Metal and great literature go together like crime and punishment. One will inevitably lead you to the other. When we think of black metal, for example, we tend to picture crazed musicians scouring occult books and even more maniacal professors struggling to complete their essays on black metal theory. The academic community’s strange affinity for black metal was probably born from the fact that overdosing on books will make you bang your head against the wall until you mark yourself with long-lasting scar. Literary texts can be brutal for a lot of reasons: They can be tedious, violent, hedonistic, mean-spirited, and even painfully honest.
Poe, Baudelaire, and Tolkien are among the authors that metallers reference most. Yet, there are so many other important thinkers who will make you want to stick your fingers into your eyes like Slipknot. Søren Kierkegaard will bring out your “Fear and Trembling,” Arthur Schopenhauer was obviously a downer, Machiavelli was a total fox, Camus was pretty absurd, Madame Helena Blavatsky was a diabolical charlatan, Immanuel Kant will bore you to death with his goddamn categories, and Ludwig Wittgenstein was toxic. The last miscreant seriously went around advising patients not to take their medicine while working as a porter during WWII. Emil Cioran, a Romanian-born philosopher, was certainly a dude who employed the same kind of skewed logic that a lot of us headbangers use: “Sometimes I wish I were a cannibal – less for the pleasure of eating someone than for the pleasure of vomiting him.”
Don’t let any of this leave you feeling too depressed. Besides, in famous works, you will find countless gruesome descriptions of death that will scare you into living. Take the fate that Émile Zola allotted to his prostitute protagonist Nana, for example. Is this Cannibal Corpse or is it a French novel from 1880?!
“She was fruit of the charnel house, a heap of matter and blood, a shovelful of corrupted flesh thrown down on the pillow. The pustules had invaded the whole of the face… and on that formless pulp, where the features had ceased to be traceable, they already resembled some decaying damp from the grave. One eye, the left eye, had completely foundered among bubbling purulence, and the other, which remained half open, looked like a deep, black, ruinous hole. The nose was still suppurating. Quite a reddish crush was peeling from one of the cheeks and invading the mouth, which it distorted into a horrible grin… Venus was rotting. “
And that is exactly why you should pick up a book! We now present our carefully chosen list of books that will help you become the most morbid, unscrupulous, pessimistic, and misanthropic metalhead you can be!
Georges Bataille’s Blue of Noon And More
If you dig human sacrifice and enjoy looking at pictures of mutilated bodies, guess what?! You and Georges Bataille, the philosopher of “the impossible,” have a lot in common. This naughty French librarian has actually inspired many rockers with his transgressive literature. Bataille’s works of various sorts are all must-reads: We love The Solar Anus, My Mother, Inner Experience, The Tears of Eros, The Dead Man, The Trial of Gilles de Rais, etc. The truth they reveal is “enough to kill ten thousand men.”
Bataille was a thoroughly black/death metal kind of guy. He penned the following in Guilt: “The need to go astray, to be destroyed, is an extremely private, distant, passionate turbulent truth.” Verily, Bataille was a thinker who understood philosophy’s limits and sought to leap beyond them. Bataille preferred to escape from “the world of discourse” and “logic.” One of his most memorable moments comes in Madame Edwarda when makes the claim that his prostitute heroine is “GOD figured as a public whore gone crazy.” He then explains “… he will only grasp me aright whose heart holds a wound that is an incurable wound.”
Blue of Noon is a great introduction to Georges Bataille’s totally unorthodox mind. It definitely is not his most shocking work. Yet, in a more subtle way, we think that it is his most compelling. Bataille dishes up hilarious yet nasty descriptions of the beloved philosopher and political activist Simone Weil, on whom the character Lazare was based. He’s the devil! At the heart of this whirlwind of a novella, which even whisks you into the heart of the Spanish Civil War for a bit, is a strange relationship between the womanizing Troppmann and the outrageous “Dirty,” or Dorothea. Dirty wastes away until she seems to resemble the “sunlike skeleton, of sulfur-colored bones” that had haunted Troppmann’s thoughts. Their lovemaking is particularly interesting:
“The earth beneath that body lay open like a grave; her naked cleft lay open to me like a freshly dug grave. We were stunned making love over a starry graveyard. Each of the lights proclaimed a skeleton in its grave, and they thus formed a wavering sky, as unsteady as the motions of out mingles bodies…”
After temporarily parting with Dororthea at the end of the novella, Troppmann observes “Nazi boys” on a stage in military formation. They are characterized by “sticklike stiffness” and some even have “doll-like faces.” The following is the best, sickest, and most disturbing description of the fascist mentality that you will ever read:
“In front of them, their leader — a degenerately skinny kid with the sulky face of a fish — kept time with a long drum major’s stick. He held this stick obscenely erect, with the knob at his crotch, it then looked like a monstrous monkey’s penis that had been decorated with braids of colored cord. Like a dirty little brute, he would then jerk the stick level with his mouth; from crotch to mouth, from mouth to crotch, each rise and fall jerking to a grinding salvo from the drums. The sight was obscene. It was terrifying — if I hadn’t been blessed with exceptional composure, how could I have stood and looked at these hateful automatons as calmly as if I were facing a stone wall? Each peal of music in the night was an incantatory summons to war and murder. The drum rolls were raised to their paroxysm in the expectation of an ultimate release in bloody salvos of artillery. I looked into the distance… a children’s army in battle order. They were motionless, nonetheless, but in a trance. I saw them, so near me, entranced by a longing to meet their death, hallucinated by the endless fields where they would one day advance, laughing in the sunlight, leaving the dead and the dying behind them.”
It is mind-blowing to think that Blue of Noon was completed in 1935! Bataille was a true prophet, who knew that “All things were surely doomed to conflagration…”
Georges Bataille’s most popular novel is Story of the Eye. It involves blood, bull’s testicles, orgies, voyeurism, and much more. In the end, a church becomes the scene of debauchery wherein a handsome young blond priest is corrupted and then murdered. His eye is removed and inserted into a character’s vagina, where it comes to represent the eye of a girl whose suicide the story’s lead couple unintentionally provoked: “… in Simone’s hairy vagina, I saw the wan blue eye of Marcelle, gazing at me through tears of urine. Streaks of come in the streaming hair helping give the dreamy vision a disastrous sadness. I held the thighs open while Simone was convulsed by urinary spasm, and the burning urine streamed out from under the eyes down to the thighs below…” How very Nattefrostean! In any case, it’s too bad about the priest, because we are told that he had “the eyes of a saint.” What kind of a person would write such things?! Georges had to deal with the fact that he and his mother left his wheelchair-bound father, who had gone mad, to die “blind and desperate, but with his eyes towards the sun” during WWI.
Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None
Don’t you dare call Nietzsche a Nazi: Georges Bataille was one of the first voices to defend the great philosopher against such slanderous accusations, which depend on the type of laziness that wills not to understand. So enjoy Thus Spoke [or Spake] Zarathustra with a guilt-free conscience! Our hero Zarathustra is about to make your life a whole lot easier and also harder as he sets you on the path for All and None: He encourages you to do away with “fellow-suffering” and realize “that there is struggle and inequality even in beauty, and war for power and supremacy…” No, Zarathustra’s lonesome “Way of the Creating One” is not for the weak:
“Ready must thou be to burn thyself in thine own flame; how couldst thou become new if thou have not first become ashes!
Thou lonesome one, thou goest the way of the creating one: a God wilt thou create for thyself out of thy seven devils!”
Wicked! This poetic text is elitist, snotty, misanthropic, and steeped in forest-dwelling awesomeness. In other words, it is not only the most beautiful, but also the most black metal book ever written. In the chapter “The Higher Man,” Zarathustra teaches:
“‘Man is evil’ — so said to me for consolation, all the wisest ones. Ah, if only it be still true to-day! For the evil is man’s best force.
‘Man must become better and eviler’ — so do I teach. The evilest is necessary for the Superman’s best.
It may have been well for the preacher of the petty people to suffer and be burdened by men’s sin. I, however, rejoice in great sin as my great CONSOLATION. —
Such things, however, are not said for long ears. Every word, also, is not suited for every mouth. These are fine far-away things: at them sheep’s claws shall not grasp!”
Since this is a list about reading, let’s remember what Nietzsche would have to say about those who read him with spiced lattes. The following quote also explains why Shining’s Niklas Kvarforth sometimes signs copies of his book with his very own blood:
“Of all that is written, I love only what a person hath written with his blood. Write with blood, and thou wilt find that blood is spirit.
It is no easy task to understand unfamiliar blood; I hate the reading idlers.
He who knoweth the reader, doeth nothing more for the reader. Another century of readers — and spirit itself will stink.
Every one being allowed to learn to read, ruineth in the long run not only writing but also thinking.
Once spirit was God, then it became man, and now it even becometh populace.
He that writeth in blood and proverbs doth not want to be read, but learnt by heart.”
Here is another one of the most BM moments from Thus Spoke Zarathustra: “I tell you: one must still have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you: ye have still chaos in you.”
Heidegger’s Being and Time
Being and Time, which was dedicated to Edmund Husserl, is a perfect book for those who are feeling angsty. Heidegger informs us that what he calls “being-towards-death” is a prerequisite to living an authentic life. He defined “being-towards-death” as that “which is essentially anxiety” and neither means “actualizing death” nor ‘“dwelling upon the end in its possibility.” The following is a quote from Being and Time:
“… anticipation reveals to Dasein [‘Being-There,’ or ‘the entity which each of us is himself’] its lostness in the they-self, and brings it face to face with the impossibility of being itself, primarily unsupported by concernful solicitude, but of being itself, rather in an impassioned freedom towards death — a freedom which has been released from the Illusions of the “they”, and which is factical, certain of itself, and anxious.”
Later on, Heidegger also writes: “If a being is “essentially futural,” it will be “free for its death and can let itself be thrown back upon its factical ‘there’ by shattering itself against death…” Cool stuff, right?!
Some people view the self-discipline required to read difficult texts as these as a beneficial form of masochism. In this respect, Hegel’s The Phenomenology of the Spirit is another related must-read, even though it’s supposed to help you get past all the “master-slave” nonsense in your life. One of the most annoying things about The Phenomenology is that it’s meant to be constantly re-experienced. Thus, you will never be done with this monster once it has you in its maws. This book has wings: It is guaranteed to break a few of your table lamps. While you’re at it, Hegel’s Science of Logic is also bound to increase your ability to throw objects at a high speed.
Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle
Have you ever wanted to ruin your family’s holiday?! My Struggle will tell you how: “… I will always remember it, for it was pitch dark outside, the rain was beating against the windows, it was Christmas Eve Norway 1986… the presents were under the tree, everyone was dressed up, and the sole topic of conversation was Heidegger.” Savage! Uncle Kjartan’s Heidegger rants are made even more ruthless by the fact that his elderly grandma, who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, was shivering in the background. We hope that Kjartan didn’t discuss “being-towards-death.” In any case, the egocentric Heidegger, who was not one for “idle chatter,” probably would not have viewed Kjartan’s behavior as inappropriate: The genius from Meßkirch gave his own mother a special copy of Being and Time on her deathbed. Heidegger is good stuff, so it’s unfortunate that “no one [in Kjartan’s vicinity] wanted to understand.”
Karl Ove Knausgård’s 3,600-page autobiography, which was published in six books, has amassed an incredible amount of fame. After all, Karl Ove is a total rock star: In My Struggle, we hear about a “‘Rebel Yell’ [bus] stop.” This stands out because, like Billy Idol, the great author is a punk icon. Although Karl Ove has supporters all over the globe, he and his family have had to deal with much harassment over the years. My Struggle caused his second wife, author Linda Boström, to have a breakdown. The couple eventually divorced. Critics often accuse My Struggle of being immoral. Although Karl Ove took certain precautions, his project essentially laid bare the lives of those around him. Our verdict is that Karl Ove’s struggle for literary excellence is exceptionally meritorious.
What could be more brutal than describing the trivialities of everyday life?! Facing up to such facts would make an ordinary mortal tie a noose. Reality is harsher than fiction: Karl Ove’s account of his experience with the death of his alcoholic father is almost impossible to bear. He is honest enough to tell us about slashing his face, the time he attacked his room, his dirty business, and the resentment he sometimes felt as a father.
Karl Ove is often at his best and most lethal when dissing Swedish people — who we love, by the way — and comparing them to his fellow Norwegians. He wrote the following of one Malmö-based birthday mom who served carrot and cucumber sticks instead of soda and treats:
“I have no problem with uninteresting or unoriginal people – they may have other, more important attributes, such as warmth, consideration, friendliness, a sense of humor or talents such as being able to make a conversation flow to generate an atmosphere of ease around them, or the ability to make a family function – but I feel almost physically ill in the presence of boring people who consider themselves especially interesting and who blow their own trumpets.”
We must admit that we are a little afraid of Karl Ove since a death metal band winds up decapitated in his more recent novel The Morning Star. He literally slays our kind with his pen.
Marquis de Sade’s Justine
Georges Bataille was fascinated by the Marquis de Sade as well as the next pick on our list. It’s not difficult to understand why. Justine is actually even more unbearable than Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, for example, because we are forced to identify with the young female protagonist. Justine’s story is so painful because she is constantly punished for her stubborn idealism. Although there is nothing more important to her than virtue, she is reduced to “superb flesh… excellent lunch for the dogs,” who will maul the stripped, tree-bound girl. Justine’s descriptions of her various misfortunes are truly unreadable:
“… having made me crouch down upon all fours so that I resembled a beast, Dubois took in hand a very monstrous object and led it to the peristyles of first one and then the other of Nature’s altars, and under her guidance the blows it delivered to me here and there were like those of a battering ram thundering at the gates of a besieged town in olden days…”
The story involves perverted Christians, branding, jail, death, a demented surgeon, and much more. It brings you to dizzying lows and has a supernatural feel. If you are any percent human, this book will make you throw up.
If you actually enjoy Sade, however, you will also like Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. You can also check out Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne’s Anti-Justine. This bizarre shoe fetishist is apparently the reason why we have the word “pornography.”
Joris-Karl Huysmans’ Là-Bas
No, the greatest “J.K.” in literature is not Ms. Rowling. No one crafts lively scenes quite like Joris-Karl Huysmans with his top-notch Parisian Sketches and Marthe, the story of a prostitute. You might be surprised to learn that Huysmans is actually a favorite author of Watain’s Erik Danielsson. There would certainly be a reason for it! Là-Bas’ protagonist Durtal is the type of curmudgeon to whom we metalheads can instantly relate: “There is no denying that the human creature is born selfish, abusive, vile.” Là-Bas, which has been translated as Down There and The Damned, is the first book in a trilogy. Là-Bas takes on the topic of Satanism and ultimately takes us into a black mass.
If Bataille’s biography of Gilles de Rais, the serial killer of children who was once Jean D’Arc’s right-hand man, did not satisfy your desire to learn more about this deplorable nobleman, Là-Bas will give you nightmares on the topic. Durtal has conjured up the following vision for his book:
“Gilles now sees on the trunks frightful cancers and horrible wens. He observes exostoses and ulcers, membranous sores, tubercular chancres, atrocious caries. It is an arboreal lazaret, a venereal clinic… Amid the sanguinary falling leaves he feels that he has been spattered by a shower of blood.”
You might ask: What’s the attraction to Gilles?! This explanation should suffice:
“… we must admit that he distinguished himself from the most delirious sadists, the most exquisite virtuosi in pain and murder, by a detail which seems extrahuman… His ferocity… becomes spiritual… By a thoroughly Satanic cheat he deceives gratitude, dupes affection, and desecrates love. At a leap he passes the bounds of human infamy and lands plump in the darkest depth of Evil.”
If you like Là-Bas, you should also read Sorcery in Poitou and Instrumentum Diaboli.
Huysman’s most known work is À rebours, which has been translated as Against Nature and Against the Grain. This novel features one of the most brutal depictions of the unintentional torture of animals that we can think of: The ridiculous protagonist gilds his pet turtle and has it covered in an armor of carefully chosen precious stones. This very act, however, kills it and Des Esseintes soon discovers its lifeless body: “…it had not been able to support the dazzling splendour imposed on it, the glittering garment in which it had been clad, the pavement of precious stones wherewith they had inlaid its poor back like a jewelled pyx.” Des Esseintes is so anal and intolerably neurotic that he becomes infinitely amusing.
Jean Genet’s The Thief’s Journal
The partially autobiographically and highly poetic The Thief’s Journal is your perfect gateway into Genet’s world of vice. Jean Genet was the son of a prostitute whose identity as a thief was cemented early on. Yet, this criminal and vagabond became the author of many of the most awe-inspiring and impossibly beautiful novels, plays, and essays known to humanity. Genet’s most popular work is Our Lady of the Flowers, which was born both from and to assist the divine power of onanism while he was in prison. Genet, the mischievous master of smoke and mirrors, has been dubbed “lord of evil” by the next pick on our list. After all, Genet loved perversion, murder, and all types of unlawful forms of rebellion.
The outlaw-poet also LOVED real-life killers, such as Maurice Pilorge, Eugen Weidmann, and (Yes, again!) Gilles de Rais. In The Thief’s Journal, Genet wrote: “… I have roots in that French soil which is fed by the powered bones of the children and youths buggered, massacred and burned by Gilles de Rais.” Gilles’ ability to make the people weep for him, in spite of his heinous crimes, would have appealed to Genet, who enjoyed turning things “inside out like a glove” and made betrayal his highest value.
We highly recommend Edmund White’s Genet: A Biography to better understand this French hero. You can find one of the book’s most amusing anecdotes below:
“The next morning Genet awakened bright and early in a strange Hollywood mansion. No one was awake. Genet couldn’t have spoken to them in any event, so he phoned Jane Fonda. She said she’d be right over to rescue him — but where was he staying? He said he had no idea. ‘Listen,’ she said, ‘go outside and look at the swimming pool, then come back to me and describe it.’ Genet did as he was told and Fonda exclaimed, ‘Oh, you’re at Donald Southerland’s, I’ll be right over.’“
White is a wicked awesome guy! We adore him. Let “Sir Edmund,” to make a Bataille joke, teach you all about “The Joy of Gay Sex” as well.
Jean-Paul Sartre’s Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr
Our last pick, which was written before this book, is dedicated to Sarte and “Castor,” Simone de Beauvoir. Sartre’s Saint Genet: Actor and Martyr is one of the most intellectually thrilling things you will ever read, yet it is also pure torture. Sitting through the slow 640 pages it requires to complete this book will make you wish you had the bronze ornament from Sartre’s No Exit to bludgeon yourself with.
In Being and Nothingness, Sartre wrote: “Nothingness lies coiled in the heart of being — like a worm.” Saint Genet proves that Sartre too is like a little worm in our hearts, or rather he is like "the flies" in his adaptation of the Electra myth. Almost all of the Nausea writer’s work strikes the right balance between irritating you and forcing you to grow. All the same, Saint Genet truly stands out. When you put two intolerable personalities together, you get double magic! Although Genet and Sartre may seem like opposites, Sartre also grew up without a father — Jean-Baptiste Sartre passed away when J-P was a baby.
Saint Genet covers topics like murder, defiance, sexuality, identity, language, and Good and Evil — a topic that metalheads may find especially fascinating. Sartre says that “Good is the vulture that gnaws at his [Genet’s] liver, and he values his vulture. He wants to save himself with Good and against it. It is Evil which is a ballet.” He later writes:
“Everything is already contained in the notion of radical Evil… The Evil-doer must will Evil for Evil’s sake, and since Good is prior to Evil, as Being is to Nothingness, it is from his original love of Good that he must draw the motives for doing evil and in his loathing of Evil that he must discover the attraction of Sin. The Evildoer’s will must be dual since it wills Evil in direct relation to its fundamental will to Good, while [Genet’s] rigorously preserving its inner unity.”
Jean Lorrain’s Monsieur de Bougrelon
If you want a novel about a painfully decadent and perverse dandy, pick up Monsieur de Bougrelon! The aging Bougrelon, whose name comes from the delightfully vulgar word “bougre”/“bugger,” takes us on a tour of Amsterdam that is not to be forgotten. Bougrelon is a terrible influence! Our eccentric protagonist loves to shock. Lorrain’s magic lies in the fact that he will leave readers wondering “WTF?!” for years to come. Lorrain loved drugs more than Mötley Crüe. This guy was so annoying that Proust once challenged him to a duel. We are glad that both of their pistol shots missed their targets. We also recommend Lorrain’s Monsieur de Phocas.
Maurice Blanchot’s Death Sentence
In the intensely frustrating yet majestic Thomas the Obscure, Maurice Blanchot wrote: “… the void seemed to me the ultimate fullness.” Blanchot’s description of the corpse of a girl named Anne is especially memorable here. Reading Blanchot is like staring into black waves and deciding whether or not to take a plunge. In his own weird way, this king of negativity is actually quite inspiring. His use of language is probably unlike anything you’ve ever encountered.
Death Sentence first tells of the male narrator’s relationship with a dying woman, J. — “I think she enjoyed forcing death to greater honesty and greater truth. She condemned it to become noble.” He then moves on to his experience with another woman, Nathalie, who will also die. He states: “I can say that by getting involved with Nathalie I was hardly getting involved with anyone: That is not meant to belittle her; on the contrary, it is the most serious thing I can say of a person.” Nice! We should all talk about our significant others this way. In any case, all relationships are bound to crumble anyway: “The shadow of yesterday’s world is still pleasant for those who take refuge in it, but it will fade. The world of the future is already falling in an avalanche on the memory of the past.” Keep looking on the dark side!