Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Metal Years: Part Three

At this time I was reading about occulty bits and bobs and listening to death metal almost exclusively; I was 19. I eventually settled down a bit, and started to take my own music a bit more seriously. I was still reading occulty stuff, but death metal started to recede into the background a bit. This was also the time of the first rumblings of "black metal": the second Dark Throne album came out, and the metal scene in Christchurch experienced a schism. I didn't really get the black metal sound. It wasn't heavy really, but was sure evil. By this time I was really mellowing out musically, listening to Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno etc. I would still check out the odd new release, but eventually I ended up getting rid of my collection; not so much out of wanting to rid myself of it, more due to lack of finances to buy other new albums. The stuff I didn't listen to eventually would be sold.

Over the years a few albums would return, but mainly out of nostalgia. Occasionally a new album would appear at the right time, Slayer's Diabolosa in Musica (1998) being such an album. 1998 was an incredibly dark year, and that album was perfect. 1998 was also my first year of being "confronted" with confessing Christians. Teacher's College was filled with young Christians. Unfortunately, while they were fine people, their faith had very little effect on me; if anything, it pushed me further away. In this same year, I had an odd experience. I was walking down Innes Rd, looking up at the cross of the roof of Our Lady of Fatima school. I wandered onto the road, staring up at the cross, right into the pathway of an oncoming car. I was narrowly missed.

Anyway, on Christmas Eve 2006 I experienced an instantaneous conversion to the Christian faith. This initially turned me away from all "rock and/or roll" and put me on a diet of Messiaen and Hildegard von Bingen. Eventually I would go back to prog, and decipher the lyrics anew (an example of such a hermeneutic can be found here. Yet, Christian music remained classical, and I certainly wasn't going to start listening to Hillsong.

Eventually I broke my self emposed embargo on Christian rock music, and it was through the previously mentioned death metal albums that I found a whole new old world. I wrote about this discovery when it happened here.

Crimson Thorn were the band that first really got me. They sounded like Suffocation circa 1991, classic old style death metal. There was nothing in their sound that was new or different, other than their lyrical content:
For those who are perishing
The message of the Cross is foolishness
But those who have received Christ
Will have everlasting life
This is pretty different than the Morbid Angel and so forth. However, the spiritual intensity is the same. If anything it is more fervent. Where some death metal may be using occult imagery, it is possible that it may be being used for shock or "fashion" sake. These guys really mean and believe it.

Horde was a whole new thing for me. As I mentioned earlier, black metal never appealed to me, not on spiritual grounds (but I must admit, even then I thought the anti-Christian thing was a bit high school) but the sound was thin and under produced; the vocals a screech instead of a growl. It wasn't heavy. Horde changed my earlier opinion. It was a screech, it wasn't heavy and it is was insanely lo-fi. Where Crimson Thorn expressed the faith in strong terms, Horde was more about what to do with satan. Sort of like a reverse black metal.

Crimson Moonlight was more black metal, but had a strong atmospheric keyboard sound. Back in the early 90's, keyboards were extremely rare within death and black metal. There was a band who had a keyboard player as a bonafide member (Nocturnus) and many albums had atmospheric introduction pieces (usually courtesy of Ken Smith), but the music was strictly guitar based. The keyboard element is normally dramatic and movie soundtrack like, the sounds being largely orchestral. Crimson Moonlight would eventually remove keyboards and create a blackened-death sound (Veil of Remembrance, 2004). This sound would be developed further by other bands, Vaakevandring who only completed one demo managed to use the symphonic style in a very dramatic and melancholy way. This song is a great depiction of the difficulties of following the Christian faith.

By the mid 00's all sorts of things were accepted within black metal: flutes, angelic vocals, strings. It is difficult to regard some of this stuff as black metal, sounding as it does a bit like more like hard gothic rock. What this expansion of timbre does is create a more majestic, etheral and mystical sound.

It is this mystical feel that is in many ways the sign of where Christian music needs to head. What we hear from Hillsong and general ccm is bland and the only difference it actually has from the mainstream is the lyrical content. Christians are called to be in the world, not of the world. Where normal Christian music has become an corporate industry, with it's own moguls, stars and over-exposure, Christian metal has remained underground, and in many ways is even more subversive than normal metal, in the sense that it's lyrical content is by far from being the norm. As St Paul tell us:
For though I am free with respect to all,
I have made myself a slave to all,
so that I might win more of them.
To the Jews I became as a Jew,
in order to win Jews.
To those under the law I became as one under the law
(though I myself am not under the law)
so that I might win those under the law.
To those outside the law I became as one outside the law
(though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law)
so that I might win those outside the law.
To the weak I became weak,
so that I might win the weak.
I have become all things to all people,
so that I might by any means save some.
I do it all for the sake of the gospel,
so that I may share in its blessings.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NRSV

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