Spinoza Ray Prozak Biography
When I started as a metalhead, I was a young punk kid who found something in bands like DRI and Cryptic Slaughter that punk couldn't deliver. A sense of structure - a change in emotion - a break from the constant cyclic thrashing of hardcore of the day. I never gave up my punk roots, but I began reaching out. Slayer, Massacra, Sodom, Morbid Angel, Destruction, Rigor Mortis. During the days of high school when the world seemed so insane it would collapse, this was more than release which punk or Rush or Led Zeppelin provided, metal was a counter-worldview to that of our publically agreed-upon reality.
The music I heard in the metal genre affirmed structure over all else, and found a way to work disparate elements together by finding their commonality without universalizing them to a cyclic, uniform-dynamic of rock music. Metal wasn't about strumming a chord at the right time, it was about phrasing, and how phrases arranged together could form a narrative. The riff was almighty from Black Sabbath onward, which was how they were different from Led Zeppelin. This to me was not a fatalistic belief, where one either says "The world is a mystery" or "I need a God to be arbiter of this chaotic and dangerous natural world," but one in which one looked past image and distortion to track some natural mechanism at work uniting different events. It was a great peace for my soul in contrast to the neurotic and illusory world of public media and the people who consumed it. At this point, I first became aware of owing a great debt to metal and punk music for perhaps saving my life during times of despair.
Hence I became a metalhead sometime during the second year of high school, and went from being an REM, blues and punk listener with a few Metallica CDs to a raging metalhead who periodically bought jazz, rock, blues, and classical CDs. I didn't know much about the genre, so mostly listened to thrash bands like DRI, COC, MDC and Cryptic Slaughter, but gradually got further into speed metal, mostly the big bands. Megadeth. Testament. Nuclear Assault. Prong. At this point I first noticed how my favorite bands would at some point make their last "real" album, and the next one would be as different from its predecessor as a broken device is to its functional counterpart. I had no words for it or its mechanism, but began blaming "commercialization," and wrote my first articles about this topic. To me it was similar to what I was reading in Marx, my favorite author of the time, who to my consciousness seemed to be suggesting that that "bourgeois" was an obsession with wealth that replaced other values. In my naieve state, I imagined that socialist revolutionaries replaced the meaningless money-world with something better.
I went to school on the east coast at a small private university of reasonable but not "world-class" reputation, and did reasonably well there, considering my habits of smoking dope, skipping class, and reading taboo literature. Naturally, as time went on, I became alienated from the academic mindset and the die-hard left-or-right-ism of academia, seeing it as broken and hopeless. As I read further in philosophy and literature, most notably the works of William Faulkner and F.W. Nietzsche, I found myself rejecting the idea of forced levelling of the playing field, and accepting the idea of naturalism and green ecofascism. These still did not fully take root in my mind, as I was distracted by my own life and self-refinement, but I found myself pushing aside politics and philosophy in favor of pure feeling, by which I rarified an empathy for trees, creatures and diverse ecosystems. I still did not reject liberalism, or understand how directly it was connected to my greatest anathema, that of false religious belief.
Toward the end of school, a great despair settled in on me as I perceived what future awaited myself and my classmates. In many ways this was similar to my angst at the end of high school: I was passing further into the world of adults, where I would be forced to don a suit and tie and drive for an hour every morning to get to some boring job, where I would slave away for 40+ years and hope to offend no one, so that I could avoid being fired, build up my 401k plan and possibly even get myself a neurotic wife and some bratty kids to keep the TV company. This made me retch, deep in my soul, so I abandoned plans to work at a New York technology consulting firm and headed out to California to do drugs.
In retrospect, this was a stupid idea that worked out well for me; your mileage may vary. Remember that if you kill yourself on drugs, all you get is a shrug, in the same way that rats must see comrades who are eaten by owls. It's the Predation. It just happens. You can get religious about it, but ultimately it's your hand on the money. As a side note, drugs taught me everything I know about politics, namely the industry of drugs and the desperation of drug users. This fulfilled something that had been sparked in me by a literary curiosity with Naked Lunch by W.S. Burroughs, which to me was the development in novelwriting that transcended the linear and absolutism of the Judeo-Christian era. Still, most of what I learned from drugs was similar to what Burroughs saw: that beneath all the words, gestures, money and intoxication, what was at work was a natural system of predation and prey. When I analyzed the drug industry, I saw the human social ladder as a hierarchy of ability and wealth, dictating who would have time to experience certain thoughts and who would not. This existed regardless of religious, social and academic justifications.
In California, I became acquainted with a diversity of ideas, lifestyles and backgrounds, and became extremely liberal in part as a means of socializing with other people. I was still a full-time headbanger but did not yet see metal as any form of ideology, or anything but "just music"; then again, I had essentially grown up seeing all politics as a subset of American ideals, and thus was unaware of the range of belief that could occur. This changed gradually as I spent more time working in the city of Los Angeles. I had basically moved to a suburb where I got my first job, but then left that job after being exposed to the first grotesquely unprofessional office within which I had worked, but around 1992 was able to find my first consistent employment at which I was manager of my own time, at the same point I acquired better sources of marijuana, new music and a source to buy it, and a radio show at a local community station. Up until this time I had been a headbanger in the personal sense, and did not view myself as having any pressing need to be "accurate" or even discerning in my tastes. What I enjoyed, I enjoyed, and didn't analyze. Fortunately this was not long for the world.
When I first got on the air, I was more afraid than I had ever been in a social situation in my life. I felt the weight of every pair of ears listening, and of every mouth that might be critiquing me. I swallowed my fear and went on to do a radio show that during its first four months, was an uneven mixture of older speed metal, thrash, Death, some older heavy metal and a few grindcore bands. Rapidly I expanded into death metal, which was at the time flourishing in full violence. After roughly a year of this, the black metal that I'd been listening to on the weekends - namely Darkthrone's "Soulside Journey" and Immortal "Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism" - came to full maturity and I began playing it mixed with the death metal. To the audiences of the day, this was near blasphemy, but it was a tribute to the character and intelligence of my listeners that they gave me the benefit of the doubt, and began phoning in when they heard something that didn't make them think it sucked. When I first played "I am the Black Wizards" and "My Journey to the Stars" on the show the following year, the phones lit up with death metal fanatics asking me what this new music would be.
Over the next five years, I played every combination of death and black metal that I could find, from Possessed to Ildjarn, causing people to both love and hate the show. I rejected bands like Cannibal Corpse and the speed metal of my youth, and went underground, in part influenced by the policies of the CD studio and in part trying to duck under the mainstreaming of metal in response to the threat of grunge. When Kurt Cobain died, the show was in full stride playing music that sodomized grunge and rock and stood outside the society as a whole. There weren't many metal fans during that day, nor many stores, or really any information about metal. Thanks to a friend's net account, I was able to set up first an FTP and second a webserver from which I dispatched opinions on the music I played every week on the radio. It became the first metal website I saw on the net, and one of the few places from 1993-1997 that one could find any kind of in-depth information on individual releases. For me, steeped in a leftist tradition, this became a form of activism: ignorance abounded, and I fought it as I could, bringing to the consciousness of many metalheads the ideals that the 25% of the genre who are highly intelligent people found relevant. Part of this included analyzing the artistic, philosophical and political statements encoded within art, interviews and imagery.
Sometime in early 1998, I ceased being a DJ because of a move from California back to the east coast. I was somewhat burnt out from living in California, land of illusion, for so long, and feeling myself get wiser and older as I became more repulsed by the city. It's not that I don't like that city, but that after some time I found I was living under its spell - I had been seduced convenience of being near a job and some popular clubs, maybe a few friends, cultural events and a Buddhist temple. It felt vaguely inflated, but I didn't see what I lacked until I considered living the rest of my life in the city. What seemed like a varied existence suddenly became apparent as a cyclic, redundant being. A series of events led up to this realization: recognizing how much the politics of offices cripple them, being betrayed by some friends, having some suicide and one go insane, and feeling the tedium of routine and success seduce me. On the east coast I found the same hell I'd met on the west coast, and soon realized that, for a guy who had many things to live for, I was living for none of them. Despite successes in my day job, I elected to leave the comfortable world of regular paychecks and work for a startup mail order company called "evilmusic." I knew it was a startup because I and some trusted friends were starting it up. Illusion again howevered on the horizon.
When we started the project, metal was a vital genre of a few highly focused people who valued better music over more music, having lived through death metal and its demise. At the time when I left the project, the metal audience had expanded by a factor of ten, and its standards had been dissolved correspondingly to a tenth of what they were. It reminded me then of where hardcore music was in the middle 1980s, a bloated, glutted, overpromoted genre where - because of social pressures - every single fan seemed to have a band, label or zine each of which influenced fifty people in a local herd of people who went to the same clubs, saw shows that sounded the same, and engaged in the same activities. Where at the start of the project black metal was vital community of artistic intent, when I left, black metal had sunk into a drunken stupor of self-consciousness, divergent and pointless admixture of known other genres, and most importantly, social pretense. It was no longer safe for the misanthropes: they were literally drowned out by people wanting to leap on the black metal bandwagon and "not miss out on the misanthropy." In addition to black metal croaking, internal disagreements fractured the Evilmusic team.
Ultimately what killed the project for me was a basic disagreement. I wanted to advertise and use costs to offset expenses, but my partners wished to cut costs and operate as a small business. Further, people whose collaboration was needed ceased responding to requests, would delay simple tasks for weeks, dodge phone calls, lie, etc. Trust and faith was lost. It was a disaster, composed of differing ambitions and an inability to centralize, as well as a complete collapse of standards in the genre, meaning that running an honest distro meant NOT getting new releases or following the foolishness currently in vogue. Illusion melted away; the business was seen for what it is, and soon I had left. My business partners, who promised to dissolve the business in December 2002, continue to run it for minimal profit and have failed to expand or make it solvent. I have to laugh when I think how things would have turned out if people could have collaborated with my vision, instead of having to defend their own territories and become enwrapped in the pretense of ego.
It is fortunate that Evilmusic died, as it gave me a chance to break from the past and recognize how much metalheads are as their enemies cariacture them: people of promise who through lack of self-confidence and general bitterness at the world, pull down and destroy everything they believe in, like drowning me. Evilmusic taught me that even the best of this group often succumb to this problem and thus that my personal path lies outside of the genre as it is now. After six years of radio, two years doing online radio for KCUF.org, numerous articles sent to print zines, several interviews, and countless reviews, I had basically experienced my fill of combatting the ignorance of an increasingly ignorant population. If metal can't self-police, it can't remain distinct and will be assimilated into the thoughtless horde ("We make sure only the right people play blackmetal. Its not just some fashion that will go away. If they're not right, we'll use whatever means necessary to get them to stop devaluing blackmetal. It is our way of life.", as Fenriz of Darkthrone said).
Since that time, I've kept writing about music and released two versions of Heidenlarm e-zine, both keeping a focus on what is relevant about the metal community and why it is important to keep it from becoming mainstreamed. I have become anti-underground, thinking that running away from the mainstream problem is not the solution, but that making music which by the nature of its complexity and passion is out of reach of the mainstreamers, in itself, functions as the only filter we'll need. Letting the illusion of an "underground" deceive us at this point is foolish; when niche marketing didn't exist, it was a good idea. Now, however, everything's niche, and so to be "underground" is as redundant as being into ska-core. Everything's underground. All that the "underground" affords metal now is a good excuse to not succeed, to not actually start a label or band, but to pretend instead, releasing half-quality shit on CD-R to your friends so that everyone has a band they can talk about. The consequence is that no useful music is produced, and the audience becomes spoiled and bitchy, demanding cheaper CDs and more of them with no regards to quality. This plays perfectly into the hands of merchants, who smilingly reduce prices while entirely relaxing standards, leaving you with a baffling array of thousands of choices, in which the two worthy ones are drowned out by a lack of information and a chorus of voices screaming different things at the same intensity simultaneously. Heidenlarm is a strike against this: we have no aesthetic standards at all, underground or not, and we have no tolerance for crap music. We don't play the social games. Where other zines find the "releases" all of their friends and cohorts have put out and give them glowing reviews, Heidenlarm waits for something praiseworthy to praise. This natural way of doing things is anathema to the "online metal community" and all those who run mediocre zines, labels and bands, but this is how it should be. This is activism in its most functional form.
My outlook has changed fundamentally also. Where I once was a confused kid who hated the suburbs and loved the city, I'm now someone who favors a slightly rural setting with lots of trees and few people, and I find the pleasures of the city moronic. Another trendy club, more plastic shit to buy, maybe a new movie - these are transient, useless things. I'd rather spend time with friends and family, write or paint or sing something I find profound, or spend time walking in the woods or reading books. I'll still go to the symphony - having re-awakened a latent love of classical music - and perhaps attend the rare metal concert or ambient show, but for the most part, I realize the connection between mainstream/popular culture, egalitarianism, religion, and commerce: each functions by making the individual feel autonomous and "equal" while forcing them to compete in an uneven, arbitrary and soulless consumer marketplace. My view on this is that I will make money as is required from this society, but I won't take its views home with me, and I'll avoid the cities where it is considered necessary to think that way. The values that have been with my people for thousands of years are not only sufficient for me, but offer more than the plastic "flash in the pan" of a disposable lifestyle. In part because of this, I am now stronger in the beliefs I have had all along about art requiring discipline and high internal standards to weed out the social behavior.
At the present time (2003) the world is poised before a great change; like Viet Nam, the Iraq war shows us an exponential loss of faith in our leaders and our ideals to be truthful and or relevant, and many are seeing the great charade for what it is: a disguise in which false ideals lead to great profit for the most soulless, while those who aspire to any form of leadership ideal are squelched along with the numb and useless masses. As with many things, my objection to this appears as "rebellion" to those already inculcated in the ways of the system, but it's far from that. I'm not against normal lives. Nor I am opposed to competition, or some being rich while some are poor. Nor am I worried about people's right to fight for their own homelands, whether Serbs or Iraqis or Kurds. I see natural order for what it is, and see how it is natural that humanity misinterpret it in capitalism and Judeo-Christian religions. The next step is one that will make sense of what is now and replace it with something even more sensible. I look forward to these times and work for them diligently.
As of March 30, 2003, the control of the anus.com site is passing to a new organization composed of some old friends and some new ones. The mission has not changed, nor my dedication to it, but the time has come for my participation to be placed elsewhere than on the frontlines. This is not something I regret, but something that will replace the old with a new generation whose survival, as all of ours are, is dependent upon their ability to constantly renew their pursuit of ideals while keeping the "material world" in perspective. They stand or fall on their own. I have given my service, and the debt is repaid; now it is time for springtime and renewal.
Copyright © 1996-2010 Spinoza Ray Prozak