Five for Friday: June 5, 2020

“Let’s begin by saying that we are living through a very dangerous time.”

James Baldwin said those words to begin a talk he gave to a group of teachers in 1963, a very dangerous time indeed. Like all brilliant writers and thinkers, Baldwin had a keen sense of the ironies and contradictions that beat in the heart of many of life’s struggles. In this case, the contradiction involved education. He describes how societies can only succeed if they educate citizens to oppose those societies (emphasis my own):

The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it — at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.

I suppose many of you might ask why I’m quoting James Baldwin. “I didn’t come here to read about politics,” I hear some of you say. First of all, it’s my column and I’ll write about whatever I want. You’re free to click somewhere else. Metal fans would be wise to remember that we owe the existence of our scene to the musical innovations of the black community. Honestly, Jimi Hendrix basically invented black metal tone on “Voodoo Child.” Speaking of black metal, many bands like to write lyrics decrying the forced Christianization of pagan Europe. They would do well to remember that African Americans suffered a similar loss, but one of an unimaginably greater magnitude. Scandinavians, Celts and Slavs can at least name their gods, trace themselves back to the peoples who worshiped them, and speak in a similar tongue. James Baldwin himself often noted that a similar effort mounted by a black person in the United States would always meet the same roadblock: a bill of sale.

Secondly, it’s simply a matter of conscience that we exist in a society riven with injustices left unresolved since 1963. Legislation, no matter how remarkable, can only achieve so much. Reforms, however well-meaning, are only as good as those tasked with implementing them. Furthermore, it’s the moral duty of those who grew up with a great deal of luck, good fortune, and security (like myself) to develop an awareness of this reality, and how this shapes our wider social world. We also have a duty to see all people as fully human subjects with agency — never as objects to be patronized to satisfy some sick need for personal redemption or social status. Nor should we look to explain away the realities of injustice as “just the way it is.” Explaining it away is a choice. Accepting that “only about 40 percent of families have liquid savings equivalent to at least three months of expenses, and less than 30 percent have liquid savings equivalent to at least six months of expenses,” as an inevitability is a choice, and is an unconscionable one.

A great many of those families who live on the edge of complete financial ruin (or have already fallen off it) are in black communities, ones already ravaged by the financial crisis in 2008, and who barely had an economic base prior to that. This reality of class, coupled with the stubborn scourge of racial prejudice, represents the challenge we face. It’s one that demands we restructure our economic relations so that all of us can live with dignity and security. On the theme of security, those tasked with enforcing the law and maintaining order must do so in a way that reflects collaboration, not intimidation. Finally, we need leadership that champions these issues, rather than descend into feeble, embarrassing faints of narcissism.

Therefore, we should seek to educate ourselves on these issues and oppose the structures that allow them to persist as people suffer needlessly. Not to drape ourselves in some veneer of rightousness, but because the existence of free, open, civil society depends on it. In the meantime, if you’re looking to contribute to a good cause, Campaign Zero would be a good place to start.

Anyway. Here’s some metal:

-(16)-  – Dream Squasher

Sludge-metal heroes -(16)- return with Dream Squasher, their follow-up to 2016’s Lifespan of a Moth. The band apparently tried to bring a different spirit into their latest work: “A conscious effort was made to inject positivity into the lyrical themes,” … “The best we could come up with is loving your dog so much, you’d end up killing yourself if the dog dies.” Well, if it’s any consolation, the track totally rocks (and the album is our album of the week)!

End – Splinters From an Ever-Changing Face

Harsh, crushing hardcore in the vein of His Hero is Gone, Converge and Coalesce. The rage, breakdowns and kick-drums all sound fresh and vital here, in a way they haven’t felt from this sort of band in a long time. Music to throw your fists to.

Stream: Apple Music

Exaugurate – Chasm of Rapturous Delirium

Dark, grim, evil death metal. Exaugurate follow the proud tradition (after)birthed with Incantation’s Onward to Golgotha and carried on by the likes of Blaspherian, Dead Congregation, Ritual Necromancy and many more. The atmosphere is thick with foreboding terror, a terror only great death metal can capture.

Exhumed and Gruesome – Twisted Horror (split)

The band who really loves Carcass joins forces with the band who really loves Death to serve up a double-feature of blood, guts, and insanity. Both sides of this epic split totally slay, but I have to admit I’m a little partial to the Exhumed side, as “Rot Your Brian” might be one of the best tracks they’ve ever recorded. Gruesome’s side strongly resembles Death’s Human-era, so you can’t really argue against that either.

Stream: Apple Music

From the Vastland – The Haft Khan

To the surprise of no one, From the Vastland continues to provide the world with top-notch black metal. Sina, originally from Iran and now residing in Norway, is a modern master of riffs, and knows how to perfectly recapture that second-wave glory while still retaining his own sound.