This, my first article for VICE, could very well be my last. I'm about to call out the elephant in the middle of the room, and I don't know if my editors are willing to acknowledge it. The powers that be might say they disagree, but deep down they know I'm right. Ready?
Norwegian Black Metal is a big steaming trough full of special ed student shit.
Kurt Cobain once said that Texas outsider artist Jandek "isn't pretentious, but only pretentious people like his music." And you know what? Even though he said that almost 20 years ago, Mr. Brains-Sprayed-On-The-Wall would be saying the exact same thing about Fenriz and his entitled Norwegian brethren today. Unquestionably.
About a decade ago, in the pages of my own magazine, I ran an interview with Pen Rollings from Breadwinner, Honor Role, and his (then) new band Loincloth. I still consider that interview one of the greatest pieces I've ever had the privilege to publish. As a homosexual guy who grew up in Richmond, Virginia, Rollings talked about coming out due in large part to the punk rock community and their support. What was also liberating was when he hit the nail right on the fucking head about black metal:
You wanna be all heavy and fucking burn churches in Norway, with your cute, dainty makeup? Why don't you spend a humid summer in Richmond, Virginia, with that makeup on? It'll drip off your face. These guys all sit around in the winter. Winter is very brutal, but you can wear leather and cover yourself up. You have a humid summer; what do you do? You get naked. That's the best you can do. You can't wear all those furs and those leather chaps and eye makeup. I'd love to see Mayhem, dressed the way they do in their comfortable Norwegian woods, standing on the street corner here in Richmond, Virginia, in August. I'd like to see how long they last and see how heavy they think they are.
Genuinely. Thank you, Mr. Rollings. From the bottom of my black (not metal) heart.
NBM is so much of a cartoonish punchline, it's hard to fathom why it's so embarrassingly championed by (otherwise respected) taste makers. On more than a couple of occasions, it's been brought to my attention that Thurston Moore actually spends hours on end making compilation tapes of this garbage. Figures.
I initially hesitated to sit down and watch the VICE-funded documentary True Norwegian Black Metal and the equally loathsome Until the Light Takes Us by Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell, but once I did, I couldn't comprehend why people would waste entire chunks of their life and/or money fussing over such a staggeringly insignificant subsect of the otherwise powerful metal universe. Watching Varg Vikernes, the pretty boy of the NBM scene, prattle on and on about what is "true" and "metal" from the confines of his posh prison cell makes any half-sane American say, "Wait, is this some kind of fucking joke?" Why yes, yes it is. And, welcome to the punchline.
As I was changing the soiled diaper of my four-month-old this morning at 7 AM, Negative Approach's first 7" happened to come up on iTunes and it got me to thinking that that band's leader, John Brannon, has more genuine power, truth, and creativity in any five seconds of his oeuvre than the countless hours of tinny hiss and racket that has ever emanated from within the borders of Norway. To those who are completely sans a clue, allow me to give you a bit of a history lesson. John Brannon is the premiere voice of punk, post-punk, and rock 'n' roll. Period. He was (and remains) the singer for early hardcore pioneers Negative Approach in the early 80s. He also fronted the equally depraved Laughing Hyenas up until the mid-90s, and he is currently in the oft-marginalized Easy Action. And to those who are curious, John Brannon is from Detroit. That's right. He's had to work for it.
Negative Approach, Laughing Hyenas, and Easy Action. Musicians are lucky if they get one popular band in their legacy. John's got three. Put that in your battle axe and smoke it, Thor.
Several more bits to wrap this non-discussion up:
1. Brannon and his then girlfriend/junkie pal Larrissa Strickland would routinely have violent fist fights while on stage performing with Laughing Hyenas. They would play the song "Lullabye and Goodnight," and Brannon would grab Larissa by the hair and drag her across the stage. In Columbus, Ohio. Ohio! On a Tuesday! There wouldn't even be anyone in the audience!
2. Did I mention that Brannon grew up on the streets of Detroit? Yes, the same intense city that spawned Iggy Pop, Mick Collins, and Wayne Kramer. I'd pay a million bucks to empty a bus filled with NBM pantywaists in the Cass Corridor just to watch them get slaughtered like cattle. Fact.
3. With John Brannon there's never been a sense of theater. Never a nod to King Diamond. Never a glimmer of make up. Reality seethes from him. Only Gene Simmons would need window dressing to cover up his shortcomings.
4. John Brannon has never had to make references to Dungeons and Dragons and Lord of the Rings in his music. Seriously, Norway? Toss away your sixteen-sided dice, get your smack on, and then we might begin to take you seriously.
5. Have you ever actually been to Norway? I have. It's consistently rated as one of the best places in the world to live. Nationalized health care. Affluence. Oh, and did I even mention how racist they are? Well, they are. Additionally, American bands actually have to work for what they get. In Norway? It's subsidized by the government. Don't believe me? Go ask any touring American band why they love going to Europe. It's because the entire continent supports the arts. It's like a full tour of posh US college gigs all in a row. Europeans don't know what it's like getting dirt under their fingernails until they come to America.
6. John Brannon is in this for life. This isn't fashion to him. This isn't something he's doing until he settles down. This ain't no punchline, kid.
7. As of the publishing of this piece, at no point has VICE or Scion had their pocketbooks parked up John Brannon's ass. Shocking, I know.
There. I've said it. Get fucked you fucking pussies.
Note: With all that outta the way, those Darkthrone records really do slay mightily.
Previously - Snobby Record Store Clerk Therapy: Portland