Back in July of 2018, blackened shoegaze post-metal outfit Deafheaven released their fourth full-length album entitled “Ordinary Corrupt Human Love.” Deafheaven is a band that generates an inordinate amount of buzz in the digital space, and for good reason, metalheads just don’t know what to make of them.
I think most metalheads would giggle at the above image of former “Gorgoroth“ frontman Gaahl accusing Deafheaven of cultural appropriation, but it begs the question, are post–metal bands such as Deafheaven bastardizing metal as an art form with their extreme experimentation?
Metalheads can’t seem to agree. Some say that it’s high time a curmudgeonly genre like black metal opens up its collective mind to new ideas. Black metal was, after all, born out musical experimentation. Proto black metal, such as Celtic Frost was regarded as avant-garde with its odd uses of dissonance and, at times, slower tempos and outright deviations into the strange. They sounded like nothing anyone was doing at the time and for that they went down in history as legends.
Black metal is also a prime genre for experimentation because of its already diverse nature. You have everything from raw, to bestial, to melodic, the sludgy, to ambient classifying as kvlt. In fact, many DSBM and ambient artists, in particular, have taken risks with their style that softened the sound of their music to add an emotional appeal in lieu of the typical rawness that’s associated with black metal.
No one questioned the metal cred of a band like Thy Light, for example, when they opened their demo “Suici.De.pression” with a 3 and half-minute piano piece. Many metalheads, myself included, celebrated the bold move. It was dark, beautiful and absolutely moving.
I think the main reason a band like Thy Light can take risks like that is because the backbone of their sound is steeped in atmosphere and chilling intensity; meaning the black metal elements are not lost in the experimentation. I think that’s the key.
We can call this the “Opeth” effect — a name entirely coined by me, just now, while writing this. Basically, the idea is that a progressive band can begin with metal roots but take experimentation so far they cease to fit the metal mold. You can put “Ulver” into this category as well.
In short, it’s okay for a band to fuse melodic and softer elements into their sound so long as it doesn’t become to basis of its sound. In order to qualify as metal, the skeleton of the album must be intense and heavy.
That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with shoegaze bands such as”Deafheaven,” folky bands like “Kauan,” or proggy bands like “Latitudes.” Post–metal bands like these simply appeal to metal fan’s diverse tastes in music. These bands, for the most part, still understand metalhead’s attraction to melancholy sounds and that allows them to maintain their appeal to metalheads. Their lack of intensity and safer image also gives them a mainstream appeal, and good for them! The problem begins when vegan hipsters in painted on skinny jeans start claiming these bands are the future of metal.
In the past, when metal has grown and progressed, it’s always gotten heavier. Thrash metal became death metal, death metal became brutal death metal etc. Sure, metal is heavier than ever before, but to claim we can’t continue on this trajectory seems unambitious. Post-metal seems to believe that getting softer is the only way for metal to grow. I disagree.
It’s also important to look at what a term like “post-metal” even entails. It’s derived from the artistic philosophy of postmodernism. Before the neckbeards start can wipe the Cheeto dust from their fingers in preparation to obliterate the comment section, I mean the artistic kind, not the imaginary, cultural kind YouTubers are always harping on about.
The idea behind postmodernism is to deconstruct art of all its defining characteristics and question what art is in the first place. This is when you begin to see urinals put on display in art exhibits. Post-metal seeks to do the same thing with metal — deconstruct it of its defining elements; which are intensity, heaviness and musical virtuosity.
By stripping it down in this fashion, they allow for greater experimentation and fusion of other musical styles that wouldn’t typically be associated with metal. In Deafheaven’s new release, for example, I heard elements of easy listening. Ukranian post metal band “White Ward” fuse jazz elements into their blackened doom sound.
This idea is going to be irksome to many metalheads for a number of reasons. First of all, metalheads are appreciative of masterful art. That’s not to say we’re not open to experimentation, but musical virtuosity will always take precedence over unique fusions and progressions. Also, we clearly enjoy labels. There aren’t a bagillion metal subgenres for no reason.
Of course, sometimes post-metal bands will contain elements that appeal to a metal head’s specific tastes. That’s fine. There’s no such thing as posers here, we’re all adults. But post-metal as a whole isn’t going to appeal to many metalheads because its overall values don’t run in tandem with the metal aesthetic.
That doesn’t mean I’m being a total snob and suggesting post metal bands aren’t heavy enough to fit under the metal moniker. Many bands, like Axioma for example, could be classified as metal, for sure. It’s when a band strips metal of its edge and intensity so much it becomes unrecognizable, I have a problem. Am I cool with post-metal overall? Sure, do whatever the hell you want — just stop claiming those bands are the future of metal. They’re not.