Interview: Cory Allen (Acerbus)

Acerbus have for some time been the enigma of the Texas scene: music that takes the furthest extension of death metal extremity known to humanity, the technical deathgrind genre, and expands it with a progressive and conceptually advanced edge that leaves most typical listeners of any genre standing open-mouthed. Well-versed in conventional music, Acerbus are exploring for new ground, and we were lucky to be able to talk to guitarist Cory during a break from his rocket science experiments. “Can the man behind the mask answer a few questions?”

What do you see as the distinction between art and entertainment, if one exists?

I definitely think a dichotomy between art and entertainment exists. I believe that art is a mental expression through your physical self, releasing any number of emotions, creative ideas, or in some cases rather scientific musical ideologies based on charted biological responsive “information.” I believe that entertainment is more based around the ever-popular biological survival ticket, or the dollar. Entertainment is something that 47-year-old men sit around in boardrooms concocting trying to blend the perfect ideas to entertain the masses and rake in an easy 1.5 billion in 2 weeks. You know, prime time television shows, game shows, reality shows, family movies, blockbusters, etcetera.

Do you believe art begins as a conception independent of its medium, or is it strictly configurations within the medium that inspire an aesthetic appreciation?

I believe that this varies from individual artist to individual artist. Speaking personally it’s a mixture of the two. Without a doubt it’s more of an inspired aesthetic appreciation and vision yet independent conceptualism does play its roll in some of my song writing. As in extremely awkward things that related none what so ever, not even related percussivly to music induces a spawning of musical ideas.

Do you think it’s possible that a band make significant art with only a handful of power chords?

It all depends on your definition of “art”. It’s like a space-time continuum paradox similar to Schrodinger’s Cat or Einstein’s mouse. I mean, the most beautiful and amazing piece of art to me could be garbage to you, so it’s possible or impossible depending on your perception of what art is. Short answer Yes with a capital N and long answer No with a capital Y.

Are emotions part of the logical process of the mind in your opinion, or are they of the mind?

I think that emotions are stuck somewhere in our time-evolved mammalian primitive minds. They are thoughts that cause nothing more that problems and weakness yet they are necessary so that the human DNA strand will survive and not kill itself off. It was VERY smart and sneaky of our DNA strands to slip that anti self-destruct mechanism into our biological programming.

Are you a materialist (no other words besides this one) or do you have any forms of transcendent mystical belief?

In no way am I a materialist. I do have what I believe is a very open minded transcendent belief. A belief really consisting nothing more that knowing that there are an infinite amount of possibilities and a complete void of fact behind any of them. Even if there were “facts” remember what a very smart man once said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.”

Marijuana seems to be a divine substance to many. So you think this is an accident of nature, something we’ve conditioned ourselves to find, or an accidental property of the substance – or another possibility?

I was actually discussing this yesterday. Once again, there are millions of scenarios containing endless amounts of speculation within each but I will tell you about an interesting theory that I had on the subject. Say the earth is a living organism. Thriving physically and possessing an extremely advanced consciousness that of which is beyond our imaginations or comprehension, i.e., growing wood on its surface for its experiment “humans” to use to build devices to help them live easier therefore longer. It distanced itself the seemingly PERFECT distance from the sun so with its what we see as annual rotation calculated its experiment could live comfortably under the climate conditions. Basically, the miracle plant is just another thing that the earth has grown for us as it watched its experiment get more and more hostile toward one another and boxed into ridiculously small reality tunnels. The growing of the plant by the earth provides its experiment with calmness, happiness, heightened physical pleasure and expanded thinking modulation to help shatter some of those miniscule sized reality tunnels that the humans that are too scared of their own existence want you to reside in forever. But hey, it actually doesn’t sound that far from the truth does it? (You know you read too much philosophy when you answer a question with a question! HA!)

What would your ideal lifestyles be, if you were exempted from the problems of resource scarcity?

I would begin by eliminating 90% of the population, which would be a huge step in the right direction of an ideal lifestyle. Other than that, all I would really yearn for is to be alone in a huge building consisting of a giant music and book library, a state of the art professional studio and a musical instrument library consisting of every instrument in existence. I suppose a gigantic INSIDE pool heated to 98 degrees would be in order as well. I love water. Looking at it, being in it (when it’s clean), drinking it, and thinking about it. It’s pretty amazing to me. It’s the mystery substance!

Do you think some bands are better at aesthetics than music, and should be lauded for opening doors that musically competent descendants will explore? (Think: Venom)

My answer to that question is a rather repugnant one in that I do not approve of artists that rely strictly on aesthetics because 9 times out of 10 that reeks of gimmick. Yet as you noted bands of that illustration have opened doors for artists who have created relevant and meaningful art. Therefore, I think that the grandfather artist (ones of aesthetic dependence) should not be glorified simply due to the fact that their gimmicky “act” unbeknownst to them happened to influence an artist of substance to create something momentous.

What do you see as the ideological, musical and social roots of the death metal movement?

I think that bands such as Deicide, Suffocation, Carcass, Morbid Angel (barf), and Napalm Death fundamentally established the foundation of the death metal movement. Actually, I think almost every new band’s ideologies and “social” roots (not something I enjoy at all in the death metal world) are still somehow based and JUDGED (its VERY harsh these days) on what thoughts the revolutionaries first had. It’s as if these bands created a steel mold for the rules of the genre and all that really happens even after 10 years of existence is bands just filling that mold and ever so slightly expanding on it. That’s definitely something I try to focus on during song writing, to try something new for the genre, and by new I don’t necessarily mean undistorted jazzy fills and adagiated bridges but just in a compositional manner or how the over all conception of the endless possibilities of an instrument are conceived. I think that some people that have yet to get up and peek out of the top of that mold that they’ve been sitting in the bottom of for the last few years will be jaded by this but I think the genre will dry up, get old and fizzle out if some people don’t start having an open mind about the genre’s amazing possibilities and its future and if someone doesn’t have the gallantry to take a chance on expanding the genres limits. You know you can only eat your favorite food everyday for lunch for so many years before it become bland and uninteresting. Music needs spicing up ever so often just like food.

In your opinion, what are the primary musical differences in form between black metal and death metal?

First, touching lightly on the more prominent definitions of the metal genre, and what I would look at as somewhat stating the obvious to any competent individual, I think that DM’s energy is generally fueled more by gore and technicality and BM’s energy is usually fueled more by rage (as blind and unguided as it may be sometimes). The vocal style usually sticks out like a sore thumb as DM vocals prefer the guttural growls or pig noises and BM vocals usual prescribe to the high screechy or I just slammed my genitals in a sliding glass door vocal style. BM guitars are generally consisted of standard tunings, which goes along with the high screechy vocals, where DM bands enjoy the tuned down sound (which in my opinion has become rather ridiculous these days. ACERBUS tunes to CFA#D#GC which is two full steps down on each string and that isn’t really considered that low in comparison to some bands in modern times), once again the deep guitars are coinciding with the vocal style.

Now to get slightly more in depth with my segregation descriptions, I will try to expand more. The musical stylings that I hear in BM songs are primarily composed of mutated minor chords. Quite often I find BM bands utilizing natural minor chords, which lacks a major seventh. While “eerie” or “whiney” sounding it provides no real power or emphasis to the root note of the chord. Harmonic and Melodic minor chords are intermingled with the natural minors to provide power and still retain a “dark” sound. These Harmonic and Melodic minor chords are used to strengthen the minor keys, there for giving way for some dark powerful sounding riffing. As far as an individual riffing style I think audibly there is an obvious sound that is generally more “open” and “breathing” even a somewhat dissonant and definitely more disharmonious sound with a tendency to move in shapes and patterns based on a full note chord to a two and a half step dropped minor chord reverting to the previous full chord with a slight half step rise minor alteration then reverting back to a lower minor chord plus and uncontrolled arpeggiation to follow with implied and increased attack to end and finally execute one performance of a riff. As far as a BM orchestration goes, I think BM focuses more on long-winded repetitious movements using the vocal pattern as lead point of which to follow and adhere to, almost defined as a somewhat deranged classical definition of the term symphony.

I think that the majority of death metal band’s riffing focuses on using diatonic chords intermingled with modulated minor pentatonic single notes tremolo picked scales to provide a constantly powerful, even, and bludgeoning barrage of whole note patterns and movements. Unlike BM, DM bands are not partial to letting songs “breath” or become “dissonant”. DM bands are usual very heavily infatuated with a song structure that has no musical “holes”, or a lack of sonic intensity at anytime in anyway. Unfortunately, I think during composition a lot of DM bands lose sight of the meaning behind the word orchestration. Ive noticed that a lot of DM bands just seem like the write 50 riffs, put them into a hat and randomly pull them out in no order yet string them all together using drums fills.

Today there are plenty of modest and worthy laboreres among scholars, too, who are happy in their little nooks; and because they are happy there, they sometimes demand rather immodestly that one ought to be content with things today, generally — especially in the domain of science, where so much that is useful remains to be done. I am not denying that; the last thing I want is to destroy the pleasure these honest workers take in their craft: for I approve of their work. But that one works rigorously in the science and that there are contented workers certainly does not prove that science as a whole poesses a goal, a will, an ideal, or the passion of a great faith. The opposite is the case, to repeat: where it is not the latest expression of the ascetic ideal–and the exceptions are too rare, noble, and atypical to refute the genreal proposition–science today is a hiding place for every kind of discontent, disbelief, gnawing worm, despectio sui, bad conscience–it is the unrest of the lack of ideals, the suffering from the lack of any great love, the discontent in the face of involuntary contentment.

– F.W. Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals

Is there such a thing as musical novelty? (a combination of notes striking or distinctive for purely musical reasons, with no other implications) or do you attribute what is commonly identified as such as being more of a stylistic novelty?

Yes, but I don’t think it is as much a musical novelty as it is a programmed effect that has thwarted us as time and “standards” have evolved. It’s almost more of a comforting thing to the ears of the close-minded more than a stylistic redundancy. Over time people have been “programmed” to recognize what sounds “correct” and “incorrect” in music, and really all other aspects of life as well. It’s quite a shame but its true. Certain progressions of musical notes or chords have been labeled “incorrect” because to most people they sound “ugly” (minor chords, several notes played at once which are out of key with on another), while others are considered beautiful (whole note chords, several notes played in octave). They both sound beautiful to me, just different. Who are we to say that certain notes grouped together are right or wrong? My interpretation of this ridiculous dilemma is that it clearly seems as if this musical decision coincides with the rest of general human ideology. Humans are always trying to label “beautiful” or “normal” people/animals good and “ugly” or “different” people/animals bad. This reflects onto all aspects of general human thinking so why not let it bleed into music as well? We are brainwashed into thinking that what is disharmonious is “bad” and what is harmonious is “good”. Some people might think its preposterous for me to make a statement such as this but I think its preposterous for people to be trapped in a musical box which has been assembled by their “peers” and guaranteed by record labels which focus on the business of music rather than the music of music.

In ancient Greece, poetry was considered incomplete without accompanying music which united the significance of the words with the significance of certain tones and musical shapes. Is there any relevance of this idea today?

I think so. Music completes life. Certain songs complete and are appropriate for every, and any occasion. The choice of this music is, of course, up to the individual and will never be the exact same for any two people. I’m generally awake 19 or 20 hours every day and there is literally no more than two hours or so of my day, everyday, that is void of music. Working in a music store definitely contributes to my habits.

What inspired you about the deathgrind genre, or was it a culmination of other influences?

It has been countless influences, and the influences that influenced the people that influenced me. As Einstein said, you must honor the gift of evolution that is life, which has been worked on diligently for millions of years. People often tend to look that fact of existence over. I try to take the same approach to music, it seems like great men in the past have already done all of the really hard things in music for me and I think that now, anyone who picks up a musical instrument is on easy street in comparison to these previous achievements. Do you know off the top of your head who invented the first sound recording device?

I will try and stop from getting to far away from the question at hand and get back to my most prominent influences. I guess in the very beginning, 6 years ago, when I was 14 years old and had picked up a guitar for the first time, I was worshiping 3 bands. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Primus, and Deicide. I loved the sound experimentation and groundbreaking abstracting of music that Hendrix had, I loved the sense of humor and unconventuallity of Primus, and the aggression and technicality of Deicide. Those are the bands that made me want to pick up a guitar and that eventually drove me to create a band of my own that I wanted to contain all of the things that drew me to my early influences, in one single band. Now days the only thing that REALLY inspires me is avant-garde classical composers, i.e., Philip Glass, John Cage, Steve Reich, Kronos Quartet, ect.

What do you normally listen to in your time off from being death metal terrorists?

Actually, I enjoy listening to almost every genre of music. I really like Modern Psychedelic music, tons of obscure Classical composures, truck loads of Jazz and all of its sub-genres, of course Metal, Electronic music, Meditation music, Noise artists, and International (there are some really amazing eastern musicians). The list really has no end. What I’m listening to from each genre always changes but I can give you some things that are currently finding their way off the shelf into my CD player.

Kronos Quartet – “Black Angels”
Tan Dun – “Ghost Opera”
Suffocation – “Peirced from Within” and “Effigy of the Forgotten”
Jonas Hellborg/Shawn Lane/Jim Sipe – “Personae” and “Zenhouse”
Uncle Moe’s Space Ranch – “self-titled”
Clinic – “Walking with Thee”
Godspeed You Black Emperor – “Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven”
Philip Glass “Glassworks”
John Cage “The Seasons” (Margaret Leng Tan’s toy piano piece is amazing!)
Flaming Lips – “Soft Bulletin” and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots”
Autechre – “Gantz Graf” and “Tri Repeatae”
Gyorgy Ligeti – “Ligeti Project II”
Medeski Martin and Wood – “The Dropper” and “Uninvisible”
John Zorn/Mike Patton – “Hemophiliac”
Pat Martino – “Live at Yoshi’s”
John Adams “Naive and Sentimental Music”
Primus “Pork Soda” and “Sailing the Seas of Cheese”
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – “Body and Soul”
Anoushka Shankar – “self-titled”

That’s what ive listened to heavily this week, but like I said the list is ever changing and I have a ton of CDs or so, so I’m always listening to something different.

Is there such a thing as political ideas expressed in art, or do you see there being a necessary connection between political ideas -> social ideas -> perceptive concepts?

There are political ideas expressed in art and rightfully so. Political ideas need expressing so why not use one of the most affective methods of convoying ideas as your medium?

I know you bastards read philosophy; what are your favorites? What did they express that was not seen articulated elsewhere?

Yes indeed. I guess a few favorites are Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra”, Immanuel Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” (if you can make it through this book, read it again and ponder each line he writes, as each sentence holds at least a paragraph’s worth of metaphorical ideology. I own the Cambridge edition, it is abridged appropriately and edited in a way which makes the text easier {well I should say possible for most people to understand} for those who haven’t taken a Kantian philosophy course.), and while it is sort of a culmination of such topics as physics, philosophy, non-Aristotelian logic and semantics, I enjoy Alfred Korzybski’s “Science and Sanity.” I enjoy most titles by Robert Anton Wilson dealing with philosophy/consciousness expanding. While I believe most of his books are nothing more than other peoples’ ideas funneled down and regurgitated so people with “lesser intellectuality” can understand them and begin the process of consciousness expanding. Normally I would disagree with this method of funneling information/writing but he actually notes when he is taking from someone else’s thoughts or literature so that makes it valid in my eyes. His books are fun to read, he makes good points and has a great sense of humor. Stephen Hawking’s book, “A Brief History of Time” is good for the most part. I could go on forever here but I will list another good one, Carl Sagan’s “Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.” To answer your second part to this question would be a whole other interview. The ideas expressed in these books that were not articulated elsewhere are so deep, vast and lengthy that a summarization of all of these individual ideas within a few pathetic sentences typed by myself, to me, would be an insult to the writers who I look at as some of the intellectual iron men of writing. Although, I believe a quick summary to someone who is interested and has never read or heard of any of these books is due. As basic and stripped down as it can be put, the over all point of all of these books is to force the reader to look at life in a different light. Metaphorically speaking, your mind is like a parachute. Closed you will die, open it will save your life and you will float above as you watch the others hit the ground screaming.

In spiritual practice, which is more important: coherence with natural schema of patterning, or symbolic adherence to human desires?

I think both are equally unimportant. Both are nothing more than a subconscious choice that is made of how a person perceives and interprets his/her own reality based on how their brain programs cropped and filed away the information of spirituality that has been directed to them and imprinted in their brains based on what experiences and information (or misinformation, really) they happen to come in contact with during their life that has consequently shaped their perception and beliefs according to these random events.

What do you think about Falun Gong?

From what I have read or been told about falun gong it’s really nothing more than Chinese yoga for people whose reality is based on pseudoscience. I know it involves physical postures accompanied by mediation which will supposedly promote mental/spiritual well being. I read an article in a magazine once with the “leader” stating by mastering falun gong you can obtain such metaphysical abilities as levitation and other supernatural powers. In my eyes, falun gong is as ridiculous as any other type or brand of a spiritual salvation that is defined by one living person (on an upside, at least their “leader” isn’t fictitious). Master Li, the “leader”, is the only person who can define the ways of F.G. therefore the ideology immediately causes me to burst into laughter and look at F.G. as nothing more than another man (Li) who is probably semi-intellectual who uses shills to control the minds of the mentally weak and needy. To me, the idea that a carbon based life form is to be looked at as a bringer of salvation is hilarious, pathetic and simultaneously horrifying in the fact that there are about 2 million people in the world that prescribe to the theory of falun gong. It’s a shame our species has bred beings that believe one of their own kind could be their bringer of salvation and are so mentally weak and distorted that they are sucked into a thin, as in lacking of content and containing no scientific relevance, vision of salvation in hopes of obtaining “supernatural” powers for no more than time and a likely weekly fee. I think the first step in demystifying any method that promises to bring salvation is if biological survival tickets (money) fit into the equation. I would imagine that a being that brings salvation would not be of biological content therefore would have an absent need for our (note the first word after the parenthesis) biological survival tickets.

Do you have any opinions of pornography? Do you feel it turns humans into symbolic structures in the same way religion does?

I think pornography is humorous. Not really from the point of view of the female who is baring her hide but from the male’s perspective. I think guys and women alike who enjoy pornography are either not aware of certain aspects of their existence or the worse scenario, are aware yet don’t care. Males tend to drool, stew, fantasize and obsess over pictures of naked females and critique their body in comparison to their personal preferences. Here is where the humor comes in. What males don’t realize whilst they enjoy porno is all they are doing is acting as the primates that they are, filled with a genetic structure that does not want to die out therefore possesses the constant need and want to reproduce. For example, when a guy says, “that bitch is hot”, unbeknownst to him he is thinking “the fat distribution and reproductive organs of the opposite sex in my sight seem extremely healthy and from what I’m perceiving visually has the ability to provide extremely healthy children for me.” When a guy looks at a pair of naked breasts he quivers, when in actuality that thought of lust running through his mind is nothing more that his deeply rooted and distilled thought that these mammary glands (plump breasts) will provide perfect sustenance for his offspring therefore promoting the longevity of his DNA strand, which is the most important aspect of a living organism. Apply this ideology to all other focuses of lust and there is a similar truth such as above behind each one. Peacocks spread their feathers to show the females the array of colors and the amount and fullness that their feathers possess which is a trait of a healthy male that in turn attracts the female, just as the human male works out, combs his hair, and wears becoming clothing etcetera, to attract the female. Unfortunately cars, money and so on are signs of power and well being which also attracts the human female. This is where the humor in pornography lies for me. When some pathetic male is gawking at or masturbating to a photo of a naked women he has no idea he is simply bleeding for his master, the DNA strand that is programmed to reproduce at all costs. Just as it is stereotypical for a male to feel and act “Zen-like” and feel necessary to reminisce of his previous nights copulative affairs with other males. He is satisfied physically that he has fulfilled his biological purpose in life and must tell the other males in his “tribe” of his affairs to gain a top dog status. Watching or hearing of these events provide me with endless laughter and entertainment; therefore the idea of pornography is extraordinarily humorous to me.

Another counsel of prudence and self-defense is to react as rarely as possible, and to avoid situations and relationships that would condemn one to suspend, as it were, one’s “freedom” and initiative and to become a mere reagent. As a parable I choose asociation with books. Scholars who at bottom do little nowadays but thumb books–philologists, at a moderate estimate, about 200 a day–ultimately lose entirely their capacity to think for themselves. When they don’t thumb, they don’t think. They respond to a stimulus (a thought they have read) whenever they think–in the end, they do not but react. Scholars spend all of their energies on Yes and NO, on criticism of what others have thought–they themselves no longer think.

The instinct of self-defense has become worn-out in them; otherwise they would resist books. The scholar –a decadent.

I have seen this with my own eyes: gifted natures with a generous and free disposition, “read to ruin” in their thirties — merely matches that one has to strike to make them emit sparks — “thoughts.”

Early in the morning, when day breaks, when all is fresh, in the dawn of one’s strength — to read a book at such a time is simply depraved!

– F.W. Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals

What activities do you have outside of music?

I don’t do a lot that doesn’t relate to music in some way. I enjoy drawing, writing text in a style I call “metaphilosophtry”, which is a mixture of metaphor, philosophy and poetry. I love reading philosophy, physics, and psychology books and really enjoy psychotropic experiences. Not sleeping much and drinking lots of coffee fits in there. I rarely go “out” as I hate loud noises (yes I know its sort of contradictory to being in a band but loud music is the only loud noises that are enjoyable to me) or being around people. Other than that there isn’t much I do that doesn’t have to do with music in some way or another.

What do you do to relax and have fun?

Well, there is the obvious, I play in Acerbus, I write music at my home and record various guitar or keyboard pieces on my digital studio. I try and have an intellectually stimulating conversation with someone every now and then. I’m quite the hermit and often refer to myself as a “misanthropic nihilistic introvert”. I love studying and thinking about the psychology involved with musical notes and progressions and I suppose the previous question will answer the rest.

If music is a language, what distinguishes certain pieces as impressive relates to the poetic content they express. Is there a difference between content and form in music?

I definitely think that certain progressions or orchestrations in musical notes, patterns of notes or chords will draw out certain emotions or trigger thought patterns that are unique to each listener. This is where my main interest in music lies. With every piece of music I write I keep in mind how it (the piece) will affect the listener on individual levels as well as in cohesion with the rest of the composed piece. I hope this is subconsciously apparent to people who listen to Acerbus. When people come to me after our shows they will tell me that we just sound “different” and that they cant quite place their finger on what it is but we just sound “different” to them. Hopefully this is a result of my psychological study of music at play since I write music utilizing certain aspects and attacking the listener’s ear in such a way that their brain cant help but to register these sounds on their musical spectrum as “new”, hence people telling me Acerbus just sounds “different” to them. Hopefully this method is at play but one can never be absolutely sure.

What’s wrong with humanity?

Do you want me to write a 2000 page essay here? I’ll give it to you as stripped down as possible. Humans have “evolved” to a biological life form that holds horrible traits called narcissism, ego, deceitfulness and personal dogma. America has arrived at a point where everything is based on biological survival tickets (money) and milking and flexing the primitive aspects of humans for all that their worth. Everyone in America (99%) has the mindset as follows: me first, I’m right you’re wrong, I am not successful without loads of money, I must outdo everyone else in the world on every level to retain top dog status, I’m the most important being on the face of this planet that would shrivel and die if I were to cease to exist. It’s sad really because life would be grand if everyone would drop all of this self important hogwash and read a book about, or at least an introduction to non-Aristotelian thought. Unfortunately, this will never happen so I say it would be in our best interests as a species to destroy all existing political and social parties and try to start over again with an actual democracy instead of one that spoon feeds its residents the illusion of freedom, the illusion of choice and the illusion of safety.

if you could be one non-human species (imagine reincarnation or other “magical” occurrence) what would it be?

I’d settle on being a viperfish. There are amazing and undiscovered things in the deep sea that would provide an infinite amount of eye candy for me as I enjoy looking at things and pondering on them. Having photophores that cause light to emanate from your body using bioluminescence would be amazingly amusing. Knowing reality as an air breathing life form would make living underwater very interesting. As an added bonus viperfish are extremely gnarly looking so that is a definite plus for me as well.

Which book would you most likely have written, not being already given to a career in musicianship?

Without a doubt I would have written, “Prometheus Rising” by Robert Anton Wilson. It’s a great book that anyone on any intellectual level can understand that will help him or her expand his or her reality tunnel resulting in higher intelligence, understanding of their self and others and awareness of one’s own biological nature and an introduction to the ways brain programs work. All things I think humanity could use sorely at this current time.

What do you think of the Austin scene? Do you think a city’s collective attitude determines what music will emerge?

I’ve gotten asked this question EVERY interview I have ever done since Austin has the reputation for being the “live music capitol of the world”, which is total bullshit (there is probably at least 200 bands that play in clubs all over Austin every night, it doesn’t mean that they have any real musical substance to them), so forgive me for not elaborating in great lengths one this one. Let me say this, we play a lot of out of town shows and most of the people that are into underground metal in Austin are in bands. I think the attitude of a city has little effect on what bands will emerge. I see where bands from certain areas have certain “sounds” but I think that is probably just a factor due to a psychosomatic suggestion that bands from certain cities hold a certain sound that must be emulated. I’m sure bands from the same areas experienced the same influences and I would imagine that would have something to do with it as well.

Do you see yourselves as expressing the ideas of your environment, or reacting to those ideas? (not to be confused with reactionary opposition, or an emotional/irrational response of rejection)

I guess I create music based on my influences, perceptions of what I think is musically divine, my own thoughts and on what ways I think that music can and needs to evolve.

Do you plan to have a family and “normal” life, if the opportunity rises?

No. An American “normal” life is nothing more than the lowest common denominator.

When you are playing, do you visualize the difference between the shapes you are touching/pressing on the fretboard, or do you have another method of preparing for the radical sweeping fretruns that seem to be easy for you?

This is a hard question to answer, but I will do my best. I hope my response remains coherent to everyone because I know exactly what I’m talking about but it’s difficult to put certain brain/body functions in to text form. When playing I visualize geometric patterns on the fretboard that are segregated in a grid-like pattern (as in each fret contains 6 lines which can be looked at in cohesion with all others as a giant piece of graph paper, each line holds a tone and is programmed into my brain accordingly) with the boundaries for each possible note change being each fret and string. This method of playing is extremely critical during my four fingered tapping solos. Most times when I play I do it in a sort of subconscious manner, I just kind of let me hands go to work. The best comparison is typing on a computer keyboard; each key is assigned a certain character just as each string is assigned a different note. Certain words you type, after typing them a few times become natural and this allows you to type in a fluid and fast way. This is just like how I play guitar. After I write a guitar riff the hand movements that are necessary to create the sound of the riff become like a stamp. Once it’s forged all you have to do is apply it and its there in perfect relief. The assemblage of many riffs, rhythm, transitional or lead, form together as one giant hand pattern or in other words about 40 different “riffs” or stamps compiled will create one giant “stamp” or song. I think that is the best I can explain it. I hope it made sense.

When you interact with normal people, how much do you self-censor what you’re going to say?

Unfortunately I do. I don’t censor what is considered “foul” language but I majorly censor what I would like to say intellectually. While people are talking they generally want their opinion to be heard and they don’t want to feel inferior. If I say something to someone that is what I consider a slightly deep thought, people will most times not understand you and think your just trying to be a “know it all”. So whilst in conversation with people whether it is friends or strangers I just strip down what I’m thinking so everyone understands and no one feels left out forcing them to lie their way through a topic since humans can’t stand admitting to not knowing something. I consider doing this a social Valium, but I never said I had the best social skills.

If you make people feel that they know something, they will adore you, if you make people realize they know nothing, they will loathe you.

What does Acerbus do to prepare for a concert?

We all stretch our muscles, tune our instruments, and arrive at a mentally self-confident state of readiness. Larry prescribes to the athletic abstinence of all physical indulgences theory for several weeks before any show or recording. I suppose that is all.

Have any labels woken up and signed you yet?

No. I have sent promotional packages to countless labels but every response I have gotten has been that we are too “extreme” or “out there” to bring in a large quantity of sales therefore the labels are unwilling to take a chance. I guess I’m out of touch with the metal community because I thought in the early nineties when Suffocation, Carcass and Deicide were breaking new ground being as extreme as possible was the name of the game. I don’t mean this in an egotistical way at all but I’m not worried: I know we will get signed eventually its just a matter of when and who is willing to take a chance.

What do you see as the primary differences between classical music and jazz?

Another essay style answer is in order here but I’ll try and keep it to a few sentences. This will probably only be funny to 1 out of 10,000 people but here it goes… I’ll try and be “the minimalist” while answering this question about classical music. HAHAHA! Man that’s funny in a cheesy way! Anyway, most Classical music is very refined and often referred to as “educated” music that is based on theory and what is “correct” (except for my favorites), while jazz is a style of music, while still well refined, is characterized by improvisation and experimentation. Hopefully everyone reading this already knows this fact but the alternate definition to the word “jazz” is miscellaneous or unspecified things. There we go, short and sweet and without speculation as promised.

What are the most significant musical innovations in the last fifty years, in your opinion?

This is another hard question to answer, but I’ll give you the most prominent things that stick out in my mind. The invention of several instruments (electronic and others) has done music well. The fact that in the last 20 years musical genres seem to have been mixed up a lot more. Unfortunately, this genre mixing has not been good all the way around but it has produced a few gems. It’s like mixing paint colors together, if you do it right you get vibrant unique colors. If you do it wrong you get brown. I can tell you some artists that I think have really pushed the limits of music as a whole in the last 50 years. Philip Glass (whom I happen to be listening to as I answer this interview), Steve Reich, Jimi Hendrix, John Cage, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, John Zorn, Primus, John Coltrane, Black Sabbath, Thelonious Monk and the Kronos Quartet. These are just a few but I think that they have all have had a profound impact on music over the last 50 years.

Do you feel ambient music brings any theoretical change or alterations in form to popular music, and, if so, what do they signify in the mental processes of artists in this time?

Slightly, and by that I mean everything has an effect on everything. Any slight alteration or event will affect an infinite number of reactions that will cause change throughout the world. Introducing new musical ideas or genres will work in an identical fashion.

Is history cyclic, linear, or linear within cyclic? Please explain.

The thought of history being cyclic is not feasible to me. Charting reoccurring events and loosely comparing them to more recent events suggesting the idea that history is cyclic is very similar to people who believe in psychics or faith healers. Weak-mindedness and deluding myself into believing coinciding similar facts cause factual relevance in certain events is not something I’m a fan of. Believing that history is linear within cyclic patterns sounds like someone who is one the edge a cliff preparing to jump off but just can’t quite do it yet. I think history is linear and I think people that believe history is cyclic could probably be diagnosed with infophobia and need to get hobbies, try pseudoscience it will be right up your alley.

How do you reconcile the view that art is a matter of individual interpretation (#2) with the idea that all listeners are affected similarly by certain musical combinations (#1)?

A sense of relief falls upon me to discover that the perceiver asks for further information on questions that have what could be seen as contradictorily answers. I will attempt an explanation using metaphor with promises that my answer remains coherent. Imagine bottles of paint and a mixing palette. Each base color in the each bottle (red, green, blue, yellow) is pure and unaltered such as an un-interpreted message to your brain. Any disturbance to this pure thought or “pure color” (which represents and un-interpreted brain message) will cause the same amount of change to the final interpreted message (“mixed primary paint colors” or a thought that has been altered by your minds own personal perception. ) in the outcome. So, the fact that I stated that “art is a matter of individual interpretation”, resembles how everyone’s “final perception” or, a thought that has gone through your brain programs thus the outcome will vary based upon each individual’s “reality tunnel” or, the way they perceive reality. Now, when I say “all listeners are affected similarly by certain musical combinations” I mean that if I can find musical combinations that actually change the original unperceived signal (which is the same for everyone), then the outcome will be slightly different, yet different in the same way for everyone. I will explain again in a different manner to promote the illumination of my point. Imagine having 10 painters that are all using the same paint bottles. You tell them to mix the colors on their own palettes and to each paint a landscape. Therefore, each painter s final picture will be different based upon his or her perception of a landscape. Now to change each painter’s painting without changing their interpretation of the landscape we would change the base colors from red, blue, yellow and green to black, purple, orange and brown which would cause the same change to each painters painting without changing their perception of their landscape.

There’s too much to talk about, and I’ll keep asking questions forever. Is there anything else you’d like to add for benefit of broadcast to the world?

Thank you for reading the entire interview, I’m glad you made it all the way through! Thanks to SRP for writing an interview that owns questions of substance and once again I appreciate anyone spending the time to read this. Anyone should feel free to contact me if they wish: Acerbus@angelfire.com

Thanks Again for your time!

Cory

-ACERBUS-

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Interview: Quorthon (Bathory)

Black metal and death metal legend Quorthon of Bathory took some time to answer our questions while he was busy recording the Nordland series of albums. Among all the interviews we’ve done, this may be the most focused and articulate, with one of the most passionately intelligent figures black metal has ever produced.

The dominant influences on the earlier Bathory work appear to be Venom and Slayer. Were you listening to other music at the time, including hardcore punk like Discharge?

I think it is very easy for people to be making that kind of connotation, simply because those two acts in particular are perhaps among the first ones that comes to mind when the roots of extreme metal is being discussed. But actually, I have never owned a Venom or Slayer album. And I don’t give a fuck if people believe that or not.

I know some people believe the change of style for BATHORY, in terms of the music and lyrics around 1988-1990, happened because we must have got turned on from Manowar. That’s another total misconception. I have never owned a Manowar record. And I don’t give a fuck if people believe that either. Not that it matters though.

I have of course heard Slayer (an act, which by the way does have all my respect for being original and for sticking to their roots in much of what they do). And I have heard a handful of tracks by Venom.

In 1986-1988, BATHORY had a drummer who was heavily influenced by Manowar. He didn’t enjoy any other type of metal, but he was somehow sold on Manowar. It wasn’t like we decided to copy what they were doing. However, the typical heavy Manowar beat seemed to perfectly suit my new ideas for lyrics at the time. The way it came about was this; in an effort to get away from the whole “are they true satanists or not”-discussions that went on in the media at the time (sort of drawing the attention away from what was truly important, the music), I felt I wanted to replace the whole demonic & satanic bag with something that was pure from christian and satanic bullshit.

The pre-christian Scandinavian Viking and vendel era seemed perfect for lyrics and arrangements. Had BATHORY been a japanese act, we might as well have picked up the Samurai culture. Had we been an Italian act, it could easily have been the Roman empire era. Now, we happened to be a Swedish act and the Viking and Vendel era seemed exciting in terms of writing music and lyrics. The heavy Manowar beat that this one-time BATHORY drummer came up with one day in the rehearsal place, is a Manowar contribution. But I wonder if that’s enough to be called a source of inspiration or influence.

My personal reason for forming BATHORY was I wanted to create a mix of the atmosphere of early Black Sabbath, the energy of early Motörhead and the pace of early GBH. We were just three shit kids coming out of school at the time, with absolutely no knowledge at all about any other acts. Remember, Metallica released their first album around the time we entered the studio for the first time. Slayer too released their first album at the same time. We were totally in the dark about any underground movement in Europe. It wasn’t until way after we had already released our first album that we learned about tons of others acts in Europe and elsewhere playing basically the same type of primitive and dark extreme metal that we were making.

Around the time I formed BATHORY, I was listening a lot to an album by early GBH I believe was called “City baby in attack of the rats”. We based half of BATHORY’s initial sound and style on that GBH album. I may have listened to some Discharge, but I don’t remember any of their songs or any of their titles anymore. The “Ace of Spades” and “Iron Fist” Motörhead albums also meant very much when we formed BATHORY. So did the first handful of Black Sabbath albums.

Bathory has always stood above other bands by having a melody connected firmly to a rhythm in the anthemic style of most great metal bands. How did you learn to play guitar, and what methods do you have for conceptualizing the songwriting process?

I don’t think I worry too much about whether to include a melody line or not in a song. That will come along in a natural fashion. I have always said that a song and a lyric writes itself. I really don’t think too much about the actual writing, the arrangements or even the playing. It’s second nature by now.

I don’t know if having a melody line in a song would place BATHORY “above” other bands, but sure it does add something special to a song. Extreme noise and brutalities are always fun to do. But if you’re trying to tell the audience a story, which we do a lot in BATHORY, I think a melody line will add atmosphere and personality to the story.

I don’t see myself as a guitar player. I just use the guitar for writing songs. I may use the bass or a piano when writing other times.

I always write the music first. The lyrics will be added at a very late stage. The mood of the music will determine what the lyrics are to be about. Very seldom will I change anything in a song just because the lyrics might have turned a certain way. In the end it all works out somehow. It puzzles me as much as anybody else.

On Blood, Fire, Death an epic sound is present through the use of longer songs with greater symbolic significance to their movements and motifs. What inspired this change from the dark, heavy and primitively simple music of Under the Sign of the Black Mark?

Probably from reading biographies on masters like Wagner and Beethoven and their works. I began to listen to classical music shortly after forming BATHORY, and from 1985-1986 it was all I would listen to. I had been playing various types of rock in various constellations since 1975, so picking up Wagner, Beethoven, Haydn and others really broadened my musical awareness extensively. The motif signature naturally comes from the world of opera.

Around 1986, I realised we were actually just writing albums full of religious hocus-pocus, satanic rubbish and demonic crap. I was not a Satanist and knew absolutely nothing about occultism or demonic affairs, so I asked myself why should I really be writing about that shit. I mean, we actually got to make albums, so why not try something different. That’s when the idea to bring the whole pre-christian Swedish Viking era into BATHORY came about. Not that I knew any more about that period in time, but it was at least a fresh source to draw stories from.

When people ask me today, if I am ever ashamed of the early albums and the lyrics they contained, my answer is “no”. We’re not ashamed of anything, we all go through stages in life when one thing may be cool for a period of time, and then something else comes along that inspires you in a different way.

Originally, we picked the whole demonic bag up because we didn’t feel we could write the same sort of lyrics that the big boys would write. We didn’t know shit about riding down the highway on a Harley, drinking whisky out of the bottle while fondling all these loose women. We knew nothing about that life, so we picked up influences from the horror comics we had been reading while growing up, magazines like Vampirella and Shock, as well as all the horror movies we had watched as kids. It was all very innocent. I wouldn’t have known the devil even if he jumped up to bite my ass.

Thus if being-toward-death is not meant as an “actualization” of death, neither can it mean to dwell near the end in its possibility. This kind of behavior would amount to “thinking about death,” thinking about this possibility, how and when it might be actualized. Brooding over death does not completely take away from it its character of possibility. It is always brooded over as something coming, but we weaken it by calculating how to have it at our disposal. As something possible, death is supposed to show as little as possible of its possibility. On the contrary, if being-toward-death has to disclose understandingly the possibility which we have characterized as such, then in such being-toward-death, this possibility must not be weakened, it must be understood as possibility, cultivated as possibility, and endured as possibility in our relation to it.

– M. Heidegger, Being and Time

Do you think later Bathory was aiming more toward being a progressive or epic heavy metal band, where early Bathory had a good deal more punk/venom-style metal influence on it?

We didn’t have any ambitions at all to be any of that. About being progressive or epic, we weren’t thinking in those terms. It was just a natural evolution, it wasn’t planned or calculated. It just happened. It is so very easy for people in the year 2002 to sit back and name certain periods and labelling people and bands. When you have history and all facts at hand, people tend to file and classify past in a way we never did 20 or 15 years back in time. My recommendation to anybody who has problems getting a good view of all the styles and sounds out there is “- Don’t bother – just enjoy. It’s just fucking metal.”

How have your tastes changed across the years of making music?

Probably in much the same way we all change as people. We develop as we widen our perspectives. This is true for music as well. I’ll listen to everything from Glenn Miller to The Beatles, from Wagner to Sex Pistols, from Nick Drake to Beethoven. I hardly ever listen to metal. The only metal I will listen to, is vinyl that I bought 20 or 30 years ago like Mountain, early Kiss, early Saxon, early Motörhead or early Black Sabbath. I haven’t bought a metal CD in ten years. The last metal CD must have been Motörhead’s “Overkill”. The last CD I bought of any kind was last summer, George Harrison’s “All things must pass (1971).

Do you think that ideology changes the worldview of an artist, and that this is reflected in their music?

I have personally never allowed for any personal ideologies to influence my music or lyrics. For some years German metal media would say BATHORY was glorifying war and the holocaust in the lyrics. This is not true. We were writing about war and the holocaust in the very same way we were writing about all the other things we have written about; incest, the nuclear arms race, the world wars, the environmental issue, female BATHORY fans, serial killers, religion and fuck knows what else. In other words, as facts, not glorifying. I am not religious and have no political ideals, so for myself personally, writing lyrics is just painting with words and creating a scene.

Black metal today has gone through a shaping process of which Bathory was part. What do you think are Bathory’s contributions to the methodology of metal making?

I have absolutely no idea about what’s going on out there. I am not going to shows, I do not read the metal media and I do not buy or listen to any modern metal albums of any kind. If you’d play me ten tracks by ten different top extreme metal acts I couldn’t tell you what you’re playing. I wouldn’t be able to tell you where even one out of a hundred extreme metal bands comes from. People seem to believe that I have great knowledge and full view of the scene. I tell you, I know nothing. Nothing. Period.

The funny thing is, a lot of people insist that BATHORY’s so called Viking period had a greater impact on today’s Black Metal scene, than pure Black Metal of the early 80’s. The good thing about evolution is that what’s called Black Metal today, may not remind too much of what Black Metal was 20 years ago. Black Metal, Death Metal and all types of extreme metal, will develop further. The ones who get the most out of a diverse scene and constant evolution, is the audience.

As far as BATHORY’s contribution is concerned, back in 1986-1991 we used acoustic guitars, harmony backing vocals, intros and outros as well as sound effects to create that specific BATHORY atmosphere. Many bands have been copying that so thoroughly in the past 10-15 years, I believe this special atmosphere itself could perhaps be our greatest contribution.

From what I heard of your solo work (band named “Quorthon”) it seemed you were moving into a genre where you could use the broad style of rock music to fit in a number of melodic but hookish pop songs. Is this a return to your influences, or a changing of taste?

It’s funny that some people actually believe that the solo records is what I really want to do and that I only kept on working with BATHORY because it would sell like crazy. This is not true. I have written everything from extreme brutal metal to string quartets, and neither of the solo albums I did gives a more true image of what my inner music is like than anything else I have written.

Everything on the first solo album was accidental. I had absolutely no ambitions or plans. What happened was, I said I wanted to take a year off from music. Then the record company told me that I perhaps should think about a solo record, just to keep myself active. Now, that’s a very interesting situation. Not too many guys get to make a solo record. Myself, I had no idea what it would sound like. The offer to make a solo album was a challenge too exciting to ignore. So I wrote some pure guitar based crunchy metal rock material and went down a small studio for a week and a half. I brought with me a guitar, a bass and a drum machine with only one intention and that was to make a record that wasn’t going to be anything like BATHORY. Not that I didn’t like working with BATHORY, I just thought it was a good opportunity to “kill” the very erroneous image of “Quorthon” which had developed in fanzines and within the metal scene in general. People thought I was a neo-nazi satanic Viking who drank blood and ate infants, who lived in a bats cave in the north of Sweden and tons of other stupid things. I figured, if I produced a solo album that was miles from BATHORY, incorporating a little rock, blues and even punk, perhaps the most fanatic nut cases would be scared off.

The second solo album came about because people wrote me and said they were now very interested to see what I would come up with on a second solo record. So I wrote a lot of material, mixing The Beatles, Sex Pistols and Mountain plus punk. I have no plans for a third solo record, but having said that, I might just as well record a third solo album in future if I feel like it.

When you see bands today making black metal in the style of the nordic generation after 1987 (inspired by your Blood, Fire, Death and Sarcofago’s INRI in my supposition) what do you see as the possible future directions for that style of music?

Like I said previously, I do not think in terms of “genuine” or “true” metal versus “not-so-genuine” or “untrue” metal. My philosophy is; the more versatile and innovative a scene is, the more the audience will get out of it. It would be a very poor testimony if a scene were to contain only one style of music played exactly the same way, with the very same type of lyrics and image and so on. I think it’s more “posing” to be copying a certain style of clothing, wear make-up and use the exact same production as tons of other acts simply because it is the flavour of the day.

As far as the future of extreme metal is concerned, I do not worry at all. I know there will be tons of great bands in the future as well. The scene will be forever. There will be new names, new styles and new topics. The dark, evil and demonic will always be a part of the scene. The mythological themes will be there as well. I agree it would be interesting to see what else will happen as far as topics are concerned.

Do you think the world is on the edge of great change? If so what will change, and what is forcing it to change (what needs to change)?

I really don’t bother about the world or society at all. I’ll be dead in 30-40 years and neither people, politics, religion or society interests me at all.

Is the metal underground an effective way of distributing niche music according to its artistic integrity, or a justification for the kind of independent distribution needed to move relatively small numbers of CDs?

There’s more than one way to look at the underground distribution; firstly it will allow for acts to target the very type of audience they’re targeting specifically. Secondly, people interested in a specific type of music will be able to easily get a hold of very special CD’s and vinyl through underground distribution network.

Let’s face it, some extreme metal productions will never reach sales figures around 10 000-20 000 copies. A lot of acts will be happy to sell 5 000 or even 3 000 copies. With such a small quantity of CD’s sold, few record companies, even pure metal companies will even touch certain bands. The underground will be able to distribute albums made during less expensive circumstances, albums that still will have a lot to offer in terms of interesting arrangements etc. So in that respect, I think that the underground is doing a pretty tremendous job.

But the underground is also exploited by pirates, assholes, haemorrhoids and parasites. There are more illegal BATHORY CD’s circulating in the underground than genuine official BATHORY albums released. There’s fake “BATHORY live albums” out there, I have heard of “Quorthon rehearsal” cassettes and “lost recordings” on CD, and this absurd list just goes on and on. I will occasionally email these mailorder companies and underground metal shops, and tell them that they are distributing BATHORY fakes and illegal crap. Also, I will tell them that not only are they violating international laws of copyright and publishing rights, they allow the bootlegging pirates and haemorrhoids to use their network for criminal purposes. That’s not underground, that’s theft and breach of trademark laws etc.

I have heard of some really awful quality bootleg BATHORY CD’s and feel sorry for the fans that buy them for 15-25 dollars. All they get is crap quality copies of tracks released on our Jubileum volumes. The fans could easily just get the genuine thing from us directly. I came from the underground and I hurt like hell when I hear how young fans are being exploited this way. Any underground shop or mailorder dealer who will help in distributing bootleg crap is killing the underground.

Do you have any spiritual beliefs, or strong ideological concerns?

Nope, not a glimpse of spirit in me at all.

It seems to me that most metal musicians start their lives more antagonistic to society as a whole, and eventually as they age begin to acknowledge the need for a society but a dissatisfaction with its design. Do you have any comments here as general observations?

I am sure a lot of people will mature with age and realise down the road the need for a functioning society. But that probably has less to do with social awareness or a philanthropic pathos. It will have a lot more to do with the fact they’re beginning to pay taxes and want to see some results for their money paid.

How do you compose a song and, how integral are the lyrics?

I will just strike a guitar riff and continue from there. If it sounds good enough to work on further, I’ll write a song in an hour or so. A day, a week or a month later I may listen back to it and just taste a few words and see what comes out of it all. I rarely plan before writing a song what it should be about. All that will come along the process. I’ll say it again, I think the music and lyrics writes itself. I’m just a tool used by the demons of music.

Is Twilight of the Gods a rock opera in the style of the who, progressive bands from the 70s, etc?

I don’t know where that rock opera thing came from. I guess people had no idea what to call that kind of heavy bombastic arrangements 10 years ago. It wasn’t Black or Death Metal, so some people felt compelled to come up with some label for it. But to call it a rock opera is laughable. “Twilight” is no mot a theme album in any way, no track two off “Twilight of the Gods” has got anything to do with eachother, they are all individual tracks with totally different stories.

“Requeim” is more a theme album than “Twilight”, because it contains with the subject of death in all forms may it be suicide, murder, culture death, genocide or death in war or by cult.

How do you unwind/relax, or, what do you do for recreational purposes? (what do you enjoy besides music)

I’ll read a book or stride my Harley-Davidson motorcycles and go for a ride. I used to build a lot of plastic models, paint a lot or collect war memorabilia in the past but not as much these days.

Is it possible to return to metal with a different style after one has become one of the founding names of a certain style?

Depends what you mean by “return to metal”. I am the same metal underground shit kid today that I was 20 years ago. I’m still playing as brutal a guitar as I have been for 20 years. So it can’t be that I’ve been all of a sudden sliding back into a metal slot for some reason. It’s not like I have been travelling the world with a can-can orchestra since last time around.

I can’t see what a “return to metal” should point to. If there’s no BATHORY album out for a period of 5 years (as was the case between “Blood on Ice” and “Destroyer of Worlds”), some will call that a comeback. That’s absurd. Just because you’re not in people’s face all the time, it’s not a come back to have a new album out even if it’s more than a year between it and the last release.

People are so stuck with labelling acts and individuals, calling things and circumstances by so many names and whats more just to make life easier for themselves to live, it makes me sick.

The Odin mythos present in Blood on Ice, Blood, Fire, Death, and Twilight of the Gods seems to derive inspiration from the Nietzschean/Jungian view of the human psyche and the culmination of some of its historical inabilities. Do you think these ideas are gaining prevalence at this time, or becoming more obscure as society degenerates?

“Blood on Ice” was a saga based loosely on the Siegfried legend and an original story by Robert E Howard. The “Blood Fire Death” album really has nothing to do with Vikings at all except for the title of the track “Oden’s ride over Nordland”. But that’s not really the issue. It’s not important if an album or a track is or is not about this or that shit. The important thing is if it gives you the kick inside.

I think people see and hear more things then I really meant to put on them albums. The “Blood Fire Death”, “Hammerheart” and “Twilight” albums has been linked together as the “viking-albums”, the same way the first three albums “Bathory”, The Return” and “Under the Sign” has been tied into a trio. I gave up years ago trying to talk people out of all that crap. It’s just atmospheric metal, I don’t really bother much about the depth or context etc.

I really don’t remember why I picked some stuff up from Nietzche 10 years ago, I wasn’t reading much by him. It may have been through Wagner. I think cults, theories and views of all sorts will exist in much the same way for as long as there are people around.

Please insert any commentary on the questions, issues addressed, things missed in the interview, or general concluding remarks you may have.

We’re just right now finishing a 14-15 track new album to be released in September/October this year. Look forward to it and take care.
Hail the hordes !

Quorthon

In a sequence of words, i.e. by a chain of symbols, something new and greater is to be represented: rhythm, dynamics and harmony again become necessary on this level of expression. This higher sphere now governs the more limited sphere of the individual word; it becomes necessary to select words, to put them in a new order; poetry begins. The spoken melody of a sentence is not just the sequence of the sounds of the words; for a word has only a quite relative sound, because its character, the content presented by the symbol, varies according to its position. In other words: the individual symbol of the word is constantly being re-defined by the higher unity of the sentence and the character this symbolizes. A chain of concepts is a thought; in other words, this is the higher unity of the accompanying representations. The essence of the thing is inacessible to thought; the fact that it has an effect on us as a motive, as a stimulant of the will, can be explained by the fact that the thought has already become a remembered symbol for a manifestation of the will, for a movement and a phenomenon of the will in one. But when it is spoken, i.e. with the symbolism of sound, its effect is incomparably more powerful and direct. When it is sung, when melody is the intelligible symbol of its will, it reaches the summit of its effect; if this is not the case, it is the sequence of sounds which affects us, and the sequence of words, the thought, remains something distant and indifferent.

– F.W. Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy

Thanks to Black Mark Records.

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Interview: Les Evans (Cryptic Slaughter)

Cryptic Slaughter, the quintessential 1980s thrash band, where thrash means crossover music of a simple and effective nature. their music, of short bursts of song with explosive drumming and ragged punkish speedcore riffs, projected a forerunner archetype of what grindcore would soon be. Albums like “convicted” and “money talks” displayed the formative techniques of death metal. But even independent of its historical role, this music crushes with its efficiency and organic texture. Les Evans, guitarist of Cryptic Slaughter, was kind enough to answer some questions for us via email. working on this interview has been one of the high points of the experience of writing about metal, and it is a privilege to interact with a founding mind of a band such as Cryptic Slaughter.

Do you think a generational difference exists between bands, in terms of how the thinking that inspires them to make their music changes?

Sure, and every generation thinks that theirs is the most relevant! Your immediate surroundings, differing time frames included, will always impact your creative output. But music crosses generational, race, and class divisions. So even bands from different eras maintain a common thread. I’m just happy that there are still “thinking” bands out there.

How was music composed in Cryptic Slaughter?

Generally, we wrote songs individually, after which we would present the rough sketches to the rest of the band. We would then tweak arrangements and embellish. Lyrics usually weren’t written until the music was finished. A rare exception was Lowlife. Scott came up with that opening drum riff out of the blue, and I wrote the accompanying guitar part right on the spot. I can’t remember if the rest of the song had already been written or not.

Do you conceive of songs as rhythms, or riff patterns, or abstract ideas or melodies? What has been for you normally the genesis of songwriting?

This will be difficult to put into words. I can’t say that I really have a conscious formula. Usually it’s the melody first, then the rythym. Sometimes I’ll hear music in my head and then try to translate it into something tangible. Or I’ll just play around loosely with the guitar. If something promising comes up, I immediately record it and then attempt all manner of variations on the pattern or riff to see which sounds the best to me. After I come up with something I’m happy with, I’ll put it aside for a few days and then listen to it again. If I still like it upon the second listen, it’s a keeper. When Jimi Hendrix was asked a question similar to yours, he replied that he was like an antenna, or an open channel through which ideas were allowed to flow. In other words, his songs came from somewhere else. And while I would never, ever, try to compare myself to Hendrix, I do understand what he meant. Occasionally, I’ll write music and suddenly, it’s like it’s not me playing. Almost as if I’m outside of myself as an oserver. There’s a great mystery behind art.

Rap (and the synth music that inspired it) seems to be digital-technology-dependent, where other forms of music are less so. How does this affect the viewpoints of the artists?

I embrace the technological advances, but I do believe that any artist that relies too heavily on technology runs the risk of having his music sound like it was written and performed by a computer. But then again, that’s exactly what some bands are after. They want it to sound as cold and inorganic as possible because it evokes a very sinister feel. Whatever yanks your crank.

Of all the thrash guitarists, your work was seemingly the most unabashedly punk in raw dynamics while having a metallish sense of arrangement. In what ways did each genre influence your songwriting?

When I was a kid, I was metal to the core. I turned on to hardcore right when Cryptic was first coming together. Back then, those styles of music were so underground that I automatically gravitated towards anything new I could get my hands on. And I was influenced by everything that was fast and raw. We wanted to do something different to stand out from the crowd. The ultra-speed stuff kind of just evolved without any direct intent. But as we got faster and faster, it definitely necessitated a change in the way I was playing. So what eventually developed as my style was never pre-meditated.

What bands inspired you when you were starting out, pre- and post-Convicted?

Before Cryptic formed, the most important bands to me were Slayer, Metallica, Venom, and Motörhead. Then I started listening to GBH, RKL, Suicidal Tendencies, Discharge, and Minor Threat. I had friends in high school who were into punk, so we would borrow each others records. I think they really wanted to convert me, and I guess it worked. Before Convicted was even recorded, we had taken a definite turn towards hardcore. The earlier songs on that record, Rest in Pain, War to the Knife, & Rage to Kill, were more metal. Whereas M.A.D., State Control, & Nation of Hate reflected our new direction, lyrically as well as musically.

Do you think the metal genre has been obsoleted?

I don’t think any musical genre can be considered obsolete if there is still an active fan base. It’s almost impossible to be original anymore because it seems like everything has been done to death. So hats off to the modern pioneers like Strapping Young Lad, who have brought something new and distinct to the scene.

I could find no reference to Cryptic Slaughter demos anywhere on the web (the net is often useless). Were there any and if so, can you give a brief demography?

There was only one, recorded in May, 1985 entitled “Life in Grave”. Five songs, two of which (R.I.P & War) we re-recorded for Convicted. It was much more metal influenced.

Before us there is certainly left only nothing; but that which struggles against this flowing away into nothing, namely our nature, is indeed just the will-to-live which we ourselves are, just as it is our world. That we abhor nothingness so much is simply another way of saying that we will life so much, and that we are nothing but this will and know nothing but it alone. But we now turn our glance from our own needy and perplexed nature to those who have over-come the world, in whom the will, having reached complete self-knowledge, has found itself again in everything, and then freely denied itself, and who then merely wait to see the last trace of the will vanish with the body that is animated by that trace. Then, instead of the restless pressure and effort; instead of the constant transition from desire to apprehension and from joy to sorrow; instead of the never-satisfied and never-dying hope that constitutes the life-dream of the man who wills, we see that peace that is higher than all reason, that ocean-like calmness of the spirit, that deep tranquility, that unshakable confidence and serenity, whose mere selection in the countenance, as depicted by Raphael and Correggio, is a complete and certain gospel. Only knowledge remains; the will has vanished.

– A. Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation

How have your own musical tastes change through the years?

Mainly they’ve broadened. I still like heavy music, but my CD collection is pretty eclectic. Around 1987, we realized that there was a revolution happening in music that was being led by bands like Jane’s Addiction, Fishbone, Faith No More, the Chili Peppers, Mr. Bungle, Soundgarden, etc. Together with Wehrmacht on tour, we would get everybody from both bands on stage and play “Fight for your right” by Beastie Boys. People tripped on that because it was the last thing they expected.

Do you think the underground exists, still?

I do. It’s just that the underground has much more exposure now than it ever did before the advent of the internet. There is some real irony here. In 1985, it was hard to get any information on new bands outside of the mainstream. Now, there’s so much goddamn information available on every band imaginable, good and bad, that you couldn’t process it all in three lifetimes.

Some would say, as Wagner did, that music is a form of paint one uses to create art (narrative, descriptive or poetic works, normally in structure); others would say that music provides art within itself and has no correspondence to a more generalized “artisticness.”

Both points of view are correct. It all depends on how you define and perceive “art”. And that, of course, is a very personal distinction. Wagner and his contemporaries came from a much more rigid time in music history, which required a very strict adherence to form and theory. Imagine what those guys could have come up with had they been given complete musical freedom.

Do you see Cryptic Slaughter’s lyrics as having more of an aspect of the political, or as being social commentary?

Whenever we addressed a political figure or situation, I think that inherently, it becomes social commentary. For instance, when we bitched about Reagan, it was because he was making decisions that were affecting our lives. Political agendas, no matter how convoluted, eventually have a direct effect on the population. Of course, we were great about complaining, but offered very little in the way of solutions. But what do you expect from four young punks?

You said “Around 1987, we realized that there was a revolution happening in music that was being led by bands like Jane’s Addiction, Fishbone, Faith No More, the Chili Peppers, Mr. Bungle, Soundgarden, etc.” – after some research, I am guessing this means a funk/rap revolution in music. Do you think this revolution is still ongoing?

Actually, I was referring more to the punk ethics employed by those bands. They all have roots in the underground and, against all odds, managed to break into the mainstream with varying degrees of success. Let’s not forget, popular music in the early to mid 80’s was abysmal. It was all about Richard Marx, Kaja Goo Goo, and an endless array of butt rock bands. Jane’s, FNM, etc. were innovators and the driving force behind turning the tide. There was an enormous amount of creativity and risk taking in this respect from 1987-1992. And at the time, it was truly inspiring because it felt like the rest of the world finally got hip, and that meant that anything was possible for the rest of us. I should probably broaden my list by adding some more very influential bands; Ministry, Voi Vod, Primus, Butthole Surfers, Rollins Band, The Pixies, and it goes on and on. It’s also important to note that these bands made their impact on their own terms. They didn’t change for the masses, the masses came to them.

How do you describe the music of Cryptic Slaughter, and do you assign it to any subgenres (thrash, crossover, metalcore)?

I still like the original tag line I came up with in 1985, “Hardcore Thrash”. Pretty good marketing for an eighteen year old. It’s simple, yet it tells the story.

How has this revolution changed our perceptions and expectations of music as a whole?

It effected me greatly, and certainly had an impact on music as a whole, because it was really more than just a fusion of metal/funk/rap/punk and whatever else. A new musical paradigm was created, one in which bands were no longer confined to specific categories. This, in turn, forced a shift in general perception that allowed for much more artistic freedom. The audience came to expect bands to be more multi-faceted and eclectic. It changed music forever.

If you could do it all over again, what would you change about your discography?

Well, I’d like to re-record the first three records. I was never happy with how any of them sounded, especially “Stream of Consciousness.” And there are certain songs that I absolutely can’t listen to, like Hypocrite. I realize that it’s probably sacrilege for me to think these thoughts out loud. We really didn’t know anything about recording or production, so we basically just plugged in and played. Maybe that was part of the charm.

Two rumors: that your albums were to be re-released by a Pennsylvania label, and that the new album will approximate “speedcore” or crustcore – can you tell me anything about these and their degrees of veracity?

The plan at this time is to re-issue the first two individually, both with the original artwork. For bonus tracks, we will include the demo, along with a substantial amount of live and rehearsal material, most of which has never been heard outside of our circle of friends. Regarding the new material, I’m really happy with what we’ve written, but I have no idea which category it will fall into. We were always a band that people could never agree on anyway, in terms of genre, and I don’t expect that to change now. It’s fast, brutal, and angry.

How did the members of Cryptic Slaughter meet and come together?

We all played soccer, and had all been playing for years. That’s the truth. If not for the the American Youth Soccer Association, there would not have been a Cryptic Slaughter. Bill and I went on to both play for the same high school team, although not at the same time. I met Scott and Bill through a guy named Adam Scott who was actually one of the original members of the band. I used to give Adam guitar lessons and he was younger than me by a couple of years. He told me he knew a drummer through soccer. So when we first started jamming in the summer of 84′, I had just turned 17, Adam was 15, and Scott was 14 & 1/2. We stank on ice, but just finding other pepole into the same music back then was so rare that we bonded pretty quickly. Bill, another one of Adam’s soccer buddies, joined up after school started that Fall. We steadily got better, and played a lot of covers. I remeber that we did Ace of Spades, Aggresive Perfector, Welcome to Hell, and City Baby Attacked by Rats fairly well. Adam’s parents, who were both teachers, began to put a lot of pressure on him to quit. They were just looking out for him. but he started to miss rehearsals so we kicked him out and became a three piece. Rob (who was not a soccer player) came into the fold about a year later, two months or so before we recorded Convicted. We didn’t even know him, but it worked out better than any of us could have imagined. Rob’s playing and songwriting had a huge impact on improving our sound.

Do revolutions in music like the one you describe exist until they get mainstreamed, and then somehow get consumed? Or are they ongoing?

Everything gets ruined when too many people find out about it. But you enjoy it while it lasts. Once there’s a “new sound”, every major label tries to jump on the bandwagon. That kind of over-saturation and dumbing down of the music is what kills originality. And what’s worse, you’ve got these copy cat bands that emerge in an attempt to cash in. Remember how many Nirvana wanna-be’s there were? I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having influences, but when you’re gearing your music towards what you think will be the next big thing, you’ve lost sight of what’s important. Take Faith No More’s example. They had a huge hit with The Real Thing, and then proceeded to turn their backs on commercialism in favor of following their instincts.

Was Stream of Consciousness a live or studio live album, or did it acquire its deliciously noisy production another way?

It was recorded in an abandoned beer vat, previously owned by Pabst Blue Ribbon. No shit. It was basically a wherehouse. That record actually sounded a lot better before it was mastered. My buddy Jason, Cryptic’s only real roadie, recently foud a test pressing for Sream that Rob had given him fourteen years ago. As is typical, it had a blank label with a section for comments. And what Rob had written summed it up with two words; “IT SUCKS”. Don’t get me wrong, I think the songs on that record are by far the best we ever wrote as a band, but none of us were happy with the production. And for all intents and purposes, by the time that record was released, we were already broken up. An interesting footnote, also thanks to Jason; we have a rehearsal tape of those songs that sounds better than the record, including a tune that was never released. We want to have it released with the re-issues.

On the metal history page (http://www.anus.com/metal/about/history.html) metal is grouped into several waves, based on what worldview they had because of historical events current to the time of each wave. Do you see a difference in the musical approach between bands of members born in approx. 1968, 1974, 1982 and 1986?

Oh yeah, people from different eras grew up in different worlds. I came up in the laid back 70’s when pot was decriminalized (thank you, Jimmy Carter) and sex couldn’t kill you. Then, just as I was ready to start having some of that fun, along comes the “Just Say No” Reagan years and AIDS. And this was also when the Cold War got really ugly and the threat of nuclear war loomed large. I was confused as fuck. And pissed. Someone born in 74′ would probably tell you about their fear of being drafted into the Persian Gulf War. But I think another reason for the difference in approach is simply the desire to do something unique. the same thing over and over again gets old, so music has to grow and evolve.

Some musical thinkers claim to be able to visualize music as shapes or patterns, and from there conceptualize the song as an aesthetic object. How do you conceptualize sound, or is it a conscious process at all?

I tend to experience music more in terms of colors, but then again, I’ve eaten more acid than most people! For me, writing music is about intuition. There are no rules or perameters or formulas. It’s either good or it’s not, and you have to be objective enough to tell the difference. Because even the greats have written crap, but were smart enough to recognize it as such.

What do you think of the overall prospects for humanity given the state of our current treatment of our environment and selves?

Well, humanity will be going away, possibly within the next couple of hundred years. I believe that we’re too far gone now to change our ways enough to make a signifigant difference. Some of us will probably take off for another planet so we can begin the cycle all over again. But after we leave, the Earth will eventually heal itself. Throughout the millenia, it’s been through a lot worse than humanity.

What was the best part about being in Cryptic Slaughter during the innovative days of 1980s thrash?

The high point was the many many friends we made. I got to know people from all over the world, and I was lucky enough to experience a lot of great music.

What future directions do you see opening for people wanting to create loud, heavy, violent music? Do you think the ideals that make one wish to make such music have changed, or do you see the impetus as emotional?

Music is accessable in way now that we couldn’t have imagined in 1986. Back then, before the internet and MP3’s, kids in Nebraska had a hell of a time even finding Cryptic records. Even in L.A., I couldn’t find our records half the time. With the software available for home recording, there really are no limits. You just have to be motivated and creative in the art of self promotion. I’m sure the reasons vary depending on the person, but at the core it’s always driven by emotion. That goes for all forms of music.

Was it difficult to start a band and make it successful at such a young age? I believe you were 17 when Money Talks came out.

I had actually just turned twenty when Money Talks was released in July, 87′. Scott, if I recall correctly, was seventeen and a half. It wasn’t difficult at all because we had no idea what we were doing. We didn’t have anyone telling us what to do or what not to do, which is both good and bad. At the time, I don’t know that we necessarily considered ourselves successful. We saw bands like Suicidal Tendencies as being successful. we were just happy to have a an outlet to create.

Do young people today face a different world than young people of previous generations? How will this affect their music and the ideas they associate with the sounds they are making?

Young people most assuredly face a different world, and the world at present seems to be changing more rapidly than ever before. As a result, any feeling of stability that existed previously is now deteriorating. I don’t think anyone can accurately predict how this will affect how music is written and played. It wouldn’t surprise me, however, if it turns out to be pretty fuckin’ grim.

How did you learn to play guitar?

I took guitar lessons for years from the same guy, a studio musician. He was mainly concerned with teaching me advanced rythyms and chord structures that are most closely identified with jazz and music theory.I took music theory in high school and college as well. It’s funny how I put so much energy into learning “the rules” of music, just to turn around and break them all.

From who/where did the idea for the cover of Money Talks originate?

It came primarily from the artist, Jeff Harp, who also played guitar for Final Conflict. We gave him a lot of freedom, and he created quite a statement of the time. That cover got us on Tipper Gore’s list, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the F.B.I. opened a file on us around the same time. They’ve always kept a close eye on politically-minded musicians.

Santa Monica has always seemed to me to be a hyper-accelerated version of America in transition. Did it influence the topics of early Cryptic Slaughter songs?

I’m sure it did, although indirectly. Santa Monica was a pretty ideal setting in which to grow up. I spent a lot of my youth on the beach as well as the soccer field. Much of S.M. is very rich, but I come from a middle class background. No place is perfect, but we had it better than many kids. By the time we started doing Cryptic, we had begun to realize that the world around us left a lot to be desired.

Do you work on music full time? Family?

I wish I could do music full time, but alas, I work 40 hours a week like most people. I’m married and have a son who will be four years old soon. So I can’t afford to be an irresponsible slacker musician anymore. But I guarantee you that I rode that train for as long as I possibly could.

Do people ever beg you for re-releases of the Cryptic Slaughter albums?

Not really, but I guess the fact that people were paying between $100-$200 on Ebay for our early CD’s could be constued as a form of begging.

Now that the band has reformed, what do you aim to create in a different musical scene and perhaps style?

What we’re doing now is pretty over the top in terms of speed and heaviness. I don’t know that we’re breaking any new ground, but we are attempting to improve on what we helped to create way back when. And we’re setting the bar very high for all aspects from song writing to production.

Do you watch television?

I do, but not a whole lot. Through the influence of my son. our TV is usually set on the Cartoon Network. I’m absolutely addicted to the Sopranos and I usually still watch Letterman and Conan. One of my all time favs was Mystery Science Theater 3000, which finally ended it’s run after twelve years.

What do you think will be the effect of mp3 files and file sharing in a music industry controlled by a few titans, but with many smaller labels and distros?

I think that Napster and the like was a good thing for music. But it was especially crucial to the relatively unknown bands because it helped to get their music out there. Back in 1985, what held the underground together was a network of hardcore tape traders. They circulated hundreds of live shows and demos and helped bands like Cryptic get on the map. No record stores would carry a demo, even if you could somehow get it distributed. Many fans obtained our tapes by trading through the mail, and of course didn’t pay us for them. But the free publicity was well worth whatever we lost in short term profits. It got a buzz going, and pretty soon we were getting contacted from bands, labels, and fans who otherwise never would have heard of us. As far as major labels go, they’ve been bending over their bands and the fans for decades now so I’ve got no sympathy whatsoever. And besides, when I was a kid, I always bought the records I really liked and borrowed the rest from my friends and taped them. It’s the same principal. If you want it but don’t want to pay for it, you can always get it somehow.

You said, “What we’re doing now is pretty over the top in terms of speed and heaviness” – how can these things be increased in music? If you could describe more of your new music, that would be great.

I didn’t mean to imply that we’re going to come along and redefine fast and heavy music. I just wanted to get the point across that this is not going to be “Speak Your Peace, Part ll”. Don’t get me wrong, I love that record, but it’s not where we’re at now. Our new stuff combines blast beats with good rythymic structure and it’s not too complicated. It’s paced well with a definite emphasis on speed.

Catch-all “did I miss anything?” and “anything you’d like to add?” question – if there is any information in those categories you would like to see published in this interview, please fill in now.

Thanks to everyone for the continued support and interest after so many years. Please contact us if you want to be on our e-mail list. And thanks to SRP for probably the most comprehensive interview I’ve ever done.

[This] goes for writers and thinkers: if they resist the predominant use of time today, they are not only predestined to disappear, but they must also contribute to the making of a ‘sanitary cordon’ isolating themselves. In the shelter of this cordon, their destruction is supposed to be able to be put off for a while. But they ‘buy’ this brief and vain delay by modifying their way of thinking and writing in such a way that their works become more or less communicable, exchangeable; in a word, commercializable. But the exchange, the buying and selling of ideas and words, does not fail to contribute, contradictorily to the ‘final solution’ of the problem: how to write, how to think? I mean that they contribute to making even more hegemonic the great rule of controlled time. It follows that public space, Öffentlichkeit, in these conditions, stops being the space for experiencing, testing and affirming the state of mind open to the event, and in which the mind seeks to elaborate an idea of that state itself, especially under the sign of the ‘new.’ Public space today is transformed into a market of cultural commodities, in which ‘the new’ has become an additional source of surplus-value.

– J.-F. Lyotard, The Inhuman

Cryptic Slaughter at the Dark Legions Archive.
Interview with Scott Peterson.

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Absu, Krieg, Ouroboros, Black Witchery, Noctuary and Infernal Oak in San Antonio, Texas

Absu, Krieg, Ouroboros, Black Witchery, Noctuary and Infernal Oak
December 1, 2001
Sam’s Burger Joint
San Antonio, Texas

With underground metal lacking an official convention the yearly un- covering of filthy, degraded and intellectually unstable metal bands has to find whatever common ground it can, and this year in San Antonio’s “Sam’s Burger Joint New Music Compound” the hordes gathered with a lineup of epic proportions: Absu, Krieg, Ouroboros, Black Witchery, Noctuary and Infernal Oak among other local bands.

Infernal Oak played earliest and while much of their set became confused after a technical glitch became known, the performance was similar to their first celebrated appearance at the Atomic Cafe in Austin (thanks to Lord Ashteroth for that mini-festival). Covering in stocking caps they marched to the stage and performed dark, rock-n-rollish metal with a rhythmic surge to it like Celtic Frost meeting P-funk. The music needs some work and so does the stage show but in their nascent state both are intriguing enough to cause curiosity about future works from this band.

Noctuary kept their set compact despite its length, jamming songs back to back in order to fit them all in. Their metal while not visionary in concept or aesthetic is reasonable heavy metal in the Iron Maiden style, when the shrieking high black metal vocals and garnishments of extremity are removed. Drummer Rob Alaniz (formerly of Rise) gave a command performance of dexterity and precision, while both guitarists were impressive for middle experience players and are clearly proficient with mainstream styles.

Black Witchery was missed because the reviewer was elsewhere.

Krieg, with a volunteer tribe of luminaries from North American black metal bands to cover instrumental duties, was a revealing performance from Lord Imperial in which both the completely unleashed and irrational power of his screams and the design by which he accents tone in composition with his howls were exhibited. A handful of Krieg songs including the majestic crowd pleaser “Cold Wind Flame” were issued before a Von cover brought out the rage in audience and performers.

Ouroboros are a Canadian trio consisting of Sebazios Diabolus from Lust and two other musicians of his choice, all of whom were surprisingly competent considering how unsteadily they seemingly played. Their music was the most distinctive of the evening, using internal fills with abrupt self-conflicted breaks to balance phrases which used absurdist stalling and twitching motions to conclude. Often of a hidden melodic nature and sometimes random power chords thrown into pointless rhythmic filler, their music encoded all of its motion in texture and stopped as abruptly as it began, although each song seemed to have some unique form of harmonic shape.

Clearly what many were waiting expectantly, eagerly and even timidly for, the original Texas black metal band, Absu, entered the venue suddenly and went quickly to the stage for setup and performance. With a stoic new guitarist and their classic lineup in full form, the black metallers covered a brief sampling of their works from 1994 to the present before retiring after a brief encore. According to Proscriptor (drums) this was the band’s first concert in four and a half years, and follows his successful appearance at last year’s SOTNC with Judas Iscariot.

Absu is one of the most professional metal bands to be witnessed live. Proscriptor’s drumming and vocal performance is nearly unbelievable and guitarists are competent. The spooky bassist handled his parts well when manic depression did not overwhelm him. They are all excellent musicians who are weathering the storm of criticism, internal struggles and the usual constraints of musicianship and monetary need in conflict.

Infernal Oak are similar to hollenthon with less focus on keyboards and samples. There is not much else to say. They are nearly universally disliked among the black metal crowd for being more rock- n-roll and heavy metal in style than black metal, and this is a fair criticism. This band should stop trying to be underground and should market themselves to the same audience that enjoys Hollenthon, Girls Under Glass, later Pitchshifter, Ministry and Godflesh.

After the Absu event, an exhausted crowd fell back on the burgers, beers and soft chairs (and flirting with Dana Duffey of Demonic Christ) and since the hour had passed eleven many including this reviewer dissipated. While this was not the most polished or visible metal festival one could imagine, it was competent and accomplished its goals by bringing together bands in the scene without standardizing their concert appearances.

Bands:
Absu
Krieg
Ouroboros
Black Witchery
Noctuary
Infernal Oak

Promotors:
Sam’s Burger Joint

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Acerbus in Austin, Texas

Acerbus
November 19, 2001
Metro Club
Austin, TX

Acerbus took to the stage tonight preceded and followed by local acts tangentially related to the demanding and asocial sounds of technical death/grind. Inspired by bands such as Suffocation and Pyaemia to instill further intricacy and complexity of communication within extreme metal, Acerbus stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the more recognized bands from United Guttural and Unique Leader labels. Their songs are mostly intricate lead finger patterning stitching brief integrations of harmony into place and driving the unceasing rhythmic variation and pummeling that is their trademark. Characteristically unaffected and professionally self-criticial about their instrumentalism, Acerbus battered their audience with seven originals, including one new song and six older ones played seemingly faster than the demo from which they are taken, culminating with a cover of “Angel of Death” by Slayer for which Doni of Vesperian Sorrow chimed in on vocals. This event was held at one of the nicer clubs to ever have a metal show in Austin, the Metro on 6th street. If you missed it, do I have to be the one to tell you that you screwed up?

Bands:
Acerbus

Promotors:
Metro Club

 

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Until the Light Takes Us

(Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites, 2008, 93 min, $16)

If we ask why instead of how an event happened, we find out what made the humans behind it do as they did. “Until the Light Takes Us” explores the why of early 1990s Norwegian black metal. Designed for people with no knowledge of that subculture, the film explains the black metal movement while making its actors emotionally accessible so we feel an urge to understand it. In a time of a sudden interest in metal documentaries, this film stands out by exploring the personalities and ideals that made people invent the music; other films look at the facts of how the music was invented but never the why. We don’t need another documentary telling us millions of people worldwide go crazy for heavy metal so it’s OK if we want to as well. We need to figure out what makes people pick this genre over every other. “Until the Light Takes Us” gets into the why of black metal and the church arsons, murder and media circus that followed. Through fragments of media footage, interviews, and footage of black metal musician Fenriz as he prepares to visit an art exhibit about black metal, this film explores the clash between fantasy and utilitarian modernity that sparked the radicalization of heavy metal. At its culmination, the documentary shows past colliding with present, and a fervent ideal of being against the modern world and believing in a mythic life full of fantasy, adventurous violence and conflict. It is both poignant and literal, like black metal a collision of alienated punk gumption and epic dreams. Like black metal, this film is a study of moods, overlapping in translucent layers, which as they are pulled away show us a simple shape of truth. Although some have bemoaned the inclusion of too much Varg or Fenriz, it became clear from other interviews that musicians are not an articulate bunch and the two who get the most screen time do so in part because they can explain themselves coherently. In the case of Varg, he’s easy to watch: he’s funny, sharp, friendly and his logic is lucid. Fenriz is moodier but his dark sense of absurdist humor commands the film. At the core of this genre, Ewell and Aites find a revolution against consumerism, equality, uniformity, utilitarianism and all other modern concepts by 35-year-old teenagers who never gave up on the idea that life should have adventure, constant discovery and a sense of meaning that unites the entire experience. Unlike most people, these individuals are fully aware of what death means, and when contrasted with the robotic plastic surroundings of the modern world, a parallax shift occurs: we go from seeing them as out of place to seeing their surroundings as out of place or perhaps, irrelevant. This film is a cipher, in that it gives us many entry points to a questioning of modern society and exploration of the ideas of black metal. Among other things, it is obsessed with the erasure of memory and culture, an inspection of the culture of convenience and the isolation it brings, and a hint that we should explore what Joseph Campbell calls “mythic imagination” and Varg calls “fantasy.” Without being socially critical, it is an exploration through the eyes of those who made black metal, and then saw it erased as it became a product with the passage of time.

Metal has been crying out for a movie like this for decades. “Until the Light Takes Us” does what even metalheads cannot do most of the time: it takes the genre seriously as an art form, and peers behind the outlandish behavior and image to try to understand what motivates people to cast aside society for evil metal. For this alone this film should be praised, but it very quietly exposes metal like a blueprint, all while showing us the emotions of the people involved. It is compelling. Clearly these filmmakers knew how to ask the right questions and patiently wait for their subjects to articulate their points of view, then snatch the moments of greatest clarity and present them with impact. Scenes of industrial desolation follow the impact of strident words, and fires of ancient churches melt into shots of the memorabilia and essential moments of a developing genre. Each fan will probably have a wishlist for changing this film, but that only shows how much it seizes the imagination. I would enjoy seeing a comparison between black metal and the European Romantic literature, theatre and music of two centuries ago. Others have commented that less Frost (of Satyricon) might accelerate the latter half, but this reviewer was not troubled by either detail. While much of the material in the movie is well-known in the form that leaked out through the media, rediscovering it through this artfully told history is a dream come true. The documentarians hide themselves and let the characters tell their own side of it. What makes it a dream to which we’d like to return is that it explores the why of this music, and in doing so shows us the fans why we found so much hope and possibility in black metal.

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Samhain – Live in 1984 at Stardust Ballroom, Hollywood

(Music Video Distributors, 2004, 48 min, $20)

This hand-filmed, single-camera narrative documents a time when underground music was still struggling to find its path, and while the quality may not be that of a slick professional recording, the delivery of the band is captured in as much detail as is needed. The sound, when it is not cutting out, is good and separation between instruments and vocals can be heard clearly. Glenn Danzig is an energetic vocalist without either the jaded reserve or overindulgent showmanship of later years, and the crowd looks shellshocked and unsure of what they’re seeing, which has the advantage of them doing fewer stupid things to mar enjoyment of the performance. The band are economical with their onstage motions, and tight in their playing, which gives these songs the same power they have coming off of a CD. An enclosed sticker provokes some nostalgia for the time, an age of xeroxed posters and grimly absurd art, of people gathering in long-forgotten clubs to bash out violent performances. For those who like what Samhain were about, this DVD is everything that could be desired from this foundational band.

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The Michael Schenker Group – Live in Tokyo 1997

(Metal Mind Productions, 2004, 236 Min, $14)

Despite the cheesy low-budget titles which preceded the actual performance, this video is quite competent. Video quality is high, color balance is good, and sound is as near to pristine as one can get through this medium. The problem is that it is filmed like a Bon Jovi live set, with too much focus on the vocalist and a total shortage of the crucial closeups of guitar playing that should accompany performances by people renowned for their instrumental ability. Is that rocket science, or what? We get plenty of wide-stage views and frontal closeup of “emotional” moments during the singing, but a fault of tight shots and creative angles. Tastefully the filmmakers avoid too much crowd interaction, which is smart since if one’s best qualification is having bought a ticket, it is probably not a sign that one has much to say/gesture of note. For this reviewer, the music on this DVD was too much of the hard rock variety, but it is clear that the performers are highly talented and it is hoped that with their next video release, there will be more focus on things of interest to musicians or people who simply admire classic guitar playing.

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Metalheads

(Bill Zebub, 2003, 80 Min, $10)

For the first video review to ever grace these pages a film was chosen that is valuable for the conclusions gleaned from its perception, and not necessarily the art of moviemaking exhibited. Following the pattern of most first films, this work starts with a group of characters and mocks them in their ouroboric paths to nowhere. In doing so, it reveals something of the nature of the metal community itself, both through its dominant symbols – drugs, masturbation, anger, fatalism – and through its own fascination and the conclusion it is able to draw. Shot in conveniently sparse videocam, the movie romps through a series of goofy but enjoyable skits and long derangements of the senses synchronized in form to music, giving it the feeling of a music video + home video + low-budget film in one. Of note are musical choices, which showcase a DJ’s eye for context. There is ample T&A of a tame variety and gratifying indulgence in all forms of base humor, including masturbation, fecalism and amusing violence. Highlights include a series of blown-out female characters who are preachy but have the sexual ethics of a Grimoire Girl(tm), a fantastically fascist cop played by Craig Pillard, and several utterly believable stoner/metalhead characters who wander around in a haze of mostly their own creation. Absent is any moralism regarding the world around us; it is nice to escape that moralistic confine in which most contemporary filmic art is launched. Another highlight is “Ox,” who barges his way onto the set and provides one of the most believable character satires of pure rampaging destruction in human form yet found. Toward the beginning and end of the film, when it needs extra impetus, there is booster rocket material from what are now basic digital editing effects, which to the director’s credit are often quite cleverly applied (“making the most of what you have”). Is the movie “good”? No and yes. It’s hard to sit through some of this; the scenes are long and often tediously embarrassing to the degree that sympathy is lost for the characters and even the joke. As a whole, the plot is light, with three or four major devices and a linear narrative based on its precepts. It’s sometimes difficult to watch from a combination of ineptitude and padding. However, it is “good” in that this movie has a large amount of perceptive content for a cut-up laugh fest, and while its methods and often gags are cheap and sometimes predictable, they’re carried out with a  unique flair and nurture for the humor involved. Like any modern comedy, the plot is a container for almost granularized skits woven roughly into the context of the people who drive changes in the action, and this approach works for the scattershot method required to address the diverse complexity of intellectual representation of external reality in this era. The acting isn’t great, but Zebub himself is a high-energy riot of comedic momentum who can be witty in a pinch, or subtly humorous over the length of a scene. His supporting cast perform well compared to many card-carrying actors and, while like in the movie itself we can see rough edges there are imperfections galore, they link up in the film like prisoner sex. While this movie gets a somewhat ambivalent recommendation, the idea of pursuing the next professional offering from Bill Zebub is not at all ambiguous to this reviewer.

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Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey

(Warner Home Entertainment, 2006, 96 Min, $14)

I just saw this at the Alamo Drafthouse, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It is probably the most watchable movie on the topic thus far, as it actually has a budget and properly addresses the many subgenres. It stays focused on the more populist bands (Wacken is a prominent setting) but I find that getting into all the underground minutiae bottoms out these days because whether people are motivated by commerce or popularity, the effect on the music is just as deletrious. Sam Dunn, the filmmaker, is a contemporary of the 1980s metal (30-ish, grew up on thrash and death metal, cites Autopsy as one of his favorite bands) so it is worth supporting and good fun. The interview with Gaahl and then Dio repeatedly ripping on Gene Simmons are worth the price of admission.

by David Anzalone

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