Hideous Gnosis is a recently published book whose core aim was to explore Black Metal Theory.
Prior to commencing work on Black Metal Revolution, I was pursuing another text titled The Stench of Black Metal. The purpose of said publication was to invite Black Metal
musicians of considered scope and vision to articulate their own "philosophy" of Black Metal, guided by a brief set of questions. The adoption rate was not where I wanted
it to be and though I did receive some excellent insights, the project moved too slowly for my liking and I decided to put it on ice for an indeterminable amount of time.
Adopting a simpler strategy with regard to my next offensive - Black Metal Revolution - a collected work comprised of musicians and artists discussing their most revered
Black Metal records, I have since been contacted by a number of people pursuing what I would call "like" as opposed to similar projects. The motivation for this blog
having been born of one of those; an introduction to Hideous Gnosis.
The following is both a series of comments about Hideous Gnosis as well as relative discourse on Black Metal Revolution.
I see true merit in the expressions of many, verses the opinions of the few. Black Metal Revolution aims to expose anecdotal commentary from no less than 333 artists, with
approximately 85 submissions so far received. In my almost 20 year engagement with Black Metal, I have observed as it has evolved through a number of trends, seen it
expand, gain popularity and reach unexpected levels of commercialisation. It would have once been difficult to anticipate these levels of accolade, though I wonder if
that's a seemingly simplistic point of view when considering the cult of Bathory or that Venom were in their heyday a stadium-sized band, but in the wake of murder, arson
and treachery, it would have been quite a leap to think that contemporaries of artists serving prison terms, well shy of a decade later, would be receiving awards
equivalent to Grammys in their native countries.
Having reached the magnitude it has, as well as existing on a plane infinitely more complex than being described simply as music, it's no surprise that Black Metal has
undergone an academic styled appraisal.
Black Metal is enriched by an increased presage not held by a troupe such as Venom, the term alone now failing to convey one singular focus. Ask ten noted BM musicians for
an insight into what they believe te essence of BM to be and chances are you'll be privvy to ten unique appraisals.
Fundaments proffered may bear similar witness, but perhaps one way of articulating these divergent positions is to consider these deductions as plotted along a curve of
extremes depicting alienation from contemporary morality, most would exist in the shadowy end of the scale, with examples manifesting as outliers - at the thinnest end of
So it was of great interest to me to learn of the existence of Hideous Gnosis via its primary architect, Nicola Masciandaro who contacted me and explained that she had
orchestrated a volume of which the purpose was to traverse the concept of Black Metal Theory. Being a person always keen to explore the considered reason of others,
especially those engaged in what could potentially prove to be groundbreaking pursuits, I was anxious to check Hideous Gnosis out and am satisfied to say that it was
definitely worth the time.
Having put TSOBM aside for an indeterminable period to instead focus on Black Metal Revolution, I have remained true to my earlier belief that the thoughts of the
respected masses provide for more engaging and credible reading than were I to compose my thoughts on 333 of my most revered BM records. What is relevant here when
comparing BMR to Hideous Gnosis (not something I intend to do too much of) is that the aforementioned architect, Nicola Masciandaro seems to view the two projects as
somehow similar. On a personal note, I find this somehow flattering, but at the same time believe it to be misleading should a reader be uninformed about either project
with the exemption of recognizing that Black Metal is a theme prominent in both. HG was compiled by approximated 13 authors, none of who I recognise from any known bands.
BMR will be comprised exclusively by noted musicians and artists. I don't believe you need to play in a band to have an insight into the essence of BM, and I think HG
proves this. It does however raise some sort of question as to how credible it may be perceived as, something I will discuss further on.
Interestingly Hideous Gnosis, like BMR are not books ABOUT Black Metal. Neither was designed to retell a series of events.
Black Metal must be bound by some conventions, however it is my contention that these don't necessarily have to be musical; as suggested earlier, "ties that bind" may be
best represented in philosophical terms. Before getting to that though, the appraisal of music in this text was excellent. Particularly noteworthy, Joseph Russo's chapter
in which Xasthur was the focus of discussion. The link between his perception of Xasthur's music and Malefic's personal pursuit of decay exists on a plane of analysis well
above the played out role of the typical, hyperbole riddled album review.
This leads me to my general affection for this work. My position on Black Metal is that it is an expression that has been liberated from stylistic shackles and that the
adoption of various elements, eccentric to its original core may not be necessary to its survival, but serve as both engaging and rewarding for listeners seeking
satisfaction across the breadth of musical experience, (as well as new currents of extremity with which to bolster the lyrical platform) which encapsulates a host of
elements including orchestration, atmosphere, intention, articulation and conviction. I often find myself pondering the divide between the lyrical expression and the
music. Both work in unison to create the overall declaration. Where the music was dull and insipid, how strong does the message then need to be in order to compensate for
this limitation? Can the music exist without the lyrical force and still be as potent? Can this also work in reverse? Abruptum achieved a measure of this on their DSP full
lengths whereas Havohej expressed an inversion of the idea by unleashing an exclusively verbal tirade on 'Dethrone The Son Of God'. Granted, it's a little harder to take
these diatribes quite as seriously as the sinister aura of Abruptum, but it takes me closer to the concept of an exclusively verbal and/or written communication being a
befitting medium for the conveyance of Black Metal. Does the Ondskapt 'Manifesto' contained in the 'Draco...' album make the music more credible? If Abruptum's
anti-ambience can be accepted as a tool of BM, the same manner in which Paul Ledney's unconventional metaphors have been, I come to question how Hideous Gnosis has been
met in various circles with animosity.
Certainly, it is an ambitious work and it no doubt flies in the face of those who wish for their model of black metal to remain as the "one true god". If BM can evolve
beyond a genre, a style of music, then why should it be considered an abomination for those with the means to place it under the microscope of academia? And why are so
many quick to assume that individuals wishing to explore deeper levels of what may or may not have been intended are outsiders or have some bizarre agenda beyond this
being their nominated vehicle of expression. it may not be a contribution to the art of black metal, but why can't a contribution based on the experience of said art be
worthy? Why would the ever stable platform of the album review or interview somehow be considered as elevated in merit. Granted, the artists own words, verses those
interpreted by the authors of HG may be more direct but it's not to say they should be excluded. I expect some of the artists featured would be envigorated to see their
creations examined in such depth.
I would however have prefered more direct artist imput and thought that the employment of "secondary data" was something of an admission that many artists wre not
interested to participate in such a text. Further, it is unclear as to who the intended audience for this book is. Assuming the book was compiled solely for academics, it
is questionable whether contemporaries of the authors would possess a grounding evolved enough to appreciate and facilitate a seasoned enough understanding of the text. As
there is no preface, no introduction or explanation of the mission of the work, I can understand why it has been derided. Most likely assessed with the idea of "who are
they to discuss what is sacred to us..." As an individual never arrogant enough to assume there to be an area of learning on a topic of interest that I can't benefit from,
it is always with an open mind that I approach works such as this and as previously stated, found the experience to be a rewarding one for the most part. Still I feel that
Benjamin Noys discourse on Peste Noire would have benefited from direct imput from the band, as opposed to material sourced from an interview in Zero Tolerance Magazine.
It's true that research is a valid tool, but it feels less endorsed in this context. After all, I want to believe this is not strictly an academic work.
It may be a gross generalisation, but I question how much of the book's true meaning will be extrapolated by the average BM acolyte. For the most part, it doesn't seem
that anyone (with the exception of Eugene Thacker's "Three Questions Of Demonology") has considered their most likely audience when utilising their nominated language and
phrase. It's dense, wordy and on occasion unnecessarily clever; but on the other hand, so were the philosophers they have been inspired by, so why not?
Still, criticisms I have seen have generally been base and petulant, reactive and unconsidered; uninformed! Of course this is just my opinion, and I'm not exactly writing
this as a studied consideration, as much as a once read impression. I don't intend to arbitrate over what should and should not be - frankly, I have my own interests to
pursue outside trying to convince someone of the worth of something than can decide for themselves.
Though impossible to cover all degrees of relevance, it was interesting to note that certain events were viewed empirically amidst a sea of cited theory and speculation.
The omission of Bathory as the true architect of Black Metal's sound; the unquestioned acceptance of Euronymous' romanticised position on Dead's suicide being some grand
scene related action and the omission of understanding as to where it was that Darkthrone's calling to play Black Metal came from served the book no favours and in a sense
seem redundant in what should generally be viewed as an ambitious, if sometimes questionable collection of ideas.
Should "rules" apply to some and not to others? Should conviction not be the barometer with which expressions are accepted, or at least considered? If you have a mind to read HG, read it...
Buy the book from Book Depository - cheap and free postage!