I can separate black metal’s many deaths mostly due to the changes in the tone of the reasoning. The 1990s were a time of harsh rhetoric and secrecy where we still thought we were some kind of hidden cult. Once the internet age blossomed, it became obvious that no one was putting the cork back on the bottle and concerns became more directed towards marketing and mainstream consumption. It’s been a great source of entertainment to me to see bands that once fought against the commodification of the underground themselves becoming intoxicated with their own success. And by every right they should — it’s not our personal lives, it’s theirs. At the same time, I’ll always snicker at Watain’s Erik Danielsson commenting that Satyricon weren’t black metal but rather “rock and roll entertainment” considering the direction his band has exploded in. Anyway, if you missed it, part one of this series was posted last week, now here’s part two:
American Black Metal’s Third Wave, circa 2001-2007
American labels sprung up all over the fucking place in the late ’90s because, quite simply, no one wanted to sign any of us. I think Absu were the only ones who managed to make it over the fence into the big leagues. And it was a super fertile time for U.S. bands. The rest of the world was starting to take notice, we were able to tour outside of the country, we weren’t told to fuck ourselves nearly as much. But, of course, being Americans we had to fuck that up. Some labels weren’t content with just releasing music they loved and supported; they wanted more. So, in came PR firms. In came phrases like “the future of black metal” and merchandising rights and collector’s editions. Records weren’t just spread to the usual sources like Terrorizer or Metal Maniacs but also to punk and hardcore publications; to indie rock websites; to the closest thing to the mainstream without being absolute pop. While this only sowed discord with a small population within the underground, it planted seeds that a few years later would bloom into flowers that would smell like an unwashed asshole to the denizens of the underground. See also: Phil Anselmo Becomes U.S. Ambassador to Norway (1998-2005)
Southern Lord Releases Nattefrost Picture Disc, Underground Is Sad circa 2004/5
See Also: Sopranos Has Ulver Poster, People Still Shocked A Decade Later (2002ish?)
Brooklyn Discovers Black Metal, circa 2005-current
Brooklyn is one of those places like Portland where people either have a strong feeling of love or disgust for their reputation of awful fashion, heirloom tomato roof gardens, 1890s baseball player facial hair and progressive politics. This was ground zero for “hipster” black metal. Black metal that mostly “black” in musical style but more artistically and socially progressive. This was the city that people from a multitude of genre backgrounds began forming black metal bands because they heard a Xasthur record. Burzum shirts were worn ironically for a few years before that became a felony. Traditional aesthetics were abandoned, which makes sense if you think about it. A goat’s head doesn’t look nearly as spooky if it’s made from Tofurky. After some growing pains, the city produced some of the most interesting black metal in the country, like Krallice and Yellow Eyes. Voted City Least Likely To Have “Slayer!” Yelled At You By A Passing Car 2015.
See also: Crust Punk and Black Metal Mix, Metalheads Lose Their Minds Because They Forgot Bathory was Mostly Influenced by Discharge Early On (2005-current)
Kid from Liturgy Writes a Book Explaining Why His Drummer is Off-Time, circa 2010
I’d spend time talking about the transcendental black metal thing Hunter Hunt Hendrix wrote about to great academic acclaim, but I’ve already had a migraine today. The “burst beat” explanation comes down to tempo changes because blasting was unsustainable because the drummer was exhausted by hearing HHH talk for four hours before every practice began.
See also: Liturgy Astounds with Shitty Photoshop Cover For Big Label Who Spent Too Much Money On Them (2013/14)
Deafheaven Markets Blankets & Fonts, Laughs At Outrage While Counting Their Money, circa 2010-current
Remember the seeds I was talking about earlier? Deafheaven are the tree that sprung from them. They found the sweet spot between metal and the hardcore/post-hardcore scenes by signing to Deathwish and releasing Sunbather to the acclaim of everyone except the black metal underground. The first offense was that its cover was pink. Also, they were actively gunning for success. Their music is an accessible form of black metal, but nothing offensive. It’s pretty safe, actually, which makes it a guilt-free treat for people who like the music but hate the ideology and history behind it. The thing with Deafheaven is that if I played it for you without telling you what it was, you might think it was one of the California bands from the early/mid-’00s. For every person who talks about how they’re the worst thing that’s happened to USBM, there are ten people buying every piece of merchandise they put out. Black metal for people who hate metal.
See also: What Green Day Did To Punk (1992-current)
Jef Whitehead Poses on Cover of Decibel With Daughter Causing Heads (and Ovaries) to Explode, circa 2015
For a lot of the guys in moist basements who’re pissed their Tinder message of “M’lady” never got answered, the sight of Jef Whitehead, possibly the most significant figure in American black metal history, smiling while holding his baby daughter, Grail, was enough to cause them to yell at their mothers and call every woman online they interacted with a “whore” who doesn’t like “nice guys,” all in the space of 45 minutes while they waited for World of Warcraft to update. There was some similar reaction to the Peter Beste photo of Samoth with his child running towards him. It humanized these men which probably came as a huge shock to people who think they can conjure demons who will then take the trash out before their mother yells at them again. These are the people who forget the organic and human aspects are what make black metal feel the way it does.
See also: People Stop Hating Neill Jameson for Nazi Shit, Start Hating Me for SJW Shit (2013-current)
These are the main instances in which I’ve heard people say black metal is “dead” or “over,” but there are dozens more. Bands signing to Nuclear Blast in the late ’90s, movies like “Insidious,” Thurston Moore being involved in Twilight, Antifa becoming the scene police. That’s just a handful I thought of while typing that single sentence. Please note that a majority of these events were caused by Americans, proving that we’re still able to excel at something through the use of our fabled American ingenuity.
The thing is, when a genre ages, it’s like a rock being thrown into a lake: the ripples go wider as time passes and they become weaker. Look at punk. Fuck, look at rock music in general. Everything that was once subversive eventually becomes a commodity. It’s an unfortunate side effect of the system which these genres were created to fight. I’m honestly surprised it’s taken this long for a movie to be made about the early 90’s. It’s also probably not going to have very much impact on culture in general, at least in the mainstream.
The mainstream is way more concerned with Soundcloud rappers and other embarrassing forms of entertainment masquerading as art that this will only be seen a curiosity. And while people are trying to cut holes in the bottoms of their popcorn bags while Euronymous gets killed to the sounds of Sigur Ros, there’s still a vibrant underground out there to concentrate on. If you can look at bands with longevity like Horna or Svartsyn, or newer and exciting bands like Skáphe or Blood Tyrant, and tell me black metal is dead, then good riddance to you. Black metal, any genre really, doesn’t belong to you or I. The original spirit will still carry on for those who choose to embrace it. Sure, the rules are different, but rules are for followers, not for the curious or chaotic. Black metal is whatever you make it for yourself and if anyone can change your mind on that, then you probably need a different hobby anyway.
Also, that popcorn trick always sounded awful, especially with that much salt and butter.