21 01 13 - 09:49Guest post by Ted Swanson
Some criticize heavy metal for its primitive music and lyrics. When people decide to mock it, they point to its seriousness of outlook and seemingly outlandish lyrics. These, too, they decide, are "primitive."
I was reading something by a philosophy professor and it was basically about the conceptions of the infinite, the finite, limits and "perfection." He spoke broadly, and I will speak broadly. He summed up antiquity's conception thus: perfection can be achieved within the "finite," and only the finite. To cross one's limit, into the "infinite" was hubris. So to go beyond one's potential or limits, was just as bad, if not worse, then "unrealized" potential.
"It is not virtuous to be primitive if one is too limited otherwise." In a sense, this is true enough, but the question is: how does one know one's limits until one has crossed them? And even then, how exactly does one know when one has crossed the limits?
Let us posit a boundary or limit precisely between primitive and sophisticated. Perfection would be to be right at the limit without crossing it. But with antiquity's conception in mind, if I understand it correctly, it actually is more virtuous to be 5 steps behind the limit, than even one step beyond the limit. To be beyond the limit was hubris and this is the "ultimate" bad as far as antiquity is concerned. So because it is very hard to know where the limit is precisely, it is better to err on the side of 5 steps behind the limit than even 1 step beyond the limit.
So for an artist to reach "perfection" they must know their limits and work within them, as far as antiquity is concerned. Now let us conceive of metal as a single entity. With this in mind, we could say that metal has a long tradition and well established boundaries. Any worthy artist within metal ought to already know these boundaries and work within them, and pushing boundaries should be a very gradual process, lest they go beyond the limit into the infinity of gayness. This is why the primitive aesthetic is superior to sophistication.
Let's be honest, are there many musicians, outside of metal, that you would really consider wordsmiths? Not hardly. So as far as that goes, I don't consider the lyrics of metal to be any less sophisticated than any other style of music. Just read poetry or the classics if that's what you want.
Nuance and subtlety can be overrated. If you have read William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell, consider the opening poem. It is pure metal. More sophisticated than the lyrics of Immortal, sure, but perhaps more rough around the edges than the more "refined" poets of his era. Metal is the William Blake of popular music.
I've always considered part of the thrill of metal to be finding the parallels between it and more ancient art and literature. In other words, not to consider it in isolation. In the Sagas is a recurring kenning. The kenning is basically when someone is killed or blood is shed, it is expressed as creating food for the ravens or the crows. Graveland definitely uses this in various forms, and if I'm not incorrect, Immortal does too. Is it deliberate? Are they familiar with the Sagas? Who knows? Either way it's awesome and that is all.