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HISTORY

of heavy metal music


& the metal subculture

a historical view of metal


by the American Nihilist Underground Society

COPYRIGHT 1988-2004 MOCK HIM PRODUCTIONS

Thesis
POPULAR MUSIC WAS recorded and marketed as a Counterculture which opposed the normal, functional, and unexciting Culture that was dominant in
society; by being outside of that which was in power, Counterculturalists argued,
they were able to see what was real and to implement a progressive world view
in which moral correctness brought us gradually closer to a utopian state.
This marketing mirrored the process of adolescents, the main audience for
popular music, who first reject the world of their parents, then once independent re-assess their own values, and finally, rejoin society on the terms of these
recreated values. This determines reality as they will act to create it, based
upon their values system.
While dominant Culture sought what was pragmatic, and Counterculture
pursued the moral, metal music became its own movement because it could not
agree with either of those approaches, preferring instead to try to seek what
was real, or meaningful and heavy (in the LSD-influenced vernacular of the
time). Their approach did not aim at correctness, but assertion of subjective
meaning.
Early metal bands, in emulation of popular music as a whole, hoped to discover
what was real by finding out first what was not. This attitude, over the course
of four generations of music, took metal beyond the grounds of good versus
evil into nihilism, where nothing had inherent value or classification, but
could be described in terms of experience.
Nihilism is a frightening belief system for those in societies organized by dualistic (heaven versus earth) and liberal (individualistic, egalitarian) societies, as it
denies that our values systems are more real than events in natural reality. To a

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nihilist, truth is a way we describe some things in reality, but there is no eternal
life nor eternal truth which exists separate from immortality. Nihilism means
accepting mortality, and experience as what we have in place of a religious or
moral truth.
These ideas exceed limits of social acceptability, which in a capitalist liberal
democracy threatens the self-marketing which individuals use to gain business
partners, social groups and mates. As a result, metal was forced to wholly transcend the artificial consensual reality shared by Culture and Counterculture,
and to create its own value system including its nihilism.
Seeking the real, and not the moral, this value system in turn surpassed its own
nihilism by moving from a negative logical viewpoint to an assertive one, looking not for something objectively determined to be eternal but for that which
will be true in any age past or present, discovering through personal experience
and acceptance of nihilism (a symbolic analogue for mortality) that which
society will not recognize, completing the process of adolescence in a state of
actual outsidership.

Introduction
METAL MUSIC BEGAN as the work of the youth born after the superpower age
began, during a highly developmental period for Western civilization in which
it, having defeated fascism and nationalism and other old-world evolutionbased systems of government, considered itself highly evolved in a humanistic
state of liberal democracy which benefitted the individual more than any system previously on record. During this era, society served citizens in their quest
for the most convenient lifestyle possible, and any questions or goals outside of
this world view were not considered: it was considered a progressive continuation of human development from a primitive evolutionary red in tooth and
claw state to one in which social concepts of justice and morality defined the
life of the individual. The individual has triumphed over the natural world, and
faces none of the uncertainty of mortal existence brought about by physical
competition and predation.
Politically (the global quest for egalitarian society) and socially (the empowerment of new groups and loss of consensus) humanity viewed itself as getting
ahead and being superior to other forms of civilization, including the equally
egalitarian but totalitarian Communist empires of the Soviet Union and
China, but as the thermonuclear age dawned in the 1950s, this dichotomy came
to define the free West as much as its enemies.
The first generation after WW11 created early proto-metal in a time when
all older knowledge and social order was being overturned in the wake of an
impulse to redesign the world to avoid the evils of the previous generation.
The people of this age, and coming ages, were new in that they could not recall
a time of direct experience of nature as necessary; the grocery stores, modern
medicine and industrial economies of their time took care of all of their needs,
and no unbroken natural world could any longer be found except on specialty

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tours. Their civilization had become exclusively introspective and was losing

hauer before him, to realize this was an undergoing, or embracing of nihilism:

contact with the (natural) world beyond its self-defined boundaries.

the belief that there is no value other than the inherent, physical interaction
of the natural world. To a nihilist, there is no inherent morality or value, thus

During this time, a peace movement which embraced pacifism and egalitarian

there is no reason to view social status and financial success as ultimate goals,

individualism was gaining popularity at the forefront of the counterculture, a

only as methods to a path ranked by subjectively-derived importance. This view

phenomenon which had existed since in the 1950s smart marketers (namely Al-

threatens the beliefs and punishments used to hold Western society together

len Freed) had promoted rock music as an alternative to the staid, traditional,

since roughly AD 1000.

monogamous and sober lives of Protestant, Anglo-Saxon Americans. With


WW11 polarizing the world against first German and later Russian enemies,

Regardless of benevolent social objectives, Nietzsche argued, religion and soci-

and Viet Nam revealing the moral bankruptcy of benevolent superpowers

ety were cults that banished death through the revenge that morality offered

motivated by their economies, society was becoming more dependent upon the

in giving the individual a vector by which to be better than the world itself,

ideological tradition building over the last 2,000 years: focus on the individual,

and by being equal to all others, immune to comparison (a symbolic form of

or individualism, as politically expressed in egalitarianism and liberal democ-

predation triggered by Charles Darwins arguments on survival of the fittest).

racy. This was expressed in both culture and counterculture.

In essence, Nietzsche saw social behavior itself as an enemy of reality recognition in the individual and thus, like morality, an ingrained influence that would

In contrast, metal music emphasized morbidity and glorified ancient civiliza-

prompt rebellion and instability within a society that would know no other

tions as well as heroic struggles, merging the gothic attitudes of art rock with

recourse than moral norming.

the broad scope of progressive rock, but most of all, its sound emphasized
heavy: a literal reality that cut through all of our words and symbols and grand

Heavy metal, as the music most visibly fascinated with death and suffering (and

theories, to remind us that we are mortal and not ultimately able to control our

most likely to mention Nietzsche), addresses the sublimated issue of Nietz-

lifespan or the inherent abilities we have. This clashed drastically with both the

sches abyss in Western society, which has based its founding principles and

pacifist hippie movement and the religious and industrial sentiments of the

individual social and mystical values upon the polarity of good and evil, is an

broader society surrounding it.

identification with the enemy. In the Judeo-Christian view, death and suffering
are an enemy which is banished with good behavior in the hopes of heavenly
(and earthly) reward. In secular form, egalitarian capitalist liberal democracy

Philosophy
This was a confrontation with the abyss as first described by existentialist
F.W Nietzsche: the awareness that life is finite and of functional, transactional
maintenance; that we are both predator and prey, and that we have no control
over our lives or death. To Nietzsche, and thinkers such as Arthur Schopen-

empowers the individual and gives him or her the moral freedom to act without regard for the natural world, thus being immune to predation and any form
of assessment outside of the social and fiscal. When one embraces the breadth
of history (outside of the current civilization), the nihilistic lack of eternal presence of value, the predominance of death and predation, and the logic of feral

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impulse, one has directly challenged both modern capitalist liberal democracy

the nihilistic mandate of now that you believe in nothing, find something

and the extensive religious ( Judeo-Christian) and secular (liberalism) heritage

worth believing in. The ease of social and political identification found in rock

upon which it is built.

music is eschewed, as are aesthetics which endorse the myopic neurosis of first
world lifestyles. And while metal has evolved over several generations, several

8,000 years before Christ there was a religion in Northern India which ad-

musical facets remain the same, suggesting a corresponding shared conceptual

dressed these issues in a sense without dualism; it believed that life is known to

underpinning.

humans through sensual (eyes, ears, taste, smell, touch) perception of a reality
composed of ideas which was similar in structure to both nature and the pro-

This design form of metal differs from popular music in one simple way, but

cess of thought itself. In this religion the Faustian spirit was clearly present, as

from this arise any number of techniques and attributes which allow composers

while a heroic deed was more important than survival, personal mortality was

to create in this method. Its primary distinguishing characteristic is that metal

clearly affirmed. Thus there was both meaning and death, and no absolute God

embraces structure more than any other form of popular music; while rock is

or Heaven to reconcile the two. This required the individual to declare values

notorious for its verse-chorus-verse structure and jazz emphasizes a looser ver-

worthy of filling a life, and worth dying for, and from this origin the ancient

sion of the same allowing unfetter improvisation, metal emphasizes a motivic,

heroic civilizations were spawned. Metals belief system is closer to this than to

melodic narrative structure in the same way that classical and baroque music do.

any modern equivalent, thus it is sensible to posit a closure of the cycle and its

Each piece may utilize other techniques, but what holds it together is a melodic

renewal in the ideas gestured by heavy metal music.

progression between ideas that do not fit into simple verse-chorus descriptors.
Even in 1960s proto-heavy metal, use of motives not repeated as part of the versechorus cycle and transitional riffing suggested a poetic form of music in which

Music

song structure was derived from what needed to be communicated.

Art does not exist in a vacuum within the minds of its creators. If a concept is
applied to music, there is a corresponding concept in structure and the world
view of the artist that creates the frame of mind in which the artist creates mu-

Synthesis

sic which sounds like its desired value system. Art is too complex to be created

In this structuralism, metal music asserts a concern for the underlying

without any prior thought as to what it expresses; this concept is common in

mechanism of the universe as a whole, instead of limiting its focus to human

literature and visual art, but ignored in popular music (perhaps because in most

social concerns. This degrades the public image fascination begun in the West

popular music, the concept - and the music - reflect crass materialism and

with absolutist morality; in its use of power chords, the most harmonically

futile neurosis and not much else).

flexible chord shape, and a tendency toward melodic composition, metal music
emphasizes an experience, where rock can articulate at best a moment and then

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At the end of an age of moral symbolism and technological norming, metal

put it into a repeating loop. While rock uses more open chords and aesthetic

is recreating the language of music to reflect heroic values, formulated from

variation, its outlook is ultimately a utopic form of the counterculture: progres-

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sive trends leading to some ultimate state of an absolute, such as freedom or


joy or popularity.
By way of contrast, metal music is a portrait of the post-humanist mind set:
concerned more about natural reality than social symbolism, addressing experience instead of moral conclusion, and, when it seeks a context of meaning,
oriented toward the subjective experience than an objectivity derived from
shared societal concept. It is aware that leaving behind the comforting alternate
reality of social assessment returns to a natural state in which the individual is
ranked among others according to ability, much as predation did years ago, and
is forced to accept mortality and limits of personal control. This thought demonstrates the modern era of Western civilization facing the ideas of the ancients
while eschewing the consensual social reality of industrial capitalist liberal
democracies, and, as said societies collapse from lack of consensus, a potential
future direction for Indo-European culture.

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Period 1 [ 1865 - 1949 ]


History [Populism]
IN THIS AGE, America matured from its beginnings into the bureaucratic
complexities of a modern republic, decided on its unifying concept, and consequently, experienced demographic and social change.
Having been formed in 1789 on a compromise between those who wished
to remain colonies and those who wished for a centralized federal entity, the
fledgling nation had resolved few of its internal disputes in part owing to the
chaos of its birth and the ongoing warfare that afflicted it as late as 1812. Having
dispatched this, it began attempting to find consensus among the disparate
viewpoints that had not found home in a Europe wracked by internal religious
infighting descended from the conflicts of the middle ages.
As the nation-state of America expanded, especially toward the West, there
was an increasing need for governmental intervention to resolve disputes (seen
by the republic as transactional) between settlers and Indians, settlers and each
other, Westward republics and the banks that owned them back east. This
required a commitment to a bureaucratic entity, which in turn required central
authorities and standards.
The result was, after some internal peregrinations, a Civil War not fought over
the issue of slavery (as asserted in middle school textbooks) but the issue of states
rights: was the United States a confederacy of small independent nations, or a
republic made of states which were essentially local variants on the order imposed
by a strong central government? The latter prevailed due to the industrial supremacy of the northeast; this would be a central theme in most American wars.

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Once this concept had been decided, it was over the next forty years unified
by an expansion of the founding concepts of the nation in accordance with the
decisions of the Civil War. The highest power was the Federal State, but the
Individual was its currency, and therefore America came to embrace its image
as the melting pot in which the poor, huddled masses might find refuge. As a
result of this new marketing, America invited and enfranchised new groups of
people, starting with recently-freed African slaves and continuing to an acceptance of previously unwanted immigrant groups, such as Irish/Scots, Italians,
Jews and Slavs.
Because of this change, a shift in alignment occurred that would plague America in the coming years: the original Northern European population of America,
now seen as the top dog in a complicated caste system, began to isolate itself
through financial and social means from successive waves of newcomers of
fundamentally different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. This was
contrasted by an egalitarian movement to accept these people and diverse, or
non-collectively-consensual ideas into the mainstream; as time passed, this
movement became known as the counterculture, but that could only occur
after World War 11, when the country was united in temporary consensus by a
shared enemy.
As a result of these social changes, American ideology underwent public
change. Where it had once been an elitist nation designed for those who could
rise above the need for a normative social order, it became an inclusive and facilitative society whose greatest degree of commonality was a desire by its new
and old populations to rise in class rank through the earning power afforded
by a vast industrial civilization. Over time, this view, in which society pandered
to the diverse and non-consensual individuals for the purpose of empowering them to be socially equal, earn money and become autonomous agents of
wealth, became known in a generalized sense as Populism.

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Music [Rock]
One cannot contemplate rock music without viewing its roots; that being said,
its roots cannot be viewed without analyzing their origins in turn, and the
political circumstance which shaped their public image.
Derived from English drinking songs, Celtic folk music, German popular music
including waltzes and the proto-gospel singing of Scottish immigrants, country
folk music had been an aspect of American culture since the early days of the
Republic, but as it existed in country and not city was rarely recognized by cultural authorities of the day. Further, once new populations became empowered
and replaced the old, most of this history was forgotten.
In part, the reason for this was political: the members of society who advanced
American popular music as an art form were not of the original Northern
European population, nor were they disposed toward thinking benevolently
toward the same; further, they needed to invent something which, like advertising through the 1950s, presented itself as an oppositional alternative to the traditional, boring way of doing things (early advertising extolled the virtues of its
products, while later advertising promoted products as part of a lifestyle which
had to demonstrate both novelty and uniqueness to have value as a replacement
for the traditional, boring, and otherwise effective way of doing things; this
transcendence of function for image has fundamentally shaped American character). As a result, the mythos of blues as a solely African-American art form,
and the denial of the Celtic, English and American folk influences on both
blues and rock music, was perpetrated as a marketing campaign with highly
destructive results for all involved.
The blues was not formalized until it was recorded, and at that point in time,
a fixed structure was imposed on it based on the interpretations of others.
Broadly stated, it used a minor pentatonic scale with a flatted fifth, constant

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syncopation, and distinctive emotional vocal styles. Of all of its components,

tiguous such that a player of Indian classical music and a Celtic folklorist can

none were unique, nor was its I-IV-V chord progression unique to the blues. To

complete each others melodies in the traditional manner. Similarly, pentatonic

view it from an ethnomusical perspective, the blues is an aesthetic (not musical)

music also derived from the Indo-European tradition was present in Germany,

variation on the English, Scottish, Irish and German folk music which made

most notably in the biergartens and public ceremonies requiring simple music

up the American colloquial sonic art perspective since its inception. From a

that everyone could enjoy. These musics employed improvisation, as did clas-

marketing perspective, however, the blues had to be marketed as a revelation

sical playing from the previous four hundred years; when these historical facts

from the downtrodden and suffering African-American slaves, so that it might

are recognized, American popular music can be identified as the marketing

maintain an outsider perspective which, to people bored with a society based on

hoax that it is.

money and lacking heroic values, might appear more authentic than their own.
The consequences of this hoax have been a persistent blaming of white AmeriWhen country music was re-introduced to the then-standardized blues form,

cans for stealing a black form of music that never existed, and in return, a con-

the result was called rock music. Its primary difference from country was in its

descension toward traditional forms of music of all races that became identified

use of vocals which emphasized timbre over tonal accuracy, and the adop-

with, and scorned as, a black form of music. As we shall see, marketing has

tion of a more insistent, constant syncopated beat. While German waltz and

both shaped the American experience and contributed to longstanding internal

popular music bands had invented the modern drum kit and developed most

conflicts without resolution. In terms of popular music, marketing is impor-

techniques for percussion, their music and that of their country counterparts

tant precisely because it insists on standard forms; they are easy to reproduce

in America tended to use drums sparsely, much more in the style of modern

without requiring any particularly unique talents on the part of performers,

jazz bands than in the ranting, repetitive, dominant methods of rock music.

producers, marketers or audience. This has caused an increasing simplifica-

However, it is hard to find someone in a crowd of mixed caste, race, class and

tion of music while marketing has grown correspondingly more savvy and, like

intellect for whom a constant beat is intellectually and sensually inaccessible,

American advertising as a whole, has grown away from focus on the product to

so it was adopted as a convention. Much as the standardization of the blues

focus on lifestyle associations unrelated to the product.

took diverse song forms and brought them into a single style, rock swept a wide
range of influences into a monochromatic form.

However it arrived, blues-country became rock in the 1930s-1950s mainly


because of technology. Adolph Rickenbacker invented the electric guitar in 1931,

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Some historical backfill is worth noting here. The Celtic folk songs of Ireland

and recording equipment advanced from the primitive to the cheaper and more

and Scotland had two main influences: the pentatonic drone music of the

portable units brought on by vacuum tube and then transistor technology.

Semitic natives of the UK, namely Scythians and the diverse groups forming

Additionally, microphones improved, especially those which could capture the

Picts, and the Indo-European traditional music which is continued in India

nuances of voice. Louder guitars and vocals required the simple shuffle beats of

today. The melodies, including pentatonic variations of many different forms

blues drumming to gain volume, prompting a revolution in drum kit assembly.

(many of which include the flatted fifth or modal analogue), are almost con-

As a result, the simple blues-country hybrid became a marketing standard

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known as rock n roll, then rock, as it was absorbed into the American main-

moralism, which places not harming others as a higher value than finding the

stream. The earliest bands lacked much in the way of style, but wrote compla-

right answer for all people) which accelerated after the Civil War, as it needed

cently harmonizing pieces based on the European popular music of clubs in

to justify its crushing of those who wanted America to be a loose confederation

the 1930s (much of jazz is based upon the same music). As time went on, the

of countries with different rules and customs for each, and after WW11, when

stylings - appearance, performance and cultural positioning - of the music

America had to justify her total war and nuclear engagement against totalitar-

became more advanced, and the songs themselves became simpler and more

ian empires by coming up with a better marketing slogan, namely the land

like advertising jingles.

of the free rhetoric. Thus individualism travelled from a minor technique of


asserting independence from the dominant religious tradition of the mother
continent to a justification for global military and cultural supremacy.

Art [Individualism]
If one thread had to be described in the art of the era as rising parallel to
Populism in the political and social consciousness, it would be Individualism:
the belief in the decisions and desires and needs of the individual as the most
important value held by humans, especially in the context of lifestyle choices
which involve the purchasing of products. Much of this relates to the desire of
new American immigrants to both fit in and be accepted for what they were, as,
lacking the cultural affectations of Northern Europeans, they demanded a tolerant society such that their own customs might not come into conflict with
any dominant or consensus-oriented cultural standards. Thus non-consensus
became consensus through the vehicle of absolute individual autonomy, and a
depletion of any standards for the goals of individual behavior.
When the religious impetus to America first developed, it was in the form of

Art did not escape this influence. As art is a mental process that, if the artist
wishes to survive on his or her skill, produces a salable physical entity, public
and popular art by definition must find something to sell to its audience, usually by exploring concepts with which they are familiar and enamored. For this
reason, in capitalist liberal democratic societies especially art tends to follow the
trends of each era, and in America, art has gone from being of the elitist classical music and fine arts tradition of Europe to having a distinctly popular flair,
reflecting the individualistic concept that no idea can be judged by collective
standards, and thus that like individuals all art and all perspectives are equal,
and have no meaning except aesthetics; thus if art appeals to one for sentimental or visual reasons, it is more important than any transcendent meaning it
might attempt to convey. This individualism shaped the stylistic aspects of rock
n' roll more than any other single force.

settlers escaping the imperial sentiments of a Europe united by Christianity;


after one thousand years of wrangling in which the mostly Judaic-Buddhistic

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doctrine of early Christianity had been replaced with the Euro-Brahminic

Influence [ Country, Celtic ]

doctrine of Catholicism, the continent had accepted the modified religion and

Country, Folk and Celtic music originally had a diversity of forms but under

begun the process of bringing disparate cultures and peoples under its yoke.

the influence of rock music, became increasingly closer to the standard rock

As government became necessary, it followed a pattern of allowing universal

form while feeling the pressure to change stylistically. In this the normative

non-consensus (a process similar to the autonomy granted the individual by

influence of monochromatic forms such as rock music is seen.

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Period 2 [ 1950 - 1969 ]


History [Counterculture]
"Ive watched the dogs of war enjoying their feast
Ive seen the western world go down in the east
The food of love became the greed of our time
But now Im living on the profits of pride"
- Black Sabbath, Hole in the Sky, 1975

WHEN WORLD WAR 11 broke out across Asia, Europe, and finally the
Americas, there was at first confusion as to how to portray this war. A world
already sickened by the first World War and the Great Depression was inclined
toward non-interventionist policies, favoring sticking close to home and fixing local problems (the Depression having run for a decade, most countries
were starved for social services and public works that had lapsed during that
time). Ultimately, what leaders and propagandists alike made the tone of their
argumentation was the concept of the free world versus leaders who were
seen as arbitrarily totalitarian. Where before World War 11, Hitler was seen as
an ideologue who would use any method to achieve his ends, in the hands of
US propagandists he became an insane man lusting for power who would use
ideology to justify his ends (the same was done to Tojo, Mussolini and later, in
a case in which it may have been accurate, Stalin).
The result of this propaganda was to consolidate the different aspects of egalitarian philosophy in the West into a single imperial doctrine, that of bringing
freedom of individualism to an (obviously) otherwise uncivilized world, thus

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justifying the right of America and her allies to engage in any warlike practice

cessible to the second-tier European populations such as Italians, Irish/Scots,

that suited them against nations which did not uphold the capitalist liberal

and Slavs (all historically less favored because of their racial mixture, in the

democratic government, widely held to be the most empowering and moral

case of the Italians, Arabs, the Irish/Scots, Scythians and other middle eastern

form of government. Whether fighting godless Communists or the Hitlerian

groups, and the Slavs, Mongols, Gypsies and Jews). When the Beats faded

nationalist Milosevic, the Americans - and their allies of liberal powers including

toward the end of the 1950s, they had been statistically insignificant except

wartime partners the UK and Australia - felt themselves justified in waging war

in academia, which meant the next generation of teachers in the 1960s were

for the reason of bringing capitalist liberal democracy to the people of distant

well-versed in Beat and liberal orthodoxy, and taught it to students from age

homelands. This was in many ways parallel to COMINTERN, or the Communist

13 onward. Consequently, the youth coming of age in 1965 were aligned against

movement to empower workers worldwide with Communist societies.

the religion, social practices and values of their parents, and burst into full
flower as a Counterculture whose primary doctrine was that opposition in the

However, the first tremors of uncertainty cracked this facade during the years

name of traditional American values of liberty, equality and fraternity applied

following WW11. First in Korea, and then in Viet Nam, the Americans faced

to disenfranchised populations from African-Americans to American Indians

wars of murky practices and equally murky outcomes following the doctrine of

to Jews and Homosexuals. These groups united under the Countercultural

Containment, by which Communism was blocked from gaining a foothold

banner to become a force that assimilated American liberalism and redirected

across the world. As it turns out, Containment was not incorrect, for Commu-

its agenda to empowerment for all, once it became dominant. However, before

nism or any other system, as industrial powers tend to influence their neighbors

it gained any social status, it had outsider authenticity and cachet which made

through gifts of weapons and financial aid (carrot) and military intimidation

it a sought-after cultural force across the West, in part because of its contrarian

(stick). The Vietnam war brought this uncertainty to a head in 1968 during the

status and its lack of acceptance among the cultural and social mechanisms of

Tet Offensive, when an American public who had been assured by their TV sets

the day.

that the Vietnamese Communists (NVA/VC) had been all but beaten suddenly
witnessed a Communist force of unpredicted size and strength swarming from all
corners to attack a demoralized, racially-divided and drug-addicted US military.
The result was politically contained, later, but it was clear to most alert observers

Music [Proto-metal]

that American doctrine was facing a major challenge both externally and surpris-

Since 1950s rock had been such white bread wholesomeness, centered mainly

ingly, internally (it took two decades before a liberal president, Bill Clinton, would

around puppy love and going to the beach or the sock hop, the revenge of those

apply the same policies with limited success in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan).

who had been left out focused angrily on dissident and alienated themes, but
expressed them to some degree in the civility of the day, leading to forms that in

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The result of this doubt and political posturing was most profound in America.

our current time of literal and material thought are tame, but in their time were

In the 1950s, Beats and other cultural insurgent groups cast aspersions onto

offensive by the nature of their existence. These came in three forms, one crude,

the traditional American way of life, one which had in the 1950s become ac-

one arty, and one technique-oriented.

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The first was the advent of loud, distorted blues, which was pioneered by a

Trees are worth mentioning here, but these bands had a foot as well in inspira-

mess of a band called Blue Cheer, who made braying, droning, grinding blues

tion from the first dark rock band to exist, the Doors. Where other rock bands

rock with the aid of deformed amplifiers and a passion for crudity. They were

had focused on love or peace, the Doors brought a Nietzsche-inspired morbid

the vanguard of a range of electric blues bands from Cream to Jimi Hendrix to

subconscious psychedelia to rock music, and were the origins of much of the

ZZ Top, and inspired much of the loud rock which followed, including proto-

neo-Romanticism which later bloomed into metal, as well as many of the more

punk-rockers the Kinks and the Who. Much can be said about these bands,

inspired moments of progressive and punk rock.

but what is most important is that they took the traditions of folk and blues
improvisation and turned them into something technically on par with the jazz

By 1969, the influence of these artists had saturated the forms of public

and big band acts of the day, adding guitar fireworks and lengthy songs to a

consciousness which were focused on rock music as a developing art form,

genre that was otherwise strictly radio-play ditties.

and contributed to the explosion of hard rock (Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple)
and proto-metal (Black Sabbath), both of which occurred simultaneously to

The second tine of the fork was progressive rock, which in 1968 found its most

the development of distorted, power-chord based technical music from King

extreme act in King Crimson, but which truly flowered during the early middle

Crimson. This year was thus the watershed for loud forms of rock, as it started

1970s. Arguably, this genre was given impetus by a band overmentioned in any

three threads which would run concurrently during the 1970s and hybridize in

history of popular music because they were among the first to leave standard

the next decade.

rock format, overcoming its novelty, namely, the Beatles. Their work was one
of many that allowed bands to mix classical and jazz training into their rock, re-

In many ways taking up where the Doors left off, Black Sabbath were originally

sulting in longer song structures, many of which were narrative or neo-operatic

a British electric blues band named Earth, but after guitarist Toni Iommi had

(Camel, Genesis, Yes) and the use of distortion and dissonance in artful ways.

a stint in progressive rock band Jethro Tull (and not coincidentally, members

While these bands ultimately choked on their own virtuosity, being nestled in

of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath participated in each others projects), the

a genre that could barely appreciate them but not reaching the level of complex-

quartet surged forward with a new sound, inspired by horror movies and the

ity of classical works (in part because of a need to service the unending drum-

same morbid, neo-Gothic animal nihilism that had made the Doors strik-

beats and syncopated rhythms common to rock), they lived on in contributions

ingly out of place. Using perhaps the most extreme distortion heard so far, and

to other genres.

reducing the flowery instrumentalism of the time to the basics, Black Sabbath
combined progressive rock with electric blues and created something that differed

26

Finally, there was a tradition of bands who grew from the surf and garage rock

from its contemporaries in several ways: it almost exclusively used power chords;

traditions into a technique-oriented neo-proto-punk-rock format, beginning

it used bassier distortion; it had narrative song structures like a progressive band,

with half-American Indian guitarist Link Wray and leading through surf guitar

but relied on gut-simple riffs for the majority of its air time; it was morbid, occult

champion Dick Dale, both of whom were users of distortion. Psychedelic

and negative in its lyrical outlook. For all of the political change fomented by

bands such as the 13th Floor Elevators and semi-punkers like Love and The

1960s rock, Black Sabbath were a shock - but even more surprising was their

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

consequent success on radio and in record stores. They had tuned into something

that was the basis of the English drinking songs and Scots hymns that inspired

their worldwide audience found relevant, if not appealing.

the blues, including some degree of instrumental vocal shadowing (call and
response), repetitive verse chorus form, and a bridge taking the song to a brief

Legend relates that the members of Black Sabbath, looking for a new angle

melodic counterpoint and then resolution. The more intricate Black Sabbath

(trend) in rock music, drove past a marquee for the horror movie titled Black

songs were thus mostly lost to radio, encouraging any artists wishing to develop

Sabbath in English speaking countries. H.P. Lovecraft, arguably the founder

those concepts to do so elsewhere. Further, the morality of the time and the

of that genre, once stated that in life he had not observed good or evil, but an

counterculture was offended by the occultism Black Sabbath had chosen as an

abundance of horror - meaning that there was no moral classification for the

aesthetic image, yet had found it loomed larger than life (aided by the semi-

bad things that happened, but that the experience would be horrific. Black

serious occultism of Led Zeppelins Jimi Page). Occult beliefs are distinguished

Sabbath as a band, in adopting their new image, sought to express the experi-

from normal (Christian, Jewish) religions by the occults tendency to accept

ence of horror and truth, eschewing for a moment the rigid morality of rock

good and evil as forcing balancing the universe, both being necessary, as in the

bands around them.

gnostic tradition. This doesnt sit well with church elders nor with Counterculture members trying to come up with a universal, absolute reason why

It is important to note that most of this occurred with notice - by the mem-

change and empowerment of the less-fortunate must occur. Years later, even

bers of Black Sabbath. They wanted to be musicians and fit in somewhere

highly political punkers were often skeptical and repulsed by the amorphous,

between power blues and progressive rock, and despite drug use, psychological

indefinite stance of heavy metal, as if they fear the reaction of an occult mystic

mishaps and basic personal instability, they created a sound that was ahead of

to their rule-based logic.

its time - and ahead of its musicians. Much less articulated than Led Zeppelin
(and farther from the rock norm of the time), they launched themselves ahead
of the crowd and then had to look back and gather some sense of direction,
causing the band to collapse artistically by 1978. At that point, however, the
formula for 1970s heavy metal was established: a smidgen of the King Crimson
esoteric weirdness, the dark Gothic haunting cavernous sound of Black Sabbath, the guitar wizardry of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, the physical
thunder and brash insane hedonism of Blue Cheer. At this point in history,
heavy metal (a term borrowed from beat writer William S. Burroughs 1962
novel, The Soft Machine) was viewed as somewhere between prog rock and
psychedelia, but already its content was starting to differentiate itself.
Primarily, mainstream radio music will always follow the same song format

28

Art [Moralism]
During this era, in which the superpowers re-aligned themselves internally
to justify their violent projection of individual freedom upon the world, as a
consequence of their competition with the Communist empires of Russia and
China, the primary goal of Western art was to glorify the individual and the
choices it faced approaching freedom in an industrial society. Jazz rose into
the mainstream and took on new forms, most notably the harmolodic (free
harmony) of Ornette Coleman and the consequent adoption of that technique
by John Coltrane, as a coda to hard bop. Mainstream film and literature both
praised the individual and its range of choices, and warned of possible confusion in this new society. Don DeLillos 1972 novel White Noise is emblematic

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

of this tendency, in that it both explored the importance of each individual life
and warned about a lost span of consciousness in a world of brands, constant
distractions, entertainment and cities which were more like machines than
dwelling areas. Thomas Pynchons novel of the years following, Gravitys
Rainbow, warned of the moral - individualistic - consequences of too much
technological thinking. Some years before, William S. Burroughs Naked Lunch
had suggested that society operated according to an Algebra of Need, in which
the drug sellers dependency on his clients dependency was compared to the
system of capital itself. While these books were highly critical of society itself,
their criticism was based in liberal democratic thought and the importance of
the individual, which made them both critics and collaborators in the society of
the time.
At a certain level, there is truth in the observation that to explain evil is the

Influence [Prog, Jazz]


If one were to diagram the influences between metal and progressive rock, it
would resemble a game of Pong more than anything else, as any idea one had
would quickly influence the other, in part because early hard rock bands such
as Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin had virtuosity and harmonically advanced
music which put them in roughly the same league as bands such as King Crimson and Camel, mainstays of the progressive rock era. Hard rock bands didnt
tend to be as weird or venture as far from the conventionally accepted song
format, as their audience was less art-school and more blue collar. However,
the influence occurred, and through prog rock was absorbed quite a bit of jazz
and classical theory as well. (An influence also came from Roma guitar player
Django Reinhardt, who like Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi was limited
in motion to only two fingers on his fretboard hand.)

first step to excusing it; indeed, that all explanation is, de facto, exoneration. It
is a dangerous step down a path to moral relativism, situational ethics and the
enfeebling of the will to fight the evil from the washington times.
Naturally, in popular music, this formula was pared down quite a bit. Most music was still about love, but it had gone from puppy love to serious adult love
to the concept of love as political activism, in a neo-Christian belief that if we
embraced all people equally, peace would reign on earth. While to anyone from
the 1990s or later this concept is all but a punchline, at the time a less experienced society found it a welcome respite from the Cold War and the balance of
power between two nuclear-tipped adversaries. In the vision of the music of the
time, now labelled classic rock, a moralism of the individual could prevent the
abuses of the past, and thus by process of elimination, have solved the problems
of the future.

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

Period 3 [ 1970 - 1981 ]


History [Futurism]
THE WORLD SAW the postwar order of superpower rule fade as the failures of
Vietnam and the cold war culminated in a lack of faith in previous ideologies.
The hippie generation, as an appeal to values inherent to the American political
dialogue since the writing of the Declaration of Independence, was a culmination of internal stress in the democratic, neo-liberal, individualist political climate of America. While claiming ourselves to be liberators, detractors argued,
we were shepherding our own third world with segregation of the oppressing
and subjecting ourselves to a social order that put a monetary/political value
on lifestyle, sex, and desire. America - the great savior of Europe during World
War 11 and the world policeman for commercial hegemony - confronted her
own hypocrisy in the rice fields of Viet Nam and the crowded race riot kindling
of Americas ghettoes.
In chasing the symbols of peace, happiness, love and tranquility, the youth
counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s embraced its oppressors and soon
the peace sign became another icon of commercial culture. In the absence
of ideology behind the dissipating hippie movement, technological futurism
without ideological structure mated the sensual lifestyles of the 1960s with
the commercial values of the 1940s, leading to a vapid culture which quickly
assimilated anything however rebellious into its stream of social entertainment.
The unstoppable machine of basic commerce which had been untouched by the
hippie revolution began to justify itself with morality while increasing the benefits of first world living. Free love became swinging, experimentation became a
steady diet of drugs, and ideology turned into coffee table discussion. By these
mechanisms the 1970s became a futuristic decade, or one in which belief turned

32

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

toward the future and technology as a savior where ideology had petered out,

Having been thus born of the rock tradition early metal remained much

paving the way for a decade following which would affirm the industrial revolu-

within that framework, with dual lineages existing in Black Sabbath, the

tion as its own value system.

proto-metal architecturalists, and Led Zeppelin, the blues-folk-rock extrava-

During the 1980s, the only relevant symbols were monetary and social success,

gantists. While the 1970s struggled to develop further the innovations in rock

meaning a modern adaptation of the white picket house in the suburbs, the

between 1965-1969 the influences that hit metal were primarily from European

minivan, local church and school groups and happy children with no cares in

progressive rock. These musicians used classical theory to give narrative context

the world. A decade of overextension and massive expenditure on cold war

to themes which in the popular music style repeat through cycling short

buildup shattered most of this and replaced it with a literal reality of subservi-

complementary phrases or riffs which center motives. This technique migrated

ence, slowly flipping the power balance to a sublimated leftism. As the smiley

classical styles adapted from acoustic guitar and espoused structure over total

futurism came to a close at the turn of the eighties it was clear the alienation

improvisation.

was not an affliction but a condition of the system, and more extreme responses
arose. Both the old-school conservative system and the hippie revolution had

As metal grew in the middle 1970s, its fragmented nature brought it both

failed in their aims. In the mainstream, the previously new left leanings of our

commercial success and hilarity as a retarded younger brother to rock. The

culture were overshadowed by the pragmatism of gaining money and power,

rock side coupled with trash rock bands and formed stadium metal, which was

and in the underground, a new series of dissidents found themselves in desper-

the apex of metals popularity and the nadir of its creativity, with bands being

ate paranoia against the industrial society slowly surrounding them. Slowly,

known for musical illiteracy, hedonistic excess and often mind-wrenching stu-

the pragmatic eat and assert needs conservatism of America flowered with

pidity in interviews. These bands would come into full flower in the 1980s, but

Ronald Reagan, and the underground new left moved toward media and went

marked their territory well before the turn of the decade. On the other hand,

mainstream to combat the money and power of old school interests.

however, some of the most dramatic growth in metal occurred when bands
merged progressive leanings with desires for traditional solid, sing-along songs.

Metal [Heavy Metal]


Metal began in prototype form with Black Sabbath, whose trademark occultism symbolized life in terms of the eternal and ideal, while their gritty, sensual,
lawless guitar gave significance to the immediate and real. The resulting fusion
of the bohemian generation with a nihilistic, dark and morbid streak birthed
early metal. Those who had rejected the hippies and found no solace in social
order embraced this music and lost bohemians everywhere began to find new
directions in this sound.

34

From this fork in the metal path came three greats whose influences cannot
be underestimated, birthed in the early 1970s but becoming most dramatically
influential in the 1980s: Judas Priest, Motrhead, and Iron Maiden. Each had
musicians from a progressive background who added new ideas to rock and
metal, whether the neoclassical guitar duo of K.K. Downing and Glen Tipton
or the melodic basslines of Steve Harris of Iron Maiden. Even Motrhead, the
simplest and most basic of the three, wrote songs with a melodic baroque tendency that rivalled that of the Beatles, except without the flourishes and happy
feelings. Bridging between psychedelic space rock like founder Lemmy Kilmis-

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

ters Hawkwind, aggressive punk and simplified metal-rock in the style of Blue

rock n roll had run itself into redundancy, relying on extremity to make itself

Cheer, Motrhead sounded like a glass-gargling vagabond and an impromptu

something other than mundane.

jail session band, but developed much of the technique and basic riff forms for

The result of this pursuing tangible heights in a void of actual belief was a

the hybrid music to come.

profound hedonism. Casual sex reached the mainstream, as did drugs including
more powerful variants of marijuana and cocaine. The futurism of a commer-

The more obscure and threatening NWOBHM bands grew with the subgenre in

cial society replaced ideas with lifestyles based on products, conspicuous con-

the 1970s to oppose commercial slickness with direct and primal music. Angel

sumption, and the Me generation at its most flagrant. The result was that most

Witch and Diamond Head and eventually Venom tore technique to its basics

fell into mainstream lockstep, having absorbed the methods of the previous

to get to the ballad-meets-firefight balance of rebel music. All of these fused the

generation but lost its belief; the dissidents in art were hardcore punk, ambient

DIY attitude of punk bands with the epic nature of metal and created as a result

and electronic music.

music that was bold and far-reaching but accessible, both to fans and to those
who would like to pick up their own instruments and emulate it.

Influence [Electronic, Ambient]


Art [Hedonism]
My purpose was always just to express myself, he answers.
People are kidding themselves when they think music is going
to change the world or enlighten people. Its a bunch of hogwash.
- Paul Stanley, Kiss
The 1970s brought an era between the peace love and happiness age and the
more serious years to follow; as the Cold War intensified and the threat of
ICBMs became more pronounced and definitive, the 1970s were privately a grim
time of preparation for the worst and publically a time of vast hedonism. Part
of this existed because underneath the hopes of the last generation had been a
vast despair, in knowing that force would solve what pleasant thoughts of peace
and universal love could not; part of this occurred because the movements of
the 1950s had run their course for a generation without finding anything new.
Hippies were essentially Beats with a more artificially positive outlook, and

36

From the public front, the Sex Pistols exemplified all that hardcore was: brash,
loud, and in total nihilistic denial of almost all value (except curiously being
anti-abortion, since even punk vocalists find it hard to shake past indoctrination). For every band that was a public face on punk however there were garage
bands and hardcore bands which labored in obscurity, rarely recording much
that survives to this day, in part because their attitude toward musicality was
so dismissive that their one- and two-chord songs had few fans except those
caught up in the cultural movement itself.
In ambient music, musicians such as Tangerine Dream and Robert Fripp
probed a new form of spirituality in pieces that eschewed the obvious, tangible
and quantifiable sounds of traditional rock instrumentation, preferring instead
lengthy pieces which slowly developed through layers of atmosphere and contained a poetic content of revelation, much as classical pieces progress through
motives to uncover an essential melody or inspiration. They were echoed in
this by electronic musicians such as Kraftwerk, who originated the genre when
it was necessary to be able to manufacturer ones own instruments, who used

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

their classical training to make sublime pieces overlaid on top of minimal beats,
reversing the trend toward more ornate percussion that had grown through
rock and especially its progressive variant.
While these three exceptions existed, the rest of the world essentially anaesthesized itself, including most rock, metal, jazz and blues musicians, leading to a
time of innovation in technical detail but loss of basic impetus. For this reason,
hardcore punk changed the entire way sonic art was viewed, and electronic music
took a subtle backseat while providing the groundwork for the next generation.

38

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

Period 4 [ 1982 - 1987 ]


History [Reactionarism]
ONE DEFINING ASPECT of the 1980s was the ascent of conservative leaders
in the United States and Britain who favored building up large militaries and
nuclear weapons stockpiles to counter those of the Soviet union; this was a
reaction to the more passive eras previous which had hoped that love and later
technological futurism could drive away the basic problem that faced humanity, namely two edgy superpowers ready to clobber each other with bombs that
turned cities to glowing dust. The feeling was that the Cold War could drag
on interminably, or could explode at any moment, and the West wanted to be
ready for that eventuality.
The result was a decade which outwardly tried to affirm all that the people in
their 30s and 40s found meaningful, namely a white picket fence vision of America from the 1950s, and this boiled over into England and the world as a whole. It
was a bracingly reactionary time, in which Communist was once again a careerthreatening insult, and in which the Christian religion and the process of making money for oneself again became the way in which ones social importance
was reckoned. Naturally, this provoked a resurrection of the Counterculture and
its strongest incarnation yet, since it had been absorbed in the 1970s and, since
popular opinion was close to its own values, had been assimilated. Now that it
once again had something to rebel against, it manifested itself in a growing cadre
of die-hard liberal specialist movements and alternative art, literature and music
scenes, none of which produced anything enduring.

40

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

Metal [Speed Metal/Thrash]


Metal aged and so did the generation that produced the hippies, drifting into
commercialdom and then self-hatred for losing sight of basic goals. Having lost
both of their fundamental systems of iconography (traditional + hippie revolution and New Left) within a decade while most of the population remained
ignorant to both, the youth of the 1960s and 1970s were more cynical and
materialist as they aged than any previous group. This awakened a scavenger
coming to carcass in the 1980s which rolled into glorious rehash of the commercial ambition of the 1950s, leading to a wave of denial and an ever-present
conformity in face of new fears: drugs, technological warfare, disease.
A desperate paranoid climate emerged underneath the murmuring denial
neurosis of commercial social doctrine. Ideology in popular music became
an intense moral crusade of horror at the history of humanity to that point,
hearkening back to WWI-era dissent. In this environment, metal updated itself
with the aggression and simplicity of hardcore, and came back for the attack in
at first two hybrid genres: speed metal and thrash.
Speed metal took the classically-influenced structures of neoclassical progressive heavy metal from the 1970s and merged them with the palm-muted,
choppy strum of violent British hardcore, as well as the whipping speed-strum
of the more fluid crustcore genre. An example of the first influence can be
found in violently alienated bands like The Exploited and Black Flag, where
the latter originated in Amebix and Discharge, who twisted three chords into
a song where the guitar playing was fast but the drumming and vocal delivery
slower, creating like ambient music a disorientation of pace and thus of activity.
Thrash was crossover music based more in hardcore, so unlike speed metal,
which added hardcore riff stylings to metal song forms, it added metal riff stylings to hardcore song forms.

42

Classic speed metal bands were Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, Slayer,


Anthrax and Prong, but these were the largest and most commercial and many
others existed concurrently. Thrash remained underground and lasted for less
than a decade, thus it retained its primal trio of Cryptic Slaughter, the Dirty
Rotten Imbeciles and Corrosion of Conformity, although it is academically
interesting to mention offshoots like Suicidal Tendencies and Fearless Iranians
From Hell, both of which were more punk rock and rock n' roll than the core of
the thrash genre. Although toward the end of the 1980s people began referring
to bands like Destruction and Kreator as thrash metal, it makes more sense to
identify them as essentially speed metal bands which borrowed attributes from
thrash and nascent death metal bands.
At one point praised by Robert Fripp for remaining apart from mainstream
culture, these bands faced a growing divide in the music industry, namely the
availability of cheaper recording technology (thanks to advances in digital and
manufacturing ability) as well as, for the first time, the ability to press records
and CDs in small runs, giving rise to a horde of smaller labels. While hardcore
punk bands had maintained the DIY aspect for years, they were unwilling and
unable to make any money doing so, but in the 1980s the ease of access to these
technologies meant that small, independent (indie) labels could both publish
eclectic rarities and not go bankrupt in the process.
For youth growing up during this time period, life was an uncertain and
duty-bound prospect, threatened on one side by ICBMs which could arrive in a
matter of minutes and vaporize cities, and on another by a tide of reactionary
politics and social conformity which forced people into norms to avoid the risk
of standing out and being tacitly avoided by employers and potential social contacts alike. Speed metal and thrash bands, who were in the crux of generational
exchange, experienced both worlds: the public image and the private reality,
including political dissidence.

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

Q: What is its appeal to


Laibach?

Their hardcoresque anthems of social and political

its tendency to sound like everything else. In con-

dissent are leftist but even more so, rejectivist. The

trast, electronic music was exploring increasingly

Well, its very industrial,


and formerly it was very
innovative, especially techno
music. Its a very innovative practice, in the way
of inventing a new form.
The only real revolution
which has happened inside
of pop culture was for
instance Kraftwerk. They
have actually formed a new
language inside music; they
could easily be treated as
the last important German
classical composers. And
after Kraftwerk there was
no other revolution inside
music-yet. Everything was
based on what had already
been stated.

world is pushed back and its mechanisms declared

existential themes and broader questions of intent,

incompetent. Many began the slow spiral into

eschewing the moralistic humanism which overran

fatalism, where either through belief in religious

speed metal and thrash.

Its all based on the format


of rock and roll. Rock and
roll is a matter of something
which originated in the Sixties and Fifties and it is not
very original-its coming out
from traditions of Gospel
and Blues and that goes
further into African roots,
the roots of African music.
The only real revolutionary music was when they
started to invent electronic
instruments, that was in the
Twenties. And computer
musicKraftwerk were the
first ones to do it properly.

44

mechanisms behind historical growth or a lack of


ability to apply their passion, lapsing into a hedo-

This conflict led to change in the form of the rise

nism of self-destructive principle. The hedonistic

of metals dual underground genres, which by

attitudes and hail-satan paeans to deviant creativity

1987 had established themselves in nascent form

evaporated as a politicized theory of what ought

as a handful of ideas and techniques each. These

to be done, inherited both from hardcore punk

would await another generation to be brought into

and the surrounding public culture, seized metal.

much focus, as the transitional time of the end of

Songs were written about the evils of drugs, the

the 1980s and the dominant liberalism of the early

mistreatment of American Indians, the oppression

1990s caused further ideological confusion in metal

of minorities by a WASP majority, the desire for

(and essentially eliminated punk hardcore as an

individualist independence from the conformist

art form, since it drowned in the same ideological

horde, and the abuse of our natural environment.

conformity). At first, these two genres were the


same musical formation, but over time differences

At its inception a genre of palm-muted, Morse-

in scope and belief separated them.

codish riffs and epic song structures the speed


metal of the 1980s held out until the 1990s before

Early bands which explored this new territory

being absorbed. Speed metal and social conscious-

fused the melodic, elemental speedy hardcore of

ness dimmed many fantasies; it had become as

Discharge or The Exploited with the more architec-

moralistic as both the conservative society and

tural song forms, as developed initially by bands

self-righteous countermovement against which

like Judas Priest and Angel Witch, and added to

1969 metal had rebelled. This caused dissent among

them an emphasis on chromatic intervals, both for

those who felt that both commercialism and this

their simplicity and the dead sound they gave to

moralistic trend were absorbing the free spirit

any melodic temperament to the song as a whole.

they had admired in the music previously, and that

After Discharges See Nothing, Hear Nothing, Say

it was becoming predictable and self-destructive in

Nothing came out in 1982, metal responded the

c'td
Jesus Christ Superstars also
features a very strong element of heavy metal. Heavy
metal is a matter of genre.
We dont consider ourselves
as huge innovators of styles,
but we are using different
genres to express different
intentions which we have.
Heavy metal is definitely
a very authentic genre of
popular culture and actually
quite interesting changes
are happening with heavy
metal at the moment. The
fact is theres not such a big
a difference between heavy
metal and electro-industrial
music, or techno music, or
basic industrial music, if
you go back further. I think
that lots of prejudices are
on power, and thats the biggest problem. Heavy metal
does have its own concepts,
its own logic and it works-it
works very well for certain
aspects of music. Theres not
much difference between
Metallica and Wagner.
Laibach, from Delirium
Magazine interview

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

following year, with new bands Bathory, Sodom and Hellhammer developing

trast to Metallica, whose lyrics were ultimately more embracing of patriotism

morbid Goth-Romantic versions of the new style, embracing death and evil and

and a rigid rights-based view of reality. The same split occurred elsewhere in

nothingness, as if channeling the apocalyptic thermonuclear fears of the previ-

popular music; folk-rockers like REM were Democrats for the college kids, and

ous generation of metal into a certainty of existential doom. Their essential

country-folk bands reached out to working people who voted Republican.

thesis seemed to be thus: the world had become obsessed with its own power
and political-moral attitudes, but had forgotten the finity of human life and

The end goal of the two messages were the same, but they catered to different

thus the need to pick things that were important and eternal, such as nature

lifestyles. This fragmentation began to occur more frequently along the division

and strong emotions, which had been obscured by the need to avoid threats

between indie and mainstream, a fact used by each side to claim the other

and defend against philosophical enemies.

was either self-marginalizing or sold out, respectively. The Atlantic magazine


would in the early days of the twenty-first century write about the differences

In the mainstream, Slayer produced their own version of this style in 1983, but

between rural commonsense types (Red) and cosmopolitan, urban, multicul-

did not differentiate much beyond a fusion of Judas Priest, Angel Witch and

tural administrative elites (Blue), a division which came into form in the split

Discharge until their album of 1987, Raining Blood. By that time, Celtic Frost

described above.

had emerged from Hellhammer with a mock operatic drama of searching for
value in T.S. Eliots wasteland, Bathory had unleashed a Viking rock spectacular which identified strongly with the heroic values of ancient societies, and
Sodom had gone from praising Satan to warning of environmental holocaust

Influence [Hardcore]

and dicatorship. Further bands had joined the fray, most notably Sepultura,

"British heavy metal and punk is what we are.

Possessed and Massacra, each of whom added a degree of interpretation of a

It is fusion of two styles. We said that from day one."

style coming to be known as death metal. Of note also were Necrovore and

- Jeff Hanneman, Slayer

Morbid Angel who created similar styles of acerbic, abstract death metal.
The predominant musical influence during this era was the rise and fall of
hardcore, something which was birthed in the late 1970s but expressed its

Art [Humanism]
Because the 1980s were so reactionary, the Counterculture lashed out with an
onslaught of individualistic, egalitarian, humanistic values, which coincided
with the reasons Culture gave for its being superior to the godless Communists. This meant that the art of the period expressed humanistic sentiments
from one of two poles, but could never bring them together. Cosmopolitan
speed metal bands like Nuclear Assault and Anthrax emphasized this in con-

46

technique and ideas most fully in the 1980s before choking on its own excess.
Because it was accessible to both fans and musicians, it was soon flooded with
followers; because it took a doctrinaire but identifiable political stance, it was
soon flooded with people for whom the art was secondary to mind control;
because it had no consensus on its ideology in whole, it pulled itself in too
many directions, fragmented and dispersed. Its influence on metal was undeniable, but equally obvious are what happened to hardcore bands. Henry Rollins

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

of Black Flag went on to an alternative metal project, the Henry Rollins Band,

ity of genres which shared a common instrumental heritage, but not necessarily

and musicians from Amebix put out a metal album (Monolith), while ex-

a musical one, being now two generations removed from the original blues-

Discharge personnel ended up in the Slayer-sounding Broken Bones.

country fusion that produced rock music itself. The ones that stood out most
clearly as not part of the crowd were the synthpop or electronic bands, the

Hardcore itself disintegrated, having reached its furthest point of extremity

industrial bands, and the metal bands - for all practical purposes, punk and

and beyond that, having few ideas (none were possible, since once one breaks

hardcore had collapsed into repetition and ceased to be an influence in popular

music down to its simplest point, there is very little ground upon which to

music. The only exception was the progressive/emo music of bands like

expand in that direction). What occurred in its place is what is popularly called

Fugazi, and the new hybrid form of thrash/death metal known as grindcore,

punk rock, which resembled the stripped-down rock which had inspired the

pioneered by bands like Carcass and Napalm Death in the middle 1980s. These

creation of punk music before it had branched into hardcore, its underground

genres like many of the split ideas of the 1980s had to ferment for several years

counterpart to the more public music of bands like Iggy Pop, the Ramones,

until the 1990s had dawned, at which point a new political and social climate

and the Sex Pistols. The result of this fragmentation was a range of genres,

gave them a more fertile medium for growth.

from emo or emotional melodic punk rock, to various forms of progressive


punk and descendents of hardcore-metal hybrids, most notably thrash (with

At this point, it was impossible to find a clean lineage for any of these genres, as

substantial migration to the rising death metal and industrial music scenes).

they existed in parallel and cross influenced each other not solely musically, but
aesthetically. For example, much of indie rock came to borrow riff styles and

While finding direct progeny of hardcore is more difficult, finding its influence

song structures from punk rock, but rock as a whole lifted any number of aes-

is not. Band like Soft Machine and Public Image Limited formed post-punk,

thetic changes, including the harsher vocals and distortion which these bands

a genre in which the bands traded guitars for keyboards and, taking influence

used. Industrial music was initially an affair of tape loops of industrial machin-

from electronic bands like Kraftwerk, made punk-like basic music. When this

ery noises, in the style of Einsturzende Neubauten, but moved from that into

genre in turn crossed wires with the still below cover indie rock scene, the result

a pop form which used distorted keyboards and punk riffs in the context of

was 80s music, which possessed the instrumentation of the postpunk bands,

aggressive synthpop. This in turn hybridized with grindcore in the late 1980s

including drum machines and sequenced keyboards, but had more in common

to form industrial grindcore, exemplified by Godflesh and later emulated by

with the sensitive side of popular music, including (depending on the band) in-

pop industrial bands like Ministry. However, its hard to argue this descended

fluences from jazz, rhythm n blues, country and industrial. At this point, it became

linearly from the influences mentioned, as early 1980s industrial synthpop band

difficult to tell this music from the indie rock except by instrumentation, as both

Killing Joke provides an equally viable template. For this reason, it is more

featured melodic composition, gentle harmonies and sensitive vocalists.

accurate to say that after 1985, partially because of the new abundance of labels
using cheaper technology to produce CDs and records, there was a complicated

48

For these and many other reasons beyond the scope of this document, the

inheritance of different traits through many avenues, mostly aesthetic and not

1980s are viewed as a watershed for popular music, as it branched into a plural-

musical, and this alone distinguished not only 1980s music but all music after it.

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

Interlude:
Explanation of the next two sections
Bathory lineup from blood, fire, death era displaying traditional scandinavian values

was like the indie and punk scene before it in its distribution channels, but radically

in repelling invading judeo-christians. After speed metal had reached the furthest

different in what it produced; instead of making an alternative version of the music

extremes possible in music that was still saleable and then, like hardcore music before

which received radio play, it was making an alternative art form which violated the

it, became assimilated by the mainstream ideologies that it unwittingly espoused, the

very attributes that made music radio-playable at all.

elements in metal that emphasized an artistic and not political thrust to lyrics and

50

imagery moved forward by, taking their cue from first the punk scene and then the

The two genres which arose from this were death metal and black metal, and as of the

indie scene, going underground. This meant they took advantage of the ability to is-

first generation - Bathory, Sodom, and Hellhammer/Celtic Frost - there was no

sue releases on small labels with no broad-spectrum sales, and designed their music for

differentiation. For that reason, this narrative branches at this point and double-covers

a market which did not intend to be mainstream. Music could be more aesthetically

the period from roughly 1983-1996, so that each of these two different genres can be

distant from conventional rock and pop, and unlike music which needed to be sold in

revealed for its essential attributes, ideology and ultimately, influences it had. As these

stores which had to respond to complaints from potentially offended customers, could

genres are aesthetically similar but musically and philosophically far different, it is

embrace any topic or aesthetic it wanted (interestingly, it was this development that

imperative to distinguish between them, especially regarding what occurred with black

also fueled the rise of political music of various extremes). This new underground

metal and forbidden ideas.

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

Period 5 [ 1988 - 1993 ]


History [Egalitarianism]
POST-COLD WAR INSTABILITY arose when the sudden collapse of communism
under Western economic pressure created a vacuum of social direction which
was eventually resolved in unity between moral emotion and needs for power.
As little had changed, social boredom increased and with the official ideology
of non-change created the most nihilistic, disposable society ever. Entertainment media became prevalent as CDs, VCRs, and stereos of a high-performance
nature became common. The large screen TV lit America at night and warmed
her power grids with the drooling inattention of a stagnant, functional land.
Worldwide, America was seen as a cultural leader and thus was embraced despite the horrifying failures of the American system. The focus of world leaders
turned inward to militarize against drugs, racism and separatism.
Any analysis of this time will reveal the increasing presence of television, cable
television, movies and radio in the collective consciousness of Americans. In
addition, the Internet, a defense communications subsystem, exploded into
public life with AOL and dot-coms clamoring for inflated market share. The
new Clinton economy raced up to meet it with token appeals for heart-tugging
issues but a fundamentally sound economic policy which fostered growth, allowing a sudden hideousness of corporate focus. It became relatively easy to be
wealthy in America, and wealth spread to non-white ethnic groups. World culture sighed a collective disbelief of ideology and iconography except as applied
to hedonism, entertainment and public status. Belief in any meaning toward
a cause was seen as a method of getting killed, and conflict avoidance for both
commercial and moral purposes became the public standard of behavior in
America and other countries in its economic model.

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

The culture of the 1960s fully matured into raves, drug orgies, strange internet

immediately embrace their own scandals while failing to address environmental

sex, etc. Whatever felt good was real. And while the edges of boredom on this

issues, social/educational reform, and corporate domination.

vision showed, to many the classic 1960s archetype of the population being op-

The new generation of liberals were far more informed than the previous

pressed in being kept from the fulfillment of their urges, as a means of express-

generation, and had powerful economic advisers; as the conservative party had

ing a template of life, came true in the ability to have a job, make money and

shifted liberal a decade before, the liberals had shifted conservative with new

express hedonistic outpourings. Barricaded emotions became a perverse zen of

allies in the media and financial sectors. The media in return supported the new

neutralism, in which individuals saw society as unchanging and their own ac-

thrust in liberal government, identifying with its the moral values and human-

tions as ineffective, so hedonism and personal moral neutrality was required.

ism inherent in its leftism. The first televised war had birthed a generation who

Recycling and condom use, working out and finding a career somehow became

absorb information subconsciously from TVs and expect it delivered with the

bedfellows with the hippie aesthetic and a 1970s value structure in music and

flickering attention span of a cathode ray tube. The iconographic treatment of

iconographic treatment of musicians. An aging hippie draft-dodging privileged

stars from the 1970s became a slavish worship and prurient inspection of the

youth of the 1960s became president, and his hypocrisy matched his grand

tragic lives of public individuals; media sped up the event horizon by pumping

gestures, overflowing generosity and appropriately sentimental tears at suffering

endless news of change in thousands of voices into the lives of people worldwide;

everywhere. His performance was central to the age: where Generation X had

the soon emerging triumph of computing. Children who had grown up with

grown up blown to hell in the 1980s and then moved on to yuppiedom, the new

television and radio recognized familiar citations in patchwork creations by rap

generations were casually debauched and hedonistic but mostly simply holding

artists, collage artists like Beck, and the disassociative lyrics of grunge bands.

on to whatever they could find in the empty youths of yuppie households.


The New Left had triumphed, yet was still in conflict with the basic conflicts

54

Their frustration bore a sobering truth: humanity was too large to collectively

of democracy, and the slightly more enlightened age had come. Underneath it

mobilize for complex political ideals, and were mostly pacified with television,

all beat the dying embers of Christian morality and symbolical idealism, with

shiny cars and consumer electronic goods. The rising generations of the world,

a Puritan work ethic matching a rigorous desire for vengeance. While this did

acclimated to years of non-issues and political icons without significance, began

not affect current generations as much, as their inertia in coming from a more

to withdraw from society in protest not of its application of values but its lack of

hopeful time insulated them, the duality of public image and private reality

values. The average person responded more to television and emotional appeal

shattered the following generations. Broken homes, degenerate and abusive

than political logic; media had saturated every aspect of life in nearly every coun-

marriages, parents working until late at night and a constant stream of media

try, and carried a strong bias with its frivolous programming. Strategic futility and

emphasizing human failure and conflict took its toll. Almost aphasic in their

single-issue, knee-jerk responses dominated this era. The single issue nature of

approach to politics and ideology, these generations were entirely temporal in

the new voting consciousness meant a focus on the negative and on change of the

their approach to values and without belief in any form of ideal, as all ideals had

wrong, since by tacit agreement no collective plan could move forward. Conserva-

behind them a commercial engine. As if in sick replay of the Vietnam conflict,

tism went with the way of the dinosaur and liberal crusaders charged in only to

human intentions seemed good but turned out bad - through something we

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

brought with us no matter where we went. Emotional nihilism approached, and

degree by the majority of death metal bands and fans. However, by taking this

raging spirits sought reason to live or, in other ranges, significance of death.

route, death metal avoided the increasing politicization of post-hardcore music


which was occurring around it, and the consequent internalization of dialogue
to the point where a genre only existed by the barest of aesthetic commonality:

Metal [Death Metal]

it used the same instrumentation and distorted, but shared no culture or musi-

Certain individuals I like, but people as a whole suck!

genre would be reinforced time and again, with genres that could not maintain

Nothing but talking monkeys with car keys.

shared direction collapsing into commerce.

cal direction or belief system. Over the next two decades, this litmus test for a

- Kam Lee, Massacre


Many bands applied the styles - chromatic progressions, fast strumming,
Death metal existed without a name for many years, being influenced by both

ambient rhythms - into different incarnations of a new genre, death metal.

the extremes of speed metal (Destruction) and Thrash (Cryptic Slaughter), as

The mainstream-moral/underground-nihilist dichotomy was illustrated in the

well as carrying forward influences from hardcore (The Exploited) and Gothic

songwriting of older metal bands, which followed too much of the friendly rock

influences to original heavy metal and industrial. In fact, like a genetic profile,

music format and allowed itself to anticipate the conditioned desires of the

the genre is not identifiable by a single trait alone, but by a collection of traits

listener, as contrasted to the new music which emphasized structural change

and the common ideas that allow them to be organized as such. Riffs from The

(narrative) over finding a convenient harmony and riff and sticking with it. The

Exploited, for example, could be transplanted into modern death metal without

innovations of Discharge, allowing chromatic riffing to be used in the context

being out of place (especially from their Lets have a war... album); similarly,

of melodic songwriting, and of Bathory, in building song structure around the

distortion and song structures from Destruction can be played in style by

shape of its riffing, were applied in the works of bands obsessed with death,

death metal bands without seeming out of place. However, what unified these

mortality, and the obscurist predictions of mythology. Apocalypticism, which in

concepts, and gave the genre its name, was its literal morbidity: it did not praise

speed metal bands had been a dire warning, was here a foundational assump-

death, nor warn of it, but explored it in a strange obsession designed to rein-

tion. As part rebel and part insurgent structuralist, metal broke the scale into

force the existence of ultimate reality: the physical, natural, objective world in

broad tonal leaps and chromatic rhythm playing where the structure was the

which we live, and in which we die. In fact, the early death metal especially can

message, not the root note to which it was harmonized or the conventions

be explained almost exclusively by the Hellhammer slogan, Only death is real.

of such construction followed; key is used carelessly if at all at focal points of


intersecting themes in motif development, eschewing the cyclic silhouette of

This outlook, a primitive denial of all that asserted the existence of society on a

rock form.

level above or more important than natural reality, was not explicitly political,

56

nor was it identifiable with any social movement except perhaps fragments of

This was most clearly defined in the second generation of the new style, which

existentialism, nihilism and naturalism; it was certainly not studied to that

began with Sepultura, Massacra, Possessed, Necrovore and Morbid Angel,

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

whose music was both a radical primitivism and a futurist adaptation of clas-

From here the genre bloomed, splitting into several different styles. Massacra

sical theory. Although many elements of metal and hard rock remained, what

was representative of the flowing, liquid, high-speed strumming style that

was emerging that made the genre distinct from all others was a way of taking

rapidly included bands like Incantation, Hypocrisy, Vader, and later, the heavy-

a riff salad and shaping it into a changing pattern which eventually revealed a

tremolo and electric blistering distortion-clad bands from Sweden, including

conclusion. Much as Mozarts music would dance through motivic change for

Dismember and Entombed; Morpheus (later Morpheus Descends to avoid

most of its duration, finally uncovering its central theme, a gentle melody, in

legal conflicts with the hard rock band from Sweden) established the percussive

death metal a thunderous barrage of chromatic riffs prepared the listener for

speed-metal-influenced style of choppy, muted riffs and precise drum pat-

certain expectations in tone and phrase shape, then brought out the conclu-

terning, a subgroup that included Sinister, Suffocation, Suffer and Cryptopsy;

sion, like the last stanza of a poem: that which explained the journey and why

Possessed created a style somewhere in the middle that eventually included

its conclusion was apt. This style was most reminiscent of past centuries of

bands like Therion, Demigod, Monstrosity, Deicide and Unleashed. Sepultura

Romantic and Naturalistic European poetry, art and music, but was missed by

reverted to being a speed metal band before getting in touch with their punk

all but a few death metal fans - not, however, by the innovators creating music

and world music roots, and Celtic Frost veered into glam rock before calling it

in the genre.

a day. Sodom remained consistent, but gained instrumental prowess, making


their new music unrecognizable to older fans. For each of these styles, diversifi-

Aesthetically, death metal was abrupt and disturbing to most because of the

cation occurred, sometimes with interesting results.

vocals, which were organically distorted by pitching the voice either lower or
higher than normal and forcing it to volumes not normally invoked except in an

Some blended jazz with death metal, as did Atheist and Cynic; others mixed

open-throat shout. It was a guttural growl, like that of a defensive animal, and

in grindcore for an aggressive but often blockheaded style called deathgrind.

it matched the often downtoned guitars and layers of thick distortion which

Some tried to work ambient into the mix, as did Kong, and a few worked on

as often as not cut out the middle ranges of sound in favor of low-end and

hybrids with past versions of metal and rock, most of which were absorbed by

high-end. Drums used an extreme form of syncopation known as double bass,

their rock half and thus were unpalatable to metal fans, and equally unrecog-

in which two bass drums were played alternatingly at high speed, destroying

nizable to rock fans, causing the bands to either shift fully to rock music or to

the syncopatic effect in the context of the song but providing a buffeting, urgent

give up entirely. Some found a balance between the faster and mid-paced styles

constant rhythm. In this genre, power chords exclusively were used, and new

of death metal, to which they added simple but spectacularly effective melodic

forms were incorporated including dissonance. Further, rhythmically the genre

composition; good examples here would be Amorphis and Demilich. In sum-

operated more as ambient bands do, with percussion framing the music but

mary, this was the genre of metal so far which created the greatest room for

not leading it on, avoiding the expectation-based funky rhythms of rock, blues

variation, in part because it was unified by a belief system more than a lifestyle

and jazz. The result was that even without analyzing the music most listeners

choice, and in part as a result of its broad range of musical applications and few

identified it with something unearthly, morbid, malevolent and antisocial.

rules or genre conventions, despite having a clear musical identity in its nearlykeyless, atonal-and-dissonant friendly melodic structural form of composition.

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

Death metal had taken the style underground, but also generated a flood

In its own way, this music was both deconstructive and constructive. Its nihil-

of angry mainstream imitators and sellouts. Bands like Pantera, Cannibal

ism and alienation escaped the rules of society entirely and exceeded the limits

Corpse, and Tool made use of death metal imagery or technique in the format

of religion and conventional morality; it was born to be offensive and thus

of complacent suburban music designed to fill lives with distraction. For many,

marked itself as not only not belonging to society but happy in that alienated

death metal died with the explosion of the Swedish scene and lyrics like those

view, preferring a separate truth to a compromise with something it saw as false

to the first Therion album - self-conscious, moral, and pious while being anti-

and in denial of mortality, thus unable to seek any meaningful values (when

religious and metal, in a conflict that while not touching the music defined the

life is infinite, and the self is the limits of perception, is there any reason to care

decomposition of focus in the genre. Morality was safe. So were rock hybrids

about anything but gratification?). Unlike most genres of the time, however, its

like Entombeds Clandestine. Flamboyant useless stylings of rock music and

deconstruction was predicated on the notion that if enough of society were re-

stadium heavy metal crept in alongside a dearth of ideas and repetition of

moved, a truth could be seen which was less constricting and less without value.

known formulae. It seemed as if growth had made the genre too self-conscious,

This was years later a fulfillment of the Jim Morrison summary of William

and as a result, it had abandoned itself to the methods of its antagonists.

Blakes basic theory that if humankind could remove its perceptive confusion, it
would see the world as it is - infinite.

Worth mentioning in the context of death metal is the rise of a similar genre,
grindcore, which grew from punk and thrash melded by convenience, to which
the guttural vocals and detuned guitars of death metal were added. While the
earliest bands such as Master and Carcass achieved some success, they eventually felt pressure to diversify and found themselves constrained by the emphasis
on constant slamming rhythms, like rock based around expectation and not
continuity as death metal was, as well as the need to be extreme (interestingly,
Carcass spawned Napalm Death which in turn spawned Godflesh, leaving a
trail behind its creators in search of a flexible but aggressive yet musical art
form). Lyrics from Carcass were baffling to most as they consisted of humorous
descriptions of illness soaked in the language of medical doctors, with latinate
words falling into the gurgling voice like a radio broadcast from the land of the
dead. Bolt Thrower, from England like Carcass, adopted a more epic style, describing conflict in both ancient and modern times, and Blood, from Germany,
who took on a mythological-occultist view, added to a genre that was otherwise strikingly literal like punk bands; Napalm Death and Terrorizer provide
examples of this general direction.

60

Art [Deconstructionism]
The theme of art in this age was deconstruction: removing consistent threads
of thought which constituted a world view, and supplanting them with an often
random collection of observations and personal notes. In terms of the philosophy of this age, this could be a decisional point leading to either a negative state,
in which total randomness and lack of direction (or intent) prevails, causing an
entropic state of ideas, or toward an ideal state, in which people re-affirm subjective perception and make decisions based upon it determining how they will
influence the physical, actual world; this is the opposite to the false objectivity
and judgmentalism of morality, industrial/monetary value and the binary
state of social acceptiveness. It remains to be seen which direction the generations of music engendered in this time will take, but so far, evidence suggests
that the apple doesnt fall far from the tree and they are embracing the ideals of
the Counterculture generations before them.

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

Influence [Alternative]
Among popular music, three main genres dominated this time: techno, or very
simple beat-based electronic music, hip-hop, or beat based rhyming poetry
constructed around samples, pop angst industrial, and alternative rock, which

socialization-based, thus they were more emotive and less pragmatic, avoiding
the explicit political trap of hardcore punk (some notable exceptions occur in
the hip-hop/rap genre, including Public Enemy, who are as worthy an example
as one is likely to find in any of these genres).

is a fusion of 1980s indie rock with punk rock and some of the more appealing techniques of 1980s metal. Clearly Nirvana bursting onto the scene (with
the less popular but more archetypal Mudhoney) in 1991 was the inception
of alternative rock radio domination, while the early popularity of Nine Inch
Nails showcased pop industrial, and too many artists to name dominated
hip-hop and techno (examples: The Orb, the Crystal Method, Cypress Hill,
Public Enemy). Together these musics seem to have little in common, but when
interpreted for their basic artistic direction, all are very similar.
Alternative rock fused the emotionality of emo and the energy of punk rock
in a style that proclaimed its dissidence but had no ideas outside extreme
versions of the counterculture before it; that so many of these bands, once the
money was made and a band member died or went into rehab, relapsed into
making 1970s style rock is revelatory. Techno is like electronica, except without
the melodic complexity or song structures; it follows a simple pop format and
samples from all genres equally. Its twin is hip-hop, which like techno is built
around the construction of new variations on accepted percussion rhythmic
patterns, building on that foundation a vocal track of rhyming street poetry and
samples, as well as simple keyboard riffs. Techno borrows much from disco and
rhythm and blues, while hip-hop has a rich legacy of jazz, rhythm and blues
and television soundtracks from which it derives inspiration (interestingly,
the first hip-hop song sampled a Kraftwerk electronic riff, courtesy of Afrikaa
Bambataa). These genres were deconstructive and filling for the moments when
one needed music, thus were functional music for a dysfunctional time; they
did not espouse any radical change that had not been present in the dominant
attitudes of rock through the time, but their methods were more lifestyle- and

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

Period 6 [ 1991 - 1996 ]


Metal [Black Metal]
THE BLACK METAL GENRE however, dormant since the burst of creativity that
brought Celtic Frost, Sodom and Bathory together in roughly the same year,
roared into life with a modernization that encompassed all of what death metal
had done in a compositional framework unified by melody, creating music requiring a longer attention span but delivering a greater sensibility. Darkthrone,
Immortal, Emperor, Burzum, Enslaved, Havohej, Gorgoroth and Graveland
created more than an imposing sound in music: they used the rough textures of
alienated music to create structural music that, unlike the rhythmic and mostly
chromatic composition of death metal, used a range of intervals and harmonies
to render melodic structure. It continued the tradition of using motivic, narrative construction, but added to it the complexity of uniting a song in tone as
well as rhythmic shape. The result was some of the most majestic metal with
sonorous aesthetic and deepening feeling for the listener, almost all of it emerging from Scandinavia between 1991-1994.
Artistically, black metal sought to exceed the narrow direction of reaction to
mainstream events that the increasing trend toward morality in death metal
brought. Resentment over jogging suit death metal, which reduced lyrical
focus to politically acceptable social sentiments, boiled through black metal. Its
original concept revolved around evil and occult mysticism, from which it got
the name black (as in black magic), but this rapidly gave way to its Romantic
and Naturalistic side, which soon united several concepts around a general
idea: the natural world is more important than a society which has no values
except money and not offending anyone, and meaning is discovered when one
accepts death (a form of occultism in itself ) and is willing to look outside the

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

boundaries of the self. Vast, metaphorical songs with epic titles (I am the black

ties was the music: unlike any form of metal or popular music previous, it was

wizards and My journey to the stars come to mind) resembled small classical

epic and spoke grandly of emotional values of a nature not limited to the 15

pieces more than popular music, with multiple themes converging over the

minutes of fame accorded modern acts.

course of poetic movements, and the values espoused in aesthetic and interview

As black metal grew, from roughly 1991 to 1996, its impetus toward majestic

hearkened back to Pagan Europe and in some cases, to the Vedantic religion of

music forced its lyricists and inspirational minds to devise new concepts for

Indo-Europeans before that.

creation, spawning a range of sub-styles which each polarized around an ideology: self over all, destroy all, or the variance of ideas within pagan or natu-

Ignored were moral concerns over the survival and political rights of the whole

ralistic/fascist directions. These each took a different approach to aesthetics,

of humanity, supplanted by a concern for the natural environment and pre-

coloring the raw sensation of whole perception of their work in the textures

Christian tradition, as well as an appeal to the eternal - that which existed

and constructions of different needs. Over time the fire of black metal spent it-

outside of a progressive society and its politicized march toward individualis-

self, as most of these can only state their apocalypticism once. Astute historians

tic utopia. While these musicians were strongly independent, they distrusted

might note that the insistence of black metal bands upon paradox in music and

illusions such as total autonomy of the individual, immortality and universal

idea produced a massively different aesthetic for the time but spent it instantly

absolutes such as freedom and justice. Theirs was the world of the wolf,

once others cloned it with nonsense content in stylistic imitation, as hardcore

the blizzard, and the indefinable idealism of those who exist alone in nature.

had fallen.

Ideology and causes of intellectual desire drowned out the hedonism and lack
of discipline of previous eras. Black metal was responsible to nothing but itself,

Where initially many including the creators of black metal viewed its artis-

and the fantasy combined with reality to ferment a neo-terrorist movement.

tic content as being polemic for occult war against Christianity, over time
divergences appeared within the same general areas of mysticism, philosophy

Much has been said about the burning of churches and killing of people that

or politics. As is traditional, Romantic music in any culture tends toward a

occurred in Norway and Sweden, but one thing is clear: where previous metal

worship of nature and appreciation for the whole of the past, including Pagan

bands performed stunts to draw attention to themselves, the church burnings

tradition; because of its adulation for natural diversity, it also tends to be

and killings were originally not intended for public consumption; they were

nationalistic, or believing that countries should not be nation-states composed

private acts intended as ideological statements, not promotions for the person-

of political boundaries but should be nations composed of unified ethnicities

alities or bands behind them. That indictment and capture eventually occurred

and cultures, as that is how one maintains the different points of view that con-

is more a product of the youth and inexperience of teenagers regarding crime

stitute diversity. However, when one explores dangerous and forbidden ideas,

than a me, me, look at me! approach to publicity. Whatever the intention, as

with it come the symbols and concepts which are demonized by a multicultural,

soon as news stories broke that over 70 churches had been burned, and at least

liberal democratic society.

five people killed, public attention took to black metal as it never had before.
What kept the stories from being something other than human interest novel-

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NSBM, or National Socialist Black Metal, became a phenomenon after Norway

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

Q: On Bathory - Blood,
Fire, Death an epic sound
is present through the use
of longer songs with greater
symbolic significance to their
movements and motifs. what
inspired this change from the
dark, heavy and primitively
simple music of under the
sign of the black mark?
Probably from reading
biographies on masters like
Wagner and Beethoven
and their works. I began
to listen to classical
music shortly after forming Bathory, and from
1985-1986 it was all I would
listen to. I had been playing
various types of rock in
various constellations since
1975, so picking up Wagner,
Beethoven, Haydn and
others really broadened my
musical awareness extensively. The motif signature
naturally comes from the
world of opera.
Quorthon, from an interview
with anus.com

unloaded a surprise dawn attack and swept the

art and entertainment, where in the latter media pander to the anticipations,

genre, but the extremist tradition in thought had

weaknesses, lowest common drives and energies of the general population.

been present for far longer than that. Where Iggy

As black metals indulgences went from obscure opera to dinnertime comedy

Pops guitarists may have worn Nazi emblems out

circus (Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth, Dark Funeral), the faith of the public in

of pure provocation, or Slayer displayed emblems

the genre began to wane, and a new range of fans began to replace the old.

of both Satan and Hitler for an antisocial reaction,


the new bands stated what many in the community

As it collapsed black metal reverted to a surefire crowd-pleaser: 1970s style heavy

had been thinking for years and further, invited it

metal and simpler forms of fixed harmony music. As the older bands who were

into their thought process to influence their music

true to what had once powered their works, after years of band and social in-

through am embrace of pan-European and Greco-

teraction as a result of their art, became repetitive or commercialized, the playing

Roman classicist ideals. They affirmed their need to

field was equal for any entertainer. This egalitarian style of black metal pandered

exist as national populations, and condemned the

to the crowd and became the most popular genre of any underground metal,

invasion of Judeo-Christian belief and non-native

ever. The results of the first wave of entertainment black metal became mixed

peoples into Europe, as well as praised forbidden

with underground styles, and the genre was inundated by simians imitating

figures such as Adolf Hitler, Ted Kaczynski and

media icons and classics toward which a morality of trueness exists. By 1997, the

Pentti Linkola. Fascism and eco-fascism were

consumer could buy black metal in the flavor of his or her caprice: underground,

endorsed as an alternative to the weakness of

melodic, punkish, electronic. Content no longer mattered. Novelty in style domi-

individualism, which in the eyes of these bands had

nated with the exception of a few dedicated souls.

with Christian thought led to a separation of modern humanity from nature, tradition and honor.
The romantic streak of metal recurred with many
destructive acts, and then amazingly fast black
metal sold out in 1995 and death metal returned
as longstanding artists improved technicality and
specialized artistically. To say sold out in this
context means to reveal the fundamental principles
of an effort to be motivated by short term human
desires, most commonly monetary greed or public
image. Making extreme music is a fine line between

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

Period 7 [1996 - present]


History [Globalism]
AS THE CLINTON ERA of American leadership wound down, a new confidence
emerged in the world. Unprecedented wealth brought on by the Internet
boom, and a world political strategy which encouraged the bombardment of
those who did not tow the capitalist liberal democratic line, enabled America
and her allies in NATO and the UN to take on newfound importance. Europe
unified itself into a financial consortium known as the European Union, and
as a consequence international business took on new power and importance. It
seemed that modern society was finally reaching its apex, and nothing would
stop its might.
Small conflicts were both inconclusive and victories for the liberal West as it
smashed dictators in Yugoslavia and the Middle East; back in the USA, the
Clinton administration generated a flood of legislation empowering minorities,
women, homosexuals and other marginalized individuals (except metalheads).
The internet, arguably the most important development during this time,
became popularized with AOL in 1996 and by 1999, it seemed everyone was
getting online. Worldwide countries were linked up and citizens could share
information and make personal connections. Consequently, a boom in liberal
thought occurred once again, as it seemed that truly understanding and moral
righteousness were triumphing over the darkness. With a President who played
in a jazz band, smoked pot and considered himself the first Black President,
America felt it had lived up to its covenant with liberal democracy. In fact, this
was the era in which the Baby Boomers, or children of the 1960s and 1970s,
experienced the greatest degree of political power and those who were pre-war
children retired.

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

Other advancements included the distribution of cable networks into more


homes than ever before, and the marketing appeal of American media gaining
worldwide audiences. It seemed as if nothing could stop the progress of progress. The Unabomber was convicted, multiple civil rights trials convicted people
from the draconian past of racial discrimination, and Hispanic immigration
into America blossomed as did racial mixing, promoting a newfound sensitivity
that people in the 1960s only dreamed. With the maturation and power seizure
of the hippie Baby Boomers, the Counterculture had triumphed and the New
Left had gained power in the most respected and oldest ways. Further, the
Y2K bug, which had threatened to crash the worlds computers and plunge us
into a primordial chaos, had no effect and was beaten by an army of well-paid
programmers. It seemed nothing could stop the advancement.
As the new millennium dawned, a new presidential race brought doubts, characterized by Atlantic magazine as the conflict between Red (rural Americans,
conservatives, traditionalists) and Blue (cosmopolitan Americans, liberals). The
outcome of Gore vs Bush was both uncertain and definite, as so few people turned
out to vote that an election could be decided by a handful of votes in a single state.
The old divisions re-opened when George W. Bush took office to inherit the
dot-com bust, in which over-valued Internet stocks collapsed, and a recession that
eroded confidence in American prosperity. That was followed almost immediately
by terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and other locations in Europe and
the Mideast, showing that a new adversary - representing a conflict between older,
nationalistic Islamic republics and the progressive American regime - would heat
up the future. Western citizens immediately felt the old divisions of the Counterculture vs Culture return, except that this time, neither necessarily was in charge
but both existed in a pluralistic, multicultural democracy.

Metal [Retro-cumulative]
During this time, the movements of black and death metal, having spent their
initial impetus, relapsed into a process of searching past influences for a true
strain of each genre. The result was a reactionary retro movement which inspired brief revivals but then flagged. Death metal returned in force, with older
bands releasing new albums and newer bands putting out releases that at the
time seemed promising, but since none of it was sufficiently distinct from the
past (or each other), there was no direction to be had. This is not to espouse
some innovation, as music has been so well-defined that there is no room to
innovate, but there is room to create, and apparently, the creativity of these acts
lagged behind where their shows of allegiance to past proven styles did not.
In black metal, the controversy over NSBM died down once the white power/
white nationalist movement absorbed it, creating bands whose topics were
solely about the propaganda they espoused, unlike the original NSBM bands
who stamped out songs about topics related to their ideals as they would exist
in life itself; the new bands, like white power punk and metal before them, essentially ranted out propaganda without end. Unfortunately, for the bands that
werent NSBM, a worse fate awaited: repetition of past symbols and unique
novelty reconstructions of the same, causing them to rapidly fall into a droning
litany of praise for black metal itself, and internal dialogue of black metal itself,
without finding in it what had made it great and inspired. The result was a
flagging of the genre.
The populist front of metal in the meantime had two fingers, the first being
a hip-hop/emo/metal hybrid known as nu-metal, and the second being a
reactionary movement which praised 1970s heavy metal hybridized with speed
metal technique into a new form known as power metal. This was at least an
honest if simplistic gesture, and brought about a resurrection of the metal spirit
in those who had been young in the 1980s and late 1970s, enabling them a bit of

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

nostalgia as their dollars flowed into supporting the genre.

groups (one might point to movies such as Save the Last Dance and A Day
Without a Mexican). Music, literature, and art are howling out the theme of

Once these changes were visible, the supporting commonality of belief behind

the importance of every point of view, especially those where the position of the

black metal fell away completely, and its actions became wholly responses to de-

individual determines what its values should be, and the result is a cacophony

velopments with the metal and punk genres. It is probably fair to call this new

of voices that have divided the art market according to the background and

genre of black metal black hardcore, since in music and ideology it has more

political preferences of the buyer. As such, it is hard to derive any trend from

in common with the punk rock and punk hardcore of the middle 1980s than it

these but universalism: a moral belief in the equality of all people, the impor-

does to black metal. Predominantly liberal in direction, it espouses either Satan

tance of the individual and its choices, and a desire to crush any oppression or

or equal death to all human beings, and bands are virtually indistinguishable

marginalization wherever it is found.

between each other in part because, unlike the original black metal bands, they
rely on three-note riffs and radio-rock style song structures. In response, almost
all of the old black metal bands either quit, became heavy metal versions of
themselves (Immortal, Enslaved, Gorgoroth), or took an honorable exit into
electronic music, as Burzum, Neptune Towers (Darkthrone), Beherit and
Ildjarn did.
At this point, black metal is reliving the past that hardcore experienced. A few
seminal acts created something great; others, mistaking the form for the substance, emulated it and expected to be as profound, but werent, so instead they
campaigned for lowered standards. The result is an egalitarian free-for-all where
almost no musical effort is being made, most energy going into socialization and
image, and the result is that black metal has become that against which it railed.
People die, genres die. Only the deeds of honorable artists are immortal.

Influence [Hip-Hop, Techno]


Similar to the condition of metal are the genres of hip-hop and techno and
alternative rock, which are also out of ideas and fragmenting to pander to different audiences. While originally maintaining a strong pro-black-community
outlook, hip-hop has now become home to rappers with a range of different
skills and outlooks, including those which reduce it to a marketing gimmick
designed to sell extremity to suburban kids. The positive outlook, PLUR
(peace, love, unity, respect) community which techno became in the late 1990s
has lost focus as raves have begun catering to an older crowd who seem more
serious about drug use than music. Alternative rock? Like other rock genres,
it has been absorbed into the generic pop realm and now resembles indie rock
more than it did previously. Genres like country and pop punk have suffered
the same norming.

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Art [Universalism]

The influence of metal on these, and their influence on metal, is for the first

With immigration to America and Europe at a record high, and enfranchise-

time not direct: it wholly affects outlook and lifestyle philosophy. Where once

ment of non-conventionally-favored groups occurring, most art at this point

only pop bands chanted a mantra of be distinct, be unique, it is now the

in time emphasizes the universal nature of human experience and equality

province of black hardcore bands to differentiate themselves with affectations

of all people in an attempt to profit from the purchasing habits of these new

and recombinations of profound ideas borrowed from mainstream sources.

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

As it was something to do in the 1970s or 1980s to have an indie or punk rock


band, now its an activity for lonely teenagers to record black hardcore albums
on their computers and to trade them with friends, guaranteeing each other
a tiny slice of the cheap immortality afforded by recognition without respect.
Ultimately, this serves to strengthen the original convictions of death and
black metal more than reduce them, in that where mainstream and metal once
crossed paths, it has again been proven that they are incompatible.

Conclusion
THE METAL MOVEMENT migrated from a position among the Counterculture
as a rebel to one of denying everything the Counterculture stood for, prefer to
eschew the intermediate tradition and hail what occurred thousands of years
before the modern world. The domain of rugged individuals, it went from
hedonism to rejecting the individual-over-all preference so that it might find
meaning in the process of life itself. And finally, it grew from a position of denying all value to inventing value where society has publicly declared that none
exists. What brought about this extraordinary journey?
Since its genesis, metal music has been outsider art, looking inside society
from the basic position of I dont like what I see. In a time of absolutes and
universals, it looked for the ultimate answer, the truth that laid waste to all else,
in part to reconcile its members to their position outside of society but in part
in a desperate search for something to hold on to, and in which to find meaning. Over the course of several generations it distilled this value system and
found its connections to knowledge outside of the realm of popular music.
Oddly enough, it has done this by embracing the lack of meaning in a nihilistic
deconstruction that presupposed significance existed elsewhere, since that
which had public meaning made no sense to someone who could recognize the
importance of the morbid end awaiting each of us. Its outsidership, unlike the
political and lifestyle alternatives others chose, was based in feeling and not
tangible elements or ideas within society. This brought it full cycle from a rebellious adolescence to a warlike but life-affirming adulthood.
In this transition there is hope, as for every adolescent who takes one look
at the adult world and says, Take it back - its broken! there is this path of
learning. While for now metal music has lost its impetus and been assimilated,

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* HISTORY OF HEAVY METAL MUSIC & THE METAL SUBCULTURE

this path isnt unique to metal, and in many ways, metal can be considered

perience that this absolutist, universal, mechanistic viewpoint was illusion, and

one vector of re-introducing this truth to a forgetful (15 minutes, Orwellian

that what was real was the life that all along we as modern humans have hidden

memory hole) modern industrial society based on the convenience and wealth

past layers of interpretation and religious dogma derived from dualism.

of individuals. One can hope for the future in following this transition, and
as an epitaph to metal, organize the ideas with which any future generations

Schopenhauer wrote the philosophy of the will, urging awake a force to life in

would start:

each person that aims toward a refinement of the human being and a focusing

Nihilism - from Vedic and European transcendental idealism, the idea that nothing has any significance or value inherently, only by the valuation of a human mind.

of ambition toward life and desire for existence. Nietzsches Will to Power is a
technical restatement of this to clarify that while the will is indeed all, presupposing a lack of external world that may resist your will is ignorant. Nietzsche

Ethnic pride - from Latin America to the Nordics to the American Indians to

rightfully brushes aside the trivial question of Is reality real? by suggesting

Malaysians to Chinese to Hispanics worldwide, metallions recognize natural ethnici-

that a system of consistent reactions and structure will always be real in that it

ties as the only vehicle for their unique national culture.

has effected us, and our interaction with it affects our survival which in turn is

Environmentalism - a great horror of humanity is the destruction of earth and

important to the system. He rails against contentment and moral dogma, and

anti-corporatism and environmentalism are part of this.

suggests the evolution of humans to bermensch status - people fully accept-

Melodic poesy - the sense of melody and layering of the same as central to any
complexity in composition, developed further toward a language in which uniqueness
is appreciated over novelty of form.

ing the nihilism of life and moving forward to embrace what design, evolution
and passion have to offer.
This cuts aside much of the guilt and ineffective action of the world voting public.

Anti-moralism - a fear and resentment of morality as a construct at all, prefer-

Someone told to save the planet will join an organization for saving baby seals

ring nihilistic and deontological moralities.

that mails stamps around the world to collect donations, but will not be able

Heroism - personal pride and passion for honor in existence will be seen as more
important than social approbation.

to tell you a single action except drastic change that would actually solve the
problem. A postmoral person will correctly respond that most sufferings are tied
to a few central problems, and that the largest is general disregard for the environ-

Any future movement that hopes to transcend the ills of this era must heed

ment. The bermensch that Nietzsche wrote of could arise, but by the suffocating

well to what metal has discovered: one cannot use external force (carrot and

nature of a media-fed democracy will be an extremist; after that, the next genera-

stick) to force things to fit into a framework or world view; the force must come

tion is to be a lone wolf for forms of radical change through thought.

from within. Without a culture emerging to support a consensus of values, one


is left with yammering monkeys using authority to beat on each other for the
gratification of their own sense of self-importance. This is absolutism, and it
is represented in things ranging from money to morality to the war on drugs to
the crusade against racists and terrorists. Metal discovered by exploring ex-

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Jaci Sabbathi designed &


typeset this book in New
York City, in the spring
of '10.
The copy was typeset in
Adobe Jenson Pro, designed
by Robert Slimbach; based
on a Venetian old style text
face cut by Nicolas Jenson in
1470. For the section titles,
Goudy Text MT was used.
All of the design elements
are blown up and abstracted
black metal logos / artwork.
For more information on
the American Nihilist Underground Society, please
visit: www.ANUS.com.
jaci.sabbathi@gmail.com

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