Condemned to Glory: Interview with Averse Sefira

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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?

averse_sefira-wrath_satariel_diabolusI 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?

averse_sefira-sanguine_mapsamaArt 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.

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Interview: Jeremy Wallach, co-editor of Metal Rules the Globe: Heavy Metal Music around the World

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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.

As a professor in the Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University, Wallach investigates many aspects of popular music, which led to his own book Modern Noise, Fluid Genres: Popular Music in Indonesia, 1997-2001. Those who have followed the development of metal academia may remember him from his numerous articles, presentations at metal conferences, and strong ties with others in the community. We were lucky to get a few minutes with him to ask some of the pointed questions that a metalhead might want to know of a metalhead academic…

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.

You have a lengthy list of academic publications and credentials. What made you think to combine metal and academia, and research on this specific topic?

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.

Thank you for taking the time to do this.

You’re quite welcome. Metal on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CR-IPCY3Dr8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you become a writer?

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

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

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

What do you think is Slayer’s cultural impact?

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

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

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

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

Did writing this book change how you viewed Slayer?

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

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

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

What prompted you to write a second book on Slayer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Interview with Brett Stevens at MetalRecusants.com

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

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Interview with – – – 

- - -

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: “- – – “.

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Interview: Jari of Agonized

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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.

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Interview with Dallas Toler-Wade of Narcotic Wasteland

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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.

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Interview with metal academic Ross Hagen

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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.

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Interview with Terry Butler of Massacre

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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.

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Interview: Chewy Correa of Organic

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Many years ago, when I was desperately buying up any and all death metal to feed the voracious ears of the listeners of an underground metal radio program, I stumbled upon an album by a band called Organic Infest. The cover used unusual covers, but was dripping in gore-imagery, so I gave it a listen.

I quickly found what was in my estimation one of the undiscovered high points of that fertile period, which was a band that creatively merged the American heavy death metal sound with a European sensibility and its own articulation. Like many of those early bands, Organic Infest wrote their music from a viewpoint that was their own, and thus they made convincing music despite struggles with production and distribution.

Two decades later and very few bands achieve this ability to write from their own viewpoint. Many are able to adopt the musical language of others; this can turn out well, but usually does not. Some come up with their own perspective, but it doesn’t correlate to their actual inner feelings or the outward order of the world, so it’s of little relevance to anyone but themselves.

Organic Infest (now Organic) has kept up their own unique and relevant work during this time. To many of us, their uncompromising spirit and clarity of vision makes them an undercover standout to this day. For that reason, it is with great pleasure that I introduce bassist “Chewy” Correa from Organic.

I understand that some years ago you changed the name of the band from Organic Infest to Organic. Why did you make this change, and do you think it reflects a change in how metal bands are naming themselves and seeing themselves at this point?

We decided to make the change of the name in 2005 after our original guitarist left the band. The main reasons for Juan my drummer, and I to make the change on the name were that we wanted a new beginning for the band and also the lyrics. The lyrics were gore type in the beginning so the name Organic Infest was good then, but I started to write in a more diverse way so the name Organic gives us more freedom in terms of themes for songs. Well, we think that the name of the band is a thing not to be taken lightly. After all it is what will represent the band worldwide and the name in our opinion should be like the main theme for the band. I know many bands these days that use a name just because it sounds “cool,” and when you read their lyrics they have nothing or very little to do in relation with the name.

As I recall, you’re a bassist and Organic lost a guitarist, so you began using a higher-tuned piccolo bass instead of guitars. How has this worked out? Has it changed the way you write songs?

After a lot of experimenting, I finally have the sound that I wanted. This piccolo thing came out as a solution to our problem. When our original guitarist left and we changed the name to Organic we found an incredible guitarist ED Díaz, but after one year and nine months he left the band too. So one day my drummer Juan told me, “man put some distortion to your bass and let’s just play.” At first we were joking about it but then the idea became real after I listened to a fusion bassist named Brian Bromberg who uses a piccolo bass like a guitar on his album “Metal,” so I said to myself if he does that in fusion I will do that in metal. About the songwriting it did not change for me because all the material I wrote when there were guitarists in the band I wrote with the bass. The process stayed the same with the addition of me doing the guitar parts on my piccolo bass.

Back when you were Organic Infest, you put out the album Penitence way back in 1993. In fact, it’s been 20 years recently and you commemorated this by streaming all your albums on your website. What do you think of Penitence looking back at it now?

Well, in my opinion it is the work of young and inexperienced musicians playing what they liked the most at that time. I am not saying that the music is bad, but obviously we could have done something way better at least on the production side of things. If you read all the reviews for that album they all agree on the same, cool music with very bad production.

How do you think metal has changed since that time? Does the underground still exist?

Metal has changed a lot since that time in many ways. Those times were really difficult for everything, from promotion to recording. Nowadays, promotion is a breeze with the internet thing, and recording has become the easiest thing with more and more bands being able to have their own home studios. On the other side, nowadays is also difficult in terms of competition. There are thousands of metal bands now everywhere, all wanting to have their shot at being the best. The underground still exists, and will exist forever because there are always underground bands playing those obscure gigs that the more established bands don’t want or like to play because they are not good for exposure.

Many were critical of the production on Penitence and other recordings you have released. Do you think they’re right, or is this a “the production (medium) fits the message” argument like certain black metal bands have advanced?

Yes, I totally agree that the production on Penitence is probably one of the worst metal productions in existence but it was the result of what I mentioned before: our total lack of experience and a recording engineer who just wanted the money and practically ripped us off. The production on the Agony EP, was a bit better but it was recorded on a moderate home studio so we could not really do more than we did. With The Way To Temptation album the production I think is a decent one; it could have been better but the guitarist was the only one attending the mixing sessions so Juan and I had almost no input on the mix at all. We expect that our new recordings will finally have a good overall production that our fans can enjoy.

Do you feel you have had an inverse relationship to trends in metal? For example, they go black metal, and you head toward percussive choppy death metal; they go death metal again, and you come up with more tremolo picked material.

Definitely! I hate trends, whenever there was a trend growing I would always go the opposite way, and still do it like that. For example, our new material is completely different, while many bands are heading for a more modern stuff while we are delving deep in our influences and musical roots.

What do you view as your influences? What genre(s) do you feel you combine or create within?

The three of us have many different influences. For instance, for me Metal is my religion and main musical genre, but I also like and listen to classical, fusion, and flamenco. As far as metal bands go we listen to everything we like from bands like Iron Maiden to Cannibal Corpse and everything in between. Genres that we combine… everything metal. We have doom, speed, power, thrash, death, and black metal, all combined in our style and sound.

Elsewhere, you mention that Coroner is your main influence. How does that manifest in your music?

Yes, for me Coroner is the biggest influence along with King Diamond, Candlemass, and Death. I have their influence and it reflects in my songwriting, but I always try not to sound too obvious or like a copy. It manifests mainly on our mid-tempo riffs, and on the more technical stuff.

Can you tell us what the status is of Organic at this time — do you have more releases coming up, and will we see you on tour in Puerto Rico or the mainland?

Our status at this time is very good and focused one. Yes, there will be more releases coming up and many good things and shows for the band in Puerto Rico and internationally. I definitely think that this next 2014 is going to be a great year for us.

How do you compose songs? What do you start with (an image, an idea, a riff, a scale)? Has this changed with the departure of your guitarist?

The process of composing for me is different every time. Sometimes I come up with complete lyrics and how to sing them and everything, then I add the music and bring it to rehearsals and we arrange the song. Also there could be times when we come up with something good jamming on a rehearsal and later I compose around it and bring the finished material to a practice session, and then I add the lyrics. The scales that I use for composing the most are the Harmonic Minor, and the Half/Whole version of the diminished scale, along with the Aeolian and Locrian modes.

I know there’s a metal conference coming up which is designed to discover the roots of metal as a community. Will you be offering your view there? What is “community” in metal?

The conference will be a great event. We will definitely be present at the conference, because we are part of the history of our metal scene. “Community” in metal refers to everyone from the bands to the fans that attend to the shows and events that deal with the music we all share as our form of expression. Also refers to the cultural aspects that represent what we are in our social environment.

Organic Infest had a hiatus between 1993 and 2001, if I’m reading these other interviews correctly. What made you decide to come back? Are those reasons still going strong?

That hiatus happened because our original guitarist left the band for the first time to move to the United States after he got married, looking for a better life. He decided to return to Puerto Rico and in 2000 we got together again because we wanted to continue with what we like to do the most, play Metal!!! Definitely those reasons are still going strong, and will be until I die!

Are there any plans to re-issue your former works?

Personally, I have always wished to know what Penitence would sound like with better production. Even though that is not the style we play anymore, and I might do it one day, maybe even sooner than many people think. Maybe not only Penitence, but also some of the older material like the song Organic Infest from our “Drown In Blood” demo.

Well Brett Stevens and Death Metal Underground, on behalf of Tony (bass), Juan (drums) and myself (Chewy, piccolo bass and vocals) thanks a lot for the great interview and your support to the band. We will keep you informed on the bands new releases and important shows so people can follow up through your excellent website. Hails!!!

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