Mortals- Cursed to See the Future

mortals

Back in the earliest days of heavy music, little or no attention was paid to exact genre classification. “Heavy metal” wasn’t really self-applied as a descriptor by bands until well into the 70s; the terms was used more or less interchangeably with “hard rock” and others to describe a wide variety of groups from Bad Company to Black Sabbath. In an era of intense internet debates over whether a group plays blackened death metal or deathened black metal, this application of blanket terminology seems quaint. And yet, five decades in, the rich, divergent history of metal subgenres is being amalgamated and hybridised, with previously impermeable lines of classification being blurred. More and more groups take influence from so many different areas of the metal map that precise classification seems pointless; it’s easier to throw up your hands and say “it’s just metal“.

Into this category I would place the New York trio Mortals, whose second full-length Cursed to See the Future boils down decades of metal history into a potent, distilled form. An easy, if somewhat lazy, description of the band might be as a kind of black metal version of High on Fire, where that group’s blend of sludgy, Celtic Frost-inspired riffs is augmented by the addition of blastbeats, tremolo picking and shrieked vocals. But that undersells the wide variety of terrain their latest release covers. The majority of these songs stretch out to eight or nine minutes, packing in innumerable riffs but pacing them with space to breathe as well. “Epochryphal Gloom” is a prime example, building slowly from deliberately-paced, portentous bass, the tempo and intensity climbing gradually until all hell breaks loose. Here and on other jams, the breakneck sprints are separated with lurching doom stomps and swinging half-time breaks, the pace constantly shifting but always remaining under masterful control. Drummer Caryn Havlik skilfully alternates between blastbeats and patterns which almost recall hardcore. Singer/bassist Lesley Wolf’s playing isn’t particularly prominent in the mix, but her hoarse, rasping vocals are delivered with 100% conviction, and fit their musical backdrop perfectly. Guitarist Elizabeth Cline steers clear of flashy soloing in order to instead punctuate the riffage with melodic leads- the outro of final track “Anchored in Time”, in particular, brings to mind a swaggering 80s metal riff filtered through the Mortals lens. It’s not exactly a triumphant, soaring finale, but it does offer a brief respite from the otherwise dark mood of the rest of the record, piercing the gloom with a ray of light.

You could argue, not inaccurately, that Mortals aren’t really doing anything new here. It takes skill and effort to blend so many influences into a coherent whole, and to perform the result with energy and passion, but it’s not exactly the same thing as creating something entirely original. This seems like nit-picking, though, when this innovation deficit is felt throughout the metal world, and when the band’s output is this much fun to listen to. Cursed to See the Future might not going to change your world, but it’s near-impossible to listen to without banging your head, throwing the horns and offering the invisible oranges to the gods.

Cursed to See the Future is released on the 8th of July through Relapse Records. Check out Mortals’ Bandcamp here, or listen to the album’s first track “View From a Tower” below.


Personal Bullshit IV: finding inspiration where you can

ambergray

I’ve done some rambling, self-obsessed posts in my time, but this might be the most self-absorbed piece I’ve ever done. Read at your own peril.

I feel like this is an odd attribute in someone who went to study Japanese at university, but I’ve never been a particularly huge fan of anime. I enjoy the work of Studio Ghibli, of course, and the film version of Akira was very influential on me when I saw it as a teenager. But I’ve been somewhat wary of delving further into the medium, mostly for a reason that’s probably unfair: the fans. More than the stereotype of Western anime fans as socially awkward and obsessive to an uncomfortable degree, what put me off was the way some fans would latch on to this one particular aspect of Japanese culture, and act as if their appreciation for it gave them some unique insight into the country and people. To appropriate this area of Japanese culture without necessarily understanding it seemed to me an uncomfortable expression of Orientalism, the uncritical, adoring flip-side to the xenophobic Japan-bashing of something like Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun. I didn’t want to come off as one of “those” Japanophiles, so for a long time I avoided delving too deeply into anime, or indeed manga.

Recently though, I’ve started to think that these concerns about the people who consume anime shouldn’t prevent me enjoying the best of what the medium has to offer. A few weeks ago I watched an entire anime series through for the first time: namely, Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of the most famous and well-regarded examples of the mecha (giant robot) genre. I came to the show via an odd route. Given its large profile I had obviously heard of Evangelion before, but only became really interested in it because of the references to it in the music of Gridlink, the recently disbanded grindcore outfit whose final album Longhena has been one of my most frequently-listened to this year. I may therefore be one of the few people who heard the music referencing the show and then watched it, rather than the other way around.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the show and its accompanying movie conclusion The End Of Evangelion, in spite of some major technical and narrative flaws. The show’s producers were in dire financial straits by the end of its run, unable to even afford to produce animation frames, which is immediately obvious in the last few episodes when certain scenes feature still images for as long as a minute at a time. The attempts at humour in the show’s early run mostly fell flat for me, as did the episodes that merely reproduced the formulaic, monster-of-the-week format of shonen anime rather than subtly deconstructing it. By the end of the series, though, the show’s tone had taken a more serious turn, focused more on character than overarching plot, that resonated with me, particularly in terms of the insights it gave into its protagonists. The teenaged central cast, tasked with protecting humanity from invading “Angels” using the titular biomechanical Evangelions, felt real to me because of their responses to what, realistically, would be highly traumatic events.

Main protagonist Shinji Ikari, in particular, already suffers from low self-esteem  before being forced into war, and by The End Of Evangelion appears to be affected by full-blown depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Similarly, the character of Asuka Soryu Langley is initially introduced as confident to the point of arrogance, and at first seems to be a brash, cheery girl in the vein of so many other anime heroines. But she too struggles with self-esteem issues and emotional repression. Having linked her self-worth to her performance in battle, she is devastated by defeat, lacerates herself for her failures and eventually succumbs to a mental breakdown. I appreciated that a fantastical science-fiction setting would devote this much attention to the consequences of its events upon the mental state of its characters. But these characters’ feelings of inadequacy and self-hatred were especially resonant to me as someone who has struggled with the same emotions for most of my life.

It’s for a similar reason that the music of Gridlink strikes such a chord with me. Lyricist and vocalist Jon Chang has explicitly mentioned Evangelion as an inspiration (“It’s a really interesting theme which goes back to Evangelion, of characters who don’t like themselves; who don’t like their lives, and they really don’t like the world that much, but it is up to them to save the world”), and drew upon the imagery, themes and atmosphere of the series and other, similar anime and videogames to create a version of grindcore that retained the genre’s trademark furious anger, but also made room for the sadness and despair of these media’s central characters. The melancholy that accompanies the fury was more evident on Gridlink’s later releases, but their first album Amber Gray features a song directly inspired by Evangelion that balances the two on a knife edge. In just over half a minute, “Asuka” manages to neatly summarise the aforementioned Evangelion character’s emotional struggle, as well as some of the show’s central themes:

In the walls of your heart
I’ll always be no one
In the walls of ourselves
Kimochi Warui
No one hates you
as much as you hate yourself
in your own heart
Die

I can’t entirely explain why, but the “No one hates you/As much as you hate yourself” line in particular is tremendously evocative to me. To live with depression is to forever have that self-hatred accompany you. For myself in particular, the fact that you are always accompanied by yourself is what produces self-hatred. If you spend enough time with anyone you’ll grow frustrated with them at times. Being around myself at all times, and remembering the bad and hurtful things I have done, is a major reason I often hate myself. In the context of the rest of the lyrics, the line could be read as an accusation, an expression of frustration at someone’s depression from someone outside of it who does not understand how mental illness affects people. But it could also be read more positively, as an affirmation. Yes, self-hatred is a frequent feature of my mental state. But it is unlikely anyone in the world hates me to that extent- they don’t spend as much time with me, they don’t know all about me, they likely do not think about me unless I initiate contact somehow. In an odd way, I find it reassuring to hear Jon Chang scream that lyric, and to hear my mind screaming it back. I might not be able to remove self-hatred from my mind, but I can take some small comfort in the fact that others probably do not hate me as much as I think they do.

People, particularly my parents and other family members, sometimes ask me why I consume angry, despairing or melancholy media to the extent I do, with the implication that it is partially responsible for my emotional state. I wonder if it is precisely because it deals with the emotions I feel most regularly- anger, despair, depression, self-loathing- that things like Gridlink or Evangelion resonate with me. Or perhaps it’s because these things are skewed towards negative emotional states, that the inspirational messages I am able to take from them feel more real to me.

Inquisition and black metal’s fascism problem: clarification and follow-up

UPDATE 05/05/2014- added link to Daniel Gallant’s interview in Decibel to footnotes

Since the piece I published on Monday, in which I supported claims that the band Inquisition are neo-Nazis, has received the most response out of any of article I’ve written on this blog*, I figured it deserved a follow-up. I’d like to discuss some of the fallout, and clarify some things I feel I didn’t articulate well enough in the original post.

First, readers who’ve not already seen it will probably be interested in Inquisition singer/guitarist Dagon (aka Jason Weirbach)’s response to the claims in this piece by Decibel. I have to wonder if Decibel seriously thought Dagon would answer the question “are you a Nazi?” by saying “yes, yes I am. Buy all of our albums and merchandise!”, but either way it gives you a chance to hear the accused’s side of events. It probably goes without saying that I treat his explanation with extreme scepticism. In a statement on the band’s Facebook page prior to this article’s release, Dagon tried to claim that his ethnic heritage means he can’t be a white supremacist (“I have half latin roots so use common sense”), and in the Decibel piece claims that Antichrist Kramer, the head of the Satanic Skinhead Propaganda label that is infamous for releasing music by openly anti-Semitic or white supremacist bands, can’t be a white supremacist himself because he has worked with a Mexican band. This argument, a close cousin of the “but I have black friends!” defence against racism, was also proposed in the comments to my initial blog, and I’ve already responded to it there, but felt I should do so again here.

I think it is dangerously limited to conceive of white supremacists as Dagon does in the Decibel piece, as “a person who views their race—white—as supreme, and will not associate, absolutely, with no other race of any kind, other than his own race, which in this case would be white.” This is an historically inaccurate view that allows existing racists off the hook. As Daniel Gallant, the former white supremacist who I quoted in the previous piece, puts it: “Right wing extremists who are neo-Nazi do often have non-white alliances with others who share anti-Semitic beliefs and views. This was also true for the German WWII regime, who had non-Aryan alliances. There is a public misconception about what right wing extremist and or terrorists are, and what they are not.”** It would be extremely difficult for a bigot to avoid any dealings with people they consider inferior to them; there are many cases where bigots have friendships with members of the groups they generally despise, either for show to “prove” their lack of bigotry, or if they feel that person is “one of the good ones”. Tactical alliances with those who share their views are also not uncommon: I doubt the Third Reich thought much of the non-Aryan government of Imperial Japan, but it did not stop them allying together in World War II. It is all too common for members of marginalised groups to buy into prejudice against other groups, or to accept the white supremacist views that still linger in the unconscious as a result of colonialism. Anti-semitism among South American black metal bands, for instance, is not unheard of. White supremacists such as Kramer may well be willing to ally with people they consider inferior to them, if they share ideological similarities.

I’d also like to address the various responses to my original article that accused me of being self-righteous, a member of the PC leftist social justice thought police, or even a bigger fascist than the neo-Nazis and white supremacists I discussed, because I suggested people avoid listening to a band if they are suspected of ascribing to dangerous, hate-fuelled ideologies. (It’s odd that so many responders seemed so confused on what a fascist actually is when I provided a link to Umberto Eco’s concise set of defining characteristics.) I already explained in the original piece why I consider fascism and white supremacist ideology especially dangerous, so I’m not going to repeat myself here. I do think I could have articulated my position on this better though, so I’ll attempt to do so.

I personally chose to stop listening to Inquisition’s music when I came to the conclusion they were likely neo-Nazis. Because I consider it a bad idea to give financial support to fascists, white supremacists etc, I advised readers of the previous blog on this subject to stop paying for the band’s albums, T-shirts and other merchandise. However, I realise that even people who hate fascism will not all want to stop listening to a band they enjoy if the musicians responsible might be involved with fascism. I cannot police what people listen to, and despite what several commenters asserted, I don’t wish to. So if people continue to listen to Inquisition via downloads or streaming services, I’m not going to tell them not to do this, or give them shit for it. Looking back at the original blog post, I realise I may not have articulated this clearly enough, and given the impression that I expected everyone to make the same choice about Inquisition’s music that I did.

I can’t entirely deny that my position is a self-righteous one. I did make the choice to stop listening partly out of shame at having praised and supported a band with an ideology I consider harmful. It is on some level an attempt to absolve myself. But it’s a personal choice, and not one I expect others to make as well. There are those who I suspect realise this on some level, and have an intensely hostile reflex against anything they interpret as telling them to limit their intake of art that others consider offensive or harmful. I suspect it’s that reflex that led them to label me the thought police, a “PC SJW fascist” or whatever else. But my suggestion is only made in the context of fascist, Nazi and white supremacist artists, who I consider to be dangerous enough that I don’t want to support them in any way. If you don’t believe that Inquisition are neo-Nazis, or if you don’t believe that fascist ideologies are harmful, then I will likely not be able to convince you otherwise. If that is the case, my suggestions don’t apply to you, and you’re welcome to ignore them. Just don’t expect me to take your position seriously, or to respond to your arguments in the comments section. Since you don’t take my argument seriously, that seems entirely fair to me.

                                 

*Seriously, where were all of you when I wrote about how metal could benefit from engaging with intersectional feminism? There’s like 10,000 words on that subject, there’s bound to be something there for you to get irate about and call me a PC thought police fascist for!

** Gallant has told me that Decibel have offered to interview him about this issue as well, and that he has agreed to do so. If this interview does materialise I will edit this article to link to it. UPDATE 05/05/2014: the Decibel interview with Gallant can be read here. I think he sets out his point very well- I could quote half of what he says, but this line in particular resonates with me: The metal that I used to listen to is about challenging the system and the powers that be – not becoming more like them. We don’t want to become abusers or oppressors. I never thought that was the point of metal.” Given that we still live in a society that is institutionally racist (even if very few are outright, open white supremacists), how exactly is it rebellious or challenging the status quo to tolerate music made by white supremacists?

Inquisition and black metal’s fascism problem

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It was only at the end of last year that I became aware of US black metal band Inquisition, thanks to the appearance of their latest album Obscure Verses for the Multiverse on numerous critics’ end-of-year lists. Upon first listening, the main things that struck me included the oddly croaky, reptilian voice of singer/guitarist Jason Weirbach (aka Dagon), as well as the fact that all the songs sounded quite samey, given the ubiquity of their monolithic assemblage of thick riffs and relentless blastbeats. Quickly though, I grew to appreciate the band’s unique sound, and delved further into their back catalogue. This did lead me to develop some concerns about their material, the song “Crush the Jewish Prophet” from Magnificent Glorification of Lucifer being the most obvious example. If the song was an anti-Christian critique in the black metal tradition, as it appeared to be based on its lyrics, why was it necessary to centre Jesus’ ethnicity in the title, unless the band felt this too was something to criticise? But, caught up in the music, I didn’t worry too much about this.

Until, that is, I saw a thread concerning the band on a friend’s Facebook page earlier this month. It was here that a man named Daniel Gallant, formerly a white supremacist himself, called Inquisition’s members (Weirbach and drummer Thomas Stevens, aka Incubus) out as Nazis. When asked to elaborate on this, he stated the following:

“I was a white supremacist for many years. I have been out for twelve years. I drove the bus for an Inquisition tour. When I suspected they were white power, because I was driving for my friends band Gyibaaw, a First Nations band, I decided to prove it.

I pulled off my t shirt and there it was…my giant swastika for them all to see…they clapped and cheered…Inquisition (both Tom and Jason) were thrilled.

They boasted about their admiration for Hitler, how they loved the white power movement, and had many friends from South America and Everett, Washington…turns out we had mutual acquaintances. Tom used to hang out with the World Church of the Creator and still boasts his admiration for the church. Jason boldly stated he loves imagining living in the Nazi era and wished that would happen in America. They ranted until I shut them down.

The band Gyibaaw were grossly offended to the point of backing away from the black metal scene because of it.”

I realise that not all readers will be convinced by the personal testimony of one individual. It is a known fact, however, that the band has associated with the white supremacist Antichrist Kramer, commissioning him to create artwork for the 2010 reissue of their first full length album Into the Infernal Regions of the Ancient Cult. Kramer has been deeply involved in the National Socialist black metal movement, putting out music by openly white supremacist and/or anti-Semitic groups on his label Satanic Skinhead Propaganda (as documented in this article). It seems unlikely that Inquisition’s members would be unaware of his leanings, or that they would associate with him unless they were sympathetic to his beliefs*.

Sadly, this kind of ideological association is not unheard of within metal, especially black metal. The subgenre has long been a hotbed for reactionary political viewpoints, perhaps because of the anti-modern standpoint many of its bands employ, its reverence for “paganism” and other traditionally-minded cultural trends that have also been co-opted by fascists, and the reactionary nature of not only its ideological position but also its musical form. The Second Wave of black metal started, after all, as a reaction against death metal, with many bands deliberately hearkening back to earlier forms of metal and forsaking technique and polished production in favour of a “primitive” sound. It’s not surprising that this inclination would also create room for fascist ideology to spread- both spring from a reaction against modernity, as elucidated in point 2 of Umberto Eco’s analysis of the uniting ideology of fascist movements here.

Despite knowing about this trend within black metal, however, it was still an unpleasant shock to discover that a band I enjoyed subscribed to fascism. My immediate reaction was a feeling of shame, and anger at myself for not having investigated the group’s background. In the past I had made it a point to avoid music created by neo-Nazis or white supremacists, even in cases like Burzum where people insisted the music was good even if band leader Varg Vikernes was a virulent bigot. I smugly stuck to the position that I wouldn’t listen to Nazis’ music because it was shit anyway, the product of idiotic skinheads who could barely string two chords together. But this was confounded by Inquisition’s technically adept, well-written and well-recorded output. I had been simplifying reality to fit my own preconceptions.

More than anger at my self, though, I felt angry that the band’s fascist leanings were not more widely known. This is a group that has gained increasing media attention in recent years, their latest album having been reviewed in mainstream publications such as Pitchfork, but as far as I can tell metal journalists have yet to seriously question Inquisition on their views or their links to open white supremacists like Antichrist Kramer. How hard would it have been for the interviewer in this Invisible Oranges article, for example, to seriously interrogate Weirbach about the message of “Crush the Jewish Prophet”, instead of just accepting his equivocation? Do these writers not care about the expression of bigoted views, as long as they like the music? It’s hard to escape the conclusion that they don’t.

Even though I hadn’t paid for any of their music,  I didn’t want to support Inquisition in any way after finding out about their Nazi sympathies. I eventually decided to delete them from my music library and stop listening to them entirely. I do still find myself asking whether this was necessary. Fascist or white supremacist rhetoric is not central to their message or lyrics, which tend instead to focus on the conventional black metal concern of Satanism as expressed through astrological and cosmological imagery. Perhaps the band is canny enough to realise that openly expressing their views would limit their appeal or get them into trouble; perhaps they ascribe to the wider metal world’s liberal conviction that music is no place for politics. In any case, I usually hold to the idea that it’s OK to enjoy art and media with problematic elements, or which has been created by objectionable or even bigoted artists, as long as we acknowledge those problems and don’t shut down criticism of them. But for me, personally, a line has to be drawn somewhere. Art created by Nazis, fascists and/or white supremacists is on the side of the line I do not wish to set foot in.

This is not what I would consider a hypocritical position. Fascist ideology- insofar as it is a coherent ideology- is inherently violent in a way other political alignments are not, rooted in the rhetoric of destroying any element of society deemed undesirable. As Eco notes, diversity is conceptualised in fascism as a symptom of modernist decadence; and since fascism worships action for action’s sake and violent struggle as an inherent part of life, Nazi or white supremacist movements are ideologically driven to commit violence against members of any group outside their own. While the rhetoric of neo-Nazis and/or white supremacists within black metal is often mainly focused against Jewish people, it is naive to think that violence will be used solely against one group if this rhetoric is tolerated, especially when hatred of marginalised groups such as people of colour, LGBT people and disabled people is accepted even within mainstream society. Even a band like Inquisition that doesn’t openly espouse fascist rhetoric can still cause harm to members of persecuted groups. Gallant’s story shows how Weirbach and Stevens’ open expression of admiration for the Nazis led to the First Nations band Gyibaaw turning away from black metal, closing the door on an opportunity for that group to counter the genre’s overwhelmingly white demographic and tendency to champion or tolerate extreme right views. If we give our money to musicians with fascist leanings, we don’t just support them financially, we send a message to them that their extreme views will not cause them to be criticised, that their views are therefore acceptable. The same act also sends the message to minority groups that we care more about music than about making sure that fascist and white supremacist ideologies are not tolerated or allowed to spread. In a sense, we choose our own enjoyment over people’s safety, over their right to live free from fear of ideologies that call for their destruction.

I urge anyone who cares about making metal a space which is open to and safe for marginalised groups of people to, at the very least, abstain from paying for Inquisition’s albums or live shows. I wouldn’t want to force anyone to stop listening to the band’s music entirely as I have done; this is obviously a matter of personal choice. But please do consider whether it is worth it to add to the popularity of a band that holds these views- not just Inquisition, but any band in black metal or the wider genre who subscribes to fascist, white supremacist or Nazi standpoints. There’s enough excellent music out there being made by musicians who do not align themselves with dangerous, hate-fuelled ideologies.

                                       

* It is also worth noting that Inquisition’s Jason Weirbach runs a side project titled 88MM. In the simple alphanumeric cypher that passes for a secret code among neo-Nazi groups, this number represents the letters HH, or “Heil Hitler”.

Lord Mantis, Transmisogyny and Questions of Intent

Content Note/Trigger Warning- discussion of explicit, graphic depictions of violence against trans women; transmisogyny

Owing to a persistent internet connection problem I’ve been unable to update the blog for about three weeks. During that period I’ve been doing my best to keep track of an extremely troubling series of events centering around the Chicago metal band Lord Mantis’ choice of artwork for their upcoming third album The Death Mask. I’ve refrained from commenting up to now, partly because I was unable to get internet access for long enough to draft a full response, but also because of a sense I wasn’t the best person to talk about the issues involved. Based on a friend’s advice, I’ve stepped away from my original plan to review the album upon its release, since even if I note my problems with the band’s artwork and associated conduct, the review format does constitute a promotion of their work. Instead, I’ve decided to make a critique of the bands’ choices (and their consequences) the central focus of this post. Most of the points I make here have been made previously (and better) by other commentors, many of whom have more of a personal connection to the issues at hand and are therefore probably more qualified to talk about it than me. Nonetheless, I feel like I need to express my feelings on the matter.

First, a quick recap for those unfamiliar with the overall story. In January of this year it was revealed that Jef Whitehead, sole member of the black metal project Leviathan, was producing the cover art for Lord Mantis’ newest album, and the artwork in question was shared on an Instagram account jointly run by Whitehead and his partner, Dark Castle and Taurus singer-guitarist Stevie Floyd. Controversy swiftly erupted due to the nature of the piece: the painting explicitly, graphically depicts a trans woman who has seemingly been tortured, then brutally murdered. (I’d prefer not to spend time describing the artwork in exacting detail; curious readers can easily find images of it if they so desire.) I personally recall that, in the wake of criticism aimed at the band, Whitehead and Floyd, and heated arguments online, there were indications that an alternate cover would be used. However, if this was ever going to be the case it no longer is: The Death Mask is set to be released in April with the original Whitehead artwork.

Readers accustomed to the graphic depictions of violence against women that unfortunately still grace extreme metal album covers might be wondering what the fuss is about. The context is important here: it might not automatically be the case that an image endorses what it is depicting, but it can sometimes tell you something about the image’s creator. The fact that album artist Jef Whitehead has been accused of sexual assault and domestic abuse (and found guilty of the latter), and incorporated violent misogyny into albums such as True Traitor, True Whore, makes it harder to accept the Lord Mantis piece as an ironic statement. It also forces us to question whether the band members themselves see violence against women, especially trans women, as a suitable subject to use for cheap controversy to garner sales.

The wider context of that everyday violence against trans women is even more important, however. While data on rates of violence against transgender people tends to be sparse, and much of this violence likely goes unreported*, it is clear that trans women, particularly trans women of colour, are subject to disproportionately high levels of police harassment, assault from healthcare professionals, and murder, not to mention astronomically high rates of suicide and transphobic abuse and discrimination in employment, housing etc. Given this reality, the prevalence of depictions of trans women as victims of violence- not just in Lord Mantis’ album artwork, but across all media- and its link to that violence in real life has to be critiqued. It’s obviously unlikely that someone would use Whitehead’s painting as their sole inspiration to murder or otherwise commit violence against a trans woman. But it does form one small piece of the wider cultural narrative surrounding trans women. And it does send yet another subtle message about how little society values trans women. People already predisposed to violent transmisogyny can and do pick up on this message and utilise it to justify their crimes, with such twisted reasoning as the conception of women “deceiving” men with their undisclosed transgender status used as an excuse for “corrective” rape or other violence.

I have heard the band’s defenders bring up the question of intent- whether or not the band members and/or Whitehead intended to offend trans women or anyone else with their choice of artwork. If they didn’t mean to hurt anyone, the argument goes, it’s OK. If they didn’t set out to be offensive or to cause harm to trans women with this cover, then they are absolved of any negative consequences, apparently. To me this is an inadequate response, one that ignores the social and cultural impact of art and reduces things to a narrow individualistic view. Our actions have consequences, often ones that we didn’t intend or want them to have. Like most people, I’ve had moments where I unintentionally caused great hurt to people I care about, and agonised over the fact that I did this without realising it. But to turn round and say to this person that, because I didn’t intend to hurt them, I was not in the wrong, would be unhelpful to say the least. It doesn’t really matter whether or not the members of Lord Mantis, or Jef Whitehead, are personally bigoted against trans women**. What matters is that their chosen artwork has the potential to contribute, however indirectly, to the epidemic levels of violence trans women face in the real world, whether they intended it to or not. The seeming refusal of the band and their label, Profound Lore, to consider this, and to insist instead on releasing the album with this cover, is the real problem.

In another sense though, the question of intent is worth considering; specifically, what artists intend to achieve with their work. I’ve said before that I believe metal has the potential to offer a site of genuine resistance against hegemonic discourses, to become a truly counter-cultural resistance against mainstream society, and rediscover the shock and panic the genre used to inspire in guardians of mainstream morality. Too often, however, bands seem content to recycle aesthetics of perversion or depravity that seem shocking on the surface, but fail to actually offer any real critique of, or alternative to, those hegemonic discourses. So it is with the cover of The Death Mask. It might initially seem shocking to depict violence against trans women in this way, and it may seem as though I’ve just spent over a thousand words on the offense this image caused me. But as noted above, this is a world where violence against trans women goes on all the time, with an awful frequency, mostly unnoticed or commented upon by the people it does not directly affect. That violence is a normalised aspect of our society; in a sense, mainstream society condones that violence. So really, what is shocking about a metal band depicting it on an album cover, seemingly without any intention to critique it? What could be more pedestrian or unchallenging? Shouldn’t we expect more of a band in what is supposed to be a counter-cultural musical movement; that it might, for instance offer a counter to the dominant cultural perception of trans women?

At this point we should probably turn to the question of what can be done. It is abundantly clear at this stage that neither the band nor Profound Lore is interested in changing the artwork or seriously considering the concerns raised. In a neoliberal economic order that increasingly gives us power only as consumers, the only way forward might well be to withdraw our custom. This is not an easy thing for me to recommend- I have grown to greatly enjoy Lord Mantis’ previous album Pervertor, and was initially looking forward to hearing their music develop on this release. But weighed against the possibility of helping a band to profit off of transmisogyny, my personal disappointment is not important. I would urge readers who were considering purchasing The Death Mask not to support Lord Mantis by paying for the album or their live shows. If possible, I would also recommend avoiding any of Profound Lore’s other releases until the band and/or the label issue a full apology and promise to change the artwork. I appreciate that it’s easy for me to ask this of others, and that it might not seem like this will have any impact. But I’d like to believe that if enough of us commit to this, and make our intentions clear to Profound Lore, it will eventually be in the label’s financial interest to do the right thing. Once again, outcomes trump intentions.

                                            

* For example, it is often reported that 238 trans people (men and women included) were murdered worldwide in 2013, but the true figure is almost certainly much higher.

** Having said that, this interview with Lord Mantis vocalist/bassist Charlie Fell suggests that his view on transgender issues could charitably be described as “unreconstructed”, and will not win over critics of the cover art choice. (Trigger warning: contains images of the Death Mask album artwork)

Gridlink- Longhena

12-inch-jacket

The lyrical prowess of former Discordance Axis vocalist Jon Chang has rightly been heralded in articles by various publications. But the interesting thing about this talent is what Chang claims as his main inspiration– anime and videogames, specifically the “bullet hell” microgenre of shoot ’em ups that maintains a niche level of popularity despite its unforgiving difficulty. His grindcore project Gridlink, sadly disbanded after recording its third and final album, has essentially acted as the aural equivalent of these games- the music’s frenetic, desperate sound evokes the hopeless situation of piloting a poorly armed spaceship against impossible odds, while the lyrics obliquely reference the resigned, fatalistic air of these media’s protagonists and tie them to themes of interpersonal conflict and the horrors of war. (There are more direct parallels as well- the album’s name comes from the classic arcade shooter Dodonpachi, which itself serves as one of the song titles.) As powerful and emotive as the band’s prior releases have been, though, their swansong effort Longhena is on a higher level altogether. Whether or not they knew that this recording would be their last, the group used this last stand, like the doomed pilot wading into certain death, to break through their previous limits.

There had already been an evolution in sound in between the raw, bass-free grind of Gridlink’s debut Amber Grey and the technical gymnastics displayed on its followup Orphan. This development continues even further on Longhena, being most immediately apparent in the extended song lengths. While those previous releases each clocked in at around twelve minutes, with no song exceeding the 1:30 mark, this album is nearly twice that length, with certain numbers stretching out over a leisurely two or even three minutes. The general tendency is still for blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ragers, but for the first time there are also variations on that core grind template. This is apparent from the very beginning, with the initial guitar bursts on opener “Constant Autumn” somewhat recalling pop-noise experimentalists Melt Banana, before a characteristic light-speed run is unleashed. The most obvious departure, though, comes in “Thirst Watcher”, which eschews blastbeats and Chang’s piercing scream in favour of layers of clean guitar and strings, summoning a resigned, melancholic counterpart to the bitter despair around it. This additional breathing space only enhances the effect of the band’s signature clinical freneticism.

But even on Longhena‘s most ferocious tracks, guitarist Takafumi Matsubara reaches dizzying new heights of technicality without sacrificing an ounce of emotive power. When this many of your songs last less than seventy or even sixty seconds, there can be no wasted space. Standouts such as “Island Sun” and “Look to Windward” use their (relatively) lengthier running times to pack the theatrics of an entire power metal album into one track. Rather than coming off as cheesy, though, the dramatic, even histrionic playing summons feelings of genuine sadness at the same time as it induces headbanging. If it’s exhausting, it’s not just because of the sheer speed and power of the music; the feelings of despair and hopelessness Chang picked up on in his favourite games and anime are successfully conveyed through both his lyrics, screamed into the void at 100 miles an hour, and Takafumi’s brutal yet melodic playing. Drummer Bryan Fajardo also deserves praise here- simply being able to play as fast as he does, as consistently as he does, is impressive. That he can inject passion and flair while performing at this speed is doubly so.

It’s obviously a massive shame that one of the most accomplished, inventive groups in grindcore decided to call it a day after a mere three albums, leaving us with not even an hour of recorded material to remember them by. But maybe it’s better this way. Rather than allowing the possibility of their legacy being spoiled with a disappointing misfire or a slow descent into mediocrity, Gridlink elected to go out with a bang, with this final statement representing the strongest moment of any of its members’ careers. Their discography was already a near-perfect encapsulation of this particular brand of extreme music, but Longhena might well become a high-water mark for the entire genre, the one to try and beat. It would have been incredibly difficult for the group themselves to top this; what hope do others have?

Longhena is released on February 19th on Handshake Inc.

Sunn O))) and Ulver- Terrestrials

396133Breaking the month-long dry spell this blog’s been through comes my first review piece of the year. For the purposes of transparency I’ll say from the off that I’m not familiar with Ulver’s previous work, and will largely be treating the band’s collaboration with Sunn O))) in the context of the latter group’s music. It’s entirely probable this will lead me to ignore how Ulver contributed to this recording, and I apologise in advance.

In the history of Western classical and pop music, melody has tended to be the compositional element that composers have paid the most attention to. Heavy metal, by contrast, distinguished itself by largely (though not entirely) eschewing melody in favour of repeated riffs, and perhaps more importantly, focusing on texture as a key feature. In spite of the large and obvious variance in subgenres of metal, the presence of loud, distorted guitars is ubiquitous to the point that it’s essentially the music’s defining characteristic. Obviously certain chord progressions, scales and harmonies sound more “metal” than others- the diabolus in musica tritone at the centre of Black Sabbath’s eponymous song is perhaps the most obvious example. But you could almost argue that how your guitar sounds is more important to being metal than what you’re playing.

Even the most experimental of metal groups have largely stayed within the genre’s textural boundaries, rarely if ever abandoning the use of guitar distortion entirely. US drone masters Sunn O))), for example, distinguished themselves by building on the drone metal template established by Earth’s Dylan Carlson, adding more and more non-standard instrumentation and elements from outside the heavy music wheelhouse, but still retaining a foundation of extended, drumless guitar drones. Even on releases like 2009’s Monoliths and Dimensions or their 2006 collaboration with Boris, Altar, which featured “softer” textures on certain tracks, the sonic template of metal was largely retained. However, Terrestrials, the group’s collaboration with experimental Norwegian band Ulver, is their first release (as far as I am aware) to entirely abandon the customary miasma of distortion*. In its place is an almost orchestral take on the drone metal form; sharing the same structure, but arriving at a different musical landscape altogether.

Opener “Let There Be Light” slowly builds up from quiet, crystalline ambience into a subdued yet swelling ebb and flow of guitar. It somewhat echoes “Alice”, the closing track of the aforementioned Monoliths, in its jazz-influenced supplementing instrumentation- in particular, the washes of trumpet in the background closely recall mid-period Miles Davis. Nearly eight and a half minutes pass before tribal drums kick in, but they occupy background space in the mix and never overpower the other elements. The expected approach might be to have the drums kick in to signal an increase in volume or energy, but nothing so pedestrian happens here. Certainly, their arrival coincides with the intensity of the performances rising, but not in a way that reflects the power we tend to expect from metal. Even at over 10 minutes total, the track feels as though it ends abruptly, just as it was emerging from its long buildup into something more majestic.

“Western Horn” opens with an extended didgeridoo note, again hinting at the form of drone metal without recreating it texturally. Guitar, piano, and paranoid-sounding strings are gradually layered upon each other, each element adding background texture to the drone in centre stage. The result is a sinister mood, reminiscent of earlier Sunn O))) work in terms of what is being played- the chord progression could easily have appeared on ØØ Void– but approached from a very different angle. Rather than the band’s previous minimalist focus on feedback-drenched guitars, a thick blanket of sound is constructed here from the intermingling timbres of myriad instruments, rather than sheer volume. By contrast, the third and final track, “Eternal Return”, is more elegy than dirge, summoning a more contemplative mood compared to its ominous predecessors. Huge, echoing guitars mix with meditative minor-key patterns on piano; 70s-style synths creep in at about seven mins, their warmth and analogue quality sounding otherworldly rather than cheesy. Following close behind come the only vocals on the album, a subdued oration of poetry abundant with imagery relating to ancient Egypt. The lyrics’ intended meaning is unclear, but they undoubtedly contribute to the overall elegaic mood.

As Sunn O))) releases go, Terrestrials is quite short, with three tracks measuring at just over half an hour. It might have been nice to hear the collective performers stretch out on another ten or fifteen minutes of material; but on the other hand, it’s refreshing when listening to this kind of slow, meditative music to be left wanting more, rather than beginning to lose patience by the end of its running time (I’ve sometimes felt exhausted attempting to listen to the Altar collaboration with Boris in its entirety, for example.) Fans of experimental, ambient or soundtrack projects will likely find something to enjoy in this release, as might adventurous metalheads accustomed to the far-out tendencies of the bands responsible. Given that the textural qualities of guitar distortion have become so closely associated with heavy music, there’s a debate to be had about whether, by essentially abandoning it, this music even counts as metal, even if it retains the same structure of the drone subgenre. Nonetheless, no matter how you choose to categorise it, Terrestrials is still a carefully constructed musical endeavour that remains deeply affecting.

Terrestrials is released on Tuesday (February 4th) on Southern Lord.

                                           

* The album was initially recorded in summer 2008, at an improvised session in Ulver’s Crystal Canyon studio. Additional overdubs were recorded infrequently in the years since, hence the long wait for its release.

Some links to start the year off

I thought I’d ease into the New Year by sharing a couple of links to recent pieces on the current state of metal, and its subculture, that I found interesting and thought-provoking. Without further ado, here they are, along with some short discussions of my main takeaway from each piece.

Deconstructing: Alcest’s Shelter And Metal In A Post-Deafheaven World by Michael Nelson at Stereogum

I appreciate that many readers are probably sick of reading about Deafheaven, Alcest, and the wider blackgaze trend, at this stage. But there’s a lot of good points in this article about the place of those bands within the context of black metal history, as well as the self-reflective tendency of metal, especially black metal. It also finds room to consider the difficulties of effectively marketing bands like Alcest, who have historical ties to metal culture but don’t really exhibit those influences in their sound any more. That association with metal can place bands in a kind of limbo, where mainstream publications group them with “extreme”-sounding bands (if they even pay attention to them at all), limiting their exposure to non-metal fans who might appreciate their sound in of itself. Heavy metal review outlets are then left to pick up the slack, discussing something that falls outside their usual sonic parameters.

Of course, this situation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, or destined to limit bands’ success and exposure. Deafheaven, after all, were the crossover hit of 2013, with rapturous mainstream attention for Sunbather and review scores averaging higher than any of the year’s other big-name, big-hype releases. It might be that this represents a watershed moment, where metal-inspired music reaches new heights of critical approval and wide exposure. In any case, it seems likely that 2013 was the year things changed for extreme music. I can’t wait to see how things develop in the coming months.


The Best Metal Albums of 2013: Introduction by Adrian Bergland at Basement Galaxy

This piece, quoted in the Stereogum article above, similarly approaches 2013 as a watershed moment, though Bergland is somewhat more equivocal than Nelson in his opinion on the state of metal. I disagree with a number of his positions, not least his critical stance on Deafheaven and the idea that the necessary quality of metal’s sound is “power”, rather than extremity. (Regardless of one’s opinion on Sunbather, it is absolutely an “extreme” album in its sonic contrasts and the emotional heights it reaches. Whether this makes it metal is of course another story.)

But Bergland’s contention that metal has, on the whole, ceased to really innovate as a genre is certainly one I can broadly agree to. In a simile I feel is cannily accurate, he states that metal today is essentially “a musical genre like the blues, like country, one that has a good niche set for itself and is still capable of thrilling music, but is essentially a relic. There is plenty of creativity on display within the confines of those genre boundaries, but the days of true innovation, recordings that irrevocably alter the genre, seem over.” This informs his opinion of Sunbather as the album where “extreme music” severs any ties from metal genre signifiers, frees itself to explore uncharted territory. Of course, this lack of real innovation doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy metal any more. It’s just that we might have to stop expecting a game-changing new direction from music operating primarily within the heavy metal genre, and simply enjoy the product that continues to be made for what it is- variations on a well-established theme.

 

Metallic Grotesquerie: Sequel Interstitial (Between-quel?) by Bayou Horns at Post-Zeitgeist

Anyone who’s read my series of articles on metal, patriarchy, misogyny and other related themes knows that I owe a great deal to the Post-Zeitgeist blog. Its author Bayou Horns consistently approaches the genre with an in-depth, critical eye and in the process illuminates aspects of it that might not be immediately obvious. In particular, previous posts at the site dealing with metal’s relationship with shock and misogyny have been invaluable to my own work here at shamelessnavelgazing.

Post-Zeitgeist had unfortunately been quiet in recent months, owing to its author’s external commitments, but this piece from late November picks up pretty much where earlier discussions of grotesquerie and misogyny in metal had left off. Bayou Horns takes as his starting point the posting of a particularly grotesque album cover on the MetalSucks site, and its subsequent criticism and defence in the comments section. This allows for a deconstruction of the various arguments you often hear in defence of such artwork from metalheads (“Freedom of speech!” “Satire/subversion!” “Genre trope!” ad nauseum), which are ultimately revealed as essentially hollow inanities. In their place, Bayou Horns offers a considered critique of the use of grotesquerie in metal, and how the subversive potential of these topics is often squandered by bands content to rehash once-shocking ideas and presentations. This isn’t exactly a new subject for the blog, but it’s always enlightening for me, at least, to read the site’s take on these subjects. I sincerely hope Bayou Horns can find the time and energy to update semi-regularly this year, and provide us all with more reflective, thought-provoking pieces such as this.

(These earlier Post-Zeitgeist pieces, which I have quoted in my previous work, may help add some helpful context to the most recent link. Death Metal: Grotesquerie, Fetish and Misogyny is the preceding article to the piece above; Extremity in Metal: a Buddhist’s Perspective sums up a lot of my feelings on the current limits of extreme metal, and how a considered, reflective approach could allow for this music to reach new heights.)

Personal Bullshit III

In which this blog finally fully becomes a repository for my whining bullshit

Trigger warning: discussion of suicidal ideation

It’s been a little more than three years since I first started taking anti-depressant medication. Looking back, I can see that I very likely suffered from depression even as a young child, but it was only at the age of 21 that I considered seeking medical help for it. I had just returned from a year spent studying abroad in Japan, and had broken off the relationship I’d started with an American woman while we were both living there. This had been coming for months, but I still felt awful for letting her down- rather than letting her know my misgivings about our incompatibility, I had let her believe that I was happy and could see a long-term future for us. The truth was I couldn’t see any future for myself. It was painful to even speculate about what I might be doing in a year’s time.

Try as I might to tell myself I’d done the right thing, that I’d only hurt her more by prolonging a failing relationship, I fell into deeper self-loathing than normal. Nothing I’d previously felt pleasure or comfort in made me feel better. The turning point came when I walked across the road in front of a speeding ambulance, not caring whether it hit me or not. It seemed like a nicely ironic way to die; crushed by a vehicle intended to help save lives. As soon as that crossed my mind, though, it hit me that perhaps “normal” people didn’t think things like this. Perhaps I ought to consider the possibility I had a problem.

This is how I ended up seeing a GP who brought to mind David Cameron’s less arseholeish younger brother. He looked at a tiny multiple-choice questionnaire I’d filled in earlier, told me I probably had depression, and gave me some pills to take to see if they’d alleviate my feelings. It seemed very impersonal, even though he seemed understanding and sympathetic enough. Was this really enough to make me feel better?

Not really, as it turned out. That first set of pills didn’t do anything as far as I could tell, and I was given another medication to try. This one, Venlafaxine, seemed to work a bit better, preventing my mood sinking as low as it had done. I’ve continued taking it, in increasingly smaller doses, to this day. But in that time, I’ve consistently wondered if it’s really done me much good. I still struggle with self-esteem and confidence, battling an incredibly negative perception of myself. I continue to treat myself extremely harshly, in a way I would never dream of subjecting others to. In the last few months I have felt more able to discuss my depression, both on here and in person with those I’m close to. But I suspect this is more due to the influence of the counsellor I am lucky enough to see on a regular basis than any chemical effect of the anti-depressants.

I’m not the only one who thinks this way. My mother has recently told me she worries my medication does me more harm than good, facilitating my increasing isolation and low mood as I struggle to find work in a rural town I no longer want to live in. She claims that she can’t perceive any improvement in my situation, and I worry that she’s right. I don’t know that I am feeling more positive about life, or living to more of my full potential, than I was before taking the medication.

At the same time, I’m suspicious of her motives and reasoning. It often feels as though my family is opposed to the very idea of mood-altering medication. Certainly they’ve always been very responsive to the idea of me tapering off my dosage, with a view to eventually quitting the meds entirely. Maybe this is just because they think it’s in my best interest to do that. But I can’t shake the feeling they perceive the use of medication for mental health as a sign of weakness, or that they think depression is something I can cure myself of completely someday. This seems unlikely; I’m prepared to accept the fact that I will probably have to deal with feelings of self-loathing, a lack of confidence and a negative worldview for as long as I live. I wonder if, when my mother or father or grandfather posit the idea of eventually quitting my medication, they are hoping I will one day stop carrying on with this depression nonsense and act like a “normal”, healthy human being.

It feels unfair to say this, given that I know my mother and grandfather struggle with a lot of the same issues that I do. But I wonder if they know how it feels to not want to get out of bed in the morning, to feel like you could sleep forever. Or if they really appreciate the physical side effects that come with missing even a day’s medication- the headaches and nausea, like a permanent hangover. I worry at times that they see my reliance on this drug as a sign of weakness, when it takes a huge amount of strength for me to accomplish as much as I do.

That, of course, is probably not actually how they think. It’s a reflection of my self-loathing and low self-esteem that I think others see me as weak and pathetic. And again, it’s probably very unfair to assume they don’t appreciate how I feel, when they have experienced something similar themselves. Even if their desire for me to quit taking Venlafaxine comes from problematic assumptions and attitudes, it still seems like, overall, I might be better off not taking it.

I have attempted to cut down my reliance on medication in the past, reducing the amount of pills I took each week from seven to five before coming to the conclusion that it was causing my mood to deteriorate and returning to taking one pill a day. But right now, I’m prepared to try and do it again, with a view to ceasing my intake entirely. I will probably suffer from that low mood, that hatred of myself, whether I’m medicated or not. Right now, it feels as though the counselling, the slow steps towards being more open with my feelings and displays of emotion, are more helpful, for me at least, than the drugs I’ve come to rely on.

In the new year I intend to see my current GP and discuss the matter with them. Perhaps it’ll turn out they feel my family’s advice is misguided. Maybe they’ll encourage me to continue on my current dosage, either out of genuine concern or their financial stake in the sale of Venlafaxine. It could be that, as well as the negative self-image depression imbues me with, I have to get used to the reality of taking anti-depressants for the rest of my life as well. But I hope that isn’t the case. I’d like to maintain some hope that I can live without them, and even be happy again. What have I got right now but that hope?

Disclaimer: I hope the tone of this piece doesn’t send the message that I think anti-depressants and other medications are entirely useless, or a scam to make money off of depressed people etc. I am aware that some people cannot function day-to-day without medication, or at least find it much easier to do so with medication. I’m merely talking for myself when I say that I feel that they might not be working for me.

Personal Bullshit II- Can I Really Call Myself A Feminist?

male-feminist

Trigger warning: mention of rape

Get ready for another round of self-indulgent, narcissistic navel-gazing, people.

In case anyone’s worried by that title, this is not going to be a rant about the merits of Men’s Rights Activism, or an assertion that feminism is biassed and that what we need is “equalism”. I still believe that, as the only ideological trend that really addresses patriarchal systems of power in our society, some form of feminism is inescapably necessary to correct humanity’s current obsession with control and dominance- not just to end the oppression of women, but to ensure our survival as a species. But recently, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with identifying myself as “a feminist”. Not so much because I feel the ideology doesn’t represent my way of thinking, but due to an increasing awareness that simply calling yourself something doesn’t make you that thing.

It’s easy for a man to declare himself a feminist, and get pats on the back just for having announced a commitment to gender equality. Sure, there is a degree of social opposition to men doing this. In patriarchal societies where anything associated with women and femininity is devalued, men may well be ridiculed or excluded by other men for expressing feminist sentiments, or explicitly identifying with feminism. But it is also a feature of patriarchy that men are often praised for doing something outside the boundary of what is considered masculine, even if their contribution meets the bare minimum of competence or effort. Childcare and housework, for example, are activities coded as feminine, and thus beneath a man’s concern. If a man deigns to do this “women’s work”, he can expect praise from certain quarters, even if he does a terrible job of it.

Even though gender issues concern everyone, they too are generally coded as feminine, such that “gender studies” is synonymous with “women’s studies” for a great deal of people. So a man who expresses even the bare minimum of awareness of gender inequality, or willingness to recognise women’s oppression by identifying as a feminist, might be thought of as uncommonly sympathetic or attuned towards women, and therefore receive a disproportionately large amount of praise relative to his effort. Speaking from experience, it’s easy to let this praise go to your head, to take it as evidence that you’ve somehow transcended the possibility of ever being sexist again. This is a dangerous thing to do, especially when men self-apply the title of feminist and refuse to consider the ways we may still act in oppressive ways in spite of our supposedly enlightened status. There are far too many men who identify as feminists who have nonetheless ignored or belittled women, or even abused or raped them, confident that they weren’t being oppressive when they did it- after all, they were feminists.

Like it or not, even men who agree with feminist principles still receive male privilege from patriarchal systems and ideas. We might not want it, we might be aware of how it can hurt us as well as elevate us above women, but it’s still there. I personally also have to be aware of the specific privilege I gain from my position as a white, heterosexual and cisgender man. Even though I might consciously oppose racism, homophobia and transphobia alongside misogyny, that intersection of multiple privileged positions makes it very easy for me to be ignorant about life for anyone who doesn’t resemble me. (Better people than me have said it before: privilege includes the ability to be ignorant of your privilege.) Even after I applied the label of feminist to myself, that privilege led me to talk over women, or be patronising to them, or fail to take them seriously, without even realising I was doing it. I’ve “ironically” engaged in behaviour associated with sexist lad culture, and placed female friends in potential danger as a result. My ignorance of the reality of life for trans people, in particular, has led to a variety of incidents where I’ve acted in patronising ways or erased those peoples’ individual experiences.

I don’t offer up this list of sins as a confession, expecting to be absolved and then never have to worry about my behaviour again. Rather, I want to acknowledge that feminism is not a state of being- you don’t declare yourself a feminist and then magically rid yourself of your privilege, and your capacity to use that privilege in ways that hurt those that patriarchy has judged less worthy than yourself. It is, or at least should be, a process of doing. Rather than being feminist, you think, act, and speak in ways compatible with feminism, and if you do something incompatible with it, you can’t expect people to continue thinking of you as someone who acts in feminist ways.

I’ve decided that, from now on, I’m not going to describe myself as “a feminist”. Of course, I still plan to read the work of feminists, both online and in book form; to learn from feminists I know in real life and through the internet; and to be conscious of my behaviour in light of their ideas. If others decide that my words or deeds are those of a feminist, and want to call me one based on that, then great. But even then, I don’t intend to use their support as a basis to describe myself as being one thing or another. Even after I’ve come to this decision, there’s a real danger I could use it as reason to assume I’m doing OK, my heart’s in the right place and I can therefore stop worrying about how my actions affect others. I intend instead to continue being aware of my privilege and how it can lead me to act oppressively or ignorantly, to accept criticism when I inevitably fuck up, and commit to rectifying my mistakes when they do arise. Moreover, I intend to keep the thoughts expressed in this blogpost, however self-obsessed and myopic, in mind.

Postscript

Although I had been thinking in this way for a while before writing this post, a recent exchange between various feminists on Twitter, and articles and blogposts commenting on the themes touched on there, contributed to the feelings I had already been having about self-identifying as feminist. In my last post on heavy metal and patriarchy, I expressed frustration with women unwilling to explicitly identify with feminism. While I mainly had in mind those women who don’t notice patriarchy, or don’t consider it a problem, I feel that I didn’t focus enough on those who are uncomfortable with the feminist label because of the limitations of the version of feminism most commonly expressed in mainstream discourse. (And obviously it’s not my business how individual women identify, anyway.) There are many valid reasons that women of colour, trans and/or gender non-binary women, women whose sexuality falls outside the heterosexual norm etc etc feel that mainstream feminist movements, and their largely white, heterosexual spokeswomen, do not represent them. Below are a few posts on this theme, specifically relating to those recent discussions on Twitter, that I found insightful and would like to share further.

Sam Ambreen, “Smug white feminists and slut-shaming”. http://samambreen.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/smug-white-feminists-and-slut-shaming/

Flavia Dzodan, “When consent is overridden in the name of feminism”. http://storify.com/redlightvoices/when-consent-is-overridden-in-the-name-of-feminism

Zoe Stavri, “Smugsexual and the closet: two faces of biphobia”. http://stavvers.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/smugsexual-and-the-closet-two-faces-of-feminist-biphobia/