We live in a secular world. The official religion of our country offers nothing but insult added to injury, its adherents most often found worshiping hollow idols and names (like the very word “christian” which is bandied about like a clothing label).
If you truly are christian, don’t go and name yourself that, for the love of Jesus. It is not any man’s place to name himself after the God. Naming your cat or dog after a member of the pantheon is okay though.
But seriously, sometimes it seems that metal picks on Christianity a little too much. After all, what is the greater evil today, Fundamentalism or unfettered Capitalism? Blind adherence to the latter is frankly more certain to lead our world to a slow, strangulated death as inexorable as the horrific conclusion to Phil Mucci’s Heavy Metal Magazine -inspired video for Torche’s “Annihilation Affair”.
It is reasonable to ask, why is metal so obsessed with religion?
I am not sure I would say metal is a religion, but it is very much about religion– be that religion a flawed masterpiece like Christianity, or dogmatic atheism, or paganism, or just the religion of the open road. Also, religion serves as a very effective stand-in for politics: unless you are a punk or hardcore band, or Rage Against The Machine, The Clash, or maybe All Shall Perish, talking about politics in music is usually anathema, i.e. mad cheesy.
That there is more than one sort of religion that can be celebrated or reviled by way of rock should offer hints as to why some bands might appeal to me and not to you and vice versa. In other words, music is not purely entertainment; there is substance and culture embedded in it. No wonder we get so violent about our opinions.
Heck, I was totally unaware of this controversy when it was happening, but the lead singer of Liturgy was nearly lynched by black metal metalherds after he dared to mention philosophy in relation to music (Pitchfork). Seriously, are we are talking about a scene that is beyond stupid and utterly dysfunctional, or am I missing something?
One bright Saturday morning, last winter, I sat with my coffee and my phone (which I use as a Dictaphone during the week). Meliora by Ghost was booming in my mancave, and I wondered: are there other people out there who go through this, who try to actually write seriously about hard rock and metal?
Magazine writers and MetalSucks “reporters” seem content to organize interviews and haphazard little paragraphs called reviews. But what seems to be missing is an instructor– not a dry academic, nor an iconoclast, but a guide down the deeper paths– pathways that are deep but also known and mapped (unlike the iconoclast’s hermetic chambers). Pathways that are nonetheless all too often forgotten by each new generation and sub-generation. My parents smoked weed with me as we blasted Zeppelin, and taught me the shot-to-bong-hit ratio. But not everyone is so fortunate.
“Music critic” might be a vapid concept, right? But some contemporary bands represent ideas that warrant some exploration, so I want do my part as a music historian and a spiritual technician and explore those ideas.
Well let’s get on with it. The message of Ghost’s Meliora, at its most basic, unadorned level, is twofold (I realize that the band’s oeuvre contains social commentary on organized religion, but it is my theory that the specific religious critiques can be deconstructed as window dressing). On the one hand there is the essentially Zen statement that to find joy or achieve spiritual absolution you must release yourself, to surrender (abandonment- which might be extended to reckless abandon) and accept yourself as you are. This message, whenever adequately conveyed, is a genuinely beautiful thing. For the act of surrendering to the inevitable is a liberating act, but it is just that– an act– which is to say it is a one-time event occurring in the temporal plane and which must be repeated continuously for as long as we breathe. This is why religious arts are forever relevant– just as philosophical works facilitate the unending work of (the world’s) self-reflection, this kind of art facilitates our unending work of losing ourselves, of accepting the Universe as it is, a standard third eye chakra mantra. The message of Meliora, anyway, is that you can forgive yourself– and when someone absolves you of your sins, it is a powerful thing.
The other message of Meliora— at the surface level– is really only the flipside of the first message, which is an advisement to appreciate the things and people in your life that matter while you still can. The message is pure, mainlined nostalgia. I love rock & roll, and I am starting to love Ghost (even though sometimes the lyrics do shock me, as in “Deus in Absentia”). Quite simply, this is rock & roll that does its job– to foster a sentimental heart. Now I understand that everyone will have their own messages, but this is the one that I find most salient. This form of rock often rises above metal qua metal in meaning and importance, if for no other reason than its rarity. Not many bands can tug on my heartstrings in other words, at least not for the runtime of a whole album.
As I sit down to write today, in my mind are not only the sentimental ghouls of Ghost, but a few forces of metal and rock that are highly resistant to any form of deconstruction. The last year or so, I have been influenced by Jill Janus, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, Maynard James Keenan (once again), and– during my New Years Day stoning– a surprise guest in the form of Zach de la Rocha whose verse on Run the Jewels’ “Close Your Eyes” hit hard on my most recent listen– and reminded me that both El-P’s crew and de la Rocha and are still forces to be reckoned with. Especially as a result of the younger stars above, I am inspired to seek out the thoughts ancillary to certain artists’ actual bodies of work.
Back in the day, when I lived life too fully to be distracted by “extraneous” material, I avoided such things. But I now realize that I probably missed out on a lot of mystical wisdom by not reading the lore on myth-creation provided by artists like Marilyn Manson, and I realize that this sort of extracurricular activity is not extraneous, but integral: a dichotomy which I will return to.
In fact, “ancillary” is the correct word here. I just looked up the word, because I thought maybe I was misapprehending its proper application, and indeed, in some ways I was. I have often used the word “ancillary” as if it simply meant “associated” and implied a contingent relationship. But the word implies an absolutely essential relationship. More on that next.