J.R.R. Tolkien wrote without an outline using only the thoughts gathered in his head over long hours of smoking his pipe and staring into a fireplace. Sitting at his typewriter, head wreathed in smoke, he pounded out a first draft of the Lord of the Rings mythos, and then discarded it, beginning again from scratch. As the story took form, it left behind a litter of empty blue-painted cans of tobacco.
The tobacco was Capstan Original Navy Cut. Members of his family remember the tins proliferating around the house and being used to store household items. When Tolkien and other members of his literary group The Inklings met, nicotine burned in abundance, and they could be found by following the trail of smoke. In his books, Tolkien inserted characters finding great comfort and wisdom in their pipes much as he did in his.
As part of a recent binge of writings by Tolkien and fellow Inkling C.S. Lewis, this writer has indulged in their favorite tobaccos. Capstan Original Navy Cut comes in “flake” form, having been pressed into table-sized cakes and then sliced into wafers about a third the size of a playing card. These are either stuffed into the pipe or “rubbed out” which converts them into ribbons of tobacco. Throughout this experiment, the thought lingers at the back of the mind: why this tobacco, and does it resemble the Longbottom Leaf or Old Toby of his legends?
Original Navy Cut is composed of pure Virginias, but the pressing and aging has converted some of their sugar and acid into a more hay-like flavor, the partial decomposition of the leaf having released its most irksome elements. What remains is a sweet smoke, with slightly more Nicotine (PBUH) than the average medium smoke, which burns evenly and rewards small “sips” or short slow puffs, as one might take while hammering out words on a typewriter. It also admirably complements the smell of typewriter ribbon, for whatever that is worth.
Virginia flakes such as this tend to appeal to either new smokers who want a blend that is sweet and strong like a cigarette, or to the experienced who can nurse a pipe for hours. Since Tolkien was a master pipe smoker, he fit the latter category, and apparently always kept a pipe going with this and other blends to power himself through late-night endurance test writing sessions. And we can enjoy the results, and the metal inspired by them.
Nocturnal doom/black metal band No God Only Pain are finalizing details on their upcoming EP Roads to Serfdom which demonstrates a transition in styles of this band toward apocalyptic roadhouse dark metal. This new style features all of the Motorhead-inspired choruses, Darkthrone-infused verses and oddball, doomy structures and atmospheres of the earlier work, but with more of a nod to early Danzig in an exploration of classic heavy metal.
An exclusive stream of one track, “Who Forgives God?,” is below:
We were fortunate to catch a few minutes with the band, who dictated the following release:
This recording is a dissonant experiment under the Barkeresque transmutational concept that “anything can be created.” There’s five songs total, hinging on the theme of how (despite its appearances) modern society is still feudal in nature. Riff wise the songs still attempt to flow as a single voice yet are purposely more diverse than on Joy of Suffering.
This recording demonstrates a singular musical concept: simple Burzumy punk tunes to some epic song progressions. The album challenges itself like a madman and aims to polarize opinion like a bad Zogby poll.
Half the recording is purposely super lo-fi with a very minimal number of microphones. Purposely using so few mics (and nothing direct ) seems ridiculous, but previous attempts at for lo-fi but discernible sound sucked for me. We acquired many pieces of gear at flea markets and pawn shops to try to capture the sound we required, and most failed, but we perservered.
Our goal was to get a dark and grungy sound, like Transylvanian Hunger, but with bass and vocals done way more professionally (Scott Burns Obituary style) which creates irony since our bassist plays groovy and fuzzy like Blue Cheer. A large part of the point of doing the recording this way is to allow more time for the bass and vocals to experiment and color the songs more, while the guitars and drums maintain more basic driving tones. The bass is not on this recording yet.
The title track is an experiment in itself as it questions how much variety in riffs and song structure a song can have and still make sense. It attempts capture in one song the variety of genres of music in metal and juxtaposes them as a metaphor for the cornucopia of ways that society trys to exert control over the individual. There are many diverse experiences, but all roads lead to serfdom.
In the world of old school death metal, few manage to revive the past and carry it forward in a unique voice. Desecresy resurrects the greatness and gives it a unique spin with atmospheric lead melodic guitar droning over death metal and doom-death riffs, and on Stoic Death they increase the variety of death metal riffs and the dynamic impact of songs in a style more like that of their first album, Arches of Entropy.
Stoic Death begins at full speed and continues to vary pace throughout in order to build intensity, applying the resonant melodies selectively like layers, enwrapping the surging power chord riffs in sheets of harmonic background that intensifies at crucial moments in each song. The doom-death influence shows its strength most in the careful pacing of each song and introduction of elements like seasons, cycling to a conclusion.
The increased variety of riff types shows a familiarity with death metal of the oldest school, but now they take on a new language, with Asphyx-style percussive riffs sliding into rolling Bolt Thrower style dirges, and then emerging with the powerful Finnish-style death metal riffs anchored in melody that specialize in crucifying beauty with cruelty. The mid-paced approach might seem to kill aggression, but it has replaced that sentiment with a deepening sense of melancholy, dread and suspension of all normalcy as the bizarre becomes sensible.
This album feels like a descent into a tunnel shrouded in darkness, where as the voyager goes deeper both in the ground and behind the layers of twists and turns, the daylight world seems more remote and unreal. The songwriting technique Desecresy has made into their trademark presents challenges in that the overall sound is similar between tracks, but here the band differentiates them with elegance and creates a complexity of texture in which the listener can gratefully lose themselves.
More Godflesh influences permeate this album as do nods to recent changes in metal toward the more atmospheric, but Desecrey channel these into its own voice, translating the insipid into the ambiguous and the comforting into a threatening lack of center. What emerges from that fertile combination is a voice perfect for this time, a great sea of doubt in which glimpses of beauty are hidden behind primal uncertainty. Like the best of metal, it makes greatness from conflict and then shows the wisdom of that atavistic outlook through precisely-architected composition.
Coming from that early intersection of death metal and black metal that produced bands such as Havohej, Misanthropical aim for awkward riffs like the sinews of a polymeliac beast, combining them with crudely cut black metal rhythms and surging melodic drones. The result shows a band starting out, but with a good concept that is enough removed into the bizarre, like bands such as Resuscitator or Legion of Doom, to leave us wondering what thought process could create it. The band is strongest when they abandon genre conventions and let the weirdness out, mixing riding riffs that compel energy with connective tissue that bends it into odd contortions, putting the listener on edge. They are weakest when trying too hard to be raw black metal or when filling spaces in songs with cymbal crashes and repetitive drones. Of interest is the unsteady fusion of doom metal moods with the more martial modes, creating a soundscape that sounds like battle by those with vast inner doubt and torment. Conjuring Thy Infernal Lord demonstrates the basics of a powerful voice that with growth and maturation could take this band in interesting and intriguing ear-torturing directions.
Codex Obscurum has distinguished itself over the course of seven issues by putting the underground first and focusing on quality of music, in addition to a range of topics about what we might call metal culture, or other areas of life in which metalheads find an interest. Over time, the editors have become more adventurous and now include a wide diversity of genres, artists and the ever-popular gaming features and editorials.
Issue Eight takes up the mantle with eleven band interviews, two live reviews, thirty-nine album reviews and an artist interview. These span genres from traditional underground bands to rough roadhouse hard rock, touching on grindcore and punk and even juggalo rock, giving the kind of panoramic view of the genre that big glossy magazines pretend they have. Speaking of, apparently Decibel referred to Codex Obscurum as “elitist,” which is a media code word for not regurgitating the spew from promotional mailers, and that gratifying tendency means that a refreshing honesty about the limits of many of these bands cuts back the hype and focuses on the actual.
Interviews abound. This latest edition begins with a relaxed interview with The 3rd Attempt that gives some context to the last two generations of black metal, then launches into an energetic discussion with PanzerBastard that reveals some of the Motorhead plus apocalypse thinking behind that act. It follows with an honest and ambitious interview with Skelethal, whose thoughtful responses make me want to listen past the name, and a somewhat guarded interview with Castrator where the band’s attempt to repeat its talking points fades under wily questioning. Then comes an interview with songwriter Ninkaszi about his latest project, Impenitent Thief, which covers a decade of New England metal in a few pages. Noisem follows with an interview of probing questions and somewhat surface-level answers, revealing more about this band than the band intended. After that, Jake Holmes of Plutonian Shore, Under the Sign of the Lone Star zine, and about ten other bands talks Morgengrau and gives some context to what this band has released. Then arrives a rough-hewn interview with hard rock band Rawhide, a contemplative discussion with Zemial, and a detailed look into Blood Red Throne. After the centerpiece of pen and ink art, Teutonic speed metal lords Blizzard weigh in with an irreverent but topical interview.
CO: You’ve started your own paper zine called Under the Sign of the Lone Star. Can you tell us a little about it, and how we can order a copy?
JH – Under the Sign… started as a reaction against click-baiting, witch-hunting, hypersensitive-PC and overall-clueless “metal” blogs/mags that are unfortunately ubiquitous these days. The PMRC may have been the enemy of the 80s, but at least they never passed themselves off as “one of us” like these rags do! The premise of Ut-SotLS was to write about Texan bands that I really like without stirring controversy or spreading gossip for increased ad revenue: passion, not profit. (16)
The centerpiece takes the form of a deliciously gory mythological-apocalyptic-dystopian scene hanging in blackness, which adds to the mood of the zine, and divides an interview with artist Sebastian Mazuera, who reveals quite a bit about the craft of metal art and the thought process behind it. Then the zine takes a Burzum/Bolt Thrower turn with an article about Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, showing the development and pitfalls of this very metal pastime. Most interesting here is the analysis of how fan interaction shaped, and possibly limited, the game. From the gonzo journalism department, two honest reviews of metal festivals — Blastfest and Messes de Morts — revealing the alcohol abuse and manic social aspects as well as the performances by bands both well-known and nearly unknown. These gave more of a feeling of “being there” than the usual paint-by-numbers reviews, plus hilarity in an honest and uncensored look at how well these bands actually performed.
Incorporating elements of crust, doom, even death metal at times this band can take a left turn in their composition at a moment’s notice. From open palm droning and melodic riff structures moving into driving thrash renditions and crusty d beats, these types of elements give the band a really varied and aggressive sound…With tasty build ups making use of both dynamics and tempo, their song structure is quite complex and makes for an entertaining replay value without seeming repetitive after multiple listens. (47)
From there, it is on to the reviews. These establish both how a band composes and records, and reviewer reaction to the utility of listening to the material in question. Although the review of juggalo band The Convalescence is a high point for sadistic mockery in the best offhand zine style, the bread and butter here is nailing a realistic buy/avoid assessment of bands from Empyrium to Tau Cross, Dysentery to Malthusian, and W.A.S.P. to Paradise Lost. These read well, are witty and biting, but are unstinting with praise where it is deserved. Choice of albums here shows more of a strong hand with the reviewers choosing both movers ‘n’ shakers of the underground as well as undernoticed contributions of interest. It would be hard to find a more straightforward and observant review section in print.
Many have claimed the death of the zine, but with more people cutting the cord to the internet because of the sheer amount of spam disguised as reporting, having a volume like this — that you can pick up and then feel you have a good basic grasp of the scene after an hour of reading — reduces the chaos and puts many metalheads with otherwise full lives back into the game. On its eighth issue, Codex Obscurum has expanded its reach without losing touch with its direction, which is a feat of focus that most metal writers should aspire to.
You can still get copies of Issue Eight through the CO online store.
Italian publisher Tsunami Edzioni has released Wolves Among Sheep: History and Ideology of National Socialist Black Metal, a book by Davide Maspero and Max Ribaric detailing the rise of this tributary of the black metal movement that officialized many of the right-wing and traditionalist leanings of black metal as a whole.
The publishers offer the following FAQ about the book and how to obtain it:
We’ve been silent for some time, but that’s because we have been busy sending orders and replying to e-mails. The response to the book has been great so far, and we thank everyone who purchased a copy.
We compiled a brief FAQ for all those who need some information regarding the book and how to obtain it. We hope you’ll find it helpful.
IS THE BOOK IN ENGLISH?
Yes, it is. The whole of it.
IS THE SPECIAL EDITION STILL AVAILABLE?
Yes, we still have some copies left.
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It depends on where you’re located.
Europe and Mediterranean Basin – 38 Euro
Americas, Asia, Africa – 43 Euro
Oceania – 50 Euro
Europe and Mediterranean Basin – 46 Euro
Americas, Asia, Africa – 52 Euro
Oceania – 60 Euro
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National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM) remains controversial because global civilization has shifted leftward since the late 1940s with the fall of fascist regimes in Italy and later France, National Socialism in Germany, and Nationalist movements in Japan. However, starting in the 1990s when the 1968 generation took power in politics and media, a counter-movement has arisen which is critical of democracy, equality and diversity.
Sometimes this movement is merely anti-liberal, as with Michel Houellebecq in France, or libertarian as with the Tea Party and Neoreaction, but often it takes a more potent form. The original black metal bands from Norway, Sweden and Finland embraced the idea of nationalism, or a society being defined by its indigenous people, and rejected the morality of pity, equality and pacifism. Others took this farther and explicitly endorsed the older belief systems, not just National Socialist but the traditionalism of Julius Evola, the nationalism of pre-war Europe, and the monarchism and naturalism of völkisch conservatism.
During the early 1990s, when this material first emerged, I was unwilling to play such bands on the radio when I learned of their beliefs. Later digging found the nationalism of Bathory, the pro-Hitlerian sentiments of Morbid Angel, and the generally conservative — realism plus a belief in transcendentalism — surging through heavy metal. Then came Lords of Chaos and the interviews of Varg Vikernes, tearing the lid off any obscurity that black metal had regarding its anti-humanist views. For that reason, I report on them as they are part of the black metal movement and heavy metal, and it is better to have such things in the light than darkness.
Tampa melodic death metal band Brutality plans to release its full-length album, Sea of Ignorance, the followup to its 2013 EP Ruins of Humans. Pre-order begins on December 1, 2015 and the official release date is set for January 22, 2016. Copies may be ordered from the band website.
California doom/punk band No God Only Pain has published its latest round of stickers featuring artwork inspired by the Hellraiser films combined with grim realism from life experience. In addition, the band has announced that it will change direction from its fusion of black metal, doom metal, punk and classic metal to “roadhouse dark metal,” embracing all that is in feral atavistic realist rock from The Doors through Motorhead as well as its own influences.
“Meeeeester Crowley, what goes on in your head?” came the wailing voice from the radio. Louder than that, I could hear the fluorescent lights above, and the beating of my heart. The texture of the paint on the walls seemed to break into a kaleidoscope of demonic faces. And I deserved all of it, because I had put myself here, smoking the tobacco of the Great Beast, Aleister Crowley himself.
The decision happened several weeks ago when I was reading about Crowley, a life-long pipe smoker, and his odd preferences for tobacco. Never a huge reader of Crowley — I’m more into Anton Long and Aldous Huxley for weird metaphysical science — I became interested when I read that we have no solid record of what he actually smoked, only a network of hints through his writing and rituals.
My first task then was to figure out what Mr. Crowley was indeed smoking. Lore holds it that he smoked “straight Perique soaked in rum,” but this leaves much open to interpretation. Perique originally referred to the tobacco that Pierre Chenet, having learned the method from the Choctaws, would press and ferment in barrels in what is today St. James Parish, Louisiana. This thousand-year method reduces acidity and sugars in the tobacco so that the body can absorb more of its indole alkaloids.
Unfortunately, after that time the use of the word became muddled. Some blenders coined the term “Perigue” for any Burley which had been pressed and aged, creating a fermentation effect. Sailors used to pinch some of the raw tobacco from their cargoes, soak it in rum and wind it tight in old sails to press it. And as Perique production dropped off in the 1950s, not only did some inferior substitutes arise, but many blenders phased it out of their blends, creating more confusion.
This left we step one to pipe smoking union with the Great Beast: figure out what he was actually smoking. Smoking the “real” Perique from St. James Parish seems unlikely because Perique is used in tobacco blends like a condiment in food. It has a strong peppery and fruity taste, and smoking it alone would be like drinking hot sauce or eating raw onions. Perhaps he smoked the Perique of the sailors, or “Perigue” of ingenious tobacco makers. But as with all things in his life, the clues are hidden and numerous, stretching across time and space…
This deepens the mystery, as Perique is mentioned nowhere else in the book. Crowley mentions ordering “rolls of black Perique” which he then cuts manually, bringing to mind the Perique of the sailors and not of St. James Parish. But even that cannot help us, because St. James Parish Perique could also be delivered in “rolls” or “ropes,” a popular method of curing, storing and transporting tobacco. Ropes remain popular to this day, and are prepared as Crowley describes: cut into thin slices, or “coins,” they are then pushed apart with friction or “rubbed out” to produce thin-cut leaf tobacco.
So that tells us nothing, basically.
Perique remains popular today, by the way. Smokers favor it for its deep flavor and strong Nicotine content, as well as the way it can complement other flavors like Virginias (sweet) and Burleys (nutty). But to smoke it straight is unheard of, although a few brave volunteers have tried it. For that reason, many smokers are skeptical that Crowley actually smoked it straight because it is an abrasive, disquieting experience that would not have been much fun — and Crowley was a known hedonist.
This returns us to the question of what Perique Crowley was smoking. If he was smoking rum-dipped and sheet-pressed tobacco, he would have been enjoying a much milder blend than the St. James Parish Perique. But if he was smoking the St. James Perique, it seems unlikely that he was enjoying the pipe at all. Then there is the complicated term “soaked in rum.” Did he mean actively wetting it with rum? Or did this merely refer to the rum used in the sailor’s recipe, and indicate that it was not St. James Perique at all?
Admiral Fitzroy, by no means the least of English poets, was wont to observe — at least he was always putting it on his barometers — “Long foretold, long last: Short notice, soon past.” So please settle down in that Oxford Basket Chair, draw the table close, for you’ll need that jar you bought at Bacon’s in your first teens because Calverle hypnotized you into doing so, fill the old Meerschaum (the nigger with the hat is the sweetest) with the pure Perique of St. James’ Parish Louisiana, throw some coals and a log or two on the fire, and put your legs on the mantlepiece; for if the laws of weather apply to literature, this ought to be a terribly long chapter.
You can smoke a pipe, and find the port, while you wait; for I’m in no mood to write it just now. Do you realize it’s half past three in the morning?
Not only does he tell us what his Perique was — the St. James Parish variety — but by using the word “pure,” he puts emphasis on the fact that this is the Perique he wants, and nothing else will do. In a strange twist of fate, the use of St. James Parish Perique may strengthen his narrative, because if it were shipped to England it would most likely be in ropes to keep them moist for the journey, especially since Perique is sensitive to light (like the Great Beast himself) and so is often stored in forms that hide most of the leaves from the light.
(The unfortunate verbiage in the above quotation describes his Meerschaum pipe. Meerschaum is a soft semi-gelatinous stone when wet, and clever people carve things into it, then let it firm up as it dries. He is undoubtedly referring to the subject of the carving and not an actual person.)
That left only one mystery: the “soaked in rum.” He could not have meant that he drenched the tobacco in rum and then lit it because it would not have burned owing to the high water content in rum, although he would have gotten a blue alcohol flame. That suggests that his use of the term “soaked,” much like it is used today, refers to a “top flavoring” or an alcohol-based flavoring sprayed over the top of the tobacco before a final drying. Tobacco is very sensitive to moisture and molds easily, making it toxic, so alcohol is used by the water in it must be allowed to evaporate. Rum is about 40-80% alcohol.
This means that Crowley bought his Perique, cut it into leaves of a size he could smoke, and then soaked it in rum but then dried it before smoking. At last I had my recipe for going insane with the best of them. As I made preparations, I wondered if I would end up in a strange photo, making horns on my head with my thumbs, my gaze straight ahead and fixed as if on some demonic world beyond.
Step 1 was to acquire some blender’s Perique, which I did from Rich Gottlieb over at 4noggins. It comes in two forms, granulated and long ribbon, but the long ribbon is stronger so I got that and sliced through it a few times to make it easier to smoke. Then I put down a plate and dumped the Perique on it, watering it loosely with rum (some Captain Morgan’s I found under the couch) until there was some standing liquid in the plate. That, I thought, should be an adequate definition of “soaked.”
Step 2 was drying. The plate went into the cupboard and was sealed away for several days, only exposed to the light for a daily turning. The rum gradually evaporated entirely, leaving dry and stiff leaves. Sitting in my kitchen, wishing to ancient gods that I had an EMT team present in case I had made this tobacco blend wrong, I loaded up an old faithful pipe — I have no other kind — and gravity-filled it with these strange leaves, then dumped in some more and tamped the top. Time for Step 3. I took a deep breath, lowered the flame, and drew in the thick and ethereal smoke.
Pipe-smoking is not like cigarette smoking. It is more like playing a trombone or transcendental meditation: all in the breathing. The smoker starts with a blaze that sends up a lot of smoke, which is why smokers take short puffs at first; pipe smoke is not inhaled like that of cigarettes, but kept in the mouth, so short puffs are need. Then, the smoker draws on the pipe like sipping air through a straw, about every ten seconds filling the mouth with smoke and exhaling a few moments later. This keeps a steady stream of flavorful smoke through a cool pipe, delivering measured doses of nicotine to the nervous system. After a few moments when the paint screamed at me in ancient Syriac incantations, and the stove looked like the face of an Aztec war god, I settled into a normal rhythm.
And…? you ask. How was the Great Beast’s tobacco?
Good. Very good, in fact, so much that I’ve done it several times since. The rum both sweetened the Perique and removed some of its peppery edge, leaving it with a flavor more like strong brandy. The drying also reduced the wetness of the Perique so that it burns better, and somehow gave it a smoky flavor like Latakia or Dark Fired. While the Nicotine level remained high, it was more on par with my regular tobacco, Royal Yacht, and not as extreme as many ropes or the utter skull-crusher that is the Cotton Boll Twist. And the flavor toned down the spice in the perique while making its fruit flavor less extreme, giving it the complex scent and flavor palate of a fine wine, or at least what I imagine wine above the $7 limit tastes like.
I kept smoking. Strange — I was enjoying this! The flavor had gone from plum or fig to something like a dark berry dried in the sun, or even grapes at the edge of becoming raisins, but with that extra kick of spice that made the tobacco taste more vivid than sweet. The smoke curled around my head and for a moment I thought it spelled out something in Kabbalic and Alchemical characters, but then it dissipated. I shook my head clear and kept on smoking. The Great Beast may not have taken my soul, but he knew how to make a tasty tobacco blend.