Saturday, November 13, 2010

Frost and the dilemma of black metal

I hate the word 'dilemma'. It looks remedial with the double "m", as if it is misspelled. I also hate it because it rarely describes a situation with favorable choices. Perhaps it is a fittingly undesirable word in the end.

After a couple of seasons worth of select screenings, Until the Light Takes Us finally made it out to DVD last week. While I appraised it almost two years ago, it bears repeating that I support the film and the messages within. Get the 2-disc version if you can, as the extra content is almost a second movie unto itself. Since it hit the shelves, several people have surprised me by saying, "Frost seems like a fag".

Let's rewind the world about fifteen years and re-examine that statement - time was, right after the explosion (or implosion, perhaps) of True Norwegian Black Metal™, Frost was one of the few who kept the fires burning. Not only was he a remarkable drummer, but he donned bizarre, non-standard corpse paint and wore enough leather and spikes to outfit three bands. Here was someone who wanted to push the envelope, to manifest the idea of black metal as a tangible, physical presence. I always found it inspiring, and clearly I was not the only one.

As Satyricon transformed into a rock band, Frost toned down the presentation accordingly. Left to his own devices, however, he owned his image and lived in it the way most people live in jeans and t-shirts. 1349 became the outlet for these projections, but even as a solitary figure it was rare to catch him in public without the full gamut of black metal regalia. It never seemed like a question of impressing anyone; it was merely his way of facing the world.

He addresses this manner very eloquently on the bonus disc of Until the Light Takes Us (this is partly why the 2-DVD set is recommended), and I experienced it firsthand at the conclusion of 1349's US tour. I found myself awestruck and even envious that he could be that entity without exception. This is something that cannot be learned any more than one could learn to be taller. It is strictly inherent, and no amount of skepticism or naysaying can change it. In many interviews, I have stated that nobody came out of the womb wearing corpse paint and spikes, but maybe Frost is an exception. His avatar was probably there from the beginning, and it was simply waiting for the right moment to manifest.

Here, finally, is the dilemma. As the documentary illustrated, black metal has been available for public consumption for quite a while, and for the most part it is aped, misappropriated, and then discarded. This means that a dedicated figure like Frost will always be misunderstood. On one hand, onlookers get the impression that he lives by candlelight and wears armor to the grocery store and see it as novel and funny. When it becomes clear that his way is actually close to that perception, the same people chortle and dismiss him as some kind of fruitcake.

So, dear weekenders, how are we supposed to act? These personas are emblematic of who we are. They must exist because our conventional selves cannot make the journey to the dark reaches that we seek. The paint binds us to death and demonism, and the spikes and armor hearken back to a time when land was won by fire and steel. Black metal is a form of music, first and foremost, but its trappings say, "We are not of you. Stay out."

Ultimately, this didn't stop the rest of the world from barging in, but at its core the message remains unchanged. For all the artistic significance of the movement, it could not have existed without the emblematic figures. This is why Frost is important; he proves that the image is as real as he wants it to be, and it isn't just a Halloween costume or a shock tactic. Call him names all you like - he clearly couldn't care less. His life is an extension of his art, and his conviction and talent have afforded him the chance to exist in this mode on his own terms. Can you say the same?