Without Logic - An Open Letter to Hunter Hunt-Hendrixposted on 6/2011 By:
[This is the second installment of Without Logic, a decidedly irregular column courtesy of Woe's Chris Grigg. His first outing, Adapt or Die, focused on the contrast between large-scale package tours and the Philadephia DIY scene. This edition is an open letter to Liturgy's Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, who, prior to the inauspicious return of David Vincent, was the most maligned character the heavy metal hemisphere. For a multitude of reasons.]
We need to talk. I know you are aware that you have caused something approaching a controversy within much of the black metal scene. To put it bluntly, a lot of people don't like you. From what I've read in a recent interview, you seem to think that your very presence upsets people and you are right -- there is a group that hates anyone who looks different and wants to mess with their rigidly-defined, neat little world of rules and standards. But there is a bigger problem that has not been addressed and I think that it really warrants attention. Though not your intention, you appear arrogant, condescending, and bursting with pretension. I don't know if anyone has addressed these with you directly so at the risk of coming off as arrogant, condescending, and a bit pretentious myself, I want to put some things out in the open. I hope that you will give this some consideration.
To the point, then: we get it, dude. You think you are very, very important. Everything about you oozes a sense of superiority. Looking at only the first few pages of your Transcendental Black Metal essay, we find the following:
You explain that traditional black metal is ultimately unfulfilling: "Hyperborean [traditional, Scandinavian-derived] Black Metal represents the mountaineer's arrival at the peak and a supposed leap off of it... And he is left, crestfallen, frozen and alone, in the Hyperborean realm."
You authoritatively claim the blast beat as belonging to black metal, though far from unique to it, because it allows you to rationalize your I-can't-maintain-a-hyper-blast beat by plainly stating, "the technique of Hyperborean Black Metal is the blast beat."
You audaciously inform us that your work is the next stage of the art's evolution with "[Transcendental Black Metal] is a sublimination of Hyperborean Black Metal in both its spiritual aspect and its technical aspect."
Those passages, the essay on the whole, and every attempt to defend your position shows that you lack even the smallest sliver of modesty or respect for your peers or listeners. These qualities -- rather, the lack of these qualities -- are not unusual for black metal artists to possess; after all, concepts of superiority and elitism are hallmarks of traditional black metal. In your case, though, they do not apply because you have gone so far out of your way to show that you are not the typical black metal musician, you are not part of this world -- you are an outsider wearing some (just some) of black metal's skin. I appreciate you taking the effort to describe what you are attempting to do; however, when you make lengthy, authoritative statements decrying black metal as dead and outdated, when you deride everything that came before you as little more than a failed attempt at something that is unreachable, you're thumbing your nose at everyone who does not see things your way. It's obnoxious. It's rude. It's annoying.
More than that, it is unfounded. A serious question: Who the fuck are you to dictate anything about black metal in a way that affects anyone other than yourself? Your experience as a philosophy student at Columbia does not grant you the title of President of Black Metal. Acclaims from the Village Voice do not grant you instant respect, they earn you the disdain of everyone in the black metal scene. Reading through Lords of Chaos does not make you a black metal expert.
You come from a position of privilege. By being young, white, attending an Ivy League school, and aligning yourself with the Brooklyn art scene instead of the metal scene, you essentially flip a switch and get credibility with the "establishment" that people who are not like you will not ever have. Privilege in itself is not a crime and exploiting it is only natural. Your problem is that you seem to not recognize your privileged starting point and behave as if you earned the attention you get from those around you. Just as nobody would have given me and my music the time of day if I lived in the middle of Iowa, nobody would care about you at all if you had a different starting point.
This is not to say that you did not work for what you have -- privilege alone won't take you all the way -- but your behavior is that of someone who believes the hype around them instead of seeing it for what it is. It is ugly, selfish, immature behavior unbefitting someone with your intellect. More than that, your smug marginalization of "hyperborean" black metal combined with this privilege is where the interest in you from the Village Voice, the New York Times, and so many other mainstream publications comes from. 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 Neanderthalic metalheads. You have positioned yourself as their emissary. You should be very proud.
Similar to the way in which the dumbest people are usually the most vocal about the superiority of their race, experience has taught me that the more someone talks about how important they are, the less important they are in reality. Without a history of innovation, without a number of bands who directly cite your music as a defining influence, without the deep respect of your peers, your manifesto comes off as little more than masturbation. Reading through your Transcendental Black Metal essay, you can basically take every occurrence of the title and replace it with "Liturgy" without altering the piece's essence; in fact, I think that this helps the reader clearly understand just how important you see yourself and your work. It shows that the concept of Transcendental Black Metal is not about creating something new for everyone, it is a celebration of you, your band, and your ideas, but in an underhanded, indirect way. "Liturgy is the reanimation of the form of black metal with a new soul, a soul full of chaos, frenzy, and ecstasy." Wow, that's awesome! Thank you for providing what we always lacked!
You had one full-length under your belt before you decided you were a black metal expert, capable of explaining what it means, what it is, what it should be. One mostly-well-received full-length plus pedigree does not equal the right to announce yourself as genre-defining art. Ranting about how you are better than everyone else -- and like it or not, that is most definitely the common interpretation of your "manifesto" -- does not suddenly make it so.
I want to this clear: I think it's cool that you take what you do seriously. In a scene filled with small people talking about really big ideas, it's refreshing to see someone come at black metal with a unique perspective, even if it is divisive or weird. I think that calling bullshit on your peers when necessary is important and you are doing that; hell, I'm doing that right now. I've done quite a bit of that in the past few years. I agree that American (not US) black metal deserves a respectable, unique identity. I think that a lot of black metal's traditions have outlived their meanings and usefulness. A reboot, a reinterpretation is a good thing.
I do not think your rigid rules, definitions, and titles are the way to do it. If anything, the new generation of modern American black metal is characterized by intense individualism and personal reinterpretations of what it is to be a black metal band. It is respectful of traditions without using them as crutches or excuses. It is the spiritual successor to punk rock, borne of its aggression, DIY attitude, raw aesthetic, and a disregard for authority.
Personally, I find your "positive" black metal thing absurd and though I dig the intensity of your material, it really doesn't strike me as anything deep, special, or thought-provoking. I don't like the way you present yourself on stage. I'm gonna be really snobby here and say that I think playing out of combo amps is not acceptable. I refuse to acknowledge the burst beat as anything other than a very inconsistent hyper-blast. But hey, man, that's OK. Everyone should do what they want, create for themselves, make the art that feels right for them. You have every right to be proud of your accomplishments and your music. What is not cool is your superior attitude, your condescension, and your interest in defining your interpretation of black metal as America's Black Metal. I find it disrespectful. You're making yourself look bad and you're making American black metal look bad. Building a throne does not make you a king.
If you read this, you'll probably just dismiss it as coming from some bitter black metal guy who doesn't get what you're doing. That's what people who consider themselves intellectually and artistically superior to those around them do: they are so sure of their positions that anyone who disagrees with their methods must be wrong or ignorant. Please remember that my point here is not that I want you to compromise your artistic vision, it's that I want you to adjust your attitude and the energy you are putting out. Show some humility, chill out, and spend more time working on yourself because one day, that will be all you have and all that matters.