We reviewed Personal Device Microorganismos del Mal in Sadistic Metal Reviews 05-19-14 and found this to be an excellent late thrash album inspired by some of the more technical hardcore punk out there. At that point, we wanted to learn more, so wrote to the band with a short interview some months later. They were generous with their time and able to share their answers about music, life, micro-organisms, thrash and world destruction.
When did Personal Device start, and what bands or ideas inspired you at the time? What does the name “Personal Device” signify?
We go way back as a band.
We started up in 2006 as UNHEILBAR (German: incurable), playing what you may call “classic thrash.” At that point we were looking up to the Bay Area scene, trying to mix it up with some German influences: we were trying to capture the essence of such bands as Metallica, Anthrax, Exodus, Slayer, Sacred Reich, Testament, and so on. Then, circa 2009, we started exploring a fresher sound with crossover: Suicidal Tendencies, Nuclear Assault, Ratos de Porao, Billy Milano’s S.O.D and M.O.D. At that point, we made a switch from a purely thrash project to a more comprehensible one: mixing both old school thrash with some 80s hardcore punk (Minor Threat, Black Flag, Bad Brains, Batallion of Saints). With this new approach came along our changing the name of the band to Personal Device in 2013. To us it means the constant struggle to find oneself, one’s tools to get by. Plus, it sounds like something about to explode.
Are you a metal band? A punk band? A crossover thrash band?
Our music is based on Metal but we incorporate elements of hardcore punk sounds, which kinda makes us a crossover thrash band. We often refer to ourselves as thrash-punk, but we don’t care much about labeling us in a certain way. We are comfortable being refered to as a Thrash Band. If you want to Mosh, if you are looking forward to heavy riff-orientated, fast pace, songs, then Personal Device is for you.
Much of your sound seems like a better-played vision of what people were doing in the 1980s. What made you pick up this banner? Have you added anything to it that’s new? What have you added that’s all your own?
While it’s true that we draw heavy influences from the so called old-school 80s scenes of thrash and punk, we don’t consider Personal Device to be a mere “revival band.” You could that we are not nostalgic, we aim to produce our own sound, though we can’t deny our great debt to the old school. Even so, we also like the New Wave of Thrash Metal bands, it’s just that we find it somehow pointless if your entire music is devoted to yell BRING 80s THRASH BACK.
What inspires your lyrics, and is this important in the style of music that you’re making?
Our lyrics deal with the condition of modern circumstances, living in big dehumanized cities. Nonetheless, you may find some sporadic nonesense as well as constant references to Colombia. We also have one or two jams dedicated to thrash music, a couple of thrash-party anthems if you will.
Where did you record Microorganismos del Mal, and were these new songs or a collection of songs? Did you use any special techniques to get the very crisp sound on the recording?
After signing with our friends at the independent label Gomorrah Records, we went to the 4Cuartos studio in Bogotá D.C. We recorded our first full-length album Microorganismos del Mal (Spanish for Microorganisms of Evil) which is the consecration of eight years worth of work. There are 10 tracks in it: five of them are re-recordings of songs we had already recorded as Unheilbar, the other five are original compositions. The recording was pretty standard for a heavy metal band; we worked with two great sound engineers, Juan Carlos Bravo and Alejandro Veloza.
Can you tell us something about the concept behind the album?
The concept behind Microorganismos del Mal deals with our city, Bogotá, and with the meaning of Thrash and Punk.: a reflection on how important it is for us to live the whole experience of making music.
When did you sign to Gomorrah Records, and what made you choose this label?
We signed with Gomorrah around November 2013, and it was not much of a deal at the time of doing it since there was, and still there is, a friendship in between. So they just told us that they wanted us to release an album produced by them and we never doubted it.
Are you going to go on tour now, record more material, or both?
For sure we are planning to go on tour. There is the possibility to self manage a tour around the US more specifically in Florida. And also we have been looking for rock venues around South America where we could play. All this under a “do it yourself” philosophy. About new recordings, right now we are working on new material, and some of those songs were recorded in collaboration with sound engineering and visual arts students, with the idea of launching a live session
Do you think it’s hard for a band to get recognized in the underground now? How do you think people will find you?
It is definitely hard to get recognition when you play Thrash. Especially when you live in Colombia, but we think it is a matter of time and hard work. We have been playing together for around eight years and you can see how things start to happen when you are consistent. So in this moment the best way to be recognized its playing and having approaches with different people and all the movements that are concerned about music and keeping the scene alive.
What’s the most important aspect of a song for you, lyrics, riffs, structure or imagery?
For us, all those aspects are important. We like to come up with songs that have coherence between sound and lyrics, and that involves off course, structure and imagery.
If people want to learn more about Personal Device, how can they do so?
There is no doubt the best way to learn about a band is going to their concerts, buying their albums, reading the interviews, reviews and all that stuff. So taking into account we are a band…well people just can start by doing it. A good place to go first would be our bandcamp page, personaldevice.bandcamp.com.
Metal comprises both a concrete format and an idea. That idea, like pollen on the winds of a tempest, spreads far beyond its original home and takes root in other landscapes. One venturer in the recent hybrid style of metal-influenced cosmic ambient is Khand, whose shadowy personage spoke to us through an encrypted Skype communication over a private anonymous “darknet” network within the internet.
Where does the name Khand come from and what does it symbolize to you?
The name Khand comes from The Lord of the Rings. It is a mysterious land southeast of Mordor. Tolkien didn’t say much about Khand so my interest was piqued. Given the frequent usage of The Lord of the Rings band names it was refreshing to see one that had not been used at the time. Out of the whole universe Tolkien created, Khand still remained mysterious. That notion is also influential on the mindset I take in creating Khand’s music, regarding fantasy and science fiction.
What’s the name of this upcoming Khand release and when will it be out, and where will we be able to get it?
The name of the release has not been decided yet. That is usually the last thing I come up with after everything is recorded and mixed. That said, the song titles are completed for this release, so once they are finalized and ready to go, it will give me a better general idea of what to ultimately call the whole thing. The release will be available to download for free, most likely on the wonderful HiArcTow creative commons page that has supported myself and others throughout the years. Beyond that, I ultimately hope to release this on some sort of physical format… whether it be cassette again, CD, or even vinyl.
Will there be any differences to past Khand work? How do you see the band evolving with this release?
There are a number of differences with this newer material. I have always felt that this project has lacked some sort of direction and organization; it was as if the past two releases were a bunch of random songs thrown together with no real end in sight. With this release, I have decided to focus on one idea only. The release will be a chronology of events that take place during humanity’s first trip to Mars. It seems that we will most likely see this venture at some point in our lifetime, so the imagination runs rampant with all the possible scenarios we may face. Musically speaking, I have upgraded my equipment and have decided to use some newer synth sounds for this release. Everything will have a “spacey” feel per se, taking the listener on a trip with the crew to Mars. These recordings will not have any medieval/fantasy inspiration like some of my past works, though I am currently working on a few songs in that regard which may end up being used as a demo or split release of some sort.
What other artists are you listening to / reading / watching / observing during this time?
Art exists all around us; you just have to look for it. As an inspiration for this release, I am obviously looking up to the night sky, imagining what the future holds for the human race. There is no greater influence to me than that of nature and science itself, as it is the only real constant we know of. We are mere peons on this bloody planet, yet our potential is limitless if we free ourselves of bonds. I’ve always felt that artists and musicians see the world differently than most. During this time, there have been a number of artists or musicians which have been inspirational. The biggest influences for the music of this will be that of Robert Fripp, Brian Eno, Varg Vikernes, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, John Carpenter, and Vangelis. Though not really a prominent influence on this release’s music itself, I also feel certain classical music has a profound influence on our perception of the emotions that coincide within music, so there has been inspiration there as well.
Do you think there’s a strong community for metal transplants into ambient and atmospheric music with epic themes?
Yes and no. It seems there should be more of a community than there currently is though it certainly feels like it has started to pick up steam. In my opinion, there is a strong correlation between ambient/ atmospheric music and metal. Both have the ability to create worlds within worlds, something more than most other kinds of music can say. They dig deeper into the human psyche than your average pop song. The possibilities with ambient music are endless. Like metal, there are many different styles and takes on the sub genre. So as one door opens, another swings open. I always tell people that it is good to start with the classics. Like those of metal, the forefathers of ambient music had laid the foundation and built the canvas. It is our duty to pay them respects and listen to the worlds they’ve created and find inspiration in their limitless contributions to the music we know and love.
What is best? To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you and to hear the lamentation of the women. – Conan
For many years, this site and its writers have demonstrated a preference for the music and philosophy of Averse Sefira. Among other bands who rise above the heap, Averse Sefira may not be as well known or easily grasped, but their music possesses an enduring power of being both relevant and metaphorical enough to stimulate our sense of fantasy and longing for meaning in the emptiness of existence. We were fortunate to get a few minutes with Wrath of Averse Sefira back in 2011 before the band imploded and the previous version of this site transitioned to the present.
We very much agree with Conan’s apt description of what is best in life. Do you? What indeed is best in life?
Martial spirit is indeed something that should be preserved. Robert E. Howard knew this. Many people don’t realize he was and old-school pig-iron body builder who participated in bare-knuckle “tough man” competitions in the years leading to his death. Freedom is best in life, however you achieve it. Money and Molotovs are both acceptable methods.
Averse Sefira has been eerily quiet for some time. What prompted this cease-fire? When can we expect a new offensive from Averse Sefira?
The simplest reason is because album five refuses to emerge and in the meantime we may have inadvertently blown out the Eastern candle (to paraphrase another grand cabal from our region) when we stumbled on the path circa 2009. There are components of the next album ready to go, but the spirit must be with us.
Many fans are anticipating the re-release of “Blasphomet Sin Abset” at some point, is this a realistic expectation? Why or why not?
Are they really? Nobody has spoken to me about it in a long time. Given all the re-releases out there, it seems like it might be overdue. I think it’s just a question of pursuing it. Some label would make it possible, I’m sure.
Take us briefly through your life’s musical journey. Were either of you classically trained as a child? Musically, what were some of your early favorites? What music did you enjoy early on, but later grew out of?
I took piano lessons and later guitar. I liked Alice Cooper and bombastic classical music, circa 3 years of age. From there, whatever was on the radio was ok, though I didn’t really like anything that wasn’t in minor key. By age twelve I liked Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slayer, and I was actually a big Anthrax fan, chiefly because of their guitar tone (wasn’t that why anyone liked them? SOD proved to be the superior version). I don’t like Anthrax anymore, or Metallica past the first four.
What music/artists currently peak your interest? What musicians’ works (metal or not) do you consider to be timeless? Out of these, which ones have been the most influential on your work in Averse Sefira, if any?
Immolation still satisfies, and their work has always been very important to AVRS. Voivod’s classic era is immortal, as are the first three Immortal albums. Slayer is forever great, though there is no Slayer imprint upon our work.
How much of your work is the result of conscious deliberation and how much is spontaneous inspiration? How, if at all, has your approach changed over the years?
I think the first two releases were very much “on rails” in that we planned the songs and then effectively refused to deviate on the way to their final form. The next two captured our spirit better in that they were planned but then left to many changes and ideas as we assembled them. There are whole songs from Tetragrammatical Astygmata and Advent Parallax that were effectively born in the studio, so there’s the yin and yang of it in a nutshell.
What sets metal apart structurally and melodically from other forms of music?
Metal at its best is like classical, where it rises within a theme and culminates in movements. Most music is designed for rapid consumption so it is repetitive and point-to-point. Metal can’t always be explained, sometimes you just have to be there.
Do you see any antecedents for or parallels with black metal outside the immediate genre?
Yes, see above.
In your 2008 interview with “A Year at the Wheel,” you proclaimed emphatically that Christianity is the source of all the modern West’s problems. Would you care to elaborate?
I would say it’s the more universal and categorical attitude, because people who don’t consider themselves Christians still let asinine Christian ideas dictate their lives. Why is suicide illegal? Why can’t a bachelor be President? Why must we be merciful to the less fortunate? Where else does any of this come from? And I wouldn’t extol Christian ravages from a Nietzschean perspective, but perhaps a masochistic one. Catholics know all about it.
Metal at its best is like classical, where it rises within a theme and culminates in movements.
Does the Divine exist? If so, how do you define it and how does it differ from the concept of God? Do you make a distinction between the two?
This probably won’t illuminate much, but I don’t believe in God (YHWH), and yet I am divinely protected. What does that tell you?
What is the difference between spirituality and religion?
Spirituality is about looking within to find strength and meaning. Organized religion, or at least the Abrahamic ones, look outside the self and request guidance from external and ultimately arbitrary sources. The only consciousness one can truly rely upon is his own. Without spirituality, there would be no great deeds, and very little in the way of art or grandeur. The problem is Christianity is that it de-emphasizes actually spirituality in the name of a lot of unreasonable rules and rote behavior.
Are there any legitimate paths of enlightenment open to man? What would it mean for a man to be enlightened?
To me, the simplest path is to not spend time wondering about the meaning of life but instead to get on with living it. When I want things to happen, I set my mind to what it would take and do it. As of now, I have achieved virtually everything I ever wanted to do with my music career (except opening for Slayer). Read books, talk through your ideas with the intelligent and like-minded, and devote your life to something, however insignificant. In the end, we all pave our own roads.
Has man’s pursuit of God helped or hindered his understanding of himself, the world, the cosmos, reality?
It depends on which god and the motivations to seek it. As a personal quest, there is arguable merit. As a rule of law, it has kept the world in the dark ages on so many levels.
Is there TRUTH? Can revelation be a genuine source of truth or knowledge? Must man rely solely on Reason and his rational faculties to discover truth?
Truth is always relative, and revelations can indeed be truths to the recipient. Truth is one part emotion, one part reason, assuming we’re not discussing something like physics. We make truths based on the evidence before us and how it makes us feel. When emotion trumps reason is when things go wrong.
What is the significance of ancient Greek maxim Gnothi Seauton (“Know Thyself”)? Why does its significance appear lost on modern man?
The West in particular is characterized by low self-esteem, mainly because we’ve allowed other forces to make us feel lesser. Most Americans are unbelievably insecure, which is why we can’t ever have realistic conversations about maintaining standards or upholding merit-based advancement. We’re too busy shirking, shifting blame, and being envious of everyone around us who is doing even slightly better to spend any time “knowing thyselves”.
Has modern science been a boon or a curse for modern man?
It has been a boon to man and a curse for every other living thing on this planet. We live too long, for one thing. We should level the playing field again and let the hardiest among us prevail. No more cancer treatments, no more heart surgeries. Sure, the life expectancy would drop to 45 again (and that might include me), but we’d end up with a lot more Thomas Jeffersons for our trouble.
What are your thoughts on evolution? In what way has evolution facilitated worldwide overpopulation by associating success and the entire meaning of life with breeding and survival?
This dovetails with the above response. Evolution has, in many instances, been halted by Judeo-Christian values and abuse of scientific apparatus. What do we need with babies who are born five months premature? They aren’t supposed to make it. That’s not evolution, that’s regression. We’ve halted as a species since the industrial revolution, and now comes the grievous cascade.
Your lyrics seem to be largely inspired by the symbolism found in various forms of esoteric spirituality such as Q’uaballah Mythology and the Occult. Is this a matter of practice for you, or is it merely a subject of interest? If you do practice, how does the experience impact your approach to song-writing, if at all?
I use a mixed system, with Hermeticism being a central pillar. It has steered much of our work and decisions that the band has made over the years. Much like John Dee and Edward Kelley, Sanguine and I needed each other to channel and apply these transmissions. He has withdrawn for the time being, and unfortunately it has also made me more estranged from these workings.
What are you currently reading, if anything? What books have peaked your interest the most lately?
I read lots of James Ellroy. He’s nuts, and his style of prose is sharp and caustic. I keep re-reading I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, Heart of Darkess by Joseph Conrad (of course) and Grendel by John Gardner. A psychologist might suggest my reading habits reveal a combative attitude towards the world, and he’d be right.
Art is what you create when nobody is looking. Entertainment is designed to please a perceived audience and sell a product in the process.
What differentiates art from entertainment? How would you characterize Averse Sefira and why? Is art necessarily good and entertainment necessarily bad, or vice versa?
Art is what you create when nobody is looking. Entertainment is designed to please a perceived audience and sell a product in the process. Averse Sefira is art, simply because we made it the way we wanted when nobody cared and continued to do so even when that changed. We could have made much stupider music and been far more popular for it, but that wasn’t our mission. Not all art is good, and not all entertainment is bad, but mistaking one for the other is detrimental.
What is the relationship between an individuals essential being and there decision to listen to and/or play a certain type of music?
I find that most people who are drawn to metal and remain so throughout their lives are those who are fascinated by the unknowable. They also tend to feel like most everyone around them are liars or idiots, and metal is (under ideal circumstances) an avenue that circumvents that way of being. Take the work of Dio, for example – tastes aside, nobody could say that his music wasn’t earnest and heroic. That to me typifies the spirit that allows metal to triumph. I have no idea what makes people listen to other genres, and I don’t care.
What characterizes a Hessian as opposed to a metalhead? Is there a natural hierarchy among the metal community and what defines each caste?
Hessians integrate metal into their lives permanently. They make choices about jobs, significant others, and their trajectories based on their passion for the music and its tenants. Metal culture is fan culture, which means it is superficial and transient. There’s nothing wrong with that, as music in particular needs a supplementary audience outside its core devotees to thrive. Also, all Hessians start out as metalheads, so it is incumbent on we veterans to cultivate and encourage a legitimate interest among them.
As for a hierarchy, it’s the standard seniority that comes with the length of participation. The only real difference between old guard and new guard people is time and persistence.
Is Hessian culture relevant? What does the future hold for Hessiandom and through what channels will the spirit of Hessiandom manifest itself in the future? How would you like to see it manifest itself?
Metal is a demonstrably global phenomenon, and I think it says a lot that you could put Hessians from America and Iran in the same room and their impression of metal and what it means to them would be very similar. I experience this all the time, and it is validating to be part of something that transcends fixed cultural boundaries. With all that in mind, I feel like we need to unite more as a proper cultural movement under one flag, so to speak. I’m not talking about a bunch of whining and demands for special treatment, but it would be nice to be protected under the same laws that everyone else enjoys and not have to cut our hair just to get a job.
Is extreme metal a symptom of or antidote to the decadence of modernity? An antidote to its poison?
Extreme metal in its purest and most meaningful form is perhaps a reflection of modernity’s shortcomings, but it also a reaction to it. It seems like many Hessians feel like they were born in the wrong era. We don’t like the pithy and puritanical methods of modern society, and in many ways Hessianism hearkens back to a warrior code. Let’s put it this way, if Hessians ran things, trial lawyers would probably no longer exist.
To what extent is Hessian art a surrogate for more intense experiences currently unavailable to man?
As I said, Hessianism is a bid to recapture a simpler and more decisive age. Our world today is shaped by shadow agendas with a veneer of hurt feelings. That’s lame and pathetic, and anyone with a sharp mind and a bright spirit is going regard it as a joke. Modern society is so fixed on egalitarianism that we are denied the opportunity to be who we are, and that goes for gender, race, or personal calling. Hessianism calls bullshit on all of that and says, “This is who we are, no apologies”.
What is the future of Hessian music? Do you foresee any major breakthroughs or developments in extreme metal music theory? What developments would you like to see?
The musical cycles will likely be internal, as I’m not convinced we’re going to innovate past the proven forms. That’s fine with me, as usually “experimenting” leads to abominations like nu-metal, industrial metal, rap metal, or metalcore variants. Traditional heavy metal, along with death, black, and thrash, are all we really need.
Among the Hessian community there seems to be a developing interest in the ideas and writings of authors such as Rene Guenon and Julius Evola. Do you find this surprising?
Martial thinking is part of what propels metal, so seeing writers like Evola cited is no surprise. I haven’t read Guenon, but I like Evola. His ideas are rousing, even out of the context of his era. The sad thing is that writing like his seems like fantasy fiction when compared to what I see when looking out the window. We have gotten so far from Traditionalist ideas that it would take a global war to have any prayer of resurrecting them. For help or hinder, it’s useful for anyone, particularly Hessians, to read unvarnished and unblinking indictments of how mankind continues to fail itself. The hindrance will come from the transient crowd who doesn’t like difficult ideas.
Modern society is so fixed on egalitarianism that we are denied the opportunity to be who we are, and that goes for gender, race, or personal calling.
What is the degree of your involvement in politics? Do you identify at all with the modern approach to the Left/Right dichotomy?
In terms of American politics, the Right is a bunch of uptight, self-righteous Christians, and the Left are exactly the same but pretend they aren’t. I have no need for either. Money is the only real political force in this nation. I don’t vote, and I have no political affiliation.
Most western societies seem oblivious to the fact that their liberal ideology and liberal immigration policies are contradictory. Why is this?
Maybe it is because Western governments are, at this point in history, run much like corporations. Corporations care about headcount first and foremost when it comes to the drones who run daily operations, and it seems like America is adopting this method. I hear theories that the state of our immigration policy is designed to cultivate more voters by leveraging their agendas and making a lot of grandiose promises. It seems hard to argue, because the people of this country certainly don’t benefit. Moreover, just about everything our leaders say on the subject don’t seem to match the reality of the situation at all. And hey, if all these people with divergent creeds are forced upon each other, we’ll be too busy struggling on a person-to-person level to ever stand up to the ones who keep making it possible. Then again, we still technically have the right to vote every last one of those idiots out of office, and nobody seems to be doing that either.
Jeremy Wallach made a name for himself by studying metal before it was cool, and he has expanded upon it by taking his studies worldwide. As co-editor of Metal Rules the Globe: Heavy Metal Music around the World, he explored the impact of metal on different cultures and the impact of those cultures on metal around the world. In addition, he has written numerous articles on the study of metal from many other perspectives.
Were you a metalhead before you became an academic? If so, what drew you to metal at that time?
I’m 43 and grew up outside of Philly. Like almost everybody of my age and background, I spent my teens mostly listening to rock music. My favorite band when I was thirteen was Rush and my favorite song from Moving Pictures was “Witch Hunt,” the heaviest track on the album. From there I branched out into the harder stuff: AC/DC, Priest, Maiden, BÖC, etc. By senior year of high school, I was listening to the likes of Anthrax, Slayer, Cryptic Slaughter, SOD, and Dead Brain Cells. A fairly normal, demented progression, really. As for what drew me to it, I suppose that could end up becoming a very long essay! In a nutshell, I was attracted to the music’s intelligence, complexity, social relevance, and brutality. It was music that for me told the truth about life.
By my senior year of college, I was convinced of two things: one, metal was a valuable and compelling cultural form that was completely misunderstood by the adult world, and two, the approaches to music and culture that I had discovered in my ethnomusicology and anthropology classes could be used to explain the importance of metal to outsiders.
Being a part of metal studies has been a learning experience. One thing I’ve learned is that in 2014 metal is more diverse and inclusive than I ever would have thought possible twenty-odd years ago. Metal’s message has more global currency than anyone could have suspected when the genre first coalesced. The consequence of this has been a field of study that has more relevance to the contemporary world than the vast majority of new fields that focus on popular culture phenomena that had their start in the 70s and 80s. One of the most challenging topics in metal studies at this point is social class. Metal’s blue-collar fan base is often difficult to locate in the 21st century flourishing and diversification of the music, especially outside of the UK, New Zealand, and Australia. We should never lose sight of the fact that it was working-class folks, people without much formal education, who set the template for heavy metal’s musical sophistication, aesthetics, and dark vision.
I was attracted to the music’s intelligence, complexity, social relevance, and brutality. It was music that for me told the truth about life.
Some of your research appears to take an “ethnographic” approach, which is a study of culture. Do you consider heavy metal a culture? If so, does it inherit properties from a broader culture, or is it a wholly self-owned entity?
I was trained as a cultural anthropologist and an ethnomusicologist in graduate school. Ethnography is the primary mode of research in these fields as they are currently practiced. “Deep hanging out” is my favorite definition of ethnography, although usually it’s quite a bit more systematic than that. Basically it involves long-term engagement with a finite group of people, gradually learning to see and experience the world the way they do. You have to master local languages and idioms, really be able to listen, and be willing to be changed by what people tell you. It’s difficult and not everyone can do it, as you can’t really maintain any sort of comfort zone. Metal ethnographers spend lots of time at shows, clubs, and recording studios, but also in cars, bars, record stores, and anywhere else metalheads gather. Pierre Hecker’s book on Turkish metal is an excellent example of a book-length ethnographic study of heavy metal.
There is a range of theories regarding how music cultures like metal interface with the “parent cultures” in which they are embedded. It’s more common now to refer to metal collectivities as “scenes” than as “subcultures.” This is mostly because of advances in cultural theory that emphasize how no culture can be a “wholly self-owned entity” of homogeneous values. All cultures have porous boundaries and are composed of contested meanings. Accordingly, metal music scenes encompass contradictory sets of values, from the celebration of virtuosity and freedom of prog to the despair and resignation of doom to the nihilism and misanthropy of black metal (etc.), and within each of these subgenres there are internal tensions as well, as most readers here know. Some of these competing values echo those of dominant culture (male supremacy, individualism), others resist it (anti-religion, anti-war, pro-drunken revelry). Even the values that seem to fit with dominant culture are not passively inherited but instead tend to be actively renegotiated and rearticulated to fit the conditions of the lives of the actual metalheads composing, performing, listening to, and interpreting metal.
That of your work that I could find online seems to emphasize spaces, both real and virtual, in not only the work but the audience. For example, your analysis of a rock club emphasizes spaces by role (shades of Christopher Alexander) and look at social/cultural separation between bands and fans in an insightful way. What are spaces? Can they be psychological or even artistic? Where do you find them in metal?
Metal culture has always been about claiming space. At the beginning of his book Running with the Devil, Robert Walser writes, “Metal energizes the body, transforming space and social relations.” It’s kind of a throwaway line in the first chapter, but like so much of what’s in that book, it hits the nail on the head. Steve Waksman’s research focuses on how metal’s powerful amplification made it the ideal music to fill arenas, while Keith Kahn-Harris’s work brings attention to the other side of the of the phenomenon: the proliferation of precarious spaces around the world for underground metal that becomes understood as a connected global network of unstable scenes. Emma Baulch has written about the importance of “territorializing” and thus localizing the underground metal scene in Bali, Indonesia, of claiming space, as Walser puts it, “in the name of a heavy metal community.” Nelson Varas Díaz has looked at practices of temporary space annexation by Puerto Rico’s proud and longstanding but highly marginalized metal scene. In all these cases “metal space” is anyplace marked by metal iconography, filled with metal sounds, and inhabited by metalheads. Seems obvious, but what’s not is what exactly goes on in metal space, which can only go on if metal space first exists. Lately I’ve become intrigued by the possibility that a type of metal space exists whenever two or more metalheads are interacting, regardless of whether the music or the iconography are in fact present at that moment. Like, I could be wearing a suit jacket at an academic conference and join some similarly-garbed graduate students in an intense conversation about Candlemass and somehow the space is transformed.
You have been a featured speaker at several recent metal conferences. How does it feel to be part of a rising academic movement? What do you think made metal finally accepted into academia?
It’s been great, of course. Metal studies appears to be an idea whose time has come. This is both a good and potentially problematic thing. Why now? An astonishing number of us were born around the time the first Sabbath record came out. We’re the first completely heavy metal generation, and now we’re finally old and established enough to change the conversation about metal in the mainstream press, rock criticism, and in scholarship. The last of these took the longest, due to the long slog of the academic profession, but we’ve made remarkable progress since 2008, thanks in part to the ease of international communication. There aren’t that many metal scholars in the world, and we come from Germany, Brazil, Finland, Turkey, New Zealand, the UK, California, Massachusetts, all over the place, but we keep in touch with each other, and the undeniable vitality and high intellectual caliber of our conferences and publications have won over more than a few formerly skeptical colleagues and administrators at our universities and in the wider academic world.
What do you think is the future of metal in academia, and how do you expect to support this with your own research?
I think metal studies has a bright future. Twenty-two years after completing my undergraduate thesis, it’s nice to see metal getting some respect. The truth is, we’ve barely scratched the surface. Metal matters — a lot — to tens of millions of people around the world and all indications are that it will not only continue to do so but that it will continue to win new converts in places like Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, India, and China, as well as among future generations in places already colonized. That means the study of heavy metal will matter, too, whether one likes it or not, at least for the segment of metal’s audience who cares about intellectual issues.
To answer the second part of your question, in my recent work, I have quite self-consciously tried to produce things that will be useful to scholars just beginning their research. The “Local Metal” piece I wrote with Allie Levine on how to study scenes (reprinted in Controversies and Countercultures) is an example of that.
What, in your view, is the (apparently) enduring appeal of heavy metal, such that it is now more than four decades old and going quite strong?
There are many schools of thought regarding metal’s appeal across the world. Some of the most common explanations, the “teenage need to rebel” and whatnot, are facile and condescending to the music’s audience. I would prefer not to speculate on this question. But I will say this: don’t forget that metal is great art. Metalheads listen to metal because they find it aesthetically compelling. To ignore this obvious explanation is to invalidate, to pathologize, the aesthetics of the fans—which I would never do, because I am a fan.
If metal was just about fulfilling male adolescent power fantasies, its appeal would be mainstream, not subcultural.
Much of your research seems to focus on masculinity in metal. Does metal have its own concept of masculinity? Is this concept stifled by society at large?
I’ve lately come to the conclusion that debates about masculinity and metal suffer from some significant shortcomings. It has become commonplace to maintain that metal somehow compensates men for the power they lack that they feel they should have in a patriarchal society that denies it to them. I have made similar statements myself. But this definitely oversimplifies things. What “men” are we talking about here? Young men? Working-class men, maybe? Men like that do have power — powerful bodies, powerful minds, power to defend themselves and others. There are external forces who want to harness that tremendous power and transform those who possess it into mindless worker bees or killing machines. Metal songs often advise people to beware of those forces; I think the music is also more about using and valuing the power one does have than fantasizing about the power one lacks.
Furthermore, such assertions make metal redundant. We already have video games and blockbuster action movies and in fact practically all mainstream popular culture that isn’t centrally concerned with the myth of romance. If metal was just about fulfilling male adolescent power fantasies, its appeal would be mainstream, not subcultural. Thus to understand metal, we need to dig deeper.
To its fans, metal is a powerful and empowering music; it gives listeners a sense of control over their own lives. That power is not always experienced as masculine, however, or as gendered at all. Metal’s detractors often charge that the music glorifies the dark side of power in its portrayal of war atrocities, serial killers, state oppression, nuclear destruction, etc. But depiction is not endorsement…I’ve gone on long enough already, but I’ll end just by saying that metal’s view of power is ambivalent, alert to both its allure and its perpetual dark side to which no one is ever immune. It addresses its audience as ambivalent empowered agents, never as emasculated victims. Some fans of course simply embrace the dark side, disavowing ambivalence. That’s one possible interpretive strategy, though it’s not the most common.
You are an acknowledged expert in Southeast Asian, specifically Indonesian, metal and culture. What drew you to this area? How is metal from this area similar to that in other areas? Are there differences?
Indonesia has had a vibrant, massive metal scene for three decades, quite possibly the largest in Asia. The scene is connected to those in two adjacent Southeast Asian nations, Malaysia and Singapore, which are similarly quite active and share a (somewhat) mutually intelligible language, Indonesian/Malay. Since, until the quite recent advent of folk metal, English was the only acceptable language for international metal, lots of bands from all three countries sing in that language, too. Since I began studying the Indonesian scene about twenty years ago (visiting there the first time in 1997), I’ve compared it to other metal scenes around the planet. I’ve found that Indonesia really is remarkable for the size, longevity, and dedication of its metal scene, which is older and a great deal larger than the burgeoning metal scenes in most other Asian nations (with the exception of Japan, of course). It’s also perhaps unique in that Joko Widodo, the current front-runner in the July Indonesian presidential election, is a proud, outspoken headbanger. So Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, might be the origin of the first metalhead world leader. Which of course raises the question, why is metal so big there? Still working on that one…
Do you have any personal favorite metal bands? If so, what are they?
Let me preface this by saying that my listening preferences are eclectic and I try to listen to both fashionable and unfashionable subgenres of metal. (For example, I really like Head Phones President, a Japanese group whose sound owes an obvious debt to the most vilified of American nü-metal bands; I also dig some power metal.) I’m also hardly esoteric in my tastes, and if I find out about an amazing obscure band it’s either serendipitous or, more likely, a recommendation from one of my students. All that said, of course! Recent discoveries: I got to hear some great bands in Puerto Rico back in March, including Tavú, Organic, and doom metal scene stalwarts Dantesco. Erico from Dantesco is currently my favorite vocalist, along with Silent Hell’s Kin Lin. Vallendusk’s a great atmospheric black metal band that sounds to me like a sort of a cross between Alcest and Panopticon, and they’re from Indonesia! I should also mention Winterhymn, who I saw on tour with Paganfest—great Viking/folk metal from my home state of Ohio. I don’t know what their story is, but their music is quite impressive and represents a sadly underappreciated subgenre in the States. As for personal favorites, mostly predictable I’m afraid: Chthonic, Fates Warning, Sabbath, Slayer, Maiden, Priest, Amorphis, Anthrax, Sepultura, St. Vitus, and the Indonesian bands Seringai, Puppen, and Slowdeath.
I will say this: don’t forget that metal is great art. Metalheads listen to metal because they find it aesthetically compelling.
Where is the best place for someone to go to read more of your work?
My website has an online CV with links to PDFs of many of my publications. The articles are there with the permission of the individual publishers, so not everything is up, but it’s a good place to start. Once I started putting things on the page, I started finding many more references to my work in the Indonesian news media, not to mention student essays posted online. Unfortunately a lot of what I’ve written is still hard to get a hold of for anyone without access to an academic library, though I know a number of public libraries now carry Metal Rules the Globe. Readers of this interview can always contact me directly, especially if they’ve actually read this far!
What’s next for you? You’ve got a book forthcoming and are rumored to be working on new research. Can you tell us what future directions you’re pursuing?
Esther Clinton and I are working on another edited volume, sort of a follow-up to MRTG. I probably shouldn’t say much about it, since it’s still in the beginning phase. I also think it might upset some people. Additionally, I’m working on various pieces of writing that develop ideas mentioned in this interview involving power, ethics, and sociality in metal culture. There’s other stuff, always more than I can manage.
For those who caught our review of the - – – /Dawning split some months ago, the intentional mystery behind – – – may have created some interest. Artists disguising themselves is nothing new; all of black metal disguised themselves under pseudonyms and paint like nocturnal vigilantes. Authors such as Thomas Pynchon are famous for their reclusive refusal to be photographed or interviewed. And in occult and ambient music, the situation gets even more obscure.
– – – create music that sounds like a heavy metal hybrid with the vaguely occult black metal of the style that Deathspell Omega made famous, but with a mix of heavy metal in the balance such as one might find from Paradise Lost or Primordial. The result floats gently through the speakers and is both familiar and highly distant. We were fortunate to gain access to the concealed personality behind – – – for a short interview on the nature of existence, music and possibly why black metal has lost its way.
When did – – – originate, and what can you tell us about the lineup?
I wrote a lot of minimalistic music when I was about 15-16 years old. Back then I didn’t have a guitar, just an old keyboard. All the music I wrote, I wrote down with the help of some MIDI-software. I didn’t think I would do anything with the MIDI-files, I just wanted to write some music. Several years later I found all those MIDI-files (about 50-60 tracks) and thought it would be fun to add drums and some guitars. Thus was the music of – – – born.
The lineup is just me. On some tracks a friend of mine sings.
The music you play has a lot in common with both avantgarde black metal and the type of instrumentally advanced heavy metal that Therion ventured into with its third album. What style do you identify as your own, and what are your biggest influences?
When people ask in general what music I play, I usually answer that I play heavy metal. There are so many genres in the metal corpus so just to begin answering what kind of metal one is playing is rather impossible. And if heavy metal doesn’t suffice I’d say I play dragon metal.
For the piano compositions I’ve had the great Flemish composer Wim Mertens as a big influence. Also Michael Nyman, Roberto Cacciapaglia and Ludovico Einaudi. The guitars are just buzzing tremolo melodies to accompany the piano tracks.
Much of your work seems to be based around the notion of secrets; if not outright secrets themselves, the revelation of hidden meaning. Do you think there are hidden meanings in life around us? Are these metaphysical or material?
To answer the first question: Yes, I do think there are meanings in life around us. If this meaning is hidden or not I can’t really tell. To acknowledge that there is meaning around us is in itself a great step toward a life that isn’t nihilistic and/or fatalistic. But then you’ll have to validate whether these meanings are good or bad. I’ve chosen to believe that the meanings I’ve found in life are good ones. I don’t know this by necessity and I can’t persuade anyone that this is the right path. I believe that there is a reality and that I, as a human being, am capable of knowing something about it.
Since I have to relate to a material world to even begin to grasp the metaphysics, I’d have to say “yes” on this question (I interpreted it as an inclusive disjunction). I don’t think any materialistic substance can hold a Principle (of something higher). We interact bodily with the materialistic world and with our mind (soul), through the study of metaphysics, the Principles (how to know the meanings epistemologically).
Why did you choose the name “- – – “?
I used to name my music project files that way. And then the name stuck.
As – – – goes on, do you think you have “matured” or “improved”? Is there a difference?
Maybe lyrically, but not musically. I still use the old MIDI-files I wrote several years ago.
Where will you go next with – – – ? Will there be more recordings, a change in style or a different look at things?
I have no idea. I think I will try to write something new from scratch. It will probably not sound exactly the same.
What personally attracted you about underground metal, and keeps you bonded to it twenty years past its glory days?
Probably the creativity. There are a lot of interesting bands that have a genuine sound or have really talented musicians. There is always something new and fresh that you can find in the great sea of underground bands. You don’t see the same creativity around the big names in metal.
Are your songs based around symbolism from which riffs are created, or do you base them around riffs and layer symbolism on top of those?
If by symbolism you mean the lyrics then: yes. I usually have some tracks ready when I begin writing the lyrics. Then I puzzle them all together.
If by symbolism you mean that I have a clear idea about what the tracks is going to be about, then: no. The lyrics are written separately from the music.
If someone wanted to find out more — but not too much — about – – – , where should they look?
Look toward where the sunrise, and in to the names of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite’s divine. Otherwise you should try google: “- – – “.
Finnish band Agonized got the break last year that they wanted two decades ago: a horde of people interested in their only demo, “Gods…,” which was subsequently and sequentially released on CD-R, vinyl, CD and tape.
Created in the old school style of primitive rumbling death metal somewhere between Belial and Demigod, “Gods…” comprised four tracks (and an intro) of disturbing inhuman noise shaped into musical form. Since metal has not produced any style more compelling than old school death metal, interest in such material has accelerated over the recent years.
We were fortunate to get in a few words with Jari from Agonized about “Gods…” and the circumstances of its creation, and how and why it endures today…
Was there a “Finnish sound” to death metal, or multiple Finnish sounds? It seems to be popular to group bands like Funebre, Demilich, Xysma, and Demigod together and proclaim a similarity to them. Does this sound exist? Is Agonized part of the group that uses this sound?
I think there was. There was a similar sound to bands of that era. Like there was, or still is “Swedish sound.” It might be pure coincidence that bands played like that. In our case, we listened to Xysma, Abhorrence and Disgrace in 90s so those really had a big influence on our music. Of course every band sounded like their own style, doing their own mix of influences through the “Finnish” filter. You simply cannot say all Finnish bands sounded the same. They just had some Finnish trademark on their sound. I cannot define that better. I am not a musician haha.
What drew you personally to death metal back in the late 80s and early 90s? Did you have any connection to metal before death metal? Do you know if the other members of Agonized had a similar experience?
Three of us grew up together. Me, Janne (bass) and Mauno (drums) were childhood friends and have known each other since we were something like seven years old. We started like any other young kid those days. First there was Iron Maiden, W.A.S.P. and Kiss. I remember I bought my first W.A.S.P. record when I was ten years old. After that we just tried to find more and more extreme and heavy stuff. Then we started to find out heavier stuff like Slayer, Bathory and Destruction to name a few. I think this has been the way many of today’s death metal fans have started. Also I had some sort of punk era in between.
After Napalm Death released From Enslavement to Obliteration we read about them from Finnish music magazines and were like, “Whoa, that must be some cool shit.” At that time only way to get your hands on Napalm Death records was to travel to Helsinki from Lahti by train and buy them.
When I found that Napalm Death LP in Helsinki, at the same time I saw Carcass’s Reek of Putrefaction LP and Bolt Thrower Realm of Chaos. When I got home from Helsinki and put on the first notes of the Napalm Death LP, I could say my head exploded. What an absolute annihilation after listening years of thrash and speed metal. After that I got into the next LP, Carcass… yeah, right… Another deadly hit. Rest is history. I have never survived that actually. So I am still on that road.
When did Agonized form, and what were your inspirations and influences at that time? Did you have any non-musical influences, like literature or other forms of art or culture?
Agonized was formed in 1990 if I remember correctly. Janne, Mauno and I wanted to play some death metal after hardcore/grind experiments but it was really hard to find anyone skilled enough to play guitars. We put an advert on a Finnish music magazine that we are searching some guitarists to play death metal. We got contacted by two dudes (Antti and Mika) from Vantaa and went to see if it would work out. We had a nice playing session and everyone thought let’s play something together. We gathered few times, in Vantaa and Lahti, to play together.
As we were arranging concerts in Lahti for underground bands we played few shows on those events. Agonized had big influences from Bolt Thrower, Carcass and Xysma. Those must have been the most influential bands on Agonized, at least for me. I don’t remember any non-musical influences. No, I don’t think there was any non-musical influences. Agonized was mostly for just having fun playing the music we wanted to hear.
The band put out one demo, “Gods…” Can you tell us how this demo came about? When did you write the songs, and how did you record it?
After few shows we decided to record those tracks we played to tape. Songs on this tape are all Agonized ever managed to come by. Our shows contained only those tracks and I remember we played those twice to play even a decent length of set. All songs was born at those rehearsals we had together. We just started playing and decided that “hey, that sounded cool” and continued to another one.
“Gods…” was recorded in a local studio, we got two or three hours of free use of it with the guy who mixes the tape. Guy behind the desk did not have any idea what to do with this kind of music. I doubt he had never even mixed any metal band. We just listened the results and said “do this, do that…”. Guitars and drums were recorded first. After that we recorded vocals and last bass. Janne had some issues in his life and did not manage to recording session, so Mika played also bass on “Gods…”
Whole thing was ready in those two or three hours we got to be in the studio for free. We could have done it better with more, but were totally broke as we were just a bunch of kids who spent all their money the previous evening getting wasted. So we had to accept the fact that we did not have any money for more studio time.
Apparently the band members went separate ways after the recording of this demo. Do you know why this was? Did you personally want to keep going as Agonized?
After recording, I remember some got bored playing death metal and wanted to play something else. I myself was bored with my whole life and started some sort of seven year period of self destruction with substance abuse and techno haha. So I kind of departed from the whole scene to a completely different world. Couldn’t care less about Agonized or the whole scene. Of course I still listened to some bands but was completely away from the scene for years.
Looking back, what do you think of the demo, and the potential that the band had?
I have always thought it is a good demo. Still we could have done it better. But maybe if we would have done it with more time, it might have lost its primitive approach and become shit. Maybe, just maybe, it was done in the best possible way. Without thinking too much of the final result. Band definitely had potential, if we had just continued playing.
But due to personal problems and interests that just was not possible.
Several former Agonized members reunited in Cadavericmutilator, which as far as I know has never released a demo. What was Cadavericmutilator like?
Actually it was other way around. Cadavericmutilator was before Agonized. It was a noise/grindcore band including Janne, Mauno, me and several various members playing guitars. We made few shows and actually recorded one demo, which was not spread anywhere. It was just pure chaos. Just blasting with some noisy guitars playing whatever and two vocalists screaming with shitloads of effects on them. That demo would have been nice to hear today, unfortunately it was destroyed as I shot holes through the master tape when I was being a bit paranoid years ago hahaha. Well, it was quite crap anyways. So no big loss.
Some reviewers have mentioned that Agonized, while using the classic Finnish death metal ™ style, had more of the pace of Autopsy and the grinding presence of Carcass. Did any of these bands factor into your listening? How do you describe the music of Agonized?
I would describe music of Agonized as a hybrid of American and Finnish death metal. It is just like Bolt Thrower and Carcass mixed with Xysma. At least I think so. Some have compared it to Mortician, but I must admit that any of us did not even know what Mortician was back in the days we were active. So I cannot compare us to them.
I thought it was a stroke of genius how the band (or you alone?) managed to first release a CD-R of the demos, build interest, then get a 7″ released, build more interest, and finally get the CD re-release on Aphelion records. Can you tell us how each of these steps came about, and roughly how many copies of “Gods…” are out there as a result?
Actually this re-release fuzz is completely my fault. I wanted to just have a personal copy on CD-R, but due to high popular interest I decided to release 140 copies of CD-R so that people who want it can have it. Very soon after I did that, Emptiness released a 7″ that was limited to 500 copies. Patches were made at the same time to include with some of the copies. Also Aphelion released a CD version quite soon after this, limited to 1000 copies.
Latest news is that there is coming a tape version that has limitation of 100 copies. This will be released by Dunkelheit. Tape version is a bit different one. After all these other releases I found a nice copy of “Gods…” tape from Mexico (thanks Agata) and tape version uses that as a source. So it sounds a bit different than other versions that use Mr. Moyen’s tape as a source.
What have you done since the days of Agonized? Are you still active in the death metal community? What about the other members?
After Agonized I was away from this world for seven years with my substace abuse problems I defined earlier on this interview. For 15 years I have now been sober and have four great little kids and a wife and a daily job. Sounds boring eh? So I do not have time to be very active in anything. I do collect CDs and mainly they are death metal. New and old. There are excellent new albums and bands popping up every week. But it’s not like I am being active, just listening to same kind of music as when I was a kid. I do not know about other members. I suppose some of them do have some music related projects but no idea what kind of.
Are there any plans to get Agonized back together and write more material? If not, why? If so, what can we expect?
There was some discussion of this with other members. But as for now, at least I think this would not be so good idea. At least not under the name Agonized. I think reunions are not a very good idea after over 20 years of silence. When “Gods…” was released we were 16 year old angry young metal heads with great passion to do what we do. How in the hell that same can be achieved now, when we are like 40 year old dudes with families. I could do vocals, but I doubt it will be the same anymore. I’m not saying that when you are 40 you can’t play death metal, but for sure it won’t be the same band as it was over 20 years ago. It would be completely different story. But… Never say never.
Do you think death metal and underground metal are still relevant? Why do you think people are still drawn to this art form?
Absolutely. Seems to be very alive and kicking. Death metal is here to stay, where would it go. People like me like to listen to it. What would I listen if not death metal? I have grown with it. It is a tool to get away from this every day life for just a while. People want to release their anger by playing it and why not. It gives youth of today a good alternative on all the shit this world hits at you from every side.
Underground metal is a honest form of music and way to express yourself. Not the crap you stumble across everyday to make you dumb. I also do admire bands that have been around since the beginning. That is one hell of an achievement to play this kind of music 20-30 years active, touring and recording. Now that is something.
Most metalheads know the name Dallas Toler-Wade from Nile, the modern metal band that dropped static riffing and late-1970s guitar rock structures into death metal and paved the way for a new generation of hybrids and mythological themes in metal. However, before Nile, Toler-Wade created music with his cohorts in the band that has become Narcotic Wasteland.
Narcotic Wasteland, which just released its self-titled debut album, picks up with an even more modern style which resembles the deathcore/percussive death metal mix that Suffocation shifted to around the turn of the millennium. Its emphasis is more on memorable songs than spurious guitarplay. We talked to Toler-Wade to find out more.
You’ve just launched an entirely new project, Narcotic Wasteland. How does the style of this band differ from the band you are quite well-known for, Nile?
This band musically is getting back to the things I was writing before I joined Nile. Now you will here some similarities in some of the musical ideas, but that’s part of the reason I was interested in trying out for Nile back in 1997 to begin with.
Do you think death metal is still relevant in a time of modern metal?
I think that all music that comes from the heart with the intention of connecting to other people will always be relevant to like minded people.
What spurred you on to create Narcotic Wasteland, and how did you choose your fellow musicians?
I had these ideas brewing for quite some time. When I am home one of the things I do most is record ideas. As far as the lyrical ideas for Narcotic Wasteland I really had some things to get off my chest. I have lost a lot of friends over the years to hard drugs, and I just had this confusion, anger, and sadness boiling in my stomach that I needed to purge. But not all of the songs are about this. I don’t think any band should be limited to just one subject. they should be able to do whatever they want.
As far as the musicians that make up Narcotic Wasteland I knew I really wanted to jam with my long time friend Edwin Rhone again. We worked very well together in the past, and the sound of our hands are very similar. Edwin is a great songwriter and player as well. Edwin recommended Chris Dupre for bass and vocals. Chris is very creative, and he totally fits the sound of the music. It was really hard to find a drummer with the right style. it took a couple years, but George Kollias recommended Erik Schultek for the drums, and once again the style really fit great.
All of the guys are super cool, super talented, hard working musicians. I really think the next release with all of our heads together will make an even better record.
It sounds like you’ve gone for a more explosive production sound. How did you achieve this, and how happy were you with how the album as a whole turned out, production-wise?
I am very happy with the way this record came out. I did not want it too polished, just tight and clear with not too much flash. I did not want to put just another squeaky metal album out there. I wanted it to have attitude, and sometimes things get so clean the aggression gets mixed right out. After all it’s metal as long as you can hear everything then people will be able to hear the ideas.
Is Narcotic Wasteland a conceptual band? Or is this first album conceptual, and will you be doing something unlike that for other albums?
I really feel we have created something kind of different. I think we will only expand on what we have already created.
Every time I see the Narcotic Wasteland logo (of some intoxicating white powder cut into the letters of the name) I am both stunned and intrigued. Why did you go with this logo, as opposed to a “traditional” death metal style logo? Did you make it yourselves with physical powder?
I wanted the logo readable for sure. There are too many bands out there with non-readable logos. I thought it would be something heavy and real that deals with real topics. It’s death metal, and when you look at that logo it’s like looking death in the eye.
Heavy metal has always been somewhat apocalyptic. Does your music address a collapse in process (as society or at least parts of it devolve into narcotic wastelands) or are you speaking from after the collapse, telling us how to rebuild, or something else?
I think that we are living in a Narcoitc Wasteland, and yes it is causing people not only death, but financial ruin, and also people with addiction problems cause anguish for their friends and family.
Your songs are technical but not extraneously so. What guided you in composing these tracks? What effect did you hope to have on the listener?
No matter what kind of song I’m writing I really just want to connect with the listener. I have gotten messages from lots of people saying that it really hit them in the heart. For me that’s what it’s all about, and metal has always been strong emotionally.
You’ve got your debut album out and seem to be selling it at a fast clip from the website. What’s next? Are you seeking more label interest, touring, or composing new material?
We would love to play shows. As far as labels — sure why not? — but we really want to see how far we can push it on our own steam for now. The more work we do ourselves the less anyone else will need to do. So far we have done everything in house from the recording, songs, video, and website. I think it’s very important for a band to be as hands-on as they can with everything. And yes we are already working on the next release.
According to your biography, Narcotic Wasteland seems like a continuation of a musical partnership that began before you joined Nile. How does it feel to be back, and how has your music changed in the intervening years?
It is great to be working with Edwin Rhone again. I always thought we made a great guitar team. I think we have all grown musically over the years. And music will almost always change as long as you keep learning the craft. I just want to be a better writer and player for any band I am part of.
As part of our exploration of academia in metal, we meet all sorts of interesting academics with different relationships to metal. Some are more on the academic side, some on the musical, and some in-between. Ross Hagen straddles both extremes by being both a musician and an academic with a focus on teaching metal. As a result, he brings both personal experience and delight in the genre to the otherwise more abstract academic view. We were lucky to get in a few questions with this interesting person and teacher.
You’ve got two degrees in music and one in musicology. What launched you along this direction? Did you intend to become an academic, or did the music lead you there?
I think this career path resulted from my love of music coupled with the fact that I didn’t really have the discipline for seriously practicing a musical instrument so I could play professionally. I’d much rather spend six hours a day in the library. Graduate school was also a nice way to extend my adolescence and avoid adult responsibilities for a few years after college. But when I think about it, I suppose that academia was always an intention of mine, whether I thought about it consciously or not. Both of my parents were educators, so I guess I’m something of a poster child for following the path laid out by my upbringing.
What got you involved with heavy metal? Were you a fan before you studied it? What appeals about it to you, both as a research subject and as a personal listening experience?
I was definitely a fan before I began pursuing it as a topic of study. My father was a college professor and his students would occasionally loan him tapes and CDs so I was listening to a lot of college rock and industrial music (well, NIN anyway) in my early teens. At one point he had a student who loaned him some of the early albums by Amorphis, Samael, Tiamat, and My Dying Bride and I dug them a lot. It wasn’t until college that I found other people who liked that kind of stuff and expanded my listening though. I feel like I’m still playing catch-up on a lot of older material from the 70s and 80s especially. I also got into musicology as an undergraduate and began including metal in my studies there.
…blast beats and tremolo picking seem to suspend rhythmic momentum and time in black metal when coupled with more slowly changing harmonies and hazy-sounding production. I also related the use of full chord voicings and the use of parallel minor 3rds and 6ths (in Emperor’s music especially) to an interest in chaotic sorts of sounds…
From a personal standpoint, I suppose I find it empowering in some respects, but I also like that black metal especially is a style where it’s easy to just get lost in the sound. As a bassist and composer I like that metal is challenging to perform and that it’s a style that is quite malleable in some respects even as its fundamental ingredients remain relatively stable. I think that’s part of what I like about it as a researcher as well; the tension between the metal’s core attributes and its desire to evolve and change.
You’ve contributed a piece, “Musical Style, Ideology, and Mythology in Norwegian Black Metal,” in the compilation Metal Rules the Globe. Can you tell us about this writing, and what your thesis generally was?
This was a version of my 2005 Master’s degree thesis where I wrote about some of the key elements of the “second wave” black metal musical style and related them to the genre’s interest in the supernatural and mythical. In particular I looked into the way that blast beats and tremolo picking seem to suspend rhythmic momentum and time in black metal when coupled with more slowly changing harmonies and hazy-sounding production.
I also related the use of full chord voicings and the use of parallel minor 3rds and 6ths (in Emperor’s music especially) to an interest in chaotic sorts of sounds since those types of chords are much less focused and resonant than the typical metal power chord when played with lots of distortion. I considered these musical conventions as evocations of trance experiences because they create a sense of stasis and timelessness (in a literal sense) by obscuring rhythmic propulsion and harmonic clarity.
I was at the time interested in connecting these musical devices to the sort of Norse revivalist rhetoric that was regularly coming from people like Varg Vikernes and that also underpins Michael Moynihan’s Lords of Chaos, especially mythical figures like the berserker…that black metal seems to reward an ideal of virtuosity based on physical endurance rather than dexterity and nimbleness, things like that. I do think that there was a certain aesthetic affinity with these mythical ideals for some black metallers, that they envisioned themselves as warriors or as part of a charivari tradition trying to bring back a romanticized ideal of pre-modern Europe. However, I think that the chapter’s main contribution is the articulation of the musical style…or at least when I go back and read it those are the parts that I think hold up the best.
You teach courses on popular music, music appreciation, and music history at Utah Valley University. Does this include metal? How do students respond to it? Does their response change depending on whether they are metalheads or not?
Most of them seem to respond fairly positively to it when I do teach it, which usually only happens in the course specifically centered around popular music. I do include bits of Eddie Van Halen and Yngwie Malmsteen in my schtick on musical virtuosity in the music appreciation classes, but more as a side comparison. Students in the popular music courses seem to respond well to it even if they aren’t fans, since by the time we get into it most of the students understand that “liking” a genre of music is not a prerequisite for investigating its musical style and influence. Metalheads or former metalheads (I actually hear that a lot here…metal is something they used to like as teenagers) tend get a little more into it, but I’m often pleasantly surprised as well when students who have no personal affinity with the style offer thoughtful considerations of it.
I find it interesting that you’ve composed music for the production of two ancient Greek plays at UVU. Are these going to be released? Is there any overlap between ancient Greco-Roman music and heavy metal?
Actually only one of them (Antigone) was an ancient Greek play. The other one, Eurydice, was a modern play by Sarah Ruhl that is built around the myth but definitely takes its own path (and was directed by my very talented and lovely wife Lisa). Oddly enough, my music cues for Eurydice actually did include a bit of Rammstein-ish heavy metal…the script called for it when the Lord of the Underworld enters dressed like a child and riding a tricycle.
I’m not planning to release recordings of Eurydice‘s music cues themselves since they wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense on their own (15 seconds of heavy metal, 45 seconds of lounge music, etc.) but I did put together a suite of sorts called gravity is very compelling out of the soundscapes from Eurydice. The Antigone score is likewise kind of boring out of context, but I’ve repurposed parts of it in other works here and there.
Regarding ancient Greek and Roman music, I can say with some certainty (even though ancient music isn’t a specialty of mine) that there’s not any overlap with heavy metal in terms of musical content. A lot of the theoretical ideas and writings helped lay the foundations for the European art music tradition in the medieval period, though. Plato’s famous concerns about the dangerous moral and social effects of “disordered” music also echo through the centuries to inform the various moral panics around heavy metal and other musical styles.
According to your biography, you’ve participated in more than a dozen album releases on various American and European labels, and perform in the ambient bands encomiast and Schrei aus Stein as well as two local metal bands. Can you tell us a bit about your musical history?
I started making ambient music with encomiast in the late 1990s, when I had access to a proper electronic music studio at college. That sort of whetted my appetite for it and I’ve continued recording stuff like it ever since, often drawing my friends into the mix as well. Most of the catalog from that project is available at encomiast.bandcamp.com, although I think my favorite is the 139 Nevada 2xCD that grew out of an attempt to record ghostly voices at a haunted theater. I started Schrei aus Stein when I wanted to do something that mixed drones and noise with more of a black metal aesthetic. Beyond those projects, in the last decade I’ve played in the absurdist metal duo Spawn of the Matriarch, the stoner metal band Governors, a krautrock/free jazz trio, a one-off Mortician-worship solo project named Immensite, and a couple of cover bands.
Currently I play bass in Burn Your World, a band that mixes extreme metal styles with some hardcore punk influence. We also have a side project called Curseworship in which I play bass and compose a lot of harsh noise and analog synth freakouts. Both of those bands have recordings coming out soonish.
What do you think is the role of music? Is it to communicate ideas, express emotions, or make an aesthetic object for others to appreciate? Or none of the above?
I’d probably say it’s more like all of the above in my view, depending on the context and the person who is experiencing it. Your last role (aesthetic object) is probably closest to the way I think about the music I create — I tend to think structurally rather than in emotional or rhetorical terms.
Do you think metal is a subject that should be taught in schools? There’s two viewpoints to this: from academia’s point of view, and from metal’s point of view.
I think that from an academic point of view it’s as valid a subject as any, and to my mind it provides a rich musical and cultural well for all sorts of areas of study. I’d also be lying if I denied that it gives me a lot of pleasure to teach and write about music I love, so there’s a selfish end too I guess! I certainly also understand why some metalheads might not appreciate it because sometimes it does seem like once something has the stamp of approval from the ivory tower it loses a lot of its countercultural credentials.
Some might see it (possibly correctly!) as a misguided attempt to validate metal as an art form…or perhaps to validate academia by borrowing some of metal’s coolness. I personally try to avoid giving that impression in my classes, but my position as an academic may make it impossible for me dodge those bullets entirely. So I suppose my ultimate answer is “yes,” but with acknowledgement of some pitfalls.
You taught a couple of metal-centric classes at CU-Boulder while you were finishing your degree. What were these like? How did you “teach metal”?
One of them was a single Saturday course done through Continuing Education that was sort of a quick trip through some various issues (musical style, censorship, etc.). The longer course was a version of a course on Rock Music that I team-taught with Joel Burcham. In that one my idea was to use metal as a way to explore various aspects of popular music, including recording, performance, fandom, authenticity, etc. My goal was less to teach metal and more to allow metal to teach us, if that makes sense.
You’re an ethnomusicologist; those seem like a cross between music historian and music analyst. How does understanding metal at a musical level help you understand it at a culture level? Are there correlations between the two dimensions of metal?
I sometimes feel like the primary thing my musical training provides me with is a vocabulary with which to work. I do find it helpful in terms of articulating aspects of metal music and production that encourage particular responses and experiences among listeners. As I mentioned in my summary of the “Metal Rules the Globe” article, I do think that some musical ideas can evoke particular experiences and reflect certain values. I would stop short of saying that they necessarily correspond to the values of the performer and the audience though. Sometimes that might certainly be the case, but I’ve come to be skeptical of sweeping correlations, mostly because I want to avoid misrepresenting the culture of metal as a monolithic entity. The more time I spend with metal and with other metalheads, the more I appreciate the diversity of experience within it.
One of your research interests is ritualism. Are there ritual aspects to heavy metal, especially the black metal variety?
I tend to think that almost every musical activity has some sort of a ritual component to it, using the term broadly. With black metal, though, I’m particularly interested in the deployment of Ritual “with a capital R” as a conscious effort to connect the music and performance with some archaic imagined past. In some respects, I think the past black metal invokes is the past of black metal itself, a retro recycling and recreation that is common to all music in some degree, but which has perhaps increased lately (Simon Reynold’s recent book deals with this better than I).
Rather than celebrating the protean side of 21st century identity, metal seems to demand a higher level of “identity essentialism” in that respect. It promises some measure of stability.
Invoking ritual also feels like an appeal to an authoritative kind of authenticity, an assertion that black metal is not entertainment or theater, but instead that it is a stable and “timeless” tradition and (importantly) not beholden to the vagaries of taste or fashion. The use of a fairly standard and narrow set of musical gestures and sounds, deindividualizing costumes and pseudonyms, and staged evocations of sacrificial death all work to this end. Of course, the “appeal to ritual” is also in some ways merely a marketing term and a performance conceit. It might go hand-in-hand with the increased visibility of black metal over the past decade or so.
I’m currently working with these ideas as part of a research project on musical ritualism as an authenticating tactic in popular music…possibly with a parallel trajectory in musical representations of monstrosity and supernatural forces. I’m still gathering my dogs together to see if they hunt though.
How important do you think heavy metal is as a cultural indicator? What does it tell us about our society?
I think it certainly has a role there, although I think that what it says varies a lot depending on who is involved in it. Actually, I think that if we look at metal around the globe, I might consider a lack of metal in a society to be more significant. It seems to be an almost ubiquitous presence, even under circumstances of war and deprivation.
I do think that the value so much metal discourse seems to place on trueness and authenticity is perhaps symptomatic of a larger sense of uprootedness in (American?) society. Rather than celebrating the protean side of 21st century identity, metal seems to demand a higher level of “identity essentialism” in that respect. It promises some measure of stability.
In your view, why is metal such a distinctive genre, with such strong rules and boundaries (trueness, cultness)?
It seems that being embattled or marginalized is an integral part of the way metal views itself, even if in some cases we might consider that metalheads doth protest too much. This sense of being outside the mainstream probably creates this sense of cohesion and belonging, as well as a bit of suspicion and distrust of outsiders and “un-metal” musical influences.
I think that the boundaries have actually gotten more stringent over the past decade or so in underground metal, although it’s probably more likely that I’ve just become more aware of them. I might suggest that as the artifacts and symbols of insider-ness in metal have become more readily available, the concern with maintaining boundaries has risen accordingly. As it becomes easier and easier to amass knowledge about the most obscure bands, along with their recordings, that obscurity loses its power.
Patch jackets don’t seem to carry the same weight if you can purchase a whole collection of rare kvlt “merit badges” in 20 minutes on eBay. This situation makes metal’s system of cultural signifiers less trustworthy in terms of judging someone’s commitment to the genre, so it seems like the boundaries need more strict enforcement. It’s only exacerbated in cyberspace. But of course the best way to be kvlt is to deny that it matters if you’re kvlt or not…it’s square to be hip, right?
You’re on the editorial board of the journal Metal Music Studies. How has metal in academia expanded during the time you’ve been observing, and where do you see it going in the future?
To be totally accurate, I’m actually just on the editorial advisory board, which just means I’ll be on-call as a peer reviewer once we’re totally underway. I hope to continue my involvement in the future, however.
When I first began writing about heavy metal as a graduate student in the early/mid 2000s, it seemed that there was precious little academic writing about metal beyond Walser, Weinstein, and sociological studies beating the dead horse connecting metal and crime/delinquency. Over the following decade it’s just blossomed as a field of study, and I think it’s impressively diverse. I mean, we’ve got people from sociology, ethnomusicology, historical musicology, fan studies, philosophy, and interested practitioners all in the mix. I’ve been trying (and failing) to keep up with all the publications. It’s an exciting and inspiring field.
I think that we’re going to see more studies that question the conceptions of locality and place in metal, since the increasing digital networks around the world are making physical geography less relevant in some respects. I know some scholars are working on the exoticism in metal, which seems especially interesting because it binds together questions of intent (patriotism? parody?) with issues of reception. It also seems that Metal Studies has focused a lot on the more extreme and underground subgenres, so I hope we might see more people begin to explore the intersections between metal and mainstream pop culture, both currently and in the past.
Massacre carved a place for themselves in the death metal community years ago and with their foundational From Beyond, an album of tremolo-picked columnar death metal with big fuzzy production at a time when many death metal bands were still trying to emulate the muted-picked speed metal of the previous era.
Over two decades later, Massacre returns with Back From Beyond which sees release on April 1, 2014 via Century Media records. We were fortunate to be able to grab a few words with bassist Terry Butler, whose work with Massacre, Death, Six Feet Under and other Florida death metal bands has made him a towering legend in the community.
You’re about to unleash a new work, Back From Beyond. Since the title effectively compares it to your breakthrough album From Beyond, can you tell us: how are these albums different in approach, in style and in production?
In the case of From Beyond, the songs had been written five years prior, so when we signed to Earache, we just jumped in the studio and recorded them. We tried to keep the production simple and raw. The approach for Back From Beyond was “let’s not rush and re-hash songs for a quick release.” We took our time with the songwriting and production. It’s been 22 years, why rush? The production is better on Back From Beyond. Tim Vasquez did a great job!
What do you think Back From Beyond is adding to death metal, twenty plus years past its inception?
We are just playing Death Metal the way we like it. Heavy riffs, catchy in your face and brutal. I like rhythms I can remember. As far as adding something new, no one is adding something new these days. It’s all been done. We are just doing what we do.
You released an EP, Condemned to the Shadows, in 2012. How different is that material from what we’ll hear on Back From Beyond?
It’s musically in the same vein. More of the same basically. We re-recorded the two tracks from that EP. They are sonically different and production-wise sound different.
Can you tell us how Massacre assembled? I know it pre-dated Death, but after Death fragmented the members came together for From Beyond. Can you connect those dots for us?
Bill Andrews formed Massacre in ’84. At that stage it was mostly covers. Kam [Lee] joined in ’85 and a three-song demo was released. Rick [Rozz] joined in ’86 and a four-song demo was released. In early ’87, Rick, Bill, and I joined Death. After four years in Death, Bill and I contacted Rick, and Massacre was back together. We signed to Earache and put out From Beyond and Inhuman Condition. After several tours the band split up again. Now 22 years later, we are back. That’s the gist of it. In a nutshell.
At the time when From Beyond came out, most of Florida death metal was focusing on blasting and choppier, more muted strum percussive riffing. Massacre went for the full on fast-tremolo strum and big fuzzy burly warm sound guitar production. What made you take this different path?
That’s the Massacre sound and philosophy. Rick was in Mantas in ’83 writing this way and in Death in ’84 and ’85 writing this way. He wrote most of the material on From Beyond. He wrote half of Leprosy. I co-wrote four songs on Spiritual Healing. So what I’m trying to say is: this is our style. The songs on From Beyond were written in ’86. No disrespect to blasting, but the Massacre sound was cemented years before.
Do you think your different path helped ‘From Beyond’ achieve the cult status it has among death metal devotees?
Yes, in a way. The band didn’t at the time, no, but we were influencing the likes of Napalm Death, Carcass etc. Joining Death, then coming back and putting out From Beyond only helped the status of Massacre. The whole time I was in Six Feet Under, people kept asking about Massacre. For the band to still be relevant in 2014 speaks volumes about the music!
Was Bill Andrews unable to make the reunion? Is he still into death metal at all?
Unfortunately… no. He doesn’t play anymore and doesn’t listen to Death Metal. I still talk to him regularly though. He lives in Japan now.
Rick Rozz has an entirely unique guitar style marked by, among other things, “whammy bar abuse.” What influenced this style, and are we still going to hear the torturing of whammy bars?
The whammy bar is still in effect and deadlier than ever ha-ha… He draws a lot of influence from K.K. Downing and Kerry King, as far as the whammy goes. I personally think it’s a lost art these days.
What do you think determines whether a band is death metal or not? Is death metal the same genre it was back in 1992, or has it changed?
I think it’s mix of music and vocals. Obviously the first thing is vocals. If you put opera vocals over Cannibal Corpse songs it’s not Death Metal, and if you put Cannibal Corpse vocals over Journey songs it’s not Death Metal. Darker, heavier music with low brutal vocals is the formula for Death Metal. I believe Death Metal has changed since ’92, a bit. There are more off-shoots, such as Black Metal, Crust, and Grind, these days. I think Death Metal back then was more about riffs and grooves; now it’s about speed and fashion.
About what mix of old/new songs do you think you’ll play on tour? How are you preparing for the tour?
The mix will be about 50/50. We still have to play the hits ha-ha. We will practice as much as possible for the tour.
From Beyond featured mostly “mythological” lyrics, drawn from Lovecraft and horror movies. It wasn’t so much “social consciousness.” Do you think metal tends toward a mythological direction?
I think it’s a mix of both. Obliviously you have your satanic lyrics and religious themes, but a lot of bands do sing about current events. The satanic and mythological lyrics are kind of written for you already.
How do you all feel about launching a huge new album and tour two decades after you started out? Did you ever think Massacre would get this big?
I think it’s amazing and we are very excited about it. Like I said earlier , it says a lot about our music that we are still relevant after 22 years.