In contrast to this was the beginning of the heavy metal movement. Bands like Black Sabbath began , not necessarily to glorify, but to point out the dark and feral things in life such as war and death. The modern music industry, both in the USA and the UK shunned such themes, preferring bland love songs and generally up-beat ditties. They tried to distract from the dark and harsh realities of life, encouraging people to ignore their existence and anesthetize their awareness of reality much as Christianity had been doing for the past 2000 years.
A continuing theme throughout metal music has been that something has gone wrong somewhere in time and that we are all disengaged from what it was that made us all once great republics/empires/countries.
In ‘War Pigs’, Sabbath address the war-mongering attitude of the West who were obsessed with making the entire world see it Their Way. Yet the fate of these same people was also described and, in turn, the fate of the rest of the world.
Now in darkness world stops turning,
ashes where the bodies
No more War Pigs have the power,
Hand of God has struck the hour.
Day of judgement, God is calling,
on their knees the war pigs crawling.
Begging mercies for their sins,
Satan, laughing, spreads his wings.
While this could be viewed as a clear moral judgement: ‘killing is wrong: murderers go to jail.’ It makes sense to
look at it in more of a metaphorical sense. There is the theme that whilst we distract ourselves with seeking out enemies or something less ominous, there is something that triumphs in our distraction. That way we all lose.
Whether we look at Satan and God as actual beings or metaphors for ideas, it is interesting to note that their roles would be reversed in years to come.
The most influential and widespread music to come out of Britain in the form of metal was the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal). The themes of metal bands like Judas Priest and Motorhead were intended to challenge society and, like punk, suggest ideas that were somewhat mad, bad or dangerous from the establishment perspective - a generally defiant and cynical stance. Whilst that was nothing new in itself (rock music had done much the same, although more mildly) these bands tended to reject the more materialist values that rock music upheld.
Iron Maiden painted in a romantic light everything that made modern society tremble: the past, war, death, and they would later also focus on religious concepts that went beyond the binary good/evil God/Satan espoused views of most people.
It makes sense at this point to mention the punk movement, as parts were to fuel Hardcore and thrash across the pond as well as other musical ventures. Whilst there is debate as to where it actually started (some point to bands like the New York Dolls) the actual recognisable starting point was the Sex Pistols, who had lyrics often expounding some clear kind of message instead of something that still sounded a lot like rock music. Creating notoriety in their homeland and other countries, the Sex Pistols brought forth an extreme anger at a society completely gone wrong, spitting in the face of all their moral judgements, political ideologies and idea of society. They reacted in particular against the hippy culture, with its saccharine “love and peace” niceness, but also against the kind of stiff conservatism that stood for suppression of creativity and mindless bureaucratic order (mindless disorder being a lot more exciting).
More bands soon joined in but the movement was quickly absorbed by morons keen on cashing in and the once angry and nihilistic music went on to degenerate into stripped down mainstream rock music that praised individualism, egalitarianism and comfort, apart from some highly political “Leftist“ underground bands. Such bands, Crass, Discharge and The Exploited for example turned the music into something angrier and so came Hardcore.
Whilst Hardcore flourished in the states and gave way to its own movements it was followed in Britain by grindcore. Innovators like Napalm Death started out as a Hardcore Punk outfit but moved onwards to create music that better displayed the anger and resentment. Whilst Napalm Death quickly went the way of common Western morality they had a couple of useful things to
Hide behind TV,
hide behind life.
You should be living,
But you only survive
---Napalm Death, Scum
Carcass formed from the ashes of Napalm Death and took their message an entirely different way. Taking the concept of making people face up to the truth to a new extreme, in much the same vein as death metal was doing in other countries. Composing lyrics seemingly inspired by terminology in medical dictionaries, Carcass formed a grinding assault on the ears that said to society: you are going to die. The concept of the finality of death had been sanitised in the west for the last two millennia and suddenly it burst from its hiding place spewing its most gruesome manifestations at the listener.
Another note-worthy grindcore act is Godflesh (also started from a Napalm Death member). Godflesh blended the most suffocating elements of grindcore and industrial music, casting a wave of despair over a world gone wrong.
Whilst death metal and black metal took off in other parts of the world it seemed to have been a difficult accomplishment for Britain, particularly in the case of black metal. Venom (a British band) coined the term whilst performing their own comic book, Satanic-inspired metal, yet all they did was give way to better bands such as Bathory, Sodom and Hellhammer. Venom did not necessarily influence these bands, as Varg Vikernes of Burzum points out, saying that he and members of other Norwegian black metal bands never listened to Venom, never were influenced by them and seriously disliked them.
It is interesting to note that of all metal music, only black metal seemed to ever offer a viable solution to society‘s malaise, expressing a mixture of romanticism, nihilism and nationalism; the latter being an ideology which, thanks to 60 years of intense propaganda is a big no-no, the ultimate in taboo, especially in Britain.
It is telling to note that in the movie about the punk Sid Vicious, “Sid and Nancy”, Sid is shown regularly wearing a prominent hammer and sickle shirt, when he actually wore a swastika, which has the greater potential to shock!
All past metal movements (and punk) have been very quick to point out the problems with society, yet struggled to come up with an alternative that wasn’t based on or a part of the society they claimed was the problem.
Maybe our inability to produce quality black metal is because of our lack of identity, lack of connection with our pagan ancestors, a problem that our Scandinavian neighbours do not share.