Archive for December, 2009

Black Metal and The Reformation

5 Comments Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Martin Luther

Black metal is about individualism. Often times it comes dressed up in vestments of paganism or satanism or misanthropy, but at its core it’s about the freedom of the individual in the face of society (NSBM notwithstanding); a rejection of external norms and authority in pursuit of internal vision.

This of course comes in many flavors – from bombastic Wagnerian viking metal longing for forgotten days, to introspective post-black-metal retreating from the world to a place of inner beauty, to the uncompromising misanthropy coming from the second wave of Norwegian black metal. The expressions are diverse and are wrapped up in the particular ideologies and aesthetics of the bands, but they are all tied together by a string of dissatisfaction with the state of things; a desire to break away from the status quo.

Long before the first corpsepainted hand picked an electric guitar, there was a man from the heart of Europe who shared these sentiments. Disgusted by the hypocrisy and incensed by the herd mentality of the church of his day, he made a statement bigger than burning a church ever could. 95 statements, in fact. His name was Martin Luther, and his cause was the rejection of external norms and authority in pursuit of internal vision. His cause was freedom of conscience.

“Therefore I cannot and will not recant, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I can do no other.”

Black metal has traditionally tended to express itself in opposition to certain things: against society, against Christianity, against pop culture, against people in general at times. This is not unexpected; the individualist must rail against the herd mentality wherever it may be found. Yet in many cases, like a child taking “Fido” to refer to all dogs, many black metal bands came to rail against these things not for their negation of the individual, but simply as sort of a subcultural taboo. At one point – and still to some – antitheist philosophy was even a necessary prerequisite to black metal.

Thus, one herd mentality has been substituted for another. As the individualist thread wears thinner, we get contingents of black metal bands (NSBM and otherwise) built on philosophies of cultural pride to the point of xenophobia. We get paganism just as puerile as the worst of suburban religious practice. This is not individualism; this is not the spirit of black metal.

Martin Luther was one of the great individualists of our age. Let the black metal community stand with him in condemnation of rote tradition, blind following, and the unexamined life. Certainly there is herd mentality to be found everywhere. Certainly there is need for reformation now as then; for constant self-examination in the face of unquestioned belief. Ecclesia semper reformanda est. Yet let the community not be too hasty in writing off a group which it views from the outside: it has more in common with the core of the Reformation than it might like to admit.

The next album Feste Burg will be thematically based on the Reformation. There will be five tracks corresponding to the five Solas of Protestant doctrine, as well as several shorter interlude songs.