Interview with D.X. Ferris, author of Slayer’s Reign in Blood (33 1/3)

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The second of May makes many of us uneasy because we remember the death of Jeff Hanneman, composer and architect of the Slayer approach to mythological alienation. The world isn’t the same without him, and many of us felt like we had lost a parent, since when adults refuse to grow up and speak honestly about life, children have to turn to other sources of information. Hanneman made sense of the modern world, no matter how apocalyptic the outlook ultimately turned out to be.

We are fortunate to get a few words in with D.X. Ferris, author of the books Slayer’s Reign in Blood (33 1/3) and Slayer 66 2/3: The Jeff & Dave Years. A Metal Band Biography. Ferris has spent the last several years writing about Slayer and understands the importance of this historic act not just to metal, but to the society around us all. Read on for the inner truths of writing about Slayer on this day we commemorate Hanneman’s life.

You’ve written two books on Slayer. What’s your relationship to Slayer? When did it begin?

My life is very clearly divided into Before Slayer and Since Slayer. I tell the story in my first book: Over the years, I had edged toward metal. I thought Metallica was as hard & heavy as it got. Then I read a review of Hell Awaits, and the review talked it up like a thrash masterpiece. So bought it. The first time I played it, it started with that big three-minute slow intro. I thought I had bought a bad album based on a bad review. But then the track kicked into the thrash part, and it was the universe cracked and a new dimension opened. And almost 30 years later, here I am, talking about Slayer.

Over the ’90s, I wasn’t as into metal as I was and am, but Slayer always stayed with me. My college notebooks are filled with Slayer lyrics and pentagrams. After college, when I’d sit in meetings, I looked like I was taking notes, but half the time, I was sketching Slayer logos — that’s one of the reasons why the new paperback looks like it does.

And the older I get, the more the band means to me. I think it’s curious how people get old and forget about metal. When you’re younger, metal is great music for when you’re pissed off. But when you get older and you have to deal with questionable coworkers and pinhead middle managers, that’s when you really need angry music. Slayer is always here for you!

How did you become a writer?

Writing is my one rare ability. I have tried doing literally everything else I though I could do: being a businessman in a suit, bartending, entering a doctoral program for corporate communication. Writing just keeps dragging me back to it. I wrote for school newspapers. I used the school newspaper as an outlet for record reviews. And gradually parlayed those clips into paying gigs as a writer.

Are you a metal fan “in general,” a Slayer fan or a writer who found this topic intriguing?

I primarily identify as A Metal Guy. I love a lot of other music. In high school, I was deeply into hardcore and punk, too. But I had long hair and the metal outfit: denim and some leather. In the picture I sent, that’s my same Anthrax back-patch from high school. The last three albums I bought were Triptykon, Behemoth, and High School Musical 2. Hey, I have kids. I could have scored free promo copies, but those dudes deserve my money.

What do you think is Slayer’s cultural impact?

Great question. Early in the book, I say “This is Slayer’s world, and we’re just living in it.” Look around is: The Twilight series is a phenomenon. It’s about vampires. There are four vampire shows in primetime TV — well, three now that NBC canceled Dracula. Walking Dead is the most popular TV show with young audiences. Game of Thrones is the most popular HBO show since The Sopranos, and it is metal as hell. In fact, I write weekly Heavy Metal Reviews of it for a website called Diffuser.fm, where I evaluate how metal the episode was. Since the days of Hell Awaits, long hair, violence, the undead, and the supernatural have saturated society. And that’s just the fantasy aspect, not to mention the fact that we’ve been at war over a decade.

Can you trace all that directly to Slayer? Maybe not. But they sure were ahead of the curve.

Your first Slayer-themed book appears to be Slayer’s Reign in Blood (33 1/3). What can you tell us about this book, and how did you end up being the one to write it?

I was a fan of the series. Each book is by a different author, writing about a single classic album, from the Beach Boys to the Beastie Boys. And something about it just called me and made me think “Go write a Slayer book for it.” I would have liked to write the Beastie Boys one, but Dan LeRoy beat me to it. When I looked down the list, I saw there was no metal in the series. So I pitched Reign. I knew it was a stretch. But, one, I thought there should be some metal. Two, if you look at the people who made the record, the album is an intriguing nexus in the history of rock: It was produced by Rick Rubin, who was known strictly as a rap guy at the time. It was his first rock record. And he would go on to work with about 10% of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee groups. Engineer Andy Wallace mixed everybody, basically, from Nirvana to Guns ‘N Roses. It was released on the rap label Def Jam. So it was the perfect metal choice, because the album reaches beyond metal.

Did writing this book change how you viewed Slayer?

It did. With pretty much any group, when you really dig into the credits and start crunching numbers, you realize that your impressions of the band aren’t necessarily right. Like, there are a lot of Who fans who assume Roger Daltrey wrote the words, because he’s the singer. I thought I knew a lot about the band, but it was really interesting to see how the leadership roles changed over the years, and how the artistic division of labor changed over time. And with the splits between Dave Lombardo and the band… Well, when I started the second book, I was partial to one side of the division. And when I was done, I had switched sides.

Last year, you unveiled Slayer 66 2/3: The Jeff & Dave Years. A Metal Band Biography. This looks to be more of a historical book. How did you come up with material, and what’s in it?

It’s a combination of new research, material that was breaking news at the time, and great stuff that wouldn’t fit in the first book: They wanted 25,000 words, I wrote 67,000, and they took 42,000. The new book is 110,000 words, with 59 chapters, 33 photos, 3 indexes (2 in the paperback), and 400 footnotes. Its full title is Slayer 66 & 2/3: The Jeff & Dave Years, A Metal Band Biography. From Birth to Reborn, Including Slaytanic Profiles, a New History of the Thrash Kings’ Early Days, Reign in Blood Tours, a European Invasion, the Palladium Riot, the Seat Cushion Chaos Concert, the Whole Diabolical Discography, Newly Unearthed Details From Dave Lombardo’s Turbulent History With the Band, Artwork and Some Photos You’ve Probably Never Seen Before, Jeff Hanneman’s Hard Times, the Big Four’s Big Year, Lombardo’s Final Exit, the Top 11 Hanneman Tributes, the Mosh Memorial Service, Untold Stories, Updates, Relevant Digressions, and More Scenes From the Abyss.

What prompted you to write a second book on Slayer?

Lombardo left the band for the third, and finally final, time in February 2013. Well, he didn’t exactly leave. But he was gone. It was a fresh shock in the metal world. And it should have been. But Slayer fans who knew history knew he had left twice before. So I decided I would write a short e-book about his trouble with the band: He was never in step with the rest of them. The first time he quit was during the Reign in Blood tour. And their relationship never recovered.

I figured it would be a 12,000-word e-book. I wanted to have it out by the end of April. All spring long, I kept getting sick. If I wasn’t sick, one of my kids was. I just couldn’t get the book done. April ended, the book wasn’t out, and I was pissed. Furious. May 1, I was fuckin’ pissed. May 2, I was even more furious. Then the evening of May 2, word breaks that Jeff Hanneman died. And there I was, with a Slayer book halfway written. So for the rest of the year, as the story unfolded, it grew from a little project to a full-on rock biography. One thing after another stopped me from getting it done, and every time, the delays helped, until at the very end, famous metal photographer and musician Harald O found some amazing photos that he had totally forgotten about. And that’s where the cover came from.

What’s an interesting Slayer fact most people don’t know?

Man… They just split with Rick Rubin after almost 30 years. And they were his only client from the 1980s. I don’t know how many younger metal fans realize how influential Dave Lombardo was for all metal percussion. He gets respect in the metal world, but rock fans don’t realize he’s one of the all-time great drummers. When Lars Ulrich was sick and Lombardo played two songs with Metallica, Ulrich was actually nervous. He said something like, “You try sitting in a hospital bed while Dave Lombardo is playing with your band.”

Writing the second book, though, the biggest thing I learned was how little Slayer has toured over the years. I mean, they’re a regular presence on the touring world. But the South of Heaven tour was something like, if I remember right, 60 shows. They took a lot of time off.

Do you write on other things besides Slayer? If so, what and where do we find them? If anonymously, can you tell us why?

I transitioned from music writing to news journalism a few years back, and I won some awards for journalism. But lately, I mostly teach college. I write some popular-culture stuff for Diffuser and The AV Club. And I’m working on a couple non-fiction projects I can’t talk about yet; one is a collaboration, so it’s not mine to talk about. I write a terrible webcomic called Suburban Metal Dad that’s not as autobiographical as you’d think, for a website called Popdose.

Have you visited the “International Day of Slayer” website? What did you think of that?

International Day of Slayer organizers Dag Hansen and Jim Tate are great! Hansen is among the people I interviewed for the book. I just heard on the radio that today is actually the International Day of Prayer, which was the original inspiration for International Day of Slayer. Last year, I thought it was really something when Kerry King took time to acknowledge Slayer Day and talk about Jeff’s absence. As I discuss in the book, I think it’s about as emotional as we’ve ever seen him in public.

What do you think Slayer’s lasting influence on metal has been?

Like I said, Lombardo practically invented modern metal drumming. They’ve been the standard-bearers for thrash. Metallica are huge, but Slayer has been the Big Four band that stayed true to their original sound and style. They never tried to cash in or cross over. They’re the gold standard for a credible long-term metal career.

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Unleashed – Odalheim

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The most recent album from Unleashed, Odalheim, is simultaneously the best and worst of days for this band. On the plus side, Unleashed have improved at editing down their material so it all flows smoothly and doesn’t ramble. On the downside, the band have adopted a style that is equal parts Dissection and The Haunted, which makes for an almost satisfying heavy metal experience ruined by kiddie rock band style antics on the level of nu-metal.

Let us be honest: djent is nu-metal for people who like jazz fusion. It’s slightly more subtle. The djent influence filtered into metal through The Haunted after At the Gates (just down the street from Meshuggah, who are the progenitors of djent). When metalcore came about with The Haunted, it wrapped djent, math rock, and melodic speed metal into one package. The result is a binary rotation between some really excellent heavy metal riffing with melody and the kind of bouncy daycare-sensibility music that made speed metal get dumb and wrecked death metal wherever it appeared.

People who need lots of internal rhythm of a similar sort to keep their interest are dumb. This is why we laugh at bands who overplay their drums in an attempt to conceal basically boring songs. If it sucks, just add lots of internal syncopation and delay your final beats just a sixteenth past audience expectation. It’s like Pavlovian terriers watching the mailman arrive. This part of this album is dumb. There is no other word for it, thus this is the best term: dumb. Repetition disguised as surprise. Only for idiots.

Odalheim is thus the album we wish Unleashed had made years ago. Tight, efficient and beautiful. If Shadows in the Deep had been more balanced, it might rise to this level of clean impact; if Where No Life Dwells had this amount of melody, we might find it mesmerizing. However, the glitch is that this album is barely death metal, but more like a mix between melodic heavy metal and bounce-metal, itself a proxy for nu-metal.

Albums like Odalheim are why black metal railed against trends: no mosh, no core, no fun, no trends. Odalheim obediently chases the late black metal trend, the melodicy heavy metal trend, the metalcore trend and the djent trend. These musicians do a great job of linking them all together, but the end result is like soup made by tossing every ingredient in your fridge into a pot of boiling water: muddled, disgusting.

That means that, while I can admire aspects of this album, I never want to hear it again. The dumb parts drown out the melodic material and the lack of definitive style obliterates its efficiency. There is almost nothing communicated here, only a background mood composed of beauty and bounce. It repeats itself. Nothing changes. Like heat death in a crowded room, Odalheim slowly dominates by repetition. And then? And then there is no will to resist. Nor to enjoy.

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Interview with Brett Stevens at MetalRecusants.com

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Adventurous metal site Metal Recusants published an interview with myself that hopefully will not bore any of you too much. Metal Recusants is one of the more interesting sites out there as you found out when you read our profile of Editor Dom and his team a few months back. Be sure to poke around for their commentary and reviews, interviews, and other forays into the world of extreme metal.

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CIA agrees that later Deicide sucks, uses it to torture prisoners

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As part of its enhanced interrogation of prisoners in the worldwide police action against terrorist guerrillas, the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been subjecting prisoners to abruptly-changing streams of loud music. The idea behind this interrogation is essentially to obliterate the prisoner’s mind with repetitive and offensive noise and make them pliable; how this is different from people voluntarily watching television and listening to radio remains to be studied.

Helpful journalists compiled a list of songs used by the CIA during torture. In addition to the predictably annoying like the Barney Theme or Meow Mix commercial, and the usual venality from pop divas, there’s Deicide with “Fuck Your God.” While that may seem like a nod to death metal, it’s actually the CIA confirming what we’ve all known for some time, which is that while early Deicide is amazing beyond words, later Deicide sucks and is horrible.

In fact, “Fuck Your God” in every way resembles what you imagine a television preacher from the 1950s would warn against. From the 40-IQ-point title to the pentatonic melodies and chromatic rhythm work without any phrasal significance, this song sounds like an angry rock ‘n’ roll band blaming an absent god for their failings between bouts of AA and parole hearings. Because we don’t want to torture you, dear readers and little profit centers that you are, we’ll leave you with the Deicide discography for thinking people.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgUP5EGifKg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqPCVDQ1oMI

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Desecresy – Chasmic Transcendence released by Xtreem Records

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Finnish old school death metal band Desecresy released their third album, Chasmic Transcendence, via Xtreem Records (ex-Drowned) on April 21, 2014. Following more of a mid-paced approach in deference to the doom-death of past, the album offers 14 tracks of shorter length than previous albums.

Descresy, which consists of Nurmi T.G. on vocals and Tommi Gronqvist on guitars/bass/drums, might be compared to a fusion of old Finnish death metal like Abhorrence and doom-death like Incantation or Asphyx. The band released a promotional track, “Voracious Mass,” which demonstrates the changes in style.

Tracklist:

  1. The Ethereal Bane
  2. Shattered Monuments
  3. The Denied Legacy
  4. The Eye of Death
  5. Cyclonic Mass Consumptor
  6. Sons of the Burning God II
  7. Celestial Intoxication
  8. Climber of the Sky
  9. Hibernant Orbs
  10. Travellers of Forbidden Planes
  11. Voracious Mass
  12. Waters of Neptune
  13. Infinite Halls
  14. Autumn of Souls

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Tom G. Warrior agrees with our review of Triptykon – Melana Chasmata

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As always, Warrior is self-deprecating and honest to a fault:

At any rate, I, too, think Melana Chasmata might be the most deficient post-Celtic Frost reunion album I have been involved in. I have made uncounted such statements within the band during the extended time we were working on the album, and there exists a long string of very unambiguous mails to this effect, addressed to the band’s management and to our partners at Century Media.

Melana Chasmata was an exceedingly difficult and complex album to make, and that is never a good sign. There were reasons for these difficulties, and they were far from superficial, on more than just one level. In the end, I couldn’t have worked on this album for even one more day, even though I seriously pondered at least a remix, if not far more drastic revisions. But I eventually felt I needed to wrap it up and thus also conclude the entire emotional landscape attached to it.

Frankly, I personally am utterly puzzled by the extremely favourable opinions the album has garnered from most in our audience as well as from reviewers, record company, management, and fellow band members. My own stance is far, far more critical, and I have so far been unable to listen to the album as a whole. The faint light on the horizon, for me, is that I felt the same way about To Mega Therion in late 1985. Only a few years down the road did I begin to digest that album and its production, eventually enabling me to think of it as one of Celtic Frost’s most significant albums.

The difference perhaps is that To Mega Therion encapsulated what many were feeling but did not yet know how to say, where Melana Chasmata encapsulates what many are saying, but not what they are feeling.

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Call for papers for Modern Heavy Metal: Markets, Practices, Cultures conference

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The international academic research conference Modern Heavy Metal: Markets, Practices, Cultures has issued a “call for papers” or request that those of you with something to write on this topic announce your thesis and send in your paper(s). This conference is hosted by the Aalto School of Business in conjunction with the International Society for Metal Music Studies and will occur from June 8-12, 2015.

According to its description, the conference focuses on this nexus of metal’s growth: “The evolution of metal, as any other music genre, is impacted by the technological and economic revolution that has radically reshaped the forms of music production, delivery, consumption and culture – let alone the role of social media in communication, community building and fandom. Altogether, metal is embracing new fans and markets, creating new practices, forming new cultures, while treasuring the strong and polymorphous legacy of the genre.” To address this, the conference participants plan to analyze and explicate “the current standing of metal; the plethora of its forms, cultures, practices, and markets.”

For those who have an opinion on metal-as-industry as it has come about in the post-1994 years when it left underground and transitioned to being aboveground but a recognized “niche market,” much like in the 1970s, this conference is an excellent time to record those thoughts in orderly and studious fashion and present them to an audience of not just fellow metalheads but also academics and industry. The organizers invite input of many forms:

We are particularly interested in contributions shedding light on the markets, practices and cultures, faced by the metal practitioners and fans in the current multifaceted and global expression of heavy metal and its countless forms and sub-genres. The event is open not only for academics focusing on metal studies (in business studies, cultural studies, social sciences, humanities, musicology, arts, and other fields) but also for scholars from the wide range of popular music and popular culture studies. We warmly welcome also views from “the outside” to discuss and compare metal with other genres and cultural forms and helps in positioning metal in the bigger picture of cultural production and consumption.

The suggested themes include (but are not limited to):

  • Metal music industry and markets; global and local views, formation and structure of markets, entertainment and cultural industries
  • Metal management; strategic thinking, branding, visual communication in metal, metal export/import, leadership and roles, creative management
  • Metal practices; music, production, technology, performance, delivery
  • Metal cultures; fandom and fan communities, local communities, transnational/global communities, tribalism metal and social media, mainstream and subcultures, metal generations, gender and metal, artistic identity
  • Form and philosophy of the metal genre
  • Sound and structure of metal music
  • Metal narratives, lyrics, and storytelling
  • Metal and belief systems, metal and religion
  • Politics, ethics and moral of metal
  • Artistic and aesthetic considerations; metal (in) art, metal representations, aesthetic experience, bodily experience
  • History, present and future of metal; transformations of the genre
  • Scope and methods of metal studies
  • Metal on the borderline; positions and connections of metal within the popular music and popular culture context
  • Various topics exploring the phenomena and representations of metal and related genres.

Alongside with more traditional research papers, novel and creative approaches to research are strongly encouraged. Theoretical reviews, practical case studies, conceptual studies, methodological papers, ethnographical reports, lyrical and visual analyses, qualitative and quantitative approaches, and various other forms and approaches are supported. With the long abstract and paper process, we hope that many new studies get ignited and completed for the conference.

Please note that the paper review process comprises two stages: abstract and full paper. Final acceptance is based on the full paper.

For more information, see the Call for Papers announcement.

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Another take on the Hellfest porn angle

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By now, you’ve probably heard that France’s Hellfest had been planning to team up with a porn site to provide entertainment at the show. Naturally, two sides have formed, the pro side who think either this might be cool or it should be allowed, and the con side which thinks it’s a bad idea.

I’m going to join the con side at a meta level by saying that I think we should be very careful about involving any industry with metal, including the “metal industry” (which should be an oxymoron) itself. Industry wants the opposite of music quality; it wants a tractable fan-base that will buy whatever comes out so long as it has some “new” quality, like using a trombone or a different singer.

Pornography is many things. There’s a moral argument against it from conservatives, which is that it debases the family; there’s also a moral argument against it from liberals, which is that it degrades women. Probably both are true to some degree, but it’s also true that women and men both voluntarily join up to participate both in the films and in purchasing the eventual product. Either it’s not debasing/degrading, or some people want that experience or at least don’t mind it.

But the real issue here is economic. People are already leery of Toyota’s Scion imprint sponsoring metal shows, or past sponsorship deals with alcohol companies. There’s no reason we should be less skeptical here just because porn is an “underground” industry (like the “metal industry”). It will still try to infiltrate and use you for its own ends, metal fans, because to it you represent dollar signs. Does the money go into the music, or the… ah… you know?

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Explore alternative religion: Hail Satan

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One of our readers sent this in, and in the interest of exposing our readers to alternative religions and expanding all of our horizons and being open-minded, we present this manifesto:

Bathed in the Black Sun – An Initiation

Welcome to the gateway of The Grotto of the Ibex Glade, a group of Satanists that celebrate the entropic gift of life for its own reason alone. Here we have a conglomerate of positive humanistic convictions that we assert, but in respect of the individual reserve for suggested option to our members. Our primary goal is distinctively humanistic, in that we support the isolate, psyche-centric convictions and growth that covers all domains of the individual. Such love for freedom has been damned by religious organization, within and without, for too long of a time. Though our philosophical meta-theology may cover a portion of needs, the way of Satan will always boil down to the elemental responsibility of yourself to yourself.
I would refer to our specific branch of Satanism as “Atavistic Satanism,” in that we oftentimes revert to our ancestral roots of the Black Arts. We launch from a paradigm that is paleo-Pagan in approach, since Satan is far older than the Christianity and Judaism that we all know so well. Throughout the ages of man, the adversary has been the nucleus of all mythic tales that revolve around the will of man breaking the bonds of tyranny. Since reflexively we can judge that the organized structures of man are counter-stratified, rewarding the least merited with wealth and hierarchy, we can view the adversary, and its effect on man in a purified, atavistic sense within the context of these tales- the maxim of elevated mythic study has always viewed the trickster as the culture hero. A full etymology would be inappropriate in this introduction, therefore we will reserve that for a separate piece of writing.
The world was born from the primal soup of the chaotic void, and before the orphic cosmogenesis of the cross-cultural creation, it was this power, this Dark and Balancing Force of Chaos that is Nature that called itself into order- and for what purpose? Satanism is concerned with life. Life itself can loosely be defined as movement, going against the grain and flux. The heart pumps the blood, and the neurons fire in the brain – we can observe life. Satan is life, and Satan is death. Satan is the Dark and Balancing Force in Nature. Therefore, we as Atavistic Satanists actively work to destroy all useless and programmed philosophic binaries, including light/dark, good/evil, life/death. We all must share in the experience, since death is a process in life – it is unavoidable, and therefore not separate.
The Grotto of the Ibex Glade relies heavily on the writings of Anton LaVey, specifically with The Satanic Bible being our primary doctrine. The reason we are not affiliated with The Church of Satan is because the atmosphere and scene in the Church of Satan has changed with nearly every decade, in that its original purpose seems too far different from its current approach. We however do not discourage membership in the Church of Satan. We are highly appreciative of its historical function, and recognize many figures in its priesthood, including its current High Priest, as highly intelligent, influential key-players in the culture of Satanism. We do not restrict dual-membership with any other group, inside or outside of The Grotto of the Ibex Glade. This is a cabal of like-minded elites that are courageous enough to view life as the great adventure- which is the self-identified function of the trans-folkish culture hero- Satan.
We refuse to subject our members to masonic degrees of recognition. A simple, uncomplicated admission of nature and man’s cooperative office is all that is necessary to view Satan within a favorable light, cogniscent or not of its symbolism. We offer a Left-Hand Path oriented program of a heavy occult praxis, in active and passive currents. Though our system is influenced by Kabbalah, the Thelema of Aleister Crowley and the Witch Cult of Western Europe, we are uniquely and unabashedly Satanic above all other adjectives in magical expression, regardless of how hermetic and pagan our theology goes.
Our teachings come free, and at no cost other than your own willingness to dedicate yourself to the Left-Hand Path. By following the Left-Hand Path you are by proxy serving yourself and mankind as a whole. If you’d like further information of how to get involved, contact the Satanist who has been assigned for public relations in your geographic area listed below.

In nomine Dei nostri Satanas Luciferi excelsi!

Contact: SigLaufeyJarson@gmail.com

In his spare time, Sig Laufey Jarson composes for Bacchanal:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUQyNG060GI

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