Death Metal – Urban Tantra (feat. Paul Masvidal and others)
Written by Andreas Aubert
Death Metal – Urban Tantra?
–Exploration of ones shadow-side is central both to Tantra and death metal, claims the French-Norwegian psychotherapist and meditation teacher Eirik Balavoine. A variation of headbanging is used in his own seminars, as a tool for inner liberation.
–Extreme metal represents a yearning for transcendent experiences, he claims.
–The musicians try to achieve this especially by using expressions which they instinctively know creates fear. To create fear is a success in itself. As a therapist and meditation teacher, I see that where there is fear, one also finds the reason why a human being lives a limited life. So to confront the fear – rather than running away from it – is liberating and life enhancing in itself, and eventually pure training for the final death experience at the end of life.
He feels that distorted, guttural vocals create a dark atmosphere.
–A person who is comfortable with his own darkness becomes balanced, powerful and very interesting. Those who don’t dare to look at their own shadow side are using the light aspects of life to repress what is difficult in their lives. I refer to such people as harmony-junkies. If I have a client who is afraid of his own darkness, I will never start by introducing «positive thinking». That would be to fundamentally let the person down. Discovering the pearl hidden in the middle of our own darkness, is one of the most important things in life, as I see it.
One way to discover and transform ones shadow side is to develop a tantric approach to life. Tantra does not primarily concern sexuality, as it has been distorted to be in the west. Tantra is a mystical branch within Buddhism and Hinduism, described in the Tantric texts. These claim that by acceptance of all aspects of life, both dark and light, it is possible to fundamentally transform ones life. The basic attitude to realize everything, is: «there is nothing to deny, nothing to run after and finally nothing to see». Balavoine claims that metal represents the first part of this approach; to deny nothing.
Intensity is essential
–Strong and deep intensity in an ordinary life usually comes through sexuality, birth, death, confrontations, sorrow, shock, accidents etc. Such experiences contain enough intensity to blow limiting lifestyles and belief structures apart, for a while. Metal-music seemingly seeks to do exactly the same. But it does not seem to be based in any deeper understanding of life’s inner dynamics, claims Balavoine, who has worked with inner growth and meditation, individually and in groups, for 30 years.
Similarly, nature uses extreme devices to wake us up, he claims.
–Today, for example, we are forced to wake up from our unconscious exploitation of nature. Nature does its’ own style of headbanging to liberate itself from the strain we have put on it for a long time. Extreme weather is the death metal of nature.
Balavoine has been aware of metalmusic for some time and recently looked more into it through music-videos and lyrics. He also read interviews with Amon Amarth, Kreator, Vader, Napalm Death, Immortal and Gojira, and found that many of them talked about delicate subjects.
–Many metal artists seem to be sensitive, thinking people. But when you see them on stage, they all look like a pack of werewolves, he laughs.
Headbanging creates inner peace
Sufism is a mystical branch within Islam. The Sufis chant their mantras while making movements of the head that resemble headbanging. Movements of the head are found in many shamanistic rituals and are central to many trance/transformation cultures, claims the therapist.
–Innate in our attraction to chaos and the use of headbanging and moshing, lies the wish to liberate ourselves from that which binds us. Headbanging addresses the separation between body and mind which is common in modern man. Headbanging and equivalents gives space to a greater energy-flow in the two major energy-channels of the body. Vital-energy that flows unhindered in our body-mind system creates an inner feeling of freedom and expansion, whereas blocked energy creates negativity and limiting, repetitive thought patterns. From this perspective, headbanging makes sense. Special forms of movements with the head are used also in my own work. Seeking chaos through chaotic body-movements is an effective path towards inner peace. This is a peace which does not last, but it still creates an essential experience of something which is near impossible to access if one is living life defined by unconscious thinking and acting.
In his seminars he offers methods and experiences similar to what metal music can evoke, but within a different framework. Expressions beyond what one is used to, is central.
–You cannot scream in the streets and expect to be met and understood, but I believe that a trained capacity for honest, strong and clear expression, both through words, movements and creativity, is of utmost importance. In our everyday life we are all wearing a conditioned, psychological mask, rather than being authentic. When you have retaken possession of your innate capacity for honesty and authenticity, you are mask-less not only on a concert or when you write lyrics, you are without a mask in everything you do – whether alone or with others. Many interesting momentary experiences can come out of authenticity training, but it can also be the main tool for permanently living in the state of mind which one can access only temporarily through headbanging.
Metal vs the hippie movement
–You say that metal uses the ability to cut through – using masculine power – to create chaos and thus plough through habits and life-suffocating conformity to make life flow again. Are other forms of expression sometimes needed for a similar purpose?
–In the 60s, the frozen masculinity prevalent at the time had to be transformed. It was exposed in all its ugliness through the Vietnam-war. The opposite reaction became materialized in the hippie-movement. As soft as it often was, it still became the most explosive society-transforming force of that time. It triggered an enormous fear in the establishment.
Conservative people have traditions and security as their Gods, whereas i.e. artists have radical subjective experience of inner vitality as their guideline, he claims.
–Polarities like these will always exist in our societies. Neither of the poles should be glorified. I believe in a healthy dynamic between the two. People did not seek more chaos after the Second World War. They manifested an enormous energy to rebuild and create stability, to give their children a future different from what they themselves had just experienced. But all harmony becomes stagnant and rotten after a while, and has to be broken down and renewed.
–Death metal has perhaps reached a point where it cannot become more extreme. Gojira, perhaps one of the currently most significant death metal-related bands, also include more flowing and atmospheric parts.
That sounds natural. If you see death metal as an extremely masculine expression, only one evolutionary direction can open after that – into the feminine again. In some way or other, nothing or no one can bypass this eternal pendulum phenomenon.
The metalcore-genre from USA arguably also represents one of the most significant developments in the metal scene during the last five to ten years, with its combination of extreme elements, clean vocals and self-revealing lyrics.
–Screaming will eventually be replaced by honesty, comments Balavoine.
–Many of the extreme metalheads are often very condemning towards metalcore, perhaps because the music has a greater commercial appeal and agenda and thus may have less artistic integrity. But could it equally be because the extreme metalheads feel scared by the merging of masculine and feminine qualities in this music?
–Yes, extreme masculinity is very afraid of softness. Fear of one polarity is often hidden by an excessive use of its opposite. Fear is also often based on fear of change. Only those who have genuinely chosen consciously to break with their own habits will continue to be pioneers and embrace the unknown. That which once was liberating chaos, eventually becomes a rigid, meaningless form.
–Some bands have created chaos for over 20 years.
–If it is a conscious act, they will end up as deeply spiritual people. If they are creating chaos because they are against something, they will become part of that which they are resenting.
Balavoine has seen video-clips of Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse, Immolation, Misery Index, Suffocation etc. But it was first in Gojira that he found music that appealed to him.
–For a person who seeks self-fulfillment, the first step out of conformity is usually to react against something. That is the nature of frustration. Much experience is needed to realize that you can react against something your whole life, without ever truly getting any further. When you instead come up with an alternative, you become dynamic and you stand for something, which is the beginning of an authentic expression. It seems to me that Gojira are doing this.
Slayer is therapy
–At school I was once bullied by a fat boy. I felt the urge to put a knife into his fat. Instead I listened to Slayer once I got home, shouting the lyrics, full of hatred. My state was normalized after half an hour, I tell Balavoine
–That is a pure therapeutic act, he comments.
–True expression transforms ones inner state. You release the energy which is blocked in old frozen emotional reactions. It is perceived by the mind as liberating. But it is just a release of accumulated energy, which is perceived as meaningful and comfortable in the moment. A spiritual act arises when you understand what is going on, change attitude and thus stop accumulating the energy. One of the objectives of true spirituality, as I see it, is living in a direct contact with ones inner truth. If you do that you do not accumulate energy (karma) in the first place. This discovery is fundamental in all spiritual practice. The main problem of man is, in my view, the accumulation of stagnated psychophysical energy, also known as karma.
Without this understanding, we will live our lives in constant alternation between accumulation and uncontrolled unconscious release, claims Balavoine. He adds that even if metal and other phenomena sometimes represent a conscious release and thus may be beneficial to a certain point, the final solution must be not to accumulate the energy in the first place
–This is the difference between metal and spirituality. Raw spirituality is as powerful as death metal, but is more demanding. Being loyal towards your own inner vital truth, in situations where you fear that what you have to say will be condemned, is much more demanding than to «dance off the energy». By expressing yourself directly, you become loyal with your existential vital-impulse, rather than your fear of being ridiculed and misunderstood. When we keep our mouths shut, we let fear be our master. By being honest we are liberated from the grip of fear, and get our Self, with capital S, back.
Lyrics by extreme bands often mix misanthropy with elitism, often in a wrapping which might be perceived as spiritual – rightfully or not. The occultist Aleister Crowley, perhaps often misinterpreted, is a usual source of inspiration or reference.
–There was a time when spiritualism and spirituality were almost synonymous in peoples understanding – it was «something occult». In addition to Crowley, we had Blavatsky, Annie Besant and finally Krishnamurti – «the new savior». It was a necessary step, but we have fortunately a totally different understanding today, says Balavoine, who was inspired by Crowley in his youth.
The polish death metal band Behemoth has several Crowley-inspired, elitist lyrics. The song «Slaves Shall Serve» has lines such as:
«Slaves Shall Serve As Crowns Are Falling,
As The Apocalypse Is Nearing,
Slaves Shall Serve As Inferior Life Force,
Slaves Shall Serve As Undead Rivals»
«we charm all jins -
automata, inprinted realities
they creep like snakes
and all we feel
is painful bliss»
–I experience it as a hodgepodge, says Balavoine.
–Spiritual knowledge is mixed here with a deep, emotional hatred, and the hatred is expressed against the established.
In the notes accompanying the lyric, it is explained: «These words invoke powers of individuality which stands against fear and oppression of western civilization(…)»
–The basic understanding that we often unconsciously paste our own inner reality on to people and situations, is completely absent. The external is seen as the great enemy. When we start to sense that we are trapped in conformity, we start to attack that which is seemingly binding us. Rather than understanding that we are both our own prison guard and our own prison, living caught in our own illusion. The «next level» lyric, which would be both logical and more awake, would be a lyric where we curse our own feeble ability to liberate ourselves from our own prison. And not i.e. see the western world as the great enemy.
He can understand the anger and frustration expressed in the lyric, but sees it as a form of teenie-bopper-spirituality.
–Because responsibility for ones own life and own viewpoint is completely absent.
Vader’s Christian lyric
–This is a purely Christian lyric! responds Balavoine to «Wolftribe» by Vader, inspired by Nietzsche. This polish band has several lyrics with a seemingly spiritual content.
«We hereby evoke new kingdom of might (…) exerting free will for the chosen»
–I can not take seriously any talk about someone being the chosen. It is pure manipulative power, based on fear of the unknown. The only revolution I believe in is the revolution which happens inside each individual.
On the other hand, he finds Vader’s «I shall prevail» interesting.
«Resistance of matter, mind and time
Hardness of custom, code and law
Stifling curtains of the past
The realm of inertia sprawling around»
–This is a pure description of reality as it appears to us when we are identified with our limited ego, says Balavoine.
«Constriction of language in me
Dominance of whimper over bang»
–There the lyricist starts to talk about himself. He talks about being passive and withdrawn, rather than roaring as a lion.
«Tyranny of habit and fear. The yoke of the future on me.»
–Habit and fear are the powers of conformity, which lies as a cover over the free will. When habit and fear are allowed to be the life-shaping inner powers, your future is trapped and established – because only repetitive, reactive life is possible. No renewal, no discoveries, no realizations.
«Just watch the light you have inside», it is sung in the song «Love» by Gojira.
–There they are turning inside, says Balavoine.
«I watched inside and my eyes burned
The moon was right
Roots so deep, head so high
I want to be in and watch it out»
–When he says «I want to be in and watch it out», he has placed himself in the transition between the Authentic and the Higher Self. He senses there is something more, beyond the authentic personality. But he is caught in the antagonism of inner-outer. He has not yet discovered that there is no difference, ends Balavoine.
Death metal power yoga
–Dynamic Meditation has exactly the same effect on me as one hour of metal in my room gave me as a teenager, says Marco Bertozzi (40) from Switzerland, known as Arun. Dynamic Meditation was developed by the Indian spiritual teacher Osho (1931-1990). Chaotic breathing through the nose is the first stage of the meditation. In the second stage one explodes; screams, shouts, kicks, jumps and expresses any kind of emotion. In the end the meditation turns into silence and (potentially) inner peace.
–Metal and Dynamic Meditation both involve expression, catharsis, and going beyond the mind. When the mind says «I cannot do it anymore» – metal and Dynamic Meditation both can push me through it, says Arun, who listens to Nile and Amon Amarth when he practices the physically challenging Ashtanga/Power yoga.
Osho is known for provocative statements such as i.e. «the reason why most people are alive, is that they do not have the courage to commit suicide.» He used chaos as a device both in his talks and his meditations, and attacked religion and politics recurringly. Arun has visited the Osho International Meditation Resort in India many times, which attracts people from all over the world. Dynamic meditation is offered every morning, in the meditation hall which has a maximum sitting capacity of 5.000 people.
As a teenager, Arun got significant physical and mental release from moshpits at metal concerts. He sees a natural continuation between metal and spirituality in his life.
–The search came out of the same inner pain. Releasing stress and blocked emotions through metal prepared me for meditation.
Metal touches the same places inside him as tribal music and rituals.
–I did an ayahuasca (psychotropic/mind altering medicine plant) ceremony In Peru. The rhythm was constant and it was something hypnotic, similar to metal. In some Osho therapy-groups, i.e. Tantra groups, we used drums, painted our faces and screamed to each other as in a metal concert. Metal concerts have tribal and ritualistic elements such as giving the horns, making sounds etc.
He sees metal as one of the few arenas where modern men can come together to celebrate this raw, masculine energy.
–It was important for me as a young man, to have this supporting atmosphere of other men.
Driven by restlessness
Arun listens to metal from the heart more than analyzing its technical aspects.
–I was running through the forest, listening to Amon Amarth’s «Guardians of Asgard», a misty winter evening in Switzerland. The trees appeared in the mist, and I almost saw the guardians of Asgard. I had tears in my eyes, it touched me so much. I was so connected to the wild nature and the music. Metal has depth and contains many emotions, not just aggression, he ends.
–Much of what drives metal music is restless energy. As I’ve learned to pause and breathe and abide with these energies, such as anger, I feel like I’m fully partaking in my experience rather than being seduced by them, says Paul Masvidal of the legendary American progressive metal band Cynic. Masvidal also played guitar on Death´s album Human. He sees many of Balavoine’s perspectives as valid, and has – like Balavoine – practiced meditation and yoga for many years. They both attach significance to authors/spiritual teachers such as Jack Kornfield and Ken Wilber.
–Metal gave me an outlet to pour out my own shadows and give them a voice, says the guitarist/vocalist and songwriter, whose lyrics mostly address spiritual matters.
–When I began delving into the inner regions of my own heart and mind through a meditation practice and the use of psychotropic shamanic medicines, I realized what I was doing as an artist. In my youth the art had a sense of complete abandon driven by the need to liberate the caged animal inside that was stuck and afraid. Once I became intimate with these monsters, I came to realize they were manifestations of my own thought processes.
Shifting the blame
The Cynic song «How Could I» was his first honest attempt to look at what real courage and bravery is, in the sense of being a human being with an open heart.
–It was about self-reliance and self-responsibility and finally shifting the blame. The source of my pain was no longer the outer world, but my own longing for transformation. Rather than seeing what’s wrong with the world or even myself as an obstacle to be overcome, I began to consider it as an opportunity for transformation. Over the years I discovered that pain and distress can be opportunities to open my own heart instead of closing it. These feelings are opportunities to connect with what others are feeling and that’s what informs the music.
Now the aggression takes on an entirely new dynamic, one that is rich and fertile with the energies of the earth itself, continues Masvidal.
–Much like extreme weather, there’s beauty in its ferociousness and its stillness. Everything is connected by slender threads and we are essentially conduits. Metal and other extreme forms of music can ultimately exhibit that transcendent quality and awareness that connects us to something deeper, the essence of being raw and alive, he ends.
Paul Masvidal has the column «Metta Mind Journal» on metalsucks.net , where he discusses spiritual topics. http://www.metalsucks.net/
Marco Arun Bertozzi: http://www.yoga-spirit.ch/
About the author:
Andreas Aubert is a freelance writer from Norway, as well as composer/lyricist of the Norwegian Progressive Death Metal Band Okular, whose second album Sexforce is released march 4th this year. Okular’s lyrics and visual concepts present perspectives on life similar to those expressed in this article. On the new album, SUSPERIA´s Athera performs half of the lead vocals on 7 out of 13 songs, and “The Greatest Offender” features a guest appearance by BORKNAGAR´s Vintersorg.
According to Norways Scream Magazine, Okular measures up to bands such as Obscura and Gojira.