Saturday, February 22, 2014

Blackgazin'

Recently, someone took issue with me referring to Deafheaven as a black metal band, stating that they are, in fact, "blackgaze"; the implication being that "blackgaze" is a separate genre from "black metal".

This is, in fact, horseshit.


For blackgaze to be more than just a different style of black metal, it would have to appeal at least as much to fans of the other half of the "blackgaze" equation: shoegaze. It does not. I say this from experience: when I saw Deafheaven in 2011, it was in a tiny club and the attendance amounted to barely more than a couple dozen people. And of course, they were all metalheads. People who listen to Mazzy Star, by and large, are not listening to Deafheaven. Slowdive fans are not flocking to their shows. The audience for "blackgaze" is comprised almost entirely of underground metal fans, albeit (presumably) ones who also enjoy other types of music.


Before "blackgaze" became a widely accepted term, bands like Deafheaven, Altar of Plagues and Alcest were labelled "post" or, more tellingly, "hipster" black metal. And that is what distinguishes blackgaze from every other subgenre of black metal: not the music itself as much as the audience. If the stereotypical black metal fan wouldn't be caught dead in a cardigan (or listening to them), then a "blackgaze" fan probably has more in common with your average music nerd:



And musically, bands like Deafheaven and Liturgy aren't doing much that hasn't been heard in black metal for years. The supposed shoegazing influence - namely, the juxtaposition of slow shuffling rhythms and fuzzed out guitars - can be found on Burzum's Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Darkthrone's A Blaze in the Northern Sky, meaning those elements were already in prominent use by black metal's second wave, twenty years ago. In fact, you can find those same elements as far back as 1987, on Bathory's Under the Sign of the Black Mark:



Which is why the idea of "blackgaze" being a new genre separate from "black metal" is meritless, unless Quorthon was a time-traveling hipster who injected My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain into his sound before they became cool.

What makes Deafheaven notable - and the reason I have such a soft spot for them, despite the encroaching appropriation by Pitchfork types - is they were smart enough to recognize the overlap between two seemingly disparate genres and build a sound out of that. The result was a thoroughly enjoyable album - but not a new style of music.

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