1. Prologue by Kaveh
2. Until the Light Takes Us: A Review by Helmholtz
3. Cirith Ungol – King of the Dead: Review by Helmholtz
6. On Metal and the 3 Metamorphoses by Kaveh
Here I sit, atop a hill looking down into the infinite darkness beneath me. A fortress of mountains surrounds the valley. Shapeless figures below shift and move slowly, awaiting the inevitable. Above me grey clouds twist and turn, slow and sluggish, creeping along, powerless against the whims of the breath of the wind, and then heavily collide. The night is pregnant with blood, lusting after the piercing rays of a red dawn. Awaiting the breakage, my fingers run through the mane of my stallion. My other hand clenches the hilt of my sword in anticipation. Ecstasy and fear are one and the same – and I await them both impatiently.
The crushing weight of the moment envelopes my being, and yet I am lighter than I have ever been. And then I begin to levitate, leaving the field, dashing through the clouds, catching the sharp blades of sunlight before daybreak. The sun is harsh; it cuts through me, leaving my bare soul before its killing gaze. My being is torn as all frailty within me takes flight. All that is unworthy of this moment takes flight. Ecstasy and fear, joy and dread are one and the same – and I embrace them all fiercely.
“Now the morning advance from far east
Now the sun breaks through dust-clouds and haze
Now a forest of spears appears on the hill
And steel shines bright in the sun’s first rays”
And I descend and descend, galloping down the hill speedily, cutting through air and earth, cutting through the fabric of existence itself. I am one with my sword and my stallion; we are all but a single creature, thirsting for blood, reveling in the joy of the hunt. About me, formless figures are cut down in massive numbers. I have become more than human. I am a gift-giver. I am the bringer of all that makes life worthwhile. Ecstasy and fear, joy and dread, life and death are all one and the same – and I have become them, all and one!
Until the Light Takes Us: A Review
It is above all a good thing that an English language documentary by a relatively disinterested third-party has been produced on the Norwegian black metal scene and the events surrounding it in the early 90s. Most wonderful about this, is that the makers of the film, Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell, though having done an excellent job arranging this, let the objects of the documentary speak for themselves. There is no politically correct summary to properly interpret the ideas presented here; they are left bare of any ornamentation, to observe.
My particular viewing of the film was with a few fellow Hessians, on a late winter’s night in the city, in a local mid-sized cinema. While the theatre was not packed to the brim, there were certainly a good deal of people who showed up to see the film, many seeming to be curious outsiders (though there were many as well who were clearly metalheads). Opening cuts of the film featuring Fenriz staring luridly off into the Norwegian landscape, coupled with nauseatingly schmaltzy ambient/indie/pop bastard fusions, gave the initial impression that this would be a humanistically “sensitive” take on those tough, grim Norwegians. This initial pessimism was vastly swept to the side when the film showed depth on a number of levels regarding the main actors of the dramatic sequences of the 90s.
Through countless venues of information, we get the sense that Fenriz is a bit of a fool and a joker, that his poetic brilliance of earlier times, both lyrically and compositionally, were perhaps an accident, or the brightly burning flames of youthful ripping into pure action, subsiding through tiredness and lack of anything but impulse. This film seems to portray a much more complex picture of a tragic, downfallen individual who seemed to be just as far-seeing as his work had suggested, but easily discouraged and sickly, even his humour seeming a desperate mask for his dissatisfaction. He speaks almost as a twisted Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, overladen with honey, when he speaks of his love for art which is “wealthy and troubled”, portaying “the exhaustion of easy living”. Touched upon very strongly is the deep friendship that persisted and still persists between him and Varg, in spite of the differences present between the two.
Varg is where the film is really centered about and finds its best voice. With infinite charm, but iron resolve, we see his values declared firmly and without hesitation. In a moment showing just how uncensored the film is with regards to politically incorrect opinions, he describes baptism as a Jewish ceremony to kill the pagan soul within a child and call a Jewish soul in. In an infinitely humorous scenario, one audience member in the back of the theatre was so bold as to clap loudly at this. He stands strongly against globalism, corporatism, Christianity, and everything that weakens his culture, and relates, for lack of a better word, awesome anecdotes of shooting at the first McDonald’s that opened up in his town with his friends. Whatever one’s opinion may be on the man’s music, his resolve and his values have stayed like iron, and he seems in passionate pursuit of them, even cheerful in this determination.
These two aside, other characters come into play, often being varying degrees of comic relief, but sometimes presenting interesting information and reflecting in word and practice some of the worship of life through darkness found exuding through the music of that scene. Hellhammer, whom many have come to see as a PC mercenary (having retracted some of his more controversial statements on race at times) “for any cunt wot asks me, yeah?” , seems to speak boldly enough in this film, where he proclaims his admiration for Faust having actually killed a homosexual. Abbath and Demonaz, though decently spoken, seem to have reverted to the rocker archetype and want to distance themselves from the whole ordeal. Frost, never key to the movement in the first place, stutters and stumbles in his ideas, and makes “performances” that more resemble temper tantrums. As an added point of probable ironic arrangement by the makers of the film, every time Fenriz expresses his distaste for the continued commercialization of the genre, we see Frost lapping it up in the limelight.
One negative point I do have to make upon it, is the poor choice of background music. Occasionally, the ambient music used as a soundtrack was rather evocative, but as mentioned before, sometimes quite schmaltzy(dare I say, emo?). In a further situation of annoyance, the actual black metal selections were often the most aesthetically “rocking” ones. Why “Ea, Lord of the Depths”, when one could play “My Journey to the Stars”? Or why the most “Dethroned Emperor” sounding parts of “In the Shadow of the Horns”, when we could have been treated to the Romantic drama of “En As I Dype Skogen”? Since when was “Deathcrush” Mayhem’s greatest contribution? I can only attribute these selections to the filmmakers’ respective indie background, likely reflecting an affinity for stuff that resembles lo-fi garage rock.
While I can agree with certain contentions had with the film (the analysis of the music itself in depth and black metal as a standalone culture was lacking), overall this is certainly worth watching, and beyond that, supporting by actually seeing the film and paying for a ticket. Black metal is an immeasurably important development in metal, and led towards the culture solidifying into almost grasping the wispy tails of transcendence. Spreading a more educated and even-handed view of the genre, as presented here, is key.
Cirith Ungol: King of the Dead – Review
This is a fast becoming known obscurity among those into metal, a sonic relic of the 70s persisting well into the 80s, equal parts Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Rush. In this archaic lexicon of technique (by the time this album was released, Slayer had already released Haunting the Chapel, speed metal had begun to boom, and the origins of death metal and black metal had crawled forth), some rather evocative and adventurous (and quite subtle for older heavy metal)music is created.
The previous album by this band, “Frost and Fire”, had been much more rock influenced, occasionally veering into heavy metal territory. Lyrically, there were some tales of the fantastic there, but once again a banal heavy rock attitude of the sex, tough attitude and drugs variety permeated most of the lyrics. This album is an altogether different affair, having a neoclassical flair in the fluid nature of the melodies, and leaning much more towards thematic development structurally than a verse/chorus scheme (an admitted influence from Rush in their early days).
I’ve read somewhere that Cirith Ungol is mentioned in the liner notes of a Celtic Frost album, which would make sense as they both gained a great deal of inspiration from the Swords and Sorcery style of literature, Celtic Frost from Robert E. Howard, and Cirith Ungol from Michael Moorcock (being more in depth than the fantasy teenage comics that the phrase is usually associated with). As well, the mammoth nature of their riffing is shared, possibly the Black Sabbath influence in both. This by no means makes this album as glorious an affair as any of Celtic Frost’s earlier work (little is), but there are parallels even beyond that. By this album, the vocalist Tim Baker had added to his goblin-like Halford vocals, a slight bellow and sense of pacing that resembled slightly that of Tom G. Warrior, adding a great deal more of power than his odd vocal style is given credit for.
At any rate, this album has many secrets to hide within its’ ostensibly less heavy exterior (in comparison to the rising trends in metal at the time). There is actually a certain concerto-like delicacy to the variations on theme of the lead guitars, never frivolously ripping out solos, but always linked inextricably to the unity of the piece in a subtle development. Indeed, an interpretation of the ubiquitous “Toccata and Fugue” show that this is far from shred metal, having great care for pacing and restraint, and reveals itself to be a take with more of the emotional depth that Bach himself had composed it with, than mere showmanship.
The melodies themselves are clearly a Rush take on Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, being doom-laden power chord dirges, or moving forward relentlessly in palm muted single picking, always with either a glowing haze (the added touch of open arpeggiated chords) or sometimes a jagged angularity, skittering about snake-like, adding a further mystique and aggression. Also to be praised is the efficiency of theme and development, creating engaging journeys out of melodic economy. The melodies themselves belie something of the general sound of a lot of 70s metal: melancholic sounding, almost a touch nostalgic, but in a way perhaps related to the Baroque era choice of the interpretation, like the melancholy of the passacaglia form, being a purposeful and thoughtful brooding rather than resignation and despair, hinting at something more divine than mere melancholy.
While this is not necessarily essential listening for Hessians, it’s damned interesting heavy metal apocrypha and has many rewards for the careful listener.
Vio-Lence – Eternal Nightmare: Review
For those who like to follow the chronological evolution of metal, there is little that compares with the emergence and transformation of Speed Metal during the 1980s. Starting as heavy metal mixed with hardcore punk and thrash, the genre went on to influence a number of up and coming death metal bands. While Vio-Lence were relative late-comers to the genre, their sound did much to display the hybrid nature of the genre at its origins. Their full-length debut “Eternal Nightmare” has since been characterized as an influential Speed Metal classic. Here we shall dissect the music to find out how much of this characterization is true.
The music can be described as speed metal with an ear for what gave Thrash and Hardcore Punk that chaotic edge. The vocals are the most obvious part of this twist, diving head-first into the maniacal ranting style that you would expect to hear from bands like DRI. The guitar playing technique, however, is sharp and precise with a generous dose of galloping staccato resembling much of the characteristics of late Bay area Speed Metal, even though it occasionally dives into open chord patterns interrupted by pinched-harmonics more typical of the hardcore punk genre.
What this album really has going for it is a virile sense of viciousness. Most of the riffs are built on short bursts of power chords which quickly get mutilated, reverse themselves, or jump to different keys. The songs often tend to start with what seems like a standard verse-chorus structures, however, in case of the more successful songs they manage to alter away from such monotony and open up the horizon into further and further mutations and variations of the same riffs which is quiet pleasant to the ears of anyone familiar with the use of these methods by later death metal musicians. All of this done at the tempos typical of Thrash and hardcore Punk gives one the impression of rushing bloodlust.
Where this music suffers is where a lack of overall focus becomes evident in structure of the songs. It is clear that the band is attempting to play with the Speed Metal/Thrash aesthetics and build them up into (relatively) lengthier pieces filled with a greater number of riffs that would become a narrative. Unfortunately these attempts tend to be hit and miss at times and occasionally the transitions seem fragmented, linearly and arbitrarily arranged as opposed to an organic build-up into peaks of frenzy.
While occasionally suffering from a lack of focus and therefore missing the big picture to some extent, this album manages to carry through with its sheer enthusiasm and passion. Perhaps it is not an extremely influential album to the genre as death metal was well under development by 1988. However, it is definitely a passionate, enjoyable and memorable attempt, taking the basic elements of speed metal and pushing them in a different direction than where the genre eventually ended up at.
Remembering Ronnie James Dio (1942-2010)
When growing up with metal it often takes a long journey for a follower of the music to grasp the entire history of the genre in full. There are certain bands, musicians and characters along this journey that manage to stand out and stay with you even as you stop exploring the specific sub-genre relating to that artist. Having that in mind, it is safe to say that Ronnie James Dio was one of the most universally respected and beloved vocalists and front-men among metal fans of various dedications and disciplines.
Having started his music career long before what we know as the birth of heavy metal, Ronnie James Dio joined Black Sabbath in 1979, introducing much of what we recognize as the grand and over the top gestures common in Heavy Metal. He later moved on to create his own band, Dio. Though structurally clearly belonging to an older and more rock-like class of heavy metal; the charm, passion and honesty present in his music, lyrics and delivery made many of Dio albums to be considered classics among fans.
Music aside, there were certain character traits which made Dio stand out from the majority of his contemporaries. He never allowed himself to be mixed up within the circus of the American mainstream media, and therefore never came across as a burn-out media clown or a doofus old rock-star type. In fact he always seemed to be vey aware of the shallow nature of the music industry and the media, and he always retorted with an uncompromising iron fist. This made him an excellent spokesperson and representative for true hessians much in the same way that Bruce Dickinson is today. When all is said and done, Dio had an epic vision of fantasy in music and an immovable power of will. And for that we salute him. \m/
On Metal and the Three Metamorphoses
In “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, Friedrich Nietzsche speaks of the three metamorphoses that a spirit goes through in its transcendent struggle to become a creator. The first stage is that of submissive discipline, patience and resistance to the urges, marked as the spirit of the camel. The second stage is that of the warlike rebellion against the superficial, absurd and the corrupt decree, against every “Thou Shalt”. This is marked as the spirit of the lion. And finally appears the spirit of the child, which due to its purity, is truly free and has the ability to create new values and goals, something that even the lion is incapable of.
Looking at Metal through this filter, it can be observed that the majority of the span of the subculture has been within the realm of the rebellious lion. Metal has been saying the sacred “no” to the dragon (to use Nietzsche’s own metaphor) which is all the weak and destructive values of Judeo-Christianity as well as the more modern incarnations of such values in the form of secular humanism. From the early horror movie-inspired works of heavy metal to the nihilistic genre of death metal, this spirit has been sharpened, while fixing its vision ever more closely upon the very root of what has spawned the very creation of the dragon: fear of death and a willingness to distract oneself from it at any cost. The polite social restraints regarding political correctness, individualistic altruism and avoidance of all mention of death, are put aside in favour of a cold merciless stare at the state of the world, an often Dionysian approach to life, and an almost joyful sense of play when discussing the subject of death, as if realizing that the true key to freedom from fear of death is indeed facing it rather than ignoring it.
The spirit of the lion is essential for the freedom from cowardly social constraints. However, its inability to give rise to any lasting value from the ashes of the sickness that it destroys leaves most of its followers in a fatalistic state of mind which can eventually lead to failure. The typical obsession with death, fear and gore which is prevalent to metal can then turn inwards, creating a sense of loss and hopelessness, mostly evident in (but not limited to) the sub-genres of doom metal and grunge. It is only within the final stages of metal’s evolution that signs of the spirit of the child can be seen. Black metal (along with some death metal) does not only declare a war-like statement against the existing corruption, but also begins to set up a series of values and traditions, hinting at how a society built for the strong (mind and body) would look like, and this is perhaps why it is the most controversial and misunderstood sub-genre of metal. Within the cryptic voices of the most formative pioneers of the genre, is embedded the code for the rebirth of heroism (as one might find it in the actions of the Heroes of “The Iliad”).
Today religions often have an exoteric face that has a more simplistic worldview, usually working on the basic modes of reward and punishment. This often panders to the plebeian general populace, whom because of their lack of dedication to transcendent principals, often integrate the rituals as just another part of their daily lives (God is just another boss to please so that one can reap the rewards later). The esoteric side of the religions, on the other hand, attracts those who want to take up a spiritual path and evolve into higher planes of existence. There is no promise of heaven, only a high spirit and a sharp mind. Parallel to this, mainstream metal has acted as the exoteric side of the culture, exploding in waves of popularity (trends), while the esoteric values that have created what constitutes true beauty have remained intact, growing and evolving steadily, and as always, in the hands of the few. For Hessianism to continue to fulfill its promise as the hidden mystical element within the metal subculture, it needs to stay mobile and active but most of all it needs to stay disciplined.
There is an argument to be made regarding the fact that metal, as a sub-culture, never experienced the disciplined hardships of the spirit of the camel. Having just risen from the hedonism of rock ‘n roll, it is only too easy to roll backwards in the comfort of what is known and accepted. Therefore, it is important that we become hard. The emergence of the will and the spirit of the child is only possible through overcoming oneself. Once one has controlled the distractions and urges that seem to have become the focal point of current modes of thought, then it is possible to stare away from the self and interact with the surrounding world in a meaningful way. As the current system slowly degenerates and becomes a cultural wasteland, the waves of the next revival will be only in the hands of the children who dare to be heroic.
<Die Fahne Hoch: The Prospective New Flag of Hessiandom
We at Hessian.org, present to you the prospective new flag of Hessiandom, which much like the genre itself (as noted in the article of this issue on mythos), borrows liberally a variety of virile and strong symbols from antiquity, esoteric traditions and literature, and philosophy in order to compose a system of its own artistic/religious prisms to radiate life’s vital force:
The background is red, a colour which holds nearly as much significance in metal as does black; blood (your own; whether pulsing vitally or spilling in defiance, the carcass of an animal, your foe’s) sunset and sunrise (“when the whole sky is red like blood”), the transitory decay of autumn, heralded all by the sanguine-hued shade. Fury, vitality, glorious decay and fading splendour, rising and setting…..
Atop it stands the Sanskrit letters for the word Vir, (Common in Indo-European languages, and having it’s legacy in the English words virility and virtue, via the word’s presence in Latin), meaning overflowing vitality and power in creation and destruction.
At the bottom, there stands a mountain peak, evoking an austere heroic ascendancy, the kind of which is found from Hellas to the North in depicting the place of the gods (be it Valhalla or Olympus), and stands as a challenge for those seeking transcendence.
At the centre, there is a sigil of a serpent encoiled around a sun. This sigil takes its meaning from Nietzsche’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra”, where Zarathustra is given by his followers a staff upon which there is exactly this symbol; the serpent signifying wisdom, and the sun signifying life, in tandem showing the pursuit of life-affirming wisdom as an ideal.
Finally, flanking the central sigil, there are wings, evoking virile flight over the “Spirit of Gravity”, flight to the union of devilish and holy elements (Abraxas) and thus transcendence, and the victorious nature inherent in the proud eagles of civilizations past such as Rome (as well as holding a similar place in classic and even the most exoteric metal).
May this standard exert the power present in it.
The Essence of Metal Mythos: Nothing Too Sacred, Nothing Too Vile
Reverence and irreverence are both omnipresent concepts in metal, quite paradoxically. Religious and Latinate language are commonplace, as well as Christian symbols (indeed, as far back as even the very name of Black Sabbath), all in a seeming effort to denounce Judeo-Christianity and a false “afterworld”. Having demolished and destroyed that which comes from the world of light, it puts in the place of this over-arching after-purpose often a Nietzschean, Pagan, or occultist outlook , all of which offer deep reverence towards life, a hunger for experience, a desire for Being, disregarding dualistic ways of perception and morality. Consider the classic lines from Morbid Angel’s “Immortal Rites”. It seems rather than metal being a rejection of all things religious (as it is too often made out to be), it is a yearning for a deeper spirituality, for true religion. The obsession with the occult and pre-Christian is not simply a convenient weapon to arm oneself against the corruption of values that many found abhorrent in Christianity, but a path in its own right towards different ones, towards Being.
This often takes the form of a myriad of symbols from various mythologies, both ancient and modern, which all share in common a sense of the mystery beyond our immediate perception. We have in Celtic Frost occult dabbling, blended as an epic seamlessly into the virile war-lust of Robert E. Howards’ Conan mythos, creating in the process something not unlike the musings of his Kull the Conqueror character. The austere, sublime, ego-shattering influence of Lovecraft’s writings abound from the work of Metallica to Morbid Angel. Absu takes liberally from a variety of sources, everything from ceremonial magick to Celtic and Sumerian mythology in enlivening the mind, whilst fellow Texans Averse Sefira engage in the rich poetry of Qabalic occultism to underscore concepts of pure action not dissimilar to those found in the Bhagavad Gita. The spirit of Nietzsche permeates the essence of metal with the “beyond good and evil” ideal, as well as the necessity of hardship and violence in the quest for anything noble, a furious elitism, a disdain for weakness. Obvious ideas of Romanticism (“the past is alive”) live in black metal, and heavy metal of old (as well as in some death metal), always alluding to Classical and pre-Christian symbolism. This longing for everything pre-modern (or alternatively, a fascination with the future and the reality of our present age, thus for the non-modern or against at least the way the modern world is presented)is a wish to cast aside illusion, praising the beauty of reality’s sword unsheathed from its ugly scabbard of modernity, to stand in reverence of its cold, naked sublime nature.
This intense, and by nature of the increasingly globalized world, eclectic fascination with mythology can be mistaken unfortunately for comic-book geekdom (hunched over nerds, forever sub-chronicling and under-archiving knowledge of increasingly esoteric and trivial matters), and the manifestation of those lacking power who wish to appear powerful by identifying with powerful symbols. In the modern world more than ever, appearance is reality, and convenience is king, and as such, it’s easy to suspect that someone who talks loudly and boastfully of masculine feats, listens to music that dwells much in the realm of the fantastic as far as it’s vocabulary goes, or is generally antisocial is doing any of these things because of a deficiency on his own part, being assuaged in the mind by an outward constant signalling of symbols that should identify him as the opposite of what he knows he is. Alas, such characteristics analogously can make those into metal seem like losers who turned to a culture they could succeed in, as opposed to competing in the “real world”, which they failed at. I do not suggest that Hessians as a rule, do or should lack social skills, or are failures. However, seeking a black sheep persona to attach to oneself is no doubt appealing in a world of unfettered status displaying.
One antidote to the aforementioned problem was the infamous acts of the Norwegian scene in the 90s, which should need little in the way of introduction, having passed into legend for metal, and further and further into the mainstream consciousness. These in of themselves have begun to constitute something of a legend for people into metal (having happened now some two decades ago), something by which your affirmation or denial of can mark you in a rather iconoclastic manner. Let it suffice to say that the actions of war in pursuit of ideals that the youthful black metallers of the time had taken separated the wheat from the chaff, and scorned any idea that metal was safe or an adornment. At least for a short while, the virility of metal was no longer in abstract, but actualized fiercely and glorious, basking in the glare of the burning churches.
And then the ones who burnt the churches proceeded to praise Satan, Thor, Baphomet, the Self, etc. Worship, replaced with worship. Metal’s true essence was never about a humanistic rebellion against Christianity not being Christian enough. Euronymous himself hoped for radicalized and militarized Christians to bring blood upon the earth in warfare. The mindset of those who mattered within the music was never about justice, as is further evident by the nature of the personas adopted by metal musicians in their songs. The ghouls attacking the church are not righteous saviours of the downtrodden, but slayers of the weak and gore-toothed demons of darkness. The vengeance is a laughing one, necessitated not by the wickedness but the weakness of the ideals they attack, and justified by their own strength. It is contempt from above, not resentment from below. Theatrics can be continually argued as the source of this imagery, but even if so, this is a sublimated version of a desire to act upon those values in some significant way.
The worshipful nature of metal mythos extends then not to an idealized God of love and perfection, but a more complex and metaphorical approach through various occult symbols, gods, and nature. That naked sword of reality is God, nuanced, manifested in infinite facets, a fractal. In the same way that art, religion and the occult are all in a sense sciences of Being, all themes in metal’s greats are reflections of this principle in some way. From the millions of ways one can interpret “Only Death Is Real”, one can derive already the great omnipresent sense of inevitability in metal, represented so often by the massive, heavy nature of the music, calling to mind amor fati, the ceaseless forward movement of the eternal universal chain of cause and effect which we are but a small part of. All the reference to decay, death, finality, destruction, depression, all this “negativity”, is the Sublime in life, and as such teaches us in a way so subtle as to shake our very being, the massive nature of life’s infinity. It shows us the route to power, to true experience.
However, true experience is to be found in the particular, as the particular is the road to this universal. One cannot simply get up one day and decide life is joy, and leave it at that. The purity of experience that one attains through particular methods of enlightenment along this path is irreplaceable, and requires deep thinking, and immersion. Varg, Euronymous, and Dead will all be immortal in some sense, because they gave themselves so fully and totally to these particulars, just as a Buddhist will reach enlightenment through his techniques, an occultist crossing the abyss through his rituals, a monk of some mountain monastery through his contemplation, etc. Let the riffs boom through the fastness of your mind, and let the movement of your mind and body echo through eternity.