There was recently an article on CVLT Nation titled “Is veganism changing the face of extreme music?”. It took me a few reads to try to decipher this enigmatic piece and I’m still not quite sure if I got it right.
The piece seems to be concerned about the relationship between Black Metal and Veganism. The writer, Tom, claims that an influx of vegan musicians might change the face of Black Metal. But is changing the face of extreme music a good or a bad thing? There is no clear answer to this in the text. There are, however. a few things to consider when we talk about “the face of black metal”.
What does actually Black Metal represent?
Firstly, Black Metal was a musical movement started by a group of very young men in a very specific time and place. In the very interesting book Blod Eld Död (Blood Fire Death) by Ika Johannesson and Jon Klingberg, a book which has yet to be translated into English I think, we get an in depth understanding of the early days of Black Metal.
What to me was most striking about this story is just how young these boys are when they create the foundation of what we today call Black Metal. The really crazy shit that we like to associate with this music scene was isolated to a particular time and space, namely Norway in the early nineties, and it was primarily carried out by those very young men. It is here that we find Pelle Ohlins (a.k.a Dead) suicide, the murder of Øystein Aarseth (a.k.a Euronymous) and a ton of burning churches. What happened to the Black Metal scene after Varg Vikernes (Burzum) was sent to prison has been radically different.
The image of opposition has been upheld with Satanic lyrics, corpse paint and spectacular stage shows, but off stage the Black Metal scene has been a rather peaceful, yet eccentric bunch of musicians hard at work to try to create the most extreme forms of Metal music known to man. (One exception might be Kristian Eivind Espedal, a.k.a. Ghaal, of Gorgoroth who has somewhat of a violent past despite his vegetarianism and love of nature. Oh, and there were some messed up NSBM folks in Germany but apart from that, not much.) Early Black Metal was by comparison to what came later on not very musically extreme but rather it aroused curiosity by its tone, imagery and message. For example, you can compare Mayhem’s first record Deathcrush from 1987 to Napalm Death’s record Scum released in the same year. The music of Bathory and Venom is also grossly outdone by contemporary bands when it comes to extremism in music. This is also why it is so important to make a divide between any music with blast beats and tremolo picking to Black Metal. The lure of Black Metal lies not primarily in its music but in its message.
And it is precisely the message that I think we need to look closer at if we really want to understand Black Metal and why it might attract vegans (characterized by their anti-speciesist, anti-anthropocentric ideology).
The essential lyrical message of early Black Metal is anti-humanism, misanthropy or anti-anthropocentric if you will. The lyrics are drawing up an image of the world where the human experience is peripheral or insignificant in comparison to the vital work of greater and older powers. Even though the world of Black Metal is rather vast and hard to generalize about I would say that this essential ethos is something that has been carried along into todays Black Metal scene. With currently active bands such as Watain, Wolves in the Throne Room and Mayhem we can still see this basic thought of misanthropy and anti-antropocentrism proliferated, yet in different ways. In Watain we see it through the spectacles of anti-cosmic Satansim, a religious system where our human forms are but illusions and where chaos is constantly lurking to challenge the reality we perceive. Wolves in The Throne Room brought us an almost Pagan interpretation of anti-anthropocentric with their beautiful hymns to nature. And Mayhem, well they are just being Mayhem. Is Atilla still veg by the way?
In the light of this anti-anthropocentric heritage it is not at all far-fetched to bring in the ethics of Animal Liberation or Environmental Protection. Maybe these ideas are even a more eligible reason to despise mankind in the 21st Century than any other? Bands such as Cattle Decapitation has given brilliant examples on how Metal artwork and lyrics can be used to convey a message of hatred towards humans due to their actions towards animals.
But to return to the initial question:
IS veganism changing the face of Black Metal?
No. Maybe I’m being ignorant but I’m just not sharing CVLT Nation’s assessment of the situation. Where are all these Vegan Black Metal bands? The CVLT article mentions not even one. The question might instead be SHOULD vegans change the face of Black Metal? Could we erode the “trve” forms of Black Metal with “political correctness”? Is there a risk of Black Metal becoming a mainstream phenomenon due to Veganism?
Here I could agree that there is a risk for Black Metal becoming even more diluted and meaningless than it already has become in some cases but I would not agree that the main threat comes from vegan musicians. The threat would rather be if Black Metal was absorbed even more into popular culture and thus diluted in order to make records that sell rather than to create extreme music and express anti-humanistic values. When Black Metal is all about selling shirts, drinking beer and doing huge shows the foundation of the Black Metal scene is more at risk than when someone choses to eat their veggies.
PS. If this reading has made you hungry for some Black Metal you can get a quick five hour walkthrough of Black Metal history by checking out this Spotify playlist I made.
Written by Jens VSXE. The author plays in a black metal band with an anarchist and deep ecologist message you can find here.