Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thesyre- Exist!

1 – 32:44

(review by James Edward Raggi IV, from the LotFP issue The Shameless, 2007)
It is amazing how often I am bombarded by messages telling me to ignore things I had no intention of thinking about in the first place. On the splash page of Thesyre’s site: “Thesyre is an ideologically independent band. We like to think that our visitors are intelligent people able to make up their minds based on what they can observe, hear and read and not upon all the lies, rumors and gossip circulating around.” The Schuldiner approach to deflecting criticism. Awesome. But when Exist! was released a few months back, funny things started popping up in sales catalog blurbs: “This Canadian outfit (with The Black Dahlia Murder drummer in its line-up) has a quite militant presentation when it comes to logo, layout and musicianship, yet they are not politically linked to any organization, and their releases should be reviewed on the music and intensity only.” Definitely interesting that those things were considered most important to tell potential buyers, eh?

As if that doesn’t set of alarm bells (the more effort someone puts into telling you something is not true, the more likely it is that it is true), there’s more! Call me naïve and easily influenced, but when a quick internet search finds band leader Eric Masicotte making it a point to say “I’ve read lots on and from Adolph [sic] Hitler,” when asked “What thinkers have influenced your philosophical and political worldview?” in an interview with ANUS, I’m not thinking nice and happy thoughts. And the topics of nationalism seem to come up in every interview I see with the guy. It’s certainly possible that the guy is not a racist or a Nazi in any way and is simply a provocateur, but it’s just as possible that the guy is indeed a fascist who is annoyed that people judge his work based on that understanding. Fact is that one way or the other he does care, because this sort of shadow does not follow the uninterested. Interesting quote from an interview with Vampire Magazine: “I might take the opportunity to mention that Thesyre is not a NSBM band either, hehe. I think that any form of culture deserves to be protected and cherished. This is what defines you as a part of a nation, this is collective identity! I can't understand why any minority organizing a cultural celebration gets a thumb up from the public opinion but when Europeans gather to celebrate their pagan past everyone sees hateful demonstrations of racism. I think we must thank a lot of right-wings organizations for that. People mixing racial hatred with nationalism gets it all wrong and only helps spreading stereotypes.” The truth behind Eric Masicotte requires a bit of digging.

The truth is entirely relevant to this album as Exist! is a call to self-awareness and individuality. The fucked thing is I thought the message was awesome before I started trying to learn more about the artist behind the art. Now? It bears a closer examination.

The crux of the album’s message is carried in the following lyrics: “Exist! / Manifest yourself / Don’t rely on someone else / Before you die / Experience life!” which is pretty much the entire message behind The Shameless (and why I didn’t bother caring whether Thesyre’s label is “too big” to fit into this issue’s concept). It’s a half hour of pure metal ideology of the sort that’s been repeated by lefties and righties forever, referencing everyone from Nietzsche (“The will of iron, the will to power”) to JFK (“Ask yourself what you can do / Not what the others could do for you”).

It’s easy to get behind this sort of message, isn’t it? “Exist! / Manifest yourself / Don’t rely on someone else / Before you die / Experience life!”

How about “For all these years humanity tried / To move away from its racial pride / We mixed our blood and generated a mess”? That’s from this same band, different release mind you, in a song called The Cleansing. Songs such as Elitism and Propagandart are little ditties you might find interesting. Yeah, that self-titled debut album certainly is quite revealing. The funny thing is, since I’m not plugged into this corner of the scene, I would have never thought to look for it if both the band and CD vendors didn’t bring attention to it. That the band did it is understandable, that a sales catalog did it is hilarious.

So that’s settled, but the reason I’m going into all of this is not to just point and throw “Fascist!” accusations around. Plenty of easier targets have just gotten thrown in the trash without comment here at LotFP headquarters. This is one of the few (I hope) that’s actually fooled me on first look.

It is an easy mark, I think, telling people that they need to take control of their lives. Telling them they should be somebody! “You are a beautiful, unique snowflake!” Yeah, man! Fuckin’ A! But it’s pretty easy to slip other messages in between the words that are easily agreed with.

Looking closer, even forgetting any connections in the wording between Exist! and past lyrics, it’s not all piss and vinegar for the waking of individuality in the listener. The use of “us” and “we” versus “you” or in this piece becomes pretty interesting when looked at with skepticism. Exist! opens up with the “us” and “we” being humanity at large, clueless and ignorant and destructive. Then they change the focus to “you”. Asking questions. Poking you. You’re not one of those people talked about in the first couple of verses, are you? Then it switches to talking about what “we” should do. Then it’s back to “you”, telling you that you are empowered and it’s your choice to be part of the problem or… something else. (You don’t want to be part of the problem, do you? Of course not.) Suddenly it’s a bit of talk about what “we” must do, and this is where “will to power” comes in. Suddenly the “we” isn’t some hopeless mass of humanity, but some group that can perhaps make things better. Then, this key bit of wording:

First prove your worth
Before you claim back what is yours
First you will serve then join the ranks that you deserve
Will you lead or will you follow
You take the path where you want to go
Ask yourself what you can do
Not what the others could do for you

(“Meritocracy” gets repeated several times). This changes everything and is what I missed in my first glances at the lyrics. “Prove your worth” to who? For what purpose? To prove you’re taking control of your own life and shrugging off the shackles of a mentally comatose existence? Doesn’t that mean you don’t have to prove anything to anybody? “Claim back what is yours”? Are a few stanzas edited out or has the topic shifted to something completely unrelated to the rest of the song? “First you will serve”… what? Serve who? “Join the ranks that you deserve”? What ranks? Who’s deciding what I deserve?

What is the fucking point of such a statement as “Everything is possible if you can break your chains / There’s no one to be blamed… / You live enslaved or you make a change” (as appears earlier in the song), not to mention the “Don’t rely on someone else” sentiment I quoted earlier, if the end result of all of that is still serving, joining ranks, and having someone judge what it is you deserve?

I wonder what kind of civil service the “Ask yourself what you can do / Not what the others could do for you” line is supposed to inspire in this context.

Meritocracy is a brilliant concept, isn’t it? Everyone assigned a position based on their abilities. The word Meritocracy was coined by an author named Michael Young in the 50s, and his book The Rise of the Meritocracy portrayed the idea as a negative thing. As the writers of Is It Me Or Is Everything Shit? point out about the book, “…it would not necessarily be the ‘best’ who came out on top, just those who are most enthusiastic about standing on the faces of everyone else.” I’d hate to see how such a system really would deal with individuals who spent time and energy on listening to, performing, or worse yet writing about heavy metal. That’ll rate highly on the merit scale, I’m sure. The entire point of my philosophy is to escape these ridiculous systems to where I am not forced to contribute into them, and am not responsible for what happens within systems I do not support. It’s how I fell out of college, of office jobs and a “career path”, and any sort of future in the music industry. The constructs are crap and “getting ahead” would have meant participating in something that I thought was crap. Not interested. I could have been anything I wanted, really. I could have been a doctor or a lawyer if I’d have been really motivated, or more to my interests fifteen years ago, a computer programmer. One of these “network engineers” that listens to progressive metal, for sure. But all I really wanted to be was left alone. Give me the means to pay my rent, buy some books and albums, and publish my ranting to a couple hundred people every few months and I’ve got all the life I need. It’s not a formula for a great life, but that’s the point of freedom and individuality. I don’t have to care about any sort of life but what makes me happy.

I think Exist! is saying the exact opposite. The entire purpose of becoming aware and empowered in the world this album attempts to build is very ordered, and very smothering. But it is very different to the current way of the world and it is in that difference that I first found excitement in the concept of this album.

But it doesn’t end there. “Meritocracy” may be a key point in the lyrics of the album, but it serves merely as a change in the focus of the ongoing concept. It shifts back to “we” again, at first questioning in terms of “we, all of humanity” much as the beginning of the album, but changes almost imperceptibly to a “we, that are aware,” and finally quite obviously taking this last stance to mean “we, that are above the rest of humanity.”

I do not believe this language is arbitrary or a result of laziness or incompetence. I believe this language is very deliberate. And I believe it is very dangerous for people who do not fit into specific ideas of merit and worth.

Why is there so much hypocrisy concerning empowerment and individuality? Thesyre talks about freedom and empowerment but actually means trading one set of shackles (consumerism?) for another (fascism). The agents of consumerism tell you out of one side of their mouths that their products are for the beautiful and unique snowflakes of discriminating taste, while out of the other side they have you firmly mapped into demographic categories that obscure the fact that you’re a living, breathing thing at all. An organization can not promote the individual. The larger the organization, the flatter the individual is squashed, always, without exception. Remember that the next time you cast a ballot at the polls, the next time you punch in at work, the next time you get excited that your band has just been offered a contract from a larger record label. First you will serve, then you will join the ranks, but you will never have any claim to anything that is yours. Don’t believe me? The next time you have more than the most casual of conversations with your wife/boss/record label, see if you can make it through the conversation without showing support for something when you really don’t want to support it. See what happens when you have an idea that’s outside of the established procedures. Make a conscious effort to alter your daily routine for the next week and see what happens. See if you can simply tell the truth. You’re fucked, and so am I. I can accept that life is just like that*, but what you need to ask is, where is the line drawn and who drew it?

So today’s lesson is question everything. Every single fucking thing you ever come across. Even, or maybe even especially, the things that are appealing and agreeable.

We can’t forget the fact that there is music associated with Exist!, as it is presented as a music album. (Not that winning and satisfying people are options. If you talk too much about the music then you’re accused of the old “dancing about architecture” nonsense, and if you don’t talk about it then you’re guilty of not realizing that “only the music is important.” Yet in an interview with The Darkest Hours, Masicotte states, “We make music to please ourselves first and then to carry a message to the audience,” so I’ll lose no sleep in discussing the very thing the band says is their first priority towards listeners.) It’s all a very rhythm-focused piece based of various pieces of repetition, and in this way it feels more like a Ministry album than anything else. Everything stays very basic, and the vocals, even if raspy, are loud and clear the entire way through. There is a five minute “break” of looser material (clean and acoustic guitars with an absence of drums, really) around the middle of the album where Exist! shows signs of life, but that’s really all there is. You’ll see descriptions like “old school black/thrash metal” but this thing is so clinical/sterile that I can’t agree. I don’t expect to be listening to any more of this, for many reasons, after I finish typing this sentence.

* Life is not just like that. I read How to Be Free by Tom Hodgkinson at the very end of the production process for this issue. It’s an amazing book and I find that much of my lifestyle (if not his reasoning for it) already parallels his advice, and the book was most inspirational. You don’t have to work. You don’t have to do anything. The book is available through Amazon UK (and he even talks about why he didn’t self-publish within the book itself!) and more info on Hodgkinson’s work can be found at www.idler.co.uk. Highest recommendation.

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