USBM Book Review-Extended commentary opinion/editorial.

Spread the metal:

I wrote this opinion piece and placed it here in our op/ed because it was not really relevant to the overall quality of the book.  If you have not read my review of USBM, it may be prudent to read that review first to provide context of my extended feature.  Think of this section like one of those bonus features on a movie, a director commentary that has those disclaimers that say, “The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the organization….”

Alice Cooper once infamously said, (paraphrased)  “Politics has no place in Rock and Metal. Metal is about sex and violence, not politics. Leave politics to the punks.”    I whole heartedly agree with Alice.  For better or worse, Black Metal has been politicized and in many cases it is an ideologically driven art-form.  If you want to frame Black Metal in those simplistic terms, Hair Metal can also be considered an ideologically driven art-form with an adherence to the aesthetics of hedonism. Be that is may, Black Metal is one of the most politicized forms of Metal.

Black Metal has evolved (generally) into two forms:  Exclusionary and Inclusionary.   The original forms of Black Metal were pretty simple in terms of political stance; “We hate everyone and everything. ”, which is a pretty easy philosophy to wrap your head around.  There is an elegant simplicity in that political mind-set.  That’s why we see terms like ‘pure’ or ‘true’ in reference to these bands.

The newer forms of Black Metal, including much of the USBM in this book are ‘inclusionary’ where the bands suggest that that we should all be friends regardless of race, creed, colour, gender, etc, except of course, those who disagree with us.  That is why I’ve always smelled the slight whiff of hypocrisy from inclusionary, politically correct Black Metal.  ‘WE’ can ‘ALL’ get along…except with ‘YOU’ because you don’t agree with ‘US’.   whereas exclusionary Black Metal says, ‘WE don’t like YOU.”  End of story.   There are entire essays, books and university course devoted to this conversation/debate and I am not certainly not qualified nor capable to understand it.  That is my disclaimer.

That is why I approached this book, USBM with some trepidation. Decibel is a  politically correct, left-leaning, magazine/organization.  The magazines tagline, if you recall, used to be ‘Extremely Extreme’, and it then changed to the politically charged ‘Refuse/Resist’.  What’s the next tagline for the ‘extreme’ Metal magazine?  ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends”?  Kidding…sort of. Visit the bands Editorial section of the website and you can read any number of left-leaning political essays.

The magazine has shifted over the years to match current political and social trends and the topics and the taste and style of the writers. That is fine. Magazines are supposed to be contemporary.  Calling Decibel left-wing and political is not intended to be an insult, it is who they are and what they do.

The author, Daniel Lake, a drama teacher, also writes for Decibel. I wouldn’t go so far as to say ‘guilt by association’ but it is pretty apparent where the author’s political leanings lie. He indirectly refers to a lot of Black Metal as ‘nauseating’.  However, when dealing with controversial topics like the politics in Black Metal I wasn’t sure the publisher/author/book (based on it’s existing biases) was equipped, or willing to handle the topics in a neutral, professional, academic manner, avoiding hypocrisy and historical revisionism.

However, I really wanted to read and review USBM and I got it as a gift so I was very happy to support the book and publisher.   My bias upfront, I contacted the publisher and they very kindly and promptly sent me a digital promo copy for review. I was also pleased to get a gorgeous hard copy for my library as a Christmas present from a family member.  Thank you both.

Where am I going with all this?  USBM does not avoid sensitive political issues. It is politicized and is slanted to the left.

When skimming through the book, even before reading it I noticed a little section, right up front, (p. 11) called ‘ Bad Shit In Black Metal’. We haven’t even got into the meat of book yet and it gets political.  When I read the chapter title, I just rolled my eyes, groaned inwardly and thought, “Here we go…”

I KNEW it was coming, I didn’t know how or where but I knew it would be there; the predictable, politically-correct, disclaimer and the generic disavowal of the strain of exclusionary Black Metal.  (ie, the bad shit).  I read the first couple of sentences and we start seeing the usual woke phrases; left-wing buzz words like misogynistic, homophobia, racism, marginalized, and talk about  ‘we have a responsibility’, etc.  I immediately stopped reading that chapter.

I really wanted to read and enjoy this fine work without it being tainted by political correctness.   After being fully triggered, (ha!) I set it aside and I decided I would read the political chapter AFTER I finished the book.   I went back and read it at the end so I wouldn’t have a bad taste in my mouth the entire time. Refer back to my quote from Alice Cooper; re:  Keep politics out of Metal.

After finishing USBM, I went back and read the chapter called, ‘’Bad Shit In Black Metal’, I was pleased Lake approached the so-called sensitive topics with a bit more professionalism and neutrality that I had anticipated. Shame on me for pre-judging him!  I appreciated the fact that the author stood up, early, loud and proud and said “this is what I believe’. He dealt with the elephant in the room early and the reader can choose to skip that part or not.

I feel this technique (of having a short political chapter up front) was preferable to lacing the entire text with apologist language and accusatory statements about Black Metal bands that he deemed politically unpalatable. As an apolitical person, that would have really made it a slog to get through, however, many people like reading politically charged prose regardless of slant.   When politics does arise on occasion, it is in context, fair and balanced except for some notable omissions.

It would have of course been preferable to exclude that disclaimer chapter altogether but of course the publisher and author probably wanted to protect themselves, lest they be accused by third-parties of supporting the exclusionary forms of Black Metal  (aka NSBM) by not publicly denouncing them.  Ie,  “If you do not aggressively say you are against these NSBM bands, then by default you MUST be for them, therefore you are guilty of supporting them!”

It is not uncommon for the more extreme pundits on the left and right of the political spectrum to fling those accusations; “If you are not with us, you are against us!”    That kind of hyperbole and polarizing commentary has often tainted once-calm and rational discussions.  In addition, that kind of accusation that inevitably would be levelled at Lake and/or Decibel (for being ‘sympathizers’) is not good for sales.

Since the dawn of time, unfounded accusations have destroyed many lives, businesses, projects, relationships, careers, etc so it ties back in with my comment about the predictable disclaimer. In this current political climate, if Lake didn’t speak up right up front, the risk to his career and reputation was probably just too great.

The people on the left will say USBM doesn’t go far enough in condemning the ‘bad shit’ and the author shouldn’t give these guys a platform.  The people on the right will complain it is too left-leaning, misses the point about Black Metal and excludes certain bands and includes bands that aren’t Black Metal.  I’ve already seen both sides/opinions expressed on-line in forums.

To summarize, like it or not, USBM (the book) is a politically charged. If you have any issue with this; if you fall on either side of the political spectrum, I suggest you approach with caution.  I’m going to go listen to some Power Metal bands that sing about unicorns, ninjas and dinosaurs.