Article by Jason, aka Lonegoat from the Necroclassical project Goatcraft and the host of the Necropolis podcast
Music is the only form of art which is expressed in time more than in space. In Kant’s philosophy, time and space are a priori, meaning that these fundamental aspects of reality are grounded in intuition. Our understanding of things, which is derived from the sense data bestowed by experience, is what we often come into conflict with. Our interpretations of things greatly vary, and existentialism can appear to be the only answer. Existentialism is a focus of the individual and his or her own conscious motivations; that the individual’s conscious mind is what ultimately brings meaning. This may be one possible solution to nihilism. If there is no objective meaning in the world, which is what nihilism embraces, we should instead focus on creating our own meaning. This sentiment varies from person to person. Still, there are underlying facets of music that people generally agree upon that are true regardless of individual interpretations. The greatest facet is that music stirs our emotions in a ubiquitous way. Anyone can understand the emotional content of a Wagner opera without understanding the German libretto which accompanies it. The music itself is universal and it speaks to us on an intuitive level beyond our conscious minds. No amount of difference of opinion can change this fundamental characteristic of the music. Music is universal because it has a command over our emotions. This fact cannot be satisfactorily disproven and is a trait of determinism, which I will explain later.
Other forms of art heavily rely on visual representations to convey their expressions. Even a piece of poetry conjures reflections of the phenomenal world to thrust the reader through its story. Absolute music differs considerably from this because it does not need mundane references to push the music along. There is no need to portray everyday life in its music. In this regard, absolute music is transcendental. Sure, much of music nowadays has lyrics that reference aspects of mundane life, and even Beethoven’s 6th symphony is a depiction of a pastoral scene (complete with a storm). However, regarding death metal and black metal, much of the vocals are linguistically unintelligible. Consequently, because growls, yells, screams, rasps, barks, and gurgles are not of typical human vocalizations and are hard to understand what they are saying, extreme metal does not inherently communicate representations of the phenomenal world to the casual listener. It transcends mundanity. As such, extreme metal relies on the music itself, not unlike absolute music, which strikes at the intuition more than the conscious mind. It is universal in what it communicates through its harsh textures.
Perhaps the harsh textures, themes, and images of extreme metal make it seem like a conscious decision to have these elements. However, it can be argued that the harshness of metal is an epiphenomenal trait of the conscious mind attempting to rationalize the will behind such innate motivations. If the intent behind the expression comes from a realm beyond conscious thought, then the conscious mind will try to make sense of that in various ways. Powerful musical expressions often have powerful themes, and in extreme metal’s case, very extreme themes! It is human nature to conjoin things that are alike. We have spent countless centuries trying to get to the gist of human nature, and yet we still do not have a holistic picture of what it is. Why? Because human nature evades our logic and works around our so-called rules. There is an inward, dare I say, deterministic element to it. Metal musicians are no exception to human nature.
As a somewhat cultivated instinct, most metal musicians naturally play metal music better than they play other forms of music. The styles of metal are conducive to what they want to communicate, oftentimes resulting in unique idiosyncrasies blossoming into view. It would result in velleity or emulated mimicry if there were no innate motivation behind the expression, especially if the focus were primarily on metal’s surface aesthetics. In metal that succeeds on an authentic level, as in its compositional prowess and effectiveness of the melodies and riffs therein, it is a triumph of the musicians’ will; the inextinguishable impetus behind the will manifest.
Extreme metal, sans its surface aesthetics, leaves us with expressions that resonate on an intuitive level more than a conscious level. Sure, we can be drawn in by the surface aesthetics of something that our cognition enjoys, but what lasts is the perspicacity of what it communicates, whether that comes in terms of its composition or catchiness, or some embedded message that makes us appreciate the music more because it meshes on some subconscious level for us. As such, since our conscious minds cannot control our intuition nor will (“Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.” — Schopenhauer), the essence of metal is deterministic in nature. Determinism means that there are reasons that outmatch our control of why things come about, such as the deepest force behind extreme metal overshadowing the conscious mind (e.g., intuition, will, and the subconscious/unconscious mind), or an asteroid crashing into Earth and starting life anew.
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