03 June 2016

The Underground Resistance

I'm like a lifelong metal person. In circuitous fashion, I made my way around classic rock, grunge, metal, hardcore, punk, and back to metal. I've gone through all the fads and landed on anything fast and heavy. One thing that quickly blipped on my radar and then blipped away into the cold, northern night, to feast on the cranial fluid of nuns, was black metal. I heard Emperor, I heard Dark Funeral, I heard Darkthrone, and I got it: crappy production, fast, screechy, evil. Moving on.

Every few years I'd try again, even branching into some of the more shiny and overground stuff, like Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth (whose black metal cred is, apparently, debatable). It still wasn't enough to grab me.

After stumbling upon Sam Dunn's excellent BangerTV channel, it set me on a train of thought that led me to this little, frightening documentary that a friend told me about ages ago. Which led me, in turn, to another documentary I'd overlooked: Until the Light Takes Us. It helped to provide some context to the music, especially the crap production. Varg called it a rejection of the overdone, "perfect" production of mainstream records. It's a fascinating documentary that you should watch if you are at all interested in sociology and crazy people.

Featured in this doco are a few chaps from the early, murderous, church burning days of Norwegian black metal, most importantly a man called Fenriz.


Fenriz, who's birth (and perhaps cooler) name is Gylve, is a longstanding member of the Darkthrone duo, and a foundational figure in the black metal scene.

He came off as such a cool, genuine dude, that I had to give Darkthrone another try. Their first three "black" metal albums are still hard for me to approach. Thankfully, I did not stop there. The sound of the band started to morph with the Panzerfaust album from black metal to something else. By the early 2000s, they progressed into entirely heavy speed metal, some real old school stuff, and it is just the thing I've been looking for. 

All of this brings us to the point at hand: Darkthrone are an underground band, and proudly so. They want to stay off the mainstream map and actively resist it. Fenriz is a postal worker; Nocturno is a teacher. They release their albums themselves, when they could probably be on any record label in the world and get major distribution. 

The resistance is born from passion. That passion says, "I don't give a fuck". Offensive as that may be, it is simply an angry way of saying, "I'm free (or at least I'd like to be)". Free from what others are saying, free from what the market claims is profitable, maybe even free from my own inner angst. It's, at once, anarchic and theologically profound.

I find this punk, DIY, underground mentality so endearing. It's what helped propel to publish a game and, finally, self-publish a novel.

But doing it yourself is really hard. There are moments when I am, after writing and editing a book, putting it together in InDesign, or trying to promote it online, or dealing with some other aspect of production, and I stop and think: if I could just get a book deal, they would handle all this shit. I could just write.

And that is a very appealing thought.

There are also moments when I am doing those things, the production and marketing side of things, and I think: this is really fun. I am in total control of my product. I have no master. And that is also an appealing thought.

So it seems to come down to what one really wants. Creative control, or ease? Freedom, or more money? Ease and money are things I like. I'm American, after all. But I'm also fond on the hustling, independent, DIY ethos, even if it is the rougher road.

I don't begrudge people trying to make it big, even if they kowtow to "the market" and compromise their artistic vision. It's how you make a proper job of art. I may one day, should the opportunity arise, take the dumptruck full of money and let them do what they want with my work. For now, however, I feel proud and happy to be a tiny flake, a mote of dust, a barnacle clinging to underbelly of the ship. It isn't glamorous, it isn't very profitable, but it means freedom. It means honesty.

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