Archive for the lyrics Category

Are Black Metal Lyrics Important?

Posted in black metal, lyrics, musings with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2012 by blackmetallurgy

Recently I read this ( post on Invisible Oranges about the new Deathspell Omega EP Drought. In it, the author says that he loves DSO’s music and appreciates what they do, but that he doesn’t buy into the Satanic element and isn’t interested in the lyrics at all. While I was writing my term paper on black metal, I originally claimed that lyrics were not all that important as many times they are indistinguishable anyway, but I later rescinded that opinion because I began talking about Agalloch and specific messages; although allowing nature to “speak” on the album through the use of deer antler percussion and samples makes one kind of statement, the gravity of a line like “we are the wounds and the great cold death of the earth” hits equally as hard.

Growing up I always was of the opinion that lyrical content was important- Nine Inch Nails has always been one of my favorite bands, and Trent Reznor writes such good ones. As I got more and more into extreme metal however, my dedication to knowing and understanding the lyrics waned a bit. As I mentioned previously, it’s hard to even make out what is being screamed 90% of the time. And if black metal truly is made by the atmosphere it creates, as Fenriz argues, then are the lyrics even important at all? My friend made the observation as well that sometimes the artists’ grasp of English usage is not as good as it could be, which leads to lines like Immortal’s “unending grimness and these mountains which I heart” from “In My Kingdom Cold.” And sometimes, the lyrics are in languages the listener may not understand, like Latin or Norwegian. Given these elements, is the lyrical content that important, and if so, when is it most important?

Does a band like Gorgoroth that doesn’t print their lyrics consider those lyrics to be an essential part of the music? Does the music itself channel the message, as the guy from Invisible Oranges suggests? “Carving A Giant” is one of the most terrifying songs ever, whether you can understand Gaahl’s screeching or not. But if Gorgoroth’s message is truly what is important, as they have claimed in the past that it is, then can that message be lost in the delivery of the music? I don’t know. I think “Carving a Giant” is pretty straightforward musically, but what about others?

My friend is of the opinion that lyrics in black metal are kind of like album covers- they are a part of the overall experience, but not really necessary to understand what’s going on. Instead, paying attention to them can help you grasp the overall concept presented. I can get on board with this in a lot of ways. Whether or not you know that Leviathan, Beelzebub, and Belial are princes of Hell (Lucifer is kind of obvious), Watain’s “Four Thrones” is clearly a chant in praise of a deity (or several, rather).

This lack of need for clearly vocalized lyrics is largely due, I think, to the complexity of the music itself. In other genres, like punk, where the songs are structured around a few simple chords, the lyrics have more room to shine. And they need to as punk is all about the message- fight the man, meat is murder, etc. A simpler song structure allows for that lyrical message to come across more plainly. But with a genre like black metal, which prides itself on complexity both structurally and philosophically, the lyrics can be overshadowed by the technicality of the music. Many times, however, the music seems to do the trick on its own.

[Allow Immortal to show you what “cold” sounds like]

Contextually, however, reading the lyrics can help. For instance, you don’t need to read the lyrics to understand that Arcturus’ “The Chaos Path” is about chaos- it’s one of the most chaotic feeling songs ever. However, reading the lyrics can help you to grasp that the chaos referenced is a destructive and Satanic chaos, a cosmic chaos, if you will, as opposed to the chaos of, say, Black Friday at the mall.

The same applies to Watain’s album Lawless Darkness. You can listen to the end of “The Waters of Ain” to hear what the Void sounds like, but to see it, you need the album cover, and to understand that to the band, this negative energy is a positive thing, you need to read the lyrics.

[“Take me home, ye beckoning ocean waves… Eagerly my spirit yearns…”]

So what about the religious stuff? Is it important? I mean, Deathspell Omega (we’ll go back to them, since they started this whole discussion) is clearly, if you consider the ties between chaos and theistic Satanism, a Satanic band. I mean, come on, it doesn’t get any more chaotic than this.

And if we know that, and we know that the chaotic ugliness and moments of soaring glory are meant to emulate theistic Satanism, do we need the lyrics? Is there any point in reading them beyond the fact that the guys in DSO clearly put a lot of time into coming up with them? Especially if it is the listener’s interpretation that is the most important to that individual person (I’m thinking here of all the artists who suggest that each person take away from the music what they personally get from it)? Well, I suppose that depends on the person doing the reading and the listening.

For me, the whole package is important. Music, lyrics, even album artwork, especially in the case of bands like Watain and Funeral Mist that do all their own artwork. While it may not be necessary to go so far as to do exegesis on Deathspell Omega’s lyrics, reading them can give the reader/listener a greater appreciation for how the band understands their own message. Also, it is interesting to see the way DSO presents that message through a subtle and specific twisting of scripture. Even if you are not religious in the slightest, I think the sincerity of the band members’ beliefs are channeled most specifically through the lyrical content, whereas the music more encompasses the raw emotions.

And if you still don’t get what a band is saying in their lyrics, does it matter? I say no. Art doesn’t need to be understood to be appreciated, and as long as it is affecting you in some way, it’s doing its job. Besides, it’s not like you can expect a band like Deathspell Omega to just tell you what they mean- they’re theistic Satanists, who are all about figuring things out for yourself. So, just like you must find your own way in your spiritual pursuits, so you must find your own way to comprehending black metal, whether you do that with lyrics, or liner art, or the feel of the drums. Lyrics make good guidelines and can help you understand, but only you can decide whether you will put in the effort to truly appreciate the art in front of you or not.

Next time I will probably talk about the death metal and grindcore book, since I just finished it. In the meantime, you should check out my friend Jamie’s blog! Jamie is my concert-going buddy and fellow black metal geek. He just joined WordPress and has moved some stuff over from his old blog. (Here:

Also, if anyone is reading this and feels like responding, I’d like to know what you think. Are lyrics a vital part of your black metal listening experience? Do they matter to you at all, contextually speaking or otherwise? Feel free to comment!

Until next time,