Various Artists – Hideous Gnosis (Book Review)

Spread the metal:

Reviewed: July 2012
Released: 2012, Creative Commons
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: JP


A collection of 13 essays about Black Metal and some nice bonus features from the first Black Metal Symposium

At times there seems to be schism between Metal fans and academic Metal fans. One group feels (if I can dare summarize) that an academic analysis of Metal is counter-intuitive to the very the purpose and principle of Metal, being itself an inherently un-academic genre. Conversely the academic standpoint is that by learning about what has come before we can understand and in theory increase enjoyment above and beyond something that just ‘tickles our dreams and eyeballs. Being a university graduate and never having succumbed to the (admittedly enjoyable) stereotype of the knuckle dragging, mouth-breathing, bemullet-ed, rivet-head, I possess a favourable disposition towards academic discussion and books about Metal. HIDEOUS GNOSIS blends academic discourse and intellectual writing into one admirable collection. Just because an individual uses long words does not automatically mean that he or she are pretentious. People communicate in different ways in different situations, to different audiences every day, so if you are receptive to academia and more importantly to learning, then you will very likely enjoy this collection of 13 essays about Black Metal.

The Black Metal Theory Symposium was originally held December 12th, 2009 in Brooklyn NY. This symposium was open to the public and essentially consisted of academics reading papers (or excerpts from papers) about Black Metal and then people having discussion. The organizing entity has now published the dozen or so papers into a nice, little paperback. HIDEOUS GNOSIS falls under the creative commons license, which means that is an open collection of intellectual works free for anyone to use or reproduce in the benefit of their research. As a representation of the symposium, the book is well done. It’s a 280-page paperback with some photos of the participants, some artwork that was contributed, some fan-mail and comments from the Black Metal Theory blog which is the primary source of communication for the group. Some of these comments range from fiercely negative and reactionary posts from anonymous people who had not even attended the event (because it hadn’t been held yet) to some cautiously optimistic and supportive people, curious about how it would actually work. Even if you were not there (which is 99.9% of us) this book gives you a bit of an overview of the current state of academic discourse about Black Metal. It would be hard to summarize so many unique essays, this is not like a single band biography, so I will provide a very brief commentary on the topic of each essay with apologies in advance to the authors who will likely find my minimal overview trite and unworthy for their excellent works of such grand scope and scale.

1.) Steven Shakespeare, \”The Light that Illuminates Itself, the Dark that Soils Itself: Blackened Notes from Schelling\’s Underground.\”

For me, the book starts pretty tough. I’ve never read Schelling so that made it pretty tough. The thrust of the piece is a discussion about Black Metal and nature using Wolves In The Throne Room as a frame of reference. I’m not a big WITTR fan either. Bought a couple albums, saw ‘em live, even chatted to them (nice guys) but as a BM purist they don’t thrill me musically. The piece is pretty flowery and filled with poetry so I felt it was a weak start to the book.

2.) Erik Butler, \”The Counter-Reformation in Stone and Metal: Spiritual Substances.\”

This is an interesting parallel between the counter-reformation movement in Europe (1545-1648) and Black Metal and touches on nature as an influence as well. Odd but entertaining.

3.) Scott Wilson, \”BAsileus philosoPHOrum METaloricum.\”

This one went way over my head although the imagined conversation between Aarseth and the ghost of Dead was amusing. Very poetic and philosophical, rather than analytical but does touch on the warrior mentality in Black Metal.

4.) Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, \”Transcendental Black Metal.\”

Hunter presents a very interesting and well-laid out theory (with diagrams!) about Transcendental Black Metal and Hyperborean Black Metal. He also discusses drumming technique (blast beats vs. burst beats) to distinguish the two styles. One of my favourite pieces in the book.

5.) Nicola Masciandaro, \”Anti-Cosmosis: Black Mahapralaya.\”

This essay by one of the key organizers I believe was also a bit out of my league. The piece discusses mythology, philosophy, nihilism, spirituality in some sort of cosmic abyssal framework. Heavy duty.

6.) Joseph Russo, \”Perpetue Putesco – Perpetually I Putrefy.\”

I enjoyed this work quite a bit. It is an extended discussion drawing parallels between the decay of the body and Black Metal.

7.) Benjamin Noys, \”\’Remain True to the Earth!\’: Remarks on the Politics of Black Metal.\”

A very good analysis of some of the politics of Black Metal comparing the left-wing sentiments of the left-leaning Wolves In The Throne room and the more conservative Peste Noire.

8.) Evan Calder Williams, \”The Headless Horsemen of the Apocalypse.\”

Again one of my favourites, Williams does a good job defining and explaining the differences between the apocalypse and Armageddon as well as theorizing why it is that Black Metal has no true leadership, and is just a loose coalition of like-minded people moving towards an generally unattainable goal. Again, with the Wolves In The Throne Room. Why is everyone so hot on these guys?

9.) Brandon Stosuy, \”Meaningful Leaning Mess.\”

I found this one to be fascinating, if a bit disjointed. Essentially this is an excerpt from a work in progress, an oral history of Black Metal. There are just quotes from Black Metal artists on any number of topics, the scene, production, power, race, geography, very interesting comments from complex and interesting people.

10.) Aspasia Stephanou, \”Playing Wolves and Red Riding Hoods in Black Metal.\”

One of the more straight-ahead works analyzes the very prominent role of wolves in Black Metal and the role of female characters in relation to wolves in Black Metal. Another favourite of mine.

11.) Anthony Sciscione, \”\’Goatsteps Behind My Steps . . .\’: Black Metal and Ritual Renewal.\”

Sciscione compares and contrasts ‘thermal intensities’ in Black Metal ie. the freezing moon vs. the raging inferno and the harnessing of energy to create intensity. Very well done.

12.) Eugene Thacker, \”Three Questions on Demonology.\”
One of the longer pieces, Thacker examines paganism vs. Satanism and both concepts relation to the ‘Black’ in Black Metal and evolves the piece into discussions of the study of demons (Physical, literal, and metaphysical) and the inter-connection with these themes in Black Metal.

13.) Niall Scott, \”Black Confessions and Absu-lution.\”

Last of all but not least, this paper comes from the chair of International Society of Metal Music Studies (ISMMS). He presents a clever examination of religious ceremonial concepts of confession and absolution in relation to Black Metal quoting Absu (naturally) as per the title, and referencing Behemoth, Funeral Mist and others.

I found HIDEOUS GNOSIS very hard to rate. It\’s pretty complex and certainly pushes the boundaries of knowledge about the genre. In that sense it succeeds admirably. To get the full idea you will just have to read these essays yourself. Ultimately would I recommend this book for the ‘average’ Metal fan? Probably not. It is aimed at a very specific, narrow and niche audience unlike for example, a photo-book about Metallica. I enjoyed it, it gave me some things to think about although admittedly some of it was beyond my comprehension. It would help to be well-read in philosophy and familiar with the works of Kierkegard, Hegel, Marx and Freud and Foucault as well as be a fan of Xasthur, Peste Noire, Wolves In The Throne Room (let alone Mayhem and Darkthrone) among other lesser known BM acts. A deadly mix to be sure! To be blunt, approach HIDEOUS GNOSIS with caution; be open-minded, curious and ready to read interesting and unique theories about Black Metal, you will find the experience very rewarding. Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention. This book is very grim and necro and will increase your Black Metal cred rating significantly, especially if you leave it lying around on your coffee table for your Pantera-obsessed buddies to see.

Track Listing:
Papers by (in order of apperance)

1. Steven Shakepseare
2. Eric Butler
3. Scott Wilson
4. Hunter Hunt-Hendrix
5. Nicola Masciandaro
6. Joseph Russo
7. Benjamin Noys
8. Evan Calder Williams
9. Brandon Stosuy
10. Aspasia Stephanou
11. Anthony Sciscione
12. Eugene Thacker
13. Niall Scott

Technical Details:
Format Reviewed:
Publisher: Creative Commons
Pages: 281