How and why various cultures and sub-cultures develop is an endlessly fascinating topic. What drives a certain art form’s genesis? Sure, previous works and movements play a role. But nature must play a role as well. After all, methods of human survival are tightly linked to our surroundings: the landscape, climate and aesthetic of where we come from. In lieu of quoting Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, what role does this phenomenon play in extreme music?
Black metal has a particularly close relationship to nature. Everyone familiar with the genre knows the hallmarks of much of the scene and how these are tied to nature (“everything here is so cold, everything here is so dark”). But it’s not just snow, frost and “icewinds” that inspire this music, but the trees, rivers and mountains as well (“The howling wind blows in the naked trees”). Just look at the cover of Ulver’s Bergtatt and basically any release from Winterfylleth and legions of other atmospheric black metal bands to see what I mean.
The subject is ripe for some good scholarship, and a new zine called Becoming the Forest looks to explore this fertile ground. It’s mission statement goes as follows:
Becoming the Forest is a publication which looks at our relationship to our surroundings, with a specific focus on the Northern hemisphere’s abundance of dense spruce forests, and how the aesthetic and philosophy of the musical subculture of black metal has become entangled with this topography, countering the anthropocentric interpretation of the world.
The upcoming issue includes all manner of interviews and articles, dealing with subjects such as the possible consciousness of trees, shamanism, philosophy and various shades of history. It also includes a discussion with Audrey Ewell, one of the creators of the black metal documentary Until the Light Takes Us. It even has an introduction to Theodore Kittelsen, the indispensable Norwegian artist behind many famous black metal album covers.
For any black metal enthusiast, or anyone interested in the connection between nature and the aesthetics of certain art forms, Becoming the Forest sounds like it could become essential reading. Hopefully this issue, part of a larger art project, will be the first of many.