Monday, September 19, 2011

Erik Davis on Hideous Gnosis

Ghoulish, misanthropic, and often aggressively ugly-sounding black metal music—an important and well-established subgenre of heavy metal—has also become an unusually productive (if antinomian) site for the religious imagination within popular music. Both the music and subculture are marked by Satanism, neo-pagan nostalgia, apocalypticism, and an acosmic, sometimes mystical nihilism. Gathering together the proceedings of the first Black Metal Symposium, held in Brooklyn in December 2009, Hideous Gnosis both unpacks and traffics in these currents in ways that are simultaneously illuminating, provocative, and—like the music itself—intentionally disturbing. Edited and published by Masciandaro, a professor of medieval literature at Brooklyn College and the author of The Voice of the Hammer (2006), the volume's contributors track a number of themes—demonology, wolves, apophatic discourse, drum rhythms, and the specter of fascism—through the dark forests of the genre. “Emic” voices—a term the contributors would no doubt reject—are represented in a brief oral history of American black metal and a collection of often hostile exchanges between fans and the symposium organizers. That said, in comparison with the distance implied in most works of cultural studies, Hideous Gnosis attempts something at once more fannish and more intellectually aggressive. In Masciandaro's words, contributors were not involved in analyzing black metal so much as “thinking black metal.” This means dense weaves of theory, quasi-fictional rhapsodies, and the occasional deployment of Gothic fonts. Esoteric, intense, and occasionally disturbing, Hideous Gnosis is a vital resource on black metal (anti)discourse and an inspiring example of scholarly engagement with a complex cultural object that brings both sides of the operation into mutual contagion. 

Erik Davis, "Hideous Gnosis," Religious Studies Review 37 (2011): 123. 

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