Blackgaze and the deconstruction
of metal elitism
Written by John Erickson (Editor)
Photos courtesy of Metal Archive, Brooklyn Vegan, Decibel magazine, Metal Sucks, NPR and Wikipedia
If it wasn't for the mainstream
listening to Black Sabbath would metal
even exist in the first place?
Born in the LA area, John attended the Musicians Institute in Hollywood and now lives in Walnut. He works in web design, music producing and recording, and on various visual art projects. You can find John’s musical work at Akaitsuki – he is currently completing an album – or follow him on Twitter @ericksonjohnk.
Emerging at the turn of the 21st century, blackgaze is an intersection between Black Metal and post-rock Shoegaze (hence the portmanteau) – the resulting sound a mix of black metal aesthetics, such as rapid beats and shrieking vocals, and more soft, dreamy textures.
A San Francisco-based group formed in 2010, whose sound incorporates black metal, post-metal, and shoegaze. Their 2013 sophomore album, “Sunbather,” was released to critical acclaim and massive popularity.
A French post-black metal band formed in 2000 by multi-intstrumentalist Neige. Mostly a solo project, Alcest’s albums veer from a straightforward black metal sound to incorporate atmospheric, otherworldly elements.
Formed in 1995 in Portland, Oregon, Agalloch experiments with a broad array of musical genres including black metal, neofolk, progressive rock, post-rock, and ambient music – and setting the stage for many post-black metal bands.
With the critical acclaim of Deafheaven’s latest LP – Sunbather – the subgenre of music known as “Blackgaze” has been brought to public attention. Reviewed highly by The Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and more, this California metal band has helped the fledgling blackgaze movement.
As stated in the title, Blackgaze is a genre that blends the heavy elements of Black Metal, namely the vocal style (known as Grim Vocals) and the fast/distorted tremolo picking on the guitars, and Shoegaze (Bands like: My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Cocteau Twins).
Black Metal and Death Metal are both considered part of the “Extreme Metal” subgenre, and both have spawned many different subgenres of their own. The genres on their own are not as accessible as Thrash or Heavy Metal which include the likes of Slayer, Metallica, or Black Sabbath. But, when combined with other genres, Death and Black Metal can become much more accessible to the public. Melodic/Progressive Death Metal includes critically acclaimed bands like Gojira, Meshuggah, or Mastodon, and is a generally much more accessible form of Death Metal.
Black Metal however has often been considered the most “extreme” form of metal music, reserved only for the isolated and cynical elites in the metal underworld, associated with church burnings in Norway and the murder of fellow musicians. As such, the recent trend of combining Black Metal with the softer textures of Shoegaze (and also post rock) has split the Black Metal community and fan base.
Attending an Agalloch show in 2011 at The Airliner in LA, I saw this split first hand. Pitchfork, the critical hipster authority on music rates Agalloch albums above 8.0 out of 10 on their charts, this encourages a different demographic to attend shows and listen to records, namely white hipster 20 somethings, note there are also plenty of white 20-somethings that are also Black Metal Elitists (and not hipster). At the show I saw a division in the room, in the front, head banging their long hair and moshing wildly were the “tr00” metal-heads, thrashing and raging and drinking their cheap beers, in the back, standing stiffly, sipping their likewise cheap PBRs were with hipster dudes, head-nodding their noticeably shorter hair. Both were there for the Metal, but the traditional “metal-head” looked more the part, and looked like they were having more fun.
With the advent of critically acclaimed metal music (namely the post-rock/shoegazier sounds) metal isn’t just for the underground. Once synonymous with violence and satanic imagery, current metal acts (this does not include metalcore, which just plain sucks) are employing different types of lyrical themes and sounds into songs, and a lot of this has to do with the demographics that are creating and listening to the new music. Many of the Blackgaze bands you listen to won’t have parental advisory stickers on the front covers, they are dark in theme but have lyrics which do not include satanism or violence. Song structures are more varied and overall carry a more mature and sophisticated sound.
This change in scenery has brought different types of music fans into the same room for the first time. People who used to be critical of metal music, dismissing it as “noise” or satan worship can enjoy the new changes that are occurring, and also the elite metal-head can now also come out from the shadows of isolation and enjoy the sun with fellow human beings once dismissed as sheep or squares (many will still cling to the bitter darkness however).
Online you can see the tightening of the elite metal underground, refusing to respond to mainstream acknowledgment and support, either for fear of being labeled a “poser” by their peers or a genuine disgust for all things mainstream (but doesn’t that kinda make them a hipster too?). The fact is that the mainstream is listening, and that is good for metal. If it wasn’t for the mainstream listening to Black Sabbath would metal even exist in the first place?
Check out some of these songs by blackgaze/post-metal bands (save Gojira, who fit into the Prog/Melodic Death Metal)