My Mom Likes Deafheaven and the Future of Black Metal
Black metal has gone through a really interesting renaissance in the past few years. Who would have ever guessed that the genre known for slaughtering dissidents would turn into something that NPR regularly discussed. It's a little surreal for my businessman father to say that he thinks Immortal is 'kind of cool' or for my mom to talk about the therapeutic power of Deafheaven. The truly weird part is that much of my parents exposure to black metal does not come through me, but rather the mainstream media.
It makes sense that black metal should be perhaps the most respected extreme metal subgenre. As opposed to other traditionally popular genres like thrash, or even more mainstream metal, black metal has always placed an emphasis on meditative beauty and blazing soundscapes that allow for inner peace. The fact of the matter is that in 2015 our black metal bands have largely moved past killing minorities and have instead, with the influence of bands like Agalloch and Summoning, come to embrace something greater – crafting odes to the powers of old and the beauty of the earth.
In many ways this rise was inexorable. You can't have a band as significant as Alcest ease into post-black metal, or have Ulver release a beautiful acoustic record and then not expect the scene to start to change to reflect that. I think that a lot of this movement has been aided by the rise of the internet. We have a whole generation of music fans who have spent the last fifteen years exploring ever more obscure corners of the musical world, it was inevitable that some of them would stumble upon the beauty of black metal and bring it back for the masses to enjoy.
It should come as no surprise then that my mother would send me an article like this one and ask 'Is this one of your friends?' Black metal has simply reached a crucial cultural turning point where it has become lauded as 'high art'. While yes, this is a reflection of heavy metal as a whole, I think it's most significant in black metal for a few reasons. First of all, as I mentioned in the beginning of this article, black metal probably has the most violent roots of any metal subgenre. Beyond that – black metal bands like Wolves In The Throne Room have also seen a greater appreciation from the hipster community than other metal subgenres, and like it or not, the hipsters make the calls these days.
I think the other thing that has had a major impact on bringing black metal to the mainstream has been the increased open-mindedness of mainstream culture moving in conjunction with the gradual pacification of black metal. As more people come to terms with the fact that black metal musicians probably aren't going to kill their grandmothers, they can start to understand the inherent humor of Abbath's London photo shoot (a tidbit that my grandfather actually sent to me at one point attached to an e-mail saying 'These look like your kind of people') or why a band with a stage show like Watain's is actually pretty badass. That doesn't mean that the whole world is ready to embrace black metal, but if someone like Nergal can be a national icon in Poland then surely we're on the way to a world where the art for Panzerfaust appears on beer koozies right?
Take heart though black metal warriors, some aspects of the music are never going to be fully co-opted. Though 'weird' is the new 'cool,' I think that it's going to be a long while before even fairly major acts like Dragged Into Sunlight or Bastard Sapling get any sort of real mainstream recognition. Throughout the world, we are still seeing wave after wave of blazing black metal acts playing in basements and fighting the good fight in the name of the music that we love. The increased acceptance of black metal is going to be a good thing, because now more kids are going to be able to have access to a jumping off point from which they can explore the true recesses of the genre. Anything that gets more people into Ramlord has to be a good thing.
Black metal is, by its very nature, an underground form of music, and even though bands like Agalloch can play to thousand person venues I believe there is always going to be a place in basements the world over for the bands we love to create some truly demented music. The entire scene can be likened to rap music, after all. Both genres have violent roots and are still capable of shocking, but gradually they have both started to become accepted, obviously rap more than black metal. Just because rap is mainstream right now does not mean that relevant music isn't being made and the underground isn't exciting, and I get the distinct impression that black metal will have a similar future.
I sincerely believe that we are building towards a bold new future for black metal as it continues to gravitate towards the mainstream. There will always be a select few of us who want to lay down our souls to the gods rock and roll, but if a couple bearded Brooklynites want to create music that uses blast beats to contrast against airy fairy guitar parts then who are we to stop them? They are simply adding to the black metal canon in the only way that they know how and I actually think that's really exciting. In many ways it represents the end goal of the genre, we have managed to create and draw attention the music that we love, proving that it really is transcendent and can appeal to just about anyone who is willing to give it a shot.