Yesterday morning, dissonant death metal titans Artificial Brain posted this perplexing update to Facebook.
This news was both puzzling and a bit exciting for me. On the one hand, I was fascinated to see how one of the best songs from my favorite album of 2014 would be utilized in a police procedural show. On the other hand, I was reticent to actually have my weird interests essentially exposed to what would likely prove to be unreceptive and unappreciative masses. Add in the fact that I do not watch television aside from the X-files and that most depictions of heavy metal on mainstream media is as a deviant and brutish distraction for delinquents and the mentally unsound, I was reasonably hesitant and interested to see how it all played out. Therefore, both my bad news and my good news for this edition of Freaky Friday are that Artificial Brain’s monstrous anthem “Absorbing Black Ignition” appeared last night on Elementary, the modern procedural adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes.
So after finally figuring out what channel CBS is on my borrowed digital converter (seriously, I don’t watch TV), I opened a word document and prepared myself for the worst. The positive: Artificial Brain got played on TV. The negative: Artificial Brain got played on TV.
The song actually didn’t make an appearance until about 0:39 into the episode. I’m not going to waste your time recounting the plot of the show. It’s the same boring network television drivel that is safe and easily-consumable and that mildly stimulates the minds of the masses. It isn’t especially captivating but presents just enough intrigue to hook your standard viewer. Interestingly enough, at about 30 minutes into the show, Sherlock (played by an actor I don’t recognize) is interrogated by Ms. Watson (played by Lucy Liu) while he listens to a mixtape of “death metal”. I believe the band in question is in fact Carcass (as pointed out by my esteemed colleague Christian). Watson is predictably derisive, and Sherlock describes the music as someone going over your brain with a sander. The showrunners do offer a bit of a backhanded compliment to the genre by creating a scenario where an expert programmer is a fan of extreme metal, but our preferred form of art is once again associated with deviance because the mixtape with metal tracks (including Goatwhore) is used to implant a virus that triggers an epileptic seizure that kills the programmer.
Artificial Brain finally rear their ugly heads as Sherlock is describing an apocalyptic think tank. Once again, the show offers metal a backhanded compliment as Sherlock describes the band as “stimulating”, but Watson, clearly flummoxed by the bizarre sound, brusquely asks “Artificial Brain?” in a plainly dismissive manner. Quite the interesting dichotomy. Here’s the clip if you have absolutely no interest in actually watching the show.
The use of Artifical Brain on an episode of a mainstream network television show is a study in dissonance. First, the precise scenario in which the song is used is one of contrasts. The writers seem to associate bands like Artificial Brain with intelligence and futurology, but there’s a clear hint of disgust in the typically staid and nonsensical Watson’s tone. Furthermore, the use of metal itself in the episode is a dichotomy between an association with the darker side and the uniformity of a clean and sterile office environment. Finally, and most importantly, the use of an extreme metal song on a decidedly banal program for the common man presents the clear dissonance between extreme art and entertainment.
To the average listener, a radio rock band like Five Finger Death Punch is a study in violence and extremity. Artificial Brain and their ilk, then, represent something wholly alien and unknown, something that the average viewer would have no capacity for interpreting or understanding. This to me is the reason for my consternation. For much of my metal career, I’ve sworn that I would never become an elitist. People are perfectly entitled to enjoy whatever sort of entertainment that they care to indulge, but I do have an issue with the repeated association between heavy metal and social deviance. Metal is not just for the mentally ill or the misanthropes or the social outcasts. It could be for the common man too if the proper framework and context was provided. Just tossing a death metal song into a police procedural is not the proper context, though, and I can’t help but feel like this art is a little too confrontational and external for the audience. There is no chance for an appreciation to be developed, so the viewer is led once again to believe that metal is unfit for human consumption. I find myself in the compromising position of wishing my own little interest in challenging music would stay protected in its underground bubble, a place in which I never thought I would find myself. I feel as though the writers of Sherlock threw my precious pearls before swine.
It would be disingenuous for me to not mention that I don’t think listening to heavy metal makes you intelligent. There are far too many illiterate rednecks, shifty tweakers, and basement dwelling man-children here in my city that prove that it does not. Nor do I think that watching network television makes you unintelligent. We all need some mindless self-indulgence from time to time, and as police procedurals go, Elementary doesn’t appear to be nearly as mind-bogglingly stupid as some episodes of CSI. My point simply is that extreme metal requires a certain learning curve to appreciate that the public simply isn’t going to develop in the short span of a network broadcast.
All of that is to say that in one sense, I’m glad such a terrific band like Artificial Brain gets some exposure and publicity. However, I am also disappointed in the tired and stale manner with which heavy metal is depicted in the mainstream. If the extreme and the commonplace are to meet, I would prefer a fitting context and a just critique.
But lolbuttz it; it’s Friday. Who cares? Let’s jam some AB and headbang our way into the weekend.
So, what are y’all flushing today? What was awesome? Am I being an a-hole? Let me know below.