Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Blizzard and Extreme Metal

George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher

Ever since Blizzcon the name of George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher has been floating around the forums and his (rather un-PC) rant about how much he hates the Alliance that was broadcast by L90ETC during their concert at the closing ceremonies.

I think that people are absolutely in the right to be offended by this, but I think there is some depth to this that's missing, and I thought I'd step aside from my usual WoWMusing to talk a little about extreme Metal, and why Corpsegrinder was the worst choice Blizzard could have made for a guest musician on stage during BlizzCon.

I'll begin by saying I've been a fan of heavy metal, particularly extreme metal (Black, Death, Doom, etc.) for a long, long time and have been active briefly as a music reviewer in the genre, and also as an amateur musician in that same vein with some home recordings, so keep that in mind as I go forward. I happily admit my bias up front.

Who is he anyway? 

For those not in the know, Corpsegrinder is the lead singer of Cannibal Corpse - a rather extreme, if very innovative, consistent and important American Death Metal band. I've been a fan of the band for a long time, simply because of the level of integrity (if you can call it that) they have had to their vision of extreme, brutal, unrepentant, ugly and violent music. Now, in the American Death Metal scene, politically correct is the last thing anyone wants to be, and macho-one-up-man-ship is an art.

Which is not to excuse the rant - I don't condone any of the homophobic language Corpsegrinder used, and I find it unfortunate that the scene needs to exist in such a state. I feel the same way about Norwegian Black Metal and it's off-shoot ties to extreme right wing agendas like racism, fascism and nationalism.

But. The actions of a few don't and shouldn't tar the entire genre. The music is good and worthwhile and important.

Why is this music important?

Death Metal started in America, and here it has found its most extreme representation - the Death Growl is an American invention, as is the super-super-fast riffing that came left Thrash and Hardcore in the dust. Death Metal is deeply rooted in the horror of American films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the horror of American serial killers (particularly from the seventies) and the racism and violence in American media. These musicians fed off of this stuff, exposed it, and reveled in its most extreme states.

This is as American as anything, and I think that's an important thing to acknowledge. It is a uniquely American art-form that I don't think could have come from anywhere else. But it eventually gave rise to various genres of European Death Metal which innovated and contorted the extreme American Horror roots into epic Nordic themes in beautiful and moving ways.

On the other hand, Norwegian Black Metal, probably the most reviled and tarred of metal genres, has given rise to very important pro-environmental radical life-style altering Black Metal in the American North-West. It also gave rise to an Ambient/Experimental super-loud, very strange music that bands like Sunn O))) embraced to the point where they have become art-institutions. Sunn O))) played a concert in MOMA for instance, as a work of contemporary high art. You can't ask for a stronger acknowledgement of your relevance to the art world than that.

Finally, Doom Metal grew out this whole scene (and the Punk offshoot of Hardcore) which is a rather intellectual almost post-metal genre with some amazing music that has come out over the last ten years.

Do you have a point to make?

Yes, my point is, this stuff is ugly, but it is a part of human expression, an important part of our artistic history, and for Americans, this is part of our heritage. This music is important and this scene and sub-genre were the living cultures for many people and still are.

I think Heavy Metal is as important culturally as, say, Opera or classical music. And I wish that if Blizzard is trying to bring it into the open a bit more and expose it to people who don't know it too well, then they could have picked a better ambassador than Corpsegrinder.

It's tremendously unfortunate that Blizzard used Cannibal Corpse instead of, say, a band like Mastadon, who're much more relevant in a contemporary sense and a lot more palatable to the general audience and who wouldn't offend half the player base.

So, why was Corpsegrinder on stage?

The worst part is, Cannibal Corpse and L90ETC are worlds apart in terms of skill and mood and genre - the two bands sound nothing alike. L90ETC are essentially a retro-metal act, calling to mind the First Wave of British Heavy Metal (Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, etc.) It's a bunch of guys playing music they liked as kids - and Cannibal Corpse are an extremely ugly and violent band with heavy, heavy riffing, indecipherable vocals, noise-laden solos and super-fast bridges that none of the guys in L90ETC could keep up with.

The two bands are worlds apart.

The only reason Corpsegrinder get on that stage was because of his rant, and because it tickled some bone among the Blizzard employees to have him up there, saying things they might not have wanted to say themselves.

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