a type of heavy metal music having lyrics that deal with Satan and the supernatural, often typified by common traits including fast tempos, shrieked vocals, highly distorted guitars and blast beat drumming
- very fashionable or up to date in style or influence
- until it gets overused and the you’re utterly sick of it
We’re living in a golden age of new metal, or maybe I am just in a golden age of noticing new metal. Which makes me as self-conscious as ever to be excited about new trends. I hate being that guy who says “the older stuff is so much better,” and I’m so glad I don’t have to be him right now. What bothers me instead are the genre-loyal listeners out there who despise any new developments to their genre. You may have heard them self-described as “purists.” Even the tiniest of sub-genres have their purists, and they’re all terrible people. Nowhere is this puritanical fanaticism more apparent than in metal music, most specifically within the black metal variety.
Don’t get me wrong, I am no stranger to metal music. I had my formative years like any other metal listener. I ruined Metallica pirating on Napster for everyone in 2000. Additionally, I wouldn’t be as self-deprecating as I am today if I didn’t have my season of nü metal, turned permanent self-loathing complex. Not to mention my affinity for hardcore, post-metal, and sludge that will never go away. Many subgenres of metal had been a part of my repertoire since my early teens, but black metal wasn’t one of them.
Let me paint a picture of the “pure” black metal that’s been around for roughly 25 years now. Imagine a guild of musicians that all seem to sport the same penchant for face paint (see: examples of “corpse paint” below) and black leather get ups. Not to mention the legion of faithful lackeys that attempt to do the same. There’s enough work to keep the lonely makeup and costume artist at your local high school’s drama department busy for years.
As for the aural delights of this music, open up Garageband and splice the audio together from different YouTube clips of mountain lions snarling. Next, record the sound a garbage truck makes when it stops in front your house. Loop that sound and speed it up to 200 beats per minute. Mix that down and don’t forget to crank the treble all the way up on your EQ before playback. You now have made your very first black metal song. Now throw on copious amounts of eyeliner and white foundation and take a selfie as you frown into your mirror. Lastly, gather some downed twigs from your backyard and toss them loosely into a pile on top of a black bed sheet. You now have your band logo. Don’t worry about being able to pronounce the name, it’s more kvlt¹ that way. With this press kit, you’re basically a part of the post-second wave black metal tradition and probably have a record deal in the bag.
Now do yourself a favor and don’t change the recipe at all. Do the same thing for 25 years. Do not, I repeat, do not attempt any genre mixing to reach a bigger audience. God forbid anyone shed any light on our corner of the music spectrum, lest we all scatter to other genres scenes. I just likened genre purists to cockroaches and I have no regrets about it.
A modest little tech company from the Bay Area hosts their annual revealing of that thing that everyone likes. Metal dorks around the world are aghast at the horror revealed on the screen. Not once, but twice, a newly famed metal duo named Deafheaven from that same area of bays is adorned upon those holiest of devices.
Clearly some nerd in the PR department kvlted up that keynote presentation. Rumor has it, the album art on Deafheaven’s sophomore effort Sunbather was chosen simply because it matched the color of the pink iPhone 5c. No matter how it made it into the presentation, this inclusion reveals the high-water mark of black metal in the mainstream.
Yeah, I know, calm yourselves down, purists, I just used “Deafheaven,” “mainstream” and “black metal” in the same sentence. To understand why Deafheaven stirs up so much hate in the metal community, start by listening to a couple of tracks off Sunbather. Better yet, start with the album cover. It’s pink and you can somewhat clearly read the text on the front.
They’re obviously doing it wrong by black metal standards. And have you seen the band members? Not one of them has long hair. How are we supposed to know they’re in a metal band? For all we know, we’re just looking at a picture taken in front of an H&M just as a shift was getting out. A quick trip to the butthole of the internet known as the comments section on Youtube will sum up the sentiment.
Now listen to the album. The music sounds like how the album cover looks: bright. The drumming is as punishing as anything in metal music. the guitars ring furious, and vocals are as shrieking as a metal fan would anticipate. But what’s this? There’s a melody. There’s song structure. Good Satan, the album has a flow and gives you breaks in the intensity. How could this be?
To add to this confusion, the album was lauded by micro-genre proponents of screamo, post-rock, shoegaze and so on. Music review sites are showing a renewed interest in extreme metal. Outlets like Pitchfork , Spin and Stereogum all included Sunbather in their top over-all albums list for 2013. That’s their overall lists. Not their alternative lists or their metal countdowns. Deafheaven’s genre-bender of an album, turned everyone’s heads. Period.
That was June 2013, so why am I still talking about it? That’s because we’re living in a metal renaissance, my friends, and it’s only going to get more prominent. Look what’s happened in the past year. Black Sabbath got back together for a new album and a short lived tour. It sucked, but it happened. Katy Perry basically came out as a Satanist before our very eyes at the Grammys.
Future Islands gained well deserved attention for their breakout performance on Letterman. Future Islands are a synth-pop group from Baltimore that features a crooning front man who just happens to have one of the best death growls in the music industry. Viewers ate up his guttural outbursts along with his stunning hip dysplasia demonstrated on stage.
Deafheaven front man George Clarke also just launched his own record label All Black, which features the next successor in the line of black metal crossover acts, Black Monolith. If you want to get real deep in to sub-genres check out d-beat, of which Black Monolith is supposed to be a successor. Of course, much like Apple products, Deafheaven wasn’t the first in the game. So if you’re interested in exploring other black metal pioneers check out: Liturgy, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Altar of Plagues.
And we all know what’s next…
So what have we learned today? There’s a pattern emerging. A light is shining on what was otherwise kept in the dark corners of suburban basements throughout the country. If sunlight is the best antiseptic, then we’re entering a period of germ free metal. Artists are opening their minds and shedding arbitrary restrictions to the benefit of the listener.
There is a catch, however. All niche genres that wake up one morning to sudden popularity do have their peak moments and then die off into dilution. We saw it with the early 2010’s popularization of dubstep and then quick drop off into unending variations of Transformers fighting each other to a breakbeat. We also saw it in the early-to-mid-2000s indie band craze that required every new artist to register with a ‘the’ in front of their name on ASCAP. If you already hated the ilk of Deafheaven, then you’re probably hating everything that’s coming after it anyway. So you can rest assured that it will return from whence it came and you can go back to hating hipsters from a distance instead of encountering them at shows, Satan forbid. As for the rest of us, we get to enjoy a season of ingenuity and musicianship. At least until Miley Cyrus dons the corpse paint, and I swear off the genre, making a hypocrite of myself. Until then, just like George Clarke, “I want to dream.”
1. kvlt /kəlt/ adj - of and being underground black metal
Metal fan or not, Deafheaven’s performances are provocative. Take a look.