More Black Metal Hauntologies

Last night, I was very pleased to discover a string of comments had been added to my old post from October last year: “K-Punk on Black Metal Hauntologies“.

Dominic Fox, whose book Cold World I bought shortly after writing that post (and I enjoyed it very much), pointed to some further posts of his own exploring Black Metal and its resonance with weird theory discussions from around 2007.

Back in October, on a Xasthur kick, I pulled together some old K-Punk posts where Mark was drawn into a discussion about Xasthur’s album Subliminal Genocide after one commenter referred to it as being hauntological.

Dominic’s posts expand on this and Xasthur’s appearances in his book. He writes in “Paint the Devil on the Wall

I can’t go along with attempts to christen this stuff “metal’s own Burial” — it’s too saturated and airless for that. Black metal is relentlessly entropic, committed to a one-way temporality in which intensities run inexorably down to zero and stay there, forever; there are no ghosts in this house, only cupboards full of corpses. The state of mind suggested by Subliminal Genocide is one of trancelike contemplation of the ashes of the cosmos — the logical end-point of Xasthur’s misanthropic individualism.

If there is anything “out of joint” here it is space (relations of pitch) rather than time (rhythmic patterning). The wide chorus effect used on the guitars during some of the album’s quieter moments makes them sound curdlingly out-of-tune with themselves, while the frequent harmonic shifts between distantly-related minor chords suggest a tonal universe in which there is no progression, only substitution – a universe of perpetual suspension, in which resolution can never arrive (and would have no meaning if it did). It is in perhaps this spirit that Xasthur’s frosty logo evokes the endless winter desired by Narnia’s Ice Queen, the “cold world” of dejection.

He follows up with “Genertic Misanthropy (i)” and “Genertic Misanthropy (ii)“, which explore some of the uncomfortable tensions between Black Metal’s reputation for misanthropy and racism, in which he asks the question: “Is a consistent and thorough-going hatred of all humanity possible?”

And finally, “An Evil Cradiling“, responds to a K-Punk question about the “ambient” qualities of Xasthur’s music — which I considered myself, briefly, in Episode #1 of Xenogothic Radio. Dominic writes:

I’ve been drifting in and out of sleep with Xasthur on the headphones on the train to and from work for the past few days; it’s probably just as well that subliminal programming doesn’t really work, or my unconscious would undoubtedly be in a bad way by now. All the same, I don’t think that it’s only the titles that index Xasthur’s nihilism: that “swampy viscosity” of sonic texture envelops a decidedly warped tonal language, quite at odds with the unthreatening diatonicity that much “ambient” music seems to have inherited from the minimalism of Steve Reich and Terry Riley.

I had my own experience of this, falling asleep to Subliminal Genocide on an early morning bus journey from London to Bristol last summer. I was very surprised how not-terrible the whole experience was. I think I had quite pleasant dreams.

Thanks to Dominic for sharing these posts. Evidently codepoetics is a blog I need to dig back much further into.

1 Comment

  1. it would be interesting seeing analysis comparing black metal with other, related metal styles (death, most obviously, but maybe also drone and post-metal)

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