Sunday, July 10, 2016

The New Black/Death Metal: Introduction, Rough Draft

Here is something I have been thinking a bit about: the new black/death metal in particular, but more generally I have been concerned with subtraction, singularity, and so on, with special focus on the originally explicitly non-conceptual (i.e. on the subjectively and implicitly conceptual!). Lots of bullshit wordiness, but it is almost a necessity for me to begin writing anything of substance. I think overall it remains a problem of my inability to grasp audience and determine at what level of complexity I should write (I can never be sufficiently consistent).

* * * * * * * * * * *

From time to time, in the grandiose motions of the heavenly bodies, in strings of painted cards, or, more to the point, in the bones of the old, we may, with no small success, come to know the future. It is thus that in the already-stinking corpse of the deceased, a certain tendency to the abstract and the speculative, that is, to alchemy, points the crooked path to a world-shattering redemption, a final judgment simultaneously birthing a new aeon, or shall we say a new aeon annihilating the old through its mere existence. If the old survives, as it doubtlessly must, it will do so only as a dead man walking, bolstered by the sheer weight of externality. Its innermost being, however, shall be irreparably shattered, its impotent fragments scattered unto eternity. And yet this is no old world-historical task, no metaphysical changing of the guard, no artistic (for it is of art that we speak) succession of the false by the true, no better correspondence and no more adequate representation. For the equinox of the gods of art falls not to the task of the translator, not to the quibbling of the far-removed observer, but to the serpent of light in its utter interiority, its isolate intelligence. The process that is our object, extrapolated to infinity, is therefore something divine, and this divinity retroactively annihilates the fallibility of its own individuation, though it be carried out with the utmost care and reverence. This work, then, will be a preliminary experiment with evental history from a particular point of view, namely that of the infinitely contracted point of singularity constituting the sublimated essence of an entirely subjective type; the roles of alembic and calcinator will be duly played by our principles of intelligibility and formalization, from which we derive the maxim of our alchemical Arte: There is no such thing as nonsense. Let this be a testament, above all, to the Idea, to which our at first entirely sensuous (indeed auditory) subject matter presents a particular challenge, but one which, precisely due to the staggering conceptual distances involved, enables a more perfect demonstration of the labor of the intelligible.

The entire undertaking rests upon an as yet rather vague notion, that of the interior view, or more simply, of the interior. First of all, an interior must be separated from that which lies outside it, its sometimes-relative and sometimes-absolute exterior. This gap might be the product of various operations or functions, different at the very least for the structural apparatus by which they are described, ranging from a set-theoretical operation (Badiou) to a mystical transcendence-within-immanence (various forms of esotericism). Our gap, then, is rather unlike its neighbor in the Lacanian tradition of psychoanalysis, which is a self-contained gap or lack, something that interposes itself between itself and its other (see also Badiou's notion of the void). Our gap is better put in the plural, as gaps, each of which is the result of a contingent but formal-logical and therefore also in a certain sense necessary process of subtraction, a transcendental structure in miniature, or rather a multiplicity of such structures. These gaps may be more or less radical, more or less gappy, and therefore constitute more or less peculiar regions (we will call an absolutely peculiar region by its proper philosophical name, singularity). Essentialization, the ultimate goal of the philosophical study of genre, is in these terms simply an extrapolation of peculiarity to infinity, the production of a singularity and therefore of a wholly internal region, an artistic-cum-philosophical Idea or abstract image that can then be studied with far more concrete interest and effect than could otherwise be possible. To take a genre on its own terms, then – this is our goal.

[What is an interior view?]

With these preliminaries safely out of the way, our subject matter can be better indicated, despite the lack of a proper term with which to distinguish it from its neighbors. This matter is the new black/death metal, a genre exemplary for its uncompromising and unique artistic and therefore philosophical vision. Precisely: we seek the abstract characteristics, in other words the essence, of the new black/death metal – or better, we must speculatively extrapolate, through a process yet to be delineated [speculative overflow? Subtraction? Formalization? Something like that...], the characteristics and hypothetical singularities of the genre. To the skeptic the question could be put: If there were such a thing as a coherent genre or style described by the term “the new black/death metal”, and exemplified by such and such a selection of musical groups, in what would its unique interest lie?

Surely our genre is related to “cavernous death metal”, yet this misses the more sublime and spiritual aspects of the style. And the same can be said for “orthodox black metal”, which misses the more avant-garde and experimental instances; by the same token, terms focusing on the avant-garde miss more primitive and brutal manifestations. None of these pre-existing terms alone capture exactly the proper range of phenomena, and in fact elements of all three (and certainly several others) are to be desired. So, unwieldy though the term may be, “the new black/death metal” is the best one ready-to-hand.

Remembering that we are here assuming “the new black/death metal” to be a coherent and in fact singular genre (or better, singular Idea), we can propose its champions, its exemplars. From “cavernous death metal” comes Portal, Impetuous Ritual, Grave Upheaval, Abyssal, Mitochondrion, Irkallian Oracle, Desolate Shrine, Antediluvian, and so on. From black metal (partially “orthodox”) comes Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord, Aosoth, Vassafor (undeniably the closest thing to “cavernous black metal”!), Nightbringer, Akhlys and so on. Other groups of more uncertain origin and coherence are Howls of Ebb (bizarro death metal), Ulcerate (churning and dissonant technical death metal), and Ævangelist (horror soundtrack meets death metal). These bands constitute, at their most extreme differences, a set of axes or poles (to the exterior eye, it is readily admitted): on the one hand we have the highly technical and complex compositions of Ulcerate, on another the primitive and nigh-incomprehensible darkness of Grave Upheaval. Another differential axis might be character of the spirituality being expressed in the music, for indeed one of the markers of the genre is its deep-seated and terrifying spirituality. This axis might range from the sublime “High” spirituality of Nightbringer of Deathspell Omega to the “Low” or dirty occultism of Howls of Ebb or Portal, to the nihilistic worship of death and destruction by Grave Upheaval (again notable for their sheer extremity) or even Ulcerate (a rather “High” variation on destruction). Obviously, this criterion should deal only with the expression of the music and not primarily with the professed opinions of the musicians themselves.

The above is, as noted, only a preliminary exterior view of the differentiations, the coordinates of our study. We see these groups and their musical compositions from an exterior perspective governed by mediocre and mundane criteria – the use of gradations, no matter how many or how complexly interwoven, is usually a good indicator of this. Throughout the course of the presentation, hopefully as many of these exterior layers as feasible might be shed.

[To be revised/continued...]