There are many interesting connections between the work of nihilist philosopher Emil Cioran and the art of Depressive Suicidal Black Metal (for short DSBM). This should come as no surprise since Cioran authored such books as On the Heights of Despair, The Trouble with Being Born, and A Short History of Decay. Throughout his life, Cioran had suffered from insomnia and the pest of lucidity and deep awareness in a cold and meaningless universe. Trapped in a painful dilemma, Cioran hated living just as much as he did dying. While he praised suicide, he always lamented it coming too late, like all actions rooted in a mind on the brink of madness. Despising a moribund God, Cioran only craved the dark forgetfulness of the complete void, which he received when he was blessed with dementia in his old age.
In this post I just highlight a deep, organic connection between Cioran's early remarks on despair and the grotesque and the dark imagery of DSBM. Cioran wrote On the Heights of Despair at the age of 20, and already considered himself an expert in the problem of death. This fragment is from his early book.
Despair and the Grotesque
"Among the many forms of the grotesque, I find the one whose roots are steeped in despair more unusual and complex. The other forms have less intensity. It is important to note that the grotesque is inconceivable without intensity of feeling. And what intensity is deeper and more organic than despair? The grotesque appears only in very negative states, when great anxiety arises from a lack of life; the grotesque is an exaltation of negativity.
There is a mad launch toward negativity in that bestial agonizing grimace when the shape and lines of the face are contorted into strangely expressive forms, when the look in one's eyes changes with distant light and shadow, and one's thoughts follow the curves of similar distortions. Truly intense and irrevocable despair cannot be objectified except in grotesque expressions, because the grotesque is the absolute negation of serenity, that state of purity, transparence, and lucidity so different from the chaos and nothingness of despair. Have you ever had the brutal and amazing satisfaction of looking at yourself in the mirror after countless sleepless nights? Have you suffered the torment of insomnia, when you count the minutes for nights on end, when you feel alone in this world, when your drama seems to be the most important in history and history ceases to have meaning, ceases to exist? When the most terrifying flames grow in you and your existence appears unique and isolated in a world made only for the consummation of your agony? You must have felt those moments, as countless and infinite as suffering, in order to have a clear picture of the grotesque when you look at yourself in the mirror. It is a picture of total strain, a tense grimace to which is added the demonically seductive pallor of a man who has struggled along horrible, dark precipices. Isn't this grotesque expression of despair similar to a precipice? It has something of the abysmal maelstrom of great depths, the seduction of the all-encompassing infinite to which we bow as we bow to fatality. How good it would be if one could die by throwing oneself into an infinite void! The complexity of the grotesque born out of despair resides in its capacity to indicate an inner infinity and to produce paroxysm of the highest tension. How could this intense agony manifest itself in pleasant linear curves and formal purity? The grotesque essentially negates the classic, as well as any idea of style, harmony or perfection.
It is evident to anyone who understands the multiple forms of inner drama that the grotesque hides secret tragedies, indirectly expressed. Whoever has seen his face grotesquely disfigured can never forget it, because he will always be afraid of himself. Despair is followed by painful anxiety. What else does the grotesque do if it doesn't actualize fear and anxiety?" (Emil Cioran, On the Heights of Despair)
Shining is a pioneering DSBM band, formed by the controversial Niklas Kvarforth. The philosophy of the band is the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment through physical and mental self-destruction. To illustrate this concept, Niklas is known for cutting himself on stage and even feeding bits of his flesh to members of the audience. Needless to say, many Shining gigs would end up with Niklas being taken to the nearest ER. The frontman also prides himself on the fact that his music can drive people to commit suicide as he hates not only humanity but everything that lives and breathes and grows. Even plants and trees, God dammit!!
The cynically named Lifelover band was also based on a self-destructive, nihilistic concept. Tragically, but not surprisingly, one of the founders, Jonas Berqvist, has died of a drug overdose. He explained the use of his mask on stage by the fact that usually his corpse paint would start running and become very messy as he sweated playing his guitar, so he decided to wear the painted balaclava or ski-mask instead, which gave him an even more sinister and grotesque look.
Silencer was a brief presence in the landscape of DSBM and their only album Death-Pierce Me has received cult status mostly because of the lead vocalist's, Nattram, terrifying, animalistic, high-pitched shrieks. Strange rumors about the enigmatic frontman abound, but it's NOT TRUE that he cut off his hands and sown pig's feet to the bloody stumps for the pictures above (more on that here). However, that would have been a very metal and kult thing to do. The fact that the pig's feet are only props doesn't take away from the sordid, disturbing character of the pictures.
I don't know of any DSBM band to have used these images of a supposed Russian Sleep Experiment that took place in the '40s. But they would fit perfectly on a DSBM album cover. The Russian Sleep Experiment is actually a horror story published on Creepypasta that follows five patients who were given a gas that would eliminate their need for sleep. After 15 days, the tale goes, the subjects began engaging in bizarre acts of self-mutilation and self-cannibalism. Their behavior became less and less human, their speaking slowly changing into alien shrieks. As the experiment got out of control the researchers were ordered to kill the nightmarish guinea pigs. "What are you?" one of the doctors asked the last of the remaining subjects. "Have you forgotten so easily?" the mangled patient replied. "We are you. We are the madness that lurks within you all, begging to be free at any moment in your deepest animal mind. We are what you hide from in your beds every night. We are what you sedate into silence and paralysis when you go to the nocturnal haven where we cannot thread."
"I long to be free, desperately free. Free as the stillborn are free." (Emil Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born)