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Analyzing the impact of dark fantasy on metal

The funny thing about fantasy as a literary and musical dividing line is that it’s actually very hard to put your finger on.  I mean, if you are a purist about fantasy, then pretty much all of the literature of fantasy because it’s make-believe.  They didn’t really happen.  Even if they are based on real people, you’re making up all sorts of scenarios regarding what they could have done, how they could have done it, where they did it, etcetera, etcetera.

And that’s really what’s so awesome about creative work.  You’re not supposed to report what’s going on.  You’re not supposed to be enslaved by or blocked in by how things are.  You are given a blank check to talk about how things could be.

Now, of course, a lot of people think that real, high-quality fantasy must involve some sort of close-enough similarities to reality as we see it for it to be more believable.  I know it sounds paradoxical.  It might even seem like it’s a contradiction in terms, but there’s a lot of value to that because according to this mindset, high-quality fantasy mimics reality.

And that’s what makes it so potent.  It is because the plot line is out of this world.  The plotline is something that didn’t happen, but it uses highly recognizable elements.  You notice that this is how people emotionally respond.  This is how certain things normally play out in our waking reality.  This familiarity gives fantasy teeth.  It’s not obvious that this is just a brain fart that you’re reading or listening to.

That’s the old thinking, and death metal is part of this new redefinition of what fantasy should be.  Gone are the days when we were basically stuck with the idea that fiction needs to retain as many realistic elements for it to be “any good”.  More and more writers and musicians are saying, “That’s bullshit! Why can’t just fantasy be fucking fantasy?”  Meaning, when you read that stuff, from the first word or tone, you would know that it’s going to be unreal.

And guess what? It’s okay.  There is no need to freak out.  There is no need to think that this is obviously unbelievable that it necessarily follows that it sucks.  This whole idea of fantasy having to basically be rooted in realism with little magical elements is like a street jacket.

Now there are refined iterations of that thinking.  In literature, it’s called “magical realism”, but there is something to be said about just pure, unapologetic, uncut, uncensored fantasy.  Everybody is entitled to their fantasies.  This shit is fake; so what? It’s good.  I love it.  It makes me feel good.

So the awesome thing about dark fantasy is that while a lot of people would love to dismiss it as corny and cheesy, contrived, even juvenile, it is at least honest.  It says, “Okay, this is shit.  This is fake, but guess what?  This is what we like.  If you don’t like it, find something else.”  And that really is what’s so awesome about death metal because it puts the listener in the place of the owner.  The fact that you’re listening to this stuff from the first note all the way to the end means you’re taking ownership of this stuff.  You like it, and that’s perfectly okay.  If you don’t like it, fuck off and find something else.

That is the maturity that we are happy the death metal scene and really the global metal movement, if you want to call it that, has reached.  And that’s an awesome thing.  Fuck that whole idea of basically fantasy having to have enough reality nuggets.  Who cares?  It’s okay to start with absolute and total fantasy and end with the same stuff.  It is your world.  It is your mind.