Recently had the pleasure of watching Until the Light Takes Us, a fascinating documentary about the Norweigian Black Metal scene. I knew pretty much nothing about this music going in -- I wouldn't say I came out of the experience as a full-on fan, but my curiosity has definitely been piqued.
In some ways, the movie gets at the same old conundrum the avant-garde has been grappling with ever since the triple whammy of serialism, punk, and free jazz. Specifically: if your aesthetic is driven by rule-breaking, where do you go once you have broken all the rules?
(I realize of course that serialism in particular has a lot of rules--but note that they all seem designed to break the old rules about how music should be made, or about what sounds beautiful.)
Anyway, for evidence of this conundrum in Light, see, for instance, this fascinating interview exchange with Gylve "Fenriz" Nagell (of the band Darkthrone). (Disclaimer: English is clearly not Fenriz's first language.)
Interviewer: For me, I have the impression when I read your interviews and also when I listen to your lyrics that you've now become a little less provocative than you were maybe eight or nine years ago...
Nagell: Wow! Wow! You think so? That is so interesting, because I think. like, eight years ago, I didn't really do, like, provoking shit, I did... because Christian people were not going to read my lyrics, right? So they're not going to be provocative. What I wrote then was, I see now in hindsight, I see that this is what people that were into occult, or obscure, or anti-Christian things, that was the sort of lyrics they wanted to read. It maybe give them strength, but it was also sort of fiction and maybe it created an outlet for my fucking head. What I've been doing the last two albums is what should drive people to suicide and it's really taking out the strength because you can't really get strength from the lyrics in the last two albums [...] So I'm thinking, I'm really just pleasing, and I'm caressing the dog with its hairs, you know, as we speak, "dogs" being the fans or whatever, that want to listen to the album, I'm just, it turns out, I was writing just what they wanted, okay, and now I'm writing what no one wants, because that is to be really fucking depressed if you really understand it, and then, wanting to take your fucking life. At least I do. Because looking at my lyrics for the last two albums, I'm seeing my fucking world in hell.
Interviewer: Okay, thanks for taking the time.
Nagell: Okay, thanks for your time.
Interviewer: And I wish you a nice evening.
Nagell: Oh, have a beautiful evening. Alright! See ya later, hey hey!
It's hard to convey through the transcript, but as I listened, I could have sworn I detected a bit of disappointment in Fenriz's voice. And where he goes from there -- one could paraphrase it as "I'm so provocative that I'll make you want to kill yourself" -- is an almost perfect illustration of the trap some artists find themselves in when they subscribe to the rule-breaking model of creativity.
And yet the rule-breaking model of creativity is where the fun is, isn't it?