Dehumanation Member Matthew Kelly Shares His Thoughts On The Black And "Unblack" Metal Scenes
After delving into an Unearthing the Metal Underground column on the controversial subject of Christian "unblack" metal, which uses the black metal style to espouse Christian values, we have also posted an editorial dealing with what role religion can play in the genre. While investigating the subject and checking out a series of bands taking either position on the issue, I sent out a questionnaire to both pro- and anti-Christian musicians. As a teaser for the editorial, each band's complete answers have been posted online so you can hear what both sides of the subject have to say.
We've already heard thoughts from both Frames and Throne of Malediction on the anti-Christian side, and Winter's Dawn on the pro-Christian side. The next musician to speak with me on the subject of Christianity in black metal was Matthew Kelly of U.S. based act Dehumanation. You can also check out the band's music at this location.
xFiruath: What does black metal or extreme metal personally mean to you, either as a musical style or a philosophy?
Matthew: To me the entire idea of there being a "scene" behind metal is contradictory and bland, to start with. The philosophy behind metal was originally an antisocial, largely misanthropic (if not outright mysogynistic) "fuck you" to society at large. The forerunners of most "extreme metal" styles were not social butterflies and they didn't really give a shit either way what other people thought of what they were doing - they did it to satisfy an inner craving for music of a type they didn't hear coming from any other bands around them at the time. That being said I think the most apparent thing that's wrong with black metal in particular is the idea that there's some peer-based review board of people somewhere in Norway who meet on a weekly basis to decide what's black metal this year and what's not. There doesn't need to be. You hear something, and if it's black metal it's black fucking metal, no questions asked. If you don't know any better, of course, you might mistake mallcore goth metal for black metal.
xFiruath: Do you personally see a distinction between unblack metal bands and black metal bands? That is to say, do you think bands with religious members and religious lyrics should be categorized differently?
Matthew: I think the idea of "unblack metal" is preposterous and we should kill it with fire. Christian death metal was ridiculous enough (remember Mortification?) The same people who wanted Slayer lyrics censored in the late 80’s decided it'd be a good idea to go the Deicide route and try to shock people into listening to or appreciating them just to get their message of proselytization out or earn an imagined place in heaven when they died. But the idea that black metal can be anything other than misanthropic and somehow "save" people, it's just ludicrous to me. At its core, black metal doesn't give a fuck about anyone else. So on the one hand it's easy for me to laugh it off because I know this whole Christian black metal thing isn't going to last long, even if in the meantime the fans of it really agitate the entire metal community online and at shows with their fire-and-brimstone preaching.
xFiruath: There’s no question that black metal saw its major awakening with Norwegian bands that either had anti-religious sentiments or had members who were themselves involved in anti-religious activities. Do you think that black metal can be separated from its beginnings without becoming something else entirely?
Matthew: It can, in many respects. When I look to Scandinavia in the 80’s I see so many different ideologies being represented even within the first to second wave of the bands we later called "black metal.” For example there's a huge difference between Bathory and Mayhem just in the sound alone. Examining the lyrical content and the overall drive of what these bands were saying at the time shows just how different two artists representing basically the same style really can be. Places like the States caught on late. People are still calling black metal a new thing even though we've had bands like Profanatica, Judas Iscariot, Von, and Acheron since the late 80’s or early 90’s. But it is difficult to separate the music from the culture of its origin. There will always be a predominance of Nordic philosophy, if not outright religion or occultism, in Scandinavian black metal because of the cultural heritage they share. To the rest of the world it's just a novelty, but to these people it's their background. By that same token as many pagan-influenced bands as there are, there are just as many who don't give a fuck either way and just want to watch it all burn regardless of religion or politics.
xFiruath: How do lyrics influence your decision to listen to a band? If you heard an amazing black metal band you loved, but later discovered the lyrics were pro-Christian, would you continue listening to them?
Matthew: I have never heard any modern religious-driven music that could be termed "amazing,” unless you count the tributes to pagan legend that Shamaatae writes and the increasingly Norse-related lyrics of Nidingr. Even the last Dissection was more ideology than religious doctrine, being influenced by the T.O.T.B.L., and none of it seemed overtly sacred-sounding to my ears. I guess you could say Wardruna are spiritual, but not religious. It's the same idea. Music can be spiritual without being religious, and I think crossing that line takes any style of music too far. It’s bad enough we have shitty mass media outlets influencing the aesthetic sensibilities of our youth through advertising and hiring worthless bands, promoting garbage television, etc. We don't need the church coming into it as well, even if it's not Christian driven.
xFiruath: After listening to a lot of Christian rock and metal bands, I’ve found they tend to segregate out based on lyrical content. Would you be more open to listening to an unblack metal band that used gore and war themed lyrics, or lyrics about the times God kills people throughout the Bible, as opposed to a stereotypical positive and uplifting lyrical style?
Matthew: No. That's hilarious, though. Hearing someone scream "For Yahweh!" just doesn't do it the same way someone screaming "For Fenrir!" does.
xFiruath: How would you feel about listening to a pro-Muslim black metal band with all Islamic members (or a pro-Jewish black metal band, or pro-Scientologist black metal band, or pro-Mormon black metal band, or so on…)?
Matthew: No. Just no.
xFiruath: What specifically in your life led you to either believe or disbelieve in ideas like God and the supernatural?
Matthew: There's really not enough space here for that, and I try to avoid bringing up anything spiritual in my lyrics. So far, success, but the next disc I've been working on doesn't shy away from the fact that I think all organized religions are full of shit. There are two kinds of self-affirming philosophies: ones like LaVeyan Satanism where you're still subservient to some imaginary friend even though you're supposed to hype yourself up into being a god in the flesh and the master of the destiny of the world zomg lulz, and ones like the misunderstood Nietzschean philosophy of raising the self above the vulgar mass of "the average.” Without the Nazi party in the 1930’s and 40’s we'd have a much better understanding of what Nietzsche meant by “Übermensch,” and I think I'll be touching on those topics later on in my own music if only for the sake of the songs. Anyway, I've experienced much in this world and I'm sure there's still more I haven't experienced. I believe in what I know to be true, which means everything must be tested. I don't care how many "experts" agree, I don't believe it until it's demonstrated in front of me.
xFiruath: Anything else you’d like to discuss on the issue?
Matthew: I think people put too much stock in the opinions of others when it comes to art. Music critics are a worthless lot because most of them aren't musically educated. How can you really judge someone's skill at music if you don't know a goddamn thing about playing music? Really? Also I want to add here that having no musical education doesn't exempt you from enjoying music, in this line of thinking, it simply means that you might need to expand your horizons and experience something other than what the top 40 radio is peddling. Get out and hear some real folk music, world music, ancient music, baroque music, classical music, etc.
Everyone thinks the talent is where the money is, but if you really stop and think about it the people who keep doing music they're not getting paid to make are the ones you should pay attention to. Do you think Idil Biret is raking in five figure royalties for her 15 CD Chopin collection? These people are passionate about what they do and it's not because they're selling something you can get from 10,000 other bands at the same time for the same price, or because their record company will pay them more to do it. If I had to choose between seeing Aura Noir drunk and tripping on LSD at Elm Street with a deaf guy running the sound or Slipknot at 100% on the greatest soundstage with the best sound guy in the world... well, man, I'd have to choose Aura Noir at Elm Street. Why? Because it's real. Because you can hear the difference in the music. There's passion in real art that transcends the value of the dollar or kroner or lyra or whatever the fuck, and in the end the church is just out to get your dollars. I'd say the same must be true of religious driven media of all types.
xFiruath: Sorry to hear about your being in recording limbo man. Where did you move to?
Matthew: I moved to Las Vegas to be with my girlfriend. It's tough knowing I won't be able to really work on anything for a while longer since I relocated out here to a pretty rough economy, and some pretty interesting living conditions, but in the end it'll pay off because it just reaffirms for me that music is what I want to do regardless.
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