As I am lately wont to do, I was thinking about black metal. Specifically I was thinking about my difficult relationship with the less savory elements of the philosophies of some of my favorite black metal artists. As I have been wont to do since the column started, I was read Haunting the Chapel by Brandon Stosuy and noticed that the same issue had come up for him recently. I like to listen to synchronicity. (And I used to like to listen to Synchronicity—weird, huh?) So, I dropped Mr. Stosuy an email with a couple of questions on the subject. Here are his answers:
Recently on Haunting the Chapel, you’ve recommended a couple of black metal bands who have—fairly or unfairly—been linked to the less politically savory side of the black metal scene. Drudkh, for example, consistently puts out records you enjoy. Before he was in Drudkh, Roman Sayenko was the band Hate Forest, a band in the National Socialist black metal scene. Do the associations ever give you pause? The political views of the band? The lyrical content?
This is something I spent a long time trying to reconcile in Mirror Me, a project I did with Kai Althoff last year. We had a long long dialogue about it—he basically interrogated me, asking how I can be a liberal person (and vote for Obama, etc.) while listening to, enjoying Burzum. It’s complex. It’s also dangerous for me to simplify it like this, but it basically came down to my ability (or disability?) to disassociate, to enjoy the music even if I don’t believe in the philosophy behind it. (In Burzum’s case, his music has always been more about mythology and history and all of that… he keeps his truly hate-filled stuff for the prison writings, interviews.)
I did my graduate work on Dennis Cooper. Not that Dennis is NSBM, but I constantly had to answer questions from folks’ who had difficulties with his work, too. Like if I read Guide I was somehow mutilating a kid. Ditto Sotos, someone else I admire. And that’s a major difference, actually—I don’t admire Varg or Roman Sayenko or etc. But I do enjoy their music.
Making all this a little trickier is the fact that Drudkh songs are based on old Ukrainian poetry, they sing in the black metal style (generally impenetrable to listeners), never do interviews, and have issued maybe one press release in their history. Which is to say, what many of us who enjoy them enjoy is the purely sonic experience, divorced entirely from whatever the hell it is they are saying. Is that a reasonable way to justify an aesthetic—that we like how it sounds and, frankly, don’t really know what they are saying anyway? Do you ever worry, at some level, that it might be a bit of a cop-out?
The thing is, most of the bands who get that NSBM, or whatever tag, are really difficult to pin down on what it is they actually believe (or don’t). Most of them are the ones copping out. Unless they’re Arghoslent, their lyrics aren’t all that hate-filled … or even their Q&A’s. Again, there are the bigger fish like Varg or Famine of Peste Noire, etc., who save the more explicit bile and outbursts for their extracurricular writings/activities.
Brandon will be at Bar Matchless in Brooklyn tonight for The Greatest 3-Minute Top Ten Lists Ever. Betting there will be some black metal on that list. If you’re a New Yorker, you should go check that out.
Obsess over Haunting the Chapel here. Secretly—or publicly—wish someone would mix up your mailing address with Brandon’s so that you got all his promo records.