Dayal Patterson‘s immense tome, Black metal: Evolution of the Cult, is a book you appreciate more than enjoy. In terms of exhaustive interviews, historical detail, and organization, it’s absolutely on point. The organization of Patterson’s book is spot-on. Breaking everything down band-by-band, yet keeping everything in a linear timeline, allows the reader to see the evolution of this music from artist to artist. It’s also absolutely necessary for the casual metal fan such as myself. While acquainted with black metal’s other seminal work, Lords of Chaos (also released by Feral House), I’m by no means well-versed in many of the bands presented here, to say nothing of the myriad name changes and lineup shifts.
Name changes, by the way, are not just something which bands experience, but individuals, as well. It’s necessary to remember the birth names of these Norweigian, Swedish, German, Austrian, Greek, and Italian musicians, as well as their nom de metal, which in some cases can be more of a mouthful than the umlauts and ‘ø’s which they replace. The author does an excellent job of picking one descriptor by which to refer each musician, however, allowing the reader to keep everything straight.
However, for a book to really succeed, it needs to exist as more than just a codex of names, places, and releases. While a fantastic historical document, Black Metal is certainly lacking in-depth analysis. I appreciate Patterson’s desire to stay away from the proselytic leanings of Lords of Chaos, which degenerates into postulation and hyperbole in its latter chapters. However, Black Metal, for all of its exclusive interviews with those whose story this is, lacks in any sort of deeply-probing questions. Follow-up interviews don’t appear to have taken place, leaving many of the quotes to stand on their own, lacking any sort of strong tackling on uncomfortable subjects like Nazi imagery.
When you have artists using SS lightning bolts, Teutonic crosses, and image-evoking terms like “blitzkrieg,” “panzer,” and so on, asking the musicians as to why they used such charged imagery would be of utmost importance. The artists go on for pages regarding the use of Satanic and/or ant-Christian images like upside-down crosses and pentagrams, and are more than willing to explain the purpose and anticipated responses, but any discussion of right-wing, racial purity ideology suddenly becomes this personal thing which is being misunderstood by the general public, and they don’t want to get into it.
Mayhem’s Necrobutcher seems to be the only one willing to admit that when “you use symbols like the upside down crosses in the logo, to go a step further would be swastikas and stuff like that,” logically saying that if you really want people to think your band is legitimately fucking evil, then Nazism is way worse than Satanism to most people. It’s the Sex Pistols all over again — if you want to raise hackles and the ire of the general populace, swastikas are the way to do it. It’s like shorthand for “terrible, world-ruining people.”
While the bands depicted have their histories presented in a tightly-written manner, it would be nice to have some historical context. The political and/or social statuses of any of the given countries aren’t really explored, which doesn’t allow the reader to ever develop any sense of what led to this particular approach to metal in the place and time where it appeared. It’s a similar case that, while ‘zines are mentioned repeatedly, there’s never really any discussion with any of the people who made them who weren’t in bands. It would’ve been great to have heard from people within the scene who didn’t have bands and releases to maintain.
All things considered, however, Patterson’s Black Metal does an excellent job of tracing a genre from its earliest days to its modern incarnation. Through first, second, and what might even be a modern third wave, black metal’s tropes and beliefs are followed, looking at what really differentiates this subgenre from death, power, or other kinds of metal. If you’re a fan of the genre, this is the ultimate guide to the history and evolution of the bands and music, in the words of those who made it happen. It’s available now from Feral House.