About the Dark Legions Archive
About the Dark Legions Archive
This site originates in a series of writings produced from 1988 to 1992, first for Houston-based metal magazine Rivethead and then through the internal underground network of bulletin board (BBS) systems which was at the time the only access many metalheads had to information about the genre outside of the mainstream media, which tended to treat it as youth rebellion by morons. After this, it was served from an FTP and then gopher server from Southern California, migrating to the WWW in 1994 -- where, on a series of hosts, it has been ever since.
Articles still represented on this site, written in the late 1980s, were distributed through FIDOnet and early UUNET nodes, reaching audiences in Germany, Australia and Japan as well as much of the American hacker community. Its parent organization, ANUS, has always been a nihilist philosophical insurgency with ties to the computer security underground.
Underground metal as simultaneously affirming mortal reality and the importance of the discovery of intangible meaning in life, complements the study of structure behind appearance in hacking and the worldview of nihilists. Thanks to these ties, the Dark Legions Archive is the oldest information source about metal on the Internet.
Unlike information both in mainstream media and the so-called "underground," the information at the Dark Legions archive is based around a fundamental proposition: that underground metal is more than entertainment but a legitimate artistic movement whose goal is to re-structure our thinking about existential values and by this, to re-discover the spirit within us that is not recognized by modern society.
We are alone in this quest as our fellow humans are too busy either selling it as a product (mainstream) or using it as a way to pass the time or construct personal identity; our belief is that the only underground that exists is a philosophical one: to be underground is not to be like the accepted mediocre norm in thought as well as action. Most people would rather dismiss this music as the angry outbursts of spoiled children, because to see its fundamental point -- "only death is real" -- is to accept our mortality and our need for meaning (thymos) outside of the material comfort and political-social recognition of modern society.
As such, this archive does not aim to be comprehensive, because underground metal is a movement that is open to the world and therefore, a good many people who do not understand it nor care about it have entered its plain of Kurukshetra on which conflict between ideas is the only combat. There are those who listen to metal, and there are Hessians: those who accept the best of its ideas, the concepts that differentiate it from the rest of the noise, into their souls and find like spiritedness in the music to that which they desire to develop in their lives.
It is less a question of finding meaning in the music than finding music that matches the inherent outlook of the individual; the viewpoints of underground are not noticeably distinct from those of other artistic movements through history, although the method surely is. In its recognition of death as supreme, appeal to the loveliness of a ruined past, fierce spirited desire for meaning outside the publically/socially-recognized, and denial of materialism in favor of idealism, underground metal fits into a Western tradition of Romantic literature, art and music ranging from Keats to Doré to Beethoven.
Metal music is distinguished from folk, its child rock, and its hybrid with classical, jazz, by its use of phrasal composition in narrative structures. The same power chords that give it musical "heaviness" -- an interval of a fifth that is at home in both major and minor -- lend themselves to rapid movement along the guitar fretboard and composition that instead of harmonizing to a tonal center, uses a freely roaming tonal connection in the style of melodic composition. As such, this music captures the poetry of journeys or any other experience in which the protagonists are changed by experience -- like classical music, and in contrast to the centricism and repetition of a single experience that defines pop.
What defines metal music above all else is its "heavy" aspect: musically, its keyless chords and crashing sonority between inceptive and conclusive notes, but artistically, its insistence upon tackling the difficult subjects in life from which art-as-product distracts us. This intellectual tendency led toward its narrative structure, which took the listener from an initial state to another through the effects of experience. This is only possible if each riff represents a state of mind appropriate to a stage of such a journey, and if these riffs are then summarized by a conclusion which renders them into a final state balancing both outset and finality.
Songs of this nature are probably composed around the discovery of a single riff which finds similarity between a sound and an experience, and then is constructed into a series of others which tell the full tale. In this, like the folk music of Europe which used every future element of rock music including pentatonic scales, syncopation and call-response verses, metal is the art of the bard: a storyteller who extends experience to have meaning undiscovered in the mundanity of normal lives. And for meaning to exist? A good relativistic quantum physics professor would say that for light to exist there must be darkness, and the darkness of human souls is death, the possibility of meaninglessness, and the spectre of tedium and lives passed in ignorance.
In this resurrection of millennial tradition in a modern form, metal is both a revolution against the insubstantiality of pop-rock music and a desire to discover what is eternally true about human life; this is the heaviest of all, the highest level abstraction that describes all else. While blues and rock and jazz took European traditional folk, especially of the Celtic variety, and transformed it into something "unique" and "authentic" for the purposes of marketing, metal revolted against this entire outlook by both bringing back ancient truth and repurposing modernity toward newly-discovered realities.
An informed history of metal suggests that, much as the Beatles migrated from simpleminded pop to sprawling song structures with dramatic endpoints, and rock music itself became dissatisfied with its product-oriented "yeah, yeah, yeah" attitude and modulated into progressive rock, metal like hardcore punk after it rose as the most classic form of rebellion: an assertion of ideas of a greater realism, or "weight," than the distracting and mindless product. What makes metal "heavy" is its insistence upon meaningful commentary on life, including the reality of death that distraction would rather deny.
Most histories of metal try to link it to the guitar-oriented rock movement of the time, which aesthetically but not musically resembles. The first step toward metal was the 1969 recording of the first Black Sabbath album, but the time was full of the rising dissent of the progressive rock movement. Black Sabbath's guitarist did a stint in progressive rock band Jethro Tull, and claims his inspiration for Black Sabbath came from horror movies, a genre which reveals the uselessness of modern people in the face of scientifically inexplicable demonic threats. The "death rock" influence of apocalyptic band The Doors cannot be forgotten either.
1969 brought not only the first album from Black Sabbath, but the hardest distorted guitar rock work to date from Led Zeppelin, who fused folk, blues and progressive rock to make heavy music. It was also the year of the first King Crimson album, which also used heavy distorted guitar but in an avantgarde, conservatory-educated style of esoteric art. These three influences -- most notably Black Sabbath, to a slightly lesser degree King Crimson, and mostly aesthetically Led Zeppelin -- defined the ferment of proto-metal that over the following years birthed the full movement.
Metal's early years were turbulent. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal took over in the mid-1970s from an ailing drug-addled Black Sabbath, and fleshed out the sound and concepts of the music (including occultism, death worship and negativity toward modern society) with bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Angel Witch and Motorhead. Most of these bands use the same duality implied by the name "Black Sabbath": an inversion of the commonplace into something with a demonic force behind it, a threat hidden in the camouflage of the mundane.
Toward the end of the 1970s, however, metal had become a stadium spectacular which was veering dangerously close to the pop-rock side which claimed Led Zeppelin in its later years. This birthed the rise of a more extreme form of NWOBHM which incorporated the vigor and aggression of punk hardcore bands like Discharge, the Exploited, the Misfits, Fear and Anti-Nowhere League. Simultaneously, "thrash" or an explicit hybrid of hardcore and metal (punk song structures and rhythms with metal-styled "heavy" riffs) flourished briefly. These movements proved of too short duration of ideological intensity, and so in the early 1980s underground metal was born through Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Sodom, Bathory, Master and Possessed.
The new bands resembled the most extreme acts of speed metal, like Slayer and Rigor Mortis, but went further toward extremity in aesthetics (distorted vocals, faster speed, more rudimentary playing) and concepts, embracing the gore-splattered horror of scary movies and the darker implications of the convergence of religion, technology and democratic society -- what Nietzsche called "the revolt of the slaves" -- as was explicated in Black Sabbath's "War Pigs":
( In these lyrics, what is fascinating is that the occult demon Satan is paired to the manipulation of society by its oligarchic profiteers in the name of doing "good" by waging war against presumptively evil enemies; in this we see the origins of fascination with inversion as expressed in the name "Black Sabbath": what is claimed as good is often evil, and when one looks into the "heavy" side of thought, one sees that society itself is inverted in its values. )
Death metal flowered from 1985 to 1994, roughly, with black metal exploding from 1991 to 1996, and since then metal has like in the late 1970s run into a period of unprecedented popularity and consequently, uninformed people flooding the genre and for their own reasons, whether financial or egotistical, attempting to make it more "popular" by making it into something closer to mainstream rock. On the big networks, "nu-metal" or a mixture of hip-hop, death metal and hard rock is popular; in the underground, hordes of bedroom projects bash out "black hardcore" or the accessible patterns of punk rock adapted to a black metal aesthetic. Neither of these centralized or decentralized movements has borne fruit in the way underground metal did.
For this reason, in 1997 the Dark Legions Archive rededicated itself in part toward clarifying misconceptions about past bands and educating future generations about the actual origins of this music, as many who claim to be "metal fans" in 2006 have not heard the formative bands of 1985-1996 and thus are unaware of the concepts, ideas and artistic impetus of the genre they claim to adore. We expect no recognition, no fame and definitely no money, but do this for the love of the art.
The material at the Dark Legions Archive is authored entirely by Spinoza Ray Prozak, who ran the highly successful "Oration of Disorder" underground death metal and black metal radio program in Southern California from 1992 to 1998. By day a computer programmer and trainer, he labors at night for the greater glory of a musical movement he has seen firsthand save the lives and souls of youth otherwise lost in a meaningless maze of concrete and financial obligations. For those who understand its ideals, metal restores meaning to life, and as such is the highest function of art and a worthy part of our modern conceptual landscape.
Copyright © 1988-2012 Dark Legions Archive