’s Heart… July 2001: Does race matter in metal?

    American Nihilist Underground Society: ANUS
    National Alliance Official Site
    National Alliance: A Report by the ADL. Includes documented examples of NA inspired violence as well as a history of Resistance Records.
    Against The Wall: A report on the current (declining) state of the National Alliance from the Southern Poverty Law Foundation

    Beginnings of a Metal Manifesto: The Buddhist Connection

    What is the meaning of a wrathful Buddha? We see all these wrathful images of Buddhas (gesturing around the temple). But in truth wrathful Buddhas have nine qualities. Their bodies are wrathful, heroic, and frightening. Their voices are laughing, threatening, and fierce. But mentally they are loving, peaceful, and powerful. Like all enlightened beings, their minds are peaceful, compassionate, joyful, and wise. If a being is wrathful on the outside and also angry in its heart, then it is a real monster — not a Buddha. Wrathful Buddhas look wrathful for a purpose: for pacifying, for taming negative forces.

    [From Tulku Thondup’s Talk in India 2003]


    SO, I’m thinking forward now. About my bigger piece. And how it will be about Metal (as in, Heavy Metal) and Buddhism (as in om mani padme hum). I struck upon this idea upon walking into a Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. I’d been in monasteries before, and had seen many images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. But this time was different.

    //Went to find a good concise definition for Heavy Metal… ended up on an hour long trawl of AllMusic.com. Led to another look at Racist Music. Led to this post at my main blog: Hate Rock, Racism and Heavy Metal.

    To be continued…

    Metal Listening Theory: Why Squinting Makes it Better

    Squinting your eyes (with a knowing smile) makes metal sound better. Or rather, it makes the experience more enjoyable. For me. This makes sense… Given the law of sensory deprivation (if there isn’t one, there should be): when you see less, you hear more/better. That’s why all those blind people can hear EVERYTHING. Seriously. Anyways, as a result, this allows the beautiful ”flowing metal“ (in the words of some European guy who made a poster for my radio show) to more completely infiltrate your system. Which is Good and Awesome. The smile may be replaced with a frown, but only if it’s really grim, and slightly tongue-in-cheek.