Ponderation: The usefulness of metal's holy wars.


Some say holy violence is bad -- Berkeley religion prof Ronald S. Hendel recently advanced this controversial opinion in my favorite trashy history magazine, Biblical Archaeology Review. After the initial shock, I had to concur that, in spite of favorable attitudes expressed in the Bible (Joshua 6:21, Numbers 21:35, etc.) and the Koran (2:191, 9:29, many more), slaughtering the ungodly has its downsides. I even began to suspect that hacking iPhones to track down terrorist networks might be okay, despite the possibility that my collection of canine porn might be compromised.

But what about imaginary slaughter? If it were eliminated, we could say goodbye to the film and video-game industries. More important to me, curtailing imaginary RELIGIOUS violence would carry special implications for black metal.

By way of example, I checked in on the art of Abbath Doom Occulta, founder of Norwegian black-metal progenitors Immortal. Abbath's new solo album, "Abbath," follows in the lyric bootsteps of Immortal, a prototype of Christ-'n'-Yahweh-hating metal since 1990. One expects Abbath to riff & rasp about righteous ancient pagan "reavers" gouging, flaying, dismembering and raping rivals on frozen battlefields, and he does not disappoint. "The skull-crushed plain," "Chew the ribs of temple maidens," "doom in cobalt depths," "beneath a shroud of bludgeoned sky" -- it's poetry, and the deep, polished knobwork by Daniel Bergstrand and Giorgos Narantzis displays an enormous advance over the genre's primitive basement roots.

Behold: This kind of imaginary religious violence is useful. Justifiable bloodlust seethes within millions of humans, many of whom seek a communal alliance with God to make them feel less isolated and powerless. Since this situation is not going away, would you rather that the oppressed hordes channel their energy through brutal music, or through actual killing and church burning? Sure, they'll do both, but overt violence diminishes when loud outlets are available. There's a reason many religions restrict rock music -- it doesn't breed good soldiers.

Speaking as no mere observer, I too yearn to choke and stab the powers that bleed, disrespect and control me. As a lifelong fan of noisy music, though, I have never so much as punched a single soul, not even that prick behind me on the golf course who kept firing Top Flites at my head.

It's not too late to say it again: Extreme art is a symptom, not a cause, of alienation. Give electric guitars to ISIS. And, while you're at it, give them food and jobs. I bet God will stop telling them to kill.