On metal and mental health exhibitionism
Some audacious thoughts by Degtyarov
If there is one type of article I’m fed up with even more than the myopic calls for a “more inclusive” metal scene, it’s the uninspired, cookie-cutter bullshit about “how metal helped me through my depression”. I have never understood the need for or purpose of such emotional exhibitionism. As someone who knows very well what depression can do to a person (and I’ll spare you the details because it’s none of your business and not interesting to you anyway), to see it reduced to a premise for a particularly narcissistic, self-absorbed form of music writing is a limp-wristed slap in the face. I’m all for a gonzo-like method of approaching music from a more personal, emotional angle, but only if it actually aims to reach a more profound understanding of the work in question. Rather than mistaking it for an end in itself, you, as a writer should try to establish a connection with the reader through your personal experience. Blubber-coating your stock opinions on music with stories about how rough life’s been on you, however, just comes across as a transparent attempt at scoring free sympathy points.
“Depression & music” pieces are similar to the aforementioned hot takes on Racism, Sexism & Homophobia® in that they typically emerge from their respective author’s desire to signal either how sorry you should feel for him, or how much of a good guy he is. Decibel‘s thigh-slappingly embarassing piece on how to treat women in “the” metal scene is a recent and particularly deplorable example of this insincerity. These topics are merely prevalent because they are used as go-to templates by lazy writers. Can’t say anything interesting about Myrkur? Why not start with 3 paragraphs worth of lecture on how wrong it is to judge the band by its frontwoman’s gender? Then you just have to top it off with some hot air about “ethereal soundscapes”, and behold, you have finished yet another review! ‘Depression’ is an especially low-hanging, tasteless piece of fruit that is resorted to when a writer is in need of an ‘insta-angle’ for his otherwise unremarkable opinions on this week’s overhyped album in metal. So to all you sentimental rent boys: knock your sappy shit off before I’m the one who becomes depressed.
I call it pitycism. It takes two forms: the one you cite here, where the object of the piece is to draw attention to the critic’s travail, or the use of a band’s membership in some pitiable group to side-step the mediocre nature of their work.
Yes. The second form you mention is exemplified by the band Vile Creature, who go by the (unintentionally) comical denomination of ‘Anti-Oppressive, Vegan, Queer-identifying Doom Metal’, which has successfully distracted some reviewers from the fact that their music is absolutely terrible.
Have a listen if you feel like ruining a few minutes of your life: https://vilecreature.bandcamp.com/releases
Weirdest thing about all the attention Myrkur receives is that the Ukrainian group Lucifugum still languishes in obscurity outside of Eastern Europe, despite their frontwoman Elena Naumchuk being probably the single most important female songwriter in black metal history.
Then again, Lucifugum do not have a huge marketing budget at their disposal, nor the ability to namedrop Garm at every occasion.
Perhaps a more striking comparison can be made with Arkona – one of the most successful folk metal bands out there – whose singer and foremost composer is a woman. Yet I never witnessed anyone trying to dismiss her or downplay her contribution to the project based on her gender. That is because her (relative) fame was accomplished through hard work and talent, while 90% of the marketing narrative built around Myrkur hinges on the fact that she has a vagina (with the other 10% being invocations of Garm).
That said, the occasional blunt remark about Bruun’s womanhood is vastly outnumbered by the amount of reviewers who turn these few troll comments into a crusade against women in metal because it gives them something to passive-aggressively rail against in their shitty articles.