Since its advent, one indelible element in metal has always been the musicians' use (and abuse) of substances. Whether it be Electric Wizard's or Sleep's (and essentially the rest of the stoner metal/rock genre) non-stop smoke-a-thon, Iron Maiden's legendary Herculean drinking, Sigh's use of hallucinogenic mushrooms, or EyeHateGod's use of...well, everything.
As legendary comedian, Bill Hicks, put it, musicians who make the records you love and cherish are “real fucking high on drugs” and Metal is no exception. Despite metal’s historical connection with substance use, starting with none other than Black Sabbath, what I would argue to be “psychedelic elements” have only relatively recently been introduced into many unexpected sub-genres of metal. Keep in mind that I’m not referring to Stoner Metal/Rock because the basis for that entire sub-genre is drugs, so we won’t be addressing that green monster. The primary sub-genres that have recently injected psychedelic elements on a somewhat large scale have been the Viking, Folk, and Black Metal genres.
In the last decade there seems to have developed a fascination of psychedelia within the Black, Viking, and Folk Metal sub-genres. Since the late 90s and early 00s, bands within said genres of metal have been experimenting with their foundational sound. One way they have been doing so is incorporating, only if subtly, the sounds of 60s and 70s psychedelia.
There are a number of bands...Enslaved, Peste Noire, Blut Aus Nord, and more recently Nachtmystium, Drudkh, Nokturnal Mortum who have been experimenting with such sounds.
Since the early 2000s, Norwegian Progressive Black/Viking Metal band Enslaved has praised classic psychedelic/progressive rock bands like Pink Floyd and King Crimson amongst others, whose influence has been more than apparent in their music. They also have openly referred to their use of marijuana in interviews (I can't find the link, but I remember reading a hilarious interview in Terrorizer many moons ago).
With 2010 releases from Ukrainian Folk/Black Metal bands Drudkh ("Handful of Stars") and especially Nokturnal Mortum ("The Voice of Steel"), their music has taken on more psychedelic qualities. On Drudkh's newest release, they seem to have stripped down their sound to essentially a minimalist sound (at least by metal standards). Furthermore, there are definite echoes of 70s guitar rock solos and even an instance of experimental guitar noise. Nokturnal Mortum have an elongated passage in "..." where they combine a bouncing folk rhythm with a 70s era guitar rock solo echoing Pink Floyd.
American bands such as Nachtmystium have acknowledge the psychedelic elements in their music to such a degree that they their 2008 album, "Assassins: Black Meddle, Pt 1", was partially named after the Pink Floyd album, "Meddle". Furthermore, the introductory track "One of These Nights" which even has a similar galloping rhythm to the Pink Floyd track entitled "One of These Days" which opens up the Meddle album. Musically, there are parts of almost hypnotic repetition and even a fucking saxophone solo. Not surprisingly, Blake Judd of Nachtmystium often casually talks about his drug problems in interviews (http://www.nocleansinging.com/2011/05/01/an-ncs-interview-nachtmystium/)
Within French Black Metal bands, there seems to be a far eviler approach to their particular brand of psychedelia. Bands such as Blut aus Nord and Peste Noire have a psychedelic sound that what one might characterize as "disconcerting" and "disorienting". On "The Work Which Transforms God" by Blut Aus Nord, one practically develops vertigo as the guitars swirl with dynamic use of the whammy bar and abstract dissonance. What can be said about Peste Noire that hasn't been said before? In their bizarre brand of black metal, they include birds chirping and French baroque/folk music (complete with accordion accompaniments). I pray every night to Prince of Darkness that Famine won't be committed to a mental hospital so he can continue to make righteously mind-altering black metal.
Who can forget English Black Metal madmen, The Meads of Asphodel? Their use of psychoactive substances (http://www.metalstorm.net/bands/biography.php?band_id=588&bandname=The+Meads+Of+Asphodel) has been documented and is more than apparent in their odd amalgam of Black Metal and seemingly every other style of music known to man.
So what is it about? Why this emergence in an oft looked down upon style of music in Black/Viking/Folk Metal, and hell, metal in general? For me, I often think about metal as a type of music that pushes the musicians and the listeners to a point of sensory overload in more ways than one. Adding psychedelic elements is just a different way that that point of "sensory overload" can be pursued. Rather than pursuing that point through pushing physical boundaries, these bands are pursuing that point through pushing mental boundaries.
I could go on and on about this, but I'll cut myself short while I'm ahead.
Tune in. Horns up. Drop out.
- Judge Dredd