Another beautiful 2017 day, another fucking trash fire in the world of metal. By now you may have seen images floating around of a tape with a generic spooky logo on top of some asshole’s vacation photo. And you might have thought it was faked, like the moon landing or the round nature of the planet. You’d, of course, be wrong about all three, but I can’t tell which of these is currently inciting the most anger. Right now, I’m going with the tape.
I mean, have you looked at it? Jesus Christ. I was told I don’t have a sense of humor because I was irritated by this cover. But humor is subjective and your sense of it sucks. This album cover is essentially 2017 in visual form. It’s more provocative than possibly any other recent metal album cover—black metal album art, in particular. I could argue that at least it’s better than the new Satyricon art, if not just as lazy. If it’s meant to be a statement of rebellion, the ol’ razzle dazzle of the spirit of punk rock and metal then, sure, it’s highly effective. But that shouldn’t be a proper argument to why it isn’t an extremely asinine statement. A few weeks ago there appeared a gaggle of idiots in an “alt-right black metal band,” complete with that stupid fucking frog. That, too, was in the spirit of defiant rebellion, the old punk/metal spirit. Fuck them, too.
Just because something boasts a give-no-fucks attitude of two-fingers-in-the-air punk, doesn’t mean it’s not a flaming bag of dog shit someone left on your porch.
I’m from a different musical background than many of those who engaged in this argument and while I’ve definitely softened over the years (as many a comments section will attest to) and have already wasted several thousands of words mocking the black metal aesthetic once or twice, there are still certain attention-seeking things that I find obnoxious. And sure, I’m here stupidly giving it to them here. But I grew up during a time where black metal was still shrouded in a sense of mystery, where the aesthetics contributed to the experience of the music. While I hesitate to use the word “sacred” here, because even in the early ’90s there was a lot of fucking garbage—not the landfill that is 2017, but still—there seemed to be a lot more emotion and conviction involved. A lot of bands have evolved beyond that initial spooky aesthetic, but they still take their music and presentation seriously. And it’s not just black metal. A diverse range of music from doom to various subgenres of punk to whatever you’d classify the gloomy sounds of Chelsea Wolfe and Zola Jesus, all differ from the mainstream because they’re more sacred (there it is again) expressions of the artist instead of vapid bullshit about prom dates or dance moves or whatever the fuck is on the radio. The argument that it’s all just being music is true on the technicality that it is, in fact, all music. But it’s also an anemic way of being contrarian and dismissive of the importance that these genres represent to the artists and to (some) fans. It’s used to make anyone who raises objections to the commodification of these things that are special to them feel like they’re the idiots and not the tourists who’re opening up cupcake shops and raising the rent, metaphorically speaking.
I’m excited to see any mail coming in that’s offended by that statement.
“But the music’s good, I don’t care what it looks like” is a shitty (and lazy) way to look at things. Why? Some NSBM is musically good. Does liking the music but not caring about image excuse you from responsibility? No. No, it does not. And yes, that’s an extreme scenario, but it can be applied to music that endorses violence and sexual misconduct towards women and children, or a litany of other things that are morally bereft or repugnant.
These days, trying to have civil discourse—especially in the realm of metal—is like attempting to force feed a newborn an entire watermelon. I’m sure it can be done, if cartoons taught me anything, but the baby will just bitch that it wasn’t in season. You have one side that takes things incredibly seriously and another that’s so laid back about things they might as well be asleep. Neither one wants to listen to the other unless it means they have a few seconds to gather their next witty slap. It’s just a gathering of people talking at each other and our united ability to actually listen to what the other person is saying is no longer considered a virtue but a liability. Trying to understand where someone is coming from almost seems to be discouraged, especially in today’s climate where you’re just able to label someone a “communist” or “fascist” without even realizing why you’re saying it, only that you know it ends arguments (and starts new ones).
The same kind of people who will look down on you for thinking something like this is a bad mockery of something you find special are the same ones who lose their shit when their own tastes are called into question. Tell someone you don’t like Myrkur because you think the music is boring and you’ll be persecuted for crimes against humanity. But say you think someone’s vacation photo record cover sucks and you’re the asshole. It’s the devaluation of opinion. It’s an endless race to last place.
Is there a place in metal for this kind of cover? Sure. That place is probably in the trash but I’m not to think less of anyone who thinks it’s a neat cover because they genuinely like it, not because they like that it’s pissing purists off because that kind of contrarian behavior is innately immature. And I’m telling you this as a person who just interviewed a man who dressed like a goblin and wore a prosthetic nose and ears for years.
This tape and this project will be out of everyone’s sights in a few weeks. Musically, it’s C-grade black metal that, if it had a sun wheel instead of an anus on the cover, would probably be popular in a scene that has lower expectations and reading ability. But because of this cover it’s going to get a lot of attention, either by people who think it’s the worst thing since that time they shit their pants at the zoo, or people who think it’s brave and a bold expression and people who don’t get it are Neanderthals. And that kind of disagreement is what’s going to leave lasting damage. It’s strengthening the divisions that already exist which turn trying to discuss something you’re passionate about into something as satisfying and enjoyable as cutting your genitals while shaving then spilling aftershave onto them. It’s scorching the earth and soon all that’s going to be left is a collection of ghosts screaming, “you’re wrong” to no one in particular.