One year ago, I embarked on my most transformative adventure in my two years with Drunk in a Graveyard. Thirty-six hours, three hours of sleep, and one bad coffin tattoo proved to be the price for investigating elusive DSBM heavyweight Xasthur’s foray into a renegade-style acoustic venture. As we trekked from Portland to Tacoma in the snow and sludge, the man behind the entity, Scott Conner, offered his insights on black metal and beyond as they organically emerged over the course of his West Coast leg. As the one year anniversary rings in, I feel compelled to offer my current reflections on his words, my words, and the ever-complex world that houses them. Even if you’re not as far up the rectum of depressive black metal as I am, I hope that my insights can still inspire some best life-living in 2018.
1. Don’t let anyone cross your borders. Gaahl gave me this token back in the day, but much like the importance of hydration, sleep, and self-acceptance, it’s wisdom I’ve been unable to fully grasp until I’ve grown older. Properly intersecting my love of black metal and sad boi, I’ll elaborate on what border defense means to me with a Bexey quote. Just recently on Instagram, the blue-haired rapper shared an incident at the train platform where a young lady made fun of his look before proceeding to shatter her phone on the concrete. Cooley and confidently behind oversized sunglasses, Bex gave her a single line —“I don’t entertain clowns.” Ever since, that sound bite has been popping into my brain-worms at least 20 times a day.
While Bex was ultimately offering commentary on karma, I think he hit on another noteworthy point as well — as much as people will try to make you their entertainment, you’re not. This is important to keep in mind when you’re crossing literal borders. When you’re an introvert, an empath, and a woman, exploration of new environments can become a triple threat of miserable when people treat you as an open invitation to meddle into your affairs. Fuck sugar and spice and everything nice and take control of the situation before it takes control of you.
Unless you’re in some mutually-consenting relationship, you don’t owe anyone details into why you’re alone, what you’re doing, or why, even when unwarranted commentary may be more implicity shitty than what Bex experienced. Nothing’s more condescending than when someone tries to treat you like a charity case when they see you alone and dressed in all black. They can take their savior complex and shove it. In the words of Bex’s close colleague—a man by the name of Lil Peep—“don’t tell me I’m not doing fine; I’m doing fine.”
2. Jet fuel can melt the steel beams of sober spaces’ conceptual integrity — and I’m saying this as a now-sober Sally. The root of the gripe may have shifted from being forced to drink Scott’s self-proclaimed hobo wine in a van in Tacoma to me adopting the clout goggles of a responsible adult, but the overarching sentiment still stands. From right turn on red to euthanasia, the vast majority of the world’s risky business becomes less risky when it stays legal but regulated, whether it’s behavior in which you personally engage or not. Not only is that tenant in line with the political doctrine of many straightedgers, it’s good public policy.
I would rather have kids safe in a venue with no re-entry than gallivanting into allies. I can see how a venue not serving alcohol could be appealing to the parental let-me-go argument, but personally, when it came to my own underage show attendance, my parents were more concerned about mosh pits and slimey men. If it’s a legit establishment then they shouldn’t be serving your youngster anyway. And if your kid has a fake ID? At the risk of sounding conservative in my old age, then maybe that’s your responsibility to address as a parent.
3. It’s not that serious. Here’s another notable quotable courtesy of nothing,nowhere.— “we’re all just kids making music in our basements.” We turned to alternative scenes because we didn’t fit into prescribed boxes, so you shouldn’t feel obligated to walk around in jorts, severe bangs, and the attitude of a dirty diaper unless that’s what sincerely awakens your soul. Further, if you feel alienated by the very people who—in theory—should be your own, take a look around — out of the doors of the venue and outside. There are mountains and fucking lakes and shit and our existence if fucking random. They tell you you’ll never be one of us because they’re bored in the circling void of the stratosphere. So fuck ‘em. Life is short. Go see the bands you want and don’t get caught up. You’re not less than. Promise.
4. Truth can’t be evaluated in static terms. “None of it’s real.” I can still see Scott shaking his head back and forth as he paced across the hotel room accordingly. It had seemed as though our discussion of second wave black metal had sparked our first place of dissension. I was insistent that the ashy, brain-splattery consequences were evidence of earnestness. In retrospect, perhaps we both fell into the trap of fixed dichotomies. To be fair, it’s a common pitfall that’s kept discussion of black metal stagnant. With the exception of Until the Light—well-rounded in its consideration of every motivation from near-death experiences to globalization—it’s either trve or it’s fvgazi. Truth is? Truth is a trap.
With that assertion in mind, I would like to propose the theory that there was a genuine kernel of passion within 90’s black metal that subsequently grew into something bigger than itself. It’s not all or nothing. We’re just too complex of people for it to be that cut and dry. Self-preservation and empathy are both coded in our nature. Trust me — I’ve read the monkey experiments. The best way to make peace with the uncertainty is through acceptance. If there’s no bucket of absolute of Truth at the end of the rainbow, invest your time in exploring all of the colors of the prism.
6. Growth is good. This year, we saw what happens if you force a new direction for the sake of staying relevant *cough cough Suicide Silence cough*. But, if you feel that you’ve said everything you’ve needed to say in one chapter of art—or even in life more generally—it’s okay to start anew. Whether it takes form in technique sharpening or a complete stylistic overhaul, don’t be afraid to lead your inner goat-satan in the direction of what’s twiddling your visceral bits. As Scott asserted several times, there’s no need to rehash the glory days, and I’m still humbled by the seamless way OG Xasthur has been translated into an acoustic runaway train. Colleague Russell Menzies has also followed suit, interjecting new visions of blackened music to elaborate on the story of Striborg, inspiring the next generation of kids at every stage.
Let me highlight that point again: treading into new waters doesn’t have to entail abandoning your old. Just two months after making it back East, Kornfan420 showed me nothing,nowhere’s video for “Deadbeat Valentine, ” and if the rest of this article thus far hasn’t been enough of an indication, I don’t consider it blasphemous to tell all of my metal friends that my life hasn’t been the same (see number three). All of the time I’ve spent with Lil Peep in my headphones hasn’t erased all of the formative experiences I’ve had with Subliminal Genocide, nor is it negating my future journalistic dedication to the sub-genre.
If anything, I think my time with emo-trap has served as a palette cleanser, allowing me to return to metal with fresh perspective and rekindled inspiration. I mean that both in terms of art appreciation, as well as new interview approaches. Having spent nearly all summer in front of the No Jumper podcast—featuring heavy hitters like Peep, Xxxtentacion, $uicideBoy$, and so on—I’ve gotten real woke by host Adam22’s approach. There’s much to be admired about his ability to probe firecracker points while also moving the conversation continually forward. That technique is the key to getting at the human interest side of things, preventing the indulgence of black metal’s sensationalist potential.
7. That being said, don’t tear down your old work. Pursuant to the meme, it’s not unusual to toss and turn about something vaguely cringey you said back in 2007. While most of us can probably agree that this experience is a relatable one, it’s very much based on irrational fear. One popular counteractive approach is to reassure yourself that people have amnesia about the little things you think are big and bold. But, I’d like to propose a different perspective —your XXL size doesn’t equate to quality worn thin. Think of it as a Mandela effect that’s a bit more relevant than the Berenstain Bears. Your perceived trash could be remembered as the treasure that inspires the next big innovation. Everything you create is important in its own way, so don’t rush forward in an attempt to strike the record of the past.
8. Your prison of mirrors can become your emotional electric chair. While Scott may have quite literally pulled the plug on Xasthur, he still retained the spirit of Subliminal’s second track. As someone who still struggles to escape the prison, might I offer fair warning; while it’s important to reflect on what you’ve been putting out into the world, maintain healthy skepticism. The image staring back could also be testing the boundaries of truth. When you pay too much mind to the echo chamber of what others may see, you can easily awaken a form of body dysmorphia holding you hostage in the funhouse. Again, don’t lose sight of perspective — otherwise you might just lose sight of yourself.
9. There’s some to be gained, but much more to be lost. I stand by my parting words. It seems as though I manifested my own destiny for 2017. I gained so many new experiences this years but lost nearly everything to addiction. Contrary to the very problematic popular dialogue on dependency, sobriety in and of itself can’t save you. Once your castles have crumbled it’s nearly impossible to re-build — at least not in a timely fashion. Don’t waste a moment crying about it. It’s just another drop in the river. Life’s an uphill battle — you can try to repress it, or you can unearth a sense of profoundness, contributing your own thread to the artistic intersection of existentialism and the macabre.
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Tune in next week to Thirsty Thursday for more from Jenna.