“Stagnant strangers romance on crowded pathways below admiring the stage’s glistening coat. The reflection on the sill giving the cheekbones their due. Praising the worth of porcelain skin. My shades of blonde dancing in the high sun. I gave labor to the grief. To the squinting spectator who drank in the despair as I tiptoed off the plane of existence and drifted listlessly through the velvet blackness of oblivion. I am what I always was. Gleaming and empty.”
A great fuss has been made about ‘hipster’ metal, especially 'hipster black metal.’ Woe’s Chris Grigg recently wrote Liturgy’s founder, Hunter Hunt Hendrix, an open letter (Hunter sort of responded), criticizing, well, their being hipsters . Grigg’s letter is an interesting read if only because it manages to commit most of the fallacies employed in knee-jerk reactions to bands like Liturgy. Grigg takes umbrage with Hunter’s somewhat-infamous manifesto on the future of black metal, and states that he “[doesn’t] think [Hunter’s] rigid rules, definitions, and titles are the way to do it.” Whatever way you’re supposed to do it, though, ought not involve using combo amps for live performance. Griggs finds them “unacceptable.” This is a microcosm of the response of what you might call the metal community to its 'outsiders.’ Grigg admits that metal can be isolating and close-minded, but then goes on to essentially say Hendrix just can’t be 'metal’ because he is a privileged kid with an Ivy education who lives in New York and apparently has sworn allegiance to that city’s 'art scene’. The letter reads like the high-minded version of any animosity expressed by someone within a scene to a presumed threat: 'we don’t want you here.’ It never mentions the music, because it has nothing to do with the music. It has to do, I’d wager, with the notions of 'scene.’
But how is Black Metal even a functional 'scene’? It lacks the kind of odd brotherhood shared by, say, hardcore punk. I think of the most orthodox black metal as an entity that reviles any sense of 'community.’ Its ethos is unmistakable: nihilism, despair, carelessness, misanthropy, self-imposed isolation. Many of the most notable groups in American black metal are the work of sole individuals. Furthermore, black metal can’t 'sell out.’ If it can, it’s founders have already done it. Liturgy’s Aesthica is being called a 'crossover,’ but if the fear is that… what is the fear?
Grigg states that with Liturgy “the message sent is that black metal did not matter until "one of them” got involved. That is why people hate what has been termed hipster black metal: it waters down the very essence of the art, wipes away its history, and sends an “all-clear!” to the mainstream that it has the approval of people who aren’t Neaderthalic metalheads. You have positioned yourself as their emissary.“
The fear then doesn’t seem to be that black metal is being co-opted by the man (again, I think that’s impossible), the fear seems to simply be 'more people might like it.’ It is always ultimately about protecting your small, very precious plot of land from other people who might rightly find it precious and try to do stuff on it. Only, you’ve failed to realize that plot of land is huge, and there is plenty of room.
Perhaps experimentation from established Scandinavian black metal bands (think of the Shining track below, or Enslaved, even the evolution of Darkthrone to an almost entirely punk-driven outfit) is only acceptable because they’ve been on that land forever and recorded a bunch of canonical black metal albums first. Darkthrone nearly invented the genre, so much time has elapsed since Transylvanian Hunger they could have probably done whatever the fuck they wanted. Maybe you have to have started the scene to change the scene. Maybe no one should really care. Because the point is that if you pick up your instruments and eke out some chops and it sounds like black metal–congratulations, you’re making black metal.
This is what gets me to Deafhaven. They wear regular clothes, their vocalist has a trendy haircut and wears button-down shirts. Should this matter? They make innovative, ecstatic, powerful music and it is what I’ve come to love about the 'genre’: it is grandiose, depressive, loud, dark, somehow hopeful. It has movements, delicacy, it functions as a whole. Yet there is intensity and raw energy, a looseness, something primeval. Doesn’t this constitute black metal? What else makes a black metal band a black metal band? Demonstrated research and historical knowledge of the genre (I can assure you Deafhaven, and Liturgy, posses this)? Corpse paint? I don’t know. There’s a real emotional investment here, though. An undeniable one. Lodging the complaint that these guys are 'posers’ would only make you look like a fool. This music posses what comes after talent and genre tropes: heart, seriousness, beauty, the inexplicable qualia of good music. Deafhaven has it. I don’t care what rack you want to shelve it in. Just listen.