Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Kids Are Alright (In Which I Praise Extreme Pagan Metal)

"We think Christianity is the worst thing to happen in human history."
Sakis Tolis of Rotting Christ

A very good friend has been sharing his enthusiasm for Extreme Pagan Metal with me for the last few months. From the first I was impressed with many aspects of the "message" of this music, although the music itself is not always to my tastes. I was an early adopter of Metal and hard rock in general, going back to the early days of Black Sabbath and King Crimson. In the 70's I was into Uriah Heap, Led Zepplin, Yes, Genesis, and, of course, Alice Cooper. But I was never much of a fan of the much more self-conscious and, in my opinion at least, contrived Metal scene that followed.

But there really is something wonderful going on in the world of Metal music these days (and it has its roots at least as far back as the early 90's). I have already written some posts referring to the band Behemoth and their lead vocalist (and mastermind) Nergal in particular (here, here and here). Other bands who are similarly impressive in terms of their spiritual and philosophical message include Therion, Rotting Christ, and Dimmu Borgir. Other bands that also look promising but that I don't yet know enough about are Opeth and After the Burial, and I am sure there are many many more.

First of all these bands are matter-of-fact and completely unapologetic in their rejection of Christianity. But that is only the beginning. As a general rule these bands have gone through something like a "Satanic" phase. In my opinion the influence of Christianity in western culture is so culturally pervasive and psychically invasive that a clean break from the religion of the creed making fisherman is an essential prerequisite in order to, as Bob Marley wrote, "emancipate yourself from mental slavery." This is what the modern Buddhist writer and teacher Sangharakshita has dubbed "therapeutic blasphemy."

But, as I said, reactive "Satanism" is just the beginning. Therion and Behemoth, in particular, have gone far beyond mere lashing out and acting out against Christianity. They have enthusiastically embraced a variety of ideas and images from the modern Occult, ancient Heathenism and Eastern religions. One of the things that is so heartening about the best of Extreme Pagan Metal is that their luxuriant eclecticism has nothing "fluffy bunny" about it!

The lyrics (and CD cover art) of Therion and Behemoth are filled with references to Classical Greek and Roman Paganism as well as the even more ancient Paganisms of Egypt and Sumer (etc.) -- and also to Hinduism, the Norse Gods, Thelema, Runes, Qabalah, Nietzsche, H.P. Lovecraft, u.s.w. But these references are not thrown around randomly by people who don't know what they are talking about. Adam Darski (Nergal of Behemoth) is a serious scholar of history and classicism while members of Therion participate in the Esoteric order, Dragon Rouge, whose founder Thomas Karlsson writes most of Therion's lyrics.

The great thing about all this is that Extreme Pagan Metal now serves as a potential gateway drug for millions of young people. And it is a true spiritual gateway because at least some of the people behind the music have a deep appreciation for and understanding of Paganism both as an ancient way of life and as a living modern spiritual path.

To illustrate, here is an excerpt from an interview with Thomas Karlsson, lyricist for Therion and founder of Dragon Rouge, when asked about Friedrich Nietzsche:
I’m not a nietzschean although I’m inspired by many parts of Nietzsche's philosophy. I especially like his bombastic writing style in works as Also Sprach Zarathustra. A lot of people misunderstand his intensions (maybe I also do) but I think he made a brave stylistic revolution against the ordinary academic style of the modern age, which is as dry as dust. His language is rich as the prophecies of ancient days. Despite the romantic language in Zarathustra his philosophy is perspicacious and free from all illusions. Parts of Nietzsche's philosophy play a role in both my private life and in Dragon Rouge. Necessary to say is that I do not think much of übermench-wannabes. Nietzsche is often misused. Nietzsche himself should have taken a futher step in his philosophy and become an esoteric adept, but he did not and thats why his philosophy is insufficient although it is brilliant in so many ways.
It is natural for precocious adolescents to find their way to the writings of Nietzsche, and may it always be so! Just as it is natural for teenagers to gravitate toward Metal music or any other artform that holds out the irresistible promise of rebellion and freedom. But then what? That is the question. The best of Extreme Pagan Metal now offers to lead young people to take the next step. This is good news.

Nergal destroying a Bible:

And below is an interview with Nergal from Polish TV, but with English subtitles: "What we do: we don't give any answers . . . . Imagine two rooms, but circumstances which we live in only allow you to open one of them. We want to be the key that tells you: 'Hey, enter the second room -- maybe there is something cool.'"


Anonymous said...

Sometimes I wish metal didn't make my head hurt so I could listen to these artists. Their lyrics seem very good.

... you're not saying that Yes is metal, are you? *hardcore prog fan*

Apuleius Platonicus said...

"Yes" wasn't really Metal, true. But back then these genre lines hardly existed like they do now. Take Cream, for example. They were as hard as rock got back then, but they were also very blues and R&B.

In my opinion, these sub-genre categories are primarily to serve the interests of record labels, promoters, and other low-lifes. The bands also play along with it because to some extent its a way to reach and relate to their audience.

Phineas Iff said...

In my opinion, Opeth is the shit musically speaking. They really don't have much of an overall "spiritual message" though.

Neorxnawang said...

For modern, 100% heathen music, checkout Wardruna:

The musicians are behind it are heathens and also play black metal. The album was partially state funded.

Here they are playing at the Oslo Viking Ship Museum (!):

Ellen Catalina, LCSW said...

I used to love me some good metal music back in the day, too. I loved Judas Priest, Metallica, Iron Maiden, and even more "bubble gum" metal bands like Rodney James Dio and Quiet Riot. I need to check these new bands out.

I have often said that I am disinterested in creating pagan organizations for the promotion of polytheism. I feel it is all about making art. Plays, films and music with pagan themes have so much more influence than another organization.