The state of music

I had only recently found out yesterday afternoon about the death of David Bowie, one of the most beloved rock musicians of the 20th century. Even though I’m not a fan of his work, I know he was highly prolific musician and he was very talented. He released several albums between 1967 and the present day, and throughout his career his albums took on a different sound and look with each new era of said career and each new incarnation of his ever-changing artistic persona, all while making a massive impact on popular music with his unique take on both rock music and pop music. He collaborated with several artists during his life such as the Pet Shop Boys, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Mick Jagger, Annie Lennox, Brian Eno, Mott the Hoople, Nile Rogers, Freddie Mercury, and Iggy Pop (who was also a dear friend of his). His final album, Blackstar (which was released on Friday), was his own way of leaving the world with a parting gift and a sign of great artistic character. My brother is definitely a fan, and I can tell that Bowie’s death was probably the biggest thing on his mind today. When I heard about it, and didn’t yet know if he had heard about it, I thought “Oh shit! He is not going to like this news at all”.

To be honest, I feel that David Bowie’s death could hardly have come at a worse time. In 2015 we not only lost Philthy Animal Taylor, the drummer of Motörhead, but also Lemmy the lead vocalist and easily Motörhead’s driving force (and after Lemmy’s death, Motörhead immediately broke up). I think we are in a climate where people are thinking that all the good musicians are dying, while in the public consciousness the void looks set to be filled with the many inane figures of homogenized commercial music culture. I don’t even need to name them, seriously you should know by now if you’ve paid any attention at all. It’s actually a very familiar climate: one that Bill Hicks once alluded to when he said in his stand-up routines “John Lennon was murdered, yet Milli Vanilli walks the fuckin’ planet”. And it feels like that today too: Lemmy and David Bowie both die of cancer, and guess who walks the Earth today? It’s all too familiar for lots of people, and I think this is particularly true for those who fall outside the realm of mainstream and popular music and belong to the realms of other forms of music: particularly metal or punk, but especially metal in my experience. Over the years the world of metal has seen the loss of its own icons besides Lemmy and Philthy Animal Taylor. Among them we can name Randy Rhoads, Chuck Schuldiner, Cliff Burton, Quorthon, Ronnie James Dio, Darrel “Dimebag” Abbot, Per Ohlin (a.k.a. Dead), Paul Baloff (the original Exodus vocalist), Mike Scaccia (of Ministry and Rigor Mortis), Jeff Hanneman, and Dave Brockie (a.k.a. Oderus Urungus), all of whom proved themselves as an invaluable part of metal music for their talent, for being powerful and inspirational forces in metal music, and for leaving behind their own legacy. Some of us, myself included, can be inclined to complain that while they are no longer among us, purveyors of mindless pop, rap, and inauthentic forms of rock music still walk the Earth. And it’s a lot worse when you feel like these musicians die too soon, and even when Lemmy and Philthy Animal Taylor died it felt like they left this world too soon.

I actually felt like reflecting on the state of music today, because as I have discussed earlier here, while good musicians are dying and increasingly relegated in public consciousness, they have already been replaced in the minds of the masses by purveyors or more homogenized music, and the more homogenized music currently dominates popular music. And again, if you’ve paid attention to any media at all you’ll know who these purveyors are. I believe that a similar phenomenon is occurring in the realm of hard rock and heavy metal music, as you might see when you pay attention to the realm of mainstream “heavy music”. Essentially, this is the world of heavy metal, hard rock, punk rock, alternative rock, metalcore, and just about anything perceived as hard-edged and heavy are just fucking forced together and made part of a more homogenized heavy music category. You see this sort of thing promoted by the likes of Kerrang Magazine, Download Festival, and a bevy of ignorant youths who don’t even know what they’re listening to because they don’t think about it. These are the kinds of people who, let’s say for the sake of argument, think bands like The Who, Pink Floyd, The Sex Pistols, Poison, Bon Jovi, Nirvana, Green Day, Slipknot, Rammstein, Linkin Park, My Chemical Romance, and Black Veil Brides all belong to the same category and the same family as Metallica, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Pantera as well as each other. They don’t: the example shown for the sake of argument is a disparate group of musical acts representing different musical genres, and also bound to convey a different ethos to each other, and no one in the right mind would pair them together as though they were in the same family. But that’s what’s going on in mainstream rock culture, or at least hard rock culture: we’re creating a monolithic heavy rock and roll category, even when it should be clear that they don’t all belong to the same category and they all deserve to stand on their own and by their own virtues.

A photo taken of Download Festival 2014

And when we’re not doing that, we’re still favoring an idea of metal that usually consist of music that seems metal, but the vocal style and other elements (such as lyrics) can feel like nothing of the kind, a phenomenon that might have been introduced with the rise of metalcore and screamo. In addition, there’s a gravitation towards the famous and popular metal bands like Black Sabbath, Pantera, Metallica, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Death, Cannibal Corpse, Machine Head, Amon Amarth, and Arch Enemy (not that any of them are necessarily bad, especially not the ones from the golden age of metal), as well as the popular but only vaguely metal groups like Slipknot, Bullet for my Valentine, Trivium, Rammstein, Disturbed, Five Finger Death Punch, Avenged Sevenfold, Bring Me the Horizon and others, but there’s not a lot of looking past that. I fear that in that climate, more traditional forms of metal outside the popular range of bands may be seen as welcome because the younger audiences may find them passé and are thus relegated to the underground. And I don’t mean old bands (though I do think people could explore the gamut of classic metal more), I mean new ones who play more traditional styles (this usually goes for heavy metal, speed metal, thrash metal).And is it me, or do a lot of the more popular bands also seem like they have a more extreme sound, even when they’re not strictly death metal, black metal, or grindcore? Is it because of the assumption that metal is all about aggression? Aggression is certainly a key element of metal music, but I think most metalheads know it’s not the only thing that makes metal what it is. Is it just because it seems cool, because it’s the thing that’s popular?  I hope not because believe me, that’s not something metal should be put through constantly. In the 1980’s, glam was popular and some traditional metal bands (like Accept and Judas Priest) as well as hard rock acts (like Ted Nugent and Alice Cooper) briefly embraced the hair metal ethos and sound at one point because that was big at the time, and they quickly rejected it. Hell even Discharge (a hardcore punk band) and Celtic Frost (the famous extreme metal band) put out a glam metal record at one point for some bizzare reason. In the 1990’s, some well-known thrash metal bands began to either embrace a more radio-friendly heavy rock sound or simply a slower sound following the success of Metallica’s self-titled album (examples including Testament, Exodus, Megadeth, and Nuclear Assault), while other thrash metal bands chose to embrace a more mid-tempo groove metal style popularized by Pantera (examples include Overkill, Sepultura, Prong, Anthrax, and Demolition Hammer). In the 2000’s, metalcore and nu-metal were becoming popular, and then we got a lot of bands playing heavy music that did stuff like that. We already know what it is to just do what’s popular because it seems popular or even because it’s “cool”, but has no relevance to what you’re actually doing and what you’re actually about.

I can’t help thinking this happens because of a fear of being passé. But since when did metal become passé. And we never say this about classic metal bands. We dare not! We don’t do this anything with the reputation of being classic. In fact, often it’s only when old media continue to do the same thing we are briefly reminded that there’s nothing wrong with still making good use of your old tropes. In movies, the recent Star Wars film was a both a massive commercial success and a great movie, partly because it carries forth a popular already-familiar brand, but also because it managed to do something new without it being completely different. At first, I thought it bothered me that it recycled elements from the original trilogy and keep referencing it, but this was not only inevitable due the film’s continuity from the original trilogy but also it also made sense because the original trilogy was memorable, and why take away what was already good? So it is with not only old metal bands who continue with their art but also new bands that carry on the torch of classical forms of metal and its subgenres. It may seem familiar, but that’s because it’s good. It deserves to be familiar. Not at all like the homogenized forms of music we see today, which are only at least credible.

Even though I’ve discussed a hell of a lot about metal and hard rock culture, my main point is simply about that climate we feel when good musicians die and we get left thinking about the musicians and band still with us, or when we think about the music of then versus the music of now. But it’s also worth remembering that if we care about that, we could at least try to make a contribution. I may be doing game design, but I do feel motivated at times to think about making metal. I’m still not very good at the electric guitar, but no matter what I do in life I’d still like to learn to make real metal and some day give it to the world, because I love metal. I would think anyone with an interest in music would feel the same about genuine, non-homogenized music. That’s one thing to take

One last note: fuck Kanye West. Just fuck him.

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More metal

I’m not sure, but I think something may be rising. Recently I’ve been buying metal band patches for my jacket with impunity, and even when I should be paying to attention to preparing for when I get back to university and doing games design again, I’m more likely to want to just listen to tons of metal and explore bands I haven’t really bothered to touch upon (even when I should have) as well as explore stuff I already am familiar with a little more (although granted a large part of the reason might be to justify putting more patches on my jacket, but why not if it justifies more immersion in metal). I also have a strange feeling I’ll come closer to the power spontaneity and pure energy if I do this and continue with my guitar practice, and I might find a way to channel that power and energy, and by doing so I may become stronger and fulfill some ideas and goals about my personal spirituality that I’ve laid out since a few years ago.

I feel like opportunities might come for me in this direction very soon, and I might find my way into the life I was meant to live and being what I’m meant to be, myself in its ideal state or potential, and find success by doing so and perhaps even make some difference along the way.

Musings on Black Sabbath’s so-called Satanism

Despite that I’m definitely a follower of heavy metal music, I tend to have a hard dealing with the grandfather of heavy metal, Black Sabbath. It’s not because of their music, I think the music is great. It’s their reputation as this band that was in league with the dark side and the devil, which the music press seems to continue in some way despite the fact this reputation has no basis on the band or its music,. I recently saw a program in which a music critic talks about a song from their 2013 album, 13, which was titled “God Is Dead?”, and he talks about how supposedly Sabbath used to shout “God is dead” (according to him) or something along those lines and were now somehow more mature and simply ask if God is dead instead. At this point you can expect my reaction is thus:

What the fuck was he talking about!?

Honestly, it still feels like people like him haven’t been paying attention, that they haven’t seen anything about Black Sabbath or critically analyzed the lyrics. I mean, if Black Sabbath honestly believed that God is dead, then can you explain the lyrics of their song After Forever, from their 1971 album Masters of Reality? If you looked at the lyrics objectively, then you’ll have realized that the lyrics don’t refer to Satanism at all. In fact, they are Christian. As another matter of fact, as I’m sure the learned individuals who read this blog will know, Black Sabbath were never attached to Satanism at all, and it’s not just songs that reflect it. The whole image of them being supposedly being Satanic, as I’m sure you may know, is not only a lie, it was pretty much leveled against them by people who knew nothing about the band or what they were singing about. It’s based entirely on their name and the dark tone of their music, and the fact there are people who don’t understand anything about it. It’s so bad, that it never occurs to some people that the crosses that Black Sabbath wear are right-side up rather than upside down.

Black Sabbath during the 1970’s

I mean, it’s really quite baffling how musicians who went about wearing Christian crosses and put them on the stage could still be construed as Satanists, and it really speaks to level of ignorance present even in Christians. Not to mention, even if people were thinking of upside-down crosses, they’d still be thinking of Christian symbols. In Catholic Christianity, the upside-down cross is the sign of St. Peter, who is attested to be the founder of the first church, and it basically means “I am not worthy”, in reference to the story in which Peter is crucified upside-down instead of right-side up because he apparently felt he was unworthy to die in the same way as Jesus, to whom he was once a disciple. Pretty much all of the original line-up were Christian, and at least half of them Catholic.

Not to mention, whenever they talk about Satan/The Devil, it’s in a negative, Christian-influenced viewpoint, and right down to their self-titled song from their self-titled debut album, and that song talked about the Devil showing up and everyone being scared of him just like in the Middle Ages. I don’t think there was ever a metal band that sang about Satan in a celebratory fashion, and with genuine references to Satanism, until Venom showed up, and even then it was basically all for fun in their case. The same album had a song called N.I.B. which was also about the Devil (referred to as Lucifer), but it was about him falling in love and supposedly becoming “good” because of it. The second album, Paranoid, only has one song that has anything remotely to do with Satan, and it’s in traditional Christian context. Masters of Reality has a song called Lord of this World, in which the Devil is the evil overlord of this world, like he’s treated by Christians and their Bible. To be honest, I doubt religion and the devil are as highly talked about in Black Sabbath’s lyrics as people think, and people seem to be think that’s the bulk of what they talk about. A lot of their songs are about lots of other subjects including drug use, war, the horrors being inflicted upon mankind and the world by mankind itself, love (but not really in the same way all those pop and soul songs were doing it), and other subjects. I think the crosses and the name were all supposed to fit in with their dark, heavy, and striking sound, and I can only assume it worked even if not entirely the way they intended it.

Speaking of the Devil, I also suspect that Black Sabbath pretty much knew nothing about real Satanism and were entirely ignorant of it. Below is what Geezer Butler, Black Sabbath’s lyricist, stated on the BBC TV program Classic Albums about the song War Pigs.

“I wanted to write a song called ‘Walpurgis’ – you know, the Satanic version of Christmas – write it about that Satan isn’t a spiritual thing, it’s warmongers. That’s who the real Satanists are, all these people who are running the banks and the world and trying to get the working class to fight the wars for them.”

When you describe Walpurgis Night as basically Christmas for Satanists and warmongers as the “real” Satanists (never mind that here Satanists are confused with devil-worshipping cultists in the Christian sense), then your ignorance, nay stupidity, on the subject of Satanism becomes obvious, and I can’t find myself showing a lot of respect for people who are possessed of such ignorance. And that’s sad when you consider the virtues of the music itself, most prominently the way it challenged the hopes of the optimistic climate of the 1960’s and the tastes and expectations of “liberal” middle-class culture and the conservative mores and climate that may usually wag its finger at rock music in general, and the way it first introduced heaviness and darkness to music.

Dealing with musical ignorance

I went to this store just this afternoon where I knew there was a guitar that really looked like it could do business, and I wanted to look at it and see if I wanted to buy it (with the money I have, it seemed possible). I’m not giving up my games design course (yet), but I wanted to pursue making metal music alongside my other interests and plans, mainly so I have something to fall back on and because you never know when fortunes may change and opportunities may arise. Anyways, while I was considering making the purchase, I felt like the salesperson was a little too excited, having a little too much faith in me. Then again he’s a salesman, it’s his job to sell you something and make the profit (then again, he was nice enough to through in an amp for free). That’s not the worst part though, since about 6 other people I know believed in me and it’s honestly a good thing. The worst part was what he assumed me and my brother would be both be in a band, and the same band, and that we would have a boisterous interview with Simon Cowell (urge to asphyxiate someone rising), and that we might be the next Proclaimers (in reference to the rock band called The Proclaimers). You won’t believe how I managed to hold back any thoughts of wrath in the face of such ignorance.

The guy apparently knows about musical instruments, but in my opinion he is one of many people in this day and age who has no idea what heavy metal is, and so cannot understand what I may intend to do. He saw my hair and my outfit, which was all predominantly influenced by heavy metal, thrash metal, and speed metal culture since the 1980’s, but all he could think of was fucking Guns N Roses. Part of it isn’t even his fault, since I felt a little too lost for words, too concerned with making a purchase, and thus perhaps a little too off guard to correct him. And he had this opinion that I wanted to emulate the success of those huge rock bands of old, when my intent with a guitar is to make metal as an art-form and as a devotee of metal, rather than cater to the tastes of those who just want mindless generic rock. The sad thing is, it reminds me that not everyone has the same familiarity with metal music that I do or the same sense of discernment that I do, which rises from them not having the same interest in metal music as I do. And there are still a lot of people out there who’s idea of rock, particularly heavy rock and heavy metal, is stuck in the point in time in which they were about 18-25 years old, and they never looked past that or beyond that now, just as they failed to do in their youth. In my area, I once again get the impression that what I am interested in is unfamiliar to many. But the flipside of this is that it could make what I would like to do that much more interesting for people.

The heavy metal archetype of Satan

Heavy Metal Devil Horns by kennypick on Deviantart.com

As I have mentioned before, Satan is a figure commonly associated with heavy metal, but I think Satan’s association with heavy metal is not arbitrary, and not limited to how dark the music is. The presence archetype of Satan in heavy metal music makes a lot of sense to me.

I know that a main reason that Satan or demonic forces got associated with heavy metal is because of a musical interval known as diabolus in musica, or the tri tone, so named because in medieval times it was the sound that was believed to arouse the devil himself. It was believed that the tri-tone was meant to arouse sexual feelings and the forces of darkness, which is why it is associated with the atmosphere of black masses and demonic activity as portrayed in music. It gained importance to heavy metal music because it was that some kind of sound that Black Sabbath evoked in their music, particularly their famous self-titled song, a sound they borrowed from classical music. The band wanted to use that kind of sound because they liked the effect it had for their music. They wanted to create music that was dark, heavy, and doomy, music that reflected the environment they grew up in. Remember, the guys who formed Black Sabbath grew up in a time when the optimism of the 1960’s had dissolved and the 1970’s was coming down on the masses as a time of disillusionment, fear, and woe after the dream of flower power died and became a nightmare. They had no idea they were raising the devil with their music, or were being perceived as such. They had a fascination with the occult, and particularly the dark side, and I suppose they wanted to make music that reflected the darker side of things, but they weren’t intending to raise the devil and they weren’t Satanists. In fact, Geezer Butler, the man who wrote the lyrics, had a pretty orthodox view of things, and his lyrics spoke more against Satan than for Satan. But in the minds of listeners, and for those who would go on to turn their music into the whole of heavy metal, this is the sound that really did evoke Satan itself. Because of this, and other bands that became known for putting Satan on their album covers, writing songs about Satan, or generally employing Satanic imagery, Satan became the archetype for heavy metal music as a whole.

But this still doesn’t answer the question of why this makes sense. All it does is provide background. The reason I feel the archetypal association of Satan with heavy metal music makes sense is because of how heavy metal music as a whole has developed, crystallized, and become what it is today. Satan represented the darker forces that the tri tone evoked, but as the music evolved Satan also came to represent rebellion (though some of that can be attributed to the fact that it shocked the parents of those who listened to it) and the metal mind-set as a whole, simply by becoming attached to the music. Of course in black metal the association is far more involved regarding the tradition of exalting Satan than other forms of music, and a lot of metal bands don’t actively write a lot about the devil, but in a lot of forms of metal flirting with demonic forces is a tradition, if at times a cliche, because of how much Satan has become attached to the music. Satan is an archetype for the music itself, and the mind-set of metal and its fans, and that rings true in a way closely aligned with the philosophy of Satanism perhaps without any conscious intention behind it.

Of course, for a lot of the musicians, it’s all in good fun, and it’s all about finding something that suits the music.

The face of Satan in heavy metal

If anything is traditionally ubiquitous in heavy metal, and not just extreme forms of metal, it’s any kind of association with the devil. Since a lot of heavy metal bands mention Satan in some way, it’s been assumed they are of the devil’s camp, even though it’s often done to be cool. Because of this, Satan has become a kind of cultural symbol for the world of heavy metal. A lot of people don’t seem to realize the diversity regarding how Satan is dealt with in heavy metal music.

There’s bands that sometimes sing about Satan but they’re just rocking out and trying to write cool songs. Examples I can think of include Exodus, Demon, Nuclear Assault (on their first album at least), Witchfinder General, and, in recent times, Enforcer.

There’s bands that do not frequently sing about Satan at all, but are still associated with Satan because of either the odd use of the Satanic pentagram or because conservative types don’t know any better. Examples I can think of include Motley Crue, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, and WASP. This also happens to hard rock acts outside of metal, such as KISS, Alice Cooper, and Ugly Kid Joe. There’s also plenty of metal bands that use devil imagery but are not really attached to Satan at all, and there’s too many of them to count. There’s even a band called Satan that doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Satan.

Then there’s bands where Satan is the whole point of their music, but not necessarily Satanism. Here Satan in the traditional or just rock and roll context is celebrated and central subject matter, often alongside other traditionally dark or evil forces. Examples I can think of include Venom, Mercyful Fate, Destruction (early on), Sodom (also early on), Bulldozer, Possessed, Onslaught, Infernal Majesty, Midnight, Speedwolf, and Ghost (aka Ghost BC), along with many black metal bands both old and new. I’d also like to mention that Running Wild used to sing a lot about Satan and demons until 1987, when they released Under Jolly Roger, when they started concentrating on writing songs about pirates and history, and in those days Satan was often written about as a heroic figure who brings freedom and peace to the good and destroys the worst of people. Also, with full-on black metal bands, not all of them are all about Satanism, and not all black metal musicians are actual Satanists or promote real Satanism. There are black metal musicians who are actually Satanists, and even then not all of them promote philosophies that can actually be called Satanism.

There’s also bands that, when they do sing about Satan, they sing about Satan from a negative point of view, as in they sing about how he’s supposed to be the bad guy from the Christian point of view or how he’s supposed to be defeated in those beliefs. Aside from so-called Christian metal bands (such as Stryper), there’s Megadeth, Hirax, Cage, Trouble, Pentagram (ironically enough), and Black Sabbath. Black Sabbath, the band that would come to be known for laying the foundations for heavy metal, never intended to use pentagrams or upside down crosses, nor did they intend to glorify Satan. They had an interest in the dark side, and an interest in creating dark and heavy music, but it was also a kind of fear of the dark side, and their style of music was intended to reflect the reality of the environment in which they lived in during their youth (at least until Ozzy Osbourne left the band), in contrast to the flower power being expressed in America.

Finally there’s the that come close to actual Satanism in terms of lyrics, in terms of actual veneration of Satan and sometimes actual philosophical Satanism, often mixed in with defiant anti-Christian sentiment. Examples include Behemoth, Morbid Angel, The Electric Hellfire Club (although they used to be just an industrial band), Root, Deicide, and Acheron. King Diamond of Mercyful Fate is also a genuine Satanist, but the songs he writes for both his solo band and Mercyful Fate are more like stories of devil worship and horror, though I suspect some proper occult context is vaguely applied in some songs. Also worth mentioning outside of heavy metal are bands called Coven and Black Widow. They are not heavy metal (Coven was psychedelic rock band, and Black Widow as a folk/progressive rock band), but they gained fame before Black Sabbath and before any heavy metal band for associating with overtly Satanic imagery or writing songs with a Satanic or occult themes (though Black Widow soon abandoned that direction), and their lyrics back then could make some later metal bands lyrics look pale or insincere by comparison.

And that’s basically it. All in all I really think the whole idea with Satan and rock and roll of any kind is to just have fun with it. A lot of times it’s ultimately shallow and you can only really take it at face-value, and some times you find genuine Satanism, but I think all you can do in the case of music is just have fun. If lyrics about Satan are fun for you, great. If not, you can always look at other songs. But if you care so much about real Satanism being proliferated in rock and metal music, then I’ll say what Alice Cooper once said: if you want real Satanism, don’t look in rock and roll.

The rich symbolism of my alter ego

Over a month ago I have been writing about my alter ego character in a notebook. Apparently I’ve given him a lot of rich symbolism pertaining to his character and his purpose in the world he is a part of. I write about my character on this blog for the pleasure of it, and because I feel the stuff I have written has been insightful enough that it merits mention. I have been working on this character for a long time, and through this time I have also found things about myself and my beliefs, so this character is very important to me. And I apologize in advance if it’s too long for you to read.

First, some background: He is a warrior, adventurer, treasure hunter, and protector of the world he lives in from the  has the power of fire; both the fire that brings light and the fire of demons. He also has the ability to stay underwater as long as he wants so that he can swim like a free spirit beneath the waters, can eat a lot without getting fat, he has red eyes glowing in the dark, can open up a third eye for discovering hidden presences and pathways, and is abundant in spiritual energy. He can also access a kind of demonic super form. His birthmark is the Aum symbol written as a Siddham letter. He uses the powers associated with Satan and Chaos for the sake of righteous and heroic cause, and he always tries to do what’s right but also what he pleases. He’s a passionate, confident, and energetic young man who manages to never lose his youth, but he has a soft side if brought out by the right people, and lives in both indulgence and honor. Although he is also an intense and emotional character, he never seems to brood. He fights not out of any sense of duty or obedience, but out of his own instincts and because he wants to do it and believes in his actions. He’s basically a lot like me, or the kind of life I want to live. He’s one with that force of passion and chaos, and the primal fires, and he lives as a warrior with heat and light in his heart and the fabric of his being. He also shares my own ideas and beliefs, naturally, and looks like me except his look is perfectly executed. Aside from fighting and adventuring, he likes to eat, swim, love, treasure hunt, and rock, and he seems to get along well with wild animals.

Now that that’s over with, the symbolism and meaning that has become attached to the character.

Exhibit 1 – The birthmark

As I just mentioned, his birthmark is the Aum written in Siddham script. According to Hindu belief, the Aum represents infinite energy, God, and the divine. It also representsthe cycle of  life, death, and rebirth from Hindu belief, as representing by each phoneme A, U, and M respectively, though there is also A for life and Um (or Un) for death. The latter is represented by two varieties of Japanese temple guardians: the komainu (lion-dogs), and the Kongorikishi (wrath-filled muscular guardians of the Buddha). In both cases, one has its mouth open and the other has its mouth closed. The open mouth is A, and the closed mouth is Un or Um, which together mean life and death.

It’s meant to connect to the characters abundant personal energy, a trait which was also inspired by Ichigo Kurosaki from the anime Bleach. May also represent a connect with timeless energy and force. It’s also meant to denote my alter ego’s role as the protector of his own world. Take from that what you will…

Exhibit 2 – The colors red and black

Alex’s two colors are red and black, which naturally are also my favorite colors. To many, they mean either evil or anarchism, but those connotations are not present here. It started with Shin Megami Tensei, where they were the colors of the Chaos faction, which I aligned with, and they were also colors of another favorite video game character, Shadow the Hedgehog (who I freely confess made machine guns look cool). But since then more symbolism got attached to it.

In Balinese folklore, red, black, and white are the colors associated with a powerful witch demon Rangda, who was believed to be the queen of demons. Rangda’s colors are also attached to Kali, the Hindu goddess of time, change, destruction, and power, and Rangda is also believed to have been linked with Kali and Durga, the latter of which was the warrior mother goddess of victory over evil. Funny enough, while Rangda is seen in Balinese folklore as an evil demon, she was also seen as a protector in some parts of Bali, similar to Kali’s occasional representation as a protective goddess.

The demon queen Rangda

Speaking of demons, in Buddhist lore, the asuras (borrowed from Hindu lore) are depicted as red-skinned and the rakshasas (also Hindu in origin) are depicted with black skin, and both are vicious demons who, in Japan, were also tasked with protecting the Buddhist law. In Christian-influenced Western belief, Satan and his demons are commonly represented by the colors red and black, presumably because of their connection with sin, evil, lust, aggression, mystery, and darkness. It’s probably because of this that red and black have become so attached with Satanism (after all, it wouldn’t be Satanism without any conception of Satan now would it?). But there is still so much more to red and black here than just demons and Satan. In fact, the chief symbolism here is actually from Taoism.

In Taoism, there are the two natural principles of yin and yang, yin being the dark, passive, and mysterious principle, and yang being the bright, assertive, and magnetic principle. Yin is black and yang is white, but yang has also been represented as red, presumably because red represents qualities attached to the yang principle. Anyways, for Taoist belief, yin and yang must exist in harmony and as complimentary forces and do not exist as opposites that must triumph over each other. With that in mind, the key meaning is formed. Red means heat, force, and dynamism, while black means mystery, darkness, and space. Together, they actually represent energy in its most primordial form, and in the twin forces of heat and darkness. It could also represent light and darkness in union too, since fire brings light as well as heat.

Yin and yang

Black is generally associated with the occult, demons, the left hand, disaster, mystery, death, and chaos, but in some cultures it represents life. In Japan black means life, while white actually means death. In China, black is the color that represents the element of water for some reason. Black also points to Kali and the Buddhist Mahakala, who was a Buddhist incarnation of the Hindu god Shiva.  Red means heat, fire, vitality, passion, but in Japan it is also the traditional color of the hero and the color for expelling demons and illness (a bit ironic considering all this talk of demons from before), as well as the sun and summer. For my alter ego, red and black are the simplest symbols of his dual affinity for the bright power of fire and the dark power of the demons, for righteousness and vice, for the union of moral integrity and animal instinct, and for the directing of dark power and heat towards the pursuit of a just cause.

The theory of his color scheme is also evocative of Baphomet, not to be confused with Satan (though Satan does have influence here). Baphomet is a symbol of the union of or harmony between forces that are either opposite or mutually distinct. Thus Baphomet brings together the forces that I have mentioned throughout this section.

Exhibit 3 – The power of demons and chaos as a sword of righteousness

While the idea may have started with playing video games like Devil May Cry and Shin Megami Tensei, there are actually links to mythology and religious belief.

In Egypt, there is the god Set, who was the god of the desert and storms, and later evil and chaos. Even before the people of Egypt turned Set into a god of evil, he was seen as a wild, tumultuous, and sometimes hostile deity, but it is Set who protects the sun god Ra in the daily battle against Apep, the serpent of entropy and annihilation. Funny enough he was also seen as the lord of the red sands and Horus was the lord of the black soil. Set was also linked with the Semitic god Baal (or Hadad). In fact, there was a time when people from Western Asia, referred to as the Hyksos, ruled Egypt. They worshiped the storm god Baal, who became linked with the Egyptian storm god Seth, and they were both worshipped as Seth-Baal, sometimes in an almost monotheistic fashion, until the Hyksos were driven out of Egypt. Also, a friend and personal spiritual teacher of mine (who I remember as The Desolate One) told me a theory that when Set defeated Apep, he took on the power once linked with Apep, and that this is how he become the god of darkness, reviled as the god of evil. I think we both followed with the idea that Baal did the same after defeating Yam.

Set and Apep by badgersoph on Deviantart

As usual though, much of my inspiration comes from Asia, and there’s a lot of symbolism to be found in Buddhist lore. In Tibet, there are deities who seem vicious and demonic, to the point that those who first look upon them unaware of their role in the Buddhist faith would construe them as no different to demons. But in truth, they represent the violent reality of both the cosmos and the human mind, and they serve the purpose of protecting the Buddhist faith and practitioners, and  helping the practitioner attain enlightenment by clearing away the obstacles to enlightenment (at least from the Buddhist point of view). These beings are referred to as wrathful deities. They are based on violence and power, they have a violent nature and a demonic appearance, but they are not necessarily evil at all. In fact, they also symbolize the tremendous amount of effort and force needed to vanquish evil. In Japan, a similar term is Kishin, which means “fierce god” or “demon god”, and they are guardian gods.

vajrapani19

Vajrapani, an example of one of the wrathful deities

They are actually supposed to be benevolent, but their appearance is meant to instill terror into the forces of evil and drive them back, much like the appearance of gorgon heads on Greek temples or gargoyles on medieval Christian churches. It’s also interesting to note that some of these deities, according to tradition, were once the native gods or demons of the land prior to being defeated in magical combat with the guru Padmasambhava and converting to Buddhism. The only problem is this does mean these beings serve the Buddhist faith as a result of being defeated and subjugated by someone else, rather than by being convinced that it aligns with their own convictions.

The concept of demonic beings enlisted to protect the Buddhist faith is further expressed in Japanese Buddhism, though often it is after the demons are defeated or captured (such as with Fujin and Raijin). But that is not always the case. There is a story of a goddess named Hariti, who used to be a yaksha demon from Pakistan who killed human children in order to feed her hundreds of children. Siddhartha Gautama wanted to stop this so he hid one of her sons under a bowl, then he told Hariti that her suffering from losing one of her children cannot be compared to the suffering of all the mothers whose few children became her victims. Realizing the depth of her actions and feeling remorse for them, she converted to Buddhism and pledged to be the protector of children and childbirth, and promised to eat pomegranates instead of human children. Another story is the story of Atavaka, or Daigensui Myo-O as he is known in Japan. Similar to Hariti, Atavaka was once a child-eating yaksha demon, but after encountering Siddartha Gautama, he converted to Buddhism and become a yaksha king, protector of the southwest direction, and a vassal to the warrior deity Bishamonten. Atavaka was also considered the chief of all the spirits and demons protecting the land.

Japanese esoteric Buddhism also has a deity named Rastetsuten, who is considered one of the twelve devas who protect the four directions, the four semi-directions, the sun, the moon, up, and down. Rasetsuten protected the southwest direction of the heavens and was master of the rakshasa demons. In Hindu lore rakshasas were cannibalistic demons who practiced black magic, desecrated gravesites, disrupted sacrifices, and had venomous fingernails, but in Mahayana Buddhist texts they converted to Buddhism and served to protect the dharma. Another Hindu demon who takes on a protective role in Japanese Buddhism is the asura, who in Hinduism were previously considered demonic spirits who fought against the gods. In Buddhist lore they are merely semi-divine beings addicted to various passions, but most especially strife and conflict, though they are also capable of being virtuous and pious. In Vedic lore, the term asura was an epithet meaning “mighty” and referred to power and strength, and was attributed to various Vedic gods.

A rakshasa

Come to think of it, it seems demons have been a force of protection from evil and fighting evil, as well as promoting evil, destruction, and chaos, for a long time in many beliefs outside of Christianity, general Western culture, and Islam.

In some cultures, while snakes were associated with healing, wisdom, and fertility, even before Christianity they were also associated with danger and darker and more chthonic forces. This was the case in ancient Greece, where serpents are most classically associated with the chthonic monster known as the gorgon (among whom was the famous Medusa). But in Greece, the oldest oracles were said to be protected by serpents (including the monster Python who guarded the oracle at Delphi), and the heads of gorgons appeared on temples to protect against malign forces. Gorgon masks were also carved to protect from the evil eye. Medusa herself appears in a temple to Artemis in Corfu, where she is a guardian of the temple. In Babylon and Assyria, there is the demon Pazuzu (who some may recognize as the spirit that possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist). He was an evil spirit of wind who brought plague, disease, famine, and locusts, but he was also invoked to protect humans from plague, disease, and misfortune, particularly the kind brought by a demonic goddess named Lamashtu. Mesopotamian folklore also describes storm demons known as Ugallu, who were also considered beneficial protective demons and were depicted and invoked in charms. In India, the yakshas are sometimes treated as demons, but they are also seen as benign earthly protector spirits. Demons and ghouls are also found as the hosts of the Hindu god Shiva, and those hosts are said to frighten even the gods Brahma and Vishnu. Even today there are believers in the paranormal and the occult who consider demons to be guardian spirits in the same sense that angels are, only that demons come from the darker side of the spirit world.

There is inspiration that follows a similar principle: Tantra. In Tantric Hindusim, things that are considered dark, taboo, even unspiritual can be considered sacred and/or valid pathways to the divine. Most recognized among their belief is the belief that material pleasures can be dedicated to God and that seemingly negative forces can be transformed into positive forces and religious bliss.

Outside mythology, the spirit of the righteous application of demonic power lives on in modern culture. In Japanese video games and anime, demons aren’t always a strictly negative force. And sometimes, in those settings, individuals associated with demons fight demons and protect the world and humans from evil with the help of their power. The anime Blue Exorcist is about a young man named Rin Okumura who is the son of Satan, but he fights demons and wants to defeat Satan (the Christian Satan). In the anime YuYu Hakusho, the main character Yusuku Urameshi is the main protagonist who protects the human world from various supernatural threats and he apparently has demon blood. In fact, he can access a demon form with some wicked long hair! In video games, Shin Megami Tensei lets you use demons and their power to potentially do good depending on your point of view. Demons are categorized by alignments based on the two axes of Light-Neutral-Dark and Light-Neutral-Chaos. For example, Kishin refers to warrior deities, and they are attached Light-Chaos, my personal favorite alignment for demons. Perhaps Light-Chaos can refer to the righteous manifestation of the power of the demons. And who could forget the Devil May Cry games, which feature humans with demonic blood who fight demons with the help of the power of demons. Most famous among  them of course is Dante, who has become a true hack and slash icon and a personal inspiration for me and my alter ego.

Dante, son of Sparda

Exhibit 4 – Heavy metal culture

Probably because of my own interest in heavy metal music, the character I talk about here inherits influence from heavy metal music in his design and background. He has long hair that’s basically a mixture of Nikki Sixx’s hair from Motley Crue and a Japanese hairstyle I found one time.

I often draw him making the sign of the horns with his hands. It’s a sign that was officially introduced to heavy metal by Ronnie James Dio, after he joined Black Sabbath. He claimed he based it on the sign that his grandmother made with his hands: the malocchio. It was apparently used to ward off curses such as the evil eye. Since Dio, the sign of the horns has become a universal element of heavy metal culture, despite musicians of other genre and cultures copying it randomly.

My alter ego has by and large copied my fashion sense, which has absorbed other insignias of heavy metal culture. Among them, the sleeveless denim jacket and the bullet belt, both of them associated with traditional heavy metal, thrash metal, and speed metal, though the bullet belt can be found worn be fans of more extreme metal sub-genres, such as black metal and death metal, and members of such bands. Both fashion items were chosen as nods to heavy metal subculture.

A thrash metal fan wearing a bullet belt and a denim jacket with patches of various metal bands.

My character’s black jacket was initially based on a black long-sleeved jacket I usually wore, which I believe was made of cotton. But this jacket has become replaced by a black jacket made of leather, which is pretty much based on the denim and leather done by many old school heavy metal bands (except that I prefer black denim to blue denim). Denim and leather back then was such a recognized element of heavy metal fashion that it was the title of an album by one such band: Saxon.

But it’s not just the fashion of heavy metal that’s important. In fact, it only makes sense that my character, and I myself for that matter, would associate with heavy metal music. Heavy metal is the only music that represents what I feel I come from. Metal was the music of power and aggression, it’s the only music that has a lot of the kind of lyrical subject matter I like (demons, war, myth, lust, and warriors, among other lyrics) and to such an awesome sound, and it has a subculture that embraces what are in my mind the values of the warrior, the rebel, and the devil. It is aggressive music, raw energy, and the instrumentation channels said aggression to create a sublime sound, and many of my favorite metal bands channel aggressive music to make what is ultimately a positive sound. And the energy and passion I feel from the music is certainly a positive influence. So however you stretch it, metal deserves the influence it has. Because of the tendency of heavy metal to feature lyrics about demons, Satan, and the occult, it can be a good example of channeling inspiration from darkness to create something righteous, strong, and true.

Exhibit 5 – The action hero

The action genre is very influential not just from anime and video games, but of course action films. Early on I and one of my art teachers likened my alter ego to characters such as Dirty Harry, who upheld the law and busted criminals by flunking regulations and breaking the rules, thus exemplifying a classic example of the trope of the renegade cop, better known as the cowboy cop. Other well-known examples of the trope include Die Hard, Cobra, Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, Last Action Hero, and Demolition Man.

Cobra. It speaks for itself.

Speaking of Demolition Man, the main character John Spartan and not to mention the film itself have both been very inspirational. Before being cryogenically frozen, Spartan was the baddest cowboy cop in Los Angeles, busting exceptionally bad criminals without regard for proper protocol or concern for collateral damage. After being frozen, he wakes up to find that LA has become San Angeles, a crapsaccharine state without passion and no freedom to do anything other than following the plans Dr. Raymond Cocteau has for your life, and eventually Simon Fenix, the worst criminal Spartan has ever faced, also arrives after being cryogenically frozen. He eventually defeats and kills Fenix, but also challenges and topples the pristine order of San Angeles through the destruction of the cryo prison (though Fenix kills Cocteau before all this happens). Spartan then challenges the people of San Angeles to try and live in a world of both order and wild freedom, thus echoing the idea of a character who fights for freedom and to preserve justice.

My favorite anime characters are pretty much always action character with weapons (albeit swords instead of guns), such as Ichigo from Bleach. Of all of them, Ichigo always had a lot of appeal. He was hot-headed, and hot-bleaded, but he never gave up, never backed down, and always tried to fight for what he thought was right because he wanted to.

Ichigo Kurosaki from Bleach

Exhibit 6 – The demonic super form

The alter ego’s demonic super form is ostensibly a combination of Super Sonic from the Sonic the Hedgehog series, which itself was based on the Super Saiyan state from Dragon Ball, and Dante’s Devil Trigger state from the Devil May Cry games. Similar tropes also appear in various other video games, as well as anime. My character’s particular super form also derives from not just Satan with his horns, but also the flaming aura that surrounds the Buddhist wrathful deities of Tibet and Japan.

Fudo Myo-O

The super form also has a third eye, which is ostensibly derived from Shiva. In fact, the flaming aura itself is also a manifestation of the flaming aura of both Shiva and the goddess Kali

Exhibit 7 – Other mythological/religious elements

My character frequently uses weapons that have some link to Asian religious themes, often as bonus weapons, including the vajra and the trishula, which are attached many Buddhist deities, along with the Hindu gods Indra and Shiva respectively.

My alter ego’s jacket is set to have a flaming ram’s head on the back of it, which is an allusion to the Hindu god Agni, the zodiac sign Aries, and the Egyptian symbolism of the ram as the soul of the sun god. In this light, the ram is a symbol of the spirit of the sun, fire, heat, light, energy, and enthusiasm.

Like myself, my alter ego wears a Satanic pentagram, which represents not just Satanism, but the powers of darkness and demons, and in this case the principle of using the powers of darkness to pursue a just cause and righteous ideals.

When my alter ego belt buckle is a monstrous demon head, based on the Kirtimukha and Rahu. Kirtimukha is a demon-like image that sometimes adorns temples to Shiva and halos that surround the Shiva and his family. It represents the hunger that pervades the universe and drives all life as attested to in Hindu belief and mythology. Rahu was a demon in Hindu myth who tried to devour the sun. There is also Tao Tie, a fiend from Chinese mythology who represents hunger. I have also considered using a lion’s head for his belt buckler (possibly with a demonic twist). It was inspired by Isamu Nitta’s belt buckle from Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne (which is based on Azazel from Soul Hackers), but it can also be a nod to the lion as a symbol of the Zoroastiran spirit of destruction, Ahriman, based on the Mithraic depiction of Ahriman or Arimanius.

Kirtimukha

Other things

I must also mention the fan-made Grey Jedi Code associated with Star Wars, which I have already described in full here.

As I mentioned before, my alter ego’s abilities are often based on my own traits. Such as his ability to swim being based on my like of water and personal desire to swim more, and the food thing being related to liking to eat like an animal, and eating a lot without getting fat as a kid. And the animals thing is not just related to Shiva or the Horned One, but the fact that I like to talk about animals as a kid.

In general, his preference of weapons (katanas and machine guns) is inspired by video games, particularly Shin Megami Tensei, Final Fantasy, and Shadow the Hedgehog, as well as my interest in Japanese martial arts and American action films.

And that’s pretty much it. I took way too damn long writing this because I needed to get everything down that needed to be gotten down. Either way I hope this long post can be appreciated as an assessment of my own alter ego and the ideas that shape it, and thus the ideas that actually have shaped me as a person and relate to me as a person to the core of my self.