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Art and intent. by Jayson

I have made a conscious decision to ignore substantive matters, or something.

Sounds like a thesis paper, right? It could have been. In school I wasted my life studied political science, art history and the history of the world fairly intently. I guess that’s why I feel like I have something to say here.

About a year ago I got burned out on metal, not on the sound but I ended up finding the subject matter really became overwrought and boring. I couldn’t make myself care that it was serious business. I couldn’t pretend that forehead dude from Behemoth peeing on the Bible in Poland was important. I got severely burned out hearing the brain donor from Watain repeat his Satan-o-nihilo-whatever-ism. Hearing CELESTE, a band I really like  just toss off their songwriting as being about rape, pedophilia and incest like these were just the de facto things one writes about to be metal was kinda it. I kinda gave up on metal, not totally, more like I gave up on anything but just listening to metal. It just eventually wore me down with what I perceived (still do) as it’s stupidity. I wrote about this a few times, but eventually I got tired of myself and have mostly just stuck to reviews.

My basic thesis of metal: A lot of metal is childish and reactionary, I really am only interested in metal artists who are somewhat aware of this.

So I was good not caring, but then we had the Norwegian massacre and Varg rears his head to offer serious criticism that the manifesto written by Anders Behring Breivik was not the right kind of batshit crazy ultra-right wing nonsense (it’s the Jews, not the Muslims!). Which prompted Gary Suarez to write that we, metalheads collectively, should stop supporting Burzum. This in turn prompted a discussion on the Twitter about the artist and their art. This is basically what I Tweeted, but I thought I’d get it down here, and expand a bit.

  • You cannot separate the artist and the art. You cannot create without intent. Even making a decision to create something you’re distancing yourself from results from intent.
  • However, people have different aspects to their beings. Your art may not be about your socio-ethnic-religious outlook. Varg himself has said repeatedly that Burzum wasn’t a voice for that.

Where this leaves me with Varg and Burzum is that examining the specifics of the man, his views, his life and his music; I don’t believe you can make an argument for separating them. My reasoning for this is that Varg’s views are part of his public persona, even if not part of his music specifically. He writes about this crap, this is a big part of his thing. It’s not like the episode of Louie where you find out his aunt is racist in casual conversation. At the same time, I’ve repeatedly said here that you can and do completely define and control your relationship with the music you listen to. I don’t think you’re a Nazi or a racist if you listen to Burzum, it’s not a 1:1 thing. Correspondingly though, I don’t think you can buy a Burzum album or t-shirt or whatever without supporting right-wing ideology. It seems there was period in there where everyone soft-pedaled who Varg is by isolating his work with Burzum. Like we can be openly ok with Varg’s music as long as Varg isn’t too loud about his views. We could pretend to draw that line because Burzum was only vaguely, pseudo-implictly about Varg’s views.

As for the ‘metal is full of other repellant shit, what about that’ argument? I guess this is my take on that. Remember when I said metal was childish and reactionary? It is. Doesn’t mean I don’t love it, or some of it, still. It just means it is. A lot of imagery in the songwriting is there not as an endorsement of actions but just to be shocking, to shake up the squares. Almost everyone “inside” metal knows this. To a lot of bands, evil imagery is just an inherited tradition at this point. It’s rad and amazing in your younger years, in your older maybe less so. It certainly has become so for me. This is why I’ll always feel that Watain is dumber than Toxic Holocaust or 3 Inches of Blood, by like a lot. Does that make Cannibal Corpse ok? I honestly don’t know. I do think their whole thing comes from a more simplistic place, the desire to shock, which in a way makes it more innocent to me. Things like that have always been to repellent for me personally but I listen to a lot of gangsta rap, so what do I know?

– Jayson


6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Good write-up… and I’m glad that someone else out there feels the same way about Watain. So silly (especially when their album came out last year proudly touting “The return of black metal.” Umm.. more like the return of mediocrity.)

Regarding Burzum: What do you tell a person who just discovered Burzum and absolutely LOVES his music and they want to pick up another album of his? They know nothing of his beliefs of ideology. Do you rain on their parade?

It comes down to “voting with your dollars” as the saying goes. If you’re drawing the line at not buying a Burzum release, are you also not shopping at Wal-Mart? Are you abstaining from fastfood? Do you shop at insert-the-blank conservative/right-wing leaning shop?

I’m just saying this for discussion sake, but if the issue is ‘not supporting right-wing ideology’, isn’t Burzum a drop in the bucket compared to the larger more threatening various right-wing endorsed/bedfellows what people DO support (whether they know it or not) on a regular basis?

I’m agreeing with you, but I also hope people take this view/stance with Varg and Burzum and apply to other areas of their life (ie. the bigger picture) and not leave the lesson relegated to (in the grand scheme of the world and life) a pithy squabble in a sub-niche of music most people won’t ever hear.

P.S. I’m not saying your article is pithy squabble (quite the opposite), just the general hub-bub and “noise” about Varg/Burzum in general.


Comment by Cryogenic Husk

First lemme say I am thrilled someone took the time to write a thoughtful reply. Let’s see if I can answer here…

Ok yeah, I would tell the newly formed Burzum fan about what Varg is about. It’s like telling someone they have a booger. It might be weird and embarrassing, bumming them out for a moment, but it’s ultimately better than having them potentially embarrass themselves in front of someone else.

On the macro-micro issue here: I wrote about Varg and Burzum as the issue at hand. It was the issue of the day and within my purview of music blogging. That’s the micro, ultra-micro really. I agree completely with your assessment of the ‘weight’ of Varg & Burzum. In the grand scheme of things, he’s a fart in a hurricane.

On the macro side of things, I will say that it is super-super easy to be anti-Fascist. Fascism and European style racial ideology are easy ideological stances to repudiate. In terms of being anti-right wing, I think that’s a larger and more complicated issue. I personally don’t shop at Walmart, I try to abstain from fast food. It’s complicated though, you can’t really be a purist unless you go off to live like Thoreau.

I was laid off from my cool job where I could bike to work and walk to the cool local deli. Now I have to drive to a much less cool and lower paying job. I was buying gas at BP because it’s 20 cents a gallon cheaper. I have an AT&T cell phone. AT&T contributes money to the Tea Party. They also are the only cell provider that uses any union labor. I could get Creedo, but Sprint’s coverage is spotty in my area, and I need my phone as I try to push into freelance. All of our computer hardware uses parts from China, do we support Communism or not care enough to get a working C64 with a modem? I guess we’ve found my price, if you want to take it to that extreme. I think that’s the way of the late 20th and the 21st century so far. I do think about these things, I’m conflicted about them a lot of the time. I’ve been reading Umair Haque’s “New Capitalist Manifesto” about a more humanist capitalism. Some of the companies he singles out as doing some positive things in his worldview are Nike and Walmart. I find myself asking should I support them in a reformist notion, vote with my dollars, or continue to boycott?

The ultimate takeaway from this is that if people weren’t thinking about the bigger issues, maybe they’ll start?

Comment by Jayson

I’m glad you finally wrote at length about this. I’m not a metal fan myself, but you showed me some Toxic Holocaust back in the day, and I said “Oh! They know this is dumb! They aren’t trying to push some nihilist/fascist agenda…they’re just being loud and dumb!”

I’m not really sure how anyone in the industrialized world can believe in/ support fascism. We’ve seen where that leads. Why anyone would support that, with their money or with their deeds, is beyond me. That whole music scene in Norway or Sweden seems like a cross between russian roulette and a circle jerk. Only less entertaining.

Comment by jason

You know… I don’t want to make this into a total condemnation of black metal. It’s not, there’s a lot of it I like. I even think it’s even worth consideration thematically. I think ultimately Varg and Mayhem failed to realize their problems were #firstworldproblems and were too full of their own shit.

I didn’t think it was a thing until we started doing this and I developed relationships with Europeans, but apparently the fires of Fascism never quite died out there; it’s still something of an existential threat.

Comment by Jayson

I guess by “That whole scene,” I mean that extreme part of that scene where back in the eighties, musicians were murdering each other or taking pics of suicidal aftermaths for their album covers. There was a lot of extremism in political beliefs there, too.

Comment by jason

I lived in Germany for about a year and a half and definitely noticed a higher sensitivity to fascism and awareness of it (propaganda against fascism, rallies, etc.)

Varg is a total lightning rod for criticism, but I think through discussion about events, his beliefs/actions, etc. he’s been reduced to a mere cartoon character and respected/taken seriously about as much as a cartoon character.

Comment by Cryogenic Husk

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