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Melancology: Black Metal Theory and Ecology Kindle Edition
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I give the book three stars, though, because of pieces by Shakespeare, Scott Wilson, Niall Scott, Ben Woodard, and Liviu Mantescu that are thought-provoking and interesting even though I disagree with several of them. Wilson, the editor and host of the conference at Kingston University, writes in his introduction that "...this is not a book that takes black metal as an object of study. "Melancology" is not an example of 'metal studies.' ... Rather, it is a work that seeks inspiration from black metal, and writes alongside and in conjunction with it" (5-6).
Wilson, Scott, and Woodard all seem to be on the same page in rejecting any sort of ecological consciousness as appropriate for black metal. Wilson, in his introduction, discusses Timothy Morton's "dark ecology" and a strange interpretation of Satanism in arguing that WITTR and other similar bands represent nothing but a "hippie aesthetic" that is not true black metal. Woodard, in his extended critique of WITTR, concludes by arguing that "negativity accelerates the degradation of nature," after valorising negativity in emphatic terms. So it seems that we should be accelerating the degradation of nature, not trying to minimize it.
These writers, I gather, are all British. There seems to be a recurring difference of perception of "the environment"/ecology/nature between British and American thinkers and activists, based on the fact that wilderness was long ago obliterated from Britain, unlike the U.S., especially the West. The Cascadian Black Metal bands have the experience of old growth forests and the tenuous survival of endangered species such as grizzly bears and wolverines. Steven Shakespeare, clearly an American, understands this as the music's motivating vision:
"Black metal must live in a paradox: unable to get clear of the dying, malformed earth which both binds it and births it, unable to articulate nature and purity except through the contaminated machine of its technology and dissemination. (105)" "Black metal mines this catastrophe, distils its frozen metallic core even in the lush forests of the northwest, revels in the putrefying reduction of its elements, rails against the pretensions of human ambition to be at the centre of the world. (107)"
Niall Scott examines ecological thought more thoroughly than any of the other writers, only to come the disheartening conclusion that the "blackening of the green" means to "...embrac[e] the purposelessness thoroughly..." (75). "Blackening the green is the poetry of entropy; the law of insipid inevitability" (77). "Against ecotopia, blackening the green proposes a metanoic turn to the abyss, an abystopia" (78). So if humans die in huge numbers due to catastrophic climate change, or go extinct, if most other species go extinct, if the ecosystem dies, so be it.
This is a sad perspective, not at all true to the angry spirit I hear in black metal! I hear rather a rage against the dying of the light, even if symbolically the light and dark are inverted. I do not hear the metal rebelliousness in this British nihilist interpretation of black metal...
...which brings me to the best piece in the book, despite it not having anything to do with ecology. Liviu Mantescu's brilliantly witty "In the Abyss of Lies: A Short Essay on Failure in Black Metal" begins by saying that "writing about black metal is wrong," which reminds me of Elvis Costello's old line that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Having told us that it is wrong, and that it is all lies, he proceeds to carry out a devastating critique of black metal, black metal theory, and melancology. He points out that black metal is a product of comfortable suburban/urban alienation -- "Alone in the forest ... so dull to say: I am alone in the forest; or: I want to be alone in the forest! Where is your transcendental sensitivity, you Almighty..., Count..., Necro-..., Winter-..., Brutal-..., bla,bla,bla...-ness?" (156). Mantescu argues, in all seriousness, against a striving for transcendentalism and for groundedness -- "Dasein [from Heidegger, of course] -- being in the world, means acknowledging where where you are and what you stand for. What do you stand for?" (158).
I will continue to listen to and draw inspiration from black metal for the fight against ecocide -- that's what I stand for. If that makes my interpretation of the music a "hippie aesthetic," along with Wolves in the Throne Room, Ash Borer, and But Aus Nord, then so be it. I fail to see how nihilism contributes to addressing the ecological crisis, and it certainly does not inspire me on a daily basis.
The authors stress the open-ended and impossible-to-define nature of black metal theory, and my hope is that it is open to more work like that of Evan Calder Williams in Hideous Gnosis: Black Metal Theory Symposium I (see my review) and Steven Shakespeare in this volume, that it is not all just what Ozzy Osbourne once called a "symptom of the universe."
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