In a social climate where bad people feel emboldened to be really bad out loud, and where information transparency allows us to see just how horrible everyone is, there is a desire to frame all art in positivity. This is especially true in metal, which has had to fight the unfair label of ‘Music For Animal-Torturing Sex Criminals” bestowed on it in the late 1980s Satanic Panic.
These days, metal on either side of the intellectual pole has to wear its positive approach on its sleeve. If you’re in an underground metal band, you’re taking a nuanced approach to personal turmoil and spiritual ennui through examining your dark side and bringing together a better-informed community. If you’re in a rowdy, riffy groove metal band, you’re providing an outlet for troublesome feelings so that you can have nothin’ but a good time.
I get it. It makes sense. We’re all just trying to pay the rent and be happy, and metal should be a part of that. The positivity behind modern metal is a noble thing.
It just also makes me want to fucking puke sometimes.
I was drawn to metal because it’s a rancorous outlet for my overwhelming negativity about all things. My friends and family make my life worth living, but they’re also annoying assholes; New York City is a bountiful artistic playground when it’s not a piss-reeking dumpster overflowing with vermin and garbage; artists who inspire me give me a reason to live, but oh my God, guys, shut the fuck up.
And as everyone around me becomes more positive and aspirational, I can’t help but wonder—is there still room for me in metal? Where are those people championing the huge, inherent ‘Fuck You All’ that brought me here in the first place?
Part of the reason negativity has become hard to find in metal is because positivity sells, especially in the byte-sized world of social media. Salty opinions are a dime a dozen, but a video of a mama seal teaching its baby to swim? That shit is click gold. This extends to hard rock and metal in that songs and art about sticking it out and fighting through the pain have become more popular than those about the pain itself.
And sure, this helps show fans the fun, happy side of their “angry” subculture….but it often means that as a writer, I’m stuck having to gush about and justify why I like certain artists, rather than just saying the reality: I like it because when YOU listened to it, you grimaced. And I fucking HATE you.
That said, straight-up negativity can lead us down rocky roads. Sure, a radio-rock band crooning about how you’re strong enough to survive sucks, but so does some sneering Juggalo in a basement whose music sounds like a humming fridge. Meanwhile, plenty of metal that seems outright negative is often coupled with Nazi sympathy and bigoted political beliefs, which can fuck off entirely (you might think those ideas are negative, but they’re actually the opposite—they strive for a sense of positivity and purity, as though the Third Reich was some paradise in the making).
So where’s that huge, looming, acerbic anger and contempt that drove me to metal in the first place, but which isn’t laced with boneheaded reactionary politics? Where can a pessimistic headbanger find metal that rocks hard, but also basks in unbridled negativity?
Apparently, I needed to look South—way South. Rebel Wizard is a one-man band from Australia that plays what creator Nekrasov calls “heavy negative wizard metal," and while that might come off as a neat little ironic subgenre title, it is as accurate a description as once can find. A madcap merging of NWOBHM guitar acrobatics and furious black metal vocals and production, Rebel Wizard sounds like equal parts the Frank Frazetta fantasy art on the side of the van and the aftermath of running the driver in front of you off the road.
“[Rebel Wizard’s sound is about] letting everything come out,” says Nekrasov via email. “When you’re in an ‘angry’ band and it’s political, for example, you’re bound to that one aspect. That’s not a bad thing, as I still listen to the early Discharge seven-inches as my religious fuel in this world. But I also need Van Halen. The ‘anger’ is a joy also. There’s a freedom there. It all comes from the same place—nothing! So with that we can free it up a bit and let it be less defined. Positive and negative are not separate.”
Nekrasov expresses negativity as a symptom of honesty. He is forthright both in his enjoyment of music and his complete lack of pretense. When I ask him about the favorable response that's greeted Rebel Wizard’s latest album,Triumph of Gloom, he says, “I did not expect that anyone would like Triumph of Gloom. That was a real wonderful shock to me.” When I ask him about playing dark music in a sunny, seemingly happy-go-lucky country like Australia, he brings up the nation’s genocidal past, replying, “Current Australia is built on pure misery, my friend. The world’s most anciently known culture was here in ‘Australia’; a majestic people of such incredible deep wisdom and knowledge of all things…completely wiped out, replaced by convicts and from then up ‘Australia’ was built.”
To some, this all might sound like a bummer, but what’s freeing about Nekrasov’s approach to metal is not just that it sees the empowering effects of negativity, which is a common concept in dark music. It’s that he sees his negativity as a role of opposition against a world that is all too ready to join in, sign up, and put on a happy face
“Negative refers to negation,” says Nekrasov. “We attack and nurture the conceptual side of ourselves so much that a form of mania, confusion, and enhanced idiocy has become dominant in our realm, and we fall prey to illusions that feed the more horrid realms; created by others and not the inner. We are born empty and clear and then have thrusted upon us names, ideas, preferences, et cetera. If you grew up in the western world the creation of the ‘person’, which comes from the word ‘persona’ meaning ‘mask,' is conjured most dominantly by destructive forms that serve the scum of the earth; schools, religion, TV, corporations, and so on.”
This concept strikes deep at the core of metal’s need for negativity. So much of metal’s negative bias comes from a perception that the world we’re told to believe in is fake, and nothing is more fake than the trappings of “niceness.” High society is filled with horny sociopaths. Religious purity is a falsehood perpetuated by greedy perverts. Even the heartwarming baby seal video you saw online was carefully packaged by someone’s social team so that they can relax by an infinity pool while you count the dollars you have for lunch. It all feels so silly when we admit that we are all nothing—insignificant creatures floating around looking for something to hold onto. For some, it’s society at large. For others, it’s brutal music about feeling pissed off.
When metal loses that understanding, it feels like it's becomes a part of that big fake whole. It becomes just another smiling face, assuring everyone else that it’s really not so bad, in hopes of getting a seat at the table. Part of what drew me to metal is that I’m not interested in that, in living life like some stock footage of two smiling people running down a sunlit beach. I am gross, and loud, and angry; I stand in negation to the nice lies that I’ve always been taught constitute “the Good Life.”
“I am really just a silly fool doing this heavy negative wizard metal, as I kinda need it and I really couldn’t give a fuck how it fits anywhere,” writes Nekrasov. “But if I was a kid now, I would need something like Rebel Wizard! I would like to tell others that heavy negative wizard metal saved my soul.”
So, my metalhead friends, smile—but only when everyone else looks aghast. Stand in opposition. When one person in your life urges you to be good, and the other urges you to be evil, fire a snot rocket at both of them and walk down the middle. Cancel out the simple, average positivity you see in the face of every normal person. Be negative, because that’s who you are. You’re a far greater force for good in this world as a black hole swallowing all light than you are pretending to be a sun.
Chris Krovatin is hating you until the day he fucking dies on Instagram .