Profile: Codex Obscurum editor Kevin Ord

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Photo: Aaron Pepelis.

There’s a seismic disturbance in the metal world. As the power of the internet winds up, the flood of information has increased to the point where people are searching for ways to reduce the data overload. As a result, they’re turning back toward zines, reviews and edited sites and away from crowd-sourced data and social media.

On the forefront of this change is Codex Obscurum, a formerly small but rising zine from the eastern coast of the United States. Staffed by volunteers, run on a non-profit basis, and dedicated to old school underground metal as well as contemporary developments, Codex Obscurum has won over its share of devotees.

We were fortunate to be able to catch a few words with Editor Kevin Ord, who has taken over the helm. He gave us the lowdown on changes at the zine and its future direction, as well as (at our interviewer’s insistence) some speculation on why zines are surging forward as the rest of media swarms and retreats in confusion.

Can you tell us a little about yourself, and how you got involved in underground metal?

I’m from Worcester, Massachusetts. I have a wife and three cats and I’m a paint contractor during the day and zine publisher at night. Like most kids in the 80s I got into metal through other kids in school with bands like Slayer and Metallica. I can pretty much thank Headbangers Ball for introducing me to underground metal. It was appointment television on Saturday nights. I also remember getting a copy of Pit Magazine in the early 90s and being obsessed with hearing what all of the bands in there sounded like. I was already a huge fan of horror movies so the art grabbed me right away.

I like to be able to hold something physical. I think a lot of people do. I want something that a kid might find in a shoebox in 10 years and say “I remember this; I’m going to reread it.”

What made you want to work with underground zines? Have you been a zine reader for long?

I wanted to work on an underground zine because I was sick of just bitching about stuff on the internet. I wanted to actually create something instead of always just tearing stuff apart. I’ve bought zines randomly for at least the last 20 years. Reading the Slayer Diaries book definitely motivated me to make Codex Obscurum better.

To you, what defines an excellent zine? Were there any favorites of yours from the past that you still turn to as examples of underground metal zine greatness?

I think variety defines an excellent zine. We have 12 different writers for Codex Obscurum and I think that variety of opinions and tastes makes it something everyone can learn something new from. I find out about things from my own zine I didn’t know about just because we have so many writers from different backgrounds. I still turn to the Slayer Diaries like I said. He had the advantage of being in the right time and place. But I think it’s an excellent record of a specific time in metal. Maybe one day Codex will also be a good record of metal in 2013. Who knows?

Are there advantages to the zine format that newfangled ways like Twitter and blogs do not offer?

You can read Codex Obscurum on the toilet a lot easier. I like to be able to hold something physical. I think a lot of people do. I want something that a kid might find in a shoebox in 10 years and say “I remember this; I’m going to reread it.” Stuff like blogs just seem so disposable.

What has changed in the three issues of Codex Obscurum? Have you and your team altered your approach based on this learning?

Our original editor had a substance abuse problem that we weren’t aware was as bad as it was. So he is now in treatment and will not be returning to the zine. So Steve and I have taken over formatting and printing Codex Obscurum. We got a lot of feedback on issue #1 and #2 and changed the zine a lot based on this feedback. The top priority was making the zine a lot more legible and easier to read. I think we achieved that with issue #3. I also wanted to make the zine less random and more focused on music. We tried to pack as much music content into #3 as possible. Getting support from artists like Mark Riddick and podcasts like Hellcast has also motivated us to make the zine better.

The top priority was making the zine a lot more legible and easier to read. I think we achieved that with issue #3. I also wanted to make the zine less random and more focused on music.

What’s the best way for someone to get ahold of Issue #3 of Codex Obscurum? What about for them to support the zine in intangible ways?

If someone wants to get ahold of the zine they can go to codexobscurum.bigcartel.com. The zine is $3 + S/h. If someone wants to submit their album or demo for review the can contact me at codexobscurumzine@gmail.com. If someone wants to support the zine just tell a friend. We like it to be done DIY.

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Suuri Shamaani – Mysteerien Maailma

suuri_shamaani-mysterieen_maailmaThe esoteric ambient/organic noise project of Beherit‘s Nuclear Holocausto Vengeance, Suuri Shamaani, will see its Mysteerien Maailma re-released next week by KVLT in Finland (€ 11 pre-order).

Like Justin Broadrick project Final, or post-Napalm Death project Lull, Suuri Shamaani attempts to shape sound itself using overlapping drones and ambient noises to create internal harmonies. Mysteerien Maailma (commonly called the “mysterious mailman” album for its resemblance to that phrase in English) represents a more ritualistic and ordered vision of that approach.

Those who enjoy the later music of Beherit, especially Electric Doom Synthesis, may appreciate the extension of ideas here. Like other post-black metal ambient project Neptune Towers, Suuri Shamaani discards what we recognize as music to shape an adventure or topography out of sound.

It is more like poetry made with discovered noise organized into a music-like language than it is composed music as we know it. Because its sonic texture is lighter than that of booming guitars or bright keyboards, Mysteerien Maailma requires a quieter listening environment and more investment of attention from the listener.

Limited to 300 copies.

    Tracklist

  1. I (3:52)
  2. Valve (14:32)
  3. Tähdet Ja Avaruus (9:58)
  4. IV (4:24)
  5. A17 (4:39)
  6. Jännite (3:33)
  7. Säde1 (3:03)
  8. VIII (3:21)
  9. IX (7:39)
  10. Okkultismi (4:44)

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Demilich box set and compilation available for pre-order

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As previously reported, Demilich is releasing a career retrospective of its groundbreaking 1993 album Nespithe, its demos and post-album work as a 3LP box set or a 2CD digipak release.

With Nespithe turning 20 this year, it’s a good time for two decades of career to be compiled in a form that most people can purchase. Nespithe was a controversial album in 1993 and spent most of the next decade in sale bins, until mysterious forces caused its resurrection in the early 2000s and restoration to its rightful place in the death metal hierarchy.

The LPs in the box set come in three colors: transparent blood red (150 copies), slimy green (350 copies) and black (500 copies). The double CD comes with a 40-page booklet, and the LP with a 44-page booklet, including Demilich reviews, interviews, commentary and history.

For those of us who remember throwing this album on the CD player and broadcasting it out to a radio population that eventually came to accept and enjoy it, the transformation is gratifying to see. This box set also looks legendary, and sounds legendary as well. Below find a video showcasing the remixed sound of Nespithe, which according to the label is entirely remastered from the source tapes.

Here’s the description from Svart Records, who are putting out both the 3LP box set and the 2CD digipak compilation:


All boxes feature three LPs, the 1st of which is Nespithe in a separate jacket. Platters 2 and 3 have both the 2006 recordings and all of the group’s demos, wrapped in a gatefold jacket. There’s also a sticker, poster and a 44 page Demilich ‘zine, all housed in a sturdy box set.

20th Adversary of Emptiness contains everything Demilich have ever recorded, starting from Regurgitation of Blood demo (1991) and rounding things off with three songs the band recorded during their brief comeback in 2006. The only Demilich full length album Nespithe has been reissued several times over the years in various guises, but always using the inferior 16-bit CD masters and sometimes brickwalled beyond recognition. For this release we dug up the original unmastered 24 bit studio tapes for Nespithe and best possible sources for the demo material, and then had Sami Jämsén of Studio Perkele thoroughly clean everything up and create new masters. This is Demilich as you’ve never heard it before.

Nespithe LP is wrapped in the original Turkka Rantanen cover art, lovingly restored, and a new artwork by Mr Rantanen adorns the box itself. For the demo compilation cover the band commissioned new art from renowned underground artists David Mikkelsen and Johnny Maddox, inspired by Demilich lyricals. Mikkelsen’s art also comes as a poster in the package.

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Interview with album cover artist Francesco Gemelli

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francesco_gemelli_ysengrin_lp_01Art direction for preparing album aesthetics is important for delivering a visual representation for the music that it banners. Francesco Gemelli has been providing visual artistry for numerous bands and other clients. With utmost professionalism displayed in his works, Francesco is expanding his work as art director for record labels and freelance endeavors. He’s amassed quite a hefty resume of album covers and logos.

How did you start out in art and what inspired you?

In general, growing in Italy gives to you the chance to become familiar with Art since a young age. Furthermore, in my case, the proximity to Roman and Greek archeological areas influenced my artistic imaginary that I have later developed progressively at school. I started drawing very early and, above all, I have been attracted rapidly by the computerized graphics. Indeed, I did my first experiments on an Atari St back in 1986, publishing later my first works on specialized magazines.

gemelli_vos_human_antithesis_01What encouraged you to also start creating artwork for album covers?

To create album covers and work with the bands allows me to keep on my relation with the musical environment that represents one of the biggest passions in my life. As often happens, I started drawing logos and put together collages for demos of local bands, but the first significant occasion was given to me by Riccardo Conforti of Void of Silence that, having known some of my oeuvres, entrusted me with the creation of the new symbol/logo for the band and the artwork for “Human Antithesis”. I’m deeply attached to this album that has become a pillar of the modern doom metal and, even today, many people speak with fondness about this great release, pointing out the balance between the musical and the visual components. Moreover, Riccardo honored my work tattooing on his nape the logo that I have designed. His gesture deeply touched me.

More recently, Diego of ATMF and Luciano of I, Voidhanger Records chosen me as art director for their labels and I would like to use this opportunity to thank them for trusting me, allowing more people to know my work.

How much does your art reflect what you perceive of the music or its themes?

I like define myself as “visual interpreter”: when I work with a band my goal is to translate visually the music and the related concept. Chasing this target I don’t try to forcedly impose my personal style or my works but to find instead the right visual elements to complete and enrich the music. That’s why I’m always open to collaborations with other artists: in specific occasions, indeed, I prefer to assume the role of art director, choosing the works of other artists that I like and making those coherent and organic with the music. When, in the making of an artwork, you have the chance, for example, to use the incredible pieces of a genius like the painter/sculptor Nicola Samorì or of the worldwide known photographer John Santerineross, you have only to enhance theirs oeuvres all possible and to create a connection between these and the songs. Recognizability is a central point for an artist in the contemporary art, but for an art director the mark of identifiability has to be the quality of your work and satisfaction of the client.

francesco_gemelli_urna_mors_principium_est_16What other artists, musicians or thinkers influence your style?

My work is extensively influenced by the art of the 1900s: equally by the first years of the century as well as by the current tendencies. Between the different art movements, the Informalism certainly had a big influence on my artistic development.

As you may have figured out at this point, I don’t follow a single procedure to realize my works, so I attend as much as possible exhibitions and galleries to meet and discover new artists and ideas. Working on artworks, I involve a mix of different media and softwares: some pieces grow out only through the pencils, others are the outcomes of computer graphics, some else come out from a mix between handcrafted and digital resources.

Are there certain themes that you naturally gravitate toward? Do you see your artwork as having a naturally bleak or desolate character?

Not at all. A key-point of my research has always been to contrast some aspectŽ widespread in the metal extreme genre and when the bands have been sufficiently “courageous” to share my point of view, I have always tried to take distance from the common solutions. Take, for example, my artwork for the “Inter Uterum Et Loculum” of Locus Mortis: although they play a fast and aggressive traditional black metal, I have described their music drawings gentle figures and using a bright palette of colours. Even when the bands expressly requested me traditional solutions for their artworks, I have always tried to put in there some elements of innovation: from the involved technique of production to the chromatic palette. It’s hard and maybe not useful to eradicate and betray overused commonplaces, but it’s possible to innovate from the “inside” without renege the past, and to try to “educate” people to new solutions and artistic waves.

francesco_gemelli_aus_der_transzendenz_p01You’ve worked with altered photographs (such as in “Aus Der Transzendenz” 2012 Promo Pics) which bring out a majestic nature to your subjects. What is your technique here? How do you decide on the balance between obscurity and clarity? Does your alteration direct the eye to a focal point in each piece?

I usually adapt the photo manipulation technique to the characteristics of the band. In this case, the band asked me to place the group in an “unreal” and “magical” dimension. So, I operated on the background, working also on colors, tones and lights. I didn’t alter the eyes of the members: they were already striking a theatrical pose in the picture.

What pieces of your art have been displayed in exhibitions? Where can people expect to see your work next? Will you expand beyond album covers?

The original pieces that I created as artwork for the debut of my industrial project Eidulon on Malignant Records have been part in contemporary art exhibitions. These stark black and white illustrations were inspired by Taschism and Spatial Art.

francesco_gemelli_600pxWho do you think are the most historically important and/or best metal album cover artists of all time?

I don’t think that there is a most important cover in metal history; I consider, however, some artworks and artistic choices crucial for the development of the “heavy metal aesthetics”: between the late ’70s and mid-’80s, bands like Back Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Venom, Mercyful Fate and Metallica laid the foundation to the process of identification of those symbols and themes that have differentiate the HM from the other genres. This process has gone to influence the audience on how they perceive themselves and, in its turn, the aesthetics of the new bands.

Despite this developing trend, in the 80s, the different bands were visually recognizable and there still was an “artisanship” in producing artworks. By moving to 90s, with the diffusion of PCs, the computer graphics software became something that everybody can have and, even if there’s nothing negative about that per se, the “layering process” permitted by these new instruments resulted in a standardization of metal artworks that started to look too similar to each other.

In the last ten years, with the widening of the process of fragmentation of subgenres and publics, the need to stand out visually is becoming increasingly important. As mentioned before, recognizability is a focus point for an artist in the contemporary market, so it’s implausible, even in the extreme genres, to overlook the visual elements of a musical project.

Where can we expect to see your work in upcoming musical and artistic projects?

I just finished the artwork for the re-recording of the debut album of Janvs, “Nigredo”, on Avantgarde Music and I will cooperate very soon with Benjamin Vierling for the new Spectral Lore album. At the same time, I would expand my experiments to video-art and, since now I’m working between  Montréal and Toronto, I hope to find this opportunity and new inputs too.

I will try to develop new joint collaborations and I would like the chance to work with other great graphics like Metastazis from France, Trine + Kim from Norway and with a band like Elend that I follow and appreciate from the very beginning of their glorious career.

I recently started my Facebook page, so anyone who might be interested can follow my future works there.

Thank you for this interview.

Check out Francesco’s music project Visthia here.

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Khimaat – Vos-X

Khimaat promo pictureBack in the days of DIY yore, cassettes flooded the underground within a network of die-hard metalists looking for the next innovative sound. The better was praised, and the lesser was cast aside (for the most part).

Khimaat clench to the same methods and self-released their demo EP Vos-X this year on cassette. Though, most will be baffled as to where they can obtain the cassette outside of the band’s inner-circle. There doesn’t appear to be anywhere online where one can obtain a copy, and this is the first article written about it.

Drawing influences from bands like Arkhon Infaustus, Khimaat contrive an assortment of unsettling atonal passages. The harsh production insinuates the cacophonous demeanor displayed in Vos-X and showcases a mélange of discordant textures. With anguish residing at the forefront, Khimaat move forward into parallels of torment and manage to unnerve the listener as the demo EP unfolds. Unsettling as much as it is gritty, the execution of Vos-X is a good effort for a first attempt.

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Cryogen – Continuum

cryogen-continuumTwo revelations before listening to this: first, when I first got into music I thought talent and ability were rare; now I realize they’re commonplace, but the ability to apply them in some non-inert interesting way is rare. Second, that metalcore — the mix of metal genres in the post-hardcore style of “contrast without continuity” riffing — borrows almost everything it has from 1980s speed metal.

Cryogen offer us a highly musical take on metalcore with Continuum, which displays excellent playing abilities, clear songwriting aptitude, and even the rarer ability to present songs in such a way that they are not only emotionally engaging but create a sense of transition that is coherent and not just random emotional outbursts giving way to one another like the rants of officer workers on sitcoms.

What brought us metalcore? A fusion of Meshuggah and The Haunted. Both used speed metal as a basis, but broke down the metal structure of internal riff dialogue and replaced it with the post-hardcore notion that great contrast between riffs to the point of incoherence makes for a better song. What it does is emphasize deconstruction and isolation to the point where the listener’s attention span is destroyed, which makes it easier to compose this way since the requirements are much lower.

Cryogen is best when the speed metal peeks out, or even when the heavy metal parts emerge. With their technical skill, they could easily make a classic heavy metal album. Instead they insist on burdening themselves with surface complexity, which because it must cram in more diverse elements, requires the unifying elements of the song be simplified. The result is very basic chord progressions underlying a pile of textural depth and intensive variation, which means that when you drill down you find your father’s bouncy heavy metal riffs.

I wish this band would knock it off with trying to stay current, and just drift in the direction they clearly want to go, which is in the direction of the first Cynic album. Those songs actually held together, and the core of them was a complex sense of harmony leading to a flexibility in key transition that gave them elegance. Cryogen is sort of the opposite: a lot of styling that is ultimately held back by the musically simplistic core enforced on it by the burden of participating in the great metalcore trend.

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Disfigurement – Soul Rot

disfigurement-soul_rotSoul Rot shows Disfigurement melding a number of different styles with an attitude of keeping intensity at full speed like a raging death metal band in the Pentacle or Hail of Bullets style. On the surface, this is percussive blasting death metal, but underneath the skin are rich bluesy solos reminiscent of Metallica, melodic riffs off an Amon Amarth album, and varied death metal influences from the late 1990s.

However, at its core, this band hearkens back to the mid-1980s and the collision of speed metal with underground metal that occurred on Bathory’s Blood Fire Death. On that album, charging riffs led songs into full-speed development, then dropped them into rhythmic riffing that recalls the best of Exodus and Nuclear Assault. Here the influences are more from the death metal side, but the speed metal core emerges over time.

Guttural vocals and a strong sense of rhythm from the interaction between bass and drums drive Disfigurement to apex sonic terrorism. Where this band is weak is in the loss of dynamics caused by the constant high intensity riffing, but their strength is in riffcraft and knowing when to leave out extraneous threads. The result is hard-hitting and musically literate.

We are fortunate to have a chance to talk with Nate from Disfigurement, who wants to remind you that you can hear the title track from Soul Rot and other songs at Disfigurement’s bandcamp page.

What was the moment at which you decided to become Disfigurement? How did the band come together, and were there any influences on which you “bonded” that later shaped your music?

Cheers, thanks for interviewing us. We’re very forfunate that people are interested in what we’re doing, especially Deathmetal.org.

Disfigurement came together at the very beginning of 2011. Adam and I were hanging out a lot, and he told me about this project he had been wanting to start for a while, a straight-forward thrashy-death metal band. He had been talking to some people that he’d played in bands with before, and gotten Richard and Max together, I volunteered to try out for vocals.

Once we got Vaedis onboard with drums, we had a whole line-up and were playing shows by March. I remember Vader and Carcass being the main influences for Adam at the time, and Panzerchrist and Deicide being the main influences of mine. There were also many bands like Morbid Angel, Dissection and Sodom that were going to play a part in our sound. We played around with the vocal styling a bit, but from the beginning were pretty set on the sound that we have to this day.

Soul Rot seems to be influenced by old school death metal and melodic metal, perhaps even Swedish bands like Necrophobic. How do you balance these two extremes, the guttural blasting chromatic menace of old school death metal, and the more elegant melodic side?

I feel that it’s always come naturally to us. That’s not to say that its always easy. I also don’t really feel that OSDM and more melodic death metal are really extremes; I guess it depends on what exactly you consider old-school or melodic. I think that the techniques used to deliver certain riffs and ideas can change it from brutal to melodic even though the ideas are really very similar. Our music has always had a very strong melodic basis, even if it’s over straight blasting and guttural vocals.

What makes a good metal song for you, and how do you write one? Do you start with a riff, lyrics, an idea or something else?

Our writing process usually involves Adam writing a sort of thematic idea that the song is based off. Most to all of the muisic is written, which is what I write vocals over. The song’s idea has a lyrical concept, often one word. I take that theme and build an entire concept for the song around that. The lyrics are written following this idea. Often the idea that I have is somewhat different or more complex than the original notion, but it’s rooted at the core of the song, and likewise the album. There is always an emotion central to the song’s essence.

A good metal song to me is one that is impossible to listen to without having a gut-wrenching reaction to. It has to grab me from the inside: heavy, and dynamic, but always evocative.

The production on Soul Rot is quite clear despite a lot going on during the album. How did you record this one, and did you use any special instrumental techniques to slash out those riffs?

There’s really no tricks or thrills, we just focused on getting crushing tones, and building from there. There is really no room for error in what we play, but at the same time, it has to come across as human and alive. We took our time tracking and made sure everything was precise, but not mechanized and sterile.

Can you tell us what you hope for in the future, and what you’re working on now?

We hope to be playing some festivals in the near future, and getting the backing to support a tour. Right now we are just trying to promote Soul Rot, which is what we’ve been working on for quite some time and really put ourselves into. We’re hoping Soul Rot will garner the support we need to continue.

Why did you choose old school metal styles over the newer options available? Do you think the fans will penalize you for this choice?

I don’t know that we decided consciously to start playing an old death metal style. A lot of the albums that we listen to that are very influential for us, such as Litany, Winds of Creation, M-16, Soul Collector, Gateways to Annihilation, and Serpents of the Light all came out in 2000, or the very late 90s. I suppose that’s still a much older style than much of the more modern bands’ stuff, but we’ve never been interested in anything like that. We just play in a way that conveys our message. It seems that old school death metal is the proper medium to express our feelings of nihilism and aggression. As far as the fans, it seems that many have been waiting for an album such as this to come out in recent years; as far as those who don’t like the style, there’s plenty else to chose from.

I appreciate the effort required by these questions and look forward to the end result.

Once again, thanks for the interview. We’re glad there is an interest in what we’re doing. We couldn’t do it without Sleyja over at Boris Records, please check out the other stuff that he’s doing as well and support our rising wave of bands that are putting out killer material.

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Deicide – In the Minds of Evil

deicide-in_the_minds_of_evilIf you break any ground as a band, you will suffer from momentum inertia. Your initial direction will carry you quickly to its end, and after three albums, you will find yourself with a loss of direction.

This occurs because in your vision, substance and form were joined, and you made a language out of what you wished to express. For some visions, a lifetime of specifics can be created; for most, there are big picture things to do, and then emptiness.

Deicide hit that point after its groundbreaking Legion. They put everything they had, worth about what ten bands do in their lifetimes, into that album. They wisely made a followup that simplified their approach but made it harder hitting.

After that, however, the band has been searching for a direction. Serpents of the Light adopted some of the black metal conventions of the time, but ended up too sing-song; their efforts after that have been varieties of heavy metal and death metal that never quite grasped a direction.

On In the Minds of Evil, Deicide return to the roots of death metal and make an album along the lines of Entombed’s Clandestine: bluesy leads, tremolo picked choruses, divergent riffs for textural variation. It doesn’t have the grandeur of the Entombed variant, but it achieves the 1992 death metal feel very successfully and is much more internally consistent than previous Deicide works after Serpents of the Light.

Vocal rhythms often recall the more intense moments of Legion and Once Upon the Cross and these, while repetitive, are not offensively so. Riffing ranges from old-school death metal to melodic heavy metal, but mostly stays within the zone of influence picked by the first wave of American and European (including a Carnage riff) death metal bands.

With that change, Deicide is actually making a form of music that came after their initial work, which while it used death metal vocals, like all forms of percussive death metal was at least half speed metal. On Deicide and Legion, the primary influences are Slayer Reign in Blood and Sepultura Beneath the Remains structurally, but the riffing style is more like Exodus crossed with Possessed with the complexity and intensity turned up to eleven.

In the Minds of Evil shows Deicide moving past its original speed-death hybrid and into pure death metal, but retaining a huge amount of heavy metal influence. The victory of this album is its consistency. Quality-wise, it’s on par with Serpents of the Light but with some of the intensity of Once Upon the Cross. The result is somewhat blander than their original albums but more consistent and with more substance their intermediate works.

Deicide may never return to the days of Legion, mainly because it’s an impossible act to follow. After years of wandering in darkness (or, in their case, light) Deicide have found a voice again, and they can only succeed as they expand upon this method of uniting content with exterior.

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