Saturday, September 29, 2007

Three From Aldo Lado





Secos E Molhados

As an anonymous commentator to yesterdays post pointed out, Arthur "I Am The God Of Hellfire" Brown is a possible antecedent to "Secos E Molhados" - and of course, to KISS. I deliberately avoided mentioning more likely forerunners of Black Metal's corpse-paint than "Secos E Molhados": Arthur Brown, KISS, Alice Cooper, the Misfits, King Diamond. After all, reading Black Metal against the grain is much more fun!

In 'The Pleasure of Text', Roland Barthes wrote: "The more decent, well-spoken, innocent and saccharine a story is told, the easier it is to invert it, the easier it is to blacken it, the easier it is to read it against the grain". The same goes the other way around: the more indecent, offensive, evil and foul-tasting a story is told, the easier it is to invert it, the easier it is to white-wash it. Thus, it is easy to invert the stories Black Metal tells - and it is fun too!

To read Secos E Molhados's influence into Black Metal's discourse is to inject a little bit of sensual, vitalistic, tropical, mixed-descent queerness into Black Metal's necro, frostbitten, all-too-often racist and homophobic veins and thereby drug the genre with some sweet poison.

Here is a little more of that poison... Enjoy!









Friday, September 28, 2007

Grim Tropicalia?

Corpse-paint has the most unexpected antecedents.

There is a school in anthropology which studies diffusion: the spread of cultural ideas and artefacts from one culture to another. Often the focus is on material culture: extensive studies have been made of the patterns of diffusion of certain patterns which adorn pottery. But the concept of diffusion can be applied to many thing: Black Metal corpse-paint, amongst others!

Yesterday I bought the cd "Brazil '70" which was recently released by Soul Jazz Records. The cd collects Brazilian music from the early seventies, music which was inspired by the Tropicalia movement. I can wholeheartedly recommend the album - perhaps I'll review it more extensively in another post.

The center page of the very informative booklet accompanying the cd features a wonderful photograph of the band "Secos E Molhados". About the outrageous costumes of the band, the booklet mentions that the group was a direct inspiration for the American rock band KISS.

And in it's turn, KISS was one of the influences on the ghoulish, black and white make-up worn by the members of the infamous Norwegian Black Metal band Mayhem, and their many imitators. Thus, Tropicalia indirectly influenced the frostbitten, dark world of Black Metal!

Interestingly, Moynihan and Søderlind's book "Lords Of Chaos" mentions another Brazilian inspiration for corpsepaint: the band Sarcófago, a Brazilian Trash Metal band. Jon "Metalion" Kristiansen, founder of legendary Norwegian metal magazine Slayer, is cited: "I think it was really from a band called Sarcofago from Brazil. A very extreme metal band, they released an album and Euronymous was totally obsessed by them because they wore lots of spikes and corpsepaint. He said he wanted every band to look like this, because he was so against the Death Metal trend from the USA and Sweden". I've been unable to ascertain whether Sarcófago's corpse-paint practice was in any way inspired by "Secos E Molhados". Perhaps Brazilian readers of this blog can enlighten me?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Arnold Schönberg - Pierrot Lunaire

I

Many readers will associate the clown Pierrot with the kitsch porcelain statuettes and the sentimental pictures found in the homes of the elderly. But the melancholic and naive clown has a nightside: he is moonstruck, and the moonstruck are lunatic, and the lunatic are dangerous.

What if Pierrot's white-face maquillage was an antecedent of corpse-paint?

II

In Thomas Mann's novel "Doktor Faustus", the protagonist Adrian Leverkühn is an expressionist composer who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for 25 years of musical genius. Leverkühn, whose music becomes more and more apocalyptic as his sanity is slowly worn away by Satan, is a thinly disguised Arnold Schönberg, as Mann points out in a short afterword to the novel.

Mann's descriptions of Leverkühn's music prompted me to buy Schönberg's 1908-09 composition 'Pierrot Lunaire'. I was lucky enough to find a cut-price edition of the composition on Deutsche Grammofon, conducted by Pierre Boulez, with the Ensemble InterContemporain and with soprano Christine Schäfer singing parlando.

Wikipedia points out: "Pierrot Lunaire is a work that contains many paradoxes: the instrumentalists, for example, are soloists and an orchestra at the same time; Pierrot is both the hero and the fool, acting in a drama that is also a concert piece, performing cabaret as high art and vice versa with song that is also speech; and his is a male role sung by a woman, who shifts between the first and third persons". Thus, the composition places ambiguity central stage. As anthropologist Mary Douglas pointed out, ambiguity can be very disturbing, as it threatens the way humans order and give meaning to the perceived world. Ambiguity equals uncleanness, ritual pollution, defilement, supernatural danger.

The album documents an almost luridly beautiful performance. However cultured and civilized classical composition may be, there is something hallucinatory, something deranged, something apocalyptic, about this music. The composition is very expressionistic, the music moving along angles as odd as those of any building in Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari. Schäfer's singing is appropriately mime-like, highly stylized, almost as if she expresses her vocal art through body motions, without use of speech; and the lyrical themes of blasphemy, eroticism, violence and murder endow her voice with a baneful aura.


III

Here a five YouTube videos of Tempus Fugit performing Schönberg's 'Pierrot Lunaire'.













IV

Through Schönberg's composition, I discovered the almost-forgotten Belgian poet Albert Giraud. Giraud (a pen-name of Émile Albert Kayenberg) wrote the poem-cycle "Pierrot Lunaire", which furnished the title of and the words to the piece of music. Giraud (1960-1929) was a symbolist, a proponent of "art-for-art's-sake" and an admirer of Baudelaire (what a sad fate to admire the sharpest contemporary detractor of one's native country and people! To admire Baudelaire as a Belgian now is one thing, but to admire him then...). Poor Giraud, because of Schönberg's composition Otto Erich Hartleben's translation of his work became better-known than the French original.

The entire poem-cycle is reproduced in French and in a poor English translation here. Below are reproduced two poems in French. I provided both with a literal English translation (translations for which I claim no artistic quality as I am neither a poet nor a trained translator).





Messe rouge

Pour la cruelle Eucharistie,
Sous l'éclair des ors aveuglants
Et des cierges aux feux troublants,
Pierrot sort de la sacristie.

Sa main, de la Grâce investie,
Déchire ses ornements blancs,
Pour la cruelle Eucharistie,
Sous l'éclair des ors aveuglants,

Et d'un grand geste d'amnistie
Il montre aux fidèles tremblants
Son coeur entre ses doigts sanglants,
-- Comme une horrible et rouge hostie
Pour la cruelle Eucharistie.


Red Mass

For a cruel Communion
Under rays of
blinding gold
And of church candle's flickering light
Pierrot leaves the sacristy.

His hands, with Grace invested,
Tear at the priestly robes
For a cruel Communion
Under rays of
blinding gold

And with a gesture of benediction
He shows the trembling believers
His heart in his blood-stained hands
Like a terrible and crimson wafer
For a cruel Communion


Papillons noirs


De sinistres papillons noirs
Du soleil ont éteint la gloire,
Et l'horizon semble un grimoire
Barbouillé d'encre tous les soirs.

Il sort d'occultes encensoirs
Un parfum troublant la mémoire;
De sinistres papillons noirs
Du soleil ont éteint la gloire.

Des monstres aux gluants suçoirs
Recherchent du sang pour le boire,
Et du ciel, en poussière noire,
Descendent sur nos désespoirs.
De sinistres papillons noirs.


Black Butterflies

Sinister black butterflies
Extinguished the sun's glory
And the sky looks like a wizard's book
Ink-stained every evening.

From occult censers waft
Perfumes troubling memory:
Sinister black butterflies
Extinguished the sun's glory.

Monsters with sticky suckers
Searching for blood to drink,
And from the skies, like black powder,
Descend upon our desperation
Sinister black butterflies



Post scriptum

Here is an interesting analysis of Schönberg's "Pierrot Lunaire" (link).

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Three From Antonio Margheriti





L'Acephale - Mord Und Totsclag

"Perception of present reality is a disappointment, and only the imagination can provide lasting enjoyment, in its quest for what is absent" - Marcel Proust.

Marcel, the narrator of Proust's "A La Récherche Du Temps Perdu", is disappointed every time he visits a place or meets a person he has imagined, dreamed about and yearned for. The name of a place or person and the connotations of that name enchant Marcel; real life invariably disenchants. The dream is always more beautiful than the thing dreamed of could in reality be, and dreaming aggravates the disenchantment that is in store for Marcel when he sets out upon his travels.

And so it was for me, listening to US Black Metal band L'Acéphale's album "Mord und Totsclag" (sic), which was released earlier this year.

"Acephale" was the name of a secret society created by Georges Bataille in the late 1930's. Acephale can be interpreted as a desperate, last-ditch attempt to use the means of fascism (conspiracies, mythologizing, violence, fanaticism) against fascism - in fact, Bataille coined the term 'surfascisme' as an ideology which would relate to fascism as 'surrealism' relates to 'realism'. In order to achieve his goals, Bataille applied contemporary ethnological theory (specifically, Marcel Mauss's theory of sacrifice) to the then-current political scene, hoping to employ human sacrifice (!) to reinvigorate society and thereby lead it away from the lure of militaristic dictatorship.

As regular readers of Documents will know, the title and much of the contents of this blog were inspired by the work of Bataille, so a Black Metal band using Bataille's thought would be of immediate interest to me. Furthermore, the album was released by the excellent Avant Metal record label Aurora Borealis, a label whose releases are always thought-provoking. Thus, these names created a mental image (or should I say: a mental sound) which magnified the idea that I had formed of Black Metal, making me imagine a music so blackened, buzzing, dramatic, damaged, droning and formless, so special, it could never be real. "Mord Und Totsclag" was bound to disappoint.

I unpacked the beautiful, deluxe dvd-packaging, and put the cd in the cd-player, and waited with baited breath for the music to begin. Beginning with the sound of WWII bomber planes, "Mord Und Totsclag" ("Murder And Manslaughter") turned out to be Black Metal melded to industrialized martial neo-folk - a genre I have never had much affinity with. Listening to the music, the sense of disappointment became all the more acute. I found that the sensibility of "Mord Und Totsclag" was very different from that of Bataille's thought. Far from being formless, far from being "...akin to a spider or a gob of spit...", the martial neo-folk influences made the music rigid, regimenting all that was buzzing and droning, putting it all into a uniform. Where Bataille's sense for violence is tragic, that is: internal, for L'Acéphale death and destruction would seem to be merely external, brutal pleasures. Even if the had aimed at 'surfascisme', they arrived at it's realist counterpart.

And had they aimed at 'surfascisme'? Reading their manifesto, they strive for "Volkisch metal" and celebrate Odinistic folkways and beliefs. Only people completely un- or misinformed about Bataille's oeuvre could call their art Volkisch and still believe themselves to operate in the spirit of transgressive thought. Perhaps the many spelling errors in their manifesto - even the album's title contains a mistake! - provide a clue to the question whether L'Acéphale is uninformed or misinformed. The kindest thing I can say about their ideological underpinnings is that it is a hodge-podge.

I've waited a few months before writing this review, in the hope that Time would kindly allow me to discover new landscapes within the music - but alas, I only found the dreariness of parade grounds.

"After having scaled the inaccessible heights of the name Guermantes, on descending the inner slope of the life of the Duchess, I felt on finding there the names, familiar elsewhere, of Victor Hugo, Frans Hals and, I regret to say, Vibert, the same astonishment that an explorer, after having taken into account, in order to visualize the singularity of the native customs in some wild valley of Central America or Northern Africa, its geographical remoteness, the strangeness of its place-names, of its flora, feels on discovering, once he has made his way through a screen of giant aloes or machineels, inhabitants who are engaged in reading Voltaire's Merope or Alzire" - Marcel Proust.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Burning The House Of ...















"...the houses themselves had been blamed, or scapegoated (...) and those houses had thus been destroyed" (link).

Friday, September 14, 2007

True Norwegian Black Metal

A documentary by Peter Beste about Gaahl, front man to Norwegian Black Metal Band Gorgoroth. Todd Da Palma called the documentary a "disastrously funny attempt at humanizing his (Gaahl's) all too real persona...". I disagree: Gaahl comes across as a Norse Charles Manson, albeit without a Family.













Post scriptum

If Gaahl is a Norse Charles Manson, will there be a lame gothic glam-pop band called "Gaahl Spears" in 2027?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Malefic's Mirrors IV

I

Mirrors play a seminal role in the lyrics to the music of US Black Metal Band Xasthur. This is the fourth in a short series of posts, in which I examine some of the lyrics to Malefic's music to find out the significance of the mirror inXasthur's aesthetic.

I dedicate this post to Dominic, who is currently writing a book which will contain a chapter on Xasthur and whose comments to the second in this series of posts was one of the sources of inspiration for this post.


II


Xasthur is a Black Metal Narcissus, obsessed by his reflection in the mirror. But where Narcissus's gaze is trapped in the mirror by a cursed infatuation with his own image, Xasthur's eyes are fastened to the looking glass by revulsion, self-hatred.

The myth of Echo and Narcissus might well be one of the most-analyzed - especially by psychoanalysts. The myth has inspired Freud, Lacan and Kristeva. For Freud, Narcissism was the withdrawal of libidinal energies from the world, from others, directing it towards the self. Hypochondria, megalomania and narcolepsy are disorders which Freud relates to Narcissism.

So will Malefic be asked to be seated on Freud's sofa for this post? Will Malefic's unconscious mind be brought forcibly to the light by the x-rays of psychoanalysis? Will his lyrics be read as a confession of a specific type of narcissistic hypochondria, in which the anxiety is not directed at the body but at the mind?

No. Certainly not. I won't do that.

Instead, I'll examine the myth of Narcissus and Echo from the perspective of the theory of the gift as developed by the French anthropologist Marcel Mauss, as developed in his seminal "Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l'échange dans les sociétés archaïques".

According to Mauss, trade is aimed at the accumulation of goods; gift-giving, on the other hand is aimed at circulation of goods within a given social community. In fact, the circulation of goods through gift-exchange constitutes the community. For Mauss, gift-giving is a 'total social fact', an activity that binds together diverse cultural strands of a society: art, law, economy, religion and politics. Gift exchange has a ceremonial character that is absent in trade. The ceremony of gift exchange is ruled by three obligations: the obligation to give, the obligation to receive and the obligation to reciprocate. These obligations are often upheld by supernatural forces, which will intervene if the obligations are not met. Gift exchange and sacrifice are closely related. Sacrifice can be understood as gift exchange with the Gods; alternatively, gift exchange can be interpreted as sacrifice amongst mortals. Finally, gift-exchange is an intimate act: by giving one is giving oneself.

In the story of Echo and Narcissus, the obligations of gift exchange are at the center of attention. Echo is a nymph, a female nature deity belonging to a large group of such deities. Echo offers her love to Narcissus, but he refuses the gift, refuses to commune physically with this spirit. Thus, he sins against the obligation to receive, the obligation to accept offered gifts. In some versions of the myth, Narcissus fails to accept repeatedly - that is, until either Echo or another offended party calls upon the Gods to punish Narcissus's wrong-doing. The Gods answer the call and make Narcissus fall in love with his own reflection in a mirror-like pool. The euphoria of falling in love turns out to be poisoned, however: a curse disguised as a blessing. In some versions of the story, Narcissus pines away love-struck and dies; in others he commits suicide when he realizes he can never possess the object of his love. In refusing the gift of the nymph's love, he is cast out of the gift exchange cycle and thereby exiled from society; and to be an outcast means (social or actual) death.

If Narcissus's fatal attraction to the mirror is a curse disguised as an euphoric blessing, might Xasthur's relation to the mirror be a blessing - a blessing in the disguise of a dysphoric curse?

And if it is a blessing, by whom is Malefic blessed?

The title of one of his most accomplished albums is highly relevant with regard to this question: "Telepathic With The Deceased". The lyrics to the eponymous song are:

"Telepathic with the deceased

Tranquility in sickness to soothe the inner madness / (Dissonant inner code, blueprints to genocide). / Inseminated knife wounds are infecting your thoughts (A reprogram the mind) / Come and see how easy, expendable it is for human life to be forgotten, / Haters of life are telepathic with the deceased. / Fragments of failure, some said it was art, for it only bears a meaning when all life is torn apart. / For all we are, are messengers of death and sacrificial hope, for we are a communion of the cataclysmic, / Inverting all oceans that shall drown into an eternal twilight (waves so high, once eclipsing the sun) / A funeral for those damned, is a funeral for the light. / Let us gather in the netherwomb reborn with enough hate to breed tomorrows doom
".

Malefic's obsession with the mirror does not denote being an outcast from the gift exchange cycle. On the contrary, the mirror is his medium for exchange, a portal to a fertile afterlife ("...netherwomb...").

Where Narcissus refused to accept the gifts of the spirit world, Malefic is engaged in an telepathic exchange with the spirits of the dead; in communion with spirits who (like nymphs) are supernatural forces. Xasthur's music is a gift from the spirits of the dead.

Simultaneously, the music is a gift from the living to the dead, an offering to the deceased. After all, Malefic presents himself as a messenger both of death and of sacrificial hope, as a messenger of both the deceased and of the living, the living who give themselves to death in hopeful sacrifice.

Xasthur = psychopomp.


III

Derrida lectures on the Narcissus myth, his thoughts wandering as through a maze of mirrors.





Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Malefic's Mirrors III


I

Mirrors play a seminal role in the lyrics to the music of US Black Metal Band Xasthur.

This is the third in a short series of posts, written in anticipation of Xasthur's forthcoming album, "Defective Epitaph". In these posts, I examine some of the lyrics to Malefic's music to find out the significance of the mirror in Xasthur's aesthetic.


II

"
What would happen if a man's face could adequately express his suffering, if his entire inner agony would be objectified in his facial expression? Could we still communicate? Wouldn't we then cover our faces with our hands while talking? Life would really be impossible if the infinitude of feelings we harbor within ourselves would be fully expressed in the lines of our face. Nobody would dare look at himself in the mirror, because a grotesque, tragic image would mix in the contours of his face with stains and traces of blood, wounds which cannot be healed, and unstoppable streams of tears. I would experience a kind of voluptuous awe if I could see a volcano of blood, eruptions as red as fire and as burning as despair, burst into the comfortable and superficial harmony of everyday life, or if I could see all our hidden wounds open, making of us a bloody eruption forever. Only then would be truly understand and appreciate the advantages of loneliness, which silences our suffering and makes it inaccessible. The venom drawn out from suffering would be enough to poison the whole world in a bloody eruption, bursting out of the volcano of our being. There is so much venom, so much poison, in suffering!" Emil M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

Infinite regress: Cioran's text placed parallel to the lyrics to Xasthur's "The Prison Of Mirrors" (from the 2006 album Subliminal Genocide), like two mirrors, to make them reflect each other and so form a recursive image...

"The Prison Of Mirrors

The prison of mirrors... we can't see / Yet trapped we are... by its reflection / It sees all fear and watches our downfall / It will rip all lies and pride from the soul / You see all... all that you hate / Force fed memories, suffer humiliation / Victim of darkness, of the inner hidden kind / I am the eye within the gleam / Shatter before a mirror that stares into (a shallow soul) / Poison yourself... revel in waste / Poison yourself, in the name of evil... destroy yourself / I will always be the reason to hate your self / Mirrors... will oppress your mind / and follow all... all that you hide / Blind, step inside a subconscious warfare to guide the oblivious / Mirrors of torture, unforgiving expose your sins / Your suicide by the mirror's shattered blade"



III

The prison of mirrors evokes the image of a mirror maze, a dizzying labyrinth of looking glasses.

"Bataille reverses the traditional metaphorical sense of the labyrinth that links it with the desire to get out. Just as philosophy allows one to leave Plato's cave, the labyrinth (from Bacon to Leibniz) is where those without access to the thread of knowledge are condemned to lose their way. Knowledge always takes the form of something to end all error and errantry. Bataille, on the contrary, denounces ('Icarian') solutions. Above all, he denounces the wish that it lead somewhere, have a solution (...) because the only result of this wish is that, far from being a real exit from the labyrinth, it transforms labyrinth into prison. To will the future (...), to submit it to planning and projects, to wish to construct it, is to lock oneself into a devalorized present that is airless and unlivable. "The project", according to Bataille, "is the prison". To want to get outside of the labyrinth, making this into a project, is to close it, is to close oneself in." Denis Hollier, Against Architecture. The Writings Of Georges Bataille.

In this mirror maze, the referent is multiplied by reflections bouncing off each other from so many angles that both self and referent get lost; distance and proximity as well as separation and apprehension (arresting; seizure; grasping; understanding) are unbalanced, perverted, desintegrated.



There is no minotaur at the center of Xasthur's mirror maze. Rather, the monster is the labyrinth itself; the monstrousness is dispersed from the center of the labyrinth. Daedalos's maze relates to Xasthur's mirror maze as monarchical power relates to postmodern power (á la Foucault). The minotaur was part of the monarchical power of King Minos. The violence of the minotaur was centralized, intermittent, stable, conspicuous, and extravagant: seven Athenian youths and seven maidens, drawn by lots, were sent every ninth year to be devoured by the Minotaur. The violence inherent in the mirror maze is diffuse, continuous, invisible ("we can't see / Yet trapped we are") and operating in non-heroic (i.e. micro-) practices.


IV

"Man is necessarily in a mirage, his very reflection mystifies him, so intent is he on grasping the ungraspable, on using transports of lost hatred as tools" - Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share.




Post scriptum

An interesting essay on aphorisms as mirrors (link)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Book Meme 123.5

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don't search around and look for the "coolest" book you can find. Do what's actually next to you.

"Sometimes "tall branches are stuck in the ground all around the rewe, forming an enclosure of 15 by 4 metres.""

Eliade, Mircea. 1964. Shamanism. Archaic techniques of ecstasy. Trans. Willard R. Trask. London: Arkana.

(Meme found at Decoys)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Malefic's Mirrors II

I

Mirrors play a seminal role in the lyrics to the music of Xasthur, of one the most interesting Black Metal Bands from the United States. Even the grey, decayed, blemished sound of the albums Xasthur has produced has something of the look of an old mirror, stained by oxidation, weathered by the ages.

This is the second in a short series of posts in which I examine some of the lyrics to Malefic's music to find out the significance of the mirror in Xasthur's aesthetic.


II

"Let's pretend there's a way of getting through into it, somehow, Kitty. Let's pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why, it's turning into a sort of mist now, I declare! It'll be easy enough to get through--' She was up on the chimney-piece while she said this, though she hardly knew how she had got there. And certainly the glass WAS beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist.
In another moment Alice was through the glass, and had jumped lightly down into the Looking-glass room
" - Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking Glass

"Les miroirs sont les portes par lesquelles la Mort va et vient" - Jean Cocteau, Orphée




III


"A Gate through Bloodstained Mirrors

Paint in blood / A sigil of death / On fading reflections / Beneath this night / Master of their infernal fears, / I take these burning gates...to reign / Pass this torch of evil (so I may become) / Through the candlelit / Bloodstained mirrors... / To succumb to the netherworld of Satan / Stare through the eyes of my mirror master, / And the mirror stares back into me".

Mirrors have been the instrument of shamans and sorcerers since times immemorial.

Why is this?

Mirrors dissolve the distinctive categories of the universe. For philosopher Merleau-Ponty, mirrors "...change things into spectacle and spectacle into things; myself into another and another into myself...". In other words, the boundaries between certain classificatory and existential categories are disordered by the mirror. The mirror functions as the confused line, the liminal threshold between the self and the other, between the thing and the spectacle. As symbolic anthropologist Mary Douglas observed, such thresholds are dangerous as well as powerful, they are fascinating and fearful. Persons and things which defy classificatory systems are regarded as polluting, wicked, taboo, sacred - the domain of ritual specialists. For such specialists, the mirror is an external spiritual power which human action can unleash, an external symbol on which the specialist must consciously work: a mirror is a spell, a blessing, a curse, a charm, a formula, an invocation.

It is exactly this function which the mirror has in "A Gate Through Bloodstained Mirrors". The song is one of the few explicitly Satanic in Xasthur's oeuvre. It presents Malefic as a sorcerer, working a ritual of defilement ("Paint in blood / A sigil of death" - blood being a fluid which has traversed the boundaries of the body) to transform the mirror into a gateway into an infernal netherworld. As a true malefic sorcerer, Malefic highlights his marginal place in the social system - even the community of Black Metal adepts - in interviews; he presents his powers as a danger to society and their use as disapproved.

For Malefic "Les yeux sont le miroir de l'âme"; but also, mirrors are the Devil's eyes, providing a window onto the Devil's soul: Hell.

The final line presents a sonnet-like "turn" or volta, in which the direction of the foregoing lines is reversed. Where all lines but the last lone lead from our world to the world behind the mirror, in the final line "...the mirror stares back into me". The line echoes one of Nietzsche's most famous aphorisms: "When you gaze long into the Abyss, the Abyss also gazes into you".

Xasthur's lyrics give agency to the looking glass, ascribing personal intentionality to an inanimate object, describing it as responsive to his stare. In a sense, the two final lines present a symbolic exchange of gazes, communication through gift-exchange: the Devil reciprocates the gift of Malefic's staring with a gaze that is even more terrible, returns Malefic's gift with an accursed interest.

Gazing back from the other side of the mirror, does the Devil see Malefic's face as a reflection of his own, placing them both into the abyss?




Post scriptum

An interesting essay on Cocteau and the myths of Orpheus and Narcissus, in which the mirror plays a prominent role (link).

Here is a link to the British Museum's web page on Dr. Dee 's scrying mirror.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Malefic's Mirrors I

I

Mirrors are the source and origin of the depressive, grey-toned world of Black Metal band Xasthur. In an interview with Malefic (the nom de plume of Scott Conner, Xasthur's monomanic master mind) he suggests that the mirror's reflection played a role even in the genesis of the band:

"Q: Where were you when you first thought the project had longterm potential for you?

A: In my house, as usual...looking out my window and there was nothing there. When I was finishing a song and it actually disturbed me, that was like looking into a mirror and not liking what I saw.... When it reflected a nightmare, I thought it had some potential...but for what?
"

So what is the significance of the mirror? In a short series of posts, of which this is the first, I'll examine some of the lyrics to Malefic's music to find out.


II

"Abysmal depths are flooded

For I dug a
mass grave in abysmal depths / For this wasted human race shall never be reborn again / Cold burial, their blood stains the snow / Eyes that will never see the same again, after I've shattered your mirrors forever / I will not be kind in the torture you desire / Walking through genocidal remnants / With a hate filled heart / Stabbing even at the tears of withering corpses / Will there even be a word known as death anymore, / When left is nothing to kill?"

This song - so strange, to use the word 'song' in reference to Xasthur - is from the 2004 album 'Telepathic With The Deceased'.

The narrator of the song has shattered mirrors - your mirrors - the adressee is the listener. The meaning of these shattered mirrors remains unclear; of what are they the metaphor?

The consequence of the shattering of the listener's mirrors is that eyes - whose eyes are they? - will never see the same. At first reading, I thought that the change in eyes meant death - eyes never seeing again - but when mirrors are shattered, they do not stop reflecting. Reading again, I noticed that the eyes never see the same again. The change is not the end of perception, not even a change in the percept; it is a transformation of visual perception itself. The shattering of mirrors results in a transformation of visual perception.

And this transformation of perception is infused with meaning by the use of a rhetorical figure based on disjunctive repetition. The line about visual perception changing when your mirrors are smashed, is answered with a line which is similarly structured: "Will there even be a word known as death anymore / When left is nothing to kill?".

This rhetorical figure suggests a continuity between two situations:
the situation when left is nothing to kill and the situation when I've shattered your mirrors forever. In both situations the history of the object in question has ended, in that both situations are complete, irrevocable, permanent (shattered forever/nothing left to kill, shall never be reborn).

That there is a continuity between these two situations, suggests there is also a continuity between the (almost Baudrillardian) metastasis of semantic meaning (
"Will there even be a word known as death anymore?") and the transformation of sense perception.

Thus, the lyrics of "Abysmal Depths Are Flooded" can be read as an exercise in a phenomenology of perception, along the lines of the work of Merleau-Ponty:
the contemplation of genocide affects the being-in-the-world of the narrator.




Post scriptum

Here is a link to a Xasthur interview at the Sadness Is Delicious blog.