When the gods hear the call: the conservative-revolutionary potential of Black Metal Art

Олена СеменякаOlena Semenyaka

 

National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”

I. Black Metal: a Subculture or a Counterculture? Methodological Foundations of the Inquiry

Black Metal shares the fate of all complex and multifaceted phenomena that transcend their narrow genre identities and, similar to Hegel’s philosopher who is able to “grasp an epoch by thought,” are always ahead of our time, either by affirming, or by total rejecting the spiritual foundations of the epoch we live in. Both require an ability to look at it from a distance. As the unquestionable product of modernity, Black Metal at the same time firmly sentences the modern world to death. Not merely with respect to Christianity, this is the one big “Anti” to everything that is believed to be of any value for an average member of Western society: from the conventional notions of good and beauty to metaphysical Being itself. In other words, Black Metal at a glance is the very embodiment of an active-nihilistic phase in a metaphysical process of transvaluation of all values heralded by Friedrich Nietzsche.

This is a second reason why Black Metal is mostly defined purely apophatically, that is by saying what it is not and what is the object of its negation. The first reason I’ve already mentioned: despite common describing Black Metal in terms of a subculture, it is more correct to put it as a counterculture aimed at cancelling the whole contemporary era. A lot of sociologists would disagree, because some of them share the idea that early Christianity was the only fully successful counterculture in European history, which did overthrow the values of the previous epoch, whereas adherents of Black Metal, both genre creators and ordinary fans, are totally integrated into the current social system, support its cultural codes and never question really vital for its existence axioms.

Indeed, today only the Holocaust denial is counted as something subversive that breaks a fundamental social agreement; attentive readers of Ernst Jünger know that everything else becomes incorporated back into the System as “manifestations of freedom.” Therefore, Black Metal may be considered only the subculture, which is exaggerated in many infamous parodies that reveal the infantile and ultimately primitive character of the self-proclaimed “true blackers” who cannot cope even with their parents. Undoubtedly, these observations are not groundless and basically endorsed within the movement itself, which developed its own ways of social regulation in order to expel from the community “untrue” posers, trendies and moneymakers that appeared after the scandalous events in the early history of Black Metal.

However, I’d like to underline that this survey is not sociological; otherwise, I would have to put a full stop after stating that Black Metal scene degraded a long time ago and thus there is no place for wishful thinking. In other words, I will refer not to what Black Metal is, but to what it is supposed to be according to the pioneers of the Black Metal movement and those who stay devoted to tradition. In this case, I consider the only suitable sociological method Max Weber’s Verstehende Soziologie (Interpretative Sociology) that aims at understanding certain cultural phenomenon from within, describes it in its own terms and operates with the notion of the ideal type. The latter gives the opportunity to avoid biases of positivist thinking and legitimately apply the heuristic mental constructs derived from the empiric data for better analysis of reality. The most famous example of the ideal type is “Protestant ethic” used by Weber as a key for exploring emergence and the essence of capitalism in his legendary work “Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” which provides a fruitful alternative to the popular historical-materialistic explanation of Karl Marx. Accordingly, our ideal type is called “Black Metal Art” or simply “Black Metal.”

As such, this method is very akin to the philosophical-hermeneutical approach developed by Martin Heidegger and his disciple Hans-Georg Gadamer who rejects the very term “method” as a natural-scientific remnant in the Geisteswissenschaften (human sciences). According to Heidegger’s philosophical interpretation of the classic concept of the hermeneutic circle (“to understand the whole, we need to understand the parts and visa versa”), the task is not to find the way out of the circle, but rather to enter it correctly since this circle is that of our existence. In simple words, we (“Dasein” as “being-in-the-world”) always understand certain phenomenon this or that way, so our only duty is to explicate our assumptions or, in Gadamer’s expression, our “anticipation of perfection.” That is what I am going to do in this paper, although I have to admit that in some cases we deal with such a high level of self-reflection demonstrated by the Black Metal artists that the researcher gratefully turns into the mere commentator: consider the first ever DVD “Opus Diaboli” released in May, 2012 by Swedish band Watain and feel the difference between the interpretations of Watain’s vocalist E. and those given in most Black Metal documentaries, interviews and thematic investigations. The vast majority of the sources still are very disappointing or insufficient.

II. Aesthetics and Metaphysics vs. Ideology and Politics of Black Metal. Main Directions within the Black Metal Movement

So, what is the starting point for this research? Since Aristotle it is clear that the shortest way to the essence of a thing lies in its definition. But, again, there are mostly only negative definitions of Black Metal that do reflect greatness and intensity of the phenomenon but speak little about its main idea. For example, the epochal and countercultural significance of the latter can be easily inferred from the well-known attempts to clarify the essence of Black Metal like “it is not another musical genre,” “it is not mere music,” “it is not an entertainment/business.” Another set of negative definitions due to the nihilistic orientation of Black Metal is also widely recognized: it is believed to be antireligious, especially anti-Christian, antisocial, misanthropic, blasphemous, and so forth.

Likewise, all intellectual efforts to articulate what Black Metal is rather than what it is not usually end with appeal to certain spectrum of moods and emotions (“dark,” “melancholic”), sometimes to certain highly metaphoric concepts (“evil,” “ugliness,” “war”) or to Black Metal aesthetics known under the well-established phrase “Black Metal Art.” This expression, though, raises further questions since Black Metal is represented as l’art pour l’art only if by the latter is meant something like Supreme Art that bears explicit occultist connotations, that is the very opposite of this approach. If not, one is welcome to enter endless debates regarding the basic principle(s) of Black Metal ideology, which are mostly centered on Satanism.

Depending on what is considered the object of negation or the enemy against whom the War is waged (“Black Metal ist Krieg”), there exist different ideological trends within the general Black Metal movement, which regularly cause sharp disagreement between its members: radical nihilism and atheism that stand behind Satanist imagery and sometimes overlap with LaVeyan Social Darwinism; Occultist line, which is often connected with the Left Hand Path; Theistic Satanism (religion of Deus/Diabolus Absconditus) that borders on Gnosticism and similar teachings, on one hand, and archaic Pagan cults, which may be linked to “Aryan Luciferianism,” on the other; variations of Heathenism, from Pantheism to Vedic hymns, which are mainly developed within such subgenres as Folk Black Metal or Viking Black Metal, and even Christian “Unblack” Metal, not mentioning innovative or based on their own “philosophy” Black Metal bands. Naturally, we may legitimately wonder which direction is more representative of the movement or in no way should not be associated with it as one that transcends the limits of this ideal type.

Another way to fill the gaps between the apophatical definitions consists in pointing out at a mystical or even a religious feeling typical of Black Metal Weltanschauung, its special “spirit.” Reference to the theophanic experience that underlies rational explanation, among others, can be found in the interview with the French Black Metal band Deathspell Omega:

“Some of us had a religious upbringing indeed, and these obviously went through the initial phase of global denial, whereas others were raised under the sign of rationality. That we eventually all experienced a shattering theophany is something very hard to explain in rational terms. There’s of course cultural arguments, anyone who went through long universitarian studies has been given keys — and this despite the fact that most universities in the occidental world are actually strongholds of humanitarian egalitarianism — and we chose not to ignore these keys, whereas most people do as they prefer to remain in harmony with the current Zeitgeist.” [1]

Such purely phenomenological descriptions could have dissolved genre boundaries, yet we feel that Black Metal has its positive core which strictly distinguishes it from neighboring genres and may be formulated very simply. Therefore, even though only National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM) scene and its rarer leftist analogues are notable for direct political involvement, Black Metal as the countercultural movement with great ambitions but carefully guarded borders is political par excellence, political in Carl Schmitt’s sense of the distinction between the friend and the enemy, which means the ultimate degree of association and dissociation between “us” and “them.” A highly selective approach to potential membership in the Black Metal community, of course, is more eloquent than inherent in any genuine aesthetic formation priority of artistic expression and detest to the rigid and external ideological clichés, be them political or any other.

At the same time, such Ukrainian Black Metal bands as Nokturnal Mortum, Kroda, Drudkh or Hate Forest, which at present constitute one of the most acclaimed NSBM scene in the world, if not the most, even though they may introduce themselves as simply patriotic and concerned of traditional heritage preservation Black Metal groups (another esteemed Ukrainian one-man band Lutomysl was described in a recent interview by Pavel “Lutomysl” Shishkovskiy, who envies people “whose only problems boil down to presence of jews or blacks,” as NEONSDSBM [2]), can hardly be regarded as such that impose restrictions on ways of expression in order to meet ideological needs. Above all, they gained recognition all over the world owing to their musical masterpieces.

In a narrow sense, Black Metal as the total war against the modern world cannot be free of the political implications as well, although most crimes in the early history of Black Metal were committed due to personal, not political reasons [3]. Similarly, one may single out both the left-wing and the right-wing tendencies since the very birth of the Black Metal movement represented accordingly by Satanist Øystein Aarseth “Euronymous” of Mayhem, who sympathized with left-wing extremism, and Varg Vikernes of Burzum as a scholar of Old Norse religion, an adherent of Paganism and an authoritative figure in the contemporary right-wing circles (among his influences are Knut Hamsun, Oswald Spengler and Julius Evola), who distanced himself from Satanism and the whole Black Metal scene after its newcomers had started exploiting the original ideas and aesthetics invented by pioneers merely for their shock value or for a commercial purpose. Retrospectively speaking, no wonder that Euronymous was killed by Vikernes in 1993, which is regarded as “the beginning of the end” followed by the split and the growing commercialization of the scene (consider Nargaroth’s song “The Day Burzum Killed Mayhem”). On the other hand, I would not say that there is an irresolvable conflict of these two tendencies, at least that there is no such metaphysical position that integrates them on a higher level.

Indeed, it is possible to oppose the modern world and its symbolic incarnation Christianity both “from the Left” and “from the Right.” Furthermore, although liberation, nihilism, anticlericalism (remember the famous Norwegian church burnings), etc. are mostly associated with the Left, even those Black Metal groups that stick to the Left Hand Path (for instance, Polish Black Metal band Behemoth) do not necessarily correspond with the political Left, both classical and Cultural Marxism. Often quite the reverse is true or they go beyond politics at all. This ambivalence is also visible on an aesthetic level: “right-wing” symbols of Empire, King, God, etc. are no less popular than “left-wing” concepts of Homelessness, Void, Rebellion, and so on.

Benjamin Noys, who also addressed the issue of politics in the Black Metal movement, not incidentally used as a case study the interview answers by Sale Famine of the French Black Metal band Peste Noire [4]. Famine, who believes that left-wing Black Meal is contradictio in adjecto, underlines the chthonic and, as a result, the nationalist character of Black Metal and glorifies “the dark European past,” declared the synthesis of both approaches in a very transparent manner:

“Black Metal is the musical memory of our bloodthirsty ancestors of blood, it is the marriage of Tradition, of old racial patrimony with fanaticism, with the rage and the rashness of a youth now lost.” [5]

Likewise, Famine describes his nationalism as fundamentally twofold, “temporal” and “spiritual,” which correlates with being a citizen of France (“medieval,” “rural”) and of Hell (“Sieg Hell!”) [6]. Noys fairly draws a parallel between this focus on the chthonian aspect of Black Metal and telluric grounding of Carl Schmitt’s Partisan. Finally, searching the root of this ambiguity in Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy is also absolutely correct: the greatest European nihilist was simultaneously the greatest elitist, aristocratic individualist and traditionalist who looked forward to the beginning of the new golden age. That’s why Nietzsche referred to himself as to “the first perfect Nihilist of Europe who, however, has even now lived through the whole of nihilism, to the end, leaving it behind, outside himself” [7], that is the first anti-nihilist as well.

Besides, Nietzsche was the greatest aesthete and stylist who erased the very distinction between form and content by making even the superficial details ideologically relevant and meaningful. The latter sheds light on the reasons why the expression “Black Metal Art” means something incomparably deeper than, for instance, “Black Metal Ideology” or “Black Metal Politics” and has the potential to reach a metaphysical level. At this point an appeal to Conservative Revolution — another complex cultural phenomenon that has a lot of common with Black Metal — becomes inevitable.

III. The Grandiose Invocation: Conservative Revolution as Bringing the Gods Back to the World

Conservative Revolution and Black Metal are similar due to at least two reasons. Firstly, both have a countercultural value. The only difference lies in a fact that what requires additional reconstruction in the context of Black Metal belongs to the explicit objectives of the conservative-revolutionary theory, which may be unequivocally derived from its title. Conservative Revolution, which is a wide ideocratic movement that evolved in the interwar Germany of the XXth century, is also known under the name “Third Position” or “Third Way” due to impossibility to refer it directly neither to the right-wing, nor to the left-wing ideology. Some of its main members have been already mentioned: Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Oswald Spengler, Edgar Julius Jung, Carl Schmitt, Ernst and Friedrich Georg Jünger, Julius Evola, Ernst Niekisch, Martin Heidegger, Armin Mohler and others. The global aim of the conservative-revolutionary movement was formulated by Hugo von Hofmannsthal in his legendary speech conducted in front of the students of Munich in 1927. According to him, Conservative Revolution is the previously unknown in European history phenomenon that strives to cancel not only the era of Enlightenment, but also that of Renaissance and Reformation. In other words, it aims at building the New Middle Ages.

This necessity of the revolt against the course of history was proclaimed in Julius Evola’s work “Revolt Against the Modern World: Politics, Religion, and Social Order of the Kali Yuga” (1934), which to a great extent was nothing but a radicalized and politicized version of the major text “The Crisis of the Modern World” written by the founder of integral traditionalism René Guénon in 1927. In the chapter “The Doctrine of the Four Ages” of his work Evola writes:

“Although modern man until recently has viewed and celebrated the meaning of the history known to him as epitomizing progress and evolution, the truth as professed by traditional man is quite the opposite. In all ancient testimonies of traditional humanity it is possible to find, in various forms, the idea of a regression or a fall: from originally higher states beings have stooped to states increasingly conditioned by human, mortal, and contingent elements. This involutive process allegedly began in a very distant past; the term that best characterizes it is the Eddic term ragna-rokkr, “the twilight of the gods”… According to Tradition, the actual sense of history and the genesis of what I have labeled, generally speaking, as the “modern world,” results from a process of gradual decadence through four cycles or ‘generations.’” [8]

In a later book “Men Among the Ruins: Post-War Reflections of a Radical Traditionalist” (1953) Evola defined Conservative Revolution as “the return to the starting point,” “to the source.” Naturally, in order to secure this grand historical overthrow, one has to rely on means of the same modern world. Such an insight gave birth to the shortest formula of fascism “René Guénon Plus Tank Divisions,” which may be found in “The Morning of the Magicians” written by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier in 1960. Indeed, Thomas Mann back in 1921 considered Conservative Revolution in his “Russian Anthology” as a political projection of Nietzscheism understood as a synthesis of “conservatism” and “revolution,” “freedom” and “bonds,” “faith” and “Enlightenment,” “God” and “the world” and compared it with the messianic Russian idea as two totally different phenomena united, though, by their common “religious nature, religious in a new vital sense that has a great future.”

Therefore, second distinctive feature of Black Metal and Conservative Revolution lies in the fact that both movements are not only anti- and contra- but also meta-phenomena, which reject the narrow genre and political identities in favor of the higher goals. Conservative Revolution is always positioned as the metapolitical movement and, speaking in Ernst Jünger’s terms, as “the absolute revolution” that ruins tradition as form but thus realizes the sense of tradition. This is the so-called “metahistorical” and “dynamical” approach to Tradition written with a capital letter, which was introduced by Julius Evola as an ability to sacrifice forms in the name of principles. Further, another similarity between Black Metal and Conservative Revolution is that both ideal types are portrayed as a special recognizable “style,” that is as the ultimately aesthetic phenomena.

Mergence of the aesthetic and the political elements in the conservative-revolutionary movement, which was noted with displeasure by the constantly afraid of “irrationality” leftists, Walter Benjamin in particular, undoubtedly, was initiated not for decorative purposes. Namely aesthetics was meant to be that magical key suitable for “re-enchantment” of the world and reintegration of the autonomous and disconnected fields of politics, science, religion, ethics and, again, aesthetics, which replaced the hierarchic medieval universe subordinate to one transcendental principle. However, conservative revolutionaries mostly speak not of God but the gods; the generally acknowledged metaphor that signifies re-mythologization of the world sounds “the return of the gods” or “the return of the sacred,” which was especially anticipated by Nietzsche, Heidegger and Jünger.

“Mere” waiting for re-sacralization of the world, though, is not a rule and corresponds only with the current phase of metaphysical transvaluation of all values. This phase was preceded by the active-nihilistic period of the titanic domination, the reign of Prometheus, who symbolizes the elemental powers of technology. According to Ernst Jünger’s observation made in his essay “On Pain” (1934), we live in times when the new orders have moved far ahead, but the new values have not become visible yet:

“We conclude, then, that we find ourselves in a last and indeed quite remarkable phase of nihilism, characterized by the broad expansion of new social orders with corresponding values yet to be seen.” [9]

This means that Übermensch “als Sieger über Gott und das Nichts,” the Superman as a winner of god (the ruined old order) and Nothing that replaced the latter, enters the final phase of the fight with Nothing itself. At this stage, both Jünger and Evola developed the concepts of apoliteia, right-wing anarchism and differentiated man that rejects the modern world not due to nihilistic reasons, but because it does not meet the ideal of the new sacred order. Of course, this stage is temporary: Evola’s right-wing anarchist and Jünger’s Anarch are always ready to seize the opportunity to build the new Empire.

Structural similarities between Black Metal and Conservative Revolution are also obvious. Armin Mohler, who published a monograph “Conservative Revolution in Germany: 1918-1932” (1950), which started the tradition of academic investigation of the conservative-revolutionary movement, singled out five main directions within the latter, three of which became exemplary: Young Conservatives (Moeller van den Bruck, Edgar Jung, Oswald Spengler), National Revolutionaries (Ernst Jünger, Ernst Niekisch, Hans Freyer) and the Völkische movement that made the greatest impact on National Socialism (the famous doctrine of “Blood and Soil”). Accordingly, Young Conservatives mostly developed the organic imperialist models; National Revolutionaries were on extremely good terms with the destructive forces of the industrial civilization and Völkische resemble the contemporary Pagan Front.

Alex Kurtagic in his profound examination of the conservative-revolutionary reminiscences in the Black Metal movement laid stress namely on völkisch ideas [10], which is justified. At the same time I would say that the most representative of Conservative Revolution was not the völkisch but rather the national-revolutionary movement. Its members, Ernst Jünger in particular, elaborated on the main metaphysical sense of Conservative Revolution, that is unity of freedom and necessity presupposed by the concept of German voluntarism, in the most detailed and accurate manner. This metaphysical standpoint corresponds with the Gnostic Anti-Cosmic trend in the Black Metal movement, which is also notable for strict dualism between one’s divine will and anything else (“Death against death”) and does not seek the sacred within the limits of this world. A well-known description of National Socialist metaphysics by Hendrik Möbus of the German NSBM group Absurd (“the most perfect synthesis of the Luciferian will to power, and neo-heathen principles and symbolism”) would also be relevant in this context, although he is more closely associated with the Pagan Front. By the way, his conversation with “Velesova Sloboda” [11] is the most interesting and professional discussion of the classic conservative-revolutionary topics by the Black Metal musician that I have ever read.

In conclusion, I would like to quote the words of Erik Danielsson of Watain about the revolutionary essence of true art and the necessity “to get deeper and deeper” while exploring the horizons of the genre:

“If you want to do something groundbreaking in something as sinister as black metal — if you want to correspond with dark energies that exist beyond this world, you cannot have a mere interest in black metal. A passion for a music genre is not enough to change the course of musical history or the history of the world. To me, it’s not strange there aren’t more bands like us because individuals of that sort are very rare. If you have an extreme source of energy flowing inside yourself you either end up in prison, sharing a high place with a politician or you do what we do.” [12]

It’s hard to disagree and overlook the parallels with the aspirations of the most devoted and bright members of the conservative-revolutionary movement. After all, Mohler’s academic research was nothing but a way to gather under the alternative title the new extreme front in the post-war Europe after discrediting the National Socialist project and any other dangerous for the System movements, including Black Metal in its purest manifestations. Is it surprising that one day the representatives of these metahistorical and countercultural directions will join their forces as the “contenders in the larger game”? [13]

Literature:
1. Ajna Offensive, Deathspell Omega Interview. — http://www.theajnaoffensive.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=27:deathspell-omega-interview&catid=27&Itemid=41.
2. Interview with Lutomysl at Orthodox Black Metal. — http://www.orthodoxblackmetal.com/lutomysl.php.
3. Kevin Coogan, How Black is Black Metal? Nachrichten Heute. — http://oraclesyndicate.twoday.net/stories/605560/.
4. Benjamin Noys, “Remain True to the Earth!”: Remarks on the Politics of Black Metal, Hideous Gnosis: Black Metal Theory Symposium I; Edited by Nicola Masciandaro (Charleston: CreateSpace, 2010), p. 105-128.
5. Nathan T. Birk, Interview with La Sale Famine of Peste Noire, Zero Tolerance. — http://www.gutsofdarkness.com/_files/pdf/2007_02_fevrier.pdf.
6. Ibid.
7. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power; Translated by Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale; Edited by W. Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), p. 3.
8. Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World: Politics, Religion, and Social Order of the Kali Yuga; Translated from the Italian by Guido Stucco (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1995), p. 177.
9. Ernst Jünger, On Pain (New York: Telos Press Publishing, 2008), p. 46.
10. Alex Kurtagic, Black Metal: Conservative Revolution in Modern Popular Culture, The Occidental Quarterly Online. — http://www.toqonline.com/blog/black-metal-1/.
11. Hendrik M. (Absurd) im Gespräch mit der Redaktion von “Velesova Sloboda”. — http://www.velesova-sloboda.org/misc/siegling-gespraech-mit-hendrik-m-absurd.html.
12. Darren Cowan, Interview with Erik Danielsson of Watain at Blistering.com. — http://www.blistering.com/fastpage/fpengine.php/templateid/14331/menuid/3%3Cbr/tempidx/5/catid/4/restemp/N%3B/fPpagesel/2.
13. Ibid.

Publication:

Semenyaka E. When the gods hear the call: the conservative-revolutionary potential of Black Metal Art / Elena Semenyaka // Black Metal: European roots & musical extremities. — London: Black Front Press, 2012. — P. 19—35.

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