Conquest Music Inc. recording artist MONSTROSITY will release the “LIVE APOCALYPSE” DVD on March 13, 2012. The specially priced DVD includes their explosive set filmed at the legendary Brutal Assault Festival in Josefov Czech Republic. Also included are interview segments, live clips from South America, rehearsal footage, and the making of the Spiritual Apocalypse recording.
With the fiftieth anniversary of metal music around the corner, forthcoming years will witness an increase of publications dealing with the history, legacy and defining characteristics of the genre. This could finally resolve the lack of consensus that still exists regarding the definition and origins of heavy metal.
As many movies from the 80s and 90s will tell you (e.g. SLC Punk and PCU), youth counter cultural movements of those decades were once various fragmented groups or “tribes” baring their own identity while all opposing the mainstream Whitney Houston and boy bands on the radio. You had your goths, new wavers, punk rockers, emos, ect. at war with the “jocks and cheerleaders” collective of popular kids and, in some cases, at war with each other. But in the years to follow, the deadly combination of multiculturalism and micro culture has effectively ended this conflict as there was no longer a singular popular culture and therefore no “them” in the classic “us vs. them” dynamic. Therefore, these varying counter cultural factions were unified into one ugly all encompassing monstrosity: the hipster.
As part of our Retro Reviews series, DMU looks into one of those classic bands that was on every Gen X death metal fan’s shelf, but probably never made it out for repeated playing after the early 1990s. Some bands just seem to fade… into the background.
This interview was completed with Blender Jeremy Reeves, Adam O’Neill and Ted Swearingen.
Like many Hessians, I enjoy Nicotine, not only for its calming mental state but for its cognitive benefits. While I love cigarettes, snuff, chew, cigars and cigarillos, my ultimate love is the pipe: a method of absorbing Nicotine slowly, with maximum flavor, that rewards the contemplative mind.
Cornell & Diehl is releasing a new The Beast tobacco blend. Some have said this is just an extended April Fool’s joke. Is it for real? When does it come out?
The Beast is certainly for real, and will be C&D’s second Small Batch release. There will be 777 tins made, and the official retail release date is April 29th.
What will The Beast be like, and will it feature tribute to Crowley’s lore-famed mixture of rum-soaked Perique?
The Beast is quite powerful and very heavy, being mostly Perique, and the whole blend has been soaked in rum for 7 days. It is undeniably Crowley inspired, and that in and of itself is our tribute.
Have you ever smoked rum-soaked Perique straight and if so, what did you think of it? How will The Beast compare?
I have and honestly I rather enjoyed it. I actually smoke our long-cut Perique straight occasionally on my drive home. If you puff like a freight train, it will knock your socks off, but if you just keep it simmering, the depth of flavor is mesmerizing, and the nicotine is slow to come on and builds nicely.
The Beast is a powerhouse, but it is not straight Perique. I like to think that we have tamed the beast a bit.
How long does it take you guys to invent a new blend recipe? Is there a lot of trial and error? What’s the most fun part?
That all depends on the specific blend in question. I always make several versions of a blend and try different approaches or methods. Sometimes I get it in the first few tries, and sometimes it takes weeks or months of experimentation. There are two blends that I have been working on for about 6 months, and they are getting close to completion but still aren’t quite right.
In the case of The Beast, Ted Swearingen and I collaborated on the blending. We each came up with several recipes and then smoked through the lot together with Shane Ireland and Sykes Wilford. What a time that was! Four guys in a little room smoking seven different versions of this really heavy, rum-soaked Perique blend for about an hour. By the end of it, we all were glazed over, dazed, sweating, and dizzy!
With the new C&D “small batch” line, you’re trying something different. Is this a way for C&D to “test the waters” with new blends? About how much of each small batch do you initially produce?
Yes and no. I don’t necessarily think of Small Batch as a way to test the waters for large scale production, but rather a way for us to be creative and try new things without having to commit to a blend that may be too niche to produce on a more permanent basis.
The C&D line is quite large already, so this model gives us more freedom to try things that might be be difficult in regular production or to use special ingredients that are in limited supply. The possibilities are a lot more open in Small Batch, because we are only going to make the blend one time.
The first round of Small Batch was “Straight Up English,” and we did 400 tins. They all sold in two hours. There will be 777 tins of The Beast released. Next time? That’s anybody’s guess.
Did this approach grow out of a previous marketing strategy by C&D? It seems like you were very adventurous in putting a lot of blends out there and seeing what “stuck” with the audience. How do you know if a blend “sticks”?
That’s actually a remarkably pertinent question given that The Beast is coming out under our Small Batch label. Our main vision for this line was to be able to be more flexible and creative in the blending process without having to commit to production of a large run. In the case of Straight Up English, we’d received some particularly good bright Virginias from Canada and wanted to showcase the interplay between those leaves and Latakia. In the case of “The Beast,” we just wanted a chance to tinker with Crowley’s famous blend, which is an idea we’d always toyed with, but we could never do before now.
As for whether or not a blend “sticks,” we use a combination of feedback and sales. Some blends might not sell so well, but get a lot of positive feedback. In these cases, we’ll usually just scale back production and keep the blend around.
When your team designs a blend, how do you handle the balance between “I would like this” and “our customers would like this,” or are the two very similar?
My approach is to blend things that taste like I want them to and then to consider whether there is broader appeal by taking it around the office and getting feedback. With a quite diverse group of pipe smokers with varied style and taste preferences all in one building, this approach helps me to hone ideas, improve blends, and gain insight into what other members of the pipe smoking community might think of whatever the blend in question might be.
Did you read any Crowley, practice any rituals or listen to any occult-influenced tunes during the invention and production of the blend?
Ted has read quite a bit of Crowley’s work, including The Book of Law, The Book of Lies, The Book of Thoth, and Liber 777 — the title that inspired the number of tins for this blend.
There was not enough room in the production area to make a proper altar, and not enough time in the work day to draw a sigil, but I listen to a lot of occult inspired music of many different genres. Pentagram, Diecide, Asphyx, Possessed, the Devil’s Blood, Celtic Frost, Bathory, Diamanda Galas, Skip James, Iron Maiden, Axe, Black Widow, Sabbat, Black Sabbath all find their way into my regular listening rotation.
Why a tribute to Crowley? Will you be doing tributes to other “interesting” writers?
It seems that Crowley’s idea of smoking Perique soaked in rum in order to reach an altered state for the purpose of performing the dark arts has really resonated with a number of people in the pipe community, inspiring many to try it, and many more to talk about it with varying tones of trepidation, disgust, or fascination.
We wanted to do something that was evocative of Crowley’s mixture but would also be a little tamer and more interesting than just Perique and rum.
I can think of no other author who has inspired such an intriguing bit of pipe lore than Aleister Crowley. That said, you never know where our next inspiration might spring from.
I write for the net’s oldest underground metal site and our audience are rabid death metal fans. Do you all listen to any heavy metal or death metal over there, especially when mixing up Perique? Why should a death metal fan adopt the pipe?
That’s really cool to know! I will have to check out your site!
As I mentioned earlier, I do listen to a lot of metal, and old school death metal is some of my favorite music. Cancer, Disembowelment, Death, Slayer, Onslaught, Monstrosity, Exhorder, Goreguts, Cannibal Corpse, Pestilence…. not counting my physical collection, digitally I have over four months of music, and I’d guess that about 60% of that is metal of various styles (doom, thrash, death, tech, grind, classic, prog, shoegaze, etc.). A couple of the other guys here listen to metal as well.
I think that pipe smoking goes beautifully with classic doom like Candlemass or Solitude Aeturnus, or even the sludgy kind of stuff like Crowbar. I find that I have to concentrate a bit more on keeping my smoking cadence slow if I am jamming to something really speedy like Origin or Pig Destroyer.
How did you get into smoking pipes, blending and eventually working for an innovator like C&D?
Really, that all started in 2003, when I took a position as a sales clerk at a cigar shop in Chicago called Blue Havana. The owner of the shop rented a number of properties in the area, and as it turned out, one of his tenants was our shop’s Lane sales representative, Jeff. I smoked cigars and cigarettes at this point, but Jeff was a dedicated pipe smoker and gave me my first pipe, an old Stanwell sandblasted Billiard that was well smoked.
This pipe and Jeff’s careful tutelage really started my curiosity and interest in pipes and pipe smoking, but it wasn’t until I left that position in 2006 and went to work at Iwan Ries that pipes really clicked. I have always been an adventurous smoker, always looking to smoke something new, and Iwan Ries certainly offered more pipe tobacco and pipes in one place than any other shop. Suffice to say, I tried as much as I could get my hands on. It was also while employed at Iwan Ries that I first became aware of the greater pipe smoking community, eclectic and strange as it is. This was also the first time that I became aware of Smokingpipes.com.
When I left Iwan Ries in 2007, I went back to working in restaurants, and when I left Chicago to move to Portland, OR, Smokingpipes became my primary source of pipes and pipe tobacco. I was continuing to work in food service, making wood-fired pizza at Pyro Pizza. We were using local ingredients, making our own mozzarella, butchering, and curing our own meats, making our own sodas, growing our own herbs, etc. I had always cooked from a young age, but this was really creating food on a whole new level. I also had the opportunity to build two wood fire ovens for the company, which was really cool.
After a few years at Pyro, I learned of a job opening at Smokingpipes and decided, at the urging of my girlfriend at the time, to apply. They called me the next day, and a week later I flew to South Carolina to interview. I was hired in the Customer Service department for Smokingpipes.com. Cornell and Diehl had become my favorite blending house, and I was delighted to learn that they were merging with Laudisi, SPC’s parent company. Later it came to light that when C&D was to South Carolina, head blender Ted Connolly would be taking retirement, and toward the end of 2014, I was offered the position as his replacement, which I gladly accepted.
I began traveling to Morganton to train with Ted C. and the team in the beginning of 2015, and in May of that year the company relocated to join the rest of Laudisi in the new facility, located in Longs, SC. That’s the condensed version, anyway.
If people like what you’re up to, how do they follow your activities and those of C&D online? Is there a C&D tobacco you’d recommend to start with?
We’re pretty active on all of the usual platforms — Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube — plus, as you know, we tend to lurk around the forums.
New pipe smokers tend to roll with Aromatics when they first start out. As such, Autumn Evening (by far our most popular Aromatic) is perfect for newbies, as it smokes dry and cool, which means less relights and tongue bite. Plus it has the same unique red Virginia Cavendish we’ve used in The Beast, only with a topping of boozy maple.
Dhwesha create death metal with a large influence from classic heavy metal, sounding like a cross between the first Torchure album and a melodic Swedish band like first-album Sentenced or Desultory. Their bread and butter is the crossover between recursive downpicked rhythms like a speed metal band would use underneath melodic rhythm leads, and death metal riffs which re-direct these songs to more vicious ends.
Aesthetically a good comparison might be Monstrosity: drums, bass and guitar work together to create a powerful unison which hammers out a clear theme which corresponds to song title and vocal concept. But like early Therion, Dhwesha incorporates older heavy metal patterns and pulsing rhythms as opposed to the darker and more abstract death metal themes, which creates an organic heart of energy to this band which allows them to incorporate speed metal technique without it taking over songwriting. Songs generally cycle between verse- and chorus-like sections with a couple riffs each and a transitional section or two per song, focusing in the death metal way on the presentation of each. Frequently a lead-picked tremolo will outline a melody over a grinding but bouncy rhythm riff which creates a sense of a landscape shift.
Vocals take on the best attributes of Blasphemy, which is an incoherent shout so hoarse it sounds like the wind or a wild bison charging on an inattentive traveler, giving the music a feral air. All musicians show great proficiency but avoid showing off, which makes Sthoopa move like a single entity. Unlike many of the recent death metal attempts, Dhwesha show no desire to incorporate modern methods but homebrew their own instead, but also unlike death metal, this band seems content to exist in the late 1980s ambiguity between death metal and heavy metal. The result has the sentiment of Desultory with the earth-moving power of a more explosive act, but by balancing the two creates more of an atmosphere than one might expect from a band on their first album.
When a band is accused of “selling out,” the first instinct most people have is to attack the definition of that phrase. In reality, “selling out” is easily delineated: changing your music/art/writing to reflect what the audience expects.
In metal, selling out usually consists of making the music happier, simpler, less tormented and more pretentious. This allows the people who are dedicated to not noticing anything real about their world to listen to it and have it confirm their existing bias that the best course in life will be to “keep on keeping on” by shopping, voting, bragging at the water cooler, watching television, eating fast food and otherwise being oblivious to everything.
Selling out can be compared to the difference between a home-grilled hamburger and a fast food burger. The home-grilled burger uses real meat, spiced and cooked with care, and does not look elegant but is a good balance of taste and nutrition. The fast food burger is made from ground-up bits of animals, filled out with soybeans and sugar, and most people prefer it because it tastes more like candy and nutrition, lol.
When a metal band sells out, it makes the conscious decision to alter its music to appeal to some audience. This can include an “outsider” audience that only likes ultra-lofi two-chord bands, or the usual meaning, where the music gets closer to big radio pop. When metal bands sell out, they damage metal by bringing in all the stuff metal tried to escape in the first place.
These five albums represent some of the worst sellouts in metal history.
At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul
The first At the Gates album took our breath away. A weird mix of metal, folk, progressive and classical, it achieved an idiosyncratic voice of its own the way early death metal was prone to do. Then the band faltered, losing a key member and recording albums that did not feel with albums. Suddenly, this new album burst onto the scene and the old school death metal heads rushed forward to find… the exact opposite of what made this band great. Instead of inventive death metal, Slaughter of the Soul brought a warmed-over version of Metallica Ride the Lightning that had been given the Swedish melodic metal treatment. Songs swung easily with simple melodies that would have fit better in a television commercial or schoolyard song, and song structures fit an entirely predictable mold. Nothing challenged the listener; everything was sweetened, like biting into a hot glazed donut with extra icing. It made you feel icky inside, as if you had just been assimilated by the vast mass of people in modern culture who forcibly ignore any incoming ideas which do not fit into their own ego-worship and denial. However, the album was a stunning commercial success and inspired the metalcore movement, in which post-At the Gates band The Haunted applied this template to late hardcore and created a whole new audience.
Metallica – Metallica
When metalheads first heard “One” on the radio, the general sentiment was worry. We all knew of the temptation of radio metal where bands toured in luxury buses and got loads of cocaine, chicks and fast cars. But …And Justice For All had its musical moments despite the awful rock-style drumming and simplified catchy songs, so the hope was that Metallica had gotten it out of their system. Then came the self-titled monstrosity. The first hint was the choice of eponymous name late in the career of Metallica, which suggested a break with the past. Then, the new logo: silver foil-embossed, stylized and slick. Then we heard “Enter Sandman” on the radio and fears were realized. Gone were the complex song structures and innovative riffs, but the use of melodic composition on guitar persisted from …And Justice For All, albeit in a form that fit well into the MTV lineup. Songs backed away from topics that might unsettle people into fairy tales about fears and personal drama, including the rage drama that Pantera was making famous. Metallica fans hung their heads, neatly folded their tshirts and put them at the back of the drawer, and covered their tattoos with black bars. Metallica had finally sold out.
Death – Individual Thought Patterns
As the 1990s progressed, death metal emerged as the clear next big thing. This came after nearly a decade of the music industry denying its existence, mocking it, and doing their best to conceal it. A number of them made overtures: if you could just drop the scary alienation, anger and post-human view of the world, maybe The Industry would work for you like it did for the Crue, AC/DC, etc. At this point, Chuck Schuldiner of Death was putting a lot of effort into making himself the founding father of death metal, and he fired his previous band for a mostly new group who came up with a heavy metal/death metal hybrid. That alone would have been bad, but what was worse was that he changed the music artistically as well as stylistically. The rage at a numb, callous and selfish world was replaced with personal drama, overplayed public compassion, and the kind of hollow rage that people sitting in air-conditioned homes direct at a world that “just doesn’t understand me.” Even worse, the music itself became saccharine. The wild lion of death metal became a neutered animal dependent on daily feedings of peer group approval. Not surprisingly, people loved it then and hardly mention it now.
Morbid Angel – Domination
After the public hounding that Ilud Divinum Insanus received, most fans forgot the previous great Morbid Angel disappointment that essentially fragmented the band. Thousands of death metal bands languishing in obscurity perked up when they saw Far Beyond Driven flirt with Exhorder-styled extreme metal and still make hordes of money. In the timeless and impeccably insane logic of record labels, it was suggested that death metal bands take the same route even though it would mean abandoning their fans and yet not being able to fully dumb down enough for the brocore generation. Morbid Angel came out with this disaster of a fourth album in order to try to bridge the gap and ended up (predictably) failing both. Where previous Morbid Angel albums showed inventive songs, Domination featured one interesting riff per song slowed down and mated with another couple of sludgy, partially doomy, and unforgivably bouncy Pantera-styled riffs. To accommodate the injection of nonsense into death metal songs, Morbid Angel broke them down into simpler songs that resembled the happy go lucky “beer metal” songs of the past: verse-chorus, chanty foot-tapping title of song repeated, and an artistic outlook which more resembled wounded anger than any kind of delving toward a hidden truth. After this album, the band fell apart and reconstituted itself in new forms, trying to recapture some vein of composition that might appeal to lots of MTV-reprogrammed listeners and yet still be death metal. Much like Bigfoot and the perpetual motion machine, it might be out there somewhere, but as of yet Morbid Angel has not found it.
Dimmu Borgir – Enthrone Darkness Triumphant
As soon as black metal hit the newsstands with stories of church arson and murder, record company stooges devoted many hours of thought to the simple question of how they could re-package it for the Hot Topic kids. Dimmu Borgir found the first workable solution with Enthrone Darkness Triumphant which mixed mall-goth, Cradle of Filth, and carnival music to come up with a style that reveled in its own randomness and made its listeners feel profound for having picked up an incoherent but inscrutable mess. The lush keyboards of mainstream Gothic dance music mixed with the darker rhythms of Nine Inch Nails and guitar influences from rock/metal/rap hybrids in order to interrupt the occasional black metal riff so it never came to fruition. The result became the artistic equivalent of a pop tart: thin bread crust around mystery ingredients mixed with sugar. Naturally, people loved it because it allowed them to “be black metal” (ist krieg!) without leaving behind the same digestible pap they had been swallowing for years under the rock banner. But the CDs seemed to fly out of stores, and black metal fans changed from lonely dissidents to bloated mall denizens looking for a new thrill to blot out the days of tedium as they tried to pretend they wanted to even be alive. Even more importantly, this album opened the door to “black metal” as a container for whatever you wanted to throw in it, which made the truly dark hearts of the record company execs jump with joy and visions of bank transfers.
Image: would you trust a cigarette company with marijuana? Most likely, they would do to it what they did to tobacco, which is remove variety in flavor and replace it with innocuous but consistent brand-perfect sensations.
Jason Netherton (Dying Fetus, Misery Index) created his history of death metal called Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground by letting members of the community tell their stories. This book compiles interviews with death metal bands, artists, writers and label owners. It organizes these into five topic areas which makes it easier to find specifics in the book, and by grouping like stories together breaks up the repetition that massed interviews normally have. The result provides a good background in the history and experience of the rise of the death metal genre.
Netherton’s use of topic areas allows band statements to be taken as a whole on the theme and to expand upon it without becoming repetition of similar questions and answers that un-edited interviews tend toward. Some may be put off by the lack of narrative tying these together, but the upside of that situation is that there is little extraneous text outside of what the actors in this scene said themselves. The only weak spot may be that since the highlight is clearly the old school bands, the inclusion of newer bands becomes extraneous when compared with the old.
The following and others contributed to the content of hte book: Luc Lemay (Gorguts), Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse), King Fowley (Deceased), Stephan Gebidi (Thanatos, Hail of Bullets), Dan Swanö (Edge of Sanity), Doug Cerrito (Suffocation), John McEntee (Incantation, Funerus), Marc Grewe (Morgoth), Ola Lindgren (Grave), Kam Lee (ex-Massacre, ex-Death), Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates, Lock Up), Robert Vigna and Ross Dolan (Immolation), Esa Linden (Demigod), Dan Seagrave (Artist), Rick Rozz (ex-Death, Massacre), Steve Asheim (Deicide), Jim Morris (Morrisound Studios), Terry Butler (Obituary, Massacre, ex-Death), Mitch Harris (Napalm Death, Righteous Pigs), Robin Mazen (Derketa, Demonomacy), Ed Warby (Gorefest, Hail of Bullets), Andres Padilla (Underground Never Dies! book), Donald Tardy (Obituary), Paul Speckmann (Master, Abomination), Phil Fasciana (Malevolent Creation), Tony Laureno (ex-Nile, ex-Angelcorpse), Alan Averill (Primordial, Twilight of the Gods), Alex Okendo (Masacre), and Lee Harrison (Monstrosity).
The topic division of the book begin with the origins of death metal and then branch out to its diversification, and then areas of experience such as recording and touring. The final section addresses the future of metal. The material of most interest to me personally was at the front of the book where the old school bands talked about what inspired them and how the scene came together. It was like witnessing a revolution secondhand. In these sections, the most compelling accounts come from the people who are longest in the game as they are explaining the literal genesis of the process. Within each section, individual speakers identified by band write lengthy revelations to which the editors have added helpful captions. The result makes it easy to read or skim for information. Many of this book’s most ardent readers will find themselves doing a lot of skimming because the information here works as an excellent concordance to many of the other books on death metal or metal history and can reinforce or amplify what you find there.
We were all very much into underground music. Early on we were into Venom, Angel Witch and Motorhead, and later it evolved into bands like Hellhammer, Celtic Frost and Slayer. We wanted to play like them, and that is pretty much why we picked up the instruments in the first place.
With Massacre we were calling the music death metal pretty much from the beginning. We liked a lot of thrash, but to us a lot of it was just a bit too happy and the rhythms were a bit “too dancey.” Of course there were darker thrash albums like Bonded by Blood from Exodus, but even by the first demos we were calling it death metal. I mean, it’s not death metal as you know it today, but those demos were certainly founding releases in the death metal genre in terms of style. Of course, there are no blast beats or anything, but it was a combination of dark rhythms, the dark lyrics, and rough vocals that separated it from thrash. The term death metal had started getting kicked around with Hellhammer/Celtic Frost. We also knew of the Possessed demos, and it was in that tradition that we were referring to ourselves as death metal.
Some of the statements by later bands or bands that are not really death metal seemed like revisionist history but that is to be expected, since every band has to self-promote and include itself in whatever it can. This book utterly shines in the lengthy statements by founders of the genre that explain how it came to be, the thought process at the time and some of the experiences bands underwent. Be ready for blood, vomit and death in the touring section, and prepare yourself for some gnarly old school history in the other parts. By the rules of information itself, it is impossible to craft a metal history that pleases everyone. Extremity Retained: Notes From the Death Metal Underground takes the approach that Glorious Times did and amplifies it by getting longer statements and not relying on pictures, and it adds its unique and vital voice to the canon of books on the history of death metal.
As part of our exploration of academia in metal, we meet all sorts of interesting academics with different relationships to metal. Some are more on the academic side, some on the musical, and some in-between. Ross Hagen straddles both extremes by being both a musician and an academic with a focus on teaching metal. As a result, he brings both personal experience and delight in the genre to the otherwise more abstract academic view. We were lucky to get in a few questions with this interesting person and teacher.
You’ve got two degrees in music and one in musicology. What launched you along this direction? Did you intend to become an academic, or did the music lead you there?
I think this career path resulted from my love of music coupled with the fact that I didn’t really have the discipline for seriously practicing a musical instrument so I could play professionally. I’d much rather spend six hours a day in the library. Graduate school was also a nice way to extend my adolescence and avoid adult responsibilities for a few years after college. But when I think about it, I suppose that academia was always an intention of mine, whether I thought about it consciously or not. Both of my parents were educators, so I guess I’m something of a poster child for following the path laid out by my upbringing.
What got you involved with heavy metal? Were you a fan before you studied it? What appeals about it to you, both as a research subject and as a personal listening experience?
I was definitely a fan before I began pursuing it as a topic of study. My father was a college professor and his students would occasionally loan him tapes and CDs so I was listening to a lot of college rock and industrial music (well, NIN anyway) in my early teens. At one point he had a student who loaned him some of the early albums by Amorphis, Samael, Tiamat, and My Dying Bride and I dug them a lot. It wasn’t until college that I found other people who liked that kind of stuff and expanded my listening though. I feel like I’m still playing catch-up on a lot of older material from the 70s and 80s especially. I also got into musicology as an undergraduate and began including metal in my studies there.
…blast beats and tremolo picking seem to suspend rhythmic momentum and time in black metal when coupled with more slowly changing harmonies and hazy-sounding production. I also related the use of full chord voicings and the use of parallel minor 3rds and 6ths (in Emperor’s music especially) to an interest in chaotic sorts of sounds…
From a personal standpoint, I suppose I find it empowering in some respects, but I also like that black metal especially is a style where it’s easy to just get lost in the sound. As a bassist and composer I like that metal is challenging to perform and that it’s a style that is quite malleable in some respects even as its fundamental ingredients remain relatively stable. I think that’s part of what I like about it as a researcher as well; the tension between the metal’s core attributes and its desire to evolve and change.
You’ve contributed a piece, “Musical Style, Ideology, and Mythology in Norwegian Black Metal,” in the compilation Metal Rules the Globe. Can you tell us about this writing, and what your thesis generally was?
This was a version of my 2005 Master’s degree thesis where I wrote about some of the key elements of the “second wave” black metal musical style and related them to the genre’s interest in the supernatural and mythical. In particular I looked into the way that blast beats and tremolo picking seem to suspend rhythmic momentum and time in black metal when coupled with more slowly changing harmonies and hazy-sounding production.
I also related the use of full chord voicings and the use of parallel minor 3rds and 6ths (in Emperor’s music especially) to an interest in chaotic sorts of sounds since those types of chords are much less focused and resonant than the typical metal power chord when played with lots of distortion. I considered these musical conventions as evocations of trance experiences because they create a sense of stasis and timelessness (in a literal sense) by obscuring rhythmic propulsion and harmonic clarity.
I was at the time interested in connecting these musical devices to the sort of Norse revivalist rhetoric that was regularly coming from people like Varg Vikernes and that also underpins Michael Moynihan’s Lords of Chaos, especially mythical figures like the berserker…that black metal seems to reward an ideal of virtuosity based on physical endurance rather than dexterity and nimbleness, things like that. I do think that there was a certain aesthetic affinity with these mythical ideals for some black metallers, that they envisioned themselves as warriors or as part of a charivari tradition trying to bring back a romanticized ideal of pre-modern Europe. However, I think that the chapter’s main contribution is the articulation of the musical style…or at least when I go back and read it those are the parts that I think hold up the best.
You teach courses on popular music, music appreciation, and music history at Utah Valley University. Does this include metal? How do students respond to it? Does their response change depending on whether they are metalheads or not?
Most of them seem to respond fairly positively to it when I do teach it, which usually only happens in the course specifically centered around popular music. I do include bits of Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen in my schtick on musical virtuosity in the music appreciation classes, but more as a side comparison. Students in the popular music courses seem to respond well to it even if they aren’t fans, since by the time we get into it most of the students understand that “liking” a genre of music is not a prerequisite for investigating its musical style and influence. Metalheads or former metalheads (I actually hear that a lot here…metal is something they used to like as teenagers) tend get a little more into it, but I’m often pleasantly surprised as well when students who have no personal affinity with the style offer thoughtful considerations of it.
I find it interesting that you’ve composed music for the production of two ancient Greek plays at UVU. Are these going to be released? Is there any overlap between ancient Greco-Roman music and heavy metal?
Actually only one of them (Antigone) was an ancient Greek play. The other one, Eurydice, was a modern play by Sarah Ruhl that is built around the myth but definitely takes its own path (and was directed by my very talented and lovely wife Lisa). Oddly enough, my music cues for Eurydice actually did include a bit of Rammstein-ish heavy metal…the script called for it when the Lord of the Underworld enters dressed like a child and riding a tricycle.
I’m not planning to release recordings of Eurydice‘s music cues themselves since they wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense on their own (15 seconds of heavy metal, 45 seconds of lounge music, etc.) but I did put together a suite of sorts called gravity is very compelling out of the soundscapes from Eurydice. The Antigone score is likewise kind of boring out of context, but I’ve repurposed parts of it in other works here and there.
Regarding ancient Greek and Roman music, I can say with some certainty (even though ancient music isn’t a specialty of mine) that there’s not any overlap with heavy metal in terms of musical content. A lot of the theoretical ideas and writings helped lay the foundations for the European art music tradition in the medieval period, though. Plato’s famous concerns about the dangerous moral and social effects of “disordered” music also echo through the centuries to inform the various moral panics around heavy metal and other musical styles.
According to your biography, you’ve participated in more than a dozen album releases on various American and European labels, and perform in the ambient bands encomiast and Schrei aus Stein as well as two local metal bands. Can you tell us a bit about your musical history?
I started making ambient music with encomiast in the late 1990s, when I had access to a proper electronic music studio at college. That sort of whetted my appetite for it and I’ve continued recording stuff like it ever since, often drawing my friends into the mix as well. Most of the catalog from that project is available at encomiast.bandcamp.com, although I think my favorite is the 139 Nevada 2xCD that grew out of an attempt to record ghostly voices at a haunted theater. I started Schrei aus Stein when I wanted to do something that mixed drones and noise with more of a black metal aesthetic. Beyond those projects, in the last decade I’ve played in the absurdist metal duo Spawn of the Matriarch, the stoner metal band Governors, a krautrock/free jazz trio, a one-off Mortician-worship solo project named Immensite, and a couple of cover bands.
Currently I play bass in Burn Your World, a band that mixes extreme metal styles with some hardcore punk influence. We also have a side project called Curseworship in which I play bass and compose a lot of harsh noise and analog synth freakouts. Both of those bands have recordings coming out soonish.
What do you think is the role of music? Is it to communicate ideas, express emotions, or make an aesthetic object for others to appreciate? Or none of the above?
I’d probably say it’s more like all of the above in my view, depending on the context and the person who is experiencing it. Your last role (aesthetic object) is probably closest to the way I think about the music I create — I tend to think structurally rather than in emotional or rhetorical terms.
Do you think metal is a subject that should be taught in schools? There’s two viewpoints to this: from academia’s point of view, and from metal’s point of view.
I think that from an academic point of view it’s as valid a subject as any, and to my mind it provides a rich musical and cultural well for all sorts of areas of study. I’d also be lying if I denied that it gives me a lot of pleasure to teach and write about music I love, so there’s a selfish end too I guess! I certainly also understand why some metalheads might not appreciate it because sometimes it does seem like once something has the stamp of approval from the ivory tower it loses a lot of its countercultural credentials.
Some might see it (possibly correctly!) as a misguided attempt to validate metal as an art form…or perhaps to validate academia by borrowing some of metal’s coolness. I personally try to avoid giving that impression in my classes, but my position as an academic may make it impossible for me dodge those bullets entirely. So I suppose my ultimate answer is “yes,” but with acknowledgement of some pitfalls.
You taught a couple of metal-centric classes at CU-Boulder while you were finishing your degree. What were these like? How did you “teach metal”?
One of them was a single Saturday course done through Continuing Education that was sort of a quick trip through some various issues (musical style, censorship, etc.). The longer course was a version of a course on Rock Music that I team-taught with Joel Burcham. In that one my idea was to use metal as a way to explore various aspects of popular music, including recording, performance, fandom, authenticity, etc. My goal was less to teach metal and more to allow metal to teach us, if that makes sense.
You’re an ethnomusicologist; those seem like a cross between music historian and music analyst. How does understanding metal at a musical level help you understand it at a culture level? Are there correlations between the two dimensions of metal?
I sometimes feel like the primary thing my musical training provides me with is a vocabulary with which to work. I do find it helpful in terms of articulating aspects of metal music and production that encourage particular responses and experiences among listeners. As I mentioned in my summary of the “Metal Rules the Globe” article, I do think that some musical ideas can evoke particular experiences and reflect certain values. I would stop short of saying that they necessarily correspond to the values of the performer and the audience though. Sometimes that might certainly be the case, but I’ve come to be skeptical of sweeping correlations, mostly because I want to avoid misrepresenting the culture of metal as a monolithic entity. The more time I spend with metal and with other metalheads, the more I appreciate the diversity of experience within it.
One of your research interests is ritualism. Are there ritual aspects to heavy metal, especially the black metal variety?
I tend to think that almost every musical activity has some sort of a ritual component to it, using the term broadly. With black metal, though, I’m particularly interested in the deployment of Ritual “with a capital R” as a conscious effort to connect the music and performance with some archaic imagined past. In some respects, I think the past black metal invokes is the past of black metal itself, a retro recycling and recreation that is common to all music in some degree, but which has perhaps increased lately (Simon Reynold’s recent book deals with this better than I).
Rather than celebrating the protean side of 21st century identity, metal seems to demand a higher level of “identity essentialism” in that respect. It promises some measure of stability.
Invoking ritual also feels like an appeal to an authoritative kind of authenticity, an assertion that black metal is not entertainment or theater, but instead that it is a stable and “timeless” tradition and (importantly) not beholden to the vagaries of taste or fashion. The use of a fairly standard and narrow set of musical gestures and sounds, deindividualizing costumes and pseudonyms, and staged evocations of sacrificial death all work to this end. Of course, the “appeal to ritual” is also in some ways merely a marketing term and a performance conceit. It might go hand-in-hand with the increased visibility of black metal over the past decade or so.
I’m currently working with these ideas as part of a research project on musical ritualism as an authenticating tactic in popular music…possibly with a parallel trajectory in musical representations of monstrosity and supernatural forces. I’m still gathering my dogs together to see if they hunt though.
How important do you think heavy metal is as a cultural indicator? What does it tell us about our society?
I think it certainly has a role there, although I think that what it says varies a lot depending on who is involved in it. Actually, I think that if we look at metal around the globe, I might consider a lack of metal in a society to be more significant. It seems to be an almost ubiquitous presence, even under circumstances of war and deprivation.
I do think that the value so much metal discourse seems to place on trueness and authenticity is perhaps symptomatic of a larger sense of uprootedness in (American?) society. Rather than celebrating the protean side of 21st century identity, metal seems to demand a higher level of “identity essentialism” in that respect. It promises some measure of stability.
In your view, why is metal such a distinctive genre, with such strong rules and boundaries (trueness, cultness)?
It seems that being embattled or marginalized is an integral part of the way metal views itself, even if in some cases we might consider that metalheads doth protest too much. This sense of being outside the mainstream probably creates this sense of cohesion and belonging, as well as a bit of suspicion and distrust of outsiders and “un-metal” musical influences.
I think that the boundaries have actually gotten more stringent over the past decade or so in underground metal, although it’s probably more likely that I’ve just become more aware of them. I might suggest that as the artifacts and symbols of insider-ness in metal have become more readily available, the concern with maintaining boundaries has risen accordingly. As it becomes easier and easier to amass knowledge about the most obscure bands, along with their recordings, that obscurity loses its power.
Patch jackets don’t seem to carry the same weight if you can purchase a whole collection of rare kvlt “merit badges” in 20 minutes on eBay. This situation makes metal’s system of cultural signifiers less trustworthy in terms of judging someone’s commitment to the genre, so it seems like the boundaries need more strict enforcement. It’s only exacerbated in cyberspace. But of course the best way to be kvlt is to deny that it matters if you’re kvlt or not…it’s square to be hip, right?
You’re on the editorial board of the journal Metal Music Studies. How has metal in academia expanded during the time you’ve been observing, and where do you see it going in the future?
To be totally accurate, I’m actually just on the editorial advisory board, which just means I’ll be on-call as a peer reviewer once we’re totally underway. I hope to continue my involvement in the future, however.
When I first began writing about heavy metal as a graduate student in the early/mid 2000s, it seemed that there was precious little academic writing about metal beyond Walser, Weinstein, and sociological studies beating the dead horse connecting metal and crime/delinquency. Over the following decade it’s just blossomed as a field of study, and I think it’s impressively diverse. I mean, we’ve got people from sociology, ethnomusicology, historical musicology, fan studies, philosophy, and interested practitioners all in the mix. I’ve been trying (and failing) to keep up with all the publications. It’s an exciting and inspiring field.
I think that we’re going to see more studies that question the conceptions of locality and place in metal, since the increasing digital networks around the world are making physical geography less relevant in some respects. I know some scholars are working on the exoticism in metal, which seems especially interesting because it binds together questions of intent (patriotism? parody?) with issues of reception. It also seems that Metal Studies has focused a lot on the more extreme and underground subgenres, so I hope we might see more people begin to explore the intersections between metal and mainstream pop culture, both currently and in the past.
Former Dying Fetus member Jason Netherton, now proprietor Send Back My Stamps!, releases his latest creation in the form of a 480-page book of interview with figures in the death metal underground called Extremity Retained: Notes from the Death Metal Underground. The product of over 100 interviews over a three-year period, the book is comprised entirely of first-hand stories, anecdotes, memories and opinions.
The book attempts to “explore the scene through the voices of those who helped create it” and thus focuses its questions on zines, tape-trading and other rituals of the underground. These lengthy narratives are complemented by original cover and section art by Matt “Putrid Gore” Carr, incidental art by Gary Ronaldson, with design and typography from Tilmann Benninghaus, and title page by Timo Ketola.
Contributors to Extremity Retained: Notes from the Death Metal Underground include (but are not limited to): Luc Lemay (Gorguts), Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse), King Fowley (Deceased), Stephan Gebidi (Thanatos, Hail of Bullets), Dan Swanö (Edge of Sanity), Doug Cerrito (Suffocation), John McEntee (Incantation, Funerus), Marc Grewe (Morgoth), Ola Lindgren (Grave), Paul Ryan (Origin), Kam Lee (ex-Massacre, ex-Death), Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates, Lock Up), Travis Ryan (Cattle Decapitation), Robert Vigna and Ross Dolan (Immolation), Jacob Schmidt (Defeated Sanity), Esa Linden (Demigod), Dan Seagrave (Artist), Rick Rozz (ex-Death, Massacre), Steve Asheim (Deicide), Jim Morris (Morrisound Studios), Terry Butler (Obituary, Massacre, ex-Death), Mitch Harris (Napalm Death, Righteous Pigs), Scott Hull (Pig Destroyer), John Gallagher (Dying Fetus), Robin Mazen (Derketa, Demonomacy), George Fisher (Cannibal Corpse), Ed Warby (Gorefest, Hail of Bullets), Rob Barrett (Cannibal Corpse, ex-Solstice), Donald Tardy (Obituary), Moyses Kolesne (Krisiun), Takaaki Ohkuma (Necrophile), Paul Speckmann (Master, Abomination), Anders Jacobson (Nasum, Necrony), Carl Fulli (Epidemic), Matt Harvey (Exhumed), Steve Goldberg (Cephalic Carnage), Ben Falgoust (Soilent Green, Goatwhore), Phil Fasciana (Malevolent Creation), Tony Laureno (ex-Nile, ex-Angelcorpse), Alan Averill (Primordial, Twilight of the Gods), Jason Fuller (Blood Duster), Alex Okendo (Masacre), Dave Witte (Municipal Waste, Human Remains), Lee Harrison (Monstrosity) and many more