INVISIBLE ORANGES OR SOUR GRAPES?
I’ve made no secret of my general distaste for black metal, going so far as to call for a boycott of one of the sound’s most celebrated and influential figures. Without question, I’m not the ideal person to defend any aspect of a subgenre that I consider an eye-rolling, oft-racist joke. And yet, Tim Hunter at Invisible Oranges has driven me to stand up for it (sorta) thanks to his scathing and shoddy article lambasting the sub-subgenre “Cascadian black metal” and those journalists who dare to use the term in their pieces.
I’m not saying the music itself is bullshit – that’s more of a personal taste thing – but I think the sub-genre as a concept is bullshit. Ever since Wolves in the Throne Room garnered a more significant share of the music spotlight (chiefly by playing a corporate-sponsored festival, I’ve seen the term “Cascadian black metal” tossed around in more articles recently. Some of these have been from outside the metal world (the New Yorker, The Guardian), while others are more in tune with the underground. But I’m skeptical by default of any attempt by music media to create new pigeonholes for the music they cover. In some cases, it’s merely lazy journalism; in other cases (I’m looking at you, New Yorker dude), it’s just a way to make it seem like you know more than you really do about your topic.
Here’s why Hunter’s argument is (to reclaim the epithet) bullshit.
Though his geographical quibble with Cascadian black metal has its minor merits, Hunter’s etymological beef re: post-metal/metalgaze doesn’t hold up nearly as well. One could easily make the same fruitless argument that pornogrind, which the author defends in contrast as legitimate, is an unnecessarily-monikered permutation of grindcore itself. Still, one need not look much further than the opening paragraph cited above to uncover Hunter’s real axe to grind: that mainstream publications like The New Yorker and The Guardian have the nerve to speak of black metal at all. One of many of my fellow bloggers seemingly incapable of calling Sasha Frere-Jones by name, let alone researching his music critic bonafides, Hunter has essentially cried wolf, since the “bullshit” term he claims to have seen in that oh-so-polarizing New Yorker column never appears there so much as once. It is the coverage itself, its audacious existence, that must offend him so.
What subcultural elites seem to loathe more than anything is when the thing that they perceive as belonging most to them is discovered by a perceived outsider. Never mind that Frere-Jones is one of contemporary music’s best-known writers and champions; in the eyes of metalheads, he had no business writing about the American black metal scene. Such myopia is so accepted in the metal scene, that rabid, reactive replies cropped up on metal blogs quickly, parsing words in earnest to foment further scenester outrage. It was laughable, and damned predictable.
Consider, for example, the minor backlash to High On Fire’s increasing (albeit still quote marginal) popularity in the wake of 2010’s Snakes for the Divine. The criticism frequently took the form of bemoaning Greg Fidelman’s production work, yet bandleader Matt Pike hadn’t radically changed his sound or style one iota. The grievance seemed instead to stem from the shift from departing the celebrated Relapse Records for the major-esque confines of E1 Music, a move that arguably increased the band’s profile. Coverage at the hipster music bible Pitchfork was perhaps too much to bear, though one need only click a few links to see that the site had favorably reviewed the two previous High On Fire records as well.
This was an uncharacteristically poor showing for Invisible Oranges, and particularly ill-timed given questions that have arisen and will continue to crop up in the early days of the post-Cosmo Lee period. I still consider it one of the very, very few metal blogs anyone should bother with, but perhaps Hunter could use some editorial guidance in the future.