To say I’ve just finished watching Noisey’s film One Man Metal isn’t inaccurate; saying that it was my first time through would be. I’ve sat through this three-part documentary numerous times in the past few days, trying to wrap my head around each of the individual musicians covered. To hear the views and thoughts of those who live on the fringes of our society is astounding, if not disturbing at points. The idea of this article isn’t so much to provide a “TL;DR” of the film, but to delve into what I got out of the film as far as understanding the artists in the light of “how do they fit the black metal ‘isolation and hatred’ angle” instead of analyzing their art. Obviously these analyses pertain solely to the film and nothing more. I don’t know these artists and I can’t start throwing in extraneous information about who they are and the lives they lead.
So first off, what the hell is One Man Metal?
[Noisey] interviewed three enigmatic solo artists—Leviathan, Striborg, and Xasthur—who produce black metal on the margins of society. These are men who don’t just play the music, but embody what it reflects: isolation, misanthropy, and anger.
The documentary includes the first on-camera interview with Scott Connor, AKA Xasthur, who crafts his bleak sounds from a crumbling apartment in the hinterlands of Los Angeles. We also explored the remote environs of rural Tasmania with Sin Nanna of Striborg, and finally traveled to San Francisco to speak with Jef Whitehead, AKA Leviathan.
Each one of the artists have distinct personalities; Sin Nanna (whose real name is Russell Menzies) seemed to be very in-tune with the doings of nature, Jef Whitehead had an extremely human sadness that set him apart from the other two, and Scott Connor can’t be described as anything else but a tangible ghost in the material world.
Russell’s approach to black metal is that of a mirror to nature, where each one of the elements of the band represents a different part of nature, and considering the natural isolation element of his home in rural Tasmania, that makes a lot of sense. Initially I had a difficult time trying to pinpoint why I didn’t like Russell, but one YouTube commenter nailed what I couldn’t explain; he tries way too hard to be dark and evil. Russell seems more like the dude next door to you who’d be a little weird, but still a nice guy that would help you shovel your driveway in a snow storm. The first two portions of the film portray him as a nutty guy who really enjoys nature and tries to translate that into the realm of non-visual art. The third part rolls around and all of a sudden Russell’s parading around with a cape and corpse paint screaming at candles inside of a hollowed out tree like anyone who’s “trve kvlt.” It seems like his naturally isolated environment has driven him to music that fits his situation, and he ran with it in a really strange direction.
Maybe it isn’t so much that I don’t like Russell as it is that I get the feeling he’s attempting to be way more “evil” than he actually is in order to fit his music. With Jef and Scott, there’s explanations and emotions behind the corpse paint, but Russell just sorta puts it on and starts talking about being alone for what amounts to eternity. Even in the first part of the film, he’s talking about “how his neighbors can’t know what he’s doing because they’ll look it up and he’ll get a bad stigma attached to him,” yet he seems quite prone to wearing baggy black pants and a black metal shirt near constantly. Some secret he’s got there! It comes off less like trying to be isolated and keep a secret, and more like a child who purposefully makes their secret almost known just because it makes them giddy to think they’re pulling one over on everyone.
I genuinely feel bad for Jef. He had a skating career that turned to shit, became a ward of the court at a young age and thrown into a home that wasn’t ideal, the woman he loved committed suicide, and he himself failed at doing the same. Unlike the other two personalities covered in the film, Jef has an extremely human sadness to him that makes the viewer sympathize with him to an extent and understand the need for isolation. Jef embodies the isolation in a way that seems more like it’s due to the highly unfortunate path his life has taken rather than his need to devote his time to music. In fact, I’d venture to say that the devotion to music is because of the isolation, and not the other way around.
Jef also has a really interesting take on the concept of corpse paint, saying that it takes away the human factor and essentially just leaves him to feel like he’s just the music. Considering I’m laying down the theory that the devotion is because of the isolation, it only makes sense. The corpse paint is Jef’s way of embracing the loneliness and getting out of the body he once tried to rid himself of; it’s to become solely the voice he speaks to the world with.
Just to get the topic out of the way since there’s no real meat on the bones, Scott feels as though corpse paint is in his past and was immature.
Scott Connor genuinely doesn’t seem like he’s a part of the planet. There are two things that Scott says during the film that really stuck out to me as representative of his personality. In the first installment, Scott says about Xasthur:
“I don’t recall making claims I can’t back up in my lyrics, like ‘I’m gonna kill myself.’ I don’t do that. But instead, what I do is say ‘hey, you know, here’s a few reasons that you listening to this, you might wanna look into dying and killing yourself. You might wanna look into that.'”
Then in part two, Scott is talking to Noisey correspondent J.R. in his favorite park due to it’s isolated darkness, and says:
“I just never really understood people and I don’t think they really ever understood me, and I don’t have anything in common with them… I don’t really see any worth in a lot of people. I find human beings most of the time to be really arrogant with nothing to be arrogant about. In the back of my mind I’m always trying to think of ways to knock them off their high horse if I could, you know. At the same time, when I meet someone who I think is gonna be a piece of shit like everybody else, and they turn out to be an interesting, amazing person who might think the same way I do… I’m really glad about that.”
Scott also shuts J.R. rather quickly about his apparently long-term unemployment issues by stating he can’t hold down a job for very long. If I had to guess, there’s a lot more going on with Scott than just wanting to be alone and making music. The latter quote seems like Scott lost someone, just like Jef, and shut himself in. Unlike Jef though, Scott has a very inherent “cold/terror-inducing” vibe about him that makes him seem like he’s constantly teetering over the bottomless pit of violence. Like he made clear in the first installment; Scott doesn’t want to die because he thinks too highly of himself. He wants to stay alive in order to watch suffering and pain in everyone else, to watch them fall apart and tumble off “their high horse.”
Scott’s isolation is largely unknown. It almost sounds like Scott was close to someone at one point in his life and had them torn away, but the manner in which he acts and speaks makes me feel differently. There seems to be a whole slew of issues going on here that resulted in his current state, but if there’s one thing that seems fairly certain, it’s this:
If there are demons on this Earth, Scott is one.
Big ups to Noisey for running this film, and a standing ovation to J.R. and cameraman(men?) for doing the interviews. The perspectives were fascinating and they couldn’t have chosen three perspectives of loneliness that are more different.
You can stream the documentary via the YouTube players below:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQl6PzXU4cQ][youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6sbhA78RO5E][youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHyMK0ADw_8]- GK