Thursday, October 4, 2007

Mobb Deep is CVLT

There's a shitty joke thats pretty old by now regarding the Megadeth/Melodic death influenced metalcore band God Forbid. Basically, every single generic mainstream metal fan (which is, unfortunately, the majority; dumb, awkward Metalocalypse watching Children of Bodom/Lamb of God fans and the like) has done this joke, and if you're even vaguely into metal, you've encountered it. Its along the lines of:

Socially awkward white kid 1:"What's your favorite black metal band?"
Musical leper number 2: "Oh, you mean God Forbid? HAHAHAHAOMFGLMAOZEPICWIN!!"

This is supposed to be funny because 4 of the 5 members of the band are black. Never mind that God Forbid only have two good songs and are awful overall, like most mainstream metal, but its this odd rite of passage where if I run into anyone who still finds it funny to make ye olde "black metal" joke in reference to God Forbid, I make a mental note to avoid them forever. Its both a mark of stunted musical and mental growth and I know nothing good can come with associating with that kind of person (ie: Cannibal Corpse fans). Despite a minority of non-white metal musicians, they are there, especially in Latin America, because as everyone knows, Hispanics love metal. Suffocation are great and crazy influential and two of their core members are black. From Loudness to Boris, there are a large amount of great Asian metal musicians, also, which explains why former Megadeth and Cacophony guitarist Marty Friedman hosts a Japanenglish rock/metal show in Japan. Just like the discovery of DH Peligro, Suicidal Tendencies, and the Bad Brains in punk, the ethnic makeup of music gets a lot more varied the deeper you get into it and things like that stop being funny. Also, you become 17 or older.

But what about black metal? The general consensus is that its the complete opposite of everything Afro. Shit, its the opposite of everything industrial and modern, in some instances. So as the heralded music form of Nazi's, white separatists, awkward nerds and just all around interesting crackers, it usually inspires a few raised eyebrows and a couple of sighs when the issue of black people doing black metal comes up. How would you deal with the overwhelming racism? How would you make it relate to the diaspora or life as a pan-African? Would you write songs about Anansie? Would you wear corpsepaint? Would you still call it "black metal", or would you ignore the cliche humor inherent to the name regarding the situation of the musicians ethnicity? And how many black people would have to start black metal bands until there was a decent band? (Probably the same ratio I use with women in rock and rap, since there's only a large amount of good white male rock bands because the people who play the music are overwhelming white and male and with such large numbers, there's gotta be some diamonds in there somewhere)

Well, really, despite a large number of asian and Hispanic black metal musicians already extant to ease the process and possibly inspire some Lilith fair-esque tour, its unnecessary. There's already an avenue to be black and do black metal.


This relates slightly to something I've been wanting to discuss and have never seen anyone else talk about, generally because I might be one of few non-hipsters who fucks with a lot of both hip-hop and black metal and it is the basic truth that the two genres are incredibly similar.

A portion of this has to do with the sociology of scenes. Though hip-hop's rigid alienation of outsiders with the endless sermonizing and proselytizing about the supposed canon and best MC's and what is real hip-hop and etc is more akin to the clandestine denseness of electronica and its subgenres, the archival nature and continually active and disparate fanbase of rap is exactly like that of metal. One trip to or checking out a few mainstream documentaries and its clear that, though the history and sound are clearly different (the latter to a degree, more later), the behavior is the same. The same generational squabbles, same pro-genre festivals, same zines and small publications, same elaborate message board sites (smnnews vs. allhiphop), same elitism, same outdated canon (2Pac/Common and Ozzy/Pantera all kind of suck), same self-lionizing, same feeling of anti-outsider exclusivity, ever-evolving dress code, both are recognized for having one ethnicity be the majority consumers and participants, etc, etc. And besides, ignorant motherfuckers like Brand Nubian and a good half of anyone who has ever rapped have more in common with the homophobia and ethnocentrist politics of black metal musicians and fans than they know.

Beyond just metal as an umbrella genre, you can break it down further, making the comparison sharper and more unique. Really, as hip-hop's best period is 1986-1996, that is the same era "extreme" metal started to emerge, or rather death and black metal. Now, the death metal connection is extremely easy to make. Besides the Gravediggaz, there's a heap of rappers, mostly horrorcore, who not only acknowledge death metal aesthetics and use the same lyrical style in their rhymes, but there are also those who are informed about the genre and even played in or have side-project death metal bands like Jedi Mind Tricks, Ill Bill, and Necro. There have also been a lot of rappers like Big L or Prodigy who were inclined to drop something grisly or blasphemous from time to time in between their raps.

Death metal, however, is the indie rock of the metal scene. Everyone thinks they're cool and edgy and obscure for listening to it, but in reality its mainstream and poppy as fuck. If you like Deicide or Death, that's like saying you think The Shins are "hella rad". And it tends to breed the same alpha-male lunkhead mentality that helped spawn black metal as a reactionary genre split from the same 80's influences (Bathory, Celtic Frost, Sarcofago, etc). There's an interesting series of interviews with Varg Vikernes on the official Burzum website, all informative, and this quote in particular touches on that issue: "Black Metal was a revolt against the modern world, and in particular against the commercialized (Americanized) Death Metal scene."

Black metal's nascent rise and fall (well, its decline in Scandinavia) and etc is over-documented and mythologized, so in the end, what's most important is the music, despite the ideologies it spewed forth during its first wave. Within that, as unfortunately hipsters have caught on to, is a genre containing essentially four sounds and approaches to it; showing a rock sound or influence (Darkthrone, later Satyricon, a bunch of "black n roll bands"), overt "extreme" or death metal influences (Immortal, 1349, Gorgoroth, Behemoth, most mainstream black metal), grandiose and symphonic rather than striving to sound ugly (Emperor), and the overall best, the approach seen as "avant-garde" or, at the very least, in keeping with the ideologies of black metal (Burzum, Wolves in the Throne Room, Deathspell Omega, etc). Essentially, black metal has two shades, ugly and beautiful, and the avant-garde bands, have, for good reason, drawn comparisons to shoegaze and My Bloody Valentine with all of their lush pendulum strummed beauty. This sound, though great and strangely overlooked when beacons of being out-to-lunch like Vice do whole episodes about motherfucking Gaahl from Gorgoroth (Really? Way to be generic and uninformed, indie rock fans.), doesn't relate.

However, with its utterly discordant nature, the rawer, more basic black metal sound is akin to the more ugly, harsh New York rap productions of the last 20 years. Besides tons of ugly sounding dissonant productions that on a music geek level, sound JUST LIKE black metal riffs (full of weird half steps, chord glisses out of key, out of tune piano and guitars, etc)

there's also the overall vibe of hardcore NY rap from the 90's. RZA and Havoc, for example managed to capture unique vibes, at once unsettling and claustrophobic but still cool. Also, a lot of 90's hip-hop, like a lot of black metal, requires a decent attention span, since its not exactly AC/DC in terms of easy to digest riffyness. There's tons of sonic layers and musically wrong thing happening, which would make Deathspell Omega and their peers the Three 6 Mafia of black metal I think. Which would probably make Kanye West the Immortal of rap or something.

Considering that the basics of black metal, musically is rapidly strummed minor chords shifting tonal degrees that they shouldn't shift(i-vi and i-ii-vi-vii, etc), it wouldn't necessarily be that hard to bridge that gap and make an awesome hybrid of the two. Really, all that prevented a decent rap rock hybrid was that the ego of rock musicians prevented them from understanding that since the rhythmic forms are too different that most people would never actually sit down and figure a way to splice them, it makes more sense to place metal music/riffs/samples over hip-hop drum pattern and rap over that, than the reverse, which has failed horribly whenever done.

I'd hope to see this done eventually. Since I'm way too lazy and unlearned about samplers and drum machines to do it myself, I think Three 6 Mafia, Dre (if you can shake the cobwebs off him), Lil' Jon or RZA would be great at this sort of thing, and I'd love to hear "Dunkelheit" over some 808's.

For real. Or if that shit doesn't work, just continue taking over hardcore and metalcore, as MOP are doing:


josephlovesit said...

Great post. I must say, after reading that I'm inspired to do some musical experimenting. I was going to suggest Bone Thugs (circa E 1999 Eternal) for your video mixtape but then realized while their aesthetic may be similar, their beats aren't really discordant. What are some good black metal albums to check out? All I've really heard are Ulver's first 3 albums (and one of those is straight up folk metal).

brandon said...

Really good post. I actually prefer the ideological, earlier black metal. Even the newer guys I like, like say Krieg and Make a Change...Kill Yourself! are on some purify the white race shit-

I'm not calling you out, but how do you reconcile the music and the message? Just curious-

I know you didn't ask me, but Joseph, here would be my suggestions:

Burzum - Det Som Engang Var
Burzum - Filosofem
Emperor-In the Nightside Eclipse
Krieg-The Black House
Satyricon- Dark Medeviel Times

Christopher said...

Haha, well, since this blog is an exercise in me regaining my writing abilities over time, I was worried about this entry. I'm glad it didn't suck!

Like my good buddy Christian, I sort of don't. The black metal I do fuck with so far (I'm very lazy, so I get all my post-1994 black metal info from Christian) isn't racist in any way, so it never really comes up.

Except Burzum, haha. He's mad racist, but I admire him because he's interesting and his interviews rule and give a great world perspective. Kristian "Varg" Vikernes is, however, a condescending asshole of a racist, and I'd love to punch him in the face for it, especially since my very existence flies in the face of his slightly deluded fetishization of pre-industrial Europe and ethnic lineages (Gotta admire someone with the balls to shit on white ethnic minorities of white countries for not being the right kind of white)

However, I have, as a music fan with a bunch of various ideologies, a belief that if Hitler made awesome post-punk, I'd still love it. I just wouldn't buy the record, I'd pirate it in protest.

It sort of coincides with my belief that the musician and music should be treated and analyzed separately, except in cases of biography.

And your black metal recommendations are pretty sweet. Filosofem rules.

Christopher said...

Joseph: I'm mad lazy, but, All Deathspell Omega releases are pretty cool, Panzerfaust by Darkthrone, the first three Burzum records, Blood Fire Death by Bathory, the first three Emperor records, Wolves in the Throne Room, and there are cool moments of the first three Satyricon records. Volcano by Satyricon is cool, but its very rock/mainstream metal influenced.

Surprisingly, Pitchfork has an awesome metal column which, of course, harps on black metal more than anything else:

josephlovesit said...

Thanks for the recommendations guys. Consider them wishlisted.

floodwatch said...

Fantastic post, Christopher. I've been musing about this topic for some time now, but haven't been able to gather my thoughts into a post as coherent as this one.

I feel Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk is Emperor's shining moment (and pretty much black metal's, for that matter), but I'll settle for Nightside Eclipse any day. It's just as bleak and uncompromising as, say, Hell on Earth

Christopher said...

Definitely. They're both essentially flawlessly written black metal albums, albeit the symphonic elements and song structures tend to evoke a sense of being commercial that the Emperor's Return EP didn't have.

I put Emperor and Burzum as the cream of the first wave, I think.