Understanding Black Metal

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Music can be an extremely useful outlet for anyone.

Finding what type of music best fits you is a personal and intimate journey that begins the day you are born. Whether you’re crazy about music or just occasionally have it in the background, you’re going to have a preference. It also isn’t limiting or inclusive–punk rockers embraced their rivals the mods, metal heads have even become classical music instructors, and yes, you’re allowed to like any or every genre your little heart desires!

There have been many times that music has been deemed “Satanic.” There was Elvis Presley, then The Beatles, AC/DC, Metallica, The Clash, The Ramones, Blink 182. There are probably people today even calling Kanye West’s albums evil, and the list could go on.

However, there is one genre of music that is even defined online as specific to Satanism, and that is black metal.

Black metal differs from all the other subgenres of metal. There is heavy metal, death metal, grindcore metal, doom metal, etc., but none of them have the same sound or stigma as black metal. It keeps the fast pace melody of all metal genres with sharp guitar sounds, but its vocals are a screech rather than a guttural growl like many other metal types. Its bassline is hardly even audible, which is also very distinct, and it tends to be at a very lo-fidelity production level.

Though all metal music tends to aid the rebellious ones and get most parents wondering where they went wrong, black metal is the subgenre with the darkest of reputations. A quick Google search of the genre takes you to murders linked to the music, as well as hate crimes, neo-Nazism, church burnings, sacrificial rituals, torture, and, of course, Satanism.

However, is it really the music instigating this, or are their just assholes everywhere and black metal is being used as a scapegoat?

BTRtoday spoke with Dr. Vivek Venkatesh of Université Concordia in Québec, Canada, founder of Grimposium Festival, producer of “Blekk Metal,” and a lifelong fan of black metal. He not only has a personal connection with this type of music, but he also conducts tangible research on the culture and history of black metal–currently, he’s focusing his research on the Norwegian rise of black metal.

He explains that black metal has been around for a while now, though it got its early exposure during the late 1980s with bands like Celtic Frost and Hellhammer, who created starkly different music than the progenitors of death metal such as Death and Possessed. “Most heavy metal grew out of blues-oriented rock,” Venkatesh explains. “Think of the first album of Black Sabbath, which is considered to be the pre-generation of heavy metal–I would even pre-date [metal] to side A of Abbey Road by The Beatles with the song ‘She’s So Heavy.’”

Venkatesh argues that this music does not promote violence, but in fact, heavily promotes individualism. “Black metal lends itself very much to the concept of individuality in a way that a lot of other music does not,” Venkatesh states. “Black metal, in fact, allows a very internal investigation of one’s owns motivations and beliefs–you can really meditate on individuality.”

He adds that black metal allows fans to engage in themes like dystopia, death, destruction, and depression in evocative ways that other types of music do not allow.

Venkatesh says that most musicologists will argue that music is very communal and used to bring people together–that you can feel one with everyone in a huge crowd. Although the community is tight, Venkatesh believes that black metal concentrates from within to help find one’s self, rather than trying to connect with others. “The relationship with [black metal] is so intimate,” he confesses. “It’s very, ‘I believe it, therefore it’s true.’”

Black metal does tend to push the boundaries lyrically and there are popular musicians in the genre that are very openly racist. Venkatesh explains that these musicians are able to have fans in the metal community, because many fans are either able to disconnect the music from the person, or they attend their concerts as a form of protest. “That kind of juxtaposition is really healthy,” he admits. “You need to allow the two pieces to coexist and coincide.”

He participates in bringing fans of all types of metal with his festival Grimposium. It is now international, but it started small in 2014 at Concordia University. It not only includes performances from well-known metal bands, but is also held somewhat like a conference, with veterans from the metal industry giving talks about the business and the art.

In fact, Grimposium will be putting up shop this year in New York City’s Gramercy Theater on December 9th – 10th if you’re brave enough to explore the world of metal heads and the hypnotic sounds of black metal, then I’d suggest checking it out!