Thursday, December 30, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
The concept of the "sacrificial aesthetic" introduced in Eric Gans's Chronicle No. 184 entitled "Sacrificing Culture" describes a situation in which aesthetic forms remain sacrificial but have evolved from a necessary feature of social organization to a psychological element of the human condition. Gans concludes that art's sacrificial esthetic is essentially exhausted as a creative force and argues that the future lies with simulations, virtual realities in which the spectator plays a partially interactive role. His most significant claim is that "This end of the ability of the esthetic to discriminate between the sacrificial and the antisacrificial is not the end of art. On the contrary, it liberates the esthetic from the ethical end of justifying sacrifice." The consequence of the liberation of the ethical justification of sacrifice is the main concern of this essay.
There are many expressions of the aesthetic that manifests itself in blood and flesh. The most familiar examples are evident in the current popularity of tattooing, piercing, branding and body modifications. These comprise the basic prerequisites for entry into the worlds of Modern Primitives, Vampire Culture, and The Fetish Scene. These highly ritualized subcultures evolved out of various aesthetic genres such as: Happenings, Body Art, Performance Art, Ritual Art, the Gothic Movement, and Hollywood. Originally the goal of these artists was personal transformation and attempts to reclaim the spiritual. The result was unconventional forms of the sacred manifested in art that attacked fundamental values of Western culture, provoking censorship on many levels of society. The culture war began. In this essay it will be argued that aesthetics now ideologically freed from ethical responsibility to society has evolved into an authentic sacrificial culture inclusive of ritual murder.
Such activities sprang from Nitsch’s belief that humankind’s aggressive instincts had been repressed and muted through the media. Even the ritual of killing animals, so natural to primitive man, had been removed from modern day-experience. These ritualized acts were a means of releasing that repressed energy as well as an act of purification and redemption through suffering.(3)
Brus and Muehl were more concerned with creating political statements through the use of photography and collage; however, their images also entailed blood-drenched bodies and violent mutilations. In the book Out of Actions Hubert Klocker, curator of Collection Friedrichshof, Vienna, states, "Nitsch and Schwartzkogler employ the magical gesture by assuming the role of the shaman or the priest. Brus, on the other hand, uses the body as a projection surface for the subconscious collective potential. It then turns into an expression of the sacrificial act.(4) The most controversial of these artists is Rudolph Schwartzkogler, who participated in Nitsch’s actions and created works that he referred to as "artistic nudes--similar to a wreckage" in which he performed self-administered mutilations. Schwartzkogler died violently on June 20, 1969 prompting several conflicting reports regarding the circumstances of his death. Art critic Robert Hughes in a 1972 issue of Time magazine stated:
Schwartzkogler seems to have deduced that what really counts is not the application of paint, but the removal of surplus flesh. So he proceeded, inch by inch, to amputate his own penis, while a photographer recorded the act as an art event. In 1972, the resulting prints were reverently exhibited in that biennial motor show of Western art, Documenta V at Kassel. Successive acts of self-amputation finally did Schwartzkogler in.(5)
Art historian Kristine Stiles claims that this is one of the notorious myths surrounding performance artists and that the real cause of Schwartzkogler’s death was that he plunged to his death by jumping out a window while obsessed with Yves Klein’s photomontage "Leap into the Void," which falsely depicted Klein jumping from a second story window. She also states that Schwartzkogler had begun experimenting that year with physical health regimes which he hoped would cleanse and purify his own body and mind.(6) In either account, Schwartzkogler’s death was a violent act inspired by his immersion in the aesthetic and has the quality of a failed purification ritual. [article/images 'Rudolph Swartzkogler'' http://www.brainwashed.com/axis/schwarzkogler/rudolf.htm] This incident inadvertently created an aesthetic mythology in which suicide is hailed as the ultimate performance art, the completed sacrifice.
Similar examples of extreme body modifications in performance art can be found throughout the world and are strikingly similar to religious rituals that entail blood. ["Body Modification Ezine" http://www.bme.freeq.com/index.html] "Performance artist Michael Journiac made a pudding with his own blood and offered it for consumption by his audience."(7) This is similar to the practice of autosacrifice by Aztec priests who drew their own blood as an offering.(8) Australian artist Stelarc suspends himself in different environments by ropes attached to hooks driven through his flesh. Although he claims "that these works are only involved with transcending normal human parameters including pain,"(9) they are strikingly reminiscent of rituals among some Plains and Northwest Coast tribal groups of North America. [image/video "Suspension" http://www.stelarc.va.com.au/suspens/suspens.html] Performance artist Fakir Musafar has made it quite clear that his intentions are to perform live demonstrations of religious rituals and practices. Influenced by National Geographic and Compton’s Picture Encyclopedia, "by the time he was twelve, Fakir had begun a systematic, personal exploration of virtually every body modification and ritual practice known to man."(10) A small sample of his performances include hanging by fleshhooks while performing an Indian O-Kee-Pa ceremony, penis stretching with weights while performing sexual negation rituals of the Sadhu of India, having one-pound weights attached to his chest with fishhooks enacting mystical practices of the Sadhu of India, and corseting his waist enacting an initiation ritual of the Ibitoe. Fakir Musafar has been performing rituals and body modifications for over forty years. [images/magazine "Fakir Musafar’s Home Page, Bodyplay Magazine, and Piercing School" http://www.bodyplay.com/]
3 The Blood
The use of blood in performance art can be likened to the use of blood in Girard’s theory of sacrifice. Girard refers to the two natures of violence as harmful violence and beneficial violence and proposes that ritual is nothing more than the regular exercise of beneficial violence which is achieved through sacrificial rites: "The physical metamorphoses of spilt blood can stand for the double nature of violence.... Blood serves to illustrate the point that the same substance can stain or cleanse, contaminate or purify, drive men to fury and murder or appease their anger and restore them to life."(11) This is consistent with artist Barbara Wiesen’s explanation of why she uses blood as a medium in her art works: "because I wanted to provoke multiple responses that might both attract and repulse at the same time."(12) For Girard, "The function of ritual is to 'purify' violence; that is, to 'trick' violence into spending itself on victims whose death will provoke no reprisals."(13) Blood rituals are necessary to redirect violence onto inconsequential victims in order to purify the community of the terror of uncontrolled killing.(14) Girard states,
Only blood itself, blood whose purity has been guaranteed by the performance of appropriate rites--the blood in short, of sacrificial victims--can accomplish this feat. . .
The properties of blood, for example, vividly illustrate the entire operation of violence. . . Blood that dries on the victim soon looses its viscous quality and becomes first a dark sore, then a roughened scab. Blood that is allowed to congeal on its victim is the impure product of violence, illness or death. In contrast to this contaminated substance is the fresh blood of newly slaughtered victims, crimson and free flowing. This blood is never allowed to congeal, but is removed without a trace as soon as the rites have been concluded.(15)
The artist becomes or enacts the sacrifice, the stage represents sacred space, the performance is held in sacred time, and significantly the blood is fresh, crimson and free flowing. A classic example of performance art as blood sacrifice is a performance entitled "Bloodbath" by Minnesota Artist Billy Curmano. Press releases announced that "The artist’s own blood is shed in a human sacrifice intended to focus attention on global violence."(16) At the performance, which was symbolically held on Saint Valentine’s Day, Curmano was dressed in white and sitting next to a globe of the world; the audience was informed that his blood would be spilled as a sacrifice to ease the need for suffering and death."(17) Since Curmano had promised that he would supply his own blood for the sacrifice and would not mutilate himself on stage, a nurse sat next to him and extracted a dozen vials of blood by needle from Curmano’s arms as a drum beat in the background. During the ceremony Curmano opened each vial with his teeth and spilled his blood on the globe while a voice offstage announced the names of countries in conflict.(18) Although this encompasses all aspects of the use of blood in sacrifice, it is basically a non-violent performance.
The use of blood in performance art is often extremely violent and similar to another religious concept, mortification. In a wide variety of religious traditions mortification occurs in the context of initiation rituals. "The term mortification derives from the Latin mortificare (to put to death) . . . some practices of mortification seem intended symbolically to assimilate the initiate into a deathlike condition that is to precede an initiatory rebirth."(19) The practices refer to specific forms of bodily discipline, ranging from sleep deprivation to ritual forms of abuse. Deprivations are ways of symbolizing death: the dead do not speak, eat, drink, or sleep. Violent rituals can be seen as endurance tests that serve as a rite of passage into adulthood. The significance is not the violent act but a symbolic death and rebirth.(20) Christian mortification can be seen as an element in the more general practice of asceticism. The concept is derived from the Pauline ideal of participation in the crucifixion of Christ by putting to death the desires of the flesh. This self-imposed martyrdom was a way that Christians could recapture some of the self-sacrificing intensity of the early church.(21) This included various degrees of self inflicted violence, such as fasting, sleep deprivation, self-flagellation, the wearing of what is referred to as a hair shirt, "really a scourge worn as a belt against the naked flesh, the rope made more painful by being knotted or by the addition of metal nails."(22) The goal of this self-infliction of pain was to experience ecstatic union with God. In his book entitled Holy Anorexia, Rudolph Bell describes the life of Catherine Benincasa, one of the many medieval women who tortured themselves as a form of Christian mortification:
from the age of sixteen or so she subsisted on bread, water, and raw vegetables. She wore only rough wool and exchanged her hairshirt, the dirtiness of which offended her, for an iron chain bound so tightly against her hips that it inflamed her skin. For three years she observed a self-imposed vow of total silence except for confession. . .. three times a day she flagellated herself with an iron chain. . . each beating lasted for one-and-one half hours and blood ran from her shoulders to her feet.(23)
In her book, Mutilating The Body: Identity in Blood and Ink, Kim Hewitt eloquently stated: "Catherine’s religious devotions rewarded her with visions that led her to believe she experienced mystical union with God. She was canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church and became a model for holy anorectics for the next two centuries."(24) In an interview with Andrea Juno and V. Vale in the book Modern Primitives, British performance artist Genesis P-Orridge recounts one of a series of art performances entitled "Coum Transmissions" that has strikingly similar characteristics to mortification practices:
Instinctively, without pre-planning, I started to do cuts--scrape my body with sharp nails (not razor blades; to me, that didn’t feel ritualistic enough; it had to be a dagger or nail or implement. . . I was pushing myself to the point of being declared near dead. At the last Coum Transmissions action in Antwerp . . . I started cutting a swastika shape into my chest about 9" square with a rusty nail; then I turned it into a Union Jack (the British Flag), and then just scratched and cut all over the place.(25)
After that performance he was rushed to the hospital where he had a near death experience inclusive of astral projection [interview "Coum Transmissions" http://www.brainwashed.com/tg/coum.html] Another example of an art performance that exemplifies mortification practices is that of Sheree Rose and Bob Flanagan entitled "Autopsy." Flanagan lies nude on an autopsy table while he is whipped, beaten, strangled, pinched with clothespins, has various objects inserted into his rectum and has his penis sliced with a knife. The title has obvious references to death, and although Bob Flanagan does not speak in this performance, in earlier interviews he relates how "frequent near death encounters modified his concepts of gratification and abstinence, reward and punishment, and intensified his masochistic drive."(26) [film review "EUFS: Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist" http://www.eusa.ed.ac.uk/societies/filmsoc/films/sick.html] The rationale behind both Genesis P-Orridge and Bob Flanagan’s art performances are that they are means of achieving spiritual transformation through imposed or self-imposed pain and violence leading to deathlike conditions. The question remains: how does one distinguish this activity as performance art from other acts of sadomasochism? In response to a similar question Genesis stated:
I’ve met genuine masochists and they’re usually rather dull, because they don’t give you any intellectual explanation at all, nor are they interested in one. . . I’m interested in heightened awareness, and I’m interested in learning more and more--about not just myself, but what is possible through the achievement of--not early trance states, but altered states in the true senses.(27)
This presents the conception of sadomasochism as a form of spiritual art which corresponds to the concept of mortification in initiation rituals and Christian asceticism. [film review "Not So Sick" http://www.pathfinder.com/time/magazine/1997/dom/971103/acine.not_so_sick_.html] It also corresponds to Bataille’s philosophy of sacrifice, which is equated to eroticism. Bataille states:
It is the common business of sacrifice to bring life and death into harmony, to give death the upsurge of life, life the momentousness and the vertigo of death opening onto the unknown … if we now consider the similarity between the act of love and the sacrifice. Both reveal the flesh. Sacrifice replaces the ordered life of the animal with a blind convulsion of its organs. So also with the erotic convulsion; it gives free rein to extravagant organs whose blind activity goes on beyond the considered will of the lovers.(28)
Bataille’s concept of eroticism posits an interpretation of sadistic and masochistic acts as a form of ritual sacrifice.
5 The Crisis
From both historical and religious perspectives, the use of blood in performance art fails to accomplish religious rituals of blood sacrifice or ritual mortification because "rites involving blood always require the participation of the group or community."(31) When saints and monks performed private individual rituals they had the full support of the Catholic Church, and when mortification occurs in the context of initiation rites, the ritual is part of an established cultural tradition, but artists do not have a collective doctrine of beliefs or a community of believers to support their rituals. However, this is not the only reason why the use of blood in performance art does not succeed as religious ritual.
René Girard proposes a concept he calls "the sacrificial crisis" which occurs when the entire sacrificial structure fails. According to this concept rituals can fail in the following ways: 1) when the sacrificial victim loses its mimetic relation with the community, creating a situation in which the sacrificial substitute is recognizably different from other members of the group; 2) when there is an unequal balance between pure and impure violence; and 3) when the rite is not believed in by the community. Furthermore, ritual failure can cause more harm and unleash even more uncontrollable violence. According to Girard "anything that adversely affects the institution of sacrifice will ultimately pose a threat to the very basis of the community, to the principles on which its social harmony and equilibrium depend." (32) Violent Performance Art fails as ritual on all three counts and significantly represents a breakdown of American culture as defined by Girard’s concept. When performance artist Gina Pane burns her feet and hands, gashes herself with a razor and makes slits in her eyelids,(33) the audience is not experiencing a sense of communal catharsis; these acts only serve to provoke a sense of horror at this vision of apparently inexplicable violence. An example of sacrificial victims losing their mimetic relation to society is performance artists who are HIV positive or use HIV positive blood. This fails as ritual because the blood itself is designated as "polluted," making the artist an unacceptable surrogate sacrificial victim for a healthy community. Girard states: "If the gap between the victim and the community is allowed to grow too wide, all similarity will be destroyed. The victim will no longer be capable of attracting the violent impulses to itself: the sacrifice will cease to serve as a 'good conductor,' in the sense that metal is a good conductor of electricity."(34) An example of ritual failure occurred in a performance by Ron Athey. Athey pierced himself with needles, then carved designs into an assistant’s flesh, afterward hanging paper towels blotted with HIV-soaked blood above the audience, which caused a commotion in which members of the audience fled from the auditorium in panic. This exemplifies Girard’s concept of a sacrificial crisis: when the blood rite goes wrong it only serves to set off a chain reaction of uncontrollable violence.
Many of the previously cited works are situated on the edge of mainstream American culture and occasionally shocking even to veterans of the New York avant-garde art world. In order to gain a fuller understanding of the phenomenon of the use of blood in contemporary art it is necessary to examine these works from the perspective of religious and social prohibitions. Let us examine how current censorship of art evolved from the Biblical prohibition of images. In his essay entitled Art and Disturbation, philosopher Arthur Danto addressed the topic of violent performance art which he termed "the arts of disturbation." "Reality must in some way be an actual component of disturbational art, and usually reality of a kind itself disturbing: obscenity, frontal nudity, blood, excrement, mutilation, real danger, actual pain, possible death. . . It is disturbation when the insulating boundaries between art and life are breached.(35) According to Danto, Disturbational art is a regressive movement; instead of going forward to its transfiguration into philosophy, it goes backward to the beginnings of art, and our involvement with this art puts the viewer in an entirely different space than anything the philosophy of art has equipped us for.(36) Danto proposes that "the aim of the disturbatory artist is to sacrifice himself so that through him an audience may be transformed . . . it is an undertaking to recover a stage of art where art itself was almost like magic--like deep magic . . . in brief, it is an enterprise of restoring to art some of the magic purified out when art became art."(37) Although in agreement with this characterization, I would specify that the expression "when art became art" should be taken to mean when Judaic/Christian ideology subjugated this form of the aesthetic with biblical prohibitions on image worship. In his essay Danto suggests that disturbational art is what provoked the iconoclastic controversies at various times in history over the making of graven images:
You after all have to ask yourself why there has been at various times in history such intense controversy over the making of graven images, why there have been movements of iconoclasm at all. It is a struggle against the use of dark powers on the part of artists who, by making an image of x actually capture x.(38)
What Danto is describing is the religious concept of idolatry. The use of blood in art, specifically when the intention of the artists is spiritual redemption, would constitute an idolatrous act because artists are substituting themselves for the idol or the scapegoat. The artist is becoming another god, violating the biblical prohibitions as stated in the second and third commandments "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" and "Thou shalt not make for yourself a graven image."(39) The use of blood in performance art also has striking similarities to rituals of blood sacrifice in form, content, and ideology, which is exactly what the prohibitions forbid. The violent use of blood in art will always be seen as deviant in American society because self-mutilation cannot be culturally sanctioned in a society founded on Judeo-Christian values. Bataille posits an explanation for this:
Transgression in pre-Christian religions was relatively lawful; piety demanded it. Against transgression stood the taboo but it could always be suspended as long as limits were observed. In the Christian world the taboo was absolute. Transgression would have made clear what Christianity concealed, that the sacred and the forbidden are one, that the sacred can be reached through the violence of a broken taboo.(40)
The ideal that the sacred can be achieved by transgressing religious commandments is an extremely frightening concept that would both politically and religiously undermine American culture. This explains why the works of artists are taken so seriously that they provoked a Supreme Court decision to regulate decency in art. From a Christian perspective, the concept embodied in these artworks that violence, sex, and ritual is a means of achieving the sacred constitutes blasphemy. Since the American legal system is fundamentally based on patriarchal Christian principles, it is no surprise that artworks incorporating blood, urine, excrement, semen, and violence will not receive any public funding on the grounds of obscenity. That would be the equivalent of financing the demise of the current American political and religious structure.
Although religious and government opinions on the subject are obvious, the response of the viewing audience needs to be addressed. Whereas artists may achieve individual spiritual transformation through their work, choosing to exhibit or perform publicly entails viewer response and participation. When an artist posits himself as a sacrificial scapegoat during an art performance, the experience of the audience is determinedly meaningful in interpreting the event. Interestingly enough, Danto’s view of disturbatory art in aesthetics and Girard’s theory of sacrifice in religion hold the same position in regard to the significance of audience participation. According to Danto the viewer’s choice of whether to participate in a violent action or not is what distinguishes performance art from anything the philosophy of art has equipped us to construe as art.(41) According to Girard, the viewer’s choice of whether to participate in a violent action or not is what distinguishes performance art from acceptable ritual. So it is no coincidence that violent performance art does not fit into Danto’s Hegelian construction of the history of art and without audience participation represents what Girard refers to as "a sacrificial crisis," for in each case violent art is neither beneficial to nor culturally sanctioned in art or religion. This provides a non-biblical explanation of why the use of blood in art is a secular form of idolatry. It represents a struggle between those who would retain the ethics and morality of a monotheistic patriarchal society and those who believe in other ideologies. The principal point is that American art, religion, and culture cannot allow for the use of blood in contemporary art for the same reasons that blood is prohibited in the Bible: it is a threat to the fundamental principles of the Judeo-Christian world view.
However, the fact remains that artists are increasingly using blood and violence in art and audiences are attending. This art can be referred to as "postmodern mortification" because it represents a spiritual attempt by artists to dismantle personal and societal boundaries through physical sacrifice as a ritual form of purification. Although it was demonstrated that this fails as religious ritual, it is a ritual process nonetheless. What will define the progress of this genre is not so much the artists as the audience. If audience participation begins to take place, participation being defined as religious interaction and communal transformation, performance art will no longer be positioned in the category of the aesthetic but will be designated by society as a new religious movement.
Ritual participation has been achieved and can be encountered in what is referred to as The Vampire Scene, The Goth Scene, The Fetish Scene, and The Body Art Scene, each of which is fundamentally based in aesthetics. It was the acceptance of the aesthetic use of blood in contemporary art that popularized these movements by sanctioning blood ritual. The significant difference is that ritual participation of audience members is required in the Vampire, Fetish, and Body Art Scenes, producing an authentic form of the sacrificial aesthetic.
Vampire culture like other religions consists of people who have committed themselves to an ideology, maintain ethical tenets within a hierarchical system, participate in rituals specific to their clans and in which aesthetics holds a significant, often magical place of significance within the group--aesthetic being broadly defined as symbolism, style, language, religion, art, presentation of self, appearance, and other cultural expressions. The Vampire Scene evolved from a combination of cultural myths, legends and the romanticized Hollywood image. Modern Vampyres signify themselves by spelling vampire with a "y," which distinguishes them from Hollywood, mythological, and fictional references. The "Vampyre Scene" refers to individuals, groups organizations, events, businesses, and so on, who all share an interest in the Vampyre lifestyle. One particular group has an intricate network of members and is referred to as "The Sanguinarium." This term is derived from the Latin word for blood "sanguis," and signifies how Vampyres regard each other, as in "of the blood." The Sanguinarium promotes a common Vampyre lifestyle comprised of etiquette and aesthetic and other tenets. [images/information "The International Vampyre Connection" http://www.sanguinarium.net] The manifesto found on their web page states:
The Sanguinarium is a network of individuals, social organizations and businesses for which the vampyre/vampire is a metaphor, representing a community interest in fetishism, the Occult, theatrics, art, lore as well as individual and spiritual expression and exploration . . . The Sanguinarium’s final goal and purpose is to bring together all people who enjoy and find pleasure in darkness, occult, vampyrism and dark fetishism.(42)
Vampyres also distinguish themselves from Goths and the Gothic Scene, although aesthetic styles are similar and many times they attend the same clubs. The differentiating criteria are that Goths do not become members of clans or adopt the vampyre ideology. Many people are introduced to the Vampyre scene through the role-playing game "Vampire: the Masquerade," others through the erotic nature of the lifestyle and many more through popular literature such as Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. Members congregate at Havens (Vampyre nightclubs) and Courts, which are social events or "town meetings" held in specific geographic locations. There is a sophisticated system of Courts and Havens throughout the United States and Europe. For example, The Court of Gotham includes all of metro New York City and the following Havens: Long Black Veil, The Bank, Alchemy, Contempt, and Mother. Another example is the Court of Lost Angels which encompasses Los Angeles and Southern California and whose havens include the Fang Club in Los Angeles, Bar Sinister, Coven 13 and Absynthe in Hollywood, Vampiricus and Release the Bats in Long Beach, Repent in Anaheim and many more. [images/information "The Fang Club" http://www.fangclub.com/findex.html] Currently the Sanguinarium lists ten Courts on their web site each containing many Havens. This demonstrates that Vampyre culture is not a passing fad but an extensive, highly organized community whose members number in the thousands.
The Sanguine Ankh is the symbol (sigil) of the Sanguinarium. Designed by master metal smith D’Drennen, it allows members to identify each other worldwide. It was derived from the ancient Egyptian symbol of eternal life and refers to the priest of the Egyptian god Horus’ use of the bladed ankhs for bloodletting rites. The hierarchical structure of Vampyre culture is referred to as The Three Pillars. The lowest level consists of Fledglings who are either new to the lifestyle, inexperienced, or who are children of Vampyre adults. They are signified by having no prefix before their name and no stone in their sigil. After a period of initiation Fledglings can become Calmae, which signifies experienced members of the Clan, coven, or circle, and they wear a red stone in their sigil. The highest level is that of the Elders who are the most experienced and influential members of the Sanguinarium. They consist of leaders and founders of clans, owners of havens and fangmakers (dentists who make permanent fangs for members), and they have a purple stone in their sigil. [artifacts "Sabretooth Emporium" http://www.sabretooth.com/main.html]
Use of language and etiquette is very significant in the Sanguinarium, which claims to promote chivalry, honor, style, and creativity. The expression "The Awakening" alludes to initial attraction to the Vampyre aesthetic, which is also referred to as the "birth to darkness" or "the becoming." A Sire is a Vampyre parent, including parent and child, lovers, friends--anyone who guides a fledging to his Vampyre nature. The fledgling or childe is an initiate until moving up to the next level. Mundanes signify non-Vampyres and people who do not support the lifestyle. Swans refer to those who are aware of the culture but choose not to partake. Black Swans are people who are tolerant of the lifestyle while White Swans are those who disapprove and try to persuade family members or friends to get out of the scene. It is interesting to note that black is a positive term and white is a negative term in Vampyre culture. Other forms of etiquette include Vampyre or Scene names, which are pseudonyms derived from various historical, mythological and biblical sources. Prefixes such as Lord, Lady, Marquis, Marquise, Mistress, and Master denote status in a clan. There are also distinctive Vampyre greetings; in the Gotham Sanguinarium, this involves joining of hands, a kiss on each hand, followed by a mutual kiss on each cheek.
Other aesthetic characteristics include clothing, referred to as "garb," which usually reflects a historical era such as Victorian or Edwardian, and an assortment of fetish, corset, bondage, and so on. Preferred colors are usually red, black, and purple. Silver jewelry is preferred to gold since it is less representative of the rites of the Catholic Church. Music is dominated by Gothic; other genres include Industrial, Classical, Punk, Techno and a variety of other forms. Some of the more popular Vampyre bands include Inkubus Sukkubus, Type O Negative, Nosferatu and Malkador. Wine is the drink of choice and some members will also partake of absinthe although it is illegal in the United States and most European countries.
The code of conduct is enforced by the Elders in a tradition that is known as the "Black Veil." "The Black Veil" is comprised of eight ethical tenets of which the first and most important is to keep sanguine secrets confidential among members. The philosophy of the Black Veil includes secrecy, vampyre names, individuality, honor thy blood, respect, courtesy, and safety of the blood. Punishment entails excommunication from a clan for various lengths of time, according to the violation. It is significant to mention that these tenets only apply to the Sanguinarium and that there are many different sects and belief systems among vampires who are not part of this particular fellowship.
Some clans partake of blood drinking and bloodletting. A group of members who imbibe blood are referred to as a "feeding circle" and as opposed to media depictions they do not bite each other on the neck but usually use razor blades to make cuts into each other’s bodies and suck the blood from those cuts. Again it is important to mention that not all members of the Sanguinarium engage in this practice. Other popular customs include fetishism, sadomasochism and bondage & discipline sexual activities. This is inspired by the myth of the Vampyre as hunter. Participants are referred to as Regnant (master) and Thrall (slave); this involves an aspect of Vampyre magick termed "True Name" which is a variation on the sadomasochism safety word.
The Vampyre Scene is a serious and growing phenomenon that holds gatherings where thousands of Vampyres attend. The largest gathering is called "Endless Night" and is held in New Orleans throughout Halloween. Equivalent European gatherings include Vampyria and the Whitby Vampire Festival.
The sacrificial aesthetic is thriving in the form of this new culture. From a sociological perspective, when a group of people participate in a shared aesthetic in which identity and status are organized around a style that is distinguishable from the dominant culture it is referred to as a subculture. The Vampire subculture exists in opposition to the fundamental Judeo-Christian principles of mainstream Western Society. Vampyres pride themselves on practicing the antithesis of Christian ethics and this is apparent in the ritualized sexual and violent activities that permeate their interactions.
Vampyres frequently attend Fetish Scene and Body Scene Clubs, which involve public sadomasochistic activities. It is at the numerous "Scene" clubs where the worlds of body mutilation, piercing, performance art, blood rituals, tattooing, and all forms of bondage and violent sexual activity converge. The Fetish Scene refers to clubs where fetish, sadomasochism and bondage & discipline are promoted and The Body Art Scene refers to body piercing, tattooing, modern primitives, and so on. Performance artists who use blood attend and perform at all of these venues. These Scenes, which are all fundamentally based on violent aesthetics, are not mutually exclusive and usually overlap. The names of these clubs often appropriately reference historical predecessors. For example, a popular Fetish Club in Brisbane and Townsville Australia is called "The Hellfire Club." In eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England, Hell Fire Clubs referred to places known for raunchy sexual and reckless excitement, where hedonistic and occult activities were prominent. The original Hellfire Club was founded by Francis Sashwood in 1751 when he converted an Abbey into a cult headquarters by decorating in Gothic style and pagan statuary. It was rumored that these clubs were linked to Satanism and Witchcraft. Keeping with tradition, the contemporary Australian Hell Fire Club provides its members with an assortment of specially designed rooms, furniture, and devices in which they can imaginatively experience pain/pleasure. [images/information "Hellfire Club Information Page" http://www.hellfireclub.com.au/intro.html] One of the most infamous clubs in London today is appropriately named "Torture Garden." Founded in 1990, it is currently Europe’s largest Fetish/Body Art club. Its average attendance is 600-800 people with special events attracting as many as 2000 and it claims to be a major pioneer in the fetish/body art phenomenon. It is a combination of a fetish, S/M, body art, Modern Primitives, straight, gay, performance art, body ritual, fashion, techno/industrial/atmospheric music, multimedia, and cyberspace club. The concept of Torture Garden may initially be difficult to accept, as it encompasses the most extreme manifestations of body piercing, mutilation, and ritual uses of blood in Western culture. [images/information "Torture Garden" http://torturegarden.com] Besides dressing in the latest leather sadomasochism designs, original accessories include catheter bags filled with blood and urine, medical bags filled with blood, and air hoses when necessary. There is every imaginable form of mask, chain, whip, and sometimes even chainsaws and blowtorches are part of the festivities. The Torture Garden also contains a manifesto that clearly demonstrates the anomalous nature of fetish clubs. Their manifesto boasts:
Torture Garden remains the most radical and alternative club, always on the cutting edge of the latest underground subculture . . . Torture Garden is a world where the bizarre, strange and dreamlike become normal . . . Torture Garden is the apotheosis of all antinomies . . . The dissolution of all oppositions . . . As you mutate with Torture Garden, you reach new peaks of pleasure and eroticism and freed from the shackles of social convention . . . Torture Garden breaks taboos . . . Torture Garden has established an international reputation for encouraging artistic experimentation and transgression . . . (43)
This is practically a textbook definition of ancient festivals in which the deliberate violation of established laws occurred and where scandalous behavior was temporarily acceptable. It also exemplifies Bataille’s concept of "orgy" in which he contends that "In the orgy the celebration progresses with the overwhelming force that usually brushes all bonds aside. In itself the feast is a denial of the limits set on life by work, but the orgy turns everything upside down . . . These excesses derive their most acute significance from the ancient connection between sensual pleasure and religious exaltation."(44) In Bataille’s philosophy of eroticism he claims that the origin of orgy evolves from the existence of taboos which were set up to prevent murder and sexual violence and that these taboos shape the nature of transgression. Essentially the decadent nature of such clubs as the Torture Garden evolved directly from the violence and sexual prohibitions in Western culture. The manifesto of the club also claims, "At the Torture Garden the boundary between audience and performer disappears."(45) The crucial difference between performance artists who enact blood rituals and activity at the various "Scenes" is that audience participation now takes place. That is the significant criterion, which dissolves the line between the aesthetic and the religious, taboo and transgression, imagination and reality.
Allowing for the fact that the different "Scene" clubs are analogous to festivals, from a Girardian perspective they still do not resolve the problem of the sacrificial crisis. According to Girard "The fundamental purpose of the festival is to set the stage for a sacrificial act that marks at once the climax and the termination of the festivities."(46) He also claims that, "Festivals are based on the assumption that there is a direct link between the sacrificial crisis and its resolution."(47) The problem of Vampyre culture is that it exists in a perpetual state of sacrificial crisis. Without any reference to a surrogate victim and any predominant ritualistic structure it is the epitome of a failing society that has reverted back to its violent origins. Activities in these Vampyre Havens and Fetish Clubs exemplify the concept of a deritualized festival. Girard states in reference to the festivals of failing societies "Instead of holding violence in check, the ceremonies inaugurate a new cycle of revenge. By a process of inversion that can befall all rites and that we have already had occasion to observe in the case of sacrificial rites, the festival ceases to function as a preventive measure and lends its support to the forces of destruction."(48) Bataille’s philosophy supports this view: "Orgiastic eroticism is by nature a dangerous excess whose explosive contagion is an indiscriminate threat to all sides of life."(49)
Unfortunately, the violence that occurs in these clubs will only continue to escalate until ritual meaning is restored. The logical resolution of the sacrificial crisis as manifested in the various "Scenes" is the sacrifice of an original victim in order to reestablish meaning to future surrogate victims. It is at this point that the line of demarcation between performance and reality collapses and ritual violence erupts into what is designated occult murder. One example is a self-styled vampire clan in Kentucky who were arrested on November 29, 1996 for the murder of a Florida couple. This incident has been sensationalized in books, television, interviews and an HBO special entitled "Vampire Murders." [images/article "Court TV Verdicts: Florida v. Ferrell" http://www.courttv.com./verdicts/vampire.html] Sixteen-year-old Rodrick Justin Ferrell was the leader of a vampire clan comprising four other teenagers in which rituals included cutting each other’s arms with razors and sucking the blood. On the day of the murders, Heather Wendorf, the daughter of the victims, participated in the "embracement ritual" with Ferrell and "crossed over" into the clan by drinking each other’s blood in a cemetery. Ferrell than became her sire. That evening Rod Ferrell bludgeoned Richard and Naoma Wendorf to death with a crowbar in their Florida home. The letter "V" was burned into their bodies, symbolizing Rod whose vampire name was "Vassago." Smaller burns on each side of the "V" represented the other members of the clan. After pleading guilty to armed burglary, armed robbery, and two counts of first-degree murder, Ferrell was sentenced to death in Florida’s electric chair on February 27, 1998. He is the youngest person on Florida’s death row. Another teenage clan member, Howard Scott Anderson, is serving life in prison after pleading guilty to participating as Rod’s principal accessory in the double murder. Anderson’s plea bargain saved him from the electric chair. Ferrell’s attorneys portrayed him as a troubled youth addicted to drugs and sexually abused by relatives. He became involved with Vampires through the role-playing game "Vampire: The Masquerade" and he was initiated into the scene by an older teenager Steven Murphy (vampire name Jaden) who subsequently testified at the trial that:
he initiated Rod into vampirism during a crossing-over ceremony in a Murray (Kentucky) cemetery that involved slashing their arms and sharing each other’s blood, followed by a lengthy period of meditation. As the senior Vampire who initiated Rod, Murphy said he became the younger boy’s sire and was responsible for his behavior. And although he explained the rules of vampire conduct to Rod, the witness said, his protégé violated those principles when he organized his own band of followers . . . The Wendorf Murders were not vampiric, Murphy explained, because Rod didn’t bleed the bodies. "There was no bloodletting. He did not take from them."(50)
This contradicted his earlier testimony that vampires don’t kill and are expected to show the highest admiration for life. If vampires do not kill there would not be any knowledge of a distinctive vampiric modus operandi. It came to detectives' attention through John Goodman (vampire name Damien), a close friend of Rod’s, that his motivation for the murders was that he was "possessed with the idea of opening the gates to Hell, which meant that he would have to kill a large, large number of people in order to consume their souls. By doing this, Ferrell believed he would obtain super powers."(51) Psychological justifications aside, Rod Ferrell’s immersion into the occult clearly demonstrates that he was thinking in religious conceptions of sacrificial murder. This case is just one of many that entail blood rituals and murder. It is simpler to relegate these crimes to aberrant behavior than to imagine that we are living in a sacrificial climate.
Occult groups that practice ritual murder have an authentic understanding of the sacred nature of violence. You do not have to convince Vampyres or Satanists that humans are violent by nature; as living examples of Girardian theory, they fundamentally comprehend this. This provides an explanation as to why the Elders and High Priests of these groups show no remorse for their killings. The reason why many of their followers recant is that they have been re-indoctrinated into mainstream ideology and subsequently view their actions as crimes as opposed to sacrifice. It is dangerous to view occult criminal actions from a strictly psychological perspective that tends to categorize them as psychopathologies; this relative assumption gives the false impression that these are not logical, rational choices. It perpetuates the denial of occult crime and relegates the offender to the only socially comprehensible category, "the irrational other." Contemporary acts of inexplicable sacred violence are more effectively understood in what I refer to as "ritual anachronisms," which are violent actions that are inappropriate to, or not adapted to, the value system that they are enacted in. No matter how bizarre a murder may appear, it can always be situated as acceptable in some historical era or distant culture. Occult crimes are the natural result of the escalation of violent aesthetics that dispute moral values. Blood Art, Vampyre Culture, The Fetish Scene literally set the ritual stage for sacrifice. Ritual murder is the epitome of the sacrificial aesthetic freed from ethical responsibility to society. What begins as artists experimenting with the use of blood and mutilation as a form of personal transformation escalates to an entire culture founded on the principles of a dark mythology manifested in orgiastic ritual. Once blood rituals turn participatory and ideologically justify sacrifice, idolatry is achieved.
1. RoseLee Goldberg, Performance Art from Futurism to the Present (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1988): 165.(back)
2. Paul Schimmel, "Leap into the Void: Performance and the Object," Out of Actions Between Performance and the Object 1949-1979. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, museum catalogue (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1998): 84(back)
3. RoseLee Goldberg 164(back)
4. Hubert Klocker, "Gesture and the Object: Liberation as Aktion: A European Component of Performance Art," Out of Actions Between Performance and the Object 193(back)
5. Kristine Stiles, Out of Actions Between Performance and the Object 290(back)
6. Kristine Stiles 293(back)
7. Kim Hewitt, Mutilating the Body: Identity in Blood and Ink (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University. Press, 1997): 104(back)
8. Mircea Eliade, Editor in Chief, The Encyclopedia of Religion (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1987) Volume 3, Cannibalism 60.(back)
9. Hewitt 105(back)
10. V. Vale and Andrea Juno, editors, Modern Primitives, An Investigation of Contemporary Adornment & Ritual (San Francisco, CA: Re?Search Publications, 1989): 6.(back)
11. René Girard, Violence and the Sacred, translated by Patrick Gregory, (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972): 37.(back)
12. Interview with Barbara Weisen, 1998.(back)
13. Girard 36.(back)
14. Girard 36.(back)
15. Girard 36-37(back)
16. Len LaCara, "Curmano Plans ‘Bloodbath’" (Winona Daily News, Thursday, February 9, 1984.(back)
17. Renee Boyle, "Bloodshed, Not Roses, Prevail" (Winona Daily News, Wednesday, February 15, 1984).(back)
18. Renee Boyle, February 15, 1984.(back)
19. Eliade, Volume 10, Dario Sabbatucci, Mortification 113, 114(back)
20. Eliade, Volume 10, Dario Sabbatucci, Mortification 114(back)
21. Eliade, Volume 10, Dario Sabbatucci, Mortification 113(back)
22. Eliade, Volume 10, Dario Sabbatucci ,Mortification.(back)
23. Rudolph M. Bell, Holy Anorexia (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1985): 43.(back)
24. Hewitt 45.(back)
25. V. Vale and Andrea Juno, Modern Primitives 167, 168(back)
26. V. Vale and Andrea Juno, Modern Primitives 206.(back)
27. V. Vale and Andrea Juno, Modern Primitives 169.(back)
28. Georges Bataille, Eroticism, Death & Sensuality translated by Mary Dalwood, (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1986, originally published as L’Erotisme 1957): 92.(back)
29. Linda Weintraub, Arthur Danto, and Thomas McEvilley, Art on the Edge and Over, Searching for Art’s Meaning in Contemporary Society 1970s-1990s (Litchfield, CT: Art Insight, Inc., 1996): 79.(back)
30. Bataille 93.(back)
31. Eliade, Volume 2, Jean-Paul Roux, Blood, 254.(back)
32. Girard 49.(back)
33. Hewitt 103-104.(back)
34. Girard 39.(back)
35. Arthur C. Danto, The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986): 121.(back)
36. Danto 117, 123.(back)
37. Danto 131, 126.(back)
38. Danto 127.(back)
39. The Lockman Foundation, editors, New American Standard Bible, Reference edition, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1960) Exodus 20:3-4, 61.(back)
40. Bataille 126.(back)
41. Danto 123.(back)
42. The Sanguinarium Home Page, manifesto section, http:/www.sanguinarium/scrolls/manifesto.html(back)
43. The Torture Garden Home Page, manifesto section, http://www.ainexus.com/torturegarden/manifesto1.html(back)
44. Bataille 112.(back)
45. The Torture Garden Home Page, manifesto section, http://www.ainexus.com/torturegarden/manifesto1.html(back) v 46. Girard 119.(back)
47. Girard 120-121.(back)
48. Girard 125.(back)
49. Bataille 113.(back)
50. Clifford L. Linedecker, The Vampire Killers (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998): 262.(back)
51. Linedecker 159.(back)
The Electronic Journal of Generative Anthropology Volume V, number 2 (Fall 1999/Winter 2000) ISSN 1083-7264 URL: http://www.anthropoetics.ucla.edu/ Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Dawn Perlmutter Dawn Perlmutter, director of the Institute for the Research of Organized & Ritual Violence, LLC, is considered one of the leading experts in the areas of religious violence and ritualistic crimes. She regularly consults for and trains local, state and federal law enforcement agencies throughout the United States on identifying and investigating ritualistic crimes and terrorism perpetrated by extremist religious groups. She is the author of two books and numerous publications on ritual violence in contemporary culture. Dr. Perlmutter is a philosophy professor in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. She holds a Doctor of Philosophy from New York University and a master’s degree from The American University, Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Thursday, December 9, 2010
I just finished compiling and mixing an old TTMOA demo, "The West was Nothing but a Dead Beast". The recordings are from february of 2008. They make up half of the the new TTMOA demo compilation tape i'll be putting out soon called "Exorsa". They're not fully mastered or anything yet, but they're available to listen to/download over at the last.fm site here.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
It took me way too long to listen to this album and now i'm bummed that i haven't been listening to it over and over and over again since it came out. Super dirty, noisy, dirgy doom with a full choir backing much of the album. The whole thing is incredible, but "A Body" and "Empty Hearth" get my votes for maybe the best songs ever.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Anatomy of Habit says they're doom-gaze, and that's kind of spot on. Also, Mark Solotroff is the vocalist which should mean something to you if you a fan of harsh music.
I've never heard Helen Money, but apparently she plays a cello and puts it through distortion and other effects to create some kind of heavy/chamber/experimental hybrid. Also, on her website, it says that she's played cello with Disturbed. Ha ha ha ha.
Locrian is the shit and you should know that by now.
To anyone that may remember, last winter i put up some albums that i thought were great to listen to in winter time. Soundtracks to the bitter cold and all the beauty and desolation that come with it. I'm gonna start that back up now that's getting real cold here in chicago.
This is Vhernen's only full length, simply called 'Vhernen'. Vhernen is from the Faroe Islands (part of Denmark, i believe) and he/she makes gorgeous, droning, (mostly) mid-tempo black metal. Big deal. Here's the kicker - as far as i know, there's no guitars, just cello's. And a harp, i guess, but i haven't heard it. It's probably hidden underneath the veritable army of reverb soaked orchestral strings and soar throat-inducing anguished wails.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
The Omega Point is a term coined by the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) to denote the state of the maximum organized complexity (complexity combined with centrality), towards which the universe is evolving.
Teilhard's universe is subdivided into matter and love, which are the tangential (rotational) and the radial (centripetal) components of the same spiral flow of fundamental psychic energy:
—Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de, The Phenomenon of Man
"Reduced to its ultimate essence, the substance of these long pages can be summed up in this simple affirmation: that if the universe, regarded sidereally, is in process of spatial expansion (from the infinitesimal to the immense), in the same way and still more clearly it presents itself to us, physicochemically, as in process of organic involution upon itself (from the extremely simple to the extremely complex)—and, moreover this particular involution 'of complexity' is experimentally bound up with a correlative increase in interiorisation, that is to say in the psyche or consciousness."
—Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de, The Phenomenon of Man
—Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de, The Phenomenon of Man
Having reached the limit of its organized complexity, the collective Christ—mankind—will make a leap to a higher degree of singularity by dying and delegating all of its universe-orchestrating power to the single survivor, who will be automatically promoted to the rank of Christ personal:
The end of the world: the overthrow of equilibrium, detaching the mind, fulfilled at last, from its material matrix, so that it will henceforth rest with all its weight on God-Omega."
—Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de, The Phenomenon of Man
—Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de, Cosmic Life ♦ 1916
—Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de, Mysticism of Science ♦ 1939
- In 2005, information was doubling every 36 months.
- In June 2008, information was doubling every 11 months.
- On 4 August 2010, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said: "Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003."
- By the end of 2010, information will be doubling every 11 hours.
—Bekenstein, Jacob D., Information in the Holographic Universe Scientific American, August 2003
Five attributes of the Omega Point:
Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man states that the Omega Point must possess the following five attributes. It is:
- Personal – an intellectual being and not an abstract idea or a human collective. The increasing complexity of matter has not only led to higher forms of consciousness, but accordingly to more personalization, of which human beings are the highest attained form in the known universe. They are completely individualized, free centers of operation. It is in this way that man is said to be made in the image of God, who is the highest form of personality. Teilhard expressly stated that in the Omega Point, when the universe becomes One, human persons will not be suppressed, but super-personalized. Personality will be infinitely enriched. This is because the Omega Point unites creation, and the more it unites, the increasing complexity of the universe aids in higher levels of consciousness. Thus, as God creates, the universe evolves towards higher forms of complexity, consciousness, and finally with humans, personality, because God, who is drawing the universe towards Him, is a person.
- Transcendent. The Omega Point cannot be the result of the universe's final complex stage of itself on consciousness. Instead, the Omega Point must exist even before the universe's evolution, because the Omega Point is responsible for the rise of the universe towards more complexity, consciousness and personality. Which essentially means that the Omega Point is outside the framework in which the universe rises, because it is by the attraction of the Omega Point that the universe evolves towards Him.
- Autonomous. That is, free from the limitations of space (nonlocality) and time (atemporality).
- Irreversible. That is attainable and imperative; it must happen and cannot be undone.
Some transhumanists argue that the accelerating technological progress inherent in the Law of Accelerating Returns will, in the relatively near future, lead to what Vernor Vinge called a technological singularity or "prediction wall." These transhumanists believe we will soon enter a time in which we must eventually make the transition to a "runaway positive feedback loop" in high-level autonomous machine computation. A result will be that our technological and computational tools eventually completely surpass human capacities. Some transhumanist writings refer to this moment as the Omega Point, paying homage to Teilhard's prior use of the term, though Teilhard himself denounces the belief in a collective technological singularity as a form of cowardice. He foresees that at the approaches to the Omega Point, mankind will, for the last time, become split over the concept of its final state. The overwhelming majority will erroneously imagine the final state as a collective technological singularity within the framework of the current physical laws. A tiny minority will remain loyal to the idea of a supernatural singularity in Christ, "transcending the dimensions and the framework of the visible universe":
—Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de, The Phenomenon of Man
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
AMERICAN BLACK METAL BANDS SPECIALIZE IN A UNIQUELY BRUTAL, HOMEGROWN SOUND, BUT THEY DON’T ACTUALLY KILL PEOPLE. SO WHY SHOULD THEY BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY?
DISCUSSED: Multiple Stab Wounds, Inner-Scene Power Struggles, The Suicide of a Man Named Dead, Untitled Salt Sculptures, Japanese Literature, Pretzels, Hash, Necklaces Made of Teeth and Bones, The Common Conflation of Two Different Metals, Corpse Paint, Dude-ish Tracksuits, Illinois, The Sound of the Ghost of a Strangulated Raven, How Dreaming About Killing People Is More Radical Than Killing People
“Here we find the dream world of a teenager thinking he’s a demonic overlord, suffering from delusions of grandeur. He knows it’s just a dream, but he refuses to admit it’s not real. Maybe he’s been reading too much Tolkien or been playing too many role-playing games, but the thing is: He’s bored with the world of the grown-ups, with the harsh dullness of living in a more or less capitalist society. I think it is interesting that black metal exploded in Norway immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the final demise of the idea that fighting against the bourgeoisie and capitalist conservatives, including Christianity, could be defeated by revolutionary socialism. Now there is only one strategy: Burn the churches to inflict harm. It’s all part of an escape from reality… Old black metal has an aspect of aesthetic fanaticism that I find beautiful. Some of the best black metal ever is made by fifteen-year-old kids with a four-track sitting in their father’s basement making what they believe is the greatest music ever, because they’ve been brainwashed into thinking that.”
— Svein Egil Hatlevik, of Norwegian bands/projects Umoral, Fleurety,
Pronounced “Sex,” and Zweizz, in discussion with the author.
A little over a year ago I went to the Norwegian city of Trondheim to attend a mostly indie rock, non–heavy metal festival so I could meet Snorre Ruch, a.k.a. Blackthorn, a black-metal musician likely best known for his connection to the murder of another black metaller, Øystein Aarseth, a.k.a. Euronymous, on August 10, 1993. While Ruch didn’t actively participate in the murder, he knew the general idea when he helped the killer, Kristian “Varg” Vikernes, drive east from Bergen to Aarseth’s apartment in Oslo.
As the story goes, Aarseth answered the door in his underwear, Vikernes confronted him, chased him through the hall and down a flight of stairs, and ultimately stabbed him a total of twenty-three times with a dull knife. The final deathblow was a wound through Aarseth’s forehead. When Vikernes removed the blade, Aarseth fell down another flight of stairs, in Varg’s words, “like a sack of potatoes.” Also according to Vikernes, Ruch was shocked when he came upon the carnage. As Ruch put it in an interview in the book Lords of Chaos: “When I stood outside Øystein’s door I heard noise inside and Øystein came out, with [Vikernes] on his heels, covered in blood, rushing down the stairway… I realized that this was going to hell. We had intended this to happen in the apartment, and fast—no big, dramatic thing with a hundred knife-stabs or something. So I ran down the stairs, past them, and into the square outside the building.” Ruch drove the car from the immediate scene, but was so rattled by what had taken place that he circled listlessly around Oslo for twenty-some minutes. Vikernes took the wheel after removing his bloodstained clothes, which he later dumped into a lake. Ruch was twenty-one at the time. The murdered Aarseth was twenty-five. Vikernes, twenty.
Vikernes remains in Tromsø Prison, serving a twenty-one-year sentence for the killing, as well as several counts of arson (specifically, church burnings). He tried escaping while on leave in 2003, which added to the previously reduced sentence, and was denied parole in 2006 (he was up for parole again in April 2008, but as of May, no actions have been taken). Ruch served eight years and was released in the late ’90s.
The gossipy he said/she said stories surrounding the Varg-Euronymous debacle, which was covered extensively by the Norwegian media and in the British metal magazine Kerrang! as it unfolded (and somewhat later in SPIN, etc.), continues to this day, primarily due to the media—and the fans’—enduring fascination with the case, a fascination flamed by Vikernes’s willingness to give incendiary interviews and maintain a personal website that asserts his (sort of) innocence.
It’s become a pretty lucrative business: In 2007, Vice produced True Norwegian Black Metal, a five-part web TV series. This year, the director of the project, Brooklyn-based photographer Peter Beste, published a large monograph, True Norwegian Black Metal. And there’s a forthcoming documentary, Until the Light Takes Us, that focuses on Vikernes and other early Norwegian black metallers. Subsequently, through the various (cartoonish, incomplete, or incorrectly angled) retellings and Vikernes’s own shifting storyline, it’s difficult to establish an exact motive for the killing. It’s been said that Vikernes was angry with Aarseth over contracts and royalties owed to him (at the Burzum website Varg claims he gained entrance into Aarseth’s apartment building by telling him “I got the contract. Let me in” when he buzzed up), but the killing could just as easily have been inspired by an inner-scene power struggle between Aarseth and Vikernes.
Aarseth, a major force in establishing the early Norwegian black-metal scene, ran an underground metal store in Oslo called Helvete (“Hell”) and operated Deathlike Silence Productions, the black-metal label to which Vikernes’s one-man Tolkien-referencing band Burzum was signed. In 1984, Aarseth also cofounded the black-metal band Mayhem, in which Ruch played guitar briefly, and Vikernes (then called Count Grishnackh) also briefly played bass. Aarseth initially sang and played guitar, but quickly passed along vocal duties to a series of singers. (Aarseth wasn’t the first member of Mayhem to die: The band’s most infamous vocalist, the Swede Per Yngve Ohlin, a.k.a. Dead, shot himself in the head in 1991 at the age of twenty-two.)
In January 1993, a few months before Aarseth’s death, the Bergens Tidende ran a story called “We Lit the Fires” on the scene and its alleged criminality: church burnings, Satanism, the participants’ shadowy appearances, etc. Vikernes was interviewed anonymously for the piece, at his apartment, by the journalist Finn Bjørn Tønder. Over the years, the burnings would be explained as a way of removing the Christian invaders from Norway, returning the grounds to their pagan roots, but in the story, never identified, Vikernes talks about the burnings in terms of spreading fear and honoring the Devil. (In the article, he rejects the term “Satanism” as a word used by “foolish groups of poseurs.”)
Vikernes was arrested soon thereafter (even though, in his own words, he’d “exaggerated” a bit). He alleges that he only agreed to do the interview after he and Aarseth decided it would be a good way to bring attention to the scene. As he explains at his website, Varg thought of it, too, as a way “to help Euronymous get some customers for a change.” Aarseth closed shop temporarily, which angered Vikernes, who interpreted it as a sign of Aarseth’s weakness (the store closed for good later in 1993, shortly before Euronymous was killed).
And, as Vikernes wrote at his site in December 2004: “[W]hen the media wrote all that crap about me it made him feel less important. Suddenly he was no longer the ‘main character’ in the hardcore metal scene.”
To this day, Vikernes maintains that he didn’t murder Aarseth. He’s stated, more than once, that he stabbed Aarseth in self defense, after learning that Aarseth had allegedly wanted to kill him. Again, as Vikernes writes at burzum.org: “His problem was that he included a few of the metal people in his plot to kill me, and they told me. He had told them because he trusted them, but obviously they had warmer feelings for me than for him, so to speak. At one point he phoned Snorre, who lived in my apartment, and Snorre let me listen to what Euronymous had to say. He told Snorre that ‘Varg must disappear for good’ and similar, confirming the plans others had told me about earlier.”
For his part, the more understated Ruch is no longer interested in discussing the events. As he told me, “There are enough silly speculations, personal opinions, and fantastic versions without me feeding the curiosity and gossip… The incidents might have given our music publicity, but not good [publicity]. Most Norwegian mass media is tabloid and they helped feed the fire with sensationalistic headlines. It just becomes boring that [this story] always turns up, as one has moved on for so long. One will always end up pigeonholed and misunderstood when trying to do something different.”
Since being imprisoned for murder, Vikernes has grown more outspoken and radically minded, long ago graduating from his early Satanist leanings to right-wing, anti-Semitic, and racialist views. He brushes off the accusations of Nazism, preferring to term himself an Odalist (though the Bergens Tidende does describe Nazi paraphernalia in Vikernes’s apartment back in 1993, during his Devil-worshipping phase). He’s also continued to occasionally release Burzum music, though the albums he’s recorded in prison tend to be more darkly ambient than marked by the explicit brutality of black metal. They’re also not that great.
Snorre Ruch and I met in a bar. He was with two of his friends. I was with one of mine. Before meeting, Snorre and I had corresponded via email, and he’d suggested this crowded corner pub close to his house. We each had a beer and discussed a mutual acquaintance as well as his collaborations with the artist Banks Violette (a collaboration that culminated in 2005 with an untitled salt sculpture representing a burnt church at the Whitney museum) before he said it was too loud in the bar—I agreed—and suggested we go back to his apartment. So we all bundled up and walked out into the snow.
As we trudged along the pathway, I started thinking about the gruesome stories in which he played supporting roles. Stories that the media fueled, yes, but that the Norwegian scene musicians have also willingly kept alive for years. Though I trusted Snorre, a part of me started wondering if we were suckers for accepting the invitation to his house. I knew he was a nice guy via our talks, and that he had been young (and somewhat clueless) when the murder happened, but still: You’re in Norway with an infamous ex-con black-metal musician who was present that bloody night when the myth of Norwegian black metal was born. (Also, I didn’t want to extend Vikernes’s anti-Semitism to the rest of the black-metal scene, but it should be mentioned that my cohort, another writer, was Jewish.)
Then again, Snorre seemed reformed. As he later told me: “I mostly get my kicks from the music, and as we are getting better at it, the need to go smearing cat blood on the local Christian community house is even less existent.” He also claimed that “black metal… is a true blessing for a fiery heart! It touches a universal nerve of spite. It is empowering, dark, destructive, and creative.” Yeah, we were sorta nervous.
After a ten-minute walk, we arrived at Snorre’s apartment. We entered, took off our shoes. It was a cozy, well-kept space with a couple Violette pieces on the wall, well-stocked bookshelves (Japanese lit, philosophy), and an intense home-studio computer setup. Snorre had already laid out various snacks for us (peanuts, pretzels, crackers), along with hash, red wine, and other drinks.
We listened to the British electronic band Nitzer Ebb awhile and then he played us the new—and at that time unreleased—Mayhem album Ordo Ad Chao. We spent the night talking about the weather (cold), the past (only in general, hard-to-pin-down terms), and Ruch’s current project, Thorns, which he started in 1989. He’s released only one proper full-length album (self-titled, 2001), but it’s considered a seminal effort—an all-consuming, industrial-tinged, and claustrophobic slice of latter-day black metal. (I heard from him recently, and he said to expect the new, much-delayed Thorns album in 2009.)
Given how sweetly un-evil Snorre appeared to be, I found myself querying the infamous (and implicit) bad-assedness of Norwegian black-metal musicians. The murder of Aarseth, the aforementioned suicide of Mayhem vocalist Dead, the not aforementioned murder of a gay man in Lillehammer in 1992 by Emperor drummer Bård G. “Faust” Eithun (a one-time member of Thorns and currently in the thrash act Blood Tsunami and the lyricist for Zyklon), the dozens of church burnings perpetrated by various individuals between 1992 and 1996 (the cover of Burzum’s Aske EP is a photo of the torched Fantoft stave church), the grave desecrations, the obsession with Satanism that veered into racism and fascism among the more extreme crews, and the generally attendant ghoulishness (after Dead killed himself, the surviving members of Mayhem supposedly made necklaces out of his teeth and bones), are all essential to the Norwegian mythology upon which subsequent black-metal mythologies may (or may not) be based. But at what point does a myth—even if it’s based on a real event—begin to more resemble a convenient fiction (or worse, an empty caricature), utilized by music writers and fans and the musicians themselves, to create easy cohesion and a sense of purpose? Are mythologies essential to the playing of “authentic” black-metal music? Is cohesion?
A common mistake made by the uninitiated listener is to conflate death metal and black metal. I’ve been at a few parties or dinners or whatever where someone has asked me to describe the difference between the two. To answer involves me trying to explain a blast beat, followed by vocal impressions of a death-metal vocalist (low, deep, guttural growling) vs. a black-metal vocalist (usually higher, wispy, wraithlike, and screeched). Admittedly, sometimes it can be like splitting hairs. Black metal’s gone through various shifts, but generally speaking, the guitars buzz, the drums are quick, the vocals shrieking, ghostly, and anguished. The early work had a particularly eerie, lo-fi sound. As the scene developed, and younger musicians mastered their instruments, the structures grew more complex. Black metal is generally not as straight-up technical as death; it’s usually more classically symphonic. (Of course, there are always exceptions, such as the early Floridian death-metal crew Morbid Angel, who created complex, epically sublime death constructions.)
Death metal started out in the States, Germany, and the UK, and was also a force early on in South America and Sweden. Carving out a space for black metal put Norway on the map musically. When fledgling black metal first appeared underground in the late ’80s, death metal was the dominant extreme metal mode. In fact, there was plenty of crossover between the scenes: for example, the Norwegian black-metal duo Darkthrone started out as a death-metal band. The difference between Darkthrone’s 1990 album Soulside Journey and 1992’s A Blaze in the Northern Sky elegantly illustrates the tipping point at which ex–death-metal bands embraced black metal’s more sinister visual aesthetic and primitive sound. There are exceptions, but in general, the death-metal musicians of that period eschewed black metal’s sartorial pageantry for basic dude-ish tracksuits and sneakers.
The British metal band Venom’s 1982 album Black Metal (and its grunting title track: “Black is the night, metal we fight / Power amps set to explode / Energy screams magic and dreams / Satan records their first note,” etc.) coined the term “black metal,” even though they were technically a more formative blend of doomy proto-thrash and speed metal (their “Satanic” image, though more of the theatrical stage-ready Mötley Crüe sort, was also essential). The First Wave of black metal (the aforementioned Venom along with the Danish band Mercyful Fate fronted by King Diamond, Sweden’s Bathory, and Switzerland’s Hellhammer, who later became Celtic Frost) influenced the future sound of black metal by laying down the general aesthetic and sonic template. Bathory’s lo-fidelity recordings, Satanic lyrics, and grim vocal style were especially important. Euronymous took his name from Hellhammer’s “Eurynomos” (and it’s pretty obvious where current Mayhem drummer Hellhammer scored his moniker).
The Second Wave of black metal, initiated by Aarseth and his Norwegian cohorts, technically began in the late ’80s after Mayhem set the mood with their Pure Fucking Armageddon demo (1986) and the Deathcrush EP (1987), but didn’t really flourish until the early ’90s. It was the Second Wave that introduced corpse paint, weapons, and shadowy horror-film photos. Norway established and mastered the black-metal image—low-lit, highly ambient photographs of the dead-looking musicians standing in a cavernous basement or wintry Norwegian forest.
Today’s international black-metal scene, which to my ears is strongest in France, Eastern Europe, Canada, and the United States, could be seen as the Third Wave. Though there’s no clear date, you could say it started in the mid-’90s, when bands began upping their production values and, in some cases—like the Norwegian band Dimmu Borgir—heading toward a more arena-ready (and filling) sound.
But I focused earlier on the Second Wave because that period is most helpful when trying to explain the black metal coming out of the United States—or USBM, as some folks call it—because it’s impossible to understand USBM without touching on this pervasive mythology. Also, for all the attention Norway’s black metal scene has received since the early- to mid-’90s, Norway hasn’t been producing the best black metal in recent years. The majority of the older bands are no longer making as intense, grim, or fucked-up music as you can find elsewhere—as you can find, for example, in the U.S.
For a long time, the majority of black metal emerging from the States was seen as a joke. As recently as two years ago, I remember talking with European black-metal artists who snorted when I asked them about it. That’s part of what I like about American black metal—its scruffy underdog nature. More compelling, though, is the music itself, its inventiveness and eccentricity and, most importantly, the feeling that it hasn’t crested or stagnated.
No one agrees exactly on the genesis or roots of USBM. New York’s Profanatica, formed in 1990 by three former members of the death-metal band Incantation, is often cited by other black-metal musicians as a seminal USBM band. Their death-tinged sound is raw, hissing, and lo-fi, and they have song titles like “Raping of Angels” and “Final Hour of Christ.” They broke up in 1992. Another of the first American black-metal bands of note is San Francisco’s Von, a guttural, minimalist, especially scrappy, tiny-sounding crew who formed in 1989. They received early international props when Vikernes wore one of their shirts during an interview/murder trial session and contributed to their mythology when he was asked to spell the band’s name and he replied, “Victory, Orgasm, Nazi.”
Another important early USBM group, Judas Iscariot, the project of Andrew Harris (a.k.a. Egyptian-inspired Akhenaten), focused on nihilistic, anti-Christian, and anti-capitalist themes, and laid down a smoother, often slower, atmospheric, and more depressive template that’s been picked up by various current one-man USBM acts. Harris spread USBM further abroad than most early practitioners, gaining respect from European fans. More philosophical than some of the other early USBM acts, he has a song titled “Nietzsche,” and formed the band in 1992 in DeKalb, Illinois, initially under the name Heidegger. He kept the project going until 2002, after which he retired from music.
However, it’s the current crop of American black-metal bands that have really found a voice. These USBM bands, hailing from vastly different cultures and geographies, have managed to latch on to different sounds without diluting their defining brutality (and beauty). The 2008 record Massive Conspiracy Against All Life by California-based Jef Whitehead (a.k.a. Wrest, of one-man band Leviathan) sees an intense blend of warped atmospherics, death riffs, huge drums, and a warbling, at times throaty, Eastern-tinged howl—it’s like returning in ways to the early sounds of Profanatica or Judas Iscariot, but layering it fathomlessly with all the developments that have happened since.
Then there’s the chaotic punch-drunk tenor of Bahimiron’s especially witchy, overlapping, blown-out vocalisms. Another Texas band, Averse Sefira, infuses a personal cosmology and occultism into their pummeling, full-band black metal. Then there are those like the rawer Chicago black-metal duo Cult of Daath, whose dual vocalizing hits with more of a death-metal growl. If My Bloody Valentine was a black-metal band, they might sound like the “eco-fascist,” tongue-in-cheek tricksters Velvet Cacoon (who recently told me they moved to Prague to live the lives of decadent Satanists, but it’s hard to tell if they were fucking with me). Buffalo one-man band Wrath of the Weak talks about the importance of the western New York landscape; his music sounds like a blizzard. Olympia, Washington trio Wolves in the Throne Room focus on a back-to-nature lifestyle and perform psychedelic shoe-gaze black metal, anchored here and there by a folky, ethereal female singer who cuts the harshness of the black-metal vocals in a Jarboe/Swans style. The Chicago group Nachtmystium, fronted by Blake Judd, shifted from their early black-by-the-numbers sounds to a psychedelic, Floydian form of post–black metal.
Another aspect of USBM is the crossover between straight-up free-noise: New York’s Dominick Fernow, of the one-man power electronics project Prurient, performs in the black-metal duo Ash Pool, and avant-garde guitarist Mick Barr of Orthrelm sings and plays guitar in the New York–based black-metal band Krallice.
Maybe the biggest name in USBM, though not the most interesting, is Scott Conner, a.k.a. Malefic, who records as Xasthur. Sticking to the icy, candelabra-lit feel of Burzum or Judas Iscariot, he tosses additional claustrophobic layers into the fire. His most interesting accessory is his voice—he comes off like the ghost of a strangulated raven.
Southern Lord, a label run by Greg Anderson of Sunn O))), has helped certain American black-metal bands cross into indie-rock realms. These are the bigger names like Xasthur, Leviathan, and Leviathan’s other project, Lurker of Chalice. Most interesting and strange for such a solitary genre is Twilight, a sort of USBM supergroup made up of Xasthur, Leviathan, Nachtmystium, and Krieg—though they hate the term “supergroup” and its rock-and-roll ramifications.
Supergroups are, of course, very American.
All that said, the problem with claiming USBM as a genre is that you’ll find a lot of the musicians who practice it denying that the genre exists. Of course, this is a common reaction most artists have when a pigeonholing takes place. But especially in the case of black metal, to claim a genre and therefore genre tropes and overlaps of sound and influence is to claim a cultural uniformity to our country that is geographically impossible. Many of the participants see USBM as a marketing term—again, the outsiders who make up the black-metal genre inherently reject such sloganeering.
You could say one of the biggest influences exerted by the early Norwegians on USBM might be an anxiety surrounding the need to have a mythology under cultural circumstances that prevent it. For instance, how important is it that there is no mythological “bloody night” for USBM, no Varg vs. Euronymous drama to mark its dark impact on the world? Does this make the music any less authentic by comparison, or vapid, or poseury?
In some regards, USBM emerged as a reaction to and against Norwegian black metal, similar to the way Mayhem and company originally rejected, and tried to find something more extreme and underground than the death-metal scene. In the brutal, noisier strains of USBM, where the real-life coefficients of church burnings and murders aren’t as integral to the music, the sound itself has become harsher and more death-like. It’s more private and less theatrical. (Some of the best—for instance the aforementioned Wrest of Leviathan, and Lurker of Chalice—are Pynchon-like when it comes to publicity.) It feels more punk. The music’s also drawing from a greater array of influences.
And, as Blake Judd of Nachtmystium told me: “I just feel that those bands are marketed for what has happened outside of the music, not so much involving the music. Like ‘Oh, church burning and murder and [Gorgoroth vocalist] Gaahl kills or tortures guys,’ but the last Gorgoroth album was weak as shit. Who cares what he does, if he’s a criminal? There’s guys selling crack in Chicago that are scarier to me than that guy.”
Perhaps there’s no need for a gory mythology when we have the daily reality. We live in a place, unlike Norway, by and large, where actual killing is happening both domestically and abroad, to Americans or perpetrated by Americans. Is it possible, then, that actual death—and destruction of buildings and whole countries—could be seen, in the current political context, as less radical than simply dreaming about it?
Those who view USBM as inauthentic tend to do so because America seems an unlikely place for the icy, grim strains of black metal to flourish. But as the U.S. dollar continues its nosedive, our black-metal impulses become validated. We’ve become a nation of scrappy, lo-fi underdogs. Have you ever tried to buy a dinner in Norway (one of the wealthiest countries in the world) with converted U.S. currency? When I’ve been there, I can only afford to eat in convenience stores. So much of the history of Norwegian black metal is just that—history. While Americans are often accused of lacking a history, we more than compensate for that lack with our bleak view of the future.