Thirsty Thursday: Personal Problems – A Response to ‘Metal is the Fucking Worst’

I had been agonizing over how to report on Maryland Deathfest 2017, mostly because I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a semi-miserable time. I was only truly interested in Thursday night at Rams Head. I felt guilty about spending any money so close to moving out of state. I was haggard from work. I couldn’t drink because of meds I was on. But beyond the situational, I felt deeper loss in the void of kiosks toting the same old Mercyful Fate tees. I felt silly, uninspired, and so bored I could die. I asked myself what was wrong. I wondered if I was getting too old for this shit. Naw, couldn’t be. Fuck, I’m only 22.

After some thought, I came to the conclusion that I am, indeed, a victim of my age, but not in the way I had initially suspected. My life is too much in flux to continually resonate with the same ten bands and their many copycats. I understand that when you grow older you take comfort in stagnation and stability, but right now, it scares me. Also not helping matters is frustration stemming from the fact that the bands I’ve come to love in the past year two years by and large remain non-touring, leaving my relationship with their work underdeveloped in the corners of YouTube and Bandcamp. Short of starting a GoFundMe to travel the world with a crowbar to unearth these dudes from their basements, I’m probably not going to find the perfect festival lineup for me. Does any of this make sense to you? It probably shouldn’t, because it’s my own word salad, attempting to sum up my personal problems that I’m not naive enough to expect others to accommodate.

I was at first relieved to see that David Hall, Deathfest doc videographer, agrees in his piece “Metal is the Fucking Worst” that he, too, feels amiss in a scene that he’s invested so much of his heart and time in, but interestingly, his personal problems seem to look quite different from mine, but concernigly, his are presented as fact, unfounded.

Right off the bat, I’d like to offer a less sensationalized way of looking at what Hall is quick to label as conformity — birds of a feather tend to flock the fuck together. It is not a trend that I have witnessed as being exclusive to the metal community, nor is it inherently evil. Rather, it’s what we make of it and how we choose to interpret relatively homogenous populations in terms of our own personal biases, of which Hall seems to have many. That’s certainly not a bad thing in the least, bit it’s imperative to at least acknowledge them instead of speaking of them like the results of an investigative expose.

Here’s an example that illustrate mine. Seeing Xasthur in Portland was a time when I felt like an outsider because I didn’t know anyone and no one cared to even look in my direction, perhaps because I don’t have one of them pine tree tattoos or floor-length dreads. At Decibel Fest in Philly, much closer culturally to my home base, I felt like an insider, as many people stopped to ask me who was on my shirt and for recommendations for places to stay for Deathfest. The point I’d like to make is that neither scenario particularly affected my enjoyment of the performing artists. Again, life isn’t about the cucks it hands you — it’s how you choose to handle them, and that’s something I’ve learned from my experiences in metal and non-metal settings alike. If it wasn’t for the ability to hold human shit piles at a distance, I would have jumped off the Golden Gate a long time ago.

However, I do acknowledge that some people aren’t as ruthlessly introverted, blackhearted, and apathetic as me and actually want to go to shows where they feel welcomed and can make friends/network. To foster such an environment, a little dreaded common ground may come in handy — a concept that the author seems a little too quick to use synonymously with conformity and elitism. Shit, I enjoy associating with very few people, but the likelihood increases with people I actually have shit in common with, and I don’t think I’m alone in this sentiment. And even if I don’t love Nails as much as the dude standing next to me at Deathfest, chances are we’re still more alike than my 60-year-old co-workers or neighbors pushing strollers to brunch. No shade, though. They’re doing them and I’m doing me. If that makes us conformists or lemmings, then so be it. Label me whatever I want. I’m not threatened. As long as I’m content, I don’t really care what people think or how much attention I’m getting.

But enough talk of scene semantics. Let’s get down to the music. Okay, Hall, so you think metal is hitting a rough patch. You’re entitled to that opinion. But what are you suggesting is the solution? We all clutch our Darkthrone records to the grave? If we keep on that shit, institutions like Deathfest are dun gonna fold. You’re going to have to appeal to the kiddos, like, say the goth kids I saw going ape shit for Ghost Bath back in March, if you want this shit to keep going for years to come (and if you want to roll your eyes at that kind of demographic, that’s elitism, too). Hall does accept evolution within metal, implying change with a scene is natural, but pegging the current point as the downfall sounds a lot like Boomers deeming avocado toast as the main rider of the apocalypse. There have been low points and high points within every historical period, including every metal period. There was Around the Fur, and there was Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water. You bagging what I’m mowing? It seems pretty unfair to pigeonhole one era as being exclusively shitty.

It is also inaccurate to imply that black metal in 2K17 is all homogeneously blackgaze. For every blackened band that sounds like Deafheaven, there’s one that sounds like Watain. In other words, slow your roll — there’s still something out there for everyone, especially if you’re willing to dig a little bit. Further, I have some great news: there are other post-metal bands that don’t just sound like Deafheaven fanboys. Man, part of me wishes Deafheaven never even existed, not because I’m offended by their music, which I’m pretty neutral towards, but because they’ve become the poster child for fear-mongering traditionalists. Deaf’s holy yet bored attitude and the fans who have been known to stir up a bunch of shit stemming from their own personal problems have left a bad reputation for a musical style that’s much bigger than Deafheaven itself (even though I’m sure they’d love to take credit for it all). No one wants to open their eyes and see the really great, humble bands who have been inventing and reinventing for just as long/even longer than Deaf has. Anecdotally, many of the post-DSBM artists I’ve reached out to have been the most gracious. It is also worth mentioning that during Deafheaven’s March tour, I witnessed a changing face of their fanbase; a crowd of earnest, shamelessly excited kids looking to have a good time, which I propose can be contributed to Deaf’s mainstream media attention, which Hall drags.

Segueing gracefully, commercialization is also not novel, nor does it have to be inherently evil. Whoaaa, this assertion is probably going to make some people really angry, but hey, hear me out. First things first, I may be a literal toddler, but I’m fairly certain that Kiss lunch boxes were once a thing. Secondly, the author makes it sound like every blackgaze band is getting some kind of cut when, again, my observation is that a day job is as ubiquitous in 2017 as sweet vajay supplement #ads on IG. The butthurt surrounding Deafheaven’s involvement in a hashtag campaign also sounds like more senseless Boomer gripe. It all reminds me of that tired argument that if Rage Against the Machine really would have had integrity for the politics they professed then they would have been on a DIY label. I mean maybe, but how many people would their message have reached from 200 pressings? Don’t you want to share rad shit that makes you happy so that others can enjoy it, too? Further, doesn’t having metal in the mainstream help combat some of that elitism that Hall is gravely concerned about?

So, I agree that I am, too, disillusioned with metal, but it’s mostly indebted to my personal growing pains. I respectfully suggest that Hall do more reflecting on his own before painting with such a broad brush.

– Jenna

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