For people of my generation, our coming of age coincided with that of the internet, so the inevitability of us defining much of our identity and perception of the world as teenagers through this medium was grimly predictable by the late 1990s. Throughout my development as a human unit, I was unfortunate enough to come across one such website that severely influenced my growth as a critical consumer of not just heavy metal, but also my opinions of the world at large; this website was called the ‘American Nihilist Underground Society’, comedically abbreviated to ANUS. For those not familiar with this site here follows an account of this website and the influence it had me in in my formative years.
Nowadays, the writings and ideas espoused on this website would be lumped in with other creepy websites in the deep dark now known as the ‘alt right’, but its origins go back to a time long before this term made its way into the common vernacular. This obscure website prided itself on being one of the earliest to cover underground metal on the internet; having its origins in the early 1990s, in the Wild West days of the worldwide web (the WWDWWW?). It was run by a young North American academic operating under the pseudonym ‘Prozak’. He posted a cultural thesis online, probably written for a university degree, on the history of heavy metal in relation to developments in 20th century Western politics and society.This was the meat of the theoretical orientation of the website, interpreting any new releases or occurrences within metal through the lens of this framework. There was also a large reviews section with an archive of ‘approved’ bands and their releases (The Dark Legions Archive, or DLA), a list of approved non-metal artists, an online forum, and the occasional interview. I stumbled across Prozak’s history of heavy metal by a chance google search of Bathory, I was 14 years old and only just embarking on my sonic journey into the abyss, having discovered Bathory from an Emperor cover, and Emperor by a chance mention in an edition of Kerrang. Growing up in the home counties of England, a very sheltered area of the world, I couldn’t conceive of there being many other fans of this music out there, so to find this website was something of a revelation, a readymade bible for my musical coming of age. I slowly worked my way down their top fifteen artists list on the black metal section, and discovered such innovators as Darkthrone, Burzum, Summoning, and Enslaved. I promptly moved on to their best of death metal list. Their reviews were senselessly styled like nothing I’ve read before or since. Here’s a sample from his review of Mutiilation’s 1996 offering ‘Remains of Ruined, Dead, Cursed Soul’:
Dramatic nocturnal inversion metal invades aural consciousness with screams and riffs dissonant in both tone as chords in patternings constructing intersections at irregular rhythms and harmonies form the primordial antagonism from which the rest of the album is crafted, emphasizing a strong sense of transcendence in the phrases which rise from the dying chaos of disorder to create an intimation of direction so profoundly universal in the translation of its relative motion to tokens of order that its presence alters each song to conclude in an unfinished sense of emptiness within the mind of something desiring more. As such, this is Romanticism in theme and lyrically elegant music within the rubric of black metal gnarled riffing and drop-beat throbbing time division. (http://www.deathmetal.org/bands/mtiilation/mtiilation-remains_of_a_ruined_dead_cursed_soul/)
…………The discussion forum was a surreal conglomeration of articulate music fans and musicians, traditionalists and self-proclaimed conservationists, full on fascists with links to neo-Nazi websites in their signatures, and the occasional troll, desperately trying to point out the inconsistencies of the site’s philosophy, whether through humour, reason, or persistence, but always ending in failure. There was a general music chat section, a file sharing section, a general discussion section, and interestingly a section called ‘compost’, with the description ‘From decay springs new life’. Any thread deemed unworthy by the moderators, rather than being locked, was sent to the compost as a lesson in how not to post, but the thread would remain open for people to post replies. Threads that expressed dissent towards the ANUS party line were immediately consigned therein, as were pointless list threads without an invitation for further discussion. There was also a non-musical website and forum, where matters of philosophy and lifestyle were discussed. One particular thread always stuck in my mind, where someone shared videos of real life executions as an exercise in growing accustomed to death as a reality of the world, as was constantly repeated on the forum, this was something generally hidden from the individual within modernist progressive thinking. I was 15 years old and I still remember the feeling of nausea I experienced and concealed over family dinner after putting myself through viewing all five videos.
The problem with the sites core philosophy was how adolescent it was in the manner in which it justified a rejection of the democratic post war project (for want of a better phrase), attempting to dress this up in academic language without the systematic argumentation, definition and justification that this demands. Wild claims were made, followed by no justification, conclusions assumed in the premise, hyperbole and a hot bed of logical fallacies that a 16 year old critical thinking student could pick apart (if I had the will). Prozak was anti-modernist, anti-democratic, he was nationalist, he was very careful not to be explicitly racist, he was culturally right wing, believing in cultural separatism, beating the ‘multiculturalism is a failed project’ drum over and over. He never articulated a coherent economic or political framework, explicitly rejecting the left wing/right wing dichotomy, attempting (and failing) to operate on purely philosophical grounds. He was also apocalyptic, convinced that the modern post war project would inevitably fail, and fail really quite soon. Other forms of youthful rebellion against ‘the system’ such as the hippie and punk movements were inevitably absorbed back into the system, becoming neutered and impotent versions of themselves, or so Prozak claimed. Many forms of metal had suffered the same fate, but not the spirit of metal itself. This spirit was more realist than other youth cultures, non-utopian, realist, brutalist. For an angsty teenager with unformed views and half-baked diagnoses for the ills of the world, looking for any means and reason to rebel and express, this offered a dangerously articulate framework to operate under; most kids flirt with anarchism, Marxism, environmentalism as they begin to critically explore the world around them, I flirted with nationalism. It also chimed with my concern for the future of the planet, and added environmental credentials to my love of this music. Nihilism as a way of life was articulated through the philosophy section of the website, and was prone to grand sweeping declarations with little argumentative substance to back it up. It was linked closely with traditionalism. But again, the term was not defined. Being a North American website it was not clear whose traditions were being invoked. Certainly not the religious right of WASP America, although sharing many of the same ground, ANUS was just as critical of Judeo-Christian religions as it was with neo-liberalism, democracy, socialism, capitalism, and for that matter fascism. Pre-Christian Northern European traditions were the obvious invocation, but what aspect of this vast notion was it calling upon in its constant reaffirmation of the need for traditional values? It was never really clear.
To this day I still don’t quite know what made its critique of modernity unique, as it repeatedly claimed to be; I have ascertained that it was vaguely based on illusions vs reality, sustainability vs disposable culture, meritocracy vs democracy, traditionalism(?) vs progressivism, all linked to heavy metal as the modern musical expression of whatever this amounted to. The essays were so rife with hyperbole that a coherent and sustained critique of western culture with propositions for realistic alternatives was never quite reached, no matter what the writers of ANUS claimed. In spite of this it became my sole source of discovering new music, which meant I remained ignorant to massive swathes of the scene at large beyond that which found its way into the forums and blogs, and the occasional foray into metal-archives.
Over the years this website morphed and changed, looking to separate the musical from the philosophical sections. They tried to describe themselves as ‘hessians’ rather than metalheads to gain distance from the negative connotations of the latter as failures and dropouts, in 2006 they tried to make the 6th June a national day of hessians, called ‘National day of Slayer’. At one point they even drafted a letter to BarackObama appealing for it to be an official national holiday, in an hilarious ‘let’s use a multicultural agenda to our advantage’ ploy. There was more than one discussion thread on the forum about how a separatist society for hessians would work; a commune of sorts. There was talk of arranging meetings in the US and the UK to discuss the more weighty issues raised on the forum as a sort of pseudo conference. A weekly podcast was released with different DJ’s and speakers, talking of nihilism, neo-classical music and the philosophy of death metal. New nation-specific online forums were set up, and I joined the UK branch with about 30 other members, who discussed traditionalism and cultural seperatism at the height of the BNP’s popularity. The banner for the UK forum was a picture of a wooded glade filled with bluebells, but the direction of discussion put us in intellectual bed with Nick Griffin; a severe reminder that for all the rhetoric about some transcendentalist code of life, requisitioning nihilism as its mantra, this really put me in the same company as backward nationalists. Lacking the numbers, these more local forums quickly dissipated however. Hession.org was then set up to carry the cause forward, along with a hessian wiki, I even wrote the entries for Frozen Shadows, Antaeus, and Mercyful Fate (the latter of which was deleted, not meeting the criteria for approved representations of the form). They designed a flag for the yet to be formed nation of hessians, and posted yet more articles attempting to expand on traditionalism, the warring spirit of heavy metal, why modernity is founded on a misguided notion of the relationship between desire and reality, and how ancient mythology and pre-Socratic philosophy can be drawn on to point the way.
Of course throughout my late teens I found it harder and harder to reconcile the philosophy of the website with the pull towards progressive ideals, multiculturalism, acceptance, liberalism, and left leaning politics. The half-baked philosophical articles smugly claimed to have answers to all the ills of the world. They were angsty enough to hold the interest of a teenager searching for a vehicle of rebellion, but also felt so obscure and distant from the life I led day to day with real people that it was akin to living a dual existence. But 8 years, much reading of Peter Singer, and a philosophy degree later, I became more suspicious of holistic diagnoses for the ills of humanity, and programs for their cure, still more of ones that came from a culturally right wing, traditionalist, conservative agenda given the company I generally kept both socially and intellectually. Although the forums often attracted fully outted fascists, the writers were very careful to distance their views from white supremacy, operating on the dodgy ground of racial and cultural segregation rather than claims to superiority, declaring multiculturalism a failed project. The reviews would often trounce National Socialist Black Metal that relied on simplistic music as a vehicle for their fascist message, unlike artists such as Absurd and Graveland, who were musicians first, Nazis sympathizers second.
As my interest in participating in the grand ideals of ANUS waned, so too did the website itself. It went through a period of rebranding, changing its URL to ‘deathmetal.org’, and eventually disbanded the forum altogether, forcing the longstanding members to seek other avenues, or abandon altogether the cause of establishing a Hessian society that would survive the coming apocalypse. ANUS itself became a non-music site, posting articles on philosophy and their own interpretation of Nihilism as a traditionalist worldview; it’s still google-able, go take a look if you like (type the full name, not the abbreviation you fucking muppet), although nothing has been posted since 2014. To this day the music site survives as ‘deathmetal.org’, and employs a new team of writers, and to this day I still visit it now and then. It’s an odd mix of reviews, interviews, racist rants, nationalist paranoia, tobacco and beer reviews, and instructions on certain wrong kinds of making music, a regular feature called ‘Sadistic Metal Reviews’. The forum has also been resurrected, although users are much fewer, posts are more sporadic, and discussion less coherent as a result. You may wonder what my motivation for visiting the website at all would be these days, and sometimes I wonder myself. Long since I tried to convince myself that I had any connection with the bizarre ideas of Prozak, I still took his recommendation lists seriously, many of my current favourite artists I discovered in this context. But as the old clichés of something something age something wisdom, I no longer needed to look to one spiritual guide to determine which direction my sonic journey was heading, and I lost the main motivation for visiting the site at all.
Prozak had a very rigorous definition of metal, rigorously applied when it suited him and his followers. If you were to follow this religiously, vast swathes of music would be excluded; in fact most extreme metal post 1996 is off limits. The reason for this is Prozak’s rigid view of the history of heavy metal as deterministic, as if it had a fixed beginning, middle and end, that end was black metal, with Burzum’s ‘Hviss Lyset tar Oss’ being a musical statement black metal (and contemporary western music at large) has still been unable to surpass. Ever since Tony Iommi struck the first chord of ‘Black Sabbath’, this direction was predetermined to end with Burzum’s 1994 offering. And it never had anything to do with blues, despite what most early originators of heavy metal say about their influences. Northern European folk music was the chief influence on a band like Black Sabbath, that and horror film scores, despite what Iommi says, and despite what you can clearly hear on their 1970 debut. Anyway, the only thing to do in the present musical wasteland, aside from search for sporadic releases of quality, was to listen to classical music, Beethoven, Wagner, Bach, Mozart, Brahms and the like. The reawakening of the Romantic spirit that metal embodied is a failed project, or else had been on hold since 1994 awaiting a re-ignition, the time of which Prozak would decide through his reviews and analysis of new releases.
Unsurprisingly my first loves as a 14 year old such as Arch Enemy, Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth were all disallowed, to my dismay Emperor post 1994 was disallowed, I was into At the Gates, just not the right era, I was into Morbid Angel, just not the right era. There were many positive reviews of post 1996 releases, but it was always stressed that these were exceptions dotted few and far between amidst the piles of shit, unlike the culturally rich scenes of yore. The home spun common wisdom of quality not quantity served to justify this to some extent. But over time I couldn’t stop myself enjoying music forbidden in Prozak’s eyes. It wasn’t just bad music to him; it was actively contributing to the decay of a culture more dear to him than life. As a 15 year old, with no one in my life to share the love of this music with, this website was a guide and sounding board, over time as I met more people, shared experiences of music, gigs, clubs, conversations; my mind expanded as everyone’s does, and ANUS had less of a role to play, if anything its role as surrogate mentor became a hindrance. I pissed a lot of people off with my ‘elitism’. Meeting people who share the same love of this music, along with going to regular gigs and seeing the honesty, integrity, hard work, and talent of musicians who would be lazily dismissed as worthless by Prozak, this was something of a straw of back breaking finality. Now with my considerable intellectual poise and carefully cultivated humility, it’s extremely cringeworthy to look back on how much I bought into the writings of Prozak and his gang of followers. In my early twenties I underwent the metamorphosis and threw of its shackles. Suddenly, with no limitations on the music I could explore, a whole new world of artists who should’ve been well within my remit long ago were now open to me. Whilst the temptation to call this revelation irredeemably pathetic is an alluring one, there were many things the ultra critical elitism of ANUS taught me that I still value today. The strict filter applied to reviews and recommendations was very effective quality control; it saved me from spending time on certain sacred cow artists, charitably labelled derivative, honestly labelled random nonsense (Opeth, Mastadon, Meshuggah, Gojira and the like).
The problem was that much of the arguments around quality centred on an objective idea of what made music good. Narrative structure, using Wagner, Brahms, Mozart, Bach and Beethoven as the model for how music should be made, all gave legitimacy to a scientific justification for personal taste. But after time I came to terms with the fact that this was too limiting, and I had my own ideas on what constituted sonic success or failure, maybe not objectively, but I could use some damn flowery language to sound like it was. However, when offering my own reviews, music writing, and discussion, the style of Prozak engrained in me the compulsion to attempt to say more than ‘1. History of the artist 2. Personal story of discovery 3. Production is this 4. Highlight tracks are this 5. Instruments are played 6. Vague hyperbole, etc. etc.’. It taught me to – however shakily and imperfectly – look behind the immediate to what the music underneath was doing, how the riffs comment on each other, if they amount to anything beyond verse/chorus, do they form a narrative, do riffs dictate the form, rather than pop structures? How much do they lean on instrumentation over composition? It’s abstract, and much as Prozak wouldn’t want to admit it, it’s subjective, it’s obfuscated, but it still felt like a more noble form of music criticism than 99% of the writing out there.
These days the only motivation for visiting deathmetal.org is one of curiosity. Some of the recommendations are still worth something. In between the discussions of beer, tobacco, racism, and pseudo right wing political philosophy there are some decent reviews, notifications of tours and the like. They also insist on announcing and reviewing ‘wrong’ ways of making music in their eyes, and I often take it as a cue to give the artists they are slamming in their regular feature ‘Sadistic Metal Reviews’ a listen. The views are much less opaque, much less articulated in their close mindedness, much more thuggish in their nationalism, which makes me believe the illusive Prozak has stepped aside as a writer altogether, and ceded the ground to a younger crowd of his trusted merry men. I still apply the common-sense principles of his glory days however: quality not quantity, listening to albums holistically before passing judgement, looking for music that tells a story, genuine originality over the superficial, a healthy but not arrogant elitism,but now all applied with a more inclusive air, and also a recognition that many of the artists he enjoyed slamming were hardworking, honest, talented, and more dedicated to the advancement of heavy metal as an art form than any of his heavy metal rhetoric.