Interview: Scalpel

scalpel-sorrow_and_skinWhen we encountered Boston band Scalpel, it was a breath of fresh air. While some of the frenetic post-‘core deathgrind influences were present, this band made it clear through their songwriting that their hearts were in the older traditions of the underground.

In fact, their sound resembles a cross between a Unique Leader West Coast-style blasting percussive death metal band, and an East Coast outfit, like some of the Suffocation material from their live album era before they fully modernized. Scalpel bash out the intricate textural descents of percussive death metal on Sorrow and Skin, their opus coming out this month.

We were able to snag the band for a few questions and enjoyed their laconic but incisive answers.

How did Scalpel form, and how did your style evolve after that point?

Scalpel formed when Taylor Brennan and Manny Egbert met each other at guitar summer camp like good little childs. We started as a goregrind band with lots of Carcass style riffs before developing a more technical and brutal sound.

What would you identify as your influences, musically and in literature, film and non-fiction writing?

Musically, our influences are bands like Creedence Clearwater, Black Sabbath, Morbid Angel, Suffocation and Carcass. We all enjoy films such as Ip Man, Rambo, The Reanimator, and Clockwork Orange. We also love authors such as J.R.R Tolkien, Kurt Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson.

Your style seems to approximate a mixture of East Coast and West Coast death metal influences. Are you the crest of a new wave?

Yes, although we do not try to align ourselves with any other contemporary death metal bands, we do feel that we have a unique sound.

Where did you record Sorrow and Skin?

Sorrow and Skin was recorded at Q Division Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts. No metronomes were used in the recording of the album in order to produce a more organic sound.

To what degree do you take influence from “modern” styles of metal, specifically the post-2000 ones?

Mostly, the extremely quick tempos and incessant blast beats. Other than that, we stick to our roots.

Where do you hold on to older styles, and why?

Slam riffs, fuzzy production, and shrieking bluesy guitar solos are all elements reminiscent of older styles. We think it is better to draw influence from older groups and expand upon the foundations of death metal than to keep up with modern standards.

Will you be gracing us with your presence with a tour?

Yes, we hope to tour Europe in the future. We look forward to bringing our brand of Death Metal to a new audience as well as making friends in new places.

How do you compose these songs?

The songwriting process sets in much like an attack of diarrhea; an idea will hit Manny or Taylor, and it goes from there. The song starts usually in the form of death metal scatting (fa na na flum flum) and we finish each other’s song ideas and hash out the rest at practice.

What, in your view, is the “soul” of death metal?

Death metal serves the purpose of being a lens into the darkest side of humanity, and making light of the most disturbing things that humans can achieve. Without the outlet of Death Metal, the world would seem deceivingly positive.

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The return of the old underground?

classic_death_metal_underground_flierChange is easy to spot from afar. You watch a whole continent break loose, or a planet change its orbit. The challenge is being able to spot it when you’re on that continent or planet. Is that rumble your home island floating away, or just too much Taco Bell?

Lately the underground has been changing again, as it has in the past. First, a number of people seem to be recognizing that for the last couple years, something has shifted. The quality of releases is better, and the nu-core/indie/alt-metal/shoe-gaze just doesn’t attract the throngs. I blame Beherit, War Master, Profanatica, Blaspherian, Imprecation, Birth A.D. and others for bringing back old styles with new voices.

Next, there’s renewed interest in older formats of music. Cynics will say this is just hipsters, but it’s too big for that. It’s almost like a generalized reaction to the impermanence of MP3s and the lack of control you have if Amazon or iTunes decides to delete your profile for blasphemy.

Finally, there’s renewed interest in zines. Not only are there promising new zines like Codex Obscurum, but there’s people writing about zines and the effect they can have on the underground. (Many of them are pointing toward our Classic Death Metal Zine Archive and The Heavy Metal FAQTM.)

Like vinyls, zines have an appeal. It’s not that they are somehow more effective than the internet at spreading information. Rather, like vinyl, their saving grace is that they’re less convenient. This creates a big pyramid between bands and fans where multiple people filter the thousands of possibilities down to fifty pages in a zine or 15 LP choices in a distro or record store. They reduce the amount of chaotic information and give you more options, ironically, as a result.

It might be this is all in my head (dead brain cells). But there’s something in the air. It’s not just fall, which we’ll get in Texas in another three months. It’s a sweeping change, what they call a “sea change” in the elite newspapers. After fifteen years of dormancy while the imitations swept in and appropriated what others had created, metal is bouncing back. And it’s bringing back the old ways.

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Interview with Christian Falch of Norwegian black metal documentary Blackhearts

blackhearts_black_metal_documentaryBlackhearts is a new film about black metal after Norway in the 1990s, focusing on world black metal in the present day and how it is different from the original integral genre.

This is welcome news for those who were thinking “Aw, geez, do we need another film to tread ground well-covered by Lords of Chaos and Until the Light Takes Us?” You won’t have to suffer through a re-tread of the now-familiar early 1990s soap opera because it’s not mentioned in the movie, despite Blackhearts being the production of a Norwegian film crew.

Christian Falch, producer of Blackhearts, took the time to give us some answers to the burning questions that metal fans may have regarding this new movie.

You are the producer of the movie Blackhearts. Can you tell us what the movie is about?

I’m the producer and I co-write the script (documentaries actually do have scripts too…) with the director Fredrik Horn Akselsen. We both work for the Norwegian production company Gammaglimt AS.

Blackhearts is basically a feature length documentary about the profound impact that Norwegian black metal has had on the lives of fans and artists throughout the world. As you know, this genre has a lot of dedicated followers.

We have three main protagonists in the documentary. They are all really passionate and dedicated fans with their own black metal bands. One of them is a member of parliament in Greece, the other one is risking everything for the music because it is strictly forbidden where he lives: Iran. The third is a truly devoted Colombian Satanist. In the documentary we want to explore why black metal is so special to them and what the fascination is all about.

The story of black metal has been told a number of times, most notably through Lords of Chaos and Until the Light Takes Us. What is your documentary doing that these other sources have not?

First of all, our film will not deal with the events in the past, but rather look at the situation today. The storytelling in Blackhearts happens as the story of our different characters evolve, so this is not something retrospective, but we get do follow our three protagonists in several exciting episodes throughout the film.

I also want to mention that this documentary is being made for a wide, international audience, not only metal fans. Therefore we deal with universal topics like passion, politics, religion and dreams — of course everything still is about black metal. A great mix of everything a good documentary needs if you ask me.

Do you think it has taken us — Norway, the West and/or humanity in general — almost a generation to absorb what black metal was about?

In this documentary we will have a close look on how different cultures, religions, political situations and so on deals with the black metal phenomena. The fascinating thing is that it varies a lot! Here in Norway, the government pays black metal bands to record their albums and at the same time they would not mind flogging you for listening to Mayhem in Iran…

There are still a lot of different opinions around when it comes to what black metal is all about — and that is exactly what we want to explore and learn more about in this film.

Following up on the third question: what was black metal “about”? Do musical genres have ideals? Are those always clearly articulated? Is there a benefit in not articulating them like we articulate science and politics?

That’s a good but difficult question to answer. In my opinion black metal was about making atmospheric music with a hint of opposition to the society in general — the media (and some of the artists) made a great impact when it comes to defining the ideals behind it, but I believe that every individual had a personal, and therefore different, motivation to join the scene. I’m not a fan of putting the same ideological label on every individual or band just because they play black metal.

Speaking of politics, how are you going to deal with tricky subjects like Varg Vikernes and his political beliefs which I don’t trust myself to summarize, the murders of homosexuals by black metal musicians, the church burnings and the numerous statements of adoration for National Socialism and Stalinism by black metal musicians?

As I mentioned, we won’t go deep into the dark and difficult past of this genre, but of course we need to mention what happened and how it influenced the scene (and it still does). We would like to show that the black metal scene is more varied than most people think. We will do our best to deal with this subject as fairly as possible.

What do you think made black metal different from other forms of heavy metal, both musically and in idea?

For me, the difference is in the atmosphere, the way you feel when you listen to black metal, the images that appears in my mind…I don’t need to go into musical terms, it is the feeling of the music that makes black metal special. The idea of it all is of course to be more extreme than heavy metal and other subgenres. That’s really nothing I personally need to enjoy a good black metal band, but I have to admit that the myths surrounding some of the bands and artists attracted me in the first place, many years ago — and I still think it continues to attract new fans to this day.

Are you going to cover other extreme metal activity in Norway, like death metal bands such as Cadaver and Molested?

Unfortunately not. We simply don’t have the time to do that. Our focus will be more or less strictly on black metal. The only exception might be the appearance of Destructhor from Myrkskog and Morbid Angel.

You are apparently the metalhead among the production group. What got you into heavy metal? Do you still listen to it? Why do you like it, and what makes it relevant to you?

I’m the only metalhead in the crew…as with many fans of my generation it started with Guns ‘n Roses, hahaha, but it did not take long before I discovered other bands with more hard hitting music and once you start enjoying this kind of music it makes you start looking for the next band that takes it to a more extreme level and that’s how it goes I guess.

I still listen to all kinds of metal amongst other things, but I’m not very good at keeping up to date with all the new bands and releases. To me, music, and especially black metal is something personal and special. I don’t feel the need to share it with anyone else or even speak about it. Black metal is the little luxury I enjoy alone when there are no other distractions around. I should also mention that there is a lot of crappy black metal bands out there, guess I’m picky when it comes to this genre.

Where is Blackhearts in terms of production? When will we be able to see it? Will it be in theatres or online? How much interest does The Movie IndustryTM have in a film like this?

We have been working for two years with this documentary already and we have about 50% of the material shot. The timing of the release all depends on the financial situation of the project in the time to come, but for sure people would be able to see it sometime during 2015. We are planning a massive release on all platforms including cinema, festivals, TV and of course DVD and online.

To this day we have experienced an impressive amount of interest from distributors, international co-producers, TV broadcasters, film institutes and so on. I am really happy about this because it makes it possible for us to make this film on the level of quality I think it deserves. As far as I know, there is no documentary on black metal out there with the approach we are doing so there is a wide range of possible scenarios for the finalization and release of the finished film.

I guess the biggest question for all of us is “why”: why did black metal come about, why was it so violent, and why does it fascinate us today. Does your film address these whys?

This is the core of the film. It is a difficult question to answer, but this is why I wanted to do this film in the first place — to find out why this weird, hate promoting genre is so incredible fascinating. Hopefully we are able to understand it a bit more after seeing the finished film.

Can you tell us more about the format of the film? Is it interviews, or a narrative, or a mixture of both? Will you use black metal music in the film?

The film will be character driven. In other words, we will follow the people in real life situations and all of them have their own story that we are in the process of filming at the moment. There might be some interviews as well, but not like one would expect from a typical documentary. For example: in Blackhearts we meet an Iranian, Sina. He is the only black metal artist in his country. We first get to know him at home in Tehran, then we follow him to Norway as he is about to do his first ever live concert at the Inferno festival. Then comes the tricky part — can he ever go back home to Iran after promoting what some people consider to be blasphemy on stage?

Through following Sina’s story we will get to learn more about how strong the passion for black metal can be and how the music is still provoking authorities around the world. This is just one example and I can promise we have more fascinating stories too!

When it comes to the music in the film, people should not expect to hear lots of it, but of course it’s there when we show scenes from concerts etc. A treat for all black metal fans (and for me) is that the one and only Snorre Ruch has composed music specially for this documentary.

Last but not least, can you tell us about yourself, not necessarily as formal as a CV but a bit about film, how you came to love it, and how you came to be a movie producer.

I work as a full time documentary producer on several different films. Most of them are related to the second world war or religion and music. This is of course all topics that I am really interested in on a personal level. I never really loved films more than the next guy, but I ended up producing music videos and documentaries because it brought me to places and people that I never would have met under “normal” circumstances.

I have been doing it for the ten years now and I’m liking it more and more as time passes. One of the last documentaries I produced is called The Exorcist in the 21st Century and it has been doing quite well, specially in the US. We got unique access to one of the top exorcists in the Vatican and we followed him around the world as he was doing his thing. Therefore I have seen a about one dozen exorcism rituals being performed.

Since this interview will mostly be read by metal fans, I can reveal that the demon that reveals itself during the rituals we filmed sounded like Maniac from Mayhem at times, hahaha!

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Profanatica – Thy Kingdom Cum

profanatica-thy_kingdom_cumThe wizards of Profanatica/Havohej experiment extensively with their music in both form and content, and as a result, their releases are widely varied with differing degrees of success as listening (as opposed to “theoretical”) experiences.

Thy Kingdom Cum, the most recent offering which will be unleashed by Hells Headbangers Records on November 26, unifies the threads of Profanatica by being noisy and avantgarde in its blasphemy and song structures while keeping focus on fast-paced black metal with melodic undertones and creative riffing.

Like Impaled Nazarene’s Rapture, Thy Kingdom Cum re-interprets black metal in the late-1980s ideal of fast single-string riffs which combine hints of melody with unrelenting energy. The result is like a hybrid between industrial music, punk and Wagnerian classical: great towering themes emerge from riffs that resemble bent bits of wire or the symbols on schematic diagrams. You may notice similarities to proto-black metal like Sarcofago here.

Profanatica as usual do not shy away from blasphemy but unlike some past works, on Thy Kingdom Cum they’re not writing protest rock; they are here to enjoy the blasphemy and this demonic relish gives this album the playful sense that made 1991’s Dethrone the Son of God so thoroughly a forbidden pleasure. What you’re hearing is musicians having fun raising hell, even if underneath that humorous pleasure is a deadly serious message.

Like early Havohej, Thy Kingdom Cum is fast and simple and abrades the ears with intense riffs and unique but compressed song structures. Like the band’s musical peak in Profanatitas de Domonatia this newer work shows a dedication to producing depth of music in addition to pure noise and evocative rhythm from the ever-adroit Paul Ledney drumming.

Where Profanatica‘s last album, 2010’s Disgusting Blasphemies Against God, ventured into pure textural rhythm and a grinding atmosphere, this newer incarnation of the band shows more dedication to highly motivational ripping metal riffs and through periodic melody in a shorter version of the style on Profanatitas de Domonatia, an expansion of the relevance of riff structure beyond rhythm.

As the ongoing story of Profanatica/Havohej evolves, Thy Kingdom Cum will likely be remembered as a unification of their more cerebral esoteric black metal with a digestible and intense form that conveys their message like pastoral landscapes carved in flesh. As such, it may re-awakening blackmetal to its roots.

Tracklist:

  1. Ruptureholyhymen
  2. Foul The Air With Blasphemy
  3. Denounce Him
  4. False Doctrina
  5. Definite Atonement
  6. Thy Kingdom Cum
  7. Ropes of Hatred
  8. Water to Blood

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Torchure – Beyond the Veil re-issue

torchure-beyond_the_veilVic Records re-issues the first album of German death metal band Torchure, whose style of heavy metal infused thunderous death metal saw favorable comparison to early Therion, Morgoth and Miasma.

Formed in 1985, Torchure recorded three demo tapes and two full-length albums which were released on legendary German metal label 1MF. These albums, out of print for two decades, have been aggressively sought by collectors but nearly impossible to find.

Beyond the Veil re-issue contains two re-mastered unreleased tracks as bonus, new liner notes, rare pictures and the original album in its entirety without remaster. You can order it online from Vic Records for € 9,99 and thankfully it is not a digipak.

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Funeral Circle – Funeral Circle

funeral_circle-funeral_circleI remember when I first realized that it doesn’t matter if a band clones its style. I was listening to the first General Surgery and thinking that, while it was basically a Carcass clone, it was also good. Pathologist followed that.

Funeral Circle is an unabashed and faithful Candlemass clone that manages to extend this style in a new direction through the band’s personality, which is slightly less purely dark than Candlemass’s. As a result, we end up with a doom metal band that puts more of an emphasis on epic atmosphere than purely doom atmosphere.

While this release does not have the fully formed personality that Candlemass did, it creates a middle of the room entry point to epic doom. Melodies sometimes borrow from alternative rock, folk and country; riffs are brought from the past with a sensibility derived from power metal, just slowed down. Sometimes, as in power metal, we hear a melodic sense similar to that of religious music.


Funeral Circle as a result is an enjoyable venture into creativity where atmosphere is the goal instead of crushing riffs or catchy choruses. This makes for a listening experience that like ambient music, hopes to store itself in the background and color consciousness, not abruptly direct it.

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Eternal Solstice – The Wish is Father to the Thought

eternal_solstice-the_wish_is_father_to_the_thoughtMany in the metal community view genre names as special keys to secret clubs. The opposite is true: genre names are descriptions that help us explain how bands compose and thus, who will enjoy them.

The Wish is Father to the Thought shows us what is on the surface a death metal band, but which musically is mostly a speed metal band. Further, their choruses tend toward a doom metal pace and mood, which makes the speed/death portions more accessible.

Like other speed/death hybrids Kreator and Destruction, Eternal Solstice use mostly chromatic riffing with lots of muted-strum “chugging” to create a tension and energy. The verses of most of these songs incorporate variants of riffs that Exodus or Anthrax might have used if they were more vicious, like a version of Meshuggah with less technicality and more knowledge of everyday life.

Eternal Solstice creates highly energetic speed metal with occasional death metal riffs, but basically, this band comes to us straight out of the 1980s. Death vocals add a gruff intensity and the lengthy choruses prevent the percussive riffs from being overwhelming, but the real appeal here is in the speed thrills.

The Wish is Father to the Thought was originally released in 1994 and is now re-issued so that a new generation of fans can appreciate this Dutch band at their most intense.

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Interview: Markus Stock of Empyrium

markus_stock-empyrium

The mysterious entity known as Empyrium has attracted its share of attention over the years by upholding the strongest nature-mystic tradition in metal, and dark ambient into which it migrated.

Like other nature mystics in metal, Empyrium expand the metal lexicon with lush dark organic soundscapes and dynamics that more represent the whims of nature than the mechanical sounds of city or ideology.

Into the Pantheon shows Empyrium in a live setting, both with a concert DVD and a documentary film made about the band and this event. Eagerly awaited by fans who remain loyal to this publicity-shy act, Into the Pantheon delivers a subtle but powerful live experience.

We were fortunate to be able to catch up with Markus Stock of Empyrium for a quick interview.

Interview with Markus Stock of Empyrium

Interview with Markus Stock of Empyrium

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Interview with Markus Stock of Empyrium

markus_stock-empyrium

The mysterious entity known as Empyrium has attracted its share of attention over the years by upholding the strongest nature-mystic tradition in metal, and dark ambient into which it migrated.

Like other nature mystics in metal, Empyrium expand the metal lexicon with lush dark organic soundscapes and dynamics that more represent the whims of nature than the mechanical sounds of city or ideology.

Into the Pantheon shows Empyrium in a live setting, both with a concert DVD and a documentary film made about the band and this event. Eagerly awaited by fans who remain loyal to this publicity-shy act, Into the Pantheon delivers a subtle but powerful live experience.

We were fortunate to be able to catch up with Markus Stock of Empyrium for a quick interview.

How did Empyrium come about? Did you have a concept when you went into this practice, or did it develop naturally?

When we started Empyrium back in 1993 we were just 15 year old kids and didn’t have a detailed plan or concept whatsoever at first. We just followed our heart and made music that came naturally to us…now, 20 years later, we still follow that rule, but of course we are much more experienced and skilled these days.

Were you influenced by past metal bands who’ve used acoustic instruments among the distorted guitars, like Cemetary and Pyogenesis?

Yeah, we were. I loved the first Pyogenesis MCD (on Osmose) when it came out. Big influences also were My Dying Bride, early Paradise Lost, very early Cradle Of Filth, Darkthrone and Emperor (especially their unbelievable split with Enslaved).

Some have hypothesized that metal is in a slump, and for it to break out, it’s going to need to get closer to genres like classical or folk music where there’s a greater range of instrument used, thus more musical possibilities. Did you have a similar idea in your own path?

Actually, no. Today I don’t view Empyrium as a Metal Band anymore. We have influences from many, many genres and styles of music. I think the whole “let’s mix our metal with folk/classical/hip-hop/funk/whatever” went a little overboard and today I enjoy Metal much more when it retains some purity of the genre. Nothin wrong with some classical elements or keyboards but the electric guitar and the pounding drums should be the centerpiece of a Metal Band.

Into the Pantheon is an immaculate concert with high technical performance but also emotional intensity. How did you practice for this? And how much did you just “wing it” to keep the mood strong?

We practiced alot. I wrote a score for each live musician involved so they could prepare themselve at home and then we rehearsed about a week in a smal venue that was rented for us. It was important to me to be well prepared.

Do you see an affinity between yourselves and other atmosphere based metal bands like Summoning?

Oh yes. I loved the whole Summoning stuff. I hear they made a new album I need to check that, though I find it hard to retain this kind of 90ies atmospheric today.

Most would identify your style as some kind of doom metal, like My Dying Bride or Paradise Lost, but at the pace of a funeral doom band, like Skepticism or Winter. What made you choose the tempi at which you play, and what does it suggest, artistically?

Like mentioned earlier I can see influences and similarities to bands like Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride in our very early works but Skepticism or Winter? Definitely no.

Empyrium has a reputation for being secretive. Are you secretive? If so, why?

No I am not. This is because we haven’t played live in more than 15 years of band history. But, I am not lurking in a cave, deep in the woods, pondering in solitude and silence over my future plans.

Metal bands seem to have this life cycle where they start out with fresh ideas, and then become more like their influences, then get big and quality plummets after that. Have you observed this? How will Empyrium beat this cycle?

We have actually finished a new album and with a break between the last album and this one of almost 10 years – believe me, if you follow your heart and do the music that comes out of you it will be fresh again.

In addition to the live concert, there was a DVD made about the band. How did this come about? What did you think of the final product?

I think it’s a nice addition to the live part of the DVD and was a lot of work. Personally I can’t see myself talking over such a long period of time but fans will definitely love the detail and the work that went into this documentay,

Once this DVD and documentary hit the stores, there’s going to be a reaction. How much does it influence you? Will it inspire you to tour, or release more music?

There will be no tour with Empyrium. A few selected live appearances but no tour. As mentioned earlier we have a new album in the pipeline to be released maybe early next year.

What are your non-musical influences? Are there works of art or literature that capture the vision you’re trying to create in sound?

Of course. Movies, literature, paintings – everything I consume inspires me. Nature and landscapes have always been a big influence on Empyrium. Past, present and future.

It must be challenging to integrate so many instruments and voices of such different loudness and timbre into your works. How do you compose your songs? Do you start with an idea, or a melody, or a riff?

It usually starts with just one theme – a small melody or a riff…from there we go and build up a song. With newer Empyrium material it’s is often that a song is based on one single theme and we go from there and build it up, let it collapse again, change small details etc. to make the theme work over the period of the song. You’ll hear that when the new album hits the streets.

In your view, what is heavy metal “about”? Does that change for doom metal?

Heavy Metal is about energy to me. Wild, touching, deep and archaic emotions at the same. As mentioned earlier, I don’t see Empyrium as a Metal band – we are more about the silence and the thoughts that come to you in silence. It’s much more introverted versus the the extroverted spirit of Metal.

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