15 January 2010

There's a Time and a Place for Music

I drove to work this morning in the fog. It was a kind of fog that is rare for this part of the country, a kind of fog I haven't seen since I left Washington -- an impenetrable blanket of gunmetal gray. For the first time in many months, I suddenly wanted to listen to some Black Metal.

Black Metal shouldn't make me nostalgic, but it does. As paradoxical as it may seem for me to have a pleasant emotional reaction to a form of music that is outwardly so hostile, Black Metal nevertheless reminds me of the time in my life when I was most happy. In my collegiate days I was given to bouts of brooding that I found strangely comforting (melancholy, for whatever reason, has always seemed to be my natural state). Things have not gone so well since those days were borne away by the march of time, and as the series of unfortunate events churned onward, my affinity for Black Metal became more than a little diluted (to put it another way, depressive music isn't nearly so much fun when one actually has things about which to be depressed).

As the days and months after my college graduation wore on, my joblessness became an increasingly difficult cross to bear. For consolation and comfort, I took refuge in happier forms of music, most notably Power Metal and 1930s show tunes. Perhaps not the most intellectually profound forms of music one might think of, but they nevertheless helped me muddle my way through the hard times, giving my spirits a much-needed lift and helping me believe that in one way or another, everything would work itself out in the end. Whether it has or hasn't is still up open for debate, but in any case I've taken up an interest in nihilistic, Black Sabbath-influenced Stoner Doom Metal in recent months.

It must be said, however, that my ever-evolving musical tastes are not purely based on my personal zeitgeist. Place, it seems, has had just as much of an influence. When my mania for Black Metal was at its apex, I was living in a place that was so befitting of the music that it seemed almost tailor-made for it. Black Metal is music for towering mountains and evergreen trees, for cloudy skies and impenetrable fog. These are all things that the Pacific Northwest has in spades -- it's the closest facsimile to Norway that one is likely to find outside of the genuine article.

The geography of the American Midwest, meanwhile, is hardly so captivating. The wide open plains, in all their emptiness and desolation, suggest nothing so much as a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Though not without it's occasional spurts of beauty, the Midwest is virtually devoid of any real majesty. Black Metal seems utterly misplaced here. Nor is the climate in the least bit fitting -- the Midwestern summer, with the relentless heat of the sun and the scoffing indifference of the landscape, is more suggestive of the plodding riffs of Sunn O))) or Earth than of the crisp tones of Gorgoroth or Immortal, and although the winters are bitterly cold and icy as any one might experience in Trondheim, they want for snow-capped peaks, and seem more becoming of a Mozartian funeral dirge than anything else.

The fog, though, changes everything when it rolls in. The fog obscures the dreadful openness of wide expanses and bestows a feeling of mystery and wonderment otherwise absent in this typically mundane steppe. It makes the world seem unknowable, and fills it with a sense of shadowy pulchritude. In such a penumbra I can once again feel that strangely comforting melancholy that was a keystone of the best years of my life, and that drew me to Black Metal in the first place.

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