When the Dark Screams of Death Metal Corrode the Culture

Extreme Noise Terror, Pungent Stench and Pestilence are all disagreeable topics of conversation for most people. They should be avoided in polite company. However, these repugnant things enjoy some favor in today’s postmodern society.

The three topics are actually the names of death metal bands casually mentioned in a recent newspaper article. These names are joined by others like Hate Storm Annihilation, Arch Enemy, and Misery Index. Their songs are characterized by screams, screeching and guttural groans. Some of the song titles include “First Day in Hell,” “Regurgitated Guts,” “Slowly We Rot” or “Masked in Leeches.”

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Such group names and song titles are typical in the world of heavy metal and death metal bands as are band members wearing studded leather jackets or blue-streaked hair. Their music is accessible to any who want to find it, and the genre enjoys a large following. The band names that would be disgusting topics of conversation are apparently desirable branding labels.

Culture Doesn’t Matter

All of this hurts the national culture. However, few people express concern about the influence of the bands’ violent and morbid messages upon the nation. Some might even dismiss objections as prudish and exaggerated. After all, they claim, it is all about freedom. The music is not hurting anyone. The names, while disgusting, really don’t matter.

The reason for such a dismissive attitude is that most people really don’t think culture matters. For them, culture is only about personal fun, gratification, and entertainment.

Politics, business and money do matter. However, culture merely represents individual choices separated from those things that matter. One can see, hear or do anything cultural without real consequences.

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This culture-doesn’t-matter mantra facilitates the extremes reached by postmodern phenomena like death metal bands. It allows a cultural revolution to progress unimpeded. While everyone is talking about politics, business and money, postmodernism’s dark messages corrode the culture and gradually destroy society.

The Postmodern Worldview

Czech poet Vaclav Havel once defined postmodernism as a state in which everything is possible and almost nothing is certain. Indeed, the postmodern worldview holds nothing need have any definition and meaning. Everything, even the most blaring contradictions, must be accepted. There are no narratives into which things can be inserted. Rules must be broken to prove that nothing has consequences.

The example of the death metal bands is a typical expression of this definition in action. For postmoderns, bands can be called Extreme Noise Terror, Pungent Stench and Pestilence since they are just words that annihilate meaning. The band names are made to shock by their powerful associations that defy convention and propriety. When a band sings “First Day in Hell,” it challenges everything that is related to Heaven.

Likewise, the bands’ morbid imagery and bizarre scenes shock the sensibilities by the lack of rational connection to the real world. It creates instead a macabre fantasy world, which undermines the rules and conventions of modern society.

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Finally, postmodern music need not be beautiful; it is enough that it be presented as “music.” The most irrational and blasphemous lyrics are not meant to be understood. Its screeching melodies need not be harmonious because harmony itself must be challenged.

Indeed, the only sensation left is that of sensation itself. Sensations must be ever more brutal and violent to impress the numbed soul.

Art Upside Down

Postmodern culture is not true culture. It does not represent art or beauty. Postmodernism turns art upside down. It is anti-beauty disconnected from truth. It is music expressed as “extreme noise.”

The purpose of any art is to lead to the good, true and the beautiful. Postmodernism celebrates the evil, false and ugly by destroying art’s metaphysical foundation in truth, logic and order. By its dynamism, it naturally tends toward the most radical manifestations of all that is disordered and offensive.

Hence, Extreme Noise Terror, Pungent Stench and Pestilence present themselves in this bizarre context.

The Culture Does Have Consequences

Such considerations do not impress those who think culture doesn’t matter. Heavy metal bands do not determine elections, create jobs or boost economic productivity. They claim that how people entertain themselves is no one’s business, however outrageous it might seem.

And yet these same people will lament the decline of civility, family and community. They will complain that the “social capital” that kept society and markets together isn’t working like it used to work. Society is coming apart.

That is why culture does matter. Culture is by definition not restricted to individual preferences. It embraces the breadth of human knowledge as reflected in the arts, economy, politics and education. Culture affirms values that permeate all society. It contributes to the structuring of all human relationships, institutions and the State itself. Its action is often subtle and indirect, but it nevertheless has consequences.

Postmodernism Destroys Order

In fact, culture is much more powerful than political or economic forces. This is because culture is the glue that keeps things together in order. Russell Kirk maintained that freedom, justice, law, or virtue are all very important, but “order is the first and most basic need.”

Postmodernism destroys order by depriving a society of certainties, logic and identity. It corrupts art by depriving it of its proper end in beauty.

While death metal bands alone will not destroy order, they do contribute to it. They raise a standard of chaos toward which society slowly marches. They push the envelope of what is tolerable ever farther. When a society fails to see terror, stench and pestilence as evils, it works contrary to its ordered nature. To use the title of one of the death metal bands’ songs, “Slowly We Rot.”

The natural result of this cultural rot is the breakdown of society today. When people are exposed to crazy things, they will do crazy things. When ugliness and bizarre fashion dominate, they will take over the public square. When all cultural restraints are lifted, people lose control and kill others. All of these are effects of a culture gone awry.

Culture does matter. It should be the principal battleground upon which conservatives and Christians should fight—not a sideshow to generate votes.

The Correct Orientation of a Culture War

To be effective, this Culture War must be properly oriented.

Both modernity and postmodernism fail to recognized culture’s ultimate end. Secular modernity looks upon culture as an ordering influence leading to prosperity. Postmodernism sees it as a way of facilitating gratification.

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The end of culture, especially when expressed by the arts, is to serve as a means to the knowledge and love of God. The corruption of culture will inevitably lead to its ugly and repulsive contrary. This anti-culture will always find its way to the greatest evils, often found openly in its Satanic references and imagery.

Culture should be properly understood as Christian and oriented by the Church. Saint Paul calls upon Christians to look to “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”(Phil. 4:8).

Saint Bonaventure magnificently states that such a worldview allows Christians to clearly see “art as productive, exemplifying and ordering, given to us for looking upon God.” Thus they serve to “lead the mind of the one contemplating and attaining wisdom to the Eternal God.”

As seen on Crisis Magazine.