Interview: Wes Infernal and Matt Mayhem (Blaspherian)

Blaspherian comes from Houston, Texas, and makes old school death metal with its own voice. Their music does not sound like any known band but is clearly influenced by the old school of booming, primitive, dark, introspective and alienated metal. Formed in 2004, Blaspherian arose from the collaboration of Wes Infernal — formerly of Infernal Dominion and Imprecation — and Desekrator, but rapidly branched out to include Matt Mayhem on drums and Apollyon on vocals and bass.

Since that time, through several releases culminating in Allegiance to the Will of Damnation, after which Joe Nekro replaced Apollyon, the band has been crawling its way to the top of the Texas death metal stack, and will release a new album, Infernal Warriors of Death, shortly. We were fortunate to get some moments to talk with members Wes Infernal (guitars) and Matt Mayhem (drums) about this raging force of death metal.

Is it hard for you to create new riffs, ideas, songs and a “voice” for yourselves in old school death metal, since so much of the genre was established before?

WES: Not at all. We’ve been at this for long enough that it comes quite naturally, although there are occasional “dry spells.” One thing that sticks out is out guitar sound… once you hear it, you know it’s us. That and the way I write creates an original “voice” for us, as I see it.

MATT: Wes and I continuously get better at writing together. I think both of our hearts are in death metal. That and our strict guideline of writing songs is what keeps the ideas flowing. The right part for the wrong song, the song as a whole, and most importantly to remain evil and heavy at all times.

BLASPHERIAN finally has a stable line-up. How did you (Matt and Wes) decide to form the band; what was the catalyst?

W: BLASPHERIAN was created by myself and Desekrator, the original vocalist. Matt joined a short time afterwards, when Desekrator and I decided to get a lineup together. We originally had the idea of starting a thrash band back in 2004, but then I realized for me it had to be Satanic death metal, as that’s my true unholy calling. I had been without a band for about a year, and had enough time off…it was time to create this sick unholy force known as BLASPHERIAN.

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And ‘Thou shalt not’ writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires.

– William Blake, Songs of Experience (1794)

Have the values of metal music changed from the early 90s? How, and what does it make you think?

W: The values have not changed for the diehards, for the true. But in the poseur world, of course their values change with every trend, with most of them eventually getting out of the scene altogether. To me, metal is a way of life, forever — until death. Long live the true metal warriors of death!

M: Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to experience the glory of the old days. I’m only 25, but the majority of the death metal I listen to is from the late 80s to early 90s. From what I see happening now, there are a lot of new killer bands coming out that keep that tradition alive. People are getting fed up with the bullshit that’s labeled “metal music” nowadays and rightfully so.

Wes Infernal has hosted the “From the Depths” radio show for a long time now. How long has it been, how has the show contributed to knowing metal, and has it showing you what is important to the listening audience influenced your approach to writing music?

W: I’ve done “From the Depths” since 2000, anno satanas. The show really hasn’t contributed to me knowing metal. I do the same things I’ve always done: buy CDs, collect records and magazines. The fun is turning all the listeners on to the stuff I get.

M: Honestly, I think to the older generation “Sweet Nightmares” was more important. Especially from the late 80s through the 90s. I know from my own experience before meeting Wes, “From the Depths” was definitely a pivotal point as far as finding out about new music goes. Me and my friends would get together and drink every Sunday and listen to awesome music we had never heard before. It eventually became a game of sorts, guessing which band he was playing at the time as well as an opportunity to test your knowledge of the underground.

When the band HELLHAMMER said, “Only Death is Real,” what do you think that meant?

W: To me, HELLHAMMER were one of the first metal bands to introduce death into their lyrical and visual themes. Life is short, death is eternal, therefore only death is real.

What were the early influences on your playing and songwriting, both individually and as a band?

W: Without a doubt, POSSESSED… and SLAYER. Which later developed into DEATH, MORBID ANGEL, etc.

M: In the beginning I think we were very influenced by INCANTATION, DEMIGOD, IMMOLATION, GRAVE, MORBID ANGEL and POSSESSED. I still try to incorporate those influences as much as possible, but I think that BLASPHERIAN has developed into its own beast by now! As far as drumming influences: Chris Reifert (AUTOPSY), Jim Roe (INCANTATION), and Craig Smilowski (IMMOLATION) are considered before all!

Does being fully metal conflict with having a career, family or non-metal friends? How do you all balance being in an occult death metal band with the needs of normal life?

W: Yes. It’s not easy, dealing with people that do not, and will not ever, understand the things I believe in or the things I do. You just have to go through life standing up for what you believe in. Try to explain, and most never get it. The few that do still think you’re crazy, which to me is hilarious. Explaining to a Christian how they are the embodiment of the herd mentality, and a slave in every way possible — I look forward to it sometimes.

When you write songs, do you start with a concept, or a riff, or something else?

W: It works either way. Sometimes a song title can trigger music, sometimes music will conjure a song title. But for the most part, at least so far, music gets written first.

How did you learn to play? Do you use music theory or another method? Did musical illiteracy help or hinder you in learning to make music that sounded the way you wanted it to?

W: I used to just jam along to SLAYER, METALLICA, and DARK ANGEL records. That was the foundation for me to learn everything I needed to learn. I know very little theory, really it’s more about pure feeling and emotion, each riff must mean something on a purely emotional level. So to me musically illiteracy has definitely helped, as strange as that may sound, because I would hate to have any kind of limitations, which is what theory is in my opinion.

I am not disclosing any trade secrets. In fact, the manager said afterwards that Mr. Kurtz’s methods had ruined the district. I have no opinion on that point, but I want you clearly to understand that there was nothing exactly profitable in these heads being there. They only showed that Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts, that there was something wanting in him — some small matter which, when the pressing need arose, could not be found under his magnificent eloquence. Whether he knew of this deficiency himself I can’t say. I think the knowledge came to him at last — only at the very last. But the wilderness had found him out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude — and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating.

– Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1902)

Starting with INCANTATION, occult death metal bands have a unique way of titling their songs, like “Enthroned in Blasphemous Triumph” that emphasizes an older, more complex, more formal way of speaking. Why do you think that is?

W: I’m not really sure. I just know I like titles like that — they are from the heart, that is the heart of pure darkness and evil — and to me that’s what it’s all about.

What are the differences between BLASPHERIAN and IMPRECATION, and how do these reflect what you’ve learned or thought in the intervening years?

W: The most obvious difference is that Phil and Ruben wrote most of the music in IMPRECATION, at least early on. In BLASPHERIAN, I write 99% of the music thus far. I will say that without IMPRECATION, there would be no BLASPHERIAN…plain and simple. Those guys showed me everything, 666 goat hails to those wonderful lads!

What distinguishes great music from bad? Can it be distilled into technique, or is it something less easily defined?

W: Lack of honesty, really. You know you hear something, and you know if it’s real; to me that’s the most important thing, moreso than sound quality or production…those things mean nothing. It’s what’s in the intent, the meaning behind the music, that matters, not production.

Your riffs sound to me like there’s a heavy MORPHEUS DESCENDS and ASPHYX influence. What are the pivotal bands for all old school death metal acts to know?

W: I love old MORPHEUS DESCENDS but it’s not like I listen to them all the time. More often, I listen to IMMOLATION, INCANTATION, old MORBID ANGEL, GOREAPHOBIA, and of course IMPRECATION. You mentioned ASPHYX; I would definitely throw them in there as well as old DEICIDE, PARALYSIS, CRUCIFIER… so many.

If you could re-live the underground years of 1988-1994, what would you do differently? Do you think that kind of era is coming back again for metal?

W: I’d collect more old records, go to more shows, collect more demos and posters. I’d keep all of my old stuff in better condition. Some of it got fucked up along the way. I hope the old era will come back. It seems to be going in that direction, at least on an underground level. A lot of the newer death metal bands are keeping the old spirit alive, like DEAD CONGREGATION, NECROS CHRISTOS, just to name a few. Hail to the old school, and hails to those that keep it alive.

Is metal a culture, like many other “subcultures” which are part of this one big culture we call modern society? If so, what are its values?

W: In a way, it is a subculture. Definitely a counter culture to the norms of modern society. Metal values — hmm — standing up for real metal, as well as keeping vinyl, spiked gauntlets, denim vests, patches, crushing poseurs, collecting metal, not following the herd mentality…fighting against the blind Christian fools… you know, the fun stuff in life.

Some have claimed that art is a warning to society; others say art serves a necessary role in celebration of life. Still others believe it should celebrate the artist. Where, if anywhere, do these views intersect?

M: Our goal is to spread as much negativity as possible. The music is most important to us, not recognition as artists or opinions of others. We create this music for ourselves but we also welcome those that enjoy what we do as well.

Now that you’ve got several shorter releases out, the most prominent being 2007’s Allegiance to the Will of Damnation, how are you going to expand your empire? Has your songwriting or approach changed?

W: We’re working on our debut full length, for one. As for changes, there are none really but I think the new songs are stronger. Better riffs, better arrangements… and more fast stuff. But unquestionably along the same lines.

Although your music is old school death metal, your songs seem to concentrate on creating an atmosphere of pervasive doom, then rushing back into energetic metal as if to imitate a camera panning away from a battlefield of devastation. What is the importance of this atmosphere in your music?

W: Contrast, kind of like a roller coaster ride. Not all fast, not all slow, a mixture to keep things interesting. At least, that’s what I shoot for.

Is there a relationship between how an artist sees the world, and the type of music he or she will then make? Do people who see the world in similar ways make similar music?

W: Interesting question. I’ve never thought about it; I don’t see how others see. But if I had to guess I’d say no. I think for someone that feels exactly like me, their art could manifest itself completely differently. I mean, if you look at death metal, most bands sound different, but some may have the same hate and the same musical influences.

The CD version of Allegiance to the Will of Damnation has two additional tracks that the vinyl does not have. Were these recorded at the same time? What’s their story?

W: The first track we recorded as a band was “To Walk the Path of Unrighteousness” and it was for the split 7″ with Adumus. The other tracks were recorded at the same time. We used “Of Unholy Blood” for the split with Evil Incarnate. It’s been an honor to work with these bands, and with these labels…horns forever up!

I’m excited about how good this CD is and am looking forward to future output, live performances and presence in the genre from BLASPHERIAN. I think our readers are too.

M: Thank you Brett for the tons of support!

W: Thanks for the great interview, absolutely one of the best so far. Also thanks for the support, and thanks to all that support true death metal. We do this for ourselves, because we love to create heavy evil, Satanic music… it means a lot when others enjoy it as well. Look for our debut Infernal Warriors of Death soon. Hail!

We shall be able to gather, if not to create, this Life; to transmute it into other forms of force, as now we transmute heat to light. We shall be able to store it, to harness it, to guide it; to absorb its energy ourselves directly, without resorting to our present gross, inefficient, cumbrous and dangerous means of abstracting it from ores (if I may say so) mechanically, blindly, empirically, and with such toil and strife. Our journey–by such means of transit–is necessary and hateful; our travelling companions are our diseases, and the host to ease us at the end of the short, the weary day, is Death.

– Aleister Crowley, Liber CCCXLIII: AMRITA (1920)

Photos by AngelaTXDM

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Interview: Ross Dolan (Immolation)

Death metal spread itself around the world, zooming in and out of media focus, and probably died and was reborn several times. Stalwart pillars of the death metal community remain, guiding it past the social hype and dead ends, and one of the most persistent is New York’s Immolation. These death metal craftsmen have created detailed, artful death metal since the late 1980s and have influenced every generation of the genre. We were lucky to catch Ross Dolan for a few questions.

When you started out in 1988, you were a different band than even a few years later. Dawn of Possession seems divided between the style of those early tracks, which sounds more like a collision between speed metal (Exodus, Metallica, Slayer) and Possessed than the newer material, which seems to me to be fully death metal in a “modern” sense, more like the European bands of the 1990-1991 era. Did your musical goals or influences change during this time?

I think with our first album, our influences are more noticeable than they are in the later albums. This album in particular was written over the course of three years, a few songs here, a few there, until it was finally ready, and actually the last two songs we wrote for that record were “Those Left Behind” and “Into Everlasting Fire,” two of the strongest and most memorable songs of the record in my opinion.

As a young band, we wrote songs for fun and had no intentions of recording an album, nor were we planning on making a 20 plus year career out of the band. We wrote songs as an outlet, we were all into the same music and were trying to create our own version of that, only better and different. I was only 18 when the band formed in 1988, so in a lot of ways I had a lot of growing up to do, and as we matured and focused, so did the band.

I really don’t think we nailed it until possibly our fourth record (Close To a World Below). The first three were a struggle for us to try to find our place, and although we were close, and all the elements were there, it was just a matter of fine tuning. I would say Here in After and Failures For Gods were albums that showed more of Immolation and less of our influences, but at the same time they were experimental in the sense that we were trying to create something unique and different, and didn’t quite know how to get there. I think we were all very happy and proud of our earlier releases, but as the band matured, so did our song writing and confidence in our material.

Our goals I don’t feel ever changed, we were just in a new place with each new record. Each new record was almost like a fresh start for us, leaving everything else behind and starting anew. We obviously wanted to make things better and better, but we never tried to out do ourselves and top the last record, there were way too many other obstacles without adding this kind of pressure into the mix.

As far as influences go, the main inspirations to play music are always there, and all I need to do to remind me of them is to see a great live show or put on a killer album that hits me the same way now as it did 25 years ago, then I am inspired all over again. The bands you mentioned above were all favorites and big inspirations to us as young musicians; in fact Exodus was the first underground metal band I ever saw live in August of 1985 in Brooklyn. They played with Carnivore, Nuclear Assault, Blessed Death and Agent Steel, and it was something I will always remember as a fan.

After the first album, Immolation seems to have gone through three stages of evolution. Technical metal (Here in After), a simplified but punchier style (Close to a World Below, Failures for Gods, and Unholy Cult) and the newest (on Harnessing Ruin, Hope and Horror and Shadows in the Light), a style that reminds me of the powerful storytelling metal bands of the late 1980s and how they wrote songs that seemed like the soundtracks to their fairly epic videos on then-new MTV. What spurred these changes in style, and do these reflecting your desire to reach different people or communicate differently?

I would agree with you, except as I mentioned earlier, I would put Failures for Gods in the “experimental/technical” stage, and the rest seems to fit. After the Unholy Cult record, we made a conscious decision to strip the songs down a bit, make them less bloated with riffs, and make them more straight forward. We wanted to make things more simplified in a stronger way, to make the songs easier to grasp right away, but still maintain that dark and haunting feel that Bob seems to create so well.

Harnessing Ruin was our first attempt at this, but I think we came closer with the latest album and the E.P. Harnessing Ruin was a great album in my opinion, I think it was probably our heaviest album to date, and it saw us taking a brief departure lyrically from the religious themes and focusing more on the world and the darker sides of life, which I think gave it a more personal touch. This change of approach came not to reach new people (let’s face it, if we wanted to reach more people, maybe playing extreme death metal isn’t quite the way to do it), but simply to write better music that got to the point quicker and stuck in the listeners head longer.

The Shadows In The Light album along with the Hope And Horror EP were a continuation of that, only difference is that these newer records had more of the guitar layers and embellishments that make the songs more epic sounding and much more interesting to listen to. It wasn’t a drastic change because all the core elements of Immolation are still in tact, but it was something that we felt helped make the songs stronger in delivery and dynamics.

Just as Life, after ages of struggle, evolved that wonderful bodily organ the eye, so that the living organism could see where it was going and what was coming to help or threaten it, and thus avoid a thousand dangers that formerly slew it, so it is evolving today a mind’s eye that shall see, not the physical world, but the purpose of life, and thereby enable the individual to work for that purpose instead of thwarting and baffling it by setting up shortsighted personal aims as at present.

– George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903)

Recent Immolation albums use melody lines with more “space” in them (are less chromatic), and emphasize harmony as well as allowing the solo to fit the themes of the song, making for more easily-recognized songs. What inspired you to explore music in this way?

Changes such as these just happen naturally as we grow as musicians and song writers. There was no conscious effort to add more melody; it just felt right at the time. Some of these embellishments are worked on before we get into the studio, but on the last album, most of the extra guitar parts were written and performed on the spot while Bob was tracking his leads, and this was the first time he really went in there with no preparation. He would loop the solo sections and just play over them until we found something that we liked and then he would build on it.

The instrumental “The Struggle of Hope and Horror” took a full day to add all the extra guitar overlays and solos. There is so much going on in that song it’s hard to even comprehend what went into it, and yet the finished product wouldn’t lead the listener to believe there are that many guitar tracks because everything blends together and works as one piece. It’s all done to give the songs more depth and personality, to create something different that’s both dark and musical in an epic way.

As a band of over twenty years, you have had to work substantially to maintain a level of quality that many never achieve even briefly. It seems a substantial number of death metal bands from the late 80s/early 90s burned out quickly, creating great works and then evaporating. One might guess that their creative abilities were more spontaneous and fleeting than yours. Do you think the difference between these “methods” of creation is obvious when hearing something initially, or after some study with it? How do you, as a band or as individuals, avoid becoming complacent?

I don’t think this would be apparent initially in any band. As we mentioned earlier, our first record had a lot of our personal influences mixed in throughout the album, and it did take us a few albums before we really crafted the band into what it was meant to be from the beginning. So I would think it would take some time, and some bands never made it to this point, and the bands that did, it was only the beginning of the hard work.

Once we fine tuned everything to fit our vision, then it became more of a challenge to move that vision forward, develop it in a way that wouldn’t compromise the “essence” of the band but enhance it and make it into what it is today. And even now as we are writing new material for the next album, we are still trying to make things better, stay true to what we are, and enjoy the process! It never ends, this creative drive never ends for us, we are still like a bunch of excited kids when the writing process kicks in, and this is why we keep doing it.

This isn’t something we do to pay the bills, it’s not a job and it’s not a chore, its something we are truly passionate about. It is something that each one of us needs in our lives, because without it, our lives would have a huge void. It’s very hard to convey this feeling to some people, but it is like a drug, a powerful driving force that we enjoy following year after year, record after record. So this is what kills complacency, our love for what we do and our passion and drive to move it forward and improve on it.

I could write a thesis on all the influences that I think I hear in Immolation. There’s something that sounds like Voivod, and an acknowledged Mercyful Fate influence, as well as sometimes some Iron Maiden. On Harnessing Ruin and nearer, I hear variations on themes Black Sabbath introduced. What are your most influential influences? Have you found yourself leaning more toward some and less toward others as your songwriting style has evolved?

Well, you are spot on with everything you just mentioned. VoiVod was a definite influence, especially the first three records, and as you know, Mercyful Fate is a huge influence on us as well. Iron Maiden was both mine and Bob’s favorite band back in the 80’s, and a huge influence on myself as well (Steve Harris is the guy who got me playing bass). Black Sabbath has inspired everyone playing metal today, and if they deny it, they are lying!!!! These bands were the beginning of the road for us, the foundation, and they have all left their mark on us as fans and musicians.

Honestly, we are very open minded when it comes to music, and our personal musical tastes are all over the map, so most of our inspiration over the last 10 years or so has been from more non-metal acts rather than from the old classics. This is true especially with Bob, and if you ask him, he will tell you himself that it’s the non-metal stuff that inspires him to try new and different things, but in a way that would work itself into our style of music.

We are very picky and try real hard to sound different and unique, so knowing what’s out there helps us to stay the way we are without unintentionally writing something that sounds similar to another band. For the last few records I think we have all been on the same page musically, and we know what we want to achieve, so we really use our past records as a sort of template to guide us. We know what works for us and what does not, and although we do try different things with each record, they are very subtle and do not distract form the core of the band.

You write almost exclusively on religious themes that are unnervingly well-versed in Christian theology. Many metal bands seem to use fantasy or metaphor to express ideas that would become too mundane if made political, psychological, etc., preferring the more poetic symbolism as poets like John Milton and William Wordsworth did. How did you discover this way of expressing yourself, and what effect do you hope it will have?

We have always shared the same feelings when it came to religion, and although religion played a small part in our earlier lives, to some degree this inspired us to move lyrically in this direction. We have always tried to be as honest with our lyrics as possible. We are writing about our personal feelings and giving our perspective on different aspects of the world around us, whether it be religion, war or personal demons.

I think our bluntness and honesty shines through and it gives the listener the ability to relate to what we are saying on a more personal level, which makes it more powerful. Again, I think we have always taken our lyrics as seriously as the music itself, and have always believed the two worked together hand in hand to drive home the point of our music. Over the years, as with the music and song writing, I believe we have also come along way in the lyrical department.

Since the Unholy Cult album, Bob has had a much more active role in the lyric writing process, and I think the result has been much stronger and much more personal lyrics that go beyond just the religious themes we had written about earlier on. Prior to that, it was really just myself writing the lyrics, a lot of times building the song around just a title or a basic idea that our first guitarist Tom would throw my way. After four albums, it became more difficult to deliver fresh ideas without sounding redundant or without rehashing something that we had already done, so to have a fresh point of view be introduced into the mix was something that I was extremely happy about.

Music does not express this or that particular and definite joy, this or that sorrow, or pain, or horror, or delight, or merriment, or peace of mind; but joy, sorrow, pain, horror, delight, merriment, peace of mind themselves, to a certain extent in the abstract, their essential nature, without accessories, and therefore without their motives. Yet we completely understand them in this extracted quintescence. Hence it arises that our imagination is so easily excited by music, and now seeks to give form to that invisible yet actively moved spirit world which speaks to us directly, and to clothe it with flesh and blood, i. e. to embody it in an analogous example.

This is the origin of the song with words, and finally of the opera, the text of which should therefore never forsake that subordinate position in order to make itself the chief thing and the music the mere means of expressing it, which is a great misconception and a piece of utter perversity; for music always expresses only the quintescence of life and its events, and never these themselves, and therefore their differences do not always affect it. It is precisely this universality, which belongs exclusively to it, together with the greatest determinateness, that gives music the high worth which it has as the panacea for all our woes. Thus if music is too closely united to words, and tries to form itself according to the events, it is striving to speak a language which is not its own.

– Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (1819)

Your exhaustive touring (and longevity) brings you into contact with many of the newer acts (and fans) and every perceivable trend within metal. Could you comment on anything notable you’ve seen develop recently (or ever), how you tolerate the worst of it and to what degree you’ve subsumed some of the best?

We have certainly seen a lot of bands and trends come and go over the last 21 years, and we have also seen extreme metal go back underground at times, and come back out into the forefront at other times. Through it all we try mainly to stay focused on what we need to do and not what is going on around us. We knew we would still continue to push forward regardless of the trends and popularity of the music. What everyone else did never really concerned us.

Of course we were always aware of what was going on around us, but it never influenced us either way. We were always about introducing our music to as many different people as we could, and felt that the only way to do this was to tour a lot and get out there and do as much as humanly possible to get the music out there. We feel that this has helped us tremendously where the label support has not. Our willingness to get out there despite the odds and promote on our own is what has carried the band this far.

I would say as a whole, we are happy with the exposure the extreme metal scene has received in the last few years; it has achieved a sort of acceptance within the mainstream to a degree. I don’t mean to say it will ever be mainstream, because I don’t ever see that happening, and this is a good thing, but it is visible now where it was only visible back in the late 80’s in black and white fanzines and on college radio. Now we see coverage in full color metal and music magazines all over the world, on MTV and all the other major video networks, on lager scale tours that can attract more mainstream headliners to expose the music to a larger fan base.

So these are all positive things that have come to light in the last few years. Its just less of an uphill battle these days. Of course there will always be the trends and terrible bands that come out of nowhere and get a lot of hype and exposure thrown their way, which is a bit frustrating at times, but they eventually disappear into the unknown where they belong, and we live to fight another day…..hahahaha.

Here in After is your most complex album and a favorite of many a metal head. What made you elect to take the technical metal high road, and why did you opt for more straightforward songwriting after that? Did a technical riff-fest not express what you hoped it had, and if so, how do newer methods do this?

Here in After is our most complex album along with Failures for Gods, which I feel is even more complex in a lot of ways. Here in After was our second album, and this came after a long period of not writing any new material because we were in between labels, so it was about a five year period between the first and second albums, which in most cases would have been career suicide for most new bands, or a quick ride to superstar status to most bands today who come back after a long hiatus.

For us it was just business as usual. We were at that critical sophomore album phase, and knew there would be a little pressure to write something as good if not better than the first album which did really good for us for the time and amount of promotion. I can say that we never really made any conscious decision to take any technical metal high road; in fact, we never really felt this material was really that technical compared to some of the more tech bands out there. Sure, it had tons of tempo changes and many different parts coming and going, but I never considered it technical because we weren’t technical players, and I felt that if we were able to pull it off, it could not have been that technical.

Let’s just say the songs were a little too busy and involved for their own good at times. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, and after the Failures For Gods album, we knew where we needed to improve the songs and how to do it. The problem with these albums, especially Failures For Gods was that there were so many great riffs that were never allowed to make their mark, they came in for a quick measure and were gone again and we were on to a new part.

Looking back, we could have probably written an entirely separate album just with all the extra riffs that were not needed in these first two records. I know to some of our die hard old school fans this talk is blasphemy, but its how we feel, and we have made conscious attempts from Close To a World Below to the present to change this, which I hope had made things better. It has for us, so that’s what really matters to us in the end. We have to be happy in order to continue.

It seems to me that Harnessing Ruin got a mixed reception in some underground circles because of the use of more “mainstream” techniques, like the whispered introduction to one song, and some of the “bouncier” drumming. However, this album also showcases some of the finest fusion of professional songwriting — using melody, harmony, rhythm and structure together — with savage death metal technique. Are you trying to compete with, or be better than, the newer styles of death metal-hybridized popular metal? What have the successes and challenges of this approach been?

I think this was an important album for us because it showcased our efforts to make the songs stronger and more direct by cutting out all the excess stuff not necessary and getting to the point much quicker.

As far as the whispering parts go, we did use the whisper vocals as a complete second vocal track under the main vocal on the song “After My Prayers” on the first album. I got the inspiration to do this from The Doors “Riders on the Storm”, which has that whisper track under the main vocal throughout the song, and I loved that creepy effect it had and wanted to try it behind a Death Metal vocal. Although it was very subtle, it had a similar effect. So the whisper thing was done not as a ticket to mainstream acceptance, not in the least, but as a way to create a different vocal dynamic since I was opposed to the clear vocal approach, and the whispered parts were suggestive of an inner voice, and they gave the heavier Death Metal vocal parts much more power and authority when they came roaring in (especially in “Son of Iniquity”, which is probably one of our darkest and heaviest songs both musically and lyrically).

Since the songs were more stripped down and to the point, it really allowed all the dark melodies to come right to the surface, and I think it gave some of our former critics a new appreciation of the band, which was a positive thing and helped to attract new fans to our shows. Are we trying to compete with other bands out there? No, we have never done this to be better than anyone else, we try just to better ourselves and make Immolation the best it can be.

We do what we do, and I feel we are unique and different enough to stand out among all the many great and not so great bands out there today. We are competitive only when it comes to working harder with each new release to make it hopefully as good and as strong as its predecessor. I think with what we achieved on the Harnessing Ruin record, it allowed us to make an even stronger follow up album with Shadows in the Light, and hopefully we will carry this forward to the new album.

Are there any skills you have learned from being a death metal band that can be applied to other areas of life?

It’s all about hard work, conviction, following what you believe in and are passionate about and realizing that not everything in life has to be what the rest of society expects of you. Its ok to be an individual, a free thinker, and someone who is willing to disagree with popular opinion at the expense of being outcast from some circles, but that’s fine as long as you are true to yourself.

I have a great family who always supported me, so I was always fortunate to have that support group behind me, but it still was a question of juggling your passions with your priorities. I learned how to work and be responsible at an early age to allow myself to be a touring musician with a full time job waiting for me when I came home. I learned early on that this would probably never pay the bills and it was something I think we all accepted early on, which made us very practical and realistic with our decisions. I learned that nothing comes easy in life, and with out dedication and hard work it was impossible to move forward with any endeavor.

These were all things I have learned from being in the band. We learned always to expect the worst, and if something good came out of the situation it was never taken for granted. And if you consider living out of a suitcase in a van with six other guys for a few months every year for the last 21 years, eating shitty road food, sleeping in rest stop parking lots and taking sink showers while living the dream is a skill, then we can add that to the list…..hahaha. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Did learning music theory, and becoming better musicians, help you in expressing your ideas? How did it do so?

Strangely enough, we never learned music theory, actually other than a couple of lessons when we were much younger, our musical training was more hands on. I learned how to play bass from a buddy of mine when I was like 13, and a few years later I took a few lessons locally, but I never learned how to read music or any of that stuff. I just always had a good ear for music, and had a knack for figuring things out for myself, and the same went for Bob, although he does know how to read music, but never had any music theory either.

I think this may have helped us instead of hurt us because we never see any limitations when writing or arranging songs, we do what feels right, so it was never an issue. I think the same goes for Bill as well, but Steve I believe had more training as a drummer and this definitely shows in his performance, execution and ability to figure out things very quickly and accurately. Becoming better musicians, which was a very gradual process, definitely helped us not only write better songs, but it allowed us to play better and more confidently live.

I am still learning and getting better with each album, its always an ongoing process for me as well as the other guys. I am pushed to improve my playing as our songs get more evolved and playing shows night after night is the best way in my opinion to get better as a musician.

But it was Schopenhauer who first defined the position of Music among the fine arts with philosophic clearness, ascribing to it a totally different nature from that of either plastic or poetic art. He starts from wonder at Music’s speaking a language immediately intelligible by everyone, since it needs no whit of intermediation through abstract concepts (Begriffe); which completely distinguishes it from Poetry, in the first place, whose sole material consists of concepts, employed by it to visualise the Idea.

For according to this philosopher’s so luminous definition it is the Ideas of the world and of its essential phenomena, in the sense of Plato, that constitute the ‘object’ of the fine arts; whereas, however, the Poet interprets these Ideas to the visual consciousness (dem anschauenden Bewusstsein) through an employment of strictly rationalistic concepts in a manner quite peculiar to his art, Schopenhauer believes he must recognise in Music itself an Idea of the world, since he who could entirely translate it into abstract concepts would have found withal a philosophy to explain the world itself.

– Richard Wagner, Beethoven (1870)

Jim Morrison (THE DOORS) sang and wrote repeatedly of a “frontier,” or a no man’s land where chaos and conflict ruled, but also open spaces were present. Was he speaking existentially, politically, or both, and how does this apply to music that loves nature (red in tooth and claw), destruction, emptiness and melancholy loneliness?

I kind of think he was talking about the capacity of humans to have this chaos and conflict struggling together with our feelings and the other beliefs we have learned throughout our lives as we grow and experience the world, and how to determine which is real and which is not, and which means something and which does not.

I think this frontier is within us, in our own minds, along with the inner struggles and conflicts we experience on a daily basis. The world is what it is, we are what ultimately decides our course and place in it to some extent, and I think this frontier to some degree is the unknown, the future, what lies around every turn in life, each new moment. Now, how does this apply to music?

It’s these inner conflicts and feelings that force us to look at the big picture, figure things out and to make choices. As an example, I am an atheist, and although I never really bought in to the whole religion thing, it wasn’t until I was in high school that I finally decided I was done with all religion, and music gave me an outlet to express all these feelings I had all along. There were many years of this “going through the motions” phase when I had my doubts about the whole thing, but kept it inside until it all came to the surface and I faced the reality of the situation on my own terms.

Morrison had a lot of chaos going on in his head, and between his lyrics and poetry this was apparent, but how it’s interpreted is an individual thing of course.

Do you think a genre of unpopular “popular music” like death metal and/or black metal can be a form of art? What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?

I think it is art. When it is done for no other reason other than the pure passion of it, it is definitely art.

Entertainment is made with the purpose of entertaining others, so it is designed in a way to appeal to others, whereas art I feel is more personal, and done for yourself with no compromises and no care whether others will approve. We have always written music for ourselves, and the fact that others like what we do makes it a form of entertainment I guess, but that is not the sole intention or motivation for us to write music.

The two often overlap, when art becomes trendy or cool and all of a sudden is in demand, it becomes entertainment in this way, but it still doesn’t change the motivations when it was created. Music it seems rides along right in the middle, existing as art initially but becoming entertainment. When we perform, sure, it is entertainment for our fans, but when we are writing, it is definitely art, so there is a fine line between the two when it comes to music.

Do musicians end up writing death metal because it expresses their thoughts or worldview, and if so, does this produce any compatibility between views? In other words, do people who see the world in similar ways make similar music with similar topic matter and imagery? Does this mean the genre can be said to have a culture or philosophy of its own?

Well, I really can’t speak for anyone else, but I would imagine and would like to think musicians use their music to express their thoughts and feelings, whether it be on religion, or just their take on the world. For us, Death Metal was the perfect vehicle for conveying our feelings, sometimes angry, bitter and sad, but ultimately to express ourselves through the music.

I don’t think musicians sharing similar views will necessarily create the same types of music, because music is an individual thing and it is personal. Our music is very aggressive and powerful with a lot of heaviness, dark melodies, and very haunting at times, and this certainly reflects what the lyrics are saying. Some bands do have something to say in their music that is real and will make people think, other bands like to go in a different direction and create lyrics that are fantasy, pure entertainment for the listener, which is also fine, and we have also incorporated some of this to drive home our point on some occasions, but I think for the most part we fall into the first category.

We usually have something to say, and we don’t like to be preachy about it, but we like to present it in such a way that it does paint a bleak picture, and I think this certainly drives home the point quicker once you understand what the point of the song is. This genre definitely has a culture AND a philosophy all of its own.

Most of the bands we have toured with are on the same page with regards to politics, world views and views on religion, so it is a common thread that I have found. Of course we sometimes have differences of opinion, which is normal, but overall I would say there is a like minded mentality with bands playing extreme music.

Some have said that death metal and black metal use “narrative” composition, where a series of riffs are motifs that evolve toward a passage between states of mind for the listener. Is this true, and is this type of composition reflected in your songwriting?

I would agree with this. Most lyrics tell a story, whether it be fact or fiction, and this would certainly apply to us. We try to get our point across in an interesting way, and to create a story that is dark, powerful and unique to drive this point home is the ultimate goal. Creating the lyrics is always one of the coolest parts of the song writing process.

I have always found it easier to write lyrics when the music is already completed, because then I get a feel for the song, and this is very inspiring when trying to pen the lyrics. Sometimes the mood of the song dictates the tone of the lyrics and the topic as well. A lot of times we will have a lot of lyrical ideas that need a home, so we will go through the music to get a feel for the songs and see what topics will fit with these songs. It’s not really something that requires a lot of thought usually, it either feels right or it doesn’t.

When you write songs, do you start with a (visual, musical, lyrical) concept for the whole song, or do you save up riff ideas and fit them together?

In the past, Bob would compose one song at a time, which would take much too long because he would either get caught up trying to figure out where to take the song, or he would just get writers block and the whole song would be on hold until the riff reservoir was full again. This was a very frustrating process at times, and we could literally spend over a month on one song before moving on to something new.

For the last few albums, Bob will record riffs onto a multi track or now into his computer, program some basic drum beats to them, and then move on to the next riff. This way we are all listening to the riffs as he is creating them, and when the time comes, when we have plenty of good solid parts, we get together and start piecing them together. This way we never get stuck on one song, we can always move on and come back to it any time, and we can try many different things to make the songs work well, flow well and sound their absolute best.

Now that he is doing everything on his computer, he can e-mail all the parts to our drummer Steve in Ohio, and he basically knows the material before we even practice together as a band. Once we have a song arrangement, we build on it from there, changing the drum parts, altering tempos, determining where we want the leads to go, where the vocals would work best, and what parts need something to make them really stand out. So this is basically the process for us.

Music is thus by no means like the other arts, the copy of the Ideas, but the copy of the will itself, whose objectivity these Ideas are. This is why the effect of music is much more powerful and penetrating than that of the other arts, for they speak only of shadows, but it speaks of the thing itself.

– Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (1819)

Have the sonic values of metal music changed from the early 90s? How and why?

I think you may be referring to production values. If you are, then this has definitely changed. I remember recording on to 2 inch tape, and this was very time consuming, especially when tracking drums, because you couldn’t punch in for drums as easily as you could for guitars, vocals or bass. This really wasted a lot of time and was also very frustrating after being in the studio for 12 hours and accomplishing nothing. Digital recording made analog recording totally obsolete for extreme metal bands, because now you could save time on the tracking, and use that time to get the mix right.

We aren’t talking about huge recording budgets here, so the reality is that you had to get everything done in a few weeks time or you would have to start spending some of your own money. What kids look for in production these days is totally different than when I was 14 or 15 years old. When I heard early Venom, early Possessed, early Sodom, Destruction etc., I never complained if the drums weren’t crystal clear, or if each instrument was distinct in the mix; I listened to it as a whole, and enjoyed it as a whole and never dissected it too much.

Now, these early productions would be laughed at by kids today if they were released now. That is the difference, it was about the feeling of the music, the music as a whole, not the perfect production that made me a fan. Honestly, if those bands back then had these super productions of today, they would lose something and they probably wouldn’t have had an impact like they did, to me at least.

Although your music is technical, you have taken pains to distance yourselves from technicality for technicality’s sake. What is the difference between technicality, progression and good (death metal) art?

As I have always said, it’s all about the feeling. It’s never about the speed, the heaviness, the technicality, the production, the solos or how deep or not the vocals are, it’s about the feeling. Nothing else matters, and none of these elements define Death Metal to me. If these elements are used in the right way to create a mood or feeling, then that’s when they matter, otherwise you can be as technical and fast and heavy as you want, if you can’t write a song with feeling then who cares. Death metal to me has a certain dark, haunting and ominous feel, and when I hear it, it is truly music to my ears, but if I don’t, then its just another band out of thousands, with nothing new to bring to the table.

The author Kurt Vonnegut famously referred to art as a canary in a coal mine, or a warning signal for society. Other artists, notably romantics, have claimed that art serves a necessary role in celebration of life. Still others believe it should celebrate the artist. Where, if anywhere, do these views intersect, and is it possible for art to exist as a discrete one of them and not as an intersection?

Again, this is a personal thing, and art means different things to different people. Art can be all of these things, or none depending on who you ask. I seem to think all of these apply to some degree. For some, music is a canary in a coal mine, it is that escape from the dark and mundane repetitions of life. For others, it has a strong message that people read into and get, and it moves them to see things in a different light, thus becoming a sort of warning signal for society.

It is a celebration of life, because music generally brings out all sorts of emotions and moods, memories and events, certain periods in our life, and sometimes it even helped us to get through these periods. It is the artist that is remembered and celebrated in a sense when we go to see a performance or an exhibit, so I think all of these apply. Art takes us to a different place we don’t go to that often because we sometimes get so easily swept away in the currents of day to day life, but when we do get to that place, it does make us think and celebrate life in our own personal ways.

You’ve now put out a successful album (Shadows in the Light), an EP with an accompanying live performance that is in my view one of the best representations of metal on video record, and gone on a successful tour. What’s next? Do you have long-term plans beyond the next couple years, or are you just taking life as it comes?

At the moment, we are working on new material, which will be our 8th full length, and after 21 years, I still feel we have more to say and do. We still feel as passionate about our music as we did when we first started in 1988, and fortunately for us, that fire still burns strong within us. We try not to look too far ahead, one album at a time, one touring cycle at a time, and once we move past that, we take a break, take a breath and start planning for the next one. We love doing this and will continue until its not fun anymore or until we just physically can’t do it anymore.

Thanks for the truly great interview. I really enjoyed it and now have to give my hands a rest from typing!

But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.

– Plato, The Republic (360 BC)

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Interview: Nuclear Holocausto (Beherit)

The Syriac language provided the greatest historical conduit for Christianity, and early Christians knew its words as literal symbols from the world beyond. Beherit was its name for the god of evil, sometimes called Satan. Fast forward two thousand years and occult-literate Finns made this ancient word a conduit for a new form of aural evil, a simultaneously deconstructive and reconstructive ambient aura of apocalypse and a literal, fearful reality hiding beneath the neurotic cloak of our modern society. We were fortunate to be able to speak to Nuclear Holocausto about his motivations, the nature of music, and the forthcoming 2009 Beherit album.

For a musician in this time who has understood his own experience, what are the most important aspects of art? (Or is it even possible to create a universal list?)

It’s a bio harmonic resonance, but BEHERIT is back to destroy art. I had very intensive two months, by writing new songs and re-creating the spirit of the BEHERIT sound. I think it turned out to be quite okay, kind of a mixture of all previous releases. It’s yet to be mastered and is missing booklet artwork… but hopefully will be released in the second quarter of 2009 by Spinefarm Records. I don’t have plans to reveal any detailed information regarding the coming album, its style or maneuvers behind the concept before the release.

You’ve just created a new BEHERIT album. Did you design it to be like previous BEHERIT albums, a continuation of an idea, or something new entirely?

Yes, the album is called ENGRAM. It’s a time warp to THE LORD DIABOLUS continuum.

How did you record the new album? Did you write all of it, and then meet collaborators to get it on tape?

I wrote and composed the album by myself. I recorded a demo version in my home studio with tablatures and a few written notes about what kind of spirit I was looking for in that song. Then we went to the rehearsal room and for the next week I made some small changes in song structure that made it easier and more natural to play live. Rehearsal period was about three months. We had 60 minutes of raw material when entering the studio. Couple of tracks we didn’t have time to finish.

Outside of music, how are you exploring the concepts which motivated you to create BEHERIT?

I recently bought a new video camera and have found this hobby very compelling, the use of sound and visuals to create deep atmospheres/altered states.

Why do you usually work and release things in the phases of the moon, or is it something you cannot control?

I like to plan my projects in the phases of the moon. For me, there is a natural difference between the things you process on waxing or waning gibbous. Especially on nights of the full moon, it’s good to pay extra attention on your karma.

With Suuri Shamaani, you are playing with raw sound, but the question becomes not your tools (raw sound, or scales) but the organization of that sound to express some difference of outlook achieved through experience. How do you organize this sound, and how does this process compare to that of writing metal?

I am very fascinated by the potential to experience some ueber-crossover between genres like black metal, dubstep, doom metal and ambient. There’s some artists who have successfully melded electronic music to rock, but I think most of their audience is still very average type of people (whom see the music more like entertainment or a consumer product of show business). Perhaps the biggest challenge is in a composition. For a basic metal head, it could be pretty challenging to listen (much less to write) non-standard music, I mean something outside of popular radio song structure (verse/chorus/bridge…)

What degree of familiarity with music theory do you have, and has this changed since Drawing Down the Moon?

I know only very little of music in theory. Maybe I have learned to tune my guitar faster, but not much else. In BEHERIT, we keep things primitive.

When you write songs, do you start with a (visual, musical, lyrical) concept for the whole song, or do you save up riff ideas and fit them together?

After the initial idea, I have a riff and couple of variations. Then some words that stimulate my mind to visualize the atmosphere. Later some variation in tempo, bassline and rhythm. The last part is to rewrite some lyrical content. This may vary a lot depending on the project.

Do humans live through experience?

Living entities look for happiness, and to avoid suffering. This is true not only for humans, but animals as well. I think this is the very basic principle. Animals have a hard enough time getting their food and avoiding getting killed, but humans seek their happiness from materialism or very temporary states of happiness, like sex, drugs or love…

I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?

All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape.

Whoever is the wisest among you is also a mere conflict and cross between plant and ghost. But do I bid you become ghosts or plants?

Behold, I teach you the overman! The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go!

– Friedrich W. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1885)

Do you compose on keyboard, guitar or in your head?

New BEHERIT songs emerge and are developed in my head. That material I try to save as quickly as possible by guitar or keys to a recorder. A year ago I invested to Ableton Live software. It did help a lot in my productivity. For a musician like me, there’s a big difference with Ableton compared to older, a linear time scale based sequencer.

On Drawing Down the Moon, you achieved a unique dark and bassy sound which was not in favor in black metal at the time. How was this done? Did you replicate it on the new album?

Back in 1993, recording studios were still mostly analog. The guitar sound was as simple as Boss Heavy Metal guitar distortion pedal through an old Marshall bass amplifier and cabinet. I don’t remember what microphones were used, but everything was done in a few days. No time to remake or mix, thus the raw sound. The studio is still up and running. Very professional people there. The home of Tarot.

We didn’t want to reproduce the sound of Drawing Down the Moon, but as always try look for new soundspheres.

How was the early blackmetal scene different from how people perceive it now, and what were some challenges you faced as one of the few early blackmetal bands?

People used to describe our bands, like “some satanic stuff”, but today Black Metal has become a well known symbol for the majority, mostly because of the Internet. Most of these younger fans have pretty twisted image of the scene of old days. People didn’t like black metal at all, everything was so small, you kind of know all the music makers in the scene (via flyers in tape trading scene, + fanzines) Most of the people fucking hated us BEHERIT, IMPALED NAZARENE… Drawing Down The Moon was self-funded by me and I had to sell my car, became homeless, and everything I had was that master tape and no label interested to release it, before Spinefarm. I am still thankful to ’em, because of the advance royalty.

Do you think that given the same stimulus, two logical beings will have similar responses?

The response to given stimulus is much about the previous experience to similar contact in sense.

And if this is so, does it not mean that anyone who encounters a similar experience to someone else, has the same forces interacting on them? That if we have one stood out in the rain, we can all know what it is like? Maybe this shows how experience and intuition can exist on the same level. Experience is also important, because it enables us to store memories as symbols, and then trade on those symbols in law, art and conversation.

Like those others have never experienced of getting wet in the rain? They would still feel the same as the one who’s in the rain? Then there should be a sense contact within this tribe that can somehow communicate lower/higher states. I know this is possible, but very rare in normal conditions… we cannot “release the self” that easily, because of our fear (of dying).

What are your influences, and are these shared among band members, and if not wholly, what other influences do they have? Other metal musicians have mentioned Kraftwerk, for example; were there metal and ambient works that influenced you more than anything else? Any classical or folk music?

We all four are big fans of BLASPHEMY, BLACK WITCHERY, IMPIETY, MANTICORE and other fast stuff. Sodomatic plays drums in punk bands and listens to industrial music. He’s a vinyl collector. Abyss, the bassist is very much into Viking stuff, like BATHORY and FALKENBACH. He has also his own projects, more technical style, like he could have more riffs per song than BEHERIT on entire album. Serpent is working on Spikefarm and listens mostly to rehearsal and demo material from unsigned bands. THE LORD DIABOLUS was the biggest influence on this new album.

Is our fear of “evil” hardwired? For example, humans seem to fear snakes without having ever seen one, suggesting that fear of snakes is wired into our genetic code.

The fear of reptiles might be encoded in DNA — I don’t know. But when a man walks in the dark woods, fear of the unknown makes a wooden stick or a rope to appear like an image of dangerous snake. That’s why we should not trust our senses.

Is it possible then that some experiences are defined by the similarity of contact, and are inherent (in the sense of “emergent”) to the design of the universe itself?

I do understand the logic in fractality of universe, like many universes in smaller scales. The most of the cultures of our civilization is based on wrong believes of gods and myths. We simply have wrong views of life. The problem is that only very few people have seen the truth, the nature of time existence. Parents put their kids to school to teach ’em reading and mathematics, but too often they think it’s enough to make those kids to survive in a modern world.

We have built our cultures to praise the bold and the beautiful; the weak and ugly easily drops out from the so-called “easy life” because of the competition (evolution). I don’t care much about this, because it’s somehow universal, “natural evolution.” But this system leads to very problematic scenarios in the world we have built, because the weaker get many and they can get temporarily very strong by modern weapons.

From that comes “terrorism” and “the police state.” And all this mostly happens because society is from the very beginning based on incorrect views. Ouch, I am getting to off topic now…Yes, the nature of the world of the senses is polycausal, indeed.

Human ability, even really stupid humans, to retain music has always seemed magical to me, as if it had some inherent function in the universe. What do you think it is that humans unconsciously perceive?

The resonance.

Heavy metal seems to share many values with Romantic art and literature from two centuries ago, right before Nietzsche began writing: reverence for nature, belief in a transcendental but not dualistic life, independence from humanist morality, desire to create the beautiful and eternal, searching for truth with the self as the lens but not the focus. Do you feel any of these in your own creation?

I have an artistic desire, but haven’t thought much of connection to Romanticism. I think most of my creations are born in some sort abstract space with no human wrong or right. I don’t have a personal manifesto or any political interest in my music, but this does not necessarily mean that our songs are utter headlessness. I always try to be very mindful in a work I am doing. Even with BEHERIT.

After the initial BEHERIT surge, did you continue liking metal music?

I end up liking new fake bands that turn out to be nothing but boring. I did not stop listening to metal music entirely, but I found more interesting and deeper aspects of art in noise and electronic music.

“Behold this gateway, dwarf!” I continued. “It has two faces. Two paths meet here; no one has yet followed either to its end. This long lane stretches back for an eternity. And the long lane out there, that is another eternity. They contradict each other, these paths; they offend each other face to face; and it is here at this gateway that they come together. The name of the gateway is inscribed above: ‘Moment.’ But whoever would follow one of them on and on, farther and farther — do you believe, dwarf, that these paths contradict each other eternally?”

“All that is straight lies,” the dwarf murmured contemptuously. “All truth is crooked; time itself is a circle.”

– Friedrich W. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1885)

Have you ever considered writing a symphony (or: quartet, trio, sonata, et al)?

Yes, but I have yet to find people and a unique concept worth to start such a big project. Especially interested in video, together with musical performance on the front of live audience.

Ambient is a broad category; dubstep is more limited. How would you combine black metal’s cadenced rhythm with the jauntier, syncopated-expectation structures of dubstep?

On various layers of soundscape. I think there will come such a crossover projects in this near future. It may not please the old school metal purist, but the next generation of audience who search for an aural experience rather than a general idol worship of rock band.

Electric Doom Synthesis was black metal thematics in violent EBM, with metal song structures. How do you envision a future fusion between metal and ambient music?

I didn’t have much knowledge of making electronic music at the time of recording Electric Doom Synthesis. I composed it on the very simple sequencer of E-Mu Emax II sampler. Of course if I had to do it again now I would do some parts in a different way, but the album has a lock on time and atmosphere that I was living that time. After that my interest moved towards the other edge of music, experimental sounds, drone and minimalism, thus the release of Suuri Shamaani which were recorded without any real instruments, most of the sounds sampled from radio frequencies.

I used to listen to hours and hours of simple waveforms on evolving space, not so called music at all, more like mathematics and experience of altered states. Calculating planetary system and trying to put these parameters to sounds. I even did some gigs playing those test frequencies to large audiences, but quite soon I found myself playing on the front of max. twenty people. Soon I was kicked out from every chill out room because people complained my stuff was more like brain fuck than any chill out. I think they were right, I went way too far with that shit.

Nowadays I try to keep these things more in a balance. I am interested for some thing like a band playing metal music with no riffs or metal song structure, but it’s not easy with people who lack experience of the dub of deep house, AND who also understand The Black Metal aesthetics. I’m not sure of this last word in English, but I mean understanding what is “cool” and what is not. The last one is where 99.9% of those demos fail that are otherwise potential to make a major success. Quite likely that it will happen in the industrial music scene, but it’s still yet to come?

What distinguishes great music from bad? Can it be distilled into technique, or is it something less easily defined?

I think it’s not about technique or a lack of it. For me, it’s about originality and functionality.

Do you think that those who have similar values, and express them to similar degrees, will find similar voices in music?

Okay, this sounds very likely. But due the polycausal nature of life, there’s always some variation in detail… I couldn’t make any final conclusion. I even went through the conditional nature of sounds, acoustic waves that are frequencies like all the other objects in the universe. The sound object itself has no clear “soul,” but it’s fascinating to think of a scenario where the creator (composer) has a causal relation to soundwork put in a distribution, and that the listener receive the given mental sight by this kind of energy transformation, as they both (artist + listener) have same focus point… Something like used on those shamanistic journeys or people told to get a trance-like state on live concerts.

Emotion in music shares one thing with words: it is a language,and when the words have meaning, they create feeling. There is no feeling to the sound itself. It is twelve symbols in three octaves. But it has an inherent symbolism which makes our nerves twitch, like words resemble our thoughts and video, our dreams. From what comes the “meaning” in music?

Mental objects. I was hoping to put this in action on the upcoming BEHERIT album, but it turned to be a way more complex than I first thought. I decided to make an another project for this one, conveying extrasensory perception (ESP) through the sound itself. Coil had this album Time Machine in the early nineties, one of my favorites, that included a pack of cards/ESP stickers…And I had an idea to transfer these mental symbols for listener, but in the studio I found we were running out of time, and that it would work better with more minimalistic material. Well, it’s good to have some ideas + concepts for future projects.

Are there symbols which do not convey experience, but things inherent to the cosmos or wired into our consciousness (intuition)?

Yes and no. Somehow it would be disappointing if humankind doesn’t have a single symbol beyond this life experience, destiny. Even, this symbol of destiny that he created by himself in a past, it is yet to be experienced, in the cosmos? I know the meditators use techniques to visualize the symbol to guide the soul entity on bardo1 states.

Most people are born in ignorance, but it is said the arahant2 ones are able to recall past life experiences. The maya3 of self is generated in microseconds and is stuck in time, when the other end of the string in the cosmos, is in the dimension with no linear time scale. Therefore it’s logical to have symbolism without one’s own experience, but the watcher has to be on the same resonance in space where the manifestation of certain symbol is created.

The world hasn’t changed, nor in the bigger picture, has human life since we were cavemen. Does this mean that our old symbols are accurate, but their meaning unknown, or that we need new symbols? Can the association of a symbol change over time?

We have been drowned into abuse of symbols in logos and trademarks of modern time. The Swastika is a good example of how differently people may feel when seeing it. In older cultures it’s still a holy and very respected symbol painted in important buildings, but in Europe it’s a bit different case. I think the way of life has change quite alot in the last century. You don’t need skills to hunt or make fire, survive in the woods. Now it’s about being a beauty and famous. Anyway, the very basic principles of life are still the same, thus humankind would need no new symbols.

With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

– John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn (1819)

If sound is like paint, and we use different techniques and portray different things in our paintings, what does it say when a genre sounds similar and has similar topic matter and imagery? Can the genre be said to have a philosophy or culture of its own?

Yes, perhaps we could call the true black metal movement a subculture, because of its extremity in narrowness. If you go deeper with other genres you will find they have quite similar group policies, but black metal has developed it very strictly and merciless, elitism? Happily I am already old enough that I don’t care to belong to any groups. But for new bands, I can see how it would be serious business. How true they can be, and for how long? Is evilness restricted only to their internet communication or also to other depths?

Some suggest there is a God outside of this world, and others suggest, in response, that there is no God. If music moves like nerve impulses, and music is inherent to the universe, is it possible the universe itself has a consciousness?

The universe may therefore need an other parallel universe? I think everything is possible, but not necessary.

A friend I respect greatly referred to black metal as possibly the only viable artistic movement of our generation (births 1970-1978). My question would be: what was the fundamental artistic statement of black metal? For example, the Romantics wanted to create a type of existentialism that aimed for an aesthetic and not moral goal, so that it did not fall into either individualism or collectivism, but stayed focused on the beautiful as a way of summarizing multiple aspects and avoiding falling into linear thinking. Is there such a statement for black metal?

Not so long time ago, I wrote to internet forum that black metal is antichristian, but some fellows denied it totally and went to politics, racism and other weird NSBM topics that had nothing to do with black metal of old days. Nowadays everything seem to be much more complicated when kids are seeding their own beliefs and opinions to the scene, even if they are not music makers themselves. We (BEHERIT) wanted to create the most severe and bizarre sound dealing with the dark side of occultism. That’s still one of my main points when writing a new song, but I don’t mind if they label it black metal or not.

Do you think a genre of unpopular “popular music” like death metal and/or black metal can be a form of art? What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?

Yes, at least in opinion of real music lovers, but artists of today live in poverty and are likely to die in poverty. Entertainers try to maximize money making in every way. It’s very rare to see any art happen in entertainment business.

There seems to be a relatively stable, cyclic effect of black/death/speed metal bands breaking up and then reforming for new material approximately 10 years later. What is the cause of this?

It’s the great wheel of artistry. Girls have their periods, sun has its spots, Chinese astrology is a cycle of twelve. Artists have been cursed by the desire of creation.

Is there necessarily a disconnect between how metal viewed things in 1992 and today?

No.

BEHERIT’s dooming sound reminds me of how William Gibson spoke of his post-apocalyptic Neuromancer: it is a horrible world, but you can see yourself wanting to live there, if for nothing else to finish the fight you see characters embarking on. Does this fit in your worldview?

I like William Gibson.

Some argue that love is “sui generis,” or an invention of itself that justifies itself and has no precursor. Others tie love to some form of God and claim he/she/it metes out love where appropriate. Some slightly cynical people see love as a biochemical reaction and nothing more. Still others (cynics) see love as something one can only have for life itself, and as being more of a thought process that unites the irrational (emotions) with rational (thoughts) to give a balanced view of the unquantifiable, and that one has love for life and in it, love for people and places and things. Since the symbol of love is worn out by years of popular music, does it have any meaning now, or must each artist define love before speaking of it, or risk becoming an elaborately removed Britney Spears?

Love is a very powerful state for beings in these sense worlds. For sure it has moments in lucid oneness, beyond time, like loving kindness (metta)4 is a good technique for entities looking for happier abodes. But “love and loving of lovers” represented in popular culture is a broad highway to misery and sadness, endless craving in the wheel of Samsara5. Loving life is not a right way. My advice is to see the conditional structure of love. Go and see the mutilated, dead bodies. Go and get a part time job in a local hospital or at coroner’s office.

Mankind does not represent a development of the better of the stronger in the way that it is believed today. ‘Progress’ is merely a modern idea, that is to say a false idea. The European of today is of far less value than the European of the Renaissance; onward development is not by any means, by any necessity the same thing as elevation, advance, strengthening.

In another sense there are cases of individual success constantly appearing in the most various parts of the earth and fro the most various cultures in which a high type does manifest itself: something which in relation to collective mankind is a sort of superman. Such chance occurrences of great success have always been possible and perhaps always will be possible.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ (1895)

Do you separate intent/goal from method, in that a goal can be good and methods “evil,” and how does that influence your view of good and evil?

Things we intentionally do (with a will), speak or think are wholesome or unwholesome in causal perspective of self. I am very trustworthy and generous man in my friendhood. I would not recommend strangers to come with me, if they are not pure in their hearts.

Environmentalists argue for preserving the earth, but many black metal musicians argue for its destruction. Yet earth permits consciousness, and enjoyment of among other things, black metal. Is the statement “blow up the world, I don’t care” a symbol or a real wish?

It’s a perfect time to enlighten oneself. It’s crazy that still, only very few people ask real questions in meaning of their existence. There’s a fucking internet where one can research the occult, but they rather go see funny movie clips? I would not hesitate a second to detonate this planet to pieces6. Things are already pretty fucked up, but it’s just a beginning of the end times. There has to become more disease and virus, that force ’em to take their precious time much more seriously.

Metal music could be construed as a duality, one side being that which attracts a big audience like Def Leppard and the other side being crypto-art like early Gorgoroth which is “outsider art,” or that which does not base its arguments on the idea that our society as it stands now is doing OK. Outsider art however does not tend to be “protest art,” which issues a negative political statement on aspects of society. Def Leppard and others however can be seen as making negative statements through escapism. Does this duality hold metal back?

A good point. I was thinking about other rock genres, like punk, but there even the smallest underground bands usually have a political manifesto. What about electronic music? Underground techno acts hardly never have a message, but the bigger they get the lyrics become to statements of better world. Actually I don’t know much about normal music they play on the radio. Hmm…

The eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love.

– Johannes Eckhart, Sermon IV

Richard Wagner both turned classical music toward ancient themes and, by using leitmotifs7 that resembled more the way plays and later, radio,would work, liberalized it and laid the foundation for the movie music that would later inspire Black Sabbath. Is this some type of universal balance where each thing contains its opposites, or was his intent even more cryptic than that, in that he knew what would result and wanted to hurry it up?

Usually, it’s enough that the man intends to create something original.

Is art a celebration of life, a social guardian, or a celebration of the artist?

Some artists may think art is a sickness. Are they reborn entertainers?

Schizophrenia, or having a divided mind, is seen by many as being the major psychological disease of the modern time. Is there a way to benefit from the perspective of schizophrenia?

I am not sure of a benefit; it probably depends on the person and the social network around them? This is an area which should be studied: two steps beyond nibbana8, in hallucination of self existence. We are all doomed!

Have you had contact with the underground music of any parts of the world other than Finland?

I have spent a lot of time in South-East Asia. I see young people are in general pretty much same, but for example their lack of (Western) music culture, their understanding in extreme music usually fall down to those major bands shown on MTV. But then on the other hand, there’s real underground vibes, especially in punk scene, f.ex. Bangkok Alcohol and those young punks are well aware of their original roots. The Black Metal scene is much smaller, but I know the guys from Surrender Of Divinity, and they are cool. There’s no much need to antichristian movement here. Hahaha!

Can you describe some of the early influences on the band that might not be obvious? Specifically, where do BLASPHEMY, HOLOCAUSTO and SARCOFAGO fit in?

In the very beginning, under the name of PSEUDOCHRIST, we rehearsed with cover songs from bands like DEATH, SODOM and SLAYER. Later that summer of 1989, I started to trade vinyls from Brazil and Cogumelo Records. Those bands were so primitive and brutal in a style of music we didn’t know existed. They had this unique sound of underground metal.

We changed our name to BEHERIT, started to paint our faces and radically simplify our songs and playing technique. No more pussycat rock mentality with dreams of large audience or positive feedback, and understanding from society.

I remember the day we got BLASPHEMY Blood Upon The Altar cassette in postal package. We kept listening that tape over and over again on our rehearsal room. We all three came to the conclusion that it was the most fucking severe black metal ever made, and it’s still true after 20 years. We recorded our second demo to honor these Canadian godz of brutality. Three months later we went to the studio for Dawn Of Satan’s Millennium, which had a bit more of our own sound. SARCOFAGO and BLASPHEMY, together with BATHORY have been the greatest influences in the history of BEHERIT. No doubt.

When did you start playing guitar, and was it your first instrument?

Electric guitar was my first instrument. I was 13 years old.

Did you listen to any of these: Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, Einsturezende Neubauten, Autechre, Biosphere. Did they influence you?

Sure. I did produce an ambient radio station for five years, so I have a quite nice ambient music collection. Kraftwerk and Autechre I have seen playing live and they were cool. About influences, not much on this new album.

The feel of Drawing Down the Moon is one of ritual; the atmosphere commands a hypnotic ambience, and the entire creation, down to minor details of the presentation, is meticulously interconnected. How did you achieve such a vision, one that seemingly has not been mimicked since?

That winter I listened often to the discography of BATHORY, and read books on Odinism and Asatru. We held pagan rituals. I hardly had any contact to normal society. In the door of my apartment, it read on big letters: EMBASSY OF EVIL.

Individualism: The basis of its error is to mistake the notion of the person with that of the individual and to claim for the latter, unconditionally and according to egalitarian premises, some values that should rather be attributed solely to the former, and then only conditionally. Because of this transposition, these values are transformed into errors, or into something absurd and harmful.

– Julias Evola, Men Among the Ruins (1953)

Can you please summarize the history of GOAT VULVA and the ways which it was relevant to BEHERIT?

Hahaha! Goat Vulva was only a booze project. I recorded those demos on normal C-cassette recorder by putting a piece of tape over the eraser head. I don’t remember how many so-called demos were released, but they came in very limited quantities, perhaps 10 or 20 copies of each. Messe Des Morts was recorded in same studios where Erotic Worshipwas, but otherwise, it was very much a project of its own.

Is it important that metal be considered as “serious” (in any sense) by the outside world?

I don’t mind outsiders. I see them in busses and walking on the city streets, but I never talk to ’em nor do they come talk to me, and even more rarely do we discuss music.

If you are in a metal band, that nobody — of the people who you think should — takes seriously, there’s something wrong with your music, image or both. Make the difference, make the art happen. I don’t mean to murder or burn the church, but use your imagination and live in it. The mind is the strongest weapon.

Are you in Thailand permanently?

I am on a long journey. Now in Thailand, but leaving next week down to Malaysia and then to Oceania. At first, I will meet the people from PORTAL in Brisbane. They have a new project called OLDE GUARDE. Nomad life, traveling with a notebook + ultramobile music studio.

How do the lunar and solar tendencies manifest themselves in your life and art?

I try my best to arrange all our contracts and release dates on lunar dates, not to forget numerology and other aspects of magic. I have done that for years. Life would be boring without little of superstition.


 

1Bardo states: transitional states of consciousness that correspond to stages of life or the development of awareness
2Arahant: a spiritual initiate who has realized nirvana and so no longer needs to be be reincarnated into the karmic cycle
3Maya: the illusion that people and objects exist independently from a continuum of interacting, inter-related and contiguous causes
4Metta: “love without attachment,” meaning a benevolent kindness toward the world that also accepts the chaotic nature of existence and so does not seek the perpetuation of its object
5Samsara: the karmic cycle of reincarnation and death in which individuals attempt to move “up” a karmic ladder toward higher states of consciousness
6Because I don’t have children, otherwise I would use a human logic and say the anger is a symbol. “Because, I just fucking hate this world.”
7Leitmotif: a musical phrase symbolically associated with a character or idea that is reintroduced in a narrative piece whenever that object is referenced.
8Nibbana or nirvana: a psychological state of being free from attachment to earthly resentments, namely anger, greed, craving and television.

 

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Interview: Unknown I (Hammemit/Emit)

Emit creates ambient art for those off the beaten path and willing to indulge a contemplate, meditative, obscure trip through undefined sound, like a convergence of Lull, Final and Harold Budd. In addition to being musical, this project is produced by minds who have critically analyzed and chosen their path. We were lucky enough to capture this interview after being blindfolded, driven in circles in a 20-year-old Toyota Tercel, screamed at in Pashtu and Altedeutsch, and finally interrogated by Unknown I while we gobbled our rice rations of the day.

Do you believe that art requires an intention behind it?

Yes, but then all art has some sort of intention behind it. Even if the intention is purely a selfish one, like making money or seeking fame (or infamy), or taking the piss, there’s still a motive no matter how questionable. Deep down there’s a reason for every action made in this world. People complain of “mindless” vandalism but never think about why it is that an ugly steel and glass bus-shelter may seem like an affront or worthless object of derision to others. The fake surroundings we spend most of our lives in are so hideous in my eyes that it was natural to become involved with the courageous cultured barbarism of black/death metal, noise music and so on. To me, these music forms aren’t fantasy escapism but reflections and expressions of deep underlying truth and reality of existence. Most things seem to want to hide reality from you, i.e. your butchers and policemen as my old friend Joseph Conrad said, but certain art exposes inevitable death and reminds you that you’re actually alive and existing. A friend of mine used to badly cut himself on a regular basis, he said that people mainly did it (in black metal circles) because it was a brutal and “evil” thing to do to yourself, but he just did it because he liked it. I suspect that he did it because when seeing his own blood spewing everywhere and feeling the pain of it, he could taste mortality and thus found confirmation of his own existence within that. Do you truly feel that you exist until you realise that you’ll die one day? When you see what usually remains invisible (in this case, that which allows you to live; the internal organs, blood etc), the abyss between merely seeing and actually existing is crossed, said Yukio Mishima, loosely paraphrased.

If so, is art decoration? Is it propaganda? Is it communication? Please explain your choice.

All art communicates something, whether it communicates something worthwhile or not is another matter. The Greeks thought that the sheer craft of even an everyday object like a chair was art by itself, but then their furniture and so on was made by hand, not mass produced to a template by chinese industrial machinery. My own house is mostly purely functional, apart from a few choice objects here and there, the personal worth and interest of which are in my eyes therefore enhanced, or more accurately, are allowed their rightful place and not drowned out by crap. Owning and listening to too many albums, for instance, devalues the really great ones. So I don’t do it. If art doesn’t say anything to me (or if something else says it better) it’s probably useless and I’ve no time to waste on it. Propaganda is for tabloid newspaper readers and decoration as an end in itself only reflects the present culture it derives from, which in our case isn’t very good, from an aesthetic sense or any other. Ancient decorative art (from nearly all ancient cultures) glorifies all that’s great about their people, mythos and culture, truly aspiring towards and reflecting something divine and vital. The likes of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (particularly the mediaeval revivalist offshoot led by William Morris and co), attempted to inject this old ethos back into the increasingly industrialised culture of the West, and with Hammemit’s crude neo-mediaeval music I follow humbly in their footsteps. By “neo-mediaeval”, I mean taking the past and adapting it to modernity, not wearing old clothes and fighting mock battles as if pretending it was still the year 1300. I don’t want to retreat back into the past, I’d rather bring the past into the present day.

Kurt Vonnegut famously referred to art as a “canary in a coal mine”, or a warning signal for society. Other artists, notably Romantics, have claimed that art serves a necessary role in celebration of life. Still others believe it should celebrate the artist. Where, if anywhere, do these views intersect, and is it possible for art to exist as a discrete one of them and not as an intersection?

I used to talk several years ago about “anti-art”, because I considered what I did to be partly a reaction against pretension and fakery where most “artists” claimed to be so very deep and meaningful, but in actual fact their art was nothing but shallow and cheap gimmickry, or entertainment. It’s easy to pretend to say a lot if you hide behind a fog of flashy imagery and other useless bric-a-brac. It’s also surprising to me how many are taken in by it, as I thought art was supposed to go beyond the superficial.

I would have laughed when I was a teenager if someone had said to me that art like that of black metal celebrated life. But ironically, being obsessed with death and general morbidity is actually a healthy state of mind in a society where no one wants to even think of the word DEATH. I found it empowering and strangely uplifting (though it didn’t occur to me that way, back then) to be thinking of death all the time and carrying bones about in my pockets, because it’s a taboo and forbidden realm not to be mentioned in polite cunting society. So to be allied to a “cult of nature processes” ironically made me feel more alive and allowed me to breathe in the cold night air more deeply. Possibly it’s why I found (and still do find) great pleasure in simple things which others don’t find particularly remarkable at all.

Nature! We are surrounded and embraced by her — powerless to leave her and powerless to enter her more deeply. Unaksed and without warning she sweeps us away in the round of her dance and dances on until we fall exhausted from her arms.

She has brought me here, she will lead me away.
I trust myself to her. She may do as she will with me.
She will not hate her work. It is not I who have spoken of her.
No, what is true and what is false, all this she has spoken.
Hers is the blame, hers the glory.

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Nature, a Fragment

Quorthon of Bathory refers to his music as “atmospheric heavy metal.” What does atmospheric offer that the world of rock music, jazz, blues or techno cannot?

“Atmospheric music” as I would understand the term offers a means of connection with the hidden world beyond, the mysterious unknown. It allows the creation of certain moods, ideas and images within the mind of the imaginative listener. Certain key passages in this kind of music can suddenly infuse you with an almost indescribable transcendence from your surroundings. There are moments like this in Graveland’s “Barbarism Returns” and Enslaved’s “Heimdallr” (the demo version more so than on the album). Simple rock music or whatever is a mere temporary distraction and serves only as a kind of audial wallpaper. Rock music may passively reflect the time in which it was created and the base preoccupations of its creators but that’s it. Atmospheric music pointedly reflects the time in which it was created and also suggests possibilities for the future, or contemplation. That’s the difference between your example of Bathory (I would say spiritual music) and one of their contemporaries like Venom (secular music). Speaking of Hammemit & Emit, I’ve always wanted to create active music for active listening, not passive background decoration, as I listen to music as an activity in itself, not for any other reason. Sometimes if I’m in the car on my own I’ll listen to music to just pass the time on tedious journeys, or boost flagging spirits. I hate martial/military music (outside of its intended context the purpose and point is lost), but I have a tape of good driving tunes by the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler which encapsulates the optimistic atmosphere of the 1930’s. It makes me smile when crawling through some faceless city at 5 mph to consider that even a 25 ton Panzer IV had a top speed of 26 mph and could easily crush to pieces the cars in front and crash through the walls of the office blocks and shops lining the road, pedestrians scattering about like rural french peasants.

When you write music, do you aim for a completed concept, or develop a fragmentary concept and see where it goes?

I’ve always had a “concept” in mind but as the years went on it became more easily expressed. The Hammemit album is my most consistent work, and conveys my intended ideas simply and without any unnecessary ornamentation. My core beliefs haven’t changed radically but my opinions have changed somewhat from experience and such. I’m too young for my opinions to have fossilised into convictions yet. In order to communicate effectively, an artistic medium like an album of music needs to take a unified approach. It should have a distinct sound, a unique voice both visually and lyrically as well as musically. And this should all come naturally, not be forced in an unnatural, dishonest way like some calculated marketing campaign. A lot of bands understand this but only grasp it on the most superficial level; they have an “image” in promo photos, they use the same font on all their releases or whatever. They miss the point completely. What I want is for someone to look at the layout/images of the Hammemit album, read the lyrics, listen to the music and intuitively take from it something useful to them. That sounds dry and dull in words, but what I mean is that I ultimately aim to create with Hammemit the means for uplifting of spirit and transcendence in the listener that occurs when absorbing great art.

Many attack ambient music, like punk, for the relative lack of musical training or instrumental ability of its progenitors. Do you see this as an important criticism?

I doubt you’ll be surprised by my answer here, but no, of course it’s not at all important. Technique is merely a means through which you can express something. Lack of technique or limited musical ability just means you’re more restricted (or perhaps freer in some cases) about what you can do. Someone lacking musical ability or training couldn’t easily write or perform music like that of Morbid Angel for instance, but then some forms of expression don’t require that level of instrumental skill. Furthermore, technical ability is absolutely worthless if lacking any idea of composition. I think someone who has no real technical ability as such, may nevertheless still have an innate (possibly an unrealised, subconscious) understanding of melody and form, and thus be able to create good music. I don’t understand why it is that low technical skill is nearly always seen as a valid criticism by those who “know about music”. It’s like with these lists you see of “100 greatest guitarists ever”, ok, but how many of them made music that you actually give a shit about? Darkthrone were quite talented musicians but their best music isn’t hard to play to say the least. I bought a new guitar recently (an ostentatious act for me, but the model is not in itself ostentatious) and tried it out in the shop beforehand. I suppose that people usually have a long, showy masturbation session in music shops when trying out new instruments, but I just wanted to see how it felt to play and so on. I’ve never really wanted to drastically improve my playing skills, not through laziness or lack of ambition but because I actually fear losing my unfettered ability of expression. Over time I’ve improved gradually anyway as is natural, but I’m fond of the lack of refinement and “first take” freshness that can be found in recordings of people like Ildjarn or old Mutiilation. It lends a certain immediacy that becomes integral to the overall effect that the song produces upon the listener. For me it’s similar to the curious power of crude woodcut illustrations, which although primitive, nevertheless convey what is intended. I’m not advocating the old punk rock ethos of “anyone can have a go”, because plainly, not everyone has what it takes to create something meaningful or worthwhile. Indulge me and allow me to quote a favourite passage from a controversial figure of 1960’s England; “practically everyone believes they could write a book or compose a song if only they put their mind to it. They believe this simply because they can easily comprehend the finished products of others. It is not until they attempt the act of creation themselves that they become aware of their own limitations, lack of imagination, abysmal powers of self-expression and how unaccustomed they are to thinking deeply about anything at all. Becoming aware of the vast gap that exists between understanding and personal creativity – and the intellectual effort required to capture and express a complex idea in simple terms – is humiliating”. Technical prowess as such doesn’t necessarily hinder the creation of (good) art, but stupidity and a lack of anything to say certainly does. Just look at the music section of myspace.
black metal and ambient music seem similar in their use of layered motifs over a drone or constant beat in which syncopation is de-emphasized.

Is this from a similar world-outlook, or is it a megatrend passing through our time to aim for atmosphere instead of discrete conclusions?

In the first place that’s a really interesting hypothesis which makes a lot of sense to me, but I’m not sure if I know the answer to your question. I don’t really think that a similar world outlook necessarily leads to similar artistic output other than in terms of meaning, so it’s possible that intelligent artists who have something to communicate gravitate towards creating music that they feel speaks to the ancient man who finds himself living in the modern world.

EMIT has emitted (forgive me that) a series of releases, seeming with each to move farther from black metal in form and closer to black metal in spirit. Is that assessment correct? What has engendered this progression?

I think you’re right. With the Hammemit album, there are no percussion elements, no distorted guitar and mostly clean vocals. In previous releases there’s been a fair amount of variation with clean and distorted guitar, but ironically, I wanted to free myself from the conventions of what I used to do by limiting myself to a bare minimum as far as possible. It focused my mind and let me get to the core or essence of what I’ve already been doing for years. I believe I’m getting closer to an ideal stylistic approach, which has taken some time to reach. Now it’s a matter of utilising the approach in the most effective way possible.

When we speak of evil in music, what is its value? Is literal evil meant, or a mockery or evil, or is the metaphor being overloaded to take on new meanings? Are they recapturing the word “evil” like hip-hop groups have recaptured racial epithets? And finally, have you encountered any music you consider “evil” in the definition of your choice?

It seems to depend on whom you speak to. The religious bands of today mean literal evil in the biblical, moralistic sense. So-called “pagan” bands use the word as if to say “christianity turned our gods into devils”, recapturing the word, as you suggest. Overtly blasphemous bands like Havohej take delight in mocking the dualism and entire concept of evil with their crudely effective lyrics and stance. I don’t think I’ve come across any music that I find actually evil, only music seeking to portray that which is generally considered evil, and that isn’t the same thing as “evil music”. I said in another recent interview how I’ve never seen death and black metal as being much concerned with blaspheming, but rather praising or aspiring towards the numinous. That’s what I’ve always endeavoured to do with Emit and will continue to do with Hammemit.

Do you believe music should be mimetic, or reflect what’s found in life, or ludic, and show a playfulness with life that encourages us to experience it in depth? Do the two ever crossover?

When I listen to Hammemit, what comes to my mind is the moors, woods, rural churches, stone circles and ancient places of England as I know it. It encapsulates what I begin to think about when visiting or visualising them, and I believe that music ultimately is an artistic manifestation of thoughts and ideas. For instance, the guy from Absurd used to say that black metal was “listenable ideology”. Taking this further, I would even say that music could be broken down to something like computer language, a series of 1’s and 0’s which look like gibberish but can be understood if you have sufficient knowledge or have trained yourself over time. If you look at guitar tablature, it’s basically a series of numbers telling you where to put your fingers on the fretboard, but when you follow this on an instrument it creates something which we can understand, much like 111110010100110001111 might be code that forms a program for a computer. So if you translate thoughts and interpretations of the world around you into music, it could be said that you’re creating a program which allows other people to experience those same ideas and thoughts. I dare say this makes the whole artistic process seem less “magical”, but I like to try to get to grips with the mechanics of how important phenomena work.

I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.

– F.W. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

When you create music, do you narrow your perspective to find what you seek to express in life, and then translate it back to sound? Do you feel others do this? What are the ways an artist can approach the task of making art?

I feel I’ve sort of answered this above, but certain noise music to me, sounds like the breath of woodland in a heavy wind or even birdsong, if I’m in the right frame of mind. I’m not sure I’d actually call it music as such, in all fairness, but it’s interesting to think of these mechanistic, artificial sounds interpreted back into naturalistic ones, as if being reclaimed. Trees smashing Isengard. Any artist who wants to communicate something worthwhile will choose a form which he or she thinks is most suitable (and personally enjoys themselves). Usually I’d imagine it’s pretty much intuitive, not so much a conscious choice. I don’t know how other people might go about creating music or writing or whatever, but speaking for myself, it stems from a desire to encapsulate that initial inspiration and rush of ideas and feeling. It’s “just” a matter of working out a way in which to best make it communicable. Not being unique, I suppose this must be how it is for many others, as well.

What influences from the world of ambient music were inspirational for you?

The sound of nearby church bells, rain on the rooftops and wind in the trees is perhaps the greatest ambient music I’ve heard and has influenced me more than anything else. Some have said that the Hammemit album reminded them of work by Brian Eno and he is indeed quite a visionary, though I wouldn’t agree that he was much of an inspiration to me. I like Tangerine Dream a lot, and anything that I like a lot tends to be assimilated somehow into what I do, but there’s no conscious influence from them either. My music is mainly based around the guitar, so two particularly inspirational guitarists for me would be Snorre Ruch (of Thorns) and John Dowland, the latter being a lutenist rather than guitarist but the principle is similar. I think my influences are more in terms of ethos and aesthetic than anything concrete in form.

Like many others, you were influenced by the black metal movement coming out of Norway in the early 1990s. What did you see in that movement that inspired you artistically?

I saw another movement like that of the Pre-Raphaelites for whom “the past is alive”. The music, image, ideas and actions transcended the mundane shit of day-to-day life in the modern world, touching on things deeply buried. “How beautiful life is, now when my time has come”, sounds like a line Mishima might have written. Most black metal bands of today in comparison remind me of the difference between Dead Can Dance and fucking Cocteau Twins. In other words, idiots tell me that if I like Dead Can Dance, I’ll also like these other clowns, but I DO NOT.

The long, long road over the moors and up into the forest–who trod it into being first of all? Man, a human being, the first that came here. There was no path before he came. Afterward, some beast or other, following the faint tracks over marsh and moorland, wearing them deeper; after these again some Lapp gained scent of the path, and took that way from field to field, looking to his reindeer. Thus was made the road through great Almenning — the common tracts without an owner; no-man’s land.

– Knut Hamsun, Growth of the Soil (1917)

Do you have any personal ideologies? Do these inform your approach to your music? Do they provide a groundwork for the content of your music?

I once began to distrust this word “ideology”, in black metal especially it became a word used to say whether a band was “true” or not. People began to talk about “ideological black metal”, which was used to draw a line between bands who stood for something and those newcomers or fakes who stood for nothing but making scary music to amuse themselves. But unfortunately in trying to emphasise the difference, a lot of bands started becoming overtly politically affiliated as if trying too hard to prove they had something serious and important to say. For example, the Polish bands of the mid-90s did this more and more as they saw the Norwegians becoming less interesting musically and much less radical in their statements and so on. I think it was good and necessary to start with, because the normal people refused to listen to politically-incorrect music like that of Veles or Graveland and stuck with safer bands. I gather that people even sent Veles CDs back to the record label because it had the word “aryan” printed in the booklet. It created a refreshing and stimulating, iconoclastic environment similar to that of the original outbreak. But there was a point where overt nationalism and political-incorrectness became sloganeering or even protest music and that’s where I lost interest. The point is that ideas don’t need to be expressed through some existing political party/system, or so obviously. It’s just cheap and vulgar and only appeals to idiots. To be silly for a moment, Hitler wouldn’t have listened to WAR88 but he might have given later Graveland a try. My own music says, “I would prefer to see a million people machinegunned than a forest put to the chainsaw to make room for their ugly houses”, but that isn’t the title of the album.

Do you believe objective reality exists?

Tell a class of schoolchildren to look out of the window and draw a specific tree and they’ll all draw something “treelike”. Therefore you can say that objective reality exists. But each child will probably come up with various subjective interpretations of the tree. Most will try and copy it as exactly as possible (and become frustrated when they fail to do so accurately), perhaps some will try and capture the spirit of the tree, others will not observe at all and draw a generic tree, etc. Personally, I always tried to be faithful to the object in question taking meticulous care over tiny details, usually running out of time and leaving it incomplete. Sometimes I found that when translated to paper, objects looked wrong, even though they had been accurately rendered, so I’d stop looking at what I was drawing and improvise or add what I wanted. I began to think at an early age, in the simple way that children do, that reality is something which although the same for everyone, reveals more to some than it does to others. It was hard not to feel superior when faced with the fact that those around me seemed totally blind to all but their most immediate surroundings. I find it stupid when people say their music is “inspired by nature”, because it seems to me that in nearly every case, they mean a picture postcard version of nature. They see nothing beyond the obvious, they just like the “dark atmosphere” of forests or the “inspiring” sight of distant mountains (what does it inspire them with I wonder). They might as well paint a drab watercolour picture because what they see around them has already been handily interpreted for them by TV and other mass media. We learn to interpret life vicariously through other people, so that when stood in a forest you should feel X, Y or Z, because that’s the limit of human understanding so why bother thinking any different. What’s the difference between visiting Stonehenge or a desert and watching some slickly edited footage of them on TV? I may see the same things such people do, but for all intents and purposes I’m not even on the same planet, my experience of life is not the same at all.

What consciousness if any exists to the cosmos? If one does exist, does it infuse you with a sense of purpose?

Well I certainly believe in a consciousness to the cosmos. But I don’t believe that you need the church or any organised religion as intermediary. In meditations and in my whole life I’ve tried to understand even a tiny piece of this existence and wondered often, and thought deeply about all of creation and the point of it all. My beliefs in recent years have more or less followed ancient gnostic ones, as I felt the closer you got to the beginning, the nearer you got to the truth, in opposition to modern thought, where it’s believed that with each new technological progression you come further to the truth and some ultimate, elusive satisfaction. In modern society people believe that with each passing second the world naturally progresses in a linear way. Well, it’s not “natural” that we should have an industrial revolution at a certain time and I don’t think all progression is necessarily good, or indeed real progression at all. If there’s an alien civilisation out there somewhere, it’s unlikely that they’d have developed the same as we’ve done. Terms like “the Stone Age” are very misleading. Having contemplated life in the modern world it’s very easy to conclude that absolutely everything is stacked against the deep thinking, spiritual person. When you come to this point it’s also very easy to think about suicide and I’ve had periods (now forever in the past) where I’ve vaguely entertained the notion. When I was younger I used to go on walks and towards dusk smell the summer air, listen to the last birdsong and I felt something huge missing within. I had no idea what this “something” was nor any idea of how to discover what it was, but it gave me a direction to strive towards. People always tell me that I think about things too much, but then I’m a spiritual person and contemplation seems to be a key to understanding. The consciousness (what people used to call god) that exists within and without this cosmos (and therefore us) does indeed infuse me with a sense of purpose. I think that changing yourself even at a solely physical level is not something as insignificant as it might seem, because everything is interconnected so such a change is nothing short of altering the entire universe piece by piece. Believing in the interrelation between microcosm/macrocosm as I do, I wonder how anyone can believe that the universe and cosmos will exist indefinitely. Is there any example in nature that suggests this is likely? Every living thing is just a miniature cosmos in itself, so therefore if every living thing has to die at some point, the cosmos itself must have to “die” as well. I personally don’t believe in death as a finite and permanent thing, but as a change in existence, energy moving elsewhere or eventually returning to the source. Worshipping death and the ultimate Death of everything in the way that I describe, makes existence tolerable by virtue of considering its otherwise total worthlessness. Life would be pointless without death after all, but Death still exists without life. It is therefore, the ultimate and oldest form of existence, coming both before and after material manifestations. Energy can’t be destroyed, it has to go somewhere and originate from somewhere, so death is evidently not a total nothingness in the way we might understand the word, despite not being able to comprehend it. There isn’t a dualism between death and life, death is actually a continuation of life in a different (higher) form. I don’t mean an afterlife as such in the sense of “heaven”, but I believe in continuation in different forms, though it isn’t comprehensible to us. You can say that as you can’t remember anything from before your birth, why should after death be any different? Well I imagine it isn’t, but non-awareness only means non-existence in the form that we know. Let’s say the cosmos came into being when it first became aware that it existed. On a microcosmic level, using a biblical metaphor, the first humans became aware when tasting the forbidden fruit and thus realised they were naked. Before that they still existed but were unaware of themselves as entities in their own right. Therefore going back to the cosmos as a whole, one can tentatively suggest that the cosmos existed before it came into physical manifestation, despite there being apparently “nothing”. Zero is still a digit (and a relatively recent concept at that), and there are also minus numbers, meaning you can go further back than nought. Death is a realm separate from the material one, therefore it isn’t possible to experience it by means of the senses or even deep thought – it’s outside of humanity. But it is real.

Nihilists tend to break the world into two groups, those who are looking forward in time toward something intangible that constitutes a purpose, and those who lack any such abstract goal so are focused on the tangible, both in physical and mental construct. Have you observed anything of this nature and, if so, what is it?

When you first look around at the world that surrounds you, you’ll obviously only see the immediate – buildings, people, trees, stars etc. Once you recognise these things and begin to file them away in your mind, you start to allocate meaning to them from further associations that link them and a million other things together build up into a massive network of meanings, memories and so on. Taking everything at face value would mean that none of these things you’ve observed have any intrinsic value whatsoever, other than those which you’ve learned or been conditioned to accept. You would understand for instance, that the paper notes used for currency, or even the shiny yellow metal called “gold”, are not worth anything, apart from the value society has given them. And so-called “human rights” is a meaningless, purely politically expedient concept. You’re then faced with a very difficult dilemma. You can either create or accept an existing mythology to explain the world you find yourself struggling to understand, or believe that you’re on your own and have been left to your own devices. Strangely, following on from gnostic beliefs, I’m actually somewhere in the middle, ha ha.

One of the fundamental divisions of our society is whether or not it can accept relativity. some turn it into relativism; others deny it and insist on “objectivism,” which is a rather rigorous form of scientific Social Darwinism. What do you think unites methods of relativity in linking together phenomena, and the human desire to make life easy and tangible and have us each perceive that reality is as we desire, even if contrary data exist?

It’s true that people prefer to see things as they’d like them to be, and hide away from what they really know is out there. That’s why D E A T H is such a taboo that people give it all these innumerable euphemisms. It obviously sounds like a much easier and “fairer” life if everyone decides to agree to disagree, because it means less conflict and less of people’s feelings being hurt. Unfortunately for utopia, people have a tendency of saying “no, we’re absolutely right in our beliefs, and you are heretics/infidels/cretins/gay for believing otherwise, and now we want to kill you”. You’ll often hear politicians and their ilk talking about how everyone should be able to live in harmony, not afraid to believe in whatever they want to believe in. Although of course, these same people will later go on to say they’re declaring war on another country to fight for what’s “right”. Opposing beliefs and ideas are always going to cause tensions when confronted with another, because to admit that they’re “both right”, or that “no one is wrong” is an admission of uncertainty and lack of faith in your convictions. It’s also blatantly stupid because both parties know that in truth, either one or both of them are utterly wrong. It’s like saying you know for certain that grass is green but accepting that some people think it’s blue. I believe that falling trees make a sound in the forest even if no one’s there to hear them, and that the world exists outside of our perception. It will still be here when I die. As usual, what unites all these things is a fear of death. The world is a frightening place if you suddenly take away everything that shields you from it. That’s why people allow themselves to be led down the garden path, willingly oblivious to the forest that lurks at its carefully trimmed and cultivated edges.

Did black metal die, and if so, what killed it and, has ambient/electronic music gone through similar cycles?

Everything has to die. I feel that like the world itself, black metal could have remained something brilliant, but stupid, shallow people and commerce ruined it. Concerning black metal (but not only that), I think most people including many who “were there” only see an idealised version of reality. Basically they see a relatively brief outburst of creativity and good intentions contained as a single neverending era and not as a finite period of innovation witnessed over time, followed by noticeable decline and inevitable death. I imagine citizens of the Roman Empire in its last days felt that way. Maybe Americans feel like that. People need a sense of continuity and belonging in order to feel secure and black metal is now a boring youth subculture like any other, not an evolutionary artistic movement. It’s about clothes, symbols, scene orthodoxy and total lack of substance for the most part. It’s hard to admit that the dream is over, that something has come to the end of its lifespan. The people who refuse to recognise that are usually those with the most to gain from its continuation and such people are dangerous because they prevent real progress from being made. But those who do acknowledge it are the first to rise from the ashes and forge something new. When an old, beautiful and much loved building falls down, the average guy says “I’ll rebuild this building, it’ll not be quite as good as before but it’ll keep the spirit of the old building alive”. But a radical, visionary architect says “I’ll rebuild this building, and I’ve a few ideas of my own this time”. However there are quite a few people out there who think of themselves as doing something new and original, but who actually aren’t. Playing a saxophone or tambourine or banjo or flute in a black metal context doesn’t necessarily make you a creative genius (in fact I’m damn sure it doesn’t). To cite an example I’ve used before, Darkthrone were obviously a positive evolution from Bathory and Celtic Frost, and to continue the architectural metaphor; are the difference between doric and ionic columns. In other words you don’t need to do anything completely new to be original, you just need to look at what came before in a new light, which is easier said than done of course.

What’s the status of EMIT, and when do we hear new material? What inspired this new material?

Emit has evolved into Hammemit; modern music for mediaeval sensibilities, by which I mean intended for those desensitised to the general chaos of modern life yet retaining a certain spiritual awareness and closeness to the world. The new direction isn’t a sudden development but a gradual progression where I began to lean more towards the calmer works than the noisier ones. The more consistent approach which can be seen in the Hammemit album stems from deep and prolonged contemplation flowing over into a group of connected lyrics. These lyrics really opened the way into a new holistic conception and execution of my musical work. I hope that as many people as possible will read the lyrics and that some will feel a deep affinity with the music, because I know that other people look at the world in the same way that I do. My intention is that people should feel the way I felt when I read “The Centaur” by Algernon Blackwood – that they’d found a kindred spirit. I feel I should elucidate further as Mr. Blackwood isn’t well known anymore, though I believe he deserves to be. He used to be quite a popular figure in his time, and would read his stories on BBC radio and even appeared on the then new cursed medium of TV (when it was basically still radio but with pictures). Yet his books are mostly out of print nowadays and his best works can generally only be found in secondhand bookshops or not at all. Lovecraft was a fervent admirer of his work, though this wasn’t reciprocated and Lovecraft’s writing unfortunately is largely still seen as pulp trash while Blackwood’s is just forgotten. His one major attempt at fully explaining his worldview came with a full-length novel, the aforementioned “The Centaur”. His preferred medium was the short story and it becomes readily apparent when reading it, but despite its very occasional failings as literature, I found it interesting and even exciting reading. What he proposed was not new, but the manner in which he set about describing the idea that the world was a living being and everything living on it were part of one entity, made it sound like perfect sense. This being because I could clearly identify with the two main characters, both of whom seemed to articulate exactly what I myself thought and had constantly struggled with. Blackwood would have as a basis for many of his stories a central character who was enthralled so much with primal nature that they “risked” being consumed by it utterly. This is best seen in his short stories such as “The Trod”, “The Touch of Pan”, “The Man Whom the Trees Loved” and of course “The Centaur”, all of which I recommend reading. As I said, I hope to do with music and lyrics what Blackwood did with his writing, I feel a real calling to do so.

If you were able to make an album that would be given mainstream radio airplay, would you choose to make your music closer to mass tastes but subversive, or attempt to wallop people with something very far from current mass tastes?

I wouldn’t do anything different from what I’m doing now. Why would I want to water down what I do in order to get the interest of shallow people who have nothing in common with the meaning of the music? I’d just be wasting everyone’s time. Look at Dissection and their “Reinkaos” album or Watain’s new one. Why even bother? Seeds on barren rocks. Good luck to them if they think their message will be spread further by simplifying ther music, but I’d rather not pander to the lowest common denominator. I don’t see myself as some supreme and elite being, not through modesty but through thinking about it. I aspire to better myself and to achieve certain goals, and I look at myself therefore as what a human should be like, it’s those falling under that who are below human. There’s only human and underhuman, everything else is aspiration for now. I understand the limitations of the masses and know that difficult concepts are totally beyond them, not always beyond their capacity to understand, but certainly beyond their attention span. The masses are guided by base instinct and self-interest and to make them otherwise is impossible. It’s easy to trick them into believing that something bad for them is actually good for them and vice-versa. As long as they think it serves their own interests they’ll be happy. They’re mere empty vessels who’ve allowed themselves to become corrupted and mindless, a bit like Tolkien’s orcs or the zombies from “Dawn of the Living Dead”. Their greatest and apparently only desires are to eat/consume, fuck and destroy everything beautiful. The individual I quoted earlier once said that serial killers acted the way they did because they were either consciously or unconsciously deeply aware of time passing by and wanted to take action while they could, to live each moment as much as possible and push the limits of experience. The masses are not in the least aware of time passing them by, they don’t think death will happen to them. They imagine an afterlife paradise where all their sickening desires and lusts will be fulfilled for them, so might as well sit and wait for it. A consolation for me is that they will all eventually be reclaimed, as into an amorphous jigsaw with billions of missing pieces…

DEATH DEATH

If you seek the kernel, then you must break the shell. And likewise, if you would know the reality of Nature, you must destroy the appearance, and the farther you go beyond the appearance, the nearer you will be to the essence.

– Meister Johannes Eckhart

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Interview: Wolves In The Throne Room

The air rings with bloviation about “green” plans and, since black metal has always endorsed a naturalistic outlook, it’s natural to look here for some ideas on this topic. Like all ideas who are coming, it remains extremely controversial when it goes beyond the somewhat prosaic task of buying LED light bulb replacements. We were able to encounter Wolves in the Throne Room 150 feet above the ground, where they were conducting a tree-sit to stop loggers from cutting down the remaining Kirk Johnson pine in North America to make it into anal splints. They kindly answered some questions and gave their thoughts on black metal, art, environmentalism and the problem with metal fans.

In your mind, is there a difference between morality and pragmatism?

That being said, I’ll do my best to engage with your question.Let me first say that I have little knowledge of philosophy and don’t really have interest in such matters. Much like the occult mumbo-jumbo that serves to obscure simple and self-evident metaphysical realities, philosophy is often a distraction from that which is right in front of one’s face. The mission of WITTR is to work within the realm of a primal spirit. It is through the accessing of our intuition and deeper selves that our paths are chosen.

I associate pragmatism with the bland drivel spouted by Dewy and Rorty. This has nothing to do with anything I’m interested in. Maybe you use the word in another fashion?

I would define morality as a culture’s system of vices and virtues. I tend to think that the “right” way to be is, indeed, a transcendent constant. We see manifestations of this transcendent morality in every culture that has ever existed, the obvious exception being our own materialistic and short sighted mess.

On the other hand, part of my thought process and part of the mission of WITTR is to explore the idea of evolution. Within the antagonism between the “establishment” and the avant garde lays a powerful spirit of creativity and dynamism. The life I have created for myself is an odd mix of the radically evolutionary and the ancient and time-worn. I would posit that the spirit of ANUS and of Metal culture is no different. Our ventures are absolutely of the now and are our own creations.

Orthodox Black Metal says to us that things have always been a certain way – tribal, place based, caste based, etc – and we must smash modernity and return to this ancient and established way of living. But is this necessarily so? The great contradiction of Black Metal is that it urges acceptance of fear and suffering but is afraid of an utterly new possibility. The spirit of Black Metal is represented in the artwork on Burzum’s albums: apparitions of a time long gone, ghosts pulling the living into the ancient and the desiccated world of the ancestors.

Evolution and growth are biological and metaphysical constants. Rarely in nature do we see lifeforms benefit from stepping backwards. ANUS seems to assert that the lens of nihilism strips away modernist humanistic morality in order to reveal that which is timeless and transcendent. It is not that easy. I think it is possible to make a choice to accept some things from the premodern, heroic worldview and to reject others. As modern people we are in a unique and precarious position. It is the role of artists to define the possibilities.

Skimming the writings on the ANUS site, which I found interesting and thought provoking, revealed a classically conservative worldview which, if manifested in a political reality, would have little room for transgression or evolution. This is no utopia I would care to live in, or help bring about.

This is why WITTR refuse to align ourselves with “right wing” (or left wing) ideologies. The actual reality of the totalitarian, right wing state is not one of peaceful country farms carrying on in time-honored fashion and vibrant urban centers bustling with art and philosophy. It an utterly modern situation of chauvinistic nationalist frenzy, thuggish bullying and simple mindedness. Liberal democracy and fascism are both outmoded political systems that need to be left behind. The idea of returning to the premodern heroic world through modern political means is not an option.

What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?

Art expresses the transcendent and, I think, has a spiritual dimension – intentional or not. It has a reality that echoes through time. I am a believer in the otherworld, a reality that lies beyond the veil. Art affects change on this other reality.

I think that art can exist independent of the culture that created it, whereas entertainment is more closely bound to the ephemeral and transitory moment.

Do you think a genre of unpopular “popular music” like death metal and/or black metal can be a form of art?

Sure. I think we are having this discussion because we agree that black metal -sometimes- expresses truths that lie beyond fashion and the politics of the local scene. WITTR come at black metal as outsiders who are interested in “art”, not scene politics. It so happens that the art one finds in BM resonates with the other things that I do.

Nothing is permanent: certainly not the frozen images of barbarous power with which fascism now confronts us. Those images may easily be smashed by an external shock, cracked as ignominiously as the fallen Dagon, the massive idol of the heathen; or they may be melted, eventually, by the internal warmth of normal men and women. Nothing endures except life: the capacity for birth, growth, and renewal. As life becomes insurgent once more in our civilization, conquering the reckless thrust of barbarism, the culture of cities will be both instrument and goal.

– Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities (1938)

Does art have an obligation to morality? To pragmatism?

No. Black Metal, in its Satanic incarnation, must advocate for anti-morality. Going well beyond the romantic yearning for a dark, wild and feral world conjured by Burzum or Ildjarn, Satanic BM demands that we pour chemicals into the oceans, smear ourselves with feces, murder our neighbors and rape the pope. This Satanic, insane music is still “Art”. Even in a utopia, there would be a place for Art that represents the insane and the evil because these things are a part of the universe.

As someone who is interested in survival for myself and my friends, and who is interested in ecological things, I think that it is virtuous – moral – to keep a well ordered farm, rotate the crops, kill the animals with kindness and respect, help out my neighbors, etc… For this reason WITTR are often disparaged as “traitors” who do not work for the destruction of all life. I have heard that we receive quite a buffeting in the internet chat-rooms from 14 year old chronic masturbators and has-been methamphetamine addicts.

Do you think heavy metal has a distinctive worldview different from that of “normal” people? is worldview a grounding to an ideology, and can art have either? Do you think the worldviews and or ideologies of artists shape the kind of music they produce?

Worldview is everything, for it provides the metaphysical architecture upon which the art is hung. I think that we would agree that banal pop music created by the accountants at major record labels is just as much a manifestation of a worldview and an ideology as music, such as Black Metal, that is a more (self?) conscious expression.

I cannot say whether heavy metal people have a distinctive worldview. From reading material on your website I gather that ANUS posits the idea that Metal is somehow a manifestation of the long-lost heroic spirit. I don’t think there is a higher percentage of intelligence among metalheads than among any other population.

ANUS does a good job of placing metal, music that is often created by boneheads, into a coherent philosophical system that venerates traditional heroic values. However, metal could be interpreted in many other, less positive, ways. I see most metal as the pathetic mental ejaculation of marijuana addled morons.

On the whole, I am quite dismissive of the idea that metal – as a worldview and ideology – should be something to base ones life on. For me, the proof is in the pudding. Most hessians are deeply engaged with bands and fanzines (or chatrooms) and leather jackets. Often the philosophy and music is very engaging and powerful, but the focus of the hessian life usually becomes myopic and limited.

Like punk, metal is a way to introduce radical ideas that call into question the assumptions that society is governed by. I think that the ideology of Watain or G.G. Alin is not useful as roadmap for future action.

I would rather seek the heroic spirit everywhere – old hippies, bikers, rednecks… It is really more about the individual. To say that metal culture – which, indeed, has this certain romantic spirit – is the best or only way to confront our modern reality makes no sense to me. The underlying worldview which must become common to all people, if our race is to survive, is that humans must see themselves as a part of the greater biosphere. The indo-European warrior culture that ANUS sees represented in Metal is only one possible manifestation of a worldview that creates wholeness.

In the past, members of Wolves In The Throne Room have spoken pejoratively of black metal, and especially the exoteric, buy-a-CD-and-join mentality that has characterized the genre since it became popular in the late 1990s. This seems to parallel past cycles in metal’s history, where a few inventors created and then a decadent mass took over. Does this parallel any developments in human history as well? Is this a repeated pattern, an entropy, or is it something that can be changed from within? If there is a metallic rebirth, how will the genre once again escape the horde? Must things die to be reborn?

I am not convinced that those who have created innovation in the metal genre are superior human beings – they are certainly not in the neighborhood of a philosopher-king! Looking at Black Metal, I think we see a rather spoiled group of rich kids hailing from the richest and most spoiled nations on earth fucked up on methamphetamines and alcohol. Their creative nihilism is the contemporary of all of the angry, bitter and alienated music created – rightly – by youths in modern societies. The validity of the art in BM has little to do with “genius”, in that genius, by definition, is something that one is born with. I see the founding Black Metal groups as unknowing conduits for dark, wild otherworldly energies.

Do you think death metal musicians converge on the genre because it sounds like thoughts or worldviews, and if so, does this produce any compatibility between views?

Yes. I think that the intent of the artist is encoded in the music. We are moved by metal because it expresses an ancient, feral, wild, noble spirit. My problem is that what draws many people to metal is the fantasy aspect. Though one might be moved by Burzum on an emotional level, it is quite something else to make drastic changes in ones life because of that experience with the music. What would it mean to be forced to live by the system of virtue and vice that is suggested by Metal music? The hessian worldview is extreme and homogenous, but it exists in a vacuum where there is no risk of having to actually DO anything.

If one believes, as I do, that our current order is crumbling then one ought find companions who will be ready for the times ahead. I have met very few metalheads who are focused on anything beyond the fantasy- world of bands and dark imagery.

Many people have accused black and death metal musicians of being extremist, or of having a disproportionate response to the conditions of life that comes through in their excessive violent, romantic, alienated music. Do you believe these genres are extremist, or is society in extreme denial, or is there another explanation?

I think we would agree that the extreme nature of metal is a natural and warranted response to western, materialistic culture.

My problem with Metal culture is that it is usually a reaction to something, not a image of what might be. There are certainly elements in metal – veneration of a noble, heroic spirit for instance – that transcend the alienation and despair that creates the morbid and violent imagery that metal is known for.

It is a mistake to define ones self wholly as someone reacting angrily to an insane world.

Although the internet is loaded with tards, one appeal of it is that people can use computers and electrons instead of paper and physical objects. If we were to use the internet to maximum efficiency, would it change metal? Would it offset the environmental damage caused by the sheer fact of human growth?

I am not opposed to technology, but I am opposed to the use of computers and the internet in regard to black metal. Obviously I fail in upholding this principle, but I believe it to be an important notion. I think that BM is a place where we should let a more ancient spirit reign.

Stupid people then say “why do you use electric guitars”? Clearly this music is one of contradiction, struggle and striving.

Past Wolves In The Throne Room interviews have drawn a distinction between “city black metal” and a more vital, fundamental form of the genre. Is this a property of black metal, or cities? What is it about cities that makes them have a similar outlook, one that we might say is entirely human, and removed from nature, and is this why many great artists have preferred the country and unoccupied areas?

Firstly, I would say that artists tend to enjoy the company of other artists, and those artists who claim to prefer nature often spend the majority of their time in a more cosmopolitan setting. This is especially true of Black Metal. Taken as a whole, Black Metal is prone to ludicrously extreme contradiction between the radically primitivist vision of the art and the actual lifestyles of the artists. It is this chasm between art and reality in BM that I find so preposterous.

Cities are an interesting thing. I think that cities are a true expression of the luciferian, that aspect of satan which draws humans away from their source – the spiritual center which is the earth – towards a world entirely of our own creation. The laws of nature are suspended in the city and humans become weak and decadent. But it is this weakness and decadence that often spawns great art and culture. In time, these cities are destroyed and natural order is restored. This does not mean that the arrogant thrust of organized human endeavor is not valuable in its way.

Our culture has taken the idea of the city to an extreme and the crash will be all the more spectacular.

Jim Morrison sang and wrote repeatedly of a “frontier,” or a no man’s land where chaos and conflict ruled, but also open spaces were present. Was he speaking existentially, politically, or both, and how does this apply to black metal’s love of nature?

I think that he refers to the otherworld, which is the frontier of human experience that will never be colonized. In this place we are confronted with the fundamentally mysterious nature of life.

One might believe in the metaphysical “reality” of the otherworld, or see it as a metaphor for the human being’s unconscious mind. Physical frontiers – the wild west, the frozen north, deep space – are representation of this “other” plane of existence. I think it is crucial for humans to be able to have experience with these physical frontiers, with wild places. In these places we access that other(inner) world.

Black Metal is about journeying to the frontier. This is not a place where we can live and create our human world. We go there and return. Some people, often with the help of drugs, lose ones humanity by staring into that void for too long. Enveloped in a dark otherworld, the Black Metaler forgets that the human’s role in the universe to live and create.

My meditations with Black Metal are a powerful communion with forces of darkness and mystery, but I always need to turn back because I haven’t lost all hope. But I understand why one might well choose to completely loose ones self in the void.

Black metal (and heavy metal in general) seem to share many values with Romantic art and literature from two centuries ago, right before Nietzsche began writing: reverence for nature, belief in a transcendental but not dualistic life, independence from humanist morality, desire to create the beautiful and eternal, searching for truth with the self as the lens but not the focus. Do you find these prevalent in yourself and your influences, or is something else your driving force?

The melancholy yearning that characterizes the romantic outlook is, on an aesthetic level, a strong part of the WITTR vision and aesthetic, but this influence does not mean that we are driven by the same things that inspired those artists two hundred years ago.

We think that our civilization, thus the world, is on the verge of great transformation. None of us know what it will be, or even what it should be. Our greatest influence is the spirit of this age, and the struggle to find a meaningful path.

Burzum’s Filosofem, which seems the largest discernible influence on Wolves In The Throne Room, has been described by many as black metal fusing with the aesthetic of shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine. What do these genres have in common, and now that the fusion has occurred, how has metal’s feral atavistic idealism fused with the more personal, more “city”-like “progressive” attitudes of shoegaze bands?

Black metal can be a guide for dreaming or journeying into the unconscious. The droning, delicately nuanced soundscape created on an album like filosofem is a portal to altered states. I suppose shoegaze has this same quality, though the spiritual or philosophical dimension is quite different. Perhaps what these dissimilar genres share is a striving to touch some transcendent place by using sound and pulsing rhythm. Maybe this facet of the music is the most important thing anyway, trumping the conscious political beliefs of the musicians.

If Black Metal is trance music that opens the door to mystery, Death metal is concerned with creating a highly masculine, crystalline order that says “this is the way it is.” To use an ANAL metaphor, death metal is the orderly, beautiful, sometimes cruel vision of the philosopher-king. Black Metal expresses the dream-time vision of the shaman: mysterious, ever changing, moon-like.

For this reason, I don’t think that the warlike, tribal spirit in BM must be taken as a war cry to forge that world through the masculine process of ordered creation. BM evokes the archetype of the wild, violent war-god but it also hints at the humor of the trickster and, at its deepest level, the oceanic wholeness of the goddess.

WITTR have absolutely tempered the uncompromising feral spirit of “true” black metal. Our band attempts to express a spirit of unity and wholeness rather than the insane violence of orthodox BM. Sometimes, as individuals, we play music that channels total blackness, but not in the context of WITTR. This band has a specific vision and purpose.

Either the non-symbolizing health that once obtained, in all its dimensions, or, madness and death. Culture has led us to betray our own aboriginal spirit and wholeness, into an everworsening realm of synthetic, isolating, impoverished estrangement. Which is not to say that there are no more everyday pleasures, without which we would lose our humanness. But as our plight deepens, we glimpse how much must be erased for our redemption.

– John Zerzan, Running on Emptiness: The Failure of Symbolic Thought

If humankind emerged from nature, and natural selection, are the processes of our minds “natural”? What is the difference between human thinking and the way nature is organized?

As I age, I become less convinced that humanity is the product of a strictly mechanistic evolutionary process. I wonder more and more if humankind does not have some “special” component that has brought us to this precarious place in history. Every mythic system draws a distinction between man and animal. I am not willing to so quickly discount this intuitive truth.

In other Wolves In The Throne Room interviews, mention has been made of the notion that black metal hates civilization. Is it possible that black metal hates not civilization, but an attitude of certain stages in civilization (as described by Plato in The Republic) or possibly, a parasitic design or organization to certain civilizations? If so, how does this correlate to black metal’s hatred of Christianity and humanism/liberalism/egalitarianism?

To answer this question one must decide whether Black Metal is best seen as a political doctrine or an expression of the intrinsically mysterious and unknowable. I go with the latter.

I contend that Black Metal, at its moments of greatest insight, hates -or, at least, rejects, all civilization including those civilizations who we might consider to be noble and heroic. I don’t care for Pagan metal or Viking metal or whatever. I listen to black metal because of the dark otherworldly energy it accesses. It should be the music of the outcast, the shaman who has journeyed too deep; not the aristocrat, farmer or tradesman, who has compromised his wild spirit in order to exist in the good society.

It is true that Black Metal (along with martial-industrial and neo-folk) often expresses the spirit of a certain vision of civilization. We might call it pagan nationalism or heroic socialism or whatever. For me, though, these political visions have little to do with any reality I am interested in helping to manifest. I loath racist and chauvinistic right wing movements.

Much of the Wolves In the Throne Room philosophy, like that of Rudolf Steiner, focuses on a primal integralism between thought, nature and a design of civilization that permits human “freedom,” but this definition seems different from our modern political one, and applies more to spiritual-existential lack of beholdenness. This seems very similar to Schopenhauerian concepts of idealism, which state that thought and matter/energy share an organizing principle or, as Christopher Alexander calls it, a “pattern language.”

It is interesting that you mention Alexander. I am quite interested in the art of building and Alexander is one of my greatest inspirations. Alexander’s notion of the pattern language is what I mean by a transcendent morality – the successful building or city represents the unity of the universe and man, everything in its place reflecting truth and wholeness.

If intelligence determines what thoughts we can perceive, and those thoughts determine what values we can discover, is there some form of cutoff point before which people cannot perceive the necessity of, say, deep ecology?

There is no clear link between smart people and good ways of living. The worst things in our world have been created by geniuses. The idiots are just along for the ride.

In his book Reverence, Paul Woodruff describes a new way of looking at life that takes into account the multiple forces present at any stage to create the causal present, and posits a contemplative worldview that is religious in outlook but not necessarily tied to a religion; how compatible is this with what you hope to achieve in your music?

I think this sounds right, although I would use a different vocabulary. We are interested in reviving an ancient, shamanic reality that acknowledges the hidden energies and forces in nature, among people and within cultures. We could also say that we desire contact with a spirituality reality that is unmediated by religious/political intermediaries. Maybe this is the same thing as the nihilism ANUS espouses, though the language you use doesn’t really resonate with me.

As modern civilization winds down, many people are like yourselves involved in homesteading, or setting up traditional family and town units in the countryside. Are there any aspects of civilization so far we would want to keep, such as technology or learning, and how would these be integrated into a homesteading viewpoint? will we end up like the end of ray bradbury’s “fahrenheit 451” (which he claims is about television) where each person has memorized a book and passes along that knowledge?
I am no luddite. I have no problem with what some call appropriate technology. I can get behind the bicycle. Computers, and the vast infrastructure they require, I could do without.

If I had my druthers we would organize ourselves around bioregions. Towns and cities would be largely self governing. Ecological laws would replace our current pitiful and corrupt system of governance. We need to stop population growth. I would rather that people stay in the regions they were born in rather than be forced by economic pressures to migrate en mass into squalid slums in the worlds megalopolises. The “Freedom” that we have come to expect in this age of late capitalism would be radically curtailed.

What differentiates this vision from a “right-wing” green utopia is a rejection of brutal authoritarianism and racism. The unifying force in any new society must be a shared reverence for natural systems, not a hastily conceived race-based pagan religion pieced together from dusty relics and half-remembered stories. The intense locality that we see in Ancient culture will develop naturally. Anything else would ring hollow and quickly fall apart.

As has been discussed in previous Wolves In The Throne Room interviews, spirituality — holism, reverence, transcendentalism — and deep ecology go hand-in-hand because to look at the central organization of the world is to see the necessity of nurturing nature. These things are (as Wolves In The Throne Room members have mentioned) also central to black metal; is there an attitude in black metal, or at least in the older bands, of this contemplative looking at the world as whole that transcends human fixations, and speaks a language of nature?

For sure. Black Metal should try to operate on a nonhuman, mythic level. Myth expresses the reality of the non human world and defines man’s relationship to that world thus our relationship to the cosmos and to the divine. This stands in sharp contrast to the “city” music we have discussed earlier which is purely concerned with the petty and the transient affairs of fashion and trend.

If sound is like paint, and we use different techniques and portray different things in our paintings, what does it say when a genre sounds similar and has similar topic matter and imagery? Can the genre be said to have a philosophy or culture of its own?

I think we have already covered this. I think that we both agree that BM works within a certain spectrum of ideology that is expressed, to one degree or another, by all worthwhile BM groups.

Some have said that death metal and black metal use “narrative” composition, where a series of riffs are motifs that evolve toward a passage between states of mind for the listener. Is this true, and if so, how is it reflected in your songwriting?

Your analysis is quite accurate. We put quite a lot of work into the arrangement of our songs and records. The individual songs are quite long and the songs are conceived as part of the whole album. Drone and repetition are crucial elements in the narrative structure that we make use of. It is good to dwell in passages for a while in order to absorb the feelings conveyed in the music and atmosphere. (sidenote: I checked on the ANUS chat rooms about WITTR and was amused by the discussion. Not only are we communist faggots who should be killed, but our songs are long and boring)

The man of archaic societies tends to live as much as possible in the sacred or in close proximity to consecrated objects. The tendency is perfectly understandable, because, for primitives as for the man of all premodern societies, the sacred is equivalent to a power, and, in the last analysis, to reality. The sacred is saturated with being…Religious man deeply desires to be, to participate in reality, to be saturated with power…The completely profane world, the wholly desacralized cosmos, is a recent discovery in the history of the human spirit…Desacralization pervades the entire experience of the nonreligious man of modern societies and that, in consequence, he finds it increasingly difficult to rediscover the existential dimensions of religious man in the archaic societies.

– Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (1957)

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Interview: Ian Christie (metal journalist)

We are fortunate to have Ian Christe, metal journalist and Bazillion Points editor/publisher, to join us for an interview. He has authored literally hundreds of articles on heavy metal music and several books, covering topics from death metal to Van Halen. Much of his writing studies emerging technology and underground cultures, which makes him a fit for the interviewers as well. We were lucky to catch him at the Chatsubo bar in Chiba City, Japan, for a few words about metal and the state of journalism about it.

You’ve been involved in metal and music in multiple ways for some time. How did you get into metal, and how have you been involved — books, zines, bands — with the genre?

I was thinking about this recently — I’m only moderately old now, but because I got into metal when I was extremely young I remember all this truly ancient history. During junior high school, I lived with my mom in Germany, and when I was 11-12 years old I was using my lunch money to buy Iron Maiden singles, Accept, Motorhead, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath records. To put it in perspective, when I bought Scorpions’ Virgin Killer, with the kinky pedo cover, the high school aged girl in the photo seemed way older than me. We came back to the States in 1983, when I was 13, and I started doing radio shows at WEOS in Geneva, NY, playing Venom, Anvil, Mercyful Fate, Slayer, Voivod, and lots of lost obscure bands like Thrust, Armed Forces, and Witchkiller. That’s way upstate, but Manowar hails from there, and Metallica and Anthrax had just recorded their debut albums in that area. It was definitely a metal hotbed. I got plugged into the underground through that, bought some Nasty Savage and Hirax demos, and advertised my show in ‘zines like the great Kick*Ass Monthly.

We moved to Indiana in 1985, and it was culture shock. I had long hair, wore a bullet belt, and listened to Destruction, and suddenly I was surrounded by kids unaware of anything beyond Motley Crue and Aerosmith. So out of necessity I got into tape trading, and got into intense bands like Voor, Cryptic Slaughter, Genocide/Repulsion, and of course Death. I skipped school in the spring of 1986 to go see Metallica opening for Ozzy Osbourne, the big moment for underground metal going mainstream, and ended up spending the afternoon goofing around with Cliff, Kirk, and James from Metallica, and also everybody in Samhain except Glenn Danzig. Those two factions were a mutual admiration society, and I was supercharged to be in the middle of it all. I was inspired to start a fanzine after that, IAN Mag, which I titled after myself so I could cash the checks. That lasted through 1988.

I don’t mean to ramble on about all this archaic stuff, but everything I’m talking about is the basis for what I’m still doing as a mature, respectable, gone-legit headbanger. I was basically on a metal mission for the entire 1980s. In the 1990s, I got into different things, learned about the world, and developed as a writer by working in DC, New York, and freelancing for magazines like Wired, Spin, and so on. When it came time to write Sound of the Beast, I fused the professional side to the passion for metal. In fact, I remember my proposal for the book came with a stack of clips that started with the New York Times and ended with an old letter from Dave Mustaine.

As far as music goes, I’ve had a string of very fulfilling projects of every kind ranging from bluegrass to Glenn Branca’s guitar army. I’ve toured Europe and South America performing a kind of musique concrete with a modern dance company. So all of that came together in the crazy Dark Noerd the Beholder dark technology metal project — which sounded pretty bizarre and extreme in 1996.

What prompted your move to self-publication with Bazillion points?

Frustration in two forms. Selfishly, after working with two giant publishing houses, I was very discouraged with the corporate approach to making books. You know, it takes three months to get approval for a tiny text change on the cover, and there’s just no sensitivity for how to customize any aspect of production. With Sound of the Beast, at least I was very lucky to have an editor who was only too happy to put me in touch with the art department or promotions. He got the work off his desk, and I got to have some input, which is rare for an author. Then secondly, it’s frustrating that people like Daniel Ekeroth, Jon “Metalion” Kristiansen, or Jeff Wagner, all hugely respected in their areas of expertise, could never have a hope in hell of getting a mainstream book deal. Well, I realized I could stop complaining and do something about it. Viva Bazillion Points!

Would a DIY book publishing house such as yours have been possible 10-15 years ago?

I don’t know, I definitely wasn’t capable of figuring that out. I have to say it was possible, based on the inspiring successes in the early 90s of classic punk imprints like Henry Rollins’ 2.13.61 and Adam Parfrey’s Feral House Books. But I didn’t have the experience. And the rich earth of unpublished metal books needed time to ferment, too!

What segment of the metal audience or population in general have you seen as the most excited to read the types of books you are publishing?

I can’t answer that yet — a wider audience than you’d expect has responded to Daniel’s Swedish Death Metal book. Though the bands are pretty obscure, the experience of getting caught up in a movement he describes is universal. I couldn’t believe that Publishers Weekly gave Swedish Death Metal a starred review, and made the book its web pick of the week. In three months, Andy McCoy’s book will be out, and then I can tell you how death metal books fare compared to gypsy vagabond rock guitarist memoirs. I think the common trait of Bazillion Points books is that while they’re each very specific, they’re also very good, which is pretty exciting in itself.

Do you find metalheads to be an especially literate segment of the general population?

I don’t think metalheads consider themselves bookish, but yes I think out of necessity metalheads are rabid readers. It’s always been that way, because printed media, email, and web sites are the main lines of communication. There’s very little radio and no television exposure for metal, so metalheads end up reading countless pages of text every day to stay in touch. And metalheads can be very curious creatures — if Ulver makes a record based on John Milton’s Paradise Lost, a lot of fans will go read the book. So the end result is yes, so far Bazillion Points is succeeding because metalheads are thoughtful, thorough readers who appreciate high-quality books about things they care about that they can’t get anywhere else.

If there is in fact, a heaven and a hell, all we know for sure is that hell will be a viciously overcrowded version of Phoenix — a clean well lighted place full of sunshine and bromides and fast cars where almost everybody seems vaguely happy, except those who know in their hearts what is missing… And being driven slowly and quietly into the kind of terminal craziness that comes with finally understanding that the one thing you want is not there.

– Hunter S. Thompson, Gonzo Papers, Vol. 2: Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80s (1988)

The rock biography, as it is most commonly understood, is given more to sensationalism rather than “analysis” or sometimes anything even remotely musical. You’ve taken on these types of bios with Bazillion Points, including the Van Halen book and the upcoming one featuring Hanoi Rocks. Do you feel what you are presenting differs from this description, if it even matters? Is your viewpoint more coherent with how metal music views itself, or in your eyes should be viewed?

With Van Halen I was mostly interested in deconstructing the personalities and breaking down the key events of the band’s story into manageable, human-sized events. If Van Halen in their prime in 1984 seems impossibly gigantic, I wanted to show all the tiny steps and late nights of practicing that led up to that. It’s meant to humanize guys like David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen who are usually viewed on a pedestal. Andy McCoy’s book is different because he wrote it himself, and so you get to see life through his eyes. Very entertaining. And yes, I’d say my viewpoint is pretty consistent with metal’s values at least — honesty above all, fearlessness right behind.

What makes a specific musical personality even worthy of biographical depiction in the first place?

Public fascination — but that’s a chicken or egg answer, isn’t it?

Rock music is generally written about by insiders and ignored by cultural historians, and so tends to have an insular viewpoint. Since metal came from rock, it is analyzed by the same template. How does this work to describe a genre like metal that seems to want to break away from mainstream rock?

I try to have an inside-outside approach. Writing about the nitty-gritty details from the trenches, reaching out to an audience that doesn’t even realize there’s a war going on. I believe metal has universal appeal — it’s not for everybody, but within every family, clan, or social group in the world I guarantee there are people predisposed to be drawn to the flame. It’s a kind of universal elite, I guess.

You have on several occasions lambasted the use of genre-descriptive terms. However, when we speak of genres like death metal and black metal, we could be describing artistic movements that share among themselves values and methods that differ from similar “sounding” genres. Do these subgenre terms have validity in your view, and what are the limits of this validity?

I don’t think genres should be taken too seriously, and I don’t respect bands who strive to be total slaves to a pre-existing genre and its rules. But yes, the genre descriptions themselves are extremely helpful, and I’m proud that metal has spawned and cultivated so many variants over the decades. And for instance on my Sirius Radio show Bloody Roots, I’ve been picking apart different genres every week for almost five years now, so genres are very much a part of how I think about metal. But I’ll also say that with most so-called subgenres, you’re usually talking about attempts to mimic the music of one or two extraordinary bands. Like with black metal, Bathory. With thrash, Exodus. And so on.

Like rock, metal can be insular. Does it have validity as an artistic movement, and what does it contribute to culture at large? Do you view it as counter-cultural, sub-cultural or counter-counter-cultural, or some mix of the above?

Well, that’s a subject for a book in itself. It’s a form of revolution that’s widely available for a few bucks at every Wal*Mart. It’s distrustful of change, but willing to take huge risks. Metal’s fascinating still. I guess I’d consider it a vast subculture, but not really a counter-culture. Like I said in Sound of the Beast, it’s “a quest for truth in a storm of folly.”

In Sound of the Beast you took on the arduous task of compiling nearly 40 years of worldwide music history into a comprehensive volume. How much have you been itching to revisit and update it since then, and what would you like to change?

I started writing in 1999, so I’d like to thicken the 1990s years tremendously, and then explore the rebirth of metal in the 2000s. I’ve also interviewed Ronnie Dio, Rob Halford, Tony Iommi, and the Scorpions about the 1950s and 1960s, and I’d like to get some of that material out. The book is still timely, and not many of my opinions have changed. But there’s so much more ground to cover now.

Was “objectivity” a concern when you were writing Sound of the Beast, or any of your other books for that matter?

Sound of the Beast was very much a work of advocacy, to grab and secure heavy metal’s place on bookstore shelves. I was very conscious of giving a voice to the millions of fans who had supported tens of thousands of bands over dozens of years. Without losing a critical edge, it was very important to me to state the case for why metal matters, and I’m humbled and honored to say that I think the book succeeded in all those aims.

The contemporary American may have failed, like his predecessors, to establish any sort of common life, but the integrating tendencies of modern industrial society have at the same time undermined his ‘isolation.’ Having surrendered most of his technical skills to the corporation, he can no longer provide for his material needs. As the family loses not only its productive functions but many of its reproductive functions as well, men and women no longer manage even to raise their children without the help of certified experts. The atrophy of older traditions of self-help has eroded everyday competence, in one area after another, and has made the individual dependent on the state, the corporation, and other bureaucracies.

Narcissism represents the psychological dimension of this dependence. Notwithstanding his occasional illusions of omnipotence, the narcissist depends on other to validate his self-esteem. He cannot live without an admiring audience, His apparent freedom from family ties and institutional constraints does not free him to stand alone or to glory in his individuality. On the contrary, it contributes to his insecurity, which he can overcome only by seeing his ‘grandiose self’ relfected in the attentions of others, or by attaching himself tot those who radiate celebrity, power and charisma. For the narcissist, the world is a mirror, whereas the rugged individualist saw it as an empty wilderness to be shaped to his own design.

– Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism (1979)

What has been the most common criticism of your writing to date, and to what degree do you take such criticism into account?

The most common criticism of Sound of the Beast is definitely that there’s too Metallica. I needed a central character for the non-initiated readers, and as the biggest metal band ever by far, they became the common thread. But it pisses me off when people falsely claim that Metallica gets a polish job in the book — their missteps are savagely underlined, and I think about halfway through it’s plainly stated that in the 1990s they were no longer a metal band, but a rock band. Plus the one single negative reaction I got from anybody covered in Sound of the Beast was an angry phone call from Jason Newsted, so I guess he wasn’t thrilled with his moment in the sun. Some critics said the book was too positive about metal, but I sure don’t care what metal haters want to see in a metal book.

What is your opinion on the books on metal (and conclusions drawn in them) written by academics/outsiders, particularly sociologists like Deena Weinstein (Heavy Metal: The Music and Its Culture) and Natalie Purcell (Death Metal Music: The Politics and Passion of a Subculture)?

I appreciate the process and legitimacy of Deena Weinstein’s book, but it’s impossible to create a sociological overview of heavy metal as a phenomenon. Heavy metal fans reflect their surroundings, wherever you go. In a blue collar area, you get blue collar fans. In Queens, NY, you get Asians, Latinos, and blacks at shows. In Dubai, you get rich kids. I like what Katherine Ludwig says in Sound of the Beast about these generalizations: how can you classify metalhead teens as cola-chugging NASCAR fans when that basically sounds like a description of the majority of Americans? So I say the function of metal varies by country, region, and many other factors.

You recently appeared in Time Out New York and received a pretty favorable portrayal. How much have you seen metal crossing over into the indie/art scene over the years?

In recent years, I think the indie scene has been completely infected by metal. If Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth is still any kind of bellweather, he’s lately been singing the praises of Beherit — and Daniel’s Swedish Death Metal book! Fair enough, Sonic Youth influenced Napalm Death and Entombed, after all. But yeah, that Time Out profile is extremely favorable. Another humbling indication that Bazillion Points was a good idea.

What does the common characterization of metal as “violent entertainment” (akin to comic books, horror/gore movies, and true crime novels) mean to you? Are there similarities between these genres, and does this point to artistic motivations in common?

As somebody who watches an extremely violent movie pretty much every day, I think there’s a small but important difference. Metal is fascinated with war, murder, nuclear bombs, rabid dogs, and she-demons because these are all things that no society or moral code can fully explain. So all these great metal songs are small meditations on the thrills and fears of the unknown. Movies tend to take those fears and use them against you! Again — this question is another small book in itself, and I’ve already been blabbering for an hour.

How should publishers (rather than authors) be treated where controversial or questionable works are disseminated?

Only as a publisher, I’ve come to fully appreciate how much the United States protects and values freedom of the press. I know the situation is a lot different in Britain and Germany, not to mention Iran — although my friend Mahyar Dean has written books about Death and Testament in Farsi. But so far I’m happy to say I don’t have any experience with controversy. Books with giant upsidedown crosses on the cover filled with stories of underage drinking, mayhem, and teen suicide? No problems here!

You seem to have some intimate experience with New York death metal from back in the day. Have you considered writing a book on that scene similar in scope to the Daniel Ekeroth book you recently released?

No, it’s not true, I moved to New York in 1992 and for the first couple years was more interested in seeing avant garde music like Swans, Naked City, Borbetomagus, Boredoms, Sun City Girls, and Caroliner. But starting in 1994, when metal went back underground, I saw hundreds of amazing shows in New York in tiny venues, some of my best mindblowing experiences. Still, I’ll leave the epic NYDM history for Will Rahmer to write — but I’ll definitely publish it!

The Edge… There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others- the living – are those who pushed their luck as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later. But the edge is still Out there. Or maybe it’s In. The association of motorcycles with LSD is no accident of publicity. They are both a means to an end, to the place of definitions.

– Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels (1966)

Visit Ian Christe, his books and the books he publishes at:
www.bazillionpoints.com

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Interview: Daniel Ekeroth (Insision, writer)

When the dust settles on a scene, and its formative years are over, someone needs to chronicle how the people involved got the mental and physical place where they could create that scene. Daniel Ekeroth, bassist of Swedish death metal band Insision, wrote a mighty tome in Swedish Death Metal, a book that appeals to all of us who were ever floored by the founding works of Unleashed, At the Gates, Carnage/Dismember, Nihilist/Entombed, Merciless or Therion.

You bring up the theme of the organic development of (Swedish) death metal a few times in your book, and at one point contrast it directly with the “top-down” method that you assert birthed second-wave black metal. Can you summarize what you see the strengths and weaknesses of these two “approaches” to be with regard to metal/music?

I’m not sure it has much to do with weaknesses or strengths, it’s just different. As something new grows, you never know what will come next. I guess this is kind of exciting, yet it also means that the next direction might not be your personal taste. But the same goes for the opposite situation, where you start with a formula which then transforms into something you might not expect! Even though second wave black metal started with some “set rules”, or whatever, it kind of changed pretty soon as well. And within a few years some of it was VERY far from what bands like Burzum and Darkthrone was doing in the early 90’s. So I guess everything is constantly in change, and you can never tell what will happen. And if something is to prefer over the other, I think is just a matter of taste.

This dichotomy (top-down/bottom-up) is commonly evoked in political and social theory… Do you think any parallels can be drawn between these different approaches in metal and those at broader scales?

You probably could (you can always do that), but I guess the results would be ad-hoc.

Your book has great detail on the development of Swedish death metal as a closed system, but doesn’t touch a lot on external/social stimuli that may have affected it (outside of the mention of the assassination of Olaf Palme). Is there anything else you’ve considered that may have come into play and that you may not have been able to include in the book?

I think it was a very closed system of a few kids trying to have fun, but the system was scattered around the world (South America, Florida, the UK, Finland, Germany). The conditions in the places all over the world was very different, so I don’t think you should draw to big a conclusion about the climate in Sweden. The main thing in Sweden was probably that we had a good economy, and kids could afford instruments and get rehearsal spaces.

Have you ever read any sociologists’ “outsider” accounts (books) about death and black metal? If so, do you think they are just empty academic exercises or can they offer insight?

I’ve read everything I have found, and it is always fun to read such things. Still, the conclusions is doomed to be guesses. My experience is that metal evolves in very different places, around people with very different backgrounds. Just one example: the Stockholm scene was basically made up by working class kids, whereas the Gothenburg scene was based around kids from the upper middle class.

Your editorial choice to give your personal impression of the bands and music is refreshing, as it helps the reader to understand the subject from a perspective of quality and not necessarily popularity. Were most of your assessments fully honest?

Yes. I think this is the only way to make an interesting read. Still, many opinions are of course colored by the mood I was in when I was listening to the music. Also, I might be suffering from nostalgia in a few instances.

The truth is scandalous. But without it, nothing has any worth. An honest and naive vision of the world is already a masterpiece… As you approach the truth, your solitude will increase.

– Michel Houllebecq, To Stay Alive

Most of the insider commentary gives the impression that this was just a ride for a lot of the participants, that they were swept up in a movement bigger than themselves and simply enjoying it moment-for-moment as it came. Anders Schultz’s statements make this very clear, for one. Was this true for most of those involved, in your view?

It was a very small movement, but it was just great fun to find out a few other guys interested in the same music as you. I guess this is true of just about any underground movement of any kind anywhere. People were very young you know, and most didn’t have any clue at all about the world. Anything you did back then was basically for the hell out of it!

In your experience, is it possible to recapture the mood and creative drive (not the exact feeling) of what occurred in Sweden from 1998-1993 in metal anymore?

Certainly so, but not for old geezers like me. Newer generations will find new ways. But maybe it won’t be metal next time, I couldn’t tell.

You never mention Finnish death metal a single time in your book, though they have always had a vibrant and creative death metal “scene” and sound in their own right. How much musical cross-pollination occured between Sweden and Finland?

I think the scenes operated pretty much independently, nobody I interviewed ever mentioned the Finnish scene very much (and I sure did not know anyone from Finland at the time). The Finnish scene deserves a book on its own, bands like Xysma, Demilich and Demigod sure were fantastic.

Every substance is negatively electric to that which stands above it in the chemical tables, positively to that which stands below it. Water dissolves wood and iron and salt; air dissolves water; electric fire dissolves air, but the intellect dissolves fire, gravity, laws, method, and the subtlest unnamed relations of nature in its resistless menstruum. Intellect lies behind genius, which is intellect constructive. Intellect is the simple power anterior to all action or construction. Gladly would I unfold in calm degrees a natural history of the intellect, but what man has yet been able to mark the steps and boundaries of that transparent essence? The first questions are always to be asked, and the wisest doctor is gravelled by the inquisitiveness of a child. How can we speak of the action of the mind under any divisions, as of its knowledge, of its ethics, of its works, and so forth, since it melts will into perception, knowledge into act? Each becomes the other. Itself alone is.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays: First Series

Do you think most people overlook AUTOPSY’s influence on the Swedish death metal sound, or is it overstating things to give them a big role?

They were huge in Sweden at the time, and also the first Death album has that same sludgy feeling that would characterize the original Swedish scene. Dismember would certainly not have sounded the way they do without Autopsy.

What three demo-level bands do you think would have made “history” had they recorded an album? I assume CREMATORY is one…

I would say Mefisto, Morbid and Obscurity. If these bands would have made actual records they would be far more recognized these days. But basically, most of the obscure bands from the 80’s would have been highly regarded had they made an album and gotten some attention.

Besides the emergence of black metal, was there anything else that had a ruinous effect on Swedish death metal’s vibrancy?

Age I would say! You know, people got old and faced problems with apartments, jobs, girlfriends, children and everything else concerning adulthood.

What kind of strange things occured in Sweden at the height of the genre’s popularity along the lines of ENTOMBED being featured on cheesy television programs?

Well, not very much to be honest. The “mainstream” thing has certainly been overstated. Apart from a few interviews and articles in tabloids, and the occasional review in the mainstream press, death metal basically remained underground. Black metal actually got far more attention, and was just everywhere in the mid-90’s.

Is Swedish death metal, and music like it, necessarily a youth-based movement?

Well, not any more is it? I guess today it is a genre for 30-40-year-olds. Still, the best albums have generally been made by youngsters, but this is possibly true about most genres.

Regarding youth, you mentioned multiple times in the book the sentiment that the first demo/album by any band is the best output. The fact that this feeling seems more widespread among people who actually have decent taste is enough to convince me that stereotypes are truth-based memes. Can you name some prominent exceptions to this “rule” (not necessarily limited to Swedish death metal)?

Young bands are usually hungry and use up their best riffs and ideas on their first efforts, but of course there are exceptions. Sweden’s Repugnant went out at their best, and a band like Watain is a million times better today than they were on their debut. Voivod’s third and fourth albums are far superior to their first recordings. And Grotesque’s last recording is by far their best to my ears.

What non-metal influences were most heavily represented in Swedish death metal?

Crust Punk, like Discharge. Especially the Stockholm scene was very rooted in extreme punk.

In what directions may it be possible to extend metal in the future without dismantling the essence of it?

What we need to do is to reclaim the RIFFS! Modern “metal” mainly seems like melodies and harmonies to me, whereas I always thought the riff was the thing that made it metal. Once the riff is back, I guess any direction is open for exploration. Without the riff, I am not sure we can call music metal at all…

Have you seen or read the far more obscure book of similar theme and content that was released after yours (Encyclopedia of Svensk DödsMetall)?

I visited him while he was working on it in Padova, and saw a few segments of it. I also helped him to get in contact with some bands. Still, I have not seen the finished product.

What do you strive to achieve with your own bands? Feel free to promote/summarize your musical history.

I just want to play music that I like, and make me feel good about myself. I played in many punk/progressive bands in the 80’s before I got serious with Diskonto (crust punk) and Dellamorte (death crust) around 1994. Then I joind Insision (death) in 1999, and Tyrant (black) in 2007. Today I am only a part of Tyrant, since I can’t find time for anything else. We actually sound very much like my first band, who only did Sodom and Bathory covers, so I guess my circle is closed!

Delve into the subjects that no one wants to hear about. The other side of the scenery. Insist upon sickness, agony, ugliness. Speak of death, and of oblivion. Of jealousy, of indifference, of frustration, of the absence of love. Be abject, and you will be true.

– Michel Houllebecq, To Stay Alive

Swedish death metal, in part through its sustain-heavy “fat sound” (you did a great video explaining this that showed up recently), emphasized the melodic aspects of death metal, giving a canvas for bands like Dismember and At the Gates to make melodic metal music that wasn’t “melodic” in the sense of heavy metal but interpreted it in a uniquely “death metal” style. Did this influence black metal to develop later in a more melodic direction?

I guess Dissection in particular influenced much of that melodic black metal (and death metal!) – what they did was so great. But also, I guess some of that mid-90’s black metal is so based in harmonies and melodies since the band members didn’t come from metal. They didn’t know about the riff! I am really glad for a band like Nifelheim for bringing back the riff, and that whole 80’s heavy metal touch, back into black metal.

Tusen tack för intervjun! Var snäll och påstå några sluta ord här.

Ok, thank you for your attention! I wish you all the best with all your future work!

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Interview: Kaiser Kuo (Chunqiu, Tang Dynasty)

Kaiser Kuo is a Chinese metal pioneer (Tang Dynasty and Chunqiu), blogger and columnist, who currently lives in Beijing. Having grown up in the United States, he was kind enough to offer his rare perspective to our questions on metal, media, and China.

First, we would appreciate it if you would kindly describe a bit about yourself for the benefit of our readers. Since this is a metal site, a brief history of your involvement with the genre would be helpful as well (as would some forgiveness from you for the metal-relatedness of many of the questions).

My pleasure, and thanks much for reaching out. I’m very happy to talk to you guys about what’s going on in the Metal scene in China. It’s something that the popular media doesn’t pay much attention to, and in the West, when stories get written about the Chinese rock scene, they tend to dwell on the punks and ignore the very vibrant and extremely creative Metal scene here. There’s also a lot of popular misunderstanding about what Metal means in the Chinese context, and this is a great forum to help clear some of that up I hope.

I get credited a lot for having been an early, if not the earliest, “Metal missionary” in China. I was born in the U.S. and from junior high on was really into two genres of music, Metal and Progressive Rock. I was one of those rare kids who was listening not just to Judas Priest, early Scorpions, and NWOBHM bads, but also to Yes and ELP. Rush was the band that, for me, wedded the two genres and I was a complete Rush fanatic all through high school and college and I owe them a tremendous debt for inspiring me in my early years as a musician. During college I played in a Prog Rock band, and through a fluke connection of my father’s — he was doing business in China — we were invited to come to China and play. It never happened, but that was because we couldn’t get it together on our end. Meanwhile I had this burning urge to go to China and see what I could make happen in music. So as soon as I graduated in 1988, I headed to Beijing ostensibly as a student of Mandarin, but really my goal was to hook up with the local musicians. I co-founded Tang Dynasty with a very talented guitarist/singer named Ding Wu and a bassist named Zhang Ju in early 1989. I went back to the States later that year, returning to China only for a few months at a time in the early 90s, and moving back to China to rejoin the band in 1996. I left the band in 1999, and in early 2001 co-founded the band I’ve been with since, Chunqiu, which people describe as a traditional Heavy Metal band with very distinct ethnic Chinese influences.

I know very little about metal in China, but I’ve read that Tang Dynasty is often considered a leader of the “movement.” How do you view your personal role in shaping the music?

I don’t think there’s anyone who doubts that Tang Dynasty was where Metal really got started in China. I certainly had a part in it: I introduced the other guys in the band to much of the music that would influence them (bands like Queensryche, for example), and I did come up with the name of the band. But they changed me as much as I changed them. Playing with Tang Dynasty I really found that the fusion of traditional Chinese music and Western Metal works: it’s not something I ever tinkered with before co-founding Tang Dynasty. A lot of credit is due not just to Ding Wu, the band’s singer and rhythm guitar player; but also to our first producer, Landy Chang from Rock Records in Taiwan, who saw the potential in the band and really helped shape the direction of the music.

And mutual fear brings Peace,
Till the selfish loves increase;
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

– William Blake, Songs of Experience: The Human Abstract

If you had never lived in the US, do you feel metal in China would have effectively been stunted until much more recently?

I have no doubt that it would have taken off, but it might have been a bit later and there might not have been quite such a home-grown success story, Tang Dynasty, to look up to for young Metal players. Tang Dynasty gave Chinese players and fans their first Chinese guitar hero, Lao Wu (Liu Yijun), and showed them that Metal despite its clearly western origins could be recognizably Chinese and still really authentically ass-kicking. I think if I hadn’t started proselytizing in the late 80s, by the early 90s there were enough other American musicians coming to China and exposing people to Metal that there would have been a kernel to the scene anyway, and it would have snowballed like it did with the availability of cheap pirated discs in the mid-90s and Internet MP3 downloads and sharing by 2002/2003 all the same.

What has caused more run-ins with Chinese officials (if any): playing metal or having a well-regarded Internet presence?

There really haven’t been “run-ins” at all, either for me personally or for the Metal genre in China as a whole. The worst that will happen is a bit of censorship of lyrics, but it’s not really onerous. Unfortunately Metal is still just too marginal in China to really catch the attention, for better or worse, of Chinese officials. They have much bigger things to worry about. And certainly the kind of stuff I do and say on the Internet isn’t something that’s going to get Chinese authorities breathing down my neck. It’s all pretty innocuous.

Having experienced both extensively, is there anything you prefer about life in the “liberal, bourgeois West” to life in China (during any time)?

Sure, there are things about the West that I still really enjoy whenever I’m back there. The air quality comes to mind! It’s always a thrill to go to record stores; I like owning CDs and not just having digital music on my iPod, so that’s one thing I miss. There aren’t any world-class record stores in China. And even though there’s a great live scene here, it’s still rare that major international acts come to Beijing, let alone smaller, more interesting acts. But for 99% of what I want out of life, China either meets or exceeds my needs. There’s a dynamism and buoyancy to life here that comes from living in a place where life just gets better pretty much every day. It’s a really exciting place to live still, and I’ve been able to play the kind of role here that I simply wouldn’t have been able to play had I never come to China.

How do you feel heavy metal fits into this general Western cultural current; is it drastically different from rock music in itself?

Like rock itself, Metal has subdivided into so many subgenres that it’s really impossible to make generalizations about how it fits into Western culture anymore. There are attitudes, habits of mind, behavioral and even ideological tendencies that correlate pretty strongly to every subgenre, so that Deathcore fans are really, really different than people who like, say, Progressive Metal like Symphony X or Dream Theater. You have everything from misanthropic nihilists to just plain music geeks who might be really mainstream in other ways. Once upon a time you could make generalizations, but not any more.

Is there any more or less differentiation between rock and metal in a more information-tight society?

I don’t think that in the last 30 years, deliberate information control in China has had ANYTHING to do with either the development of rock and metal or differentiation between and among all the different genres and subgenres of music. The simple truth is that musical tastes in China are mainly dictated by marketing and by cultural aesthetic preferences. The former, when it comes to music, tends to favor the kind of candy-ass Mandopop and Cantopop (which sometimes has the nerve to call itself rock!), and the latter — the cultural aesthetic preference — is still relatively unsophisticated outside of the fringe scenes in a handful of cities. Sad, really, but in this case I don’t honestly think it’s the government’s fault in any meaningful way.

Along those lines, there have been stories recently in mainstream press covering the “rise” of heavy metal in Islamic nations. Do you think there is any parallel in this to metal’s gaining in popularity in China?

I think Metal faces a whole lot more difficulty in Islamic societies, particularly in really theocratic or heavily religious polities. In China there are occasional flare-ups of anti-western sentiment, but they’ve never in my memory had a cultural dimension. They’re always political. You see self-described punks rockers or Metalheads in China — people who clearly have close cultural affinities to the West — take part in these sometimes. There’s a decoupling of politics and culture. I don’t think that’s so true in Islamic societies. If Metal has failed to gain popularity in China it has nothing to do with either religion or state controls.

Metal lends itself to lyrics of a “blasphemous” nature as well as anything, but there are plenty of other genres that are just as noisy and iconoclastic that could seemingly have a similar effect when directed at the status quo. Are punk/hardcore and related genres gaining in popularity in China as well?

Metal lyrics in China don’t tend to be “blasphemous,” in part because there’s nothing that really stands in for Judeo-Christian dogma to blaspheme against. The state hasn’t made an enemy of Metal, and so Metal doesn’t make an enemy of the state here. I have strong suspicions that other genres, like punk (and to a much lesser extent, hardcore, which isn’t well represented in China that I know of) tend to write more iconoclastic lyrics — defiant, anti-authoritarian, even politically critical — out of a cynical knowledge that doing so gets the noticed by the western media, which laps that kind of shit up.

I can’t read Tang Dynasty’s lyrics… I’m wondering if you could please comment on some of the general themes they cover, and from where you drew influence for them.

First of all, I’ve never had a hand in writing lyrics either for Tang Dynasty or Chunqiu. Tang Dynasty drew lyrical influences from the Chinese poetic tradition (which really reached a peak in the eponymous dynasty, 618-907 A.D.), and like Chinese poetry, the lyrics are highly imagistic and even pretty sentimental. There are a lot of themes of heroism, romanticism, that sort of thing. There’s also quite a bit of Buddhist influence, especially in the lyrics for some of the songs on the second album, Epic. Chunqiu also goes in for the imagistic approach, and also draws on timelessly Chinese poetic themes, as well as mythological, heroic, historical, and philosophical themes in it.

In your view, is “protest music” a limiting term, and does it apply to heavy metal in any way?

I don’t think “protest music” is genre-specific, and I don’t think there are many genres of music that either abjure it altogether. So there are Metal bands who do it, and those who don’t. In China, to the extent that protest applies to Metal, it’s really a protest against social conformity and slavishness to mainstream pop music tastes, not political protest. I’ve never really gone in for the latter through music, but that’s just me. I figure that if I have something I feel strongly about politically or socially, I can offer more nuance and substance in an essay than in a song with rhymed verses ad a repeating chorus. I’m not into slogans. I know that at least in China, the country’s had too much by way of slogans already.

In a recent article, you touched on the “virtues of piracy” and called for a general openness in China to Western media. Can you please elaborate on what benefit to China you see coming from this openness, particularly in regard to entertainment media?

I think piracy — physical disk piracy, file sharing, MP3 downloads and all that — helped to really create an appetite for and knowledge of western entertainment media. There’s a point at which it goes too far, of course, and I’m inclined to think we’re at or past that right now, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the availability of western entertainment media at prices Chinese consumers could afford is during the 90s and the earlier part of this decade built a market that the same companies grumbling so loudly now will be able to tap into in a very lucrative way down the road.

In the West there was (was — I would call it gone now), of course, a substantial “underground” for heavy metal tape trading well up until digital media democratized the creation and distribution of music in general. Can any difference be discerned between something like this and piracy such as in China?

There was certainly a whole lot of tape trading in China in the early days, but back then we were talking about a fan base so small that and so geographically confined — just to Beijing, really — that it wasn’t substantial. What happens now with the easy distribution of digital music is the same thing but on a much more massive scale, practically without cost and frictionless to boot. It’s something that has upended the music industry as we know it, and if I really knew the way forward out of this I’d be a rich mother by now.

See too, I said, the forgiving spirit of democracy, and the ‘don’t care’ about trifles, and the disregard which she shows of all the fine principles which we solemnly laid down at the foundation of the city–as when we said that, except in the case of some rarely gifted nature, there never will be a good man who has not from his childhood been used to play amid things of beauty and make of them a joy and a study–how grandly does she trample all these fine notions of ours under her feet, never giving a thought to the pursuits which make a statesman, and promoting to honour any one who professes to be the people’s friend.

Yes, she is of a noble spirit.

These and other kindred characteristics are proper to democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.

– Plato, The Republic

To what degree have you seen ethnic nationalism used as a reactionary measure in China recently, particularly within heavy metal music (where it has often been made a component over the years, though a controversial one)?

I don’t think I’ve seen instances of “ethnic nationalism” in Chinese Metal. The few instances I’ve seen where Han Chinese musical or visual elements — or, for that matter, elements drawn from minority nationalities of China — it’s never been reactionary in any sense of the word I’m aware of. That’s not to say that it hasn’t been misinterpreted in that way. A lot of people assumed that Tang Dynasty, or even Chunqiu, was some cipher for anti-modernism and a desire to go back to some mythic golden age, but that was never the case: The name of the band in the case of Tang Dynasty was meant to evoke the age’s cosmopolitan nature, and its embrace of things foreign. This was really the source of that dynasty’s legendary greatness. It’s not “nationalistic” in any sense. Quite the contrary. I think using a genre like Metal, which is unarguably western in origin, to assert Chinese nationalism would be a complete contradiction and wouldn’t convince anyone in their right mind.

Is heavy metal malleable enough to act in multiple ways at once — say, both against “democracy” but for freedom in different instances and in different places — or are there more “correct” interpretations of its basic impetus?

Yes, I think it possesses that malleability but I haven’t really seen it employed to ends like you describe. I think only in rare instances is it harnessed for political ends at all. But in China it’s definitely used to vent the same sorts of emotions as in the west — things we’re all familiar with.

What conceivable event might make you move from China at this point?

Right now, it’d be pretty hard to think of something that would compel me to move short of massive civil unrest — something I rate as extremely unlikely — or a conflagration involving the U.S. triggered by a precipitous move toward independence by Taiwan that Washington unwisely decided to intervene in. Other than that, I do plan at some point to go back to the U.S. when my (now four-year-old) daughter starts college eventually. But that’s what, 13 years off, so who knows what’ll happen between now and then?

What will (or what does) an open China provide to the world that an open West has not already provided?

An open China has clearly already provided the world with inexpensive consumer goods and is moving up the value chain to become, within our lifetimes, a major force in innovation. By that I don’t just mean tech innovation, though that will doubtless be an important part of it; I also mean cultural innovation, plumbing the depths of traditional Chinese culture to give the world a taste of, among other things, a rich literary tradition of which the world now knows very little.

Being heavily involved with digital media, what drawbacks can you envision for children fully entrenched in the digital age in China? In the United States?

It’s the same in China as it is in the U.S., or perhaps even worse because there’s such a lack of compelling entertainment alternatives. Don’t get me wrong: The Internet’s the greatest thing ever, and it’s been a tremendous force for good wherever it’s seen wide adoption. But kids spend way too much time playing online games, and that’s just plain unhealthy when you’re playing for days straight and skipping meals, not sleeping, and screwing up in school. The Internet promotes too much of a sedentary lifestyle. I should know: I need to spend way less time in front of my Mac and way more time in the gym. Other than that, there are the usually dangers of digital stalkers and sex offenders — not as bad of an issue in China, to be sure — plus various scammers.

Thank you very much for the interview; parting words/shots, etc. can go here.

Thanks for having me! I’ve been on a mission to get people around the world aware of the really great Metal scene in China, which has dozens and dozens of talented acts and a few real stand-outs, like Kungfu Voodoo, Suffocated, and of course Chunqiu. You can download our stuff on iTunes. Unfortunately we don’t have other distribution outside of China currently.

Who looks upon a river in a meditative hour, and is not reminded of the flux of all things? Throw a stone into the stream, and the circles that propagate themselves are the beautiful type of all influence. Man is conscious of a universal soul within or behind his individual life, wherein, as in a firmament, the natures of Justice, Truth, Love, Freedom, arise and shine. This universal soul, he calls Reason: it is not mine, or thine, or his, but we are its; we are its property and men. And the blue sky in which the private earth is buried, the sky with its eternal calm, and full of everlasting orbs, is the type of Reason. That which, intellectually considered, we call Reason, considered in relation to nature, we call Spirit. Spirit is the Creator. Spirit hath life in itself. And man in all ages and countries, embodies it in his language, as the FATHER.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature (1836)

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Interview: Eisen (Blood)

Of the many grindcore, hardcore and punk bands that pass through the world, very few have any staying power. Their music, in simplifying itself, also lost any form of uniqueness not in the hipster sense of accessorizing and randomization, but in the sense of a sentence or poem: expressing something that is its own and is both distinctive and relevant. An exception to this random bleaching of meaning is Germany’s Blood, who have pumped out quality material for years without particularly caring that they weren’t on the cover of glossy magazines. Thanks to guitarist Eisen, who kindly granted us not one but two interview sessions, we have the skinny on the unique mix of death metal, grindcore and early black metal that is Blood.

Do you view the music of BLOOD as death metal, grindcore or something else?

It’s a mixture of both: Grindcore and Death Metal. Generally more Death Metal, but almost always very fast with short songs as in the typical Grindcore-vein.

BLOOD lyrics are more like stories, using metaphor, or are insights into psychological and religious topics instead of political topics; why did you take this approach?

We have no fixed concept for the lyrics. We write about the things that disturb us. Sometimes also political things, but mostly horrible stories, bloodbaths, less serious things – also against god and stupid religions.

BLOOD lyrics portray a world where physical power and ancient psychic motivations prevail over civility and finance; this is a lot like horror movies, where supernatural forces defeat technology and law enforcement. What do you hope to communicate to the audience this way, and is designed to get past some of their expectations?

We have NO special message for the people – we only want to shout out what’s our meaning about those themes. Lyrics have to fit to the music, so you won’t get lovestories from Blood.

Your music sometimes seems to rest at an intersection of genres, being in song form like thrash or grindcore but in topic and riff style more like a death metal band with black metal overtones (like Hellhammer). What were your influences, and how did you reach this unusual style?

We were always into oldschool Death/Grind. Bands like Death, Exodus, Hellhammer, Possessed, Messiah, Napalm Death, later Impetigo, Morbid Angel, Unleashed, Terrorizer and thousands of others influenced us. That’s the music we are into and that’s the music for what our heart beats, so this is the music for which Blood stands!

Do you think it is easier or harder to write short songs than long songs?

It’s much easier to write shorter songs, especially when you are older than 40 *laughing* – no: It mostly bored me to listen to very long songs, so we prefer shorter ones with a clear and easy structure… right in your face!

You recorded your first demo in 1987. The world has changed a lot since then. Has the BLOOD vision changed? Has it needed to, or is the same process going on that was happening then, in the world?

We recorded our first demos back in 1986. From the very beginning the underlying concept of Blood never changed. We were always strongly rooted in the underground and never wanted to be “big.” Only we have learned how to use our instruments much more over the years.

For a band that is as blunt and confrontational as BLOOD is, there is a lot of subtlety in your lyrics and the way your songs are structured. How do people respond to this? Do they “get it”?

Do you think so? Well – we think a lot about our lyrics. We don’t wanna use the same stories again and again, but the major thing is our music. I think people love us or people hate us for what we do. There is not much between those two poles. We are very pleased with this situation.

By the data to date, there is only one animal in the Galaxy dangerous to man–man himself. So he must supply his own indispensable competition. He has no enemy to help him.

Any priest or shaman must be presumed guilty until proved innocent.

If it can’t be expressed in figures, it is not science; it is opinion.

A “pacifist male” is a contradiction in terms. Most self-described “pacifists” are not pacific; they simply assume false colors. When the wind changes, they hoist the Jolly Roger.

History does not record anywhere at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help. But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it.

Of all the strange “crimes” that human beings have legislated out of nothing, “blasphemy” is the most amazing–with “obscenity” and “indecent exposure” fighting it out for second and third place.

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded–here and there, now and then–are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as “bad luck.”

– Robert Heinlein, Time Enough For Love (Notebooks of Lazarus Long)

When you write songs, do you start with a concept, or a riff, or something else?

Mostly we start with a cool riff, or a drum-section, than we are jamming around for a while and test different rhythms and riffings. If a song isn’t ready in a short time, it’s usually shit and we throw it away. The lyrics will always follow after the song is ready.

When Hellhammer said, “Only Death is Real,” it launched legions of death metal and grindcore bands who showed us through sickness, misery and sudden doom (in their lyrics) that life is short, manipulations are false, and we need to get back to reality. Only DEAD INFECTION and BLOOD seem to do it by writing short stories and setting them to music, as if trying to show people a state of mind, and not the conclusions of their thoughts. Why do you think you both arrived at this method?

Hmm – do you think so? We try to let a lyric stand for itself… not as a small part of a “big” thing. I don’t like concept-records, nor do the others in Blood. Only in “Gas Flames Bones” we went a bit in that direction. I can’t say that much about DEAD INFECTION’s lyrics only that they are very cool persons and their music fucking rules!

Your music is very consistent, but the ability to make it keeps improving. Do you think bands need to change? Is it possible for bands to change both outward (style) and inward (content) without outward/inward influencing each other?

Yes – we stand for the same style over those many years. NO Band really needs a change, but most bands who try to change their style became crap. It looks like a band is totally fake and false if they play a different style holding the same bandname. A good example how a style change works is Malignant Tumour. They found a way to get their own sound, the lack of which was their problem in the early years. I really love their actualized stuff.

Is there a relationship between how an artist sees the world, and the type of music he or she will then make? Do people who see the world in similar ways make similar music?

No. I think both things are totally different from each other. Lyrics could be in the same way, but the sound/style could be absolutely different.

Grindcore seems to be composed of both metal music and punk music, just more extreme. What do you think grindcore inherited from punk, and what did it inherit from metal?

Grindcore is not the same as grindcore – there are many different shades. From Punk grindcore gets the short songs and mostly the lyrics and the attitude. From Death Metal it gets its brutality and also a part of its lyrics (for the Goregrind corner).

Is VENTILATOR’s name a joke about the name of the drummer from Kreator? (sorry, had to ask)

Ventor? No way. He’s called Ventilator because he rotates as fast with his sticks as the blades of a fan/ventilator.

BLOOD’s work and image has consistently assaulted Christianity, while most grindcore bands are political and most death/black metal bands are about gore, or take a “satanic” approach. Why do you take this approach, and what are you hoping to change in the minds of your fans?

We are no Satanists, so why pray the book of Satan? But we are totally against the manipulations of the church. A free human who stands in life only needs his own mind to know what is good for him, and what he prefers in life. So why not write lyrics about this theme? We hope to change nothing in the minds of our fans, ‘coz our fans are not religious!

BLOOD has released great CDs for almost 20 years, but is less well-known in USA than TERRORIZER, REPULSION, NAPALM DEATH, etc. yet, American fans respond positively to BLOOD when it is played on the radio. The only other early band slighted this much is CARBONIZED. How are these great works overlooked? Is it a cultural difference (American culture, such as it is) in what is expected from bands?

No! It’s because we never wanted to be big. We never wanted to play big tours or lick anyone’s ass. We have great fans in the USA, but bad distribution of our records.

A self does not amount to much, but no self is an island; each exists in a fabric of relations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before. Young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, a person is always located at “nodal points” of specific communication circuits, however tiny these may be. Or better: one is always located at a post through which various kinds of messages pass. No one, not even the least privileged among us, is ever entirely powerless over the messages that traverse and position him at the post of sender, addressee, or referent. One’s mobility in relation to these language game effects (language games, of course, are what this is all about) is tolerable, at least within certain limits (and the limits are vague); it is even solicited by regulatory mechanisms, and in particular by the self-adjustments the system undertakes in order to improve its performance. It may even be said that the system can and must encourage such movement to the extent that it combats its own entropy, the novelty of an unexpected “move,” with its correlative displacement of a partner or group of partners, can supply the system with that increased performativity it forever demands and consumes.

– The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge by Jean-Francois Lyotard

What brought about the concept behind the song Sodomize the Weak?

It’s a song inspired by Leatherface and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre mixed with my own pervert ideas back in 1993, so it seems to be a bit funny and not that serious at all.

Do you think that people use categories like genre names (black metal, death metal) to obscure the finer details of experience itself, like saying ‘that experience was bad’ or ‘that experience was good’?”

The whole world is full of categorisation. A person needs this to comparing things. Also I need such categorisation. In the Metal genre many bands coined words to define their style to show others, that they created this style – but most of them are ordinary and fake! In my early days of Metal, there also were different styles, but since I’ve been into metal, I only know good music and bad music in Death Metal, in Black Metal, in Hardcore, in Grindcore, in Rock, in Metal…

Dysangelium was released in 2003, and in 2007, Impulse to Destroy got re-released. What’s next for BLOOD? Are you going to tour Texas ever?

Since 2004 our situation has been a bit different. I (Eisen) moved to another city for private reasons. So now we can only rehearse a very few times a year or at the shows. That’s the reason why we have no new songs and it seems that we will not have a new record very soon. Since 2007 we have added another guitar player, maybe he gives the others in Blood some impulses.

When I listen to Blood, I feel like I am watching some action happen, in the same way that bands like Hellhammer or (early) Belial made me think of a movie or opera. You have captured the feeling one gets of watching a drama, in that the music is very visual and sounds like someone experiencing something. How did this come about?

Thanxx for this compliment, but I don’t know how this will appear. We write our kind of music, because it’s deep in our heart and come from the feeling, we get on this music. And also on stage we try to give people more than only playing our songs and that’s it. We try to show them fire, blood and horror!

“Bokanovsky’s Process,” repeated the Director, and the students underlined the words in their little notebooks.

One egg, one embryo, one adult-normality. But a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide. From eight to ninety-six buds, and every bud will grow into a perfectly formed embryo, and every embryo into a full-sized adult. Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress.

“Essentially,” the D.H.C. concluded, “bokanovskification consists of a series of arrests of development. We check the normal growth and, paradoxically enough, the egg responds by budding.”

Responds by budding. The pencils were busy.

– Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

Many thanks to Blood for the interview!

Blood homepage

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Interview: Mike Smith (Suffocation)

No one has or will create death metal like Suffocation. Taking the muffled hard-stop strumming of speed metal, mixing it in with the structural cryptograms of death metal, and amplifying the intensity, Suffocation innovative the percussive death metal that spawned the goregrind genre and countless imitators. Drummer Mike Smith was kind enough to give us an interview on the state of the band and its future.

You’ve said in the past that Suffocation was inspired by the heavy metal of its time as well as the hardcore punk that was contemporaneous. A lot of the Suffocation sound however seems influenced by the speed metal bands like Exodus, but taken to a new extreme. Is there any truth to this, and how did you arrive at this fusion?

It was a natural progression of all things unaccepted in the mainstream. It started with metal, we rebelled like punks, and were driven by the speed or thrash metal that was at the time.

Suffocation is what we choose to be at any given time. If we chose to do an album of gloomy doom metal we’d differ from most at that too. It depends on how we feel and what kind of attention the world is paying.

In the Effigy of the Forgotten group photo, a Morpheus (now Morpheus Descends) tshirt is visible. Did this band influence your style?

No, our influence into music started way before that. It was just a shirt of a band we knew and hung with at the time. There was no special meaning behind it.

When you write songs, do you start with a concept for the whole song, or do you accrue riff ideas and fit them into a narrative? Do you conceptualize the song in lyrics first, or write music and fit lyrics to it?

When I write personally, I start with the guitar rhythms first and maybe a topic so as to work in a chorus. The song then gets built over time.

The feel and approach of the songs are also built on what emotion I want to portray on stage to the fans or to my self at the time.

I usually have the song complete with riffs, drums and a definite lyric direction before I submit it to the others. It can be done in days, or take months.

It depends on my mental state at the time. When things are good, things flow, when I’m stressed riffs and concepts take their time to form.

Night City was like a deranged experiment in social Darwinism, designed by a bored researcher who kept one thumb permanently on the fast-forward button. Stop hustling and you sank without a trace, but move a little too swiftly and you’d break the fragile surface tension of the black market; either way, you were gone, with nothing left of you but some vague memory in the mind of a fixture like Ratz, though heart or lungs or kidneys might survive in the service of some stranger with New Yen for the clinic tanks. Biz here was a constant subliminal hum, and death the accepted punishment for laziness, carelessness, lack of grace, the failure to heed the demands of an intricate protocol.

– William Gibson, Neuromancer

Is there a relationship between how an artist sees the world, and the type of music he or she will then make? Do people who see the world in similar ways make similar music?

I suppose your experience in life dictates your music. But one who wants to murder someone or cause mayhem could write a death metal song as well as blues or Grunge. For example, Kurt Cobain had a successful life in music but still chose to expire early, but the grunge music didn’t dictate or preach the message of suicide.

So it is what it is, the skill you have as a musician will dictate the type of music you play. Even though you may be a member of Satan’s circle you could easily sing bubble gum pop because you have no special skills musically.

What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?

There is no difference. The artist usually is looking to speak or release through their choice of artistry first, if the world happens to catch on then thats a bonus.

I would still be a musician who speaks through music if no one knew of Suffocation.

Do you think death metal has a distinctive worldview different from that of “normal” people? Can people interpret that worldview from the sound of the genre, and does this make them converge on musical communities?

First you would have to show me what a normal person is. I dont know of any or why they would be considered such.

I know plenty of dummies though. The communities they choose depends on the path their life experiences took them.

Some have said that death metal and black metal use “narrative” composition, where a series of riffs are motifs that evolve toward a passage between states of mind for the listener. Is this true, and if so, how is it reflected in your songwriting?

To each his own, some bands write with no goal or direction.

Suffocation chooses to have a purpose to the way the riffs, tempos and impact come across.

We hope to stir a certain emotion. We start by writing to draw the emotion within ourselves first, and hope the fans understand the idea.

Although your music is technical, you have taken pains to distance yourselves from technicality for technicality’s sake. What is the difference between technicality, progression, pretense and good (death metal) art?

The difference lies in the person listening. Technical to some could be as simple as a Sesame Street song to me.

My version of technicality is to be unique and unpredictable, without confusing the listener. Classical is completely intense and technically composed, but its purpose and direction is crystal clear when listened too. It just wasn’t created for the unskilled to pick up and play to like alot of the top selling crap.

The end result of complete cellular representation is cancer. Democracy is cancerous, and bureaus are its cancer. A bureau takes root anywhere in the state, turns malignant like the Narcotic Bureau, and grows and grows, always reproducing more of its own kind, until it chokes the host if not controlled or excised. Bureaus cannot live without a host, being true parasitic organisms. (A cooperative on the other hand can live without the state. That is the road to follow. The building up of independent units to meet needs of the people who participate in the functioning of the unit. A bureau operates on opposite principle of inventing needs to justify its existence.) Bureaucracy is wrong as a cancer, a turning away from the human evolutionary direction of infinite potentials and differentiation and independent spontaneous action, to the complete parasitism of a virus.

(It is thought that the virus is a degeneration from more complex life form. It may at one time have been capable of independent life. Now has fallen to the borderline between living and dead matter. It can exhibit living qualities only in a host, by using the life of another — the renunciation of life itself, a falling towards inorganic, inflexible machine, towards dead matter.)

– William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch

Have the values of metal music changed from the early 90s? How, and what does it make you think?

The values in the music haven’t changed. The value in the industry and those with the power to help it grow has changed for the worst and most likely its demise if left in their hands much longer.

Those with the power to promote it don’t have the skill to write or create it, so they should do more listening to the direction of the musicians instead of trying to shape and mold the artist to what they think the world needs.

Breeding the Spawn followed a massively successful debut with an album that reached farther but seemed less complete as a vision. How did you learn from this, and how has it influenced your later work?

We learned that we need to record with who we wish to record with, and let the label take what we give them, when we give it to them. For BTS we followed the direction of our label which led to an unsatisfactory outcome that won’t happen again for Suffocation. We write record and produce our own. No one knows better than us what we are looking for so we’ve chosen to stay self contained in many aspects.

What influenced the choice of Latinate language and structuralist phrases in song titles and lyrics? (Epitaph of the Credulous, Anomalistic Offerings, Liege of Inveracity — a beautiful use of language)

The need to be different, unique, and think out of the box of most at the time.

On Despise the Sun, you mixed more fluid phrasing — fast tremolo strum, fewer hard stops — into what was otherwise percussive, or based on syncopated patterns of hard stops, music. What prompted this change and how have you developed this since then?

An unfocused Suffocation prompted the change. Some wanted to stay as is, others lost focus of our originality and chose to try and follow what was the trend. The band called it quits soon after.

Here are some revealing excerpts from an especially vivid hacker manifesto: “The Techno-Revolution” by “Dr. Crash,” which appeared in electronic form in Phrack Volume 1, Issue 6, Phile 3.

To fully explain the true motives behind hacking, we must first take a quick look into the past. In the 1960s, a group of MIT students built the first modern computer system. This wild, rebellious group of young men were the first to bear the name ‘hackers.’ The systems that they developed were intended to be used to solve world problems and to benefit all of mankind.

As we can see, this has not been the case. The computer system has been solely in the hands of big businesses and the government. The wonderful device meant to enrich life has become a weapon which dehumanizes people. To the government and large businesses, people are no more than disk space, and the government doesn’t use computers to arrange aid for the poor, but to control nuclear death weapons. The average American can only have access to a small microcomputer which is worth only a fraction of what they pay for it. The businesses keep the true state-of-the-art equipment away from the people behind a steel wall of incredibly high prices and bureaucracy. It is because of this state of affairs that hacking was born.

– Bruce Sterling, The Hacker Crackdown

You’ve got a best of collection out on Roadrunner and two post-reunion albums that lead the subgenre of percussive technical death metal. Where to from here?

The new album is in the works. It is titled BLOOD OATH. We expect our first DVD to be out very shortly as well.

Then we plan to make only the right choices in touring and biz associates to ensure that we finally reach the level we truly feel we deserve to indulge in.

20 years has been long enough to prove that we aren’t an overnight success or a basement idea. We mean what we say, show and promote, and I dont expect it to change anytime soon.

Thanks for all the great music, and I appreciate your taking the time to answer my questions, as will our readers. Hope to see you on tour!

No doubt, no problem, take care.

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