Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Problem with Saying "Metal is . . ."

Recently, Full Metal Attorney published an interesting blog post called "Metal Doesn't Give a Shit" in which he pointed out that, contrary to some claims, metal doesn't have a collective liberal political message. He proceeded to state that "Metal is horror films, snuff films, shock jocks, and pulp in music form. It has no higher purpose, and no social agenda."

Well it appears his post has struck something of a nerve over at No Clean Singing, and I think I know why. I alluded to this idea in my own comment on his original post, but I'd like to take some space here to flesh out my thoughts on the matter. There is, in my opinion, an inherent flaw in using the phrase "metal is. . . ."

You see, the metal world is widely disbursed and widely varied. I fully agree with FMA's assertion that the metal community does not have a unified political agenda, and that many metalheads just don't give a shit. The problem is that this is presented as a blanket statement, when the reality is that a great many metalheads really do give a shit.

Metal as a whole is too broad to really discuss in this respect, so let's narrow our focus for a moment. What, philosophically, is black metal? Many people would stand up here and say black metal is, at its core, anti-Christian. Certainly, that's true for many fans and many bands. However, such an answer is so incomplete that it carries little value.

-For Varg Vikernes, black metal is certainly anti-Christian . . . insofar as Christianity represents a dilution of traditional Nordic culture. See, for Varg, black metal is really about expressing cultural purity.

-For the members of Wolves in the Throne Room, black metal is a platform for promoting veganism and sustainable green living.

-For Wrest, of Leviathan fame, black metal is an means of channeling and expressing his own loneliness and depression.

-For Quorthon, black metal was a way to tell stories about Viking history in musical form.

-For Antestor, black metal is the ultimate way of expressing the members' Christian faith by turning the weapon of the enemy against him.

-For Dimmu Borgir, black metal is just a style of music they can play that helps them sell records.

All these responses to black metal, and many more beside them, are perfectly valid because to these individuals these are what black metal means. One cannot simply pick one, though, and say "black metal is about cultural purity" because for every person for whom that is true, there are a ton of others for whom it is totally false. And therein lies the problem with claiming that black metal is something in particular, even saying it is "a style of music with no higher purpose" is a problem, because that claim will be totally false for a great many fans and artists.

Now if just one specific (often pigeonholed) sub-genre can't be said to be any particular thing, it should be fairly evident that metal as a whole is far less likely to be subject to any such labeling process.

Metal as a whole is not liberal or conservative, atheist or religious, activist or apathetic. But many specific bands and fans are part of the metal world for those reasons. I've had friends who listened almost exclusively to Christian metal. It's my opinion that Christian metal is mostly terrible, but that's not the point. The point is that, for them, metal was about religion. I've got other friends who embrace metal for precisely the opposite reason, celebrating the anti-religious sentiments they find in their own bands of choice. For some, metal is about rebelling against authority or society or religion. For others it's an affirmation of what is good in those things.

So, does metal give a shit? Yes. And no. And sometimes. Napalm Death give a shit. Cannibal Corpse don't give a shit. Cattle Decapitation sometimes give a shit.

And that brings us back to the question of using the phrase "metal is. . . ." For FMA (and probably Lemmy Kilmister), "Metal is horror films, snuff films, shock jocks, and pulp in music form." But that's only what metal is for him, and that's why so many posters have taken issue with his claims. He took the step of pointing out that metal has no unifying agenda, but he assumed that metal therefore has no agendas at all, while for many people it absolutely does. And those people, many of whom try to project their own metal agenda onto the genre at large, are making the same mistake of assuming that what metal is for them, it is for everybody.

In the end, there are so many perspectives and so many ways of looking at it that there really is no adequate way of ending that phrase, other than by simply saying "metal is metal."

1 comment:

  1. A great post here, and in a way I mostly agree with it.

    I came to realize, after the discussion over at No Clean Singing, that I was talking about the Platonic idea of metal. Metal in its purest form doesn't care about anything. If you have a political agenda, you can still be metal, but your agenda is not metal.